Part 1 out of 20
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,
containing a Faithful Account of the Fortunes, Misfortunes,
Uprisings, Downfallings and Complete Career of the Nickelby Family
by Charles Dickens
This story was begun, within a few months after the publication of
the completed "Pickwick Papers." There were, then, a good many cheap
Yorkshire schools in existence. There are very few now.
Of the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the disregard
of it by the State as a means of forming good or bad citizens, and
miserable or happy men, private schools long afforded a notable
example. Although any man who had proved his unfitness for any other
occupation in life, was free, without examination or qualification,
to open a school anywhere; although preparation for the functions he
undertook, was required in the surgeon who assisted to bring a boy
into the world, or might one day assist, perhaps, to send him out of
it; in the chemist, the attorney, the butcher, the baker, the
candlestick maker; the whole round of crafts and trades, the
schoolmaster excepted; and although schoolmasters, as a race, were
the blockheads and impostors who might naturally be expected to
spring from such a state of things, and to flourish in it; these
Yorkshire schoolmasters were the lowest and most rotten round in the
whole ladder. Traders in the avarice, indifference, or imbecility of
parents, and the helplessness of children; ignorant, sordid, brutal
men, to whom few considerate persons would have entrusted the board
and lodging of a horse or a dog; they formed the worthy cornerstone
of a structure, which, for absurdity and a magnificent high-minded
LAISSEZ-ALLER neglect, has rarely been exceeded in the world.
We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified
medical practitioner, who has deformed a broken limb in pretending to
heal it. But, what of the hundreds of thousands of minds that have
been deformed for ever by the incapable pettifoggers who have
pretended to form them!
I make mention of the race, as of the Yorkshire schoolmasters, in the
past tense. Though it has not yet finally disappeared, it is
dwindling daily. A long day's work remains to be done about us in
the way of education, Heaven knows; but great improvements and
facilities towards the attainment of a good one, have been furnished,
of late years.
I cannot call to mind, now, how I came to hear about Yorkshire
schools when I was a not very robust child, sitting in bye-places
near Rochester Castle, with a head full of PARTRIDGE, STRAP, TOM
PIPES, and SANCHO PANZA; but I know that my first impressions of them
were picked up at that time, and that they were somehow or other
connected with a suppurated abscess that some boy had come home with,
in consequence of his Yorkshire guide, philosopher, and friend,
having ripped it open with an inky pen-knife. The impression made
upon me, however made, never left me. I was always curious about
Yorkshire schools--fell, long afterwards and at sundry times, into
the way of hearing more about them--at last, having an audience,
resolved to write about them.
With that intent I went down into Yorkshire before I began this book,
in very severe winter time which is pretty faithfully described
herein. As I wanted to see a schoolmaster or two, and was forewarned
that those gentlemen might, in their modesty, be shy of receiving a
visit from the author of the "Pickwick Papers," I consulted with a
professional friend who had a Yorkshire connexion, and with whom I
concerted a pious fraud. He gave me some letters of introduction, in
the name, I think, of my travelling companion; they bore reference to
a supposititious little boy who had been left with a widowed mother
who didn't know what to do with him; the poor lady had thought, as a
means of thawing the tardy compassion of her relations in his behalf,
of sending him to a Yorkshire school; I was the poor lady's friend,
travelling that way; and if the recipient of the letter could inform
me of a school in his neighbourhood, the writer would be very much
I went to several places in that part of the country where I
understood the schools to be most plentifully sprinkled, and had no
occasion to deliver a letter until I came to a certain town which
shall be nameless. The person to whom it was addressed, was not at
home; but he came down at night, through the snow, to the inn where I
was staying. It was after dinner; and he needed little persuasion to
sit down by the fire in a warrn corner, and take his share of the
wine that was on the table.
I am afraid he is dead now. I recollect he was a jovial, ruddy,
broad-faced man; that we got acquainted directly; and that we talked
on all kinds of subjects, except the school, which he showed a great
anxiety to avoid. "Was there any large school near?" I asked him, in
reference to the letter. "Oh yes," he said; "there was a pratty big
'un." "Was it a good one?" I asked. "Ey!" he said, "it was as good
as anoother; that was a' a matther of opinion"; and fell to looking
at the fire, staring round the room, and whistling a little. On my
reverting to some other topic that we had been discussing, he
recovered immediately; but, though I tried him again and again, I
never approached the question of the school, even if he were in the
middle of a laugh, without observing that his countenance fell, and
that he became uncomfortable. At last, when we had passed a couple
of hours or so, very agreeably, he suddenly took up his hat, and
leaning over the table and looking me full in the face, said, in a
low voice: "Weel, Misther, we've been vara pleasant toogather, and
ar'll spak' my moind tiv'ee. Dinnot let the weedur send her lattle
boy to yan o' our school-measthers, while there's a harse to hoold in
a' Lunnun, or a gootther to lie asleep in. Ar wouldn't mak' ill
words amang my neeburs, and ar speak tiv'ee quiet loike. But I'm
dom'd if ar can gang to bed and not tellee, for weedur's sak', to
keep the lattle boy from a' sike scoondrels while there's a harse to
hoold in a' Lunnun, or a gootther to lie asleep in!" Repeating these
words with great heartiness, and with a solemnity on his jolly face
that made it look twice as large as before, he shook hands and went
away. I never saw him afterwards, but I sometimes imagine that I
descry a faint reflection of him in John Browdie.
In reference to these gentry, I may here quote a few words from the
original preface to this book.
"It has afforded the Author great amusement and satisfaction, during
the progress of this work, to learn, from country friends and from a
variety of ludicrous statements concerning himself in provincial
newspapers, that more than one Yorkshire schoolmaster lays claim to
being the original of Mr. Squeers. One worthy, he has reason to
believe, has actually consulted authorities learned in the law, as to
his having good grounds on which to rest an action for libel;
another, has meditated a journey to London, for the express purpose
of committing an assault and battery on his traducer; a third,
perfectly remembers being waited on, last January twelve-month, by
two gentlemen, one of whom held him in conversation while the other
took his likeness; and, although Mr. Squeers has but one eye, and he
has two, and the published sketch does not resemble him (whoever he
may be) in any other respect, still he and all his friends and
neighbours know at once for whom it is meant, because--the character
is SO like him.
"While the Author cannot but feel the full force of the compliment
thus conveyed to him, he ventures to suggest that these contentions
may arise from the fact, that Mr. Squeers is the representative of a
class, and not of an individual. Where imposture, ignorance, and
brutal cupidity, are the stock in trade of a small body of men, and
one is described by these characteristics, all his fellows will
recognise something belonging to themselves, and each will have a
misgiving that the portrait is his own.
'The Author's object in calling public attention to the system would
be very imperfectly fulfilled, if he did not state now, in his own
person, emphatically and earnestly, that Mr. Squeers and his school
are faint and feeble pictures of an existing reality, purposely
subdued and kept down lest they should be deemed impossible. That
there are, upon record, trials at law in which damages have been
sought as a poor recompense for lasting agonies and disfigurements
inflicted upon children by the treatment of the master in these
places, involving such offensive and foul details of neglect,
cruelty, and disease, as no writer of fiction would have the boldness
to imagine. And that, since he has been engaged upon these
Adventures, he has received, from private quarters far beyond the
reach of suspicion or distrust, accounts of atrocities, in the
perpetration of which upon neglected or repudiated children, these
schools have been the main instruments, very far exceeding any that
appear in these pages."
This comprises all I need say on the subject; except that if I had
seen occasion, I had resolved to reprint a few of these details of
legal proceedings, from certain old newspapers.
One other quotation from the same Preface may serve to introduce a
fact that my readers may think curious.
"To turn to a more pleasant subject, it may be right to say, that
there ARE two characters in this book which are drawn from life. It
is remarkable that what we call the world, which is so very credulous
in what professes to be true, is most incredulous in what professes
to be imaginary; and that, while, every day in real life, it will
allow in one man no blemishes, and in another no virtues, it will
seldom admit a very strongly-marked character, either good or bad, in
a fictitious narrative, to be within the limits of probability. But
those who take an interest in this tale, will be glad to learn that
the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE live; that their liberal charity, their
singleness of heart, their noble nature, and their unbounded
benevolence, are no creations of the Author's brain; but are
prompting every day (and oftenest by stealth) some munificent and
generous deed in that town of which they are the pride and honour."
If I were to attempt to sum up the thousands of letters, from all
sorts of people in all sorts of latitudes and climates, which this
unlucky paragraph brought down upon me, I should get into an
arithmetical difficulty from which I could not easily extricate
myself. Suffice it to say, that I believe the applications for
loans, gifts, and offices of profit that I have been requested to
forward to the originals of the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE (with whom I never
interchanged any communication in my life) would have exhausted the
combined patronage of all the Lord Chancellors since the accession of
the House of Brunswick, and would have broken the Rest of the Bank of
The Brothers are now dead.
There is only one other point, on which I would desire to offer a
remark. If Nicholas be not always found to be blameless or
agreeable, he is not always intended to appear so. He is a young man
of an impetuous temper and of little or no experience; and I saw no
reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature.
Introduces all the Rest
There once lived, in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire,
one Mr Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentleman, who, taking it into his
head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being
young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of
fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her
turn had taken him for the same reason. Thus two people who cannot
afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game
Some ill-conditioned persons who sneer at the life-matrimonial, may
perhaps suggest, in this place, that the good couple would be better
likened to two principals in a sparring match, who, when fortune is
low and backers scarce, will chivalrously set to, for the mere
pleasure of the buffeting; and in one respect indeed this comparison
would hold good; for, as the adventurous pair of the Fives' Court
will afterwards send round a hat, and trust to the bounty of the
lookers-on for the means of regaling themselves, so Mr Godfrey
Nickleby and HIS partner, the honeymoon being over, looked out
wistfully into the world, relying in no inconsiderable degree upon
chance for the improvement of their means. Mr Nickleby's income, at
the period of his marriage, fluctuated between sixty and eighty
pounds PER ANNUM.
There are people enough in the world, Heaven knows! and even in
London (where Mr Nickleby dwelt in those days) but few complaints
prevail, of the population being scanty. It is extraordinary how
long a man may look among the crowd without discovering the face of
a friend, but it is no less true. Mr Nickleby looked, and looked,
till his eyes became sore as his heart, but no friend appeared; and
when, growing tired of the search, he turned his eyes homeward, he
saw very little there to relieve his weary vision. A painter who
has gazed too long upon some glaring colour, refreshes his dazzled
sight by looking upon a darker and more sombre tint; but everything
that met Mr Nickleby's gaze wore so black and gloomy a hue, that he
would have been beyond description refreshed by the very reverse of
At length, after five years, when Mrs Nickleby had presented her
husband with a couple of sons, and that embarassed gentleman,
impressed with the necessity of making some provision for his
family, was seriously revolving in his mind a little commercial
speculation of insuring his life next quarter-day, and then falling
from the top of the Monument by accident, there came, one morning,
by the general post, a black-bordered letter to inform him how his
uncle, Mr Ralph Nickleby, was dead, and had left him the bulk of his
little property, amounting in all to five thousand pounds sterling.
As the deceased had taken no further notice of his nephew in his
lifetime, than sending to his eldest boy (who had been christened
after him, on desperate speculation) a silver spoon in a morocco
case, which, as he had not too much to eat with it, seemed a kind of
satire upon his having been born without that useful article of
plate in his mouth, Mr Godfrey Nickleby could, at first, scarcely
believe the tidings thus conveyed to him. On examination, however,
they turned out to be strictly correct. The amiable old gentleman,
it seemed, had intended to leave the whole to the Royal Humane
Society, and had indeed executed a will to that effect; but the
Institution, having been unfortunate enough, a few months before, to
save the life of a poor relation to whom he paid a weekly allowance
of three shillings and sixpence, he had, in a fit of very natural
exasperation, revoked the bequest in a codicil, and left it all to
Mr Godfrey Nickleby; with a special mention of his indignation, not
only against the society for saving the poor relation's life, but
against the poor relation also, for allowing himself to be saved.
With a portion of this property Mr Godfrey Nickleby purchased a
small farm, near Dawlish in Devonshire, whither he retired with his
wife and two children, to live upon the best interest he could get
for the rest of his money, and the little produce he could raise
from his land. The two prospered so well together that, when he
died, some fifteen years after this period, and some five after his
wife, he was enabled to leave, to his eldest son, Ralph, three
thousand pounds in cash, and to his youngest son, Nicholas, one
thousand and the farm, which was as small a landed estate as one
would desire to see.
These two brothers had been brought up together in a school at
Exeter; and, being accustomed to go home once a week, had often
heard, from their mother's lips, long accounts of their father's
sufferings in his days of poverty, and of their deceased uncle's
importance in his days of affluence: which recitals produced a very
different impression on the two: for, while the younger, who was of
a timid and retiring disposition, gleaned from thence nothing but
forewarnings to shun the great world and attach himself to the quiet
routine of a country life, Ralph, the elder, deduced from the often-
repeated tale the two great morals that riches are the only true
source of happiness and power, and that it is lawful and just to
compass their acquisition by all means short of felony. 'And,'
reasoned Ralph with himself, 'if no good came of my uncle's money
when he was alive, a great deal of good came of it after he was
dead, inasmuch as my father has got it now, and is saving it up for
me, which is a highly virtuous purpose; and, going back to the old
gentleman, good DID come of it to him too, for he had the pleasure
of thinking of it all his life long, and of being envied and courted
by all his family besides.' And Ralph always wound up these mental
soliloquies by arriving at the conclusion, that there was nothing
Not confining himself to theory, or permitting his faculties to
rust, even at that early age, in mere abstract speculations, this
promising lad commenced usurer on a limited scale at school; putting
out at good interest a small capital of slate-pencil and marbles,
and gradually extending his operations until they aspired to the
copper coinage of this realm, in which he speculated to considerable
advantage. Nor did he trouble his borrowers with abstract
calculations of figures, or references to ready-reckoners; his
simple rule of interest being all comprised in the one golden
sentence, 'two-pence for every half-penny,' which greatly simplified
the accounts, and which, as a familiar precept, more easily acquired
and retained in the memory than any known rule of arithmetic, cannot
be too strongly recommended to the notice of capitalists, both large
and small, and more especially of money-brokers and bill-
discounters. Indeed, to do these gentlemen justice, many of them
are to this day in the frequent habit of adopting it, with eminent
In like manner, did young Ralph Nickleby avoid all those minute and
intricate calculations of odd days, which nobody who has worked sums
in simple-interest can fail to have found most embarrassing, by
establishing the one general rule that all sums of principal and
interest should be paid on pocket-money day, that is to say, on
Saturday: and that whether a loan were contracted on the Monday, or
on the Friday, the amount of interest should be, in both cases, the
same. Indeed he argued, and with great show of reason, that it
ought to be rather more for one day than for five, inasmuch as the
borrower might in the former case be very fairly presumed to be in
great extremity, otherwise he would not borrow at all with such odds
against him. This fact is interesting, as illustrating the secret
connection and sympathy which always exist between great minds.
Though Master Ralph Nickleby was not at that time aware of it, the
class of gentlemen before alluded to, proceed on just the same
principle in all their transactions.
From what we have said of this young gentleman, and the natural
admiration the reader will immediately conceive of his character, it
may perhaps be inferred that he is to be the hero of the work which
we shall presently begin. To set this point at rest, for once and
for ever, we hasten to undeceive them, and stride to its commencement.
On the death of his father, Ralph Nickleby, who had been some time
before placed in a mercantile house in London, applied himself
passionately to his old pursuit of money-getting, in which he
speedily became so buried and absorbed, that he quite forgot his
brother for many years; and if, at times, a recollection of his old
playfellow broke upon him through the haze in which he lived--for
gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old
senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal--it
brought along with it a companion thought, that if they were
intimate he would want to borrow money of him. So, Mr Ralph Nickleby
shrugged his shoulders, and said things were better as they were.
As for Nicholas, he lived a single man on the patrimonial estate
until he grew tired of living alone, and then he took to wife the
daughter of a neighbouring gentleman with a dower of one thousand
pounds. This good lady bore him two children, a son and a daughter,
and when the son was about nineteen, and the daughter fourteen, as
near as we can guess--impartial records of young ladies' ages
being, before the passing of the new act, nowhere preserved in the
registries of this country--Mr Nickleby looked about him for the
means of repairing his capital, now sadly reduced by this increase
in his family, and the expenses of their education.
'Speculate with it,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'Spec--u--late, my dear?' said Mr Nickleby, as though in doubt.
'Why not?' asked Mrs Nickleby.
'Because, my dear, if we SHOULD lose it,' rejoined Mr Nickleby, who
was a slow and time-taking speaker, 'if we SHOULD lose it, we shall
no longer be able to live, my dear.'
'Fiddle,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'I am not altogether sure of that, my dear,' said Mr Nickleby.
'There's Nicholas,' pursued the lady, 'quite a young man--it's time
he was in the way of doing something for himself; and Kate too, poor
girl, without a penny in the world. Think of your brother! Would
he be what he is, if he hadn't speculated?'
'That's true,' replied Mr Nickleby. 'Very good, my dear. Yes. I
WILL speculate, my dear.'
Speculation is a round game; the players see little or nothing of
their cards at first starting; gains MAY be great--and so may
losses. The run of luck went against Mr Nickleby. A mania
prevailed, a bubble burst, four stock-brokers took villa residences
at Florence, four hundred nobodies were ruined, and among them Mr
'The very house I live in,' sighed the poor gentleman, 'may be taken
from me tomorrow. Not an article of my old furniture, but will be
sold to strangers!'
The last reflection hurt him so much, that he took at once to his
bed; apparently resolved to keep that, at all events.
'Cheer up, sir!' said the apothecary.
'You mustn't let yourself be cast down, sir,' said the nurse.
'Such things happen every day,' remarked the lawyer.
'And it is very sinful to rebel against them,' whispered the
'And what no man with a family ought to do,' added the neighbours.
Mr Nickleby shook his head, and motioning them all out of the room,
embraced his wife and children, and having pressed them by turns to
his languidly beating heart, sunk exhausted on his pillow. They
were concerned to find that his reason went astray after this; for
he babbled, for a long time, about the generosity and goodness of
his brother, and the merry old times when they were at school
together. This fit of wandering past, he solemnly commended them to
One who never deserted the widow or her fatherless children, and,
smiling gently on them, turned upon his face, and observed, that he
thought he could fall asleep.
Of Mr Ralph Nickleby, and his Establishments, and his Undertakings,
and of a great Joint Stock Company of vast national Importance
Mr Ralph Nickleby was not, strictly speaking, what you would call a
merchant, neither was he a banker, nor an attorney, nor a special
pleader, nor a notary. He was certainly not a tradesman, and still
less could he lay any claim to the title of a professional
gentleman; for it would have been impossible to mention any
recognised profession to which he belonged. Nevertheless, as he
lived in a spacious house in Golden Square, which, in addition to a
brass plate upon the street-door, had another brass plate two sizes
and a half smaller upon the left hand door-post, surrounding a brass
model of an infant's fist grasping a fragment of a skewer, and
displaying the word 'Office,' it was clear that Mr Ralph Nickleby
did, or pretended to do, business of some kind; and the fact, if it
required any further circumstantial evidence, was abundantly
demonstrated by the diurnal attendance, between the hours of half-
past nine and five, of a sallow-faced man in rusty brown, who sat
upon an uncommonly hard stool in a species of butler's pantry at the
end of the passage, and always had a pen behind his ear when he
answered the bell.
Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden
Square, it is not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere. It
is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has
gone down in the world, and taken to letting lodgings. Many of its
first and second floors are let, furnished, to single gentlemen; and
it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The
dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards,
and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade,
and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the
afternoon, when they give away the orders,--all live in Golden
Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind
instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its
boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float
in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the
guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of
the square. On a summer's night, windows are thrown open, and
groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging
at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices
practising vocal music invade the evening's silence; and the fumes
of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and
German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the
supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street
bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-
singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its
This would not seem a spot very well adapted to the transaction of
business; but Mr Ralph Nickleby had lived there, notwithstanding,
for many years, and uttered no complaint on that score. He knew
nobody round about, and nobody knew him, although he enjoyed the
reputation of being immensely rich. The tradesmen held that he was
a sort of lawyer, and the other neighbours opined that he was a kind
of general agent; both of which guesses were as correct and definite
as guesses about other people's affairs usually are, or need to be.
Mr Ralph Nickleby sat in his private office one morning, ready
dressed to walk abroad. He wore a bottle-green spencer over a blue
coat; a white waistcoat, grey mixture pantaloons, and Wellington
boots drawn over them. The corner of a small-plaited shirt-frill
struggled out, as if insisting to show itself, from between his chin
and the top button of his spencer; and the latter garment was not
made low enough to conceal a long gold watch-chain, composed of a
series of plain rings, which had its beginning at the handle of a
gold repeater in Mr Nickleby's pocket, and its termination in two
little keys: one belonging to the watch itself, and the other to
some patent padlock. He wore a sprinkling of powder upon his head,
as if to make himself look benevolent; but if that were his purpose,
he would perhaps have done better to powder his countenance also,
for there was something in its very wrinkles, and in his cold
restless eye, which seemed to tell of cunning that would announce
itself in spite of him. However this might be, there he was; and as
he was all alone, neither the powder, nor the wrinkles, nor the
eyes, had the smallest effect, good or bad, upon anybody just then,
and are consequently no business of ours just now.
Mr Nickleby closed an account-book which lay on his desk, and,
throwing himself back in his chair, gazed with an air of abstraction
through the dirty window. Some London houses have a melancholy
little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four high
whitewashed walls, and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys: in which
there withers on, from year to year, a crippled tree, that makes a
show of putting forth a few leaves late in autumn when other trees
shed theirs, and, drooping in the effort, lingers on, all crackled
and smoke-dried, till the following season, when it repeats the same
process, and perhaps, if the weather be particularly genial, even
tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirrup in its branches. People
sometimes call these dark yards 'gardens'; it is not supposed that
they were ever planted, but rather that they are pieces of
unreclaimed land, with the withered vegetation of the original
brick-field. No man thinks of walking in this desolate place, or of
turning it to any account. A few hampers, half-a-dozen broken
bottles, and such-like rubbish, may be thrown there, when the tenant
first moves in, but nothing more; and there they remain until he
goes away again: the damp straw taking just as long to moulder as it
thinks proper: and mingling with the scanty box, and stunted
everbrowns, and broken flower-pots, that are scattered mournfully
about--a prey to 'blacks' and dirt.
It was into a place of this kind that Mr Ralph Nickleby gazed, as he
sat with his hands in his pockets looking out of the window. He had
fixed his eyes upon a distorted fir tree, planted by some former
tenant in a tub that had once been green, and left there, years
before, to rot away piecemeal. There was nothing very inviting in
the object, but Mr Nickleby was wrapt in a brown study, and sat
contemplating it with far greater attention than, in a more
conscious mood, he would have deigned to bestow upon the rarest
exotic. At length, his eyes wandered to a little dirty window on
the left, through which the face of the clerk was dimly visible;
that worthy chancing to look up, he beckoned him to attend.
In obedience to this summons the clerk got off the high stool (to
which he had communicated a high polish by countless gettings off
and on), and presented himself in Mr Nickleby's room. He was a tall
man of middle age, with two goggle eyes whereof one was a fixture, a
rubicund nose, a cadaverous face, and a suit of clothes (if the term
be allowable when they suited him not at all) much the worse for
wear, very much too small, and placed upon such a short allowance of
buttons that it was marvellous how he contrived to keep them on.
'Was that half-past twelve, Noggs?' said Mr Nickleby, in a sharp and
'Not more than five-and-twenty minutes by the--' Noggs was going to
add public-house clock, but recollecting himself, substituted
'My watch has stopped,' said Mr Nickleby; 'I don't know from what
'Not wound up,' said Noggs.
'Yes it is,' said Mr Nickleby.
'Over-wound then,' rejoined Noggs.
'That can't very well be,' observed Mr Nickleby.
'Must be,' said Noggs.
'Well!' said Mr Nickleby, putting the repeater back in his pocket;
'perhaps it is.'
Noggs gave a peculiar grunt, as was his custom at the end of all
disputes with his master, to imply that he (Noggs) triumphed; and
(as he rarely spoke to anybody unless somebody spoke to him) fell
into a grim silence, and rubbed his hands slowly over each other:
cracking the joints of his fingers, and squeezing them into all
possible distortions. The incessant performance of this routine on
every occasion, and the communication of a fixed and rigid look to
his unaffected eye, so as to make it uniform with the other, and to
render it impossible for anybody to determine where or at what he
was looking, were two among the numerous peculiarities of Mr Noggs,
which struck an inexperienced observer at first sight.
'I am going to the London Tavern this morning,' said Mr Nickleby.
'Public meeting?' inquired Noggs.
Mr Nickleby nodded. 'I expect a letter from the solicitor
respecting that mortgage of Ruddle's. If it comes at all, it will
be here by the two o'clock delivery. I shall leave the city about
that time and walk to Charing Cross on the left-hand side of the
way; if there are any letters, come and meet me, and bring them with
Noggs nodded; and as he nodded, there came a ring at the office
bell. The master looked up from his papers, and the clerk calmly
remained in a stationary position.
'The bell,' said Noggs, as though in explanation. 'At home?'
'To the tax-gatherer?'
'No! Let him call again.'
Noggs gave vent to his usual grunt, as much as to say 'I thought
so!' and, the ring being repeated, went to the door, whence he
presently returned, ushering in, by the name of Mr Bonney, a pale
gentleman in a violent hurry, who, with his hair standing up in
great disorder all over his head, and a very narrow white cravat
tied loosely round his throat, looked as if he had been knocked up
in the night and had not dressed himself since.
'My dear Nickleby,' said the gentleman, taking off a white hat which
was so full of papers that it would scarcely stick upon his head,
'there's not a moment to lose; I have a cab at the door. Sir
Matthew Pupker takes the chair, and three members of Parliament are
positively coming. I have seen two of them safely out of bed. The
third, who was at Crockford's all night, has just gone home to put a
clean shirt on, and take a bottle or two of soda water, and will
certainly be with us, in time to address the meeting. He is a
little excited by last night, but never mind that; he always speaks
the stronger for it.'
'It seems to promise pretty well,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, whose
deliberate manner was strongly opposed to the vivacity of the other
man of business.
'Pretty well!' echoed Mr Bonney. 'It's the finest idea that was
ever started. "United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet
Baking and Punctual Delivery Company. Capital, five millions, in
five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each." Why the very name
will get the shares up to a premium in ten days.'
'And when they ARE at a premium,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, smiling.
'When they are, you know what to do with them as well as any man
alive, and how to back quietly out at the right time,' said Mr
Bonney, slapping the capitalist familiarly on the shoulder. 'By-
the-bye, what a VERY remarkable man that clerk of yours is.'
'Yes, poor devil!' replied Ralph, drawing on his gloves. 'Though
Newman Noggs kept his horses and hounds once.'
'Ay, ay?' said the other carelessly.
'Yes,' continued Ralph, 'and not many years ago either; but he
squandered his money, invested it anyhow, borrowed at interest, and
in short made first a thorough fool of himself, and then a beggar.
He took to drinking, and had a touch of paralysis, and then came
here to borrow a pound, as in his better days I had--'
'Done business with him,' said Mr Bonney with a meaning look.
'Just so,' replied Ralph; 'I couldn't lend it, you know.'
'Oh, of course not.'
'But as I wanted a clerk just then, to open the door and so forth, I
took him out of charity, and he has remained with me ever since. He
is a little mad, I think,' said Mr Nickleby, calling up a charitable
look, 'but he is useful enough, poor creature--useful enough.'
The kind-hearted gentleman omitted to add that Newman Noggs, being
utterly destitute, served him for rather less than the usual wages
of a boy of thirteen; and likewise failed to mention in his hasty
chronicle, that his eccentric taciturnity rendered him an especially
valuable person in a place where much business was done, of which it
was desirable no mention should be made out of doors. The other
gentleman was plainly impatient to be gone, however, and as they
hurried into the hackney cabriolet immediately afterwards, perhaps
Mr Nickleby forgot to mention circumstances so unimportant.
There was a great bustle in Bishopsgate Street Within, as they drew
up, and (it being a windy day) half-a-dozen men were tacking across
the road under a press of paper, bearing gigantic announcements that
a Public Meeting would be holden at one o'clock precisely, to take
into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament in favour
of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
and Punctual Delivery Company, capital five millions, in five
hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each; which sums were duly set
forth in fat black figures of considerable size. Mr Bonney elbowed
his way briskly upstairs, receiving in his progress many low bows
from the waiters who stood on the landings to show the way; and,
followed by Mr Nickleby, dived into a suite of apartments behind the
great public room: in the second of which was a business-looking
table, and several business-looking people.
'Hear!' cried a gentleman with a double chin, as Mr Bonney presented
himself. 'Chair, gentlemen, chair!'
The new-comers were received with universal approbation, and Mr
Bonney bustled up to the top of the table, took off his hat, ran his
fingers through his hair, and knocked a hackney-coachman's knock on
the table with a little hammer: whereat several gentlemen cried
'Hear!' and nodded slightly to each other, as much as to say what
spirited conduct that was. Just at this moment, a waiter, feverish
with agitation, tore into the room, and throwing the door open with
a crash, shouted 'Sir Matthew Pupker!'
The committee stood up and clapped their hands for joy, and while
they were clapping them, in came Sir Matthew Pupker, attended by two
live members of Parliament, one Irish and one Scotch, all smiling
and bowing, and looking so pleasant that it seemed a perfect marvel
how any man could have the heart to vote against them. Sir Matthew
Pupker especially, who had a little round head with a flaxen wig on
the top of it, fell into such a paroxysm of bows, that the wig
threatened to be jerked off, every instant. When these symptoms had
in some degree subsided, the gentlemen who were on speaking terms
with Sir Matthew Pupker, or the two other members, crowded round
them in three little groups, near one or other of which the
gentlemen who were NOT on speaking terms with Sir Matthew Pupker or
the two other members, stood lingering, and smiling, and rubbing
their hands, in the desperate hope of something turning up which
might bring them into notice. All this time, Sir Matthew Pupker and
the two other members were relating to their separate circles what
the intentions of government were, about taking up the bill; with a
full account of what the government had said in a whisper the last
time they dined with it, and how the government had been observed to
wink when it said so; from which premises they were at no loss to
draw the conclusion, that if the government had one object more at
heart than another, that one object was the welfare and advantage of
the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and
Punctual Delivery Company.
Meanwhile, and pending the arrangement of the proceedings, and a
fair division of the speechifying, the public in the large room were
eyeing, by turns, the empty platform, and the ladies in the Music
Gallery. In these amusements the greater portion of them had been
occupied for a couple of hours before, and as the most agreeable
diversions pall upon the taste on a too protracted enjoyment of
them, the sterner spirits now began to hammer the floor with their
boot-heels, and to express their dissatisfaction by various hoots
and cries. These vocal exertions, emanating from the people who had
been there longest, naturally proceeded from those who were nearest
to the platform and furthest from the policemen in attendance, who
having no great mind to fight their way through the crowd, but
entertaining nevertheless a praiseworthy desire to do something to
quell the disturbance, immediately began to drag forth, by the coat
tails and collars, all the quiet people near the door; at the same
time dealing out various smart and tingling blows with their
truncheons, after the manner of that ingenious actor, Mr Punch:
whose brilliant example, both in the fashion of his weapons and
their use, this branch of the executive occasionally follows.
Several very exciting skirmishes were in progress, when a loud shout
attracted the attention even of the belligerents, and then there
poured on to the platform, from a door at the side, a long line of
gentlemen with their hats off, all looking behind them, and uttering
vociferous cheers; the cause whereof was sufficiently explained when
Sir Matthew Pupker and the two other real members of Parliament came
to the front, amidst deafening shouts, and testified to each other
in dumb motions that they had never seen such a glorious sight as
that, in the whole course of thier public career.
At length, and at last, the assembly left off shouting, but Sir
Matthew Pupker being voted into the chair, they underwent a relapse
which lasted five minutes. This over, Sir Matthew Pupker went on to
say what must be his feelings on that great occasion, and what must
be that occasion in the eyes of the world, and what must be the
intelligence of his fellow-countrymen before him, and what must be
the wealth and respectability of his honourable friends behind him,
and lastly, what must be the importance to the wealth, the
happiness, the comfort, the liberty, the very existence of a free
and great people, of such an Institution as the United Metropolitan
Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
Mr Bonney then presented himself to move the first resolution; and
having run his right hand through his hair, and planted his left, in
an easy manner, in his ribs, he consigned his hat to the care of the
gentleman with the double chin (who acted as a species of bottle-
holder to the orators generally), and said he would read to them the
first resolution--'That this meeting views with alarm and
apprehension, the existing state of the Muffin Trade in this
Metropolis and its neighbourhood; that it considers the Muffin Boys,
as at present constituted, wholly underserving the confidence of the
public; and that it deems the whole Muffin system alike prejudicial
to the health and morals of the people, and subversive of the best
interests of a great commercial and mercantile community.' The
honourable gentleman made a speech which drew tears from the eyes of
the ladies, and awakened the liveliest emotions in every individual
present. He had visited the houses of the poor in the various
districts of London, and had found them destitute of the slightest
vestige of a muffin, which there appeared too much reason to believe
some of these indigent persons did not taste from year's end to
year's end. He had found that among muffin-sellers there existed
drunkenness, debauchery, and profligacy, which he attributed to the
debasing nature of their employment as at present exercised; he had
found the same vices among the poorer class of people who ought to
be muffin consumers; and this he attributed to the despair
engendered by their being placed beyond the reach of that nutritious
article, which drove them to seek a false stimulant in intoxicating
liquors. He would undertake to prove before a committee of the
House of Commons, that there existed a combination to keep up the
price of muffins, and to give the bellmen a monopoly; he would prove
it by bellmen at the bar of that House; and he would also prove,
that these men corresponded with each other by secret words and
signs as 'Snooks,' 'Walker,' 'Ferguson,' 'Is Murphy right?' and many
others. It was this melancholy state of things that the Company
proposed to correct; firstly, by prohibiting, under heavy penalties,
all private muffin trading of every description; secondly, by
themselves supplying the public generally, and the poor at their own
homes, with muffins of first quality at reduced prices. It was with
this object that a bill had been introduced into Parliament by their
patriotic chairman Sir Matthew Pupker; it was this bill that they
had met to support; it was the supporters of this bill who would
confer undying brightness and splendour upon England, under the name
of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
and Punctual Delivery Company; he would add, with a capital of Five
Millions, in five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each.
Mr Ralph Nickleby seconded the resolution, and another gentleman
having moved that it be amended by the insertion of the words 'and
crumpet' after the word 'muffin,' whenever it occurred, it was
carried triumphantly. Only one man in the crowd cried 'No!' and he
was promptly taken into custody, and straightway borne off.
The second resolution, which recognised the expediency of
immediately abolishing 'all muffin (or crumpet) sellers, all traders
in muffins (or crumpets) of whatsoever description, whether male or
female, boys or men, ringing hand-bells or otherwise,' was moved by
a grievous gentleman of semi-clerical appearance, who went at once
into such deep pathetics, that he knocked the first speaker clean
out of the course in no time. You might have heard a pin fall--a
pin! a feather--as he described the cruelties inflicted on muffin
boys by their masters, which he very wisely urged were in themselves
a sufficient reason for the establishment of that inestimable
company. It seemed that the unhappy youths were nightly turned out
into the wet streets at the most inclement periods of the year, to
wander about, in darkness and rain--or it might be hail or snow--for
hours together, without shelter, food, or warmth; and let the public
never forget upon the latter point, that while the muffins were
provided with warm clothing and blankets, the boys were wholly
unprovided for, and left to their own miserable resources. (Shame!)
The honourable gentleman related one case of a muffin boy, who
having been exposed to this inhuman and barbarous system for no less
than five years, at length fell a victim to a cold in the head,
beneath which he gradually sunk until he fell into a perspiration
and recovered; this he could vouch for, on his own authority, but he
had heard (and he had no reason to doubt the fact) of a still more
heart-rending and appalling circumstance. He had heard of the case
of an orphan muffin boy, who, having been run over by a hackney
carriage, had been removed to the hospital, had undergone the
amputation of his leg below the knee, and was now actually pursuing
his occupation on crutches. Fountain of justice, were these things
This was the department of the subject that took the meeting, and
this was the style of speaking to enlist their sympathies. The men
shouted; the ladies wept into their pocket-handkerchiefs till they
were moist, and waved them till they were dry; the excitement was
tremendous; and Mr Nickleby whispered his friend that the shares
were thenceforth at a premium of five-and-twenty per cent.
The resolution was, of course, carried with loud acclamations, every
man holding up both hands in favour of it, as he would in his
enthusiasm have held up both legs also, if he could have
conveniently accomplished it. This done, the draft of the proposed
petition was read at length: and the petition said, as all petitions
DO say, that the petitioners were very humble, and the petitioned
very honourable, and the object very virtuous; therefore (said the
petition) the bill ought to be passed into a law at once, to the
everlasting honour and glory of that most honourable and glorious
Commons of England in Parliament assembled.
Then, the gentleman who had been at Crockford's all night, and who
looked something the worse about the eyes in consequence, came
forward to tell his fellow-countrymen what a speech he meant to make
in favour of that petition whenever it should be presented, and how
desperately he meant to taunt the parliament if they rejected the
bill; and to inform them also, that he regretted his honourable
friends had not inserted a clause rendering the purchase of muffins
and crumpets compulsory upon all classes of the community, which he
--opposing all half-measures, and preferring to go the extreme
animal-- pledged himself to propose and divide upon, in committee.
After announcing this determination, the honourable gentleman grew
jocular; and as patent boots, lemon-coloured kid gloves, and a fur
coat collar, assist jokes materially, there was immense laughter and
much cheering, and moreover such a brilliant display of ladies'
pocket-handkerchiefs, as threw the grievous gentleman quite into the
And when the petition had been read and was about to be adopted,
there came forward the Irish member (who was a young gentleman of
ardent temperament,) with such a speech as only an Irish member can
make, breathing the true soul and spirit of poetry, and poured forth
with such fervour, that it made one warm to look at him; in the
course whereof, he told them how he would demand the extension of
that great boon to his native country; how he would claim for her
equal rights in the muffin laws as in all other laws; and how he yet
hoped to see the day when crumpets should be toasted in her lowly
cabins, and muffin bells should ring in her rich green valleys.
And, after him, came the Scotch member, with various pleasant
allusions to the probable amount of profits, which increased the
good humour that the poetry had awakened; and all the speeches put
together did exactly what they were intended to do, and established
in the hearers' minds that there was no speculation so promising, or
at the same time so praiseworthy, as the United Metropolitan
Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
So, the petition in favour of the bill was agreed upon, and the
meeting adjourned with acclamations, and Mr Nickleby and the other
directors went to the office to lunch, as they did every day at
half-past one o'clock; and to remunerate themselves for which
trouble, (as the company was yet in its infancy,) they only charged
three guineas each man for every such attendance.
Mr Ralph Nickleby receives Sad Tidings of his Brother, but bears up
nobly against the Intelligence communicated to him. The Reader is
informed how he liked Nicholas, who is herein introduced, and how
kindly he proposed to make his Fortune at once
Having rendered his zealous assistance towards dispatching the
lunch, with all that promptitude and energy which are among the most
important qualities that men of business can possess, Mr Ralph
Nickleby took a cordial farewell of his fellow-speculators, and bent
his steps westward in unwonted good humour. As he passed St Paul's
he stepped aside into a doorway to set his watch, and with his hand
on the key and his eye on the cathedral dial, was intent upon so
doing, when a man suddenly stopped before him. It was Newman Noggs.
'Ah! Newman,' said Mr Nickleby, looking up as he pursued his
occupation. 'The letter about the mortgage has come, has it? I
thought it would.'
'Wrong,' replied Newman.
'What! and nobody called respecting it?' inquired Mr Nickleby,
pausing. Noggs shook his head.
'What HAS come, then?' inquired Mr Nickleby.
'I have,' said Newman.
'What else?' demanded the master, sternly.
'This,' said Newman, drawing a sealed letter slowly from his pocket.
'Post-mark, Strand, black wax, black border, woman's hand, C. N. in
'Black wax?' said Mr Nickleby, glancing at the letter. 'I know
something of that hand, too. Newman, I shouldn't be surprised if my
brother were dead.'
'I don't think you would,' said Newman, quietly.
'Why not, sir?' demanded Mr Nickleby.
'You never are surprised,' replied Newman, 'that's all.'
Mr Nickleby snatched the letter from his assistant, and fixing a
cold look upon him, opened, read it, put it in his pocket, and
having now hit the time to a second, began winding up his watch.
'It is as I expected, Newman,' said Mr Nickleby, while he was thus
engaged. 'He IS dead. Dear me! Well, that's sudden thing. I
shouldn't have thought it, really.' With these touching expressions
of sorrow, Mr Nickleby replaced his watch in his fob, and, fitting
on his gloves to a nicety, turned upon his way, and walked slowly
westward with his hands behind him.
'Children alive?' inquired Noggs, stepping up to him.
'Why, that's the very thing,' replied Mr Nickleby, as though his
thoughts were about them at that moment. 'They are both alive.'
'Both!' repeated Newman Noggs, in a low voice.
'And the widow, too,' added Mr Nickleby, 'and all three in London,
confound them; all three here, Newman.'
Newman fell a little behind his master, and his face was curiously
twisted as by a spasm; but whether of paralysis, or grief, or inward
laughter, nobody but himself could possibly explain. The expression
of a man's face is commonly a help to his thoughts, or glossary on
his speech; but the countenance of Newman Noggs, in his ordinary
moods, was a problem which no stretch of ingenuity could solve.
'Go home!' said Mr Nickleby, after they had walked a few paces:
looking round at the clerk as if he were his dog. The words were
scarcely uttered when Newman darted across the road, slunk among the
crowd, and disappeared in an instant.
'Reasonable, certainly!' muttered Mr Nickleby to himself, as he
walked on, 'very reasonable! My brother never did anything for me,
and I never expected it; the breath is no sooner out of his body
than I am to be looked to, as the support of a great hearty woman,
and a grown boy and girl. What are they to me! I never saw them.'
Full of these, and many other reflections of a similar kind, Mr
Nickleby made the best of his way to the Strand, and, referring to
his letter as if to ascertain the number of the house he wanted,
stopped at a private door about half-way down that crowded
A miniature painter lived there, for there was a large gilt frame
screwed upon the street-door, in which were displayed, upon a black
velvet ground, two portraits of naval dress coats with faces looking
out of them, and telescopes attached; one of a young gentleman in a
very vermilion uniform, flourishing a sabre; and one of a literary
character with a high forehead, a pen and ink, six books, and a
curtain. There was, moreover, a touching representation of a young
lady reading a manuscript in an unfathomable forest, and a charming
whole length of a large-headed little boy, sitting on a stool with
his legs fore-shortened to the size of salt-spoons. Besides these
works of art, there were a great many heads of old ladies and
gentlemen smirking at each other out of blue and brown skies, and an
elegantly written card of terms with an embossed border.
Mr Nickleby glanced at these frivolities with great contempt, and
gave a double knock, which, having been thrice repeated, was
answered by a servant girl with an uncommonly dirty face.
'Is Mrs Nickleby at home, girl?' demanded Ralph sharply.
'Her name ain't Nickleby,' said the girl, 'La Creevy, you mean.'
Mr Nickleby looked very indignant at the handmaid on being thus
corrected, and demanded with much asperity what she meant; which she
was about to state, when a female voice proceeding from a
perpendicular staircase at the end of the passage, inquired who was
'Mrs Nickleby,' said Ralph.
'It's the second floor, Hannah,' said the same voice; 'what a stupid
thing you are! Is the second floor at home?'
'Somebody went out just now, but I think it was the attic which had
been a cleaning of himself,' replied the girl.
'You had better see,' said the invisible female. 'Show the
gentleman where the bell is, and tell him he mustn't knock double
knocks for the second floor; I can't allow a knock except when the
bell's broke, and then it must be two single ones.'
'Here,' said Ralph, walking in without more parley, 'I beg your
pardon; is that Mrs La what's-her-name?'
'Creevy--La Creevy,' replied the voice, as a yellow headdress bobbed
over the banisters.
'I'll speak to you a moment, ma'am, with your leave,' said Ralph.
The voice replied that the gentleman was to walk up; but he had
walked up before it spoke, and stepping into the first floor, was
received by the wearer of the yellow head-dress, who had a gown to
correspond, and was of much the same colour herself. Miss La Creevy
was a mincing young lady of fifty, and Miss La Creevy's apartment
was the gilt frame downstairs on a larger scale and something
'Hem!' said Miss La Creevy, coughing delicately behind her black
silk mitten. 'A miniature, I presume. A very strongly-marked
countenance for the purpose, sir. Have you ever sat before?'
'You mistake my purpose, I see, ma'am,' replied Mr Nickleby, in his
usual blunt fashion. 'I have no money to throw away on miniatures,
ma'am, and nobody to give one to (thank God) if I had. Seeing you
on the stairs, I wanted to ask a question of you, about some lodgers
Miss La Creevy coughed once more--this cough was to conceal her
disappointment--and said, 'Oh, indeed!'
'I infer from what you said to your servant, that the floor above
belongs to you, ma'am,' said Mr Nickleby.
Yes it did, Miss La Creevy replied. The upper part of the house
belonged to her, and as she had no necessity for the second-floor
rooms just then, she was in the habit of letting them. Indeed,
there was a lady from the country and her two children in them, at
that present speaking.
'A widow, ma'am?' said Ralph.
'Yes, she is a widow,' replied the lady.
'A POOR widow, ma'am,' said Ralph, with a powerful emphasis on that
little adjective which conveys so much.
'Well, I'm afraid she IS poor,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
'I happen to know that she is, ma'am,' said Ralph. 'Now, what
business has a poor widow in such a house as this, ma'am?'
'Very true,' replied Miss La Creevy, not at all displeased with this
implied compliment to the apartments. 'Exceedingly true.'
'I know her circumstances intimately, ma'am,' said Ralph; 'in fact,
I am a relation of the family; and I should recommend you not to
keep them here, ma'am.'
'I should hope, if there was any incompatibility to meet the
pecuniary obligations,' said Miss La Creevy with another cough,
'that the lady's family would--'
'No they wouldn't, ma'am,' interrupted Ralph, hastily. 'Don't think
'If I am to understand that,' said Miss La Creevy, 'the case wears a
very different appearance.'
'You may understand it then, ma'am,' said Ralph, 'and make your
arrangements accordingly. I am the family, ma'am--at least, I
believe I am the only relation they have, and I think it right that
you should know I can't support them in their extravagances. How
long have they taken these lodgings for?'
'Only from week to week,' replied Miss La Creevy. 'Mrs Nickleby
paid the first week in advance.'
'Then you had better get them out at the end of it,' said Ralph.
'They can't do better than go back to the country, ma'am; they are
in everybody's way here.'
'Certainly,' said Miss La Creevy, rubbing her hands, 'if Mrs
Nickleby took the apartments without the means of paying for them,
it was very unbecoming a lady.'
'Of course it was, ma'am,' said Ralph.
'And naturally,' continued Miss La Creevy, 'I who am, AT PRESENT--
hem--an unprotected female, cannot afford to lose by the apartments.'
'Of course you can't, ma'am,' replied Ralph.
'Though at the same time,' added Miss La Creevy, who was plainly
wavering between her good-nature and her interest, 'I have nothing
whatever to say against the lady, who is extremely pleasant and
affable, though, poor thing, she seems terribly low in her spirits;
nor against the young people either, for nicer, or better-behaved
young people cannot be.'
'Very well, ma'am,' said Ralph, turning to the door, for these
encomiums on poverty irritated him; 'I have done my duty, and
perhaps more than I ought: of course nobody will thank me for saying
what I have.'
'I am sure I am very much obliged to you at least, sir,' said Miss
La Creevy in a gracious manner. 'Would you do me the favour to look
at a few specimens of my portrait painting?'
'You're very good, ma'am,' said Mr Nickleby, making off with great
speed; 'but as I have a visit to pay upstairs, and my time is
precious, I really can't.'
'At any other time when you are passing, I shall be most happy,'
said Miss La Creevy. 'Perhaps you will have the kindness to take a
card of terms with you? Thank you--good-morning!'
'Good-morning, ma'am,' said Ralph, shutting the door abruptly after
him to prevent any further conversation. 'Now for my sister-in-law.
Climbing up another perpendicular flight, composed with great
mechanical ingenuity of nothing but corner stairs, Mr Ralph Nickleby
stopped to take breath on the landing, when he was overtaken by the
handmaid, whom the politeness of Miss La Creevy had dispatched to
announce him, and who had apparently been making a variety of
unsuccessful attempts, since their last interview, to wipe her dirty
face clean, upon an apron much dirtier.
'What name?' said the girl.
'Nickleby,' replied Ralph.
'Oh! Mrs Nickleby,' said the girl, throwing open the door, 'here's
A lady in deep mourning rose as Mr Ralph Nickleby entered, but
appeared incapable of advancing to meet him, and leant upon the arm
of a slight but very beautiful girl of about seventeen, who had been
sitting by her. A youth, who appeared a year or two older, stepped
forward and saluted Ralph as his uncle.
'Oh,' growled Ralph, with an ill-favoured frown, 'you are Nicholas,
'That is my name, sir,' replied the youth.
'Put my hat down,' said Ralph, imperiously. 'Well, ma'am, how do
you do? You must bear up against sorrow, ma'am; I always do.'
'Mine was no common loss!' said Mrs Nickleby, applying her
handkerchief to her eyes.
'It was no UNcommon loss, ma'am,' returned Ralph, as he coolly
unbuttoned his spencer. 'Husbands die every day, ma'am, and wives
'And brothers also, sir,' said Nicholas, with a glance of indignation.
'Yes, sir, and puppies, and pug-dogs likewise,' replied his uncle,
taking a chair. 'You didn't mention in your letter what my
brother's complaint was, ma'am.'
'The doctors could attribute it to no particular disease,' said Mrs
Nickleby; shedding tears. 'We have too much reason to fear that he
died of a broken heart.'
'Pooh!' said Ralph, 'there's no such thing. I can understand a
man's dying of a broken neck, or suffering from a broken arm, or a
broken head, or a broken leg, or a broken nose; but a broken heart!
--nonsense, it's the cant of the day. If a man can't pay his debts,
he dies of a broken heart, and his widow's a martyr.'
'Some people, I believe, have no hearts to break,' observed
'How old is this boy, for God's sake?' inquired Ralph, wheeling back
his chair, and surveying his nephew from head to foot with intense
'Nicholas is very nearly nineteen,' replied the widow.
'Nineteen, eh!' said Ralph; 'and what do you mean to do for your
'Not to live upon my mother,' replied Nicholas, his heart swelling
as he spoke.
'You'd have little enough to live upon, if you did,' retorted the
uncle, eyeing him contemptuously.
'Whatever it be,' said Nicholas, flushed with anger, 'I shall not
look to you to make it more.'
'Nicholas, my dear, recollect yourself,' remonstrated Mrs Nickleby.
'Dear Nicholas, pray,' urged the young lady.
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Ralph. 'Upon my word! Fine
beginnings, Mrs Nickleby--fine beginnings!'
Mrs Nickleby made no other reply than entreating Nicholas by a
gesture to keep silent; and the uncle and nephew looked at each
other for some seconds without speaking. The face of the old man
was stern, hard-featured, and forbidding; that of the young one,
open, handsome, and ingenuous. The old man's eye was keen with the
twinklings of avarice and cunning; the young man's bright with the
light of intelligence and spirit. His figure was somewhat slight,
but manly and well formed; and, apart from all the grace of youth
and comeliness, there was an emanation from the warm young heart in
his look and bearing which kept the old man down.
However striking such a contrast as this may be to lookers-on, none
ever feel it with half the keenness or acuteness of perfection with
which it strikes to the very soul of him whose inferiority it marks.
It galled Ralph to the heart's core, and he hated Nicholas from that
The mutual inspection was at length brought to a close by Ralph
withdrawing his eyes, with a great show of disdain, and calling
Nicholas 'a boy.' This word is much used as a term of reproach by
elderly gentlemen towards their juniors: probably with the view of
deluding society into the belief that if they could be young again,
they wouldn't on any account.
'Well, ma'am,' said Ralph, impatiently, 'the creditors have
administered, you tell me, and there's nothing left for you?'
'Nothing,' replied Mrs Nickleby.
'And you spent what little money you had, in coming all the way to
London, to see what I could do for you?' pursued Ralph.
'I hoped,' faltered Mrs Nickleby, 'that you might have an
opportunity of doing something for your brother's children. It was
his dying wish that I should appeal to you in their behalf.'
'I don't know how it is,' muttered Ralph, walking up and down the
room, 'but whenever a man dies without any property of his own, he
always seems to think he has a right to dispose of other people's.
What is your daughter fit for, ma'am?'
'Kate has been well educated,' sobbed Mrs Nickleby. 'Tell your
uncle, my dear, how far you went in French and extras.'
The poor girl was about to murmur something, when her uncle stopped
her, very unceremoniously.
'We must try and get you apprenticed at some boarding-school,' said
Ralph. 'You have not been brought up too delicately for that, I
'No, indeed, uncle,' replied the weeping girl. 'I will try to do
anything that will gain me a home and bread.'
'Well, well,' said Ralph, a little softened, either by his niece's
beauty or her distress (stretch a point, and say the latter). 'You
must try it, and if the life is too hard, perhaps dressmaking or
tambour-work will come lighter. Have YOU ever done anything, sir?'
(turning to his nephew.)
'No,' replied Nicholas, bluntly.
'No, I thought not!' said Ralph. 'This is the way my brother
brought up his children, ma'am.'
'Nicholas has not long completed such education as his poor father
could give him,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby, 'and he was thinking of--'
'Of making something of him someday,' said Ralph. 'The old story;
always thinking, and never doing. If my brother had been a man of
activity and prudence, he might have left you a rich woman, ma'am:
and if he had turned his son into the world, as my father turned me,
when I wasn't as old as that boy by a year and a half, he would have
been in a situation to help you, instead of being a burden upon you,
and increasing your distress. My brother was a thoughtless,
inconsiderate man, Mrs Nickleby, and nobody, I am sure, can have
better reason to feel that, than you.'
This appeal set the widow upon thinking that perhaps she might have
made a more successful venture with her one thousand pounds, and
then she began to reflect what a comfortable sum it would have been
just then; which dismal thoughts made her tears flow faster, and in
the excess of these griefs she (being a well-meaning woman enough,
but weak withal) fell first to deploring her hard fate, and then to
remarking, with many sobs, that to be sure she had been a slave to
poor Nicholas, and had often told him she might have married better
(as indeed she had, very often), and that she never knew in his
lifetime how the money went, but that if he had confided in her they
might all have been better off that day; with other bitter
recollections common to most married ladies, either during their
coverture, or afterwards, or at both periods. Mrs Nickleby
concluded by lamenting that the dear departed had never deigned to
profit by her advice, save on one occasion; which was a strictly
veracious statement, inasmuch as he had only acted upon it once, and
had ruined himself in consequence.
Mr Ralph Nickleby heard all this with a half-smile; and when the
widow had finished, quietly took up the subject where it had been
left before the above outbreak.
'Are you willing to work, sir?' he inquired, frowning on his nephew.
'Of course I am,' replied Nicholas haughtily.
'Then see here, sir,' said his uncle. 'This caught my eye this
morning, and you may thank your stars for it.'
With this exordium, Mr Ralph Nickleby took a newspaper from his
pocket, and after unfolding it, and looking for a short time among
the advertisements, read as follows:
'"EDUCATION.--At Mr Wackford Squeers's Academy, Dotheboys Hall, at
the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire,
Youth are boarded, clothed, booked, furnished with pocket-money,
provided with all necessaries, instructed in all languages living
and dead, mathematics, orthography, geometry, astronomy,
trigonometry, the use of the globes, algebra, single stick (if
required), writing, arithmetic, fortification, and every other
branch of classical literature. Terms, twenty guineas per annum.
No extras, no vacations, and diet unparalleled. Mr Squeers is in
town, and attends daily, from one till four, at the Saracen's Head,
Snow Hill. N.B. An able assistant wanted. Annual salary 5 pounds.
A Master of Arts would be preferred."
'There!' said Ralph, folding the paper again. 'Let him get that
situation, and his fortune is made.'
'But he is not a Master of Arts,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'That,' replied Ralph, 'that, I think, can be got over.'
'But the salary is so small, and it is such a long way off, uncle!'
'Hush, Kate my dear,' interposed Mrs Nickleby; 'your uncle must know
'I say,' repeated Ralph, tartly, 'let him get that situation, and
his fortune is made. If he don't like that, let him get one for
himself. Without friends, money, recommendation, or knowledge of
business of any kind, let him find honest employment in London,
which will keep him in shoe leather, and I'll give him a thousand
pounds. At least,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, checking himself, 'I
would if I had it.'
'Poor fellow!' said the young lady. 'Oh! uncle, must we be
separated so soon!'
'Don't tease your uncle with questions when he is thinking only for
our good, my love,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Nicholas, my dear, I wish
you would say something.'
'Yes, mother, yes,' said Nicholas, who had hitherto remained silent
and absorbed in thought. 'If I am fortunate enough to be appointed
to this post, sir, for which I am so imperfectly qualified, what
will become of those I leave behind?'
'Your mother and sister, sir,' replied Ralph, 'will be provided for,
in that case (not otherwise), by me, and placed in some sphere of
life in which they will be able to be independent. That will be my
immediate care; they will not remain as they are, one week after
your departure, I will undertake.'
'Then,' said Nicholas, starting gaily up, and wringing his uncle's
hand, 'I am ready to do anything you wish me. Let us try our
fortune with Mr Squeers at once; he can but refuse.'
'He won't do that,' said Ralph. 'He will be glad to have you on my
recommendation. Make yourself of use to him, and you'll rise to be
a partner in the establishment in no time. Bless me, only think! if
he were to die, why your fortune's made at once.'
'To be sure, I see it all,' said poor Nicholas, delighted with a
thousand visionary ideas, that his good spirits and his inexperience
were conjuring up before him. 'Or suppose some young nobleman who
is being educated at the Hall, were to take a fancy to me, and get
his father to appoint me his travelling tutor when he left, and when
we come back from the continent, procured me some handsome appointment.
'Ah, to be sure!' sneered Ralph.
'And who knows, but when he came to see me when I was settled (as he
would of course), he might fall in love with Kate, who would be
keeping my house, and--and marry her, eh! uncle? Who knows?'
'Who, indeed!' snarled Ralph.
'How happy we should be!' cried Nicholas with enthusiasm. 'The pain
of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again. Kate will be a
beautiful woman, and I so proud to hear them say so, and mother so
happy to be with us once again, and all these sad times forgotten,
and--' The picture was too bright a one to bear, and Nicholas,
fairly overpowered by it, smiled faintly, and burst into tears.
This simple family, born and bred in retirement, and wholly
unacquainted with what is called the world--a conventional phrase
which, being interpreted, often signifieth all the rascals in it--
mingled their tears together at the thought of their first
separation; and, this first gush of feeling over, were proceeding to
dilate with all the buoyancy of untried hope on the bright prospects
before them, when Mr Ralph Nickleby suggested, that if they lost
time, some more fortunate candidate might deprive Nicholas of the
stepping-stone to fortune which the advertisement pointed out, and
so undermine all their air-built castles. This timely reminder
effectually stopped the conversation. Nicholas, having carefully
copied the address of Mr Squeers, the uncle and nephew issued forth
together in quest of that accomplished gentleman; Nicholas firmly
persuading himself that he had done his relative great injustice in
disliking him at first sight; and Mrs Nickleby being at some pains
to inform her daughter that she was sure he was a much more kindly
disposed person than he seemed; which, Miss Nickleby dutifully
remarked, he might very easily be.
To tell the truth, the good lady's opinion had been not a little
influenced by her brother-in-law's appeal to her better
understanding, and his implied compliment to her high deserts; and
although she had dearly loved her husband, and still doted on her
children, he had struck so successfully on one of those little
jarring chords in the human heart (Ralph was well acquainted with
its worst weaknesses, though he knew nothing of its best), that she
had already begun seriously to consider herself the amiable and
suffering victim of her late husband's imprudence.
Nicholas and his Uncle (to secure the Fortune without loss of time)
wait upon Mr Wackford Squeers, the Yorkshire Schoolmaster
Snow Hill! What kind of place can the quiet townspeople who see the
words emblazoned, in all the legibility of gilt letters and dark
shading, on the north-country coaches, take Snow Hill to be? All
people have some undefined and shadowy notion of a place whose name
is frequently before their eyes, or often in their ears. What a
vast number of random ideas there must be perpetually floating
about, regarding this same Snow Hill. The name is such a good one.
Snow Hill--Snow Hill too, coupled with a Saracen's Head: picturing
to us by a double association of ideas, something stern and rugged!
A bleak desolate tract of country, open to piercing blasts and
fierce wintry storms--a dark, cold, gloomy heath, lonely by day, and
scarcely to be thought of by honest folks at night--a place which
solitary wayfarers shun, and where desperate robbers congregate;--
this, or something like this, should be the prevalent notion of Snow
Hill, in those remote and rustic parts, through which the Saracen's
Head, like some grim apparition, rushes each day and night with
mysterious and ghost-like punctuality; holding its swift and
headlong course in all weathers, and seeming to bid defiance to the
very elements themselves.
The reality is rather different, but by no means to be despised
notwithstanding. There, at the very core of London, in the heart of
its business and animation, in the midst of a whirl of noise and
motion: stemming as it were the giant currents of life that flow
ceaselessly on from different quarters, and meet beneath its walls:
stands Newgate; and in that crowded street on which it frowns so
darkly--within a few feet of the squalid tottering houses--upon the
very spot on which the vendors of soup and fish and damaged fruit
are now plying their trades--scores of human beings, amidst a roar
of sounds to which even the tumult of a great city is as nothing,
four, six, or eight strong men at a time, have been hurried
violently and swiftly from the world, when the scene has been
rendered frightful with excess of human life; when curious eyes have
glared from casement and house-top, and wall and pillar; and when,
in the mass of white and upturned faces, the dying wretch, in his
all-comprehensive look of agony, has met not one--not one--that bore
the impress of pity or compassion.
Near to the jail, and by consequence near to Smithfield also, and
the Compter, and the bustle and noise of the city; and just on that
particular part of Snow Hill where omnibus horses going eastward
seriously think of falling down on purpose, and where horses in
hackney cabriolets going westward not unfrequently fall by accident,
is the coach-yard of the Saracen's Head Inn; its portal guarded by
two Saracens' heads and shoulders, which it was once the pride and
glory of the choice spirits of this metropolis to pull down at
night, but which have for some time remained in undisturbed
tranquillity; possibly because this species of humour is now
confined to St James's parish, where door knockers are preferred as
being more portable, and bell-wires esteemed as convenient
toothpicks. Whether this be the reason or not, there they are,
frowning upon you from each side of the gateway. The inn itself
garnished with another Saracen's Head, frowns upon you from the top
of the yard; while from the door of the hind boot of all the red
coaches that are standing therein, there glares a small Saracen's
Head, with a twin expression to the large Saracens' Heads below, so
that the general appearance of the pile is decidedly of the
When you walk up this yard, you will see the booking-office on your
left, and the tower of St Sepulchre's church, darting abruptly up
into the sky, on your right, and a gallery of bedrooms on both
sides. Just before you, you will observe a long window with the
words 'coffee-room' legibly painted above it; and looking out of
that window, you would have seen in addition, if you had gone at the
right time, Mr Wackford Squeers with his hands in his pockets.
Mr Squeers's appearance was not prepossessing. He had but one eye,
and the popular prejudice runs in favour of two. The eye he had,
was unquestionably useful, but decidedly not ornamental: being of a
greenish grey, and in shape resembling the fan-light of a street
door. The blank side of his face was much wrinkled and puckered up,
which gave him a very sinister appearance, especially when he
smiled, at which times his expression bordered closely on the
villainous. His hair was very flat and shiny, save at the ends,
where it was brushed stiffly up from a low protruding forehead,
which assorted well with his harsh voice and coarse manner. He was
about two or three and fifty, and a trifle below the middle size; he
wore a white neckerchief with long ends, and a suit of scholastic
black; but his coat sleeves being a great deal too long, and his
trousers a great deal too short, he appeared ill at ease in his
clothes, and as if he were in a perpetual state of astonishment at
finding himself so respectable.
Mr Squeers was standing in a box by one of the coffee-room fire-
places, fitted with one such table as is usually seen in coffee-
rooms, and two of extraordinary shapes and dimensions made to suit
the angles of the partition. In a corner of the seat, was a very
small deal trunk, tied round with a scanty piece of cord; and on the
trunk was perched--his lace-up half-boots and corduroy trousers
dangling in the air--a diminutive boy, with his shoulders drawn up
to his ears, and his hands planted on his knees, who glanced timidly
at the schoolmaster, from time to time, with evident dread and
'Half-past three,' muttered Mr Squeers, turning from the window, and
looking sulkily at the coffee-room clock. 'There will be nobody
Much vexed by this reflection, Mr Squeers looked at the little boy
to see whether he was doing anything he could beat him for. As he
happened not to be doing anything at all, he merely boxed his ears,
and told him not to do it again.
'At Midsummer,' muttered Mr Squeers, resuming his complaint, 'I took
down ten boys; ten twenties is two hundred pound. I go back at
eight o'clock tomorrow morning, and have got only three--three
oughts is an ought--three twos is six--sixty pound. What's come of
all the boys? what's parents got in their heads? what does it all
Here the little boy on the top of the trunk gave a violent sneeze.
'Halloa, sir!' growled the schoolmaster, turning round. 'What's
'Nothing, please sir,' replied the little boy.
'Nothing, sir!' exclaimed Mr Squeers.
'Please sir, I sneezed,' rejoined the boy, trembling till the little
trunk shook under him.
'Oh! sneezed, did you?' retorted Mr Squeers. 'Then what did you say
"nothing" for, sir?'
In default of a better answer to this question, the little boy
screwed a couple of knuckles into each of his eyes and began to cry,
wherefore Mr Squeers knocked him off the trunk with a blow on one
side of the face, and knocked him on again with a blow on the other.
'Wait till I get you down into Yorkshire, my young gentleman,' said
Mr Squeers, 'and then I'll give you the rest. Will you hold that
'Ye--ye--yes,' sobbed the little boy, rubbing his face very hard
with the Beggar's Petition in printed calico.
'Then do so at once, sir,' said Squeers. 'Do you hear?'
As this admonition was accompanied with a threatening gesture, and
uttered with a savage aspect, the little boy rubbed his face harder,
as if to keep the tears back; and, beyond alternately sniffing and
choking, gave no further vent to his emotions.
'Mr Squeers,' said the waiter, looking in at this juncture; 'here's
a gentleman asking for you at the bar.'
'Show the gentleman in, Richard,' replied Mr Squeers, in a soft
voice. 'Put your handkerchief in your pocket, you little scoundrel,
or I'll murder you when the gentleman goes.'
The schoolmaster had scarcely uttered these words in a fierce
whisper, when the stranger entered. Affecting not to see him, Mr
Squeers feigned to be intent upon mending a pen, and offering
benevolent advice to his youthful pupil.
'My dear child,' said Mr Squeers, 'all people have their trials.
This early trial of yours that is fit to make your little heart
burst, and your very eyes come out of your head with crying, what is
it? Nothing; less than nothing. You are leaving your friends, but
you will have a father in me, my dear, and a mother in Mrs Squeers.
At the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in
Yorkshire, where youth are boarded, clothed, booked, washed,
furnished with pocket-money, provided with all necessaries--'
'It IS the gentleman,' observed the stranger, stopping the
schoolmaster in the rehearsal of his advertisement. 'Mr Squeers, I
'The same, sir,' said Mr Squeers, with an assumption of extreme
'The gentleman,' said the stranger, 'that advertised in the Times
'--Morning Post, Chronicle, Herald, and Advertiser, regarding the
Academy called Dotheboys Hall at the delightful village of
Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire,' added Mr Squeers. 'You
come on business, sir. I see by my young friends. How do you do,
my little gentleman? and how do you do, sir?' With this salutation
Mr Squeers patted the heads of two hollow-eyed, small-boned little
boys, whom the applicant had brought with him, and waited for
'I am in the oil and colour way. My name is Snawley, sir,' said the
Squeers inclined his head as much as to say, 'And a remarkably
pretty name, too.'
The stranger continued. 'I have been thinking, Mr Squeers, of
placing my two boys at your school.'
'It is not for me to say so, sir,' replied Mr Squeers, 'but I don't
think you could possibly do a better thing.'
'Hem!' said the other. 'Twenty pounds per annewum, I believe, Mr
'Guineas,' rejoined the schoolmaster, with a persuasive smile.
'Pounds for two, I think, Mr Squeers,' said Mr Snawley, solemnly.
'I don't think it could be done, sir,' replied Squeers, as if he had
never considered the proposition before. 'Let me see; four fives is
twenty, double that, and deduct the--well, a pound either way shall
not stand betwixt us. You must recommend me to your connection,
sir, and make it up that way.'
'They are not great eaters,' said Mr Snawley.
'Oh! that doesn't matter at all,' replied Squeers. 'We don't
consider the boys' appetites at our establishment.' This was
strictly true; they did not.
'Every wholesome luxury, sir, that Yorkshire can afford,' continued
Squeers; 'every beautiful moral that Mrs Squeers can instil; every--
in short, every comfort of a home that a boy could wish for, will be
theirs, Mr Snawley.'
'I should wish their morals to be particularly attended to,' said Mr
'I am glad of that, sir,' replied the schoolmaster, drawing himself
up. 'They have come to the right shop for morals, sir.'
'You are a moral man yourself,' said Mr Snawley.
'I rather believe I am, sir,' replied Squeers.
'I have the satisfaction to know you are, sir,' said Mr Snawley. 'I
asked one of your references, and he said you were pious.'
'Well, sir, I hope I am a little in that line,' replied Squeers.
'I hope I am also,' rejoined the other. 'Could I say a few words
with you in the next box?'
'By all means,' rejoined Squeers with a grin. 'My dears, will you
speak to your new playfellow a minute or two? That is one of my
boys, sir. Belling his name is,--a Taunton boy that, sir.'
'Is he, indeed?' rejoined Mr Snawley, looking at the poor little
urchin as if he were some extraordinary natural curiosity.
'He goes down with me tomorrow, sir,' said Squeers. 'That's his
luggage that he is a sitting upon now. Each boy is required to
bring, sir, two suits of clothes, six shirts, six pair of stockings,
two nightcaps, two pocket-handkerchiefs, two pair of shoes, two
hats, and a razor.'
'A razor!' exclaimed Mr Snawley, as they walked into the next box.
'To shave with,' replied Squeers, in a slow and measured tone.
There was not much in these three words, but there must have been
something in the manner in which they were said, to attract
attention; for the schoolmaster and his companion looked steadily at
each other for a few seconds, and then exchanged a very meaning
smile. Snawley was a sleek, flat-nosed man, clad in sombre
garments, and long black gaiters, and bearing in his countenance an
expression of much mortification and sanctity; so, his smiling
without any obvious reason was the more remarkable.
'Up to what age do you keep boys at your school then?' he asked at
'Just as long as their friends make the quarterly payments to my
agent in town, or until such time as they run away,' replied
Squeers. 'Let us understand each other; I see we may safely do so.
What are these boys;--natural children?'
'No,' rejoined Snawley, meeting the gaze of the schoolmaster's one
eye. 'They ain't.'
'I thought they might be,' said Squeers, coolly. 'We have a good
many of them; that boy's one.'
'Him in the next box?' said Snawley.
Squeers nodded in the affirmative; his companion took another peep
at the little boy on the trunk, and, turning round again, looked as
if he were quite disappointed to see him so much like other boys,
and said he should hardly have thought it.
'He is,' cried Squeers. 'But about these boys of yours; you wanted
to speak to me?'
'Yes,' replied Snawley. 'The fact is, I am not their father, Mr
Squeers. I'm only their father-in-law.'
'Oh! Is that it?' said the schoolmaster. 'That explains it at
once. I was wondering what the devil you were going to send them to
Yorkshire for. Ha! ha! Oh, I understand now.'
'You see I have married the mother,' pursued Snawley; 'it's
expensive keeping boys at home, and as she has a little money in her
own right, I am afraid (women are so very foolish, Mr Squeers) that
she might be led to squander it on them, which would be their ruin,
'I see,' returned Squeers, throwing himself back in his chair, and
waving his hand.
'And this,' resumed Snawley, 'has made me anxious to put them to
some school a good distance off, where there are no holidays--none
of those ill-judged coming home twice a year that unsettle
children's minds so--and where they may rough it a little--you
'The payments regular, and no questions asked,' said Squeers,
nodding his head.
'That's it, exactly,' rejoined the other. 'Morals strictly attended
'Strictly,' said Squeers.
'Not too much writing home allowed, I suppose?' said the father-in-
'None, except a circular at Christmas, to say they never were so
happy, and hope they may never be sent for,' rejoined Squeers.
'Nothing could be better,' said the father-in-law, rubbing his
'Then, as we understand each other,' said Squeers, 'will you allow
me to ask you whether you consider me a highly virtuous, exemplary,
and well-conducted man in private life; and whether, as a person
whose business it is to take charge of youth, you place the
strongest confidence in my unimpeachable integrity, liberality,
religious principles, and ability?'
'Certainly I do,' replied the father-in-law, reciprocating the
'Perhaps you won't object to say that, if I make you a reference?'
'Not the least in the world.'
'That's your sort!' said Squeers, taking up a pen; 'this is doing
business, and that's what I like.'
Having entered Mr Snawley's address, the schoolmaster had next to
perform the still more agreeable office of entering the receipt of
the first quarter's payment in advance, which he had scarcely
completed, when another voice was heard inquiring for Mr Squeers.
'Here he is,' replied the schoolmaster; 'what is it?'
'Only a matter of business, sir,' said Ralph Nickleby, presenting
himself, closely followed by Nicholas. 'There was an advertisement
of yours in the papers this morning?'
'There was, sir. This way, if you please,' said Squeers, who had by
this time got back to the box by the fire-place. 'Won't you be
'Why, I think I will,' replied Ralph, suiting the action to the
word, and placing his hat on the table before him. 'This is my
nephew, sir, Mr Nicholas Nickleby.'
'How do you do, sir?' said Squeers.
Nicholas bowed, said he was very well, and seemed very much
astonished at the outward appearance of the proprietor of Dotheboys
Hall: as indeed he was.
'Perhaps you recollect me?' said Ralph, looking narrowly at the
'You paid me a small account at each of my half-yearly visits to
town, for some years, I think, sir,' replied Squeers.
'I did,' rejoined Ralph.
'For the parents of a boy named Dorker, who unfortunately--'
'--unfortunately died at Dotheboys Hall,' said Ralph, finishing the
'I remember very well, sir,' rejoined Squeers. 'Ah! Mrs Squeers,
sir, was as partial to that lad as if he had been her own; the
attention, sir, that was bestowed upon that boy in his illness! Dry
toast and warm tea offered him every night and morning when he
couldn't swallow anything--a candle in his bedroom on the very night
he died--the best dictionary sent up for him to lay his head upon--I
don't regret it though. It is a pleasant thing to reflect that one
did one's duty by him.'
Ralph smiled, as if he meant anything but smiling, and looked round
at the strangers present.
'These are only some pupils of mine,' said Wackford Squeers,
pointing to the little boy on the trunk and the two little boys on
the floor, who had been staring at each other without uttering a
word, and writhing their bodies into most remarkable contortions,
according to the custom of little boys when they first become
acquainted. 'This gentleman, sir, is a parent who is kind enough to
compliment me upon the course of education adopted at Dotheboys
Hall, which is situated, sir, at the delightful village of
Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, where youth are boarded,
clothed, booked, washed, furnished with pocket-money--'
'Yes, we know all about that, sir,' interrupted Ralph, testily.
'It's in the advertisement.'
'You are very right, sir; it IS in the advertisement,' replied
'And in the matter of fact besides,' interrupted Mr Snawley. 'I
feel bound to assure you, sir, and I am proud to have this
opportunity OF assuring you, that I consider Mr Squeers a gentleman
highly virtuous, exemplary, well conducted, and--'
'I make no doubt of it, sir,' interrupted Ralph, checking the
torrent of recommendation; 'no doubt of it at all. Suppose we come
'With all my heart, sir,' rejoined Squeers. '"Never postpone
business," is the very first lesson we instil into our commercial
pupils. Master Belling, my dear, always remember that; do you
'Yes, sir,' repeated Master Belling.
'He recollects what it is, does he?' said Ralph.
'Tell the gentleman,' said Squeers.
'"Never,"' repeated Master Belling.
'Very good,' said Squeers; 'go on.'
'Never,' repeated Master Belling again.
'Very good indeed,' said Squeers. 'Yes.'
'P,' suggested Nicholas, good-naturedly.
'Perform--business!' said Master Belling. 'Never--perform--
'Very well, sir,' said Squeers, darting a withering look at the
culprit. 'You and I will perform a little business on our private
'And just now,' said Ralph, 'we had better transact our own,
'If you please,' said Squeers.
'Well,' resumed Ralph, 'it's brief enough; soon broached; and I hope
easily concluded. You have advertised for an able assistant, sir?'
'Precisely so,' said Squeers.
'And you really want one?'
'Certainly,' answered Squeers.
'Here he is!' said Ralph. 'My nephew Nicholas, hot from school,
with everything he learnt there, fermenting in his head, and nothing
fermenting in his pocket, is just the man you want.'
'I am afraid,' said Squeers, perplexed with such an application from
a youth of Nicholas's figure, 'I am afraid the young man won't suit
'Yes, he will,' said Ralph; 'I know better. Don't be cast down,
sir; you will be teaching all the young noblemen in Dotheboys Hall
in less than a week's time, unless this gentleman is more obstinate
than I take him to be.'
'I fear, sir,' said Nicholas, addressing Mr Squeers, 'that you
object to my youth, and to my not being a Master of Arts?'
'The absence of a college degree IS an objection,' replied Squeers,
looking as grave as he could, and considerably puzzled, no less by
the contrast between the simplicity of the nephew and the worldly
manner of the uncle, than by the incomprehensible allusion to the
young noblemen under his tuition.
'Look here, sir,' said Ralph; 'I'll put this matter in its true
light in two seconds.'
'If you'll have the goodness,' rejoined Squeers.
'This is a boy, or a youth, or a lad, or a young man, or a
hobbledehoy, or whatever you like to call him, of eighteen or
nineteen, or thereabouts,' said Ralph.
'That I see,' observed the schoolmaster.
'So do I,' said Mr Snawley, thinking it as well to back his new
'His father is dead, he is wholly ignorant of the world, has no
resources whatever, and wants something to do,' said Ralph. 'I
recommend him to this splendid establishment of yours, as an opening
which will lead him to fortune if he turns it to proper account. Do