Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) online

. (page 3 of 31)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 3 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


let in behind : or perhaps a white robe, not very large in
circumference, but very much out of proportion in point of
length, with a little tucker round the top, and a frill round the



20 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

bottom ; and once when we called, we saw a long white roller,
with a kind of blue margin down each side, the probable use
of which, we were at a loss to conjecture. Then we fancied
that Mr. Dawson, the surgeon, &c., who displays a large lamp
with a different colour in every pane of glass, at the corner
of the row, began to be knocked up at night oftener than
he used to be; and once we were very much alarmed by
hearing a hackney-coach stop at Mrs. Robinson's door, at
half-past two o'clock in the morning, out of which there
emerged a fat old woman, in a cloak and nightcap, with a
bundle in one hand, and a pair of pattens in the other, who
looked as if she had been suddenly knocked up out of bed
for some very special purpose.

When we got up in the morning we saw that the knocker
was tied up in an old white kid glove ; and we, in our
innocence (we were in a state of bachelorship then), wondered
what on earth it all meant, until we heard the eldest Miss
Willis, in propria persona, say, with great dignity, in answer
to the next inquiry, " My compliments, and Mrs. Robinson's
doing as well as can be expected, and the little girl thrives
wonderfully." And then, in common with the rest of the row,
our curiosity was satisfied, and we began to wonder it had
never occurred to us what the matter was, before.



CHAPTER IV.

THE ELECTION FOR BEADLE.

A GREAT event has recently occurred in our parish. A contest
of paramount interest has just terminated ; a parochial con-
vulsion has taken place. It has been succeeded by a glorious
triumph, which the country or at least the parish it is all
the same will long remember. We have had an election ;
an election for beadle. The supporters of the old beadle
system have been defeated in their stronghold, and the advo-
cates of the great new beadle principles have achieved a
proud victory.

Our parish, which, like all other parishes, is a little world
of its own, has long been divided into two parties, whose
contentions, slumbering for a while, have never failed to burst
forth with unabated vigour, on any occasion on which they
could by possibility be renewed. Watching-rates, lighting-
rates, paving-rates, sewer Vrates, church-rates, poorVrates all
sorts of rates, have been in their turns the subjects of a grand
struggle ; and as to questions of patronage, the asperity and
determination with which they have been contested is scarcely
credible.

The leader of the official party the steady advocate of
the churchwardens, and the unflinching supporter of the
overseers is an old gentleman who lives in our row. He
owns some half a dozen houses in it, and always walks on the
opposite side of the way, so that he may be able to take in



22 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

a view of the whole of his property at once. He is a tall,
thin, bony man, with an interrogative nose, and little restless
perking eyes, which appear to have been given him for the
sole purpose of peeping into other people's affairs with. He
is deeply impressed with the importance of our parish
business, and prides himself, not a little, on his style of
addressing the parishioners in vestry assembled. His views
are rather confined than extensive; his principles more
narrow than liberal. He has been heard to declaim very
loudly in favour of the liberty of the press, and advocates
the repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers, because the
daily journals who now have a monopoly of the public, never
give verbatim reports of vestry meetings. He would not appear
egotistical for the world, but at the same time he must say,
that there are speeches that celebrated speech of his own, on
the emoluments of the sexton, and the duties of the office,
for instance which might be communicated to the public,
greatly to their improvement and advantage.

His great opponent in public life is Captain Purday, the
old naval officer on half-pay, to whom we have already
introduced our readers. The captain being a determined
opponent of the constituted authorities, whoever they may
chance to be, and our other friend being their steady sup-
porter, with an equal disregard of their individual merits, it will
readily be supposed, that occasions for their coming into direct
collision are neither few nor far between. They divided the
vestry fourteen times on a motion for heating the church with
warm water instead of coals : and made speeches about liberty
and expenditure, and prodigality and hot water, which threw
the whole parish into a state of excitement. Then the cap-
tain, when he was on the visiting committee, and his oppo-
nent overseer, brought forward certain distinct and specific-
charges relative to the management of the workhouse,
boldly expressed his total want of confidence in the existing
authorities, and moved for "a copy of the recipe by which
the paupers'" soup was prepared, together with any documents



THE CANDIDATES. 23

relating thereto." This the overseer steadily resisted; he
fortified himself by precedent, appealed to the established
usage, and declined to produce the papers, on the ground
of the injury that would be done to the public service, if
documents of a strictly private nature, passing between the
master of the workhouse and the cook, were to be thus
dragged to light on the motion of any individual member of
the vestry. The motion was lost by a majority of two ; and
then the captain, who never allows himself to be defeated,
moved for a commitee of inquiry into the whole subject. The
affair grew serious : the question was discussed at meeting
after meeting, and vestry after vestry ; speeches were made,
attacks repudiated, personal defiances exchanged, explana-
tions received, and the greatest excitement prevailed, until
at last, just as the question was going to be finally decided,
the vestry found that somehow or other, they had become
entangled in a point of form, from which it was impossible
to escape with propriety. So, the motion was dropped, and
everybody looked extremely important, and seemed quite
satisfied Avith the meritorious nature of the whole proceeding.

This was the state of affairs in our parish a week or
two since, when Simmons, the beadle, suddenly died. The
lamented deceased had over-exerted himself, a day or two
previously, in conveying an aged female, highly intoxicated,
to the strong room of the workhouse. The excitement thus
occasioned, added to a severe cold, which this indefatigable
officer had caught in his capacity of director of the palish
engine, by inadvertently playing over himself instead of a fire,
proved too much for a constitution already enfeebled by age ;
and the intelligence was conveyed to the Board one evening
that Simmons had died, and left his respects.

The breath was scarcely out of the body of the deceased
functionary, when the field was filled with competitors for
the vacant office, each of whom rested his claims to public
support, entirely on the number and extent of his family,
as if the office of beadle were originally instituted as an



24 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

encouragement for the propagation of the human species.
" Bung for Beadle. Five small children ! " " Hopkins for
Beadle. Seven small children ! ! " " Timkins for Beadle.
Nine small children ! ! ! " Such were the placards in large
black letters on a white ground, which were plentifully pasted
on the walls, and posted in the windows of the principal
shops. Timkins's success was considered certain : several
mothers of families half promised their votes, and the nine
small children would have run over the course, but for the
production of another placard, announcing the appearance
of a still more meritorious candidate. " Spruggins for Beadle.
Ten small children (two of them twins), and a wife ! ! ! "
There was no resisting this ; ten small children would have
been almost irresistible in themselves, without the twins, but
the touching parenthesis about that interesting production of
nature, and the still more touching allusion to Mrs. Spruggins,
must ensure success. Spruggins was the favourite at once,
and the appearance of his lady, as she went about to solicit
votes (which encouraged confident hopes of a still further
addition to the house of Spruggins at no remote period),
increased the general prepossession in his favour. The other
candidates, Bung alone excepted, resigned in despair. The
day of election was fixed ; and the canvass proceeded with
briskness and perseverance on both sides.

The members of the vestry could not be supposed to
escape the contagious excitement inseparable from the
occasion. The majority of the lady inhabitants of the
parish declared at once for Spruggins ; and the quondam
overseer took the same side, on the ground that men with
large families always had been elected to the office, and that
although he must admit, that, in other respects, Spruggins
was the least qualified candidate of the two, still it was an
old practice, and he saw no reason why an old practice
should be departed from. This was enough for the captain.
He immediately sided with Bung, canvassed for him person-
ally in all directions, wrote squibs on Spruggins, and got his



THE NOMINATION. 25

butcher to skewer them up on conspicuous joints in his
shop-front; frightened his neighbour, the old lady, into a
palpitation of the heart, by his awful denunciations of
Spruggins's party; and bounced in and out, and up and
down, and backwards and forwards, until all the sober in-
habitants of the parish thought it inevitable that he must
die of a brain fever, long before the election began.

The day of-filection arrived. It was no longer an individual
struggle, but a party contest between the ins and outs. The
question was, whether the withering influence of the overseers,
the domination of the churchwardens, and the blighting
despotism of the vestry-clerk., should be allowed to render
the election of beadle a form a nullity : whether they should
impose a vestry-elected beadle on the parish, to do their
bidding and forward their views, or whether the parishioners,
fearlessly asserting their undoubted rights, should elect an
independent beadle of their own.

The nomination was fixed to take place in the vestry, but
so great was the throng of anxious spectators, that it was
found necessary to adjourn to the church, where the ceremony
commenced with due solemnity. The appearance of the
churchwardens and overseers, and the ex-churchwardens and
ex-overseers, with Spruggins in the rear, excited general
attention. Spruggins was a little thin man, in rusty black,
with a long pale face, and a countenance expressive of care
and fatigue, which might either be attributed to the extent
of his family or the anxiety of his feelings. His opponent
appeared in a cast-off coat of the captain's a blue coat with
bright buttons : white trousers, and that description of shoes
familiarly known by the appellation of "high-lows." There
was a serenity in the open countenance of Bung a kind of
moral dignity in his confident air an " I wish you may get it 11
sort of expression in his eye which infused animation into
his supporters, and evidently dispirited his opponents.

The ex-churchwarden rose to propose Thomas Spruggins
for beadle. He had known him long. He had had his eye



26 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

upon him closely for years; he had watched him with two-
fold vigilance for months. (A parishioner here suggested
that this might be termed " taking a double sight," but the
observation was drowned in loud cries of " Order ! ") He
would repeat that he had had his eye upon him for years,
and this he would say, that a more well-conducted, a more
well-behaved, a more sober, a more quiet man, with a more
well-regulated mind, he had never met with. A man with
a larger family he had never known (cheers). The parish
required a man who could be depended on (" Hear ! " from
the Spruggins side, answered by ironical cheers from the Bung
party). Such a man he now proposed (" No," *' Yes "). He
would not allude to individuals (the ex-churchwarden con-
tinued, in the celebrated negative style adopted by great
speakers). He would not advert to a gentleman who had
once held a high rank in the service of his majesty ; he would
not say, that that gentleman was no gentleman ; he would
not assert, that that man was no man ; he would not say,
that he was a turbulent parishioner ; he would not say, that
he had grossly misbehaved himself, not only on this, but on
all former occasions; he would not say, that he was one
of those discontented and treasonable spirits, who carried
confusion and disorder wherever they went ; he would not
say, that he harboured in his heart envy, and hatred, and
malice, and all uncharitableness. No ! He wished to have
everything comfortable and pleasant, and therefore, he would
say nothing about him (cheers).

The captain replied in a similar parliamentary style. He
would not say, he was astonished at the speech they had just
heard; he would not say, he was disgusted (cheers). He
would not retort the epithets which had been hurled against
him (renewed cheering); he would not allude to men once
in office, but now happily out of it, who had mismanaged
the workhouse, ground the paupers, diluted the beer, slack-
baked the bread, boned the meat, heightened the work, and
lowered the soup (tremendous cheers). He would not ask



THE CAPTAIN'S ORATION. 27

what such men deserved (a voice, " Nothing a-day, and find
themselves ! "). He would not say, that one burst of general
indignation should drive them from the parish they polluted
with their presence (" Give it him ! "). He would not allude
to the unfortunate man who had been proposed he would
not say, as the vestry's tool, but as Beadle. He would not
advert to that individual's family ; he would not say, that
nine children, twins, and a wife, were very bad examples for
pauper imitation (loud cheers). He would not advert in
detail to the qualifications of Bung. The man stood before
him, and he would not say in his presence, what he might
be disposed to say of him, if he were absent. (Here Mr.
Bung telegraphed to a friend near him, under cover of his
hat, by contracting his left eye, and applying his right thumb
to the tip of his nose). It had been objected to Bung that he
had only five children (" Hear, hear ! " from the opposition).
Well ; he had yet to learn that the legislature had affixed
any precise amount of infantine qualification to the office of
beadle ; but taking it for granted that an extensive family
were a great requisite, he entreated them to look to facts,
and compare data, about which there could be no mistake.
Bung was 35 years of age. Spruggins of whom he wished
to speak with all possible respect was 50. Was it not more
than possible w r as it not very probable that by the time
Bung attained the latter age, he might see around him a
family, even exceeding in number and extent, that to which
Spruggins at present laid claim (deafening cheers and waving
of handkerchiefs)? The captain concluded, amidst loud
applause, by calling upon the parishioners to sound the
tocsin, rush to the poll, free themselves from dictation, or
be slaves for ever.

On the following day the polling began, and we never have
had such a bustle in our parish since we got up our famous
anti-slavery petition, which was such an important one, that
the House of Commons ordered it to be printed, on the
motion of the member for the district. The captain engaged



28 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

two hackney-coaches and a cab for Bung's people the cab
for the drunken voters, and the two coaches for the old
ladies, the greater portion of whom, owing to the captain's
impetuosity, were driven up to the poll and home again,
before they recovered from their flurry sufficiently to know,
with any degree of clearness, what they had been doing.
The opposite party wholly neglected these precautions, and
the consequence was, that a great many ladies who were
walking leisurely up to the church for it was a very hot
day to vote for Spruggins, were artfully decoyed into the
coaches, and voted for Bung. The captain's arguments, too,
had produced considerable effect : the attempted influence of
the vestry produced a greater. A threat of exclusive dealing
was clearly established against the vestry-clerk a case of
heartless and profligate atrocity. It appeared that the delin-
quent had been in the habit of purchasing six penn'orth of
muffins, weekly, from an old woman who rents a small house
in the parish, and resides among the original settlers ; on her
last weekly visit, a message was conveyed to her through
the medium of the cook, couched in mysterious terms, but
indicating with sufficient clearness, that the vestry-clerk's
appetite for muffins, in future, depended entirely on her vote
on the beadleship. This was sufficient : the stream had been
turning previously, and the impulse thus administered directed
its final course. The Bung party ordered one shilling's-
worth of muffins weekly for the remainder of the old woman's
natural life ; the parishioners were loud in their exclamations ;
and the fate of Spruggins was sealed.

It was in vain that the twins were exhibited in dresses of
the same pattern, and night-cap, to match, at the church
door : the boy in Mrs. Spruggins's right arm, and the girl in
her left even Mrs. Spruggins herself failed to be an object
of sympathy any longer. The majority attained by Bung
on the gross poll was four hundred and twenty-eight, and
the cause of the parishioners triumphed.



CHAPTER V.

THE BROKER'S MAN.

THE excitement of the late election has subsided, and our
parish being once again restored to a state of comparative
tranquillity, we are enabled to devote our attention to those
parishioners who take little share in our party contests or in
the turmoil and bustle of public life. And we feel sincere
pleasure in acknowledging here, that in collecting materials
for this task we have been greatly assisted by Mr. Bung
himself, who has imposed on us a debt of obligation which
we fear we can never repay. The life of this gentleman has
been one of a very chequered description : he has undergone
transitions not from grave to gay, for he never was grave
not from lively to severe, for severity forms no part
of his disposition ; his fluctuations have been between
poverty in the extreme, and poverty modified, or, to use his
own emphatic language, " between nothing to eat and just
half enough." He is not, as he forcibly remarks, "one of
those fortunate men who, if they were to dive under one
side of a barge stark-naked, would come up on the other
with a new suit of clothes on, and a ticket for soup in the
waistcoat-pocket : " neither is he one of those, whose spirit
has been broken beyond redemption by misfortune and want.
He is just one of the careless, good-for-nothing, happy
fellows, who float, cork-like, on the surface, for the world
to play at hockey with : knocked here, and there, and



30 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

everywhere: now to the right, then to the left, again up
in the air, and anon to the bottom, but always reappearing
and bounding with the stream buoyantly and merrily along.
Some few months before he was prevailed upon to stand
a contested election for the office of beadle, necessity
attached him to the service of a broker ; and on the oppor-
tunities he here acquired of ascertaining the condition of
most of the poorer inhabitants of the parish, his patron, the
captain, first grounded his claims to public support. Chance
threw the man in our way a short time since. We were, in
the first instance, attracted by his prepossessing impudence
at the election ; we were not surprised, on further acquaint-
ance, to find him a shrewd knowing fellow, with no incon-
siderable power of observation; and, after conversing with
him a little, were somewhat struck (as we dare say our readers
have frequently been in other cases) with the power some
men seem to have, not only of sympathising with, but to all
appearance of understanding feelings to which they them-
selves are entire strangers. We had been expressing to
the new functionary our surprise that he should ever have
served in the capacity to which we have just adverted, when
we gradually led him into one or two professional anecdotes,
As we are induced to think, on reflection, that they will tell
better in nearly his own words, than with any attempted
embellishments of ours, we will at once entitle them

MR. BUNG'S NARRATIVE.

" It's very true, as you say, sir," Mr. Bung commenced,
"that a broker's man's is not a life to be envied; and in
course you know as well as I do, though you don't say it,
that people hate and scout 'em because they're the ministers
of wretchedness, like, to poor people. But what could I do,
sir? The thing was no worse because I did it, instead of
somebody else ; and if putting me in possession of a house
would put me in possession of three and sixpence a day, and



AN UNPLEASANT OCCUPATION. '31

levying a distress on another man's goods would relieve my
distress and that of my family, it can't be expected but what
Fd take the job and go through with it. I never liked it,
God knows ; I always looked out for something else, and the
moment I got other work to do, I left it. If there is any-
thing wrong in being the agent in such matters not the
principal, mind you I'm sure the business, to a beginner
like I was, at all events, carries its own punishment along
with it. I wished again and again that the people would
only blow me up, or pitch into me that I wouldn't have
minded, it's all in my way; but it's the being shut up by
yourself in one room for five days, without so much as an
old newspaper to look at, or anything to see out o' the
winder but the roofs and chimneys at the back of the house,
or anything to listen to, but the ticking, perhaps, of an old
Dutch clock, the sobbing of the missis, now and then, the
low talking of friends in the next room, who speak in whispers,
lest ' the man ' should overhear them, or perhaps the occa-
sional opening of the door, as a child peeps in to look at
you, and then runs half-frightened away it's all this, that
makes you feel sneaking somehow, and ashamed of yourself;
and then, if it's winter- time, they just give you fire enough
to make you think you'd like more, and bring in your grub
as if they wished it 'ud choke you as I dare say thev do,
for the matter of that, most heartily. If thev're very civil,
they make you up a bed in the room at night, and if they
don't, your master sends one in for you ; but there you are,
without being washed or shaved all the time, shunned by
everybody, and spoken to by no one, unless some one comes
in at dinner-time, and asks you whether you want any more,
in a tone as much to say, ' I hope you don't,' or, in the
evening, to inquire whether you wouldn't rather have a candle,
after you've been sitting in the dark half the night. When
I was left in this way, I used to sit, think, think, thinking,
till I felt as lonesome as a kitten in a wash-house copper with
the lid on ; but I believe the old brokers' men who are



32 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

regularly trained to it, never think at all. I have heard
some on 'em say, indeed, that they don't know how !

"I put in a good many distresses in my time (continued
Mr. Bung), and in course I wasn't long in finding, that some
people are not as much to be pitied as others are, and that
people with good incomes who get into difficulties, which
they keep patching up day after day, and week after week,
get so used to these sort of things in time, that at last they
come scarcely to feel them at all. I remember the very first
place I was put in possession of, was a gentleman's house in
this parish here, that everybody would suppose couldn't help
having money if he tried. I went with old Fixem, my old
master, 'bout half arter eight in the morning; rang the area-
bell ; servant in livery opened the door : ' Governor at home ? '
' Yes, he is,* says the man ; ' but he's breakfasting just now.'
'Never mind,' says Fixem, 'just you tell him there's a gentle-
man here, as wants to speak to him partickler.' So the
servant he opens his eyes, and stares about him all ways
looking for the gentleman, as it struck me, for I don't think
anybody but a man as was stone-blind would mistake Fixem
for one ; and as for me, I was as seedy as a cheap cowcumber.
Hows'ever, he turns round, and goes to the breakfast-parlour,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 3 of 31)