Background.

  • The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, more commonly referred to now as The Pickwick Papers, was Charles Dickens’s first novel, originally published as a monthly serial between March 1836 and October 1837. The work was started whilst Dickens was living at Furnival’s Inn and completed at Doughty Street.

Context.

This quotation is a description of the character Alfred Jingle, who has consumed a large amount of wine whilst on a night out with Mr. Wardle and members of the Pickwick Club, although is able not to show it.

In Chapter 8 of The Pickwick Papers, whilst at Mr. Wardle’s farm at Dingley Dell, the elderly character Tracy Tupman declares his affections for Rachael, Mr. Wardle’s spinster sister. Tupman takes Rachael to an arbour in the gardens where he kisses her. The scene is witnessed by Joe, who startles the couple. During this time Mr. Wardle, along with Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle are at a cricket match. They return in the night, drunk and accompanied a stranger, Mr. Jingle.

Whilst four of the men have clearly had too much to drink, and need to be helped to their rooms, Mr. Jingle appears to be able to handle his consumption much better, despite being about a bottle and a half ahead of any of his companions. When ladies present express their disgust at the behaviour of the drunken men returning, the duplicitous Jingle joins in, commenting that it was ‘dreadful—dreadful!‘ and a ‘horrid spectacle‘, despite having consumed more. Jingle’s apparent sober appearance and comments help to give him a favourable opinion in front of Rachael and the other ladies.

Illustration of Alfred Jingle, drawn by the Victorian illustrator Frederick Barnard (1846 – 1896)

Alfred Jingle.

A strolling actor and charlatan, noted for telling bizarre anecdotes in a distinctively extravagant, disjointed style. Jingle joins the Pickwickians (Samuel Pickwick, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass and Tracy Tupman) on their adventures. At Mr. Wardle’s farm he connives to elope with Rachael, Mr. Wardle’s spinster sister. Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Wardle are forced to persue Jingle to prevent a marriage. Alfred Jingle is eventually given a passage to start a new life in Demerara in the West Indies.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Chapter 8 (STRONGLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE POSITION, THAT THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE IS NOT A RAILWAY) of The Pickwick Papers:

It wasn’t the wine,‘ murmured Mr. Snodgrass, in a broken voice. ‘It was the salmon.‘ (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)

‘Hadn’t they better go to bed, ma’am?’ inquired Emma. ‘Two of the boys will carry the gentlemen upstairs.’

‘I won’t go to bed,’ said Mr. Winkle firmly.

‘No living boy shall carry me,’ said Mr. Pickwick stoutly; and he went on smiling as before. ‘Hurrah!’ gasped Mr. Winkle faintly.

‘Hurrah!’ echoed Mr. Pickwick, taking off his hat and dashing it on the floor, and insanely casting his spectacles into the middle of the kitchen. At this humorous feat he laughed outright.

‘Let’s—have—’nother—bottle,’cried Mr. Winkle, commencing in a very loud key, and ending in a very faint one. His head dropped upon his breast; and, muttering his invincible determination not to go to his bed, and a sanguinary regret that he had not ‘done for old Tupman’ in the morning, he fell fast asleep; in which condition he was borne to his apartment by two young giants under the personal superintendence of the fat boy, to whose protecting care Mr. Snodgrass shortly afterwards confided his own person, Mr. Pickwick accepted the proffered arm of Mr. Tupman and quietly disappeared, smiling more than ever; and Mr. Wardle, after taking as affectionate a leave of the whole family as if he were ordered for immediate execution, consigned to Mr. Trundle the honour of conveying him upstairs, and retired, with a very futile attempt to look impressively solemn and dignified. ‘What a shocking scene!’ said the spinster aunt.

‘Dis-gusting!’ ejaculated both the young ladies.

‘Dreadful—dreadful!’ said Jingle, looking very grave: he was about a bottle and a half ahead of any of his companions. ‘Horrid spectacle—very!’

‘What a nice man!’ whispered the spinster aunt to Mr. Tupman.

‘Good-looking, too!’ whispered Emily Wardle.

‘Oh, decidedly,’ observed the spinster aunt.

Mr. Tupman thought of the widow at Rochester, and his mind was troubled. The succeeding half-hour’s conversation was not of a nature to calm his perturbed spirit. The new visitor was very talkative, and the number of his anecdotes was only to be exceeded by the extent of his politeness. Mr. Tupman felt that as Jingle’s popularity increased, he (Tupman) retired further into the shade. His laughter was forced—his merriment feigned; and when at last he laid his aching temples between the sheets, he thought, with horrid delight, on the satisfaction it would afford him to have Jingle’s head at that moment between the feather bed and the mattress.

The indefatigable stranger rose betimes next morning, and, although his companions remained in bed overpowered with the dissipation of the previous night, exerted himself most successfully to promote the hilarity of the breakfast-table. So successful were his efforts, that even the deaf old lady insisted on having one or two of his best jokes retailed through the trumpet; and even she condescended to observe to the spinster aunt, that ‘He’ (meaning Jingle) ‘was an impudent young fellow:’ a sentiment in which all her relations then and there present thoroughly coincided.

It was the old lady’s habit on the fine summer mornings to repair to the arbour in which Mr. Tupman had already signalised himself, in form and manner following: first, the fat boy fetched from a peg behind the old lady’s bedroom door, a close black satin bonnet, a warm cotton shawl, and a thick stick with a capacious handle; and the old lady, having put on the bonnet and shawl at her leisure, would lean one hand on the stick and the other on the fat boy’s shoulder, and walk leisurely to the arbour, where the fat boy would leave her to enjoy the fresh air for the space of half an hour; at the expiration of which time he would return and reconduct her to the house.

The old lady was very precise and very particular; and as this ceremony had been observed for three successive summers without the slightest deviation from the accustomed form, she was not a little surprised on this particular morning to see the fat boy, instead of leaving the arbour, walk a few paces out of it, look carefully round him in every direction, and return towards her with great stealth and an air of the most profound mystery.

The old lady was timorous—most old ladies are—and her first impression was that the bloated lad was about to do her some grievous bodily harm with the view of possessing himself of her loose coin. She would have cried for assistance, but age and infirmity had long ago deprived her of the power of screaming; she, therefore, watched his motions with feelings of intense horror which were in no degree diminished by his coming close up to her, and shouting in her ear in an agitated, and as it seemed to her, a threatening tone—

‘Missus!’

Now it so happened that Mr. Jingle was walking in the garden close to the arbour at that moment. He too heard the shouts of ‘Missus,’ and stopped to hear more. There were three reasons for his doing so. In the first place, he was idle and curious; secondly, he was by no means scrupulous; thirdly, and lastly, he was concealed from view by some flowering shrubs. So there he stood, and there he listened.

‘Missus!’ shouted the fat boy.

‘Well, Joe,’ said the trembling old lady. ‘I’m sure I have been a good mistress to you, Joe. You have invariably been treated very kindly. You have never had too much to do; and you have always had enough to eat.’

This last was an appeal to the fat boy’s most sensitive feelings. He seemed touched, as he replied emphatically—’I knows I has.’

‘Then what can you want to do now?’ said the old lady, gaining courage.

I wants to make your flesh creep,’ replied the boy.

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He was about a bottle and a half ahead of any of his companions.
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