OUT of the pages of Pickwick step many of Dickensâs funniest eccentrics. Characters with mannerisms and tags of speech parade through the novel, illustrating a distinctive style of characterization which is usually labelled caricature in every novel he writes later. How and why did he begin this style? Much light can be thrown upon his early narrative development by a study of Mr. Jingle, the character which has one of the most extreme of all Dickensâs uses of eccentric mannerismâa rapid-fire, staccato habit of speech. Furthermore, an unbelievable anecdote usually constitutes the subject-matter of Mr. Jingleâs remarks, as; Don Bolaro FizzgigâGrandeeâonly daughterâDonna Christinaâsplendid creatureâloved me to distractionâjealous fatherâhigh-souled creatureâhand- some EnglishmanâDonna Christina in despairâprussic acidâstomach pump in my portmanteauâoperation performedâold Bolaro in ecstasiesâconsent to our unionâjoin hands and floods of tearsâromantic storyâvery.Order now
There were two potent early influences upon Dickens: the novels of Fielding and Smollett, and the varied influence of the stage. From both these possible sources come forerunners of Mr. Jingleâs mannerism. In one of Smollettâs less successful novels, Sir Launcelot Greaves (1762), a variety of staccato speech is a characteristic of Captain Crowe. Probably Smollett was original in developing this manner of speaking for Captain Crowe. He was accustomed to attach peculiarities to his humorous char- acters, like Commodore Trunnion, Lieutenant Hatchway, Lieutenant Tom Bowling, and Lismahago, so that Captain Croweâs speech is but another touch of caricature in his description of a whimsical sea-dog.
Smollett pictures the Captain thus: He was an excellent seaman, brave, active, friendly in his way, and scrupulously honest; but as little acquainted with the world as a sucking child; whimsical, impatient, and so impetuous, that he could not help breaking in upon the conversation, whatever it might be, with repeated interruptions, that seemed to burst from him by involuntary impulse. When he himself attempted to speak he never finished his period; but made such a number of abrupt transitions, that his discourse seemed to be an unconnected series of unfinished sentences, the meaning of which it was not easy to decipher.
It will be noticed at once that this is not quite the manner of Mr. Jingle, whose meanings are usually clear, if not supplied with connectives. Captain Croweâs clauses are often left unfinished, but to tell the truth, Smollett does not emphasize the peculiar manner of speech very much
after the first chapters when he is introducing his eccentric character to the reader. He does not seem to have realized the humorous possibilities of the device except in an elementary way. The best example of the Captainâs distinctive speech is probably the following:
Laud have mercy upon us!âlook ye here, brother, look ye hereâmind these poor crippled joints; two fingers on the starboard, and three on the larboard hand; crooked, dâye see, like the knees of a bilander. Iâll tell you what, brother, you seem to be aâship deep ladenârich cargoâcurrent setting into the bayâhard galeâlee shoreâall hands in the boatâtow around the headlandâself pulling for dear blood, against the whole crewâsnap go the finger bracesâcrack went the eye-blocks. Bounce daylightâflash starlightâdown I foundered, dark as hellwhiz went my cars, and my head spun like a whirligig.
That donât signifyâIâm a Yorkshire boy, as the saying isâall my life at sea, brother, by reason of an old grandmother and maiden aunt, a couple of old stinkingâkept me these forty years out of my grandfather’s estate. Dickensâs familiarity with Humphry Clinker, Roderick Random, and Peregrine Pickle is well known from a chapter in David Copperjield, as well as from less important references in other novels and letters. Wheth- er he had also read Sir Launcelot Greaves has been regarded as a more or less open question, although there are enough instances of similarity in incident and situation in Dickensâs novels to make such reading most likely. If there were no other evidence in the Jingle case, it would seem perfectly logical to cite Captain Crowe as the origin of Mr. Jingleâs man- ner of speaking. But there is abundant further evidence.
Holcroft, dramatist and novelist of purpose in the late eighteenth century, found comic use for a staccato device in his most famous play, The Road to Ruin, first acted at Covent Garden, February 18, 1792. One of the best reasons for the popularity of the play was the acting of the firstranking comedian Lewis in the character of Goldfinch, a former jockey who has become a man about town. Goldfinch talks naturally part of the time (if one is to judge from the way his speeches are printed), but he uses the characteristic staccato manner whenever horses enter his conversation. It is entirely likely that the humor of these passages inspiredÂ Lewis to make his general conception of Goldfinchâs speech more or less jerky and abrupt.
This eccentric fop loved to tell of driving horses, and Holcroft, who had been apprenticed as a jockey in his own youth, apparently used this manner of speech to imitate the galloping rhythm of horses going at full speed, urged on by the driver or rider. For example, Goldfinch says:
To be sure! know the oddsâhold four in handâturn a corner in styleâreins in formâelbows squareâwrist pliantâhayait!âdrive the Coventry stage twice a week all summerâpay for an inside placeâmount the boxâtip the coachy a crownâbeat the mailâcome in full spee ârattle down the gatewayâtake care of your heads! never killed but one woman and a child all my lifeâthatâs your sort!
Goldfinch is in the humours tradition, and his habit of interpolating the phrase, âThatâs your sort!â in all his speeches is a noticeable one. He tells a story somewhat in the manner of Mr. Jingle, but his repertory is a limited one. The best of his collection is the following:
Bye-roadâback of Islingtonâhad them tight in hand, tooâcame to short turn and a narrow’ laneâup flew a damned dancing masterâs umbrellaâbounce âoff they wentâroad repairingâwheelbarrow in the wayâcrashâout flew Iâ whizâfire flashedâlay stunnedâgot upâlooked foolishâshafts brokeâSnarler and Blackguard both downâBlack-and-all-black paying awrayâpannels smashedâtraces cutâSnarler lamed!
Goldfinch, as interpreted by Lewis, was a popular stage figure, and the success of the play kept this character in the stock repertory of English comedians for many years, well into the nineteenth century. Dickens ad- mired Holcroft; he knew at least the Autobiography and The Road to Ruin The play certainly is the main source for the staccato manner of speech in the literature of the next fifty years, and there are many imitations before the time of Mr. Jingle.
In the very next year, Frederic Reynolds, a competent dramatist of the day, produced How to Grow Rich. In this comedy, an unscrupulous lawyer, Latitat, drives a phaeton and like Goldfinch pretends to be a man of fashion. Latitat is more versatile in his stories than Goldfinch, and he describes a cricket match which has some resemblance to one of the stories recounted by Jingle. Latitatâs version is as follows:
Then at cricketâlast grand matchâgot sixty notchesâthe Peer run outâthe Baron stumptâand the General knockâd down his own wicketâI was long-stop âfamous as long-stop, Maâamâcricket or lawâball or debtorâlet neither slip through my fingers.
Mr. Jingleâs story of his own prowess as a batsman comes as a sequel to the match played by All-Muggleton against Dingley Dell, which is witnessed by the Pickwickians while they are Mr. Wardleâs guests. Played a match onceâsingle wicketâfriend the ColonelâSir Thomas Blazoâ who should get the greatest number of runsâ. Won the tossâfirst innings- seven oâclock a.m.âsix natives to look outâwent in; kept inâheat intense ânatives all faintedâtaken awayâfresh half-dozen orderedâfainted alsoâ Blazo bowlingâsupported by two nativesâcouldnât bowl me outâfainted tooâcleared away the Colonelâwouldnât give inâfaithful attendantâQuanko Sambaâlast man leftâsun so hot, bat in blisters, ball scorched brownâfive hundred and seventy runsârather exhaustedâQuanko mustered up remaining strengthâbowled me outâhad a bath, and went out to dinner.
The resemblance is certainly superficial, and I am of the opinion that Mr. Jingleâs story, like his others, grew out of Dickensâs imagination and the situation which is part of the adventures of the Pickwickians, rather than that he did any conscious or unconscious imitating of Lati-
tatâs inferior examples of humorous speech. It becomes more and more apparent, as one goes into the matter, that Dickensâs handling of the staccato device is consistently original in the matter which is used. That Mr. Jingleâs cricket story is vastly superior to Latitatâs is obvious.â
One of Dickensâs favorite comedies was Thomas Mortonâs A Cure for the Heartache, first presented in 1797, a play which contains a character called Rapid. This creation was undoubtedly suggested by the success of Goldfinch and Latitat, but the conception of Rapidâs entire personal-
ity fits his name; he does everything in a rapid-fire manner. He is more farcical than Goldfinch, but in his way is as successful a creation. He is the son of a tailor who has made money, and when he discovers his fa- therâs wealth, he sets out to be a fashionable spendthrift, forgetting his former sweetheart. His impetuosity does not permit him to make very many long speeches, but on one occasion he objects to a suggestion that he enter parliament in this way:
I was once in the gallery âcrammed inâno moving–expected to hear the great gunsâgot up a little fellow nobody knewâwho gave us a three hours’ speechâI got dev’lish fidgettyâthe house called for the question, I joined the cryââthe question, the question,â says I. A member spied me; cleared the gallery; got hustled by my brother spectatorsâobliged to scud. Oh, it would never do for
It is to be noted that Rapid is not a Munchausen, nor does he have any personal qualities particularly comparable to those of Mr. Jingle. The sentimental comedies of Colman the younger retained their popu- larity remarkably in the early nineteenth century. One of the best of these dramas is The Poor Gentleman, produced at Covent Garden in 1801. It has all the typical sentimental comedy features of virtue in distress, the villain bent on seduction, honest tears, etc. But several amus- ing characters in the humours tradition help to save the piece. Among
them is the apothecary, Ollapod, who not only talks in the staccato manner, but has a tag of speech. He is continually saying, âDo you take, good sir? Do you take?â and âI owe you one.â
Thus he says: Yes; Iâm an apothecary. Take care how you meddle with a man of my repute!
Served my time, seven years, under old Cataplasm, of Canterbury; took out my freedom in that ancient city; thumped the mortar six months at Maidstone; now on my own bottom, in trade, at Tunbridge. Cornet Ollapod, at the gilt Galenâs Head; known to all the nobility around; short shot in a copse; deep dab at the broad-sword exercise; charge a furze-bush, wing a woodcock, or blister a lord, with any chap in the country. Insult me as an officer, and Iâll prosecute you. Touch my ears, you touch my honour; and dân me, Iâll clap you in the county jail for assaulting a freeman!
After this play, the popularity of the staccato device struck a lull, but the comedies which contained it continued in the stock repertory. Charles Mathews the elder found one of his most successful rÃ´les in Goldfinch, which he continued to act from year to year. In 1819 he began his one-man performances which, like Foote, he styled At Homes. Naturally, in searching for different devices of comic acting which could diversify an entire eveningâs performance, he used many of the manner- isms belonging to parts he had acted during his many years on the stage.
He was an extraordinary mimic, a ventriloquist, a quick-change artist, and he had a talent for taking off eccentricities. His At Homes were composed of stories in character, conversations, songs with patter choruses and interpolated additions, and a Monopolylogue. This last was a short one-act play in which Mathews took all the parts, a feat which was managed by ingenious artifice in the writing, so that no more than on Â character had to appear on the stage at a time. His ability at quick changes of costume and his ventriloquism helped over the awkward places. In all of his later performances, Mathews more or less departed from traditional types of comic acting and depended upon what we now designate as âcharacter acting.â
Mathews collaborated with James Smith, Poole, Peake, and Moncrieff in the writing of his performances,17 which varied from night to night in some degree, and which were replaced by an entirely new bill every season. He used various comic rhetorical effects, vocal artifices, and changes of costume, to differentiate the characters he personated. One of his most successful devices was the manner of speaking which he had used in acting Goldfinch, and he attached the staccato manner to various characters of his creation, manufacturing a new one almost yearly. The first and most famous of these was one whom he called Ma- jor Longbow, a real Munchausen. Despite the fact that our only records of the At Homes are from pirated printings, taken down from actual per- formances by stenographers, the character of Major Longbowâs stories can be discerned from the fairly accurate publication of Hodgson and Company, London, which printed Mathew’s Theatrical Budget; or the Actor’s Multum in Parvo. Major Longbow is part of an At Home program for 1821, Travels in Air on Earth and on Water. The Major talks of ballooning, the main subject of this performance, thus: Know all about it, to be sure I doâwent up myself with Rosiere and Romaine from Boulogne, forty years agoâMontgolfier balloonâfire as large as the kitchen fire at the Thatched House tavernâthree miles high took fireâthere was a blazeâall Paris saw usâdown we came slap-bangâlike a cannon-ball, 2840 yards high, French measureâdown we came like a thunderboltâRosiere and Romaine, they both killed on the spot, I not hurt a bitâforty years agoânot a bit older nowâPon my life itâs trueâwhat will you lay itâs a lie?
Major Longbow has none of the qualities attached to Mr. Jingleâs person; he is not a strolling player or an adventurer; but he tells the same sort of stories. âPon my life itâs trueâwhat will you lay itâs a lie?â is his tag. In practically every case, his stories might be transferred to
Mr. Jingle, and providing only that they were properly introduced, no one would notice that they were foreign to Dickensâs style.