Page:Works of Charles Dickens, ed. Lang - Volume 1.djvu/17

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vii
INTRODUCTION.

He has his foibles; so has the Baron. Both gentlemen have been known to tarry over the wine-cup or the punch-bowl at the Rochester inn, or in the change-house of Tully Veolan. The amount of alcoholic beverages consumed in Pickwick is undeniably startling. That our grandfathers were so often drunk is incredible, but convivial intoxication was still regarded as a thing humorous in itself, as it obviously was by Burns and his contemporaries. That we have reached a more civilised view is owing chiefly, perhaps, to cigarettes; partly to the Temperance movement, of which, as exhibited in Brick Lane, Dickens was not an admirer. His nature was convivial, not intemperate, and his eternal punch and brandy and water ("hot," "cold without," or "luke") is a mere symbol of conviviality. The intoxication is a phrase, a tradition of mistaken humour, handed on from the hard drinkers of the eighteenth century. It is, besides, a mechanial device for getting Mr. Pickwick into otherwise impossible quandaries. The great man himself is a study of the humours of mastership and discipleship. He reminds us now of Socrates, now of Dr. Johnson (who at one time, like Socrates, could take his liquor like a hero); now, if one may say so, of the late Master of Balliol. Wise in counsel (as to Mr. Peter Magnus) even in matters on which he had only reflected as a disinterested student of life, Mr. Pickwick can administer a firm snub on occasion. Yet (as in the adventure of the Girls' School) Mr. Pickwick's warmth of heart overcomes the dictates of his speculative reason. Where he sees wrong, or distress, or meanness, Mr. Pickwick has the prompt feelings of a child—is "as one of these." About his early experiences we are left in doubt. Had Mr. Pickwick loved? It is natural to believe it, but he had never proposed—"never!" His heart, however bruised, was neither broken nor embittered. Thus, in the