Background.

David Copperfield
  • A pair of such very stiff trousers that they would have stood quite as well alone, without any legs in them” is a quotation from David Copperfield (Chapter 3).
  • David Copperfield was the eighth novel by Charles Dickens, first published between May 1849 and November 1850. The novel, written in the first person, revolves around the character after which the work is named. It follows his life until middle age, with his own adventures and the numerous friends and enemies he meets along his way.

Context.

Humourous quotation describing a pair of trousers worn by the character Ham Peggotty as observed by David Copperfield upon meeting him.

Character Profile: Ham Peggotty.

Ham Peggotty is a fisherman and boatbuilder, the son of the late Joe Peggotty, and nephew and adopted son of Daniel Peggotty. Ham is described as “a huge, strong fellow of six feet high, broad in proportion, and round-shouldered; but with a simpering boy’s face and curly light hair that gave him quite a sheepish look”. Ham is the fiance of Little Em’ly and lives in Daniel’s house, an upturned boat on a Yarmouth beach, along with Daniel, Little Em’ly and Mrs. Gummidge.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 3 (I Have A Change) of David Copperfield:

When we got into the street (which was strange enough to me) and smelt the fish, and pitch, and oakum, and tar, and saw the sailors walking about, and the carts jingling up and down over the stones, I felt that I had done so busy a place an injustice; and said as much to Peggotty, who heard my expressions of delight with great complacency, and told me it was well known (I suppose to those who had the good fortune to be born Bloaters) that Yarmouth was, upon the whole, the finest place in the universe.

‘Here’s my Am!’ screamed Peggotty, ‘growed out of knowledge!’

He was waiting for us, in fact, at the public-house; and asked me how I found myself, like an old acquaintance. I did not feel, at first, that I knew him as well as he knew me, because he had never come to our house since the night I was born, and naturally he had the advantage of me. But our intimacy was much advanced by his taking me on his back to carry me home. He was, now, a huge, strong fellow of six feet high, broad in proportion, and round-shouldered; but with a simpering boy’s face and curly light hair that gave him quite a sheepish look. He was dressed in a canvas jacket, and a pair of such very stiff trousers that they would have stood quite as well alone, without any legs in them. And you couldn’t so properly have said he wore a hat, as that he was covered in a-top, like an old building, with something pitchy.

Ham carrying me on his back and a small box of ours under his arm, and Peggotty carrying another small box of ours, we turned down lanes bestrewn with bits of chips and little hillocks of sand, and went past gas-works, rope-walks, boat-builders’ yards, shipwrights’ yards, ship-breakers’ yards, caulkers’ yards, riggers’ lofts, smiths’ forges, and a great litter of such places, until we came out upon the dull waste I had already seen at a distance; when Ham said,

‘Yon’s our house, Mas’r Davy!’

I looked in all directions, as far as I could stare over the wilderness, and away at the sea, and away at the river, but no house could I make out. There was a black barge, or some other kind of superannuated boat, not far off, high and dry on the ground, with an iron funnel sticking out of it for a chimney and smoking very cosily; but nothing else in the way of a habitation that was visible to me.

‘That’s not it?’ said I. ‘That ship-looking thing?’

‘That’s it, Mas’r Davy,’ returned Ham.

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A pair of such very stiff trousers that they would have stood quite as well alone, without any legs in them.
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