The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xviii

Party-Giving Snobs

Our selection of Snobs has lately been too exclusively of a political character. ‘Give us private Snobs,’ cry the dear ladies. (I have before me the letter of one fair correspondent of the fishing village of Brighthelmstone in Sussex, and could her commands ever be disobeyed?) ‘Tell us more, dear Mr. Snob, about your experience of Snobs in society.’ Heaven bless the dear souls! — they are accustomed to the word now — the odious, vulgar, horrid, unpronounceable word slips out of their lips with the prettiest glibness possible. I should not wonder if it were used at Court amongst the Maids of Honour. In the very best society I know it is. And why not? Snobbishness is vulgar — the mere words are not: that which we call a Snob, by any other name would still be Snobbish.

Well, then. As the season is drawing to a close: as many hundreds of kind souls, snobbish or otherwise, have quitted London; as many hospitable carpets are taken up; and window-blinds are pitilessly papered with the MORNING HERALD; and mansions once inhabited by cheerful owners are now consigned to the care of the housekeeper’s dreary LOCUM TENENS— some mouldy old woman, who, in reply to the hopeless clanging of the bell, peers at you for a moment from the area, and then slowly unbolting the great hall-door, informs you my lady has left town, or that ‘the family’s in the country,’ or ‘gone up the Rind,’— or what not; as the season and parties are over; why not consider Party-giving Snobs for a while, and review the conduct of some of those individuals who have quitted the town for six months?

Some of those worthy Snobs are making-believe to go yachting, and, dressed in telescopes and pea-jackets, are passing their time between Cherbourg and Cowes; some living higgledy-piggledy in dismal little huts in Scotland, provisioned with canisters of portable soup, and fricandeaux hermetically sealed in tin, are passing their days slaughtering grouse upon the moors; some are dozing and bathing away the effects of the season at Kissingen, or watching the ingenious game of TRENTE ET QUARANTE at Homburg and Ems. We can afford to be very bitter upon them now they are all gone. Now there are no more parties, let us have at the Party-giving Snobs. The dinner-giving, the ball-giving, the DEJEUNER-giving, the CONVERSAZIONE-GIVING Snobs — Lord! Lord! what havoc might have been made amongst them had we attacked them during the plethora of the season! I should have been obliged to have a guard to defend me from fiddlers and pastrycooks, indignant at the abuse of their patrons. Already I’m told that, from some flippant and unguarded expressions considered derogatory to Baker Street and Harley Street, rents have fallen in these respectable quarters; and orders have been issued that at least Mr. Snob shall be asked to parties there no more. Well, then — now they are ALL away, let us frisk at our ease, and have at everything like the bull in the china-shop. They mayn’t hear of what is going on in their absence, and, if they do they can’t bear malice for six months. We will begin to make it up with them about next February, and let next year take care of itself. We shall have no dinners from the dinner-giving Snobs: no more from the ball-givers: no more CONVERSAZIONES (thank Mussy! as Jeames says,) from the Conversaziones Snob: and what is to prevent us from telling the truth?

The snobbishness of Conversazione Snobs is very soon disposed of: as soon as that cup of washy bohea is handed to you in the tea-room; or the muddy remnant of ice that you grasp in the suffocating scuffle of the assembly upstairs.

Good heavens! What do people mean by going there? What is done there, that everybody throngs into those three little rooms? Was the Black Hole considered to be an agreeable REUNION, that Britons in the dog-days here seek to imitate it? After being rammed to a jelly in a door-way (where you feel your feet going through Lady Barbara Macbeth’s lace flounces, and get a look from that haggard and painted old harpy, compared to which the gaze of Ugolino is quite cheerful); after withdrawing your elbow out of poor gasping Bob Guttleton’s white waistcoat, from which cushion it was impossible to remove it, though you knew you were squeezing poor Bob into an apoplexy — you find yourself at last in the reception-room, and try to catch the eye of Mrs. Botibol, the CONVERSAZIONE-giver. When you catch her eye, you are expected to grin, and she smiles too, for the four hundredth time that night; and, if she’s very glad to see you, waggles her little hand before her face as if to blow you a kiss, as the phrase is.

Why the deuce should Mrs. Botibol blow me a kiss? I wouldn’t kiss her for the world. Why do I grin when I see her, as if I was delighted? Am I? I don’t care a straw for Mrs. Botibol. I know what she thinks about me. I know what she said about my last volume of poems (I had it from a dear mutual friend). Why, I say in a word, are we going on ogling and telegraphing each other in this insane way? — Because we are both performing the ceremonies demanded by the Great Snob Society; whose dictates we all of us obey.

Well; the recognition is over — my jaws have returned to their usual English expression of subdued agony and intense gloom, and the Botibol is grinning and kissing her fingers to somebody else, who is squeezing through the aperture by which we have just entered. It is Lady Ann Clutterbuck, who has her Friday evenings, as Botibol (Botty, we call her,) has Wednesdays. That is Miss Clementina Clutterbuck the cadaverous young woman in green, with florid auburn hair, who has published her volume of poems (‘The Death-Shriek;’ ‘Damiens;’ ‘The Faggot of Joan of Arc;’ and ‘Translations from the German’ of course). The conversazione-women salute each other calling each other ‘My dear Lady Ann’ and ‘My dear good Eliza,’ and hating each other, as women hate who give parties on Wednesdays and Fridays. With inexpressible pain dear good Eliza sees Ann go up and coax and wheedle Abou Gosh, who has just arrived from Syria, and beg him to patronize her Fridays.

All this while, amidst the crowd and the scuffle, and a perpetual buzz and chatter, and the flare of the wax-candles, and an intolerable smell of musk — what the poor Snobs who write fashionable romances call ‘the gleam of gems, the odour of perfumes, the blaze of countless lamps’— a scrubby-looking, yellow-faced foreigner, with cleaned gloves, is warbling inaudibly in a corner, to the accompaniment of another. ‘The Great Cacafogo,’ Mrs. Botibol whispers, as she passes you by. ‘A great creature, Thumpenstrumpff, is at the instrument — the Hetman Platoff’s pianist, you know.’

To hear this Cacafogo and Thumpenstrumpff, a hundred people are gathered together — a bevy of dowagers, stout or scraggy; a faint sprinkling of misses; six moody-looking lords, perfectly meek and solemn; wonderful foreign Counts, with bushy whiskers and yellow faces, and a great deal of dubious jewellery; young dandies with slim waists and open necks, and self-satisfied simpers, and flowers in their buttons; the old, stiff, stout, bald-headed CONVERSAZIONE ROUES, whom You meet everywhere — who never miss a night of this delicious enjoyment; the three last-caught lions of the season — Higgs, the traveller, Biggs, the novelist, and Toffey, who has come out so on the sugar question; Captain Flash, who is invited on account of his pretty wife and Lord Ogleby, who goes wherever she goes.

QUE SCAIS-JE? Who are the owners of all those showy scarfs and white neckcloths? — Ask little Tom Prig, who is there in all his glory, knows everybody, has a story about every one; and, as he trips home to his lodgings in Jermyn Street, with his gibus-hat and his little glazed pumps, thinks he is the fashionablest young fellow in town, and that he really has passed a night of exquisite enjoyment.

You go up (with our usual easy elegance of manner) and talk to Miss Smith in a corner. ‘Oh, Mr. Snob, I’m afraid you’re sadly satirical.’

That’s all she says. If you say it’s fine weather, she bursts out laughing; or hint that it’s very hot, she vows you are the drollest wretch! Meanwhile Mrs. Botibol is simpering on fresh arrivals; the individual at the door is roaring out their names; poor Cacafogo is quavering away in the music-room, under the impression that he will be LANCE in the world by singing inaudibly here. And what a blessing it is to squeeze out of the door, and into the street, where a half-hundred of carriages are in waiting; and where the link-boy, with that unnecessary lantern of his, pounces upon all who issue out, and will insist upon getting your noble honour’s lordship’s cab.

And to think that there are people who, after having been to Botibol on Wednesday, will go to Clutterbuck on Friday!

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