The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter iv

The Court Circular, and Its Influence On Snobs

Example is the best of precepts; so let us begin with a true and authentic story, showing how young aristocratic snobs are reared, and how early their Snobbishness may be made to bloom. A beautiful and fashionable lady —(pardon, gracious madam, that your story should be made public; but it is so moral that it ought to be known to the universal world)— told me that in her early youth she had a little acquaintance, who is now indeed a beautiful and fashionable lady too. In mentioning Miss Snobky, daughter of Sir Snobby Snobky, whose presentation at Court caused such a sensation, need I say more?

When Miss Snobky was so very young as to be in the nursery regions, and to walk off early mornings in St. James’s Park, protected by a French governess and followed by a huge hirsute flunkey in the canary coloured livery of the Snobkys, she used occasionally in these promenades to meet with young Lord Claude Lollipop, the Marquis of Sillabub’s younger son. In the very height of the season, from some unexplained cause, the Snobkys suddenly determined upon leaving town. Miss Snobky spoke to her female friend and confidante. ‘What will poor Claude Lollipop say when he hears of my absence?’ asked the tender-hearted child.

‘Oh, perhaps he won’t hear of it,’ answers the confidante.

‘MY DEAR, HE WILL READ IT IN THE PAPERS,’ replied the dear little fashionable rogue of seven years old. She knew already her importance, and how all the world of England, how all the would-be-genteel people, how all the silver-fork worshippers, how all the tattle-mongers, how all the grocers’ ladies, the tailors’ ladies, the attorneys’ and merchants’ ladies, and the people living at Clapham and Brunswick Square — who have no more chance of consorting with a Snobky than my beloved reader has of dining with the Emperor of China — yet watched the movements of the Snobkys with interest and were glad to know when they came to London and left it.

Here is the account of Miss Snobky’s dress, and that of her mother, Lady Snobky, from the papers:—

‘MISS SNOBKY.

Habit de Cour, composed of a yellow nankeen illusion dress over a slip of rich pea-green corduroy, trimmed en tablier, with bouquets of Brussels sprouts: the body and sleeves handsomely trimmed with calimanco, and festooned with a pink train and white radishes. Head-dress, carrots and lappets.

‘LADY SNOBKY.

‘Costume de Cour, composed of a train of the most superb Pekin bandannas, elegantly trimmed with spangles, tinfoil, and red-tape. Bodice and underdress of sky-blue velveteen, trimmed with bouffants and noeuds of bell-pulls. Stomacher a muffin. Head-dress a bird’s nest, with a bird of paradise, over a rich brass knocker en ferroniere. This splendid costume, by Madame Crinoline, of Regent Street, was the object of universal admiration.’

This is what you read. Oh, Mrs. Ellis! Oh, mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers of England, this is the sort of writing which is put in the newspapers for you! How can you help being the mothers, daughters, &c. of Snobs, so long as this balderdash is set before you?

You stuff the little rosy foot of a Chinese young lady of fashion into a slipper that is about the size of a salt-cruet, and keep the poor little toes there imprisoned and twisted up so long that the dwarfishness becomes irremediable. Later, the foot would not expand to the natural size were you to give her a washing-tub for a shoe and for all her life she has little feet, and is a cripple. Oh, my dear Miss Wiggins, thank your stars that those beautiful feet of yours — though I declare when you walk they are so small as to be almost invisible — thank your stars that society never so practised upon them; but look around and see how many friends of ours in the highest circles have had their BRAINS so prematurely and hopelessly pinched and distorted.

How can you expect that those poor creatures are to move naturally when the world and their parents have mutilated them so cruelly? As long as a COURT CIRCULAR exists, how the deuce are people whose names are chronicled in it ever to believe themselves the equals of the cringing race which daily reads that abominable trash? I believe that ours is the only country in the world now where the COURT CIRCULAR remains in full flourish — where you read, ‘This day his Royal Highness Prince Pattypan was taken an airing in his go-cart.’ ‘The Princess Pimminy was taken a drive, attended by her ladies of honour, and accompanied by her doll,’ &c. We laugh at the solemnity with which Saint Simon announces that SA MAJESTE SE MEDICAMENTE AUJOURD’HUI. Under our very noses the same folly is daily going on. That wonderful and mysterious man, the author of the COURT CIRCULAR, drops in with his budget at the newspaper offices every night. I once asked the editor of a paper to allow me to lie in wait and see him.

I am told that in a kingdom where there is a German King-Consort (Portugal it must be, for the Queen of that country married a German Prince, who is greatly admired and respected by the natives), whenever the Consort takes the diversion of shooting among the rabbit-warrens of Cintra, or the pheasant-preserve of Mafra, he has a keeper to load his guns, as a matter of course, and then they are handed to the nobleman, his equerry, and the nobleman hands them to the Prince who blazes away — gives back the discharged gun to the nobleman, who gives it to the keeper, and so on. But the Prince WON’T TAKE THE GUN FROM THE HANDS OF THE LOADER.

As long as this unnatural and monstrous etiquette continues, Snobs there must be. The three persons engaged in this transaction are, for the time being, Snobs.

1. The keeper — the least Snob of all, because he is discharging his daily duty; but he appears here as a Snob, that is to say, in a position of debasement before another human being (the Prince), with whom he is allowed to communicate through another party. A free Portuguese gamekeeper, who professes himself to be unworthy to communicate directly with any person, confesses himself to be a Snob.

2. The nobleman in waiting is a Snob. If it degrades the Prince to receive the gun from the gamekeeper, it is degrading to the nobleman in waiting to execute that service. He acts as a Snob towards the keeper, whom he keeps from communication with the Prince — a Snob to the Prince, to whom he pays a degrading homage.

3. The King-Consort of Portugal is a Snob for insulting fellow-men in this way. There’s no harm in his accepting the services of the keeper directly; but indirectly he insults the service performed, and the servants who perform it; and therefore, I say, respectfully, is a most undoubted, though royal Snob.

And then you read in the DIARIO DO GOBERNO—‘Yesterday his Majesty the King took the diversion of shooting the woods off Cintra, attended by Colonel the honourable Whiskerando Sombrero. His Majesty returned to the Necessidades to lunch, at,’ &c. &c..

Oh! that COURT CIRCULAR! once more, I exclaim.

Down with the COURT CIRCULAR— that engine and propagator of Snobbishness! I promise to subscribe for a year to any daily paper that shall come out without a COURT CIRCULAR— were it the MORNING HERALD itself. When I read that trash, I rise in my wrath; I feel myself disloyal, a regicide, a member of the Calf’s Head Club. The only COURT CIRCULAR story which ever pleased me, was that of the King of Spain, who in great part was roasted, because there was not time for the Prime Minister to command the Lord Chamberlain to desire the Grand Gold Stick to order the first page in waiting to bid the chief of the flunkeys to request the House-maid of Honour to bring up a pail of water to put his Majesty out.

I am like the Pasha of three tails, to whom the Sultan sends HIS COURT CIRCULAR, the bowstring.

It CHOKES me. May its usage be abolished for ever.

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