Charles Dickens

Ellis here describes it, that is not for me to say anything about. You, gentlemen, are the best judges on that point; but this I will say, when I came into this parish, and first used this room, ten years ago, I don't believe there was one man in it, who knew he was a slave--and now you all know it, and writhe under it. Inscribe that upon my tomb, and I am satisfied.'

'Why, as to inscribing it on your tomb,' said a little greengrocer with a chubby face, 'of course you can have anything chalked up, as you likes to pay for, so far as it relates to yourself and your affairs; but, when you come to talk about slaves, and that there abuse, you'd better keep it in the family, 'cos I for one don't like to be called them names, night after night.'

'You ARE a slave,' said the red-faced man, 'and the most pitiable of all slaves.'

'Werry hard if I am,' interrupted the greengrocer, 'for I got no good out of the twenty million that was paid for 'mancipation, anyhow.'

'A willing slave,' ejaculated the red-faced man, getting more red with eloquence, and contradiction--'resigning the dearest birthright of your children--neglecting the sacred call of Liberty- -who, standing imploringly before you, appeals to the warmest feelings of your heart, and points to your helpless infants, but in vain.'

'Prove it,' said the greengrocer.

'Prove it!' sneered the man with the red face. 'What! bending beneath the yoke of an insolent and factious oligarchy; bowed down by the domination of cruel laws; groaning beneath tyranny and oppression on every hand, at every side, and in every corner. Prove it!--' The red-faced man abruptly broke off, sneered melo- dramatically, and buried his countenance and his indignation together, in a quart pot.

'Ah, to be sure, Mr. Rogers,' said a stout broker in a large waistcoat, who had kept his eyes fixed on this luminary all the time he was speaking. 'Ah, to be sure,' said the broker with a sigh, 'that's the point.'

'Of course, of course,' said divers members of the company, who understood almost as much about the matter as the broker himself.

'You had better let him alone, Tommy,' said the broker, by way of advice to the little greengrocer; 'he can tell what's o'clock by an eight-day, without looking at the minute hand, he can. Try it on, on some other suit; it won't do with him, Tommy.'

'What is a man?' continued the red-faced specimen of the species, jerking his hat indignantly from its peg on the wall. 'What is an Englishman? Is he to be trampled upon by every oppressor? Is he to be knocked down at everybody's bidding? What's freedom? Not a standing army. What's a standing army? Not freedom. What's general happiness? Not universal misery. Liberty ain't the window-tax, is it? The Lords ain't the Commons, are they?' And the red-faced man, gradually bursting into a radiating sentence, in which such adjectives as 'dastardly,' 'oppressive,' 'violent,' and 'sanguinary,' formed the most conspicuous words, knocked his hat indignantly over his eyes, left the room, and slammed the door after him.

'Wonderful man!' said he of the sharp nose.

'Splendid speaker!' added the broker.

'Great power!' said everybody but the greengrocer. And as they said it, the whole party shook their heads mysteriously, and one by one retired, leaving us alone in the old parlour.

If we had followed the established precedent in all such instances, we should have fallen into a fit of musing, without delay. The ancient appearance of the room--the old panelling of the wall--the chimney blackened with smoke and age--would have carried us back a hundred years at least, and we should have gone dreaming on, until the pewter-pot on the table, or the little beer-chiller on the fire, had started into life, and addressed to us a long story of days gone by. But, by some means or other, we were not in a romantic humour; and although we tried very hard to invest the furniture with vitality, it remained perfectly unmoved, obstinate, and sullen. Being thus reduced to the unpleasant necessity of musing about ordinary matters, our thoughts reverted to the red- faced man, and his oratorical display.