The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter x

Military Snobs

Walking in the Park yesterday with my young friend Tagg, and discoursing with him upon the next number of the Snob, at the very nick of time who should pass us but two very good specimens of Military Snobs — the Sporting Military Snob, Capt. Rag, and the ‘lurking’ or raffish Military Snob, Ensign Famish. Indeed you are fully sure to meet them lounging on horseback, about five o’clock, under the trees by the Serpentine, examining critically the inmates of the flashy broughams which parade up and down ‘the Lady’s Mile.’

Tagg and Rag are very well acquainted, and so the former, with that candour inseparable from intimate friendship, told me his dear friend’s history. Captain Rag is a small dapper north-country man. He went when quite a boy into a crack light cavalry regiment, and by the time he got his troop, had cheated all his brother officers so completely, selling them lame horses for sound ones, and winning their money by all manner of strange and ingenious contrivances, that his Colonel advised him to retire; which he did without much reluctance, accommodating a youngster, who had just entered the regiment, with a glandered charger at an uncommonly stiff figure.

He has since devoted his time to billiards, steeple-chasing, and the turf. His head-quarters are ‘Rummer’s,’ in Conduit Street, where he keeps his kit; but he is ever on the move in the exercise of his vocation as a gentleman-jockey and gentleman-leg.

According to BELL’S LIFE, he is an invariable attendant at all races, and an actor in most of them. He rode the winner at Leamington; he was left for dead in a ditch a fortnight ago at Harrow; and yet there he was, last week, at the Croix de Berny, pale and determined as ever, astonishing the BADAUDS of Paris by the elegance of his seat and the neatness of his rig, as he took a preliminary gallop on that vicious brute ‘The Disowned,’ before starting for ‘the French Grand National.’

He is a regular attendant at the Corner, where he compiles a limited but comfortable libretto. During season he rides often in the Park, mounted on a clever well-bred pony. He is to be seen escorting celebrated horsewoman, Fanny Highflyer, or in confidential converse with Lord Thimblerig, the eminent handicapper.

He carefully avoids decent society, and would rather dine off a steak at the ‘One Tun’ with Sam Snaffle the jockey, Captain O’Rourke, and two or three other notorious turf robbers, than with the choicest company in London. He likes to announce at ‘Rummer’s’ that he is going to run down and spend his Saturday and Sunday in a friendly way with Hocus, the leg, at his little box near Epsom; where, if report speak true, many ‘rummish plants’ are concocted.

He does not play billiards often, and never in public: but when he does play, he always contrives to get hold of a good flat, and never leaves him till he has done him uncommonly brown. He has lately been playing a good deal with Famish.

When he makes his appearance in the drawing-room, which occasionally happens at a hunt-meeting or a race-ball, he enjoys himself extremely.

His young friend is Ensign Famish, who is not a little pleased to be seen with such a smart fellow as Rag, who bows to the best turf company in the Park. Rag lets Famish accompany him to Tattersall’s, and sells him bargains in horse-flesh, and uses Famish’s cab. That young gentleman’s regiment is in India, and he is at home on sick leave. He recruits his health by being intoxicated every night, and fortifies his lungs, which are weak, by smoking cigars all day. The policemen about the Haymarket know the little creature, and the early cabmen salute him. The closed doors of fish and lobster shops open after service, and vomit out little Famish, who is either tipsy and quarrelsome — when he wants to fight the cabmen; or drunk and helpless — when some kind friend (in yellow satin) takes care of him. All the neighbourhood, the cabmen, the police, the early potato-men, and the friends in yellow satin, know the young fellow, and he is called Little Bobby by some of the very worst reprobates in Europe.

His mother, Lady Fanny Famish, believes devoutly that Robert is in London solely for the benefit of consulting the physician; is going to have him exchanged into a dragoon regiment, which doesn’t go to that odious India; and has an idea that his chest is delicate, and that he takes gruel every evening, when he puts his feet in hot water. Her Ladyship resides at Cheltenham, and is of a serious turn.

Bobby frequents the ‘Union Jack Club’ of course; where he breakfasts on pale ale and devilled kidneys at three o’clock; where beardless young heroes of his own sort congregate, and make merry, and give each other dinners; where you may see half-a-dozen of young rakes of the fourth or fifth order lounging and smoking on the steps; where you behold Slapper’s long-tailed leggy mare in the custody of a red-jacket until the Captain is primed for the Park with a glass of curacoa; and where you see Hobby, of the Highland Buffs, driving up with Dobby, of the Madras Fusiliers, in the great banging, swinging cab, which the latter hires from Rumble of Bond Street.

In fact, Military Snobs are of such number and variety, that a hundred weeks of PUNCH would not suffice to give an audience to them. There is, besides the disreputable old Military Snob, who has seen service, the respectable old Military Snob, who has seen none, and gives himself the most prodigious Martinet airs. There is the Medical-Military Snob, who is generally more outrageously military in his conversation than the greatest SABREUR in the army. There is the Heavy-Dragoon Snob, whom young ladies, admire with his great stupid pink face and yellow moustaches — a vacuous, solemn, foolish, but brave and honourable Snob. There is the Amateur-Military Snob who writes Captain on his card because he is a Lieutenant in the Bungay Militia. There is the Lady-killing Military Snob; and more, who need not be named.

But let no man, we repeat, charge MR. PUNCH with disrespect for the Army in general — that gallant and judicious Army, every man of which, from F.M. the Duke of Wellington, &c., downwards —(with the exception of H.R.H. Field-Marshal Prince Albert, who, however, can hardly count as a military man,)— reads PUNCH in every quarter of the globe.

Let those civilians who sneer at the acquirements of the army read Sir Harry Smith’s account of the Battle of Aliwal. A noble deed was never told in nobler language. And you who doubt if chivalry exists, or the age of heroism has passed by, think of Sir Henry Hardinge, with his son, ‘dear little Arthur,’ riding in front of the lines at Ferozeshah. I hope no English painter will endeavour to illustrate that scene; for who is there to do justice to it? The history of the world contains no more brilliant and heroic picture. No, no; the men who perform these deeds with such brilliant valour, and describe them with such modest manliness — SUCH are not Snobs. Their country admires them, their Sovereign rewards them, and PUNCH, the universal railer, takes off his hat and, says, Heaven save them!

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