The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxvi

Snobs and Marriage

‘We Bachelors in Clubs are very much obliged to you,’ says my old school and college companion, Essex Temple, ‘for the opinion which you hold of us. You call us selfish, purple-faced, bloated, and other pretty names. You state, in the simplest possible terms, that we shall go to the deuce. You bid us rot in loneliness, and deny us all claims to honesty, conduct, decent Christian life. Who are you, Mr. Snob, to judge us. Who are you, with your infernal benevolent smirk and grin, that laugh at all our generation?

‘I will tell you my case,’ says Essex Temple; ‘mine and my sister Polly’s, and you may make what you like of it; and sneer at old maids, and bully old bachelors, if you will.

‘I will whisper to you confidentially that my sister was engaged to Serjeant Shirker — a fellow whose talents one cannot deny, and be hanged to them, but whom I have always known to be mean, selfish, and a prig. However, women don’t see these faults in the men whom Love throws in their way. Shirker, who has about as much warmth as an eel, made up to Polly years and years ago, and was no bad match for a briefless barrister, as he was then.

Have you ever read Lord Eldon’s Life? Do you remember how the sordid old Snob narrates his going out to purchase twopence-worth of sprats, which he and Mrs. Scott fried between them? And how he parades his humility, and exhibits his miserable poverty — he who, at that time, must have been making a thousand pounds a year? Well, Shirker was just as proud of his prudence — just as thankful for his own meanness, and of course would not marry without a competency. Who so honourable? Polly waited, and waited faintly, from year to year. HE wasn’t sick at heart; HIS passion never disturbed his six hours’ sleep, or kept his ambition out of mind. He would rather have hugged an attorney any day than have kissed Polly, though she was one of the prettiest creatures in the world; and while she was pining alone upstairs, reading over the stock of half-a-dozen frigid letters that the confounded prig had condescended to write to her, HE, be sure, was never busy with anything but his briefs in chambers — always frigid, rigid, self-satisfied, and at his duty. The marriage trailed on year after year, while Mr. Serjeant Shirker grew to be the famous lawyer he is.

‘Meanwhile, my younger brother, Pump Temple, who was in the 120th Hussars, and had the same little patrimony which fell to the lot of myself and Polly, must fall in love with our cousin, Fanny Figtree, and marry her out of hand. You should have seen the wedding! Six bridesmaids in pink, to hold the fan, bouquet, gloves, scent-bottle, and pocket-handkerchief of the bride; basketfuls of white favours in the vestry, to be pinned on to the footmen and horses; a genteel congregation of curious acquaintance in the pews, a shabby one of poor on the steps; all the carriages of all our acquaintance, whom Aunt Figtree had levied for the occasion; and of course four horses for Mr. Pump’s bridal vehicle.

‘Then comes the breakfast, or DEJEUNER, if you please, with a brass band in the street, and policemen to keep order. The happy bridegroom spends about a year’s income in dresses for the bridesmaids and pretty presents; and the bride must have a TROUSSEAU of laces, satins, jewel-boxes and tomfoolery, to make her fit to be a lieutenant’s wife. There was no hesitation about Pump. He flung about his money as if it had been dross; and Mrs. P. Temple, on the horse Tom Tiddler, which her husband gave her, was the most dashing of military women at Brighton or Dublin.

How old Mrs. Figtree used to bore me and Polly with stories of Pump’s grandeur and the noble company he kept! Polly lives with the Figtrees, as I am not rich enough to keep a home for her.

‘Pump and I have always been rather distant. Not having the slightest notions about horseflesh, he has a natural contempt for me; and in our mother’s lifetime, when the good old lady was always paying his debts and petting him, I’m not sure there was not a little jealousy. It used to be Polly that kept the peace between us.

‘She went to Dublin to visit Pump, and brought back grand accounts of his doings — gayest man about town — Aide-de-Camp to the Lord-Lieutenant — Fanny admired everywhere — Her Excellency godmother to the second boy: the eldest with a string of aristocratic Christian-names that made the grandmother wild with delight. Presently Fanny and Pump obligingly came to London, where the third was born.

‘Polly was godmother to this, and who so loving as she and Pump now? “Oh, Essex,” says she to me, “he is so good, so generous, so fond of his family; so handsome; who can help loving him, and pardoning his little errors?” One day, while Mrs. Pump was yet in the upper regions, and Doctor Fingerfee’s brougham at her door every day, having business at Guildhall, whom should I meet in Cheapside but Pump and Polly? The poor girl looked more happy and rosy than I have seen her these twelve years. Pump, on the contrary, was rather blushing and embarrassed.

‘I couldn’t be mistaken in her face and its look of mischief and triumph. She had been committing some act of sacrifice. I went to the family stockbroker. She had sold out two thousand pounds that morning and given them to Pump. Quarrelling was useless — Pump had the money; he was off to Dublin by the time I reached his mother’s, and Polly radiant still. He was going to make his fortune; he was going to embark the money in the Bog of Allen — I don’t know what. The fact is, he was going to pay his losses upon the last Manchester steeple-chase, and I leave you to imagine how much principal or interest poor Polly ever saw back again.

‘It was more than half her fortune, and he has had another thousand since from her. Then came efforts to stave off ruin and prevent exposure; struggles on all our parts, and sacrifices, that’ (here Mr. Essex Temple began to hesitate)—‘that needn’t be talked of; but they are of no more use than such sacrifices ever are. Pump and his wife are abroad — I don’t like to ask where; Polly has the three children, and Mr. Serjeant Shirker has formally written to break off an engagement, on the conclusion of which Miss Temple must herself have speculated, when she alienated the greater part of her fortune.

‘And here’s your famous theory of poor marriages!’ Essex Temple cries, concluding the above history. ‘How do you know that I don’t want to marry myself? How do you dare sneer at my poor sister? What are we but martyrs of the reckless marriage system which Mr. Snob, forsooth, chooses to advocate?’ And he thought he had the better of the argument, which, strange to say, is not my opinion.

But for the infernal Snob-worship, might not every one of these people be happy? If poor Polly’s happiness lay in linking her tender arms round such a heartless prig as the sneak who has deceived her, she might have been happy now — as happy as Raymond Raymond in the ballad, with the stone statue by his side. She is wretched because Mr. Serjeant Shirker worships money and ambition, and is a Snob and a coward.

If the unfortunate Pump Temple and his giddy hussy of a wife have ruined themselves, and dragged down others into their calamity, it is because they loved rank, and horses, and plate, and carriages, and COURT GUIDES, and millinery, and would sacrifice all to attain those objects.

And who misguides them? If the world were more simple, would not those foolish people follow the fashion? Does not the world love COURT GUIDES, and millinery, and plate, and carriages? Mercy on us! Read the fashionable intelligence; read the COURT CIRCULAR; read the genteel novels; survey mankind, from Pimlico to Red Lion Square, and see how the Poor Snob is aping the Rich Snob; how the Mean Snob is grovelling at the feet of the Proud Snob; and the Great Snob is lording it over his humble brother. Does the idea of equality ever enter Dives’ head? Will it ever? Will the Duchess of Fitzbattleaxe (I like a good name) ever believe that Lady Croesus, her next-door neighbour in Belgrave Square, is as good a lady as her Grace? Will Lady Croesus ever leave off pining the Duchess’s parties, and cease patronizing Mrs. Broadcloth whose husband has not got his Baronetcy yet? Will Mrs. Broadcloth ever heartily shake hands with Mrs. Seedy, and give up those odious calculations about poor dear Mrs. Seedy’s income? Will Mrs. Seedy who is starving in her great house, go and live comfortably in a little one, or in lodgings? Will her landlady, Miss Letsam, ever stop wondering at the familiarity of tradespeople, or rebuking the insolence of Suky, the maid, who wears flowers under her bonnet like a lady?

But why hope, why wish for such times? Do I wish all Snobs to perish? Do I wish these Snob papers to determine? Suicidal fool, art not thou, too, a Snob and a brother?

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