"Vidth and visdom, Sammy, alvays grows together" [LV]t the very heart of The Pickwick Papers is the symbol of Christmas: "Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days" (XXVIII; all quotations are taken from The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens, 1948-58). Christmas symbolizes the recapture of freedom and joy celebrated by this great novel, Dickens's one unequivocal comedy, in which all the energies are directed toward providing for the final and beautiful society radiating from Dulwich. Pickwick demonstrates how we can realistically maintain those "delusions of our childish days" in the midst of brutal anonymity; it teaches us how to recall the sense of play in the midst of a world concentrating on superficial seriousness. It does more than teach, of course; it attempts to persuade, not only by appealing to our nostalgia for a lost childhood and a lost Eden, but by extending our awareness of what these worlds mean: Pickwick argues that, compared with sliding on the ice, elections and lawsuits are trivial things indeed. More than any other Dickens novel, this one is devoted to what Freud called the pleasure principle. It reopens channels of joy we had considered closed, and it does so primarily by laughter. For the first and only time in Dickens's writings, the aggressive element in laughter is truly secondary. Here our laughter is used constantly to preserve what might be called the vision from the wheelbarrow:
This constant succession of glasses produced considerable effect [20/21] upon Mr. Pickwick; his countenance beamed with the most sunny smiles, laughter played around his lips, and good-humoured merriment twinkled in his eye. Yielding by degrees to the influence of the exciting liquid, rendered more so by the heat, Mr. Pickwick expressed a strong desire to recollect a song which lie had heard in his infancy, and the attempt proving abortive, sought to stimulate his memory with more glasses of punch, which appeared to have quite a contrary effect; for, from forgetting the words of the song, he began to forget how to articulate any words at all; and finally, after rising to his legs to address the company in an eloquent speech, he fell into the barrow, and fast asleep, simultaneously. (XIX)
The beaming countenance we all associate with Mr. Pickwick is provided for, time and again, by alcohol, used almost as a magic potion in this novel to settle quarrels, restore order, and, most important, to provide just this sort of warm and comfortable sanctity. It is true, however, that, particularly after his experience in the Fleet, Mr. Pickwick uses this magic less and less often; for though it is certainly never repudiated and always retains some potency, it is not always truly effective. It provides, in fact, something of a delusory victory, an escape from the real world. In a novel where the real world is defined largely as a "legal fiction", there is nothing really wrong with escape, except that it seldom works. Even Mr. Pickwick is not allowed to sleep peacefully in the wheelbarrow. Captain Boldwig, following the rigid and impersonal ordering of people sanctioned by Serjeant Buzfuz, decides Mr. Pickwick is "a drunken plebeian" and has him shipped to the pound. When Mr. Pickwick awakens, senses his position, and asks for his friends, the nameless, hostile mob throws eggs and turnips, screaming, "You an't got no friends. Hurrah! » (xix). The brilliantly quick succession of events here suggests the final inadequacy of escape: the world of rigidity and anonymous hostility is always there. Escape is ultimately impossible; the only possibility is transcendence.
But to achieve that transcendence Mr. Pickwick must lose a great deal: his innocence and his vision of an idyllic world. The novel proposes a farewell to unqualified innocence rather than a celebration of it; Mr. Pickwick must for a time turn his back on the wheelbarrow and enter the Fleet. In the process, he moves from Eden into a fallen world. The novel is [21/22] so comically satisfying, I suggest, precisely because it refuses the idyllic vision and insists on a world which is brutally real; it is so artistically persuasive because of the strength and imposed relevance of the central motif of initiation.
The central fact of the novel is that Mr. Pickwick does change: he must be educated. He must first learn the nature of the real world and, without becoming cynical or despairing, discover the limits of benevolence and innocence as effective agents in that world. He must suffer and emerge from that suffering less bland and more fully human. In the process he .must undergo a reductive questioning of identity: Mr. Pickwick as a leader of men, a detached scientist, a gentleman, a benevolent man, and simply a human being. And, as in other literary educations, Mr. Pickwick is attended by his Fool, Sam Weller, likewise a tutor who subverts his position to educate the master whose defects he sees and fears, and who is nonetheless attached to him by love.
And despite his defects, his losses, and his necessary accommodations, Mr. Pickwick fully justifies the faith of his wise servant. His engagement with the world is finally triumphant, illustrating that the vision from the wheelbarrow can be preserved after all and that all the internal and external enemies that had seemed so threatening can be expelled or reconciled. The most important instrument of persuasion for the threefold function of preservation, expulsion, and reconciliation is our laughter.
Though the functions served by the humour in this novel are more straightforward and unified than in any other Dickens novel, they are still manifold, Most important, however [22/23], are the controls exercised over the general areas of value and position. In terms of value, our laughter consistently works to expel the conservative and orderly and to reaffirm the free and generally uninhibited. Involved in this set of values is the rejection of law and the entire world of rigid and isolated principle for a world of flexible accommodation and humanity. Our laughter is, further, a defence against the terrifying suggestion of death and the even more terrifying suggestion of aloneness. In a society tending to ossify all human relationships and to make anonymity the common position, geniality, conviviality, even insults are welcomed and approved by laughter. Finally, laughter in The Pickwick Papers rejects all that is predatory and possessive, which is one reason why it is so uneasy about love, indeed about women in general, and creates such a thoroughly masculine atmosphere. The rejection of the predatory-in particular predatory females-makes for the almost complete elimination of sex from the centre of the new society and helps account for the particularly genial tone everyone notices in the novel. Though central to most comedies, sex is here not important as either a motivation or a blocking agent (the miniature comedy at the end involving Mr. Winkle acts, in terms of the whole, rather like a parody of the role of sex in traditional comedy). This is not to say that sex jokes are not present; there are hundreds of them, but they are nearly all negative and hostile, turning our aggressive laughter against sex itself. The ritual phallic celebration behind all comedy is very much muted here and the joyousness transferred to the spiritual. Free and uninhibited as the new society is, it is specifically a society of play, a wonderful childhood association in which sex is seen very largely as a threat.
Laughter not only helps to eliminate sexual possessiveness and to define the standards of value on which the final society exists; it also seeks to enrol the reader in that society by [23/24] defining his position in relation to its members. Starting from a position very far removed from Mr. Pickwick, the reader is asked to move gradually closer to him as the novel progresses and to be at Dulwich waiting for him at the close of the novel. The person who is first introduced, almost sneeringly, as "the immortal Pickwick", author of the Tittlebat paper, becomes by the last chapter "our old friend". One could argue, as Chesterton continually did, that the tone of the original adjective, immortal, simply changes; that as the sarcasm dissipates, Pickwick the pedant and fool becomes Pickwick the god. But how do we allow this to happen? J. Hillis Miller suggests that we take a position with the narrator and, along with him, move gradually closer to the hero [pp. 26-7]. This is generally true, I think, but perhaps oversimplified. The proper perspective towards experience is an important theme in the novel, and Dickens uses one possible position of the reader as a rhetorical demonstration of that theme. Mr. Pickwick must drop his detachment and move to a full engagement with experience; he must, in general, not treat people, their experiences, and feelings as things. But if we join the narrator in laughing at Mr. Pickwick, the pretentious scientist who sits "as calm and unmoved" as a pickled Tittlebat (I) or who reacts to alcohol "like a gas lamp in the street" (II), we may be showing our susceptibility to Mr. Pickwick's own limitation. Dickens asks that we play Justice Stareleigh to the hero and become equally detached and potentially just as callous. But as the real pain and the equally real joy beneath the surface are shown, detachment is likely to seem uncomfortable or at least insufficient. As Dickens says of an uncontrollable horse, "highly interesting to a bystander, but by no means equally amusing to any one seated behind him" (V).
The narrative position, facetious and removed, can be something of a trap, perhaps, to expose the egocentric illusion of our own unique supremacy. We may find with a start that we are laughing at least partly at ourselves: we had laughed at the detachment of the nalve man, only to find that we are equally detached. Even worse, it is suggested that our own detachment is not at all naïve but worldly, professional, cynical, and callous, and that the basis of our presumed [24/25] superiority to Mr. Pickwick is exactly that taken by Dodson and Fogg. When these two begin smirking at Pickwick, the rhetorical point is clear: we can justly laugh at Pickwick now only if we are willing to echo Perker's admiration of Dodson and Fogg and to accept their values. We have been able to avoid being fooled by Bill Stumps's scribbling only because we have long ago exchanged Pickwick's innocence for the paltry knowledge of Perker. So, I think the reader is likely to move towards the hero much more quickly than does the narrator, who waits behind a little, continuing his attack on detachment and smugness. In any case, as we move closer to Pickwick, we duplicate his own movement towards involvement. In this way, the novel's most important psychic progression is enacted in the reader. Like Mr. Pickwick, we too are initiated, primarily through the rhetoric of laughter.
The opening chapter of the novel establishes immediately both the central point of attack on the old society and the most prevalent source of humour: the divorce of language from any solid contact with reality or manageable meaning. Perhaps the most suggestive and thematically appropriate term in the novel, then, is the one Mr. Blotton uses in the first chapter to escape the unhappy position he is in: he had intended the word "humbug" to apply to Mr. Pickwick only "in its Pickwickian sense". The novel exists largely to reverse our reactions to that term. We find that the use of the Pickwickian construction is not limited to this ridiculous club but is essential to the law (Dodson and Fogg are scoundrels only in a Pickwickian sense), religion (Stiggins imbibes only from a Pickwickian point of view), politics (Pott can be said to exist only in a Pickwickian sense) — in fact, all of organized society. In the end, we see that this usage is not really funny: even those exasperating women, Mrs. Bardell and Mrs. Weller, are victims of gammon and may become even slightly pitiable. The Pickwickian tyrants are not funny but vicious. The important and deeply ironic point is that only Mr. Pickwick and his group escape being Pickwickian. They alone successfully avoid the isolation created by a shifting, rootless language, and are able to escape from those in control who exploit this very fact. But it is not immediately apparent that [25/26]there is any problem or that it was in any way related to this first farcical chapter. The laughter at the Club's circumlocutions is likely to establish all the wrong premises and to lead the reader into a position of detachment which, in the end, is itself Pickwickian.
However, the first section of the novel — up to the introduction of Sam Weller — does give some support to a false superiority and an accompanying derisive laughter by establishing very firmly the extreme limitations of Mr. Pickwick's initial position. It is made quite clear that Mr. Pickwick is limited by his naïveté (the basis for much of our laughter in the early stages), but more striking is the suggestion that his very innocence implies a kind of callousness. A man who insists that the world is rational and kindly not only looks foolish but may actually cause pain if the world is, in fact, irrational and cruel. His contact with others is bound to be incomplete. Dickens suggests this in an early (and admittedly untypical) entry Mr. Pickwick makes in his diary concerning the people of Kent. The very exaggeration of the callousness, of course, tempts us to dismiss it through laughter, but it is still the first of several important clues: "Nothing ... can exceed their good humour. It was but the day before my arrival that one of them had been most grossly insulted in the house of a publican. The barmaid had positively refused to draw him any more liquor; in return for which he had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet, and wounded the girl in the shoulder. And yet this fine fellow was the very first to go down to the house next morning, and express his readiness to overlook the matter, and forget what had occurred" (II). Mr. Pickwick is certainly not capable of irony; the narrator has a superabundance, of course, and some of it has clearly spilled over here, but still, through the facetiousness, creeps the slight hint of insensitivity and egocentricity.
More clarifying and persuasive, however, in this early section, is the light thrown on Mr. Pickwick and his values by his first important contact, Alfred Jingle. Jingle, significantly attracted by the notion of "fun", rescues Mr. Pickwick and his friends from an attack by a mob, symbolic throughout the novel of a primitive hostility and a threat of anonymity. Jingle's rejection of the mob suggests what he soon makes [26/27] explicit: that he finds a way of preserving his individual identity. As he insists, his life is "not extraordinary, but singular" (II). Though cynical by nature and unscrupulous by choice, Jingle maintains always an air of "perfect self-possession" (II), which he supports by using two important weapons: Freudian humour and parody. He deals with his own poverty, for instance, by turning it into a joke about the enormous quantity of luggage he has; and clearly he struggles on from cricket match to soirée mainly in order to survive. As he says of the cricket team: "flannel jackets — white trousers — anchovy sandwiches — devilled kidneys-splendid fellows-glorious" (vii). He preserves his "self-possession" by denying the real identity of the others — flannel jackets and trousers only and by covertly suggesting his own motivation — anchovy sandwiches. Jingle sees immediately through the artificialities of social behaviour and attacks the impersonal and the self-important wherever he finds them. In addition, he combats pain and personal attacks by laughing at them, thereby transforming them into a source of pleasure.
But there is an edge of the desperate in Jingle; he is very quick to refer to himself as from "No Hall, Nowhere" in anticipation of attack. This same defensiveness accounts for his almost fatal lack of discrimination: he sees Mr. Pickwick and his friends as indistinguishable from Dr. Slammer or Mrs. Leo Hunter. They are all seen as threats or opportunities, and he reacts accordingly — generally with parody or hostility. Though his retort to Dr. Slanuner is brilliant, it is no more aggressive than his response to Mr. Pickwick's announcement that he is "an observer of human nature'" "Ah, so am I. Most people are when they've little to do and less to get" (II). He proceeds to demolish in turn each of the other club members by treating them as "poet, sportsman, lover", as distinct, clearly, from human beings. In one sense, he is right in attacking, and our responsive laughter is important in establishing Mr. Pickwick's limitations, but Jingle, though certainly wise, is also cynical and fails to respond to the possibilities in Mr. Pickwick. We are, therefore, given a slight justification for regarding him as a villain; his urge to survive makes him use the simply gullible, and the pretentious and vicious, alike. The justification is very slight, however, and [27/28] really constitutes a false lead. Jingle is clearly not the real villain; in fact, his impulses are generally proper, and he is often an index of values, directing our laughter towards all that denies the flexibility and reality of the human spirit. If Mr. Pickwick and his followers are included in this attack, it is partly because they deserve it.
For instance, Mr. Pickwick uses the Pickwick Club itself as a refuge from the harshness of the world and as a source of easy and comforting identity. When asked if Jingle is a member, he responds with indignation, "Certainly not" (III). The gentlemanly repulsion belies "the beaming countenance of the unconscious Pickwick" he lapses into a few lines later. Jingle, he feels, is simply not part of the world he wants to accept.
But Jingle's real world insists on thrusting itself on him. Even the lugubrious Dismal Jemmy latches on to Pickwick's aversion to the concrete and the awful:
"Ah! people need to rise early, to see the sun in all his splendour, for the brightness seldom lasts the day through. The morning of day and the morning of life are but too much alike." "You speak truly, sir," said Mr. Pickwick. . . . "Did it ever strike you, on such a morning as this, that drowning would be happiness and peace?" "God bless me, no!" replied Mr. Pickwick, edging a little from the balustrade. [V]
Pickwick readily assents to the abstraction — he can easily live in the world of triteness, where death exists only in a Pickwickian sense — but he violently resists its application to himself. This may seem an involuted way of making the point that he is comically unconscious, but his unconsciousness, perhaps, is not so much a natural unworldliness as a defence against reality. It is not Mr. Pickwick's impulse to defend himself that is wrong, but the fact that he has not yet really acknowledged the reality he is avoiding. He instinctively runs, but there is no escape. Even the rescue from the second mob, the faceless army, proposed by Mr. Wardle simply introduces new problems and re-focuses old ones.
It is true that in some ways the Wardles' home represents the desirable goal: the essence of the Christmas symbol. Even [28/29] in May there is a wood fire which Dickens says strongly suggests Christmas (V), and "Mr. Pickwick thought he had never felt so happy in his life" (VI) as during the evening games. But this lovely world has not yet been earned and is symbolically wrecked at this early point by its own ineptness and vulnerability; it must be purified and more clearly defined. The purification is accomplished mainly by the laughter at Joe and at Rachael Wardle. The fact that Joe is here at all is important: in the midst of health and hearty conviviality is this slightly sadistic eating-machine. What he suggests, I think, is the divorce and separate embodiment of some of the darker aspects of the central impulse toward childhood. Joe embodies all the grasping and blatant physical egocentricity particularly associated with childhood. By laughing at Joe, we are asked not only to dismiss another predatory instinct, but to make more comfortable the wheelbarrow vision, now partially cleansed.
The situations involving Rachael Wardle are slightly more complicated. Though the general view of women in Pickwick is by no means flattering, the humour derived from Rachael Wardle is the harshest and most aggressive in the novel. This weak old maid represents, ironically, a great threat to the establishment of the final society and must be relentlessly attacked by humour and finally dismissed. Marriage is, in a very lukewarm way, sanctified by the Dulwich society, but sex in general is not. Rachael Wardle in search of a man is parallel to Dodson and Fogg in search of gullible clients, and the laughter at her amounts to a dismissal of the selfish and acquisitive in sexual love. What is surprising is the consistency and harshness of the attack: Dickens obviously expects even the very word 'spinster' to evoke laughter, and Rachael is never around for long without the jokes on her age and condition beginning. Behind our laughter, of course, is the hostility aroused by the notion of the sex impulse existing at all in the old. But, though in most comedies our laughter insists that sex belongs exclusively to the young, here it suggests that sex (or more accurately the interest in sex) really is a part of age and partakes of its absurdity. We are, of course, on the side of the young in Pickwick, but youth is here defined more as a spiritual than a physical condition (Mr. Pickwick is much [29/30] younger than Tommy Bardell in this sense), and the spiritual condition is more than a little uneasy with the sex urge.
Along with sex, Dickens attacks through Rachael the more thematically central opposition of conventional falsification and concrete reality. Mr. Tupman's proposal scene, for instance, takes place in a bower covered "with honeysuckle, jessamine, and creeping plants — one of those sweet retreats which humane men erect for the accommodation of spiders" (VIII). The proposal itself is likewise subverted and its language ridiculed by the continual transference of emotion and movement to Miss Wardle's watering-pot: "Here Mr. Tupman paused, and pressed the hand which clasped the handle of the happy watering-pot". The emotion slithers along here from point to point until it finally reaches the happy pot, the only real object in this scene. Spiders and pots are measured against the false attitudes and poses. "Men are such deceivers", Miss Wardle whispers softly, but the real deception and the real danger lie in the divorce of language and personality from any concrete basis. Our laughter is meant to reject just such a separation.
Dickens reinforces this same thematic issue by allowing Jingle to parody explicitly these conventional attitudes and roles in winning Rachael. By the time we reach the climax of this episode in the final scene at the "White Hart", we are eager to see all Rachael's notions of romance absolutely and harshly crushed by reality:
"More than one-and-twenty!" ejaculated Wardle, contemptuously. "More than one-and-forty!" "I an't," said the spinster aunt, her indignation getting the better of her determination to faint. "You are," replied Wardle, "you're fifty if you're an hour." [X]
When a glass of water is proposed to revive the fainting Miss Wardle, her brother counters with the demand that they throw a bucket of water "all over her; it'll do her good, and she richly deserves it". Only from a standpoint of complete exasperation is Wardle's notion that she somehow "deserves it" justified, but it is precisely that exasperation that the reader is asked to share. The potential cruelty of the humour is thus masked, and the laughter is used to demolish Rachael and the [30/31] sexually predatory and to form part of the strong artillery directed against false roles and meaningless conventional language.
The fact that Jingle wins here and must be paid off foreshadows, in one sense, the crucial acknowledgement of worldly defeat symbolized later in the paying off of Dodson and Fogg. But the differences are really more important than the similarities. Jingle is not a true enemy, as Dodson and Fogg certainly are. In fact, by attacking rigidity and blindness, he even provides Mr. Pickwick with an important object lesson. But at this point, Mr. Pickwick misplaces his anger and evades his education completely.
This evasion would not seem so serious, except that it indicates a lack of awareness, which in turn creates a certain insensitivity in his dealings with others. Even during the hilarious 'proposal' scene, this unpleasant aspect intrudes. Mrs. Bardell's primitive but very real reaction is entirely incomprehensible to him and becomes a "very extraordinary thing" (XII). His confusion is, of course, partly caused by his innocence, but the key point is that his innocence results in a detachment which ironically shares the anti-human tendencies of the truly vicious. Though the law has none of Pickwick's innocence, it uses his tactics, disengaging itself and treating people and experiences as things. Mr. Pickwick's early naiveté unintentionally reflects in a small but significant way the self-conscious and deliberate inhumanity of the commercial society. His character during the first part of the novel is involved completely in his purpose, a "scientific" trip to note "curiosities". He must be educated to see the cruelty of indifference and to see that it is not Jingle or Mrs. Bardell who is at fault. It is significant that it is at this point that Sam is signed on as Mr. Pickwick's valet, or, in terms of the central theme, his tutor. Mr. Pickwick has started the machinery of the main action of novel — Bardell v. Pickwick and the ensuing imprisonment. It is Sam's function to show him the details of the inner cogs of that social machinery and to persuade him that complete evasion is heartless and ultimately impossible. But his pupil is now all too well emblemized by his antiquarian discovery, the Bill Stumps rock, "an illegible monument of Mr. Pickwick's greatness" (XI). Sam has no easy job. [31/32]
But he is equal to the most demanding work. He is indeed "the center of intelligence in the novel" [Marcus, p. 34; an extensive and often penetrating discussion of Sam's role is given by James A. Wright in an unpublished dissertation (Univ. of Washington, 1959), pp. 51-89] and the most important moral reference point we have. Like Jingle in his ability to see immediately through the artificialities of social behaviour, to construct witty attacks on the rigid institutions of language, and to combat pain through Freudian humour, he differs from him in being free from the necessity of continual hostility. Both Jingle and Sam are members of a guerrilla band, but Sam is much more selective about his targets, for he sees that some threats are more serious than others. He can be responsive to a good heart, as Jingle cannot, for he is much more secure in his own identity. He can accept with equanimity Mr. Pickwick's dehumanizing characterization of him as an 'original' and the probability that his own father doesn't know his name, whereas Jingle accepts a loss of identity only with his teeth gritted and strikes out indiscriminately in order to preserve himself. Sam certainly has the capacity for aggression, but also for gentleness. It should be made clear, however, that much of the humorous appeal of his language is very dark indeed; for instance, "There's nothin' so refreshin' as sleep, sir, as the servant-girl said afore she drank the egg-cupful o' laudanum" (XVI). Notice that Sam manages here to include in the general attack on the stupid cliché a covert attack also on the price of aloof comfort and perhaps even on class snobbery. But despite this barrage of attacks, there is an enveloping genial purpose: the education of Mr. Pickwick into a world of pain and poverty, limitation and morality. One of his most important pedagogical tools is the comparison of the falsely genteel (in this case the cliché about sleep), associated implicitly with Mr. Pickwick's initial vision, to the concrete actuality (drunkenness, pain, and resiliency in this case) he must learn about. Throughout, he makes war on Mr. Pickwick in order to save him; the aggression is contained within a benevolent scheme. But it is aggression nonetheless. For Sam's first job is a negative one: to make Mr. Pickwick (and perhaps the reader) see the limitations of the "scientific" position. He embarks on the education of his [32/33] hero immediately; his first words in his job interview begin the process:
"Queer start that 'ere, but he [Jingle] was one too many for you, warn't he? Up to snuff and a pinch or two over-eh?" "Never mind that matter now," said Mr. Pickwick hastily. [XII]
Mr. Pickwick hastily dismisses the whole approach, perhaps instinctively realizing the nature of the process which is just beginning. For the education will be both difficult and painful. He must find a balance between innocent benevolence and knowing cynicism, between pride and humility; he must drop the aloof defence of scientific observation and engage in a true involvement. But he is understandably slow to do so, and Sam thus begins, relentlessly forcing reality on to Mr. Pickwick.
He receives a fine opportunity almost immediately from the election at Eatanswill, an elaborate object lesson in the dangers of egoism and ignorance. It is worth noting that underlying all the wonderful absurdities of the election-Pott and Slurk, Mrs. Leo Hunter, and the rest-is the central proposition that elections themselves are vicious, precisely because they work to magnify each isolated ego: "the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance" (XIII). Our laughter tends to reject this egotism as well as to diminish the importance of government and its suggestions of order and restriction. It also protects us from the eradication of personality which paradoxically results from such egotism. Dickens suggests that a selfhood fed on formulated phrases and conventional flattery may become enormous, but also completely unreal: the individually important Eatanswill electors, each with egos near bursting, merge quickly into an indistinguishable mob. Our laughter, then, not only serves to promote important comic values but to protect us from the really great evil in the novel: anonymity. Both Mr. Pickwick and the reader are shown that selfishness based on ignorance provides no self at all. Eatanswill provokes laughter to teach just that fact.
Mr. Pott, for instance. Master of the clichés of violence and authority, he turns out to be nothing at all: [33/34]
"It is a high treat to me, I assure you, to see any new faces; living as I do, from day to day, and week to week, in this dull place, and seeing nobody." "Nobody, my dear!" exclaimed Mr. Pott, archly. "Nobody but you," retorted Mrs. Pott, with asperity. [XIII]
One can almost hear the air escaping from the pricked balloon. Pott's distance from reality is exactly his distance from any true self, and the connection Dickens often makes between public tyranny and private impotence is based on this insight into the relation of reality and personality. Tyrants in Dickens live in a world of unreal language and rootless power and are invariably caught up by those wardens of the brutally concrete, their wives. We are asked to laugh at their hollowness and at every blow to their gaseous egos, and thereby affirm exactly what Sam is pushing Mr. Pickwick toward: a true selfhood based on firm knowledge.
Sam has a field day at Eatanswill: "I never see men cat and drink so much afore. I wonder they an't afeer'd o' bustin'." "That's the mistaken kindness of the gentry here," said Mr. Pickwick. "Wery likely," replied Sam, briefly. [XII]
Pickwick's response forces Sam to drop the irony and explain more directly the bribery and corruption around them, but Pickwick's ignorance and corresponding distance from humanity astound his servant:
'Can such things be!' exclaimed the astonished Mr. Pickwick. 'Lord bless your heart, sir,' said Sam, 'why where was you half baptized?' (XIII)
Sam sees the real problem here in its full dimensions: for all his good intentions, Pickwick is only "half baptized"; he is not yet fully human nor fully Christian. His education, then, must include not only knowledge but humanization. He must not only be introduced to the world but baptized into its concerns. Sam begins immediately with an anecdote (his favourite and most effective teaching aid) of his father's services in an election. Bribed to dump some electors in the canal, Tony complies, and Sam ends: [34/35]
"You wouldn't believe, sir.... that on the wery day as he came down with them woters, his coach was upset on that 'ere wery spot, and ev'ry man on 'em was turned into the canal." "And got out again?" inquired Mr. Pickwick, hastily. "Why," replied Sam, very slowly, "I rather think one old gen'l'm'n was missin'; I know his hat was found, but I a'n't quite certain whether his head was in it or not. But what I look at, is the hextraordinary, and wonderful coincidence, that arter what that gen'l'm'n said, my father's coach should be upset in that wery place, and on that wery day!" "It is, no doubt, a very extraordinary circumstance indeed," said Mr. Pickwick. "But brush my hat, Sam." [XIII]
Sam refuses to let Mr. Pickwick off with an easy evasion. He very slowly forces grim reality on to his master's hasty demand for comic reassurance. Sam's instinct is decidedly anti-comic, both here and in his dark similes. He hates the happy endings which deny reality, for he sees the cruelty of such self-satisfying evasiveness. He is not, of course, either gloomy or perverse; he is a corrective to those social forces which tend to dehumanize Mr. Pickwick. He insists on showing his master the brutality of elections, not to hurt him but to save him from greater harm. His cardinal point is that while ignorance may be bliss, if self-imposed it is inhuman. He believes that a full dose of reality is all that can save Mr. Pickwick, and in this belief he is completely optimistic in the same way that the novel itself is. Neither denies the darkness of this world, but both see that Eden can be transformed and preserved. It is Sam's job to accomplish this transformation, directly in Pickwick and indirectly in the reader.
Our laughter at the last story, for instance, is meant to accomplish the same thing for us as the lesson does for Mr. Pickwick. The story is partly an attack on naiveté as well as on elections, on Mr. Pickwick as well as Eatanswill. Sam parodies Mr. Pickwick's search for the "hex-traordinary$quot; and trivial and thereby directs our aggressive laughter toward the detached and the ignorant. In this way he is moving us toward a specific vision of Mr. Pickwick that anticipates already the final transcendence.
But Mr. Pickwick has a long way to travel; his characteristic response to any difficulty is either a dismissal of it as "a [35/36] very extraordinary circumstance indeed" or an impotent "withering look", and he must first be made to see how inadequate these responses are. Even though he recognizes that he was the "innocent cause" (XV) of Wardle's unhappiness (the conjunction of innocence and harm is significant) and leaves immediately in search of Jingle, he soon loses himself in the "objects around him; and at last he derived as much enjoyment from the ride, as if it had been undertaken for the pleasantest reason in the world" (XVI). Again he shows himself incapable of a full response to human beings and turns to "objects" instead.
He does almost find Jingle, of course, but is, along with Sam, taken in by him and Job, and made a fool of at the boarding-school. This first great humiliation does have an effect on him; he responds with a new coolness and a new deference to Sam:
"I don't think he'll escape us quite so easily the next time, Sam?" said Mr. Pickwick. "I don't think he will, sir." [XVI]
Even though he follows this with an absurd threat of physical reprisal, accompanied by some pillow-pounding, he has, at least partially, developed as a result of the education. Significantly, he never does defeat Jingle. He meets him at the Fleet and gives him money. But by then he has learned two important things: that Jingle is not an enemy but a victim and, more important, that one must accept the position of occasionally being cheated; paradoxically, he must accept an imperfect world in order to be perfect in it.
But now he has taken only the first step, and he tends soon after to evade even this position. Hearing the rumour of Winkle's indecent attachment to Mrs. Pott, he responds:
"Is it not a wonderful circumstance ... that we seem destined to enter no man's house without involving him in some degree of trouble? Does it not, I ask, bespeak the indiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart — that I should say so! — of my followers?" [XVIII]
Notice how close he comes to seeing the central point, that their innocence can, in fact, be harmful to others, and how quickly he evades its application: it is only his followers who are guilty of a "blackness of heart". He is, however, interrupted [36/37] by Sam with a letter from Dodson and Fogg, informing him of the breach of promise suit. The circumstances are identical to the blackness of heart he had just denounced, but he ignores the connection: "We are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest". Even Sam, who never gives up hope, is depressed by this bit of egoistic self-justification. And our laughter is made to reject equally the ego and the evasion.
Sam rebounds, though, with even more grotesque stories (e.g., the pieman who used kittens for meat) to touch Mr. Pickwick, but Pickwick still resists and blindly demands to see Dodson and Fogg alone. Dodson and Fogg, each one certainly "a capital man of business" (XX), symbolize the heart of power in the organized world and the chief enemies of all the values the book holds dear. Dickens describes Mr. Fogg as "a kind of being who seemed to be an essential part of the desk at which he was writing, and to have as much thought or sentiment" (XX). This puts it precisely. Though humour cannot really dismiss the threat of Mr. Fogg, it does repudiate everything he stands for: the law, rigidity, order, dehumanization. Dodson and Fogg have the amoral and frigid success of awful machines, and Mr. Pickwick nearly mangles, himself in their works. Sam, however, unceremoniously hauls him off and lectures him in a firm, unmistakably tutorial tone:
"Sam, I will go immediately to Mr. Perker's." "That's just exactly the wery place vere you ought to have gone last night, sir," replied Mr. Weller. "I think it is, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick. "I know it is," said Mr. Weller. [XX]
Sam even omits the "sir" in his earnestness.
It is at this point that the pedagogical corps is reinforced by the addition of Mr. Weller senior. Tony supplies rhetorical force not only to Mr. Pickwick but to the reader: he joins Sam in the attack on pretentiousness, callousness, and, not unimportantly, on women. He does a good deal to support the essentially masculine atmosphere of the novel, and his advice to those thinking of marriage-"pison yourself, and you'll be glad on it arterwards" (XXIII) — is never really repudiated. Most important, though, is his campaign against pretence; even women, he sees, are merely "wictims of gammon" (XXVII). [37/38]
Tony's war is symbolized most pointedly by his attack on the hypocrisy of Methodism and its elaborate system of evading realities, but it asserts itself in the form of brilliant parody wherever it is needed. He instinctively forms an alliance with Sam in his work with Mr. Pickwick and takes them away on a field trip to Ipswich. On this trip they are given unconscious but considerable aid by Peter Magnus, uneasiness personified, worried even about the value of his own name. By laughing at him, we are deriding his feeble attempts not only to bolster his ego but also to establish his personality through things — he pins his hopes for winning a wife on a hat and a suit. The parallel to Mr. Pickwick is instructive.
But even more so are the lectures delivered by the Wellers:
"Not a wery nice neighbourhood this, sir," said Sam . . . "It is not indeed, Sam," replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the crowded and filthy street through which they were passing. "It's a wery remarkable circumstance, sir," said Sam, "that poverty and oysters always seems to go together." "I don't understand you, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick. "What I mean, sir," said Sam, "is, that the poorer a place is, the greater call there seems to be for oysters. Look here, sir; here's a oyster stall to every half-dozen houses. The street's lined vith 'em. Blessed if I don't think that ven a man's wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and cats oysters in reg'lar desperation." "To be sure he does," said Mr. Weller senior; "and it's just the same vith pickled salmon!" "Those are two very remarkable facts, which never occurred to me before," said Mr. Pickwick. "The very first place we stop at, I'll make a note of them." [XXII]
Mr. Pickwick has, of course, missed the point. The Wellers have discussed the neighbourhood in this way in order to make the connection between the disagreeable streets and the human poverty they announce; notice that Sam directs Pickwick to "look here". Without this pseudo-reflection, Pickwick (and the reader) would undoubtedly have passed on in happy ignorance. As it is, our laughter is directed by Sam's parody to reject entirely the frame of mind which regards poverty as "a wery remarkable circumstance". Pickwick, of course, falls back on the pose of a scientific observer. But Sam is beginning to reach his master-pupil. When he again bluntly insists on his tutorial [38/39] function, Pickwick is roused to protest but thinks better of it:
"You rayther want somebody to look arter you, sir, wen your judgment goes out a wisitin'." "What do you mean by that, Sam?" said Mr. Pickwick. He raised himself in bed, and extended his hand, as if he were about to say something more; but suddenly checking himself, turned round, and bade his valet "Good night." (XXII)
The bedroom escapade, from which Sam has just rescued Pickwick, brings them in contact with Mr. Nupkins, Magistrate, and the legal farce which follows acts, in part, as an educational foreshadowing of the major clash with Dodson and Fogg. In this freer and more bumbling courtroom, Sam can act as a chorus throughout, instructing Mr. Pickwick on the basis of the law as an instrument of the brutality of society: "This is a wery impartial country for justice. . . . There ain't a magistrate goin' as don't commit himself, twice as often as he commits other people" (XXV). The major point of his attack, though, is directed at Mr. Pickwick's pose in the face of the law, on the abstraction of "principle" that Pickwick uses as a prop to combat that institution:
"I shall take the liberty, sir, of claiming my right to be heard, until I am removed by force." "Pickvick and principle!" exclaimed Mr. Weller, in a very audible voice. [XXV]
Sam recognizes the dark facts which hide behind principle: self-delusion and self-gratification. One of the major points he must make with Pickwick is that the power of resiliency in the life force is greater than the depressing powers of cruel institutions. Principle, he sees, is the inflexible foundation of all these institutions, and he therefore attacks it. Immediately after the Bardell v. Pickwick trial, Sam again parodies this abstraction: "Hooroar for the principle, as the money-lender said ven he vouldn't renew the bill" (XXXV). By juxtaposing the reality of the money-lender and the pun on principle against Pickwick's stance, Sam is, of course, attacking his master on the grounds of his ignorance and unrealistic behaviour. But beneath this he sees that Pickwick's principle is a means of escape, an unconscious but selfish attempt to [39/40] preserve his own illusory image of his greatness, an image which can be finally broken only by the actual demonstration, in the Fleet, that this principle is harmful to others.
But even at this early trial the attack is both brilliant and intense. A large number of themes coalesce at Nupkins's court. Dickens appears to be using the chapter not only to foreshadow the great trial to come but also to make certain that his reader is primed with the proper attitudes and responses. Sam is not alone in asking us to react with aggression towards the law and Mr. Pickwick's principle; his rhetoric is reinforced in many ways. The simple fact that Jingle is present here, for instance, invokes the logical association, firmly established earlier in the novel, of Jingle's object — in this case, the law — with hollowness and pretence. By this same association, Nupkins becomes another Mr. Leo Hunter. Nupkins is, as a matter of fact, forced to be just as deferential as the husband of the poetess; in short, he is henpecked, and all the humour surrounding the castrating women is brought into play, Nupkins reduced to a cipher, and his professional tyranny shown to be a mask for a lack of power, even of being. Beyond Nupkins, there are dozens of supporting jokes and episodes here. One will have to suffice as an example: the case of the grandiose bit of hollowness, Mr. Grummer:
"My name's Tupman," said that gentleman. "My name's Law," said Mr. Grummer. [XXIV]
Law and Grummer are indeed one: unreal, ridiculous, pretentious. When Grummer tries his high-handedness on Sam Weller, that instrument of reality simply knocks him down. Again our laughter is used thematically.
Before the great trial foreshadowed here, and the subsequent imprisonment, Dickens pauses to solidify the more positive position with three successive visions of childhood joy and freedom, contrasts to the unimaginative rigidity of the trial and prison and anticipations of the victory Mr. Pickwick will eventually gain. The first episode is the Christmas scene at Wardles', celebrating a symbolic defeat of death and the particular warmth and security of childhood: " 'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is, indeed, comfort' " (XXVIII). Next there is the party at Bob Sawyer's, which [40/41] amounts to a different form of the childhood vision: a celebration of lawlessness and a great reduction of all law and control into that symbol of pure rage, Mrs. Raddle. Because she suggests all morally restrictive value and because her application of it is so absurd — Mr. Pickwick is a "willin", "worse than any of 'em" (XXXII) — the whole issue of morality can be dismissed by laughter, and we are urged to accept a world which values good cheer far more than fiscal responsibility, smoking far more than working. Finally, there is the miniature comedy in Chapter XXXIII of the Wellers' overthrow of temperance, preceded by some "Critical Sentiments respecting Literary Composition" by "Mr. Weller the elder". Tony's aesthetic position is both hilarious and very sensible. He associates poetry with gammon, with the unreal language used by officialdom to trick others: "Poetry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked poetry )cept a beadle on boxin' day, or Warren's blackin', or Rowland's oil, or some o' them low fellows; never let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy". "Poetry's unnat'ral", and Tony takes his Wordsworthian stand for the concrete reality closest to eternal values and against all commercial, bureaucratic, and immoral perversions of that reality. His chief objection to Sam's valentine is that the allusion to the profile-framingfinishing machine "werges on the poetical"; it is certainly "unnat'ral" at least. Tony's ethical fight against the poetical (as he defines it) is constant and is approved absolutely by our laughter and the values of the novel. He views the law, naturally, as a major poetic voice and thus sees that the only way to defeat it is to confound it by constructing something equally false: "Never mind the character, and stick to the alleybi. Nothing like a alleybi, Sammy, nothing". Though we may sometimes deride his notions of "alleybis", they have a primitive aptness, but more important an ethical purity entirely missing from our more sophisticated but more corrupt knowingness. One of the points being made by our laughter is not that the law has its absurd aspects but is absurd and vicious and must be rejected, not just amended. This rhetoric of anarchic freedom is reinforced by the second half of the chapter, the beating of the Brick Lane Branch Temperance advocate, the deputy shepherd Stiggins. Typical of the Wellers' methods of subversion, this episode shows the joy available to [41/42] a life of guerrilla warfare against the occupying armies of gammon. The laughter here supports the rejection not only of the ludicrous organization and Stiggins, its hypocritical leader, but of the whole notion of temperance as well. The position we are asked to take here is one familiar to us by now and likely to become more and more comfortable; the established order is fading and a free and somewhat chaotic joy taking over.
The victory of resilience and enlightened commitment celebrated in these three episodes is played off against the victory of legal rigidity in the great trial to follow. But we should notice that the rigidity is not only the law's, but Mr. Pickwick's as well. Principle, it is suggested, is just as rigid as the professional terminology it is supposedly attacking. It is true, of course, that Mr. Pickwick's principle is rooted in a moral reality that the law has long ago lost touch with: Dodson and Fogg are "great scoundrels". Perker's response to Mr. Pickwick's charge is very interesting: "That's a matter of opinion, you know, and we won't dispute about terms; because of course you can't be expected to view these subjects with a professional eye" (XXXI). It is, of course, precisely the terms which do matter here, and Perker simply shows exactly how much he is like the Dodson and Fogg he cannot help admiring. In the law it is "smartness" which is real; morality and ethics become a trivial "dispute about terms". Again, the vast legal fiction is a vocabulary which hides reality. Pickwick is, therefore, right in attacking it on these grounds; he is wrong, however, in using its methods. In forming the "deliberate and irrevocable determination" not to pay Dodson and Fogg, he is forced to fight the law on its own terms, to take it seriously in other words, and the trial suggests that the law and the official society it represents are both too absurd and too dangerous to be met head-on.
Both the danger and the absurdity are united, as the trial shows, in the ability of the law and its society to dehumanize by manipulating people into things or forcing them into artificial, meaningless roles that deny their identity. Mr. Phunky becomes Mr. Monkey; Mrs. Bardell becomes a sympathetic victim of the scoundrel Pickwick, "the ruthless destroyer of this domestic oasis in the desert of Goswell Street" (XXXIV); [42/43] Winkle becomes Daniel rather than Nathaniel; and Mrs. Cluppins becomes Tuppins, Jupkins, and finally Muffins. All this confusion about names and roles is more than a joke on the court's stupidity, for the court, though stupid, is still allpowerful. What is important is that it thrusts people into the anonymity of things: "A counsel, in the discharge of his duty to his client, is neither to be intimidated, nor bullied, nor put down; and ... 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" (XXXIV).
Mr. Pickwick's real person here is a matter of indifference; for the law or for this society it doesn't exist. This fact suggests that, underneath all, the law recognizes no people at all because it is at war with natural life. Even the jokes about its viewing anyone under eighty contemptuously as "a very young man" support this view. Our laughter is ultimately a defence not only of the integrity of the human personality but of existence itself, and the nature so firmly supported by the Wellers is not in opposition only to artificiality but also to the rigidity of the corpse. Sam's own part in the trial suggests this defence of life:
"Have you a pair of eyes, Mr. Weller?" "Yes, I have a pair of eyes," replied Sam, "and that's just it. If they wos a pair o' patent double million magnifyin' gas microscopes of hextra power, p'raps I might be able to see through a flight o' stairs and a deal door; but bein' only eyes, you see, my wision's limited." [XXXIV]
Sam takes the cliché quite literally in order to attack not only the rudeness of Buzfuz but his mechanical nature. Sam is defending here an order which does make sense, one in which eyes are only, but are really, eyes. The point of the attack on clich6s and the laughter at the rootless manipulation of language ("Chops and Tomata sauce! . . . Gracious heavens!") is that, for all its rigidity, the law, by destroying the basis of language and personality, is ultimately chaotic; paradoxically, the free society we are rooting and laughing for is, for all its joyous liberty, maintained by an order based on the relation of people and words to the concrete. [43/44]
But Mr. Pickwick, though beaten by the law and temporarily humiliated, still doesn't fully realize how completely he has entered the clutches of organized life. Tony Weller is right: "I know'd what 'ud come o' this here mode o' doin' bisness. Oh Sammy, Sammy, vy worn't there a alleybi!" (XXXIV). Mr. Pickwick has implicated himself in the very assumptions of the system and must be symbolically purified by imprisonment.
But before the Fleet, we have another pause in which Dickens re-forms his rhetorical troops — and our position. The episode at Bath provides an opportunity for an elaborate and systematic rejection of the falsity at all levels of society Angelo Cyrus Bantam, M.C., for instance, has teeth which are "in such perfect order that it [is] difficult at a small distance to tell the real from the false" (XXXV) — and a reinforcement of our support of naturalness, freedom, and flexibility (the "routine" at Bath has "a slight tinge of sameness"). There is a particular assault on the distortion of language to avoid reality: "Hush, my dear sir — nobody's fat or old in Ba-ath". The parallel footman's "swarry" functions to spread the attack and make it clear it is not just restricted social satire.
At the opposite end, we are again introduced to the Jingle syndrome — the wonderful failures, Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. We are urged to laugh here at the monstrous parody of prudence and restraint, and to celebrate the triumph of childhood which turns dull business into a joyous game. Dickens solidifies these dual aspects into one brilliant symbolic episode: Sawyer and Allen drink with Winkle a midday punch stirred with a pestle out of measuring vessels and "a funnel with a cork in the narrow end" (XXXVIII). They illustrate the creative powers of the flexible childish imagination to transform tedium and death into joy and vivid life.
The stage is thus set for the imprisonment. Mr. Pickwick has meanwhile been working in support of Winkle's romance, one of the first creatively outgoing things he has done and therefore a sign both of his developing humanization and his developing youth. As he becomes more involved, Mr. Pickwick becomes in certain key ways younger and therefore closer to the comic centre. Sam recognizes this and jubilantly takes part in the Winkle escapades. But he also recognizes [44/45] that Mr. Pickwick's transformation and education are not yet complete, and he does nothing to resist his master's decision to go to prison. Just before Pickwick enters the Fleet, Perker appears and with brilliant appropriateness offers Pickwick the comfort of evasion: "Why, I don't exactly know about perjury, my dear sir ... Harsh word, my dear sir, very harsh word indeed. It's a legal fiction, my dear sir, nothing more" (XL). This is exactly the frame of mind Mr. Pickwick must renounce, but he seems at first attracted to it; for as he is led by the prisoners, he gazes into the rooms "with great curiosity and interest", something close to his old scientific attitude. And, as a result of this evasion, he makes a callous observation, which prompts the sharpest rebuttal Sam makes in the novel: "It strikes me, Sam, that imprisonment for debt is scarcely any punishment at all". Sam points out quickly that the law fails to make any distinctions between those who are really worthless and those who are victimized and that while victims are damaged heavily, the worthless enjoy it. The law's rigidity and impersonality thus result in awful cruelty:
" 'It's unekal,' as my father used to say wen his grog warn't made half-and-half: 'It's unekal, and that's the fault on it.'" "I think you're right, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick, after a few moments' reflection, "quite right." [XLI]
For the first time, Pickwick does not dismiss Sam's point "hastily".
Sam also promotes the reader's education by arranging, through his own arrest, an exact parody of Mr. Pickwick's rigid principle, his confrontation with the law, and his defiant determination. The instrument of this parody, Mr. Solomon Pell, suggests not only the quantity of arms Dickens uses to force us to his side, but also the brilliance of his means. Pell is himself an unconscious parody of law and order and allows us to release aggressions at those same agencies. He is, ironically, most proud that he is a "regular" man of the law and a true "professional". The fact is, of course, that he is sustained by drinking and by playing the elaborate role of the confidant of the Lord Chancellor. We see, though, that his true place is at the side of Tony Weller, not a judge, and the aggressive humour, therefore, is directed not at his hypocrisy but at the [45/46] legal order he imitates. Mr. Weller and Sam both slide smoothly into the parody roles, even to playing with the conventional terms of reproach: "you unnat'ral wagabone", "a reg'lar prodigy son!" (XLIII).
Mr. Pickwick, of course, tries to persuade his servant to pay off his creditor, giving Sam the opportunity to make the parody's application very sharply clear:
"Wy, I'd rayther not let myself down to ask a favour o' this here unremorseful enemy." "But it is no favour asking him to take his money, Sam," reasoned Mr. Pickwick. "Beg your pardon, sir," rejoined Sam; "but it 'ud be a wery great favour to pay it, and he don't deserve none; there's where it is, sir." [XLIV]
He objects, very clearly, to the unreal and egoistic background to such false principle, to the self-deception which makes impossible a life of real principle or joy. Sam makes this objection even more explicit: "I takes my determination on principle, sir ... and you takes yours on the same ground; wich puts me in mind o' the man as killed his-self on principle, wich o' course you've heerd on, sir". An exemplum follows concerning the man who died rather than abandon his crumpet-eating principle. The story embodies the major protest against sterile abstractions: they are opposed to life and resiliency and lay an invalid foundation for a true identity.
Pickwick's test then proceeds, and he learns in it the true blackness of social reality, the identity of the real villain (both Jingle and Mrs. Bardell are prisoners), and the limits to his easy benevolence (there is little he can do for many there). The pressure of these multiple realizations is almost too much for him, and he retires to his room, announcing, "My head aches with these scenes, and my heart too. Henceforth I will be a prisoner in my own room" (XLV).
Sam's role here is partly to protect Pickwick from just this kind of despair or the even more dangerous reaction of evasion by showing him a third and healthier response to pain: Freudian humour. For instance, Sam interrupts the gloomy sniffling of the disheartened Tupman, Snodgrass, and Winkle with: "Avay vith melincholly, as the little boy said ven his [46/47] school-missis died. Velcome to the College, gen'l'm'n" (XLIV). He plays a double part here, really, both protecting and exposing Mr. Pickwick.
There are, in fact, limits to the awfulness of existence Pickwick can face, and Sam must and does find the balance. When he arranges for Perker to come and persuade his master to leave, the humanizing process has been completed. Mr. Pickwick sees the results of his principle: the imprisonment of Mrs. Bardell. He sees that he must submit to Dodson and Fogg, that they represent a condition of life he must acknowledge. He sees, as Perker argues, that he will be justified only "in the eyes of reasonable men" (XLVII). Finally, when leaving, he learns from Sam the melancholy truth that even his benevolence can be neutralized by this black reality: "He bust out a cryin", sir, and said you wos wery gen'rous and thoughtful, and he only wished you could have him innokilated for a gallopin' consumption, for his old friend as had lived here so long, wos dead, and he'd noweres to look for another" (XLVII). The lesson is one of limitation, served by humility. The result is, paradoxically, a triumph.
It is true that the tone of the last section of the book is very mellow, even occasionally sad, but it is all the more satisfactory for that. The wheelbarrow vision has been retained, even in the midst of the darkest reality. Mr. Pickwick has given up the easy comfort maintained by detachment. Even the last of the interpolated tales, the Bagman's Uncle's Story, echoes the mood. The story is a reminiscence of the environment Pickwick had once inhabited, the old coaching days. Significantly, the story is a happy fairy tale, followed not by a [47/48] sleepless night but by a few puns. It represents a mellow farewell to the world that Pickwick has lost.
But he has gained something much more real and important, a realization of the limits of existence and a resiliency in the face of death which make him all the more human and triumphant. He has learned from the Wellers the major lesson of sensitive and responsive existence, a life force they most pointedly illustrate at the death of Mrs. Weller. Tony's letter to his son, one of the first of Dickens's great humorous letters, is also perhaps the most moving; for in the midst of the comic misspellings and the uncharacteristic struggle with euphemism evidenced by Mr. Weller's amanuensis, we suddenly come upon the authentic voice of Tony and of his real grief: "by the vay your father says that if you vill come and see me Sammy he vill take it as a wery great favor for I am wery lonely Sarnivel" (LII). Our laughter is used against us for one of the few times in this novel (though in later novels this is one of Dickens's favourite devices), and we are forced to acknowledge the reality of this death. Dickens's subversion is not emphatically aggressive, though, for our possible guilt is immediately relieved by Sam's response to this letter, a response which typifies the humane, realistic, and resilient attitude he has transmitted to his master:
"And so the poor creatur's dead! I'm sorry for it. She warn't a bad-disposed 'ooman, if them shepherds had let her alone. I'm wery sorry for it." Mr. Weller uttered these words in so serious a manner, that the pretty housemaid cast down her eyes and looked very grave. "Hows'ever," said Sam, putting the letter in his pocket with a gentle sigh, "it wos to be-and wos, as the old lady said arter she'd married the footman. Can't be helped now, can it, Mary ?" [LII]
The Wellers' flexibility and strength, then, are finally merged with the tempered but firm optimism of Mr. Pickwick. The reader is urged to join this coalition by being subjected, like Pickwick, to a view of the full blackness of social reality. We are invited to share Mr. Pickwick's initiation, his cleansing, and, most emphatically, his triumph. In any case, the fact that the novel faces so resolutely both individual and social cruelty makes the final victory both more real and more resounding. [48/49]
We can now join Mr. Weller in the wonderfully appropriate investment in "the funs".
Mr. Pickwick has moved from the illusory world of the Bagman's Uncle into the black world we all recognize, and by becoming fully human, he has preserved and made real the most important values. He has also been initiated into a world of childhood miraculously adapted to adulthood and shown, in fact, to be in opposition to the evasive and illusory ordinary world of the adult: Dingley Dell is more solid, finally, than the Fleet. And life is made a game by engaging in it resolutely and childishly. To participate fully in the game, Mr. Pickwick has been transformed from the Old Man to the Young Man (a version of the principal comic mode of resurrection, in which the Old Year becomes the New [for a full discussion of this point see Cornford, pp. 171-4]). Sam sees how essentially young Mr. Pickwick's heart is, and Mr. Pickwick sums up his existence by saying, "The happiness of young people has ever been the chief pleasure of my life" (LVII).
The hero has built an Eden not at Dulwich but within, which is one reason the society at the end radiates outward and includes the reader. The persuasiveness of the psychological change has been long ago guaranteed by our laughter. We have really had nowhere else to go but to Dulwich and Pickwick; the other roads have been blocked and the invitation here has been so insistent. In fact, the compelling nature of the invitation and the fully realized joy of the party displayed supports in its way Chesterton's verdict, "To the level of 'The Pickwick Papers' it is doubtful if he ever afterwards rose" (p. 79). At least, one can say that all his faculties were never again so unanimous in supporting such a full affirmation.
Last Modified 9 March 2010