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by Charles Dickens
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Dickens first became known to the public through the famous "Sketches by Boz," which appeared in the "Monthly Magazine" in December, 1833, the complete series being collected and published in volume form three years later. This was followed by the immortal "Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club" in 1836, which soon placed Dickens in the front rank of English novelists. Frankly humorous as "Pickwick" is, Dickens, in a preface to a later edition, recorded with satisfaction that "legal reforms had pared the claws of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg," that the laws relating to imprisonment for debt had been altered, and the Fleet Prison pulled down.
For more works by Dickens, see The Index
I. - Mr. Pickwick Engages Sam Weller
Mr. Pickwick's apartments in Goswell Street were of a very neat and comfortable description, peculiarly adapted for a man of his genius and observation, and importance as General Chairman of the world-famed Pickwick Club.
His landlady, Mrs. Bardell, was a comely woman of bustling manners and agreeable appearance, with a natural gift for cooking. Cleanliness and quiet reigned throughout the house, and in it Mr. Pickwick's will was law.
To anyone acquainted with these things and with Mr. Pickwick's admirably regulated mind, his conduct on the morning previous to his setting out for Eatanswill seemed most mysterious and unaccountable. He paced the room, popped his head out of the window, and constantly referred to his watch. It was evident to Mrs. Bardell, who was dusting the apartment, that something of importance was in contemplation.
"Mrs. Bardell," said Mr. Pickwick at last, "your little boy is a very long time gone."
"Why, it's a good long way to the Borough, sir!" remonstrated Mrs. Bardell.
"Very true; so it is. Mrs. Bardell do you think it's a much greater expense to keep two people than to keep one?"
"La, Mr. Pickwick!" said Mrs. Bardell, colouring, as she fancied she observed a species of matrimonial twinkle in the eyes of her lodger. "La, Mr. Pickwick, what a question!"
"Well, but do you?" inquired Mr. Pickwick.
"That depends," said Mrs. Bardell, "a good deal upon the person, you know, Mr. Pickwick; and whether it's a saving and careful person, sir."
"That's very true," said Mr. Pickwick; "but the person I have in my eye (here he looked very hard at Mrs. Bardell) I think possesses these qualities. To tell you the truth, I have made up my mind. You'll think it very strange now that I never consulted you about this matter till I sent your little boy out this morning, eh?"
Mrs. Bardell had long worshipped Mr. Pickwick at a distance, and now she thought he was going to propose. A deliberate plan, too - sent her little boy to the Borough to get him out of the way! How thoughtful! How considerate!
"It'll save you a good deal of trouble, won't it?" said Mr. Pickwick. "And when I am in town you'll always have somebody to sit with you." Mr. Pickwick smiled placidly.
"I'm sure I ought to be a very happy woman," said Mrs. Bardell, trembling with agitation. "Oh, you kind, good, playful dear!" And, without more ado, she flung her arms round Mr. Pickwick's neck.
"Bless my soul!" cried the astonished Mr. Pickwick. "Mrs. Bardell, my good woman! Dear me, what a situation! Pray consider if anybody should come!"
"Oh, let them come!" exclaimed Mrs. Bardell frantically. "I'll never leave you, dear, kind soul!" And she clung the tighter.
"Mercy upon me," said Mr. Pickwick, struggling; "I hear somebody coming upstairs! Don't, there's a good creature, don't!" But Mrs. Bardell had fainted in his arms, and before he could gain time to deposit her on a chair, Master Bardell entered the room, followed by Mr. Pickwick's friends Mr. Tupman, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass.
"What is the matter?" said the three Pickwickians.
"I don't know!" replied Mr. Pickwick; while the ever gallant Mr. Tupman led Mrs. Bardell, who said she was better, downstairs. "I cannot conceive what has been the matter with the woman. I merely told her of my intention of keeping a manservant, when she fell into an extraordinary paroxysm. Very remarkable thing."
"Very," said his three friends.
"There's a man in the passage now," said Mr. Tupman.
"It's the man I've sent for from the Borough," said Mr. Pickwick. "Have the goodness to call him up."
Mr. Samuel Weller forthwith presented himself, having previously deposited his old white hat on the landing outside.
"Ta'nt a wery good 'un to look at," said Sam, "but it's an astonishin' 'un to wear. And afore the brim went it was a wery handsome tile."
"Now, with regard to the matter on which I sent for you," said Mr. Pickwick.
"That's the pint, sir; out vith it, as the father said to the child ven he swallowed a farden."
"We want to know, in the first place," said Mr. Pickwick, "whether you are discontented with your present situation?"
"Afore I answers that 'ere question," replied Mr. Weller, "I should like to know whether you're a-goin' to purwide me vith a better."
Mr. Pickwick smiled benevolently as he said: "I have half made up my mind to engage you myself."
"Have you though?" said Sam. "Wages?"
"Twelve pounds a year."
"To attend upon me, and travel about with me and these gentlemen here."
"Take the bill down," said Sam emphatically. "I'm let to a single gentleman, and the terms is agreed upon. If the clothes fit me half as well as the place, they'll do."
II. - Bardell vs. Pickwick
Acting on the advice of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, solicitors, Mrs. Bardell brought an action for breach of promise of marriage against Mr. Pickwick, and the damages were laid at £1,500. February 14 was the day fixed for the memorable trial.
When Mr. Pickwick and his friends reached the court, and the judge - Mr. Justice Stareleigh - had taken his place, it was found that only ten of the special jury were present, and a greengrocer and a chemist were caught from the common jury to make up the number.
"I beg this court's pardon," said the chemist, "but I hope this court will excuse my attendance. I have no assistant, and I can't afford to hire one."
"Then you ought to be able to afford it," said the judge, a most particularly short man, and so fat that he seemed all face and waistcoat.
"Very well, my lord," replied the chemist, "then there'll be murder before this trial's over, that's all. I've left nobody, but an errandboy in my shop, and I know that he thinks Epsom salts means oxalic acid, and syrup of senna, laudanum; that's all, my lord."
Mr. Pickwick was regarding the chemist with feelings of the deepest horror when Mrs. Bardell, supported by her friend, Mrs. Cluppins, was led into court.
Then Sergeant Buzfuz opened the case for the plaintiff, and when he had finished Elizabeth Cluppins was called.
"Do you recollect, Mrs. Cluppins," said Sergeant Buzfuz, "do you recollect being in Mrs. Bardell's back room on one particular morning last July, when she was dusting Pickwick's apartment?"
"Yes, my lord and jury, I do," replied Mrs. Cluppins.
"What were you doing in the back room, ma'am?" inquired the little judge.
"My lord and jury," said Mrs. Cluppins, "I will not deceive you."
"You had better not, ma'am," said the little judge.
"I was there," resumed Mrs. Cluppins, "unbeknown to Mrs. Bardell; I had been out with a little basket, gentlemen, to buy three pounds of red kidney pertaties, which was tuppence ha'penny, when I see Mrs. Bardell's street-door on the jar."
"On the what?" exclaimed the little judge.
"Partly open, my lord."
"She said on the jar," said the little judge, with a cunning look.
"I walked in, gentlemen, just to say good mornin', and went in a permiscuous manner upstairs, and into the back room. There was a sound of voices in the front room, very loud, and forced themselves upon my ear."
Mrs. Cluppins then related the conversation we have already heard between Mr. Pickwick and Mrs. Bardell.
The next witness was Mr. Winkle, and after him came Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Snodgrass, all of whom appeared on subpoena by the plaintiff's lawyers.
Sergeant Buzfuz then rose and said, with considerable importance, "Call Samuel Weller."
It was quite unnecessary to call him, for Samuel Weller stepped briskly into the box the instant his name was pronounced.
"What's your name, sir?" inquired the judge.
"Sam Weller, my lord."
"Do you spell it with a 'V or a 'W?" inquired the judge.
"That depends upon the taste and fancy of the speller, my lord," replied Sam, "but I spells it with a 'V.'"
Here a voice in the gallery exclaimed aloud, "Quite right, too, Samuel; quite right. Put it down a we, my lord, put it down a we."
"Who is that that dares to address the court?" said the little judge, looking up.
"I rayther suspect it was my father, my lord," replied Sam.
"Do you see him here now?" said the judge.
"No, I don't my lord," replied Sam, staring right up in the roof of the court.
"If you could have pointed him out, I would have committed him instantly," said the judge.
Sam bowed his acknowledgments.
"Now, Mr. Weller," said Sergeant Buzfuz, "I believe you are in the service of Mr. Pickwick; speak up, if you please."
"I mean to speak up, sir," replied Sam. "I am in the service o' that 'ere gen'l'man, and a wery good service it is."
"Little to do, and plenty to get, I suppose?" said Sergeant Buzfuz.
"Oh, quite enough to get, sir, as the soldier said ven they ordered him three hundred and fifty lashes," replied Sam.
"You must not tell us what the soldier said," interposed the judge, "it's not evidence."
"Wery good, my lord."
"Now, Mr. Weller," said Sergeant Buzfuz, "do you recollect anything particular happening on the morning when you were first engaged by the defendant?"
"Yes, I do, sir. I had a reg'lar new fit-out o' clothes that mornin', and that was a wery partickler and uncommon circumstance vith me in those days."
"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Weller, that you saw nothing of the fainting of the plaintiff in the arms of the defendant?"
"Certainly not; I was in the passage till they called me up, and then the old lady wasn't there."
"Have you a pair of eyes, Mr. Weller?"
"Yes, that's just it," replied Sam. "If they was 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."
"Do you remember going up to Mrs. Bardell's house one night last November? I suppose you went to have a little talk about this trial, eh, Mr. Weller?" said Sergeant Buzfuz, looking knowingly at the jury.
"I went up to pay the rent," said Sam; "but the ladies gets into a wery great state of admiration at the honourable conduct o' Mr. Dodson and Fogg, and said what a wery gen'rous thing it was o' them to have taken up the case on spec., and to have charged nothin' at all for costs, unless they got 'em out of Mr. Pickwick."
At this very unexpected reply the spectators tittered, and Mr. Sergeant Buzfuz said curtly, "Stand down, sir."
Sergeant Snubbin then addressed the jury on behalf of the defendant, and after that Mr. Justice Stareleigh summed up.
At the end of a quarter of an hour the jury brought in a verdict for the plaintiff with £750 damages.
In the court-room Mr. Pickwick encountered Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, rubbing their hands with satisfaction.
"Not one farthing of costs or damages do you ever get out of me, if I spend the rest of my existence in a debtor's prison," said Mr. Pickwick.
"We shall see about that," said Mr. Fogg grinning.
Outside Mr. Pickwick and his friends made their way to a hackney coach, and Sam Weller was just preparing to jump upon the box when his father stood before him. The old gentleman shook his head gravely and said in warning accents, "I know'd what 'ud come o' this here mode o' doin' bisness. Oh, Sammy, Sammy, vy worn't there a alleybi?"
"But surely, my dear sir," said Perker to his client the following morning, "you don't really mean, seriously now, that you won't pay these costs and damages?"
"Not one halfpenny," said Mr. Pickwick.
"Hooroar for the principle, as the money-lender said ven he vouldn't renew the bill," observed Mr. Samuel Weller.
III. - In the Fleet Prison
Two months later Mr. Pickwick was arrested for the non-payment of costs and damages and taken to the Fleet Prison. And so, for the first time in his life, Mr. Pickwick found himself within the walls of a debtor's prison.
"Where am I to sleep to-night?" inquired Mr. Pickwick of the turnkey, and after some discussion it was discovered there was a bed to let.
"It ain't a large 'un, but it's an out-and-outer to sleep in. This way, sir," said the turnkey.
Mr. Pickwick, accompanied by Sam Weller, followed his guide up a staircase and along a gallery; at the end of this was an apartment containing eight or nine iron bedsteads.
Mr. Pickwick felt very low-spirited and uncomfortable when he was left alone, and he went slowly to bed. He was awakened from his slumbers by the noise of his bed-fellows, one of whom, wearing grey cotton stockings, was performing a hornpipe; while another, evidently very drunk, was warbling as much as he could recollect of a comic song; the third, a man with thick, bushy whiskers, was applauding both performers.
"My name is Smangle, sir," said the man with the whiskers to Mr. Pickwick.
"Mine is Mivins," said the man in the stockings.
"Well; but come," said Mr. Smangle, after assuring Mr. Pickwick a great many times that he entertained a very high respect for the feelings of a gentleman, "this is but dry work. Let's rinse our mouths with a drop of burnt sherry; the last-comer shall stand it, Mivins shall fetch it, and I'll help to drink it. That's a fair and gentleman-like division of labour, anyhow."
Mr. Pickwick, unwilling to hazard a quarrel, gladly assented to the proposition.
When Mr. Pickwick opened his eyes next morning, the first object upon which they rested was Samuel Weller, seated upon a small black portmanteau.
He soon learnt that money was in the Fleet just what money was out of it; and that if he wished it he could have a room to himself, if he was willing to pay for it.
"There's a capital room up in the coffee-room flight that belongs to a Chancery prisoner," said the turnkey. "It'll stand you in a pound a week. Lord! Why didn't you say at first that you was willing to come down handsome?"
The matter was soon arranged, and in a short time the room was furnished.
"Sam," said Mr. Pickwick, when his servant had done his best to make the apartment comfortable, and was now inspecting the arrangements, "I have felt from the first that this is not the place to bring a young man to."
"Nor an old 'un neither, sir."
"You're quite right, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick. "But old men may come here through their own heedlessness and unsuspicion. Do you understand me, Sam?"
"Vell, sir," rejoined Sam, after a pause, "I think I see your drift, and 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."
"For the time that I remain here," said Mr. Pickwick, "you must leave me, Sam."
"Now, I tell you vot it is," 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, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick.
"You air, air you, sir?" inquired Mr. Weller. "Wery good, sir. Then so am I."
With that Mr. Weller fixed his hat on his head with great precision and left the room. Having found his father, Sam explained to the elder Mr. Weller that Mr. Pickwick must not be left alone in the Fleet.
"Vy, they'll eat him up alive, Sammy!" exclaimed the elder Mr. Weller. "Stop there by himself, poor creetur, without nobody to take his part! It can't be done, Samivel, it can't be done!"
"O' course it can't," asserted Sam. "Well, then, I tell you wot it is. I'll trouble you for the loan of five-and-twenty pound. P'raps you may ask for it five minits artervards, p'raps I may say I von't pay, and cut up rough. You von't think o' arrestin' your own son for the money, and sendin' him off to the Fleet, will you, you unnat'ral wagabone?"
The elder Mr. Weller, having grasped the idea, laughed till he was purple.
In the course of the day Sam was duly arrested at the suit of his father, and Sam, having been formally delivered into the warden's custody, passed at once into the prison, and went straight to his master's room.
"I'm a pris'ner, sir," said Sam. "I was arrested this here wery arternoon for debt, and the man as put 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 year to come, I shall be a pris'ner, and I'm very glad on it. He's a malicious, bad-disposed, vorldly-minded, windictive creetur wot's put me in, with a hard heart as there ain't no soft'nin', as the wirtuous clergyman remarked of the old gen'l'm'n with a dropsy, ven he said that upon the whole he thought he'd rather leave his property to his vife than build a chapel with it."
In vain Mr. Pickwick remonstrated.
"I takes my determination on principle, sir," remarked Sam, "and you takes yours on the same ground; vich puts me in mind o' the man as killed hisself on principle."
IV. - Mr. Pickwick Leaves the Fleet
Those enterprising lawyers, Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, having obtained no money from Mr. Pickwick, proceeded in July to arrest Mrs. Bardell, who, as a matter of form, had given them a cognovit for the amount of their costs.
Mr. Pickwick was taking his evening walk in the grounds of the Fleet when Mrs. Bardell was brought in, and Sam Weller, seeing the lady, took off his hat in mock reverence. Mr. Pickwick turned indignantly away.
"Don't bother the woman," said the turnkey to Weller; "she's just come in."
"A pris'ner!" said Sam. "Who's the plaintives? What for? Speak up, old feller!"
"Dodson and Fogg," replied the man.
"Here, Job, Job!" shouted Sam, dashing into the passage, and calling for a man who went errands for the prisoners. "Run to Mr. Perker's, Job; I want him directly. I see some good in this. Here's a game! Hooray!"
Mr. Perker was in Mr. Pickwick's room betimes next morning.
"Well, now, my dear sir," said Perker, "the first question I have to ask is whether this woman is to remain here? It rests solely and wholly and entirely with you."
"With me!" ejaculated Mr. Pickwick.
"Nobody but you can rescue her from this den of wretchedness, to which no man, and still more no woman, should ever be consigned if I had my will," resumed Mr. Perker. "I have seen the woman this morning. By paying the costs, you can obtain a full release and discharge from the damages; and, further, a voluntary statement, under her hand, that this business was from the very first fomented and encouraged by these men, Dodson and Fogg. She entreats me to intercede with you, and implores your pardon."
Before Mr. Pickwick could reply, there was a low murmuring of voices outside, and a hesitating knock at the door; and Mr. Winkle, Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Snodgrass entering most opportunely, at last, by their united pleadings, Mr. Pickwick was fairly argued out of his resolutions. At three o'clock that afternoon Mr. Pickwick took a last look at his little room, and made his way as well as he could through the throng of debtors who pressed eagerly forward to shake him by the hand, until he reached the lodge steps. He turned here to look about him, and his eye brightened as he did so. In all the crowd of wan, emaciated faces, he saw not one which was not the happier for his sympathy and charity.
As for Sam Weller, having dispatched Job Trotter to procure his formal discharge, his next proceeding was to invest his whole stock of ready money in the purchase of five-and-twenty gallons of mild porter, which he himself dispensed on the racket-ground to everybody who would partake of it. This done, he hurra'd in divers parts of the building until he lost his voice, and then quietly relapsed into his usual collected and philosophical condition, and followed his master out of the prison.
* * * * *
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