STUMP » Articles » Saying Goodbye to Pickwick: The Real Villains and Sam Weller » 27 January 2019, 08:46

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Saying Goodbye to Pickwick: The Real Villains and Sam Weller  


27 January 2019, 08:46

As January ends, I say farewell to that angel in gaiters, Mr. Pickwick.

Thing is, Mr. Pickwick himself was not all that important to the story. The villains set against him weren’t all that interesting, really (though Alfred Jingle was okay in small doses). Given the real villains were a pair of lawyers, whom we see very little of directly (and all they get is a dressing down from Pickwick himself, but they likely continued to thrive on their sharp practice), that doesn’t make for an exciting story.

Sam Weller is far more promising, and the one thing that really made the book popular with the contemporary crowd.

Sam Weller is a fictional character in The Pickwick Papers, the first novel by Charles Dickens, and is the character that made Dickens famous.1 Weller first appeared in the tenth serialised episode.1 Previously the monthly parts of the book had been doing badly—the humour of the character transformed the book into a publishing phenomenon. Weller’s way of quoting people has led to the wellerism, often a type of proverb.2

Wellerisms are a hoot: (but alas, not a hoot and a half)

Wellerisms, named after sayings of Sam Weller in Charles Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers, make fun of established clichés and proverbs by showing that they are wrong in certain situations, often when taken literally.1 In this sense, wellerisms that include proverbs are a type of anti-proverb. Typically a wellerism consists of three parts: a proverb or saying, a speaker, and an often humorously literal explanation.

“Everyone to his own taste,” the old woman said when she kissed her cow.

“We’ll have to rehearse that,” said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.

A body can get used to anything, even to being hanged, as the Irishman said. (Lucy Maud Montgomery—Anne of Green Gables)

Okay, those specific ones didn’t come from Sam Weller, but they abound.


The real villains:

Sam Weller:


Now, Sam Weller has very little interaction with the lawyers Dodson and Fogg.

In the trial itself, you have other people who represent the plaintiff (I don’t remember the distinction between attorney, lawyer, solicitor, barrister, etc. in the English system, but whatever) – and in Bardell v. Pickwick, Mrs. Bardell is represented by Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz and Mr. Skimpkin hired by Dodson and Fogg.

The chapter detailing the trial is here, and I will just copy over what Sam Weller had to say in his testimony.

Serjeant Buzfuz now rose with more importance than he had yet exhibited, if that were possible, and vociferated; ‘Call Samuel Weller.’

It was quite unnecessary to call Samuel Weller; for Samuel Weller stepped briskly into the box the instant his name was pronounced; and placing his hat on the floor, and his arms on the rail, took a bird’s-eye view of the Bar, and a comprehensive survey of the Bench, with a remarkably cheerful and lively aspect.

‘What’s your name, sir?’ inquired the judge.

‘Sam Weller, my Lord,’ replied that gentleman.

‘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; ‘I never had occasion to spell it more than once or twice in my life, but I spells it with a “V.”’

Here a voice in the gallery exclaimed aloud, ‘Quite right too, Samivel, quite right. Put it down a “we,” my Lord, put it down a “we.”’

Who is that, who dares address the court?’ said the little judge, looking up. ‘Usher.’

‘Yes, my Lord.’

‘Bring that person here instantly.’

‘Yes, my Lord.’

But as the usher didn’t find the person, he didn’t bring him; and, after a great commotion, all the people who had got up to look for the culprit, sat down again. The little judge turned to the witness as soon as his indignation would allow him to speak, and said—

‘Do you know who that was, sir?’

‘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 into the lantern at 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 and turned, with unimpaired cheerfulness of countenance, towards Serjeant Buzfuz.

‘Now, Mr. Weller,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz.

‘Now, sir,’ replied Sam.

‘I believe you are in the service of Mr. Pickwick, the defendant in this case? Speak up, if you please, Mr. Weller.’

‘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 Serjeant Buzfuz, with jocularity.

‘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, or any other man, said, Sir,’ interposed the judge; ‘it’s not evidence.’

‘Wery good, my Lord,’ replied Sam.

‘Do you recollect anything particular happening on the morning when you were first engaged by the defendant; eh, Mr. Weller?’ said Serjeant Buzfuz.

‘Yes, I do, sir,’ replied Sam.

‘Have the goodness to tell the jury what it was.’

‘I had a reg’lar new fit out o’ clothes that mornin’, gen’l’men of the jury,’ said Sam, ‘and that was a wery partickler and uncommon circumstance vith me in those days.’

Hereupon there was a general laugh; and the little judge, looking with an angry countenance over his desk, said, ‘You had better be careful, Sir.’

‘So Mr. Pickwick said at the time, my Lord,’ replied Sam; ‘and I was wery careful o’ that ‘ere suit o’ clothes; wery careful indeed, my Lord.’

The judge looked sternly at Sam for full two minutes, but Sam’s features were so perfectly calm and serene that the judge said nothing, and motioned Serjeant Buzfuz to proceed.

‘Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Weller,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, folding his arms emphatically, and turning half-round to the jury, as if in mute assurance that he would bother the witness yet—‘do you mean to tell me, Mr. Weller, that you saw nothing of this fainting on the part of the plaintiff in the arms of the defendant, which you have heard described by the witnesses?’

Certainly not,’ replied Sam; ‘I was in the passage till they called me up, and then the old lady was not there.’

‘Now, attend, Mr. Weller,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, dipping a large pen into the inkstand before him, for the purpose of frightening Sam with a show of taking down his answer. ‘You were in the passage, and yet saw nothing of what was going forward. Have you a pair of eyes, Mr. Weller?’

‘Yes, I have a pair of eyes,’ replied Sam, ‘and that’s just it. If they wos 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.’

At this answer, which was delivered without the slightest appearance of irritation, and with the most complete simplicity and equanimity of manner, the spectators tittered, the little judge smiled, and Serjeant Buzfuz looked particularly foolish. After a short consultation with Dodson & Fogg, the learned Serjeant again turned towards Sam, and said, with a painful effort to conceal his vexation, ‘Now, Mr. Weller, I’ll ask you a question on another point, if you please.’

‘If you please, Sir,’ rejoined Sam, with the utmost good-humour.

‘Do you remember going up to Mrs. Bardell’s house, one night in November last?’

Oh, yes, wery well.’

‘Oh, you do remember that, Mr. Weller,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, recovering his spirits; ‘I thought we should get at something at last.’

‘I rayther thought that, too, sir,’ replied Sam; and at this the spectators tittered again.

‘Well; I suppose you went up to have a little talk about this trial—eh, Mr. Weller?’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, looking knowingly at the jury.

‘I went up to pay the rent; but we did get a-talkin’ about the trial,’ replied Sam.

‘Oh, you did get a-talking about the trial,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, brightening up with the anticipation of some important discovery. ‘Now, what passed about the trial; will you have the goodness to tell us, Mr. Weller’?’

‘Vith all the pleasure in life, sir,’ replied Sam. ‘Arter a few unimportant obserwations from the two wirtuous females as has been examined here to-day, the ladies gets into a very great state o’ admiration at the honourable conduct of Mr. Dodson and Fogg—them two gen’l’men as is settin’ near you now.’ This, of course, drew general attention to Dodson & Fogg, who looked as virtuous as possible.

‘The attorneys for the plaintiff,’ said Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz. ‘Well! They spoke in high praise of the honourable conduct of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, the attorneys for the plaintiff, did they?’

‘Yes,’ said Sam, ‘they said what a wery gen’rous thing it was o’ them to have taken up the case on spec, and to charge nothing at all for costs, unless they got ‘em out of Mr. Pickwick.’

At this very unexpected reply, the spectators tittered again, and Dodson & Fogg, turning very red, leaned over to Serjeant Buzfuz, and in a hurried manner whispered something in his ear.

‘You are quite right,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz aloud, with affected composure. ‘It’s perfectly useless, my Lord, attempting to get at any evidence through the impenetrable stupidity of this witness. I will not trouble the court by asking him any more questions. Stand down, sir.’

‘Would any other gen’l’man like to ask me anythin’?’ inquired Sam, taking up his hat, and looking round most deliberately.

‘Not I, Mr. Weller, thank you,’ said Serjeant Snubbin, laughing.

‘You may go down, sir,’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, waving his hand impatiently. Sam went down accordingly, after doing Messrs. Dodson & Fogg’s case as much harm as he conveniently could, and saying just as little respecting Mr. Pickwick as might be, which was precisely the object he had had in view all along.

While Sam minimized the damage to Pickwick, he still lost the case, alas.


What is amusing is that multiple people have written about that trial in specific in standalone works — as plays, critical analysis, etc.

Here is something somebody wrote in 1902 about that trial, and I will quote what he had to say about Sam Weller’s performance:

When Sam entered the witness box, the Serjeant addressed him: “I believe you are in the service of Mr. Pickwick, the Defendant in this case. Speak up, if you please, Mr. Weller.” Sam had not had time to say anything, so the admonition might seem superfluous. But this is a well-known device. Sam had been “briefed” to the Serjeant as a rather dangerous witness—somewhat too wide awake. It was necessary therefore to be short and summary with him. He thus conveyed to the jury that this Sam was one whom he could address in this curt way, and who by his low, uncertain accents might try to hide the truth. Sam, however, disconcerted the plan by his prompt, ready answer, “I mean to speak up, sir.” Sam, as we know, clearly brought out the Dodson and Fogg’s damaging assurance to Mrs. Bardell, that no costs should be charged to her personally.

Yeah, that came back later.

A few comments on Sam Weller from a different source:

We will leave the sunny Pickwickians behind us now. Next month I will be looking at the darker Nicholas Nickelby… still a mess plot-wise, but getting closer to novels with more thought-out structures.

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