Uriah Heep Teaches Umbleness
Rara avis, a blog post consisting almost exclusively of an excerpt of a great piece of British literature.
In the hope that it might be of inspiration.
“But, seeing a light in the little round office, and immediately feeling myself attracted towards Uriah Heep, who had a sort of fascination for me, I went in there instead. I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail.
‘You are working late tonight, Uriah,’ says I.
‘Yes, Master Copperfield,’ says Uriah.
As I was getting on the stool opposite, to talk to him more conveniently, I observed that he had not such a thing as a smile about him, and that he could only widen his mouth and make two hard creases down his cheeks, one on each side, to stand for one.
‘I am not doing office-work, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah.
‘What work, then?’ I asked.
‘I am improving my legal knowledge, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah. ‘I am going through Tidd’s Practice. Oh, what a writer Mr. Tidd is, Master Copperfield!’
My stool was such a tower of observation, that as I watched him reading on again, after this rapturous exclamation, and following up the lines with his forefinger, I observed that his nostrils, which were thin and pointed, with sharp dints in them, had a singular and most uncomfortable way of expanding and contracting themselves – that they seemed to twinkle instead of his eyes, which hardly ever twinkled at all.
‘I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?’ I said, after looking at him for some time.
‘Me, Master Copperfield?’ said Uriah. ‘Oh, no! I’m a very umble person.’
It was no fancy of mine about his hands, I observed; for he frequently ground the palms against each other as if to squeeze them dry and warm, besides often wiping them, in a stealthy way, on his pocket-handkerchief.
‘I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,’ said Uriah Heep, modestly; ‘let the other be where he may. My mother is likewise a very umble person. We live in a numble abode, Master Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father’s former calling was umble. He was a sexton.’
‘What is he now?’ I asked.
‘He is a partaker of glory at present, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah Heep. ‘But we have much to be thankful for. How much have I to be thankful for in living with Mr. Wickfield!’
I asked Uriah if he had been with Mr. Wickfield long?
‘I have been with him, going on four year, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah; shutting up his book, after carefully marking the place where he had left off. ‘Since a year after my father’s death. How much have I to be thankful for, in that! How much have I to be thankful for, in Mr. Wickfield’s kind intention to give me my articles, which would otherwise not lay within the umble means of mother and self!’
‘Then, when your articled time is over, you’ll be a regular lawyer, I suppose?’ said I.
‘With the blessing of Providence, Master Copperfield,’ returned Uriah.
‘Perhaps you’ll be a partner in Mr. Wickfield’s business, one of these days,’ I said, to make myself agreeable; ‘and it will be Wickfield and Heep, or Heep late Wickfield.’
‘Oh no, Master Copperfield,’ returned Uriah, shaking his head, ‘I am much too umble for that!’
He certainly did look uncommonly like the carved face on the beam outside my window, as he sat, in his humility, eyeing me sideways, with his mouth widened, and the creases in his cheeks.
‘Mr. Wickfield is a most excellent man, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah. ‘If you have known him long, you know it, I am sure, much better than I can inform you.’
I replied that I was certain he was; but that I had not known him long myself, though he was a friend of my aunt’s.
‘Oh, indeed, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah. ‘Your aunt is a sweet lady, Master Copperfield!’
He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his throat and body.
‘A sweet lady, Master Copperfield!’ said Uriah Heep. ‘She has a great admiration for Miss Agnes, Master Copperfield, I believe?’
I said, ‘Yes,’ boldly; not that I knew anything about it, Heaven forgive me!
‘I hope you have, too, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah. ‘But I am sure you must have.’
‘Everybody must have,’ I returned.
‘Oh, thank you, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah Heep, ‘for that remark! It is so true! Umble as I am, I know it is so true! Oh, thank you, Master Copperfield!’ He writhed himself quite off his stool in the excitement of his feelings, and, being off, began to make arrangements for going home.
‘Mother will be expecting me,’ he said, referring to a pale, inexpressive-faced watch in his pocket, ‘and getting uneasy; for though we are very umble, Master Copperfield, we are much attached to one another. If you would come and see us, any afternoon, and take a cup of tea at our lowly dwelling, mother would be as proud of your company as I should be.’
I said I should be glad to come.
‘Thank you, Master Copperfield,’ returned Uriah, putting his book away upon the shelf – ‘I suppose you stop here, some time, Master Copperfield?’
I said I was going to be brought up there, I believed, as long as I remained at school.
‘Oh, indeed!’ exclaimed Uriah. ‘I should think YOU would come into the business at last, Master Copperfield!’
I protested that I had no views of that sort, and that no such scheme was entertained in my behalf by anybody; but Uriah insisted on blandly replying to all my assurances, ‘Oh, yes, Master Copperfield, I should think you would, indeed!’ and, ‘Oh, indeed, Master Copperfield, I should think you would, certainly!’ over and over again. Being, at last, ready to leave the office for the night, he asked me if it would suit my convenience to have the light put out; and on my answering ‘Yes,’ instantly extinguished it. After shaking hands with me – his hand felt like a fish, in the dark – he opened the door into the street a very little, and crept out, and shut it, leaving me to grope my way back into the house: which cost me some trouble and a fall over his stool. This was the proximate cause, I suppose, of my dreaming about him, for what appeared to me to be half the night; and dreaming, among other things, that he had launched Mr. Peggotty’s house on a piratical expedition, with a black flag at the masthead, bearing the inscription ‘Tidd’s Practice’, under which diabolical ensign he was carrying me and little Em’ly to the Spanish Main, to be drowned.”
Charles Dickens, “David Copperfield”, Chapter XVI.