Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

Author:Charles Dickens
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780141921921
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Published: 2009-01-23T16:00:00+00:00


Shabby-genteel People

THERE are certain descriptions of people who, oddly enough, appear to appertain exclusively to this metropolis. You meet them every day in the streets of London, but no one ever encounters them elsewhere; they seem to be indigenous to the soil, and to belong as exclusively to London as its own smoke, or the dingy bricks and mortar. We could illustrate the remark by a variety of examples, but in our present sketch we will only advert to one class as a specimen – that class which is so aptly and expressively designated as ‘shabby-genteel.’

Now shabby people, God knows, may be found any where, and genteel people are not articles of greater scarcity out of London than in it, but this compound of the two – this shabby-gentility – is as purely local as the statue at Charing-cross, or the pump at Aldgate.1 It is worthy of remark too, that only men are shabby-genteel; a woman is always either dirty and slovenly in the extreme, or neat and respectable, however poverty-stricken in appearance. A very poor man, ‘who has seen better days,’ as the phrase goes, is a strange compound of dirty-slovenliness, and wretched attempts at a kind of faded smartness.

We will endeavour to explain our conception of the term which forms the title of this paper. If you meet a man lounging up Drury-lane, or leaning with his back against a post in Long-acre, with his hands in the pockets of a pair of drab trousers plentifully besprinkled with grease-spots: the trousers made very full over the boots, and ornamented with two cords down the outside of each leg – wearing also what has been a brown coat with bright buttons, and a hat very much pinched up at the sides, cocked over his right eye – don't pity him. He is not shabby-genteel. The ‘harmonic meetings’ at some fourth-rate public-house, or the purlieus of a private theatre, are his chosen haunts; he entertains a rooted antipathy to any kind of work, and is on familiar terms with several pantomime men at the large houses. But if you see hurrying along a by street, keeping as close as he can to the area-railings, a man of about forty or fifty clad in an old rusty suit of threadbare black cloth which shines with constant wear as if it had been beeswaxed, the trousers tightly strapped down, partly for the look of the thing and partly to keep his old shoes from slipping off at the heels, – if you observe too that his yellowish-white neckerchief is carefully pinned up, to conceal the tattered garment underneath, and that his hands are encased in the remains of an old pair of beaver gloves, you may set him down as a shabby-genteel man. A glance at that depressed face, and timorous air of conscious poverty, will make your heart ache – always supposing that you are neither a philosopher, nor a political economist.2

We were once haunted by a shabby-genteel man; he was bodily present to our senses all day, and he was in our mind's eye all night.


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