Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 34

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I was usually at Hammersmith about half the week, and when I was at Hammersmith I haunted Richmond, whereof separately by and by. Herbert would often come to Hammersmith when I was there, and I think at those seasons his father would occasionally have some passing perception that the opening he was looking for, had not appeared yet. But in the general tumbling up of the family, his tumbling out in life somewhere, was a thing to transact itself somehow. In the meantime Mr. Pocket grew grayer, and tried oftener to lift himself out of his perplexities by the hair. While Mrs. Pocket tripped up the family with her footstool, read her book of dignities,w lost her pocket-handkerchief, told us about her grandpapa, and taught the young idea how to shoot, by shooting it into bedd whenever it attracted her notice.

As I am now generalizing a period of my life with the object of clearing my way before me, I can scarcely do so better than by at once completing the description of our usual manners and customs at Barnard's Inn.

We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last aspect a rather common one.

Every morning, with an air ever new, Herbert went into the City to look about him. I often paid him a visit in the dark back-room in which he consorted with an ink-jar, a hat-peg, a coal-box, a string-box, an almanac, a desk and stool, and a ruler; and I do not remember that I ever saw him do anything else but look about him. If we all did what we undertake to do, as faithfully as Herbert did, we might live in a Republic of the Virtues.h He had nothing else to do, poor fellow, except at a certain hour of every afternoon to "go to Lloyd's"h—in observance of a ceremony of seeing his principal, I think. He never did anything else in connection with Lloyd's that I could find out, except come back again. When he felt his case unusually serious, and that he positively must find an opening, he would go on 'Changew at a busy time, and walk in and out, in a kind of gloomy country dance figure, among the assembled magnates. "For," says Herbert to me, coming home to dinner on one of those special occasions, "I find the truth to be, Handel, that an opening won't come to one, but one must go to it,—so I have been."

If we had been less attached to one another, I think we must have hated one another regularly every morning. I detested the chambers beyond expression at that period of repentance, and could not endure the sight of the Avenger's livery; which had a more expensive and a less remunerativew appearance then than at any other time in the four-and-twenty hours. As we got more and more into debt, breakfast became a hollower and hollower form, and, being on one occasion at breakfast-time threatened (by letter) with legal proceedings, "not unwholly unconnected,"d as my local paper might put it, "with jewelery," I went so far as to seize the Avenger by his blue collar and shake him off his feet,—so that he was actually in the air, like a booted Cupid,h—for presuming to suppose that we wanted a roll.

At certain times—meaning at uncertain times, for they depended on our humor—I would say to Herbert, as if it were a remarkable discovery,—

"My dear Herbert, we are getting on badly."

"My dear Handel," Herbert would say to me, in all sincerity, if you will believe me, those very words were on my lips, by a strange coincidence."

"Then, Herbert," I would respond, "let us look into out affairs."

We always derived profound satisfaction from making an appointment for this purpose. I always thought this was business, this was the way to confront the thing, this was the way to take the foe by the throat. And I know Herbert thought so too.

We ordered something rather special for dinner, with a bottle of something similarly out of the common way, in order that our minds might be fortified for the occasion, and we might come well up to the mark. Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copiousw supply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper. For there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery.

X [w] book of dignities,

Writing & Reading

Dignities here means people of high rank, the book being Debrett's Peerage, the only book it seems she reads.

X [d] taught the young idea how to shoot, by shooti…

Writing & Reading

Dickens takes the first meaning of "shoot" (to grow) from James Thomson's long poem The Seasons (Search), "Delightful task! to rear the tender thought,/ To teach the young idea* how to shoot... (I, 1151-52), as in small shoots appear. Yet he uses the double entendre on "shoot" to indicate Mrs. Pocket's shooting in the sense of making her small child a projectile.…

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X [h] Republic of the Virtues.

Writing & Reading

The phrase Republic of Virtues comes from Maximillien Robespierre. Under his guidance, the state was evolving into a Republic of Virtue. By "Republic" he means that the people or their representatives have entire political power, which specifically excludes a monarchy. The monarchy is literally as well as politically dead. By "Virtues" he means that the morality of the people, that…

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X [h] "go to Lloyd's"


A natural business establishment for Herbert to visit, given his plans for increasing his capital through shipping. Lloyd's, the association of people who took shares in insuring ships, is located in the Royal Exchange, with the Bank of England the center of British commerce and for that matter the world's commerce then. Here, as before when Wemmick uses the word, "principal" refers to an active owner. 

X [w] 'Change

Abbreviation for the Royal Exchange, the site in the City of such businesses as Lloyd's and of the stock exchange.

X [w] a more expensive and a less remunerative

Expensive, without any concomitant gain, financial or otherwise; remunerative means providing some sort of reward, often monetary.

X [d] "not unwholly unconnected,"

In chapter 28, the newspaper coyly speaks of "a highly-respected individual not entirely unconnected with the corn and seed trade...." 

X [h] like a booted Cupid,


A Cupid because the Avenger seems for a moment free-floating in the air, and booted because those expensive boots are his most distinctive feature. A booted Cupid is comic, Cupid generally being naked except for a bit of cloth floated decorously in front of his genitals. 

X [w] copious