Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 23

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By degrees I learnt, and chiefly from Herbert, that Mr. Pocket had been educated at Harrow and at Cambridge,h where he had distinguished himself; but that when he had had the happiness of marrying Mrs. Pocket very early in life, he had impaired his prospects and taken up the calling of a Grinder.w After grinding a number of dull blades,w—of whom it was remarkable that their fathers, when influential, were always going to help him to preferment,w but always forgot to do it when the blades had left the Grindstone,—he had wearied of that poor work and had come to London. Here, after gradually failing in loftier hopes, he had "read"w with diversw who had lacked opportunities or neglected them, and had refurbished divers others for special occasions, and had turned his acquirements to the account of literary compilation and correction, and on such means, added to some very moderate private resources, still maintained the house I saw.

Mr. and Mrs. Pocket had a toadyw neighbor; a widow lady of that highly sympathetic nature that she agreed with everybody, blessed everybody, and shed smiles and tears on everybody, according to circumstances. This lady's name was Mrs. Coiler, and I had the honor of taking her down to dinnerw on the day of my installation. She gave me to understand on the stairs, that it was a blow to dear Mrs. Pocket that dear Mr. Pocket should be under the necessity of receiving gentlemen to read with him. That did not extend to me, she told me in a gush of love and confidence (at that time, I had known her something less than five minutes); if they were all like Me, it would be quite another thing.

"But dear Mrs. Pocket," said Mrs. Coiler, "after her early disappointment (not that dear Mr. Pocket was to blame in that), requires so much luxury and elegance—"

"Yes, ma'am," I said, to stop her, for I was afraid she was going to cry.

"And she is of so aristocratic a disposition—"

"Yes, ma'am," I said again, with the same object as before.

"—That it is hard," said Mrs. Coiler, "to have dear Mr. Pocket's time and attention diverted from dear Mrs. Pocket."

I could not help thinking that it might be harder if the butcher's time and attention were diverted from dear Mrs. Pocket; but I said nothing, and indeed had enough to do in keeping a bashful watch upon my company manners.

It came to my knowledge, through what passed between Mrs. Pocket and Drummle while I was attentive to my knife and fork, spoon, glasses, and other instruments of self-destruction, that Drummle, whose Christian name was Bentley,d was actually the next heir but one to a baronetcy. It further appeared that the book I had seen Mrs. Pocket reading in the garden was all about titles,h and that she knew the exact date at which her grandpapa would have come into the book, if he ever had come at all. Drummle didn't say much, but in his limited way (he struck me as a sulky kind of fellow) he spoke as one of the elect, and recognized Mrs. Pocket as a woman and a sister. No one but themselves and Mrs. Coiler the toady neighbor showed any interest in this part of the conversation, and it appeared to me that it was painful to Herbert; but it promised to last a long time, when the page came in with the announcement of a domestic affliction. It was, in effect, that the cook had mislaid the beef. To my unutterable amazement, I now, for the first time, saw Mr. Pocket relieve his mind by going through a performance that struck me as very extraordinary, but which made no impression on anybody else, and with which I soon became as familiar as the rest. He laid down the carving-knife and fork,—being engaged in carving, at the moment,—put his two hands into his disturbed hair, and appeared to make an extraordinary effort to lift himself up by it. When he had done this, and had not lifted himself up at all, he quietly went on with what he was about.

Mrs. Coiler then changed the subject and began to flatter me. I liked it for a few moments, but she flattered me so very grossly that the pleasure was soon over. She had a serpentine way of coming close at me when she pretended to be vitally interested in the friends and localities I had left, which was altogether snaky and fork-tongued; and when she made an occasional bounce upon Startop (who said very little to her), or upon Drummle (who said less), I rather envied them for being on the opposite side of the table.

X [h] Harrow and at Cambridge,

Education

Harrow, along with Eton, Winchester, Rugby, and a few others, were the preeminent public schools (our private preparatory schools). Mr. Pocket's education was superb, and, moreover, he distinguished himself at it.

X [w] Grinder.

Education

A private tutor who helps prepare students for university examinations; a "crammer." 

X [w] blades,

People

A young, unmarried man. A blade can range from the complimentary notion of an easy-going fellow to the more critical, that of someone who is worldly and possibly dissipated.

X [w] preferment,

Religion

Through the fathers' connections they would assist in advancing Mr. Pocket's prospects in business. "Preferment" can also refer specifically to the appointment of a Church of England clergyman to a congregation. 

X [w] "read"

Tutored and crammed.

X [w] divers

Various; several.

X [w] toady

As in a toady—fawning.

X [w] taking her down to dinner

Escorting her.

X [d] Drummle, whose Christian name was Bentley,

Writing & Reading

Dickens's choice of the name will play on "bent," "bend," and "drum."

X [h] was all about titles,

Class

The New Peerage, the precursor edited by John Almon, appeared in 1769, and John Debrett's Peerage in 1802, whose full title was Debrett's Peerage, or Ancient and Present State of the Nobility in England, Scotland, and Ireland. It is a genealogical work that traces the origins, marriages, descendants, and deaths of each titled family.