GEORGE FITZ-BOODLE, ESQUIRE, TO OLIVER YORKE, ESQUIRE.
OMNIUM CLUB, May 20, 1842.
DEAR SIR — I have always been considered the third-best whist-player in Europe, and (though never betting more than five pounds) have for many years past added considerably to my yearly income by my skill in the game, until the commencement of the present season, when a French gentleman, Monsieur Lalouette, was admitted to the club where I usually play. His skill and reputation were so great, that no men of the club were inclined to play against us two of a side; and the consequence has been, that we have been in a manner pitted against one another. By a strange turn of luck (for I cannot admit the idea of his superiority), Fortune, since the Frenchman’s arrival, has been almost constantly against me, and I have lost two-and-thirty nights in the course of a couple of score of nights’ play.
Everybody knows that I am a poor man; and so much has Lalouette’s luck drained my finances, that only last week I was obliged to give him that famous gray cob on which you have seen me riding in the Park (I can’t afford a thoroughbred, and hate a cocktail) — I was, I say, forced to give him up my cob in exchange for four ponies which I owed him. Thus, as I never walk, being a heavy man whom nobody cares to mount, my time hangs heavily on my hands; and, as I hate home, or that apology for it — a bachelor’s lodgings — and as I have nothing earthly to do now until I can afford to purchase another horse, I spend my time in sauntering from one club to another, passing many rather listless hours in them before the men come in.
You will say, Why not take to backgammon, or ecarte, or amuse yourself with a book? Sir (putting out of the question the fact that I do not play upon credit), I make a point never to play before candles are lighted; and as for books, I must candidly confess to you I am not a reading man.
’Twas but the other day that some one recommended me to your Magazine after dinner, saying it contained an exceedingly witty article upon — I forget what. I give you my honor, sir, that I took up the work at six, meaning to amuse myself till seven, when Lord Trumpington’s dinner was to come off, and egad! in two minutes I fell asleep, and never woke till midnight. Nobody ever thought of looking for me in the library, where nobody ever goes; and so ravenously hungry was I, that I was obliged to walk off to Crockford’s for supper.
What is it that makes you literary persons so stupid? I have met various individuals in society who I was told were writers of books, and that sort of thing, and expecting rather to be amused by their conversation, have invariably found them dull to a degree, and as for information, without a particle of it. Sir, I actually asked one of these fellows, “What was the nick to seven?” and he stared in my face and said he didn’t know. He was hugely over-dressed in satin, rings, chains and so forth; and at the beginning of dinner was disposed to be rather talkative and pert; but my little sally silenced HIM, I promise you, and got up a good laugh at his expense too. “Leave George alone,” said little Lord Cinqbars, “I warrant he’ll be a match for any of you literary fellows.” Cinqbars is no great wiseacre; but, indeed, it requires no great wiseacre to know THAT.
What is the simple deduction to be drawn from this truth? Why, this — that a man to be amusing and well-informed, has no need of books at all, and had much better go to the world and to men for his knowledge. There was Ulysses, now, the Greek fellow engaged in the Trojan war, as I dare say you know; well, he was the cleverest man possible, and how? From having seen men and cities, their manners noted and their realms surveyed, to be sure. So have I. I have been in every capital, and can order a dinner in every language in Europe.
My notion, then, is this. I have a great deal of spare time on my hands, and as I am told you pay a handsome sum to persons writing for you, I will furnish you occasionally with some of my views upon men and things; occasional histories of my acquaintance, which I think may amuse you; personal narratives of my own; essays, and what not. I am told that I do not spell correctly. This of course I don’t know; but you will remember that Richelieu and Marlborough could not spell, and egad! I am an honest man, and desire to be no better than they. I know that it is the matter, and not the manner, which is of importance. Have the goodness, then, to let one of your understrappers correct the spelling and the grammar of my papers; and you can give him a few shillings in my name for his trouble.
Begging you to accept the assurance of my high consideration, I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
GEORGE SAVAGE FITZ-BOODLE.
P.S. — By the way, I have said in my letter that I found ALL literary persons vulgar and dull. Permit me to contradict this with regard to yourself. I met you once at Blackwall, I think it was, and really did not remark anything offensive in your accent or appearance.
Before commencing the series of moral disquisitions, &c. which I intend, the reader may as well know who I am, and what my past course of life has been. To say that I am a Fitz-Boodle is to say at once that I am a gentleman. Our family has held the estate of Boodle ever since the reign of Henry II.; and it is out of no ill will to my elder brother, or unnatural desire for his death, but only because the estate is a very good one, that I wish heartily it was mine: I would say as much of Chatsworth or Eaton Hall.
I am not, in the first place, what is called a ladies’ man, having contracted an irrepressible habit of smoking after dinner, which has obliged me to give up a great deal of the dear creatures’ society; nor can I go much to country-houses for the same reason. Say what they will, ladies do not like you to smoke in their bedrooms: their silly little noses scent out the odor upon the chintz, weeks after you have left them. Sir John has been caught coming to bed particularly merry and redolent of cigar-smoke; young George, from Eton, was absolutely found in the little green-house puffing an Havana; and when discovered they both lay the blame upon Fitz-Boodle. “It was Mr. Fitz-Boodle, mamma,” says George, “who offered me the cigar, and I did not like to refuse him.” “That rascal Fitz seduced us, my dear,” says Sir John, “and kept us laughing until past midnight.” Her ladyship instantly sets me down as a person to be avoided. “George,” whispers she to her boy, “promise me on your honor, when you go to town, not to know that man.” And when she enters the breakfast-room for prayers, the first greeting is a peculiar expression of countenance, and inhaling of breath, by which my lady indicates the presence of some exceedingly disagreeable odor in the room. She makes you the faintest of curtsies, and regards you, if not with a “flashing eye,” as in the novels, at least with a “distended nostril.” During the whole of the service, her heart is filled with the blackest gall towards you; and she is thinking about the best means of getting you out of the house.
What is this smoking that it should be considered a crime? I believe in my heart that women are jealous of it, as of a rival. They speak of it as of some secret, awful vice that seizes upon a man, and makes him a pariah from genteel society. I would lay a guinea that many a lady who has just been kind enough to rend the above lines lays down the book, after this confession of mine that I am a smoker, and says, “Oh, the vulgar wretch!” and passes on to something else.
The fact is, that the cigar IS a rival to the ladies, and their conqueror too. In the chief pipe-smoking nations they are kept in subjection. While the chief, Little White Belt, smokes, the women are silent in his wigwam; while Mahomet Ben Jawbrahim causes volumes of odorous incense of Latakia to play round his beard, the women of the harem do not disturb his meditations, but only add to the delight of them by tinkling on a dulcimer and dancing before him. When Professor Strumpff of Gottingen takes down No. 13 from the wall, with a picture of Beatrice Cenci upon it, and which holds a pound of canaster, the Frau Professorin knows that for two hours Hermann is engaged, and takes up her stockings and knits in quiet. The constitution of French society has been quite changed within the last twelve years: an ancient and respectable dynasty has been overthrown; an aristocracy which Napoleon could never master has disappeared: and from what cause? I do not hesitate to say — FROM THE HABIT OF SMOKING. Ask any man whether, five years before the revolution of July, if you wanted a cigar at Paris, they did not bring you a roll of tobacco with a straw in it! Now, the whole city smokes; society is changed; and be sure of this, ladies, a similar combat is going on in this country at present between cigar-smoking and you. Do you suppose you will conquer? Look over the wide world, and see that your adversary has overcome it. Germany has been puffing for threescore years; France smokes to a man. Do you think you can keep the enemy out of England? Psha! look at his progress. Ask the clubhouses, Have they smoking-rooms or not? Are they not obliged to yield to the general want of the age, in spite of the resistance of the old women on the committees? I, for my part, do not despair to see a bishop lolling out of the “Athenaeum” with a cheroot in his mouth, or, at any rate, a pipe stuck in his shovel-hat.
But as in all great causes and in promulgating new and illustrious theories, their first propounders and exponents are generally the victims of their enthusiasm, of course the first preachers of smoking have been martyrs, too; and George Fitz-Boodle is one. The first gas-man was ruined; the inventor of steam-engine printing became a pauper. I began to smoke in days when the task was one of some danger, and paid the penalty of my crime. I was flogged most fiercely for my first cigar; for, being asked to dine one Sunday evening with a half-pay colonel of dragoons (the gallant, simple, humorous Shortcut — heaven bless him! — I have had many a guinea from him who had so few), he insisted upon my smoking in his room at the “Salopian,” and the consequence was, that I became so violently ill as to be reported intoxicated upon my return to Slaughter-House School, where I was a boarder, and I was whipped the next morning for my peccadillo. At Christ Church, one of our tutors was the celebrated lamented Otto Rose, who would have been a bishop under the present Government, had not an immoderate indulgence in water-gruel cut short his elegant and useful career. He was a good man, a pretty scholar and poet (the episode upon the discovery of eau-de-Cologne, in his prize-poem on “The Rhine,” was considered a masterpiece of art, though I am not much of a judge myself upon such matters), and he was as remarkable for his fondness for a tuft as for his nervous antipathy to tobacco. As ill-luck would have it, my rooms (in Tom Quad) were exactly under his; and I was grown by this time to be a confirmed smoker. I was a baronet’s son (we are of James the First’s creation), and I do believe our tutor could have pardoned any crime in the world but this. He had seen me in a tandem, and at that moment was seized with a violent fit of sneezing —(sternutatory paroxysm he called it)— at the conclusion of which I was a mile down the Woodstock Road. He had seen me in pink, as we used to call it, swaggering in the open sunshine across a grass-plat in the court; but spied out opportunely a servitor, one Todhunter by name, who was going to morning chapel with his shoestring untied, and forthwith sprung towards that unfortunate person, to set him an imposition. Everything, in fact, but tobacco he could forgive. Why did cursed fortune bring him into the rooms over mine? The odor of the cigars made his gentle spirit quite furious; and one luckless morning, when I was standing before my “oak,” and chanced to puff a great bouffee of Varinas into his face, he forgot his respect for my family altogether (I was the second son, and my brother a sickly creature THEN — he is now sixteen stone in weight, and has a half-score of children); gave me a severe lecture, to which I replied rather hotly, as was my wont. And then came demand for an apology; refusal on my part; appeal to the dean; convocation; and rustication of George Savage Fitz-Boodle.
My father had taken a second wife (of the noble house of Flintskinner), and Lady Fitz-Boodle detested smoking, as a woman of her high principles should. She had an entire mastery over the worthy old gentleman, and thought I was a sort of demon of wickedness. The old man went to his grave with some similar notion — heaven help him! and left me but the wretched twelve thousand pounds secured to me on my poor mother’s property.
In the army, my luck was much the same. I joined the — th Lancers, Lieut.-Col. Lord Martingale, in the year 1817. I only did duty with the regiment for three months. We were quartered at Cork, where I found the Irish doodheen and tobacco the pleasantest smoking possible; and was found by his lordship, one day upon stable duty, smoking the shortest, dearest little dumpy clay-pipe in the world.
“Cornet Fitz-Boodle,” said my lord in a towering passion, “from what blackguard did you get that pipe?”
I omit the oaths which garnished invariably his lordship’s conversation.
“I got it, my lord,” said I, “from one Terence Mullins, a jingle-driver, with a packet of his peculiar tobacco. You sometimes smoke Turkish, I believe; do try this. Isn’t it good?” And in the simplest way in the world I puffed a volume into his face. “I see you like it,” said I, so coolly, that the men — and I do believe the horses — burst out laughing.
He started back — choking almost, and recovered himself only to vent such a storm of oaths and curses that I was compelled to request Capt. Rawdon (the captain on duty) to take note of his lordship’s words; and unluckily could not help adding a question which settled my business. “You were good enough,” I said, “to ask me, my lord, from what blackguard I got my pipe; might I ask from what blackguard you learned your language?”
This was quite enough. Had I said, “from what GENTLEMAN did your lordship learn your language?” the point would have been quite as good, and my Lord Martingale would have suffered in my place: as it was, I was so strongly recommended to sell out by his Royal Highness the Commander-inChief, that, being of a good-natured disposition, never knowing how to refuse a friend, I at once threw up my hopes of military distinction and retired into civil life.
My lord was kind enough to meet me afterwards in a field in the Glanmire Road, where he put a ball into my leg. This I returned to him some years later with about twenty-three others — black ones — when he came to be balloted for at a club of which I have the honor to be a member.
Thus by the indulgence of a simple and harmless propensity — of a propensity which can inflict an injury upon no person or thing except the coat and the person of him who indulges in it — of a custom honored and observed in almost all the nations of the world — of a custom which, far from leading a man into any wickedness or dissipation to which youth is subject, on the contrary, begets only benevolent silence, and thoughtful good-humored observation — I found at the age of twenty all my prospects in life destroyed. I cared not for woman in those days: the calm smoker has a sweet companion in his pipe. I did not drink immoderately of wine; for though a friend to trifling potations, to excessively strong drinks tobacco is abhorrent. I never thought of gambling, for the lover of the pipe has no need of such excitement; but I was considered a monster of dissipation in my family, and bade fair to come to ruin.
“Look at George,” my mother-inlaw said to the genteel and correct young Flintskinners. “He entered the world with every prospect in life, and see in what an abyss of degradation his fatal habits have plunged him! At school he was flogged and disgraced, he was disgraced and rusticated at the university, he was disgraced and expelled from the army! He might have had the living of Boodle” (her ladyship gave it to one of her nephews), “but he would not take his degree; his papa would have purchased him a troop — nay, a lieutenant-colonelcy some day, but for his fatal excesses. And now as long as my dear husband will listen to the voice of a wife who adores him — never, never shall he spend a shilling upon so worthless a young man. He has a small income from his mother (I cannot but think that the first Lady Fitz-Boodle was a weak and misguided person); let him live upon his mean pittance as he can, and I heartily pray we may not hear of him in gaol!”
My brother, after he came to the estate, married the ninth daughter of our neighbor, Sir John Spreadeagle; and Boodle Hall has seen a new little Fitz-Boodle with every succeeding spring. The dowager retired to Scotland with a large jointure and a wondrous heap of savings. Lady Fitz is a good creature, but she thinks me something diabolical, trembles when she sees me, and gathers all her children about her, rushes into the nursery whenever I pay that little seminary a visit, and actually slapped poor little Frank’s ears one day when I was teaching him to ride upon the back of a Newfoundland dog.
“George,” said my brother to me the last time I paid him a visit at the old hall, “don’t be angry, my dear fellow, but Maria is in a — hum — in a delicate situation, expecting her — hum”—(the eleventh)—“and do you know you frighten her? It was but yesterday you met her in the rookery — you were smoking that enormous German pipe — and when she came in she had an hysterical seizure, and Drench says that in her situation it’s dangerous. And I say, George, if you go to town you’ll find a couple of hundred at your banker’s.” And with this the poor fellow shook me by the hand, and called for a fresh bottle of claret.
Afterwards he told me, with many hesitations, that my room at Boodle Hall had been made into a second nursery. I see my sister-inlaw in London twice or thrice in the season, and the little people, who have almost forgotten to call me uncle George.
It’s hard, too, for I am a lonely man after all, and my heart yearns to them. The other day I smuggled a couple of them into my chambers, and had a little feast of cream and strawberries to welcome them. But it had like to have cost the nursery-maid (a Swiss girl that Fitz-Boodle hired somewhere in his travels) her place. My step-mamma, who happened to be in town, came flying down in her chariot, pounced upon the poor thing and the children in the midst of the entertainment; and when I asked her, with rather a bad grace to be sure, to take a chair and a share of the feast —“Mr. Fitz-Boodle,” said she, “I am not accustomed to sit down in a place that smells of tobacco like an ale-house — an ale-house inhabited by a SERPENT, sir! A SERPENT! — do you understand me? — who carries his poison into his brother’s own house, and purshues his eenfamous designs before his brother’s own children. Put on Miss Maria’s bonnet this instant. Mamsell, ontondy-voo? Metty le bonny a mamsell. And I shall take care, Mamsell, that you return to Switzerland tomorrow. I’ve no doubt you are a relation of Courvoisier — oui! oui! courvoisier, vous comprenny — and you shall certainly be sent back to your friends.”
With this speech, and with the children and their maid sobbing before her, my lady retired; but for once my sister-inlaw was on my side, not liking the meddlement of the elder lady.
I know, then, that from indulging in that simple habit of smoking, I have gained among the ladies a dreadful reputation. I see that they look coolly upon me, and darkly at their husbands when they arrive at home in my company. Men, I observe, in consequence, ask me to dine much oftener at the club, or the “Star and Garter” at Richmond, or at “Lovegrove’s,” than in their own houses; and with this sort of arrangement I am fain to acquiesce; for, as I said before, I am of an easy temper, and can at any rate take my cigar-case out after dinner at Blackwall, when my lady or the duchess is not by. I know, of course, the best MEN in town; and as for ladies’ society, not having it (for I will have none of your pseudo-ladies, such as sometimes honor bachelors’ parties — actresses, couturieres, opera-dancers, and so forth)— as for ladies’ society, I say, I cry pish! ’tis not worth the trouble of the complimenting, and the bother of pumps and black silk stockings.
Let any man remember what ladies’ society was when he had an opportunity of seeing them among themselves, as What-d’ye-call’im does in the Thesmophoria —(I beg pardon, I was on the verge of a classical allusion, which I abominate)— I mean at that period of his life when the intellect is pretty acute, though the body is small — namely, when a young gentleman is about eleven years of age, dining at his father’s table during the holidays, and is requested by his papa to quit the dinner-table when the ladies retire from it.
Corbleu! I recollect their whole talk as well as if it had been whispered but yesterday; and can see, after a long dinner, the yellow summer sun throwing long shadows over the lawn before the dining-room windows, and my poor mother and her company of ladies sailing away to the music-room in old Boodle Hall. The Countess Dawdley was the great lady in our county, a portly lady who used to love crimson satin in those days, and birds-of-paradise. She was flaxen-haired, and the Regent once said she resembled one of King Charles’s beauties.
When Sir John Todcaster used to begin his famous story of the exciseman (I shall not tell it here, for very good reasons), my poor mother used to turn to Lady Dawdley, and give that mystic signal at which all females rise from their chairs. Tufthunt, the curate, would spring from his seat, and be sure to be the first to open the door for the retreating ladies; and my brother Tom and I, though remaining stoutly in our places, were speedily ejected from them by the governor’s invariable remark, “Tom and George, if you have had QUITE enough of wine, you had better go and join your mamma.” Yonder she marches, heaven bless her! through the old oak hall (how long the shadows of the antlers are on the wainscot, and the armor of Rollo Fitz-Boodle looks in the sunset as if it were emblazoned with rubies)— yonder she marches, stately and tall, in her invariable pearl-colored tabbinet, followed by Lady Dawdley, blazing like a flamingo; next comes Lady Emily Tufthunt (she was Lady Emily Flintskinner), who will not for all the world take precedence of rich, vulgar, kind, good-humored Mrs. COLONEL Grogwater, as she would be called, with a yellow little husband from Madras, who first taught me to drink sangaree. He was a new arrival in our county, but paid nobly to the hounds, and occupied hospitably a house which was always famous for its hospitality — Sievely Hall (poor Bob Cullender ran through seven thousand a year before he was thirty years old). Once when I was a lad, Colonel Grogwater gave me two gold mohurs out of his desk for whist-markers, and I’m sorry to say I ran up from Eton and sold them both for seventy-three shillings at a shop in Cornhill. But to return to the ladies, who are all this while kept waiting in the hall, and to their usual conversation after dinner.
Can any man forget how miserably flat it was? Five matrons sit on sofas, and talk in a subdued voice:— First Lady (mysteriously). —“My dear Lady Dawdley, do tell me about poor Susan Tuckett.”
Second Lady. —“All three children are perfectly well, and I assure you as fine babies as I ever saw in my life. I made her give them Daffy’s Elixir the first day; and it was the greatest mercy that I had some of Frederick’s baby-clothes by me; for you know I had provided Susan with sets for one only, and really —”
Third Lady. —“Of course one couldn’t; and for my part I think your ladyship is a great deal too kind to these people. A little gardener’s boy dressed in Lord Dawdley’s frocks indeed! I recollect that one at his christening had the sweetest lace in the world!”
Fourth Lady. —“What do you think of this, ma’am — Lady Emily, I mean? I have just had it from Howell and James:— guipure, they call it. Isn’t it an odd name for lace! And they charge me, upon my conscience, four guineas a yard!”
Third Lady. —“My mother, when she came to Flintskinner, had lace upon her robe that cost sixty guineas a yard, ma’am! ’Twas sent from Malines direct by our relation, the Count d’Araignay.”
Fourth Lady (aside). —“I thought she would not let the evening pass without talking of her Malines lace and her Count d’Araignay. Odious people! they don’t spare their backs, but they pinch their —”
Here Tom upsets a coffee-cup over his white jean trousers, and another young gentleman bursts into a laugh, saying, “By Jove, that’s a good ’un!”
“George, my dear,” says mamma, “had not you and your young friend better go into the garden? But mind, no fruit, or Dr. Glauber must be called in again immediately!” And we all go, and in ten minutes I and my brother are fighting in the stables.
If, instead of listening to the matrons and their discourse, we had taken the opportunity of attending to the conversation of the Misses, we should have heard matter not a whit more interesting.
First Miss. —“They were all three in blue crape; you never saw anything so odious. And I know for a certainty that they wore those dresses at Muddlebury, at the archery-ball, and I dare say they had them in town.”
Second Miss. —“Don’t you think Jemima decidedly crooked? And those fair complexions, they freckle so, that really Miss Blanche ought to be called Miss Brown.”
Third Miss. —“He, he, he!”
Fourth Miss. —“Don’t you think Blanche is a pretty name?”
First Miss. —“La! do you think so, dear? Why, it’s my second name!”
Second Miss. —“Then I’m sure Captain Travers thinks it a BEAUTIFUL name!”
Third Miss. —“He, he, he!”
Fourth Miss. —“What was he telling you at dinner that seemed to interest you so?”
First Miss. —“O law, nothing! — that is, yes! Charles — that is — Captain Travers, is a sweet poet, and was reciting to me some lines that he had composed upon a faded violet:—
“‘The odor from the flower is gone,
That like thy —
like thy something, I forget what it was; but his lines are sweet, and so original too! I wish that horrid Sir John Todcaster had not begun his story of the exciseman, for Lady Fitz-Boodle always quits the table when he begins.”
Third Miss. —“Do you like those tufts that gentlemen wear sometimes on their chins?”
Second Miss. —“Nonsense, Mary!”
Third Miss. —“Well, I only asked, Jane. Frank thinks, you know, that he shall very soon have one, and puts bear’s-grease on his chin every night.”
Second Miss. —“Mary, nonsense!”
Third Miss. —“Well, only ask him. You know he came to our dressing-room last night and took the pomatum away; and he says that when boys go to Oxford they always —”
First Miss. —“O heavens! have you heard the news about the Lancers? Charles — that is, Captain Travers, told it me!”
Second Miss. —“Law! they won’t go away before the ball, I hope!”
First Miss. —“No, but on the 15th they are to shave their moustaches! He says that Lord Tufto is in a perfect fury about it!”
Second Miss. —“And poor George Beardmore, too!” &c.
Here Tom upsets the coffee over his trousers, and the conversations end. I can recollect a dozen such, and ask any man of sense whether such talk amuses him?
Try again to speak to a young lady while you are dancing — what we call in this country — a quadrille. What nonsense do you invariably give and receive in return! No, I am a woman-scorner, and don’t care to own it. I hate young ladies! Have I not been in love with several, and has any one of them ever treated me decently? I hate married women! Do they not hate me? and, simply because I smoke, try to draw their husbands away from my society? I hate dowagers! Have I not cause? Does not every dowager in London point to George Fitz-Boodle as to a dissolute wretch whom young and old should avoid?
And yet do not imagine that I have not loved. I have, and madly, many, many times! I am but eight-and-thirty,1 not past the age of passion, and may very likely end by running off with an heiress — or a cook-maid (for who knows what strange freaks Love may choose to play in his own particular person? and I hold a man to be a mean creature who calculates about checking any such sacred impulse as lawful love)— I say, though despising the sex in general for their conduct to me, I know of particular persons belonging to it who are worthy of all respect and esteem, and as such I beg leave to point out the particular young lady who is perusing these lines. Do not, dear madam, then imagine that if I knew you I should be disposed to sneer at you. Ah, no! Fitz-Boodle’s bosom has tenderer sentiments than from his way of life you would fancy, and stern by rule is only too soft by practice. Shall I whisper to you the story of one or two of my attachments? All terminating fatally (not in death, but in disappointment, which, as it occurred, I used to imagine a thousand times more bitter than death, but from which one recovers somehow more readily than from the other-named complaint)— all, I say, terminating wretchedly to myself, as if some fatality pursued my desire to become a domestic character.
1 He is five-and-forty, if he is a day old. — O. Y.
My first love — no, let us pass THAT over. Sweet one! thy name shall profane no hireling page. Sweet, sweet memory! Ah, ladies, those delicate hearts of yours have, too, felt the throb. And between the last ‘ob’ in the word throb and the words now written, I have passed a delicious period of perhaps an hour, perhaps a minute, I know not how long, thinking of that holy first love and of her who inspired it. How clearly every single incident of the passion is remembered by me! and yet ’twas long, long since. I was but a child then — a child at school — and, if the truth must be told, L— ra R-ggl-s (I would not write her whole name to be made one of the Marquess of Hertford’s executors) was a woman full thirteen years older than myself; at the period of which I write she must have been at least five-and-twenty. She and her mother used to sell tarts, hard-bake, lollipops, and other such simple comestibles, on Wednesdays and Saturdays (half-holidays), at a private school where I received the first rudiments of a classical education. I used to go and sit before her tray for hours, but I do not think the poor girl ever supposed any motive led me so constantly to her little stall beyond a vulgar longing for her tarts and her ginger-beer. Yes, even at that early period my actions were misrepresented, and the fatality which has oppressed my whole life began to show itself — the purest passion was misinterpreted by her and my school-fellows, and they thought I was actuated by simple gluttony. They nicknamed me Alicompayne.
Well, be it so. Laugh at early passion ye who will; a highborn boy madly in love with a lowly ginger-beer girl! She married afterwards, took the name of Latter, and now keeps with her old husband a turnpike, through which I often ride; but I can recollect her bright and rosy of a sunny summer afternoon, her red cheeks shaded by a battered straw bonnet, her tarts and ginger-beer upon a neat white cloth before her, mending blue worsted stockings until the young gentlemen should interrupt her by coming to buy.
Many persons will call this description low; I do not envy them their gentility, and have always observed through life (as, to be sure, every other GENTLEMAN has observed as well as myself) that it is your parvenu who stickles most for what he calls the genteel, and has the most squeamish abhorrence for what is frank and natural. Let us pass at once, however, as all the world must be pleased, to a recital of an affair which occurred in the very best circles of society, as they are called, viz, my next unfortunate attachment.
It did not occur for several years after that simple and platonic passion just described: for though they may talk of youth as the season of romance, it has always appeared to me that there are no beings in the world so entirely unromantic and selfish as certain young English gentlemen from the age of fifteen to twenty. The oldest Lovelace about town is scarcely more hard-hearted and scornful than they; they ape all sorts of selfishness and rouerie: they aim at excelling at cricket, at billiards, at rowing, and drinking, and set more store by a red coat and a neat pair of top-boots than by any other glory. A young fellow staggers into college chapel of a morning, and communicates to all his friends that he was “so CUT last night,” with the greatest possible pride. He makes a joke of having sisters and a kind mother at home who loves him; and if he speaks of his father, it is with a knowing sneer to say that he has a tailor’s and a horse-dealer’s bill that will surprise “the old governor.” He would be ashamed of being in love. I, in common with my kind, had these affectations, and my perpetual custom of smoking added not a little to my reputation as an accomplished roue. What came of this custom in the army and at college, the reader has already heard. Alas! in life it went no better with me, and many pretty chances I had went off in that accursed smoke.
After quitting the army in the abrupt manner stated, I passed some short time at home, and was tolerated by my mother-inlaw, because I had formed an attachment to a young lady of good connections and with a considerable fortune, which was really very nearly becoming mine. Mary M’Alister was the only daughter of Colonel M’Alister, late of the Blues, and Lady Susan his wife. Her ladyship was no more; and, indeed, of no family compared to ours (which has refused a peerage any time these two hundred years); but being an earl’s daughter and a Scotchwoman, Lady Emily Fitz-Boodle did not fail to consider her highly. Lady Susan was daughter of the late Admiral Earl of Marlingspike and Baron Plumduff. The Colonel, Miss M’Alister’s father, had a good estate, of which his daughter was the heiress, and as I fished her out of the water upon a pleasure-party, and swam with her to shore, we became naturally intimate, and Colonel M’Alister forgot, on account of the service rendered to him, the dreadful reputation for profligacy which I enjoyed in the county.
Well, to cut a long story short, which is told here merely for the moral at the end of it, I should have been Fitz-Boodle M’Alister at this minute most probably, and master of four thousand a year, but for the fatal cigar-box. I bear Mary no malice in saying that she was a high-spirited little girl, loving, before all things, her own way; nay, perhaps I do not, from long habit and indulgence in tobacco-smoking, appreciate the delicacy of female organizations, which were oftentimes most painfully affected by it. She was a keen-sighted little person, and soon found that the world had belied poor George Fitz-Boodle; who, instead of being the cunning monster people supposed him to be, was a simple, reckless, good-humored, honest fellow, marvellously addicted to smoking, idleness, and telling the truth. She called me Orson, and I was happy enough on the 14th February, in the year 18 — (it’s of no consequence), to send her such a pretty little copy of verses about Orson and Valentine, in which the rude habits of the savage man were shown to be overcome by the polished graces of his kind and brilliant conqueror, that she was fairly overcome, and said to me, “George Fitz-Boodle, if you give up smoking for a year, I will marry you.”
I swore I would, of course, and went home and flung four pounds of Hudson’s cigars, two meerschaum pipes that had cost me ten guineas at the establishment of Mr. Gattie at Oxford, a tobacco-bag that Lady Fitz-Boodle had given me BEFORE her marriage with my father (it was the only present that I ever had from her or any member of the Flintskinner family), and some choice packets of Varinas and Syrian, into the lake in Boodle Park. The weapon amongst them all which I most regretted was — will it be believed? — the little black doodheen which had been the cause of the quarrel between Lord Martingale and me. However, it went along with the others. I would not allow my groom to have so much as a cigar, lest I should be tempted hereafter; and the consequence was that a few days after many fat carps and tenches in the lake (I must confess ’twas no bigger than a pond) nibbled at the tobacco, and came floating on their backs on the top of the water quite intoxicated. My conversion made some noise in the county, being emphasized as it were by this fact of the fish. I can’t tell you with what pangs I kept my resolution; but keep it I did for some time.
With so much beauty and wealth, Mary M’Alister had of course many suitors, and among them was the young Lord Dawdley, whose mamma has previously been described in her gown of red satin. As I used to thrash Dawdley at school, I thrashed him in after-life in love; he put up with his disappointment pretty well, and came after a while and shook hands with me, telling me of the bets that there were in the county, where the whole story was known, for and against me. For the fact is, as I must own, that Mary M’Alister, the queerest, frankest of women, made no secret of the agreement, or the cause of it.
“I did not care a penny for Orson,” she said, “but he would go on writing me such dear pretty verses that at last I couldn’t help saying yes. But if he breaks his promise to me, I declare, upon my honor, I’ll break mine, and nobody’s heart will be broken either.”
This was the perfect fact, as I must confess, and I declare that it was only because she amused me and delighted me, and provoked me, and made me laugh very much, and because, no doubt, she was very rich, that I had any attachment for her.
“For heaven’s sake, George,” my father said to me, as I quitted home to follow my beloved to London, “remember that you are a younger brother and have a lovely girl and four thousand a year within a year’s reach of you. Smoke as much as you like, my boy, after marriage,” added the old gentleman, knowingly (as if HE, honest soul, after his second marriage, dared drink an extra pint of wine without my lady’s permission!) “but eschew the tobacco-shops till then.”
I went to London resolving to act upon the paternal advice, and oh! how I longed for the day when I should be married, vowing in my secret soul that I would light a cigar as I walked out of St. George’s, Hanover Square.
Well, I came to London, and so carefully avoided smoking that I would not even go into Hudson’s shop to pay his bill, and as smoking was not the fashion then among young men as (thank heaven!) it is now, I had not many temptations from my friends’ examples in my clubs or elsewhere; only little Dawdley began to smoke, as if to spite me. He had never done so before, but confessed — the rascal! — that he enjoyed a cigar now, if it were but to mortify me. But I took to other and more dangerous excitements, and upon the nights when not in attendance upon Mary M’Alister, might be found in very dangerous proximity to a polished mahogany table, round which claret-bottles circulated a great deal too often, or worse still, to a table covered with green cloth and ornamented with a couple of wax-candles and a couple of packs of cards, and four gentlemen playing the enticing game of whist. Likewise, I came to carry a snuff-box, and to consume in secret huge quantities of rappee.
For ladies’ society I was even then disinclined, hating and despising small-talk, and dancing, and hot routs, and vulgar scrambles for suppers. I never could understand the pleasure of acting the part of lackey to a dowager, and standing behind her chair, or bustling through the crowd for her carriage. I always found an opera too long by two acts, and have repeatedly fallen asleep in the presence of Mary M’Alister herself, sitting at the back of the box shaded by the huge beret of her old aunt, Lady Betty Plumduff; and many a time has Dawdley, with Miss M’Alister on his arm, wakened me up at the close of the entertainment in time to offer my hand to Lady Betty, and lead the ladies to their carriage. If I attended her occasionally to any ball or party of pleasure, I went, it must be confessed, with clumsy, ill-disguised ill-humor. Good heavens! have I often and often thought in the midst of a song, or the very thick of a ball-room, can people prefer this to a book and a sofa, and a dear, dear cigar-box, from thy stores, O charming Mariana Woodville! Deprived of my favorite plant, I grew sick in mind and body, moody, sarcastic, and discontented.
Such a state of things could not long continue, nor could Miss M’Alister continue to have much attachment for such a sullen, ill-conditioned creature as I then was. She used to make me wild with her wit and her sarcasm, nor have I ever possessed the readiness to parry or reply to those fine points of woman’s wit, and she treated me the more mercilessly as she saw that I could not resist her.
Well, the polite reader must remember a great fete that was given at B—— House, some years back, in honor of his Highness the Hereditary Prince of Kalbsbraten-Pumpernickel, who was then in London on a visit to his illustrious relatives. It was a fancy ball, and the poems of Scott being at that time all the fashion, Mary was to appear in the character of the “Lady of the Lake,” old M’Alister making a very tall and severe-looking harper; Dawdley, a most insignificant Fitzjames; and your humble servant a stalwart manly Roderick Dhu. We were to meet at B—— House at twelve o’clock, and as I had no fancy to drive through the town in my cab dressed in a kilt and philibeg, I agreed to take a seat in Dawdley’s carriage, and to dress at his house in May Fair. At eleven I left a very pleasant bachelors’ party, growling to quit them and the honest, jovial claret-bottle, in order to scrape and cut capers like a harlequin from the theatre. When I arrived at Dawdley’s, I mounted to a dressing-room, and began to array myself in my cursed costume.
The art of costuming was by no means so well understood in those days as it has been since, and mine was out of all correctness. I was made to sport an enormous plume of black ostrich-feathers, such as never was worn by any Highland chief, and had a huge tiger-skin sporran to dangle like an apron before innumerable yards of plaid petticoat. The tartan cloak was outrageously hot and voluminous; it was the dog-days, and all these things I was condemned to wear in the midst of a crowd of a thousand people!
Dawdley sent up word, as I was dressing, that his dress had not arrived, and he took my cab and drove off in a rage to his tailor.
There was no hurry, I thought, to make a fool of myself; so having put on a pair of plaid trews, and very neat pumps with shoe-buckles, my courage failed me as to the rest of the dress, and taking down one of his dressing-gowns, I went down stairs to the study, to wait until he should arrive.
The windows of the pretty room were open, and a snug sofa, with innumerable cushions, drawn towards one of them. A great tranquil moon was staring into the chamber, in which stood, amidst books and all sorts of bachelor’s lumber, a silver tray with a couple of tall Venice glasses, and a bottle of Maraschino bound with straw. I can see now the twinkle of the liquor in the moonshine, as I poured it into the glass; and I swallowed two or three little cups of it, for my spirits were downcast. Close to the tray of Maraschino stood — must I say it? — a box, a mere box of cedar, bound rudely together with pink paper, branded with the name of “Hudson” on the side, and bearing on the cover the arms of Spain. I thought I would just take up the box and look in it.
Ah heaven! there they were — a hundred and fifty of them, in calm, comfortable rows: lovingly side by side they lay, with the great moon shining down upon them — thin at the tip, full in the waist, elegantly round and full, a little spot here and there shining upon them — beauty-spots upon the cheek of Sylvia. The house was quite quiet. Dawdley always smoked in his room — I had not smoked for four months and eleven days.
When Lord Dawdley came into the study, he did not make any remarks; and oh, how easy my heart felt! He was dressed in his green and boots, after Westall’s picture, correctly.
“It’s time to be off, George,” said he; “they told me you were dressed long ago. Come up, my man, and get ready.”
I rushed up into the dressing-room, and madly dashed my head and arms into a pool of eau-de-Cologne. I drank, I believe, a tumberful of it. I called for my clothes, and, strange to say, they were gone. My servant brought them, however, saying that he had put them away — making some stupid excuse. I put them on, not heeding them much, for I was half tipsy with the excitement of the ci — of the smo — of what had taken place in Dawdley’s study, and with the Maraschino and the eau-de-Cologue I had drunk.
“What a fine odor of lavender-water!” said Dawdley, as we rode in the carriage.
I put my head out of the window and shrieked out a laugh; but made no other reply.
“What’s the joke, George?” said Dawdley. “Did I say anything witty?”
“No,” cried I, yelling still more wildly; “nothing more witty than usual.”
“Don’t be severe, George,” said he, with a mortified air; and we drove on to B—— House.
There must have been something strange and wild in my appearance, and those awful black plumes, as I passed through the crowd; for I observed people looking and making a strange nasal noise (it is called sniffing, and I have no other more delicate term for it), and making way as I pushed on. But I moved forward very fiercely, for the wine, the Maraschino, the eau-de-Cologne, and the — the excitement had rendered me almost wild; and at length I arrived at the place where my lovely Lady of the Lake and her Harper stood. How beautiful she looked — all eyes were upon her as she stood blushing. When she saw me, however; her countenance assumed an appearance of alarm. “Good heavens, George!” she said, stretching her hand to me, “what makes you look so wild and pale?” I advanced, and was going to take her hand, when she dropped it with a scream.
“Ah — ah — ah!” she said. “Mr. Fitz-Boodle, you’ve been smoking!”
There was an immense laugh from four hundred people round about us, and the scoundrelly Dawdley joined in the yell. I rushed furiously out, and, as I passed, hurtled over the fat Hereditary Prince of Kalbsbraten-Pumpernickel.
“Es riecht hier ungeheuer stark von Tabak!” I heard his Highness say, as I madly flung myself through the aides-de-camp.
The next day Mary M’Alister, in a note full of the most odious good sense and sarcasm, reminded me of our agreement; said that she was quite convinced that we were not by any means fitted for one another, and begged me to consider myself henceforth quite free. The little wretch had the impertinence to send me a dozen boxes of cigars, which, she said, would console me for my lost love; as she was perfectly certain that I was not mercenary, and that I loved tobacco better than any woman in the world.
I believe she was right, though I have never to this day been able to pardon the scoundrelly stratagem by which Dawdley robbed me of a wife and won one himself. As I was lying on his sofa, looking at the moon and lost in a thousand happy contemplations, Lord Dawdley, returning from the tailor’s, saw me smoking at my leisure. On entering his dressing-room, a horrible treacherous thought struck him. “I must not betray my friend,” said he; “but in love all is fair, and he shall betray himself.” There were my tartans, my cursed feathers, my tiger-skin sporran, upon the sofa.
He called up my groom; he made the rascal put on all my clothes, and, giving him a guinea and four cigars, bade him lock himself into the little pantry and smoke them WITHOUT TAKING THE CLOTHES OFF. John did so, and was very ill in consequence, and so when I came to B—— House, my clothes were redolent of tobacco, and I lost lovely Mary M’Alister.
I am godfather to one of Lady Dawdley’s boys, and hers is the only house where I am allowed to smoke unmolested; but I have never been able to admire Dawdley, a sly, sournois, spiritless, lily-livered fellow, that took his name off all his clubs the year he married.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00