The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xl

Club Snobs

Both sorts of young men, mentioned in my last under the flippant names of Wiggle and Waggle, may be found in tolerable plenty, I think, in Clubs. Wiggle and Waggle are both idle. They come of the middle classes. One of them very likely makes believe to be a barrister, and the other has smart apartments about Piccadilly. They are a sort of second-chop dandies; they cannot imitate that superb listlessness of demeanour, and that admirable vacuous folly which distinguish the noble and high-born chiefs of the race; but they lead lives almost as bad (were it but for the example), and are personally quite as useless. I am not going to arm a thunderbolt, and launch it at the beads of these little Pall Mall butterflies. They don’t commit much public harm, or private extravagance. They don’t spend a thousand pounds for diamond earrings for an Opera-dancer, as Lord Tarquin can: neither of them ever set up a public-house or broke the bank of a gambling-club, like the young Earl of Martingale. They have good points, kind feelings, and deal honourably in money-transactions — only in their characters of men of second-rate pleasure about town, they and their like are so utterly mean, self-contented, and absurd, that they must not be omitted in a work treating on Snobs.

Wiggle has been abroad, where he gives you to understand that his success among the German countesses and Italian princesses, whom he met at the TABLES-D’HOTE, was perfectly terrific. His rooms are hung round with pictures of actresses and ballet-dancers. He passes his mornings in a fine dressing-gown, burning pastilles, and reading ‘Don Juan’ and French novels (by the way, the life of the author of ‘Don Juan,’ as described by himself, was the model of the life of a Snob). He has twopenny-halfpenny French prints of women with languishing eyes, dressed in dominoes — guitars, gondolas, and so forth — and tells you stories about them.

‘It’s a bad print,’ says he, ‘I know, but I’ve a reason for liking it. It reminds me of somebody — somebody I knew in other climes. You have heard of the Principessa di Monte Pulciano? I met her at Rimini. Dear, dear Francesca! That fair-haired, bright-eyed thing in the Bird of Paradise and the Turkish Simar with the love-bird on her finger, I’m sure must have been taken from — from somebody perhaps whom you don’t know — but she’s known at Munich, Waggle my boy — everybody knows the Countess Ottilia de Eulenschreckenstein. Gad, sir, what a beautiful creature she was when I danced with her on the birthday of Prince Attila of Bavaria, in ‘44. Prince Carloman was our vis-a-vis, and Prince Pepin danced the same CONTREDANSE. She had a Polyanthus in her bouquet. Waggle, I HAVE IT NOW.’ His countenance assumes an agonized and mysterious expression, and he buries his head in the sofa cushions, as if plunging into a whirlpool of passionate recollections.

Last year he made a considerable sensation by having on his table a morocco miniature-case locked by a gold key, which he always wore round his neck, and on which was stamped a serpent — emblem of eternity — with the letter M in the circle. Sometimes he laid this upon his little morocco writing-table, as if it were on an altar — generally he had flowers upon it; in the middle of a conversation he would start up and kiss it. He would call out from his bed-room to his valet, ‘Hicks, bring me my casket!’

‘I don’t know who it is,’ Waggle would say. ‘Who DOES know that fellow’s intrigues! Desborough Wiggle, sir, is the slave of passion. I suppose you have heard the story of the Italian princess locked up in the Convent of Saint Barbara, at Rimini? He hasn’t told you? Then I’m not at liberty to speak. Or the countess, about whom he nearly had the duel with Prince Witikind of Bavaria? Perhaps you haven’t even heard about that beautiful girl at Pentonville, daughter of a most respectable Dissenting clergyman. She broke her heart when she found he was engaged (to a most lovely creature of high family, who afterwards proved false to him), and she’s now in Hanwell.’

Waggle’s belief in his friend amounts to frantic adoration. ‘What a genius he is, if he would but apply himself!’ he whispers to me. ‘He could be anything, sir, but for his passions. His poems are the most beautiful things you ever saw. He’s written a continuation of “Don Juan,” from his own adventures. Did you ever read his lines to Mary? They’re superior to Byron, sir — superior to Byron.’

I was glad to hear this from so accomplished a critic as Waggle; for the fact is, I had composed the verses myself for honest Wiggle one day, whom I found at his chambers plunged in thought over a very dirty old-fashioned album, in which he had not as yet written a single word.

‘I can’t,’ says he. ‘Sometimes I can write whole cantos, and today not a line. Oh, Snob! such an opportunity! Such a divine creature! She’s asked me to write verses for her album, and I can’t.’

‘Is she rich?’ said I. ‘I thought you would never marry any but an heiress.’

‘Oh, Snob! she’s the most accomplished, highly-connected creature! — and I can’t get out a line.’

‘How will you have it?’ says I. ‘Hot, with sugar?’

‘Don’t, don’t! You trample on the most sacred feelings, Snob. I want something wild and tender — like Byron. I want to tell her that amongst the festive balls, and that sort of thing, you know — I only think about her, you know — that I scorn the world, and am weary of it, you know, and — something about a gazelle, and a bulbul, you know.’

‘And a yataghan to finish off with,’ the present writer observed, and we began:—

‘TO MARY

‘I seem, in the midst of the crowd, The lightest of all; My laughter rings cheery and loud, In banquet and ball. My lip hath its smiles and its sneers, For all men to see; But my soul, and my truth, and my tears, Are for thee, are for thee!’

‘Do you call THAT neat, Wiggle?’ says I. ‘I declare it almost makes me cry myself.’

‘Now suppose,’ says Wiggle, ‘we say that all the world is at my feet — make her jealous, you know, and that sort of thing — and that — that I’m going to TRAVEL, you know? That perhaps may work upon her feelings.’

So WE (as this wretched prig said) began again:—

‘Around me they flatter and fawn — The young and the old, The fairest are ready to pawn Their hearts for my gold. They sue me — I laugh as I spurn The slaves at my knee, But in faith and in fondness I turn Unto thee, unto thee!’

‘Now for the travelling, Wiggle my boy!’ And I began, in a voice choked with emotion —

‘Away! for my heart knows no rest Since you taught it to feel; The secret must die in my breast I burn to reveal; The passion I may not . . . .’

‘I say, Snob!’ Wiggle here interrupted the excited bard (just as I was about to break out into four lines so pathetic that they would drive you into hysterics). ‘I say — ahem — couldn’t you say that I was — a — military man, and that there was some danger of my life?’

‘You a military man? — danger of your life? What the deuce do you mean?’

‘Why,’ said Wiggle, blushing a great deal, ‘I told her I was going out — on — the — Ecuador — expedition.’

‘You abominable young impostor,’ I exclaimed. ‘Finish the poem for yourself!’ And so he did, and entirely out of all metre, and bragged about the work at the Club as his own performance.

Poor Waggle fully believed in his friend’s genius, until one day last week he came with a grin on his countenance to the Club, and said, ‘Oh, Snob, I’ve made SUCH a discovery! Going down to the skating today, whom should I see but Wiggle walking with that splendid woman — that lady of illustrious family and immense fortune, Mary, you know, whom he wrote the beautiful verses about. She’s five-and-forty. She’s red hair. She’s a nose like a pump-handle. Her father made his fortune by keeping a ham-and-beef shop, and Wiggle’s going to marry her next week.’

‘So much the better, Waggle, my young friend,’ I exclaimed. ‘Better for the sake of womankind that this dangerous dog should leave off lady-killing — this Blue-Beard give up practice. Or, better rather for his own sake. For as there is not a word of truth in any of those prodigious love-stories which you used to swallow, nobody has been hurt except Wiggle himself, whose affections will now centre in the ham-and-beef shop. There ARE people, Mr. Waggle, who do these things in earnest, and hold a good rank in the world too. But these are not subjects for ridicule, and though certainly Snobs, are scoundrels likewise. Their cases go up to a higher Court.’

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