"An admonitory gesture from Perker restrained him, and he listened to the learned gentleman's continuation with a look of indignation by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 241. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

"The Trial," one of the most famous scenes in the original series, Phiz re-captions "An admonitory gesture from Perker restrained him, and he listened to the learnéd gentleman's continuation with a look of indignation" to suggest that Phiz is emphasising the importance of Pickwick's attorney, Perker, the small man just left of centre in the original and the 1873 revision, who counsels a startled Pickwick (in the original, an indignant Pickwick) to hold his tongue, even though so egregiously provoked by Sergeant Bozfuz's characterisation of him as a picture of "revolting heartlessness, and of systematic villainy" (ch. 34, p. 236 in the Household Edition). In this thirty-fourth Household Edition woodcut and in the original, "The Trial" (March 1837), Phiz illustrates Sergeant Buzfuz's trying Pickwick's patience and temper by denigrating the retired merchant as a "serpent" and seducer of widows, although in neither is Mrs. Bardell either remotely attractive or sympathetic.

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The Trial by Phiz (March 1837).

In each Phiz illustration, Mr. Perker (his attorney's blue bag under his seat on the bench) counsels Pickwick to restrain himself and say nothing. In the 1837 engraving Perker wags his finger at his client; in the 1873 woodcut he is less reproving, touching Pickwick on the arm and putting his left index finger to his lips to signify silence as the better recourse to indignant correction of the baseless accusations. However, despite close similarities between the two Phiz compositions (particularly with respect to the disposition and poses of the various characters, and the total lack of interest shown by most of the attorney) in the 1873 revision, Perker has grown a little in stature and the number of supporting lawyers in the background behind Buzfuz's row has shrunk from twenty to ten, although the number of spectators in the students' box (upper left) has actually grown from ten to twelve, even though the 1873 version does not show the backdrop of columns and ceiling in the London Guildhall. Out of respect for the authority of the Court of Common Pleas, those such as Perker and Pickwick (unlike the be-wigged barristers) remove their hats and place them either on the bench or on the floor (as Dickens specifies for Sam Weller's hat later). The moment realised by both "Trial" illustrations is this:

"Of this man Pickwick I will say little; the subject presents but few attractions; and I, gentlemen, am not the man, nor are you, gentlemen, the men, to delight in the contemplation of revolting heartlessness, and of systematic villainy."

Here Mr. Pickwick, who had been writhing in silence for some time, gave a violent start, as if some vague idea of assaulting Sergeant Buzfuz, in the august presence of justice and law, suggested itself to his mind. An admonitory gesture from Perker restrained him, and he listened to the learned gentleman's continuation with a look of indignation, which contrasted forcibly with the admiring faces of Mrs. Cluppins and Mrs. Sanders.

"I say systematic villainy, gentlemen," said Sergeant Buzfuz, looking through Mr. Pickwick, and talking at him; "and when I say systematic villainy, let me tell the defendant Pickwick, if he be in court, as I am informed he is, that it would have been more decent in him, more becoming, in better judgment, and in better taste, if he had stopped away. Let me tell him, gentlemen, that any gestures of dissent or disapprobation in which he may indulge in this court will not go down with you; that you will know how to value and how to appreciate them; and let me tell him further, as my Lord will tell you, gentlemen, that a counsel, in the discharge of his duty to his client, is neither to be intimidated nor bullied, nor put down; and that any attempt to do either the one or the other, or the first, or the last, will recoil on the head of the attempter, be he plaintiff or be he defendant, be his name Pickwick, or Noakes, or Stoakes, or Stiles, or Brown, or Thompson." [Chapter 34, page 236 in Chapman & Hall Household Edition]

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The passage which Thomas Nast across the Atlantic chose for realisation occurs a little later, when, after Mr. Winkle and Mrs. Cluppins have testified, Sam Weller takes the stand to give evidence regarding the fainting of Mrs. Bardell in Mr. Pickwick's arms. To the modern reader, especially given the precedent of "The Trial" engraving in the original serial program, the choice of Sam as the subject may seem problematic. However, in Dickens's American readings of 1867-68, the very mention of Sam's name caused his audiences to erupt into applause, so beloved was the irrepressible Cockney to Dickens's American followers. Perhaps, then, Nast in choosing Sam Weller's testimony to epitomise the trial visually was recalling the response of contemporary audiences just six years earlier (when Dickens, impersonating Sergeant Buzfuz, intoned, "Call Samuel Weller.") and recounted in the Nation for 12 December 1867 for Dickens's first New York reading in the second tour. Questioned by the Judge as to the spelling of "Weller," since Sam uses the Cockney pronunciation of "V" for "W," Sam indicates it is spelled with a "V," when his father, somewhere at the back of the courtroom, cries out:

Here a voice in the gallery exclaimed aloud, "Quite right too, Samivel, quite right. Put it down a 'we,' Lord, put it down a 'we'."

Who is that, who dares address the court?’ said the little judge, looking up. "Usher."

"Yes, my Lord."

Bring that person here instantly."

"Yes, my Lord."

But as the usher didn’t find the person, he didn’t bring him; and, after a great commotion, all the people who had got up to look for the culprit, sat down again. The little judge turned to the witness as soon as his indignation would allow him to speak, and said —

"Do you know who that was, sir?"

"I rayther suspect it was my father, my lord," replied Sam.

"Do you see him here now?" said the judge.

"No, I don't, my Lord," replied Sam, staring right up into the lantern at the roof of the court.

"If you could have pointed him out, I would have committed him instantly," said the judge. Sam bowed his acknowledgments and turned, with unimpaired cheerfulness of countenance, towards Sergeant Buzfuz. [Chapter 34, page 206 in the Harper & Bros. Household Edition]

Rather than looking "remarkably cheerful and lively" (206), Sam plays his role in Nast's full-page illustration without breaking into a smile as he facetiously looks up to see where his father might be; strictly, Sam is telling the truth, for looking up into the Guildhall's lantern he cannot "see" his father in the students' section, and therefore the Judge cannot commit Tony Weller for contempt of court. Sam's striped waistcoat renders him almost as instantly recognisable as Pickwick with his characteristic baldness, stoutness, white waistcoat, and inevitable glasses. Unlike Phiz, Nast represents the assembled barristers by just five heads wearing rather rudimentary wigs — as opposed to Phiz's much more accurate representation of eleven legal wigs in the 1873 woodcut.

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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

References

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.


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Last modified 5 April 2012