An old novel

Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man, evidently of the lowest orders, was wending his solitary way. He stopped twice or thrice at different shops and houses of a description correspondent with the appearance of the quartier in which they were situated, and tended inquiry for some article or another which did not seem easily to be met with. All the answers he received were couched in the negative; and as he turned from each door he muttered to himself, in no very elegant phraseology, his disappointment and discontent. At length, at one house, the landlord, a sturdy butcher, after rendering the same reply the inquirer had hitherto received, added, “But if this vill do as vell, Dummie, it is quite at your sarvice!” Pausing reflectively for a moment, Dummie responded that he thought the thing proffered might do as well; and thrusting it into his ample pocket, he strode away with as rapid a motion as the wind and the rain would allow. He soon came to a nest of low and dingy buildings, at the entrance to which, in half-effaced characters, was written “Thames Court.” Halting at the most conspicuous of these buildings, an inn or alehouse, through the half-closed windows of which blazed out in ruddy comfort the beams of the hospitable hearth, he knocked hastily at the door. He was admitted by a lady of a certain age, and endowed with a comely rotundity of face and person.

“Hast got it, Dummie?” said she, quickly, as she closed the door on the guest.

“Noa, noa! not exactly; but I thinks as ‘ow–”

“Pish, you fool!” cried the woman, interrupting him peevishly. “Vy, it is no use desaving me. You knows you has only stepped from my boosing-ken to another, and you has not been arter the book at all. So there’s the poor cretur a, raving and a dying, and you–”

“Let I speak!” interrupted Dummie in his turn. “I tells you I vent first to Mother Bussblone’s, who, I knows, chops the whiners morning and evening to the young ladies, and I axes there for a Bible; and she says, says she, ‘I ‘as only a “Companion to the Halter,” but you’ll get a Bible, I think, at Master Talkins’, the cobbler as preaches.’ So I goes to Master Talkins, and he says, says he, ‘I ‘as no call for the Bible, –’cause vy? I ‘as a call vithout; but mayhap you’ll be a getting it at the butcher’s hover the vay, -’cause vy? The butcher ‘ll be damned!’ So I goes hover the vay, and the butcher says, says he, ‘I ‘as not a Bible, but I ‘as a book of plays bound for all the vorld just like ‘un, and mayhap the poor cretur may n’t see the difference.’ So I takes the plays, Mrs. Margery, and here they be surely! And how’s poor Judy?”

“Fearsome! she’ll not be over the night, I’m a thinking.”

“Vell, I’ll track up the dancers!”

So saying, Dummie ascended a doorless staircase, across the entrance of which a blanket, stretched angularly from the wall to the chimney, afforded a kind of screen; and presently he stood within a chamber which the dark and painful genius of Crabbe might have delighted to portray. The walls were whitewashed, and at sundry places strange figures and grotesque characters had been traced by some mirthful inmate, in such sable outline as the end of a smoked stick or the edge of a piece of charcoal is wont to produce. The wan and flickering light afforded by a farthing candle gave a sort of grimness and menace to these achievements of pictorial art, especially as they more than once received embellishments from portraits of Satan such as he is accustomed to be drawn. A low fire burned gloomily in the sooty grate, and on the hob hissed “the still small voice” of an iron kettle. On a round deal table were two vials, a cracked cup, a broken spoon of some dull metal, and upon two or three mutilated chairs were scattered various articles of female attire. On another table, placed below a high, narrow, shutterless casement (athwart which, instead of a curtain, a checked apron had been loosely hung, and now waved fitfully to and fro in the gusts of wind that made easy ingress through many a chink and cranny), were a looking-glass, sundry appliances of the toilet, a box of coarse rouge, a few ornaments of more show than value, and a watch, the regular and calm click of which produced that indescribably painful feeling which, we fear, many of our readers who have heard the sound in a sick-chamber can easily recall. A large tester-bed stood opposite to this table, and the looking-glass partially reflected curtains of a faded stripe, and ever and anon (as the position of the sufferer followed the restless emotion of a disordered mind) glimpses of the face of one on whom Death was rapidly hastening. Beside this bed now stood Dummie, a small, thin man dressed in a tattered plush jerkin, from which the rain-drops slowly dripped, and with a thin, yellow, cunning physiognomy grotesquely hideous in feature, but not positively villanous in expression. On the other side of the bed stood a little boy of about three years old, dressed as if belonging to the better classes, although the garb was somewhat tattered and discoloured.

The dialogue doesn’t sound like modern cockney at all in my ears. I should look into it.

I didn’t know this style of writing was invented as early as 1830. Teh author was quite popular in his day, so maybe he’s even the inventor of the style.

One Response to “An old novel”

  1. Alex Says:

    For some reason, there was a literary convention that cockneys said “v” for “w” at the time. It has been attributed to Dickens’s Sam Weller, among others. Historians of language are foxed, as there’s apparently very little reason to think anyone ever spoke like that.

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