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Chapter 5
Dobbin of Ours
Cuff's fight with Dobbin, and the unexpected issue of that contest, will long be
remembered by every man who was educated at Dr. Swishtail's famous school. The latter
Youth (who used to be called Heigh-ho Dobbin, Gee-ho Dobbin, and by many other
names indicative of puerile contempt) was the quietest, the clumsiest, and, as it seemed,
the dullest of all Dr. Swishtail's young gentlemen. His parent was a grocer in the city: and
it was bruited abroad that he was admitted into Dr. Swishtail's academy upon what are
called "mutual principles"--that is to say, the expenses of his board and schooling were
defrayed by his father in goods, not money; and he stood there--most at the bottom of the
school--in his scraggy corduroys and jacket, through the seams of which his great big
bones were bursting--as the representative of so many pounds of tea, candles, sugar,
mottled-soap, plums (of which a very mild proportion was supplied for the puddings of
the establishment), and other commodities. A dreadful day it was for young Dobbin when
one of the youngsters of the school, having run into the town upon a poaching excursion
for hardbake and polonies, espied the cart of Dobbin & Rudge, Grocers and Oilmen,
Thames Street, London, at the Doctor's door, discharging a cargo of the wares in which
the firm dealt.
Young Dobbin had no peace after that. The jokes were frightful, and merciless against
him. "Hullo, Dobbin," one wag would say, "here's good news in the paper. Sugars is ris',
my boy." Another would set a sum--"If a pound of mutton-candles cost sevenpence-
halfpenny, how much must Dobbin cost?" and a roar would follow from all the circle of
young knaves, usher and all, who rightly considered that the selling of goods by retail is a
shameful and infamous practice, meriting the contempt and scorn of all real gentlemen.
"Your father's only a merchant, Osborne," Dobbin said in private to the little boy who
had brought down the storm upon him. At which the latter replied haughtily, "My father's
a gentleman, and keeps his carriage"; and Mr. William Dobbin retreated to a remote
outhouse in the playground, where he passed a half-holiday in the bitterest sadness and
woe. Who amongst us is there that does not recollect similar hours of bitter, bitter
childish grief? Who feels injustice; who shrinks before a slight; who has a sense of wrong
so acute, and so glowing a gratitude for kindness, as a generous boy? and how many of
those gentle souls do you degrade, estrange, torture, for the sake of a little loose
arithmetic, and miserable dog-latin?
Now, William Dobbin, from an incapacity to acquire the rudiments of the above
language, as they are propounded in that wonderful book the Eton Latin Grammar, was
compelled to remain among the very last of Doctor Swishtail's scholars, and was "taken
down" continually by little fellows with pink faces and pinafores when he marched up
with the lower form, a giant amongst them, with his downcast, stupefied look, his dog's-
eared primer, and his tight corduroys. High and low, all made fun of him. They sewed up
those corduroys, tight as they were. They cut his bed-strings. They upset buckets and