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Lively Turtle

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Food; Cooking; Gastronomy; Alcohol; Bars (Drinking Establishments); Restaurants; Dinners and Dining
Great Britain—Politics and Government
London (England)—Description and Travel
Public Health; Sanitation; Water
Other Details
Printed : 26/10/1850
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume II
Magazine : No. 31
Office Book Notes
Views : 790

The Aldermen of the Court of Common Council, the governing body of the City of London, had long been the butt of jokes in Punch and other satirical papers for their reactionary stupidity and complacency and their gormandising feasts (always involving turtle soup). Their strenuous opposition to the application to the City of the Public Health Act of 1848, and to the removal of Smithfield Meat market from the city centre, particularly angered Dickens. On 12 July he noticed a report in The Times (which was also campaigning for the removal of Smithfield) of 'a most intolerably asinine Speech about Smithfield, made in the Common Council by one Taylor' and asked Wills to get him further material about 'absurdities enunciated by this wiseacre' so that he could write up something about him for HW (Pilgrim, Vol. VI, p. 129). Snoady's wonderful vision of Alderman Groggles as a 'lively turtle' is the result.

      How closely Dickens catches the very accent of the sort of Common Councilman's speech he is here mocking can be seen by a comparison of Snoady's rhetoric with the Times report (12 July 1850, p. 8, col. 3) of Taylor's speech. Taylor, a wholesale ironmonger and Chairman of the Markets Improvement Committee, said in the course of his speech against the proposal to move Smithfield:

It was sought to make the city adopt the continental system, and have abattoirs. Now, he would prefer to remain English. (Cheers.) He did not want to go to France to learn how to live. (Continued cheering.) The citizens of London did not want to have any trees of liberty planted in Cheapside. (Loud cheers.) They would rather remain as they. ... It was notorious that the people in France lived on soup made of very poor beef (Mr G. Taylor – 'Frogs, too')....

Concerning the Smithfield debate, see further the note to ['A Monument of French Folly', HW, Vol. II, 8 March 1851].

Literary allusions

  • 'The Negro is a man and a brother': in propaganda pamphlets of the Anti-Slavery Society a picture of a slave being whipped was captioned, 'Am I not a man and a brother?';
  • 'whatever is, is right': Pope, An Essay on Man, Ep. i, I. 294;
  • 'the whole duty of man': title of a famous devotional work by Richard Allestree (1680);
  • 'Rule Britannia...': James Thomson, Alfred, Act 2, scene the last (1740). 

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume II: 'The Amusements of the People' and Other Papers: Reports, Essays and Reviews, 1834-51 (1996). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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