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“ Thank God for a good breakfast,” said Squeers, when he had finished. · Number one may take a drink.”
Number one received the mug ravenously, and had just drunk enough to make him wish for more, when Mr. Squeers gave the signal for number two, who gave up at the same interesting moment to number three; and the process was repeated until the milk and water terminated with number five.
“And now," said the schoolmaster, dividing the bread and butter for three into as many portions as there were children, “ you had better look sharp with your breakfast, the horn will blow in a minute or two, and then every boy leaves off.”
Permission being thus given to fall to, the boys began to eat voraciously, and in desperate haste, while the schoolmaster (who was in high good humour after his meal) picked his teeth with a fork, and looked smilingly on. In a very short time the horn was heard.
“I thought it wouldn't be long,” said Squeers, jumping up and producing a little basket from under the seat;
put what you haven't had time to eat in here, boys! You'll want it on the road! "
Young Wackford Squeers was fed on the fattest meats, 80 that he might be kept plump and energetic, in order that he might be taken to London to show intending patrons how well the boys were fed in Dotheboys Hall.
Again, in The Old Curiosity Shop, the starving of child servants condemned by the way Sally Brass fed the Marchioness. Dick Swiveller's curiosity led him to peep through a crack in the kitchen door one day while Sally was giving the little servant her dinner.
Everything was locked up; the coal cellar, the candle box, the salt box, the meat safe were all padlocked. There was nothing that a beetle could have lunched upon. The pinched and meagre aspect of the place would have killed a chameleon; he would have known, at the first mouthful, that the air was not eatable, and must have given up the ghost in despair.
The small servant stood with humility in presence of Miss Sally, and hung her head.
Are you there?” said Miss Sally.
“Go farther away from the leg of mutton, or you'll be picking it, I know,” said Miss Sally.
The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss Brass took a key from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant, ordering her to sit down before it, and then, taking up a great carving knife, made a mighty show of sharpening it upon the carving fork.
“ Do you see this? ” said Miss Brass, slicing off about two square inches of cold mutton, after all this preparation, and holding it out on the point of the fork.
The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to see every shred in it, small as it was, and answered, “ Yes.”
“ Then don't you ever go and say,” retorted Miss Sally, " that you hadn't meat here. There, eat it up.”
This was soon done. “Now, do you want any more?” said Miss Sally.
The hungry creature answered with a faint “ No." They were evidently going through an established form.
You've been helped once to meat,” said Miss Brass, summing up the facts; “ you've have had as much as you can eat, you're asked if you want any more, and you answer 'No!' Then don't you ever go and say you were allowanced, mind that.”
Dickens showed the evil effects of eating too rapidly in his description of the dinner in Mrs. Pawkins's boarding house in New York, where Martin Chuzzlewit boarded for a short time after reaching America.
It was a numerous company, eighteen or twenty perhaps. Of these, some five or six were ladies, who sat wedged together in a little phalanx by themselves. All the knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost in self-defence, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time tomorrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of Nature. The poultry, which may perhaps be considered to have formed the staple of the entertainment-for there was a turkey at the top, a pair of ducks at the bottom, and two fowls in the middle-disappeared as rapidly as if every bird had had the use of its wings,
and had flown in desperation down a human throat. The oysters, stewed and pickled, leaped from their capacious reservoirs, and slid by scores into the mouths of the assembly. The sharpest pickles vanished, whole cucumbers at once, like sugarplums, and no man winked his eye. Great heaps of indigestible matter melted away as ice before the sun. It was a solemn and an awful thing to see. Dyspeptic individuals bolted their food in wedges; feeding not themselves, but broods of nightmares, who were continually standing at livery within them. Spare men, with lank and rigid cheeks, came out unsatisfied from the destruction of heavy dishes, and glared with watchful eyes upon the pastry. What Mrs. Pawkins felt each day at dinner time is hidden from all human knowledge. But she had one comfort. It was very soon over.
Dickens repeats this criticism of rapid eating in his American Notes, when specifying the causes of disease among American people. He says: “The custom of hastily swallowing large quantities of animal food three times a day and rushing back to sedentary pursuits after each meal must be changed.”
Poor Paul Dombey was sacrified to his father's pride. Mrs. Toodle was dismissed by Mr. Dombey because she dared to take his infant son with her when she went to see her own children. Paul was thus robbed of the natural food, which his sensitive nature needed so much. This was largely responsible for the fact that Paul was delicate. By first depriving him of proper food, and then sending him to Doctor Blimber's school “ to learn everything,” Mr. Dombey led directly to Paul's death. His pride and vanity overreached themselves.
In Mrs. Pipchin's meals Dickens tried to show two things: First, the selfishness of adulthood in regard to children's diet as compared with its own; second, the absolute insufficiency of the kind of food commonly supplied to children for building up strong, energetic, and well-developed men and women.
She regaled the children with a repast of " farinaceous and vegetable foods—chiefly rice,” but she herself had a good hot dinner with mutton chops.
The children were required to repeat a form of grace
thanking Mrs. Pipchin for a good dinner. Oliver was told he must be thankful to the kind gentlemen who provided food for him in the workhouse. The same mockery of religion by mixing it up with the starvation of childhood is made ridiculous in the letter which Squeers read to the unfortunate children in Dotheboys Hall, pretending that it had been written by the stepmother of Mobbs.
“Mobbs's stepmother,” said Squeers, “ took to her bed on hearing that he wouldn't eat fat, and has been very ill ever since. She wishes to know, by an early post, where he expects to go to if he quarrels with his vittles; and with what feelings he could turn up his nose at the cow's liver's broth, after his good master had asked a blessing on it.” “ Cow's liver's broth” would not be a very strengthening diet for children even with the blessing of so good a man as Squeers upon it.
Dickens makes a characteristic hit at the fashionable idea which was popular at one time, that it was rather indelicate, especially in a lady, to have a good robust constitution and a vigorous digestion in describing Mr. Vholes in Bleak House. “His digestion was impaired, which is always highly respectable.'
Mrs. Cruncher, in A Tale of Two Cities, objected to the questionable ways in which Mr. Cruncher earned his money sometimes. Her husband charged her with flying in the face of Providence by refusing the “wittles and drink" he provided for her, and especially for neglecting to give it to their son. “ With you flying into the face of your own wittles and drink! I don't know how scarce you mayn't make the wittles and drink here by your flopping tricks and your unfeeling conduct. Look at your boy: he is yourn, ain't he? He's as thin as a lath. Do you call yourself a mother, and not know a mother's first duty is to blow her son out.”
Abel Magwitch, when describing the terrible training he received at the hands of a Christian community in the most advanced Christian civilization of the world, said that when he was in jail some philanthropists measured his head to find out the cause of his wicked
ness,” and added with great wisdom, “they had better a-measured my stomach.”
The folly of hoping that healthy infants can be nourished by mothers who are compelled to labour continuously through long hours without rest is shown in the description of the child whose mother was a waitress, in Somebody's Luggage. Incidentally, too, Dickens reveals in this case the facts that the power of assimilation of little children is usually impaired, and that, as a consequence, they become more peevish, and therefore get shaken and otherwise abused for the ignorance of the adults responsible for their care. Speaking of the treatment of the baby, ne says:
You were conveyed-ere yet your dawning powers were otherwise developed than to harbour vacancy in your inside-you vere conveyed by surreptitious means into a pantry adjoining the Admiral Nelson, Civic and General Dining-Rooms, there to receive by stealth that healthful sustenance which is the pride and boast of the British female constitution. Under the combined influence of the smells of roast and boiled, and soup, and gas, and malt liquors, you partook of your earliest nourishment; your unwilling grandmother sitting prepared to catch you when your mother was called and dropped you; your grandmother's shawl ever ready to stifle your natural complainings; your innocent mind surrounded by uncongenial cruets, dirty plates, dish covers, and cold gravy; your mother calling down the pipe for veals and porks, instead of soothing you with nursery rhymes. Under these untoward circumstances you were early weaned. Your unwilling grandmother, ever growing more unwilling as your food assimilated less, then contracted habits of shaking you till your system curdled, and your food would not assimilate at all.
The schoolmaster in Jemmy Lirriper's original story was captured and put into confinement for his treatment of the boys, and he was to have nothing to eat but the boys' dinners, and was to drink half a cask of their beer every day.
The schoolboy in The Schoolboy's Story describes the food given to the boys as one of the grievances they had against the institution.