Background.

Sketches by Boz
  • He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy” is a quotation from Sketches by Boz, Tales, Chapter 11 (The Bloomsbury Christening).

Context.

Quotation describing the character of Mr. Nicodemus Dumps. Dumps is the misanthropic bachelor uncle of Charles Kitterbell. When a christening party is held for Kitterbell’s son, Dumps brings the mood down by listing the dangers he faces in the world.

The Bloomsbury Christening
Sketch produced by George Cruikshank for The Bloomsbury Christening, published in the collected work Sketches by Boz.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in the sketch The Boarding-House.

Mr. Nicodemus Dumps, or, as his acquaintance called him, ‘long Dumps,’ was a bachelor, six feet high, and fifty years old: cross, cadaverous, odd, and ill-natured. He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy. The only real comfort of his existence was to make everybody about him wretched—then he might be truly said to enjoy life. He was afflicted with a situation in the Bank worth five hundred a-year, and he rented a ‘first-floor furnished,’ at Pentonville, which he originally took because it commanded a dismal prospect of an adjacent churchyard. He was familiar with the face of every tombstone, and the burial service seemed to excite his strongest sympathy. His friends said he was surly—he insisted he was nervous; they thought him a lucky dog, but he protested that he was ‘the most unfortunate man in the world.’ Cold as he was, and wretched as he declared himself to be, he was not wholly unsusceptible of attachments. He revered the memory of Hoyle, as he was himself an admirable and imperturbable whist-player, and he chuckled with delight at a fretful and impatient adversary. He adored King Herod for his massacre of the innocents; and if he hated one thing more than another, it was a child. However, he could hardly be said to hate anything in particular, because he disliked everything in general; but perhaps his greatest antipathies were cabs, old women, doors that would not shut, musical amateurs, and omnibus cads. He subscribed to the ‘Society for the Suppression of Vice’ for the pleasure of putting a stop to any harmless amusements; and he contributed largely towards the support of two itinerant methodist parsons, in the amiable hope that if circumstances rendered any people happy in this world, they might perchance be rendered miserable by fears for the next.

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He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy.
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