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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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This story was begun, within a few months after the pub-
lication 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 under-
took 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 helpless-
ness of children ; ignorant, sordid, brutal men, to whom few
considerate persons would have entrusted the board and lodg-
ing of a horse or a dog ; they formed the worthy corner-stone
of a structure, which, for absurdity and magnificent high-
minded laisscz-aller neglect, has rarely been exceeded in the

We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the

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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 school-
masters, in the past tense. Though it has not yet finally dis-
appeared, 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 lafe years.

I cannot call to mind, now, how I came to hear about York-
shire schools when I was a not very robust child, sitting in
bye-places near Rochester Castle, with a head full of Par-
tridge, 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 sup-
purated abscess that some boy had come home with, in con-
sequence of his Yorkshire guide, philosopher, and friend,
having ripped it open with an inky penknife. 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 schoolmas-
ter 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 connection, and with whom I con-
certed a pious fraud. He gave me some letters of introduc-
tion, 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 neighborhood, 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

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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 warm 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 look-
ing at the fire, staring round the room, and whistling a little.
On my reverting to some other topic that we had been dis-
cussing, 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 yarn 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 Brow-

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 satis-
faction, during the progress of this work, to learn, from coun-
try friends and from a variety of ludicrous statements con-
cerning himself in provincial newspapers, that more than one

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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 conversa-
tion 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 neighbors know
at once for whom it is meant, because — the character is se
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 dass, 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 recognize some-
thing belonging to themselves, and each will have a misgiv-
ing 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 chil-
dren, 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.

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PREFACE. . vii

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 blem-
ishes, 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 honor."

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 Broth-
ers Cheeryble (with whom I never interchanged any com-
munication 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 England.

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 blame-
less 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.

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I. Introduces all the rest 7

II. Of Mr. Ralph Nickleby, and his establishment, and
his undertakings. And of a great joint stock com-
pany of vast national importance 12

III. 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 • 23

IV. Nicholas and his uncle (to secure the fortune without

loss of time) wait upon Mr. Wackford Squeers, the

Yorkshire schoolmaster 34

V. Nicholas starts for Yorkshire. Of his leave-taking
and his fellow-travellers, and what befel them on

the road 47

VI. In which the occurrence of the accident mentioned
in the last chapter, affords an opportunity to a
couple of gentlemen to tell stories against each

other 58

VII. Mr. and Mrs. Squeers at home 80

VIII. Of the internal economy of Dotheboys Hall .... 89

IX. Of Miss Squeers, Mrs. Squeers, Master Squeers,
and Mr. Squeers ; and of various matters and per-
sons connected no less with the Squeerses than

with Nicholas Nickleby 102

X. How Mr. Ralph Nickleby provided for his niece and

sister-in-law r 18

XI. Newman Noggs inducts Mrs. and Miss Nickleby

into their new dwelling: in the city 132

XII. Whereby the reader will be enabled to trace the

further course of Miss Fanny Squeers *s love, and
to ascertain whether it ran smooth or otherwise . . . 137

XIII. Nicholas varies the monotony of Dotheboys Hall by

a most vigorous and remarkable proceeding, which

leads to consequences of some importance 149


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XIV. Having the misfortune to treat of none but common
. people, is necessarily of a mean and vulgar

character 163

XV. Acquaints the reader with the cause and origin of the
interruption described in the last chapter, and with

some other matters necessary to be known 175

XVI. Nicholas seeks to employ himself in a new capacity,
and being unsuccessful, accepts an engagement as

tutor in a private family 188

XVII. Follows the fortunes of Miss Nickleby 208

XVIII. Miss Knag, after doating on Kate Nickleby for three
whole days, makes up her mind to hate her for
evermore. The causes which lead Miss Knag to

form this resolution 217

XIX. Descriptive of a dinner at Mr. Ralph Nickleby's, and
of the manner in which the company entertained
themselves, before dinner, at dinner, and after

dinner 231

XX. Wherein Nicholas at length encounters his uncle, to
whom he expresses his sentiments with much can-
dor. His resolution . 247

XXI. Madame Mantalini finds herself in a situation of some
difficulty, and Miss Nickleby finds herself in no

situation at all 259

XXII. Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek
his fortune. He encounters Mr. Vincent Crumm-
ies ; and who he was, is herein made manifest 272

XXIII. Treats of the company of Mr. Vincent Crummies,

and of his affairs, domestic and theatrical , 287

XXIV. Of the great bespeak for Miss Snevellicci, and the

first appearance of Nicholas upon any stage 300

XXV. Concerning a young lady from London, who joins
the company, and an elderly admirer who follows
in her train; with an affecting ceremony conse-
quent on their arrival 317

XXVI. Is fraught with some danger to Miss Nickleby's

peace of mind 330

XXVII. Mrs. Nickleby becomes acquainted with Messrs.

Pyke and Pluck, whose affection and interest are
beyond all bounds 341

XXVIII. Miss Nickleby, rendered desperate by the persecu-

tion of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and the complicated
difficulties and distresses which surround her, ap-
peals, as a last resource, to her uncle for protection 356

XXIX. Of the proceedings of Nicholas, and certain internal

divisions in the company of Mr. Vincent Crummies 373
XXX. Festivities are Jield in honor of Nicholas, who sud-
denly withdraws himself from the society of Mr.
Vincent Crummies and his theatrical companions . 382

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Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggs, and some
wise precautions, the success or failure of which
will appear in the sequel ,. 398

Relating chiefly to some remarkable conversation,
and some remarkable proceedings to which it
gives rise 406

In which Mr. Ralph Nickleby is relieved, by a very
expeditious process, from all commerce with his
relations 416

Wherein Mr. Ralph Nickleby is visited by persons
with whom the reader has been already made
acquainted 423

Smike becomes known to Mrs. Nickleby and Kate.
Nicholas also meets with rfeV acquaintances.
Brighter days seem to dawn upon the family 440

Private and confidential ; relating to family matters.
Showing hew Mr. Kenwigs underwent violent
agitation, and how Mrs. Kenwigs was as well as
could be expected 457

Nicholas finds further favor in the eyes of the
brothers Cheeryble and Mr. Timothy Linkin-
water. The brothers give a banquet on a great
annual occasion. Nicholas, on returning home
from it, receives a mysterious and important dis-
closure from the lips of Mrs. Nickleby 465

. Comprises certain particulars arising out of a visit
of condolence, which may prove important here-
after. Smike unexpectedly encounters a very
old friend, who iiivites him to his house, and will
take no denial 483

In which another old friend encounters Smike,
very opportunely and to some purpose 498

In which Nicholas falls in love. He employs a
mediator, whose proceedings are crowned with
unexpected success, excepting in one solitary
particular 507

Containing some romantic passages between Mrs.
Nickleby and the gentleman in the small-clothes
next door 524

Illustrative of the convivial sentiment, that the best
of friends must sometimes part 537

Officiates as a kind of gentleman usher, in bring-
ing various people together 548

Mr. Ralph Nickleby cuts an old acquaintance. It
would also appear from the contents hereof, that
a joke, even between husband and wife, may be
sometimes carried too far ' 562

Containing matter of a surprising kind 577

Throws some light upon Nicholas's love; but

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whether for good or evil, the reader must de-
termine 590

XLVII. Mr. Ralph Nickleby has some confidential inter-
course with anotner old friend. They concert
between them a project, which promises well for

both 604

XLVII I. Being for the benefit of Mr. Vincent Crummies,

and positively his last appearance on this stage. 620
XLIX. Chronicles the further proceedings of the Nickleby
family, and the sequel of the adventure of the

gentleman in the small-clothes 631

L. Involves a serious catastrophe 647

LI. The project of Mr. Ralph Nickleby and his friend,
approaching a successful issue, becomes unex-
pectedly known to another party not admitted

into their confidence 661

LI I. Nicholas despairs of rescuing Madeline Bray, but
plucks up his spirits again, and determines to
attempt it. Domestic intelligence of the Ken-

wigses and Lillyvicks 672

LI II. Containing the further progress of the plot con-
trived by Mr. Ralph Nickleby and Mr. Arthur

Gride 685

LIV. The crisis of the project and its result 701

LV. Of family matters, cares, hopes, disappointments,

and sorrows 713

LVI. Ralph Nickleby, baffled by his nephew in his late
desig-.i, hatcnes a scheme of retaliation which
accident suggests to him, and takes into his

counsels a tried auxiliary 726

LVI I. How Ralph Nickleby's auxiliary went about his

work, and how he prospered with it 738

LVI 1 1. In which one scene of this history is closed 749

LIX. The plots begin to fail, and doubts and dangers to

disturb the plotter 755

LX. The dangers thicken, and the worst is told 770

LXI. Wherein Nicholas and his sister forfeit the good

opinion of all worldly and prudent people 781

LXII. Ralph makes one last appointment — and keeps it.. 791
LXI 1 1. The brothers Cheeryble make various declarations
for themselves and others. Tim Linkinwater

makes a declaration for himself 797

LXIV. An old acquaintance is recognized under melan-
choly circumstances, and Dotheboys Hall breaks

up for ever 808

LXV. Conclusion 817

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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 for

Some ill-conditioned persons who sneer at the life-matri-
monial, 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 chiv-

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 1 of 79)