A barber is asked to shave a man who has no facial hair. Etching by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne).
- Browne, Hablot Knight, 1815-1882
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About this work
An episode in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. A London barber (Poll Sweedlepipe) is visited by an old friend called Bailey. Bailey has been appointed as the liveried footman to a financier called Montague, and, like Montague, has delusions of grandeur. Although he has no facial hair, he insists on being shaved as if he had. "The barber stood aghast; but Mr. Bailey divested himself of his neck-cloth, and sat down in the easy shaving chair with all the dignity and confidence in life. There was no resisting his manner. The evidence of sight and touch became as nothing. His chin was as smooth as a new-laid egg or a scraped Dutch cheese; but Poll Sweedlepipe wouldn't have ventured to deny, on affidavit, that he had the beard of a Jewish rabbi."
"… in Chapter 29 we see together in a single scene Mr. Bailey clad as a footman and the interior of the bird-fancier's shop. The plate accurately includes details from the descriptions in both chapters 26 and 29: the favourite owl, the strop, the razors laid out in a row (right), and Bailey's smooth chin. Phiz, however, invented many of the details, including a can of bear's grease (at the left) and the wig stand surmounted by Bailey's imposing hat … The precise comic moment that the plate realizes occurs when Master Bailey attempts to enforce Poll's belief in his non-existent whiskers, which are as illusionary as the funds supporting the Anglo-Bengalee Life Assurance Company. … The footman's livery seems too big for Bailey, who is so small that he can barely straddle the barber's easy-shaving chair … And just as Poll studies the effect of his shaving on Bailey's visage, so Bailey seems impressed by the effect of his footman's hat and wig on Poll's coat rack (left), while a wig block (right) and the owl in a cage seem amazed — either at the transformation or at Bailey's effrontery. … In drawing Poll Phiz, who has substituted leanness for shortness, has in fact given him top-boots to emphasize his height and angularity. Only later, however, does Master Bailey actually enter the barber's and demand a shave. Browne emphasizes his short stature by his turned-down top-boots, over-sized waistcoat, and white corduroy breeches with a low crotch (all of which, of course, the fashion-conscious Poll pronounces "Beau-ti-ful!" in Chapter 26). Poll against his better judgment as an experienced barber finds himself caught up in Bailey's illusion. Poll momentarily credits Bailey's self-confident imposture, ready to swear in a legal document that Bailey possesses "the beard of a Jewish rabbi" (Chapter 29). However, the reader wonders whether, unlike Mr. Montague, Mr. Bailey is merely deluding himself."—Allingham, loc. cit.
The barber is a bird fancier, hence the numerous (more than a dozen) bird-cages in his shop
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