Two months have passed since the last instalment of The Pickwick Papers and, in June 1837, the country was saddened at the death of William IV on 20th June. He had been King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover from 26th June 1830, and he was in fact the final king of the House of Hanover. The final monarch of Hanover would be Queen Victoria, whose coronation was on the 28th June 1837 (she would be followed by Edward VII, the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha). Queen Victoria recorded the death of William IV, her uncle, in her diary:
"I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen."
June 1837 also, of course, saw a welcome return to The Pickwick Papers which had been delayed due to the death of his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth (the fifth instalment of Oliver Twist was also delayed for that reason) on 7th May 1837. When we last saw Mr. Samuel Pickwick he was about to enter debtor's prison for refusing to pay damages to Mrs Bardell who had sued him for a breach of promise (a misunderstanding in which Mrs. Bardell wrongly thought Pickwick had proposed). Chapter XLI picks up the story...
Chapter XLI. What Befell Mr. Pickwick When He Got into the Fleet;
What Prisoners He Saw There, and How He Passed the Night.
|'The Warden's Room' by Phiz.|
'The Fleet' of the chapter heading refers to Fleet Prison, originally built in 1197 (it was rebuilt several times, for example after being deliberately destroyed during the Peasants' Revolt in the 14th Century, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and after the Gordon Riots in 1780) and used from about the 18th Century as a debtors' prison. Famous inmates include Sir Thomas Lodge (Lord Mayor of London, 1562-63), John Donne and John Cleland, as well as Shakespeare's Falstaff and our Mr. Pickwick. The chapter begins,
Mr. Tom Roker, the gentleman who had accompanied Mr. Pickwick into the prison, turned sharp round to the right when he got to the bottom of the little flight of steps, and led the way, through an iron gate which stood open, and up another short flight of steps, into a long narrow gallery, dirty and low, paved with stone, and very dimly lighted by a window at each remote end.
‘This,’ said the gentleman, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and looking carelessly over his shoulder to Mr. Pickwick—‘this here is the hall flight.’
‘Oh,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, looking down a dark and filthy staircase, which appeared to lead to a range of damp and gloomy stone vaults, beneath the ground, ‘and those, I suppose, are the little cellars where the prisoners keep their small quantities of coals. Unpleasant places to have to go down to; but very convenient, I dare say.’
‘Yes, I shouldn’t wonder if they was convenient,’ replied the gentleman, ‘seeing that a few people live there, pretty snug. That’s the Fair, that is.’
‘My friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘you don’t really mean to say that human beings live down in those wretched dungeons?’
‘Don’t I?’ replied Mr. Roker, with indignant astonishment; ‘why shouldn’t I?’
‘Live!—live down there!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
‘Live down there! Yes, and die down there, too, very often!’ replied Mr. Roker; ‘and what of that? Who’s got to say anything agin it? Live down there! Yes, and a wery good place it is to live in, ain’t it?’
Mr. Pickwick then observes his surroundings, in one of the darker moments of The Pickwick Papers:
"It was getting dark; that is to say, a few gas jets were kindled in this place which was never light, by way of compliment to the evening, which had set in outside. As it was rather warm, some of the tenants of the numerous little rooms which opened into the gallery on either hand, had set their doors ajar. Mr. Pickwick peeped into them as he passed along, with great curiosity and interest. Here, four or five great hulking fellows, just visible through a cloud of tobacco smoke, were engaged in noisy and riotous conversation over half-emptied pots of beer, or playing at all-fours with a very greasy pack of cards. In the adjoining room, some solitary tenant might be seen poring, by the light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered papers, yellow with dust and dropping to pieces from age, writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch. In a third, a man, with his wife and a whole crowd of children, might be seen making up a scanty bed on the ground, or upon a few chairs, for the younger ones to pass the night in. And in a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh, the noise, and the beer, and the tobacco smoke, and the cards, all came over again in greater force than before.
In the galleries themselves, and more especially on the stair-cases, there lingered a great number of people, who came there, some because their rooms were empty and lonesome, others because their rooms were full and hot; the greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable, and not possessed of the secret of exactly knowing what to do with themselves. There were many classes of people here, from the labouring man in his fustian jacket, to the broken-down spendthrift in his shawl dressing-gown, most appropriately out at elbows; but there was the same air about them all—a kind of listless, jail-bird, careless swagger, a vagabondish who’s-afraid sort of bearing, which is wholly indescribable in words, but which any man can understand in one moment if he wish, by setting foot in the nearest debtors’ prison, and looking at the very first group of people he sees there, with the same interest as Mr. Pickwick did."Pickwick, ever positive, thinks this won't be so awful, whilst Sam Weller also makes his own observations, and he tells Pickwick of a man who was effectively institutionalised to the point that he was frightened to be free. A little later Pickwick's mood takes a downward turn as he takes in more of his new abode:
There is no disguising the fact that Mr. Pickwick felt very low-spirited and uncomfortable—not for lack of society, for the prison was very full, and a bottle of wine would at once have purchased the utmost good-fellowship of a few choice spirits, without any more formal ceremony of introduction; but he was alone in the coarse, vulgar crowd, and felt the depression of spirits and sinking of heart, naturally consequent on the reflection that he was cooped and caged up, without a prospect of liberation. As to the idea of releasing himself by ministering to the sharpness of Dodson & Fogg, it never for an instant entered his thoughts.
In this frame of mind he turned again into the coffee-room gallery, and walked slowly to and fro. The place was intolerably dirty, and the smell of tobacco smoke perfectly suffocating. There was a perpetual slamming and banging of doors as the people went in and out; and the noise of their voices and footsteps echoed and re-echoed through the passages constantly. A young woman, with a child in her arms, who seemed scarcely able to crawl, from emaciation and misery, was walking up and down the passage in conversation with her husband, who had no other place to see her in. As they passed Mr. Pickwick, he could hear the female sob bitterly; and once she burst into such a passion of grief, that she was compelled to lean against the wall for support, while the man took the child in his arms, and tried to soothe her.
Mr. Pickwick’s heart was really too full to bear it, and he went upstairs to bed.Low spirits drive him into an argument, but then he proceeds to get to know a few of his fellow inmates.
Chapter XLII. Illustrative, Like the Preceding One, of the Old Proverb, that Adversity Brings a Man Acquainted with Strange Bedfellows— Likewise Containing Mr. Pickwick’s Extraordinary and Startling Announcement to Mr. Samuel Weller
|'Discovery of Jingle in the Fleet' by Phiz.|
‘I have felt from the first, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with much solemnity, ‘that this is not the place to bring a young man to.’
‘Nor an old ‘un neither, Sir,’ observed Mr. Weller.
‘You’re quite right, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but old men may come here through their own heedlessness and unsuspicion, and young men may be brought here by the selfishness of those they serve. It is better for those young men, in every point of view, that they should not remain here. Do you understand me, Sam?’
‘Vy no, Sir, I do not,’ replied Mr. Weller doggedly.
‘Try, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Vell, sir,’ rejoined Sam, after a short pause, ‘I think I see your drift; and if I do see your drift, it’s my ‘pinion that you’re a-comin’ it a great deal too strong, as the mail-coachman said to the snowstorm, ven it overtook him.’
‘I see you comprehend me, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Independently of my wish that you should not be idling about a place like this, for years to come, I feel that for a debtor in the Fleet to be attended by his manservant is a monstrous absurdity. Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘for a time you must leave me.’
‘Oh, for a time, eh, sir?’ rejoined Mr. Weller rather sarcastically.
‘Yes, for the time that I remain here,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Your wages I shall continue to pay. Any one of my three friends will be happy to take you, were it only out of respect to me. And if I ever do leave this place, Sam,’ added Mr. Pickwick, with assumed cheerfulness—‘if I do, I pledge you my word that you shall return to me instantly.’
‘Now I’ll tell you wot it is, Sir,’ said Mr. Weller, in a grave and solemn voice. ‘This here sort o’ thing won’t do at all, so don’t let’s hear no more about it.’
I am serious, and resolved, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘You air, air you, sir?’ inquired Mr. Weller firmly. ‘Wery good, Sir; then so am I.’
Thus speaking, Mr. Weller fixed his hat on his head with great precision, and abruptly left the room.
‘Sam!’ cried Mr. Pickwick, calling after him, ‘Sam! Here!’
But the long gallery ceased to re-echo the sound of footsteps. Sam Weller was gone.
Chapter XLIII. Showing How Mr. Samuel Weller Got Into Difficulties
Dear Sam Weller indeed shows his loyalty in this final chapter of the fifteenth instalment. He meets his father at the Insolvents' Court; he and his friends are watching their friend being tried, the events and people are described, and then we learn about Sam's plan: he will borrow £25 from his father and then default on the payment, at which Tony Weller will file a suit and Sam will be imprisoned along with Mr. Pickwick in Fleet Prison. The plan goes accordingly, and Sam is happily reunited with Pickwck:
Sam, having been formally delivered into the warder’s custody, to the intense astonishment of Roker, and to the evident emotion of even the phlegmatic Neddy, passed at once into the prison, walked straight to his master’s room, and knocked at the door.And there ends the fifteenth instalment. And we're back on track for monthly instalments - the final five are as follows:
‘Come in,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
Sam appeared, pulled off his hat, and smiled.
‘Ah, Sam, my good lad!’ said Mr. Pickwick, evidently delighted to see his humble friend again; ‘I had no intention of hurting your feelings yesterday, my faithful fellow, by what I said. Put down your hat, Sam, and let me explain my meaning, a little more at length.’
‘Won’t presently do, sir?’ inquired Sam.
‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but why not now?’
‘I’d rayther not now, sir,’ rejoined Sam.
‘Why?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘’Cause—’ said Sam, hesitating.
‘Because of what?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, alarmed at his follower’s manner. ‘Speak out, Sam.’
‘’Cause,’ rejoined Sam—‘’cause I’ve got a little bisness as I want to do.’
‘What business?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, surprised at Sam’s confused manner.
‘Nothin’ partickler, Sir,’ replied Sam.
‘Oh, if it’s nothing particular,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile, ‘you can speak with me first.’
‘I think I’d better see arter it at once,’ said Sam, still hesitating.
Mr. Pickwick looked amazed, but said nothing.
‘The fact is—’ said Sam, stopping short.
‘Well!’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Speak out, Sam.’
‘Why, the fact is,’ said Sam, with a desperate effort, ‘perhaps I’d better see arter my bed afore I do anythin’ else.’
‘Your bed!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, in astonishment.
‘Yes, my bed, Sir,’ replied Sam, ‘I’m a prisoner. I was arrested this here wery arternoon for debt.’
‘You arrested for debt!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, sinking into a chair.
‘Yes, for debt, Sir,’ replied Sam. ‘And the man as puts me in, ‘ull never let me out till you go yourself.’
‘Bless my heart and soul!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Wot I say, Sir,’ rejoined Sam. ‘If it’s forty years to come, I shall be a prisoner, and I’m very glad on it; and if it had been Newgate, it would ha’ been just the same. Now the murder’s out, and, damme, there’s an end on it!’
With these words, which he repeated with great emphasis and violence, Sam Weller dashed his hat upon the ground, in a most unusual state of excitement; and then, folding his arms, looked firmly and fixedly in his master’s face.
XVI – July 2017 (chapters 44–46)I'm looking forward to July's - will Sam and Pickwick be released? Not long to wait to find out...
XVII – August 2017 (chapters 47–49)
XVIII – September 2017 (chapters 50–52)
XIX – October 2017 (chapters 53–55)
XX - November 2017 (chapters 56–57)