Mr. Robert Bolton: The ‘Gentleman Connected with the Press’
by Charles Dickens
In the parlour of the Green Dragon, a public-house in the immediate neighbourhood of Westminster Bridge, everybody talks politics, every evening, the great political authority being Mr. Robert Bolton, an individual who defines himself as ‘a gentleman connected with the press,’ which is a definition of peculiar indefiniteness. Mr. Robert Bolton’s regular circle of admirers and listeners are an undertaker, a greengrocer, a hairdresser, a baker, a large stomach surmounted by a man’s head, and placed on the top of two particularly short legs, and a thin man in black, name, profession, and pursuit unknown, who always sits in the same position, always displays the same long, vacant face, and never opens his lips, surrounded as he is by most enthusiastic conversation, except to puff forth a volume of tobacco smoke, or give vent to a very snappy, loud, and shrill HEM! The conversation sometimes turns upon literature, Mr. Bolton being a literary character, and always upon such news of the day as is exclusively possessed by that talented individual. I found myself (of course, accidentally) in the Green Dragon the other evening, and, being somewhat amused by the following conversation, preserved it.
‘Can you lend me a ten-pound note till Christmas?’ inquired the hairdresser of the stomach.
‘Where’s your security, Mr. Clip?’
‘My stock in trade,–there’s enough of it, I’m thinking, Mr. Thicknesse. Some fifty wigs, two poles, half-a-dozen head blocks, and a dead Bruin.’
‘No, I won’t, then,’ growled out Thicknesse. ‘I lends nothing on the security of the whigs or the Poles either. As for whigs, they’re cheats; as for the Poles, they’ve got no cash. I never have nothing to do with blockheads, unless I can’t awoid it (ironically), and a dead bear’s about as much use to me as I could be to a dead bear.’
‘Well, then,’ urged the other, ‘there’s a book as belonged to Pope, Byron’s Poems, valued at forty pounds, because it’s got Pope’s identical scratch on the back; what do you think of that for security?’
‘Well, to be sure!’ cried the baker. ‘But how d’ye mean, Mr. Clip?’
‘Mean! why, that it’s got the HOTTERGRUFF of Pope.
“Steal not this book, for fear of hangman’s rope; For it belongs to Alexander Pope.”
All that’s written on the inside of the binding of the book; so, as my son says, we’re BOUND to believe it.’
‘Well, sir,’ observed the undertaker, deferentially, and in a half-whisper, leaning over the table, and knocking over the hairdresser’s grog as he spoke, ‘that argument’s very easy upset.’
‘Perhaps, sir,’ said Clip, a little flurried, ‘you’ll pay for the first upset afore you thinks of another.’
‘Now,’ said the undertaker, bowing amicably to the hairdresser, ‘I THINK, I says I THINK–you’ll excuse me, Mr. Clip, I THINK, you see, that won’t go down with the present company–unfortunately, my master had the honour of making the coffin of that ere Lord’s housemaid, not no more nor twenty year ago. Don’t think I’m proud on it, gentlemen; others might be; but I hate rank of any sort. I’ve no more respect for a Lord’s footman than I have for any respectable tradesman in this room. I may say no more nor I have for Mr. Clip! (bowing). Therefore, that ere Lord must have been born long after Pope died. And it’s a logical interference to defer, that they neither of them lived at the same time. So what I mean is this here, that Pope never had no book, never seed, felt, never smelt no book (triumphantly) as belonged to that ere Lord. And, gentlemen, when I consider how patiently you have ‘eared the ideas what I have expressed, I feel bound, as the best way to reward you for the kindness you have exhibited, to sit down without saying anything more–partickler as I perceive a worthier visitor nor myself is just entered. I am not in the habit of paying compliments, gentlemen; when I do, therefore, I hope I strikes with double force.’
‘Ah, Mr. Murgatroyd! what’s all this about striking with double force?’ said the object of the above remark, as he entered. ‘I never excuse a man’s getting into a rage during winter, even when he’s seated so close to the fire as you are. It is very injudicious to put yourself into such a perspiration. What is the cause of this extreme physical and mental excitement, sir?’
Such was the very philosophical address of Mr. Robert Bolton, a shorthand-writer, as he termed himself–a bit of equivoque passing current among his fraternity, which must give the uninitiated a vast idea of the establishment of the ministerial organ, while to the initiated it signifies that no one paper can lay claim to the enjoyment of their services. Mr. Bolton was a young man, with a somewhat sickly and very dissipated expression of countenance. His habiliments were composed of an exquisite union of gentility, slovenliness, assumption, simplicity, NEWNESS, and old age. Half of him was dressed for the winter, the other half for the summer. His hat was of the newest cut, the D’Orsay; his trousers had been white, but the inroads of mud and ink, etc., had given them a pie-bald appearance; round his throat he wore a very high black cravat, of the most tyrannical stiffness; while his tout ensemble was hidden beneath the enormous folds of an old brown poodle-collared great-coat, which was closely buttoned up to the aforesaid cravat. His fingers peeped through the ends of his black kid gloves, and two of the toes of each foot took a similar view of society through the extremities of his high-lows. Sacred to the bare walls of his garret be the mysteries of his interior dress! He was a short, spare man, of a somewhat inferior deportment. Everybody seemed influenced by his entry into the room, and his salutation of each member partook of the patronizing. The hairdresser made way for him between himself and the stomach. A minute afterwards he had taken possession of his pint and pipe. A pause in the conversation took place. Everybody was waiting, anxious for his first observation.
‘Horrid murder in Westminster this morning,’ observed Mr. Bolton.
Everybody changed their positions. All eyes were fixed upon the man of paragraphs.
‘A baker murdered his son by boiling him in a copper,’ said Mr. Bolton.
‘Good heavens!’ exclaimed everybody, in simultaneous horror.
‘Boiled him, gentlemen!’ added Mr. Bolton, with the most effective emphasis; ‘BOILED him!’
‘And the particulars, Mr. B.,’ inquired the hairdresser, ‘the particulars?’
Mr. Bolton took a very long draught of porter, and some two or three dozen whiffs of tobacco, doubtless to instil into the commercial capacities of the company the superiority of a gentlemen connected with the press, and then said –
‘The man was a baker, gentlemen.’ (Every one looked at the baker present, who stared at Bolton.) ‘His victim, being his son, also was necessarily the son of a baker. The wretched murderer had a wife, whom he was frequently in the habit, while in an intoxicated state, of kicking, pummelling, flinging mugs at, knocking down, and half-killing while in bed, by inserting in her mouth a considerable portion of a sheet or blanket.’
The speaker took another draught, everybody looked at everybody else, and exclaimed, ‘Horrid!’
‘It appears in evidence, gentlemen,’ continued Mr. Bolton, ‘that, on the evening of yesterday, Sawyer the baker came home in a reprehensible state of beer. Mrs. S., connubially considerate, carried him in that condition up-stairs into his chamber, and consigned him to their mutual couch. In a minute or two she lay sleeping beside the man whom the morrow’s dawn beheld a murderer!’ (Entire silence informed the reporter that his picture had attained the awful effect he desired.) ‘The son came home about an hour afterwards, opened the door, and went up to bed. Scarcely (gentlemen, conceive his feelings of alarm), scarcely had he taken off his indescribables, when shrieks (to his experienced ear MATERNAL shrieks) scared the silence of surrounding night. He put his indescribables on again, and ran down-stairs. He opened the door of the parental bed-chamber. His father was dancing upon his mother. What must have been his feelings! In the agony of the minute he rushed at his male parent as he was about to plunge a knife into the side of his female. The mother shrieked. The father caught the son (who had wrested the knife from the paternal grasp) up in his arms, carried him down-stairs, shoved him into a copper of boiling water among some linen, closed the lid, and jumped upon the top of it, in which position he was found with a ferocious countenance by the mother, who arrived in the melancholy wash-house just as he had so settled himself.
‘”Where’s my boy?” shrieked the mother.
‘”In that copper, boiling,” coolly replied the benign father.
‘Struck by the awful intelligence, the mother rushed from the house, and alarmed the neighbourhood. The police entered a minute afterwards. The father, having bolted the wash-house door, had bolted himself. They dragged the lifeless body of the boiled baker from the cauldron, and, with a promptitude commendable in men of their station, they immediately carried it to the station-house. Subsequently, the baker was apprehended while seated on the top of a lamp-post in Parliament Street, lighting his pipe.’
The whole horrible ideality of the Mysteries of Udolpho, condensed into the pithy effect of a ten-line paragraph, could not possibly have so affected the narrator’s auditory. Silence, the purest and most noble of all kinds of applause, bore ample testimony to the barbarity of the baker, as well as to Bolton’s knack of narration; and it was only broken after some minutes had elapsed by interjectional expressions of the intense indignation of every man present. The baker wondered how a British baker could so disgrace himself and the highly honourable calling to which he belonged; and the others indulged in a variety of wonderments connected with the subject; among which not the least wonderment was that which was awakened by the genius and information of Mr. Robert Bolton, who, after a glowing eulogium on himself, and his unspeakable influence with the daily press, was proceeding, with a most solemn countenance, to hear the pros and cons of the Pope autograph question, when I took up my hat, and left.