Little Dorrit HTML version

3. Home
It was a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close, and stale. Maddening church
bells of all degrees of dissonance, sharp and flat, cracked and clear, fast and
slow, made the brick-and-mortar echoes hideous. Melancholy streets, in a
penitential garb of soot, steeped the souls of the people who were condemned to
look at them out of windows, in dire despondency. In every thoroughfare, up
almost every alley, and down almost every turning, some doleful bell was
throbbing, jerking, tolling, as if the Plague were in the city and the dead-carts
were going round. Everything was bolted and barred that could by possibility
furnish relief to an overworked people. No pictures, no unfamiliar animals, no
rare plants or flowers, no natural or artificial wonders of the ancient world--all
TABOO with that enlightened strictness, that the ugly South Sea gods in the
British Museum might have supposed themselves at home again. Nothing to see
but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to breathe but streets, streets, streets.
Nothing to change the brooding mind, or raise it up. Nothing for the spent toiler to
do, but to compare the monotony of his seventh day with the monotony of his six
days, think what a weary life he led, and make the best of it--or the worst,
according to the probabilities.
At such a happy time, so propitious to the interests of religion and morality, Mr
Arthur Clennam, newly arrived from Marseilles by way of Dover, and by Dover
coach the Blue-eyed Maid, sat in the window of a coffee-house on Ludgate Hill.
Ten thousand responsible houses surrounded him, frowning as heavily on the
streets they composed, as if they were every one inhabited by the ten young men
of the Calender's story, who blackened their faces and bemoaned their miseries
every night. Fifty thousand lairs surrounded him where people lived so
unwholesomely that fair water put into their crowded rooms on Saturday night,
would be corrupt on Sunday morning; albeit my lord, their county member, was
amazed that they failed to sleep in company with their butcher's meat. Miles of
close wells and pits of houses, where the inhabitants gasped for air, stretched far
away towards every point of the compass. Through the heart of the town a
deadly sewer ebbed and flowed, in the place of a fine fresh river. What secular
want could the million or so of human beings whose daily labour, six days in the
week, lay among these Arcadian objects, from the sweet sameness of which they
had no escape between the cradle and the grave--what secular want could they
possibly have upon their seventh day? Clearly they could want nothing but a
stringent policeman.
Mr Arthur Clennam sat in the window of the coffee-house on Ludgate Hill,
counting one of the neighbouring bells, making sentences and burdens of songs
out of it in spite of himself, and wondering how many sick people it might be the
death of in the course of the year. As the hour approached, its changes of
measure made it more and more exasperating. At the quarter, it went off into a
condition of deadly-lively importunity, urging the populace in a voluble manner to
Come to church, Come to church, Come to church! At the ten minutes, it became
aware that the congregation would be scanty, and slowly hammered out in low