Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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See below for passage illustrated.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The episodic novel now develops into the semblance of a plot as the picaresque hero of the various adventures of his "club," Mr. Pickwick, faces his accuser, Mrs. Martha Bardell, in court on the charge of "breach of promise." In the comic libretto for Trial by Jury (March 1875), W. S. Gilbert satirises this same situation, undoubtedly inspired by Dickens's handling of this peculiarly Victorian charge, prosecuted by the bombastic Buzfuz (whom Dickens based upon an actual barrister, Charles Carpenter Bompas, a Serjeant-at-Law, one of the most eminent advocates of his day, and leader of the Western Circuit).
Breach of Promise: Until 1970 women could, and did, take men to court for breaking off engagements. A contract to marry was as binding in law as any other contract, and therefore the party who broke it was liable for damages. The most famous action for breach of promise in Victorian literature was, of course, that brought by Mrs. Bardell against Mr. Pickwick in Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers. [Bradley 12]
Whereas in the operetta at the Royalty Theatre, staged three hundred times in its initial two-year run, Gilbert's pallid young guitarist, Edwin, escapes the consequences of this fatuous law, Dickens's elderly Pickwick, found guilty, refuses to pay his fine of seven hundred and fifty pounds in damages, and is sent to prison. The passage from the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick — ironically staged on St. Valentine's Day — thus realised is this:
Serjeant Buzfuz, who had proceeded with such volubility that his face was perfectly crimson, here paused for breath. The silence awoke Mr. Justice Stareleigh, who immediately wrote down something with a pen without any ink in it, and looked unusually profound, to impress the jury with the belief that he always thought most deeply with his eyes shut. Serjeant Buzfuz proceeded —
"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 [the prosecuting attorney] Serjeant Buzfuz, in the august presence of justice and law, suggested itself to his mind. An admonitory gesture from [Pickwick's solicitor] 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. [chapter 34]
This illustration first appeared in monthly part 12 (March 1837).
- The indignant defendant (left)
- The smug plaintiff (right)
- The eloquent forensic orator, Serjeant Buzfuz
- The inattentive bewigged attorneys
- The amiable, astute little solicitor, Perker
Bradley, Ian. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1996.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co.,1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978. Pp. 51-85.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. Facing page 290.
Last modified 11 December 2011