Trickle Down, or Siphon Off?

Terzameron Day 8
March 28, 2020

Tim Martin



Struggling novelists, wracking their brains for plot points and characters, may wilt from exasperation on reading of the genesis of the nine-hundred-page debut masterpiece colloquially known as The Pickwick Papers: “I thought of Mr. Pickwick,” Dickens blithely notes, “and wrote the first number.” But when, a few years ago, we purchased the remarkable piece of silver shown above, I wondered: maybe Dickens really didn‘t have to work that hard to invent his characters…


This massive cup and cover, with a salver to set it on, was commissioned from Paul Storr, whose fame, to this day, is associated with the elegance and opulence of the Regency and the reign of George IV–arguably the original Gilded Age. On one side, it has a magnificent rearing horse, cast and applied to the body. This is the crest of the man to whom it was presented. On the other side, it is inscribed:


At a Vestry
held in the parish church of Greenwich in the County of Kent
the 24th Day of April 1821
it was unanimously RESOLVED
that a piece of plate of the value of ONE HUNDRED GUINEAS
be given TO MR. HARGRAVE
for his important services in causing a great reduction
in the expense of maintaining the poor of this parish.
Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, was published in 1837. Yet here, sixteen years earlier, in this glimpse of the “important services” of “Mr. Hargrave” we find a prototype for Mr. Bumble, the greedy beadle who oversees the workhouse, and who is always on the look-out for ways to get more from those who have nothing. In the donors of the cup, perhaps, there is a real-life committee of Mrs. Sowerberrys. “I see no saving in parish children,” she tells Mr. Bumble, “they always cost more to keep, than they’re worth.” Having just agreed to “keep” Oliver as an apprentice to her husband, she suits the action to the word: making Oliver a generous outlay of leftover food. Left over from the dog’s bowl.

If the story behind the cup were a click-bait headline in tomorrow’s news, Mr. Hargrave could probably count on an angry online mob to besmirch his name, they would “re-tweet” the cheap-shot version (“Grifter Robs Orphanage, Buys Mercedes!”). He would be in the Post. But it’s more complicated. The parish of Greenwich had for many years been paying for the maintenance of the wives and children of the pensioners at the hospital. The hospital’s property taxes were too low to make up for the parish’s expense, so the parish argued that it should not have to subsidize the hospital. The hospital argued that it brought business to Greenwich, and the two parties went back and forth with florid declarations of amity and best intentions for many years. Somewhere in there, Mr. Hargrave did something that got him this marvelous cup. You do have to wonder what, because it is one hell of a cup. Mr. Bumble, who by his own account of his marriage threw himself away for “six teaspoons, a pair of sugar tongs, and twenty pound” would have killed for it.

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