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The Trial — twenty-seventh steel engraving for Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club; two versions by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) for the March 1837 (twelfth monthly) number and the 1838 bound volume; Chapter XXXIV, “Is wholly devoted to a full and faithful Report of the memorable Trial of Bardell against Pickwick,” facing page 358. Original illustration is 14.3 cm high by 11.9 cm wide — 5 ⅝ by 4 ⅝ inches, vignetted. The initial or A engraving of Plate 27, as Johannsen (1956) notes, does not have Perker's hat behind him, and the B plate contains twelve jurymen. After "Phiz, del in A1 "page 358" is in the lower right, whereas A2 has "Phiz, del," but no page number; The Trial. In volume edition of 1838 Plate B3 "has had the legend The Trial added" (Johannsen, 51). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Buzfuz for the Prosecution!

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 Serjeant 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 Serjeant 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 XXXIV, "Is wholly devoted to a full and faithful Report of the memorable Trial of Bardell against Pickwick," 358]


Commentary: Trial by Jury for Breach of Promise

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 a similar situation, perhaps one even inspired by Dickens's handling of this peculiarly Victorian charge, prosecuted by the bombastic Buzfuz (whom Dickens probably 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 Gilbert and Sullivan 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 the Fleet Prison. The trial of Bardell v. Pickwick — is ironically staged on St. Valentine's Day. Paul Davis also reports the popular rumour that Dickens based the blustering, hyperbolic barrister Buzfuz on an actual trial attorney named "Bompas" (49).

Scenes from Mr. Pickwick's Ordeal in Court (1837-1910)

Left and centre: Harry Furniss's lithographs for trial, Mr. Pickwick and his Counsel. . . . . and Sergeant Buzfuz (1910), do not depict trial itself, and focus on the rival barristers involved, Sergeants Snubbin for the defendant and Buzfuz for the plaintiff. Right: In the frontispiece for the second volume in the Charles Dickens Library Edition, the focus is Sam's wandering testimony: Sam Weller in the Witness-Box fails to recognise his Father (1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left: Thomas Nast's American Household Edition's engraving for this chapter, "Wretch," said the lady (1873). Right: Phiz's derivative illustration of the Trial from the Household Edition: An admonitory gesture from Perker restrained him, and he listened to the learned gentleman's continuation with a look of indignation, p. 241 (1874). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Other artists who illustrated this work, 1836-1910

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


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.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Robert Seymour, Robert Buss, and Phiz. London: Chapman and Hall, November 1837. With 32 additional illustrations by Thomas Onwhyn (London: E. Grattan, April-November 1837).

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Adventures of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 14 vols. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867. Vol. 1.

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874. Vol. 6.

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers Illustrated by Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Bros., 1873.

Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. 2 vols. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986. Vol. I.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

Kitton, Frederic G. "Hablot K. Browne." Dickens and His Illustrators. Rept. from the 1899 edition. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004. Pp. 58-120.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 2. "The Beginnings of 'Phiz': Pickwick, Nickleby, and the Emergence from Caricature." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 24-50.

Created 5 November 2019

Last modified 27 March 2024