TREATS OF OLIVER TWIST’S GROWTH, EDUCATION, AND BOARD
For the next eight or ten months,
Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery
and deception. He was brought up by hand.
The hungry and destitute situation of the infant
orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities
to the parish authorities. The parish authorities
inquired with dignity of the workhouse authorities,
whether there was no female then domiciled in ‘the
house’ who was in a situation to impart to Oliver
Twist, the consolation and nourishment of which he
stood in need. The workhouse authorities replied
with humility, that there was not. Upon this,
the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely
resolved, that Oliver should be ‘farmed,’
or, in other words, that he should be dispatched to
a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty
or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws,
rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience
of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental
superintendence of an elderly female, who received
the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny
per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny’s
worth per week is a good round diet for a child; a
great deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite
enough to overload its stomach, and make it uncomfortable.
The elderly female was a woman of wisdom and experience;
she knew what was good for children; and she had a
very accurate perception of what was good for herself.
So, she appropriated the greater part of the weekly
stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial
generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally
provided for them. Thereby finding in the lowest
depth a deeper still; and proving herself a very great
Everybody knows the story of another
experimental philosopher who had a great theory about
a horse being able to live without eating, and who
demonstrated it so well, that he had got his own horse
down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have
rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal
on nothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty
hours before he was to have had his first comfortable
bait of air. Unfortunately for, the experimental
philosophy of the female to whose protecting care
Oliver Twist was delivered over, a similar result
usually attended the operation of her system;
for at the very moment when the child had contrived
to exist upon the smallest possible portion of the
weakest possible food, it did perversely happen in
eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened
from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect,
or got half-smothered by accident; in any one of which
cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned
into another world, and there gathered to the fathers
it had never known in this.
Occasionally, when there was some
more than usually interesting inquest upon a parish
child who had been overlooked in turning up a bedstead,
or inadvertently scalded to death when there happened
to be a washing though the latter accident
was very scarce, anything approaching to a washing
being of rare occurrence in the farm the
jury would take it into their heads to ask troublesome
questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously
affix their signatures to a remonstrance. But
these impertinences were speedily checked by the evidence
of the surgeon, and the testimony of the beadle; the
former of whom had always opened the body and found
nothing inside (which was very probable indeed), and
the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish
wanted; which was very self-devotional. Besides,
the board made periodical pilgrimages to the farm,
and always sent the beadle the day before, to say
they were going. The children were neat and clean
to behold, when they went; and what more would
the people have!
It cannot be expected that this system
of farming would produce any very extraordinary or
luxuriant crop. Oliver Twist’s ninth birthday
found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in
stature, and decidedly small in circumference.
But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy
spirit in Oliver’s breast. It had had plenty
of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet of the
establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may
be attributed his having any ninth birth-day at all.
Be this as it may, however, it was his ninth birthday;
and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select
party of two other young gentleman, who, after participating
with him in a sound thrashing, had been locked up
for atrociously presuming to be hungry, when Mrs.
Mann, the good lady of the house, was unexpectedly
startled by the apparition of Mr. Bumble, the beadle,
striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate.
‘Goodness gracious! Is
that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?’ said Mrs. Mann,
thrusting her head out of the window in well-affected
ecstasies of joy. ’(Susan, take Oliver
and them two brats upstairs, and wash ’em directly.) My
heart alive! Mr. Bumble, how glad I am to see
Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and
a choleric; so, instead of responding to this open-hearted
salutation in a kindred spirit, he gave the little
wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed upon it
a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a
‘Lor, only think,’ said
Mrs. Mann, running out, for the three boys
had been removed by this time, ’only
think of that! That I should have forgotten
that the gate was bolted on the inside, on account
of them dear children! Walk in sir; walk in,
pray, Mr. Bumble, do, sir.’
Although this invitation was accompanied
with a curtsey that might have softened the heart
of a church-warden, it by no means mollified the beadle.
‘Do you think this respectful
or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,’ inquired Mr.
Bumble, grasping his cane, ’to keep the parish
officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they
come here upon porochial business with the porochial
orphans? Are you aweer, Mrs. Mann, that you are,
as I may say, a porochial delegate, and a stipendiary?’
’I’m sure Mr. Bumble,
that I was only a telling one or two of the dear children
as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,’
replied Mrs. Mann with great humility.
Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his
oratorical powers and his importance. He had
displayed the one, and vindicated the other. He
‘Well, well, Mrs. Mann,’
he replied in a calmer tone; ’it may be as you
say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for
I come on business, and have something to say.’
Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into
a small parlour with a brick floor; placed a seat
for him; and officiously deposited his cocked hat and
cane on the table before him. Mr. Bumble wiped
from his forehead the perspiration which his walk
had engendered, glanced complacently at the cocked
hat, and smiled. Yes, he smiled. Beadles
are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.
‘Now don’t you be offended
at what I’m a going to say,’ observed Mrs.
Mann, with captivating sweetness. ’You’ve
had a long walk, you know, or I wouldn’t mention
it. Now, will you take a little drop of somethink,
‘Not a drop. Nor a drop,’
said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand in a dignified,
but placid manner.
‘I think you will,’ said
Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of the refusal,
and the gesture that had accompanied it. ’Just
a leetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump
Mr. Bumble coughed.
‘Now, just a leetle drop,’ said Mrs. Mann
‘What is it?’ inquired the beadle.
’Why, it’s what I’m
obliged to keep a little of in the house, to put into
the blessed infants’ Daffy, when they ain’t
well, Mr. Bumble,’ replied Mrs. Mann as she
opened a corner cupboard, and took down a bottle and
glass. ‘It’s gin. I’ll
not deceive you, Mr. B. It’s gin.’
‘Do you give the children Daffy,
Mrs. Mann?’ inquired Bumble, following with
his eyes the interesting process of mixing.
’Ah, bless ’em, that I
do, dear as it is,’ replied the nurse. ’I
couldn’t see ’em suffer before my very
eyes, you know sir.’
‘No’; said Mr. Bumble
approvingly; ’no, you could not. You are
a humane woman, Mrs. Mann.’ (Here she set down
the glass.) ’I shall take a early opportunity
of mentioning it to the board, Mrs. Mann.’
(He drew it towards him.) ‘You feel as a mother,
Mrs. Mann.’ (He stirred the gin-and-water.)
’I I drink your health with cheerfulness,
Mrs. Mann’; and he swallowed half of it.
‘And now about business,’
said the beadle, taking out a leathern pocket-book.
’The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist,
is nine year old to-day.’
‘Bless him!’ interposed
Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with the corner
of her apron.
’And notwithstanding a offered
reward of ten pound, which was afterwards increased
to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most superlative,
and, I may say, supernat’ral exertions on the
part of this parish,’ said Bumble, ’we
have never been able to discover who is his father,
or what was his mother’s settlement, name, or
Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment;
but added, after a moment’s reflection, ‘How
comes he to have any name at all, then?’
The beadle drew himself up with great
pride, and said, ‘I inwented it.’
‘You, Mr. Bumble!’
’I, Mrs. Mann. We name
our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last
was a S, Swubble, I named him. This
was a T, Twist, I named him.
The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins.
I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet,
and all the way through it again, when we come to
‘Why, you’re quite a literary
character, sir!’ said Mrs. Mann.
‘Well, well,’ said the
beadle, evidently gratified with the compliment; ‘perhaps
I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.’
He finished the gin-and-water, and added, ’Oliver
being now too old to remain here, the board have determined
to have him back into the house. I have come
out myself to take him there. So let me see
him at once.’
‘I’ll fetch him directly,’
said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room for that purpose.
Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outer
coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed,
as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into
the room by his benevolent protectress.
‘Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,’
said Mrs. Mann.
Oliver made a bow, which was divided
between the beadle on the chair, and the cocked hat
on the table.
‘Will you go along with me,
Oliver?’ said Mr. Bumble, in a majestic voice.
Oliver was about to say that he would
go along with anybody with great readiness, when,
glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs. Mann, who
had got behind the beadle’s chair, and was shaking
her fist at him with a furious countenance.
He took the hint at once, for the fist had been too
often impressed upon his body not to be deeply impressed
upon his recollection.
‘Will she go with me?’ inquired poor Oliver.
‘No, she can’t,’
replied Mr. Bumble. ’But she’ll come
and see you sometimes.’
This was no very great consolation
to the child. Young as he was, however, he had
sense enough to make a feint of feeling great regret
at going away. It was no very difficult matter
for the boy to call tears into his eyes. Hunger
and recent ill-usage are great assistants if you want
to cry; and Oliver cried very naturally indeed.
Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and what
Oliver wanted a great deal more, a piece of bread
and butter, less he should seem too hungry when he
got to the workhouse. With the slice of bread
in his hand, and the little brown-cloth parish cap
on his head, Oliver was then led away by Mr. Bumble
from the wretched home where one kind word or look
had never lighted the gloom of his infant years.
And yet he burst into an agony of childish grief,
as the cottage-gate closed after him. Wretched
as were the little companions in misery he was leaving
behind, they were the only friends he had ever known;
and a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world,
sank into the child’s heart for the first time.
Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides;
little Oliver, firmly grasping his gold-laced cuff,
trotted beside him, inquiring at the end of every
quarter of a mile whether they were ‘nearly there.’
To these interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very brief
and snappish replies; for the temporary blandness
which gin-and-water awakens in some bosoms had by
this time evaporated; and he was once again a beadle.
Oliver had not been within the walls
of the workhouse a quarter of an hour, and had scarcely
completed the demolition of a second slice of bread,
when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to the care
of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it was
a board night, informed him that the board had said
he was to appear before it forthwith.
Not having a very clearly defined
notion of what a live board was, Oliver was rather
astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite
certain whether he ought to laugh or cry. He
had no time to think about the matter, however; for
Mr. Bumble gave him a tap on the head, with his cane,
to wake him up: and another on the back to make
him lively: and bidding him to follow, conducted
him into a large white-washed room, where eight or
ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table.
At the top of the table, seated in an arm-chair rather
higher than the rest, was a particularly fat gentleman
with a very round, red face.
‘Bow to the board,’ said
Bumble. Oliver brushed away two or three tears
that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board
but the table, fortunately bowed to that.
‘What’s your name, boy?’
said the gentleman in the high chair.
Oliver was frightened at the sight
of so many gentlemen, which made him tremble:
and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which made
him cry. These two causes made him answer in
a very low and hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman
in a white waistcoat said he was a fool. Which
was a capital way of raising his spirits, and putting
him quite at his ease.
‘Boy,’ said the gentleman
in the high chair, ’listen to me. You know
you’re an orphan, I suppose?’
‘What’s that, sir?’ inquired poor
‘The boy is a fool I
thought he was,’ said the gentleman in the white
‘Hush!’ said the gentleman
who had spoken first. ’You know you’ve
got no father or mother, and that you were brought
up by the parish, don’t you?’
‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.
‘What are you crying for?’
inquired the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
And to be sure it was very extraordinary. What
could the boy be crying for?
‘I hope you say your prayers
every night,’ said another gentleman in a gruff
voice; ’and pray for the people who feed you,
and take care of you like a Christian.’
‘Yes, sir,’ stammered
the boy. The gentleman who spoke last was unconsciously
right. It would have been very like a Christian,
and a marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had
prayed for the people who fed and took care of him.
But he hadn’t, because nobody had taught him.
‘Well! You have come here
to be educated, and taught a useful trade,’
said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair.
‘So you’ll begin to pick
oakum to-morrow morning at six o’clock,’
added the surly one in the white waistcoat.
For the combination of both these
blessings in the one simple process of picking oakum,
Oliver bowed low by the direction of the beadle, and
was then hurried away to a large ward; where, on a
rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep.
What a novel illustration of the tender laws of England!
They let the paupers go to sleep!
Poor Oliver! He little thought,
as he lay sleeping in happy unconsciousness of all
around him, that the board had that very day arrived
at a decision which would exercise the most material
influence over all his future fortunes. But
they had. And this 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 never 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 neighbors 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 stupefied
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 countenance.
‘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 hung.’
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.