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The Toady Tree

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Great Britain—Social Life and Customs
Social classes; Class distinctions; Aristocracy (Social Class); Aristocracy (Social Class)—Fiction; Middle Class; Working Class; Servants;
Other Details
Printed : 26/5/1855
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume XI
Magazine : No. 270
Office Book Notes
Views : 1696

'Toady' (abbreviation of 'toad-eater') was nineteenth-century slang for someone who fawned on those of higher social rank or greater wealth. Dickens draws on the legend of the deadly poisonous Upas Tree of Java to provide his device for this satirical onslaught on the proneness of the English to abase themselves before aristocrats.

Certain details relate closely to satirical aspects of the new novel he was writing, Little Dorrit: Hobbs the ingenious inventor whose work is frustrated by government indifference and incompetence anticipates Doyce in Dorrit; and all those honourable and intelligent people who see how damaging to the nation such servility is but nevertheless participate in it are represented in the novel by Mr Meagles, whose pride and pleasure at being brought into 'such high company' overcomes all his misgivings about his beloved daughter's marriage to the well-connected dilettante Gowan. The phrase 'Administrative Reformer' (paragraph 4) refers to the movement born of public outrage at the Government's inept conduct of the war; an Administrative Reform meeting was held in the City of London on 5 May and the Administrative Reform Association, the only political organisation Dickens ever joined, was formed in June.

For 'Fizmaili' and 'Fizzy' and 'Gambaroon' and 'Gam' in paragraph 4 Dickens's readers would of course read 'Disraeli', familiarly called 'Dizzy', and Palmerston, familiarly called 'Pam'.

Literary allusions

  • 'daff the world of swells aside...': adapted from Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, Act 4, Sc. 1, 'daff'd the world aside / And bid it pass';
  • 'verily they have their reward': Matthew 6:5, 16.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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