Tony Weller ejects Mr. Stiggins
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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In the final instalment — Parts 19 and 20, which appeared in the November 1837 double number — Phiz has elected to depict a series of comic moments that are not associated with the titular character at all. These choices imply that Dickens had come to trust Phiz's sense as to what topics were most suitable for illustration. In "Tony Weller ejects Mr. Stiggins," for example, the writer and illustrator act, as it were, as co-presenters of the comic comeuppance of the hypocritical dissenting minister and "shepherd" of the Emanuel Chapel at Dorking, Surrey. At the borough's venerable Marquis of Granby public house on a tranquil, tree-lined street, coachman and publican Tony Weller, incensed with Stiggins's hypocrisy and manifest greed, gives the alcoholic "pastor" a drubbing and then immerses him in the pub's horse-trough, as a mock baptism, perhaps. The scene depicted occurs shortly after the sudden death of Sam Weller's "mother-in-law" (stepmother), a devoted member of Stiggins's congregation; vulture-like Stiggins hovers over Tony in hopes of securing a bequest, despite the fact that he was inadvertently the cause of her death, for his prolonged, sermonical rant while she was sitting on the grass in the rain listening to him for hours occasioned her catching a severe cold.
Sam, having repaired to his father's pub as soon as he received a letter at London's George and Vulture announcing her demise, in the background of the illustration cheers on his incensed father. The coachman's assault seems to be triggered by the alcoholic preacher's helping himself to pineapple rum, sugar, and water on the strength of some sort of financial commitment to the Emanuel he feels sure that Tony's wife, Susan, just buried, has made in her will. Suddenly throwing the hot liquor in Stiggins's face, Tony proceeds to kick him vigorously from the bar, through the passage, and out into the street. Thus, the illustration culminates this operation of comic nemesis.
Sam dutifully adjusted the hat with the long hatband more firmly on his father's head, and the old gentleman, resuming his kicking with greater agility than before, tumbled with Mr. Stiggins through the bar, and through the passage, out at the front door, and so into the street — the kicking continuing the whole way, and increasing in vehemence, rather than diminishing, every time the top-boot was lifted.
It was a beautiful and exhilarating sight to see the red-nosed man writhing in Mr. Weller's grasp, and his whole frame quivering with anguish as kick followed kick in rapid succession; it was a still more exciting spectacle to behold Mr. Weller, after a powerful struggle, immersing Mr. Stiggins's head in a horse- trough full of water, and holding it there, until he was half suffocated.
"There!" said Mr. Weller, throwing all his energy into one most complicated kick, as he at length permitted Mr. Stiggins to withdraw his head from the trough, "send any vun o' them lazy shepherds here, and I'll pound him to a jelly first, and drownd him artervards! Sammy, help me in, and fill me a small glass of brandy. I'm out o' breath, my boy." [458-59]
(Ironically, although his Christianity was compatible with middle-of-the-road Anglicanism throughout his life, in the next decade the author was a regular member of a Unitarian congregation in London.)
The sign above the entrance to the pub in Phiz's illustration designates Tony Weller as the publican, reinforcing his connection to the real Moses Pickwick, a tavern-keeper who also operated a stagecoach business from Bath. Gargoyles supporting the ornamental lintel smile appreciatively at the unfolding drama and rough justice Tony, their owner, exacts. The streaming funereal hatband, Stiggins's hat on the ground, and the overturned wicker basket (right) suggest the energy of Tony's attack. The illustration provides details about the setting — especially about the architectural features of the pub's facade — that the bare text alone does not, so that author and illustrator become, in effect, joint originators of this delightful scene of physical comedy and poetic justice. The red-nosed "shepherd" (a complete mockery of the "Good Shepherd" of the Gospels) appears to be almost comatose as he feebly grips the trough and positions his spindly legs to push himself back. Although the text focuses on Tony's feelings and actions, the plate encompasses Stiggins's condition, Sam's ebullient response, and the most minute details of the physical setting that Dickens seems to have relied upon Phiz to express, including the pub's bay window of leaded panes and even a straw broom (left) to clean the sidewalk in front of the establishment. This latter detail may betoken Tony's settling his unfinished business with the predatory Stiggins, a catharsis for the long-suffering coachman and the reader alike. Thus, through his vivid realisation of Dickens's scene and his elaboration of the text Phiz enforces the reader's sympathy for the widower and contempt for the hypocritical pastor, who physically is no match for the massive coachman who has had to restrain his indignation far too long. In this respect, the illustration also prepares the reader for Pickwick's denunciation of the lawyers Dodson and Fogg as "as a well-matched pair of mean, rascally, pettifogging robbers" (ch. 53, p. 466) in Perker's law offices.
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.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873.
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 12 January 2012