The first Interview with Mr. Serjeant Snubbin
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
February 1837 (Part 11)
12.5 cm high by 9.8 cm wide, vignetted, on a page 21.2 cm by 12.8 cm
Dickens's Pickwick Papers, facing p. 325
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See below for passage illustrated.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The Illustration’s Context: Portrait of a Lawyer
Mr. Serjeant Snubbin was a lantern-faced, sallow-complexioned man, of about five-and-forty, or — as the novels say — he might be fifty. He had that dull-looking, boiled eye which is often to be seen in the heads of people who have applied themselves during many years to a weary and laborious course of study; and which would have been sufficient, without the additional eyeglass which dangled from a broad black riband round his neck, to warn a stranger that he was very near-sighted. His hair was thin and weak, which was partly attributable to his having never devoted much time to its arrangement, and partly to his having worn for five-and-twenty years the forensic wig which hung on a block beside him. The marks of hairpowder on his coat-collar, and the ill-washed and worse tied white neckerchief round his throat, showed that he had not found leisure since he left the court to make any alteration in his dress; while the slovenly style of the remainder of his costume warranted the inference that his personal appearance would not have been very much improved if he had. Books of practice, heaps of papers, and opened letters, were scattered over the table, without any attempt at order or arrangement; the furniture of the room was old and rickety; the doors of the book-case were rotting in their hinges; the dust flew out from the carpet in little clouds at every step; the blinds were yellow with age and dirt; the state of everything in the room showed, with a clearness not to be mistaken, that Mr. Serjeant Snubbin was far too much occupied with his professional pursuits to take any great heed or regard of his personal comforts.
The Serjeant was writing when his clients entered; he bowed abstractedly when Mr. Pickwick was introduced by his solicitor; and then, motioning them to a seat, put his pen carefully in the inkstand, nursed his left leg, and waited to be spoken to.
"Mr. Pickwick is the defendant in Bardell and Pickwick, Serjeant Snubbin," said Perker. [Chapter XXXI, "Which is all about the Law, and sundry great Authorities learned therein," pp. 324-325]
Commentary: Duelling Serjeants-of-the-Law
Even by so gifted a pleader as Serjeant Snubbin cannnot mitigate the full force of the law that Mrs. Martha Bardell brings to bear upon the hapless bachelor]]. The satirical elements in Dickens's treatment of the eminent attorney in his sanctum sanctorum derives from his own work in the Doctors' Commons as a freelance reporter, an experience that he later mined for David Copperfield. Although a skilled defence attorney, Snubbin proves no match for Dodson and Foggs' barrister, the hectoring, intimidating Serjeant Buzfuz. Paul Davis notes that Dickens based both Buzfuz and Snubbin on Sarjeants Bompas and Arabin, well-known barristers of the time whom he had observed in court.
The laughing gentleman at the door is Snubbin's less-than-high-minded clerk, Mr. Mallard, who always conducts his chief's business with an eye to the main chance. Pickwick finds his "silent internal chuckle" disconcerting, even as he hopes to explain to the barrister that Mrs. Bardell has no "ground or pretence whatever for the action against him" — but Snubbin coughs "dubiously," recognizing that Perker's intention to call no witnesses does not bode well for his new client. Throughout most of the interview in Snubbins's chambers, Dickens seems more interested in satirizing lawyers than presenting the merits of Pickwick's case. The slovenly condition of Snubbin's office, including the conspicuous spider-web at the top of the scene, constitutes Phiz's commentary on the nature of lawyers and the law.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. "Snubbin, Serjeant" and Buzfuz, Serjeant." Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998. Pp. 49 & 360.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). London: Chapman & Hall: 1836-37.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Phiz and Thomas Nast. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1873.
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.
Last modified 16 August 2019