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If it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, Dickens certainly had this advantage. We have seldom read a more touching picture than that which is given of the life of the neglected, untaught, half-starved boy at this time. It is tragic and affecting enough in itself, but it is still more p. 176impressive as suggesting the possible lot of hundreds and thousands in this great London of ours. The one boy, by means of marvellous genius, forces his way to the front; but who is to tell the story of the obscure multitude who perish in the struggle? What imagination has ever pictured scenes as tragic as the following experiences?—

“It is wonderful to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age. It is wonderful to me, that even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough on me—a child of singular abilities, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt, bodily or mentally—to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school. Our friends, I take it, were tired out. No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.

“The blacking warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford-stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscotted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rose up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first, with a piece of oilpaper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label; and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in ‘Oliver Twist.’

p. 177“Our relative had kindly arranged to teach me something in the dinner-hour—from twelve to one, I think it was—every day. But an arrangement so incompatible with counting-house business soon died away, from no fault of his or mine; and for the same reason, my small work-table, and my grosses of pots, my papers, string, scissors, paste-pot, and labels, by little and little, vanished out of the recess in the counting-house, and kept company with the other small work-tables, grosses of pots, papers, string, scissors, and paste-pots, down stairs. It was not long before Bob Fagin and I, and another boy whose name was Paul Green, but who was currently believed to have been christened Poll (a belief which I transferred, long afterwards, again to Mr. Sweedlepipe, in ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’), worked generally side by side. Bob Fagin was an orphan, and lived with his brother-in law, a waterman. Poll Green’s father had the additional distinction of being a fireman, and was employed at Drury-lane Theatre; where another relation of Poll’s, I think his little sister, did imps in the pantomimes.

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“No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sank into this companionship; compared these every-day associates with those of my happier childhood; and felt my early hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished man, crushed in my breast. The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless—of the shame I felt in my position—of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more—cannot be written. My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children—even that I am a man—and wander desolately back to that time of my life.

“My mother and my brothers and sisters (excepting Fanny in the Royal Academy of Music) were still encamped, with a young servant-girl from Chatham workhouse, in the two parlours in the emptied house in Gower Street North. It was a long way to go and return within the dinner-hour; and, usually, I either carried my dinner with me, or went and bought it at some neighbouring shop. In the latter case it p. 178was commonly a saveloy and a penny loaf; sometimes, a four-penny plate of beef from a cook’s shop; sometimes a plate of bread and cheese, and a glass of beer, from a miserable old public-house over the way—the ‘Swan,’ if I remember right, or the ‘Swan’ and something else that I have forgotten. Once I remember tucking my own bread (which I had brought from home in the morning) under my arm, wrapped up in a piece of paper like a book, and going into the best dining-room in Johnson’s alamode-beef-house in Charles Court, Drury Lane, and magnificently ordering a small plate of alamode-beef to eat with it. What the waiter thought of such a strange little apparition, coming in all alone, I don’t know; but I can see him now, staring at me as I ate my dinner, and bringing up the other waiter to look. I gave him a halfpenny, and I wish, now, that he hadn’t taken it.”

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It was thus Dickens was trained to fight the battle of life. After this one feels inclined to say, “How great are the blessings of poverty!” What an impulse it gives the man to raise himself above it, somehow or other. Hazlitt used to say that “the want of money often places a man in a very ridiculous position.” There is no doubt about that. It is also equally clear, that, without money, there can be little comfort, little independence of thought or action, little real manliness. Poverty is a wonderful tonic. Volumes might be written in its praise. Almost all the wonderful things that have been done in the world have been accomplished by men who were born and bred in poverty. She is the nurse of genius, the mother of heroes. She has garlanded the world with gold. Luxury and wealth have ever been the ruin alike of individuals and nations. The world’s greatest benefactors have been the money-getting men. Of course there are a few exceptions; but they are the exceptions that confirm the rule.adversity, and of the splendid courage of the working classes); “for notwithstanding that not a few of them are not unacquainted with the claims, reasonable and unreasonable, of poor relations, these qualities are not in such constant exercise, and riches seem, in so many cases, to smother the manliness of their possessors, that their sympathies become not so much narrowed as, so to speak, stratified; they are reserved for the sufferings of their own class, and also the woes of those above them. They seldom tend downwards much, and they are far more likely to admire an act of high courage, like that of the engine-driver who saved his passengers lately from an awful collision by cool courage, than to admire the constantly-exercised fortitude and the tenderness which are the daily characteristics of a British workman’s life.

“You may doubt this. I should once have done so myself; but I have shared their lot; I have lived with them. For months and months I lived in one of the model lodging-houses, p. 146established mainly by the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury. There is one in Fetter Lane, another in Hatton Garden; and, indeed, they are scattered all over London. I went there simply because I could not afford a better lodging. I have had to make seven shillings and ninepence halfpenny (three shillings of which I paid for my lodging) last me a whole week, and did it. It is astonishing how little you can live on when you divest yourself of all fancied needs. I had plenty of good wheaten bread to eat all the week, and the half of a herring for a relish (less will do if you can’t afford half, for it is a splendid fish), and good coffee to drink; and I know how much, or rather how little, roast shoulder-of-mutton you can get for twopence for your Sunday’s dinner. Don’t suppose I went there from choice; I went from stern necessity (and this was promotion too), and I went with strong shrinking, with a sense of suffering great humiliation, regarding my being there as a thing to be kept carefully secret from all my old friends. In a word, I considered it only less degrading than spunging upon my friends, or borrowing what I saw no chance of ever being able to pay.

“Now, what did I see there? I found the workmen considerate for each other. I found that they would go out (those who were out of employment), day after day, and patiently trudge miles and miles seeking employment, returning, night after night, unsuccessful and dispirited. They would walk incredibly long distances to places where they heard of a job of work, and this not for a few days, but for very many days. And I have seen such a man sit down wearily by the fire (we had a common room for sitting, and cooking, and everything), with a hungry despondent look—he had not tasted food all day—and accosted by another scarcely less poor than himself, with—‘Here, mate, get this into thee,’ handing him, at the same time, a piece of bread and some cold meat, and afterwards some coffee; and adding, ‘Better luck to-morrow—keep up your pecker;’ and all this without any idea that they were practising the most splendid patience, fortitude, courage, and generosity I had ever seen. You would hear them talk of absent wife and children sometimes—there in a distant workhouse—trade was very bad then—with expressions of affection, and the hope of seeing them again, although the one was irreverently alluded to as my old woman, and the latter as the kids. I p. 147very soon got rid of miserable self-pity there, and came to reflect that Dr. Livingstone would probably be thankful for good wheaten bread; and if the bed was of flock and hay, and the sheets of cotton, that better men than I in the Crimea (the war was then going on) would think themselves very lucky to have as good; and then, too, I began to reflect, that when you come to think of it, such as these men were, so were the vast majority of the working classes; that the idle and the drunken we see about public-houses, are but a small minority of them made to appear more—because public-houses are all put in such places; that the great bulk are at home; for the man who has to be up at six in the morning can’t stay up at night; he is in bed early, and is as I found my fellow inmates. * * * Well, it was impossible to indulge in self-pity in circumstances like these; and emulous of the genuine manhood all around me, I set to work again; for what might not be done with youth and health; and simply by preparing myself rather more thoroughly for my business than had previously been considered necessary, I was soon strong enough to live more in accordance with my previous life, and am now able to speak a true word for the genuine men I left behind, simply because my dear parents had given me greater advantages than these men had.” In this confession we see the secrets of Mr. Plimsoll’s ultimate success—the better education his parents had given him, and the courage infused into him by the example of men lower down in the social scale. Under these circumstances he again went to work, and the result was fame and fortune.

The great railway king, Mr. G. Hudson, was, for a time, a money-making M.P., who rose from the linendraper’s shop at York, to be the observed of all observers, the lion of the day, to whom, while his money lasted, the oldest and the proudest aristocracy in the world stood cap in hand. Alas! however, he outlived his wealth. It took to itself wings, and flew away.

The mother of Joseph Hume, M.P., kept a small crockery shop at Montrose; and yet her son went out to India, made a large fortune, and came back to his native land to be a distinguished member of parliament, and a leader in political and economical reform.

Mr. I. Holden, when M.P. for the eastern division of the West Riding of Yorkshire, told a large meeting of the electors at Leeds about his earlier years. “I began life,” he said, p. 148“as an operative. I was a worker in a cotton-mill, and when I had worked fourteen hours a-day, I spent two in the evening school. I educated myself by that means till I was able to continue my education by assisting in the education of others; and I sometimes remember with intense emotion, entering, upon a stage-coach, the town of Leeds, unknown, and a perfect stranger, at twenty years of age, in order to be the mathematical master in one of the first schools then in Yorkshire, and almost one of the first in England. I spent many happy months in the town of Leeds.” When he began to take an interest in politics, he watched the course of the two great parties on the subject of Catholic emancipation and the emancipation of the slaves, and became a Liberal.

Edward Baines, who became M.P. for Leeds, and the proprietor of one of the most valuable newspaper properties in the kingdom, the Leeds Mercury, set off to make his fortune in 1793. His son writes:—“There was at that time no public conveyance on the direct route from Preston to Leeds, and the journey by coach, through Manchester, would have occupied two days. The frugal apprentice, stout of heart and limb, performed the journey on foot, with his bundle on his arm. A friend accompanied him to Clithero; but he crossed the hill into Yorkshire with no companion but his staff, and all his worldly wealth in his pocket. Wayworn he entered the town of Leeds, and, finding the shop of Messrs. Binns and Brown, he inquired if they had room for an apprentice to finish his time. The stranger was carelessly referred to the foreman; and, as he entered the Mercury office, he internally resolved that, if he should obtain admission there, he would never leave it.” And he kept his word. A man does what he wills. To succeed in life—to be even a rich man or an M.P.—is mainly the result of the effort of the indomitable will of a resolute and persevering man.

Mr. Baines succeeded because his maxim was, that what was worth doing, was worth doing well. “He laid the foundations of future success,” writes his son, “as a master, in the thorough knowledge and performance of the duties of a workman. Whilst still receiving weekly wages, he practised a prudent economy. He was anxious to improve his condition, and he took the only effectual means to do it by saving as much as he could of the fruits of his industry. His tastes were simple, his habits strictly temperate, and his companionships p. 149virtuous. Always maintaining respectability of appearance, he was superior to personal display. He lodged with a worthy family; but on a scale of expense suited to his circumstances.” An early marriage seems to have increased his business energy. “At five o’clock in the morning, and, when occasion required, at four or three, was the young printer out of bed; and whatever neighbour rose early was sure to find him in his office. He was above no kind of work that belonged to his trade. He not only directed others, but worked himself at case and press. He kept his own books, and they still remain to attest the regularity and neatness with which he kept them, though he had no training in that department. Not a penny went or came but had its record, either in his office or his domestic account-books. In consequence, he always knew the exact position of his affairs. His customers and friends steadily increased; for it was found that he was to be depended upon for whatever he undertook. With a spirit that stooped to no meanness, but with a nature that cheerfully yielded all respect and courtesy; with a temper as steady as it was sanguine and happy; with constant prudence and unfailing attention to duty, he won the confidence of every one that knew him. His punctuality and method were exemplary; he conducted his business, in all respects, in the best way. He not only took any employment for his press, however humble, that came, but he devised and suggested publications, and joined others in executing them. But,” adds the son, “it was necessary that energy in business should be seconded by economy at home. He began by laying down the rule that he would not spend more than half his income; and he acted upon it. Great was his resolution, and many the contrivances to carry out his purpose; but husband and wife being of the same mind, assiduous and equally prudent, the thing was done. For some time they kept but one servant. A main secret of his frugality was, that he created no artificial wants. He always drank water. He never smoked, justly thinking it a waste of time and money to gratify a taste which does not exist naturally, but has to be formed. He took no snuff. Neither tavern nor theatre saw his face. The circle of his visiting acquaintance was small and select. Yet he was not an earth-worm. He took an active part in the Benevolent or Strangers’ Friend Society, and was a man of public spirit. The pure joys of domestic p. 150life, the pleasures of industry, and the satisfaction of doing good, combined to make him as happy as he was useful.”

Thus it will be seen that the foundation of Mr. Baines’s success in life, and of his eminent usefulness, was laid in those homely virtues which are too often despised by the young and ardent, but which are of incomparably greater value than the most shining qualities—in integrity, industry, perseverance, prudence, frugality, temperance, self-denial, and courtesy. The young man who would use his harvest must plough with his heifer.