The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxvi

On Some Country Snobs

Something like a journal of the proceedings at the Evergreens may be interesting to those foreign readers of PUNCH who want to know the customs of an English gentleman’s family and household. There’s plenty of time to keep the Journal. Piano-strumming begins at six o’clock in the morning; it lasts till breakfast, with but a minute’s intermission, when the instrument changes hands, and Miss Emily practises in place of her sister Miss Maria.

In fact, the confounded instrument never stops when the young ladies are at their lessons, Miss Wirt hammers away at those stunning variations, and keeps her magnificent finger in exercise.

I asked this great creature in what other branches of education she instructed her pupils? ‘The modern languages,’ says she modestly: ‘French, German, Spanish, and Italian, Latin and the rudiments of Greek if desired. English of course; the practice of Elocution, Geography, and Astronomy, and the Use of the Globes, Algebra (but only as far as quadratic equations); for a poor ignorant female, you know, Mr. Snob, cannot be expected to know everything. Ancient and Modern History no young woman can be without; and of these I make my beloved pupils PERFECT MISTRESSES. Botany, Geology, and Mineralogy, I consider as amusements. And with these I assure you we manage to pass the days at the Evergreens not unpleasantly.’

Only these, thought I— what an education! But I looked in one of Miss Ponto’s manuscript song-books and found five faults of French in four words; and in a waggish mood asking Miss Wirt whether Dante Algiery was so called because he was born at Algiers, received a smiling answer in the affirmative, which made me rather doubt about the accuracy of Miss Wirt’s knowledge.

When the above little morning occupations are concluded, these unfortunate young women perform what they call Calisthenic Exercises in the garden. I saw them today, without any crinoline, pulling the garden-roller.

Dear Mrs. Ponto was in the garden too, and as limp as her daughters; in a faded bandeau of hair, in a battered bonnet, in a holland pinafore, in pattens, on a broken chair, snipping leaves off a vine. Mrs. Ponto measures many yards about in an evening. Ye heavens! what a guy she is in that skeleton morning-costume!

Besides Stripes, they keep a boy called Thomas or Tummus. Tummus works in the garden or about the pigsty and stable; Thomas wears a page’s costume of eruptive buttons.

When anybody calls, and Stripes is out of the way, Tummus flings himself like mad into Thomas’s clothes, and comes out metamorphosed like Harlequin in the pantomime. To-day, as Mrs. P. was cutting the grapevine, as the young ladies were at the roller, down comes Tummus like a roaring whirlwind, with ‘Missus, Missus, there’s company coomin’!’ Away skurry the young ladies from the roller, down comes Mrs. P. from the old chair, off flies Tummus to change his clothes, and in an incredibly short space of time Sir John Hawbuck, my Lady Hawbuck, and Master Hugh Hawbuck are introduced into the garden with brazen effrontery by Thomas, who says, ‘Please Sir Jan and my Lady to walk this year way: I KNOW Missus is in the rose-garden.’

And there, sure enough, she was!

In a pretty little garden bonnet, with beautiful curling ringlets, with the smartest of aprons and the freshest of pearl-coloured gloves, this amazing woman was in the arms of her dearest Lady Hawbuck. ‘Dearest Lady Hawbuck, how good of you! Always among my flowers! can’t live away from them!’

‘Sweets to the sweet! hum — a-ha — haw!’ says Sir John Hawbuck, who piques himself on his gallantry, and says nothing without ‘a-hum — a-ha — a-haw!’

‘Whereth yaw pinnafaw?’ cries Master Hugh. ‘WE thaw you in it, over the wall, didn’t we, Pa?’

‘Hum — a-ha — a-haw!’ burst out Sir John, dreadfully alarmed. ‘Where’s Ponto? Why wasn’t he at Quarter Sessions? How are his birds this year, Mrs. Ponto — have those Carabas pheasants done any harm to your wheat? a-hum — a-ha — a-haw!’ and all this while he was making the most ferocious and desperate signals to his youthful heir.

‘Well, she WATH in her pinnafaw, wathn’t she, Ma?’ says Hugh, quite unabashed; which question Lady Hawbuck turned away with a sudden query regarding her dear darling daughters, and the ENFANT TERRIBLE was removed by his father.

‘I hope you weren’t disturbed by the music?’ Ponto says. ‘My girls, you know, practise four hours a day, you know — must do it, you know — absolutely necessary. As for me, you know I’m an early man, and in my farm every morning at five — no, no laziness for ME.’

The facts are these. Ponto goes to sleep directly after dinner on entering the drawing-room, and wakes up when the ladies leave off practice at ten. From seven till ten, from ten till five, is a very fair allowance of slumber for a man who says he’s NOT a lazy man. It is my private opinion that when Ponto retires to what is called his ‘Study,’ he sleeps too. He locks himself up there daily two hours with the newspaper.

I saw the HAWBUCK scene out of the Study, which commands the garden. It’s a curious object, that Study. Ponto’s library mostly consists of boots. He and Stripes have important interviews here of mornings, when the potatoes are discussed, or the fate of the calf ordained, or sentence passed on the pig, &c.. All the Major’s bills are docketed on the Study table and displayed like a lawyer’s briefs. Here, too, lie displayed his hooks, knives, and other gardening irons, his whistles, and strings of spare buttons. He has a drawer of endless brown paper for parcels, and another containing a prodigious and never-failing supply of string. What a man can want with so many gig-whips I can never conceive. These, and fishing-rods, and landing-nets, and spurs, and boot-trees, and balls for horses, and surgical implements for the same, and favourite pots of shiny blacking, with which he paints his own shoes in the most elegant manner, and buckskin gloves stretched out on their trees, and his gorget, sash, and sabre of the Horse Marines, with his boot-hooks underneath in atrophy; and the family medicine-chest, and in a corner the very rod with which he used to whip his son, Wellesley Ponto, when a boy (Wellesley never entered the ‘Study’ but for that awful purpose)— all these, with ‘Mogg’s Road Book,’ the GARDENERS’ CHRONICLE, and a backgammon-board, form the Major’s library. Under the trophy there’s a picture of Mrs. Ponto, in a light blue dress and train, and no waist, when she was first married; a fox’s brush lies over the frame, and serves to keep the dust off that work of art.

‘My library’s small, says Ponto, with the most amazing impudence, ‘but well selected, my boy — well selected. I have been reading the “History of England” all the morning.’

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