The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 4

Describes a Situation Interesting but Not Unexpected.

Only very wilful and silly children cry after the moon. Sensible people who have shed their sweet tooth can’t be expected to be very much interested about honey. We may hope Mr. and Mrs. Philip Firmin enjoyed a pleasant wedding tour and that sort of thing: but as for chronicling its delights or adventures, Miss Sowerby and I vote that the task is altogether needless and immoral. Young people are already much too sentimental, and inclined to idle, maudlin reading. Life is earnest, Miss Sowerby remarks (with a strong inclination to spell “earnest” with a large E). Life is labour. Life is duty. Life is rent. Life is taxes. Life brings its ills, bills, doctor’s pills. Life is not a mere calendar of honey and moonshine. Very good. But without love, Miss Sowerby, life is just death, and I know, my dear, you would no more care to go on with it, than with a new chapter of — of our dear friend Boreham’s new story.

Between ourselves, Philip’s humour is not much more lightsome than that of the ingenious contemporary above named; but if it served to amuse Philip himself, why balk him of a little sport? Well, then: he wrote us a a great ream of lumbering pleasantries, dated, Paris, Thursday. Geneva, Saturday. Summit of Mont Blanc, Monday. Timbuctoo, Wednesday. Pekin, Friday — with facetious descriptions of those spots and cities. He said that in the last-named place, Charlotte’s shoes being worn out, those which she purchased were rather tight for her, and the high heels annoyed her. He stated that the beef at Timbuctoo was not cooked enough for Charlotte’s taste, and that the Emperor’s attentions were becoming rather marked, and so forth; whereas poor little Char’s simple postscripts mentioned no travelling at all; but averred that they were staying at Saint Germain, and as happy as the day was long. As happy as the day was long? As it was short, alas! Their little purse was very slenderly furnished; and in a very, very brief holiday, poor Philip’s few napoleons had almost all rolled away. Luckily, it was pay-day when the young people came back to London. They were almost reduced to the Little Sister’s wedding present: and surely they would rather work than purchase a few hours’ more ease with that poor widow’s mite.

Who talked and was afraid of poverty? Philip, with his two newspapers, averred that he had enough; more than enough; could save; could put by. It was at this time that Ridley, the Academician, painted that sweet picture, No. 1,976 — of course you remember it — ‘Portrait of a Lady.’ He became romantically attached to the second-floor lodger; would have no noisy parties in his rooms, or smoking, lest it should annoy her. Would Mrs. Firmin desire to give entertainments or her own? His studio and sitting-room were at her orders. He fetched and carried. He brought presents, and theatre-boxes. He was her slave of slaves. And she gave him back in return for all this romantic adoration a condescending shake of a soft little hand, and a kind look from a pair of soft eyes, with which the painter was fain to be content. Low of stature, and of misshapen form, J. J. thought himself naturally outcast from marriage and love, and looked in with longing eyes at the paradise which he was forbidden to enter. And Mr. Philip sat within this Palace of Delight; and lolled at his ease, and took his pleasure, and Charlotte ministered to him. And once in a way, my lord sent out a crumb of kindness, or a little cup of comfort, to the outcast at the gate, who blessed his benefactress, and my lord his benefactor, and was thankful. Charlotte had not twopence: but she had a little court. It was the fashion for Philip’s friends to come and bow before her. Very fine gentlemen who had known him at college, and forgot him, or sooth to say, thought him rough and overbearing, now suddenly remembered him, and his young wife had quite fashionable assemblies at her five o’clock tea-table. All men liked her, and Miss Sowerby of course says Mrs. Firmin was a goodnatured, quite harmless little woman, rather pretty, and — you know, my dear — such as men like. Look you, if I like cold veal, dear Sowerby, it is that my tastes are simple. A fine tough old dry camel, no doubt, is a much nobler and more sagacious animal — and perhaps you think a double hump is quite a delicacy.

Yes: Mrs. Philip was a success. She had scarce any female friends as yet, being too poor to go into the world: but she had Mrs. Pendennis, and dear little Mrs. Brandon, and Mrs. Mugford, whose celebrated trap repeatedly brought delicacies for the bride from Hampstead, whose chaise was once or twice a week at Philip’s door, and who was very much exercised and impressed by the fine company whom she met in Mrs. Firmin’s apartments. “Lord Thingambury’s card! what next, Brandon, upon my word? Lady Slowby at home? well, I never, Mrs. B.!” In such artless phrases Mrs. Mugford would express her admiration and astonishment during the early time, and when Charlotte still retained the good lady’s favour. That a state of things far less agreeable ensued, I must own. But though there is ever so small a cloud in the sky even now, let us not heed it for a while, and bask and be content and happy in the sunshine. “Oh, Laura, I tremble when I think how happy I am!” was our little bird’s perpetual warble. “How did I live when I was at home with mamma?” she would say. “Do you know that Philip never even scolds me? If he were to say a rough word, I think I should die; whereas mamma was barking, barking from morning till night, and I didn’t care a pin.” This is what comes of injudicious scolding, as of any other drug. The wholesome medicine loses its effect. The injured patient calmly takes a dose that would frighten or kill a stranger. Poor Mrs. Baynes’s crossed letters came still, and I am not prepared to pledge my word that Charlotte read them all. Mrs. B. offered to come and superintend and take care of dear Philip when an interesting event should take place. But Mrs. Brandon was already engaged for this important occasion, and Charlotte became so alarmed lest her mother should invade her, that Philip wrote curtly, and positively forbade Mrs. Baynes. You remember the picture, ‘A Cradle,’ by J. J.? the two little rosy feet brought I don’t know how many hundred guineas a piece to Mr. Ridley. The mother herself did not study babydom more fondly and devotedly than Ridley did in the ways, looks, features, anatomies, attitudes, baby-clothes, of this first-born infant of Charlotte and Philip Firmin. My wife is very angry because I have forgotten whether the first of the young Firmin brood was a boy or a girl, and says I shall forget the names of my own children next. Well? At this distance of time, I think it was a boy — for their boy is very tall, you know — a great deal taller — Not a boy? Then, between ourselves, I have no doubt it was a — “A goose,” says the lady, which is not even reasonable.

This is certain, we all thought the young mother looked very pretty, with her pink cheeks and beaming eyes, as she bent over the little infant. J. J. says he thinks there is something heavenly in the looks of young mothers at that time. Nay, he goes so far as to declare that a tigress at the Zoological Gardens looks beautiful and gentle as she bends her black nozzle over her cubs. And if a tigress, why not Mrs. Philip? O ye powers of sentiment, in what a state J. J. was about this young woman! There is a brightness in a young mother’s eye: there are pearl and rose tints on her cheek, which are sure to fascinate a painter. This artist used to hang about Mrs. Brandon’s rooms, till it was droll to see him. I believe he took off his shoes in his own studio, so as not to disturb by his creaking the lady overhead. He purchased the most preposterous mug, and other presents, for the infant. Philip went out to his club or his newspaper as he was ordered to do. But Mr. J. J. could not be got away from Thornhaugh Street, so that little Mrs. Brandon laughed at him — absolutely laughed at him.

During all this while Philip and his wife continued in the very greatest favour with Mr. and Mrs. Mugford, and were invited by that worthy couple to go with their infant to Mugford’s villa at Hampstead, where a change of air might do good to dear baby and dear mamma. Philip went to this village retreat. Streets and terraces now cover over the house and grounds which worthy Mugford inhabited, and which people say he used to call his “Russian Irby.” He had amassed in a small space a heap of country pleasures. He had a little garden; a little paddock; a little greenhouse; a little cucumber-frame; a little stable for his little trap; a little Guernsey cow; a little dairy; a little pigsty; and with this little treasure the good man was not a little content. He loved and praised everything that was his. No man admired his own port more than Mugford, or paid more compliments to his own butter and home-baked bread. He enjoyed his own happiness. He appreciated his own worth. He loved to talk of the days when he was a poor boy on London streets, and now — “Now try that glass of port, my boy, and say whether the Lord Mayor has got any better,” he would say, winking at his glass and his company. To be virtuous, to be lucky, and constantly to think and own that you are so — is not this true happiness? To sing hymns in praise of himself is a charming amusement — at least to the performer; and anybody who dined at Mugford’s table was pretty sure to hear some of this music after dinner. I am sorry to say Philip did not care for this trumpet-blowing. He was frightfully bored at Haverstock Hill; and when bored, Mr. Philip is not altogether an agreeable companion. He will yawn in a man’s face. He will contradict you freely. He will say the mutton is tough, or the wine not fit to drink; that such and such an orator is over-rated, and such and such a politician is a fool. Mugford and his guest had battles after dinner, had actually high words. “What-hever is it, Mugford? and what were you quarrelling about in the dining-room?” asks Mrs. Mugford. “Quarrelling? It’s only the sub-editor snoring,” said the gentleman with a flushed face. “My wine ain’t good enough for him, and now my gentleman must put his boots upon a chair and go to sleep under my nose. He is a cool hand, and no mistake, Mrs. M.” At this juncture poor little Char would gently glide down from a visit to her baby: and would play something on the piano, and soothe the rising anger; and then Philip would come in from a little walk in the shrubberies, where he had been blowing a little cloud. Ah! there was a little cloud rising indeed:— quite a little one — nay, not so little. When you consider that Philip’s bread depended on the goodwill of these people, you will allow that his friends might be anxious regarding the future. A word from Mugford, and Philip and Charlotte and the child were adrift on the world. And these points Mr. Firmin would freely admit, while he stood discoursing of his own affairs (as he loved to do), his hands in his pockets, and his back warming at our fire.

“My dear fellow,” says the candid bridegroom, “these things are constantly in my head. I used to talk about ’em to Char, but I don’t now. They disturb her, the poor thing; and she clutches hold of the baby; and — and it tears my heart out to think that any grief should come to her. I try and do my best, my good people — but when I’m bored I can’t help showing I’m bored, don’t you see? I can’t be a hypocrite. No, not for two hundred a year, or for twenty thousand. You can’t make a silk purse out of that sow’s -ear of a Mugford. A very good man. I don’t say no. A good father, a good husband, a generous host, and a most tremendous bore, and cad. Be agreeable to him? How can I be agreeable when I am being killed? He has a story about Leigh Hunt being put into prison where Mugford, bringing him proofs, saw Lord Byron. I cannot keep awake during that story any longer; or, if awake, I grind my teeth, and swear inwardly, so that I know I’m dreadful to hear and see. Well, Mugford has yellow satin sofas in the ‘droaring-room’ — ”

“Oh, Philip!” says a lady; and two or three circumjacent children set up an insane giggle, which is speedily and sternly silenced.

“I tell you she calls it ‘droaring-room.’ You know she does, as well as I do. She is a good woman: a kind woman: a hot-tempered woman. I hear her scolding the servants in the kitchen with immense vehemence, and at prodigious length. But how can Char frankly be the friend of a woman who calls a drawing-room a droaring-room? With our dear little friend in Thornhaugh Street, it is different. She makes no pretence even at equality. Here is a patron and patroness, don’t you see? When Mugford walks me round his paddock and gardens, and says, ‘Look year, Firmin;’ or scratches one of his pigs on the back, and says, ‘We’ll ‘ave a cut of this fellow on Saturday’" — (explosive attempts at insubordination and derision on the part of the children again are severely checked by the parental authorities) — "‘we’ll ‘ave a cut of this fellow on Saturday,’ I felt inclined to throw him or myself into the trough over the palings. Do you know that that man put that hand into his pocket, and offered me some filberts?”

Here I own the lady to whom Philip was addressing himself turned pale and shuddered.

“I can no more be that man’s friend que celui du domestique qui vient d’apporter le what-d’you-call’em? le coal-scuttle” — (John entered the room with that useful article during Philip’s oration — and we allowed the elder children to laugh this time, for the fact is, none of us knew the French for coal-scuttle, and I will wager there is no such word in Chambaud). “This holding back is not arrogance,” Philip went on. “This reticence is not want of humility. To serve that man honestly is one thing; to make friends with him, to laugh at his dull jokes, is to make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, is subserviency and hypocrisy on my part. I ought to say to him,” “Mr. Mugford, I will give you my work for your wage; I will compile your paper, I will produce an agreeable miscellany containing proper proportions of news, politics, and scandal, put titles to your paragraphs, see the Pall Mall Gazette shipshape through the press, and go home to my wife and dinner. You are my employer, but you are not my friend, and — bless my soul! there is five o’clock striking!” (The time-piece in our drawing-room gave that announcement as he was speaking). “We have what Mugford calls a white-choker dinner to-day, in honour of the pig!” And with this Philip plunges out of the house, and I hope reached Hampstead in time for the entertainment.

Philip’s friends in Westminster felt no little doubt about his prospects, and the Little Sister shared their alarm. “They are not fit to be with those folks,” Mrs. Brandon said, “though as for Mrs. Philip, dear thing, I am sure nobody can ever quarrel with her. With me it’s different. I never had no education you know — no more than the Mugfords, but I don’t like to see my Philip sittin’ down as if he was the guest and equal of that fellar.” Nor indeed did it ever enter that fellar’s ’ head that Mr. Robert Mugford could be Mr. Philip Firmin’s equal. With our knowledge of the two men, then, we all dismally looked forward to a rupture between Firmin and his patron.

As for the New York journal, we were more easy in respect to Philip’s success in that quarter. Several of his friends made a vow to help him. We clubbed clubstories; we begged from our polite friends anecdotes (that would bear sea-transport) of the fashionable world. We happened to overhear the most remarkable conversations between the most influential public characters who had no secrets from us. We had astonishing intelligence at most European courts; exclusive reports of the Emperor of Russia’s last joke — his last? his next, very likely. We knew the most secret designs of the Austrian Privy Council: the views which the Pope had in his eye; who was the latest favourite of the Grand Turk, and so on. The Upper Ten Thousand at New York were supplied with a quantity of information which I trust profited them. It was “Palmerston remarked yesterday at dinner,” or, “The good old Duke said last night at Apsley House to the French Ambassador,” and the rest. The letters were signed “Philalethes;” and, as nobody was wounded by the shafts of our long bow, I trust Mr. Philip and his friends may be pardoned for twanging it. By information procured from learned female personages, we even managed to give accounts, more or less correct, of the latest ladies’ fashions. We were members of all the clubs; we were present at the routs and assemblies of the political leaders of both sides. We had little doubt that Philalethes would be successful at New York, and looked forward to an increased payment for his labours. At the end of the first year of Philip Firmin’s married life, we made a calculation by which it was clear that he had actually saved money. His expenses, to be sure, were increased. There was a baby in the nursery: but there was a little bag of sovereigns in the cupboard, and the thrifty young fellow hoped to add still more to his store.

We were relieved at finding that Firmin and his wife were not invited to repeat their visit to their employer’s house at Hampstead. An occasional invitation to dinner was still sent to the young people; but Mugford, a haughty man in his way, with a proper spirit of his own, had the good sense to see that much intimacy could not arise between him and his sub-editor, and magnanimously declined to be angry at the young fellow’s easy superciliousness. I think that indefatigable Little Sister was the peacemaker between the houses of Mugford and Firmin junior, and that she kept both Philip and his master on their good behaviour. At all events, and when a quarrel did arise between them, I grieve to have to own it was poor Philip who was in the wrong.

You know in the old, old days the young king and queen never gave any christening entertainment without neglecting to invite some old fairy, who was furious at the omission. I am sorry to say Charlotte’s mother was so angry at not being appointed godmother to the new baby, that she omitted to make her little quarterly payment of 12l. 10s.; and has altogether discontinued that payment from that remote period up to the present time; so that Philip says his wife has brought him a fortune of 45l., paid in four instalments. There was the first quarter paid when the old lady “would not be beholden to a man like him.” Then there came a second quarter — and then — but I daresay I shall be able to tell when and how Philip’s mamma-in-law paid the rest of her poor little daughter’s fortune.

Well, Regent’s Park is a fine healthy place for infantine diversion, and I don’t think Philip at all demeaned himself in walking there with his wife, her little maid, and his baby on his arm. “He is as rude as a bear, and his manners are dreadful; but he has a good heart, that I will say for him,” Mugford said to me. In his drive from London to Hampstead, Mugford once or twice met the little family group, of which his subeditor formed the principal figure; and for the sake of Philip’s young wife and child Mr. M. pardoned the young man’s vulgarity, and treated him with long-suffering.

Poor as he was, this was his happiest time, my friend is disposed to think. A young child, a young wife, whose whole life was a tender caress of love for child and husband, a young husband watching both:— I recal the group, as we used often to see it in those days, and see a something sacred in the homely figures. On the wife’s bright face what a radiant happiness there is, and what a rapturous smile! Over the sleeping infant and the happy mother the father looks with pride and thanks in his eyes. Happiness and gratitude fill his simple heart, and prayer involuntary to the Giver of good, that he may have strength to do his duty as father, husband; that he may be enabled to keep want and care from those dear innocent beings; that he may defend them, befriend them, leave them a good name. I am bound to say that Philip became thrifty and saving for the sake of Char and the child: that he came home early of nights: that he thought his child a wonder; that he never tired of speaking about that infant in our house, about its fatness, its strength, its weight, its wonderful early talents and humour. He felt himself a man now for the first time, he said. Life had been play and folly until now. And now especially he regretted that he had been idle, and had neglected his opportunities as a lad. Had he studied for the bar, he might have made that profession now profitable, and a source of honour and competence to his family. Our friend estimated his own powers very humbly: I am sure he was not the less amiable on account of that humility. O fortunate he, of whom Love is the teacher, the guide and master, the reformer and chastener! Where was our friend’s former arrogance, self-confidence, and boisterous profusion? He was at the feet of his wife and child. He was quite humbled about himself; or gratified himself in fondling and caressing these. They taught him, he said: and, as he thought of them, his heart turned in awful thanks to the gracious heaven which had given them to him. As the tiny infant hand closes round his fingers, I can see the father bending over mother and child, and interpret those maybe unspoken blessings which he asks and bestows Happy wife, happy husband! However poor his little home may be, it holds treasures and wealth inestimable: whatever storms may threaten without, the home fireside is brightened by the welcome of the dearest eyes.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00