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    Chapter 1

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    Chapter 1

    Introduces all the Rest

    There once lived, in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire,
    one Mr Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentleman, who, taking it into his
    head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being
    young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of
    fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her
    turn had taken him for the same reason. Thus two people who cannot
    afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game
    for love.

    Some ill-conditioned persons who sneer at the life-matrimonial, may
    perhaps suggest, in this place, that the good couple would be better
    likened to two principals in a sparring match, who, when fortune is
    low and backers scarce, will chivalrously set to, for the mere
    pleasure of the buffeting; and in one respect indeed this comparison
    would hold good; for, as the adventurous pair of the Fives' Court
    will afterwards send round a hat, and trust to the bounty of the
    lookers-on for the means of regaling themselves, so Mr Godfrey
    Nickleby and HIS partner, the honeymoon being over, looked out
    wistfully into the world, relying in no inconsiderable degree upon
    chance for the improvement of their means. Mr Nickleby's income, at
    the period of his marriage, fluctuated between sixty and eighty
    pounds PER ANNUM.

    There are people enough in the world, Heaven knows! and even in
    London (where Mr Nickleby dwelt in those days) but few complaints
    prevail, of the population being scanty. It is extraordinary how
    long a man may look among the crowd without discovering the face of
    a friend, but it is no less true. Mr Nickleby looked, and looked,
    till his eyes became sore as his heart, but no friend appeared; and
    when, growing tired of the search, he turned his eyes homeward, he
    saw very little there to relieve his weary vision. A painter who
    has gazed too long upon some glaring colour, refreshes his dazzled
    sight by looking upon a darker and more sombre tint; but everything
    that met Mr Nickleby's gaze wore so black and gloomy a hue, that he
    would have been beyond description refreshed by the very reverse of
    the contrast.

    At length, after five years, when Mrs Nickleby had presented her
    husband with a couple of sons, and that embarassed gentleman,
    impressed with the necessity of making some provision for his
    family, was seriously revolving in his mind a little commercial
    speculation of insuring his life next quarter-day, and then falling
    from the top of the Monument by accident, there came, one morning,
    by the general post, a black-bordered letter to inform him how his
    uncle, Mr Ralph Nickleby, was dead, and had left him the bulk of his
    little property, amounting in all to five thousand pounds sterling.

    As the deceased had taken no further notice of his nephew in his
    lifetime, than sending to his eldest boy (who had been christened
    after him, on desperate speculation) a silver spoon in a morocco
    case, which, as he had not too much to eat with it, seemed a kind of
    satire upon his having been born without that useful article of
    plate in his mouth, Mr Godfrey Nickleby could, at first, scarcely
    believe the tidings thus conveyed to him. On examination, however,
    they turned out to be strictly correct. The amiable old gentleman,
    it seemed, had intended to leave the whole to the Royal Humane
    Society, and had indeed executed a will to that effect; but the
    Institution, having been unfortunate enough, a few months before, to
    save the life of a poor relation to whom he paid a weekly allowance
    of three shillings and sixpence, he had, in a fit of very natural
    exasperation, revoked the bequest in a codicil, and left it all to
    Mr Godfrey Nickleby; with a special mention of his indignation, not
    only against the society for saving the poor relation's life, but
    against the poor relation also, for allowing himself to be saved.

    With a portion of this property Mr Godfrey Nickleby purchased a
    small farm, near Dawlish in Devonshire, whither he retired with his
    wife and two children, to live upon the best interest he could get
    for the rest of his money, and the little produce he could raise
    from his land. The two prospered so well together that, when he
    died, some fifteen years after this period, and some five after his
    wife, he was enabled to leave, to his eldest son, Ralph, three
    thousand pounds in cash, and to his youngest son, Nicholas, one
    thousand and the farm, which was as small a landed estate as one
    would desire to see.

    These two brothers had been brought up together in a school at
    Exeter; and, being accustomed to go home once a week, had often
    heard, from their mother's lips, long accounts of their father's
    sufferings in his days of poverty, and of their deceased uncle's
    importance in his days of affluence: which recitals produced a very
    different impression on the two: for, while the younger, who was of
    a timid and retiring disposition, gleaned from thence nothing but
    forewarnings to shun the great world and attach himself to the quiet
    routine of a country life, Ralph, the elder, deduced from the often-
    repeated tale the two great morals that riches are the only true
    source of happiness and power, and that it is lawful and just to
    compass their acquisition by all means short of felony. 'And,'
    reasoned Ralph with himself, 'if no good came of my uncle's money
    when he was alive, a great deal of good came of it after he was
    dead, inasmuch as my father has got it now, and is saving it up for
    me, which is a highly virtuous purpose; and, going back to the old
    gentleman, good DID come of it to him too, for he had the pleasure
    of thinking of it all his life long, and of being envied and courted
    by all his family besides.' And Ralph always wound up these mental
    soliloquies by arriving at the conclusion, that there was nothing
    like money.

    Not confining himself to theory, or permitting his faculties to
    rust, even at that early age, in mere abstract speculations, this
    promising lad commenced usurer on a limited scale at school; putting
    out at good interest a small capital of slate-pencil and marbles,
    and gradually extending his operations until they aspired to the
    copper coinage of this realm, in which he speculated to considerable
    advantage. Nor did he trouble his borrowers with abstract
    calculations of figures, or references to ready-reckoners; his
    simple rule of interest being all comprised in the one golden
    sentence, 'two-pence for every half-penny,' which greatly simplified
    the accounts, and which, as a familiar precept, more easily acquired
    and retained in the memory than any known rule of arithmetic, cannot
    be too strongly recommended to the notice of capitalists, both large
    and small, and more especially of money-brokers and bill-
    discounters. Indeed, to do these gentlemen justice, many of them
    are to this day in the frequent habit of adopting it, with eminent

    In like manner, did young Ralph Nickleby avoid all those minute and
    intricate calculations of odd days, which nobody who has worked sums
    in simple-interest can fail to have found most embarrassing, by
    establishing the one general rule that all sums of principal and
    interest should be paid on pocket-money day, that is to say, on
    Saturday: and that whether a loan were contracted on the Monday, or
    on the Friday, the amount of interest should be, in both cases, the
    same. Indeed he argued, and with great show of reason, that it
    ought to be rather more for one day than for five, inasmuch as the
    borrower might in the former case be very fairly presumed to be in
    great extremity, otherwise he would not borrow at all with such odds
    against him. This fact is interesting, as illustrating the secret
    connection and sympathy which always exist between great minds.
    Though Master Ralph Nickleby was not at that time aware of it, the
    class of gentlemen before alluded to, proceed on just the same
    principle in all their transactions.

    From what we have said of this young gentleman, and the natural
    admiration the reader will immediately conceive of his character, it
    may perhaps be inferred that he is to be the hero of the work which
    we shall presently begin. To set this point at rest, for once and
    for ever, we hasten to undeceive them, and stride to its commencement.

    On the death of his father, Ralph Nickleby, who had been some time
    before placed in a mercantile house in London, applied himself
    passionately to his old pursuit of money-getting, in which he
    speedily became so buried and absorbed, that he quite forgot his
    brother for many years; and if, at times, a recollection of his old
    playfellow broke upon him through the haze in which he lived--for
    gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old
    senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal--it
    brought along with it a companion thought, that if they were
    intimate he would want to borrow money of him. So, Mr Ralph Nickleby
    shrugged his shoulders, and said things were better as they were.

    As for Nicholas, he lived a single man on the patrimonial estate
    until he grew tired of living alone, and then he took to wife the
    daughter of a neighbouring gentleman with a dower of one thousand
    pounds. This good lady bore him two children, a son and a daughter,
    and when the son was about nineteen, and the daughter fourteen, as
    near as we can guess--impartial records of young ladies' ages
    being, before the passing of the new act, nowhere preserved in the
    registries of this country--Mr Nickleby looked about him for the
    means of repairing his capital, now sadly reduced by this increase
    in his family, and the expenses of their education.

    'Speculate with it,' said Mrs Nickleby.

    'Spec--u--late, my dear?' said Mr Nickleby, as though in doubt.

    'Why not?' asked Mrs Nickleby.

    'Because, my dear, if we SHOULD lose it,' rejoined Mr Nickleby, who
    was a slow and time-taking speaker, 'if we SHOULD lose it, we shall
    no longer be able to live, my dear.'

    'Fiddle,' said Mrs Nickleby.

    'I am not altogether sure of that, my dear,' said Mr Nickleby.

    'There's Nicholas,' pursued the lady, 'quite a young man--it's time
    he was in the way of doing something for himself; and Kate too, poor
    girl, without a penny in the world. Think of your brother! Would
    he be what he is, if he hadn't speculated?'

    'That's true,' replied Mr Nickleby. 'Very good, my dear. Yes. I
    WILL speculate, my dear.'

    Speculation is a round game; the players see little or nothing of
    their cards at first starting; gains MAY be great--and so may
    losses. The run of luck went against Mr Nickleby. A mania
    prevailed, a bubble burst, four stock-brokers took villa residences
    at Florence, four hundred nobodies were ruined, and among them Mr

    'The very house I live in,' sighed the poor gentleman, 'may be taken
    from me tomorrow. Not an article of my old furniture, but will be
    sold to strangers!'

    The last reflection hurt him so much, that he took at once to his
    bed; apparently resolved to keep that, at all events.

    'Cheer up, sir!' said the apothecary.

    'You mustn't let yourself be cast down, sir,' said the nurse.

    'Such things happen every day,' remarked the lawyer.

    'And it is very sinful to rebel against them,' whispered the

    'And what no man with a family ought to do,' added the neighbours.

    Mr Nickleby shook his head, and motioning them all out of the room,
    embraced his wife and children, and having pressed them by turns to
    his languidly beating heart, sunk exhausted on his pillow. They
    were concerned to find that his reason went astray after this; for
    he babbled, for a long time, about the generosity and goodness of
    his brother, and the merry old times when they were at school
    together. This fit of wandering past, he solemnly commended them to
    One who never deserted the widow or her fatherless children, and,
    smiling gently on them, turned upon his face, and observed, that he
    thought he could fall asleep.
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    Chapter 1
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