The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xii

On Clerical Snobs and Snobbishness

‘Dear Mr. Snob,’ an amiable young correspondent writes, who signs himself Snobling, ‘ought the clergyman who, at the request of a noble Duke, lately interrupted a marriage ceremony between two persons perfectly authorised to marry, to be ranked or not among the Clerical Snobs?’

This, my dear young friend, is not a fair question. One of the illustrated weekly papers has already seized hold of the clergyman, and blackened him most unmercifully, by representing him in his cassock performing the marriage service. Let that be sufficient punishment; and, if you please, do not press the query.

It is very likely that if Miss Smith had come with a licence to marry Jones, the parson in question, not seeing old Smith present, would have sent off the beadle in a cab to let the old gentleman know what was going on; and would have delayed the service until the arrival of Smith senior. He very likely thinks it his duty to ask all marriageable young ladies, who come without their papa, why their parent is absent; and, no doubt, ALWAYS sends off the beadle for that missing governor.

Or, it is very possible that the Duke of Coeurdelion was Mr. What-d’ye-call’im’s most intimate friend, and has often said to him, ‘What-d’ye-call’im, my boy, my daughter must never marry the Capting. If ever they try at your church, I beseech you, considering the terms of intimacy on which we are, to send off Rattan in a hack cab to fetch me.’

In either of which cases, you see, dear Snobling, that though the parson would not have been authorised, yet he might have been excused for interfering. He has no more right to stop my marriage than to stop my dinner, to both of which, as a free-born Briton, I am entitled by law, if I can pay for them. But, consider pastoral solicitude, a deep sense of the duties of his office, and pardon this inconvenient, but genuine zeal.

But if the clergyman did in the Duke’s case what he would NOT do in Smith’s; if he has no more acquaintance with the Coeurdelion family than I have with the Royal and Serene House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha — THEN, I confess, my dear Snobling, your question might elicit a disagreeable reply, and one which I respectfully decline to give. I wonder what Sir George Tufto would say, if a sentry left his post because a noble lord (not the least connected with the service) begged the sentinel not to do his duty!

Alas! that the beadle who canes little boys and drives them out, cannot drive worldliness out too; what is worldliness but snobbishness? When, for instance, I read in the newspapers that the Right Reverend the Lord Charles James administered the rite of confirmation to a PARTY OF THE JUVENILE NOBILITY at the Chapel Royal — as if the Chapel Royal were a sort of ecclesiastical Almack’s, and young people were to get ready for the next world in little exclusive genteel knots of the aristocracy, who were not to be disturbed in their journey thither by the company of the vulgar:— when I read such a paragraph as that (and one or two such generally appear during the present fashionable season), it seems to me to be the most odious, mean and disgusting part of that odious, mean, and disgusting publication, the COURT CIRCULAR; and that snobbishness is therein carried to quite an awful pitch. What, gentlemen, can’t we even in the Church acknowledge a republic? There, at least, the Heralds’ College itself might allow that we all of us have the same pedigree, and are direct descendants of Eve and Adam, whose inheritance is divided amongst us.

I hereby call upon all Dukes, Earls, Baronets, and other potentates, not to lend themselves to this shameful scandal and error, and beseech all Bishops who read this publication to take the matter into consideration, and to protest against the continuance of the practice, and to declare, ‘We WON’T confirm or christen Lord Tomnoddy, or Sir Carnaby Jenks, to the exclusion of any other young Christian;’ the which declaration if their Lordships are induced to make, a great LAPIS OFFENSIONIS will be removed, and the Snob Papers will not have been written in vain.

A story is current of a celebrated NOUVEAU-RICHE, who having had occasion to oblige that excellent prelate the Bishop of Bullocksmithy, asked his Lordship, in return, to confirm his children privately in his Lordship’s own chapel; which ceremony the grateful prelate accordingly performed. Can satire go farther than this? Is there even in this most amusing of prints, any more NAIVE absurdity? It is as if a man wouldn’t go to heaven unless he went in a special train, or as if he thought (as some people think about vaccination) Confirmation more effectual when administered at first hand. When that eminent person, the Begum Sumroo, died, it is said she left ten thousand pounds to the Pope, and ten thousand to the Archbishop of Canterbury — so that there should be no mistake — so as to make sure of having the ecclesiastical authorities on her side. This is only a little more openly and undisguisedly snobbish than the cases before alluded to. A well-bred Snob is just as secretly proud of his riches and honours as a PARVENU Snob who makes the most ludicrous exhibition of them; and a high-born Marchioness or Duchess just as vain of herself and her diamonds, as Queen Quashyboo, who sews a pair of epaulets on to her skirt, and turns out in state in a cocked hat and feathers.

It is not out of disrespect to my ‘Peerage,’ which I love and honour, (indeed, have I not said before, that I should be ready to jump out of my skin if two Dukes would walk down Pall Mall with me?)— it is not out of disrespect for the individuals, that I wish these titles had never been invented; but, consider, if there were no tree, there would be no shadow; and how much more honest society would be, and how much more serviceable the clergy would be (which is our present consideration), if these temptations of rank and continual baits of worldliness were not in existence, and perpetually thrown out to lead them astray.

I have seen many examples of their falling away. When, for instance, Tom Sniffle first went into the country as Curate for Mr. Fuddleston (Sir Huddleston Fuddleston’s brother), who resided on some other living, there could not be a more kind, hardworking, and excellent creature than Tom. He had his aunt to live with him. His conduct to his poor was admirable. He wrote annually reams of the best-intentioned and vapid sermons. When Lord Brandyball’s family came down into the country, and invited him to dine at Brandyball Park, Sniffle was so agitated that he almost forgot how to say grace, and upset a bowl of currant-jelly sauce in Lady Fanny Toffy’s lap.

What was the consequence of his intimacy with that noble family? He quarrelled with his aunt for dining out every night. The wretch forgot his poor altogether, and killed his old nag by always riding over to Brandyball; where he revelled in the maddest passion for Lady Fanny. He ordered the neatest new clothes and ecclesiastical waistcoats from London; he appeared with corazza-shirts, lackered boots, and perfumery; he bought a blood-horse from Bob Toffy: was seen at archery meetings, public breakfasts — actually at cover; and, I blush to say, that I saw him in a stall at the Opera; and afterwards riding by Lady Fanny’s side in Rotten Row. He DOUBLE-BARRELLED his name, (as many poor Snobs do,) and instead of T. Sniffle, as formerly, came out, in a porcelain card, as Rev. T. D’Arcy Sniffle, Burlington Hotel.

The end of all this may be imagined: when the Earl of Brandyball was made acquainted with the curate’s love for Lady Fanny, he had that fit of the gout which so nearly carried him off (to the inexpressible grief of his son, Lord Alicompayne), and uttered that remarkable speech to Sniffle, which disposed of the claims of the latter:—’ If I didn’t respect the Church, Sir,’ his Lordship said, ‘by Jove, I’d kick you downstairs:’ his Lordship then fell back into the fit aforesaid; and Lady Fanny, as we all know, married General Podager.

As for poor Tom, he was over head and ears in debt as well as in love: his creditors came down upon him. Mr. Hemp, of Portugal Street, proclaimed his name lately as a reverend outlaw; and he has been seen at various foreign watering-places; sometimes doing duty; sometimes ‘coaching’ a stray gentleman’s son at Carlsruhe or Kissingen; sometimes — must we say it? — lurking about the roulette-tables with a tuft to his chin.

If temptation had not come upon this unhappy fellow in the shape of a Lord Brandyball, he might still have been following his profession, humbly and worthily. He might have married his cousin with four thousand pounds, the wine-merchant’s daughter (the old gentleman quarrelled with his nephew for not soliciting wine-orders from Lord B. for him): he might have had seven children, and taken private pupils, and eked out his income, and lived and died a country parson.

Could he have done better? You who want to know how great, and good, and noble such a character may be, read Stanley’s ‘Life of Doctor Arnold.’

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