What! Introducing his friend?

What! Introducing his friend?. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 9. 1874. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Having connected the reader with one of the original serial's earliest illustrations — "The Pugnacious Cabman" by Seymour — Phiz now presents a scene that Dickens's first Pickwick illustrator never attempted: the social gathering of the select families and military notables in a garrison town on the first Pickwickian journey in the second chapter of the novel. Wisely, Seymour focussed on the comic possibilities of mistaken identities arising from Dr. Slammer's challenging Alfred Jingle (dressed in Winkle's club suit) to a duel, for which Seymour's "Dr. Slammer's Defiance" (April 1836) prepares us much better than this Household Edition illustration of Tupman and the "Stranger" (i. e., Alfred Jingle, centre) being introduced to Mrs. Budger (right) at the charity ball. However, the man ("with a ring of upright black hair," p. 11) looking angrily back over his shoulder at the outsiders and (and at the rich widow upon whom he has had designs for some time) is almost certainly Dr. Slammer, surgeon to the Ninety-seventh regiment, from whose perspective Dickens momentarily narrates the scene.

Nevertheless, Phiz establishes the context of the quarrel between Slammer and Jingle — the charity ball — rather better than Seymour. Seymour chose the scene with great dramatic potential, but failed to exploit the comic possibilities as his successor, Phiz, undoubtedly would have done. But neither artist makes explicit the setting, the ballroom upstairs in the Bull Inn, at the top of the High Street in Rochester. According to Cohen, Seymour was put out by Dickens's so swiftly shifting the action from London, a milieu so well known to Seymour, to the Medway's four towns (Strood, Rochester, Chatham, and Brompton), none of which he had ever visited.

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