The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Prefatory Remarks

(The necessity of a work on Snobs, demonstrated from History, and proved by felicitous illustrations:— I am the individual destined to write that work — My vocation is announced in terms of great eloquence — I show that the world has been gradually preparing itself for the WORK and the MAN— Snobs are to be studied like other objects of Natural Science, and are a part of the Beautiful (with a large B). They pervade all classes — Affecting instance of Colonel Snobley.)

We have all read a statement, (the authenticity of which I take leave to doubt entirely, for upon what calculations I should like to know is it founded?)— we have all, I say, been favoured by perusing a remark, that when the times and necessities of the world call for a Man, that individual is found. Thus at the French Revolution (which the reader will be pleased to have introduced so early), when it was requisite to administer a corrective dose to the nation, Robespierre was found; a most foul and nauseous dose indeed, and swallowed eagerly by the patient, greatly to the latter’s ultimate advantage: thus, when it became necessary to kick John Bull out of America, Mr. Washington stepped forward, and performed that job to satisfaction: thus, when the Earl of Aldborough was unwell, Professor Holloway appeared with his pills, and cured his lordship, as per advertisement, &c. &c.. Numberless instances might be adduced to show that when a nation is in great want, the relief is at hand; just as in the Pantomime (that microcosm) where when CLOWN wants anything — a warming-pan, a pump-handle, a goose, or a lady’s tippet — a fellow comes sauntering out from behind the side-scenes with the very article in question.

Again, when men commence an undertaking, they always are prepared to show that the absolute necessities of the world demanded its completion. — Say it is a railroad: the directors begin by stating that ‘A more intimate communication between Bathershins and Derrynane Beg is necessary for the advancement of civilization, and demanded by the multitudinous acclamations of the great Irish people.’ Or suppose it is a newspaper: the prospectus states that ‘At a time when the Church is in danger, threatened from without by savage fanaticism and miscreant unbelief, and undermined from within by dangerous Jesuitism, and suicidal Schism, a Want has been universally felt — a suffering people has looked abroad — for an Ecclesiastical Champion and Guardian. A body of Prelates and Gentlemen have therefore stepped forward in this our hour of danger, and determined on establishing the BEADLE newspaper,’ &c. &c. One or other of these points at least is incontrovertible: the public wants a thing, therefore it is supplied with it; or the public is supplied with a thing, therefore it wants it.

I have long gone about with a conviction on my mind that I had a work to do — a Work, if you like, with a great W; a Purpose to fulfil; a chasm to leap into, like Curtius, horse and foot; a Great Social Evil to Discover and to Remedy. That Conviction Has Pursued me for Years. It has Dogged me in the Busy Street; Seated Itself By Me in The Lonely Study; Jogged My Elbow as it Lifted the Wine-cup at The Festive Board; Pursued me through the Maze of Rotten Row; Followed me in Far Lands. On Brighton’s Shingly Beach, or Margate’s Sand, the Voice Outpiped the Roaring of the Sea; it Nestles in my Nightcap, and It Whispers, ‘Wake, Slumberer, thy Work Is Not Yet Done.’ Last Year, By Moonlight, in the Colosseum, the Little Sedulous Voice Came To Me and Said, ‘Smith, or Jones’ (The Writer’s Name is Neither Here nor There), ‘Smith or Jones, my fine fellow, this is all very well, but you ought to be at home writing your great work on SNOBS.

When a man has this sort of vocation it is all nonsense attempting to elude it. He must speak out to the nations; he must unbusm himself, as Jeames would say, or choke and die. ‘Mark to yourself,’ I have often mentally exclaimed to your humble servant, ‘the gradual way in which you have been prepared for, and are now led by an irresistible necessity to enter upon your great labour. First, the World was made: then, as a matter of course, Snobs; they existed for years and years, and were no more known than America. But presently — INGENS PATEBAT TELLUS — the people became darkly aware that there was such a race. Not above five-and-twenty years since, a name, an expressive monosyllable, arose to designate that race. That name has spread over England like railroads subsequently; Snobs are known and recognized throughout an Empire on which I am given to understand the Sun never sets. PUNCH appears at the ripe season, to chronicle their history: and the individual comes forth to write that history in PUNCH.’

I have (and for this gift I congratulate myself with Deep and Abiding Thankfulness) an eye for a Snob. If the Truthful is the Beautiful, it is Beautiful to study even the Snobbish; to track Snobs through history, as certain little dogs in Hampshire hunt out truffles; to sink shafts in society and come upon rich veins of Snobore. Snobbishness is like Death in a quotation from Horace, which I hope you never have heard, ‘beating with equal foot at poor men’s doors, and kicking at the gates of Emperors.’ It is a great mistake to judge of Snobs lightly, and think they exist among the lower classes merely. An immense percentage of Snobs, I believe, is to be found in every rank of this mortal life. You must not judge hastily or vulgarly of Snobs: to do so shows that you are yourself a Snob. I myself have been taken for one.

When I was taking the waters at Bagnigge Wells, and living at the ‘Imperial Hotel’ there, there used to sit opposite me at breakfast, for a short time, a Snob so insufferable that I felt I should never get any benefit of the waters so long as he remained. His name was Lieutenant-Colonel Snobley, of a certain dragoon regiment. He wore japanned boots and moustaches: he lisped, drawled, and left the ‘r’s’ out of his words: he was always flourishing about, and smoothing his lacquered whiskers with a huge flaming bandanna, that filled the room with an odour of musk so stifling that I determined to do battle with that Snob, and that either he or I should quit the Inn. I first began harmless conversations with him; frightening him exceedingly, for he did not know what to do when so attacked, and had never the slightest notion that anybody would take such a liberty with him as to speak first: then I handed him the paper: then, as he would take no notice of these advances, I used to look him in the face steadily and — and use my fork in the light of a toothpick. After two mornings of this practice, he could bear it no longer, and fairly quitted the place.

Should the Colonel see this, will he remember the Gent who asked him if he thought Publicoaler was a fine writer, and drove him from the Hotel with a four-pronged fork?

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