The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxiv

Snobs and Marriage

In that noble romance called ‘Ten Thousand a Year,’ I remember a profoundly pathetic description of the Christian manner in which the hero, Mr. Aubrey, bore his misfortunes. After making a display of the most florid and grandiloquent resignation, and quitting his country mansion, the writer supposes Aubrey to come to town in a post-chaise and pair, sitting bodkin probably between his wife and sister. It is about seven o’clock, carriages are rattling about, knockers are thundering, and tears bedim the fine eyes of Kate and Mrs. Aubrey as they think that in happier times at this hour — their Aubrey used formerly to go out to dinner to the houses of the aristocracy his friends. This is the gist of the passage — the elegant words I forget. But the noble, noble sentiment I shall always cherish and remember. What can be more sublime than the notion of a great man’s relatives in tears about — his dinner? With a few touches, what author ever more happily described A Snob?

We were reading the passage lately at the house of my friend, Raymond Gray, Esquire, Barrister-at-Law, an ingenuous youth without the least practice, but who has luckily a great share of good spirits, which enables him to bide his time, and bear laughingly his humble position in the world. Meanwhile, until it is altered, the stern laws of necessity and the expenses of the Northern Circuit oblige Mr. Gray to live in a very tiny mansion in a very queer small square in the airy neighbourhood of Gray’s Inn Lane.

What is the more remarkable is, that Gray has a wife there. Mrs. Gray was a Miss Harley Baker: and I suppose I need not say THAT is a respectable family. Allied to the Cavendishes, the Oxfords, the Marrybones, they still, though rather DECHUS from their original splendour, hold their heads as high as any. Mrs. Harley Baker, I know, never goes to church without John behind to carry her prayer-book; nor will Miss Welbeck, her sister, walk twenty yards a-shopping without the protection of Figby, her sugar-loaf page; though the old lady is as ugly as any woman in the parish and as tall and whiskery as a grenadier. The astonishment is, how Emily Harley Baker could have stooped to marry Raymond Gray. She, who was the prettiest and proudest of the family; she, who refused Sir Cockle Byles, of the Bengal Service; she, who turned up her little nose at Essex Temple, Q.C., and connected with the noble house of Albyn; she, who had but 4,000L. POUR TOUT POTAGE, to marry a man who had scarcely as much more. A scream of wrath and indignation was uttered by the whole family when they heard of this MESALLIANCE. Mrs. Harley Baker never speaks of her daughter now but with tears in her eyes, and as a ruined creature. Miss Welbeck says, ‘I consider that man a villain;’ and has denounced poor good-natured Mrs. Perkins as a swindler, at whose ball the young people met for the first time.

Mr. and Mrs. Gray, meanwhile, live in Gray’s Inn Lane aforesaid, with a maid-servant and a nurse, whose hands are very full, and in a most provoking and unnatural state of happiness. They have never once thought of crying about their dinner, like the wretchedly puling and Snobbish womankind of my favourite Snob Aubrey, of ‘Ten Thousand a Year;’ but, on the contrary, accept such humble victuals as fate awards them with a most perfect and thankful good grace — nay, actually have a portion for a hungry friend at times — as the present writer can gratefully testify.

I was mentioning these dinners, and some admirable lemon puddings which Mrs. Gray makes, to our mutual friend the great Mr. Goldmore, the East India Director, when that gentleman’s face assumed an expression of almost apoplectic terror, and he gasped out, ‘What! Do they give dinners?’ He seemed to think it a crime and a wonder that such people should dine at all, and that it was their custom to huddle round their kitchen-fire over a bone and a crust. Whenever he meets them in society, it is a matter of wonder to him (and he always expresses his surprise very loud) how the lady can appear decently dressed, and the man have an unpatched coat to his back. I have heard him enlarge upon this poverty before the whole room at the ‘Conflagrative Club,’ to which he and I and Gray have the honour to belong.

We meet at the Club on most days. At half-past four, Goldmore arrives in St. James’s Street, from the City, and you may see him reading the evening papers in the bow-window of the Club, which enfilades Pall Mall — a large plethoric man, with a bunch of seals in a large bow-windowed light waistcoat. He has large coat-tails, stuffed with agents’ letters and papers about companies of which he is a Director. His seals jingle as he walks. I wish I had such a man for an uncle, and that he himself were childless. I would love and cherish him, and be kind to him.

At six o’clock in the full season, when all the world is in St. James’s Street, and the carriages are cutting in and out among the cabs on the stand, and the tufted dandies are showing their listless faces out of ‘White’s,’ and you see respectable grey-headed gentlemen waggling their heads to each other through the plate-glass windows of ‘Arthur’s:’ and the red-coats wish to be Briareian, so as to hold all the gentlemen’s horses; and that wonderful red-coated royal porter is sunning himself before Marlborough House; — at the noon of London time, you see a light-yellow carriage with black horses, and a coachman in a tight floss-silk wig, and two footmen in powder and white and yellow liveries, and a large woman inside in shot-silk, a poodle, and a pink parasol, which drives up to the gate of the Conflagrative, and the page goes and says to Mr. Goldmore (who is perfectly aware of the fact, as he is looking out of the windows with about forty other ‘Conflagrative’ bucks), ‘Your carriage, Sir.’ G. wags his head. ‘Remember, eight o’clock precisely,’ says he to Mulligatawney, the other East India Director; and, ascending the carriage, plumps down by the side of Mrs. Goldmore for a drive in the Park, and then home to Portland Place. As the carriage whirls off, all the young bucks in the Club feel a secret elation. It is a part of their establishment, as it were. That carriage belongs to their Club, and their Club belongs to them. They follow the equipage with interest; they eye it knowingly as they see it in the Park. But halt! we are not come to the Club Snobs yet. O my brave Snobs, what a flurry there will be among you when those papers appear!

Well, you may judge, from the above description, what sort of a man Goldmore is. A dull and pompous Leadenhall Street Croesus, good-natured withal, and affable — cruelly affable. ‘Mr. Goldmore can never forget,’ his lady used to say, ‘that it was Mrs. Gray’s Grandfather who sent him to India; and though that young woman has made the most imprudent marriage in the world, and has left her station in society, her husband seems an ingenious and laborious young man, and we shall do everything in our power to be of use to him.’ So they used to ask the Grays to dinner twice or thrice in a season, when, by way of increasing the kindness, Buff, the butler, is ordered to hire a fly to convey them to and from Portland Place.

Of course I am much too good-natured a friend of both parties not to tell Gray of Goldmore’s opinion in him, and the nabob’s astonishment at the of the briefless barrister having any dinner at all. Indeed, Goldmore’s saying became a joke against Gray amongst us wags at the Club, and we used to ask him when he tasted meat last? whether we should bring him home something from dinner? and cut a thousand other mad pranks with him in our facetious way.

One day, then, coming home from the Club, Mr. Gray conveyed to his wife the astounding information that he had asked Goldmore to dinner.

‘My love,’ says Mrs. Gray, in a tremor, ‘how could you be so cruel? Why, the dining-room won’t hold Mrs. Goldmore.’

‘Make your mind easy, Mrs. Gray; her ladyship is in Paris. It is only Croesus that’s coming, and we are going to the play afterwards — to Sadler’s Wells. Goldmore said at the Club that he thought Shakspeare was a great dramatic poet, and ought to be patronized; whereupon, fired with enthusiasm, I invited him to our banquet.’

‘Goodness gracious! what CAN we give him for dinner? He has two French cooks; you know Mrs. Goldmore is always telling us about them; and he dines with Aldermen every day.’

‘“A plain leg of mutton, my Lucy, I prythee get ready at three; Have it tender, and smoking, and juicy, And what better meat can there be?”’

says Gray, quoting my favourite poet.

‘But the cook is ill; and you know that horrible Pattypan the pastrycook’s ——’

‘Silence, Frau!’ says Gray, in a deep tragedy voice. ‘I will have the ordering of this repast. Do all things as I bid thee. Invite our friend Snob here to partake of the feast. Be mine the task of procuring it.’

‘Don’t be expensive, Raymond,’ says his wife.

‘Peace, thou timid partner of the briefless one. Goldmore’s dinner shall be suited to our narrow means. Only do thou in all things my commands.’ And seeing by the peculiar expression of the rogue’s countenance, that some mad waggery was in preparation, I awaited the morrow with anxiety.

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