Background.

Master Humphrey's Clock
  • Barnaby knew that the jail was a dull, sad, miserable place, and looked forward to tomorrow, as to a passage from it to something bright and beautiful” is a quotation from Barnaby Rudge (Chapter 76).

Context.

This quotation is a description of the feelings of Barnaby Rudge on the eve of his planned execution. Rudge has been imprisoned in Newgate for his part in the Gordon Riots. At a trial Rudge, along with Hugh and Dennis were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

Barnaby is a simple good-natured man, easily led and clearly troubled by being thrown into one of the most notorious jails in the country. In this quote he looks towards his spititual side in the hope of a better after-life that will follow after his death, due the next day.

The Rioters at Work.
Illustration by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) entitled The Rioters at Work, produced for a 1849 one-volume edition of the novel Barnaby Rudge.

The Gordon Riots.

Barnaby Rudge is set around a backdrop of the Gordon Riots, in late eighteenth century England, which saw several days of rioting motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment. They began with a large and orderly protest in London against the Papists Act of 1778, which was intended to reduce official discrimination against British Catholics enacted by the Popery Act 1698. Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, argued that the law would enable Catholics to join the British Army and become a dangerous threat. On 2 June 1780, Gordon led a march to hand in a petition to the Houses of Parliament but violence broke out, with the looting and burning of Catholic chapels in foreign embassies. The protest spread over subsequent days to widespread rioting, including the destruction of Newgate and Clink prisons and an attempt to storm the Bank of England. To-date it remains the most destructive civil disturbances in the history of London.The government eventually sent in the army, resulting in an estimated 300-700 deaths. The main violence lasted a week, ending on 9 June, 1780. George was charged with high treason but acquitted. In 1787 he was excommunicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and later converted to Judaism. In 1788 he was imprisoned in Newgate, after being convicted for defamation, where he died five years later from a typhoid fever that swept through the prison

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 76 of Barnaby Rudge:

They had tried to save him. The locksmith had carried petitions and memorials to the fountain-head, with his own hands. But the well was not one of mercy, and Barnaby was to die.

From the first his mother had never left him, save at night; and with her beside him, he was as usual contented. On this last day, he was more elated and more proud than he had been yet; and when she dropped the book she had been reading to him aloud, and fell upon his neck, he stopped in his busy task of folding a piece of crape about his hat, and wondered at her anguish. Grip uttered a feeble croak, half in encouragement, it seemed, and half in remonstrance, but he wanted heart to sustain it, and lapsed abruptly into silence.

With them who stood upon the brink of the great gulf which none can see beyond, Time, so soon to lose itself in vast Eternity, rolled on like a mighty river, swollen and rapid as it nears the sea. It was morning but now; they had sat and talked together in a dream; and here was evening. The dreadful hour of separation, which even yesterday had seemed so distant, was at hand.

They walked out into the courtyard, clinging to each other, but not speaking. Barnaby knew that the jail was a dull, sad, miserable place, and looked forward to to-morrow, as to a passage from it to something bright and beautiful. He had a vague impression too, that he was expected to be brave—that he was a man of great consequence, and that the prison people would be glad to make him weep. He trod the ground more firmly as he thought of this, and bade her take heart and cry no more, and feel how steady his hand was. ‘They call me silly, mother. They shall see to-morrow!’

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Barnaby knew that the jail was a dull, sad, miserable place, and looked forward to tomorrow, as to a passage from it to something bright and beautiful.
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