THE PICKWICK PAPERS - The Illustrations
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was published by Chapman & Hall in twenty monthly parts. The first part appeared April 1836, and contained four etchings by Robert Seymour.
This artist had been engaged to produce four plates for each issue of Pickwick. In addition he had many commissions from other sources, and these and other worries aflected his mind to the extent that he committed suicide on April 20, 1836. He had completed the following seven drawings, the first four of which appeared in the first number, and the last three in the second. Mr. Pickwick Addresses the Club, The Pugnacious Cabman, The Sagacious Dog, Dr. Slammer's Defiance of Jingle, The Dying Clown, Mr. Pickwick in Chase of his Hat, and Mr. Winkle Soothes the Refractory Steed. A number of these illustrations, and one or two sketches for Pickwick, were sold at auction for the astonishing sum of £500. Besides the illustrations noted, Seymour drew the design which appeared on the green wrapper of the monthly parts.
After Seymour's death two illustrations only were published in each part, and R. W. Buss was asked to undertake these drawings. The third part of Pickwick contains The Cricket Match and The Fat Boy Awake on this Occasion Only. These plates were extremely poor, and were suppressed as quickly as possible, Hablot R. Browne finally undertaking the illustrating. Buss produced several designs which were not used, some of which were reproduced in facsimile in the Victoria Edition of 1887. Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) was in his twenty-first vear when he was selected to illustrate Pickwick. The etchings in part four are signed Nemo, the pseudonvm of Phiz being adopted afterwards to harmonise with Dickens' Boz.
Owing to the wear and tear of the plates, due to the increased circulation of the monthly parts, they were etched in duplicate from the tenth number, which accounts for some of the noticeable differences to be found in various copies of the first issue. A set of proofs of Phiz's plates were sold at Sotheby's in 1889 for twenty guineas. The original drawings are fortunately extant, and are interesting inasmuch as they contain notes and suggestions by Dickens.
In 1837 the complete work was published, partly illustrated from a new set of plates by Phiz, much superior to those issued with the monthly parts, and partly with the original illustrations. A cheap edition appeared in 1847, first of the double-column series, and contained a frontispiece by C. R. Leslie, R.A. Six new designs were prepared by Phiz for this edition, and were engraved on wood. The subjects of these illustrations were, Mr. Winkle's First Shot, The Effects of Cold Punch, Mr. Pickwick at Dodson and Fogg's, The Kiss under the Mistletoe, Old Weller at the Temperance Meeting, and The Leg, of Mutton ' Swarry. The same artist contributed a vignette for the title-page to the volumes of the Library Edition, and finally fifty-seven designs to the Household Edition published by Chapman & Hall. These last drawings are extremely poor, for Phiz had been attacked by paralysis and was unable to make proper use of his right hand. A collection of these drawings averaged about £7 each at Sotheby's in 1887. The American issue of the Household Edition is illustrated by Thomas Nast.
Thackeray, according to the well-known story, offered to do the illustrations at the death of Seymour, and even imagined that he had obtained the work, the story going that he and Hablot Browne dined together to celebrate his success! John Leech also submitted a sketch. a pencil drawing faintly tinted in colours, entitled Tom Smart and the Chair. The subject was, however, never used, Leech doing no drawings for Dickens until the appearance of the Christmas Carol, which he illustrated.
A claim was put forward by Mrs. Seymour, widow of the original artist, in which she stated in a pamphlet entitled An Account of the Origin of the Pickwick Papers, that the work ‘was originated by my husband in the summer of 1835 and but for a cold (which brought on a severe illness) . . . would have been written, as well as embellished, by himself’. In March 1866, owing to the revival of the story by Seymour's son, Dickens wrote a reply in the Athenaeum which effectually disposed of the statements so boldly put forward.