Immortal Memory By Jinks
Although i have been a member of the philadelphia pickwick club since 2008, i am relatively unknown to most of you. I am mr. Jinks. I am an insignificant legal functionary appearing in chapters 24 and 25 of the pickwick papers. I have best been remembered since the 1837 publication of the pickwick papers by many cat owners and cartoonists who have chosen my literary sobriquet for their pet cat. Even one of my daughters has named her cat jinks, alas, not to honor me, but rather because jinks rhymes with the name of her other cat, binx. Binx and jinks!
In any event i have previously addressed this august body with a character sketch of mr. Jinks. Today’s presentation is more academically rooted because it is to honor the immortal memory of charles dickens, whose fertile imagination was the wellspring of each of our pickwickian literary identities; whose gifts of perception, observation and eloquence for the human condition have survived his 1870 death with profound international recognition and esteem.
Inasmuch as this is the 111th meeting of the philadelphia pickwick club, it is obvious that many of my fellow pickwickians have already spoken to this club about charles dickens and his impressive literary achievements, his life experiences and his views on society, social norms and human behaviors. I am pressed to be original and insightful in the same manner as those speakers who have preceded me while at the same time noting that i have never previously exhibited any proficiencies for literary criticism. I fear that this presentation will serve to further cement my obscurity as both a member of this club and as an otherwise unremarkable literary creation.
Lawyers play prominent roles in 11 of dickens 15 novels. They include jaggers (a pun on daggers) in great expectations, the “cadaverous” uriah heep in david copperfield, the “bloodless and gaunt” mr. Vholes and the “ingratiating, bowing and scraping” lord tangle in bleak house and the permanently “obscurative” fogg in the pickwick papers. Lawyers occupy dimly lit, moldy offices like “maggots in nuts.” These legal characters and many others are disrespected by dickens and that lack of regard for the legal profession permeates much of his writings. Why is this so?
At age 32, dickens filed his first lawsuit seeking damages for copyright infringement. Copyright protection for authors was a cause dickens spent his life espousing in both europe and north america. Whatever the merits of that first personal litigation, dickens was dissatisfied with the result and noted “it is better to suffer a great wrong than to have recourse to the much greater wrongs of the law.”
The novel bleak house, recounts the grinding and exhaustive litigation of an estate case brought before the english chancery court. The litigation persisted for several generations with a feeding trough of lawyers described as “be-wigged pedants spending their entire careers groping knee-deep in technicalities.” In the comic trial scene of mr. Pickwick in the pickwick papers, dickens noted that to the lawyers “innocence is irrelevant, the lawyers are thugs and the judge is asleep.”
Aside from corrupt, sleeping judges and avaricious and venal lawyers including our own fogg, dickens viewed the courts system through images of fog. “fog everywhere . . . Fog upriver . . . Fog downriver, fog in the eyes and in the throats . . . People who once thought clearly become disoriented by the fog of the law. . . All before the lord high chancellor, sitting with the fog of glory about his head.”
Dickens’ unhappy experience with the law included the unhappy circumstance of prevailing in another suit relating to copyright infringement of a christmas carol, wherein his recovery of damages was significantly less than the costs of the suit he incurred.
Given dickens great monetary success as an author and a speaker, the uncertainties arising under a new body of law protecting copyrights, the complexities of his many business engagements and the stresses arising out of his several competing personal intimacies, it is not surprising that he had repeated encounters with the legal system and that some of those encounters may have ended with results that failed his approval. As a modern day lawyer might observe, “lawyers are frequently scorned by their clients because lawyers understand that there are two sides, sometimes three, to most stories, while clients generally believe there is only one side: their own.”
However, and beyond dickens’ own experiences with the law, his literary use of lawyers and courts advanced his own sense of social justice. His opinions could be forcefully articulated in courtroom scenes and arguments while at the same time the counterpoints to his convictions could be skewered by sarcasm, irony and logic. The 19th century reforms in social justice in england and the united states, such as the elimination of the debtor prisons in little dorritt; the imposition of child labor restrictions; modern health and safety regulations and the adoption of court efficiencies can all to some extent be traced to the arguments that dickens posited in his writings thereby improving living and life conditions for the impoverished on two continents.
Dickens use of the courts and the law as a literary technique enabled him to amplify his solitary voice and advance his convictions for the dignity of humanity, rich and poor alike. His writings were influential in the reformation of public opinion further advancing the concept of social and equal justice and protection for all.
My friends, thank for listening to me today. Later, as we adjourn, i hope not to hear from any of you the admonition delivered by the corrupt nupkins to mr. Jinks in chapter 25 of the pickwick papers. In evaluating mr. Jinks’ legal research and written opinion, nupkins drily noted “jinks you are a fool.”