Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 20

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Chapter XXh

The journey from our town to the metropolis was a journey of about five hours.h It was a little past midday when the four-horse stage-coach by which I was a passenger, got into the ravel of traffic frayed out about the Cross Keys,h Wood Street, Cheapside, London.

We Britons had at that timeh particularly settled that it was treasonable to doubt our having and our being the best of everything: otherwise, while I was scared by the immensity of London, I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty.

Mr. Jaggers had duly sent me his address; it was, Little Britain,h and he had written after it on his card, "just out of Smithfield, and close by the coach-office." Nevertheless, a hackney-coachman,h who seemed to have as many capes to his greasy great-coat as he was years old, packed me up in his coach and hemmed me in with a folding and jingling barrier of steps, as if he were going to take me fifty miles. His getting on his box, which I remember to have been decorated with an old weather-stained pea-green hammerclothw moth-eaten into rags, was quite a work of time. It was a wonderful equipage, with six great coronets outside, and ragged things behind for I don't know how many footmen to hold on by, and a harrow below them, to prevent amateur footmen from yielding to the temptation.

I had scarcely had time to enjoy the coach and to think how like a straw-yard it was, and yet how like a rag-shop, and to wonder why the horses' nose-bags were kept inside,d when I observed the coachman beginning to get down, as if we were going to stop presently. And stop we presently did, in a gloomy street, at certain offices with an open door, whereon was painted MR. JAGGERS.

"How much?" I asked the coachman.

The coachman answered, "A shilling—unless you wish to make it more."

I naturally said I had no wish to make it more.

"Then it must be a shilling," observed the coachman. "I don't want to get into trouble. I know him!" He darkly closed an eye at Mr. Jaggers's name, and shook his head.

When he had got his shilling, and had in course of time completed the ascent to his box, and had got away (which appeared to relieve his mind), I went into the front office with my little portmanteau in my hand and asked, Was Mr. Jaggers at home?

"He is not," returned the clerk. "He is in Court at present. Am I addressing Mr. Pip?"

I signified that he was addressing Mr. Pip.

"Mr. Jaggers left word, would you wait in his room. He couldn't say how long he might be, having a case on. But it stands to reason, his time being valuable, that he won't be longer than he can help."

With those words, the clerk opened a door, and ushered me into an inner chamber at the back. Here, we found a gentleman with one eye, in a velveteen suit and knee-breeches, who wiped his nose with his sleeve on being interrupted in the perusal of the newspaper.

"Go and wait outside, Mike," said the clerk.

I began to say that I hoped I was not interrupting, when the clerk shoved this gentleman out with as little ceremony as I ever saw used, and tossing his fur cap out after him, left me alone.

X [h] Chapter XX

Writing & Reading

This is the beginning of Volume II. The standard edition re-numbers the chapters to begin with one.

X [h] five hours.


The distance would have been about thirty miles or some six mph. 

X [h] Cross Keys,


A legendary coaching inn that the young Dickens himself disembarked at when he went to London from Chatham and at which he also has David Copperfield disembark. 

Dickens is giving the address as at the intersection of Wood Street and Cheapside, a major thoroughfare. Cheapside in medieval London was the site of the principal food market ("cheap" meant market) and is near St. Paul's …

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X [h] We Britons had at that time


If that was true in the 1820s, by the time Dickens is writing Great Expectations, when England is the world's supreme imperial power, the bombastic chauvinism of many English in regard especially to France and Germany had become nearly insufferable.

Dickens was a francophile. He satirizes English chauvinism in several novels though there is a moment at the opening of …

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X [h] Little Britain,


Both a street and a neighborhood. Dickens is exploiting the name to suggest that this area, bordered by St. Paul's, Newgate Prison, the Bank of England, and Smithfield, represents the points on the moral compass of English society.

X [h] hackney-coachman,


A rented coach, the precursor to the motorized hack or taxi. We learn in a moment that this coach, like many other hackneys, had originally belonged to a noble family, as evidenced by the six coronets or heradlic devices.

X [w] hammercloth


A cloth used to cover the driver's seat or box of a coach, but again a reminder to Pip of his origins.

X [d] to wonder why the horses' nose-bags were kept…

Presumably because they would otherwise be stolen.