The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxi

A Visit to Some Country Snobs

‘Why, dear Mr. Snob,’ said a young lady of rank and fashion (to whom I present my best compliments), ‘if you found everything so SNOBBISH at the Evergreens, if the pig bored you and the mutton was not to your liking, and Mrs. Ponto was a humbug, and Miss Wirt a nuisance, with her abominable piano practice — why did you stay so long?’

Ah, Miss, what a question! Have you never heard of gallant British soldiers storming batteries, of doctors passing nights in plague wards of lazarettos, and other instances of martyrdom? What do you suppose induced gentlemen to walk two miles up to the batteries of Sabroan, with a hundred and fifty thundering guns bowling them down by hundreds? — not pleasure, surely. What causes your respected father to quit his comfortable home for his chambers, after dinner, and pore over the most dreary law papers until long past midnight?, Mademoiselle; duty, which must be done alike by military, or legal, or literary gents. There’s a power of martyrdom in our profession.

You won’t believe it? Your rosy lips assume a smile of incredulity — a most naughty and odious expression in a young lady’s face. Well, then, the fact is, that my chambers, No. 24, Pump Court, Temple, were being painted by the Honourable Society, and Mrs. Slamkin, my laundress, having occasion to go into Durham to see her daughter, who is married, and has presented her with the sweetest little grandson — a few weeks could not be better spent than in rusticating. But ah, how delightful Pump Court looked when I revisited its well-known chimney-pots! CARI LUOGHI. Welcome, welcome, O fog and smut!

But if you think there is no moral in the foregoing account of the Pontine family, you are, Madam, most painfully mistaken. In this very chapter we are going to have the moral — why, the whole of the papers are nothing BUT the moral, setting forth as they do the folly of being a Snob.

You will remark that in the Country Snobography my poor friend Ponto has been held up almost exclusively for the public gaze — and why? Because we went to no other house? Because other families did not welcome us to their mahogany? No, no. Sir John Hawbuck of the Haws, Sir John Hipsley of Briary Hall, don’t shut the gates of hospitality: of General Sago’s mulligatawny I could speak from experience. And the two old ladies at Guttlebury, were they nothing? Do you suppose that an agreeable young dog, who shall be nameless, would not be made welcome? Don’t you know that people are too glad to see ANYBODY in the country?

But those dignified personages do not enter into the scheme of the present work, and are but minor characters of our Snob drama; just as, in the play, kings and emperors are not half so important as many humble persons. The DOGE OF VENICE, for instance, gives way to OTHELLO, who is but a nigger; and the KING OF FRANCE to FALCONBRIDGE, who is a gentleman of positively no birth at all. So with the exalted characters above mentioned. I perfectly well recollect that the claret at Hawbuck’s was not by any means so good as that of Hipsley’s, while, on the contrary, some white hermitage at the Haws (by the way, the butler only gave me half a glass each time) was supernacular. And I remember the conversations. O Madam, Madam, how stupid they were! The subsoil ploughing; the pheasants and poaching; the row about the representation of the county; the Earl of Mangelwurzelshire being at variance with his relative and nominee, the Honourable Marmaduke Tomnoddy; all these I could put down, had I a mind to violate the confidence of private life; and a great deal of conversation about the weather, the Mangelwurzelshire Hunt, new manures, and eating and drinking, of course.

But CUI BONO? In these perfectly stupid and honourable families there is not that Snobbishness which it is our purpose to expose. An ox is an ox — a great hulking, fat-sided, bellowing, munching Beef. He ruminates according to his nature, and consumes his destined portion of turnips or oilcake, until the time comes for his disappearance from the pastures, to be succeeded by other deep-lunged and fat-ribbed animals. Perhaps we do not respect an ox. We rather acquiesce in him. The Snob, my dear Madam, is the Frog that tries to swell himself to ox size. Let us pelt the silly brute out of his folly.

Look, I pray you, at the case of my unfortunate friend Ponto, a good-natured, kindly English gentleman — not over-wise, but quite passable — fond of port-wine, of his family, of country sports and agriculture, hospitably minded, with as pretty a little patrimonial country-house as heart can desire, and a thousand pounds a year. It is not much; but, ENTRE NOUS, people can live for less, and not uncomfortably.

For instance, there is the doctor, whom Mrs. P. does not condescend to visit: that man educates a mirific family, and is loved by the poor for miles round: and gives them port-wine for physic and medicine, gratis. And how those people can get on with their pittance, as Mrs. Ponto says, is a wonder to HER.

Again, there is the clergyman, Doctor Chrysostom — Mrs. P. says they quarrelled about Puseyism, but I am given to understand it was because Mrs. C. had the PAS of her at the Haws — you may see what the value of his living is any day in the ‘Clerical Guide;’ but you don’t know what he gives away.

Even Pettipois allows that, in whose eyes the Doctor’s surplice is a scarlet abomination; and so does Pettipois do his duty in his way, and administer not only his tracts and his talk, but his money and his means to his people. As a lord’s son, by the way, Mrs. Ponto is uncommonly anxious that he should marry EITHER of the girls whom Lord Gules does not intend to choose.

Well, although Pon’s income would make up almost as much as that of these three worthies put together — oh, my dear Madam, see in what hopeless penury the poor fellow lives! What tenant can look to HIS forbearance? What poor man can hope for HIS charity? ‘Master’s the best of men,’ honest Stripes says, ‘and when we was in the ridgment a more free-handed chap didn’t live. But the way in which Missus DU scryou, I wonder the young ladies is alive, that I du!’

They live upon a fine governess and fine masters, and have clothes made by Lady Carabas’s own milliner; and their brother rides with earls to cover; and only the best people in the county visit at the Evergreens, and Mrs. Ponto thinks herself a paragon of wives and mothers, and a wonder of the world, for doing all this misery and humbug, and snobbishness, on a thousand a year.

What an inexpressible comfort it was, my dear Madam, when Stripes put my portmanteau in the four-wheeled chaise, and (poor P on being touched with sciatica) drove me over to ‘Carabas Arms’ at Guttlebury, where we took leave. There were some bagmen there in the Commercial Room, and one talked about the house he represented; and another about his dinner, and a third about the Inns on the road, and so forth — a talk, not very wise, but honest and to the purpose — about as good as that of the country gentlemen: and oh, how much pleasanter than listening to Miss Wirt’s show-pieces on the piano, and Mrs. Ponto’s genteel cackle about the fashion and the county families!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/snobs/chapter31.html

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