Martin is Much Gratified by an Imposing Ceremony
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
"I hope my Honourable Friend," said the Gentlemanly Member, of Mr. Pecksniff, "will give me many opportunities of cultivating the knowledge of him, and I may lay to-day two first stones, both belonging to structures which shall last my life!" — Chapter 35
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit
Scanned image, caption, and commentary below by Philip V. Allingham.
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In the last chapter in the thirteenth monthly instalment, young Martin, who has returned from America poorer but wiser, witnesses Pecksniff's fraudulently claiming Martin's design for a grammar school building as his own. The stout timbers assembled as a tripod, as we may surmise from the letterpress, will enable the local Member of Parliament to lever the foundation stone (centre) into place. At the right-hand base of the triangle, architectural plans in hand, stands the man of the hour, while at the left hand base of the triangle stand the other community pillars, the schoolmaster ("an ancient scholar" who reads the Latin inscription) and (we presume) his wife (left); meanwhile, standing on a bucket, the local M. P., his social eminence emphasized by the tower and flagpole immediately behind him (though according to the text, he must be on the ground since he looks up at the stone), extols the labour and character of Pecksniff. He holds a trowel in his left hand as he gestures at the celebrated architect with his right, as if Pecksniff is the metaphorical mortar that binds the community together, or another corner stone about to be set in place after winning the public design competition and thereby established as a well-known architect.
The viewer instinctively scans the admiring crowd of assembled bourgeoisie (their respectability identified by top-hats and bonnets) for Mark and young Martin, from whose perspective Dickens describes the scene. Squeezed into a corner on the ground, Mark and Martin might be the pair of observers top left, except for the fact that they are able to step forward and, unseen by the architect, survey his plans. The charity children are evident behind Pecksniff, but Phiz seems to have been unable to work in the marching band and rod-carrying Corporation, although the Mayor is present, to the right of Pecksniff, with whom he has been conversing. The purpose of the mortar and second, practicable trowel (bottom, centre) which, presumably, Pecksniff will wield in the ceremony are obvious enough, but the meaning of the overturned bottle, lying on the ground, is not — unless it is the little vase containing coins that the Member has been jingling moments earlier. The cornerstone has already been lowered into place, and Pecksniff has, as the letterpress suggests, unrolled his plans, but these have yet to receive the admiring gaze of the assembled multitude, and Martin has yet to step forward and, in private conversation with Mark, claim the plans for the grammar school as his own design, pirated (a reminder of Dickens's ill-fated lawsuit against Peter Parley's Illuminated Library for theft of A Christmas Carol. Steig points out that
The caption here is ironic, since Martin is outraged at Pecksniff's plagiarism of his architectural design. The tripod which supports the block and tackle will figure again in the frontispiece [one of the last plates executed], with Pecksniff dangling from it in a fitting allegory of his defeat and humiliation. (DSA 2, 137)
The moment illustrated seems to be when the M. P. points his silver trowel toward Pecksniff as he remarks,
The present occasion . . . will ever be memorable to me: not only for the reasons I have assigned, but because it has afforded me an opportunity of becoming personally known to a gentleman . . . who, I am happy to believe, will reap both distinction and profit from this field . . . . (ch. 35)
In short, Pecksniff, like Tigg, has thus far been successful at fooling the majority into believing him a pillar of society and his profession. But Martin, who feels quite the reverse of "gratified" at having witnessed the "imposing ceremony," now resolves to unmask the hypocrite at last.
Steig, Michael. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972): 119-149.
---. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock and Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 49-85.
Last modified 5 January 2009