The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xi

On Clerical Snobs

After Snobs-Military, Snobs-Clerical suggest themselves quite naturally, and it is clear that, with every respect for the cloth, yet having a regard for truth, humanity, and the British public, such a vast and influential class must not be omitted from our notices of the great Snob world.

Of these Clerics there are some whose claim to snobbishness is undoubted, and yet it cannot be discussed here; for the same reason that PUNCH would not set up his show in a Cathedral, out of respect for the solemn service celebrated within. There are some places where he acknowledges himself not privileged to make a noise, and puts away his show, and silences his drum, and takes off his hat, and holds his peace.

And I know this, that if there are some Clerics who do wrong, there are straightway a thousand newspapers to haul up those unfortunates, and cry, ‘Fie upon them, fie upon them!’ while, though the press is always ready to yell and bellow excommunication against these stray delinquent parsons, it somehow takes very little count of the many good ones — of the tens of thousands of honest men, who lead Christian lives, who give to the poor generously, who deny themselves rigidly, and live and die in their duty, without ever a newspaper paragraph in their favour. My beloved friend and reader, I wish you and I could do the same: and let me whisper my belief, ENTRE NOUS that of those eminent philosophers who cry out against parsons the loudest, there are not many who have got their knowledge of the church by going thither often.

But you who have ever listened to village bells, or walked to church as children on sunny Sabbath mornings; you who have ever seen the parson’s wife tending the poor man’s bedside; or the town clergyman threading the dirty stairs of noxious alleys upon his business; — do not raise a shout when one falls away, or yell with the mob that howls after him.

Every man can do that. When old Father Noah was overtaken in his cups, there was only one of his sons that dared to make merry at his disaster, and he was not the most virtuous of the family. Let us too turn away silently, nor huzza like a parcel of school-boys, because some big young rebel suddenly starts up and whops the schoolmaster.

I confess, though, if I had by me the names of those seven or eight Irish bishops, the probates of whose wills were mentioned in last year’s journals, and who died leaving behind them some two hundred thousand a-piece — I would like to put THEM up as patrons of my Clerical Snobs, and operate upon them as successfully as I see from the newspapers Mr. Eisenberg, Chiropodist, has lately done upon ‘His Grace the Reverend Lord Bishop of Tapioca.’

I confess that when those Right Reverend Prelates come up to the gates of Paradise with their probates of wills in their hands, I think that their chance is. . . . But the gates of Paradise is a far way to follow their Lordships; so let us trip down again lest awkward questions be asked there about our own favourite vices too.

And don’t let us give way to the vulgar prejudice, that clergymen are an over-paid and luxurious body of men. When that eminent ascetic, the late Sydney Smith —(by the way, by what law of nature is it that so many Smiths in this world are called Sydney Smith?)— lauded the system of great prizes in the Church — without which he said gentlemen would not be induced to follow the clerical profession, he admitted most pathetically that the clergy in general were by no means to be envied for their worldly prosperity. From reading the works of some modern writers of repute, you would fancy that a parson’s life was passed in gorging himself with plum-pudding and port-wine; and that his Reverence’s fat chaps were always greasy with the crackling of tithe pigs. Caricaturists delight to represent him so: round, short-necked, pimple-faced, apoplectic, bursting out of waistcoat, like a black-pudding, a shovel-hatted fuzz-wigged Silenus. Whereas, if you take the real man, the poor fellow’s flesh-pots are very scantily furnished with meat. He labours commonly for a wage that a tailor’s foreman would despise: he has, too, such claims upon his dismal income as most philosophers would rather grumble to meet; many tithes are levied upon HIS pocket, let it be remembered, by those who grudge him his means of livelihood. He has to dine with the Squire: and his wife must dress neatly; and he must ‘look like a gentleman,’ as they call it, and bring up six great hungry sons as such. Add to this, if he does his duty, he has such temptations to spend his money as no mortal man could withstand. Yes; you who can’t resist purchasing a chest of cigars, because they are so good; or an ormolu clock at Howell and James’s, because it is such a bargain; or a box at the Opera, because Lablache and Grisi are divine in the PURITANI; fancy how difficult it is for a parson to resist spending a half-crown when John Breakstone’s family are without a loaf; or ‘standing’ a bottle of port for poor old Polly Rabbits, who has her thirteenth child; or treating himself to a suit of corduroys for little Bob Scarecrow, whose breeches are sadly out at elbows. Think of these temptations, brother moralists and philosophers, and don’t be too hard on the parson.

But what is this? Instead of ‘showing up’ the parsons, are we indulging in maudlin praises of that monstrous black-coated race? O saintly Francis, lying at rest under the turf; O Jimmy, and Johnny, and Willy, friends of my youth! O noble and dear old Elias! how should he who knows you not respect you and your calling? May this pen never write a pennyworth again, if it ever casts ridicule upon either!

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