Sam stole a look at the inquirery

Sam stole a look at the inquirer. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 57. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The first appearance of Sam Weller (originally part 5: August 1836) coincides in both illustrations with the first appearance of the law, as epitomised by the dapper, little solicitor, Mr. Perker, who represents Wardle. The pursuit of Rachael Wardle and Jingle has led Pickwick (left), Wardle (centre), and Perker (right) to the White Hart Inn in the Borough, where Sam (extreme right) is the "boots," that is, the general factotum and shoe-cleaner. Michael Steig in Dickens and Phiz notes how, even in this early Pickwick plate, Phiz uses iconographic details and juxtaposes characters to comment upon the situation:

Phiz emphasizes this undercutting in a way which suggests an independent use of expressive iconography: he leads our eye from the jaunty cockney, Sam Weller, on the left, through the three gentlemen to the little dog on the right, who is contemplating Pickwick's calves with vicious intent.

The artist's execution is crude, perhaps (and much improved in the 1838 re-etching of this plate), but the dog's presence is important, for it is not mentioned in the text, and although Dickens could have suggested him to Browne it is just as likely that the artist included him as a natural compositional and thematic complement to the independent-minded Sam. Thus, Phiz demonstrates from the outset a capacity for composing illustrations which may be "read" like a Hogarth engraving, significant details and composition combining to elucidate Dickens' text. [26]


The First Appearance of Sam Weller by Phiz. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In the Household Edition's revision of the illustration, one can barely discern the gallery — so prominent in the original 1836 illustration and strengthened in Phiz's 1838 revision: according to Jane Rabb Cohen, Phiz "made the previously flat spaces in the rear balconies recede naturalistically" (66). Now one sees very little of the of the galleries behind the figures in the 1873 plate, which also completely reverses the order of the figures, possibly because Phiz was correcting for the reverse image of the original engravings: in the 1836 and 1838 versions, Sam is on the left, polishing shoes; Perker, leaning forward, left of centre; a stout Wardle, with cane, centre; and Pickwick, hat off, to the right, contemplating Sam as the dog is contemplating Pickwick's ankle. The 1873 illustration, aside from eliminating the landlady in the gallery and the business of the haystack and the yokels sleeping upon it, is essentially a close-up, so to speak, since it covers only what is in the bottom register of the 1836 and 1838 plates. Although so much of the background has been lost (one barely remarks the three smock-frocked figures to the left), Phiz has brought the principal figures well forward. Aside from the fact that he still has his hat on, Pickwick is in his characteristic pose, with one hand under the tails of his coat and his other hand at his chin, a pose certainly implying that he is already contemplating hiring the ebullient Cockney as his servant. Lean, sharp, nattily dressed, and actively leaning forward to extract information about Jingle's room from Sam, Perker is distinguished by his black business suit and stove-pipe trousers (as opposed to the Regency fashion of Wardle and Pickwick). In all three versions, Phiz regards Mr. Perker as a member of the rising generation, a professional man and urbanite confident in his powers to deal with the situation. Wardle in both studies is an inert pillar of the landed gentry, a class and a generation on their way out, even by 1836 and certainly by 1873. A continuing albeit minor characyer, Perker will assist Pickwick in his defense against Mrs. Bardell's suit for breach-of-promise, and will eventually facilitate Pickwick's release from the Fleet Prison.

Related Material

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.

Last modified 8 March 2012