The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxi

Some Continental Snobs

Now that September has come, and all our Parliamentary duties are over, perhaps no class of Snobs are in such high feather as the Continental Snobs. I watch these daily as they commence their migrations from the beach at Folkestone. I see shoals of them depart (not perhaps without an innate longing too to quit the Island along with those happy Snobs). Farewell, dear friends, I say: you little know that the individual who regards you from the beach is your friend and historiographer and brother.

I went today to see our excellent friend Snooks, on board the ‘Queen of the French;’ many scores of Snobs were there, on the deck of that fine ship, marching forth in their pride and bravery. They will be at Ostend in four hours; they will inundate the Continent next week; they will carry into far lands the famous image of the British Snob. I shall not see them — but am with them in spirit: and indeed there is hardly a country in the known and civilized world in which these eyes have not beheld them.

I have seen Snobs, in pink coats and hunting-boots, scouring over the Campagna of Rome; and have heard their oaths and their well-known slang in the galleries of the Vatican, and under the shadowy arches of the Colosseum. I have met a Snob on a dromedary in the desert, and picnicking under the Pyramid of Cheops. I like to think how many gallant British Snobs there are, at this minute of writing, pushing their heads out of every window in the courtyard of ‘Meurice’s’ in the Rue de Rivoli; or roaring out, ‘Garsong, du pang,’ ‘Garsong, du Yang;’ or swaggering down the Toledo at Naples; or even how many will be on the look-out for Snooks on Ostend Pier — for Snooks, and the rest of the Snobs on board the ‘Queen of the French.’

Look at the Marquis of Carabas and his two carriages. My Lady Marchioness comes on board, looks round with that happy air of mingled terror and impertinence which distinguishes her ladyship, and rushes to her carriage, for it is impossible that she should mingle with the other Snobs on deck. There she sits, and will be ill in private. The strawberry leaves on her chariot-panels are engraved on her ladyship’s heart. If she were going to heaven instead of to Ostend, I rather think she would expect to have DES PLACES RESERVEES for her, and would send to order the best rooms. A courier, with his money-bag of office round his shoulders — a huge scowling footman, whose dark pepper-and-salt livery glistens with the heraldic insignia of the Carabases — a brazen-looking, tawdry French FEMME-DE-CHAMBRE (none but a female pen can do justice to that wonderful tawdry toilette of the lady’s-maid EN VOYAGE)— and a miserable DAME DE COMPAGNIE, are ministering to the wants of her ladyship and her King Charles’s spaniel. They are rushing to and fro with eau-de-Cologne, pocket-handkerchiefs, which are all fringe and cipher, and popping mysterious cushions behind and before, and in every available corner of the carriage.

The little Marquis, her husband is walking about the deck in a bewildered manner, with a lean daughter on each arm: the carroty-tufted hope of the family is already smoking on the foredeck in a travelling costume checked all over, and in little lacquer-tip pod jean boots, and a shirt embroidered with pink boa-constrictors. ‘What is it that gives travelling Snobs such a marvellous propensity to rush into a costume? Why should a man not travel in a coat, &c.? but think proper to dress himself like a harlequin in mourning? See, even young Aldermanbury, the tallow-merchant, who has just stepped on board, has got a travelling-dress gaping all over with pockets; and little Tom Tapeworm, the lawyer’s clerk out of the City, who has but three weeks’ leave, turns out in gaiters and a bran-new shooting-jacket, and must let the moustaches grow on his little sniffy upper lip, forsooth!

Pompey Hicks is giving elaborate directions to his servant, and asking loudly, ‘Davis, where’s the dwessing-case?’ and ‘Davis, you’d best take the pistol-case into the cabin.’ Little Pompey travels with a dressing-case, and without a beard: whom he is going to shoot with his pistols, who on earth can tell? and what he is to do with his servant but wait upon him, I am at a loss to conjecture.

Look at honest Nathan Houndsditch and his lady, and their little son. What a noble air of blazing contentment illuminates the features of those Snobs of Eastern race! What a toilette Houndsditch’s is! What rings and chains, what gold-headed canes and diamonds, what a tuft the rogue has got to his chin (the rogue! he will never spare himself any cheap enjoyment!) Little Houndsditch has a little cane with a gilt head and little mosaic ornaments — altogether an extra air. As for the lady, she is all the colours of the rainbow! she has a pink parasol, with a white lining, and a yellow bonnet, and an emerald green shawl, and a shot-silk pelisse; and drab boots and rhubarb-coloured gloves; and parti-coloured glass buttons, expanding from the size of a fourpenny-piece to a crown, glitter and twiddle all down the front of her gorgeous costume. I have said before, I like to look at ‘the Peoples’ on their gala days, they are so picturesquely and outrageously splendid and happy.

Yonder comes Captain Bull; spick and span, tight and trim; who travels for four or six months every year of his life; who does not commit himself by luxury of raiment or insolence of demeanour, but I think is as great a Snob as any man on board. Bull passes the season in London, sponging for dinners, and sleeping in a garret near his Club. Abroad, he has been everywhere; he knows the best wine at every inn in every capital in Europe; lives with the best English company there; has seen every palace and picture-gallery from Madrid to Stockholm; speaks an abominable little jargon of half-a-dozen languages — and knows nothing — nothing. Bull hunts tufts on the Continent, and is a sort of amateur courier. He will scrape acquaintance with old Carabas before they make Ostend; and will remind his lordship that he met him at Vienna twenty years ago, or gave him a glass of Schnapps up the Righi. We have said Bull knows nothing: he knows the birth, arms, and pedigree of all the peerage, has poked his little eyes into every one of the carriages on board — their panels noted and their crests surveyed; he knows all the Continental stories of English scandal — how Count Towrowski ran off with Miss Baggs at Naples — how VERY thick Lady Smigsmag was with young Cornichon of the French Legation at Florence — the exact amount which Jack Deuceace won of Bob Greengoose at Baden — what it is that made the Staggs settle on the Continent: the sum for which the O’Goggarty estates are mortgaged, &c. If he can’t catch a lord he will hook on to a baronet, or else the old wretch will catch hold of some beardless young stripling of fashion, and show him ‘life’ in various and amiable and inaccessible quarters. Faugh! the old brute! If he has every one of the vices of the most boisterous youth, at least he is comforted by having no conscience. He is utterly stupid, but of a jovial turn, He believes himself to be quite a respectable member of society: but perhaps the only good action he ever did in his life is the involuntary one of giving an example to be avoided, and showing what an odious thing in the social picture is that figure of the debauched old man who passes through life rather a decorous Silenus, and dies some day in his garret, alone, unrepenting, and unnoted, save by his astonished heirs, who find that the dissolute old miser has left money behind him. See! he is up to old Carabas already! I told you he would.

Yonder you see the old Lady Mary MacScrew, and those middle-aged young women her daughters; they are going to cheapen and haggle in Belgium and up the Rhine until they meet with a boarding-house where they can live upon less board-wages than her ladyship pays her footmen. But she will exact and receive considerable respect from the British Snobs located in the watering place which she selects for her summer residence, being the daughter of the Earl of Haggistoun. That broad-shouldered buck, with the great whiskers and the cleaned white kid-gloves, is Mr. Phelim Clancy of Poldoodystown: he calls himself Mr. De Clancy; he endeavours to disguise his native brogue with the richest superposition of English; and if you play at billiards or ECARTE with him, the chances are that you will win the first game, and he the seven or eight games ensuing.

That overgrown lady with the four daughters, and the young dandy from the University, her son, is Mrs. Kewsy, the eminent barrister’s lady, who would rather die than not be in the fashion. She has the ‘Peerage’ in her carpet-bag, you may be sure; but she is altogether cut out by Mrs. Quod, the attorney’s wife, whose carriage, with the apparatus of rumbles, dickeys, and imperials, scarcely yields in splendour to the Marquis of Carabas’s own travelling-chariot, and whose courier has even bigger whiskers and a larger morocco money-bag than the Marquis’s own travelling gentleman. Remark her well: she is talking to Mr. Spout, the new Member for Jawborough, who is going out to inspect the operations of the Zollverein, and will put some very severe questions to Lord Palmerston next session upon England and her relations with the Prussian-blue trade, the Naples-soap trade, the German-tinder trade, &c. Spout will patronize King Leopold at Brussels; will write letters from abroad to the JAWBOROUGH INDEPENDENT; and in his quality of MEMBER DU PARLIAMONG BRITANNIQUE, will expect to be invited to a family dinner with every sovereign whose dominions he honours with a visit during his tour.

The next person is — but hark! the bell for shore is ringing, and, shaking Snook’s hand cordially, we rush on to the pier, waving him a farewell as the noble black ship cuts keenly through the sunny azure waters, bearing away that cargo of Snobs outward bound.

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