The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter v

What Snobs Admire

Now let us consider how difficult it is even for great men to escape from being Snobs. It is very well for the reader, whose fine feelings are disgusted by the assertion that Kings, Princes, Lords, are Snobs, to say ‘You are confessedly a Snob yourself. In professing to depict Snobs, it is only your own ugly mug which you are copying with a Narcissus-like conceit and fatuity.’ But I shall pardon this explosion of ill-temper on the part of my constant reader, reflecting upon the misfortune of his birth and country. It is impossible for ANY Briton, perhaps, not to be a Snob in some degree. If people can be convinced of this fact, an immense point is gained, surely. If I have pointed out the disease, let us hope that other scientific characters may discover the remedy.

If you, who are a person of the middle ranks of life, are a Snob — you whom nobody flatters particularly; you who have no toadies; you whom no cringing flunkeys or shopmen bow out of doors; you whom the policeman tells to move on; you who are jostled in the crowd of this world, and amongst the Snobs our brethren: consider how much harder it is for a man to escape who has not your advantages, and is all his life long subject to adulation; the butt of meanness; consider how difficult it is for the Snobs’ idol not to be a Snob.

As I was discoursing with my friend Eugenio in this impressive way, Lord Buckram passed us, the son of the Marquis of Bagwig, and knocked at the door of the family mansion in Red Lion Square. His noble father and mother occupied, as everybody knows, distinguished posts in the Courts of late Sovereigns. The Marquis was Lord of the Pantry, and her Ladyship, Lady of the Powder Closet to Queen Charlotte. Buck (as I call him, for we are very familiar) gave me a nod as he passed, and I proceeded to show Eugenio how it was impossible that this nobleman should not be one of ourselves, having been practised upon by Snobs all his life.

His parents resolved to give him a public education, and sent him to school at the earliest possible period. The Reverend Otto Rose, D.D., Principal of the Preparatory Academy for young noblemen and gentlemen, Richmond Lodge, took this little Lord in hand, and fell down and worshipped him. He always introduced him to fathers and mothers who came to visit their children at the school. He referred with pride and pleasure to the most noble the Marquis of Bagwig, as one of the kind friends and patrons of his Seminary. He made Lord Buckram a bait for such a multiplicity of pupils, that a new wing was built to Richmond Lodge, and thirty-five new little white dimity beds were added to the establishment. Mm. Rose used to take out the little Lord in the one-horse chaise with her when she paid visits, until the Rector’s lady and the Surgeon’s wife almost died with envy. His own son and Lord Buckram having been discovered robbing an orchard together, the Doctor flogged his own flesh and blood most unmercifully for leading the young Lord astray. He parted from him with tears. There was always a letter directed to the Most Noble the Marquis ef Bagwig, on the Doctor’s study table, when any visitors were received by him.

At Eton, a great deal of Snobbishness was thrashed out of Lord Buckram, and he was birched with perfect impartiality. Even there, however, a select band of sucking tuft-hunters followed him. Young Croesus lent him three-and-twenty bran-new sovereigns out of his father’s bank. Young Snaily did his exercises for him, and tried ‘to know him at home;’ but Young Bull licked him in a fight of fifty-five minutes, and he was caned several times with great advantage for not sufficiently polishing his master Smith’s shoes. Boys are not ALL toadies in the morning of life.

But when he went to the University, crowds of toadies sprawled over him. The tutors toadied him. The fellows in hall paid him great clumsy compliments. The Dean never remarked his absence from Chapel, or heard any noise issuing from his rooms. A number of respectable young fellows, (it is among the respectable, the Baker Street class, that Snobbishness flourishes, more than among any set of people in England)— a number of these clung to him like leeches. There was no end now to Croesus’s loans of money; and Buckram couldn’t ride out with the hounds, but Snaily (a timid creature by nature) was in the field, and would take any leap at which his friend chose to ride. Young Rose came up to the same College, having been kept back for that express purpose by his father. He spent a quarter’s allowance in giving Buckram a single dinner; but he knew there was always pardon for him for extravagance in such a cause; and a ten-pound note always came to him from home when he mentioned Buckram’s name in a letter. What wild visions entered the brains of Mrs. Podge and Miss Podge, the wife and daughter of the Principal of Lord Buckram’s College, I don’t know, but that reverend old gentleman was too profound a flunkey by nature ever for one minute to think that a child of his could marry a nobleman. He therefore hastened on his daughter’s union with Professor Crab.

When Lord Buckram, after taking his honorary degree, (for Alma Mater is a Snob, too, and truckles to a Lord like the rest,)— when Lord Buckram went abroad to finish his education, you all know what dangers he ran, and what numbers of caps were set at him. Lady Leach and her daughters followed him from Paris to Rome, and from Rome to Baden-Baden; Miss Leggitt burst into tears before his face when he announced his determination to quit Naples, and fainted on the neck of her mamma: Captain Macdragon, of Macdragonstown, County Tipperary, called upon him to ‘explene his intintions with respect to his sisther, Miss Amalia Macdragon, of Macdragonstown,’ and proposed to shoot him unless he married that spotless and beautiful young creature, who was afterwards led to the altar by Mr. Muff, at Cheltenham. If perseverance and forty thousand pounds down could have tempted him, Miss Lydia Croesus would certainly have been Lady Buckram. Count Towrowski was glad to take her with half the meney, as all the genteel world knows.

And now, perhaps, the reader is anxious to know what sort of a man this is who wounded so many ladies’ hearts, and who has been such a prodigious favourite with men. If we were to describe him it would be personal. Besides, it really does not matter in the least what sort of a man he is, or what his personal qualities are.

Suppose he is a young nobleman of a literary turn, and that he published poems ever so foolish and feeble, the Snobs would purchase thousands of his volumes: the publishers (who refused my Passion-Flowers, and my grand Epic at any price) would give him his own. Suppose he is a nobleman of a jovial turn, and has a fancy for wrenching off knockers, frequenting ginshops, and half murdering policemen: the public will sympathize good-naturedly with his amusements, and say he is a hearty, honest fellow. Suppose he is fond of play and the turf; and has a fancy to be a blackleg, and occasionally condescends to pluck a pigeon at cards; the public will pardon him, and many honest people will court him, as they would court a housebreaker if he happened to be a Lord. Suppose he is an idiot; yet, by the glorious constitution, he is good enough to govern US. Suppose he is an honest, highminded gentleman; so much the better for himself. But he may be an ass, and yet respected; or a ruffian, and yet be exceedingly popular; or a rogue, and yet excuses will be found for him. Snobs will still worship him. Male Snobs will do him honour, and females look kindly upon him, however hideous he may be.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/snobs/chapter5.html

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