Charles Dickens, David Copperfield: Ch. 2

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There is nothing half so green that I know anywhere, as the grass of that churchyard; nothing half so shady as its trees; nothing half so quiet as its tombstones. The sheep are feeding there, when I kneel up, early in the morning, in my little bed in a closetw within my mother's room, to look out at it; and I see the red light shining on the sun-dial, and think within myself, 'Is the sun-dial glad, I wonder, that it can tell the time again?'

Here is our pew in the church. What a high-backed pew! With a window near it, out of which our house can be seen, and IS seen many times during the morning's service, by Peggotty, who likes to make herself as sure as she can that it's not being robbed, or is not in flames. But though Peggotty's eye wanders, she is much offended if mine does, and frowns to me, as I stand upon the seat, that I am to look at the clergyman. But I can't always look at him—I know him without that white thing on, and I am afraid of his wondering why I stare so, and perhaps stopping the service to inquire—and what am I to do?d It's a dreadful thing to gape, but I must do something. I look at my mother, but she pretends not to see me. I look at a boy in the aisle, and he makes faces at me. I look at the sunlight coming in at the open door through the porch, and there I see a stray sheep—I don't mean a sinner, but mutton—half making up his mind to come into the church. I feel that if I looked at him any longer, I might be tempted to say something out loud; and what would become of me then! I look up at the monumental tablets on the wall, and try to think of Mr. Bodgers late of this parish,d and what the feelings of Mrs. Bodgers must have been, when affliction sore, long time Mr. Bodgers bore, and physicians were in vain. I wonder whether they called in Mr. Chillip, and he was in vain; and if so, how he likes to be reminded of it once a week. I look from Mr. Chillip, in his Sunday neckcloth, to the pulpit; and think what a good place it would be to play in, and what a castle it would make, with another boy coming up the stairs to attack it, and having the velvet cushion with the tassels thrown down on his head. In time my eyes gradually shut up; and, from seeming to hear the clergyman singing a drowsy song in the heat, I hear nothing, until I fall off the seat with a crash, and am taken out, more dead than alive, by Peggotty.

And now I seed the outside of our house, with the latticed bedroom-windows standing open to let in the sweet-smelling air, and the ragged old rooks'-nests still dangling in the elm-trees at the bottom of the front garden. Now I am in the garden at the back, beyond the yard where the empty pigeon-house and dog-kennel are—a very preserve of butterflies, as I remember it, with a high fence, and a gate and padlock; where the fruit clusters on the trees, riper and richer than fruit has ever been since, in any other garden, and where my mother gathers some in a basket, while I stand by, bolting furtive gooseberries, and trying to look unmoved. A great wind rises, and the summer is gone in a moment.d We are playing in the winter twilight, dancing about the parlour. When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers, and straiteningw her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

That is among my very earliest impressions. That, and a sense that we were both a little afraid of Peggotty, and submitted ourselves in most things to her direction, were among the first opinions—if they may be so called—that I ever derived from what I saw.

Peggotty and I were sitting one night by the parlour fire, alone. I had been reading to Peggottyd about crocodiles. I must have read very perspicuously, or the poor soul must have been deeply interested, for I remember she had a cloudy impression, after I had done, that they were a sort of vegetable. I was tired of reading, and dead sleepy; but having leave, as a high treat, to sit up until my mother came home from spending the evening at a neighbour's, I would rather have died upon my post (of course) than have gone to bed. I had reached that stage of sleepiness when Peggotty seemed to swell and grow immensely large. I propped my eyelids open with my two forefingers, and looked perseveringly at her as she sat at work; at the little bit of wax-candle she kept for her thread—how old it looked, being so wrinkled in all directions!d—at the little house with a thatched roof, where the yard-measure lived; at her work-box with a sliding lid, with a view of St. Paul's Cathedralh (with a pink dome) painted on the top; at the brass thimble on her finger; at herself, whom I thought lovely. I felt so sleepy, that I knew if I lost sight of anything for a moment, I was gone.d

X [w] closet


A small private room or chamber within his mother's room.

X [d] But I can't always look at him—I know him wit…


The passage describes in vivid terms a facet of childhood. George Orwell's writes, 

No one, at any rate no English writer, has written better about childhood than Dickens. In spite of all the knowledge that has accumulated since, in spite of the fact that children are now comparatively sanely treated, no novelist has shown the same power of entering into the child’s point of view. I must have been about nine years old when I first read …

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X [d] late of this parish,

Writing & Reading

The formulaic locution on the gravestone (Dickens will use it again at the opening of Great Expectations). The tablet also contains references to "affliction sore, long time...bore" that prompt David's speculations about suffering.

X [d] And now I see

The repeated "now's" underscore the way in which a vivid memory asserts itself so strongly as to become present. 

X [d] A great wind rises, and the summer is gone in…


Though the memory seems saturated with and indistinguishable from time, in fact time is about the least stable element in the memory.

I have no record of Dickens having read Saint Augustine's Confessions, yet there are some resemblances, especially with that work's famous Chapter XI. 

X [w] straitening

Narrowing by breathing in.

X [d] I had been reading to Peggotty

Writing & Reading

Reading and writing are watersheds in the lives of many Dickens characters. Books represent a passage into other and often exotic worlds. 

Dickens appears to have learned to read when he was five, largely taught by his mother. He writes to Forster, "I faintly remember her [his mother] teaching me the alphabet; and when I look upon the fat black letters in the primer, the puzzling novelty of their shapes, the easy good nature of O and S always seem to present themselves before me as they used to do."

X [d] how old it looked, being so wrinkled in all d…


David means the surface of the candle, the thread having made wrinkles as Peggoty rubbed it across the candle to make thread easier to get through the needle's eye. Yet this is another association involving human frailty, following just now David's thinking about Bodgers's illness and death and earlier Lazarus. David's being a posthumous child shadows his early life. 

X [h] St. Paul's Cathedral

The great Anglican church designed by Sir Christopher Wren and a landmark of London.

X [d] that I knew if I lost sight of anything for a…

Writing & Reading

David means "gone" to sleep. But the little statment—"if I lost sight of anything for a moment, I was gone"—may be read as the most fundamental assertion of Dickens himself: seeing for him was synonymous with being.