It is somewhat unfortunate that so many of our ideas about the Industrial Revolution and business come from the novels of Charles Dickens, a man who was undoubtedly a literary genius but also one who did not really approve of people working, which sits ill with his own well known workaholism.

Dickens's novel of the Industrial Revolution, Hard Times, has much to recommend it, but it does not give as true and real a picture as Mrs Gaskell's North and South, the best book on the subject in Tory Historian's opinion and published in exactly the same year as Dickens's novel. Incidentally, neither of those writers was over-impressed by the nascent trade union movement.

Let us move on to the subject of clerks. Who can forget Dickens's miserable, downtrodden clerks who never seem to think of getting another job? Sometimes they break out and become rather eccentric, at other times they become positively villainous. Either way, being a clerk is a terrible fate that ought not to befall anyone.

It is, of course, a fate that befell many and, curiously enough, few people considered it to be the lowest pit of misery. Indeed, it was seen as a good steady employment for many young men who wished to rise in business, earn enough money to marry and have a home. Before that, it was a good steady job for young men who simply wanted to earn money and have a good time. At least three of Jerome K. Jerome's men in a boat and, subsequently, on a bummel are clerks. Mr Pooter is a clerk and so is his son, Lupin, who will go far, having started as a clerk.

Another writer who admired clerks and, generally, people who worked for their living, even women who were acquiring jobs and careers in the 1880s and 1890s was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Tory Historian has been re-reading the Sherlock Holmes short stories, has finished The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and has gone on to The Memoirs, while attempting to keep some sort of track of the dates in which the various stories take place.

The Stockbroker's Clerk was published in the Strand Magazine in 1893 and takes place in 1889, about three months after Dr Watson's marriage. There seems to be some discrepancy as to whether the good doctor continued to visit Holmes regularly after his marriage or stayed away for months on end, working to build up his new practice and happy in his marriage. Some stories say that he was busy and happy but still found time for his old comrade, others imply that the two rarely saw each other. There are further discrepancies as to whether Holmes ever visited the young married couple. Sometimes Dr Watson asserts that nothing would drag Holmes out of his rooms except a case and certainly not the sight of a happy marriage; at other times the story begins with him arriving on the Watsons' doorstep. This is one of them.

TH is not linking to a Wiki account of the story because that is definitely not something that is done. One must not reveal such matters. Suffice it to say that the plot is one used before though with important differences in The Red-Headed League and was to be used again The Three Garridebs. Oh and there were seven illustrations by Sidney Paget, one of which can be seen above.

What struck TH, however, is Doyle's or rather Watson's favourable and very typical description of the young clerk who comes to Holmes for assistance.

The man whom I found myself facing was a well-built, fresh-complexioned young fellow with a frank, honest face and a slight, crisp, yellow moustache. He wore a very shiny top-hat and a neat suit of sober black, which made him look what he was - a smart young City man, of the class who have been labelled Cockneys, but who give us our crack Volunteer regiments, and who turn out more fine athletes and sportsmen than any body of men in these islands. 
Come to think of it, Dickens would not have liked the crack Volunteer regiments or the fine athletes either.


  1. S.M. MacLean Says:
  2. F.A. Hayek’s edited volume Capitalism and the Historians is often recommended as a corrective to the anti-Industrial Revolution mindset.

    Also consider ‘The Popular Interpretation of the “Industrial Revolution”’ and ‘Facts about the Industrial Revolution’ by Ludwig von Mises; and ‘A Myth Shattered: Mises, Hayek, and the Industrial Revolution’ by Thomas Woods.

  3. S.M. MacLean Says:
  4. And another volume I found in my lists, The Industrial Revolution and Free Trade, edited by Burton W. Folsom.

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