The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxviii

On Some Country Snobs

‘Be hanged to your aristocrats!’ Ponto said, in some conversation we had regarding the family at Carabas, between whom and the Evergreens there was a feud. ‘When I first came into the county — it was the year before Sir John Buff contested in the Blue interest — the Marquis, then Lord St. Michaels, who, of course, was Orange to the core, paid me and Mrs. Ponto such attentions, that I fairly confess I was taken in by the old humbug, and thought that I’d met with a rare neighbour. ‘Gad, Sir, we used to get pines from Carabas, and pheasants from Carabas, and it was —“Ponto, when will you come over and shoot?”— and —“Ponto, our pheasants want thinning,”— and my Lady would insist upon her dear Mrs. Ponto coming over to Carabas to sleep, and put me I don’t know to what expense for turbans and velvet gowns for my wife’s toilette. Well, Sir, the election takes place, and though I was always a Liberal, personal friendship of course induces me to plump for St. Michaels, who comes in at the head of the poll. Next year, Mrs. P. insists upon going to town — with lodgings in Clarges Street at ten pounds a week, with a hired brougham, and new dresses for herself and the girls, and the deuce and all to pay. Our first cards were to Carabas House; my Lady’s are returned by a great big flunkey; and I leave you to fancy my poor Betsy’s discomfiture as the lodging-house maid took in the cards, and Lady St. Michaels drives away, though she actually saw us at the drawing-room window. Would you believe it, Sir, that though we called four times afterwards, those infernal aristocrats never returned our visit; that though Lady St. Michaels gave nine dinner-parties and four DEJEUNERS that season, she never asked us to one; and that she cut us dead at the Opera, though Betsy was nodding to her the whole night? We wrote to her for tickets for Almack’s; she writes to say that all hers were promised; and said, in the presence of Wiggins, her lady’s-maid, who told it to Diggs, my wife’s woman, that she couldn’t conceive how people in our station of life could so far forget themselves as to wish to appear in any such place! Go to Castle Carabas! I’d sooner die than set my foot in the house of that impertinent, insolvent, insolent jackanapes — and I hold him in scorn!’ After this, Ponto gave me some private information regarding Lord Carabas’s pecuniary affairs; how he owed money all over the county; how Jukes the carpenter was utterly ruined and couldn’t get a shilling of his bill; how Biggs the butcher hanged himself for the same reason; how the six big footmen never received a guinea of wages, and Snaffle, the state coachman, actually took off his blown-glass wig of ceremony and flung it at Lady Carabas’s feet on the terrace before the Castle; all which stories, as they are private, I do not think proper to divulge. But these details did not stifle my desire to see the famous mansion of Castle Carabas, nay, possibly excited my interest to know more about that lordly house and its owners.

At the entrance of the park, there are a pair of great gaunt mildewed lodges — mouldy Doric temples with black chimney-pots, in the finest classic taste, and the gates of course are surmounted by the CHATS BOTTES, the well-known supporters of the Carabas family. ‘Give the lodge-keeper a shilling,’ says Ponto, (who drove me near to it in his four-wheeled cruelty-chaise). ‘I warrant it’s the first piece of ready money he has received for some time. I don’t know whether there was any foundation for this sneer, but the gratuity was received with a curtsey, and the gate opened for me to enter. ‘Poor old porteress!’ says I, inwardly. ‘You little know that it is the Historian of Snobs whom you let in!’ The gates were passed. A damp green stretch of park spread right and left immeasurably, confined by a chilly grey wall, and a damp long straight road between two huge rows of moist, dismal lime-trees, leads up to the Castle. In the midst of the park is a great black tank or lake, bristling over with rushes, and here and there covered over with patches of pea-soup. A shabby temple rises on an island in this delectable lake, which is approached by a rotten barge that lies at roost in a dilapidated boat house. Clumps of elms and oaks dot over the huge green flat. Every one of them would have been down long since, but that the Marquis is not allowed to cut the timber.

Up that long avenue the Snobographer walked in solitude. At the seventy-ninth tree on the left-hand side, the insolvent butcher hanged himself. I scarcely wondered at the dismal deed, so woful and sad were the impressions connected with the place. So, for a mile and a half I walked — alone and thinking of death.

I forgot to say the house is in full view all the way — except when intercepted by the trees on the miserable island in the lake — an enormous red-brick mansion, square, vast, and dingy. It is flanked by four stone towers with weathercocks. In the midst of the grand facade is a huge Ionic portico, approached by a vast, lonely, ghastly staircase. Rows of black windows, framed in stone, stretch on either side, right and left — three storeys and eighteen windows of a row. You may see a picture of the palace and staircase, in the ‘Views of England and Wales,’ with four carved and gilt carriages waiting at the gravel walk, and several parties of ladies and gentlemen in wigs and hoops, dotting the fatiguing lines of stairs.

But these stairs are made in great houses for people NOT to ascend. The first Lady Carabas (they are but eighty years in the peerage), if she got out of her gilt coach in a shower, would be wet to the skin before she got half-way to the carved Ionic portico, where four dreary statues of Peace, Plenty, Piety and Patriotism, are the only sentinels. You enter these palaces by back-doors. ‘That was the way the Carabases got their peerage,’ the misanthropic Ponto said after dinner.

Well — I rang the bell at a little low side-door; it clanged and jingled and echoed for a long, long while, till at length a face, as of a housekeeper, peered through the door, and, as she saw my hand in my waistcoat pocket, opened it. Unhappy, lonely housekeeper, I thought. Is Miss Crusoe in her island more solitary? The door clapped to, and I was in Castle Carabas.

‘The side entrance and All,’ says the housekeeper. ‘The halligator hover the mantelpiece was brought home by Hadmiral St. Michaels, when a Capting with Lord Hanson. The harms on the cheers is the harms of the Carabas family.’ The hall was rather comfortable. We went clapping up a clean stone backstair, and then into a back passage cheerfully decorated with ragged light-green Kidderminster, and issued upon

‘THE GREAT ALL.

‘The great all is seventy-two feet in lenth, fifty-six in breath, and thirty-eight feet ‘igh. The carvings of the chimlies, representing the birth of Venus, and Ercules, and Eyelash, is by Van Chislum, the most famous sculpture of his hage and country. The ceiling, by Calimanco, represents Painting, Harchitecture and Music (the naked female figure with the barrel horgan) introducing George, fust Lord Carabas, to the Temple of the Muses. The winder ornaments is by Vanderputty. The floor is Patagonian marble; and the chandelier in the centre was presented to Lionel, second Marquis, by Lewy the Sixteenth, whose ‘ead was cut hoff in the French Revelation. We now henter

THE SOUTH GALLERY.

‘One ‘undred and forty-eight in lenth by thirty-two in breath; it is profusely hornaminted by the choicest works of Hart. Sir Andrew Katz, founder of the Carabas family and banker of the Prince of Horange, Kneller. Her present Ladyship, by Lawrence. Lord St. Michaels, by the same — he is represented sittin’ on a rock in velvit pantaloons. Moses in the bullrushes — the bull very fine, by Paul Potter. The toilet of Venus, Fantaski. Flemish Bores drinking, Van Ginnums. Jupiter and Europia, de Horn. The Grandjunction Canal, Venis, by Candleetty; and Italian Bandix, by Slavata Rosa.’— And so this worthy woman went on, from one room into another, from the blue room to the green, and the green to the grand saloon, and the grand saloon to the tapestry closet, cackling her list of pictures and wonders: and furtively turning up a corner of brown holland to show the colour of the old, faded, seedy, mouldy, dismal hangings.

At last we came to her Ladyship’s bed-room. In the centre of this dreary apartment there is a bed about the size of one of those whizgig temples in which the Genius appears in a pantomime. The huge gilt edifice is approached by steps, and so tall, that it might be let off in floors, for sleeping-rooms for all the Carabas family. An awful bed! A murder might be done at one end of that bed, and people sleeping at the other end be ignorant of it. Gracious powers! fancy little Lord Carabas in a nightcap ascending those steps after putting out the candle!

The sight of that seedy and solitary splendour was too much for me. I should go mad were I that lonely housekeeper — in those enormous galleries — in that lonely library, filled up with ghastly folios that nobody dares read, with an inkstand on the centre table like the coffin of a baby, and sad portraits staring at you from the bleak walls with their solemn Mouldy eyes. No wonder that Carabas does not come down here often.

It would require two thousand footmen to make the place cheerful. No wonder the coachman resigned his wig, that the masters are insolvent, and the servants perish in this huge dreary out-at-elbow place.

A single family has no more right to build itself a temple of that sort than to erect a Tower of Babel. Such a habitation is not decent for a mere mortal man. But, after all, I suppose poor Carabas had no choice. Fate put him there as it sent Napoleon to St. Helena. Suppose it had been decreed by Nature that you and I should be Marquises? We wouldn’t refuse, I suppose, but take Castle Carabas and all, with debts, duns, and mean makeshifts, and shabby pride, and swindling magnificence.

Next season, when I read of Lady Carabas’s splendid entertainments in the MORNING POST, and see the poor old insolvent cantering through the Park — I shall have a much tenderer interest in these great people than I have had heretofore. Poor old shabby Snob! Ride on and fancy the world is still on its knees before the house of Carabas! Give yourself airs, poor old bankrupt Magnifico, who are under money-obligations to your flunkeys; and must stoop so as to swindle poor tradesmen! And for us, O my brother Snobs, oughtn’t we to feel happy if our walk through life is more even, and that we are out of the reach of that surprising arrogance and that astounding meanness to which this wretched old victim is obliged to mount and descend.

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