Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 22

[+] | [-] | reset
 

"Why, n-no; not to me." He said this with the air of one carefully reckoning up and striking a balance. "Not directly profitable. That is, it doesn't pay me anything, and I have to—keep myself."

This certainly had not a profitable appearance, and I shook my head as if I would imply that it would be difficult to lay by much accumulative capital from such a source of income.

"But the thing is," said Herbert Pocket, "that you look about you. That's the grand thing. You are in a counting-house, you know, and you look about you."

It struck me as a singular implication that you couldn't be out of a counting-house, you know, and look about you; but I silently deferred to his experience.

"Then the time comes," said Herbert, "when you see your opening. And you go in, and you swoop upon it and you make your capital, and then there you are! When you have once made your capital, you have nothing to do but employ it."

This was very like his way of conducting that encounter in the garden; very like. His manner of bearing his poverty, too, exactly corresponded to his manner of bearing that defeat. It seemed to me that he took all blows and buffets now with just the same air as he had taken mine then. It was evident that he had nothing around him but the simplest necessaries, for everything that I remarked upon turned out to have been sent in on my account from the coffee-house or somewhere else.

Yet, having already made his fortune in his own mind, he was so unassuming with it that I felt quite grateful to him for not being puffed up. It was a pleasant addition to his naturally pleasant ways, and we got on famously. In the evening we went out for a walk in the streets, and went half-price to the Theatre;h and next day we went to church at Westminster Abbey, and in the afternoon we walked in the Parks;h and I wondered who shod all the horses there, and wished Joe did.

On a moderate computation,d it was many months, that Sunday, since I had left Joe and Biddy. The space interposed between myself and them partook of that expansion, and our marshes were any distance off. That I could have been at our old church in my old church-going clothes, on the very last Sunday that ever was, seemed a combination of impossibilities, geographical and social, solar and lunar. Yet in the London streets so crowded with people and so brilliantly lightedh in the dusk of evening, there were depressing hints of reproaches for that I had put the poor old kitchen at home so far away; and in the dead of night, the footsteps of some incapable impostor of a porter mooning about Barnard's Inn, under pretence of watching it, fell hollow on my heart.

On the Monday morning at a quarter before nine, Herbert went to the counting-house to report himself,—to look about him, too, I suppose,—and I bore him company. He was to come away in an hour or two to attend me to Hammersmith, and I was to wait about for him. It appeared to me that the eggs from which young Insurers were hatched were incubated in dust and heat, like the eggs of ostriches, judging from the places to which those incipient giants repaired on a Monday morning. Nor did the counting-house where Herbert assisted, show in my eyes as at all a good Observatory;h being a back second floor up a yard, of a grimy presence in all particulars, and with a look into another back second floor, rather than a look out.

I waited about until it was noon, and I went upon 'Change,h and I saw flueyw men sitting there under the bills about shipping, whom I took to be great merchants, though I couldn't understand why they should all be out of spirits. When Herbert came, we went and had lunch at a celebrated house which I then quite venerated, but now believe to have been the most abject superstitionw in Europe, and where I could not help noticing, even then, that there was much more gravy on the tablecloths and knives and waiters' clothes, than in the steaks. This collation disposed of at a moderate price (considering the grease, which was not charged for), we went back to Barnard's Inn and got my little portmanteau, and then took coach for Hammersmith. We arrived there at two or three o'clock in the afternoon, and had very little way to walk to Mr. Pocket's house. Lifting the latch of a gate, we passed direct into a little garden overlooking the river, where Mr. Pocket's children were playing about. And unless I deceive myself on a point where my interests or prepossessions are certainly not concerned, I saw that Mr. and Mrs. Pocket's children were not growing up or being brought up, but were tumbling up.

X [h] and went half-price to the Theatre;

Daily Life

London theaters, which also spanned an enormous range of houses and quality, offered a menu of plays, there being a double-feature consisting of two main works, between which was sandwiched an interlude composed of one or more short pieces. For half-price Herbert and Pip could see part of the program. 

X [h] the Parks;

Amusements

London's West End, the wealthy residential area, had a number of parks and gardens.

X [d] On a moderate computation,

Mind

Dickens touches on the difference between chronological time and psychological time. As Pip and others in the novel illustrate, the formative, traumatic past is always present and has a reality that is at least as vivid as the present's. The psyche is indifferent to time in that there is no past in the mind. The past is for the psyche only a convenient chronological fiction. The pa…

(read more)

X [h] so brilliantly lighted

Daily Life

Gas lighting in London was at the time the novel takes place still something of a novelty, especially to a provincial young man such as Pip. In 1812 Parliament granted a charter to a private company to illuminate parts of the City and Westminster. 

X [h] Observatory;

A reference to Herbert's strenuous "looking about" for a business opportunity.

X [h] I went upon 'Change,

Places

An idiomatic expression to describe a person's going to the Royal Exchange, which housed as well the maritime insurance business, Lloyd's of London being the most prominent firm. But in Dickens' mind is the pun on "Change," which describes not just the huge changes in London that have occurred since the 1820s when the story is now taking place (among them the burning down in 1838 o…

(read more)

X [w] fluey

Sooty.

X [w] superstition

Dickens may be thinking of a particular place, but so far as we know is speaking hyperbolically of the way some establishments acquire a faddish reputation. The OED defines "superstition" in this context as "a tenet, scruple, habit, etc. founded on fear or ignorance."