The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxx

On Some Country Snobs

At last came that fortunate day at the Evergreens, when I was to be made acquainted with some of the ‘county families’ with whom only people of Ponto’s rank condescended to associate. And now, although poor Ponto had just been so cruelly made to bleed on occasion of his son’s new uniform, and though he was in the direst and most cut-throat spirits with an overdrawn account at the banker’s, and other pressing evils of poverty; although a tenpenny bottle of Marsala and an awful parsimony presided generally at his table, yet the poor fellow was obliged to assume the most frank and jovial air of cordiality; and all the covers being removed from the hangings, and new dresses being procured for the young ladies, and the family plate being unlocked and displayed, the house and all within assumed a benevolent and festive appearance. The kitchen fires began to blaze, the good wine ascended from the cellar, a professed cook actually came over from Guttlebury to compile culinary abominations. Stripes was in a new coat, and so was Ponto, for a wonder, and Tummus’s button-suit was worn EN PERMANENCE.

And all this to show off the little lord, thinks I. All this in honour of a stupid little cigarrified Cornet of dragoons, who can barely write his name — while an eminent and profound moralist like — somebody — is fobbed off with cold mutton and relays of pig. Well, well: a martyrdom of cold mutton is just bearable. I pardon Mrs. Ponto, from my heart I do, especially as I wouldn’t turn out of the best bed-room, in spite of all her hints; but held my ground in the chintz tester, vowing that Lord Gules, as a young man, was quite small and hardy enough to make himself comfortable elsewhere.

The great Ponto party was a very august one. The Hawbucks came in their family coach, with the blood-red band emblazoned all over it: and their man in yellow livery waited in country fashion at table, only to be exceeded in splendour by the Hipsleys, the opposition baronet, in light blue. The old Ladies Fitzague drove over in their little old chariot with the fat black horses, the fat coachman, the fat footman —(why are dowagers’ horses and footmen always fat?) And soon after these personages had arrived, with their auburn fronts and red beaks and turbans, came the Honourable and Reverend Lionel Pettipois, who with General and Mrs. Sago formed the rest of the party. ‘Lord and Lady Frederick Howlet were asked, but they have friends at Ivybush,’ Mrs. Ponto told me; and that very morning, the Castlehaggards sent an excuse, as her ladyship had a return of the quinsy. Between ourselves, Lady Castlehaggard’s quinsy always comes on when there is dinner at the Evergreens.

If the keeping of polite company could make a woman happy, surely my kind hostess Mrs. Ponto was on that day a happy woman. Every person present (except the unlucky impostor who pretended to a connexion with the Snobbington Family, and General Sago, who had brought home I don’t know how many lacs of rupees from India,) was related to the Peerage or the Baronetage. Mrs. P. had her heart’s desire. If she had been an Earl’s daughter herself could she have expected better company? — and her family were in the oil-trade at Bristol, as all her friends very well know.

What I complained of in my heart was not the dining — which, for this once, was plentiful and comfortable enough — but the prodigious dulness of the talking part of the entertainment. O my beloved brother Snobs of the City, if we love each other no better than our country brethren, at least we amuse each other more; if we bore ourselves, we are not called upon to go ten miles to do it!

For instance, the Hipsleys came ten miles from the south, and the Hawbucks ten miles from the north, of the Evergreens; and were magnates in two different divisions of the county of Mangelwurzelshire. Hipsley, who is an old baronet, with a bothered estate, did not care to show his contempt for Hawbuck, who is a new creation, and rich. Hawbuck, on his part, gives himself patronizing airs to General Sago, who looks upon the Pontos as little better than paupers. ‘Old Lady Blanche,’ says Ponto, ‘I hope will leave something to her god-daughter — my second girl — we’ve all of us half-poisoned ourselves with taking her physic.’

Lady Blanche and Lady Rose Fitzague have, the first, a medical, and the second a literary turn. I am inclined to believe the former had a wet COMPRESSE around her body, on the occasion when I had the happiness of meeting her. She doctors everybody in the neighbourhood of which she is the ornament; and has tried everything on her own person. She went into Court, and testified publicly her faith in St. John Long: she swore by Doctor Buchan, she took quantities of Gambouge’s Universal Medicine, and whole boxfuls of Parr’s Life Pills. She has cured a multiplicity of headaches by Squinstone’s Eye-snuff; she wears a picture of Hahnemann in her bracelet and a lock of Priessnitz’s hair in a brooch. She talked about her own complaints and those of her CONFIDANTE for the time being, to every lady in the room successively, from our hostess down to Miss Wirt, taking them into corners, and whispering about bronchitis, hepatitis, St. Vitus, neuralgia, cephalalgia, and so forth. I observed poor fat Lady Hawbuck in a dreadful alarm after some communication regarding the state of her daughter Miss Lucy Hawbuck’s health, and Mrs. Sago turned quite yellow, and put down her third glass of Madeira, at a warning glance from Lady Blanche.

Lady Rose talked literature, and about the book-club at Guttlebury, and is very strong in voyages and travels. She has a prodigious interest in Borneo, and displayed a knowledge of the history of the Punjaub and Kaffirland that does credit to her memory. Old General Sago, who sat perfectly silent and plethoric, roused up as from a lethargy when the former country was mentioned, and gave the company his story about a hog-hunt at Ramjugger. I observed her ladyship treated with something like contempt her neighbour the Reverend Lionel Pettipois, a young divine whom you may track through the country by little ‘awakening’ books at half-a-crown a hundred, which dribble out of his pockets wherever he goes. I saw him give Miss Wirt a sheaf of ‘The Little Washer-woman on Putney Common,’ and to Miss Hawbuck a couple of dozen of ‘Meat in the Tray; or the Young Butcher-boy Rescued;’ and on paying a visit to Guttlebury gaol, I saw two notorious fellows waiting their trial there (and temporarily occupied with a game of cribbage), to whom his Reverence offered a tract as he was walking over Crackshins Common, and who robbed him of his purse, umbrella, and cambric handkerchief, leaving him the tracts to distribute elsewhere.

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