In his recital of the adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens gives us a picture of the nurse of his day in the person of Sairey Gamp:
"She was a fat old woman, this Mrs. Gamp, with a husky voice and a moist eye, which she had a remarkable power of turning up, and only showing the white of it. Having very little neck, it cost her some trouble to look over herself, if one may say so, at those to whom she talked.
"She wore a very rusty black gown, rather the worse for snuff, and a shawl and bonnet to correspond. In these dilapidated articles of dress she had, on principle, arrayed herself, time out of mind, on such occasions as the present; for this at once expressed a decent amount of veneration for the deceased, and invited the next of kin to present her with a fresher suit of weeds; an appeal so frequently successful, that the very fetch and ghost of Mrs. Gamp, bonnet and all, might be seen hanging up, any hour in the day, in at least a dozen of the second hand clothes shops of about Holborn.
"The face of Mrs. Gamp—the nose in particular—was somewhat red and swollen, and it was difficult to enjoy her society, without becoming conscious of a smell of spirits. Like most persons who have attained to great eminence in their profession, she took to hers very kindly, so that, setting aside her natural predilections as a woman, she went to a lying-in or laying-out with equal zest and relish."
That is a great scene in Middlemarch where the dying miser, Peter Featherstone, makes a vain effort to destroy one of two wills which he had drafted—the one which was unjust to those he left behind him. He asks the woman attending him to take his key and open the strong box and burn one of the wills. Deaf alike to coaxings and to threats, she refuses to touch his key or his money. The morning light comes through the window and finds the old man dead on the pillows, his bony hand clutching the key. At the last he wished to write a new will and destroy the old, but death intervened and made that forever impossible. In the court the unjust will was filed for probate.