Background.

Sketches by Boz
  • Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown” is a quotation from Sketches by Boz, Scenes, Chapter 25 (A Visit to Newgate).

Context.

Quotation describing a young girl visitng her mother imprisoned in Newgate.

Charles Dickens visited Newgate on the morning of 5 November 1835 to gather research about the prison. The subsequent sketch, A Visit to Newgate, first appeared in the collected edition of Sketches by Boz, published in February 1836.

Sketch of A Visit to Newgate from an 1864 American publication of Sketches by Boz. Illustration drawn by Felix Darley. The sketch shows the woman described in this quotation.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in the sketch A Visit to Newgate:

A little farther on, a squalid-looking woman in a slovenly, thick-bordered cap, with her arms muffled in a large red shawl, the fringed ends of which straggled nearly to the bottom of a dirty white apron, was communicating some instructions to her visitor—her daughter evidently. The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. It was some scheme for the woman’s defence that she was disclosing, perhaps; and a sullen smile came over the girl’s face for an instant, as if she were pleased: not so much at the probability of her mother’s liberation, as at the chance of her ‘getting off’ in spite of her prosecutors. The dialogue was soon concluded; and with the same careless indifference with which they had approached each other, themother turned towards the inner end of the yard, and the girl to the gate at which she had entered.

The girl belonged to a class—unhappily but too extensive—the very existence of which, should make men’s hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to them of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker’s, and they will understand you.

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Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown.
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