The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Youth and Sunshine

Although Thomas Newcome was gone back to India in search of more money, finding that he could not live upon his income at home, he was nevertheless rather a wealthy man; and at the moment of his departure from Europe had two lakhs of rupees invested in various Indian securities. “A thousand a year,” he thought, “more, added to the interest accruing from my two lakhs, will enable us to live very comfortably at home. I can give Clive ten thousand pounds when he marries, and five hundred a year out of my allowances. If he gets a wife with some money, they may have every enjoyment of life; and as for his pictures, he can paint just as few or as many of those as he pleases.” Newcome did not seem seriously to believe that his son would live by painting pictures, but considered Clive as a young prince who chose to amuse himself with painting. The Muse of Painting is a lady whose social station is not altogether recognised with us as yet. The polite world permits a gentleman to amuse himself with her; but to take her for better or for worse! forsake all other chances and cleave unto her! to assume her name! Many a respectable person would be as much shocked at the notion, as if his son had married an opera-dancer.

Newcome left a hundred a year in England, of which the principal sum was to be transferred to his boy as soon as he came of age. He endowed Clive further with a considerable annual sum, which his London bankers would pay: “And if these are not enough,” says he kindly, “you must draw upon my agents, Messrs. Frank and Merryweather at Calcutta, who will receive your signature just as if it was mine.” Before going away, he introduced Clive to F. and M.‘s corresponding London house, Jolly and Baines, Fog Court — leading out of Leadenhall — Mr. Jolly, a myth as regarded the firm, now married to Lady Julia Jolly — a Park in Kent — evangelical interest — great at Exeter Hall meetings — knew Clive’s grandmother — that is, Mrs. Newcome, a most admirable woman. Baines represents a house in the Regent’s Park, with an emigrative tendency towards Belgravia — musical daughters — Herr Moscheles, Benedick, Ella — Osborne, constantly at dinner-sonatas in P flat (op. 936), composed and dedicated to Miss Euphemia Baines, by her most obliged, most obedient servant, Ferdinando Blitz. Baines hopes that his young friend will come constantly to York Terrace, where the most girls will be happy to see him; and mentions at home a singular whim of Colonel Newcome’s, who can give his son twelve or fifteen hundred a year, and makes an artist of him. Euphemia and Flora adore artists; they feel quite interested about this young man. “He was scribbling caricatures all the time I was talking with his father in my parlour,” says Mr. Baines, and produces a sketch of an orange-woman near the Bank, who had struck Clive’s eyes, and been transferred to the blotting-paper in Fog Court. “He needn’t do anything,” said good-natured Mr. Baines. “I guess all the pictures he’ll paint won’t sell for much.”

“Is he fond of music, papa?” asks Miss. “What a pity he had not come to our last evening; and now the season is over!”

“And Mr. Newcome is going out of town. He came to me, today for circular notes — says he’s going through Switzerland and into Italy — lives in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square. Queer place, ain’t it? Put his name down in your book, and ask him to dinner next season.”

Before Clive went away, he had an apparatus of easels, sketching-stools, umbrellas, and painting-boxes, the most elaborate and beautiful that Messrs. Soap and Isaac could supply. It made J. J.‘s eyes glisten to see those lovely gimcracks of art; those smooth mill-boards, those slab-tinted sketching-blocks, and glistening rows of colour-tubes lying in their boxes, which seemed to cry, “Come, squeeze me.” If painting-boxes made painters, if sketching-stools would but enable one to sketch, surely I would hasten this very instant to Messrs. Soap and Isaac! but, alas! these pretty toys no more make artists than cowls make monks.

As a proof that Clive did intend to practise his profession, and to live by it too, at this time he took four sporting sketches to a printseller in the Haymarket, and disposed of them at the rate of seven shillings and sixpence per sketch. His exultation at receiving a sovereign and half a sovereign from Mr. Jones was boundless. “I can do half a dozen of these things easily in a morning,” he says. “Two guineas a day is twelve guineas — say ten guineas a week, for I won’t work on Sundays, and may take a holiday in the week besides. Ten guineas a week is five hundred a year. That is pretty nearly as much money as I shall want, and I need not draw the dear old governor’s allowance at all.” He wrote an ardent letter, full of happiness and affection, to the kind father, which he shall find a month after he has arrived in India, and read to his friends in Calcutta and Barrackpore. Clive invited many of his artist friends to a grand feast in honour of the thirty shillings. The King’s Arms, Kensington, was the hotel selected (tavern beloved of artists for many score years!). Gandish was there, and the Gandishites, and some chosen spirits from the Life Academy, Clipstone Street, and J. J. was vice-president, with Fred Bayham by his side, to make the speeches and carve the mutton; and I promise you many a merry song was sung, and many a health drunk in flowing bumpers; and as jolly a party was assembled as any London contained that day. The beau-monde had quitted it; the Park was empty as we crossed it; and the leaves of Kensington Gardens had begun to fall, dying after the fatigues of a London season. We sang all the way home through Knightsbridge and by the Park railings, and the Covent Garden carters halting at the Half-way House were astonished at our choruses. There is no half-way house now; no merry chorus at midnight.

Then Clive and J. J. took the steamboat to Antwerp; and those who love pictures may imagine how the two young men rejoiced in one of the most picturesque cities of the world; where they went back straightway into the sixteenth century; where the inn at which they stayed (delightful old Grand Laboureur, thine ancient walls are levelled! thy comfortable hospitalities exist no more!) seemed such a hostelry as that where Quentin Durward first saw his sweetheart; where knights of Velasquez or burgomasters of Rubens seemed to look from the windows of the tall-gabled houses and the quaint porches; where the Bourse still stood, the Bourse of three hundred years ago, and you had but to supply figures with beards and ruffs, and rapiers and trunk-hose, to make the picture complete; where to be awakened by the carillon of the bells was to waken to the most delightful sense of life and happiness; where nuns, actual nuns, walked the streets, and every figure in the Place de Meir, and every devotee at church, kneeling and draped in black, or entering the confessional (actually the confessional!), was a delightful subject for the new sketchbook. Had Clive drawn as much everywhere as at Antwerp, Messrs. Soap and Isaac might have made a little income by supplying him with materials.

After Antwerp, Clive’s correspondent gets a letter dated from the Hotel de Suede at Brussels, which contains an elaborate eulogy of the cookery and comfort of that hotel, where the wines, according to the writer’s opinion, are unmatched almost in Europe. And this is followed by a description of Waterloo, and a sketch of Hougoumont, in which J. J. is represented running away in the character of a French grenadier, Clive pursuing him in the lifeguard’s habit, and mounted on a thundering charger.

Next follows a letter from Bonn. Verses about Drachenfels of a not very superior style of versification; an account of Crichton, an old Grey Friars man, who has become a student at the university; of a commerz, a drunken bout, and a students’ duel at Bonn. “And whom should I find here,” says Mr. Clive, “but Aunt Anne, Ethel, Miss Quigley, and the little ones, the whole detachment under the command of Kuhn? Uncle Brian is staying at Aix. He is recovered from his attack. And, upon my conscience, I think my pretty cousin looks prettier every day.

“When they are not in London,” Clive goes on to write, “or I sometimes think when Barnes or old Lady Kew are not looking over them, they are quite different. You know how cold they have latterly seemed to us, and how their conduct annoyed my dear old father. Nothing can be kinder than their behaviour since we have met. It was on the little hill at Godesberg: J. J. and I were mounting to the ruin, followed by the beggars who waylay you, and have taken the place of the other robbers who used to live there, when there came a procession of donkeys down the steep, and I heard a little voice cry, ‘Hullo! it’s Clive! hooray, Clive!’ and an ass came pattering down the declivity, with a little pair of white trousers at an immensely wide angle over the donkey’s back, and behold there was little Alfred grinning with all his might.

“He turned his beast and was for galloping up the hill again, I suppose to inform his relations; but the donkey refused with many kicks, one of which sent Alfred plunging amongst the stones, and we were rubbing him down just as the rest of the party came upon us. Miss Quigley looked very grim on an old white pony; my aunt was on a black horse that might have turned grey, he is so old. Then come two donkeysful of children, with Kuhn as supercargo; then Ethel on donkey-back, too, with a bunch of wildflowers in her hand, a great straw hat with a crimson ribbon, a white muslin jacket, you know, bound at the waist with a ribbon of the first, and a dark skirt, with a shawl round her feet which Kuhn had arranged. As she stopped, the donkey fell to cropping greens in the hedge; the trees there chequered her white dress and face with shadow. Her eyes, hair, and forehead were in shadow too — but the light was all upon her right cheek: upon her shoulder down to her arm, which was of a warmer white, and on the bunch of flowers which she held, blue, yellow, and red poppies, and so forth.

“J. J. says, ‘I think the birds began to sing louder when she came.’ We have both agreed that she is the handsomest woman in England. It’s not her form merely, which is certainly as yet too thin and a little angular — it is her colour. I do not care for woman or picture without colour. O ye carnations! O ye lilia mista rosis! O such black hair and solemn eyebrows! It seems to me the roses and carnations have bloomed again since we saw them last in London, when they were drooping from the exposure to night air, candle-light, and heated ballrooms.

“Here I was in the midst of a regiment of donkeys, bearing a crowd of relations; J. J. standing modestly in the background — beggars completing the group, and Kuhn ruling over them with voice and gesture, oaths and whip. Throw in the Rhine in the distance flashing by the Seven Mountains — but mind and make Ethel the principal figure: if you make her like, she certainly will be — and other lights will be only minor fires. You may paint her form, but you can’t paint her colour; that is what beats us in nature. A line must come right; you can force that into its place, but you can’t compel the circumambient air. There is no yellow I know of will make sunshine, and no blue that is a bit like sky. And so with pictures: I think you only get signs of colour, and formulas to stand for it. That brick-dust which we agree to receive as representing a blush, look at it — can you say it is in the least like the blush which flickers and varies as it sweeps over the down of the cheek — as you see sunshine playing over a meadow? Look into it and see what a variety of delicate blooms there are! a multitude of flowerets twining into one tint! We may break our colour-pots and strive after the line alone: that is palpable and we can grasp it — the other is impossible and beyond us.” Which sentiment I here set down, not on account of its worth (and I think it is contradicted — as well as asserted — in more than one of the letters I subsequently had from Mr. Clive, but it may serve to show the ardent and impulsive disposition of this youth), by whom all beauties of art and nature, animate or inanimate (the former especially), were welcomed with a gusto and delight whereof colder temperaments are incapable. The view of a fine landscape, a fine picture, a handsome woman, would make this harmless young sensualist tipsy with pleasure. He seemed to derive an actual hilarity and intoxication as his eye drank in these sights; and, though it was his maxim that all dinners were good, and he could eat bread and cheese and drink small beer with perfect good-humour, I believe that he found a certain pleasure in a bottle of claret, which most men’s systems were incapable of feeling.

This springtime of youth is the season of letter-writing. A lad in high health and spirits, the blood running briskly in his young veins, and the world, and life, and nature bright and welcome to him, looks out, perforce, for some companion to whom he may impart his sense of the pleasure which he enjoys, and which were not complete unless a friend were by to share it. I was the person most convenient for the young fellow’s purpose; he was pleased to confer upon me the title of friend en titre, and confidant in particular; to endow the confidant in question with a number of virtues and excellences which existed very likely only in the lad’s imagination; to lament that the confidant had no sister whom he, Clive, might marry out of hand; and to make me a thousand simple protests of affection and admiration, which are noted here as signs of the young man’s character, by no means as proofs of the goodness of mine. The books given to the present biographer by “his affectionate friend, Clive Newcome,” still bear on the titlepages the marks of that boyish hand and youthful fervour. He had a copy of Walter Lorraine bound and gilt with such splendour as made the author blush for his performance, which has since been seen at the bookstalls at a price suited to the very humblest purses. He fired up and fought a newspaper critic (whom Clive met at the Haunt one night) who had dared to write an article in which that work was slighted; and if, in the course of nature, his friendship has outlived that rapturous period, the kindness of the two old friends, I hope, is not the less because it is no longer romantic, and the days of white vellum and gilt edges have passed away. From the abundance of the letters which the affectionate young fellow now wrote, the ensuing portion of his youthful history is compiled. It may serve to recall passages of their early days to such of his seniors as occasionally turn over the leaves of a novel; and in the story of his faults, indiscretions, passions, and actions, young readers may be reminded of their own.

Now that the old Countess, and perhaps Barnes, were away, the barrier between Clive and this family seemed to be withdrawn. The young folks who loved him were free to see him as often as he would come. They were going to Baden: would he come too? Baden was on the road to Switzerland, he might journey to Strasbourg, Basle, and so on. Clive was glad enough to go with his cousins, and travel in the orbit of such a lovely girl as Ethel Newcome. J. J. performed the second part always when Clive was present: and so they all travelled to Coblentz, Mayence, and Frankfort together, making the journey which everybody knows, and sketching the mountains and castles we all of us have sketched. Ethel’s beauty made all the passengers on all the steamers look round and admire. Clive was proud of being in the suite of such a lovely person. The family travelled with a pair of those carriages which used to thunder along the Continental roads a dozen years since, and from interior, box, and rumble discharge a dozen English people at hotel gates.

The journey is all sunshine and pleasure and novelty: the circular notes with which Mr. Baines of Fog Court has supplied Clive Newcome, Esquire, enabled that young gentleman to travel with great ease and comfort. He has not yet ventured upon engaging a valet-de-chambre, it being agreed between him and J. J. that two travelling artists have no right to such an aristocratic appendage; but he has bought a snug little britzska at Frankfort (the youth has very polite tastes, is already a connoisseur in wine, and has no scruple in ordering the best at the hotels), and the britzska travels in company with Lady Anne’s caravan, either in its wake so as to be out of reach of the dust, or more frequently ahead of that enormous vehicle and its tender, in which come the children and the governess of Lady Anne Newcome, guarded by a huge and melancholy London footman, who beholds Rhine and Neckar, valley and mountain, village and ruin, with a like dismal composure. Little Alfred and little Egbert are by no means sorry to escape from Miss Quigley and the tender, and for a stage ride or two in Clive’s britzska. The little girls cry sometimes to be admitted to that privilege. I dare say Ethel would like very well to quit her place in the caravan, where she sits, circumvented by mamma’s dogs, and books, bags, dressing-boxes, and gimcrack cases, without which apparatus some English ladies of condition cannot travel; but Miss Ethel is grown up, she is out, and has been presented at Court, and is a person of too great dignity now to sit anywhere but in the place of state in the chariot corner. I like to think, for my part, of the gallant young fellow taking his pleasure and enjoying his holiday, and few sights are more pleasant than to watch a happy, manly English youth, free-handed and generous-hearted, content and good-humour shining in his honest face, pleased and pleasing, eager, active, and thankful for services, and exercising bravely his noble youthful privilege to be happy and to enjoy. Sing, cheery spirit, whilst the spring lasts; bloom whilst the sun shines, kindly flowers of youth! You shall be none the worse tomorrow for having been happy today, if the day brings no action to shame it. As for J. J., he too had his share of enjoyment; the charming scenes around him did not escape his bright eye, he absorbed pleasure in his silent way, he was up with the sunrise always, and at work with his eyes and his heart if not with his hands. A beautiful object too is such a one to contemplate, a pure virgin soul, a creature gentle, pious, and full of love, endowed with sweet gifts, humble and timid; but for truth’s and justice’s sake inflexible, thankful to God and man, fond, patient, and faithful. Clive was still his hero as ever, his patron, his splendid young prince and chieftain. Who was so brave, who was so handsome, generous, witty as Clive? To hear Clive sing, as the lad would whilst they were seated at their work, or driving along on this happy journey, through fair landscapes in the sunshine, gave J. J. the keenest pleasure; his wit was a little slow, but he would laugh with his eyes at Clive’s sallies, or ponder over them and explode with laughter presently, giving a new source of amusement to these merry travellers, and little Alfred would laugh at J. J.‘s laughing; and so, with a hundred harmless jokes to enliven, and the ever-changing, ever-charming smiles of nature to cheer and accompany it, the happy day’s journey would come to an end.

So they travelled by the accustomed route to the prettiest town of all places where Pleasure has set up her tents; and where the gay, the melancholy, the idle or occupied, grave or haughty, come for amusement, or business, or relaxation; where London beauties, having danced and flirted all the season, may dance and flirt a little more; where well-dressed rogues from all quarters of the world assemble; where I have seen severe London lawyers, forgetting their wigs and the Temple, trying their luck against fortune and M. Benazet; where wistful schemers conspire and prick cards down, and deeply meditate the infallible coup; and try it, and lose it, and borrow a hundred francs to go home; where even virtuous British ladies venture their little stakes, and draw up their winnings with trembling rakes, by the side of ladies who are not virtuous at all, no, not even by name; where young prodigals break the bank sometimes, and carry plunder out of a place which Hercules himself could scarcely compel; where you meet wonderful countesses and princesses, whose husbands are almost always absent on their vast estates — in Italy, Spain, Piedmont — who knows where their lordships’ possessions are? — while trains of suitors surround those wandering Penelopes their noble wives; Russian Boyars, Spanish Grandees of the Order of the Fleece, Counts of France, and Princes Polish and Italian innumerable, who perfume the gilded halls with their tobacco-smoke, and swear in all languages against the black and the red. The famous English monosyllable by which things, persons, luck, even eyes, are devoted to the infernal gods, we may be sure is not wanting in that Babel. Where does one not hear it? “D—— the luck,” says Lord Kew, as the croupier sweeps off his lordship’s rouleaux. “D—— the luck,” says Brown the bagman, who has been backing his lordship with five-franc pieces. “Ah, body of Bacchus!” says Count Felice, whom we all remember a courier. “Ah, sacre coup,” cries M. le Vicomte de Florac, as his last louis parts company from him — each cursing in his native tongue. Oh, sweet chorus!

That Lord Kew should be at Baden is no wonder. If you heard of him at the Finish, or at Buckingham Palace ball, or in a watch-house, or at the Third Cataract, or at a Newmarket meeting, you would not be surprised. He goes everywhere; does everything with all his might; knows everybody. Last week he won who knows how many thousand louis from the bank (it appears Brown has chosen one of the unlucky days to back his lordship). He will eat his supper as gaily after a great victory as after a signal defeat; and we know that to win with magnanimity requires much more constancy than to lose. His sleep will not be disturbed by one event or the other. He will play skittles all the morning with perfect contentment, romp with children in the forenoon (he is the friend of half the children in the place), or he will cheerfully leave the green table and all the risk and excitement there, to take a hand at sixpenny whist with General Fogey, or to give the six Miss Fogeys a turn each in the ballroom. From H.R.H. the Prince Royal of — — who is the greatest guest at Baden, down to Brown the bagman, who does not consider himself the smallest, Lord Kew is hail fellow with everybody, and has a kind word from and for all.

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