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
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
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 beadle's.
'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
Mr. Bumble had a great idea of
his oratorical powers and his importance. He had displayed the one,
and vindicated the other. He relaxed.
'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
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
'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.
'Not a drop. Nor a drop,' said
Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand in a dignified, but placid
'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
'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 condition.'
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
'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
'Will she go with me?' inquired
'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
'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
'Boy,' said the gentleman in the
high chair, 'listen to me. You know you're an orphan, I
'What's that, sir?' inquired poor
'The boy is a fool—I thought he
was,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
'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,
'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
'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
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
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
'Please, sir, I want some
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
'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
'That boy will be hung,' said the
gentleman in the white waistcoat. 'I know that boy will be
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
'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.