The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xix

Dining-Out Snobs

In England Dinner-giving Snobs occupy a very important place in society, and the task of describing them is tremendous. There was a time in my life when the consciousness of having eaten a man’s salt rendered me dumb regarding his demerits, and I thought it a wicked act and a breach of hospitality to speak ill of him.

But why should a saddle-of-mutton blind you, or a turbot and lobster-sauce shut your mouth for ever? With advancing age, men see their duties more clearly. I am not to be hoodwinked any longer by a slice of venison, be it ever so fat; and as for being dumb on account of turbot and lobster-sauce —— of course I am; good manners ordain that I should be so, until I have swallowed the compound — but not afterwards; directly the victuals are discussed, and John takes away the plate, my tongue begins to wag. Does not yours, if you have a pleasant neighbour? — a lovely creature, say, of some five-and-thirty, whose daughters have not yet quite come out — they are the best talkers. As for your young misses, they are only put about the table to look at — like the flowers in the centre-piece. Their blushing youth and natural modesty preclude them from easy, confidential, conversational ABANDON which forms the delight of the intercourse with their dear mothers. It is to these, if he would prosper in his profession, that the Dining-out Snob should address himself. Suppose you sit next to one of these, how pleasant it is, in the intervals of the banquet, actually to abuse the victuals and the giver of the entertainment! It’s twice as PIQUANT to make fun of a man under his very nose.

‘What IS a Dinner-giving Snob?’ some innocent youth, who is not REPANDU in the world, may ask — or some simple reader who has not the benefits of London experience.

My dear sir, I will show you — not all, for that is impossible — but several kinds of Dinner-giving Snobs. For instance, suppose you, in the middle rank of life, accustomed to Mutton, roast on Tuesday, cold on Wednesday, hashed on Thursday, &c., with small means and a small establishment, choose to waste the former and set the latter topsy-turvy by giving entertainments unnaturally costly — you come into the Dinner-giving Snob class at once. Suppose you get in cheap-made dishes from the pastrycook’s, and hire a couple of greengrocers, or carpet-beaters, to figure as footmen, dismissing honest Molly, who waits on common days, and bedizening your table (ordinarily ornamented with willow-pattern crockery) with twopenny-halfpenny Birmingham plate. Suppose you pretend to be richer and grander than you ought to be — you are a Dinner-giving Snob. And oh, I tremble to think how many and many a one will read this!

A man who entertains in this way — and, alas, how few do not! — is like a fellow who would borrow his neighbour’s coat to make a show in, or a lady who flaunts in the diamonds from next door — a humbug, in a word, and amongst the Snobs he must be set down.

A man who goes out of his natural sphere of society to ask Lords, Generals, Aldermen, and other persons of fashion, but is niggardly of his hospitality towards his own equals, is a Dinner-giving Snob. My dear friend, Jack Tufthunt, for example, knows ONE Lord whom he met at a watering-place: old Lord Mumble, who is as toothless as a three-months-old baby, and as mum as an undertaker, and as dull as — well, we will not particularise. Tufthunt never has a dinner now but you see this solemn old toothless patrician at the right-hand of Mrs. Tufthunt — Tufthunt is a Dinner-giving Snob.

Old Livermore, old Soy, old Chutney, the East Indian Director, old Cutler, the Surgeon, &c. — that society of old fogies, in fine, who give each other dinners round and round, and dine for the mere purpose of guttling — these, again, are Dinner-giving Snobs.

Again, my friend Lady MacScrew, who has three grenadier flunkeys in lace round the table, and serves up a scrag-of-mutton on silver, and dribbles you out bad sherry and port by thimblefuls, is a Dinner-giving Snob of the other sort; and I confess, for my part, I would rather dine with old Livermore or old Soy than with her Ladyship.

Stinginess is snobbish. Ostentation is snobbish. Too great profusion is snobbish. Tuft-hunting is snobbish. But I own there are people more snobbish than all those whose defects are above mentioned: viz., those individuals who can, and don’t give dinners at all. The man without hospitality shall never sit SUB IISDEM TRABIBUS with ME. Let the sordid wretch go mumble his bone alone!

What, again, is true hospitality? Alas, my dear friends and brother Snobs! how little do we meet of it after all! Are the motives PURE which induce your friends to ask you to dinner? This has often come across me. Does your entertainer want something from you? For instance, I am not of a suspicious turn; but it IS a fact that when Hookey is bringing out a new work, he asks the critics all round to dinner; that when Walker has got his picture ready for the Exhibition, he somehow grows exceedingly hospitable, and has his friends of the press to a quiet cutlet and a glass of Sillery. Old Hunks, the miser, who died lately (leaving his money to his housekeeper) lived many years on the fat of the land, by simply taking down, at all his friends’, the names and Christian names OF ALL THE CHILDREN. But though you may have your own opinion about the hospitality of your acquaintances; and though men who ask you from sordid motives are most decidedly Dinner-giving Snobs, it is best not to inquire into their motives too keenly. Be not too curious about the mouth of a gift-horse. After all, a man does not intend to insult you by asking you to dinner.

Though, for that matter, I know some characters about town who actually consider themselves injured and insulted if the dinner or the company is not to their liking. There is Guttleton, who dines at home off a shilling’s-worth of beef from the cookshop, but if he is asked to dine at a house where there are not pease at the end of May, or cucumbers in March along with the turbot, thinks himself insulted by being invited. ‘Good Ged!’ says he, ‘what the deuce do the Forkers mean by asking ME to a family dinner? I can get mutton at home;’ or ‘What infernal impertinence it is of the Spooners to get ENTREES from the pastrycook’s, and fancy that I am to be deceived with their stories about their French cook!’ Then, again, there is Jack Puddington — I saw that honest fellow t’other day quite in a rage, because, as chance would have it, Sir John Carver asked him to meet the very same party he had met at Colonel Cramley’s the day before, and he had not got up a new set of stories to entertain them. Poor Dinner-giving Snobs! you don’t know what small thanks you get for all your pains and money! How we Dining-out Snobs sneer at your cookery, and pooh-pooh your old hock, and are incredulous about your four-and-six-penny champagne, and know that the side-dishes of today are RECHAUFFES from the dinner of yesterday, and mark how certain dishes are whisked off the table untasted, so that they may figure at the banquet tomorrow. Whenever, for my part, I see the head man particularly anxious to ESCAMOTER a fricandeau or a blanc-mange, I always call out, and insist upon massacring it with a spoon. All this sort of conduct makes one popular with the Dinner-giving Snob. One friend of mine, I know, has made a prodigious sensation in good society, by announcing apropos of certain dishes when offered to him, that he never eats aspic except at Lord Tittup’s, and that Lady Jimmy’s CHEF is the only man in London who knows how to dress — FILET EN SERPENTEAU— or SUPREME DE VOLAILLE AUX TRUFFES.

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