The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

By Charles Dickens

Table Of Contents


This story was begun, within a few months after the publication of the completed "Pickwick Papers." There were, then, a good many cheap Yorkshire schools in existence. There are very few now.

Of the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the disregard of it by the State as a means of forming good or bad citizens, and miserable or happy men, private schools long afforded a notable example. Although any man who had proved his unfitness for any other occupation in life, was free, without examination or qualification, to open a school anywhere; although preparation for the functions he undertook, was required in the surgeon who assisted to bring a boy into the world, or might one day assist, perhaps, to send him out of it; in the chemist, the attorney, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker; the whole round of crafts and trades, the schoolmaster excepted; and although schoolmasters, as a race, were the blockheads and impostors who might naturally be expected to spring from such a state of things, and to flourish in it; these Yorkshire schoolmasters were the lowest and most rotten round in the whole ladder. Traders in the avarice, indifference, or imbecility of parents, and the helplessness of children; ignorant, sordid, brutal men, to whom few considerate persons would have entrusted the board and lodging of a horse or a dog; they formed the worthy cornerstone of a structure, which, for absurdity and a magnificent high-minded LAISSEZ-ALLER neglect, has rarely been exceeded in the world.

We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified medical practitioner, who has deformed a broken limb in pretending to heal it. But, what of the hundreds of thousands of minds that have been deformed for ever by the incapable pettifoggers who have pretended to form them!

I make mention of the race, as of the Yorkshire schoolmasters, in the past tense. Though it has not yet finally disappeared, it is dwindling daily. A long day`s work remains to be done about us in the way of education, Heaven knows; but great improvements and facilities towards the attainment of a good one, have been furnished, of late years.

I cannot call to mind, now, how I came to hear about Yorkshire schools when I was a not very robust child, sitting in bye-places near Rochester Castle, with a head full of PARTRIDGE, STRAP, TOM PIPES, and SANCHO PANZA; but I know that my first impressions of them were picked up at that time, and that they were somehow or other connected with a suppurated abscess that some boy had come home with, in consequence of his Yorkshire guide, philosopher, and friend, having ripped it open with an inky pen-knife. The impression made upon me, however made, never left me. I was always curious about Yorkshire schools--fell, long afterwards and at sundry times, into the way of hearing more about them--at last, having an audience, resolved to write about them.

With that intent I went down into Yorkshire before I began this book, in very severe winter time which is pretty faithfully described herein. As I wanted to see a schoolmaster or two, and was forewarned that those gentlemen might, in their modesty, be shy of receiving a visit from the author of the "Pickwick Papers," I consulted with a professional friend who had a Yorkshire connexion, and with whom I concerted a pious fraud. He gave me some letters of introduction, in the name, I think, of my travelling companion; they bore reference to a supposititious little boy who had been left with a widowed mother who didn`t know what to do with him; the poor lady had thought, as a means of thawing the tardy compassion of her relations in his behalf, of sending him to a Yorkshire school; I was the poor lady`s friend, travelling that way; and if the recipient of the letter could inform me of a school in his neighbourhood, the writer would be very much obliged.

I went to several places in that part of the country where I understood the schools to be most plentifully sprinkled, and had no occasion to deliver a letter until I came to a certain town which shall be nameless. The person to whom it was addressed, was not at home; but he came down at night, through the snow, to the inn where I was staying. It was after dinner; and he needed little persuasion to sit down by the fire in a warrn corner, and take his share of the wine that was on the table.

I am afraid he is dead now. I recollect he was a jovial, ruddy, broad-faced man; that we got acquainted directly; and that we talked on all kinds of subjects, except the school, which he showed a great anxiety to avoid. "Was there any large school near?" I asked him, in reference to the letter. "Oh yes," he said; "there was a pratty big `un." "Was it a good one?" I asked. "Ey!" he said, "it was as good as anoother; that was a` a matther of opinion"; and fell to looking at the fire, staring round the room, and whistling a little. On my reverting to some other topic that we had been discussing, he recovered immediately; but, though I tried him again and again, I never approached the question of the school, even if he were in the middle of a laugh, without observing that his countenance fell, and that he became uncomfortable. At last, when we had passed a couple of hours or so, very agreeably, he suddenly took up his hat, and leaning over the table and looking me full in the face, said, in a low voice: "Weel, Misther, we`ve been vara pleasant toogather, and ar`ll spak` my moind tiv`ee. Dinnot let the weedur send her lattle boy to yan o` our school-measthers, while there`s a harse to hoold in a` Lunnun, or a gootther to lie asleep in. Ar wouldn`t mak` ill words amang my neeburs, and ar speak tiv`ee quiet loike. But I`m dom`d if ar can gang to bed and not tellee, for weedur`s sak`, to keep the lattle boy from a` sike scoondrels while there`s a harse to hoold in a` Lunnun, or a gootther to lie asleep in!" Repeating these words with great heartiness, and with a solemnity on his jolly face that made it look twice as large as before, he shook hands and went away. I never saw him afterwards, but I sometimes imagine that I descry a faint reflection of him in John Browdie.

In reference to these gentry, I may here quote a few words from the original preface to this book.

"It has afforded the Author great amusement and satisfaction, during the progress of this work, to learn, from country friends and from a variety of ludicrous statements concerning himself in provincial newspapers, that more than one Yorkshire schoolmaster lays claim to being the original of Mr. Squeers. One worthy, he has reason to believe, has actually consulted authorities learned in the law, as to his having good grounds on which to rest an action for libel; another, has meditated a journey to London, for the express purpose of committing an assault and battery on his traducer; a third, perfectly remembers being waited on, last January twelve-month, by two gentlemen, one of whom held him in conversation while the other took his likeness; and, although Mr. Squeers has but one eye, and he has two, and the published sketch does not resemble him (whoever he may be) in any other respect, still he and all his friends and neighbours know at once for whom it is meant, because--the character is SO like him.

"While the Author cannot but feel the full force of the compliment thus conveyed to him, he ventures to suggest that these contentions may arise from the fact, that Mr. Squeers is the representative of a class, and not of an individual. Where imposture, ignorance, and brutal cupidity, are the stock in trade of a small body of men, and one is described by these characteristics, all his fellows will recognise something belonging to themselves, and each will have a misgiving that the portrait is his own.

`The Author`s object in calling public attention to the system would be very imperfectly fulfilled, if he did not state now, in his own person, emphatically and earnestly, that Mr. Squeers and his school are faint and feeble pictures of an existing reality, purposely subdued and kept down lest they should be deemed impossible. That there are, upon record, trials at law in which damages have been sought as a poor recompense for lasting agonies and disfigurements inflicted upon children by the treatment of the master in these places, involving such offensive and foul details of neglect, cruelty, and disease, as no writer of fiction would have the boldness to imagine. And that, since he has been engaged upon these Adventures, he has received, from private quarters far beyond the reach of suspicion or distrust, accounts of atrocities, in the perpetration of which upon neglected or repudiated children, these schools have been the main instruments, very far exceeding any that appear in these pages."

This comprises all I need say on the subject; except that if I had seen occasion, I had resolved to reprint a few of these details of legal proceedings, from certain old newspapers.

One other quotation from the same Preface may serve to introduce a fact that my readers may think curious.

"To turn to a more pleasant subject, it may be right to say, that there ARE two characters in this book which are drawn from life. It is remarkable that what we call the world, which is so very credulous in what professes to be true, is most incredulous in what professes to be imaginary; and that, while, every day in real life, it will allow in one man no blemishes, and in another no virtues, it will seldom admit a very strongly-marked character, either good or bad, in a fictitious narrative, to be within the limits of probability. But those who take an interest in this tale, will be glad to learn that the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE live; that their liberal charity, their singleness of heart, their noble nature, and their unbounded benevolence, are no creations of the Author`s brain; but are prompting every day (and oftenest by stealth) some munificent and generous deed in that town of which they are the pride and honour."

If I were to attempt to sum up the thousands of letters, from all sorts of people in all sorts of latitudes and climates, which this unlucky paragraph brought down upon me, I should get into an arithmetical difficulty from which I could not easily extricate myself. Suffice it to say, that I believe the applications for loans, gifts, and offices of profit that I have been requested to forward to the originals of the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE (with whom I never interchanged any communication in my life) would have exhausted the combined patronage of all the Lord Chancellors since the accession of the House of Brunswick, and would have broken the Rest of the Bank of England.

The Brothers are now dead.

There is only one other point, on which I would desire to offer a remark. If Nicholas be not always found to be blameless or agreeable, he is not always intended to appear so. He is a young man of an impetuous temper and of little or no experience; and I saw no reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature.

CHAPTER 1 - Introduces all the Rest

CHAPTER 2 - Of Mr Ralph Nickleby, and his Establishments, and his Undertakings, and of a great Joint Stock Company of vast national Importance

CHAPTER 3 - Mr Ralph Nickleby receives Sad Tidings of his Brother, but bears up nobly against the Intelligence communicated to him.  The Reader is informed how he liked Nicholas, who is herein introduced, and how kindly he proposed to make his Fortune at once

CHAPTER 4 - Nicholas and his Uncle (to secure the Fortune without loss of time) wait upon Mr Wackford Squeers, the Yorkshire Schoolmaster

CHAPTER 5 - Nicholas starts for Yorkshire.  Of his Leave-taking and his FellowTravellers, and what befell them on the Road

CHAPTER 6 - In which the Occurrence of the Accident mentioned in the last Chapter, affords an Opportunity to a couple of Gentlemen to tell Stories against each other

CHAPTER 7 - Mr and Mrs Squeers at Home

CHAPTER 8 - Of the Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall

CHAPTER 9 - Of Miss Squeers, Mrs Squeers, Master Squeers, and Mr Squeers; and of various Matters and Persons connected no less with the Squeerses than Nicholas Nickleby

CHAPTER 10 - How Mr Ralph Nickleby provided for his Niece and Sister-in-Law

CHAPTER 11 - Newman Noggs inducts Mrs and Miss Nickleby into their New Dwelling in the City

CHAPTER 12 - Whereby the Reader will be enabled to trace the further course of Miss Fanny Squeer`s Love, and to ascertain whether it ran smooth or otherwise.

CHAPTER 13 - Nicholas varies the Monotony of Dothebys Hall by a most vigorous and remarkable proceeding, which leads to Consequences of some Importance

CHAPTER 14 - Having the Misfortune to treat of none but Common People, is necessarily of a Mean and Vulgar Character

CHAPTER 15 - Acquaints the Reader with the Cause and Origin of the Interruption described in the last Chapter, and with some other Matters necessary to be known

CHAPTER 16 - Nicholas seeks to employ himself in a New Capacity, and being unsuccessful, accepts an engagement as Tutor in a Private Family

CHAPTER 17 - Follows the Fortunes of Miss Nickleby

CHAPTER 18 - Miss Knag, after doting on Kate Nickleby for three whole Days, makes up her Mind to hate her for evermore.  The Causes which led Miss Knag to form this Resolution

CHAPTER 19 - Descriptive of a Dinner at Mr Ralph Nickleby`s, and of the Manner in which the Company entertained themselves, before Dinner, at Dinner, and after Dinner.

CHAPTER 20 - Wherein Nicholas at length encounters his Uncle, to whom he expresses his Sentiments with much Candour.  His Resolution.

CHAPTER 21 - Madam Mantalini finds herself in a Situation of some Difficulty, and Miss Nickleby finds herself in no Situation at all

CHAPTER 22 - Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek his Fortune. He encounters Mr Vincent Crummles; and who he was, is herein made manifest

CHAPTER 23 - Treats of the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles, and of his Affairs, Domestic and Theatrical

CHAPTER 24 - Of the Great Bespeak for Miss Snevellicci, and the first Appearance of Nicholas upon any Stage

CHAPTER 25 - Concerning a young Lady from London, who joins the Company, and an elderly Admirer who follows in her Train; with an affecting Ceremony consequent on their Arrival

CHAPTER 26 - Is fraught with some Danger to Miss Nickleby`s Peace of Mind

CHAPTER 27 - Mrs Nickleby becomes acquainted with Messrs Pyke and Pluck, whose Affection and Interest are beyond all Bounds

CHAPTER 28 - Miss Nickleby, rendered desperate by the Persecution of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and the Complicated Difficulties and Distresses which surround her, appeals, as a last resource, to her Uncle for Protection

CHAPTER 29 - Of the Proceedings of Nicholas, and certain Internal Divisions in the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles

CHAPTER 30 - Festivities are held in honour of Nicholas, who suddenly withdraws himself from the Society of Mr Vincent Crummles and his Theatrical Companions

CHAPTER 31 - Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggs, and some wise Precautions, the success or failure of which will appear in the Sequel

CHAPTER 32 - Relating chiefly to some remarkable Conversation, and some remarkable Proceedings to which it gives rise

CHAPTER 33 - In which Mr Ralph Nickleby is relieved, by a very expeditious Process, from all Commerce with his Relations

CHAPTER 34 - Wherein Mr Ralph Nickleby is visited by Persons with whom the Reader has been already made acquainted

CHAPTER 35 - Smike becomes known to Mrs Nickleby and Kate.  Nicholas also meets with new Acquaintances.  Brighter Days seem to dawn upon the Family

CHAPTER 36 - Private and confidential; relating to Family Matters.  Showing how Mr Kenwigs underwent violent Agitation, and how Mrs Kenwigs was as well as could be expected

CHAPTER 37 - Nicholas finds further Favour in the Eyes of the brothers Cheeryble and Mr Timothy Linkinwater.  The brothers give a Banquet on a great Annual Occasion.  Nicholas, on returning Home from it, receives a mysterious disclosure from the Lips of Mrs Nickleby

CHAPTER 38 - Comprises certain Particulars arising out of a Visit of Condolence, which may prove important hereafter.  Smike unexpectedly encounters a very old Friend, who invites him to his House, and will take no Denial

CHAPTER 39 - In which another old Friend encounters Smike, very opportunely and to some Purpose

CHAPTER 40 - In which Nicholas falls in Love.  He employs a Mediator, whose Proceedings are crowned with unexpected Success, excepting in one solitary Particular

CHAPTER 41 - Containing some Romantic Passages between Mrs Nickleby and the Gentleman in the Small-clothes next Door

CHAPTER 42 - Illustrative of the convivial Sentiment, that the best of Friends must sometimes part

CHAPTER 43 - Officiates as a kind of Gentleman Usher, in bringing various People together

CHAPTER 44 - Mr Ralph Nickleby cuts an old Acquaintance.  It would also appear from the Contents hereof, that a Joke, even between Husband and Wife, may be sometimes carried too far

CHAPTER 45 - Containing Matter of a surprising Kind

CHAPTER 46 - Throws some Light upon Nicholas`s Love; but whether for Good or Evil the Reader must determine

CHAPTER 47 - Mr Ralph Nickleby has some confidential Intercourse with another old Friend.  They concert between them a Project, which promises well for both

CHAPTER 48 - Being for the Benefit of Mr Vincent Crummles, and positively his last Appearance on this Stage

CHAPTER 49 - Chronicles the further Proceedings of the Nickleby Family, and the Sequel of the Adventure of the Gentleman in the Small-clothes

CHAPTER 50 - Involves a serious Catastrophe

CHAPTER 51 - The Project of Mr Ralph Nickleby and his Friend approaching a successful Issue, becomes unexpectedly known to another Party, not admitted into their Confidence

CHAPTER 52 - Nicholas despairs of rescuing Madeline Bray, but plucks up his Spirits again, and determines to attempt it.  Domestic Intelligence of the Kenwigses and Lillyvicks

CHAPTER 53 - Containing the further Progress of the Plot contrived by Mr Ralph Nickleby and Mr Arthur Gride

CHAPTER 54 - The Crisis of the Project and its Result

CHAPTER 55 - Of Family Matters, Cares, Hopes, Disappointments, and Sorrows

CHAPTER 56 - Ralph Nickleby, baffled by his Nephew in his late Design, hatches a Scheme of Retaliation which Accident suggests to him, and takes into his Counsels a tried Auxiliary

CHAPTER 57 - How Ralph Nickleby`s Auxiliary went about his Work, and how he prospered with it

CHAPTER 58 - In which one Scene of this History is closed

CHAPTER 59 - The Plots begin to fail, and Doubts and Dangers to disturb the Plotter

CHAPTER 60 - The Dangers thicken, and the Worst is told

CHAPTER 61 - Wherein Nicholas and his Sister forfeit the good Opinion of all worldly and prudent People

CHAPTER 62 - Ralph makes one last Appointment--and keeps it

CHAPTER 63 - The Brothers Cheeryble make various Declarations for themselves and others.  Tim Linkinwater makes a Declaration for himself

CHAPTER 64 - An old Acquaintance is recognised under melancholy Circumstances, and Dotheboys Hall breaks up for ever

CHAPTER 65 - Conclusion




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