The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xvii

A Little About Irish Snobs

You do not, to be sure, imagine that there are no other Snobs in Ireland than those of the amiable party who wish to make pikes of iron railroads (it’s a fine Irish economy), and to cut the throats of the Saxon invaders. These are of the venomous sort; and had they been invented in his time, St. Patrick would have banished them out of the kingdom along with the other dangerous reptiles.

I think it is the Four Masters, or else it’s Olaus Magnus, or else it’s certainly O’Neill Daunt, in the ‘Catechism of Irish History,’ who relates that when Richard the Second came to Ireland, and the Irish chiefs did homage to him, going down on their knees — the poor simple creatures! — and worshipping and wondering before the English king and the dandies of his court, my lords the English noblemen mocked and jeered at their uncouth Irish admirers, mimicked their talk and gestures, pulled their poor old beards, and laughed at the strange fashion of their garments.

The English Snob rampant always does this to the present day. There is no Snob in existence, perhaps, that has such an indomitable belief in himself: that sneers you down all the rest of the world besides, and has such an insufferable, admirable, stupid contempt for all people but his own — nay, for all sets but his own. ‘Gwacious Gad’ what stories about ‘the Iwish’ these young dandies accompanying King Richard must have had to tell, when they returned to Pall Mall, and smoked their cigars upon the steps of ‘White’s.’

The Irish snobbishness developes itself not in pride so much as in servility and mean admirations, and trumpery imitations of their neighbours. And I wonder De Tocqueville and De Beaumont, and THE TIMES’ Commissioner, did not explain the Snobbishness of Ireland as contrasted with our own. Ours is that of Richard’s Norman Knights — haughty, brutal stupid, and perfectly self-confident; — theirs, of the poor, wondering, kneeling, simple chieftains. They are on their knees still before English fashion — these simple, wild people; and indeed it is hard not to grin at some of their NAIVE exhibitions.

Some years since, when a certain great orator was Lord Mayor of Dublin, he used to wear a red gown and a cocked hat, the splendour of which delighted him as much as a new curtain-ring in her nose or a string of glass-beads round her neck charms Queen Quasheeneboo. He used to pay visits to people in this dress; to appear at meetings hundreds of miles off, in the red velvet gown. And to hear the people crying ‘Yes, me Lard!’ and ‘No, me Lard!’ and to read the prodigious accounts of his Lordship in the papers: it seemed as if the people and he liked to be taken in by this twopenny splendour. Twopenny magnificence, indeed, exists all over Ireland, and may be considered as the great characteristic of the Snobbishness of that country.

When Mrs. Mulholligan, the grocer’s lady, retires to Kingstown, she has Mulholliganville’ painted over the gate of her villa; and receives you at a door that won’t shut or gazes at you out of a window that is glazed with an old petticoat.

Be it ever so shabby and dismal, nobody ever owns to keeping a shop. A fellow whose stock in trade is a penny roll or a tumbler of lollipops, calls his cabin the ‘American Flour Stores,’ or the ‘Depository for Colonial Produce,’ or some such name.

As for Inns, there are none in the country; Hotels abound as well furnished as Mulholliganville; but again there are no such people as landlords and land-ladies; the landlord is out with the hounds, and my lady in the parlour talking with the Captain or playing the piano.

If a gentleman has a hundred a year to leave to his family they all become gentlemen, all keep a nag, ride to hounds, and swagger about in the ‘Phaynix,’ and grow tufts to their chins like so many real aristocrats.

A friend of mine has taken to be a painter, and lives out of Ireland, where he is considered to have disgraced the family by choosing such a profession. His father is a wine-merchant; and his elder brother an apothecary.

The number of men one meets in London and on the Continent who have a pretty little property of five-and-twenty hundred a year in Ireland is prodigious: those who WILL have nine thousand a year in land when somebody dies are still more numerous. I myself have met as many descendants from Irish kings as would form a brigade.

And who has not met the Irishman who apes the Englishman, and who forgets his country and tries to forget his accent, or to smother the taste of it, as it were? ‘Come, dine with me, my boy,’ says O’Dowd, of O’Dowdstown: ‘you’ll FIND US ALL ENGLISH THERE;’ which he tells you with a brogue as broad as from here to Kingstown Pier. And did you never hear Mrs. Captain Macmanus talk about ‘I-ah-land,’ and her account of her ‘fawther’s esteet?’ Very few men have rubbed through the world without hearing and witnessing some of these Hibernian phenomena — these twopenny splendours.

And what say you to the summit of society — the Castle — with a sham king, and sham lords-inwaiting, and sham loyalty, and a sham Haroun Alraschid, to go about in a sham disguise, making believe to be affable and splendid? That Castle is the pink and pride of Snobbishness. A COURT CIRCULAR is bad enough, with two columns of print about a little baby that’s christened — but think of people liking a sham COURT CIRCULAR!

I think the shams of Ireland are more outrageous than those of any country. A fellow shows you a hill and says, ‘That’s the highest mountain in all Ireland;’ a gentleman tells you he is descended from Brian Boroo and has his five-and-thirty hundred a year; or Mrs. Macmanus describes her fawther’s esteet; or ould Dan rises and says the Irish women are the loveliest, the Irish men the bravest, the Irish land the most fertile in the world: and nobody believes anybody — the latter does not believe his story nor the hearer:— but they make-believe to believe, and solemnly do honour to humbug.

O Ireland! O my country! (for I make little doubt I am descended from Brian Boroo too) when will you acknowledge that two and two make four, and call a pikestaff a pikestaff? — that is the very best use you can make of the latter. Irish snobs will dwindle away then and we shall never hear tell of Hereditary bondsmen.

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