Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • The Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How not to do it, in motion” is a quotation from Little Dorrit (Book 1, Chapter 10).

Context.

This quotation is a description of the Circumlocution Office, a bureaucratic government department in Little Dorrit.

Dickens parodies the office as a mechanical wheel in motion, symbolising the red tape used which results in adminstration going round in circles. Tactics deployed by the Barnacle family, who control the department, include filling in forms to see other forms, passing the issue to others and using obfuscating language.

Illustration from the original publication of Little Dorrit by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) of Little Dorrit leaving the Marshalsea prison.

Background: Dickens and The Circumlocution Office.

In Book 1, Chapter 10 of Little Dorrit, Arthur Clennam visits a government department called the Circumlocution Office trying to find out about the case against a man called William Dorrit, who has been imprisoned for debt. He is passed from official to official trying to find a satisfactory answer. The officials in charge of the department are typified by the nepotic and self-serving upper-class Barnacle family, who revel in obfuscation and red tape. Charles Dickens deliberately introduced the Circumlocution Office into the novel to parody civil service mismanagement. At the time Dickens was writing and publishing the early chapters of Little Dorrit there was a public outcry at government mismanagement of the Crimean War, a conflict that had started in October 1853 between Russia and an alliance that included Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire. Graphic descriptions had appeared in the British press of troops serving in the war suffering from disease, hunger and neglect. The alarming reports of mismanagement led to an enquiry by a parliamentary select committee. Public opposition culminated in a riot on Sunday, 21 January 1855, in London’s Trafalgar Square. Less than two weeks later the government, a coalition of political factions under the leadership of Lord Aberdeen, fell and the Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston, took over as the new Prime Minister. The Crimean War ended with the signing of The Treaty of Paris in March 1856. Little Dorrit was serialized in twenty monthly parts from December 1855 through to June 1857, followed shortly after by the whole novel in one volume.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 10 of Little Dorrit:

Because the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How not to do it, in motion. Because the Circumlocution Office was down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of doing it, with a minute, and a memorandum, and a letter of instructions that extinguished him. It was this spirit of national efficiency in the Circumlocution Office that had gradually led to its having something to do with everything. Mechanicians, natural philosophers, soldiers, sailors, petitioners, memorialists, people with grievances, people who wanted to prevent grievances, people who wanted to redress grievances, jobbing people, jobbed people, people who couldn’t get rewarded for merit, and people who couldn’t get punished for demerit, were all indiscriminately tucked up under the foolscap paper of the Circumlocution Office.

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The Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How not to do it, in motion.
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