It was a still more exciting spectacle to behold Mr. Weller . . . . . immersing Mr. Stiggins's head in a horse-trough full of water, and holding it there until he was half suffocatedd by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 369. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The scene depicted twice by Phiz (1837 and 1873) and by the American satirical cartoonist Thomas Nast occurs shortly after the sudden death of Sam Weller's "mother-in-law" (stepmother), a devoted member of Reverend Stiggins's congregation of gullible females; 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.

Left: Tony Weller ejects Mr. Stiggins by Phiz (Nov., 1837). Right: Resumes his kicking with greater agility than before by Thomas Nast. [Click on these images to enlarge them.]

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 that 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 eject him forcefully from the bar, through the passage, and out into the street, this being the scene that Nast has vigorously realised as Stiggins is airborn and Tony has but one foot on the ground, while Sam complacently observes the action inside The Marquis of Granby. Thus, the three illustrations culminate this operation of comic nemesis.

Passage illustrated:

. . . when Stiggins stopped for breath [in the midst of his consuming his customary grog composed of sugar pine-apple rum, and hot water), [Tony Weller] darted upon him, and snatching the tumbler from his hand, threw the remainder of the rum-and-water in his face, and the glass itself into the grate. Then, seizing the reverend gentleman firmly by the collar, he suddenly fell to kicking him most furiously, accompanying every application of his top-boot to Mr. Stiggins's person, with sundry violent and incoherent anathemas upon his limbs, eyes, and body.

"Sammy," said Mr. Weller, "put my hat on tight for me."

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." [The Household Edition, ch. 52: pp. 458-59 in the Chapman & Hall printing; p. 306 in the Harper & Bros. printing]

With the background of the public-house's interior lightly sketched in, Nast focuses the reader's attention on the sharply contrasting figures of the thin, airborn victim and the rotund assailant, his strength of emotion suggested by his funereal hatband and topcoat billowing out behind him. That the reader should not be concerned about "the reverend" gentleman's physical well-being Nast telegraphs through the nonchalant figure of the normative observer, Sam Weller. The same styllistic feature, the suggesting of Tony Weller's emotional state through his hatband and flying tails of the topcoat, occurs in Phiz's original treatment of this subject. However, in the original serial engraving the juxtaposition of the figures is the reverse of the 1873 woodcut, with Sam on the left and Tony and his victim facing right. In abbreviating the height of the illustration for the woodcut, unfortunately Phiz had to eliminate the sign for "The Marquis of Granby" and even the placard bearing the name of the licensee above the doorway. A curious detail is the inclusion of both Phiz illustrations of Stiggins's signature black hat and unmbrella, which Nast depicts in the very act of flight; logically, both of these objects associated with the dissenting minister should not be in the exterior scene.

Related Material

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 11 March 2012