A Very Hasty Literary Tour of Bath

Archived from London trip: April, 2009

Jane Austen, resident of Bath

Jane Austen, resident of Bath

On the Wednesday of our vacation in London, my wife and I embarked on a day trip to Salisbury, Stonehenge, and Bath. Bath proved to be worth the trip – a truly unique and beautiful city. Our tour guide’s goal was to show us the Pump Room and the Roman baths, and allow us to quickly peruse Bath Abbey – we had about an hour. Personally, there were a few other Bath sites I was hoping to see.

For weeks prior to our London trip, I had been reading as many books as possible while trying to create an itinerary that both my wife and I would enjoy. Once I learned that we would be stopping in Bath, I pulled my copies of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey off the shelf. (This is in fact a lie – I did not own a copy of Persuasion.) I did a bit of research and found there was a Jane Austen Visitor Center in Bath, and I was certain that once there, I’d be able to negotiate the terrain.

No such luck. We were in too much of a rush to see anything of the Jane Austen Center. I hadn’t planned the excursion all that well. Besides, the copy of Persuasion that I had brought to read on the plane remained unfinished in my backpack. I figured it was a wash. My wife and I both agreed that Bath deserved a second trip – someday.

Pickwick (standing) with Sam Weller

Sam Weller composing a Valentine

As luck would have it, I did find something in Bath that I hadn’t expected. As we were rushing back to our bus, we happened upon a pub called Sam Weller’s, named after the character from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.  Sam is one of my favorites of all of Dickens’ characters. Sam was also one of Dickens’ most popular characters, and is credited with making the author famous. Pickwick Papers, published in serial form, had not been doing all that well until Sam’s entrance in the novel. He was immediately loved by the readership for his humor, but became cherished for his kindness, humanity, and loyalty to the often-obtuse Pickwick. (And don’t we all cheer when he returns to the kitchen to kiss Mary, his walentine?)

I was delighted if only by the name of the place, for we were too pressed to enter and sample the ales. I allowed myself only a moment to pause and smile while my wife rolled her eyes and tugged at my sleeve. A flood of humorous memories from Dickens’ novel came to me as we rode back to London, and I had to hide a few smirks and chuckles in my collar.