Charles Dickens, David Copperfield: Ch. 16

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I Am a New Boy in More Senses than One

Next morning, after breakfast, I entered on school life again. I went, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield, to the scene of my future studies—a grave building in a courtyard, with a learned air about it that seemed very well suited to the stray rooks and jackdawsd who came down from the Cathedral towers to walk with a clerkly bearing on the grass-plot—and was introduced to my new master, Doctor Strong.

Doctor Strong looked almost as rusty, to my thinking, as the tall iron rails and gates outside the house; and almost as stiff and heavy as the great stone urns that flanked them, and were set up, on the top of the red-brick wall, at regular distances all round the court, like sublimated skittles,w for Time to play at. He was in his library (I mean Doctor Strong was), with his clothes not particularly well brushed, and his hair not particularly well combed; his knee-smalls unbraced;w his long black gaiters unbuttoned; and his shoes yawning like two caverns on the hearth-rug. Turning upon me a lustreless eye, that reminded me of a long-forgotten blind old horse who once used to crop the grass, and tumble over the graves, in Blunderstone churchyard, he said he was glad to see me: and then he gave me his hand; which I didn't know what to do with, as it did nothing for itself.

But, sitting at work, not far from Doctor Strong, was a very pretty young lady—whom he called Annie, and who was his daughter, I supposed—who got me out of my difficulty by kneeling down to put Doctor Strong's shoes on, and button his gaiters, which she did with great cheerfulness and quickness. When she had finished, and we were going out to the schoolroom, I was much surprised to hear Mr. Wickfield, in bidding her good morning, address her as 'Mrs. Strong'; and I was wondering could she be Doctor Strong's son's wife, or could she be Mrs. Doctor Strong, when Doctor Strong himself unconsciously enlightened me.

'By the by, Wickfield,' he said, stopping in a passage with his hand on my shoulder; 'you have not found any suitable provision for my wife's cousin yet?'

'No,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'No. Not yet.'

'I could wish it done as soon as it can be done, Wickfield,' said Doctor Strong, 'for Jack Maldon is needy, and idle; and of those two bad things, worse things sometimes come. What does Doctor Wattsh say,' he added, looking at me, and moving his head to the time of his quotation, '"Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do."'

'Egad, Doctor,' returned Mr. Wickfield, 'if Doctor Watts knew mankind, he might have written, with as much truth, "Satan finds some mischief still, for busy hands to do." The busy people achieve their full share of mischief in the world, you may rely upon it.d What have the people been about, who have been the busiest in getting money, and in getting power, this century or two? No mischief?'

'Jack Maldon will never be very busy in getting either, I expect,' said Doctor Strong, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

'Perhaps not,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'and you bring me back to the question, with an apology for digressing. No, I have not been able to dispose of Mr. Jack Maldon yet. I believe,' he said this with some hesitation, 'I penetratew your motive, and it makes the thing more difficult.'

'My motive,' returned Doctor Strong, 'is to make some suitable provision for a cousin, and an old playfellow, of Annie's.'

'Yes, I know,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'at home or abroad.'

'Aye!' replied the Doctor, apparently wondering why he emphasized those words so much. 'At home or abroad.'

'Your own expression, you know,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'Or abroad.'

'Surely,' the Doctor answered. 'Surely. One or other.'

'One or other? Have you no choice?' asked Mr. Wickfield.

X [d] rooks and jackdaws

A jackdaw is a small member of the crow family. The image of the birds' walking about the grounds wiith "a clerkly bearing" is pure Dickens though the birds seem also messengers from the Rookery.

X [w] sublimated skittles,

Amusements

Skittles, often played in pubs, is a game like bowling, though with far smaller pins, ball, and alley; sublimated means here exalted, elevated. 

X [w] knee-smalls unbraced;

Things

Knee-smalls are pants that tie or buckle or brace just below the knee. Leacing these unbraced lends a careless air to his dress. 

X [h] Doctor Watts

People

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), an Anglican divine, theologian, and hymn-writer mentioned earlier in connection with his poem on child-rearing.

X [d] The busy people achieve their full share of m…

Manners & Morals

The judgment polarizes the two friends, Wickfield and Strong, one cynical, the other of a sweet and unworldly nature. 

X [w] penetrate

Comprehend.