Read BOZ AND BOZZY of Pickwickian Manners and Customs , free online book, by Percy Fitzgerald, on ReadCentral.com.

It may seem somewhat far-fetched to put “Pickwick” beside Boswell’s also immortal work, but I think really the comparison is not a fanciful one. No one enjoyed the book so much as “Boz.” He knew it thoroughly. Indeed, it is fitting that “Boz” should relish “Bozzy;” for “Bozzy” would certainly have relished “Boz” and have “attended him with respectful attention.” It has not been yet shown how much there is in common between the two great books, and, indeed, between them and a third, greater than either, the immortal “Don Quixote.” All three are “travelling stories.” Sterne also was partial to a travelling story. Lately, when a guest at the “Johnson Club,” I ventured to expound minutely, and at length, this curious similarity between Boswell and Dickens. Dickens’ appreciation of “Bozzy” is proved by his admirable parody which is found in one of his letters to Wilkie Collins, and which is superior to anything of the sort to Chalmers’, Walcot’s, or any that have been attempted:

“Sir,” as Dr. Johnson would have said, “if it be not irrational in a man to count his feathered bipeds before they are hatched, we will conjointly astonish them next year.” Boswell. “Sir, I hardly understand you.” Johnson. “You never understood anything.” Boswell (in a sprightly manner). “Perhaps, sir, I am all the better for it.” Johnson. “I do not know but that you are. There is Lord Carlisle (smiling) he never understands anything, and yet the dog is well enough. Then, sir, there is Forster he understands many things, and yet the fellow is fretful. Again, sir, there is Dickens, with a facile way with him like Davy, sir, like Davy yet I am told that the man is lying at a hedge alehouse by the seashore in Kent as long as they will trust him.” Boswell. “But there are no hedges by the sea in Kent, sir.” Johnson. “And why not, sir?” Boswell (at a loss). “I don’t know, sir, unless ” Johnson (thundering). “Let us have no unlesses, sir. If your father had never said unless he would never have begotten you, sir.” Boswell (yielding). “Sir, that is very true.”

To begin, the Christian names of the two great men were the same. Sam Johnson and Samuel Pickwick. Johnson had a relation called Nathaniel, and Pickwick had a “follower” also Nathaniel. Both the great men founded Clubs: Johnson’s was in Essex Street, Strand, to say nothing of the Literary or Johnson Club; the other in Huggin Lane. Johnson had his Goldsmith, Reynolds, Boswell, Burke, and the rest, as his members and “followers:” Mr. Pickwick had his Tupman, Snodgrass, Winkle, and others. These were the “travelling members,” just as Dr. Johnson and Boswell were the travelling members of their Club. Boswell was the notetaker, so was Snodgrass. When we see the pair staying at the Three Crowns at Lichfield calling on friends waited on by the manager of the local Theatre, etc., we are forcibly reminded of the visits to Rochester and Ipswich.

Boswell one night dropped into a tavern in Butcher Row, and saw his great friend in a warm discussion with a strange Irishman, who was very short with him, and the sketch recalls very forcibly Mr. Pickwick at the Magpie and Stump, where old Jack Bamber told him that he knew nothing about the mysteries of the old haunted chambers in Clifford’s Inn and such places. The Turk’s Head, the Crown and Anchor, the Cheshire Cheese, The Mitre, may be set beside the Magpie and Stump, the George and Vulture, and White Horse Cellars.

More curious still in Boswell’s life, there is mentioned a friend of Johnson’s who is actually named Weller! I leave it as a pleasant crux for the ingenious Pickwickian to find out where.

Johnson had his faithful servant, Frank: Mr. Pickwick his Sam. The two sages equally revelled in travelling in post-chaises and staying at inns; both made friends with people in the coaches and commercial rooms. There are also some odd accidental coincidences which help in the likeness. Johnson was constantly in the Borough, and we have a good scene with Mr. Pickwick at the White Hart in the same place. Mr. Pickwick had his widow, Mrs. Bardell; and Johnson his in the person of the fair Thrale. Johnson had his friend Taylor at Ashbourne, to whom he often went on visits, always going down by coach; while Mr. Pickwick had his friend Wardle, with whom he stayed at Manor Farm, in Kent. We know of the review at Rochester which Mr. Pickwick and friends attended, and how they were charged by the soldiery. Oddly enough Dr. Johnson attended a review also at Rochester, when he was on a visit to his friend Captain Langton. Johnson, again, found his way to Bath, went to the Assembly Rooms, etc.; and our friend Mr. Pickwick, we need not say, also enjoyed himself there. In Boswell’s record we have a character called Mudge, an “out of the way” name; and in Pickwick we find a Mudge. George Steevens, who figures so much in Boswell’s work, was the author of an antiquarian hoax played off on a learned brother, of the same class as “Bill Stumps, his mark.” He had an old inscription engraved on an unused bit of pewter it was well begrimed and well battered, then exposed for sale in a broker’s shop, where it was greedily purchased by the credulous virtuoso. The notion, by the way, of the Club button was taken from the Prince Regent, who had his Club and uniform, which he allowed favourites to wear.

There is a story in Boswell’s Biography which is transferred to “Pickwick,” that of the unlucky gentleman who died from a surfeit of crumpets; Sam, it will be recollected, describes it as a case of the man “as killed hisself on principle.”

“He used to go away to a coffee-house after his dinner and have a small pot o’ coffee and four crumpets. He fell ill and sent for the doctor. Doctor comes in a green fly vith a kind o’ Robinson Crusoe set o’ steps as he could let down ven he got out, and pull up arter him ven he got in, to perwent the necessity o’ the coachman’s gettin’ down, and thereby undeceivin’ the public by lettin’ ’em see that it wos only a livery coat he’d got on, and not the trousers to match. ‘How many crumpets at a sittin’ do you think ‘ud kill me off at once?’ said the patient. ‘I don’t know,’ says the doctor. ’Do you think half a crown’s vurth ‘ud do it?’ says the patient. ’I think it might,’ says the doctor. ‘Three shillin’ ’s vurth ’ud be sure to do it, I s’pose?’ says the patient. ‘Certainly,’ says the doctor. ’Wery good,’ says the patient; ‘good-night.’ Next mornin’ he gets up, has a fire lit, orders in three shillin’s’ vurth o’ crumpets, toasts ’em all, eat ’em all, and blows his brains out.”

“What did he do that for?” inquired Mr. Pickwick abruptly; for he was
considerably startled by this tragical termination of the narrative.

“Wot did he do it for, sir?” reiterated Sam. “Wy, in support of his
great principle that crumpets was wholesome, and to show that he
vouldn’t be put out of his vay for nobody!”

Thus Dickens marvellously enriched this quaint story. It may be found amusing to trace the genesis of the tale. In Boswell it runs: “Mr. Fitzherbert, who loved buttered muffins, but durst not eat them because they disagreed with his stomach, resolved to shoot himself, and then eat three buttered muffins for breakfast, knowing that he should not be troubled with indigestion.” We find that De Quincey, in one of his essays, reports the case of an officer holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel who could not tolerate a breakfast without muffins. But he suffered agonies of indigestion. “He would stand the nuisance no longer, but yet, being a just man, he would give Nature one final chance of reforming her dyspeptic atrocities. Muffins therefore being laid at one angle of the table and pistols at the other, with rigid equity the Colonel awaited the result. This was naturally pretty much as usual; and then the poor man, incapable of retreating from his word of honour, committed suicide, having left a line for posterity to the effect, “that a muffinless world was no world for him.”

It will be recollected that, during the Christmas festivities at Manor Farm, after a certain amount of kissing had taken place under the mistletoe, Mr. Pickwick was “standing under the mistletoe, looking with a very pleased countenance on all that was passing round him, when the young lady with the black eyes, after a little whispering with the other young ladies, made a sudden dart forward, and putting her arm round Mr. Pickwick’s neck, saluted him affectionately on the left cheek, and before he distinctly knew what was the matter he was surrounded by the whole bevy, and kissed by every one of them.” Compare with this what happened to Dr. Johnson in the Hebrides:

“This evening one of our married ladies, a lively, pretty little woman, good-humouredly sat down upon Dr. Johnson’s knee, and being encouraged by some of the company, put her hands round his neck and kissed him. “Do it again,” said he, “and let us see who will tire first.” He kept her on his knee some time while he and she drank tea. He was now like a buck indeed. All the company were much entertained to find him so easy and pleasant. To me it was highly comic to see the grave philosopher the Rambler toying with a Highland beauty! But what could he do? He must have been surly, and weak too, had he not behaved as he did. He would have been laughed at, and not more respected, though less loved.”

Was not this Mr. Pickwick exactly?

Or, we might fancy this little scene taking place at Dunvegan Castle, on the night of the dance, when Johnson was in such high good-humour. His faithful henchman might have come up to him and have said jocosely, “You, sir, in silk stockings?”

“And why not, sir why not?” said the Doctor warmly. “Oh, of course,” I answered, “there is no reason why you should not wear them.” “I imagine not, sir I imagine not,” said the Doctor in a very peremptory tone. I had contemplated a laugh, but found it was a serious matter. I looked grave, and said they were a pretty pattern. “I hope they are,” said Dr. Johnson, fixing his eyes upon me. “You see nothing extraordinary in these stockings as stockings, I trust, sir?” “Certainly not; oh, certainly not,” I replied, and my revered friend’s countenance assumed its customary benign expression.

Now, is not this Pickwickian all over? Yet it is the exact record of what occurred at Manor Farm, in “Pickwick,” with a change only in the names, and would pass very fairly as an amiable outburst of the redoubtable Doctor’s.

Or, again, let us put a bit of “Boz” into “Bozzy’s” work. The amiable “Goldy” was partial to extravagant dress, and to showing himself off.

When a masquerade at Ranelagh was talked of, he said to Doctor Johnson, “I shall go as a Corsican.” “What!” said the Doctor, with a sudden start. “As a Corsican,” Dr. Goldsmith repeated mildly. “You don’t mean to say,” said the Doctor to him, gazing at him with solemn sternness, “that it is your intention to put yourself into a green velvet jacket with a two-inch tail?” “Such is my intention, sir,” replied Goldsmith warmly; “and why not, sir?” “Because, sir,” said the Doctor, considerably excited, “you are too old.” “Too old!” exclaimed Goldsmith. “And if any further ground of objection be wanting,” said Dr. Johnson, “You are too fat, sir.” “Sir,” said Dr. Goldsmith, his face suffused with a crimson glow, “this is an insult.” “Sir,” said the sage in the same tone, “it is not half the insult to you, that your appearance in my presence in a green velvet jacket with two-inch tail would be to me.” “Sir,” said Dr. Goldsmith, “you’re a fellow.” “Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “you’re another!”

Winkle in a very amusing way often suggests Boswell; and Mr. Pickwick treats him with as great rudeness as did Johnson his Winkle. When that unhappy gentleman, or follower exhibited himself on the ice, Mr. Pickwick, we are told, was excited and indignant. “He beckoned to Mr. Weller and said in a stern voice: Take the skates off.” “No, but I had scarcely began,” remonstrated Mr. Winkle. “Take his skates off,” repeated Mr. Pickwick, firmly. The command was not to be resisted. “Lift him up,” said Mr. Pickwick Sam assisted him to rise. Mr. Pickwick retired a few paces apart from the by-standers and beckoning his friend to approach, fixed a searching look on him and uttered in a low, but distinct and emphatic tone, these remarkable words: “You’re a humbug, sir.” “A what?” said Mr. Winkle, starting. “A humbug, sir, I will speak plainer if you wish it an impostor, sir.” With these words Mr. Pickwick turned slowly on his heel and rejoined his friends. Was not this exactly the Sage’s treatment of his “Bozzy” on many occasions?

There is yet another odd coincidence. Everyone knows how Bob Sawyer’s party was disturbed by Mrs. Raddle’s angry expostulations, and the guests had to disperse. Well, Mr. Boswell, who had much of the Sawyer tone gave a party at his rooms in Downing Street, and his landlord behaved so outrageously, that he gave him notice, and the next day quitted his rooms. “I feel I shall have to give my landlady notice,” said Mr. Sawyer with a ghastly smile. Mr. Boswell had actually to take some of the invited guests to the Mitre and entertain them there.

There is a pleasant passage connected with Dr. Johnson’s visit to Plymouth, with his old friend Sir Joshua. He was much pleased with this jaunt and declared he had derived from it a great accession of new ideas . . . “The magnificence of the Navy the ship building and all its circumstances afforded him a grand subject of contemplation.” He contemplated it in fact, as Mr. Pickwick contemplated Chatham and the Medway. The commissioner of the dockyard paid him the compliment, etc. The characteristic part, however, was that the Doctor entered enthusiastically into the local politics. “There was a new town rising up round the dockyard, as a rival to the old one, and knowing from the sagacity and just observation of human nature, that it is certain if a man hates at all, he will hate his next neighbour, he concluded that this new and rising town could but excite the envy and jealousy of the old. He therefore set himself resolutely on the side of the old town, the established town in which he was. Considering it a kind of duty to stand by it. He accordingly entered warmly into its interests, and upon every occasion talked of the Dockers as “upstarts and aliens.” As they wanted to be supplied with water from the old town, not having a drop themselves, Johnson affecting to entertain the passions of the place, was violent in opposition; and half laughing at himself for his pretended zeal, and where he had no concern, exclaimed: “No! I am against the Dockers; I am a Plymouth man. Rogues! let them die of thirst; they shall not have a drop. I hate a Docker!”

Now all this is very like what the amiable Pickwick would have done; in fact like something he did do and felt, when he repaired to Eatanswill for the election. On entering the town he at once chose his party, and took it up enthusiastically. “With his usual foresight and sagacity,” like Dr. Johnson, he had chosen a fortunately desirable moment for his visit. “Slumkey for ever,” roared the honest and independent. “Slumkey for ever!” echoed Mr. Pickwick, taking off his hat. “No Fizkin,” roared the crowd. “Certainly not,” shouted Mr. Pickwick. “Who is Slumkey?” whispered Mr. Tupman. “I don’t know,” said Mr. Pickwick, in the same tone. “Hush! don’t ask any questions. It’s always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.” “But suppose there are two mobs,” suggested Mr. Snodgrass. “Shout with the largest,” replied Mr. Pickwick. Volumes could not have said more. On asking for rooms at the Town Arms, which was the Great White Horse, Mr. Pickwick was asked “was he Blue.” Mr. Pickwick in reply, asked for Perker. “He is blue I think.” “O yes, sir.” “Then we are blue,” said Mr. Pickwick, but observing the man looked rather doubtful at this accommodating account he gave him his card. Perker arranged everything. “Spirited contest, my dear sir,” he said, “I am delighted to hear it,” said Mr. Pickwick. “I like to see sturdy patriotism, on whatever side it is called forth.” Later, we are told, Mr. Pickwick entered heart and soul into the business, and, like the sage, caught the prevailing excitement. “Although no great partisan of either side, Mr. Pickwick was sufficiently fired by Mr. Pott’s enthusiasm to apply his whole time and attention to the proceedings, etc.” All this, of course, does not correspond exactly, but the spirit of the selections are the same.

The Doctor it is known, would go out at midnight with his friends Beauclerk and Layton to have what he called “a rouze,” and Garrick was humorously apprehensive that he would have to bail out his old friend from the watchhouse. Mr. Pickwick had many a “rouze” with his followers. And Johnson himself, in the matter of drink, was at one time as bad as Mr. Pickwick, only he had a better head, and could “carry his liquor discreetly,” like the Baron of Bradwardine. He had actually to give up drink on account of this tendency to excess.