The first published writing of Charles Dickens "A Dinner at Poplar Walk"
appeared in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833. It was later
re-titled "Mr. Minns and his cousin."
"...my first copy of the Magazine in which my first effusion -
dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling,
into a dark letter-box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet
Street - appeared in all the glory of print; on which memorable
occasion - how well I recollect it! - I walked down to Westminster
Hall, and turned into it for half-an-hour, because my eyes were so
dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and
were not fit to been seen there."
MR. MINNS AND HIS COUSIN
Mr. Augustus Minns was a bachelor, of about forty as he said - of about
eight-and-forty as his friends said. He was always exceedingly clean,
precise, and tidy; perhaps somewhat priggish and the most retiring man in
the world. He usually wore a brown frock-coat without a wrinkle, light
inexplicables without a spot, a neat neckerchief with remarkably neat tie,
and boots without a fault: moreover, he always carried a brown silk
umbrella with an ivory handle. He was a clerk in Somerset-house, or, as
he said himself, he held "a responsible situation under Government." He
had a good and increasing salary, in addition to some 10,000Ģ of his own
(invested in the funds), and he occupied a first floor in Tavistock-street,
Covent-garden, where he had resided for twenty years, having been in the
habit of quarelling with his landlord the whole time, regularly giving notice
of his intention to quit on the first day of every quarter, and as regularly
countermanding it on the second. There were two classes of created
objects which he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror: they were
dogs and children. He was not unamiable, but he could at any time have
viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an infant, with the
liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at variance with his love of order;
and his love of order was as powerful as his love of life. Mr. Augustus
Minns had no relations, in or near London, with the exception of his cousin
Mr. Octavius Budden, to whose son, whom he had never seen (for he
disliked the father) he had consented to become godfather by proxy. Mr.
Budden having realized a moderate fortune by exercising the trade or
calling of a corn-chandler, and having a great predilection for the country,
had purchased a cottage in the vicinity of Stamford-hill, whither he retired
with the wife of his bosom, and his only son, Master Alexander Augustus
Budden. One evening, as Mr. and Mrs. B. were admiring their son,
discussing his various merits, talking over his education, and disputing
whether the classics should be made an essential part thereof, the lady
pressed so strongly upon her husband the propriety of cultivating the
friendship of Mr. Minns in behalf of their son, that Mr. Budden at last
made up his mind, that it should not be his fault if he and his cousin were
not in future more intimate.
"I will break the ice, my love," said Mr. Budden, stirring up the sugar
at the bottom of his glass of brandy-and-water, and casting a sidelong look
at his spouse to see the effect of the announcement of his determination,
"by asking Minns down to dine with us, on Sunday."
"Then, pray Mr. Budden write to your cousin at once," replied Mrs.
Budden. Who knows, if we could only get him down here, but that he
might take a fancy to our Alexander, and leave him his property? -Alick,
my dear, take your legs off the rail of the chair!"
"Very true," said Mr.Budden, musing, "very true, indeed, my love!"
On the following morning, as Mr. Minns was sitting at his breakfast-table,
alternately biting his dry toast and casting a look upon the columns of his
morning paper, which he always read from the title to the printerīs name, he
heard a loud knock at the streetdoor which was shortly afterwards
followed by the entrance of his servant, who put into his hand a particulary
small card, on which was engraved in immense letters, "Mr. Octavius
Budden, Amelia Cottage (Mrs.Bīs name was Amelia), Poplar-walk,
"Budden," ejaculated Minns, "what the deuce can bring that vulgar
fellow here! -say Iīm asleep -say Iīm out, and shall never be home again -
anything to keep him down stairs."
ī"But please , Sir, the gentlemanīs coming up," replied the servant;
and the fact was made perfectly evident, by an appalling creaking of boots
on the staircase accompanied by a pattering noise, the cause of which
Minns could not, for the life of him divine.
"Hem! -show the gentleman in," said the unfortunate bachelor. Exit
servant, and enter Octavius preceded by a large white dog, dressed in a
suit of fleecy hosiery, with pink eyes, large ears, and no preceptible tail.
The cause of the pattering on the stairs was but too plain. Mr. Augustus
Minns staggered beneath the shock of the dogīs appearance.
"My dear fellow, how are you?" said Budden as he entered. He
always spoke at the top of his voice, and always said the same thing half-
"How are you, my hearty?"
"How do you do, Mr. Budden? - pray take a chair!" politely
stammered the discomfited Minns.
"Thank you -thank you -well -how are you, eh?"
"Uncommonly well, thank ye," said Minns casting a diabolical look
at the dog, who with his hind legs on the floor, and his fore paws resting
on the table, was dragging a bit of bread and butter out of plate,
preparatory to devouring it, with the buttered side next the carpet.
"Ah, you rogue! said Budden to his dog; "you see, Minns, heīs like
me, always at home, eh, my boy? -Egad, Iīm precious hot and hungry! Iīve
walked all the way from Stamford-hill this morning."
"Have you breakfasted?" inquired Minns.
"Oh, no! -came to breakfast with you; so ring the bell, my dear
fellow, will you? and letīs have another cup and saucer, and the cold ham.
-Make myself at home, you see!" continued Budden, dusting his boots with
the table-napkin. "Ha ! -ha ! -ha ! -īpon my life, Iīm hungry." Minns rang
the bell, and tried to smile.
"I decidedly never was so hot in my life," continued Octavius,
wiping his forehead: "well, but how are you, Minns? īPon my soul you
"D`ye think so?" said Minns; and he tried another smile.
"`Pon my life, I do!"
"Mrs B. and - whatīs his name - quite well?"
"Alick -my son, you mean, never better -never better. But at such a
place as weīve got at Poplar-walk, you know, he couldnīt be ill if he tried.
When I first saw it, by Jove! it looked so knowing, with the front garden,
and the green railings, and the brass knocker, and all that -I really thought
it was a cut above me."
"Donīt you think youīd like the ham better," interrupted Minns, "if
you cut it the other way?" He saw, with feelings which it is impossible to
describe, that his visitor was cutting or rather maiming the ham, in utter
violation of all established rules.
"No, thank ye," returned Budden, with the most barbarous
indifference to crime, "I prefer it this way -it eats short. But I say, Minns,
when will you come down and see us? You will be delighted with the
place; I know you will. Amelia and I were talking about you the other
night, and Amelia said -another lumb of sugar, please; thank ye -she said,
donīt you think you could contrive, my dear, to say to Mr. Minns, in a
friendly way - come down, Sir -damn the dog! heīs spoiling your curtains,
Minns -ha ! -ha ! -ha!" Minns leaped from his seat as though he had
received the discharge from a galvanic battery.
"Come out, Sir ! -go out, hoo!" cried poor Augustus, keeping
nevertheless, at very respectful distance from the dog, having read of a
case of hydrophobia in the paper of that morning. By dint of great
exertion, much shouting, and the marvelous deal of poking under the
tables with a stick and umbrella, the dog was at last dislodged, and placed
on the landing outside the door, where he immediately commenced a most
appalling howling; at the same time vehemently scratching the paint off
two nicely-varnished bottom panels of the door, until they resembled the
interior of a backgammon-board.
"A good dog for the country that! coolly observed Budden to the
distracted Minns - "heīs not much used to confinement, though. But now,
Minns, when will you come down? Iīll take no denial, positively. Letīs
see, to-dayīs Thursday. -Will you come on Sunday? We dine at five, donīt
say no -do." After a great deal of pressing, Mr. Augustus Minns, driven to
despair, accepted the invitation and promised to be at Poplar-walk on the
ensuing Sunday, at a quarter before five to the minute.
"Now mind the direction," said Budden; "the coach goes from the
Flowerpot, in Bishopsgate-street, every half hour. When the coach stops
at the Swan, youīll see, immediately opposite you a white house."
"Which is your house -I understand," said Minns, wishing to cut
short the visit and the story at the same time.
"No, no, thatīs not mine; thatīs Grogusīs, the great ironmongerīs. I
was going to say -you turn down by the side of the white house till you
canīt go another step further -mind that -and then you turn to your right, by
some stables -well; close to you, youīll see a wall with "Beware of the
Dog" written upon it in the large letters -(Minns shuddered) -go along by
the side of that wall about a quarter of a mile, and anybody will show you
which is my place."
"Very well -thank ye -good bye."
"Certainly: good morning."
"I say, Minns, youīve got a card?"
"Yes, I have: thank ye." And Mr. Octavius Budden departed
leaving his cousin looking forward to his visit of the following Sunday,
with the feelings of a penniless poet to the weekly visit of his Scotch
Sunday arrived; the sky was bright and clear; crowds of people were
hurrying along the streets, intent on their different schemes of pleasure for
the day; and everything and everybody looked cheerful and happy but Mr.
The day was fine, but the heat was considerable; and by the time
Mr.Minns had fagged up the shady side of Fleet-street, Cheapside and
Threadneedle-street, he had become pretty warm, tolerably dusty, and it
was getting late into the bargain. By the most extraordinary good fortune,
however, a coach was waiting at the Flowerpot, into which Mr. Augustus
Minns got,on the solemn assurance of the cad that the vechile would start
in three minutes -that being the very utmost extremity of time it was
allowed to wait by Act of Parliament. A quarter of an hour elapsed, and
there were no signs of moving. Minns looked at his watch for the sixth
"Coachman, are you going or not?" bawled Mr. Minns, with his
head and half his body out of the coach-window.
"Di - rectly, Sir," said the coachman, with his hands in his pockets,
looking as much unlike a man in a hurry as possible.
"Bill, take them cloths off." Five minutes more elapsed: at the end
of which time the coachman mounted the box, from whence he looked
down the street and up the street, and hailed all the pedestrians for another
"Coachman! if you donīt go this moment, I shall get out," said Mr.
Minns, rendered desperate by the lateness of the hour, and the
impossibility of being in Poplar-walk at the appointed time.
"Going this minute, Sir," was the reply; -and accordingly the
machine trundled on for a couple of hundred yards, and then stopped
again. Minns doubled himself up into a corner of the coach, and abandoned
himself to fate, as a child, a mother, a bandbox, and a parasol became his
The child was an affectionate and an amiable infant: the little dear mistook
Minns for its other parent, and screamed to embrace him.
"Be quiet, dear," said the mamma, restraining the impetuosity of the
darling, whose little fat legs were kicking, and stamping and twining
themselves into the most complicated forms, in an ecstasy of impatience.
"Be quiet, dear, thatīs not your papa."
"Thank Heaven, I am not -" thought Minns, as the first gleam of
pleasure he had experienced that morning shone like a meteor through his
Playfulness was agreeably mingled with affection in the disposition
of the boy. When satisfied that Mr. Minns was not his parent he
endeavoured to attract his notice by scraping his drap trousers with his
dirty shoes, poking his chest with his mammaīs parasol, and other
nameless endearments peculiar to infancy, with which he beguiled the
tediousness of the ride, apparently very much to his own satisfaction.
When the unfortunate gentleman arrived at the Swan, he found to his great
dismay, that it was a quarter past five. The white house, the stables, the
"Beware of Dog," - every landmark was passed, with a rapidity not
unusual to a gentleman of a certain age when too late for dinner. After the
lapse of a few minutes, Mr. Minns found himself opposite a yellow brick
house with green door, brass knocker and door-plate, green windowframes
and ditto railings, with "a garden" in front, that is to say, a small loose bit of
gravelled ground, with one round and two scalene triangular beds,
containing a fir-tree, twenty or thirty bulbs, and an unlimited number of
marigolds. The taste of Mr. and Mrs. Budden was further displayed by the
appearance of a Cupid on each side of the door, perched upon a heap of
large chalk flints, veriegated with pink conch-shells. His knock at the door
was answered by a stumpy boy, in drab livery, cotton stockings and
highlows, who, after hanging his hat on one of the dozen brass pegs which
ornamented the passage, denominated by courtesy "The Hall," ushered him
into a front drawing-room commanding a very extensive view of the backs
of the neighboring houses. The usual ceremony of introduction, and so
forth, over, Mr. Minns took his seat, not a little agitated at finding that he
was the last comer, and, somehow or other, the Lion of about a dozen
people, sitting together in a small drawing-room, getting rid of the most
tedious of all time, the time preceding dinner.
"Well, Brogson," said Budden, addressing an elderly gentleman in a
black coat, drab knee-breeches, and long gaiters, who, under pretence of
inspecting the prints in an Annual, had been engaged in satisfying himself
upon the subject of Mr. Minns general appearance, by looking at him over
the tops of the leaves - "Well, Brogson, what do Ministers mean to do?
Will they go out, or what?"
"Oh -why -really, you know, Iīm the last person in the world to ask
for news. Your cousin, from his situation, is the most likely person to
answer the question."
Mr. Minns assured the last speaker, that although he was in Somerset-
house, he possessed no official communication relative to the projects of
His Majestyīs Ministers. But his remark was evidently received
incredulously: and no further conjectures being hazarded on the subject, a
long pause ensued, during which the company occupied themselves in
coughing and blowing their noses, until the entrance of Mrs. Budden
caused a general rise.
The ceremony of introduction being over, dinner was announced and down
stairs the party proceeded accordingly -Mr. Minns escorting Mrs. Budden
as far as the drawing-room door, but being prevented, by the narrowness
of the staircase, from extending his gallantry any farther. The dinner
passed off as such dinners usually do. Ever and anon amidst the clatter of
knives and forks, and the hum of conversation, Mr. Bīs voice might be
heard, asking a friend to take wine, and assuring him he was glad to see
him; and a great deal of by-play took place between Mrs. B. and the
servants, respecting the removal of the dishes, during which her
countenance assumed all the variations of a weather-glass, from "stormy" to
Upon the dessert and wine being placed on the table, the servant, in
compliance with significant look from Mrs. B. brought down "Master
Alexander," habited in a sky-blue suit with silver buttons, and with hair
nearly the same colour as the metal. After sundry praises from his mother,
and various admonitions as to his behavior from his pa, he was
introduced to his godfather.
"Well, my little fellow - you are a fine boy, ainīt you?" said Mr.
Minns, as happy as a tomtit on birdlime.
"How old are you?"
"Eight next Weīnsday. How old are you?"
"Alexander," interrupted his mother, "How dare you ask Mr. Minns
how old he is!"
"He asked me how old I was," said the precocious child to whom
Minns had from that moment internally resolved he never would bequeath
one shilling. As soon as the titter occasioned by the observation had
subsided, a little smirking man with red whiskers, sitting at the bottom of
the table, who during the whole of dinner had been endeavoring to obtain
a listener to some stories about Sheridan, called out, with a very
patronising air - "Alick, what part of the speech is be?"
"Thatīs a good boy, " said Mrs. Budden, with all a motherīs pride.
"Now, you know what a verb is?"
"A verb is a word which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer; as, I am -
I rule - I am ruled. Give me an apple Ma?"
"Iīll give you an apple." replied the man with the red whiskers, who
was an established friend of the family, or in other words was always
invited by Mrs. Budden, whether Mr. Budden liked it or not, "If you tell
me what is the meaning of be."
"Be?" said the prodigy, after a little hesitation - "an insect that
"No, dear," frowned Mrs. Budden. - "B double E is the substantive."
"I donīt think he knows much about common substantives," said the
smirking gentleman, who thought this an admirable opportunity for letting
off a joke. "Itīs clear, heīs not very well acquiainted with proper names.
He! he! he!"
"Gentlemen," called out Mr. Budden, from the end of the table, in a
stentorian voice, and with a very important air, " will you have the
goodness to charge your glasses? I have a toast to propose."
"Hear! hear!" cried the gentlemen, passing the decanters. After they
had made the round of the table, Mr. Budden proceeded - "Gentlemen;
there is an individual present -"
"Hear! hear! " said the little man with red whiskers.
"Pray be quiet, Jones," remonstrated Budden.
"I say, gentlemen, there is an individual present," resumed the host,
"in whose society, I am sure we must take great delight -and -and -the
conversation of the individual must have afforded to every one present, the
utmost pleasure." ["Thank Heaven, he does not mean me!" thought Minns,
conscious that his diffidence and exclusiveness had prevented his saying
above a dozen words since he entered the house.] "Gentlemen, I am but a
humble individual myself, and I perhaps ought to apologize for allowing
any individual feelings of friendship and affection for the person I allude
to, to induce me to venture to rise, to propose the health of that person -a
person that, I am sure -that is to say, a person whose virtues must endear
him to those who know him -and those who have not the pleasure of
knowing him, cannot dislike him."
"Hear! hear!" said the company, in a tone of encouragement and
"Gentlemen," continued Budden, "my cousin is a man who - who is
a relation of my own." (Hear! hear!) Minns groaned audibly. "Who I am
most happy to see here, and who, if he were not here, would certainly have
deprived us of the great pleasure we all feel in seeing him. (Loud cries of
hear!) Gentlemen, I feel that I have already trespassed on your attention
for too long a time. With every feeling -of -with every sentiment of -of -"
"Gratification" - suggested the friend of the family.
"- Of gratification, I beg to propose the health of Mr. Minns."
"Standing, gentlemen!" shouted the indefatigable little man with the
whiskers -"and with the honors. Take your time from me, if you please.
Hip! hip! hip! -Za! -Hip! -hip! -hip! -Za! - Hip! hip! -hip! -Za-a-a!"
All eyes were now fixed on the subject of the toast, who by gulping down
the port wine at the imminent hazard of suffocation, endeavored to
conceal his confusion. After as long a pause as decency would admit, he
rose, but, as the newspapers sometimes say in their reports, "we regret that
we are quite unable to give even the substance of the honorable
gentlemanīs observations." The words "present company -honor- present
occasion," and "great happiness" - heard occasionally, and repeated at
intervals, with a countenance expressive of the utmost confusion and
misery, convinced the company that he was making an excellent speech:
and accordingly, on his resuming his seat, they cried "Bravo!" and
manifested tumultuous applause. Jones, who had been long watching his
opportunity, then darted up.
"Budden," said he, "will you allow me to propose a toast?"
"Certainly," replied Budden, adding in an under tone to Minns right
across the table -"Devilish sharp fellow that: youīll be very much pleased
with his speech. He talks equally well on any subject." Minns bowed, and
Mr. Jones proceeded:
"It has on several occasions, in various instances, under many
circumstances, and in different companies, fallen to my lot to propose a
toast to those by whom, at the time, I have had the honour to be
surrounded. I have sometimes, I will cheerfully own - for why should I
deny it? -felt the overwhelming nature of the task I have undertaken, and
my own utter incapability to do justice to the subject. If such have been
my feelings, however, on former occasions, what must they be now - now
-under the extraordinary circumstances in which I am placed. (Hear! hear!)
-To describe my feelings accurately would be impossible; but I cannot give
you a better idea of them, gentlemen,than by referring to a circumstance
which happens, oddly enough, to occur to my mind at the moment. On
one occasion, when that truly great and illustrious man, Sheridan, was -"
Now, there is no knowing what new villainy in the form of a joke would
have been heaped upon the memory of that very illused man, Mr.
Sheridan, if the boy in drab had not at that moment entered the room in the
breathless state, to report that, as it was a very wet night, the nine oīclock
stage had come round to know whether there was anybody going to town,
as, in that case, he (the nine oīclock) had room for one inside.
Mr. Minns started up; and despite countless exclamations of
surprise, and entreaties to stay, persisted in his determination to accept the
vacant place. But the brown silk umbrella was nowhere to be found; and
as the coachman couldnīt wait, he drove back to the Swan; leaving word to
Mr. Minns to "run round" and catch him. But as it did not occur to Mr.
Minns for some ten minutes or so, that he had left the brown silk umbrella
with the ivory handle in the other coach, coming down; and moreover, as
he was by no means remarkable for speed, it is no matter of surprise that
when he accomplished the feat of "running round" to the Swan, the coach -
the last coach - had gone without him.
It was somewhere about three oīclock in the morning, when Mr.
Augustus Minns knocked feebly at the street-door of his lodgings in
Tavistock-street, cold, wet, cross and miserable. He made his will next
morning, and his professional man informs us, in that strict confidence in
which we inform the public, that neither the name of Mr. Octavius
Budden, nor of Mrs. Amelia Budden, nor Master Alexander Budden,