Read A MONUMENTAL PICKWICK of Pickwickian Manners and Customs , free online book, by Percy Fitzgerald, on

The fruitfulness of Pickwick, and amazing prolificness, that is one of its marvels. It is regularly “worked on,” like Dante or Shakespeare. The Pickwickian Library is really a wonder. It is intelligible how a work like Boswell’s “Johnson,” full of allusions and names of persons who have lived, spoken, and written, should give rise to explanation and commentaries; but a work of mere imagination, it would be thought, could not furnish such openings. As we have just seen, Pickwick and the other characters are so real, so artfully blended with existing usages, manners, and localities, as to become actual living things.

Mere panegyric of one’s favourite is idle. So I lately took a really effective way of proving the surprising fertility of the work and of its power of engendering speculation and illustration. I set about collecting all that has been done, written, and drawn on the subject during these sixty years past, together with all those lighter manifestations of popularity which surely indicate “the form and pressure” of its influence. The result is now before me, and all but fills a small room. When set in proper order and bound, it will fill over thirty great quartos “huge armfuls” as Elia has it. In short, it is a “Monumental Pickwick.”

The basis of The Text is of course, the original edition of 1836. There are specimens of the titles and a few pages of every known edition; the first cheap or popular one; the “Library” edition; the “Charles Dickens” ditto; the Edition de Luxe; the “Victoria”: “Jubilee,” edited by C. Dickens the younger; editions at a shilling and at sixpence; the edition sold for one penny; the new “Gadshill,” edited by Andrew Lang; with the “Roxburghe,” edited by F. Kitton, presently to be published. The Foreign Editions in English; four American editions, two of Philadelphia, and two of New York; the Tauchnitz (German) and Baudry (French); the curious Calcutta edition; with one of the most interesting editions, viz., the one published at Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land in the year 1839, that is before the name of the Colony was changed. The publisher speaks feelingly of the enormous difficulties he had to encounter, and he boasts, with a certain pride, that it is “the largest publication that has issued from either the New South Wales or the Tasmanian Press.” Not only this, but the whole of the work, printing, engraving, and binding, was executed in the Colony. He had to be content with lithography for the plates, and indeed, could only manage a selection of twenty of the best. He says, too, that even in England, lithography is found a process of considerable difficulty. They are executed in a very rough and imperfect way, and not very faithfully by an artist who signs himself “Tiz.” The poor, but spirited publisher adds that the expense has been enormous “greater than was originally contemplated,” but he comforts himself with the compliment that “if any publication would repay the cost of its production, it would be the far-famed Pickwick Papers.” On the whole, it is a very interesting edition to have, and I have never seen a copy save the one I possess. I have also an American edition, printed in Philadelphia, which has a great interest. It was bought there by Mrs. Charles Dickens, and presented by her to her faithful maid, Anne. I possess also a copy of the Christmas Carol given by his son, the author, to his father John. Few recall that “Boz” wrote a sequel to his Pickwick a rather dismal failure quite devoid of humour. He revived Sam and old Weller, and Mr. Pickwick, but they are unrecognizable figures. He judiciously suppressed this attempt, after making it a sort of introduction to Humphrey’s Clock. Of course, we have it here.

Translations: Of these there are some twenty in all, but I have only the French, German, Russian, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Hungarian.

Then come Selections: “Readings” from “Pickwick”; “Dialogues” from ditto; “Wellerisms,” by Charles Kent and Mr. Rideal.

Dramatic Versions: “The Pickwickians,” “Perambulations,” “Sam Weller,” etc. The “Pickwick” opera, by Burnand; “The Trial in ‘Pickwick’”; “Bardell v. Pickwick.” There are “Play Bills” various. Connected with this department is the literature of the “Readings” “Charles Dickens as a Reader,” by Kent, and “Pen Photographs,” by Kate Field. Also Dolby’s account of the Reading Tours, and the little prepared versions for sale in the rooms in green covers; also bills, tickets, and programmes galore.

In Music we have “The Ivy Green” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Imitations: “Pickwick Abroad,” by G. W. Reynolds; “Pickwick in America,” the “Penny Pickwick,” the “Queerfish Chronicles,” the “Cadger Club,” and many more.

In the way of Commentaries: The “History of Pickwick,” “Origin of Sam Weller”: Sir F. Lockwood’s “The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick”; Kent’s “Humour and Pathos of Charles Dickens”; accounts from “Forster’s Life” and from the “Letters,” “Controversy with Seymour” (Mrs. Seymour’s rare pamphlet is not procurable), “Dickensiana,” by F. Kitton; “Bibliographies” by Herne Shepherd, Cook and also by Kitton.

Criticisms: The Quarterly Review, the Westminster Review, Fraser’s Magazine, Taine’s estimate, “L’inimitable Boz” by Comte de Heussey, with many more.

Topographical: Hughes’ “Tramp in Dickens-Land,” “In Kent with Charles Dickens,” by Frost; “Bozland,” by Percy Fitzgerald; “The Childhood and Youth of C. Dickens,” by Langton; “Dickens’s London,” by Allbutt; “About England with Dickens,” by Rimmer; Papers in American and English Magazines; “A Pickwickian Pilgrimage,” by Hassard; “Old Rochester,” and others.

Commentaries on the Illustrations: Here is a regular department Account of “Phiz,” by Kitton; “Life of Hablot K. Browne,” by Croal Thomson; “Life of G. Cruikshank,” Mr. Dexter’s book, and another by Charles P. Johnson.

Next we refer to the Illustrations themselves: The plates to the original edition are by Seymour (7), Buss (2), Phiz-Seymour (7), and by “Phiz” (35). Variations, by “Phiz”; variations, coloured by Pailthorpe; facsimiles of original drawings altogether about 200. There are Extra Plates by Heath, Sir John Gilbert, Onwhyn ("Sam Weller"), Sibson, Alfred Crowquill, Antony (American), Onwhyn (Posthumous) and Frost, Frederick Barnard (to popular edition); also some folio plates; C. J. Leslie (a frontispiece). “Phiz” published later a series of six, and also a large number of coarse woodcuts to illustrate a cheap edition.

There are also a series of clever extra illustrations by Pailthorpe and others, coloured by the same. We have seen F. Barnard’s illustrations coloured by Pailthorpe. There are here also the original plates re-drawn in Calcutta. They were also reproduced in Philadelphia, with additional ones by Nast. Others were issued in Sydney. There are a number of German woodcut illustrations to illustrate the German translations; some rude woodcuts to illustrate Dicks’ edition: ditto to Penny edition. There is also a set of portraits from “Pickwick” in Bell’s Life, probably by Kenny Meadows; and coloured figures by “Kyd.”

There are many pictures in colours Pickwick, Weller, &c. to illustrate Christmas calendars, chiefly “made in Germany.”

The most curious tribute is the issue by the Phonographic Society of “Pickwick” in shorthand; and, finally, “Pickwick” in raised characters on the Braille system for the blind.

This odd publication of “Pickwick” for the Blind came about in a quaint way enough. As we know, the author issued at his own expense one of his works in raised characters, as a present to these afflicted persons. A rich old gentleman had noticed a blind beggar seated with the Bible open on his knees, droning out the passages in the usual fashion. Some of the impostor sort learn the lines by heart and “make believe” to read, as they pass their fingers over the characters. The rich old gentleman’s blind reader read in the genuine way, and got through about fifty chapters a day. No one, however, is much improved by the lecture. They merely wonder at the phenomenon and go their way. The rich old gentleman presently spoke to the blind reader: “Why don’t you read ‘Pickwick’ or some other book that the public will listen to?” “Sir,” he replied he must have been of the stock of Silas Wegg “give me ‘Pickwick’ in raised characters and I will read it.”

The rich old gentleman went his way and inquired at the proper places, but the work was not known. He gave an order for a hundred copies of “Pickwick” in “Wait’s Improved Braille Type,” and in about six months it was delivered to him not the whole work, but a selection of the more effective episodes. The blind reader was pleased; the old gentleman insisted on a private rehearsal; select passages were chosen which were calculated to take about twenty minutes each. When he arrived on the morning fixed for the first attempt, he found his friend at his post with quite a crowd gathered round him, in convulsions of laughter. The “poor blind” was reading, or feeling out, old Mr. Weller’s ejectment of the red-nosed man. The hat was overflowing with coppers and even silver. So things went on prospering for a while. “Pickwick” was a magnificent success, and the blind man was never without a crowd round him of some fifteen to fifty persons. But the other blind readers found the demand for the sacred text vanishing; and people would unfeelingly interrupt them to inquire the way to the “Pickwick man.” Eventually the police began to interfere, and required him to “move on;” “he was obstructing the pavement” not, perhaps, he, but “Pickwick.” He did move on to Hyde Park, but there were others there, performers young and up-to-date, and with full use of their eyes, who did the same thing with action and elocution. So he fairly gave the thing up, and returned to his Scriptures. This tale would have amused “Boz” himself.

Of a more miscellaneous kind are “The Pickwick Songster,” “Sam Weller’s Almanac,” “Sam Weller’s Song Book,” “The Pickwick Pen,” “Oh, what a boon and a blessing to men,” etc., to say nothing of innumerable careless sheets, and trifles of all kinds and of every degree. Then we have adapted advertisements. The Proprietors of Beecham’s Pills use the scene of Mr. Pickwick’s discovery of the Bill Stumps inscription. Some carpet cleaners have Sam and the pretty housemaid folding the carpet. Lastly comes the author, “Boz” himself, with letters, portraits, pictures of his homes, etc., all more or less connected with the period when he was writing this book, a facsimile of his receipt for copy money, a copy of his agreement with Chapman and Hall, and many more items.

I have often wondered how it was that “the inimitable Boz,” took so little interest in his great Book. It always seemed to me that he did not care for praise of it, or wish much that it should be alluded to. But he at once became interested, when you spoke of some of his artful plots, in Bleak House, or Little Dorrit then his eye kindled. He may have fancied, as his friend Forster also did, that Pickwick was a rather jejune juvenile thing, inartistically planned, and thrown off, or rather rattled off. His penchant, as was the case with Liston and some of the low comedians, was for harrowing tragedy and pathos.

Once when driving with him on a jaunting car in Dublin, he asked me, did I know so-and-so, and I answered promptly in Mr. Winkle’s words, “I don’t know him, but I have seen him.” This apropos made him laugh heartily. I am now inclined to think that the real explanation of his distaste was, that the Book was associated with one of the most painful and distracting episodes of his life, which affected him so acutely, that he actually flung aside his work in the full tumult of success, and left the eager public without its regular monthly number. “I have been so unnerved” he writes, in an unpublished letter to Harrison Ainsworth, “and hurt by the loss of the dear girl whom I loved, after my wife, more dearly and fervently than anyone on earth, that I have been compelled for once to give up all idea of my monthly work, and to try a fortnight’s rest and quiet.”

In this long book, there are found allusions to only two or three other works. What these are might form one of the questions “set” at the next Pickwick examination. Fielding is quoted once. In the dedication allusion is made to Talfourd’s three speeches in Parliament, on the copyright question; these were published in a little volume, and make, fairly enough, one of the illustrative documents of “Pickwick.” In the first number of the first edition there is an odd note, rather out of place, but it was withdrawn later meant to ridicule Mr. Jingle’s story of “Ponto’s” sagacity; it states that in Mr. Jesse’s gleanings, there are more amazing stories than this.

Mr. Jesse was a sort of personage living at Richmond where I well remember him, when I was there as a boy. “Jesse’s gleanings” was then a well-known and popular book; and his stories of dogs are certainly extraordinary enough to have invoked Boz’s ridicule. We are told of the French poodle, who after rolling himself in the mud of the Seine, would rub himself against any well-polished boots that he noticed, and would thus bring custom to his master, who was a shoe black on the Pont Neuf. He was taken to London by an English purchaser, but in a few days disappeared, and was discovered pursuing his old trade on the Bridge. Other dogs, we were told, after being transported long distances, would invariably find their way back. These prodigies, however, do not appear so wonderful now, after the strange things about dogs and cats that have been retailed in a well-known “weekly.” A third allusion is to Sterne’s Maria of Moulines, made, of all people in the world, by Sam Weller.