Mr. Weller and his friends drinking to Mr. Pell
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The forty-fourth plate (among four for the final, double number in November 1837) was Phiz's new frontispiece. Normally the number of plates would have been forty (and, indeed, was in successive nineteen-month serialisations of Dickens's works), but Chapman and Hall had originally contracted the well-known illustrator George Seymour for four plates per instalment, with less text from the relatively unknown Charles Dickens, the "Boz" of the "Sketches." The changeover occurred in June 1836, when the instalment ran an additional two pages of text (to 28) and the illustrations reduced to just two, Seymour having committed suicide after completing the May 1836 plates:
We started with a number of twenty-four pages [i. e., 12 leaves] instead of thirty-two [i. e., sixteen leaves], and four illustrations in lieu of a couple. Mr. Seymour's sudden and lamented death before the second number was published, brought about a quick decision upon a point already in agitation; the number became one of thirty-two pages with only two illustrations, and remained so to the end. [Charles Dickens, "Preface," The Household Edition, iv]
In the forty-third plate, Tony Weller is giving up the coaching end of the business and claiming his late wife's estate, but, in "cashing out," he wants to be sure that the lawyers do not get the better of him and his son — and so he brings along a few kindred spirits (fellow coachmen) as witnesses to the proceedings with attorney Solomon Pell, the pallid, little man seated at the left-hand end of the table. Pell, small, complacent, and wearing a dark business suit, contrasts in every respect the other, much more "flashy" revellers, who (with the exception of the slender Sam) seem cast from the same elephantine mould.
Dickens provides Tony Weller's motive for bringing along a posse of coachmen earlier in the chapter:
"As four heads is better than two, Sammy," said Mr. Weller, as they drove along the London Road in the chaise–cart, "and as all this here property [the estate of the late Mrs. Weller] is a wery great temptation to a legal gen'l'm'n, ve'll take a couple o' friends o' mine vith us, as'll be wery soon down upon him if he comes anythin' irreg'lar; two o' them as saw you to the Fleet that day. They're the wery best judges," added Mr. Weller, in a half–whisper — "the wery best judges of a horse, you ever know'd."
"And of a lawyer too?" inquired Sam.
"The man as can form a ackerate judgment of a animal, can form a ackerate judgment of anythin'," replied his father, so dogmatically, that Sam did not attempt to controvert the position.
Four versions of Mr. Weller, Sr. — the original and three facsimiles, of equal girth, height, and all particulars of dress — Sam Weller, and the attorney indulge in a farewell toast to their readership of nineteen months, having consumed a vast quantity of raw Colchester Natives whose shells appear on the table. Although Dickens specifies also "a little bit o' cold beef" (481) none is in evidence. Fortunately, The gargantuan coachmen have chosen to stand, for the fragile chairs in the room could scarcely support their weight.
As in a number of Phiz's other interiors, the room of the public house is lit by twin gas jets in the ceiling above the table. See, in particular, the scene in the snuggery of the Fleet Prison in "The Red-Nosed Man Discourseth" (ch. 45; plate), "Mr. Pickwick and Sam in the Attorney's Office" (ch. 20), and Seymour's initial illustration, "Mr. Pickwick Addresses the Club" (ch. 1; plate).
Although Scottish engineer William Murdoch (1754 — 1839) first produced a device that would replace the oil lamp and the tallow candle sometime between 1792 and 1794, he failed to patent the iron-tubed device for a controlled ignition of coal gas, and his business partners, Boulton and Watt missed their opportunity to establish a monopoly. The use of gas lighting was not fully established when Dickens began his writing career, oil lamps being in common use domestically well into the 1840s, although London Bridge was illuminated by gas in 1813, and municipal gas works had been established in Bristol (1816), Manchester (1817), and Birmingham (1819). Shortly after the publication of Pickwick, young Queen Victoria had gas lighting installed in Buckingham Palace (photograph), and London's busier streets were gas-lit by 1842, when the city employed some 380 lamplighters. As one can see in Seymour's and Phiz's illustrations of 1836-37, interior gas lighting was at this time generally reserved for shops and public buildings because of coal gas's strong ordour and the need for good ventilation since the device consumed a great deal of oxygen. The first major building to employ a gasolier was the Prince Regent's Brighton Pavilion (photograph), which boasted an enormous, fanciful Chinese flying dragon gasolier in the newly expanded banqueting room (in 1802-3; discussion); a number of smaller, lotus-shaped gasoliers also hang from the ceiling of the the Prince's Music Room.
Compare the 1837 steel engraving to Phiz's 1873 woodcut of the same narrative moment in the first volume of Chapman and Hall's Household Edition (p. 393): "The mottled-faced gentleman [the central coachman, back to viewer, as in the 1837 original] reviewed the company, and slowly lifted his hand."
"What should you say to a drop o' beer, gen'l'm'n?" suggested the mottled–faced man. "And a little bit o' cold beef," said the second coachman.
"Or a oyster," added the third, who was a hoarse gentleman, supported by very round legs.
"Hear, hear!" said Pell; "to congratulate Mr. Weller, on his coming into possession of his property, eh? Ha! ha!"
"I'm quite agreeable, gen'l'm'n," answered Mr. Weller. "Sammy, pull the bell."
Sammy complied; and the porter, cold beef, and oysters being promptly produced, the lunch was done ample justice to. Where everybody took so active a part, it is almost invidious to make a distinction; but if one individual evinced greater powers than another, it was the coachman with the hoarse voice, who took an imperial pint of vinegar with his oysters, without betraying the least emotion.
"Mr. Pell, Sir," said the elder Mr. Weller, stirring a glass of brandy–and–water, of which one was placed before every gentleman when the oyster shells were removed — "Mr. Pell, Sir, it wos my intention to have proposed the funs [funds, gilt-edged, guaranteed British government investments] on this occasion, but Samivel has vispered to me —"
Here Mr. Samuel Weller, who had silently eaten his oysters with tranquil smiles, cried, "Hear!" in a very loud voice.
— "Has vispered to me," resumed his father, "that it vould be better to dewote the liquor to vishin' you success and prosperity, and thankin' you for the manner in which you’ve brought this here business through. Here's your health, sir."
"Hold hard there," interposed the mottled–faced gentleman, with sudden energy; "your eyes on me, gen'l'm'n!"
Saying this, the mottled–faced gentleman rose, as did the other gentlemen. The mottled–faced gentleman reviewed the company, and slowly lifted his hand, upon which every man (including him of the mottled countenance) drew a long breath, and lifted his tumbler to his lips. In one instant, the mottled–faced gentleman depressed his hand again, and every glass was set down empty. It is impossible to describe the thrilling effect produced by this striking ceremony. At once dignified, solemn, and impressive, it combined every element of grandeur.
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 and Fields, 1867. Facing p. 481.
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.
Reynolds, John. "Lighting." Victorian Britain, An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. London and New York: Garland, 1988. Pp. 452-453.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Last modified 15 January 2012