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"Gentlemen" and "Professions"

February 28, 2008
In reference to this post.

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, Ch.3, pg. 2:

The gloomy Eugene, with his hands in his pockets, had strolled in and assisted at the latter part of the dialogue; when the boy spoke these words slightingly of his sister, he took him roughly enough by the chin, and turned up his face to look at it.

“Well, I’m sure, sir!” said the boy, resisting; “I hope you’ll know me again.”

Eugene vouchsafed no answer; but made the proposal to Mortimer, “I’ll go with you, if you like?” So, they all three went away together in the vehicle that had brought the boy; the two friends (once boys together at a public school) inside, smoking cigars; the messenger on the box beside the driver.

“Let me see,” said Mortimer, as they went along; “I have been, Eugene, upon the honourable roll of solicitors of the High Court of Chancery, and attorneys at Common Law, five years; and — except gratuitously taking instructions, on an average once a fortnight, for the will of Lady Tippins who has nothing to leave — I have had no scrap of business but this romantic business.”

“And I,” said Eugene, “have been ‘called’ seven years, and have had no business at all, and never shall have any. And if I had, I shouldn’t know how to do it.”

“I am far from being clear as to the last particular,” returned Mortimer, with great composure, “that I have much advantage over you.”

“I hate,” said Eugene, putting his legs up on the opposite seat, “I hate my profession.”

“Shall I incommode you, if I put mine up too?” returned Mortimer. “Thank you. I hate mine.”

“It was forced upon me,” said the gloomy Eugene, “because it was understood that we wanted a barrister in the family. We have got a precious one.”

“It was forced upon me,” said Mortimer, “because it was understood that we wanted a solicitor in the family. And we have got a precious one.”

“There are four of us, with our names painted on a door-post in right of one black hole called a set of chambers,” said Eugene; “and each of us has the fourth of a clerk — Cassim Baba, in the robber’s cave — and Cassim is the only respectable member of the party.”

“I am one by myself, one,” said Mortimer, “high up an awful staircase commanding a burial-ground, and I have a whole clerk to myself, and he has nothing to do but look at the burial-ground, and what he will turn out when arrived at maturity, I cannot conceive. Whether, in that shabby rook’s nest, he is always plotting wisdom or plotting murder; whether he will grow up, after so much solitary brooding, to enlighten his fellow-creatures, or to poison them; is the only speck of interest that presents itself to my professional view. Will you give me a light? Thank you.”

“Then idiots talk,” said Eugene, leaning back, folding his arms, smoking with his eyes shut, and speaking slightly through his nose, “of Energy. If there is a word in the dictionary under any letter from A to Z that I abominate, it is energy. It is such a conventional superstition, such parrot gabble! What the deuce! Am I to rush out into the street, collar the first man of a wealthy appearance that I meet, shake him, and say, ‘Go to law upon the spot, you dog, and retain me, or I’ll be the death of you’? Yet that would be energy.”

“Precisely my view of the case, Eugene. But show me a good opportunity, show me something really worth being energetic about, and I’ll show you energy.”

“And so will I,” said Eugene.

3 Comments
  1. Rent Party permalink
    February 28, 2008 10:24 pm

    Excellent!
    🙂

  2. Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 28, 2008 11:22 pm

    Eugene and Mortimer, both attorneys are riding in a cab to identify a dead body. The dead body is supposedly that of John Harmon. This Harmon case is one of the only legal cases Mortimer Lightfoot has had, and it was just a will, the same as the other one he mentions in this conversation. The “romantic” business that is referred to I believe is if/when Harmon was going to take a wife, an unknown woman that his father chose with the condition that no inheritance would be received if he did not marry her. The idle attorneys were summoned from a fashionable party, one with lots of food, beautiful clothes, high society, excellent drinks and cigars to identify Harmon’s body. Dickens shows us the differences in class very subtly. The messenger, the boy, the son of the man who found the dead body in the river, who makes a living by dragging dead bodies out of the river must sit outside of the cab, next to the driver. In other words, if it rains he will get soaked, if it is cold, he will be cold, no big deal. The two attorneys are sitting inside nice and cozy, with their feet up on the opposite seat, a seat that the boy could have sat on, and they are smoking cigars. The price of the cigars and the cab fare is probably more than the boy makes all week. However, the attorneys feel like they have been victimised. Their families persuaded them to go into the law, they do not have to practice in order to eat, but it is idle work and we should feel sorry for them because they are so idle. Then the icing on the cake is how Eugene and Mortimer rationalises their plight, just in case someone reminds them how good they have it by saying their professions lacks inspiration, if it had inspiration then they would be energised. How funny.

  3. Rent Party permalink
    March 1, 2008 12:34 am

    It’s brilliant. Dickens is a genius.

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