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 experimental philosopher.
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
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 you, sure-ly!'
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
'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.
'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, Mr. Bumble?'
'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 of sugar.'
Mr. Bumble coughed.
'Now, just a leetle drop,' said Mrs. Mann persuasively.
'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
'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 con--dition.'
Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a
moment's reflection, 'How comes he to have any name at all,
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'I
'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 Z.'
'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
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
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 Oliver.
'The boy _is_ a fool--I thought he was,' said the gentleman in the
'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
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
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.