Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 2
Of Mr Ralph Nickleby, and his Establishments, and his Undertakings, and of a
great Joint Stock Company of vast national Importance
Mr Ralph Nickleby was not, strictly speaking, what you would call a merchant,
neither was he a banker, nor an attorney, nor a special pleader, nor a notary. He
was certainly not a tradesman, and still less could he lay any claim to the title of a
professional gentleman; for it would have been impossible to mention any
recognised profession to which he belonged. Nevertheless, as he lived in a
spacious house in Golden Square, which, in addition to a brass plate upon the
street-door, had another brass plate two sizes and a half smaller upon the left
hand door-post, surrounding a brass model of an infant's fist grasping a fragment
of a skewer, and displaying the word 'Office,' it was clear that Mr Ralph Nickleby
did, or pretended to do, business of some kind; and the fact, if it required any
further circumstantial evidence, was abundantly demonstrated by the diurnal
attendance, between the hours of half- past nine and five, of a sallow-faced man
in rusty brown, who sat upon an uncommonly hard stool in a species of butler's
pantry at the end of the passage, and always had a pen behind his ear when he
answered the bell.
Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden Square, it is
not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere. It is one of the squares that
have been; a quarter of the town that has gone down in the world, and taken to
letting lodgings. Many of its first and second floors are let, furnished, to single
gentlemen; and it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The
dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and
bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade, and about the
box-office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when they give
away the orders,--all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three
violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its
boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the
evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little
wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer's night, windows
are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the
passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff
voices practising vocal music invade the evening's silence; and the fumes of
choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and
flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the
region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square;
and itinerant glee- singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its
This would not seem a spot very well adapted to the transaction of business; but
Mr Ralph Nickleby had lived there, notwithstanding, for many years, and uttered
no complaint on that score. He knew nobody round about, and nobody knew him,
although he enjoyed the reputation of being immensely rich. The tradesmen held
that he was a sort of lawyer, and the other neighbours opined that he was a kind