June 1836 saw, among many other things, the fourth instalment of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I am somewhat distracted by the thoughts of what Dickens would have made of June 2016 and the present state of things, but for now I'll wonder silently and press on with Chapters IX - XI.
A Discovery and a Chase.
|'The Break Down' by Phiz.|
We left May's instalment with Mr. Jingle wishing to borrow £10 from Mr. Tupman and a promise from Dickens that what transpired between Jingle and Miss Wardle was of
... sufficient importance in this eventful history to be narrated in another chapter.
And here we are, and it is of no surprise that the unscrupulous Jingle has eloped with Miss Wardle. At the news chaos ensues:
It was a beautiful sight, in that moment of turmoil and confusion, to behold the placid and philosophical expression of Mr. Pickwick's face, albeit somewhat flushed with exertion, as he stood with his arms firmly clasped round the extensive waist of their corpulent host, thus restraining the impetuosity of his passion, while the fat boy was scratched, and pulled, and pushed from the room by all the females congregated therein. He had no sooner released his hold, than the man entered to announce that the gig was ready.
Off they go at speed, hiring a chaise and pursuing the pair through the night, offering surely the greatest 'high speed chase' scene in literature (and they say it can't be done!):
The interest was intense. Fields, trees, and hedges, seemed to rush past them with the velocity of a whirlwind, so rapid was the pace at which they tore along. They were close by the side of the first chaise. Jingle's voice could be plainly heard, even above the din of the wheels, urging on the boys. Old Mr. Wardle foamed with rage and excitement. He roared out scoundrels and villains by the dozen, clenched his fist and shook it expressively at the object of his indignation; but Mr. Jingle only answered with a contemptuous smile, and replied to his menaces by a shout of triumph, as his horses, answering the increased application of whip and spur, broke into a faster gallop, and left the pursuers behind.
Mr. Pickwick had just drawn in his head, and Mr. Wardle, exhausted with shouting, had done the same, when a tremendous jolt threw them forward against the front of the vehicle. There was a sudden bump—a loud crash—away rolled a wheel, and over went the chaise.
Mr. Wardle and Mr. Pickwick are left to walk the rest of the way in the rain.
Clearing Up All Doubts (If Any Existed) of The Disinterestedness of Mr. A. Jingle's Character
|First Appearance of Mr. Samuel Weller.|
The scene opens in the yard of an inn in London. A man, quickly named Sam, is cleaning boots:
He was habited in a coarse, striped waistcoat, with black calico sleeves, and blue glass buttons; drab breeches and leggings. A bright red handkerchief was wound in a very loose and unstudied style round his neck, and an old white hat was carelessly thrown on one side of his head. There were two rows of boots before him, one cleaned and the other dirty, and at every addition he made to the clean row, he paused from his work, and contemplated its results with evident satisfaction.
He is soon approached by Jingle who asks for directions to the Doctors' Commons for a marriage license; Sam eventually gives him directions after sharing a brief anecdote about his father, and Jingle and Rachael depart to marry. Shortly after Mr. Wardle arrives at the inn with his solicitor Mr. Perker and Mr. Pickwick of course. Sam directs them to Jingle who has secured the marriage licence and Wardle, Perker, and Pickwick confront him. After an argument Wardle pays Jingle off (not without some considerable bartering), and -
Shall we tell the lamentations that ensued when Miss Wardle found herself deserted by the faithless Jingle? Shall we extract Mr. Pickwick's masterly description of that heartrending scene? His note-book, blotted with the tears of sympathising humanity, lies open before us; one word, and it is in the printer's hands. But, no! we will be resolute! We will not wring the public bosom, with the delineation of such suffering!
Slowly and sadly did the two friends and the deserted lady return next day in the Muggleton heavy coach. Dimly and darkly had the sombre shadows of a summer's night fallen upon all around, when they again reached Dingley Dell, and stood within the entrance to Manor Farm.
Involving Another Journey, and an Antiquarian Discovery; Recording Mr. Pickwick's Determination to be Present at an Election; and Containing a Manuscript of the Old Clergyman's.
Chapter XI is the longest chapter so far of The Pickwick Papers. It is now June, as Dickens tells us (corresponding with the month of the instalment):
A delightful walk it was; for it was a pleasant afternoon in June, and their way lay through a deep and shady wood, cooled by the light wind which gently rustled the thick foliage, and enlivened by the songs of the birds that perched upon the boughs. The ivy and the moss crept in thick clusters over the old trees, and the soft green turf overspread the ground like a silken mat. They emerged upon an open park, with an ancient hall, displaying the quaint and picturesque architecture of Elizabeth's time. Long vistas of stately oaks and elm trees appeared on every side; large herds of deer were cropping the fresh grass; and occasionally a startled hare scoured along the ground, with the speed of the shadows thrown by the light clouds which swept across a sunny landscape like a passing breath of summer.
The chapter begins with Tupman's despair over his love for Rachael and an alarming note, a suicide note in fact:
'MY DEAR PICKWICK,—You, my dear friend, are placed far beyond the reach of many mortal frailties and weaknesses which ordinary people cannot overcome. You do not know what it is, at one blow, to be deserted by a lovely and fascinating creature, and to fall a victim to the artifices of a villain, who had the grin of cunning beneath the mask of friendship. I hope you never may.
'Any letter addressed to me at the Leather Bottle, Cobham, Kent, will be forwarded—supposing I still exist. I hasten from the sight of that world, which has become odious to me. Should I hasten from it altogether, pity—forgive me. Life, my dear Pickwick, has become insupportable to me. The spirit which burns within us, is a porter's knot, on which to rest the heavy load of worldly cares and troubles; and when that spirit fails us, the burden is too heavy to be borne. We sink beneath it. You may tell Rachael—Ah, that name!—
But never fear - the Pickwickians leave Mr. Wardle and Dingley Dell to seek their friend and find him in an inn in Cobham (Surrey) "looking as unlike a man who had taken his leave of the world, as possible", enjoying a his meal. All is well, and the group go on to plan a trip to Eatanswill (thought to be Ipswich, Suffolk) to watch an election, but until then a mystery: Pickwick finds a stone with a mysterious inscription:
B I L S T
P S H I
The chapter is devoted to getting to the bottom of this mystery. Pickwick reads an old manuscript: "A Madman's Manuscript", which turns into a short story about a man who married a woman in love with another man. The marriage is a sham, an opportunity for the woman to marry a wealthy man, and the narrator, the madman, tries to kill her and fails (though she does die later), then fails also at attempting to kill her brother. He is eventually caught and locked in an asylum.
The Pickwickians take the stone back home to London and Mr. Blotton, a minor Pickwickian, successfully deciphers it - "'BILL STUMPS, HIS MARK'". Blotton however is expelled from the club for his efforts and the chapter ends,
But this base attempt to injure Mr. Pickwick recoiled upon the head of its calumnious author. The seventeen learned societies unanimously voted the presumptuous Blotton an ignorant meddler, and forthwith set to work upon more treatises than ever. And to this day the stone remains, an illegible monument of Mr. Pickwick's greatness, and a lasting trophy to the littleness of his enemies.
And there June's tense and somewhat dark instalment is complete. For July, Chapters XII - XIV. I must say I'm rather looking forward to it!