Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 1
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be
prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is
one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this
workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat,
inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the
business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this
For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish
surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to
bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs
would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of
pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and
faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.
Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the
most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do
mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that
could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in
inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,--a troublesome practice,
but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he
lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the
next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period,
Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses,
and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been
killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was
rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did
such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The
result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to
advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed
upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from
a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a
much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.
As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork
coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a
young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated
the words, 'Let me see the child, and die.'