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 <I>her</I> 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 <I>they</I> 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 you,
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
'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.
'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 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 <I>him</I>.
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 majestic
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 poor Oliver.
'No, she can't,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'But she'll come and see you
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
'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 <I>is</I> 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
'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 <I>could</I> 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 <I>him</I>. But he hadn't, because nobody had
'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
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
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
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 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
'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.
'For <I>more</I>!' 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