Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1


The appearance presented by the streets of London an hour before
sunrise, on a summer's morning, is most striking even to the few
whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less
unfortunate pursuits of business, cause them to be well acquainted
with the scene. There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about
the noiseless streets which we are accustomed to see thronged at
other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely-
shut buildings, which throughout the day are swarming with life and
bustle, that is very impressive.

The last drunken man, who shall find his way home before sunlight,
has just staggered heavily along, roaring out the burden of the
drinking song of the previous night: the last houseless vagrant
whom penury and police have left in the streets, has coiled up his
chilly limbs in some paved comer, to dream of food and warmth. The
drunken, the dissipated, and the wretched have disappeared; the
more sober and orderly part of the population have not yet awakened
to the labours of the day, and the stillness of death is over the
streets; its very hue seems to be imparted to them, cold and
lifeless as they look in the grey, sombre light of daybreak. The
coach-stands in the larger thoroughfares are deserted: the night-
houses are closed; and the chosen promenades of profligate misery
are empty.

An occasional policeman may alone be seen at the street corners,
listlessly gazing on the deserted prospect before him; and now and
then a rakish-looking cat runs stealthily across the road and
descends his own area with as much caution and slyness--bounding
first on the water-butt, then on the dust-hole, and then alighting
on the flag-stones--as if he were conscious that his character
depended on his gallantry of the preceding night escaping public
observation. A partially opened bedroom-window here and there,
bespeaks the heat of the weather, and the uneasy slumbers of its
occupant; and the dim scanty flicker of the rushlight, through the
window-blind, denotes the chamber of watching or sickness. With
these few exceptions, the streets present no signs of life, nor the
houses of habitation.

An hour wears away; the spires of the churches and roofs of the
principal buildings are faintly tinged with the light of the rising
sun; and the streets, by almost imperceptible degrees, begin to
resume their bustle and animation. Market-carts roll slowly along:
the sleepy waggoner impatiently urging on his tired horses, or
vainly endeavouring to awaken the boy, who, luxuriously stretched
on the top of the fruit-baskets, forgets, in happy oblivion, his
long-cherished curiosity to behold the wonders of London.

Rough, sleepy-looking animals of strange appearance, something
between ostlers and hackney-coachmen, begin to take down the
shutters of early public-houses; and little deal tables, with the
ordinary preparations for a street breakfast, make their appearance
at the customary stations. Numbers of men and women (principally
the latter), carrying upon their heads heavy baskets of fruit, toil
down the park side of Piccadilly, on their way to Covent-garden,
and, following each other in rapid succession, form a long
straggling line from thence to the turn of the road at

Here and there, a bricklayer's labourer, with the day's dinner tied
up in a handkerchief, walks briskly to his work, and occasionally a
little knot of three or four schoolboys on a stolen bathing
expedition rattle merrily over the pavement, their boisterous mirth
contrasting forcibly with the demeanour of the little sweep, who,
having knocked and rung till his arm aches, and being interdicted
by a merciful legislature from endangering his lungs by calling
out, sits patiently down on the door-step, until the housemaid may
happen to awake.

Covent-garden market, and the avenues leading to it, are thronged
with carts of all sorts, sizes, and descriptions, from the heavy
lumbering waggon, with its four stout horses, to the jingling
costermonger's cart, with its consumptive donkey. The pavement is
already strewed with decayed cabbage-leaves, broken hay-bands, and
all the indescribable litter of a vegetable market; men are
shouting, carts backing, horses neighing, boys fighting, basket-
women talking, piemen expatiating on the excellence of their
pastry, and donkeys braying. These and a hundred other sounds form
a compound discordant enough to a Londoner's ears, and remarkably
disagreeable to those of country gentlemen who are sleeping at the
Hummums for the first time.

Another hour passes away, and the day begins in good earnest. The
servant of all work, who, under the plea of sleeping very soundly,
has utterly disregarded 'Missis's' ringing for half an hour
previously, is warned by Master (whom Missis has sent up in his
drapery to the landing-place for that purpose), that it's half-past
six, whereupon she awakes all of a sudden, with well-feigned
astonishment, and goes down-stairs very sulkily, wishing, while she
strikes a light, that the principle of spontaneous combustion would
extend itself to coals and kitchen range. When the fire is
lighted, she opens the street-door to take in the milk, when, by
the most singular coincidence in the world, she discovers that the
servant next door has just taken in her milk too, and that Mr.
Todd's young man over the way, is, by an equally extraordinary
chance, taking down his master's shutters. The inevitable
consequence is, that she just steps, milk-jug in hand, as far as
next door, just to say 'good morning' to Betsy Clark, and that Mr.
Todd's young man just steps over the way to say 'good morning' to
both of 'em; and as the aforesaid Mr. Todd's young man is almost as
good-looking and fascinating as the baker himself, the conversation
quickly becomes very interesting, and probably would become more
so, if Betsy Clark's Missis, who always will be a-followin' her
about, didn't give an angry tap at her bedroom window, on which Mr.
Todd's young man tries to whistle coolly, as he goes back to his
shop much faster than he came from it; and the two girls run back
to their respective places, and shut their street-doors with
surprising softness, each of them poking their heads out of the
front parlour window, a minute afterwards, however, ostensibly with
the view of looking at the mail which just then passes by, but
really for the purpose of catching another glimpse of Mr. Todd's
young man, who being fond of mails, but more of females, takes a
short look at the mails, and a long look at the girls, much to the
satisfaction of all parties concerned.

The mail itself goes on to the coach-office in due course, and the
passengers who are going out by the early coach, stare with
astonishment at the passengers who are coming in by the early
coach, who look blue and dismal, and are evidently under the
influence of that odd feeling produced by travelling, which makes
the events of yesterday morning seem as if they had happened at
least six months ago, and induces people to wonder with
considerable gravity whether the friends and relations they took
leave of a fortnight before, have altered much since they have left
them. The coach-office is all alive, and the coaches which are
just going out, are surrounded by the usual crowd of Jews and
nondescripts, who seem to consider, Heaven knows why, that it is
quite impossible any man can mount a coach without requiring at
least sixpenny-worth of oranges, a penknife, a pocket-book, a last
year's annual, a pencil-case, a piece of sponge, and a small series
of caricatures.

Half an hour more, and the sun darts his bright rays cheerfully
down the still half-empty streets, and shines with sufficient force
to rouse the dismal laziness of the apprentice, who pauses every
other minute from his task of sweeping out the shop and watering
the pavement in front of it, to tell another apprentice similarly
employed, how hot it will be to-day, or to stand with his right
hand shading his eyes, and his left resting on the broom, gazing at
the 'Wonder,' or the 'Tally-ho,' or the 'Nimrod,' or some other
fast coach, till it is out of sight, when he re-enters the shop,
envying the passengers on the outside of the fast coach, and
thinking of the old red brick house 'down in the country,' where he
went to school: the miseries of the milk and water, and thick
bread and scrapings, fading into nothing before the pleasant
recollection of the green field the boys used to play in, and the
green pond he was caned for presuming to fall into, and other
schoolboy associations.

Cabs, with trunks and band-boxes between the drivers' legs and
outside the apron, rattle briskly up and down the streets on their
way to the coach-offices or steam-packet wharfs; and the cab-
drivers and hackney-coachmen who are on the stand polish up the
ornamental part of their dingy vehicles--the former wondering how
people can prefer 'them wild beast cariwans of homnibuses, to a
riglar cab with a fast trotter,' and the latter admiring how people
can trust their necks into one of 'them crazy cabs, when they can
have a 'spectable 'ackney cotche with a pair of 'orses as von't run
away with no vun;' a consolation unquestionably founded on fact,
seeing that a hackney-coach horse never was known to run at all,
'except,' as the smart cabman in front of the rank observes,
'except one, and HE run back'ards.'

The shops are now completely opened, and apprentices and shopmen
are busily engaged in cleaning and decking the windows for the day.
The bakers' shops in town are filled with servants and children
waiting for the drawing of the first batch of rolls--an operation
which was performed a full hour ago in the suburbs: for the early
clerk population of Somers and Camden towns, Islington, and
Pentonville, are fast pouring into the city, or directing their
steps towards Chancery-lane and the Inns of Court. Middle-aged
men, whose salaries have by no means increased in the same
proportion as their families, plod steadily along, apparently with
no object in view but the counting-house; knowing by sight almost
everybody they meet or overtake, for they have seen them every
morning (Sunday excepted) during the last twenty years, but
speaking to no one. If they do happen to overtake a personal
acquaintance, they just exchange a hurried salutation, and keep
walking on either by his side, or in front of him, as his rate of
walking may chance to be. As to stopping to shake hands, or to
take the friend's arm, they seem to think that as it is not
included in their salary, they have no right to do it. Small
office lads in large hats, who are made men before they are boys,
hurry along in pairs, with their first coat carefully brushed, and
the white trousers of last Sunday plentifully besmeared with dust
and ink. It evidently requires a considerable mental struggle to
avoid investing part of the day's dinner-money in the purchase of
the stale tarts so temptingly exposed in dusty tins at the pastry-
cooks' doors; but a consciousness of their own importance and the
receipt of seven shillings a-week, with the prospect of an early
rise to eight, comes to their aid, and they accordingly put their
hats a little more on one side, and look under the bonnets of all
the milliners' and stay-makers' apprentices they meet--poor girls!-
-the hardest worked, the worst paid, and too often, the worst used
class of the community.

Eleven o'clock, and a new set of people fill the streets. The
goods in the shop-windows are invitingly arranged; the shopmen in
their white neckerchiefs and spruce coats, look as it they couldn't
clean a window if their lives depended on it; the carts have
disappeared from Covent-garden; the waggoners have returned, and
the costermongers repaired to their ordinary 'beats' in the
suburbs; clerks are at their offices, and gigs, cabs, omnibuses,
and saddle-horses, are conveying their masters to the same
destination. The streets are thronged with a vast concourse of
people, gay and shabby, rich and poor, idle and industrious; and we
come to the heat, bustle, and activity of NOON.

Charles Dickens