The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xv

On University Snobs

I should like to fill several volumes with accounts of various University Snobs; so fond are my reminiscences of them, and so numerous are they. I should like to speak, above all, of the wives and daughters of some of the Professor-Snobs; their amusements, habits, jealousies; their innocent artifices to entrap young men; their picnics, concerts, and evening-parties. I wonder what has become of Emily Blades, daughter of Blades, the Professor of the Mandingo language? I remember her shoulders to this day, as she sat in the midst of a crowd of about seventy young gentlemen, from Corpus and Catherine Hall, entertaining them with ogles and French songs on the guitar. Are you married, fair Emily of the shoulders? What beautiful ringlets those were that used to dribble over them! — what a waist! — what a killing sea-green shot-silk gown! — what a cameo, the size of a muffin! There were thirty-six young men of the University in love at one time with Emily Blades: and no words are sufficient to describe the pity, the sorrow, the deep, deep commiseration — the rage, fury, and uncharitableness, in other words — with which the Miss Trumps (daughter of Trumps, the Professor of Phlebotomy) regarded her, because she DIDN’T squint, and because she WASN’T marked with the small-pox.

As for the young University Snobs, I am getting too old, now, to speak of such very familiarly. My recollections of them lie in the far, far past — almost as far back as Pelham’s time.

We THEN used to consider Snobs raw-looking lads, who never missed chapel; who wore highlows and no straps; who walked two hours on the Trumpington road every day of their lives; who carried off the college scholarships, and who overrated themselves in hall. We were premature in pronouncing our verdict of youthful Snobbishness The man without straps fulfilled his destiny and duty. He eased his old governor, the curate in Westmoreland, or helped his sisters to set up the Ladies’ School. He wrote a ‘Dictionary,’ or a ‘Treatise on Conic Sections,’ as his nature and genius prompted. He got a fellowship: and then took to himself a wife, and a living. He presides over a parish now, and thinks it rather a dashing thing to belong to the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Club;’ and his parishioners love him, and snore under his sermons. No, no, HE is not a Snob. It is not straps that make the gentleman, or highlows that unmake him, be they ever so thick. My son, it is you who are the Snob if you lightly despise a man for doing his duty, and refuse to shake an honest man’s hand because it wears a Berlin glove.

We then used to consider it not the least vulgar for a parcel of lads who had been whipped three months previous, and were not allowed more than three glasses of port at home, to sit down to pineapples and ices at each other’s rooms, and fuddle themselves with champagne and claret.

One looks back to what was called a ‘wine-party’ with a sort of wonder. Thirty lads round a table covered with bad sweetmeats, drinking bad wines, telling bad stories, singing bad songs over and over again. Milk punch — smoking — ghastly headache — frightful spectacle of dessert-table next morning, and smell of tobacco — your guardian, the clergyman, dropping in, in the midst of this — expecting to find you deep in Algebra, and discovering the Gyp administering soda-water.

There were young men who despised the lads who indulged in the coarse hospitalities of wine-parties, who prided themselves in giving RECHERCHE little French dinners. Both wine-party-givers and dinner-givers were Snobs.

There were what used to be called ‘dressy’ Snobs:— Jimmy, who might be seen at five o’clock elaborately rigged out, with a camellia in his button-hole, glazed boots, and fresh kid-gloves twice a day; — Jessamy, who was conspicuous for his ‘jewellery,’— a young donkey, glittering all over with chains, rings, and shirt-studs; — Jacky, who rode every day solemnly on the Blenheim Road, in pumps and white silk stockings, with his hair curled — all three of whom flattered themselves they gave laws to the University about dress — all three most odious varieties of Snobs.

Sporting Snobs of course there were, and are always — those happy beings in whom Nature has implanted a love of slang: who loitered about the horsekeeper’s stables, and drove the London coaches — a stage in and out — and might be seen swaggering through the courts in pink of early mornings, and indulged in dice and blind-hookey at nights, and never missed a race or a boxing-match; and rode flat-races, and kept bull-terriers. Worse Snobs even than these were poor miserable wretches who did not like hunting at all, and could not afford it, and were in mortal fear at a two-foot ditch; but who hunted because Glenlivat and Cinqbars hunted. The Billiard Snob and the Boating Snob were varieties of these, and are to be found elsewhere than in universities.

Then there were Philosophical Snobs, who used to ape statesmen at the spouting-clubs, and who believed as a fact that Government always had an eye on the University for the selection of orators for the House of Commons. There were audacious young free-thinkers, who adored nobody or nothing, except perhaps Robespierre and the Koran, and panted for the day when the pale name of priest should shrink and dwindle away before the indignation of an enlightened world.

But the worst of all University Snobs are those unfortunates who go to rack and ruin from their desire to ape their betters. Smith becomes acquainted with great people at college, and is ashamed of his father the tradesman. Jones has fine acquaintances, and lives after their fashion like a gay free-hearted fellow as he is, and ruins his father, and robs his sister’s portion, and cripples his younger brother’s outset in life, for the pleasure of entertaining my lord, and riding by the side of Sir John. And though it may be very good fun for Robinson to fuddle himself at home as he does at College, and to be brought home by the policeman he has just been trying to knock down — think what fun it is for the poor old soul his mother! — the half-pay captain’s widow, who has been pinching herself all her life long, in order that that jolly young fellow might have a University education.

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