In the spring of 1836, Hablot Browne was introduced to the author Charles Dickens. It was at the time when Dickens was looking for someone to illustrate The Pickwick Papers. Browne had been the illustrator of his little pamphlet Sunday under Three Heads. In the original edition of Pickwick, the first seven plates were drawn by Robert Seymour. However he committed suicide in April 1836. The next two plates were by Robert William Buss.
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.”
Working with Dickens.
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: afterwards they made several journeys of this nature in company 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.
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.