Oliver, being offered
another place, makes his first
entry into public life
In great families, when an advantageous
place cannot be obtained, either in possession, reversion,
remainder, or expectancy, for the young man who is
growing up, it is a very general custom to send him
to sea. The board, in imitation of so wise and
salutary an example, took counsel together on the
expediency of shipping off Oliver Twist, in some small
trading vessel bound to a good unhealthy port.
This suggested itself as the very best thing that
could possibly be done with him: the probability
being, that the skipper would flog him to death, in
a playful mood, some day after dinner, or would knock
his brains out with an iron bar; both pastimes being,
as is pretty generally known, very favourite and common
recreations among gentleman of that class. The
more the case presented itself to the board, in this
point of view, the more manifold the advantages of
the step appeared; so, they came to the conclusion
that the only way of providing for Oliver effectually,
was to send him to sea without delay.
Mr. Bumble had been despatched to
make various preliminary inquiries, with the view
of finding out some captain or other who wanted a
cabin-boy without any friends; and was returning to
the workhouse to communicate the result of his mission;
when he encountered at the gate, no less a person
than Mr. Sowerberry, the parochial undertaker.
Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed
man, attired in a suit of threadbare black, with darned
cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes to
answer. His features were not naturally intended
to wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rather
given to professional jocosity. His step was
elastic, and his face betokened inward pleasantry,
as he advanced to Mr. Bumble, and shook him cordially
by the hand.
’I have taken the measure of
the two women that died last night, Mr. Bumble,’
said the undertaker.
‘You’ll make your fortune,
Mr. Sowerberry,’ said the beadle, as he thrust
his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box
of the undertaker: which was an ingenious little
model of a patent coffin. ’I say you’ll
make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,’ repeated
Mr. Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder,
in a friendly manner, with his cane.
‘Think so?’ said the undertaker
in a tone which half admitted and half disputed the
probability of the event. ’The prices allowed
by the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.’
‘So are the coffins,’
replied the beadle: with precisely as near an
approach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge
Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at
this: as of course he ought to be; and laughed
a long time without cessation. ‘Well, well,
Mr. Bumble,’ he said at length, ’there’s
no denying that, since the new system of feeding has
come in, the coffins are something narrower and more
shallow than they used to be; but we must have some
profit, Mr. Bumble. Well-seasoned timber is an
expensive article, sir; and all the iron handles come,
by canal, from Birmingham.’
‘Well, well,’ said Mr.
Bumble, ’every trade has its drawbacks.
A fair profit is, of course, allowable.’
‘Of course, of course,’
replied the undertaker; ’and if I don’t
get a profit upon this or that particular article,
why, I make it up in the long-run, you see he!
‘Just so,’ said Mr. Bumble.
‘Though I must say,’ continued
the undertaker, resuming the current of observations
which the beadle had interrupted: ’though
I must say, Mr. Bumble, that I have to contend against
one very great disadvantage: which is, that all
the stout people go off the quickest. The people
who have been better off, and have paid rates for many
years, are the first to sink when they come into the
house; and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three
or four inches over one’s calculation makes a
great hole in one’s profits: especially
when one has a family to provide for, sir.’
As Mr. Sowerberry said this, with
the becoming indignation of an ill-used man; and as
Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended to convey a
reflection on the honour of the parish; the latter
gentleman thought it advisable to change the subject.
Oliver Twist being uppermost in his mind, he made
him his theme.
‘By the bye,’ said Mr.
Bumble, ’you don’t know anybody who wants
a boy, do you? A porochial ’prentis, who
is at present a dead-weight; a millstone, as I may
say, round the porochial throat? Liberal terms,
Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?’ As Mr. Bumble
spoke, he raised his cane to the bill above him, and
gave three distinct raps upon the words ‘five
pounds’: which were printed thereon in
Roman capitals of gigantic size.
‘Gadso!’ said the undertaker:
taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edged lappel of his
official coat; ’that’s just the very thing
I wanted to speak to you about. You know dear
me, what a very elegant button this is, Mr. Bumble!
I never noticed it before.’
‘Yes, I think it rather pretty,’
said the beadle, glancing proudly downwards at the
large brass buttons which embellished his coat.
’The die is the same as the porochial seal the
Good Samaritan healing the sick and bruised man.
The board presented it to me on Newyear’s morning,
Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, I remember, for
the first time, to attend the inquest on that reduced
tradesman, who died in a doorway at midnight.’
‘I recollect,’ said the
undertaker. ’The jury brought it in, “Died
from exposure to the cold, and want of the common
necessaries of life,” didn’t they?’
Mr. Bumble nodded.
‘And they made it a special
verdict, I think,’ said the undertaker, ’by
adding some words to the effect, that if the relieving
officer had ’
interposed the beadle. ’If the board attended
to all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they’d
have enough to do.’
‘Very true,’ said the undertaker; ‘they
‘Juries,’ said Mr. Bumble,
grasping his cane tightly, as was his wont when working
into a passion: ’juries is ineddicated,
vulgar, grovelling wretches.’
‘So they are,’ said the undertaker.
’They haven’t no more
philosophy nor political economy about ’em than
that,’ said the beadle, snapping his fingers
‘No more they have,’ acquiesced the undertaker.
’I despise ’em,’ said the beadle,
growing very red in the face.
‘So do I,’ rejoined the undertaker.
’And I only wish we’d
a jury of the independent sort, in the house for a
week or two,’ said the beadle; ’the rules
and regulations of the board would soon bring their
spirit down for ’em.’
’Let ’em alone for that,’
replied the undertaker. So saying, he smiled,
approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignant
Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat;
took a handkerchief from the inside of the crown;
wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his
rage had engendered; fixed the cocked hat on again;
and, turning to the undertaker, said in a calmer voice:
‘Well; what about the boy?’
‘Oh!’ replied the undertaker;
’why, you know, Mr. Bumble, I pay a good deal
towards the poor’s rates.’
‘Hem!’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘Well?’
‘Well,’ replied the undertaker,
’I was thinking that if I pay so much towards
’em, I’ve a right to get as much out of
’em as I can, Mr. Bumble; and so I
think I’ll take the boy myself.’
Mr. Bumble grasped the undertaker
by the arm, and led him into the building. Mr.
Sowerberry was closeted with the board for five minutes;
and it was arranged that Oliver should go to him that
evening ’upon liking’ a phrase
which means, in the case of a parish apprentice, that
if the master find, upon a short trial, that he can
get enough work out of a boy without putting too much
food into him, he shall have him for a term of years,
to do what he likes with.
When little Oliver was taken before
‘the gentlemen’ that evening; and informed
that he was to go, that night, as general house-lad
to a coffin-maker’s; and that if he complained
of his situation, or ever came back to the parish
again, he would be sent to sea, there to be drowned,
or knocked on the head, as the case might be, he evinced
so little emotion, that they by common consent pronounced
him a hardened young rascal, and ordered Mr. Bumble
to remove him forthwith.
Now, although it was very natural
that the board, of all people in the world, should
feel in a great state of virtuous astonishment and
horror at the smallest tokens of want of feeling on
the part of anybody, they were rather out, in this
particular instance. The simple fact was, that
Oliver, instead of possessing too little feeling, possessed
rather too much; and was in a fair way of being reduced,
for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness
by the ill usage he had received. He heard the
news of his destination, in perfect silence; and, having
had his luggage put into his hand which
was not very difficult to carry, inasmuch as it was
all comprised within the limits of a brown paper parcel,
about half a foot square by three inches deep he
pulled his cap over his eyes; and once more attaching
himself to Mr. Bumble’s coat cuff, was led away
by that dignitary to a new scene of suffering.
For some time, Mr. Bumble drew Oliver
along, without notice or remark; for the beadle carried
his head very erect, as a beadle always should:
and, it being a windy day, little Oliver was completely
enshrouded by the skirts of Mr. Bumble’s coat
as they blew open, and disclosed to great advantage
his flapped waistcoat and drab plush knee-breeches.
As they drew near to their destination, however,
Mr. Bumble thought it expedient to look down, and
see that the boy was in good order for inspection
by his new master: which he accordingly did, with
a fit and becoming air of gracious patronage.
‘Oliver!’ said Mr. Bumble.
‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver, in a low,
‘Pull that cap off your eyes, and hold up your
Although Oliver did as he was desired,
at once; and passed the back of his unoccupied hand
briskly across his eyes, he left a tear in them when
he looked up at his conductor. As Mr. Bumble
gazed sternly upon him, it rolled down his cheek.
It was followed by another, and another. The
child made a strong effort, but it was an unsuccessful
one. Withdrawing his other hand from Mr. Bumble’s
he covered his face with both; and wept until the
tears sprung out from between his chin and bony fingers.
‘Well!’ exclaimed Mr.
Bumble, stopping short, and darting at his little
charge a look of intense malignity. ’Well!
Of all the ungratefullest, and worst-disposed
boys as ever I see, Oliver, you are the ’
‘No, no, sir,’ sobbed
Oliver, clinging to the hand which held the well-known
cane; ’no, no, sir; I will be good indeed; indeed,
indeed I will, sir! I am a very little boy,
sir; and it is so so ’
‘So what?’ inquired Mr. Bumble in amazement.
‘So lonely, sir! So very
lonely!’ cried the child. ’Everybody
hates me. Oh! sir, don’t, don’t
pray be cross to me!’ The child beat his hand
upon his heart; and looked in his companion’s
face, with tears of real agony.
Mr. Bumble regarded Oliver’s
piteous and helpless look, with some astonishment,
for a few seconds; hemmed three or four times in a
husky manner; and after muttering something about
‘that troublesome cough,’ bade Oliver
dry his eyes and be a good boy. Then once more
taking his hand, he walked on with him in silence.
The undertaker, who had just put up
the shutters of his shop, was making some entries
in his day-book by the light of a most appropriate
dismal candle, when Mr. Bumble entered.
‘Aha!’ said the undertaker;
looking up from the book, and pausing in the middle
of a word; ‘is that you, Bumble?’
‘No one else, Mr. Sowerberry,’
replied the beadle. ’Here! I’ve
brought the boy.’ Oliver made a bow.
‘Oh! that’s the boy, is
it?’ said the undertaker: raising the candle
above his head, to get a better view of Oliver.
’Mrs. Sowerberry, will you have the goodness
to come here a moment, my dear?’
Mrs. Sowerberry emerged from a little
room behind the shop, and presented the form of a
short, then, squeezed-up woman, with a vixenish countenance.
‘My dear,’ said Mr. Sowerberry,
deferentially, ’this is the boy from the workhouse
that I told you of.’ Oliver bowed again.
‘Dear me!’ said the undertaker’s
wife, ‘he’s very small.’
‘Why, he is rather small,’
replied Mr. Bumble: looking at Oliver as if it
were his fault that he was no bigger; ’he is
small. There’s no denying it. But
he’ll grow, Mrs. Sowerberry he’ll
‘Ah! I dare say he will,’
replied the lady pettishly, ’on our victuals
and our drink. I see no saving in parish children,
not I; for they always cost more to keep, than they’re
worth. However, men always think they know best.
There! Get downstairs, little bag o’ bones.’
With this, the undertaker’s wife opened a side
door, and pushed Oliver down a steep flight of stairs
into a stone cell, damp and dark: forming the
ante-room to the coal-cellar, and denominated ‘kitchen’;
wherein sat a slatternly girl, in shoes down at heel,
and blue worsted stockings very much out of repair.
‘Here, Charlotte,’ said
Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver down, ’give
this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for
Trip. He hasn’t come home since the morning,
so he may go without ’em. I dare say the
boy isn’t too dainty to eat ’em are
Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at
the mention of meat, and who was trembling with eagerness
to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful
of coarse broken victuals was set before him.
I wish some well-fed philosopher,
whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose
blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen
Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the
dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed
the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits
asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There
is only one thing I should like better; and that would
be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of
meal himself, with the same relish.
‘Well,’ said the undertaker’s
wife, when Oliver had finished his supper: which
she had regarded in silent horror, and with fearful
auguries of his future appetite: ‘have you
There being nothing eatable within
his reach, Oliver replied in the affirmative.
‘Then come with me,’ said
Mrs. Sowerberry: taking up a dim and dirty lamp,
and leading the way upstairs; ’your bed’s
under the counter. You don’t mind sleeping
among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn’t
much matter whether you do or don’t, for you
can’t sleep anywhere else. Come; don’t
keep me here all night!’
Oliver lingered no longer, but meekly
followed his new mistress.