The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which the Author and the Hero resume their Acquaintance

If we are to narrate the youthful history not only of the hero of this tale, but of the hero’s father, we shall never have done with nursery biography. A gentleman’s grandmother may delight in fond recapitulation of her darling’s boyish frolics and early genius; but shall we weary our kind readers by this infantile prattle, and set down the revered British public for an old woman? Only to two or three persons in all the world are the reminiscences of a man’s early youth interesting: to the parent who nursed him; to the fond wife or child mayhap afterwards who loves him; to himself always and supremely — whatever may be his actual prosperity or ill-fortune, his present age, illness, difficulties, renown, or disappointments, the dawn of his life still shines brightly for him, the early griefs and delights and attachments remain with him ever faithful and dear. I shall ask leave to say, regarding the juvenile biography of Mr. Clive Newcome, of whose history I am the chronicler, only so much as is sufficient to account for some peculiarities of his character, and for his subsequent career in the world.

Although we were schoolfellows, my acquaintance with young Newcome at the seat of learning where we first met was very brief and casual. He had the advantage of being six years the junior of his present biographer, and such a difference of age between lads at a public school puts intimacy out of the question — a junior ensign being no more familiar with the Commander-inChief at the Horse Guards, or a barrister on his first circuit with my Lord Chief Justice on the bench, than the newly breeched infant in the Petties with a senior boy in a tailed coat. As we “knew each other at home,” as our school phrase was, and our families being somewhat acquainted, Newcome’s maternal uncle, the Rev. Charles Honeyman (the highly gifted preacher, and incumbent of Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel, Denmark Street, Mayfair), when he brought the child, after the Christmas vacation of 182-, to the Grey Friars’ school, recommended him in a neat complimentary speech to my superintendence and protection. My uncle, Major Pendennis, had for a while a seat in the chapel of this sweet and popular preacher, and professed, as a great number of persons of fashion did, a great admiration for him — an admiration which I shared in my early youth, but which has been modified by maturer judgment.

Mr. Honeyman told me, with an air of deep respect, that his young nephew’s father, Colonel Thomas Newcome, C.B., was a most gallant and distinguished officer in the Bengal establishment of the Honourable East India Company; — and that his uncles, the Colonel’s half-brothers, were the eminent bankers, heads of the firm of Hobson Brothers and Newcome, Hobson Newcome, Esquire, Bryanstone Square, and Marblehead, Sussex, and Sir Brian Newcome, of Newcome and Park Lane, “whom to name,” says Mr. Honeyman, with the fluent eloquence with which he decorated the commonest circumstances of life, “is to designate two of the merchant princes of the wealthiest city the world has ever known; and one, if not two, of the leaders of that aristocracy which rallies round the throne of the most elegant and refined of European sovereigns.” I promised Mr. Honeyman to do what I could for the boy; and he proceeded to take leave of his little nephew in my presence in terms equally eloquent, pulling out a long and very slender green purse, from which he extracted the sum of two-and-sixpence, which he presented to the child, who received the money with rather a queer twinkle in his blue eyes.

After that day’s school, I met my little protege in the neighbourhood of the pastrycook’s, regaling himself with raspberry-tarts. “You must not spend all that money, sir, which your uncle gave you,” said I (having perhaps even at that early age a slightly satirical turn), “in tarts and ginger-beer.”

The urchin rubbed the raspberry-jam off his mouth, and said, “It don’t matter, sir, for I’ve got lots more.”

“How much?” says the Grand Inquisitor: for the formula of interrogation used to be, when a new boy came to the school, “What’s your name? Who’s your father? and how much money have you got?”

The little fellow pulled such a handful of sovereigns out of his pocket as might have made the tallest scholar feel a pang of envy. “Uncle Hobson,” says he, “gave me two; Aunt Hobson gave me one — no, Aunt Hobson gave me thirty shillings; Uncle Newcome gave me three pound; and Aunt Anne gave me one pound five; and Aunt Honeyman sent me ten shillings in a letter. And Ethel wanted to give me a pound, only I wouldn’t have it, you know; because Ethel’s younger than me, and I have plenty.”

“And who is Ethel?” asks the senior boy, smiling at the artless youth’s confessions.

“Ethel is my cousin,” replies little Newcome; “Aunt Anne’s daughter. There’s Ethel and Alice, and Aunt Anne wanted the baby to be called Boadicea, only uncle wouldn’t; and there’s Barnes and Egbert and little Alfred; only he don’t count, he’s quite a baby you know. Egbert and me was at school at Timpany’s; he’s going to Eton next half. He’s older than me, but I can lick him.”

“And how old is Egbert?” asks the smiling senior.

“Egbert’s ten, and I’m nine, and Ethel’s seven,” replies the little chubby-faced hero, digging his hands deep into his trousers’ pockets, and jingling all the sovereigns there. I advised him to let me be his banker; and, keeping one out of his many gold pieces, he handed over the others, on which he drew with great liberality till his whole stock was expended. The school hours of the upper and under boys were different at that time; the little fellows coming out of their hall half an hour before the Fifth and Sixth Forms; and many a time I used to find my little blue jacket in waiting, with his honest square face, and white hair, and bright blue eyes, and I knew that he was come to draw on his bank. Ere long one of the pretty blue eyes was shut up, and a fine black one substituted in its place. He had been engaged, it appeared, in a pugilistic encounter with a giant of his own Form, whom he had worsted in the combat. “Didn’t I pitch into him, that’s all?” says he in the elation of victory; and when I asked whence the quarrel arose, he stoutly informed me that “Wolf minor, his opponent, had been bullying a little boy, and that he (the gigantic Newcome) wouldn’t stand it.”

So, being called away from the school, I said farewell and God bless you to the brave little man, who remained a while at the Grey Friars, where his career and troubles had only just begun.

Nor did we meet again until I was myself a young man occupying chambers in the Temple, when our rencontre took place in the manner already described.

Poor Costigan’s outrageous behaviour had caused my meeting with my schoolfellow of early days to terminate so abruptly and unpleasantly, that I scarce expected to see Clive again, or at any rate to renew my acquaintance with the indignant East Indian warrior who had quitted our company in such a huff. Breakfast, however, was scarcely over in my chambers the next morning, when there came a knock at the outer door, and my clerk introduced “Colonel Newcome and Mr. Newcome.”

Perhaps the (joint) occupant of the chambers in Lamb Court, Temple, felt a little pang of shame at hearing the name of the visitors; for, if the truth must be told, I was engaged pretty much as I had been occupied on the night previous, and was smoking a cigar over the Times newspaper. How many young men in the Temple smoke a cigar after breakfast as they read the Times? My friend and companion of those days, and all days, Mr. George Warrington, was employed with his short pipe, and was not in the least disconcerted at the appearance of the visitors, as he would not have been had the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped in.

Little Clive looked curiously about our queer premises, while the Colonel shook me cordially by the hand. No traces of yesterday’s wrath were visible on his face, but a friendly smile lighted his bronzed countenance, as he too looked round the old room with its dingy curtains and prints and bookcases, its litter of proof-sheets, blotted manuscripts, and books for review, empty soda-water bottles, cigar-boxes, and what not.

“I went off in a flame of fire last night,” says the Colonel, “and being cooled this morning, thought it but my duty to call on Mr. Pendennis and apologise for my abrupt behaviour. The conduct of that tipsy old Captain — what is his name? — was so abominable, that I could not bear that Clive should be any longer in the same room with him, and I went off without saying a word of thanks or good-night to my son’s old friend. I owe you a shake of the hand for last night, Mr. Pendennis.” And, so saying, he was kind enough to give me his hand a second time.

“And this is the abode of the Muses, is it, sir?” our guest went on. “I know your writings very well. Clive here used to send me the Pall Mall Gazette every month.”

“We took it at Smiffle, regular,” says Clive. “Always patronise Grey Friars men.” “Smiffle,” it must be explained, is a fond abbreviation for Smithfield, near to which great mart of mutton and oxen our school is situated, and old Cistercians often playfully designate their place of education by the name of the neighbouring market.

“Clive sent me the Gazette every month; and I read your romance of Walter Lorraine in my boat as I was coming down the river to Calcutta.”

“Have Pen’s immortal productions made their appearance on board Bengalee budgerows; and are their leaves floating on the yellow banks of Jumna?” asks Warrington, that sceptic, who respects no work of modern genius.

“I gave your book to Mrs. Timmins, at Calcutta,” says the Colonel simply. “I daresay you have heard of her. She is one of the most dashing women in all India. She was delighted with your work; and I can tell you it is not with every man’s writing that Mrs. Timmins is pleased,” he added, with a knowing air.

“It’s capital,” broke in Clive. “I say, that part, you know, where Walter runs away with Neaera, and the General can’t pursue them, though he has got the postchaise at the door, because Tim O’Toole has hidden his wooden leg! By Jove, it’s capital! — All the funny part — I don’t like the sentimental stuff, and suicide, and that; and as for poetry, I hate poetry.”

“Pen’s is not first chop,” says Warrington. “I am obliged to take the young man down from time to time, Colonel Newcome. Otherwise he would grow so conceited there would be no bearing him.”

“I say,” says Clive.

“What were you about to remark?” asks Mr. Warrington, with an air of great interest.

“I say, Pendennis,” continued the artless youth, “I thought you were a great swell. When we used to read about the grand parties in the Pall Mall Gazette, the fellows used to say you were at every one of them, and you see, I thought you must have chambers in the Albany, and lots of horses to ride, and a valet and a groom, and a cab at the very least.”

“Sir,” says the Colonel, “I hope it is not your practice to measure and estimate gentlemen by such paltry standards as those. A man of letters follows the noblest calling which any man can pursue. I would rather be the author of a work of genius, than be Governor-General of India. I admire genius. I salute it wherever I meet it. I like my own profession better than any in the world, but then it is because I am suited to it. I couldn’t write four lines in verse, no, not to save me from being shot. A man cannot have all the advantages of life. Who would not be poor if he could be sure of possessing genius, and winning fame and immortality, sir? Think of Dr. Johnson, what a genius he had, and where did he live? In apartments that, I daresay, were no better than these, which, I am sure, gentlemen, are most cheerful and pleasant,” says the Colonel, thinking he had offended us. “One of the great pleasures and delights which I had proposed to myself on coming home was to be allowed to have the honour of meeting with men of learning and genius, with wits, poets, and historians, if I may be so fortunate; and of benefiting by their conversation. I left England too young to have that privilege. In my father’s house money was thought of, I fear, rather than intellect; neither he nor I had the opportunities which I wish you to have; and I am surprised you should think of reflecting upon Mr. Pendennis’s poverty, or of feeling any sentiment but respect and admiration when you enter the apartments of the poet and the literary man. I have never been in the rooms of a literary man before,” the Colonel said, turning away from his son to us: “excuse me, is that — that paper really a proof-sheet?” We handed over to him that curiosity, smiling at the enthusiasm of the honest gentleman who could admire what to us was as unpalatable as a tart to a pastrycook.

Being with men of letters, he thought proper to make his conversation entirely literary; and in the course of my subsequent more intimate acquaintance with him, though I knew he had distinguished himself in twenty actions, he never could be brought to talk of his military feats or experience, but passed them by, as if they were subjects utterly unworthy of notice.

I found he believed Dr. Johnson to be the greatest of men: the Doctor’s words were constantly in his mouth; and he never travelled without Boswell’s Life. Besides these, he read Caesar and Tacitus, “with translations, sir, with translations — I’m thankful that I kept some of my Latin from Grey Friars;” and he quoted sentences from the Latin Grammar, apropos of a hundred events of common life, and with perfect simplicity and satisfaction to himself. Besides the above-named books, the Spectator, Don Quixote, and Sir Charles Grandison formed a part of his travelling library. “I read these, sir,” he used to say, “because I like to be in the company of gentlemen; and Sir Roger de Coverley, and Sir Charles Grandison, and Don Quixote are the finest gentlemen in the world.” And when we asked him his opinion of Fielding —

“Tom Jones, sir; Joseph Andrews, sir!” he cried, twirling his mustachios. “I read them when I was a boy, when I kept other bad company, and did other low and disgraceful things, of which I’m ashamed now. Sir, in my father’s library I happened to fall in with those books; and I read them in secret, just as I used to go in private and drink beer, and fight cocks, and smoke pipes with Jack and Tom, the grooms in the stables. Mrs. Newcome found me, I recollect, with one of those books; and thinking it might be by Mrs. Hannah More, or some of that sort, for it was a grave-looking volume: and though I wouldn’t lie about that or anything else — never did, sir; never, before heaven, have I told more than three lies in my life — I kept my own counsel; I say, she took it herself to read one evening; and read on gravely — for she had no more idea of a joke than I have of Hebrew — until she came to the part about Lady B—— and Joseph Andrews; and then she shut the book, sir; and you should have seen the look she gave me! I own I burst out a-laughing, for I was a wild young rebel, sir. But she was in the right, sir, and I was in the wrong. A book, sir, that tells the story of a parcel of servants, of a pack of footmen and ladies’-maids fuddling in alehouses! Do you suppose I want to know what my kitmutgars and cousomahs are doing? I am as little proud as any man in the world: but there must be distinction, sir; and as it is my lot and Clive’s lot to be a gentleman, I won’t sit in the kitchen and boose in the servants’-hall. As for that Tom Jones — that fellow that sells himself, sir — by heavens, my blood boils when I think of him! I wouldn’t sit down in the same room with such a fellow, sir. If he came in at that door, I would say, ‘How dare you, you hireling ruffian, to sully with your presence an apartment where my young friend and I are conversing together? where two gentlemen, I say, are taking their wine after dinner? How dare you, you degraded villain?’ I don’t mean you, sir. I— I— I beg your pardon.”

The Colonel was striding about the room in his loose garments, puffing his cigar fiercely anon, and then waving his yellow bandana; and it was by the arrival of Larkins, my clerk, that his apostrophe to Tom Jones was interrupted; he, Larkins, taking care not to show his amazement, having been schooled not to show or feel surprise at anything he might see or hear in our chambers.

“What is it, Larkins?” said I. Larkins’ other master had taken his leave some time before, having business which called him away, and leaving me with the honest Colonel, quite happy with his talk and cigar.

“It’s Brett’s man,” says Larkins.

I confounded Brett’s man, and told the boy to bid him call again. Young Larkins came grinning back in a moment, and said:

“Please, sir, he says his orders is not to go away without the money.”

“Confound him again,” I cried. “Tell him I have no money in the house. He must come tomorrow.”

As I spoke, Clive was looking in wonder, and the Colonel’s countenance assumed an appearance of the most dolorous sympathy. Nevertheless, as with a great effort, he fell to talking about Tom Jones again, and continued:

“No, sir, I have no words to express my indignation against such a fellow as Tom Jones. But I forgot that I need not speak. The great and good Dr. Johnson has settled that question. You remember what he said to Mr. Boswell about Fielding?”

“And yet Gibbon praises him, Colonel,” said the Colonel’s interlocutor, “and that is no small praise. He says that Mr. Fielding was of the family that drew its origin from the Counts of Hapsburg; but ——”

“Gibbon! Gibbon was an infidel, and I would not give the end of this cigar for such a man’s opinion. If Mr. Fielding was a gentleman by birth, he ought to have known better; and so much the worse for him that he did not. But what am I talking of, wasting your valuable time? No more smoke, thank you. I must away into the City, but would not pass the Temple without calling on you, and thanking my boy’s old protector. You will have the kindness to come and dine with us — tomorrow, the next day, your own day? Your friend is going out of town? I hope, on his return, to have the pleasure of making his further acquaintance. Come, Clive.”

Clive, who had been deep in a volume of Hogarth’s engravings during the above discussion, or rather oration of his father’s, started up and took leave, beseeching me, at the same time, to come soon and see his pony; and so, with renewed greetings, we parted.

I was scarcely returned to my newspaper again, when the knocker of our door was again agitated, and the Colonel ran back, looking very much agitated and confused.

“I beg pardon,” says he; “I think I left my — my ——” Larkins had quitted the room by this time, and then he began more unreservedly. “My dear young friend,” says he, “a thousand pardons for what I am going to say, but, as Clive’s friend, I know I may take that liberty. I have left the boy in the court. I know the fate of men of letters and genius: when we were here just now, there came a single knock — a demand — that, that you did not seem to be momentarily able to meet. Now do, do pardon the liberty, and let me be your banker. You said you were engaged in a new work: it will be a masterpiece, I am sure, if it’s like the last. Put me down for twenty copies, and allow me to settle with you in advance. I may be off, you know. I’m a bird of passage — a restless old soldier.”

“My dear Colonel,” said I, quite touched and pleased by this extreme kindness, “my dun was but the washerwoman’s boy, and Mrs. Brett is in my debt, if I am not mistaken. Besides, I already have a banker in your family.”

“In my family, my dear Sir?”

“Messrs. Newcome, in Threadneedle Street, are good enough to keep my money for me when I have any, and I am happy to say they have some of mine in hand now. I am almost sorry that I am not in want, in order that I might have the pleasure of receiving a kindness from you.” And we shook hands for the fourth time that morning, and the kind gentleman left me to rejoin his son.

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