Hablot Knight Browne

Last updated

Hablot Knight Browne
Phiz-Sarony- 1870s.jpg
Browne photographed by Sarony c.1870s
Born(1815-07-10)10 July 1815
Died8 July 1882(1882-07-08) (aged 66)
Other namesPhiz
  • Artist
  • illustrator

Hablot Knight Browne (10 July 1815 – 8 July 1882) was an English artist and illustrator. Well-known by his pen name, Phiz, he illustrated books by Charles Dickens, Charles Lever, and Harrison Ainsworth.


Early life

Of Huguenot ancestry, Hablot Knight Browne was born in England, in Lambeth (near London) on Kennington Lane. He was the fourteenth of Catherine and William Loder Browne's fifteen children. According to his biographer Valerie Browne Lester, Phiz was in fact the illegitimate son of his putative eldest sister Kate and Captain Nicholas Hablot of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. There is some uncertainty regarding the exact date of birth. 10 July 1815 is the date given by Valerie Browne Lester, his great-great-granddaughter. John Buchanan-Brown in his book Phiz!: Illustrator of Dickens' World says 12 July 1815. The date on his Christening record of 21 December 1815 at St Mary's Church, Lambeth, Surrey, England gives 11 June 1815, as does the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition and 15 June 1815 ( Dictionary of National Biography ). A copy of the program from his burial service, which is still owned by the Browne family, says he was born 10 July 1815.

When he was 7 years old, his father William Browne abandoned the family, changed his name to Breton and sailed with embezzled funds to Philadelphia where he became known for his watercolour paintings. William Browne was then declared dead by his wife Catherine. [1]

Thomas Moxon, husband of William's sister Ann Loder Browne, helped to support the family, who were left badly off.

Browne was apprenticed to William Finden, an engraver, in whose studio he obtained his only artistic education. However, he was unsuited for engraving, and having during 1833 secured an important prize from the Society of Arts for a drawing of John Gilpin, he abandoned engraving in the following year and began other artistic work, with the ultimate object of becoming a painter.


In the spring of 1836, he met Charles Dickens. It was at the time when Dickens was looking for someone to illustrate Pickwick . Browne became the illustrator of his little pamphlet Sunday under Three Heads. In the original edition of Pickwick, issued in shilling monthly parts from early in 1836 until the end of 1837, the first seven plates were drawn by Robert Seymour, who committed suicide in April 1836. The next two plates were by Robert William Buss.

1849 etching for David Copperfield, titled "I make myself known to my aunt" Betsey trotwood by phiz.jpg
1849 etching for David Copperfield , titled "I make myself known to my aunt"

Browne and William Makepeace Thackeray visited the publishers' office with specimens of their work for Dickens's inspection. The novelist preferred Browne. Browne's first two etched plates for Pickwick were signed "Nemo", but the third was signed "Phiz", a pseudonym which was retained in future. When asked to explain why he chose this name he answered that the change from "Nemo" to "Phiz" was made to harmonize better with Dickens's "Boz".

Phiz developed the character Sam Weller graphically just as Seymour had developed Pickwick. Dickens and Phiz became good friends and in 1838 travelled together to Yorkshire to see the schools of which Nicholas Nickleby became the hero. They later made several other journeys together to facilitate the illustrator's work. Other Dickens characters illustrated by Phiz were Squeers, Micawber, Guppy, Major Bagstock, Mrs Gamp, Tom Pinch and David Copperfield.

Of the ten books by Dickens which Phiz illustrated, he is most known for David Copperfield , Pickwick, Dombey and Son , Martin Chuzzlewit and Bleak House . Browne made several drawings for Punch in his early days and also towards the end of his life. He designed the wrapper which was used for eighteen months from January 1842. He also contributed to Punch's Pocket Books.

1850 etching for David Copperfield, titled "I am married" I am married by Phiz.jpg
1850 etching for David Copperfield , titled "I am married"

In addition to his work for Dickens, Phiz illustrated more than twenty of Lever's novels (among them Harry Lorrequer, Charles O'Malley, Jack Hinton and the Knight of Gwynne). He also illustrated Harrison Ainsworth's and Frank Smedley's novels. Mervyn Clitheroe by Ainsworth is one of the most accomplished of the artist's works.

Most of Browne's work was etched on steel plates because these yielded a far larger edition than copper. Browne was annoyed at some of his etchings being transferred to stone by the publishers and printed as lithographic reproductions. Partly with the view to prevent this treatment of his work, he employed a machine to rule a series of lines over the plate in order to obtain what appeared to be a tint; when manipulated with acid this tint gave an effect somewhat resembling mezzotint, which at that time it was found practically impossible to transfer to stone.


Browne was in continual employment by publishers until 1867, when he suffered an illness that caused a degree of paralysis. After recovering, he produced many woodcuts. In 1878 he was awarded an annuity by the Royal Academy. His health gradually worsened until he died on 8 July 1882.


Four of his illustrations were issued as stamps by the Royal Mail in 2012 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. [2]

Related Research Articles

Charles Dickens Victorian English writer and social critic

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are widely read today.

<i>David Copperfield</i> 1849–1850 novel by Charles Dickens

The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery , commonly known as David Copperfield, is a novel in the bildungsroman genre by Charles Dickens, narrated by the eponymous David Copperfield, detailing his adventures in his journey from infancy to maturity. It was first published as a serial in 1849–50, and as a book in 1850.

William Harrison Ainsworth English novelist

William Harrison Ainsworth was an English historical novelist born at King Street in Manchester. He trained as a lawyer, but the legal profession held no attraction for him. While completing his legal studies in London he met the publisher John Ebers, at that time manager of the King's Theatre, Haymarket. Ebers introduced Ainsworth to literary and dramatic circles, and to his daughter, who became Ainsworth's wife.

John Leech (caricaturist) English caricaturist and illustrator

John Leech was a British caricaturist and illustrator. He was best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech catered to contemporary prejudices, such as anti-Americanism and antisemitism and supported acceptable social reforms. Leech's critical yet humorous cartoons on the Crimean War help shape public attitudes toward heroism, warfare, and Britons' role in the world.

<i>Sketches by Boz</i>

Sketches by "Boz," Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People is a collection of short pieces Charles Dickens originally published in various newspapers and other periodicals between 1833 and 1836. They were re-issued in book form, under their current title, in February and August 1836, with illustrations by George Cruikshank. The first complete one volume edition appeared in 1839. The 56 sketches concern London scenes and people, and the whole work is divided into four sections: "Our Parish", "Scenes", "Characters" and "Tales". The material in the first three sections consists of non-narrative pen-portraits, but the last section comprises fictional stories.

<i>The Pickwick Papers</i> 1837 novel by Charles Dickens

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was Charles Dickens' first novel. Because of his success with Sketches by Boz published in 1836 Dickens was asked by the publisher Chapman & Hall to supply descriptions to explain a series of comic "cockney sporting plates" by illustrator Robert Seymour, and to connect them into a novel. The book became Britain's first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise. On its cultural impact, Nicholas Dames in The Atlantic writes, “Literature” is not a big enough category for Pickwick. It defined its own, a new one that we have learned to call “entertainment.” Published in 19 issues over 20 months, the success of The Pickwick Papers popularised serialised fiction and cliffhanger endings.

Illustrated fiction

Illustrated fiction is a hybrid narrative medium in which images and text work together to tell a story. It can take various forms, including fiction written for adults or children, magazine fiction, comic strips, and picture books.

<i>Master Humphreys Clock</i>

Master Humphrey's Clock was a weekly periodical edited and written entirely by Charles Dickens and published from 4 April 1840 to 4 December 1841. It began with a frame story in which Master Humphrey tells about himself and his small circle of friends, and their penchant for telling stories. Several short stories were included, followed by the novels The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge. It is generally thought that Dickens originally intended The Old Curiosity Shop as a short story like the others that had appeared in Master Humphrey's Clock, but after a few chapters decided to extend it into a novel. Master Humphrey appears as the first-person narrator in the first three chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop but then disappears, stating, "And now that I have carried this history so far in my own character and introduced these personages to the reader, I shall for the convenience of the narrative detach myself from its further course, and leave those who have prominent and necessary parts in it to speak and act for themselves."

Frank Reynolds was a British artist. Son of an artist, he studied at Heatherley's School of Art. His work was part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Outis is an often used pseudonym. Artists, writers and others in public life use this pseudonym in order to hide their identity. The Latin equivalent Nemo is also often used.

Joseph Grego was an art collector and exhibitor, author and journalist, inventor and graphics expert.

Robert Seymour (illustrator)

Robert Seymour was a British illustrator known for his illustrations for The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and for his caricatures. He committed suicide after arguing with Dickens over the illustrations for Pickwick.

Fred Barnard

Frederick Barnard was an English illustrator, caricaturist and genre painter. He is noted for his work on the novels of Charles Dickens published between 1871 and 1879 by Chapman and Hall.

Robert William Buss

Robert William Buss was a Victorian artist, etcher and illustrator perhaps best known for his painting Dickens' Dream. He was the father of Frances Buss, a pioneer of girls' education.

George Halse was a sculptor, novelist, and poet.

Henry Winkles

Henry Winkles (1801–1860) was an English architectural illustrator, engraver and printer, who, together with Karl Ludwig Frommel founded the first studio for steel engraving in Germany.

Joseph Clayton Clark

Joseph Clayton Clark, who worked under the pseudonym "Kyd", was a British artist best known for his illustrations of characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. The artwork was published in magazines or sold as watercolor paintings, rather than included in an edition of the novels.

<i>Once a Week</i> (magazine)

Once A Week was a British weekly illustrated literary magazine published by Bradbury & Evans from 1859 to 1880. According to John Sutherland, "[h]istorically the magazine's main achievement was to provide an outlet for [an] innovative group of illustrators [in] the 1860s."

Frederick George Kitton was a British wood-engraver, author, and illustrator. He is best known for illustrating and editing the works of Charles Dickens.

William Hall was a British publisher who, with Edward Chapman, founded Chapman & Hall, publishers for Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anthony Trollope, Eadweard Muybridge and Evelyn Waugh among others.


  1. Valerie Browne Lester (28 November 2006). "Phiz, Dickens and London". Gresham College. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  2. "Charles Dickens". Royal Mail. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2012.

Further reading