Public Life of Mr. Tulrumble
Introductory Note: Charles Dickens, writing under the pseudonym Boz, published “The Public Life of Mr. Tulrumble, Once Mayor of Mudfog” in the first issue of the journal he was editing, Bentley’s Miscellany. Coming shortly after the publication of Sketches by Boz and The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, this story follows in the style of Dickens’ earlier satiric lampoons of local characters. Nicholas Tulrumble, who aspires to fame and glory, quickly realizes that his misdirected pretensions will not bring him public acclaim.
This tale is the first installment of a series of Mudfog tales published from 1837-38. They were later collected and published as The Mudfog Papers and Other Sketches in 1880.
MUDFOG is a pleasant town—a remarkably pleasant town—situated in a charming hollow by the side of a river, from which river, Mudfog derives an agreeable scent of pitch, tar, coals, and rope-yarn, a roving population in oil-skin hats, a pretty steady influx of drunken bargemen, and a great many other maritime advantages. There is a good deal of water about Mudfog, and yet it is not exactly the sort of town for a watering-place, either. Water is a perverse sort of element at the best of times, and in Mudfog it is particularly so. In winter, it comes oozing down the streets and tumbling over the fields,—nay, rushes into the very cellars and kitchens of the houses, with a lavish prodigality that might well be dispensed with; but in the hot summer weather it ”will” dry up, and turn green: and, although green is a very good colour in its way, especially in grass, still it certainly is not becoming to water; and it cannot be denied that the beauty of Mudfog is rather impaired, even by this trifling circumstance. Mudfog is a healthy place—very healthy;—damp, perhaps, but none the worse for that. It’s quite a mistake to suppose that damp is unwholesome: plants thrive best in damp situations, and why shouldn’t men? The inhabitants of Mudfog are unanimous in asserting that there exists not a finer race of people on the face of the earth; here we have an indisputable and veracious contradiction of the vulgar error at once. So, admitting Mudfog to be damp, we distinctly state that it is salubrious.1Healthy.
The town of Mudfog is extremely picturesque. Limehouse and Ratcliffe Highway are both something like it, but they give you a very faint idea of Mudfog. There are a great many more public-houses in Mudfog,—more than in Ratcliffe Highway and Limehouse put together. The public buildings, too, are very imposing. We consider the Town-hall one of the finest specimens of shed architecture, extant: it is a combination of the pig-sty and tea-garden-box, orders; and the simplicity of its design is of surpassing beauty. The idea of placing a large window on one side of the door, and a small one on the other, is particularly happy. There is a fine bold Doric beauty, too, about the padlock and scraper, which is strictly in keeping with the general effect.
In this room do the mayor and corporation of Mudfog assemble together in solemn council for the public weal. Seated on the massive wooden benches, which, with the table in the centre, form the only furniture of the whitewashed apartment, the sage men of Mudfog spend hour after hour in grave deliberation. Here they settle at what hour of the night the public-houses shall be closed, at what hour of the morning they shall be permitted to open, how soon it shall be lawful for people to eat their dinner on church-days, and other great political questions; and sometimes, long after silence has fallen on the town, and the distant lights from the shops and houses have ceased to twinkle, like far-off stars, to the sight of the boatmen on the river, the illumination in the two unequal-sized windows of the town-hall, warns the inhabitants of Mudfog that its little body of legislators, like a larger and better-known body of the same genus, a great deal more noisy, and not a whit more profound, are patriotically dozing away in company, far into the night, for their country’s good.
Among this knot of sage and learned men, no one was so eminently distinguished, during many years, for the quiet modesty of his appearance and demeanour, as Nicholas Tulrumble, the well-known coal-dealer. However exciting the subject of discussion, however animated the tone of the debate, or however warm the personalities exchanged, (and even in Mudfog we get personal sometimes,) Nicholas Tulrumble was always the same. To say truth, Nicholas, being an industrious man, and always up betimes, was apt to fall asleep when a debate began, and to remain asleep till it was over, when he would wake up very much refreshed, and give his vote with the greatest complacency. The fact was, that Nicholas Tulrumble, knowing that everybody there, had made up his mind beforehand, considered the talking as just a long botheration about nothing at all; and to the present hour it remains a question, whether, on this point at all events, Nicholas Tulrumble was not pretty near right.
Time, which strews a man’s head with silver, sometimes fills his pockets with gold. As he gradually performed one good office for Nicholas Tulrumble, he was obliging enough, not to omit the other. Nicholas began life in a wooden tenement of four feet square, with a capital of two and ninepence, and a stock in trade of three bushels and a-half of coals, exclusive of the large lump which hung, by way of sign-board, outside. Then he enlarged the shed, and kept a truck; then he left the shed, and the truck too, and started a donkey and a Mrs. Tulrumble; then he moved again and set up a cart; the cart was soon afterwards exchanged for a waggon; and so he went on, like his great predecessor Whittington—only without a cat for a partner—increasing in wealth and fame, until at last he gave up business altogether, and retired with Mrs. Tulrumble and family to Mudfog Hall, which he had himself erected, on something which he endeavoured to delude himself into the belief was a hill, about a quarter of a mile distant from the town of Mudfog.
About this time, it began to be murmured in Mudfog that Nicholas Tulrumble was growing vain and haughty; that prosperity and success had corrupted the simplicity of his manners, and tainted the natural goodness of his heart; in short, that he was setting up for a public character, and a great gentleman, and affected to look down upon his old companions with compassion and contempt. Whether these reports were at the time well-founded, or not, certain it is that Mrs. Tulrumble very shortly afterwards started a four-wheel chaise, driven by a tall postilion in a yellow cap,—that Mr. Tulrumble junior took to smoking cigars, and calling the footman a “feller,”—and that Mr. Tulrumble from that time forth, was no more seen in his old seat in the chimney-corner of the Lighterman’s Arms at night. This looked bad; but, more than this, it began to be observed that Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble attended the corporation meetings more frequently than heretofore; that he no longer went to sleep as he had done for so many years, but propped his eyelids open with his two fore-fingers; that he read the newspapers by himself at home; and that he was in the habit of indulging abroad in distant and mysterious allusions to “masses of people,” and “the property of the country,” and “productive power,” and “the monied interest:” all of which denoted and proved that Nicholas Tulrumble was either mad, or worse; and it puzzled the good people of Mudfog amazingly.
At length, about the middle of the month of October, Mr. Tulrumble and family went up to London; the middle of October being, as Mrs. Tulrumble informed her acquaintance in Mudfog, the very height of the fashionable season.
Somehow or other, just about this time, despite the health-preserving air of Mudfog, the Mayor died. It was a most extraordinary circumstance; he had lived in Mudfog for eighty-five years. The corporation didn’t understand it at all; indeed it was with great difficulty that one old gentleman, who was a great stickler for forms, was dissuaded from proposing a vote of censure on such unaccountable conduct. Strange as it was, however, die he did, without taking the slightest notice of the corporation; and the corporation were imperatively called upon to elect his successor. So, they met for the purpose; and being very full of Nicholas Tulrumble just then, and Nicholas Tulrumble being a very important man, they elected him, and wrote off to London by the very next post to acquaint Nicholas Tulrumble with his new elevation.
Now, it being November time, and Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble being in the capital, it fell out that he was present at the Lord Mayor’s show and dinner, at sight of the glory and splendour whereof, he, Mr. Tulrumble, was greatly mortified, inasmuch as the reflection would force itself on his mind, that, had he been born in London instead of in Mudfog, he might have been a Lord Mayor too, and have patronised the judges, and been affable to the Lord Chancellor, and friendly with the Premier, and coldly condescending to the Secretary to the Treasury, and have dined with a flag behind his back, and done a great many other acts and deeds which unto Lord Mayors of London peculiarly appertain.2During the thirteenth century, King John allowed the citizens of London to elect their own mayor. However, the king required that the Lord Mayor had to leave London every year and travel to Westminster to swear loyalty to the crown. This journey and procession became so popular that it earned the title of “Lord Mayor’s Show,” a festivity that is celebrated to this day. The more he thought of the Lord Mayor, the more enviable a personage he seemed. To be a King was all very well; but what was the King to the Lord Mayor! When the King made a speech, everybody knew it was somebody else’s writing; whereas here was the Lord Mayor, talking away for half an hour—all out of his own head—amidst the enthusiastic applause of the whole company, while it was notorious that the King might talk to his parliament till he was black in the face without getting so much as a single cheer. As all these reflections passed through the mind of Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble, the Lord Mayor of London appeared to him the greatest sovereign on the face of the earth, beating the Emperor of Russia all to nothing, and leaving the Great Mogul immeasurably behind.
Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble was pondering over these things, and inwardly cursing the fate which had pitched his coal-shed in Mudfog, when the letter of the corporation was put into his hand. A crimson flush mantled over his face as he read it, for visions of brightness were already dancing before his imagination.
“My dear,” said Mr. Tulrumble to his wife, “they have elected me, Mayor of Mudfog.”
“Lor-a-mussy!” said Mrs. Tulrumble: “why, what’s become of old Sniggs?”
“The late Mr. Sniggs, Mrs. Tulrumble,” said Mr. Tulrumble sharply, for he by no means approved of the notion of unceremoniously designating a gentleman who had filled the high office of Mayor, as “old Sniggs,”—“The late Mr. Sniggs, Mrs. Tulrumble, is dead.”
The communication was very unexpected; but Mrs. Tulrumble only ejaculated “Lor-a-mussy!” once again, as if a Mayor were a mere ordinary Christian, at which Mr. Tulrumble frowned gloomily.
“What a pity ’tan’t in London, ain’t it?” said Mrs. Tulrumble, after a short pause; “what a pity ’tan’t in London, where you might have had a show.”
“I ”might” have a show in Mudfog, if I thought proper, I apprehend,” said Mr. Tulrumble mysteriously.
“Lor! so you might, I declare,” replied Mrs. Tulrumble.
“And a good one, too,” said Mr. Tulrumble.
“Delightful!” exclaimed Mrs. Tulrumble.
“One which would rather astonish the ignorant people down there,” said Mr. Tulrumble.
“It would kill them with envy,” said Mrs. Tulrumble.
So it was agreed that his Majesty’s lieges in Mudfog should be astonished with splendour, and slaughtered with envy, and that such a show should take place as had never been seen in that town, or in any other town before,—no, not even in London itself.3The original reads: “no, not even n London itself.”
On the very next day after the receipt of the letter, down came the tall postilion in a post-chaise,—not upon one of the horses, but inside—actually inside the chaise,—and, driving up to the very door of the town-hall, where the corporation were assembled, delivered a letter, written by the Lord knows who, and signed by Nicholas Tulrumble, in which Nicholas said, all through four sides of closely-written, gilt-edged, hot-pressed, Bath post letter-paper, that he responded to the call of his fellow-townsmen with feelings of heartfelt delight; that he accepted the arduous office which their confidence had imposed upon him; that they would never find him shrinking from the discharge of his duty; that he would endeavour to execute his functions with all that dignity which their magnitude and importance demanded; and a great deal more to the same effect. But even this was not all. The tall postilion produced from his right-hand top-boot, a damp copy of that afternoon’s number of the county paper; and there, in large type, running the whole length of the very first column, was a long address from Nicholas Tulrumble to the inhabitants of Mudfog, in which he said that he cheerfully complied with their requisition, and, in short, as if to prevent any mistake about the matter, told them over again what a grand fellow he meant to be, in very much the same terms as those in which he had already told them all about the matter in his letter.
The corporation stared at one another very hard at all this, and then looked as if for explanation to the tall postilion, but as the tall postilion was intently contemplating the gold tassel on the top of his yellow cap, and could have afforded no explanation whatever, even if his thoughts had been entirely disengaged, they contented themselves with coughing very dubiously, and looking very grave. The tall postilion then delivered another letter, in which Nicholas Tulrumble informed the corporation, that he intended repairing to the town-hall, in grand state and gorgeous procession, on the Monday afternoon then next ensuing. At this, the corporation looked still more solemn; but, as the epistle wound up with a formal invitation to the whole body to dine with the Mayor on that day, at Mudfog Hall, Mudfog Hill, Mudfog, they began to see the fun of the thing directly, and sent back their compliments, and they’d be sure to come.
Now there happened to be in Mudfog, as somehow or other there does happen to be, in almost every town in the British dominions, and perhaps in foreign dominions too—we think it very likely, but, being no great traveller, cannot distinctly say—there happened to be, in Mudfog a merry-tempered, pleasant-faced, good-for-nothing sort of vagabond, with an invincible dislike to manual labour, and an unconquerable attachment to strong beer and spirits, whom everybody knew, and nobody, except his wife, took the trouble to quarrel with, who inherited from his ancestors the appellation of Edward Twigger, and rejoiced in the sobriquet of Bottle-nosed Ned.4Sobriquet is French for: “a nickname.” He was drunk upon the average once a day, and penitent upon an equally fair calculation once a month; and when he was penitent, he was invariably in the very last stage of maudlin intoxication. He was a ragged, roving, roaring kind of fellow, with a burly form, a sharp wit, and a ready head, and could turn his hand to anything when he chose to do it. He was by no means opposed to hard labour on principle, for he would work away at a cricket-match by the day together,—running, and catching, and batting, and bowling, and revelling in toil which would exhaust a galley-slave. He would have been invaluable to a fire-office; never was a man with such a natural taste for pumping engines, running up ladders, and throwing furniture out of two-pair-of-stairs’ windows: nor was this the only element in which he was at home; he was a humane society in himself, a portable drag, an animated life-preserver, and had saved more people, in his time, from drowning, than the Plymouth life-boat, or Captain Manby’s apparatus.5George William Manby, after witnessing a disastrous shipwreck, invented a method for ships to communicate with the shore in times of distress. (R. B. Prosser, “Manby, George William (1765-1854),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford University Press, 2004-16. Online edition.) With all these qualifications, notwithstanding his dissipation, Bottle-nosed Ned was a general favourite; and the authorities of Mudfog, remembering his numerous services to the population, allowed him in return to get drunk in his own way, without the fear of stocks, fine, or imprisonment. He had a general licence, and he showed his sense of the compliment by making the most of it.
We have been thus particular in describing the character and avocations of Bottle-nosed Ned, because it enables us to introduce a fact politely, without hauling it into the reader’s presence with indecent haste by the head and shoulders, and brings us very naturally to relate, that on the very same evening on which Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble and family returned to Mudfog, Mr. Tulrumble’s new secretary, just imported from London, with a pale face and light whiskers, thrust his head down to the very bottom of his neckcloth-tie, in at the tap-room door of the Lighterman’s Arms, and enquiring whether one Ned Twigger was luxuriating within, announced himself as the bearer of a message from Nicholas Tulrumble, Esquire, requiring Mr. Twigger’s immediate attendance at the hall, on private and particular business. It being by no means Mr. Twigger’s interest to affront the Mayor, he rose from the fire-place with a slight sigh, and followed the light-whiskered secretary through the dirt and wet of Mudfog streets, up to Mudfog Hall, without further ado.
Mr. Nicholas Tulrumble was seated in a small cavern with a skylight, which he called his library, sketching out a plan of the procession on a large sheet of paper; and into the cavern the secretary ushered Ned Twigger.
“Well, Twigger!” said Nicholas Tulrumble, condescendingly.
There was a time when Twigger would have replied, “Well, Nick!” but that was in the days of the truck, and a couple of years before the donkey; so, he only bowed.
“I want you to go into training, Twigger,” said Mr. Tulrumble.
“What for, sir?” enquired Ned, with a stare.
“Hush, hush, Twigger!” said the Mayor. “Shut the door, Mr. Jennings. Look here, Twigger.”
As the Mayor said this, he unlocked a high closet, and disclosed a complete suit of brass armour, of gigantic dimensions.
“I want you to wear this, next Monday, Twigger,” said the Mayor.
“Bless your heart and soul, sir!” replied Ned, “you might as well ask me to wear a seventy-four pounder, or a cast-iron boiler.”
“Nonsense, Twigger! nonsense!” said the Mayor.
“I couldn’t stand under it, sir,” said Twigger; “it would make mashed potatoes of me, if I attempted it.”
“Pooh, pooh, Twigger!” returned the Mayor. “I tell you I have seen it done with my own eyes, in London, and the man wasn’t half such a man as you are, either.”
“I should as soon have thought of a man’s wearing the case of an eight-day clock to save his linen,” said Twigger, casting a look of apprehension at the brass suit.6An eight-day clock needs to be wound just once a week, rather than every day. It would be a solid, heavy grandfather clock.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world,” rejoined the Mayor.
“It’s nothing,” said Mr. Jennings.
“When you’re used to it,” added Ned.
“You do it by degrees,” said the Mayor. “You would begin with one piece to-morrow, and two the next day, and so on, till you had got it all on. Mr. Jennings, give Twigger a glass of rum. Just try the breast-plate, Twigger. Stay; take another glass of rum first. Help me to lift it, Mr. Jennings. Stand firm, Twigger! There!—it isn’t half as heavy as it looks, is it?”
Twigger was a good strong, stout fellow; so, after a great deal of staggering, he managed to keep himself up, under the breast-plate, and even contrived, with the aid of another glass of rum, to walk about in it, and the gauntlets into the bargain. He made a trial of the helmet, but was not equally successful, inasmuch as he tipped over instantly,—an accident which Mr. Tulrumble clearly demonstrated to be occasioned by his not having a counteracting weight of brass on his legs.
“Now, wear that with grace and propriety on Monday next,” said Tulrumble, “and I’ll make your fortune.”
“I’ll try what I can do, sir,” said Twigger.
“It must be kept a profound secret,” said Tulrumble.
“Of course, sir,” replied Twigger.
“And you must be sober,” said Tulrumble; “perfectly sober.”
Mr. Twigger at once solemnly pledged himself to be as sober as a judge, and Nicholas Tulrumble was satisfied, although, had we been Nicholas, we should certainly have exacted some promise of a more specific nature; inasmuch as, having attended the Mudfog assizes in the evening more than once, we can solemnly testify to having seen judges with very strong symptoms of dinner under their wigs. However, that’s neither here nor there.
The next day, and the day following, and the day after that, Ned Twigger was securely locked up in the small cavern with the skylight, hard at work at the armour. With every additional piece he could manage to stand upright in, he had an additional glass of rum; and at last, after many partial suffocations, he contrived to get on the whole suit, and to stagger up and down the room in it, like an intoxicated effigy from Westminster Abbey.
Never was man so delighted as Nicholas Tulrumble; never was woman so charmed as Nicholas Tulrumble’s wife. Here was a sight for the common people of Mudfog! A live man in brass armour! Why, they would go wild with wonder!
The day—the Monday—arrived.
If the morning had been made to order, it couldn’t have been better adapted to the purpose. They never showed a better fog in London on Lord Mayor’s day, than enwrapped the town of Mudfog on that eventful occasion. It had risen slowly and surely from the green and stagnant water with the first light of morning, until it reached a little above the lamp-post tops; and there it had stopped, with a sleepy, sluggish obstinacy, which bade defiance to the sun, who had got up very blood-shot about the eyes, as if he had been at a drinking-party over night, and was doing his day’s work with the worst possible grace. The thick damp mist hung over the town like a huge gauze curtain. All was dim and dismal. The church-steeples had bidden a temporary adieu to the world below; and every object of lesser importance—houses, barns, hedges, trees, and barges—had all taken the veil.
The church-clock struck one. A cracked trumpet from the front-garden of Mudfog Hall produced a feeble flourish, as if some asthmatic person had coughed into it accidentally; the gate flew open, and out came a gentleman, on a moist-sugar coloured charger, intended to represent a herald, but bearing a much stronger resemblance to a court-card on horseback.7A “court-card” is a face card in a pack of playing cards. This was one of the Circus people, who always came down to Mudfog at that time of the year, and who had been engaged by Nicholas Tulrumble expressly for the occasion. There was the horse, whisking his tail about, balancing himself on his hind-legs, and flourishing away with his fore-feet, in a manner which would have gone to the hearts and souls of any reasonable crowd. But a Mudfog crowd never was a reasonable one, and in all probability never will be. Instead of scattering the very fog with their shouts, as they ought most indubitably to have done, and were fully intended to do, by Nicholas Tulrumble, they no sooner recognised the herald, than they began to growl forth the most unqualified disapprobation at the bare notion of his riding like any other man. If he had come out on his head indeed, or jumping through a hoop, or flying through a red-hot drum, or even standing on one leg with his other foot in his mouth, they might have had something to say to him; but for a professional gentleman to sit astride in the saddle, with his feet in the stirrups, was rather too good a joke. So, the herald was a decided failure, and the crowd hooted with great energy, as he pranced ingloriously away.
On the procession came. We are afraid to say how many supernumeraries there were, in striped shirts and black velvet caps, to imitate the London watermen, or how many base imitations of running-footmen, or how many banners, which, owing to the heaviness of the atmosphere, could by no means be prevailed on to display their inscriptions: still less do we feel disposed to relate how the men who played the wind instruments, looking up into the sky (we mean the fog) with musical fervour, walked through pools of water and hillocks of mud, till they covered the powdered heads of the running-footmen aforesaid with splashes, that looked curious, but not ornamental; or how the barrel-organ performer put on the wrong stop, and played one tune while the band played another; or how the horses, being used to the arena, and not to the streets, would stand still and dance, instead of going on and prancing;—all of which are matters which might be dilated upon to great advantage, but which we have not the least intention of dilating upon, notwithstanding.
Oh! it was a grand and beautiful sight to behold the corporation in glass coaches, provided at the sole cost and charge of Nicholas Tulrumble, coming rolling along, like a funeral out of mourning, and to watch the attempts the corporation made to look great and solemn, when Nicholas Tulrumble himself, in the four-wheel chaise, with the tall postilion, rolled out after them, with Mr. Jennings on one side to look like the chaplain, and a supernumerary on the other, with an old life-guardsman’s sabre, to imitate the sword-bearer; and to see the tears rolling down the faces of the mob as they screamed with merriment. This was beautiful! and so was the appearance of Mrs. Tulrumble and son, as they bowed with grave dignity out of their coach-window to all the dirty faces that were laughing around them: but it is not even with this that we have to do, but with the sudden stopping of the procession at another blast of the trumpet, whereat, and whereupon, a profound silence ensued, and all eyes were turned towards Mudfog Hall, in the confident anticipation of some new wonder.
“They won’t laugh now, Mr. Jennings,” said Nicholas Tulrumble.
“I think not, sir,” said Mr. Jennings.
“See how eager they look,” said Nicholas Tulrumble. “Aha! the laugh will be on our side now; eh, Mr. Jennings?”
“No doubt of that, sir,” replied Mr. Jennings; and Nicholas Tulrumble, in a state of pleasurable excitement, stood up in the four-wheel chaise, and telegraphed gratification to the Mayoress behind.
While all this was going forward, Ned Twigger had descended into the kitchen of Mudfog Hall for the purpose of indulging the servants with a private view of the curiosity that was to burst upon the town; and, somehow or other, the footman was so companionable, and the housemaid so kind, and the cook so friendly, that he could not resist the offer of the first-mentioned to sit down and take something—just to drink success to master in.
So, down Ned Twigger sat himself in his brass livery on the top of the kitchen-table; and in a mug of something strong, paid for the by unconscious Nicholas Tulrumble, and provided by the companionable footman, drank success to the Mayor and his procession; and, as Ned laid by his helmet to imbibe the something strong, the companionable footman put it on his own head, to the immeasurable and unrecordable delight of the cook and housemaid. The companionable footman was very facetious to Ned, and Ned was very gallant to the cook and housemaid by turns. They were all very cosy and comfortable; and the something strong went briskly round.
At last Ned Twigger was loudly called for, by the procession people: and, having had his helmet fixed on, in a very complicated manner, by the companionable footman, and the kind housemaid, and the friendly cook, he walked gravely forth, and appeared before the multitude.
The crowd roared—it was not with wonder, it was not with surprise; it was most decidedly and unquestionably with laughter.
“What!” said Mr. Tulrumble, starting up in the four-wheel chaise. “Laughing? If they laugh at a man in real brass armour, they’d laugh when their own fathers were dying. Why doesn’t he go into his place, Mr. Jennings? What’s he rolling down towards us for?—he has no business here!”
“I am afraid, sir –––––” faltered Mr. Jennings.
“Afraid of what, sir?” said Nicholas Tulrumble, looking up into the secretary’s face.
“I am afraid he’s drunk, sir;” replied Mr. Jennings.
Nicholas Tulrumble took one look at the extraordinary figure that was bearing down upon them; and then, clasping his secretary by the arm, uttered an audible groan in anguish of spirit.
It is a melancholy fact that Mr. Twigger having full licence to demand a single glass of rum on the putting on of every piece of the armour, got, by some means or other, rather out in his calculation in the hurry and confusion of preparation, and drank about four glasses to a piece instead of one, not to mention the something strong which went on the top of it. Whether the brass armour checked the natural flow of perspiration, and thus prevented the spirit from evaporating, we are not scientific enough to know; but, whatever the cause was, Mr. Twigger no sooner found himself outside the gate of Mudfog Hall, than he also found himself in a very considerable state of intoxication; and hence his extraordinary style of progressing. This was bad enough, but, as if fate and fortune had conspired against Nicholas Tulrumble, Mr. Twigger, not having been penitent for a good calendar month, took it into his head to be most especially and particularly sentimental, just when his repentance could have been most conveniently dispensed with. Immense tears were rolling down his cheeks, and he was vainly endeavouring to conceal his grief by applying to his eyes a blue cotton pocket-handkerchief with white spots,— an article not strictly in keeping with a suit of armour some three hundred years old, or thereabouts.
“Twigger, you villain!” said Nicholas Tulrumble, quite forgetting his dignity, “go back!”
“Never,” said Ned. “I’m a miserable wretch. I’ll never leave you.”
The by-standers of course received this declaration with acclamations of “That’s right, Ned; don’t!”
“I don’t intend it,” said Ned, with all the obstinacy of a very tipsy man. “I’m very unhappy. I’m the wretched father of an unfortunate family; but I am very faithful, sir. I’ll never leave you.” Having reiterated this obliging promise, Ned proceeded in broken words to harangue the crowd upon the number of years he had lived in Mudfog, the excessive respectability of his character, and other topics of the like nature.
“Here! will anybody lead him away?” said Nicholas: “if they’ll call on me afterwards, I’ll reward them well.”
Two or three men stepped forward, with the view of bearing Ned off, when the secretary interposed.
“Take care! take care!” said Mr. Jennings. “I beg your pardon, sir; but they’d better not go too near him, because, if he falls over, he’ll certainly crush somebody.”
At this hint the crowd retired on all sides to a very respectful distance, and left Ned, like the Duke of Devonshire, in a little circle of his own.
“But, Mr. Jennings,” said Nicholas Tulrumble, “he’ll be suffocated.”
“I’m very sorry for it, sir,” replied Mr. Jennings; “but nobody can get that armour off, without his own assistance. I’m quite certain of it, from the way he put it on.”
Here Ned wept dolefully, and shook his helmeted head, in a manner that might have touched a heart of stone; but the crowd had not hearts of stone, and they laughed heartily.
“Dear me, Mr. Jennings,” said Nicholas, turning pale at the possibility of Ned’s being smothered in his antique costume—“Dear me, Mr. Jennings, can nothing be done with him?”
“Nothing at all,” replied Ned, “nothing at all. Gentlemen, I’m an unhappy wretch. I’m a body, gentlemen, in a brass coffin.” At this poetical idea of his own conjuring up, Ned cried so much that the people began to get sympathetic, and to ask what Nicholas Tulrumble meant by putting a man into such a machine as that; and one individual in a hairy waistcoat like the top of a trunk, who had previously expressed his opinion that if Ned hadn’t been a poor man, Nicholas wouldn’t have dared to do it, hinted at the propriety of breaking the four-wheel chaise, or Nicholas’s head, or both, which last compound proposition the crowd seemed to consider a very good notion.
It was not acted upon, however, for it had hardly been broached, when Ned Twigger’s wife made her appearance abruptly in the little circle before noticed, and Ned no sooner caught a glimpse of her face and form, than from the mere force of habit he set off towards his home just as fast as his legs would carry him; and that was not very quick in the present instance either, for, however ready they might have been to carry ”him”, they couldn’t get on very well under the brass armour. So, Mrs. Twigger had plenty of time to denounce Nicholas Tulrumble to his face: to express her opinion that he was a decided monster; and to intimate that, if her ill-used husband sustained any personal damage from the brass armour, she would have the law of Nicholas Tulrumble for manslaughter. When she had said all this with due vehemence, she posted after Ned, who was dragging himself along as best he could, and deploring his unhappiness in most dismal tones.
What a wailing and screaming Ned’s children raised when he got home at last! Mrs. Twigger tried to undo the armour, first in one place, and then in another, but she couldn’t manage it; so she tumbled Ned into bed, helmet, armour, gauntlets, and all. Such a creaking as the bedstead made, under Ned’s weight in his new suit! It didn’t break down though; and there Ned lay, like the anonymous vessel in the Bay of Biscay, till next day, drinking barley-water, and looking miserable: and every time he groaned, his good lady said it served him right, which was all the consolation Ned Twigger got.
Nicholas Tulrumble and the gorgeous procession went on together to the town-hall, amid the hisses and groans of all the spectators, who had suddenly taken it into their heads to consider poor Ned a martyr. Nicholas was formally installed in his new office, in acknowledgment of which ceremony he delivered himself of a speech, composed by the secretary, which was very long, and no doubt very good, only the noise of the people outside prevented anybody from hearing it, but Nicholas Tulrumble himself. After which, the procession got back to Mudfog Hall any how it could; and Nicholas and the corporation sat down to dinner.
But the dinner was flat, and Nicholas was disappointed. They were such dull sleepy old fellows, that corporation. Nicholas made quite as long speeches as the Lord Mayor of London had done, nay, he said the very same things that the Lord Mayor of London had said, and the deuce a cheer the corporation gave him. There was only one man in the party who was thoroughly awake; and he was insolent, and called him Nick. Nick! What would be the consequence, thought Nicholas, of anybody presuming to call the Lord Mayor of London “Nick!” He should like to know what the sword-bearer would say to that; or the recorder, or the toast-master, or any other of the great officers of the city. They’d nick him.
But these were not the worst of Nicholas Tulrumble’s doings; If they had been, he might have remained a Mayor to this day, and have talked till he lost his voice. He contracted a relish for statistics, and got philosophical; and the statistics and the philosophy together, led him into an act which increased his unpopularity and hastened his downfall.
At the very end of the Mudfog High-street, and abutting on the river-side, stands the Jolly Boatmen, an old-fashioned, low-roofed, bay-windowed house, with a bar, kitchen, and tap-room all in one, and a large fire-place with a kettle to correspond, round which the working men have congregated time out of mind on a winter’s night, refreshed by draughts of good strong beer, and cheered by the sounds of a fiddle and tambourine: the Jolly Boatmen having been duly licensed by the Mayor and corporation, to scrape the fiddle and thumb the tambourine from time, whereof the memory of the oldest inhabitants goeth not to the contrary. Now Nicholas Tulrumble had been reading pamphlets on crime, and parliamentary reports,— or had made the secretary read them to him, which is the same thing in effect,—and he at once perceived that this fiddle and tambourine must have done more to demoralize Mudfog, than any other operating causes that ingenuity could imagine. So he read up for the subject, and determined to come out on the corporation with a burst, the very next time the licence was applied for.
The licensing day came, and the red-faced landlord of the Jolly Boatmen, walked into the town-hall, looking as jolly as need be, having actually put on an extra fiddle for that night, to commemorate the anniversary of the Jolly Boatmen’s music licence. It was applied for in due form, and was just about to be granted as a matter of course, when up rose Nicholas Tulrumble, and drowned the astonished corporation in a torrent of eloquence. He descanted in glowing terms upon the increasing depravity of his native town of Mudfog, and the excesses committed by its population. Then, he related how shocked he had been, to see barrels of beer sliding down into the cellar of the Jolly Boatmen week after week; and how he had sat at a window opposite the Jolly Boatmen for two days together, to count the people who went in for beer between the hours of twelve and one o’clock alone—which, by-the-bye, was the time at which the great majority of the Mudfog people dined. Then, he went on to state, how the number of people who came out with beer-jugs, averaged twenty-one in five minutes, which, being multiplied by twelve, gave two hundred and fifty-two people with beer-jugs in an hour, and multiplied again by fifteen (the number of hours during which the house was open daily) yielded three thousand seven hundred and eighty people with beer-jugs per day, or twenty-six thousand four hundred and sixty people with beer-jugs, per week. Then he proceeded to show that a tambourine and moral degradation were synonymous terms, and a fiddle and vicious propensities wholly inseparable. All these arguments he strengthened and demonstrated by frequent references to a large book with a blue cover, and sundry quotations from the Middlesex magistrates; and in the end, the corporation, who were posed with the figures, and sleepy with the speech, and sadly in want of dinner into the bargain, yielded the palm to Nicholas Tulrumble, and refused the music licence to the Jolly Boatmen.
But although Nicholas triumphed, his triumph was short. He carried on the war against beer-jugs and fiddles, forgetting the time when he was glad to drink out of the one, and to dance to the other, till the people hated, and his old friends shunned him. He grew tired of the lonely magnificence of Mudfog Hall, and his heart yearned towards the Lighterman’s Arms. He wished he had never set up as a public man, and sighed for the good old times of the coal-shop, and the chimney-corner.
At length old Nicholas, being thoroughly miserable, took heart of grace, paid the secretary a quarter’s wages in advance, and packed him off to London by the next coach. Having taken this step, he put his hat on his head, and his pride in his pocket, and walked down to the old room at the Lighterman’s Arms. There were only two of the old fellows there, and they looked coldly on Nicholas as he proffered his hand.
“Are you going to put down pipes, Mr. Tulrumble?” said one.
“Or trace the progress of crime to ’baccer?”8Tobacco. growled the other.
“Neither,” replied Nicholas Tulrumble, shaking hands with them both, whether they would or not. “I’ve come down to say that I’m very sorry for having made a fool of myself, and that I hope you’ll give me up, the old chair, again.”
The old fellows opened their eyes, and three or four more old fellows opened the door, to whom Nicholas, with tears in his eyes, thrust out his hand too, and told the same story. They raised a shout of joy, that made the bells in the ancient church-tower vibrate again, and wheeling the old chair into the warm corner, thrust old Nicholas down into it, and ordered in the very largest-sized bowl of hot punch, with an unlimited number of pipes, directly.
The next day, the Jolly Boatmen got the licence, and the next night, old Nicholas and Ned Twigger’s wife led off a dance to the music of the fiddle and tambourine, the tone of which seemed mightily improved by a little rest, for they never had played so merrily before. Ned Twigger was in the very height of his glory, and he danced hornpipes, and balanced chairs on his chin, and straws on his nose, till the whole company, including the corporation, were in raptures of admiration at the brilliancy of his acquirements.
Mr. Tulrumble, junior, couldn’t make up his mind to be anything but magnificent, so he went up to London and drew bills on his father; and when he had overdrawn, and got into debt, he grew penitent and came home again.
As to old Nicholas, he kept his word, and having had six weeks of public life, never tried it any more. He went to sleep in the town-hall at the very next meeting; and, in full proof of his sincerity, has requested us to write this faithful narrative. We wish it could have the effect of reminding the Tulrumbles of another sphere, that puffed-up conceit is not dignity, and that snarling at the little pleasures they were once glad to enjoy, because they would rather forget the times when they were of lower station, renders them objects of contempt and ridicule.
This is the first time we have published any of our gleanings from this particular source. Perhaps, at some future period, we may venture to open the chronicles of Mudfog.
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How To Cite (MLA Format)
Charles Dickens. “Public Life of Mr. Tulrumble.” Bentley’s Miscellany, vol. 1, no. 1, 1837, pp. 49-63. Edited by Kaden Bradley. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 10 December 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/public-life-of-mr-tulrumble/.
1 November 2016
10 December 2023
|↑2||During the thirteenth century, King John allowed the citizens of London to elect their own mayor. However, the king required that the Lord Mayor had to leave London every year and travel to Westminster to swear loyalty to the crown. This journey and procession became so popular that it earned the title of “Lord Mayor’s Show,” a festivity that is celebrated to this day.|
|↑3||The original reads: “no, not even n London itself.”|
|↑4||Sobriquet is French for: “a nickname.”|
|↑5||George William Manby, after witnessing a disastrous shipwreck, invented a method for ships to communicate with the shore in times of distress. (R. B. Prosser, “Manby, George William (1765-1854),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford University Press, 2004-16. Online edition.)|
|↑6||An eight-day clock needs to be wound just once a week, rather than every day. It would be a solid, heavy grandfather clock.|
|↑7||A “court-card” is a face card in a pack of playing cards.|