The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter i

The Snob Playfully Dealt with

There are relative and positive Snobs. I mean by positive, such persons as are Snobs everywhere, in all companies, from morning till night, from youth to the grave, being by Nature endowed with Snobbishness — and others who are Snobs only in certain circumstances and relations of life.

For instance: I once knew a man who committed before me an act as atrocious as that which I have indicated in the last chapter as performed by me for the purpose of disgusting Colonel Snobley; viz, the using the fork in the guise of a toothpick. I once, I say, knew a man who, dining in my company at the ‘Europa Coffee-house,’ (opposite the Grand Opera, and, as everybody knows, the only decent place for dining at Naples,) ate peas with the assistance of his knife. He was a person with whose society I was greatly pleased at first — indeed, we had met in the crater of Mount Vesuvius, and were subsequently robbed and held to ransom by brigands in Calabria, which is nothing to the purpose — a man of great powers, excellent heart, and varied information; but I had never before seen him with a dish of pease, and his conduct in regard to them caused me the deepest pain.

After having seen him thus publicly comport himself, but one course was open to me — to cut his acquaintance. I commissioned a mutual friend (the Honourable Poly Anthus) to break the matter to this gentleman as delicately as possible, and to say that painful circumstances — in nowise affecting Mr. Marrowfat’s honour, or my esteem for him — had occurred, which obliged me to forego my intimacy with him; and accordingly we met and gave each other the cut direct that night at the Duchess of Monte Fiasco’s ball.

Everybody at Naples remarked the separation of the Damon and Pythias — indeed, Marrowfat had saved my life more than once — but, as an English gentleman, what was I to do?

My dear friend was, in this instance, the Snob RELATIVE. It is not snobbish of persons of rank of any other nation to employ their knife in the manner alluded to. I have seen Monte Fiasco clean his trencher with his knife, and every Principe in company doing likewise. I have seen, at the hospitable board of H.I.H. the Grand Duchess Stephanie of Baden —(who, if these humble lines should come under her Imperial eyes, is besought to remember graciously the most devoted of her servants)— I have seen, I say, the Hereditary Princess of Potztausend-Donnerwetter (that serenely-beautiful woman) use her knife in lieu of a fork or spoon; I have seen her almost swallow it, by Jove! like Ramo Samee, the Indian juggler. And did I blench? Did my estimation for the Princess diminish? No, lovely Amalia! One of the truest passions that ever was inspired by woman was raised in this bosom by that lady. Beautiful one! long, long may the knife carry food to those lips! the reddest and loveliest in the world!

The cause of my quarrel with Marrowfat I never breathed to mortal soul for four years. We met in the halls of the aristocracy — our friends and relatives. We jostled each other in the dance or at the board; but the estrangement continued, and seemed irrevocable, until the fourth of June, last year.

We met at Sir George Golloper’s. We were placed, he on the right, your humble servant on the left of the admirable Lady G.. Peas formed part of the banquet — ducks and green peas. I trembled as I saw Marrowfat helped, and turned away sickening, lest I should behold the weapon darting down his horrid jaws.

What was my astonishment, what my delight, when I saw him use his fork like any other Christian! He did not administer the cold steel once. Old times rushed back upon me — the remembrance of old services — his rescuing me from the brigands — his gallant conduct in the affair with the Countess Dei Spinachi — his lending me the 1,700L. I almost burst into tears with joy — my voice trembled with emotion. ‘George, my boy!’ I exclaimed, ‘George Marrowfat, my dear fellow! a glass of wine!’

Blushing — deeply moved — almost as tremulous as I was myself, George answered, ‘FRANK, SHALL IT BE HOCK OR MADEIRA? I could have hugged him to my heart but for the presence of the company. Little did Lady Golloper know what was the cause of the emotion which sent the duckling I was carving into her ladyship’s pink satin lap. The most good-natured of women pardoned the error, and the butler removed the bird.

We have been the closest friends over since, nor, of course, has George repeated his odious habit. He acquired it at a country school, where they cultivated peas and only used two-pronged forks, and it was only by living on the Continent where the usage of the four-prong is general, that he lost the horrible custom.

In this point — and in this only — I confess myself a member of the Silver-Fork School; and if this tale but induce one of my readers to pause, to examine in his own mind solemnly, and ask, ‘Do I or do I not eat peas with a knife?’— to see the ruin which may fall upon himself by continuing the practice, or his family by beholding the example, these lines will not have been written in vain. And now, whatever other authors may be, I flatter myself, it will be allowed that I, at least, am a moral man.

By the way, as some readers are dull of comprehension, I may as well say what the moral of this history is. The moral is this — Society having ordained certain customs, men are bound to obey the law of society, and conform to its harmless orders.

If I should go to the British and Foreign Institute (and heaven forbid I should go under any pretext or in any costume whatever)— if I should go to one of the tea-parties in a dressing-gown and slippers, and not in the usual attire of a gentleman, viz, pumps, a gold waistcoat, a crush hat, a sham frill, and a white choker — I should be insulting society, and EATING PEASE WITH MY KNIFE. Let the porters of the Institute hustle out the individual who shall so offend. Such an offender is, as regards society, a most emphatical and refractory Snob. It has its code and police as well as governments, and he must conform who would profit by the decrees set forth for their common comfort.

I am naturally averse to egotism, and hate selflaudation consumedly; but I can’t help relating here a circumstance illustrative of the point in question, in which I must think I acted with considerable prudence.

Being at Constantinople a few years since —(on a delicate mission) — the Russians were playing a double game, between ourselves, and it became necessary on our part to employ an EXTRA NEGOTIATOR— Leckerbiss Pasha of Roumelia, then Chief Galeongee of the Porte, gave a diplomatic banquet at his summer palace at Bujukdere. I was on the left of the Galeongee, and the Russian agent, Count de Diddloff, on his dexter side. Diddloff is a dandy who would die of a rose in aromatic pain: he had tried to have me assassinated three times in the course of the negotiation; but of course we were friends in public, and saluted each other in the most cordial and charming manner.

The Galeongee is — or was, alas! for a bow-string has done for him — a staunch supporter of the old school of Turkish politics. We dined with our fingers, and had flaps of bread for plates; the only innovation he admitted was the use of European liquors, in which he indulged with great gusto. He was an enormous eater. Amongst the dishes a very large one was placed before him of a lamb dressed in its wool, stuffed with prunes, garlic, assafoetida, capsicums, and other condiments, the most abominable mixture that ever mortal smelt or tasted. The Galeongee ate of this hugely; and pursuing the Eastern fashion, insisted on helping his friends right and left, and when he came to a particularly spicy morsel, would push it with his own hands into his guests’ very mouths.

I never shall forget the look of poor Diddloff, when his Excellency, rolling up a large quantity of this into a ball and exclaiming, ‘Buk Buk’ (it is very good), administered the horrible bolus to Diddloff. The Russian’s eyes rolled dreadfully as he received it: he swallowed it with a grimace that I thought must precede a convulsion, and seizing a bottle next him, which he thought was Sauterne, but which turned out to be French brandy, he drank off nearly a pint before he know his error. It finished him; he was carried away from the dining-room almost dead, and laid out to cool in a summer-house on the Bosphorus.

When it came to my turn, I took down the condiment with a smile, said ‘Bismillah,’ licked my lips with easy gratification, and when the next dish was served, made up a ball myself so dexterously, and popped it down the old Galeongee’s mouth with so much grace, that his heart was won. Russia was put out of court at once and THE TREATY of Kabobanople WAS SIGNED. As for Diddloff, all was over with HIM: he was recalled to St. Petersburg, and Sir Roderick Murchison saw him, under the No. 3967, working in the Ural mines.

The moral of this tale, I need not say, is, that there are many disagreeable things in society which you are bound to take down, and to do so with a smiling face.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07