From The Pickwick Papers, chapter 33.
As he was sauntering away his spare time, and stopped to look at almost every object that met his gaze, it is by no means surprising that Mr. Weller should have paused before a small stationer's and print-seller's window; but without further explanation it does appear surprising that his eyes should have no sooner rested on certain pictures which were exposed for sale therein, than he gave a sudden start, smote his right leg with great vehemence, and exclaimed, with energy, 'if it hadn't been for this, I should ha' forgot all about it, till it was too late!'
The particular picture on which Sam Weller's eyes were fixed, as he said this, was a highly-coloured representation of a couple of human hearts skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire, while a male and female cannibal in modern attire, the gentleman being clad in a blue coat and white trousers, and the lady in a deep red pelisse with a parasol of the same, were approaching the meal with hungry eyes, up a serpentine gravel path leading thereunto. A decidedly indelicate young gentleman, in a pair of wings and nothing else, was depicted as superintending the cooking; a representation of the spire of the church in Langham Place, London, appeared in the distance; and the whole formed a 'valentine,' of which, as a written inscription in the window testified, there was a large assortment within, which the shopkeeper pledged himself to dispose of, to his countrymen generally, at the reduced rate of one-and-sixpence each.
'I should ha' forgot it; I should certainly ha' forgot it!' said Sam; so saying, he at once stepped into the stationer's shop, and requested to be served with a sheet of the best gilt-edged letter-paper, and a hard-nibbed pen which could be warranted not to splutter. These articles having been promptly supplied, he walked on direct towards Leadenhall Market at a good round pace, very different from his recent lingering one. Looking round him, he there beheld a signboard on which the painter's art had delineated something remotely resembling a cerulean elephant with an aquiline nose in lieu of trunk. Rightly conjecturing that this was the Blue Boar himself, he stepped into the house, and inquired concerning his parent.
'He won't be here this three-quarters of an hour or more,' said the young lady who superintended the domestic arrangements of the Blue Boar.
'Wery good, my dear,' replied Sam. 'Let me have nine-penn'oth o' brandy-and-water luke, and the inkstand, will you, miss?'
The brandy-and-water luke, and the inkstand, having been carried into the little parlour, and the young lady having carefully flattened down the coals to prevent their blazing, and carried away the poker to preclude the possibility of the fire being stirred, without the full privity and concurrence of the Blue Boar being first had and obtained, Sam Weller sat himself down in a box near the stove, and pulled out the sheet of gilt-edged letter-paper, and the hard-nibbed pen. Then looking carefully at the pen to see that there were no hairs in it, and dusting down the table, so that there might be no crumbs of bread under the paper, Sam tucked up the cuffs of his coat, squared his elbows, and composed himself to write.
To ladies and gentlemen who are not in the habit of devoting themselves practically to the science of penmanship, writing a letter is no very easy task; it being always considered necessary in such cases for the writer to recline his head on his left arm, so as to place his eyes as nearly as possible on a level with the paper, and, while glancing sideways at the letters he is constructing, to form with his tongue imaginary characters to correspond. These motions, although unquestionably of the greatest assistance to original composition, retard in some degree the progress of the writer; and Sam had unconsciously been a full hour and a half writing words in small text, smearing out wrong letters with his little finger, and putting in new ones which required going over very often to render them visible through the old blots, when he was roused by the opening of the door and the entrance of his parent.
'Vell, Sammy,' said the father.
'Vell, my Prooshan Blue,' responded the son, laying down his pen. 'What's the last bulletin about mother-in-law?'
'Mrs. Veller passed a very good night, but is uncommon perwerse, and unpleasant this mornin'. Signed upon oath, Tony Veller, Esquire. That's the last vun as was issued, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, untying his shawl.
'No better yet?' inquired Sam.
'All the symptoms aggerawated,' replied Mr. Weller, shaking his head. 'But wot's that you're a-doin' of? Pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, Sammy?'
'I've done now,' said Sam, with slight embarrassment; 'I've been a-writin'.'
'So I see,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Not to any young 'ooman, I hope, Sammy?'
'Why, it's no use a-sayin' it ain't,' replied Sam; 'it's a walentine.'
'A what!' exclaimed Mr. Weller, apparently horror-stricken by the word.
'A walentine,' replied Sam.
'Samivel, Samivel,' said Mr. Weller, in reproachful accents, 'I didn't think you'd ha' done it. Arter the warnin' you've had o' your father's wicious propensities; arter all I've said to you upon this here wery subject; arter actiwally seein' and bein' in the company o' your own mother-in-law, vich I should ha' thought wos a moral lesson as no man could never ha' forgotten to his dyin' day! I didn't think you'd ha' done it, Sammy, I didn't think you'd ha' done it!' These reflections were too much for the good old man. He raised Sam's tumbler to his lips and drank off its contents.
'Wot's the matter now?' said Sam.
'Nev'r mind, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, 'it'll be a wery agonisin' trial to me at my time of life, but I'm pretty tough, that's vun consolation, as the wery old turkey remarked wen the farmer said he wos afeerd he should be obliged to kill him for the London market.'
'Wot'll be a trial?' inquired Sam.
'To see you married, Sammy--to see you a dilluded wictim, and thinkin' in your innocence that it's all wery capital,' replied Mr. Weller. 'It's a dreadful trial to a father's feelin's, that 'ere, Sammy--'
'Nonsense,' said Sam. 'I ain't a-goin' to get married, don't you fret yourself about that; I know you're a judge of these things. Order in your pipe and I'll read you the letter. There!'
We cannot distinctly say whether it was the prospect of the pipe, or the consolatory reflection that a fatal disposition to get married ran in the family, and couldn't be helped, which calmed Mr. Weller's feelings, and caused his grief to subside. We should be rather disposed to say that the result was attained by combining the two sources of consolation, for he repeated the second in a low tone, very frequently; ringing the bell meanwhile, to order in the first. He then divested himself of his upper coat; and lighting the pipe and placing himself in front of the fire with his back towards it, so that he could feel its full heat, and recline against the mantel-piece at the same time, turned towards Sam, and, with a countenance greatly mollified by the softening influence of tobacco, requested him to 'fire away.'
Sam dipped his pen into the ink to be ready for any corrections, and began with a very theatrical air--
'Stop,' said Mr. Weller, ringing the bell. 'A double glass o' the inwariable, my dear.'
'Very well, Sir,' replied the girl; who with great quickness appeared, vanished, returned, and disappeared.
'They seem to know your ways here,' observed Sam.
'Yes,' replied his father, 'I've been here before, in my time. Go on, Sammy.'
'"Lovely creetur,"' repeated Sam.
''Tain't in poetry, is it?' interposed his father.
'No, no,' replied Sam.
'Wery glad to hear it,' said Mr. Weller. 'Poetry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin'-day, or Warren's blackin', or Rowland's oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy. Begin agin, Sammy.'
Mr. Weller resumed his pipe with critical solemnity, and Sam once more commenced, and read as follows:
'"Lovely creetur I feel myself a damned--"'
'That ain't proper,' said Mr. Weller, taking his pipe from his mouth.
'No; it ain't "damned,"' observed Sam, holding the letter up to the light, 'it's "shamed," there's a blot there--"I feel myself ashamed."'
'Wery good,' said Mr. Weller. 'Go on.'
'"Feel myself ashamed, and completely cir--' I forget what this here word is,' said Sam, scratching his head with the pen, in vain attempts to remember.
'Why don't you look at it, then?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'So I am a-lookin' at it,' replied Sam, 'but there's another blot. Here's a "c," and a "i," and a "d."'
'Circumwented, p'raps,' suggested Mr. Weller.
'No, it ain't that,' said Sam, '"circumscribed"; that's it.'
'That ain't as good a word as "circumwented," Sammy,' said Mr. Weller gravely.
'Think not?' said Sam.
'Nothin' like it,' replied his father.
'But don't you think it means more?' inquired Sam.
'Vell p'raps it's a more tenderer word,' said Mr. Weller, after a few moments' reflection. 'Go on, Sammy.'
'"Feel myself ashamed and completely circumscribed in adressin' of you, for you are a nice gal and nothin' but it."'
'That's a wery pretty sentiment,' said the elder Mr. Weller, removing his pipe to make way for the remark.
'Yes, I think it is rayther good,' observed Sam, highly flattered.
'Wot I like in that 'ere style of writin',' said the elder Mr. Weller, 'is, that there ain't no callin' names in it--no Wenuses, nor nothin' o' that kind. Wot's the good o' callin' a young 'ooman a Wenus or a angel, Sammy?'
'Ah! what, indeed?' replied Sam.
'You might jist as well call her a griffin, or a unicorn, or a king's arms at once, which is wery well known to be a collection o' fabulous animals,' added Mr. Weller.
'Just as well,' replied Sam.
'Drive on, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller.
Sam complied with the request, and proceeded as follows; his father continuing to smoke, with a mixed expression of wisdom and complacency, which was particularly edifying.
'"Afore I see you, I thought all women was alike."'
'So they are,' observed the elder Mr. Weller parenthetically.
'"But now,"' continued Sam, '"now I find what a reg'lar soft-headed, inkred'lous turnip I must ha' been; for there ain't nobody like you, though I like you better than nothin' at all." I thought it best to make that rayther strong,' said Sam, looking up.
Mr. Weller nodded approvingly, and Sam resumed.
'"So I take the privilidge of the day, Mary, my dear--as the gen'l'm'n in difficulties did, ven he valked out of a Sunday--to tell you that the first and only time I see you, your likeness was took on my hart in much quicker time and brighter colours than ever a likeness was took by the profeel macheen (wich p'raps you may have heerd on Mary my dear) altho it DOES finish a portrait and put the frame and glass on complete, with a hook at the end to hang it up by, and all in two minutes and a quarter."'
'I am afeerd that werges on the poetical, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller dubiously.
'No, it don't,' replied Sam, reading on very quickly, to avoid contesting the point--
'"Except of me Mary my dear as your walentine and think over what I've said.--My dear Mary I will now conclude." That's all,' said Sam.
'That's rather a sudden pull-up, ain't it, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'Not a bit on it,' said Sam; 'she'll vish there wos more, and that's the great art o' letter-writin'.'
'Well,' said Mr. Weller, 'there's somethin' in that; and I wish your mother-in-law 'ud only conduct her conwersation on the same genteel principle. Ain't you a-goin' to sign it?'
'That's the difficulty,' said Sam; 'I don't know what to sign it.'
'Sign it--"Veller",' said the oldest surviving proprietor of that name.
'Won't do,' said Sam. 'Never sign a walentine with your own name.'
'Sign it "Pickwick," then,' said Mr. Weller; 'it's a wery good name, and a easy one to spell.'
'The wery thing,' said Sam. 'I COULD end with a werse; what do you think?'
'I don't like it, Sam,' rejoined Mr. Weller. 'I never know'd a respectable coachman as wrote poetry, 'cept one, as made an affectin' copy o' werses the night afore he was hung for a highway robbery; and he wos only a Cambervell man, so even that's no rule.'
But Sam was not to be dissuaded from the poetical idea that had occurred to him, so he signed the letter--
And having folded it, in a very intricate manner, squeezed a downhill direction in one corner: 'To Mary, Housemaid, at Mr. Nupkins's, Mayor's, Ipswich, Suffolk'; and put it into his pocket, wafered, and ready for the general post.