Charles Dickens.

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University of California • Berkeley


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When the author commenced this Work, he proposed to himself three

First. To establish a periodical, which should enable him to present, under
one general head, and not as separate and distinct publications, certain fictions
which he had it in contemplation to write.

Secondly. To produce these Tales in weekly numbers ; hoping that to
shorten the intervals of communication between himself and his readers, would
be to knit more closely the pleasant relations they had held, for Forty Months.

Thirdly. In the execution of this weekly task, to have as much regard as its
exigencies would permit, to each story as a whole, and to the possibility of its
publication at some distant day, apart from the machinery in which it had its

The characters of Master Humphrey and his three friends, and the little
fancy of the clock, were the result of these considerations. When he sought
to interest his readers in those who talked, and read, and listened, he revived
Mr. Pickwick and his humble friends ; not with any intention of reopening an
exhausted and abandoned mine, but to connect them in the thoughts of those
whose favourites they had been, with the tranquil enjoyments of Master

It was never the author's intention to make the Members of Master Hum-
phrey ''s Clock, active agents in the stories they are supposed to relate.
Having brought himself in the commencement of his undertaking to feel an
interest in these quiet creatures, and to imagine them in their old chamber of
meeting, eager listeners to all he had to tell, the author hoped — as authors
will — to succeed in awakening some of his own emotions in the bosoms of his
readers. Imagining Master Humphrey in his chimney-corner, resuming night
after night, the narrative, — say, of the Old Curiosity Shop — picturing to him-
self the various sensations of his hearers — thinking how Jack Redburn might
incline to poor Kit, and perhaps lean too favourably even towards the lighter
vices of Mr. Richard Swiveller — how the deaf gentleman would have his
favorite, and Mr. Miles his — and how all these gentle spirits would trace some
faint reflection of their past lives in the varying current of the tale — he has
insensibly fallen intoithe belief that they are present to his readers as they are
to him, and has forgotten that like one whose vision is disordered he may be
conjuring up bright figures where there is nothing but empty space.


The short papers which are to be found at the beginning of this volume
were indispensable to the form of publication and the limited extent of each
number, as no story of lengthened interest could be begun until " The Clock"
was wound up and fairly going.

The author would fain hope that there are not many who would disturb
Master Humphrey and his friends in their seclusion ; who would have them
forego their present enjoyments, to exchange those confidences with each
other, the absence of which is the foundation of their mutual trust. For when
their occupation is gone, when their tales are ended and but their personal
histories remain, the chimney-corner will be growing cold, and the clock will
be about to stop for ever.

One other word in his own person, and he returns to the more grateful task
of speaking for those imaginary people whose little world lies within these

It may be some consolation to the well-disposed ladies or gentlemen who,
in the interval between the conclusion of his last work and the commence-
ment of this, originated a report that he had gone raving mad, to know that
it spread as rapidly as could be desired, and was made the subject of consider-
able dispute ; not as regarded the fact, for that was as thoroughly established
as the duel between Sir Peter Teazle and Charles Surface in the School for
Scandal ; but with reference to the unfortunate lunatic's place of confinement :
one party insisting positively on Bedlam, another inclining favourably towards
Saint Luke*'s, and a third swearing strongly by the asylum at Hanwell ; while
each backed its case by circumstantial evidence of the same excellent nature as
that brought to bear by Sir Benjamin Backbite on the pistol shot, which struck
against the little bronze bust of Shakspeare over the fire-place, grazed out of
the window at a right angle, and wounded the postman, who was coming to the
door with a double letter from Northamptonshire.

It will be a great affliction to these ladies and gentlemen to learn — and he is
so unwilling to give pain, that he would not whisper the circumstance on any
account, did he not feel in a manner bound to do so, in gratitude to those
among his friends who were at the trouble of being angry with the absurdity
— that their invention made the author's home unusually merry, ana gave rise
to an extraordinary number of jests, of which he will only add, in the words
of the good Vicar of Wakefield, " I cannot say whether we had more wit
among us than usual ; but I am sure we had more laughing."

Devonshire Terrace, York Gale,
September 1840.



My Dear Sib,

Let me have vny Pleasures of Memory in connectioa with this
book, by dedicating it to a Poet whose writings (as all the world knows)
are replete with generous and earnest feeling ; and to a Man whose dail}'
life (as all the world does not know) is one of active sympathy with the
poorest and humblest of his kind.

Your faithful friend,

CuARLES Dickens.




HE reader must not expect to know where I live. At
present, it is true, my abode may be a question of little
or no import to anybody, but if I should carry my readers
with me, as I hope to do, and there should spring up,
between them and me, feelings of homely affection and
regard attaching something of interest to matters ever
so slightly connected with my fortunes or my speculations,
even my place of residence might one day have a kind of charm for them.
Bearing this possible contingency in mind, I wish them to understand in
the outset, that they must never expect to know it.

I am not a churlish old man. Friendless I can never be, for all mankind
are of my kindred, and I am on ill terms with no one member of my great
family. But for many years I have led a lonely, solitary life ; — what wound
I sought to heal, what sorrow to forget, originally, matters not now ; it is
sufficient that retirement has become a habit with me, and that I am unwilling
to break the spell which for so long a time has shed its quiet influence upon
my home and heart.


I live in a venerable suburb of London, in an old house, which in bygone
days was a famous resort for merry roysterers and peerless ladies, long since
departed. It is a silent shady place, with a- paved court- yard so full of echoes,
that sometimes I am tempted to believe that faint responses to the noises of
old times linger there yet, and that these ghosts of sound haunt my footsteps
as I pace it up and down. I am the more confirmed in this belief, because,
of late years, the echoes that attend my walks have been less loud and marked
than they were wont to be; and it is pleasanter to imagine in them the rustling
of silk brocade, and the light step of some lovely girl, than to recognise in
their altered note the failing tread of an old man.

Those who like to read of brilliant rooms and gorgeous furniture, would
derive but little pleasure from a minute description of my simple dwelling.
It is dear to me for the same reason that they would hold it in slight regard.
Its worm-eaten doors, and low ceilings crossed by clumsy beams ; its walls of
wainscot, dark stairs, and gaping closets ; its small chambers, communicating
with each other by winding passages or narrow steps ; its many nooks, scarce
larger than its corner-cupboards ; its very dust and dullness, all are dear to
me. The moth and spider are my constant tenants, for in ray house the one
basks in his long sleep, and the other plies his busy loom, secure and undis-
turbed. I have a pleasure in thinking on a summer''s day, how many butterflies
have sprung for the first time into light and sunshine from some dark corner
of these old walls.

When I first came to live here, which was many years ago, the neighbours
were curious to know who I was, and whence I came, and why I lived so much
alone. As time went on, and they still remained unsatisfied on these points,
I became the centre of a popular ferment, extending for half a mile round,
and in one direction for a full mile. Various rumours were circulated to my
prejudice. I was a spy, an infidel, a conjuror, a kidnapper of children, a
refugee, a priest, a monster. Mothers caught up their infants and ran into
their houses as I passed; men eyed me spitefully, and muttered threats and
curses. I was the object of suspicion and distrust : ay, of downright hatred,

But when in course of time they found I did no harm, but, on the contrary,
inclined towards them despite their unjust usage, they began to relent. I
found my footsteps no longer dogged, as they had often been before, and
observed that the women and children no longer retreated, but would stand
and gaze at me as I passed their doors. I took this for a good omen, and
waited patiently for better times. By degrees I began to make friends among
these humble folks, and though they were yet shy of speaking, would give
them " good day," and so pass on. In a little time, those whom I had thus
accosted, would make a point of coming to their doors and windows at the
usual hour, and nod or curtsey to me ; children, too, came timidly within my
reach, and ran away quite scared when I patted their heads and bade them
be good at school. These little people soon grew more familiar. From
exchanging mere words of course with my older neighbours, I gradually


became their friend and adviser, the depository of their cares and sorrows,
and sometimes, it may be, the reliever, in my small way, of their distresses.
And now I never walk abroad, but pleasant recognitions and smiling faces
wait on Master Humphrey.

It was a whim of mine, perhaps as a whet to the curiosity of my neighbours,
and a kind of retaliation upon them for their suspicions, — it was, I say, a whim
of mine, when I first took up my abode in this place, to acknowledge no other
name than Humphrey. With my detractors, I was Ugly Humphrey. When
I began to convert them into friends, I was Mr. Humphrey, and Old Mr.
Humphrey. At length I settled down into plain Master Humphrey, which
was understood to be the title most pleasant to my ear ; and so completely a
matter of course has it become, that sometimes when I am taking my morning
walk in my little court-yard, I overhear my barber — who has a profound respect
for me, and would not, I am sure, abridge my honours for the world — holding
forth on the other side of the wall, touching the state of " Master Humphrey's"
health, and communicating to some friend the substance of the conversation
that he and Master Humphrey have had together in the course of the shaving
which he has just concluded.

That I may not make acquaintance with my readers under false pretences,
or give them cause to complain hereafter that I have withheld any matter
which it was essential for them to have learnt at first, I wish them to know —
and I smile sorrowfully to think that the time has been when the confession
would have given me pain — that I am a mis-shapen, deformed, old man.

I have never been made a misanthrope by this cause. I have never been
stung by any insult, nor wounded by any jest upon my crooked figure. As a
child I was melancholy and timid, but that was because the gentle considera-
tion paid to my misfortune sunk deep into my spirit and made me sad, even
in those early days. I was but a very young creature when my poor mother
died, and yet I remember that often when I hung around her neck, and
oftener still when I played about the room before her, she would catch
me to her bosom, and bursting into tears, soothe me with every term of
fondness and affection. God knows I was a happy child at those times-
happy to nestle in her breast— happy to weep when she did — happy in not
knowing why.

These occasions are so strongly impressed upon my memory, that they seem
to have occupied whole years. I had numbered very very few when they
ceased for ever, but before then their meaning had been revealed to me.

I do not know whether all children are imbued with a quick perception of
childish grace and beauty and a strong love for it, but I was. I had no
thought that I remember, either that I possessed it myself or that I lacked it,
but I admired it with an intensity I cannot describe. A little knot of play-
mates — they must have been beautiful, for I see them now — were clustered
one day round my mother''s knee in eager admiration of some picture represent-
ing a group of infant angels, which she held in her hand. Whose the picture
was, whether it was familiar to me or otherwise, or how all the children came


to be there, I forget: I have some dim thought it was my birth-day, but the
beginning of my recollection is that we were all together in a garden, and it
was summer weather — I am sure of that, for one of the little girls had rose^
in her sash. There were many lovely angels in this picture, and I remember
the fancy coming upon me to point out which of them represented each child
there, and that when I had gone through all my companions, I stopped and
hesitated, wondering which was most like me. I remember the children
looking at each other, and my turning red and hot, and their crowding
round to kiss me, saying that they loved me all the same ; and then, and wheii
the old sorrow came into my dear mother's mild and tender look, the trutB
broke upon me for the first time, and I knew, while watching my awkwajtd
and ungainly sports, how keenly she had felt for her poor crippled boy. , m

I used frequently to dream of it afterwards, and now my heart aches for
that child as if I had never been he, when I think how often he awol^e fropi
some fairy change to his own old form, and sobbed himself to sleep agaiarf''ioT[

Well, well— all these sorrows are past. My glancing at them may not be
without its use, for it may help in some measure to explain why I have all my
life been attached to the inanimate objects that people my chamber, atid how
I have come to look upon them rather in the light of old and constant friends,
than as mere chairs and tables which a little money could replace at wilL

Chief and first among all these is my Clock — my old cheerful companionable
Clock. How can I ever convey to others an idea of the comfort and consolation
that this old clock has been for years to me ! •

It is associated with ray earliest recollections. It stood upon the stairdiase
at home (I call it home still, mechanically) nigh sixty years ago. I like it; for
that, but it is not on that account, nor because it is a quaint old thing iiia
huge oaken case curiously and richly carved, that I prize it as I do. I incliiie
to it as if it were alive, and could understand and give me back the love r J
bear it. >vS

And what other thing that has not life could cheer me as it does ; whht
other thing that has not life (I will not say how few things that have) could have
proved the same patient, true, untiring friend ! How often have I sat in the
long winter evenings feeling such society in its cricket- voice, that raising my
eyes from my book and looking gratefully towards it, the face reddened by
the glow of the shining fire has seemed to relax from its staid expression and
to regard me kindly ; how often in the summer twilight, when my thoughts
have wandered back to a melancholy past, have its regular whisperings
recalled them to the calm and peaceful present; how often in the dead
tranquillity of night has its bell broken the oppressive silence, and seemed
to give me assurance that the old clock was still a faithful watcher; «lt
my chamber door ! My easy-chair, my desk, my ancient furniture, my
very books, I can scarcely bring myself to love even these last, like my old
clock !

It stands in a snug corner, midway between the fireside and a low arched
door leading to my bed-room. Its fame is diffused so extensively throughout


the neighbourhood, that I have often the satisfaction of hearing the pubHcan
or the baker, and sometimes even the parish-clerk, petitioning my house-
keeper (of whom I shall have much to say bye and bye,) to inform him the
exact time by Master Humphrey ""s Clock. My barber, to whom I have
already referred, would sooner believe it than the sun. Nor are these its only
distinctions. It has acquired, I am happy to say, another, inseparably
connecting it not only with my enjoyments and reflections, but with those of
other men ; as I shall now relate.

I lived alone here for a long time without any friend or acquaintance. In
the course of my wanderings by night and day, at all hours and seasons, in
city streets and quiet country parts, I came to be familiar with certain faces,
and to take it to heart as quite a heavy disappointment if they failed to
present themselves each at its accustomed spot. But these were the only
friends I knew, and beyond them I had none.

It happened, however, when I had gone on thus for a long time, that I
formed an acquaintance with a deaf gentleman, which ripened into intimacy
and close companionship. To this hour, I am ignorant of his name. It is
his humour to conceal it, or he has a reason and purpose for so doing. In
either case I feel that he has a right to require a return of the trust he has
reposed, and as he has never sought to discover my secret, I have never sought
to penetrate his. There may have been something in this tacit confidence in
each other, flattering and pleasant to us both, and it may have imparted in
the beginning an additional zest, perhaps, to our friendship. Be this as it
may, we have grown to be like brothers, and still I only know him as the
deaf gentleman.

I have said that retirement has become a habit with me. When I add
that the deaf gentleman and I have two friends, I communicate nothing which
is inconsistent with that declaration. I spend many hours of every day in
solitude and study, have no friends or change of friends but these, only see
them at stated periods, and am supposed to be of a retired spirit by the very
nature and object of our association.

We are men of secluded habits with something of a cloud upon our early
fortunes, whose enthusiasm nevertheless has not cooled with age, whose spirit of
romance is not yet quenched, who are content to ramble through the world in
a pleasant dream, rather than ever waken again to its harsh realities. We are
alchemists who would extract the essence of perpetual youth from dust and ashes,
tempt coy Truth in many light and airy forms from the bottom of her well,
and discover one crumb of comfort or one grain of good in the commonest and
least regarded matter that passes through our crucible. Spirits of past times,
creatures of imagination, and people of to-day, are alike the objects of our
seeking, and, unlike the objects of search with most philosophers, we can ensure
their coming at our command.

The deaf gentleman and I first began to beguile our days with these fancies,
and our nights in communicating them to each other. We are now four. But
in my room there are six old chairs, and we have decided that the two empty


seats shall always be placed at our table when we meet, to remind us that we
may yet increase our company by that number, if we should find two men to
our mind. When one among us dies, his chair will always be set in its usual
place, but never occupied again ; and I have caused my will to be so drawn out,
that when we are all dead, the house shall be shut up, and the vacant chairs
still left in their accustomed places. It is pleasant to think that even then,
our shades may, perhaps, assemble together as of yore we did, and join in
ghostly converse.

One night in every week, as the clock strikes ten, we meet. At the second
stroke of two, I am alone.

And now shall I tell how that my old servant, besides giving us note of
time, and ticking cheerful encouragement of our proceedings, lends its name
to our society, which for its punctuality and my love, is christened " Master
Humphrey's Clock!" Now shall I tell, how that in the bottom of the old dark
closet where the steady pendulum throbs and beats with healthy action, though
the pulse of him who made it stood still long ago and never moved again,
there are piles of dusty papers constantly placed there by our hands, that we
may link our enjoyments with my old friend, and draw means to beguile time
from the heart of time itself ? Shall I, or can I, tell with what a secret pride
I open this repository when we meet at night, and still find new store of
pleasure in my dear old Clock !

Friend and companion of my solitude ! mine is not a selfish love ; I
would not keep your merits to myself, but disperse something of pleasant
association with your image through the whole wide world ; I would have
men couple with your name cheerful and healthy thoughts ; I would have
them beheve that you keep true and honest time ; and how would it gladden
me to know that they recognised some hearty English work in Master
Humphrey's Clock !



It is my intention constantly to address my readers from the ehimney-eorner,
and I would fain hope that such accounts as I shall give them of our histories
and proceedings, our quiet speculations or more busy adventures, will never be
unwelcome. Lest, however, I should grow prolix in the outset by Ungering
too long upon our little association, confounding the enthusiasm with which I
regard this chief happiness of my life with that minor degree of interest
which those to whom I address myself may be supposed to feel for it, I have
deemed it expedient to break off as they have seen.

But, still clinging to my old friend and naturally desirous that all its merits
should be known, I am tempted to open (somewhat irregularly and against
our, laws, I must admit) the clock-case. The first roll of paper on which I
laylmy hand is in the writing of the deaf gentleman. I shall have to speak
of 'him in my next paper, and how can I better approach that welcome task
than by prefacing it with a production of his own pen, consigned to the safe
keying of my honest clock by his own hands 1

The manuscript runs thus :


/^NCE upon a time, that is to say, in this our time, — the exact year,
'^ month, and day, are of no matter, — there dwelt in the city of London
iaPsubstantial citizen, who united in his single person the dignities of whole-
sale fruiterer, alderman, common-councilman, and member of the worshipful
company of Patten-makers : who had superadded to these extraordinary
diistinctions the important post and title of Sheriff, and who at length, and
to crown all, stood next in rotation for the high and honourable office of Lord

He was a very substantial citizen indeed. His face was like the full moon
in a fog, with two little holes punched out for his eyes, a very ripe pear stuck
on for his nose, and a wide gash to serve for a mouth. The girth of his
waistcoat was hung up and lettered in his tailor's shop as an extraordinary
euriosity. He breathed Uke a heavy snorer, and his voice in speaking came
thickly forth, as if it were oppressed and stifled by feather-beds. He trod
the ground like an elephant, and eat and drank hke — like nothing but an
alderman, as he was.

This worthy citizen had risen to his great eminence from small beginnings.
He had once been a very lean, weazen little boy, never dreaming of carrying


such a weight of flesh upon his bones or of money in his pockets, and glad
enough to take his dinner at a baker's door, and his tea at a pump. But he

Online LibraryCharles DickensMaster Humphrey's clock (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 35)