The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xiv

On University Snobs

All the men of Saint Boniface will recognize Hugby and Crump in these two pictures. They were tutors in our time, and Crump is since advanced to be President of the College. He was formerly, and is now, a rich specimen of a University Snob.

At five-and-twenty, Crump invented three new metres, and published an edition of an exceedingly improper Greek Comedy, with no less than twenty emendations upon the German text of Schnupfenius and Schnapsius. These Services to religion instantly pointed him out for advancement in the Church, and he is now President of Saint Boniface, and very narrowly escaped the bench.

Crump thinks Saint Boniface the centre of the world, and his position as President the highest in England. He expects the fellows and tutors to pay him the same sort of service that Cardinals pay to the Pope. I am sure Crawler would have no objection to carry his trencher, or Page to hold up the skirts of his gown as he stalks into chapel. He roars out the responses there as if it were an honour to heaven that the President of Saint Boniface should take a part in the service, and in his own lodge and college acknowledges the Sovereign only as his superior.

When the allied monarchs came down, and were made Doctors of the University, a breakfast was given at Saint Boniface; on which occasion Crump allowed the Emperor Alexander to walk before him, but took the PAS himself of the King of Prussia and Prince Blucher. He was going to put the Hetman Platoff to breakfast at a side-table with the under college tutors; but he was induced to relent, and merely entertained that distinguished Cossack with a discourse on his own language, in which he showed that the Hetman knew nothing about it.

As for us undergraduates, we scarcely knew more about Crump than about the Grand Llama. A few favoured youths are asked occasionally to tea at the lodge; but they do not speak unless first addressed by the Doctor; and if they venture to sit down, Crump’s follower, Mr. Toady, whispers, ‘Gentlemen, will you have the kindness to get up? — The President is passing;’ or ‘Gentlemen, the President prefers that undergraduates should not sit down;’ or words to a similar effect.

To do Crump justice, he does not cringe now to great people. He rather patronizes them than otherwise; and, in London, speaks quite affably to a Duke who has been brought up at his college, or holds out a finger to a Marquis. He does not disguise his own origin, but brags of it with considerable self-gratulation:—‘I was a Charity-boy,’ says he; ‘see what I am now; the greatest Greek scholar of the greatest College of the greatest University of the greatest Empire in the world.’ The argument being, that this is a capital world, for beggars, because he, being a beggar, has managed to get on horseback.

Hugby owes his eminence to patient merit and agreeable perseverance. He is a meek, mild, inoffensive creature, with just enough of scholarship to fit him to hold a lecture, or set an examination paper. He rose by kindness to the aristocracy. It was wonderful to see the way in which that poor creature grovelled before a nobleman or a lord’s nephew, or even some noisy and disreputable commoner, the friend of a lord. He used to give the young noblemen the most painful and elaborate breakfasts, and adopt a jaunty genteel air, and talk with them (although he was decidedly serious) about the opera, or the last run with the hounds. It was good to watch him in the midst of a circle of young tufts, with his mean, smiling, eager, uneasy familiarity. He used to write home confidential letters to their parents, and made it his duty to call upon them when in town, to condole or rejoice with them when a death, birth, or marriage took place in their family; and to feast them whenever they came to the University. I recollect a letter lying on a desk in his lecture-room for a whole term, beginning, ‘My Lord Duke.’ It was to show us that he corresponded with such dignities.

When the late lamented Lord Glenlivat, who broke his neck at a hurdle-race, at the premature age of twenty-four, was at the University, the amiable young fellow, passing to his rooms in the early morning, and seeing Hugby’s boots at his door, on the same staircase, playfully wadded the insides of the boots with cobbler’s wax, which caused excruciating pains to the Rev. Mr. Hugby, when he came to take them off the same evening, before dining with the Master of St. Crispin’s.

Everybody gave the credit of this admirable piece of fun to Lord Glenlivat’s friend, Bob Tizzy, who was famous for such feats, and who had already made away with the college pump-handle; filed St. Boniface’s nose smooth with his face; carried off four images of nigger-boys from the tobacconists; painted the senior proctor’s horse pea-green, &c. &c.; and Bob (who was of the party certainly, and would not peach,) was just on the point of incurring expulsion, and so losing the family living which was in store for him, when Glenlivat nobly stepped forward, owned himself to be the author of the delightful JEU-D’ESPRIT, apologized to the tutor, and accepted the rustication.

Hugby cried when Glenlivat apologized; if the young nobleman had kicked him round the court, I believe the tutor would have been happy, so that an apology and a reconciliation might subsequently ensue. ‘My lord,’ said he, ‘in your conduct on this and all other occasions, you have acted as becomes a gentleman; you have been an honour to the University, as you will be to the peerage, I am sure, when the amiable vivacity of youth is calmed down, and you are called upon to take your proper share in the government of the nation.’ And when his lordship took leave of the University, Hugby presented him with a copy of his ‘Sermons to a Nobleman’s Family’ (Hugby was once private tutor to the Sons of the Earl of Muffborough), which Glenlivat presented in return to Mr. William Ramm, known to the fancy as the Tutbury Pet, and the sermons now figure on the boudoir-table of Mrs. Ramm, behind the bar of her house of entertainment, ‘The Game Cock and Spurs,’ near Woodstock, Oxon.

At the beginning of the long vacation, Hugby comes to town, and puts up in handsome lodgings near St. James’s Square; rides in the Park in the afternoon; and is delighted to read his name in the morning papers among the list of persons present at Muffborough House, and the Marquis of Farintosh’s evening-parties. He is a member of Sydney Scraper’s Club, where, however, he drinks his pint of claret.

Sometimes you may see him on Sundays, at the hour when tavern doors open, whence issue little girls with great jugs of porter; when charity-boys walk the streets, bearing brown dishes of smoking shoulders of mutton and baked ‘taturs; when Sheeny and Moses are seen smoking their pipes before their lazy shutters in Seven Dials; when a crowd of smiling persons in clean outlandish dresses, in monstrous bonnets and flaring printed gowns, or in crumpled glossy coats and silks that bear the creases of the drawers where they have lain all the week, file down High Street — sometimes, I say, you may see Hugby coming out of the Church of St. Giles-inthe-Fields, with a stout gentlewoman leaning on his arm, whose old face bears an expression of supreme pride and happiness as she glances round at all the neighbours, and who faces the curate himself and marches into Holborn, where she pulls the bell of a house over which is inscribed, ‘Hugby, Haberdasher.’ It is the mother of the Rev. F. Hugby, as proud of her son in his white choker as Cornelia of her jewels at Rome. That is old Hugby bringing up the rear with the Prayer-books, and Betsy Hugby the old maid, his daughter — old Hugby, Haberdasher and Church-warden.

In the front room upstairs, where the dinner is laid out, there is a picture of Muffborough Castle; of the Earl of Muffborough, K.X., Lord-Lieutenant for Diddlesex; an engraving, from an almanac, of Saint Boniface College, Oxon; and a sticking-plaster portrait of Hugby when young, in a cap and gown. A copy of his ‘Sermons to a Nobleman’s Family’ is on the bookshelf, by the ‘Whole Duty of Man,’ the Reports of the Missionary Societies, and the ‘Oxford University Calendar.’ Old Hugby knows part of this by heart; every living belonging to Saint Boniface, and the name of every tutor, fellow, nobleman, and undergraduate.

He used to go to meeting and preach himself, until his son took orders; but of late the old gentleman has been accused of Puseyism, and is quite pitiless against the Dissenters.

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