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10 Jul

Chapter XV

It was strange to think that a domestic withdrawing room, even one as ostentatiously furnished as Lady Blessington’s, was the acknowledged centre of all that was considered brilliant in literature and art in those days. But it was, and to be seen there was worth a thousand copies shifted in a week. Ainsworth seemed quite comfortable in this new environment, although his stentorian Lancashire accent was as foreign there as my own by then fluent Cockney. I had long ago shed my original country voice, but that which had replaced it was just as coarse to the collective ear of the present company. But Ainsworth was a lawyer, and from money, albeit new money, and he understood the...
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3 Jul

Chapter XIV

Years passed. And so, as they say, I grew to manhood. By the early part of next decade, I was quite the man about town, and as in love with the city as is any Londoner who was not born there but came in from the provinces. I was in the prime of my life, and fancied that I cut quite a dash. I dressed well, and like Cruikshank I was a bit of a dandy. My dramatic blue eyes and wild black hair, which I wore rather long and romantic, were always popular with the ladies. Affairs tended to be brief, which suited me perfectly well. This was mostly on account of my moods, which were better...
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26 Jun

Chapter XIII

Chapter 13 Egan
My mysterious benefactor had, of course, been Egan; Bob bloody Logic himself. Having built up all my courage to walk through that Plutonian gate and face the Modern Babylon on my own, he was waiting for me across the street, learning against a knacker’s wall and smoking a long cheroot. ‘Well if it isn’t London’s latest literary sensation,’ he said, revealing both rows of his glittering teeth in a broad grin, and thereby saving me from the indignity of offering myself up to the mercy of my uncle, which had been the only plan I had thus far formulated. I did not know it then, but he had recently left the Weekly Dispatch to publish his own Sunday newspaper,...
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19 Jun

Chapter XII

Chapter 12 - Rat
In addition to reformers and evangelisers, another species from the outside well known to us was the tourist; dandies in the underworld who treated a visit to Bedlam, Newgate, or the Marshalsea as a social occasion. Sometimes they would even turn up with hampers and make a day of it. And if prisoners were willing to be observed in their natural habitat then boons might be bestowed upon them, in the form of food, drink or money. My dad was apt to indulge the voyeuristic swine for the latter reason, playing the Father of the Marshalsea and then leaving it to their honour to tip him for an audience. If food were offered I would take it and...
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12 Jun

Chapter XI

Chapter 11 Prison
The buildings and courtyard of the Marshalsea had a much more pleasant aspect than usual the morning after the first night I spent in the bed of Flashy Nanse. Even though I had not slept, my senses seemed strangely acute as I quit her room and walked softly into the frozen dawn. I had left my lover sleeping heavily, and had taken leave of her soft warm body only by a tremendous effort of will, based upon duty to my sister, my promise to David, and my fear of being surprised in Nanse’s bed by Bill, the man I took to be her husband. Despite the latter trepidation, I left in a state of elation that I...
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5 Jun

Chapter X

Chapter 10 - Medium
I had now run out of pirates. Bill had not been forthcoming with any other books or broadsheets, and there was not a single line of print to be found anywhere in the damn prison. It seemed to me that my father and I were the only literate occupants of the entire place, but between us we had but one book. I lobbied the turnkey for literature, and he promised me that he would see what he could do, as long as I could pay him up front, which just then I could not. I was desperate not to lose my spot in the snuggery on Sundays, for this seemed to me the most likely path to...
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29 May

Chapter IX

Chapter 9 - Pirates
I had thus far avoided the tap room for it was intimidating to me, full of rough men and rougher women. I had no experience of such places beyond reading of them in picaresque novels. I was well out of my depths and I knew it. Although I had fooled Scott and Ainsworth by strongly implying that I was fully grown in our correspondence, there was no faking adulthood in the real world, the universe outside the text. My father, meanwhile, had a Methodist’s disdain for the drink, although it was practical rather than evangelical, as even though our cause was futile he tried to save as much money as he could towards our debts. ‘I might at...
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22 May

Chapter VIII

Chapter 8 Prison
I was barely fourteen years old when my father and I were arrested for the crime of destitution. The long walk to London had enfeebled us to the point of near insensibility, and that we found my uncle’s house at all was close to miraculous, just as inebriates often seem to be guided safely to their beds by angels, having subsequently no memory of the journey. There our luck had ended. We were received at the side entrance like particularly poor applicants for a vacancy below stairs. A vinegar-lipped housekeeper bade us wait for the master in the kitchen, but it was not my uncle who came but the traps. We were carried to the Sponging-house immediately,...
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15 May

Chapter VII

Chapter 7 Gothic
All told, after my mother died it took about eighteen months for things to fall apart. My sister survived, thanks to the priceless ministrations of Mrs. McGuire, who was as a mother to the child for the first year of her life, after which she was weaned and I tentatively assumed the duty. It was unanimously agreed that the baby should be named for her mother, whom she uncannily resembled, especially about the eyes. She was thus called Sarah, with the second name of Frances appended in honour of Mrs. McGuire, despite her protestations. The tribute was well deserved. In saving little Sarah this fine working woman saved my father and I as well. My mother was not...
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8 May

Chapter VI

Chapter 6 - Grave
The machine people continued, nevertheless, to toil. They had rescued what assets they could from the shop without arousing suspicion, and they set about working from home. My father now took the long walk to the market, and I began my apprenticeship. The work was hard on the eyes and the fingers, but I took to it readily enough for I had watched my father labour for years. I enjoyed the precision of measuring, cutting, felling and hand stitching, and loved losing myself making buttonholes or embroidering, hours passing without my notice as I sewed. This was a calm, meditative state that I have rarely, if ever, achieved since as an author. It felt good to be...
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