Background.

Sketches by Boz

The dignity of his office is never impaired by the absence of efforts on his part to maintain it.‘ is a quotation from Sketches by Boz, Our Parish, Chapter 1 (The Beadle. The Parish Engine. The Schoolmaster).

Sketches by Boz is a collection of short pieces written by Charles Dickens and published as a book in 1836.

 

Context.

Description of the Parish Beadle.

Taken from the following passage in The Beadle. The Parish Engine. The Schoolmaster:

The parish beadle is one of the most, perhaps the most, important member of the local administration.  He is not so well off as the churchwardens, certainly, nor is he so learned as the vestry-clerk, nor does he order things quite so much his own way as either of them.  But his power is very great, notwithstanding; and the dignity of his office is never impaired by the absence of efforts on his part to maintain it.  The beadle of our parish is a splendid fellow.  It is quite delightful to hear him, as he explains the state of the existing poor laws to the deaf old women in the board-room passage on business nights; and to hear what he said to the senior churchwarden, and what the senior churchwarden said to him; and what ‘we’ (the beadle and the other gentlemen) came to the determination of doing.  A miserable-looking woman is called into the boardroom, and represents a case of extreme destitution, affecting herself—a widow, with six small children.  ‘Where do you live?’ inquires one of the overseers.  ‘I rents a two-pair back, gentlemen, at Mrs. Brown’s, Number 3, Little King William’s-alley, which has lived there this fifteen year, and knows me to be very hard-working and industrious, and when my poor husband was alive, gentlemen, as died in the hospital’—‘Well, well,’ interrupts the overseer, taking a note of the address, ‘I’ll send Simmons, the beadle, to-morrow morning, to ascertain whether your story is correct; and if so, I suppose you must have an order into the House—Simmons, go to this woman’s the first thing to-morrow morning, will you?’  Simmons bows assent, and ushers the woman out.  Her previous admiration of ‘the board’ (who all sit behind great books, and with their hats on) fades into nothing before her respect for her lace-trimmed conductor; and her account of what has passed inside, increases—if that be possible—the marks of respect, shown by the assembled crowd, to that solemn functionary.  As to taking out a summons, it’s quite a hopeless case if Simmons attends it, on behalf of the parish.  He knows all the titles of the Lord Mayor by heart; states the case without a single stammer: and it is even reported that on one occasion he ventured to make a joke, which the Lord Mayor’s head footman (who happened to be present) afterwards told an intimate friend, confidentially, was almost equal to one of Mr. Hobler’s.

 

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