We've now reached the eighteenth instalment of The Pickwick Papers and, incredibly, are actually nearly finished. September 1837 - I wonder if it was as misty as it is now. 180 years ago to the month, aside from the eighteen instalment being published, a remarkable incident occurred near Bamburgh, Northumberland: the SS Forfarshire was travelling from Hull to Dundee and near the Farne Islands it ran aground in the thick fog and gales. Grace Darling, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, and her father William bravely rowed out and rescued nine of the passengers. Still to this day she is remembered, and was the subject of Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem Grace Darling, which begins,
Take, O star of all our seas, from not an alien hand,
Homage paid of song bowed down before thy glory's face,
Thou the living light of all our lovely stormy strand,
Thou the brave north-country's very glory of glories, Grace.
You can read the rest of the poem here. And in other news, the London and Birmingham Railway first opened in September 1837, engineered by Robert Stephenson (son of George Stephenson, the 'Father of Railways'; both were also from Northumberland).
Now, we left Pickwick en route to Birmingham in the last instalment, so let's press on with the fiftieth chapter...
How Mr. Pickwick Sped Upon His Mission, and How He was Reinforced in the Outset by a Most Unexpected Auxiliary
|Mr. Bob Sawyer's Mode of Travelling|
Samuel Pickwick leaves for Birmingham to speak with Mr. Winkle's father and is accompanied by Ben Allen and also Bob Sawyer, who proves to be somewhat of a nuisance:
So long as their progress was confined to the streets of Bristol, the facetious Bob kept his professional green spectacles on, and conducted himself with becoming steadiness and gravity of demeanour; merely giving utterance to divers verbal witticisms for the exclusive behoof and entertainment of Mr. Samuel Weller. But when they emerged on the open road, he threw off his green spectacles and his gravity together, and performed a great variety of practical jokes, which were calculated to attract the attention of the passersby, and to render the carriage and those it contained objects of more than ordinary curiosity; the least conspicuous among these feats being a most vociferous imitation of a key-bugle, and the ostentatious display of a crimson silk pocket-handkerchief attached to a walking-stick, which was occasionally waved in the air with various gestures indicative of supremacy and defiance.They soon arrive in Birmingham but Sawyer's pranks show no sign of abating and all are a little tipsy from milk punch. Mr. Pickwick delivers the letter whilst Sawyer continues to play the fool, and -
The old gentleman methodically indorsed the address on the back of the letter; and then, placing it in the desk, which he locked, said, as he got off the stool and put the bunch of keys in his pocket—
‘I suppose there is nothing else which need detain us, Mr. Pickwick?’
‘Nothing else, my dear Sir!’ observed that warm-hearted person in indignant amazement. ‘Nothing else! Have you no opinion to express on this momentous event in our young friend’s life? No assurance to convey to him, through me, of the continuance of your affection and protection? Nothing to say which will cheer and sustain him, and the anxious girl who looks to him for comfort and support? My dear Sir, consider.’
‘I will consider,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘I have nothing to say just now. I am a man of business, Mr. Pickwick. I never commit myself hastily in any affair, and from what I see of this, I by no means like the appearance of it. A thousand pounds is not much, Mr. Pickwick.’
The chapter ends with Pickwick leaving the old gentleman's home angrily.
In Which Mr. Pickwick Encounters An Old Acquaintance—to Which Fortunate Circumstance The Reader Is Mainly Indebted For Matter Of Thrilling Interest Herein Set Down, Concerning Two Great Public Men Of Might And Power
|The Rival Editors by Phiz.|
The depressed group return to London in the pouring rain in chapter 51:
The morning which broke upon Mr. Pickwick’s sight at eight o’clock, was not at all calculated to elevate his spirits, or to lessen the depression which the unlooked-for result of his embassy inspired. The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. A game-cock in the stableyard, deprived of every spark of his accustomed animation, balanced himself dismally on one leg in a corner; a donkey, moping with drooping head under the narrow roof of an outhouse, appeared from his meditative and miserable countenance to be contemplating suicide. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard.
The breakfast was interrupted by very little conversation; even Mr. Bob Sawyer felt the influence of the weather, and the previous day’s excitement. In his own expressive language he was ‘floored.’ So was Mr. Ben Allen. So was Mr. Pickwick.
In protracted expectation of the weather clearing up, the last evening paper from London was read and re-read with an intensity of interest only known in cases of extreme destitution; every inch of the carpet was walked over with similar perseverance; the windows were looked out of, often enough to justify the imposition of an additional duty upon them; all kinds of topics of conversation were started, and failed; and at length Mr. Pickwick, when noon had arrived, without a change for the better, rang the bell resolutely, and ordered out the chaise.
Although the roads were miry, and the drizzling rain came down harder than it had done yet, and although the mud and wet splashed in at the open windows of the carriage to such an extent that the discomfort was almost as great to the pair of insides as to the pair of outsides, still there was something in the motion, and the sense of being up and doing, which was so infinitely superior to being pent in a dull room, looking at the dull rain dripping into a dull street, that they all agreed, on starting, that the change was a great improvement, and wondered how they could possibly have delayed making it as long as they had done.
Whilst stopping off at the Saracen's Head in Towcester (Northamptonshire) they see Mr. Pott, the editor of the Eatanswill Gazette (last seen in the seventh instalment). Unsurprisingly Mrs. Pott has left him and taken half his property. Mr. Slurk, Pott's rival, the editor of the Eatanswill Independent also arrives and naturally a fight breaks out. Eventually it's broken up, and Pickwick's party return on their journey to London.
Involving A Serious Change In The Weller Family, And The Untimely Downfall Of Mr. Stiggins.
In this final chapter of the instalment we have the misfortune of encountering the Reverend Stiggins again, but first we learn of Sam's stepmother's death. Tony wishes to see Sam and he goes with haste to Dorking. There it would appear that already the widows and spinsters of Dorking are making a play for Tony; Sam also learns Susan left him £200 and to Tony the bulk of her estate. Stiggins then arrives to see if he has been left anything:
Mr. Stiggins, encouraged by this sound, which he understood to betoken remorse or repentance, looked about him, rubbed his hands, wept, smiled, wept again, and then, walking softly across the room to a well-remembered shelf in one corner, took down a tumbler, and with great deliberation put four lumps of sugar in it. Having got thus far, he looked about him again, and sighed grievously; with that, he walked softly into the bar, and presently returning with the tumbler half full of pine-apple rum, advanced to the kettle which was singing gaily on the hob, mixed his grog, stirred it, sipped it, sat down, and taking a long and hearty pull at the rum-and-water, stopped for breath.
The elder Mr. Weller, who still continued to make various strange and uncouth attempts to appear asleep, offered not a single word during these proceedings; but when Stiggins stopped for breath, he darted upon him, and snatching the tumbler from his hand, threw the remainder of the rum-and-water in his face, and the glass itself into the grate. Then, seizing the reverend gentleman firmly by the collar, he suddenly fell to kicking him most furiously, accompanying every application of his top-boot to Mr. Stiggins’s person, with sundry violent and incoherent anathemas upon his limbs, eyes, and body.
‘Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘put my hat on tight for me.’
Sam dutifully adjusted the hat with the long hatband more firmly on his father’s head, and the old gentleman, resuming his kicking with greater agility than before, tumbled with Mr. Stiggins through the bar, and through the passage, out at the front door, and so into the street—the kicking continuing the whole way, and increasing in vehemence, rather than diminishing, every time the top-boot was lifted.
It was a beautiful and exhilarating sight to see the red-nosed man writhing in Mr. Weller’s grasp, and his whole frame quivering with anguish as kick followed kick in rapid succession; it was a still more exciting spectacle to behold Mr. Weller, after a powerful struggle, immersing Mr. Stiggins’s head in a horse-trough full of water, and holding it there, until he was half suffocated.
‘There!’ said Mr. Weller, throwing all his energy into one most complicated kick, as he at length permitted Mr. Stiggins to withdraw his head from the trough, ‘send any vun o’ them lazy shepherds here, and I’ll pound him to a jelly first, and drownd him artervards! Sammy, help me in, and fill me a small glass of brandy. I’m out o’ breath, my boy.’
And there ends the chapter. Next month, the penultimate instalment: chapters 53 - 55.