Martin Chuzzlewit HTML version

Chapter 26
The laws of sympathy between beards and birds, and the secret source of that
attraction which frequently impels a shaver of the one to be a dealer in the other,
are questions for the subtle reasoning of scientific bodies; not the less so,
because their investigation would seem calculated to lead to no particular result.
It is enough to know that the artist who had the honour of entertaining Mrs Gamp
as his first-floor lodger, united the two pursuits of barbering and bird-fancying;
and that it was not an original idea of his, but one in which he had, dispersed
about the by-streets and suburbs of the town, a host of rivals.
The name of the householder was Paul Sweedlepipe. But he was commonly
called Poll Sweedlepipe; and was not uncommonly believed to have been so
christened, among his friends and neighbours.
With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger's private apartment, Poll
Sweedlepipe's house was one great bird's nest. Gamecocks resided in the
kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on the garret;
bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the bedroom; and
specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and twittered in the shop. The
staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in hutches of all shapes and kinds, made
from old packing-cases, boxes, drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a
prodigious degree, and contributed their share towards that complicated whiff
which, quite impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose
that was put into Sweedlepipe's easy shaving-shop.
Many noses found their way there, for all that, especially on Sunday morning,
before church-time. Even archbishops shave, or must be shaved, on a Sunday,
and beards WILL grow after twelve o'clock on Saturday night, though it be upon
the chins of base mechanics; who, not being able to engage their valets by the
quarter, hire them by the job, and pay them--oh, the wickedness of copper coin!--
in dirty pence. Poll Sweedlepipe, the sinner, shaved all comers at a penny each,
and cut the hair of any customer for twopence; and being a lone unmarried man,
and having some connection in the bird line, Poll got on tolerably well.
He was a little elderly man, with a clammy cold right hand, from which even
rabbits and birds could not remove the smell of shaving- soap. Poll had
something of the bird in his nature; not of the hawk or eagle, but of the sparrow,
that builds in chimney-stacks and inclines to human company. He was not
quarrelsome, though, like the sparrow; but peaceful, like the dove. In his walk he
strutted; and, in this respect, he bore a faint resemblance to the pigeon, as well
as in a certain prosiness of speech, which might, in its monotony, be likened to
the cooing of that bird. He was very inquisitive; and when he stood at his shop-
door in the evening-tide, watching the neighbours, with his head on one side, and
his eye cocked knowingly, there was a dash of the raven in him. Yet there was
no more wickedness in Poll than in a robin. Happily, too, when any of his
ornithological properties were on the verge of going too far, they were quenched,
dissolved, melted down, and neutralised in the barber; just as his bald head--