The Rival Editors
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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A reprise of the party animosity at the Eatanswill election, which Pickwick attended in ch. 13, appears in this altercation and subsequent physical battle between the editors of the Tory ("Blue") and Whig ("Buff") journals for the town, Pott and Slurk, who by chance arrive by separate carriages at The Saracen's Head, Towchester, just after heavy rain has forced the Pickwick party travelling from Birmingham to London to pull in for a change of horses and some refreshment. Everyone invovled has gone into the kitchen because that is the only room at the coaching inn with a roaring fire. Although Dickens accords the medical students some prominence in the scene as they hope to bleed the antagonists, in Phiz's illustration Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen are incidental to the action, Bob being the cigar-smoker carrying a basin and lancet (left). Ineffectually, the landlady (right) is endeavouring to clean up the mess the adversaries have made in her kitchen, domestic chaos being signified by overturned chair and two overturned stools. The landlord (rear, centre) raises his hands in dismay at the damage. The centre of the action is, of course, the hapless Mr. Pickwick, being assaulted by the political adversaries.
"I consider you, sir,' said Mr. Pott, moved by this sarcasm, "I consider you a viper. I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct. I view you, sir, personally and politically, in no other light than as a most unparalleled and unmitigated viper."/p>
The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet-bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.
"Gentlemen," cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire-shovel — "gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven's sake — help — Sam — here — pray, gentlemen — interfere, somebody."
Uttering these incoherent exclamations, Mr. Pickwick rushed between the infuriated combatants just in time to receive the carpet-bag on one side of his body, and the fire-shovel on the other. Whether the representatives of the public feeling of Eatanswill were blinded by animosity, or (being both acute reasoners) saw the advantage of having a third party between them to bear all the blows, certain it is that they paid not the slightest attention to Mr. Pickwick, but defying each other with great spirit, plied the carpet-bag and the fire-shovel most fearlessly. Mr. Pickwick would unquestionably have suffered severely for his humane interference, if Mr. Weller, attracted by his master's cries, had not rushed in at the moment, and, snatching up a meal — sack, effectually stopped the conflict by drawing it over the head and shoulders of the mighty Pott, and clasping him tight round the shoulders.
Michael Steig briefly notes how Samuel Pickwick in league with the proletarian Samuel Weller, the two extremes, as it were, of the broad middle class rout the forces of misrule — ironically identified with Britain's warring political factions — whereas in the first October illustration, "Bob Sawyer's Mode of Travelling," anarchic forces (as embodied in the Dionysiac Bob) have temporarily gotten the better of Pickwick, and of the episodic storyline:
The accompanying plate, "The Rival Editors" (ch. 51), finds both Pickwick and Sam on the side of order, interfering in the absurd conflict between the editors and ignoring the medical students who circle them, brandishing their scalpels. This is the last broadly comic episode in the novel, and can be seen as a resolution, a laying to rest of the early Pickwick, as he and Sam have the advantage over the ridiculous comic characters, and only the medical students suggest any continuation of Misrule (a term I have taken from traditional Christmas festivities. . . ). [36-37]
From his superior position on the china hutch Sam Weller comes to the aid of his master by placing a meal sack over the head of The Eatanswill Gazette editor Pott, who favours the "Blues" or Tories. Effectively, then, Pickwick has nothing to fear from Pott's fire-shovel, but is still being buffeted by the carpet-bag wielded by the recently arrived Slurk, editor of the Eatanswill Independent, the "Buff" or Liberal-leaning periodical for an East Anglian town, probably based on Sudbury, which Dickens visited as a young reporter covering a byelection in 1834.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File and Checkmark Books, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Charles Dickens Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867.
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 9 January 2012