The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter ii

The Snob Royal

Long since at the commencement of the reign of her present Gracious Majesty, it chanced ‘on a fair summer evening,’ as Mr. James would say, that three or four young cavaliers were drinking a cup of wine after dinner at the hostelry called the ‘King’s Arms,’ kept by Mistress Anderson, in the royal village of Kensington. ’Twas a balmy evening, and the wayfarers looked out on a cheerful scene. The tall elms of the ancient gardens were in full leaf, and countless chariots of the nobility of England whirled by to the neighbouring palace, where princely Sussex (whose income latterly only allowed him to give tea-parties) entertained his royal niece at a state banquet. When the caroches of the nobles had set down their owners at the banquethall, their varlets and servitors came to quaff a flagon of nut-brown ale in the ‘King’s Arms’ gardens hard by. We watched these fellows from our lattice. By Saint Boniface ’twas a rare sight!

The tulips in Mynheer Van Dunck’s gardens were not more gorgeous than the liveries of these pie-coated retainers. All the flowers of the field bloomed in their ruffled bosoms, all the hues of the rainbow gleamed in their plush breeches, and the long-caned ones walked up and down the garden with that charming solemnity, that delightful quivering swagger of the calves, which has always had a frantic fascination for us. The walk was not wide enough for them as the shoulder-knots strutted up and down it in canary, and crimson, and light blue.

Suddenly, in the midst of their pride, a little bell was rung, a side door opened, and (after setting down their Royal Mistress) her Majesty’s own crimson footmen, with epaulets and black plushes, came in.

It was pitiable to see the other poor Johns slink off at this arrival! Not one of the honest private Plushes could stand up before the Royal Flunkeys. They left the walk: they sneaked into dark holes and drank their beer in silence. The Royal Plush kept possession of the garden until the Royal Plush dinner was announced, when it retired, and we heard from the pavilion where they dined, conservative cheers, and speeches, and Kentish fires. The other Flunkeys we never saw more.

My dear Flunkeys, so absurdly conceited at one moment and so abject at the next, are but the types of their masters in this world. HE WHO MEANLY ADMIRES MEAN THINGS IS A SNOB— perhaps that is a safe definition of the character.

And this is why I have, with the utmost respect, ventured to place The Snob Royal at the head of my list, causing all others to give way before him, as the Flunkeys before the royal representative in Kensington Gardens. To say of such and such a Gracious Sovereign that he is a Snob, is but to say that his Majesty is a man. Kings, too, are men and Snobs. In a country where Snobs are in the majority, a prime one, surely, cannot be unfit to govern. With us they have succeeded to admiration.

For instance, James I. was a Snob, and a Scotch Snob, than which the world contains no more offensive creature. He appears to have had not one of the good qualities of a man — neither courage, nor generosity, nor honesty, nor brains; but read what the great Divines and Doctors of England said about him! Charles II., his grandson, was a rogue, but not a Snob; whilst Louis XIV., his old squaretoes of a contemporary — the great worshipper of Bigwiggery — has always struck me as a most undoubted and Royal Snob.

I will not, however, take instances from our own country of Royal Snobs, but refer to a neighbouring kingdom, that of Brentford — and its monarch, the late great and lamented Gorgius IV. With the same humility with which the footmen at the ‘King’s Arms’ gave way before the Plush Royal, the aristocracy of the Brentford nation bent down and truckled before Gorgius, and proclaimed him the first gentleman in Europe. And it’s a wonder to think what is the gentlefolks’ opinion of a gentleman, when they gave Gorgius such a title.

What is it to be a gentleman? Is it to be honest, to be gentle, to be generous, to be brave, to be wise, and, possessing all these qualities, to exercise them in the most graceful outward manner? Ought a gentleman to be a loyal son, a true husband, and honest father? Ought his life to be decent — his bills to be paid — his tastes to be high and elegant — his aims in life lofty and noble? In a word, ought not the Biography of a First Gentleman in Europe to be of such a nature that it might be read in Young Ladies’ Schools with advantage, and studied with profit in the Seminaries of Young Gentlemen? I put this question to all instructors of youth — to Mrs. Ellis and the Women of England; to all schoolmasters, from Doctor Hawtrey down to Mr. Squeers. I conjure up before me an awful tribunal of youth and innocence, attended by its venerable instructors (like the ten thousand red-cheeked charity-children in Saint Paul’s), sitting in judgment, and Gorgius pleading his cause in the midst. Out of Court, out of Court, fat old Florizel! Beadles, turn out that bloated, pimple-faced man! — If Gorgius MUST have a statue in the new Palace which the Brentford nation is building, it ought to be set up in the Flunkeys’ Hall. He should be represented cutting out a coat, in which art he is said to have excelled. He also invented Maraschino punch, a shoe-buckle (this was in the vigour of his youth, and the prime force of his invention), and a Chinese pavilion, the most hideous building in the world. He could drive a four-inhand very nearly as well as the Brighton coachman, could fence elegantly, and it is said, played the fiddle well. And he smiled with such irresistible fascination, that persons who were introduced into his august presence became his victims, body and soul, as a rabbit becomes the prey of a great big boa-constrictor.

I would wager that if Mr. Widdicomb were, by a revolution, placed on the throne of Brentford, people would be equally fascinated by his irresistibly majestic smile and tremble as they knelt down to kiss his hand. If he went to Dublin they would erect an obelisk on the spot where he first landed, as the Paddylanders did when Gorgius visited them. We have all of us read with delight that story of the King’s voyage to Haggisland, where his presence inspired such a fury of loyalty and where the most famous man of the country — the Baron of Bradwardine — coming on board the royal yacht, and finding a glass out of which Gorgius had drunk, put it into his coatpocket as an inestimable relic, and went ashore in his boat again. But the Baron sat down upon the glass and broke it, and cut his coat-tails very much; and the inestimable relic was lost to the world for ever. O noble Bradwardine! what old-world superstition could set you on your knees before such an idol as that?

If you want to moralise upon the mutability of human affairs, go and see the figure of Gorgius in his real, identical robes, at the waxwork. — Admittance one shilling. Children and flunkeys sixpence. Go, and pay sixpence.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/snobs/chapter2.html

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