The Diary of a Nobody
Charles Pooter

May 7.—A big red-letter day; viz., the Lord Mayor’s reception.  The whole house upset.  I had to get dressed at half-past six, as Carrie wanted the room to herself.  Mrs. James had come up from Sutton to help Carrie; so I could not help thinking it unreasonable that she should require the entire attention of Sarah, the servant, as well.  Sarah kept running out of the house to fetch “something for missis,” and several times I had, in my full evening-dress, to answer the back-door.

The last time it was the greengrocer’s boy, who, not seeing it was me, for Sarah had not lighted the gas, pushed into my hands two cabbages and half-a-dozen coal-blocks.  I indignantly threw them on the ground, and felt so annoyed that I so far forgot myself as to box the boy’s ears.  He went away crying, and said he should summons me, a thing I would not have happen for the world.  In the dark, I stepped on a piece of the cabbage, which brought me down on the flags all of a heap.  For a moment I was stunned, but when I recovered I crawled upstairs into the drawing-room and on looking into the chimney-glass discovered that my chin was bleeding, my shirt smeared with the coal-blocks, and my left trouser torn at the knee.

However, Mrs. James brought me down another shirt, which I changed in the drawing-room.  I put a piece of court-plaster on my chin, and Sarah very neatly sewed up the tear at the knee.  At nine o’clock Carrie swept into the room, looking like a queen.  Never have I seen her look so lovely, or so distinguished.  She was wearing a satin dress of sky-blue—my favourite colour—and a piece of lace, which Mrs. James lent her, round the shoulders, to give a finish.  I thought perhaps the dress was a little too long behind, and decidedly too short in front, but Mrs. James said it was à la mode.  Mrs. James was most kind, and lent Carrie a fan of ivory with red feathers, the value of which, she said, was priceless, as the feathers belonged to the Kachu eagle—a bird now extinct.  I preferred the little white fan which Carrie bought for three-and-six at Shoolbred’s, but both ladies sat on me at once.

We arrived at the Mansion House too early, which was rather fortunate, for I had an opportunity of speaking to his lordship, who graciously condescended to talk with me some minutes; but I must say I was disappointed to find he did not even know Mr. Perkupp, our principal.

I felt as if we had been invited to the Mansion House by one who did not know the Lord Mayor himself.  Crowds arrived, and I shall never forget the grand sight.  My humble pen can never describe it.  I was a little annoyed with Carrie, who kept saying: “Isn’t it a pity we don’t know anybody?”

Once she quite lost her head.  I saw someone who looked like Franching, from Peckham, and was moving towards him when she seized me by the coat-tails, and said quite loudly: “Don’t leave me,” which caused an elderly gentleman, in a court-suit, and a chain round him, and two ladies, to burst out laughing.  There was an immense crowd in the supper-room, and, my stars! it was a splendid supper—any amount of champagne.

Carrie made a most hearty supper, for which I was pleased; for I sometimes think she is not strong.  There was scarcely a dish she did not taste.  I was so thirsty, I could not eat much.  Receiving a sharp slap on the shoulder, I turned, and, to my amazement, saw Farmerson, our ironmonger.  He said, in the most familiar way: “This is better than Brickfield Terrace, eh?”  I simply looked at him, and said coolly: “I never expected to see you here.”  He said, with a loud, coarse laugh: “I like that—if you, why not me?”  I replied: “Certainly,” I wish I could have thought of something better to say.  He said: “Can I get your good lady anything?”  Carrie said: “No, I thank you,” for which I was pleased.  I said, by way of reproof to him: “You never sent to-day to paint the bath, as I requested.”  Farmerson said: “Pardon me, Mr. Pooter, no shop when we’re in company, please.”

Before I could think of a reply, one of the sheriffs, in full Court costume, slapped Farmerson on the back and hailed him as an old friend, and asked him to dine with him at his lodge.  I was astonished.  For full five minutes they stood roaring with laughter, and stood digging each other in the ribs.  They kept telling each other they didn’t look a day older.  They began embracing each other and drinking champagne.

To think that a man who mends our scraper should know any member of our aristocracy!  I was just moving with Carrie, when Farmerson seized me rather roughly by the collar, and addressing the sheriff, said: “Let me introduce my neighbour, Pooter.”  He did not even say “Mister.”  The sheriff handed me a glass of champagne.  I felt, after all, it was a great honour to drink a glass of wine with him, and I told him so.  We stood chatting for some time, and at last I said: “You must excuse me now if I join Mrs. Pooter.”  When I approached her, she said: “Don’t let me take you away from friends.  I am quite happy standing here alone in a crowd, knowing nobody!”

As it takes two to make a quarrel, and as it was neither the time nor the place for it, I gave my arm to Carrie, and said: “I hope my darling little wife will dance with me, if only for the sake of saying we had danced at the Mansion House as guests of the Lord Mayor.”  Finding the dancing after supper was less formal, and knowing how much Carrie used to admire my dancing in the days gone by, I put my arm round her waist and we commenced a waltz.

A most unfortunate accident occurred.  I had got on a new pair of boots.  Foolishly, I had omitted to take Carrie’s advice; namely, to scratch the soles of them with the points of the scissors or to put a little wet on them.  I had scarcely started when, like lightning, my left foot slipped away and I came down, the side of my head striking the floor with such violence that for a second or two I did not know what had happened.  I needly hardly say that Carrie fell with me with equal violence, breaking the comb in her hair and grazing her elbow.

There was a roar of laughter, which was immediately checked when people found that we had really hurt ourselves.  A gentleman assisted Carrie to a seat, and I expressed myself pretty strongly on the danger of having a plain polished floor with no carpet or drugget to prevent people slipping.  The gentleman, who said his name was Darwitts, insisted on escorting Carrie to have a glass of wine, an invitation which I was pleased to allow Carrie to accept.

I followed, and met Farmerson, who immediately said, in his loud voice “Oh, are you the one who went down?”

I answered with an indignant look.

With execrable taste, he said: “Look here, old man, we are too old for this game.  We must leave these capers to the youngsters.  Come and have another glass, that is more in our line.”

Although I felt I was buying his silence by accepting, we followed the others into the supper-room.

Neither Carrie nor I, after our unfortunate mishap, felt inclined to stay longer.  As we were departing, Farmerson said: “Are you going? if so, you might give me a lift.”

I thought it better to consent, but wish I had first consulted Carrie.

Charles Pooter

June 7.—A dreadful annoyance.  Met Mr. Franching, who lives at Peckham, and who is a great swell in his way.  I ventured to ask him to come home to meat-tea, and take pot-luck.  I did not think he would accept such a humble invitation; but he did, saying, in a most friendly way, he would rather “peck” with us than by himself.  I said: “We had better get into this blue ’bus.”  He replied: “No blue-bussing for me.  I have had enough of the blues lately.  I lost a cool ‘thou’ over the Copper Scare.  Step in here.”

We drove up home in style, in a hansom-cab, and I knocked three times at the front door without getting an answer.  I saw Carrie, through the panels of ground-glass (with stars), rushing upstairs.  I told Mr. Franching to wait at the door while I went round to the side.  There I saw the grocer’s boy actually picking off the paint on the door, which had formed into blisters.  No time to reprove him; so went round and effected an entrance through the kitchen window.  I let in Mr. Franching, and showed him into the drawing-room.  I went upstairs to Carrie, who was changing her dress, and told her I had persuaded Mr. Franching to come home.  She replied: “How can you do such a thing?  You know it’s Sarah’s holiday, and there’s not a thing in the house, the cold mutton having turned with the hot weather.”

Eventually Carrie, like a good creature as she is, slipped down, washed up the teacups, and laid the cloth, and I gave Franching our views of Japan to look at while I ran round to the butcher’s to get three chops.

Charles Pooter

November 13.—Carrie sent out invitations to Gowing, the Cummings, to Mr. and Mrs. James (of Sutton), and Mr. Stillbrook.  I wrote a note to Mr. Franching, of PeckhamCarrie said we may as well make it a nice affair, and why not ask our principal, Mr. Perkupp?  I said I feared we were not quite grand enough for him.  Carrie said there was “no offence in asking him.”  I said: “Certainly not,” and I wrote him a letter.  Carrie confessed she was a little disappointed with Daisy Mutlar’s appearance, but thought she seemed a nice girl.

Charles Pooter

May 10.—Received a letter from Mr. Franching, of Peckham, asking us to dine with him to-night, at seven o’clock, to meet Mr. Hardfur Huttle, a very clever writer for the American papers.  Franching apologised for the short notice; but said he had at the last moment been disappointed of two of his guests and regarded us as old friends who would not mind filling up the gap.  Carrie rather demurred at the invitation; but I explained to her that Franching was very well off and influential, and we could not afford to offend him.  “And we are sure to get a good dinner and a good glass of champagne.”  “Which never agrees with you!” Carrie replied, sharply.  I regarded Carrie’s observation as unsaid.  Mr. Franching asked us to wire a reply.  As he had said nothing about dress in the letter, I wired back: “With pleasure.  Is it full dress?” and by leaving out our name, just got the message within the sixpence.

Got back early to give time to dress, which we received a telegram instructing us to do.  I wanted Carrie to meet me at Franching’s house; but she would not do so, so I had to go home to fetch her.  What a long journey it is from Holloway to Peckham!  Why do people live such a long way off?  Having to change ’buses, I allowed plenty of time—in fact, too much; for we arrived at twenty minutes to seven, and Franching, so the servant said, had only just gone up to dress.  However, he was down as the clock struck seven; he must have dressed very quickly.

I must say it was quite a distinguished party, and although we did not know anybody personally, they all seemed to be quite swells.  Franching had got a professional waiter, and evidently spared no expense.  There were flowers on the table round some fairy-lamps and the effect, I must say, was exquisite.  The wine was good and there was plenty of champagne, concerning which Franching said he himself, never wished to taste better.  We were ten in number, and a menû card to each.  One lady said she always preserved the menû and got the guests to write their names on the back.

We all of us followed her example, except Mr. Huttle, who was of course the important guest.

The dinner-party consisted of Mr. Franching, Mr. Hardfur Huttle, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Hillbutter, Mrs. Field, Mr. and Mrs. Purdick, Mr. Pratt, Mr. R. Kent, and, last but not least, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pooter.  Franching said he was sorry he had no lady for me to take in to dinner.  I replied that I preferred it, which I afterwards thought was a very uncomplimentary observation to make.

I sat next to Mrs. Field at dinner.  She seemed a well-informed lady, but was very deaf.  It did not much matter, for Mr. Hardfur Huttle did all the talking.  He is a marvellously intellectual man and says things which from other people would seem quite alarming.  How I wish I could remember even a quarter of his brilliant conversation.  I made a few little reminding notes on the menû card.

One observation struck me as being absolutely powerful—though not to my way of thinking of course.  Mrs. Purdick happened to say “You are certainly unorthodox, Mr. Huttle.”  Mr. Huttle, with a peculiar expression (I can see it now) said in a slow rich voice: “Mrs. Purdick, ‘orthodox’ is a grandiloquent word implying sticking-in-the-mud.  If Columbus and Stephenson had been orthodox, there would neither have been the discovery of America nor the steam-engine.”  There was quite a silence.  It appeared to me that such teaching was absolutely dangerous, and yet I felt—in fact we must all have felt—there was no answer to the argument.  A little later on, Mrs. Purdick, who is Franching’s sister and also acted as hostess, rose from the table, and Mr. Huttle said: “Why, ladies, do you deprive us of your company so soon?  Why not wait while we have our cigars?”

The effect was electrical.  The ladies (including Carrie) were in no way inclined to be deprived of Mr. Huttle’s fascinating society, and immediately resumed their seats, amid much laughter and a little chaff.  Mr. Huttle said: “Well, that’s a real good sign; you shall not be insulted by being called orthodox any longer.”  Mrs. Purdick, who seemed to be a bright and rather sharp woman, said: “Mr. Huttle, we will meet you half-way—that is, till you get half-way through your cigar.  That, at all events, will be the happy medium.”

I shall never forget the effect the words, “happy medium,” had upon him.  He was brilliant and most daring in his interpretation of the words.  He positively alarmed me.  He said something like the following: “Happy medium, indeed.  Do you know ‘happy medium’ are two words which mean ‘miserable mediocrity’?  I say, go first class or third; marry a duchess or her kitchenmaid.  The happy medium means respectability, and respectability means insipidness.  Does it not, Mr. Pooter?”

I was so taken aback by being personally appealed to, that I could only bow apologetically, and say I feared I was not competent to offer an opinion.  Carrie was about to say something; but she was interrupted, for which I was rather pleased, for she is not clever at argument, and one has to be extra clever to discuss a subject with a man like Mr. Huttle.

He continued, with an amazing eloquence that made his unwelcome opinions positively convincing: “The happy medium is nothing more or less than a vulgar half-measure.  A man who loves champagne and, finding a pint too little, fears to face a whole bottle and has recourse to an imperial pint, will never build a Brooklyn Bridge or an Eiffel Tower.  No, he is half-hearted, he is a half-measure—respectable—in fact, a happy medium, and will spend the rest of his days in a suburban villa with a stucco-column portico, resembling a four-post bedstead.”

We all laughed.

“That sort of thing,” continued Mr. Huttle, “belongs to a soft man, with a soft beard with a soft head, with a made tie that hooks on.”

This seemed rather personal and twice I caught myself looking in the glass of the cheffonière; for I had on a tie that hooked on—and why not?  If these remarks were not personal they were rather careless, and so were some of his subsequent observations, which must have made both Mr. Franching and his guests rather uncomfortable.  I don’t think Mr. Huttle meant to be personal, for he added; “We don’t know that class here in this country: but we do in America, and I’ve no use for them.”

Franching several times suggested that the wine should be passed round the table, which Mr. Huttle did not heed; but continued as if he were giving a lecture:

“What we want in America is your homes.  We live on wheels.  Your simple, quiet life and home, Mr. Franching, are charming.  No display, no pretension!  You make no difference in your dinner, I dare say, when you sit down by yourself and when you invite us.  You have your own personal attendant—no hired waiter to breathe on the back of your head.”

I saw Franching palpably wince at this.

Mr. Huttle continued: “Just a small dinner with a few good things, such as you have this evening.  You don’t insult your guests by sending to the grocer for champagne at six shillings a bottle.”

I could not help thinking of “Jackson Frères” at three-and-six!

“In fact,” said Mr. Huttle, “a man is little less than a murderer who does.  That is the province of the milksop, who wastes his evening at home playing dominoes with his wife.  I’ve heard of these people.  We don’t want them at this table.  Our party is well selected.  We’ve no use for deaf old women, who cannot follow intellectual conversation.”

All our eyes were turned to Mrs. Field, who fortunately, being deaf, did not hear his remarks; but continued smiling approval.

“We have no representative at Mr. Franching’s table,” said Mr. Huttle, “of the unenlightened frivolous matron, who goes to a second class dance at Bayswater and fancies she is in Society.  Society does not know her; it has no use for her.”

Mr. Huttle paused for a moment and the opportunity was afforded for the ladies to rise.  I asked Mr. Franching quietly to excuse me, as I did not wish to miss the last train, which we very nearly did, by-the-by, through Carrie having mislaid the little cloth cricket-cap which she wears when we go out.

It was very late when Carrie and I got home; but on entering the sitting-room I said: “Carrie, what do you think of Mr. Hardfur Huttle?”  She simply answered: “How like Lupin!”  The same idea occurred to me in the train.  The comparison kept me awake half the night.  Mr. Huttle was, of course, an older and more influential man; but he was like Lupin, and it made me think how dangerous Lupin would be if he were older and more influential.  I feel proud to think Lupin does resemble Mr. Huttle in some ways.  Lupin, like Mr. Huttle, has original and sometimes wonderful ideas; but it is those ideas that are so dangerous.  They make men extremely rich or extremely poor.  They make or break men.  I always feel people are happier who live a simple unsophisticated life.  I believe I am happy because I am not ambitious.  Somehow I feel that Lupin, since he has been with Mr. Perkupp, has become content to settle down and follow the footsteps of his father.  This is a comfort.


The Diary of a Nobody is the fictitious diary of Charles Pooter, written by George Grossmith and originally serialised in Punch magazine in 1888 and 1889.
The text of this version is taken from the Gutenberg etext, and the weblog format was engineered by Kevan Davis (initially a straight weblog in 2004, then rewritten as an auto RSS generator in April 2007).