Commentary: Work on the Lever illustrations did not interfere with those for Dickens

In 1859, Phiz had added to his work-load by joining the illustrators for Once A Week, the recently-founded magazine which Bradbury and Evans had established after they and Charles Dickens wound up affairs of Household Words. Meantime, Phiz was concluding the long programme of illustration for Chapman and Hall's monthly serialisation of Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time in twenty-one monthly parts, with the exception of February 1859.

Over the twenty-two month serialisation of the Lever novel, July 1857-April 1859, Phiz produced both twenty-nine conventional etchings on steel, and fifteen much more interesting dark plates. The mediocrity of the series, speculates Valerie Browne Lester, "may have something to do with Phiz's working concurrently on A Tale of Two Cities" (125). However, Lester may be overstating Phiz's preoccupation with the Lever novel since he would have started work for the monthly numbers of Dickens's new novel in May 1859, just as Chapman and Hall were bringing out the two-volume edition of Davenport Dunn. In fact, throughout 1859 Phiz illustrated just four novels in total, the other two being Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Minister's Wooing and Brough's Ulf the Minstrel. In contrast, during the previous year Phiz had worked on nine books, and in the next he would illustrate eight. Thus, Dickens's attributing the less-than-spectacular sales of the monthly parts to Phiz's taking on other writers' works and thereby producing inferior visual interpretations of A Tale does not withstand critical scrutiny; if the monthly sales were below Dickens's expectations, the cause was not Phiz's working on the Lever novel, but (probably) Dickens's issuing the instalments of A Tale of Two Cities in a much cheaper form for the mass-market in All the Year Round. John Buchanan Browne, conversely, feels that Dickens's new seriousness did not lend itself to caricatural illustration such as Cruikshank and Phiz provided:

It seems much more probable that Dickens was conscious that he himself had developed beyond the need for illustration of any kind, let alone the Hogarthian extension which Browne had supplied to the texts of the earlier novels. This would explain the absence of the sort of detailed instructions with which Browne had been bombarded and the virtual indifference with which Dickens treated his successors, Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes. [Buchanan-Brown, 24]

However, when Phiz was illustrating Davenport Dunn from 1857 through 1859, he often treated his materials (especially in the early numbers) as if these were from a novel like Dombey and Son, and only in the later stages of the novel does he communicate a sense of the Irish countryside and peasantry, and he never really communicates a sense of Dublin. What seems to interest him the most are the action scenes involving horses and romantic backdrops such as European rivers and mountains. Consequently, his Lake Como society illustrations seem a little flat, as if he could not engage with Lever's narrative emotionally, probably because Lever's aristocrats are so self-serving and unsympathetic compared to Annesley Beecher, Paul Kellet, and Sybella Kellet, all more or less normative, middle-class types who have lost aristocratic status such as Charley Conway and the Kelletts. The pictorial narrative comes to life when he describes the military exploits of young Conway, the heroic cavalry officer who turns out to be the long-lost scion of a noble house (although Lever may or may not have explained that back-story to Phiz until relatively far along in serialisation). Nevertheless, the dark plates in the series are among Phiz's best, and one has a sense that the illustrator did not have many other commissions to fulfill since the production of dark plates is much more time-consuming than simply engraving a line drawing on steel. His most exciting scenes are those of the Crimean conflict, but he takes special pains with the confidence man Grog Davis and his morally uncompromised daughter, Lizzy.

Working methods

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A Bibliographical Note on the Monthly Parts and their Illustrations

Generally, the actual text of each monthly part was preceded by advertisements and a pair of engravings, whose precise disposition the serial reader would not have learned until purchasing Number XXI-XXII (1 April 1859), which contained an unnumbered page at the very back (Page 701), which indicated against which numbered page of text each image should be inserted when the purchaser was arranging to have the individual parts bound as a volume. However, the pattern of providing two monthly illustrations in reverse order at the beginning was disrupted at the beginning of December (monthly part no. 6, Chapters XX-XXIII, pages 161-192) because the illustrator was late in delivering his work. Chapman and Hall inserted the following notice where the plates should have been: "The illustrations for the present Number not being ready in time, Four Illustrations will be given in the next Number" (i. e., Part VII, January 1858). And indeed they were, the order being Conway on Escort Duty, Paul Kellett's Warning, A Breakfast-table, and Grog Davis Practising the Mississippi Dodge. Although four plates were issued with the final, double number (1 April 1859: Parts XXI-XXII), the Frontispiece appeared first, The Vision second, Holy Paul in a Fix third, and the Vignette Title last.

Although one may speculate as to the cause of Phiz's failure to deliver the 1 December 1857 illustrations in a timely manner, a failure perhaps simply attributable to illness, the serial part for the previous month contained an insert advertising Chapman and Hall's forthcoming publication of the fourth serial number of William Harrison Ainsworth's Mervyn Clitheroe with illustrations by Phiz — after an hiatus of four years and eight months. In due course, the next instalment of the new bildugsroman appeared in December 1857. One might reasonably suppose that this resumed Ainsworth commission interfered with Phiz's preparation of the plates for Part VI of the Lever novel, one of which was a dark plate, the process of engraving for which would have been quite time-consuming.

There was, moreover, a further disruption in the publication of the monthly numbers of the Lever novel. As they were winding up serialisation, the publishers had to forego the February 1859 instalment (that is, what should have been the twentieth monthly part). Consequently, Part XIX is dated January 1859, but Part XX is dated March 1859, and the concluding double number (Parts XXI and XXII) appeared on the 1st of April.

A Further Bibliographical Note: The Cheap Routledge Edition (1877)

Whereas the original 1859 Chapman and Hall single-volume edition, based directly on the 1857-59 serial instalments, contains 695 pages and forty-three illustrations in twenty-one monthly parts, the two-volume edition of 1877 contains 815 pages in total (407 plus 408), but only eleven of the engravings. That none of these is a dark plate suggests that Routledge, publishing on smaller pages, had to have a selected number of plates re-engraved, and did not wish to go to extra expense and delay involved in producing dark plates. Only one of the illustrations, the frontispiece for the second volume, focuses on the Crimean War, and neither 1877 volume has an index for the illustrations. The two editions are physically quite different. The 1877 frontispiece for volume one, for example, The "Princess" at the Opera including its scrolled caption is 15 cm high by 10.5 cm wide; that same plate in the 1859 edition is considerably sharper and larger: 15.7 cm high (with caption), but 10.5 cm wide. Although the pages are of comparable width (13.5 cm in 1859, 12 cm in 1877), the earlier volume's pages are 20.8 cm high, as opposed to 18.8 cm for the 1877 two-volume set. The division between the two 1877 volumes is as follows: Chapters 1 through 43, pp. 1-407 in the first volume; volume 2, chapter 1 ("The Telegraphic Despatch") through Chapter 36 ("The End of All Things," Chapter 79 in the single volume), p. 408 last page.


Brown, John Buchanan. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1978.

Burton, Anthony. "Vision and Designs. Review of John Harvey, Victorian Novelists and heir Illustrators. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970. £3.50." Dickensian, 67.2 (1971): 105-109.

Fitzpatrick, W. J. The Life of Charles Lever. London: Downey, 1901.

Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. Pp. 182-198.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1 July 1857 through 1 April 1859 (Twenty-two parts in twenty-one monthly numbers).

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859. First edition, 695 pp, in 2 volumes, with 43 illustrations on plates by "Phiz," half-calf, marbled boards, gilt titles. Second edition, 695 pp, in 1 volume.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. With Illustrations by "Phiz." London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. 2 vols.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn, A Man of Our Day. [with 11 re-engraved illustrations by Phiz] London & New York: George Routledge, 1877. 2 vols. Pp. 408 + 407.

Stevenson, Lionel. Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell & Russell, 1939, rpt. 1969.

Sutherland, John. "Davenport Dunn." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989. 172.

Created 12 December 2019

Last modified 5 July 2020