Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 4
Nicholas and his Uncle (to secure the Fortune without loss of time) wait upon Mr
Wackford Squeers, the Yorkshire Schoolmaster
Snow Hill! What kind of place can the quiet townspeople who see the words
emblazoned, in all the legibility of gilt letters and dark shading, on the north-
country coaches, take Snow Hill to be? All people have some undefined and
shadowy notion of a place whose name is frequently before their eyes, or often in
their ears. What a vast number of random ideas there must be perpetually
floating about, regarding this same Snow Hill. The name is such a good one.
Snow Hill--Snow Hill too, coupled with a Saracen's Head: picturing to us by a
double association of ideas, something stern and rugged! A bleak desolate tract
of country, open to piercing blasts and fierce wintry storms--a dark, cold, gloomy
heath, lonely by day, and scarcely to be thought of by honest folks at night--a
place which solitary wayfarers shun, and where desperate robbers congregate;--
this, or something like this, should be the prevalent notion of Snow Hill, in those
remote and rustic parts, through which the Saracen's Head, like some grim
apparition, rushes each day and night with mysterious and ghost-like punctuality;
holding its swift and headlong course in all weathers, and seeming to bid
defiance to the very elements themselves.
The reality is rather different, but by no means to be despised notwithstanding.
There, at the very core of London, in the heart of its business and animation, in
the midst of a whirl of noise and motion: stemming as it were the giant currents of
life that flow ceaselessly on from different quarters, and meet beneath its walls:
stands Newgate; and in that crowded street on which it frowns so darkly--within a
few feet of the squalid tottering houses--upon the very spot on which the vendors
of soup and fish and damaged fruit are now plying their trades--scores of human
beings, amidst a roar of sounds to which even the tumult of a great city is as
nothing, four, six, or eight strong men at a time, have been hurried violently and
swiftly from the world, when the scene has been rendered frightful with excess of
human life; when curious eyes have glared from casement and house-top, and
wall and pillar; and when, in the mass of white and upturned faces, the dying
wretch, in his all-comprehensive look of agony, has met not one--not one--that
bore the impress of pity or compassion.
Near to the jail, and by consequence near to Smithfield also, and the Compter,
and the bustle and noise of the city; and just on that particular part of Snow Hill
where omnibus horses going eastward seriously think of falling down on purpose,
and where horses in hackney cabriolets going westward not unfrequently fall by
accident, is the coach-yard of the Saracen's Head Inn; its portal guarded by two
Saracens' heads and shoulders, which it was once the pride and glory of the
choice spirits of this metropolis to pull down at night, but which have for some
time remained in undisturbed tranquillity; possibly because this species of
humour is now confined to St James's parish, where door knockers are preferred
as being more portable, and bell-wires esteemed as convenient toothpicks.
Whether this be the reason or not, there they are, frowning upon you from each