Mr. Bob Sawyer's Mode of Travelling
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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Having finally gone bankrupt in his apothecary business in Bristol — no surprise, given his heavy drinking in chapter 35 — Bob Sawyer now decides to accompany Mr. Pickwick and Ben Allen on their mission to Birmingham to inform Winkle's father about his son's recent marriage to Ben's sister, Arabella. As in the text, The chaise has advanced to the high road outside Bristol, and Bob, wearing a rough coat and shawl — and Sam Weller's hat — under the influence of morning potations is playing the clown. Presumably, the "small leathern knapsack" that Sawyer brought with him is in the dickey with kindred spirit Sam. The "moment" realised is, in fact, an extensive passage describing the riotous conduct of the jovial former medical student and Bristol chemist riding on the top of the chaise or two-person carriage:
Here a prolonged imitation of a key–bugle broke upon the ear, succeeded by cheers and screams, all of which evidently proceeded from the throat and lungs of the quietest creature breathing, or in plainer designation, of Mr. Bob Sawyer himself.
Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Ben Allen looked expressively at each other, and the former gentleman taking off his hat, and leaning out of the coach window until nearly the whole of his waistcoat was outside it, was at length enabled to catch a glimpse of his facetious friend.
Mr. Bob Sawyer was seated, not in the dickey, but on the roof of the chaise, with his legs as far asunder as they would conveniently go, wearing Mr. Samuel Weller's hat on one side of his head, and bearing, in one hand, a most enormous sandwich, while, in the other, he supported a goodly–sized case–bottle, to both of which he applied himself with intense relish, varying the monotony of the occupation by an occasional howl, or the interchange of some lively badinage with any passing stranger. The crimson flag was carefully tied in an erect position to the rail of the dickey; and Mr. Samuel Weller, decorated with Bob Sawyer's hat, was seated in the centre thereof, discussing a twin sandwich, with an animated countenance, the expression of which betokened his entire and perfect approval of the whole arrangement.
This was enough to irritate a gentleman with Mr. Pickwick's sense of propriety, but it was not the whole extent of the aggravation, for a stage–coach full, inside and out, was meeting them at the moment, and the astonishment of the passengers was very palpably evinced. The congratulations of an Irish family, too, who were keeping up with the chaise, and begging all the time, were of rather a boisterous description, especially those of its male head, who appeared to consider the display as part and parcel of some political or other procession of triumph.
"Mr. Sawyer!" cried Mr. Pickwick, in a state of great excitement, "Mr. Sawyer, Sir!"
"Hallo!" responded that gentleman, looking over the side of the chaise with all the coolness in life.
"Are you mad, sir?" demanded Mr. Pickwick.
"Not a bit of it," replied Bob; "only cheerful."
"Cheerful, sir!" ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. "Take down that scandalous red handkerchief, I beg. I insist, Sir. Sam, take it down."
Before Sam could interpose, Mr. Bob Sawyer gracefully struck his colours, and having put them in his pocket, nodded in a courteous manner to Mr. Pickwick, wiped the mouth of the case–bottle, and applied it to his own, thereby informing him, without any unnecessary waste of words, that he devoted that draught to wishing him all manner of happiness and prosperity. Having done this, Bob replaced the cork with great care, and looking benignantly down on Mr. Pickwick, took a large bite out of the sandwich, and smiled.
"Come," said Mr. Pickwick, whose momentary anger was not quite proof against Bob’s immovable self–possession, "pray let us have no more of this absurdity."
"No, no," replied Bob, once more exchanging hats with Mr. Weller; "I didn't mean to do it, only I got so enlivened with the ride that I couldn't help it."
"Think of the look of the thing," expostulated Mr. Pickwick; "have some regard to appearances."
"Oh, certainly," said Bob, "it's not the sort of thing at all. All over, governor." [Chapter 50, p. 435]
The illustration admirably conveys, as Michael Steig suggests, the textual scene's broad, physical comedy, which depends for its full effect upon the reader's prior acquaintance with the antics of the irrepressible Bob Sawyer contrasting Mr. Pickwick's manifest concern with maintaining appropriate (i. e., respectable, middle class) appearances. Riding atop the coach, which he strides as if it were a horse, Bob momentarily becomes a lord of misrule, affronting the staid Pickwick's conventional middle-class sense of propriety with his "great variety of practical jokes" (434). The illustration conveys a sense of the scene's comic vitality while capturing all the textual elements: the "volatile" Bob Sawyer on top of the coach, the reproving Pickwick leaning out the chaise's window, the convivial Sam in the boot, and — realised with exuberant vigour and charming detail — the ragged but ebullient family of Irish "tinkers." Under Phiz's hand, these leprechaun-like beggars (elaborated and individualised) seem both to race alongside the coach and dance. Bob Sawyer's business partner, Benjamin Allen, travelling inside with Pickwick, is not evident, but Phiz has included in the upper left a fully laden coach approaching from the opposite direction, its passengers obviously enjoying (rather than astonished at) the humorous spectacle as much as the readers of the October 1837 instalment. Deconstructing the moment realised as an exhibition of the class differences upon which the novel rarely touches (since all The characters, from medical students, lawyers, and businessmen, to incarcerated debtors, the coach-driver and publican Tony Weller and his son, a "boots," are members of the broad and burgeoning middle class), Steig remarks:
A different kind of thematic emphasis occurs in "Mr. Bob Sawyer's mode of travelling" (ch. 49) where the seedy Sawyer and his friend Ben Allen first come into contact with Pickwick. At this point the hero's transformation from bumbling fool into fountainhead of benevolence and wisdom is virtually complete, and yet suddenly we are given a violently comic episode in which Pickwick reverts to some of his early qualities, followed in the next plate by an even more broadly slapstick episode. If we accept the principle that the novel is moving toward the establishment of a pastoral Pickwickian patriarchy for Winkle, Snodgrass, Sam, and their wives, the medical students introduced at this point represent the eruption of characteristics which the novel increasingly has either overcome or denied: self-interest, self-dramatization, lack of self-control, overindulgence in corporeal (if not carnal) pleasures, and even (in Ben and Bob's eagerness to "bleed" someone) indifference to others' physical sufferings. Browne's illustration even more than Dickens' text vividly expresses the subversiveness of these figures.
There are no details in the plate which are not in the text, but the "Irish family," whose "congratulations" are of a "rather boisterous description," is interpreted as a group of tinkers &mdash two parents, seven children, and a dog — the father, the eldest boy, and one of the girls all saluting in direct imitation of Bob's gestures with bottle and sandwich. Pickwick's indignation is, in the text, to be converted with the help of a bottle of punch into a passive participation in the merriment; but in the etching he is caught at the moment when he is at the height of bourgeois respectability, in contrast to Bob, Sam Weller, and the Irish family. Phiz has thus apparently taken a generalized reference in the text and made it into the novel's only concrete reference to the lowest classes, implying that they are both a potential threat and a source of vitality beyond the range of Pickwick's comprehension. [Steig 36-37]
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Charles Dickens Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. Facing p. 435.
Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Last modified 31 December 2011