The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Park Lane

Clive woke up the next morning to be aware of a racking headache, and, by the dim light of his throbbing eyes, to behold his father with solemn face at his bed-foot — a reproving conscience to greet his waking.

“You drank too much wine last night, and disgraced yourself, sir,” the old soldier said. “You must get up and eat humble pie this morning, my boy.”

“Humble what, father?” asked the lad, hardly aware of his words, or the scene before him. “Oh, I’ve got such a headache!”

“Serve you right, sir. Many a young fellow has had to go on parade in the morning, with a headache earned overnight. Drink this water. Now, jump up. Now, dash the water well over your head. There you come! Make your toilette quickly; and let us be off, and find cousin Barnes before he has left home.”

Clive obeyed the paternal orders; dressed himself quickly; and descending, found his father smoking his morning cigar in the apartment where they had dined the night before, and where the tables still were covered with the relics of yesterday’s feast — the emptied bottles, the blank lamps, the scattered ashes and fruits, the wretched heel-taps that have been lying exposed all night to the air. Who does not know the aspect of an expired feast?

“The field of action strewed with the dead, my boy,” says Clive’s father. “See, here’s the glass on the floor yet, and a great stain of claret on the carpet.”

“Oh, father!” says Clive, hanging his head down, “I know I shouldn’t have done it. But Barnes Newcome would provoke the patience of Job; and I couldn’t bear to have my father insulted.”

“I am big enough to fight my own battles, my boy,” the Colonel said good-naturedly, putting his hand on the lad’s damp head. “How your head throbs! If Barnes laughed at my singing, depend upon it, sir, there was something ridiculous in it, and he laughed because he could not help it. If he behaved ill, we should not; and to a man who is eating our salt too, and is of our blood.”

“He is ashamed of our blood, father,” cries Clive, still indignant.

“We ought to be ashamed of doing wrong. We must go and ask his pardon. Once when I was a young man in India,” the father continued very gravely, “some hot words passed at mess — not such an insult as that of last night; I don’t think I could have quite borne that — and people found fault with me for forgiving the youngster who had uttered the offensive expressions over his wine. Some of my acquaintance sneered at my courage, and that is a hard imputation for a young fellow of spirit to bear. But providentially, you see, it was war-time, and very soon after I had the good luck to show that I was not a poule mouillee, as the French call it; and the man who insulted me, and whom I forgave, became my fastest friend, and died by my side — it was poor Jack Cutler — at Argaum. We must go and ask Barnes Newcome’s pardon, sir, and forgive other people’s trespasses, my boy, if we hope forgiveness of our own.” His voice sank down as he spoke, and he bowed his honest head reverently. I have heard his son tell the simple story years afterwards, with tears in his eyes.

Piccadilly was hardly yet awake the next morning, and the sparkling dews and the poor homeless vagabonds still had possession of the grass of Hyde Park, as the pair walked up to Sir Brian Newcome’s house, where the shutters were just opening to let in the day. The housemaid, who was scrubbing the steps of the house, and washing its trim feet in a manner which became such a polite mansion’s morning toilet, knew Master Clive, and smiled at him from under her blousy curl-papers, admitting the two gentlemen into Sir Brian’s dining-room, where they proposed to wait until Mr. Barnes should appear. There they sate for an hour looking at Lawrence’s picture of Lady Anne, leaning over a harp, attired in white muslin; at Harlowe’s portrait of Mrs. Newcome, with her two sons simpering at her knees, painted at a time when the Newcome Brothers were not the bald-headed, red-whiskered British merchants with whom the reader has made acquaintance, but chubby children with hair flowing down their backs, and quaint little swallow-tailed jackets and nankeen trousers. A splendid portrait of the late Earl of Kew in his peer’s robes hangs opposite his daughter and her harp. We are writing of George the Fourth’s reign; I dare say there hung in the room a fine framed print of that great sovereign. The chandelier is in a canvas bag; the vast sideboard, whereon are erected open frames for the support of Sir Brian Newcome’s grand silver trays, which on dinner days gleam on that festive board, now groans under the weight of Sir Brian’s bluebooks. An immense receptacle for wine, shaped like a Roman sarcophagus, lurks under the sideboard. Two people sitting at that large dining-table must talk very loud so as to make themselves heard across those great slabs of mahogany covered with damask. The butler and servants who attend at the table take a long time walking round it. I picture to myself two persons of ordinary size sitting in that great room at that great table, far apart, in neat evening costume, sipping a little sherry, silent, genteel, and glum; and think the great and wealthy are not always to be envied, and that there may be more comfort and happiness in a snug parlour, where you are served by a brisk little maid, than in a great dark, dreary dining-hall, where a funereal major-domo and a couple of stealthy footmen minister to you your mutton-chops. They come and lay the cloth presently, wide as the main-sheet of some tall ammiral. A pile of newspapers and letters for the master of the house; the Newcome Sentinel, old county paper, moderate conservative, in which our worthy townsman and member is praised, his benefactions are recorded, and his speeches given at full length; the Newcome Independent, in which our precious member is weekly described as a ninny, and informed almost every Thursday morning that he is a bloated aristocrat, as he munches his dry toast. Heaps of letters, county papers, Times and Morning Herald for Sir Brian Newcome; little heaps of letters (dinner and soiree cards most of these) and Morning Post for Mr. Barnes. Punctually as eight o’clock strikes, that young gentleman comes to breakfast; his father will lie yet for another hour; the Baronet’s prodigious labours in the House of Commons keeping him frequently out of bed till sunrise.

As his cousin entered the room, Clive turned very red, and perhaps a faint blush might appear on Barnes’s pallid countenance. He came in, a handkerchief in one hand, a pamphlet in the other, and both hands being thus engaged, he could offer neither to his kinsmen.

“You are come to breakfast, I hope,” he said — calling it “weakfast,” and pronouncing the words with a most languid drawl —“or, perhaps, you want to see my father? He is never out of his room till half-past nine. Harper, did Sir Brian come in last night before or after me?” Harper, the butler, thinks Sir Brian came in after Mr. Barnes.

When that functionary had quitted the room, Barnes turned round to his uncle in a candid, smiling way, and said, “The fact is, sir, I don’t know when I came home myself very distinctly, and can’t, of course, tell about my father. Generally, you know, there are two candles left in the hall, you know; and if there are two, you know, I know of course that my father is still at the House. But last night, after that capital song you sang, hang me if I know what happened to me. I beg your pardon, sir, I’m shocked at having been so overtaken. Such a confounded thing doesn’t happen to me once in ten years. I do trust I didn’t do anything rude to anybody, for I thought some of your friends the pleasantest fellows I ever met in my life; and as for the claret, ‘gad, as if I hadn’t had enough after dinner, I brought a quantity of it away with me on my shirt-front and waistcoat!”

“I beg your pardon, Barnes,” Clive said, blushing deeply, “and I’m very sorry indeed for what passed; I threw it.”

The Colonel, who had been listening with a queer expression of wonder and doubt on his face, here interrupted Mr. Barnes. “It was Clive that — that spilled the wine over you last night,” Thomas Newcome said; “the young rascal had drunk a great deal too much wine, and had neither the use of his head nor his hands, and this morning I have given him a lecture, and he has come to ask your pardon for his clumsiness; and if you have forgotten your share in the night’s transaction, I hope you have forgotten his, and will accept his hand and his apology.”

“Apology: There’s no apology,” cries Barnes, holding out a couple of fingers of his hand, but looking towards the Colonel. “I don’t know what happened any more than the dead. Did we have a row? Were there any glasses broken? The best way in such cases is to sweep ’em up. We can’t mend them.”

The Colonel said gravely —“that he was thankful to find that the disturbance of the night before had no worse result.” He pulled the tail of Clive’s coat, when that unlucky young blunderer was about to trouble his cousin with indiscreet questions or explanations, and checked his talk. “The other night you saw an old man in drink, my boy,” he said, “and to what shame and degradation the old wretch had brought himself. Wine has given you a warning too, which I hope you will remember all your life; no one has seen me the worse for drink these forty years, and I hope both you young gentlemen will take counsel by an old soldier, who fully preaches what he practises, and beseeches you to beware of the bottle.”

After quitting their kinsman, the kind Colonel further improved the occasion with his son; and told him out of his own experience many stories of quarrels, and duels, and wine; — how the wine had occasioned the brawls, and the foolish speech overnight the bloody meeting at morning; how he had known widows and orphans made by hot words uttered in idle orgies: how the truest honour was the manly confession of wrong; and the best courage the courage to avoid temptation. The humble-minded speaker, whose advice contained the best of all wisdom, that which comes from a gentle and reverent spirit, and a pure and generous heart, never for once thought of the effect which he might be producing, but uttered his simple say according to the truth within him. Indeed, he spoke out his mind pretty resolutely on all subjects which moved or interested him; and Clive, his son, and his honest chum, Mr. Binnie, who had a great deal more reading and much keener intelligence than the Colonel, were amused often at his naive opinion about men, or books, or morals. Mr. Clive had a very fine natural sense of humour, which played perpetually round his father’s simple philosophy with kind and smiling comments. Between this pair of friends the superiority of wit lay, almost from the very first, on the younger man’s side; but, on the other hand, Clive felt a tender admiration for his father’s goodness, a loving delight in contemplating his elder’s character, which he has never lost, and which in the trials of their future life inexpressibly cheered and consoled both of them! Beati illi! O man of the world, whose wearied eyes may glance over this page, may those who come after you so regard you! O generous boy, who read in it, may you have such a friend to trust and cherish in youth, and in future days fondly and proudly to remember!

Some four or five weeks after the quasi-reconciliation between Clive and his kinsman, the chief part of Sir Brian Newcome’s family were assembled at the breakfast-table together, where the meal was taken in common, and at the early hour of eight (unless the senator was kept too late in the House of Commons overnight); and Lady Anne and her nursery were now returned to London again, little Alfred being perfectly set up by a month of Brighton air. It was a Thursday morning; on which day of the week, it has been said, the Newcome Independent and the Newcome Sentinel both made their appearance upon the Baronet’s table. The household from above and from below; the maids and footmen from the basement; the nurses, children, and governesses from the attics; all poured into the room at the sound of a certain bell.

I do not sneer at the purpose for which, at that chiming eight-o’clock bell, the household is called together. The urns are hissing, the plate is shining; the father of the house, standing up, reads from a gilt book for three or four minutes in a measured cadence. The members of the family are around the table in an attitude of decent reverence; the younger children whisper responses at their mother’s knees; the governess worships a little apart; the maids and the large footmen are in a cluster before their chairs, the upper servants performing their devotion on the other side of the sideboard; the nurse whisks about the unconscious last-born, and tosses it up and down during the ceremony. I do not sneer at that — at the act at which all these people are assembled — it is at the rest of the day I marvel; at the rest of the day, and what it brings. At the very instant when the voice has ceased speaking and the gilded book is shut, the world begins again, and for the next twenty-three hours and fifty-seven minutes all that household is given up to it. The servile squad rises up and marches away to its basement, whence, should it happen to be a gala-day, those tall gentlemen at present attired in Oxford mixture will issue forth with flour plastered on their heads, yellow coats, pink breeches, sky-blue waistcoats, silver lace, buckles in their shoes, black silk bags on their backs, and I don’t know what insane emblems of servility and absurd bedizenments of folly. Their very manner of speaking to what we call their masters and mistresses will be a like monstrous masquerade. You know no more of that race which inhabits the basement floor, than of the men and brethren of Timbuctoo, to whom some among us send missionaries. If you met some of your servants in the streets (I respectfully suppose for a moment that the reader is a person of high fashion and a great establishment), you would not know their faces. You might sleep under the same roof for half a century and know nothing about them. If they were ill, you would not visit them, though you would send them an apothecary and of course order that they lacked for nothing. You are not unkind, you are not worse than your neighbours. Nay, perhaps, if you did go into the kitchen, or to take the tea in the servants’-hall, you would do little good, and only bore the folks assembled there. But so it is. With those fellow-Christians who have been just saying Amen to your prayers, you have scarcely the community of Charity. They come, you don’t know whence; they think and talk, you don’t know what; they die, and you don’t care, or vice versa. They answer the bell for prayers as they answer the bell for coals: for exactly three minutes in the day you all kneel together on one carpet — and, the desires and petitions of the servants and masters over, the rite called family worship is ended.

Exeunt servants, save those two who warm the newspaper, administer the muffins, and serve out the tea. Sir Brian reads his letters, and chumps his dry toast. Ethel whispers to her mother, she thinks Eliza is looking very ill. Lady Anne asks, which is Eliza? Is it the woman that was ill before they left town? If she is ill, Mrs. Trotter had better send her away. Mrs. Trotter is only a great deal too good-natured. She is always keeping people who are ill. Then her ladyship begins to read the Morning Post, and glances over the names of the persons who were present at Baroness Bosco’s ball, and Mrs. Toddle Tompkyns’s soiree dansante in Belgrave Square.

“Everybody was there,” says Barnes, looking over from his paper.

“But who is Mrs. Toddle Tompkyns?” asks mamma. “Who ever heard of a Mrs. Toddle Tompkyns? What do people mean by going to such a person?”

“Lady Popinjoy asked the people,” Barnes says gravely. “The thing was really doosed well done. The woman looked frightened; but she’s pretty, and I am told the daughter will have a great lot of money.”

“Is she pretty, and did you dance with her?” asks Ethel.

“Me dance!” says Mr. Barnes. We are speaking of a time before casinos were, and when the British youth were by no means so active in dancing practice as at this present period. Barnes resumed the reading of his county paper, but presently laid it down, with an execration so brisk and loud, that his mother gave a little outcry, and even his father looked up from his letters to ask the meaning of an oath so unexpected and ungenteel.

“My uncle, the Colonel of sepoys, and his amiable son have been paying a visit to Newcome — that’s the news which I have the pleasure to announce to you,” says Mr. Barnes.

“You are always sneering about our uncle,” breaks in Ethel, with impetuous voice, “and saying unkind things about Clive. Our uncle is a dear, good, kind man, and I love him. He came to Brighton to see us, and went out every day for hours and hours with Alfred; and Clive, too, drew pictures for him. And he is good, and kind, and generous, and honest as his father. And Barnes is always speaking ill of him behind his back.”

“And his aunt lets very nice lodgings, and is altogether a most desirable acquaintance,” says Mr. Barnes. “What a shame it is that we have not cultivated that branch of the family!”

“My dear fellow,” cries Sir Brian, “I have no doubt Miss Honeyman is a most respectable person. Nothing is so ungenerous as to rebuke a gentleman or a lady on account of their poverty, and I coincide with Ethel in thinking that you speak of your uncle and his son in terms which, to say the least, are disrespectful.”

“Miss Honeyman is a dear little old woman,” breaks in Ethel. “Was not she kind to Alfred, mamma, and did not she make him nice jelly? And a Doctor of Divinity — you know Clive’s grandfather was a Doctor of Divinity, mamma, there’s a picture of him in a wig — is just as good as a banker, you know he is.”

“Did you bring some of Miss Honeyman’s lodging-house cards with you, Ethel?” says her brother, “and had we not better hang up one or two in Lombard Street; hers and our other relation’s, Mrs. Mason?”

“My darling love, who is Mrs. Mason?” asks Lady Anne.

“Another member of the family, ma’am. She was cousin ——”

“She was no such thing, sir,” roars Sir Brian.

“She was relative and housemaid of my grandfather during his first marriage. She acted, I believe, as dry nurse to the distinguished Colonel of sepoys, my uncle. She has retired into private life in her native town of Newcome, and occupies her latter days by the management of a mangle. The Colonel and young pothouse have gone down to spend a few days with their elderly relative. It’s all here in the paper, by Jove!” Mr. Barnes clenched his fist, and stamped upon the newspaper with much energy.

“And so they should go down and see her, and so the Colonel should love his nurse, and not forget his relations if they are old and poor,” cries Ethel, with a flush on her face, and tears starting into her eyes.

“Hear what the Newcome papers say about it,” shrieks out Mr. Barnes, his voice quivering, his little eyes flashing out scorn. “It’s in both the papers, I dare say. It will be in the Times tomorrow. By —— it’s delightful. Our paper only mentions the gratifying circumstance; here is the paragraph. ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Newcome, C.B., a distinguished Indian officer, and younger brother of our respected townsman and representative Sir Brian Newcome, Bart., has been staying for the last week at the King’s Arms, in our city. He has been visited by the principal inhabitants and leading gentlemen of Newcome, and has come among us, as we understand, in order to pass a few days with an elderly relative, who has been living for many years past in great retirement in this place.’”

“Well, I see no great harm in that paragraph,” says Sir Brian. “I wish my brother had gone to the Roebuck, and not to the King’s Arms, as the Roebuck is our house: but he could not be expected to know much about the Newcome inns, as he is a new comer himself. And I think it was very right of the people to call on him.”

“Now hear what the Independent says, and see if you like that, sir,” cries Barnes, grinning fiercely; and he began to read as follows:—

“‘Mr. Independent — I was born and bred a Screwcomite, and am naturally proud of everybody and everything which bears the revered name of Screwcome. I am a Briton and a man, though I have not the honour of a vote for my native borough; if I had, you may be sure I would give it to our admired and talented representative, Don Pomposo Lickspittle Grindpauper, Poor House Agincourt, Screwcome, whose ancestors fought with Julius Caesar against William the Conqueror, and whose father certainly wielded a cloth yard shaft in London not fifty years ago.

“’ Don Pomposo, as you know, seldom favours the town o Screwcome with a visit. — Our gentry are not of ancient birth enough to be welcome to a Lady Screwcome. Our manufacturers make their money by trade. Oh, fie I how can it be supposed that such vulgarians should be received among the, aristocratic society of Screwcome House? Two balls in the season, and ten dozen o gooseberry, are enough for them.’”

“It’s that scoundrel Parrot,” burst out Sir Brian; “because I wouldn’t have any more wine of him — No, it’s Vidler, the apothecary. By heavens! Lady Anne, I told you it would be so. Why didn’t you ask the Miss Vidlers to your ball?”

“They were on the list,” cries Lady Anne, “three of them; I did everything I could; I consulted Mr. Vidler for poor Alfred, and he actually stopped and saw the dear child take the physic. Why were they not asked to the ball?” cries her ladyship bewildered; “I declare to gracious goodness I don’t know.”

“Barnes scratched their names,” cries Ethel, “out of the list, mamma. You know you did, Barnes; you said you had gallipots enough.”

“I don’t think it is like Vidler’s writing,” said Mr. Barnes, perhaps willing to turn the conversation. “I think it must be that villain Duff the baker, who made the song about us at the last election; — but hear the rest of the paragraph,” and he continued to read:—

“‘The Screwcomites are at this moment favoured with a visit from a gentleman of the Screwcome family, who, having passed all his life abroad, is somewhat different from his relatives, whom we all so love and honour! This distinguished gentleman, this gallant soldier, has come among us, not merely to see our manufactures — in which Screwcome can vie with any city in the North — but an old servant and relation of his family, whom he is not above recognising; who nursed him in his early days; who has been living in her native place for many years, supported by the generous bounty of Colonel N———. The gallant officer, accompanied by his son, a fine youth, has taken repeated drives round our beautiful environs in one of friend Taplow’s (of the King’s Arms) open drags, and accompanied by Mrs. —— — now an aged lady, who speaks, with tears in her eyes, of the goodness and gratitude of her gallant soldier!

“‘One day last week they drove to Screwcome House. Will it be believed that, though the house is only four miles distant from our city — though Don Pomposo’s family have inhabited it these twelve years for four or five months every year — Mrs. M——— saw her cousin’s house for the first time; has never set eyes upon those grandees, except in public places, since the day when they honoured the county by purchasing the estate which they own?

“‘I have, as I repeat, no vote for the borough; but if I had, oh, wouldn’t I show my respectful gratitude at the next election, and plump for Pomposo! I shall keep my eye upon him, and am, Mr. Independent — Your Constant Reader, Peeping Tom.’”

“The spirit of radicalism abroad in this country,” said Sir Brian Newcome, crushing his egg-shell desperately, “is dreadful, really dreadful. We are on the edge of a positive volcano.” Down went the egg-spoon into its crater. “The worst sentiments are everywhere publicly advocated; the licentiousness of the press has reached a pinnacle which menaces us with ruin; there is no law which these shameless newspapers respect; no rank which is safe from their attacks; no ancient landmark which the lava-flood of democracy does not threaten to overwhelm and destroy.”

“When I was at Spielburg,” Barnes Newcome remarked kindly, “I saw three long-bearded, putty-faced blaguards pacin up and down a little courtyard, and Count Keppenheimer told me they were three damned editors of Milanese newspapers, who had had seven years of imprisonment already; and last year when Keppenheimer came to shoot at Newcome, I showed him that old thief, old Batters, the proprietor of the Independent, and Potts, his infernal ally, driving in a dogcart; and I said to him, Keppenheimer, I wish we had a place where we could lock up some of our infernal radicals of the press, or that you could take off those two villains to Spielburg; and as we were passin, that infernal Potts burst out laughin in my face, and cut one of my pointers over the head with his whip. We must do something with that Independent, sir.”

“We must,” says the father, solemnly, “we must put it down, Barnes, we must put it down.”

“I think,” says Barnes, “we had best give the railway advertisements to Batters.”

“But that makes the man of the Sentinel so angry,” says the elder persecutor of the press.

“Then let us give Tom Potts some shootin at any rate; the ruffian is always poachin about our covers as it is. Speers should be written to, sir, to keep a look-out upon Batters and that villain his accomplice, and to be civil to them, and that sort of thing; and, damn it, to be down upon them whenever he sees the opportunity.”

During the above conspiracy for bribing or crushing the independence of a great organ of British opinion, Miss Ethel Newcome held her tongue; but when her papa closed the conversation by announcing solemnly that he would communicate with Speers, Ethel turning to her mother said, “Mamma, is it true that grandpapa has a relation living at Newcome who is old and poor?”

“My darling child, how on earth should I know?” says Lady Anne. “I daresay Mr. Newcome had plenty of poor relations.”

“I am sure some on your side, Anne, have been good enough to visit me at the bank,” said Sir Brian, who thought his wife’s ejaculation was a reflection upon his family, whereas it was the statement of a simple fact in natural history. “This person was no relation of my father’s at all. She was remotely connected with his first wife, I believe. She acted as servant to him, and has been most handsomely pensioned by the Colonel.”

“Who went to her, like a kind, dear, good, brave uncle as he is,” cried Ethel; “the very day I go to Newcome I’ll go to see her.” She caught a look of negation in her father’s eye —“I will go — that is, if papa will give me leave,” says Miss Ethel.

“By Gad, sir,” says Barnes, “I think it is the very best thing she could do; and the best way of doing it, Ethel can go with one of the boys and take Mrs. What-do-you-call’em a gown, or a, tract, or that sort of thing, and stop that infernal Independent’s mouth.”

“If we had gone sooner,” said Miss Ethel, simply, “there would not have been all this abuse of us in the paper.” To which statement her worldly father and brother perforce agreeing, we may congratulate good old Mrs. Mason upon the new and polite acquaintances she is about to make.

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