The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which Clive begins the World

We are ending our history, and yet poor Clive is but beginning the world. He has to earn the bread which he eats henceforth; and, as I saw his labours, his trials, and his disappointments, I could not but compare his calling with my own.

The drawbacks and penalties attendant upon our profession are taken into full account, as we well know, by literary men, and their friends. Our poverty, hardships, and disappointments are set forth with great emphasis, and often with too great truth by those who speak of us; but there are advantages belonging to our trade which are passed over, I think, by some of those who exercise it and describe it, and for which, in striking the balance of our accounts, we are not always duly thankful. We have no patron, so to speak — we sit in ante-chambers no more, waiting the present of a few guineas from my lord, in return for a fulsome dedication. We sell our wares to the book-purveyor, between whom and us there is no greater obligation than between him and his paper-maker or printer. In the great towns in our country immense stores of books are provided for us, with librarians to class them, kind attendants to wait upon us, and comfortable appliances for study. We require scarce any capital wherewith to exercise our trade. What other so-called learned profession is equally fortunate? A doctor, for example, after carefully and expensively educating himself, must invest in house and furniture, horses, carriage, and menservants, before the public patient will think of calling him in. I am told that such gentlemen have to coax and wheedle dowagers, to humour hypochondriacs, to practise a score of little subsidiary arts in order to make that of healing profitable. How many many hundreds of pounds has a barrister to sink upon his stock-intrade before his returns are available? There are the costly charges of university education — the costly chambers in the Inn of Court — the clerk and his maintenance — the inevitable travels on circuit — certain expenses all to be defrayed before the possible client makes his appearance, and the chance of fame or competency arrives. The prizes are great, to be sure, in the law, but what a prodigious sum the lottery-ticket costs! If a man of letters cannot win, neither does he risk so much. Let us speak of our trade as we find it, and not be too eager in calling out for public compassion.

The artists, for the most part, do not cry out their woes as loudly as some gentlemen of the literary fraternity, and yet I think the life of many of them is harder; their chances even more precarious, and the conditions of their profession less independent and agreeable than ours. I have watched Smee, Esq., R.A., flattering and fawning, and at the same time boasting and swaggering, poor fellow, in order to secure a sitter. I have listened to a Manchester magnate talking about fine arts before one of J. J.‘s pictures, assuming the airs of a painter, and laying down the most absurd laws respecting the art. I have seen poor Tomkins bowing a rich amateur through a private view, and noted the eager smiles on Tomkins’ face at the amateur’s slightest joke, the sickly twinkle of hope in his eyes as Amateur stopped before his own picture. I have been ushered by Chipstone’s black servant through hall after hall peopled with plaster gods and heroes, into Chipstone’s own magnificent studio, where he sat longing vainly for an order, and justly dreading his landlord’s call for the rent. And, seeing how severely these gentlemen were taxed in their profession, I have been grateful for my own more fortunate one, which necessitates cringing to no patron; which calls for no keeping up of appearances; and which requires no stock-intrade save the workman’s industry, his best ability, and a dozen sheets of paper.

Having to turn with all his might to his new profession, Clive Newcome, one of the proudest men alive, chose to revolt and to be restive at almost every stage of his training. He had a natural genius for his art, and had acquired in his desultory way a very considerable skill. His drawing was better than his painting (an opinion which, were my friend present, he of course would utterly contradict); his designs and sketches were far superior to his finished compositions. His friends, presuming to judge of this artist’s qualifications, ventured to counsel him accordingly, and were thanked for their pains in the usual manner. We had in the first place to bully and browbeat Clive most fiercely, before he would take fitting lodgings for the execution of those designs which we had in view for him. “Why should I take expensive lodgings?” says Clive, slapping his fist on the table. “I am a pauper, and can scarcely afford to live in a garret. Why should you pay me for drawing your portrait and Laura’s and the children? What the deuce does Warrington want with the effigy of his old mug? You don’t want them a bit — you only want to give me money. — It would be much more honest of me to take the money at once and own that I am a beggar; and I tell you what, Pen, the only money which I feel I come honestly by, is that which is paid me by a little printseller in Long Acre who buys my drawings, one with another, at fourteen shillings apiece, and out of whom I can earn pretty nearly two hundred a year. I am doing Coaches for him, sir, and Charges of Cavalry; the public like the Mail Coaches best — on a dark paper — the horses and miles picked out white — yellow dust — cobalt distance, and the guard and coachman of course in vermilion. That’s what a gentleman can get his bread by — portraits, pooh! it’s disguised beggary, Crackthorpe, and a half-dozen men of his regiment came, like good fellows as they are, and sent me five pounds apiece for their heads, but I tell you I am ashamed to take the money.” Such used to be the tenor of Clive Newcome’s conversation as he strode up and down our room after dinner, pulling his moustache, and dashing his long yellow hair off his gaunt face.

When Clive was inducted into the new lodgings at which his friends counselled him to hang up his ensign, the dear old Colonel accompanied his son, parting with a sincere regret from our little ones at home, to whom he became greatly endeared during his visit to us, and who always hailed him when he came to see us with smiles and caresses and sweet infantile welcome. On that day when he went away, Laura went up and kissed him with tears in her eyes. “You know how long I have been wanting to do it,” this lady said to her husband. Indeed I cannot describe the behaviour of the old man during his stay with us, his gentle gratitude, his sweet simplicity and kindness, his thoughtful courtesy. There was not a servant in our little household but was eager to wait upon him. Laura’s maid was as tender-hearted at his departure as her mistress. He was ailing for a short time, when our cook performed prodigies of puddings and jellies to suit his palate. The youth who held the offices of butler and valet in our establishment — a lazy and greedy youth whom Martha scolded in vain — would jump up and leave his supper to carry a message to our Colonel. My heart is full as I remember the kind words which he said to me at parting, and as I think that we were the means of giving a little comfort to that stricken and gentle soul.

Whilst the Colonel and his son stayed with us, letters of course passed between Clive and his family at Boulogne, but my wife remarked that the receipt of those letters appeared to give our friend but little pleasure. They were read in a minute, and he would toss them over to his father, or thrust them into his pocket with a gloomy face. “Don’t you see,” groans out Clive to me one evening, “that Rosa scarcely writes the letters, or if she does, that her mother is standing over her? That woman is the Nemesis of our life, Pen. How can I pay her off? Great God! how can I pay her off?” And so having spoken, his head fell between his hands, and as I watched him I saw a ghastly domestic picture before me of helpless pain, humiliating discord, stupid tyranny.

What, I say again, are the so-called great ills of life compared to these small ones?

The Colonel accompanied Clive to the lodgings which we had found for the young artist, in a quarter not far removed from the old house in Fitzroy Square, where some happy years of his youth had been spent. When sitters came to Clive — as at first they did in some numbers, many of his early friends being anxious to do him a service — the old gentleman was extraordinarily cheered and comforted. We could see by his face that affairs were going on well at the studio. He showed us the rooms which Rosey and the boy were to occupy. He prattled to our children and their mother, who was never tired of hearing him, about his grandson. He filled up the future nursery with a hundred little knick-knacks of his own contriving; and with wonderful cheap bargains, which he bought in his walks about Tottenham Court Road. He pasted a most elaborate book of prints and sketches for Boy. It was astonishing what notice Boy already took of pictures. He would have all the genius of his father. Would he had had a better grandfather than the foolish old man who had ruined all belonging to him!

However much they like each other, men in the London world see their friends but seldom. The place is so vast that even next door is distant; the calls of business, society, pleasure, so multifarious that mere friendship can get or give but an occasional shake of the hand in the hurried moments of passage. Men must live their lives; and are perforce selfish, but not unfriendly. At a great need you know where to look for your friend, and he that he is secure of you. So I went very little to Howland Street, where Clive now lived; very seldom to Lamb Court, where my dear old friend Warrington still sate in his old chambers, though our meetings were none the less cordial when they occurred, and our trust in one another always the same. Some folks say the world is heartless: he who says so either prates commonplaces (the most likely and charitable suggestion), or is heartless himself, or is most singular and unfortunate in having made no friends. Many such a reasonable mortal cannot have: our nature, I think, not sufficing for that sort of polygamy. How many persons would you have to deplore your death; or whose death would you wish to deplore? Could our hearts let in such a harem of dear friendships, the mere changes and recurrences of grief and mourning would be intolerable, and tax our lives beyond their value. In a word, we carry our own burthen in the world; push and struggle along on our own affairs; are pinched by our own shoes — though Heaven forbid we should not stop and forget ourselves sometimes, when a friend cries out in his distress, or we can help a poor stricken wanderer in his way. As for good women — these, my worthy reader, are different from us — the nature of these is to love, and to do kind offices, and devise untiring charities:— so I would have you to know, that, though Mr. Pendennis was parcus suorum cultor et infrequens, Mrs. Laura found plenty of time to go from Westminster to Bloomsbury; and to pay visits to her Colonel and her Clive, both of whom she had got to love with all her heart again, now misfortune was on them; and both of whom returned her kindness with an affection blessing the bestower and the receiver; and making the husband proud and thankful whose wife had earned such a noble regard. What is the dearest praise of all to a man? his own — or that you should love those whom he loves? I see Laura Pendennis ever constant and tender and pure, ever ministering in her sacred office of kindness — bestowing love and followed by blessings. Which would I have, think you; that priceless crown hymeneal, or the glory of a Tenth Edition?

Clive and his father had found not only a model friend in the lady above mentioned, but a perfect prize landlady in their happy lodgings. In her house, besides those apartments which Mr. Newcome had originally engaged, were rooms just sufficient to accommodate his wife, child, and servant, when they should come to him, with a very snug little upper chamber for the Colonel, close by Boy’s nursery, where he liked best to be. “And if there is not room for the Campaigner, as you call her,” says Mrs. Laura, with a shrug of her shoulders, “why, I am very sorry, but Clive must try and bear her absence as well as possible. After all, my dear Pen, you know he is married to Rosa and not to her mamma; and so, and so I think it will be quite best that they shall have their menage as before.”

The cheapness of the lodgings which the prize landlady let, the quantity of neat new furniture which she put in, the consultations which she had with my wife regarding these supplies, were quite singular to me. “Have you pawned your diamonds, you reckless little person, in order to supply all this upholstery?” “No, sir, I have not pawned my diamonds,” Mrs. Laura answers; and I was left to think (if I thought on the matter at all) that the landlady’s own benevolence had provided these good things for Clive. For the wife of Laura’s husband was perforce poor; and she asked me for no more money at this time than at any other.

At first, in spite of his grumbling, Clive’s affairs looked so prosperous, and so many sitters came to him from amongst his old friends, that I was half inclined to believe with the Colonel and my wife, that he was a prodigious genius, and that his good fortune would go on increasing. Laura was for having Rosey return to her husband. Every wife ought to be with her husband. J. J. shook his head about the prosperity. “Let us see whether the Academy will have his pictures this year, and what a place they will give him,” said Ridley. To do him justice, Clive thought far more humbly of his compositions than Ridley did. Not a little touching was it to us, who had known the young men in former days, to see them in their changed positions. It was Ridley, whose genius and industry had put him in the rank of a patron — Ridley, the good industrious apprentice, who had won the prize of his art — and not one of his many admirers saluted his talent and success with such a hearty recognition as Clive, whose generous soul knew no envy, and who always fired and kindled at the success of his friends.

When Mr. Clive used to go over to Boulogne from time to time to pay his dutiful visits to his wife, the Colonel did not accompany his son, but, during the latter’s absence, would dine with Mrs. Pendennis.

Though the preparations were complete in Howland Street, and Clive dutifully went over to Boulogne, Mrs. Pendennis remarked that he seemed still to hesitate about bringing his wife to London.

Upon this Mr. Pendennis observed that some gentlemen were not particularly anxious about the society of their wives, and that this pair were perhaps better apart. Upon which Mrs. Pendennis, drubbing on the ground with a little foot, said, “Nonsense, for shame, Arthur! How can you speak so flippantly? Did he not swear before Heaven to love and cherish her, never to leave her, sir? Is not his duty his duty, sir?” (a most emphatic stamp of the foot). “Is she not his for better, or for worse?”

“Including the Campaigner, my dear?” says Mr. P.

“Don’t laugh, sir! She must come to him. There is no room in Howland Street for Mrs. Mackenzie.”

“You artful scheming creature! We have some spare rooms. Suppose we ask Mrs. Mackenzie to come and live with us, my dear? and we could then have the benefit of the garrison anecdotes, and mess jocularities of your favourite, Captain Goby.”

“I could never bear the horrid man!” cried Mrs. Pendennis. And how can I tell why she disliked him?

Everything being now ready for the reception of Clive’s little family, we counselled our friend to go over to Boulogne, and bring back his wife and child, and then to make some final stipulation with the Campaigner. He saw, as well as we, that the presence and tyranny of that fatal woman destroyed his father’s health and spirits — that the old man knew no peace or comfort in her neighbourhood, and was actually hastening to his grave under that dreadful and unremitting persecution. Mrs. Mackenzie made Clive scarcely less wretched than his father — she governed his household — took away his weak wife’s allegiance and affection from him — and caused the wretchedness of every single person round about her. They ought to live apart. If she was too poor to subsist upon her widow’s pension, which, in truth, was but a very small pittance, let Clive give up to her, say, the half of his wife’s income of one hundred pounds a year. His prospects and present means of earning money were such that he might afford to do without that portion of his income; at any rate, he and his father would be cheaply ransomed at that price from their imprisonment to this intolerable person. “Go, Clive,” said his counsellors, “and bring back your wife and child, and let us all be happy together.” For, you see, those advisers opined that if we had written over to Mrs. Newcome —“Come”— she would have come with the Campaigner in her suite.

Vowing that he would behave like a man of courage — and we knew that Clive had shown himself to be such in two or three previous battles — Clive crossed the water to bring back his little Rosey. Our good Colonel agreed to dine at our house during the days of his son’s absence. I have said how beloved he was by young and old there — and he was kind enough to say afterwards, that no woman had made him so happy as Laura. We did not tell him — I know not from what reticence — that we had advised Clive to offer a bribe of fifty pounds a year to Mrs. Mackenzie; until about a fortnight after Clive’s absence, and a week after his return, when news came that poor old Mrs. Mason was dead at Newcome, whereupon we informed the Colonel that he had another pensioner now in the Campaigner.

Colonel Newcome was thankful that his dear old friend had gone out of the world in comfort and without pain. She had made a will long since, leaving all her goods and chattels to Thomas Newcome — but having no money to give, the Colonel handed over these to the old lady’s faithful attendant, Keziah.

Although many of the Colonel’s old friends had parted from him or quarrelled with him in consequence of the ill success of the B. B. C., there were two old ladies who yet remained faithful to him — Miss Cann, namely, and honest little Miss Honeyman of Brighton, who, when she heard of the return to London of her nephew and brother-inlaw, made a railway journey to the metropolis (being the first time she ever engaged in that kind of travelling), rustled into Clive’s apartments in Howland Street in her neatest silks, and looking not a day older than on that when we last beheld her; and after briskly scolding the young man for permitting his father to enter into money affairs — of which the poor dear Colonel was as ignorant as a baby — she gave them both to understand that she had a little sum at her banker’s at their disposal — and besought the Colonel to remember that her house was his, and that she should be proud and happy to receive him as soon and as often and for as long a time as he would honour her with his company. “Is not my house full of your presents”— cried the stout little old lady —“have I not reason to be grateful to all the Newcomes — yes, to all the Newcomes; — for Miss Ethel and her family have come to me every year for months, and I don’t quarrel with them, and I won’t, although you do, sir? Is not this shawl — are not these jewels that I wear,” she continued, pointing to those well-known ornaments, “my dear Colonel’s gift? Did you not relieve my brother Charles in this country and procure for him his place in India? Yes, my dear friend — and though you have been imprudent in money matters, my obligations towards you, and my gratitude, and my affection are always the same.” Thus Miss Honeyman spoke, with somewhat of a quivering voice at the end of her little oration, but with exceeding state and dignity — for she believed that her investment of two hundred pounds in that unlucky B. B. C., which failed for half a million, was a sum of considerable importance, and gave her a right to express her opinion to the Managers.

Clive came back from Boulogne in a week, as we have said — but he came back without his wife, much to our alarm, and looked so exceedingly fierce and glum when we demanded the reason of his return without his family, that we saw wars and battles had taken place, and thought that in this last continental campaign the Campaigner had been too much for her friend.

The Colonel, to whom Clive communicated, though with us the poor lad held his tongue, told my wife what had happened:— not all the battles; which no doubt raged at breakfast, dinner, supper, during the week of Clive’s visit to Boulogne — but the upshot of these engagements. Rosey, not unwilling in her first private talk with her husband to come to England with him and the boy, showed herself irresolute on the second day at breakfast, when the fire was opened on both sides; cried at dinner when fierce assaults took place, in which Clive had the advantage; slept soundly, but besought him to be very firm, and met the enemy at breakfast with a quaking heart; cried all that day during which, pretty well without cease, the engagement lasted; and when Clive might have conquered and brought her off, but the weather was windy and the sea was rough, and he was pronounced a brute to venture on it with a wife in Rosey’s situation.

Behind that “situation” the widow shielded herself. She clung to her adored child, and from that bulwark discharged abuse and satire at Clive and his father. He could not rout her out of her position. Having had the advantage on the first two or three days, on the four last he was beaten, and lost ground in each action. Rosey found that in her situation she could not part from her darling mamma. The Campaigner for her part averred that she might be reduced to beggary; that she might be robbed of her last farthing and swindled and cheated; that she might see her daughter’s fortune flung away by unprincipled adventurers, and her blessed child left without even the comforts of life; but desert her in such a situation, she never would — no, never! Was not dear Rosa’s health already impaired by the various shocks which she had undergone? Did she not require every comfort, every attendance? Monster! ask the doctor! She would stay with her darling child in spite of insult and rudeness and vulgarity. (Rosey’s father was a King’s officer, not a Company’s officer, thank God!) She would stay as long at least as Rosey’s situation continued, at Boulogne, if not in London, but with her child. They might refuse to send her money, having robbed her of all her own, but she would pawn her gown off her back for her child. Whimpers from Rosey — cries of “Mamma, mamma, compose yourself,”— convulsive sobs — clenched knuckles — flashing eyes — embraces rapidly clutched — laughs — stamps — snorts — from the dishevelled Campaigner; grinding teeth — livid fury and repeated breakages of the third commandment by Clive — I can fancy the whole scene. He returned to London without his wife, and when she came she brought Mrs. Mackenzie with her.

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