Charles Dickens

The monotonous appearance of the sanded boards was relieved by an occasional spittoon; and a triangular pile of those useful articles adorned the two upper corners of the apartment.

At the furthest table, nearest the fire, with his face towards the door at the bottom of the room, sat a stoutish man of about forty, whose short, stiff, black hair curled closely round a broad high forehead, and a face to which something besides water and exercise had communicated a rather inflamed appearance. He was smoking a cigar, with his eyes fixed on the ceiling, and had that confident oracular air which marked him as the leading politician, general authority, and universal anecdote-relater, of the place. He had evidently just delivered himself of something very weighty; for the remainder of the company were puffing at their respective pipes and cigars in a kind of solemn abstraction, as if quite overwhelmed with the magnitude of the subject recently under discussion.

On his right hand sat an elderly gentleman with a white head, and broad-brimmed brown hat; on his left, a sharp-nosed, light-haired man in a brown surtout reaching nearly to his heels, who took a whiff at his pipe, and an admiring glance at the red-faced man, alternately.

'Very extraordinary!' said the light-haired man after a pause of five minutes. A murmur of assent ran through the company.

'Not at all extraordinary--not at all,' said the red-faced man, awakening suddenly from his reverie, and turning upon the light- haired man, the moment he had spoken.

'Why should it be extraordinary?--why is it extraordinary?--prove it to be extraordinary!'

'Oh, if you come to that--' said the light-haired man, meekly.

'Come to that!' ejaculated the man with the red face; 'but we MUST come to that. We stand, in these times, upon a calm elevation of intellectual attainment, and not in the dark recess of mental deprivation. Proof, is what I require--proof, and not assertions, in these stirring times. Every gen'lem'n that knows me, knows what was the nature and effect of my observations, when it was in the contemplation of the Old-street Suburban Representative Discovery Society, to recommend a candidate for that place in Cornwall there- -I forget the name of it. "Mr. Snobee," said Mr. Wilson, "is a fit and proper person to represent the borough in Parliament." "Prove it," says I. "He is a friend to Reform," says Mr. Wilson. "Prove it," says I. "The abolitionist of the national debt, the unflinching opponent of pensions, the uncompromising advocate of the negro, the reducer of sinecures and the duration of Parliaments; the extender of nothing but the suffrages of the people," says Mr. Wilson. "Prove it," says I. "His acts prove it," says he. "Prove THEM," says I.

'And he could not prove them,' said the red-faced man, looking round triumphantly; 'and the borough didn't have him; and if you carried this principle to the full extent, you'd have no debt, no pensions, no sinecures, no negroes, no nothing. And then, standing upon an elevation of intellectual attainment, and having reached the summit of popular prosperity, you might bid defiance to the nations of the earth, and erect yourselves in the proud confidence of wisdom and superiority. This is my argument--this always has been my argument--and if I was a Member of the House of Commons to- morrow, I'd make 'em shake in their shoes with it. And the red- faced man, having struck the table very hard with his clenched fist, to add weight to the declaration, smoked away like a brewery.

'Well!' said the sharp-nosed man, in a very slow and soft voice, addressing the company in general, 'I always do say, that of all the gentlemen I have the pleasure of meeting in this room, there is not one whose conversation I like to hear so much as Mr. Rogers's, or who is such improving company.'

'Improving company!' said Mr. Rogers, for that, it seemed, was the name of the red-faced man. 'You may say I am improving company, for I've improved you all to some purpose; though as to my conversation being as my friend Mr.