Phiz's Last Ainsworth Commissions

First published in monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany in nineteen parts from November 1859 through July 1860, Ovingdean Grange: A Tale of the South Downs, featuring just eight composite woodblock illustrations by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), appeared in volume form in July 1860. This was one of eight 19th century books for which Phiz received a commission in 1860, the others being unremarkable except for Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh; An Oriental Romance, a re-issue of the 1817 poem. Indeed, although woodblock engraving was not his forté, his only deviations from the woodblock were in Twigs for Nests and Dinner and Diners at Home and Abroad. The 1859-60 Bentley's commission effectively concluded Phiz's working with Ainsworth since Auriol (1865) had actually appeared twenty years earlier as Revellations of London (1844).

Phiz's Commissions from 1860, according to Lester and Buchanan-Brown

  • (Anon.) Twigs for Nests.
  • W. Harrison Ainsworth, Ovingdean Grange.* [8 cuts]
  • E. L. Blanchard, Dinner and Diners at Home and Abroad.
  • Halwin Caldwell, The Art of Doing Our Best.* +
  • Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh.* +
  • Robert Paltock, The Adventures of Peter Wilkins.*
  • J. B. Ware, The Fortunes of the House of Pennyl.*
  • Grace and Philip Wharton, Wits and Beaux of Society.*
  • * composite woodblock engravings; + Browne and others.

Commentary: Phiz at Work after A Tale of Two Cities

Whereas Phiz executed the programs of illustration for Mervyn Clitheroe (1851-52; 1858) and A Tale of Two Cities (1859) in his old, caricatural style, albeit somewhat modified in deference to the new taste for realism in illustration, he subsequently seems to have abandoned this style in the wood-engravings for The Spendthrift (1857-58) and Ovingdean Grange (1859-60). Moreover, although he uses the strategy of the dark plate extensively in the steel-engravings for Mervyn Clitheroe and occasionally (as in The Mail, June 1859) in A Tale of Two Cities, he has not attempted this method of steel-engraving for the programs using wood-engravings. As John Buchanan-Brown notes, in his wood-engravings from the mid-1850s onwards, Phiz "was never at home with the technique of woodcutting" (citing Edgar Browne, p. 26) because he did not have recourse to cross-hatching and could notprovide subtle background details; in consequence, Phiz tended to increase the use of white space as he emphasized the thin lines in his drawing. These tendencies are quite pronounced in the Routledge cheap editions of Ovingdean Grange and The Spendthrift.

The Illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)

Working methods


Ainsworth, William Harrison. Ovingdean Grange: A Tale of the South Downs. (1860). Illustrated by Phiz. Ainsworth's Works. London & New York: George Routledge, 1876.

Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. (1860). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

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

Vann, J. Don. "William Harrison Ainsworth's Ovingdean Grange: A Tale of the South Downs in Bentley's Miscellany, November 1859 — July 1860." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985, pp. 30-31.

Created 29 December 2019