The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which everybody is asked to Dinner

John James had opened the door hastening to welcome a friend and patron, the sight of whom always gladdened the youth’s eyes; no other than Clive Newcome — in young Ridley’s opinion, the most splendid, fortunate, beautiful, high-born, and gifted youth this island contained. What generous boy in his time has not worshipped somebody? Before the female enslaver makes her appearance, every lad has a friend of friends, a crony of cronies, to whom he writes immense letters in vacation, whom he cherishes in his heart of hearts; whose sister he proposes to marry in after life; whose purse he shares; for whom he will take a thrashing if need be: who is his hero. Clive was John James’s youthful divinity: when he wanted to draw Thaddeus of Warsaw, a Prince, Ivanhoe, or some one splendid and egregious, it was Clive he took for a model. His heart leapt when he saw the young fellow. He would walk cheerfully to Grey Friars, with a letter or message for Clive, on the chance of seeing him, and getting a kind word from him, or a shake of the hand. An ex-butler of Lord Todmorden was a pensioner in the Grey Friars Hospital (it has been said that at that ancient establishment is a college for old men as well as for boys), and this old man would come sometimes to his successor’s Sunday dinner, and grumble from the hour of that meal until nine o’clock, when he was forced to depart, so as to be within Grey Friars’ gates before ten; grumble about his dinner — grumble about his beer — grumble about the number of chapels he had to attend, about the gown he wore, about the master’s treatment of him, about the want of plums in the pudding, as old men and schoolboys grumble. It was wonderful what a liking John James took to this odious, querulous, graceless, stupid, and snuffy old man, and how he would find pretexts for visiting him at his lodging in the old hospital. He actually took that journey that he might have a chance of seeing Clive. He sent Clive notes and packets of drawings; thanked him for books lent, asked advice about future reading — anything, so that he might have a sight of his pride, his patron, his paragon.

I am afraid Clive Newcome employed him to smuggle rum-shrub and cigars into the premises; giving him appointments in the school precincts, where young Clive would come and stealthily receive the forbidden goods. The poor lad was known by the boys, and called Newcome’s Punch. He was all but hunchbacked; long and lean in the arm; sallow, with a great forehead, and waving black hair, and large melancholy eyes.

“What, is it you, J. J.?” cries Clive gaily, when his humble friend appears at the door. “Father, this is my friend Ridley. This is the fellow what can draw.”

“I know who I will back against any young man of his size at that,” says the Colonel, looking at Clive fondly. He considered there was not such a genius in the world; and had already thought of having some of Clive’s drawings published by M’Lean of the Haymarket.

“This is my father just come from India — and Mr. Pendennis, an old Grey Friars’ man. Is my uncle at home?” Both these gentlemen bestow rather patronising nods of the head on the lad introduced to them as J. J. His exterior is but mean-looking. Colonel Newcome, one of the humblest-minded men alive, has yet his old-fashioned military notions; and speaks to a butler’s son as to a private soldier, kindly, but not familiarly.

“Mr Honeyman is at home, gentlemen,” the young lad says, humbly. “Shall I show you up to his room?” And we walk up the stairs after our guide. We find Mr. Honeyman deep in study on his sofa, with Pearson on the Creed before him. The novel has been whipped under the pillow. Clive found it there some short time afterwards, during his uncle’s temporary absence in his dressing-room. He has agreed to suspend his theological studies, and go out with his brother-inlaw to dine.

As Clive and his friends were at Honeyman’s door, and just as we were entering to see the divine seated in state before his folio, Clive whispers, “J. J., come along, old fellow, and show us some drawings. What are you doing?”

“I was doing some Arabian Nights,” says J. J., “up in my room; and hearing a knock which I thought was yours, I came down.”

“Show us the pictures. Let’s go up into your room,” cries Clive. “What — will you?” says the other. “It is but a very small place.”

“Never mind, come along,” says Clive; and the two lads disappear together, leaving the three grown gentlemen to discourse together, or rather two of us to listen to Honeyman, who expatiates upon the beauty of the weather, the difficulties of the clerical calling, the honour Colonel Newcome does him by a visit, etc., with his usual eloquence.

After a while Clive comes down without J. J., from the upper regions. He is greatly excited. “Oh, sir,” he says to his father, “you talk about my drawings — you should see J. J.‘s! By Jove, that fellow is a genius. They are beautiful, sir. You seem actually to read the Arabian Nights, you know, only in pictures. There is Scheherazade telling the stories, and — what do you call her? — Dinarzade and the Sultan sitting in bed and listening. Such a grim old cove! You see he has cut off ever so many of his wives’ heads. I can’t think where that chap gets his ideas from. I can beat him in drawing horses, I know, and dogs; but I can only draw what I see. Somehow he seems to see things we don’t, don’t you know? Oh, father, I’m determined I’d rather be a painter than anything.” And he falls to drawing horses and dogs at his uncle’s table, round which the elders are seated.

“I’ve settled it upstairs with J. J.,” says Clive, working away with his pen. “We shall take a studio together; perhaps we will go abroad together. Won’t that be fun, father?”

“My dear Clive,” remarks Mr. Honeyman, with bland dignity, “there are degrees in society which we must respect. You surely cannot think of being a professional artist. Such a profession is very well for your young protege; but for you ——”

“What for me?” cries Clive. “We are no such great folks that I know of; and if we were, I say a painter is as good as a lawyer, or a doctor, or even a soldier. In Dr. Johnston’s Life — which my father is always reading — I like to read about Sir Joshua Reynolds best: I think he is the best gentleman of all in the book. My! wouldn’t I like to paint a picture like Lord Heathfield in the National Gallery! Wouldn’t I just! I think I would sooner have done that, than have fought at Gibraltar. And those Three Graces — oh, aren’t they graceful! And that Cardinal Beaufort at Dulwich! — it frightens me so, I daren’t look at it. Wasn’t Reynolds a clipper, that’s all! and wasn’t Rubens a brick! He was an ambassador, and Knight of the Bath; so was Vandyck. And Titian, and Raphael, and Velasquez? — I’ll just trouble you to show me better gentlemen than them, Uncle Charles.”

“Far be it from me to say that the pictorial calling is not honourable,” says Uncle Charles; “but as the world goes there are other professions in greater repute; and I should have thought Colonel Newcome’s son ——”

“He shall follow his own bent,” said the Colonel; “as long as his calling is honest it becomes a gentleman; and if he were to take a fancy to play on the fiddle — actually on the fiddle — I shouldn’t object.”

“Such a rum chap there was upstairs!” Clive resumes, looking up from his scribbling. “He was walking up and down on the landing in a dressing-gown, with scarcely any other clothes on, holding a plate in one hand, and a pork-chop he was munching with the other. Like this” (and Clive draws a figure). “What do you think, sir? He was in the Cave of Harmony, he says, that night you flared up about Captain Costigan. He knew me at once; and he says, ‘Sir, your father acted like a gentleman, a Christian, and a man of honour. Maxima debetur puero reverentia. Give him my compliments. I don’t know his highly respectable name.’ His highly respectable name,” says Clive, cracking with laughter —“those were his very words. ‘And inform him that I am an orphan myself — in needy circumstances’— he said he was in needy circumstances; ‘and I heartily wish he’d adopt me.’”

The lad puffed out his face, made his voice as loud and as deep as he could; and from his imitation and the picture he had drawn, I knew at once that Fred Bayham was the man he mimicked.

“And does the Red Rover live here,” cried Mr. Pendennis, “and have we earthed him at last?”

“He sometimes comes here,” Mr. Honeyman said with a careless manner. “My landlord and landlady were butler and housekeeper to his father, Bayham of Bayham, one of the oldest families in Europe. And Mr. Frederick Bayham, the exceedingly eccentric person of whom you speak, was a private pupil of my own dear father in our happy days at Borehambury.”

He had scarcely spoken when a knock was heard at the door, and before the occupant of the lodgings could say “Come in!” Mr. Frederick Bayham made his appearance, arrayed in that peculiar costume which he affected. In those days we wore very tall stocks, only a very few poetic and eccentric persons venturing on the Byron collar; but Fred Bayham confined his neck by a simple ribbon, which allowed his great red whiskers to curl freely round his capacious jowl. He wore a black frock and a large broad-brimmed hat, and looked somewhat like a Dissenting preacher. At other periods you would see him in a green coat and a blue neckcloth, as if the turf or the driving of coaches was his occupation.

“I have heard from the young man of the house who you were, Colonel Newcome,” he said with the greatest gravity, “and happened to be present, sir, the other night; for I was aweary, having been toiling all the day in literary labour, and needed some refreshment. I happened to be present, sir, at a scene which did you the greatest honour, and of which I spoke, not knowing you, with something like levity to your son. He is an ingenui vultus puer ingenuique pudoris — Pendennis, how are you? And I thought, sir, I would come down and tender an apology if I had said any words that might savour of offence to a gentleman who was in the right, as I told the room when you quitted it, as Mr. Pendennis, I am sure, will remember.”

Mr. Pendennis looked surprise and perhaps negation.

“You forget, Pendennis? Those who quit that room, sir, often forget on the morrow what occurred during the revelry of the night. You did right in refusing to return to that scene. We public men are obliged often to seek our refreshment at hours when luckier individuals are lapt in slumber.”

“And what may be your occupation, Mr. Bayham?” asks the Colonel, rather gloomily, for he had an idea that Bayham was adopting a strain of persiflage which the Indian gentleman by no means relished. Never saying aught but a kind word to any one, he was on fire at the notion that any should take a liberty with him.

“A barrister, sir, but without business — a literary man, who can but seldom find an opportunity to sell the works of his brains — a gentleman, sir, who has met with neglect, perhaps merited, perhaps undeserved, from his family. I get my bread as best I may. On that evening I had been lecturing on the genius of some of our comic writers, at the Parthenopoeon, Hackney. My audience was scanty, perhaps equal to my deserts. I came home on foot to an egg and a glass of beer after midnight, and witnessed the scene which did you so much honour. What is this? I fancy a ludicrous picture of myself”— he had taken up the sketch which Clive had been drawing —“I like fun, even at my own expense; and can afford to laugh at a joke which is meant in good-humour.” This speech quite reconciled the honest Colonel. “I am sure the author of that, Mr. Bayham, means you or any man no harm. Why! the rascal, sir, has drawn me, his own father; and I have sent the drawing to Major Hobbs, who is in command of my regiment. Chinnery himself, sir, couldn’t hit off a likeness better; he has drawn me on horseback, and he has drawn me on foot, and he has drawn my friend, Mr. Binnie, who lives with me. We have scores of his drawings at my lodgings; and if you will favour us by dining with us today, and these gentlemen, you shall see that you are not the only person caricatured by Clive here.”

“I just took some little dinner upstairs, sir. I am a moderate man, and can live, if need be, like a Spartan; but to join such good company I will gladly use the knife and fork again. You will excuse the traveller’s dress? I keep a room here, which I use only occasionally, and am at present lodging — in the country.”

When Honeyman was ready, the Colonel, who had the greatest respect for the Church, would not hear of going out of the room before the clergyman, and took his arm to walk. Bayham then fell to Mr. Pendennis’s lot, and they went together. Through Hill Street and Berkeley Square their course was straight enough; but at Hay Hill, Mr. Bayham made an abrupt tack larboard, engaging in a labyrinth of stables, and walking a long way round from Clifford Street, whither we were bound. He hinted at a cab, but Pendennis refused to ride, being, in truth, anxious to see which way his eccentric companion would steer. “There are reasons,” growled Bayham, “which need not be explained to one of your experience, why Bond Street must be avoided by some men peculiarly situated. The smell of Truefitt’s pomatum makes me ill. Tell me, Pendennis, is this Indian warrior a rajah of large wealth? Could he, do you think, recommend me to a situation in the East India Company? I would gladly take any honest post in which fidelity might be useful, genius might be appreciated, and courage rewarded. Here we are. The hotel seems comfortable. I never was in it before.”

When we entered the Colonel’s sitting-room at Nerot’s, we found the waiter engaged in extending the table. “We are a larger party than I expected,” our host said. “I met my brother Brian on horseback leaving cards at that great house in ——— Street.”

“The Russian Embassy,” says Mr. Honeyman, who knew the town quite well.

“And he said he was disengaged, and would dine with us,” continues the Colonel.

“Am I to understand, Colonel Newcome,” says Mr. Frederick Bayham, “that you are related to the eminent banker, Sir Brian Newcome, who gives such uncommonly swell parties in Park Lane?”

“What is a swell party?” asks the Colonel, laughing. “I dined with my brother last Wednesday; and it was a very grand dinner certainly. The Governor-General himself could not give a more splendid entertainment. But, do you know, I scarcely had enough to eat? I don’t eat side dishes; and as for the roast beef of Old England, why, the meat was put on the table and whisked away like Sancho’s inauguration feast at Barataria. We did not dine till nine o’clock. I like a few glasses of claret and a cosy talk after dinner; but — well, well”—(no doubt the worthy gentleman was accusing himself of telling tales out of school and had come to a timely repentance). “Our dinner, I hope, will be different. Jack Binnie will take care of that. That fellow is full of anecdote and fun. You will meet one or two more of our service; Sir Thomas de Boots, who is not a bad chap over a glass of wine; Mr. Pendennis’s chum, Mr. Warrington, and my nephew, Barnes Newcome — a dry fellow at first, but I dare say he has good about him when you know him; almost every man has,” said the good-natured philosopher. “Clive, you rogue, mind and be moderate with the champagne, sir!”

“Champagne’s for women,” says Clive. “I stick to claret.”

“I say, Pendennis,” here Bayham remarked, “it is my deliberate opinion that F. B. has got into a good thing.”

Mr. Pendennis seeing there was a great party was for going home to his chambers to dress. “Hm!” says Mr. Bayham, “don’t see the necessity. What right-minded man looks at the exterior of his neighbour? He looks here, sir, and examines there,” and Bayham tapped his forehead, which was expansive, and then his heart, which he considered to be in the right place.

“What is this I hear about dressing?” asks our host. “Dine in your frock, my good friend, and welcome, if your dress-coat is in the country.”

“It is at present at an uncle’s,” Mr. Bayham said, with great gravity, “and I take your hospitality as you offer it, Colonel Newcome, cordially and frankly.”

Honest Mr. Binnie made his appearance a short time before the appointed hour for receiving the guests, arrayed in a tight little pair of trousers, and white silk stockings and pumps, his bald head shining like a billiard-ball, his jolly gills rosy with good-humour. He was bent on pleasure. “Hey, lads!” says he; “but we’ll make a night of it. We haven’t had a night since the farewell dinner off Plymouth.”

“And a jolly night it was, James,” ejaculates the Colonel.

“Egad, what a song that Tom Norris sings!”

“And your ‘Jock o’ Hazeldean’ is as good as a play, Jack.”

“And I think you beat iny one I iver hard in ‘Tom Bowling,’ yourself, Tom!” cries the Colonel’s delighted chum. Mr. Pendennis opened the eyes of astonishment at the idea of the possibility of renewing these festivities, but he kept the lips of prudence closed. And now the carriages began to drive up, and the guests of Colonel Newcome to arrive.

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