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Some Roundabout Papers   By: (1811-1863)

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This etext was prepared from the 1908 T.N. Foulis edition by Stephen Rice, email

Some Roundabout Papers


We have lately made the acquaintance of an old lady of ninety, who has passed the last twenty five years of her old life in a great metropolitan establishment, the workhouse, namely, of the parish of Saint Lazarus. Stay twenty three or four years ago, she came out once, and thought to earn a little money by hop picking; but being overworked, and having to lie out at night, she got a palsy which has incapacitated her from all further labour, and has caused her poor old limbs to shake ever since.

An illustration of that dismal proverb which tells us how poverty makes us acquainted with strange bed fellows, this poor old shaking body has to lay herself down every night in her workhouse bed by the side of some other old woman with whom she may or may not agree. She herself can't be a very pleasant bed fellow, poor thing! with her shaking old limbs and cold feet. She lies awake a deal of the night, to be sure, not thinking of happy old times, for hers never were happy; but sleepless with aches, and agues, and rheumatism of old age. "The gentleman gave me brandy and water," she said, her old voice shaking with rapture at the thought. I never had a great love for Queen Charlotte, but I like her better now from what this old lady told me. The Queen, who loved snuff herself, has left a legacy of snuff to certain poorhouses; and, in her watchful nights, this old woman takes a pinch of Queen Charlotte's snuff, "and it do comfort me, sir, that it do!" Pulveris exigui munus. Here is a forlorn aged creature, shaking with palsy, with no soul among the great struggling multitude of mankind to care for her, not quite trampled out of life, but past and forgotten in the rush, made a little happy, and soothed in her hours of unrest by this penny legacy. Let me think as I write. (The next month's sermon, thank goodness! is safe to press.) This discourse will appear at the season when I have read that wassail bowls make their appearance; at the season of pantomime, turkey and sausages, plum puddings, jollifications for schoolboys; Christmas bills, and reminiscences more or less sad and sweet for elders. If we oldsters are not merry, we shall be having a semblance of merriment. We shall see the young folks laughing round the holly bush. We shall pass the bottle round cosily as we sit by the fire. That old thing will have a sort of festival too. Beef, beer, and pudding will be served to her for that day also. Christmas falls on a Thursday. Friday is the workhouse day for coming out. Mary, remember that old Goody Twoshoes has her invitation for Friday, 26th December! Ninety is she, poor old soul? Ah! what a bonny face to catch under a mistletoe! "Yes, ninety, sir," she says, "and my mother was a hundred, and my grandmother was a hundred and two."

Herself ninety, her mother a hundred, her grandmother a hundred and two? What a queer calculation!

Ninety! Very good, granny: you were born, then, in 1772.

Your mother, we will say, was twenty seven when you were born, and was born therefore in 1745.

Your grandmother was thirty five when her daughter was born, and was born therefore in 1710.

We will begin with the present granny first. My good old creature, you can't of course remember, but that little gentleman for whom you mother was laundress in the Temple was the ingenious Mr Goldsmith, author of a "History of England," the "Vicar of Wakefield," and many diverting pieces. You were brought almost an infant to his chambers in Brick Court, and he gave you some sugar candy, for the doctor was always good to children. That gentleman who well nigh smothered you by sitting down on you as you lay in a chair asleep was the learned Mr S. Johnson, whose history of "Rasselas" you have never read, my pour soul; and whose tragedy of "Irene" I don't believe any man in these kingdoms ever perused... Continue reading book >>

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