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Mr Pickwick In Brick Lane

February 21, 2015
by the gentle author

It is my delight to present Charles Dickens’ raucous account of a visit by Sam & Tony Weller to the Brick Lane Temperance Association from The Pickwick Papers with drawings by illustrator & printmaker Paul Bommer.

The first ever staging of any of Dickens’ works was a production of The Pickwick Papers at the City of London Theatre, Norton Folgate, in 1837 – even before all the installments were published.

Next week, the esteemed Dickensian Professor Michael Slater will be presenting Dickens’ readings from The Pickwick Papers as part of the SAVE NORTON FOLGATE festival on Thursday 26th February at the Water Poet in Folgate St at 6:30pm. - Click here to book your free ticket.

The monthly meetings of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association were held in a large room, pleasantly and airily situated at the top of a safe and commodious ladder.  The president was the straight-walking Mr Anthony Humm, a converted fireman, now a schoolmaster and occasionally an itinerant preacher, and the secretary was Mr Jonas Mudge, chandler’s shopkeeper, an enthusiastic and disinterested vessel, who sold tea to the members.

Previous to the commencement of business, the ladies sat upon forms and drank tea, till such time as they considered it expedient to leave off, and a large wooden money box was conspicuously placed upon the green baize cloth of the business-table, behind which the secretary stood and acknowledged, with a gracious smile, every addition to the rich vein of copper which lay concealed within.

On this particular occasion the women drank tea to a most alarming extent, greatly to the horror of Mr Weller, senior, who, utterly regardless of all Sam’s admonitory nudgings, stared about him in every direction with the most undisguised astonishment. “Sammy,” whispered Mr Weller, “if some o’ these here people don’t want tappin’ to-morrow mornin’, I ain’t your father, and that’s wot it is. Why, this here old lady next me is a-drowndin’ herself in tea.” “Be quiet, can’t you?” murmured Sam.

“If this here lasts much longer, Sammy,” said Mr Weller, in the same low voice, “I shall feel it my duty, as a human bein’, to rise and address the cheer.  There’s a young ‘ooman on the next form but two, as has drunk nine breakfast cups and a half, and she’s a-swellin’ wisibly before my wery eyes.”

There is little doubt that Mr Weller would have carried his benevolent intention into immediate execution, if a great noise, occasioned by putting up the cups and saucers, had not very fortunately announced that the tea-drinking was over.  The crockery having been removed, the table with the green baize cover was carried out into the centre of the room, and the business of the evening was commenced by Mr Tadger, an emphatic little man, with a bald head and drab shorts, who suddenly rushed up the ladder, at the imminent peril of snapping the two little legs incased in the drab shorts, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I move our excellent brother, Mr Anthony Humm, into the chair.”

Silence was then proclaimed by Mr Tadger, and Mr Humm rose and said – That, with the permission of his Brick Lane Branch brothers and sisters, the secretary would read the report of the Brick Lane Branch committee, a proposition which was received with a demonstration of pocket-handkerchiefs. The secretary having sneezed in a very impressive manner, and the cough which always seizes an assembly, when anything particular is going to be done, having been duly performed, the following document was read:

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE BRICK LANE BRANCH OF THE UNITED GRAND JUNCTION EBENEZER TEMPERANCE ASSOCIATION. Your committee have pursued their grateful labours during the past month, and have the unspeakable pleasure of reporting the following additional cases of converts to Temperance.

H. WALKER, tailor, wife, and two children.  When in better circumstances, owns to having been in the constant habit of drinking ale and beer, says he is not certain whether he did not twice a week, for twenty years, taste “dog’s nose,” which your committee find upon inquiry, to be compounded of warm porter, moist sugar, gin, and nutmeg (a groan, and “So it is!” from an elderly female).  Is now out of work and penniless, thinks it must be the porter (cheers) or the loss of the use of his right hand, is not certain which, but thinks it very likely that, if he had drunk nothing but water all his life, his fellow workman would never have stuck a rusty needle in him, and thereby occasioned his accident (tremendous cheering).  Has nothing but cold water to drink, and never feels thirsty (great applause).

BETSY MARTIN, widow, one child, and one eye.  Goes out charing and washing, by the day, never had more than one eye, but knows her mother drank bottled stout, and shouldn’t wonder if that caused it (immense cheering).  Thinks it not impossible that if she had always abstained from spirits she might have had two eyes by this time (tremendous applause).  Used, at every place she went to, to have eighteen-pence a day, a pint of porter, and a glass of spirits, but since she became a member of the Brick Lane Branch, has always demanded three-and-sixpence (the announcement of this most interesting fact was received with deafening enthusiasm).

HENRY BELLER was for many years toast master at various corporation dinners, during which time he drank a great deal of foreign wine, may sometimes have carried a bottle or two home with him, is not quite certain of that, but is sure if he did, that he drank the contents.  Feels very low and melancholy, is very feverish, and has a constant thirst upon him, thinks it must be the wine he used to drink (cheers).  Is out of employ now and never touches a drop of foreign wine by any chance (tremendous plaudits).

THOMAS BURTON is purveyor of cat’s meat to the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and several members of the Common Council (the announcement of this gentleman’s name was received with breathless interest).  Has a wooden leg, finds a wooden leg expensive, going over the stones, used to wear second-hand wooden legs, and drink a glass of hot gin-and-water regularly every night – sometimes two (deep sighs).  Found the second-hand wooden legs split and rot very quickly, is firmly persuaded that their constitution was undermined by the gin-and-water (prolonged cheering).  Buys new wooden legs now, and drinks nothing but water and weak tea.  The new legs last twice as long as the others used to do, and he attributes this solely to his temperate habits (triumphant cheers).

Anthony Humm now moved that the assembly regale itself with a song. Brother Mordlin had adapted the beautiful words of “Who hasn’t heard of a Jolly Young Waterman?” to the tune of the Old Hundredth, which he would request them to join him in singing (great applause).  It was a temperance song (whirlwinds of cheers).

The neatness of the young man’s attire, the dexterity of his feathering, the enviable state of mind which enabled him in the beautiful words of the poet, to “Row along, thinking of nothing at all,” all combined to prove that he must have been a water-drinker (cheers). And what was the young man’s reward?  Let all young men present mark this: “The maidens all flocked to his boat so readily.” (Loud cheers, in which the ladies joined.) What a bright example! “The soft sex to a man,” he begged pardon, “to a female – rallied round the young waterman, and turned with disgust from the drinker of spirits” (cheers).  The Brick Lane Branch brothers were watermen (cheers and laughter).  That room was their boat, that audience were the maidens, and he (Mr. Anthony Humm), however unworthily, was “first oars” (unbounded applause).

“Wot does he mean by the soft sex, Sammy?” inquired Mr Weller, in a whisper. “The womin,” said Sam, in the same tone. “He ain’t far out there, Sammy,” replied Mr Weller, “they MUST be a soft sex – a wery soft sex, indeed – if they let themselves be gammoned by such fellers as him.” Then, during the song, the little man with the drab shorts disappeared, returning immediately on its conclusion, and whispered to Mr Anthony Humm, with a face of the deepest importance. “My friends,” said Mr  Humm, holding up his hand in a deprecatory manner to bespeak silence, “my friends, a delegate from the Dorking Branch of our society, Brother Stiggins, attends below.”

The little door flew open, and Brother Tadger re-appeared, closely followed by the Reverend Mr Stiggins, who no sooner entered, than there was a great clapping of hands, and stamping of feet, and flourishing of handkerchiefs, to all of which manifestations of delight, Brother Stiggins returned no other acknowledgment than staring with a wild eye, and a fixed smile, at the extreme top of the wick of the candle on the table, swaying his body to and fro, meanwhile, in a very unsteady and uncertain manner.

By this time the audience were perfectly silent, and waited with some anxiety for the resumption of business. “Will you address the meeting, brother?” said Mr Humm, with a smile of invitation. “No, sir,” rejoined Mr. Stiggins. The meeting looked at each other with raised eyelids, and a murmur of astonishment ran through the room.

“It’s my opinion, sir,” said Mr Stiggins, unbuttoning his coat, and speaking very loudly – “that this meeting is drunk, sir.  Brother Tadger, sir!” said Mr Stiggins, suddenly increasing in ferocity, and turning sharp round on the little man in the drab shorts, “YOU are drunk, sir!” With this, Mr. Stiggins, entertaining a praiseworthy desire to promote the sobriety of the meeting, and to exclude therefrom all improper characters, hit Brother Tadger on the summit of the nose.

Upon this, the women set up a loud and dismal screaming, and rushing in small parties before their favourite brothers, flung their arms around them to preserve them from danger.  An instance of affection, which had nearly proved fatal to Humm, who, being extremely popular, was all but suffocated, by the crowd of female devotees that hung about his neck, and heaped  caresses upon him.  The greater part of the lights were quickly put out, and nothing but noise and confusion resounded on all sides.

“Now, Sammy,” said Mr Weller, taking off his greatcoat with much deliberation, “just you step out, and fetch in a watchman.” “And wot are you a-goin’ to do, the while?” inquired Sam. “Never you mind me, Sammy,” replied the old gentleman, “I shall ockipy myself in havin’ a small settlement with that ‘ere Stiggins.”

Before Sam could interfere to prevent it, his heroic parent had penetrated into a remote corner of the room, and attacked the Reverend Mr. Stiggins with manual dexterity. “Come off!” said Sam. “Come on!” cried Mr Weller, and without further invitation he gave the Reverend Mr Stiggins a preliminary tap on the head, and began dancing round him in a buoyant and cork-like manner, which in a gentleman at his time of life was a perfect marvel to behold.

Finding all remonstrances unavailing, Sam pulled his hat firmly on, threw his father’s coat over his arm, and taking the old man round the waist, forcibly dragged him down the ladder, and into the street, never releasing his hold, or permitting him to stop, until they reached the corner. As they gained it, they could hear the shouts of the populace, who were witnessing the removal of the Reverend Mr Stiggins to strong lodgings for the night, and could hear the noise occasioned by the dispersion in various directions of the members of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association.

Illustrations copyright © Paul Bommer

Click here to book for DR RUTH RICHARDSON talking about DICKENS & THE WORKHOUSE at The Water Poet in Folgate St on Sunday 22nd February at 6:30pm

Click here to book for PROFESSOR MICHAEL SLATER’s presentation of readings from PICKWICK PAPERS at The Water Poet in Folgate St on 26th February at 6:30pm

Click here to book for DR TONY WILLIAMS talking about ANOTHER SORT OF LIFE… DICKENS & THE THEATRE at Bishopsgate Institute on Monday 2nd March at 6:30pm

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Linda Salter permalink
    February 21, 2015

    Can’t wait for next Saturday when I come up to London to see exhibitions!

  2. Katya permalink
    February 21, 2015

    Brilliant and wonderful!

  3. Vicky permalink
    February 21, 2015

    Wonderful! Paul Bommer’s drawings – busting with life.

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