Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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was it:

The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical

men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse,
they found out at once, what ordinary folks would nver have
discovered--the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of
public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there
was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper
all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all
play and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing;
'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in
no time.' So, they established the rule, that all poor people
should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not
they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by
a quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with the
water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a
corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal;
and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a
week, and half a roll of Sundays. They made a great many other
wise and humane regulations, having reference to the ladies,
which it is not necessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce
poor married people, in consequence of the great expense of a
suit in Doctors' Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to
support his family, as they had theretofore done, took his family
away from him, and made him a bachelor! There is no saying how
many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, might
have started up in all classes of society, if it had not been
coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men,
and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was inseparable
from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened people.

For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the

system was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first,
in consequence of the increase in the undertaker's bill, and the
necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which
fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week
or two's gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as
well as the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies.

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with

a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an
apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled
the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had
one porringer, and no more--except on occasions of great public
rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with

their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed
this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being
nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the
copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the
very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves,
meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the
view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have
been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites.
Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow
starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and
wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and
hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a
small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he
had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some
night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to
be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and
they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast
who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and
ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in

his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper
assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served
out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel
disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;
while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was
desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from
the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand,
said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

'Please, sir, I want some more.'

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He
gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some
seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The
assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'

The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned

him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed

into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman
in the high chair, said,

'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked

for more!'

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every


'For MORE!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, and

answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more,
after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?'

'He did, sir,' replied Bumble.

'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. 'I know that boy will be hung.'

Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion. An

animated discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant
confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of
the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would
take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words,
five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who
wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.

'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said the

gentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and
read the bill next morning: 'I never was more convinced of
anything in my life, than I am that that boy will come to be

As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoated

gentleman was right or not, I should perhaps mar the interest of
this narrative (supposing it to possess any at all), if I
ventured to hint just yet, whether the life of Oliver Twist had
this violent termination or no.



For a week after the commission of the impious and profane

offence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in
the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the
wisdom and mercy of the board. It appears, at first sight not
unreasonable to suppose, that, if he had entertained a becoming
feeling of respect for the prediction of the gentleman in the
white waistcoat, he would have established that sage individual's
prophetic character, once and for ever, by tying one end of his
pocket-handkerchief to a hook in the wall, and attaching himself
to the other. To the performance of this feat, however, there
was one obstacle: namely, that pocket-handkerchiefs being
decided articles of luxury, had been, for all future times and
ages, removed from the noses of paupers by the express order of
the board, in council assembled: solemnly given and pronounced
under their hands and seals. There was a still greater obstacle
in Oliver's youth and childishness. He only cried bitterly all
day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread his little
hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in
the corner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start
and tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall,
as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the
gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.

Let it not be supposed by the enemies of 'the system,' that,

during the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was
denied the benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the
advantages of religious consolation. As for exercise, it was
nice cold weather, and he was allowed to perform his ablutions
every morning under the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of
Mr. Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a
tingling sensation to pervade his frame, by repeated applications
of the cane. As for society, he was carried every other day into
the hall where the boys dined, and there sociably flogged as a
public warning and example. And so for from being denied the
advantages of religious consolation, he was kicked into the same
apartment every evening at prayer-time, and there permitted to
listen to, and console his mind with, a general supplication of
the boys, containing a special clause, therein inserted by
authority of the board, in which they entreated to be made good,
virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from the
sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly
set forth to be under the exclusive patronage and protection of
the powers of wickedness, and an article direct from the
manufactory of the very Devil himself.

It chanced one morning, while Oliver's affairs were in this

auspicious and confortable state, that Mr. Gamfield,
chimney-sweep, went his way down the High Street, deeply
cogitating in his mind his ways and means of paying certain
arrears of rent, for which his landlord had become rather
pressing. Mr. Gamfield's most sanguine estimate of his finances
could not raise them within full five pounds of the desired
amount; and, in a species of arthimetical desperation, he was
alternately cudgelling his brains and his donkey, when passing
the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate.

'Wo--o!' said Mr. Gamfield to the donkey.

The donkey was in a state of profound abstraction: wondering,
probably, whether he was destined to be regaled with a
cabbage-stalk or two when he had disposed of the two sacks of
soot with which the little cart was laden; so, without noticing
the word of command, he jogged onward.

Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkey

generally, but more particularly on his eyes; and, running after
him, bestowed a blow on his head, which would inevitably have
beaten in any skull but a donkey's. Then, catching hold of the
bridle, he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminder
that he was not his own master; and by these means turned him
round. He then gave him another blow on the head, just to stun
him till he came back again. Having completed these
arrangements, he walked up to the gate, to read the bill.

The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gate

with his hands behind him, after having delivered himself of some
profound sentiments in the board-room. Having witnessed the
little dispute between Mr. Gamfield and the donkey, he smiled
joyously when that person came up to read the bill, for he saw at
once that Mr. Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver
Twist wanted. Mr. Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the
document; for five pounds was just the sum he had been wishing
for; and, as to the boy with which it was encumbered, Mr.
Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of the workhouse was, well
knew he would be a nice small pattern, just the very thing for
register stoves. So, he spelt the bill through again, from
beginning to end; and then, touching his fur cap in token of
humility, accosted the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to 'prentis,' said Mr.


'Ay, my man,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with a

condescending smile. 'What of him?'

'If the parish vould like him to learn a right pleasant trade, in

a good 'spectable chimbley-sweepin' bisness,' said Mr. Gamfield,
'I wants a 'prentis, and I am ready to take him.'

'Walk in,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr.

Gamfield having lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow
on the head, and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to
run away in his absence, followed the gentleman with the white
waistcoat into the room where Oliver had first seen him.

'It's a nasty trade,' said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had again

stated his wish.

'Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,' said

another gentleman.

'That's acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in the

chimbley to make 'em come down again,' said Gamfield; 'that's all
smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain't o' no use at all in
making a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and
that's wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy,
Gen'l'men, and there's nothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em
come down vith a run. It's humane too, gen'l'men, acause, even
if they've stuck in the chimbley, roasting their feet makes 'em
struggle to hextricate theirselves.'

The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by

this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look
from Mr. Limbkins. The board then procedded to converse among
themselves for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the
words 'saving of expenditure,' 'looked well in the accounts,'
'have a printed report published,' were alone audible. These
only chanced to be heard, indeed, or account of their being very
frequently repeated with great emphasis.

At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board,

having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins

'We have considered your proposition, and we don't approve of


'Not at all,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'Decidedly not,' added the other members.

As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation

of having bruised three or four boys to death already, it
occurred to him that the board had, perhaps, in some
unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that this
extraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings. It
was very unlike their general mode of doing business, if they
had; but still, as he had no particular wish to revive the
rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, and walked slowly from
the table.

'So you won't let me have him, gen'l'men?' said Mr. Gamfield,

pausing near the door.

'No,' replied Mr. Limbkins; 'at least, as it's a nasty business,

we think you ought to take something less than the premium we

Mr. Gamfield's countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he

returned to the table, and said,

'What'll you give, gen'l'men? Come! Don't be too hard on a poor

man. What'll you give?'

'I should say, three pound ten was plenty,' said Mr. Limbkins.

'Ten shillings too much,' said the gentleman in the white

'Come!' said Gamfield; 'say four pound, gen'l'men. Say four

pound, and you've got rid of him for good and all. There!'

'Three pound ten,' repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.

'Come! I'll split the diff'erence, gen'l'men, urged Gamfield.
'Three pound fifteen.'

'Not a farthing more,' was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.

'You're desperate hard upon me, gen'l'men, said Gamfield,

'Pooh! pooh! nonsense!' said the gentleman in the white

waistcoat. 'He'd be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium.
Take him, you silly fellow! He's just the boy for you. He wants
the stick, now and then: it'll do him good; and his board
needn't come very expensive, for he hasn't been overfed since he
was born. Ha! ha! ha!'

Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table, and,

observing a smile on all of them, gradually broke into a smile
himself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once
instructed that Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be
conveyed before the magistrate, for signature and approval, that
very afternoon.

In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his

excessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to
put himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very
unusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, with
his own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two
ounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliver
began to cry very piteously: thinking, not unaturally, that the
board must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose,
or they never would have begun to fatten him up in that way.

'Don't make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and be

thankful,' said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity.
'You're a going to be made a 'prentice of, Oliver.'

'A prentice, sir!' said the child, trembling.

'Yes, Oliver,' said Mr. Bumble. 'The kind and blessed gentleman
which is so amny parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of
your own: are a going to 'prentice you: and to set you up in
life, and make a man of you: although the expense to the parish
is three pound ten!--three pound ten, Oliver!--seventy
shillins--one hundred and forty sixpences!--and all for a naughty
orphan which noboday can't love.'

As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this

address in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child's
face, and he sobbed bitterly.

'Come,' said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it was

gratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence
had produced; 'Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of
your jacket, and don't cry into your gruel; that's a very foolish
action, Oliver.' It certainly was, for there was quite enough
water in it already.

On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that

all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say,
when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, that
he should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions
Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a
gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no
telling what would be done to him. When they arrived at the
office, he was shut up in a little room by himself, and
admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay there, until he came back to
fetch him.

There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an

hour. At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his
head, unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:

'Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.' As Mr. Bumble

said this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a
low voice, 'Mind what I told you, you young rascal!'

Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble's face at this somewhat

contradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his
offering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into an
adjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room,
with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with
powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while the
other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell
spectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr.
Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side; and Mr.
Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two
or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.

The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over

the little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, after
Oliver had been stationed by Mr. Bumble in front of the desk.

'This is the boy, your worship,' said Mr. Bumble.

The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his head
for a moment, and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve;
whereupon, the last-mentioned old gentleman woke up.

'Oh, is this the boy?' said the old gentleman.

'This is him, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Bow to the magistrate,
my dear.'

Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been

wondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates' powder,
whether all boards were born with that white stuff on their
heads, and were boards from thenceforth on that account.

'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I suppose he's fond of


'He doats on it, your worship,' replied Bumble; giving Oliver a

sly pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn't.

'And he WILL be a sweep, will he?' inquired the old gentleman.

'If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he'd run
away simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.

'And this man that's to be his master--you, sir--you'll treat him

well, and feed him, and do all that sort of thing, will you?'
said the old gentleman.

'When I says I will, I means I will,' replied Mr. Gamfield


'You're a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,

open-hearted man,' said the old gentleman: turning his
spectacles in the direction of the candidate for Oliver's
premium, whose villainous countenance was a regular stamped
receipt for cruelty. But the magistrate was half blind and half
childish, so he couldn't reasonably be expected to discern what
other people did.

'I hope I am, sir,' said Mr. Gamfield, with an ugly leer.

'I have no doubt you are, my friend,' replied the old gentleman:
fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking about
him for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had

been where the old gentleman though it was, he would have dipped
his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have
been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be
immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course,
that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and
happening in the course of his search to look straight before
him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver
Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of
Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future
master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too
palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from

Oliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a
cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

'My boy!' said the old gentleman, 'you look pale and alarmed.

What is the matter?'

'Stand a little away from him, Beadle,' said the other

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