The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxii

Snobbium Gatherum

WHEN I see the great effect which these papers are producing on an intelligent public, I have a strong hope that before long we shall have a regular Snob department in the newspapers, just as we have the Police Courts and the Court News at present. When a flagrant case of bone-crushing or Poor-law abuse occurs in the world, who so eloquent as THE TIMES to point it out? When a gross instance of Snobbishness happens, why should not the indignant journalist call the public attention to that delinquency too?

How, for instance, could that wonderful case of the Earl of Mangelwurzel and his brother be examined in the Snobbish point of view? Let alone the hectoring, the bullying, the vapouring, the bad grammar, the mutual recriminations, lie-givings, challenges, retractations, which abound in the fraternal dispute — put out of the question these points as concerning the individual nobleman and his relative, with whose personal affairs we have nothing to do — and consider how intimately corrupt, how habitually grovelling and mean, how entirely Snobbish in a word, a whole county must be which can find no better chiefs or leaders than these two gentlemen. ‘We don’t want,’ the great county of Mangelwurzelshire seems to say, ‘that a man should be able to write good grammar; or that he should keep a Christian tongue in his head; or that he should have the commonest decency of temper, or even a fair share of good sense, in order to represent us in Parliament.

All we require is, that a man should be recommended to us by the Earl of Mangelwurzelshire. And all that we require of the Earl of Mangelwurzelshire is that he should have fifty thousand a year and hunt the country.’ O you pride of all Snobland! O you crawling, truckling, self-confessed lackeys and parasites!

But this is growing too savage: don’t let us forget our usual amenity, and that tone of playfulness and sentiment with which the beloved reader and writer have pursued their mutual reflections hitherto. Well, Snobbishness pervades the little Social Farce as well as the great State Comedy; and the self-same moral is tacked to either.

There was, for instance, an account in the papers of a young lady who, misled by a fortune-teller, actually went part of the way to India (as far as Bagnigge Wells, I think,) in search of a husband who was promised her there. Do you suppose this poor deluded little soul would have left her shop for a man below her in rank, or for anything but a darling of a Captain in epaulets and a red coat. It was her Snobbish sentiment that misled her, and made her vanities a prey to the swindling fortune-teller.

Case 2 was that of Mademoiselle de Saugrenue, ‘the interesting young Frenchwoman with a profusion of jetty ringlets,’ who lived for nothing at a boardinghouse at Gosport, was then conveyed to Fareham gratis: and being there, and lying on the bed of the good old lady her entertainer, the dear girl took occasion to rip open the mattress, and steal a cash-box, with which she fled to London. How would you account for the prodigious benevolence exercised towards the interesting young French lady? Was it her jetty ringlets or her charming face? — Bah! Do ladies love others for having faces and black hair? — she said SHE WAS A RELATION OF de Saugrenue: talked of her ladyship her aunt, and of herself as a De Saugrenue. The honest boarding-house people were at her feet at once. Good, honest, simple, lord-loving children of Snobland.

Finally, there was the case of ‘the Right Honourable Mr. Vernon,’ at York. The Right Honourable was the son of a nobleman, and practised on an old lady. He procured from her dinners, money, wearing-apparel, spoons, implicit credence, and an entire refit of linen. Then he cast his nets over a family of father, mother, and daughters, one of whom he proposed to marry. The father lent him money, the mother made jams and pickles for him, the daughters vied with each other in cooking dinners for the Right Honourable — and what was the end? One day the traitor fled, with a teapot and a basketful of cold victuals. It was the ‘Right Honourable’ which baited the hook which gorged all these greedy, simple Snobs. Would they have been taken in by a commoner? What old lady is there, my dear sir, who would take in you and me, were we ever so ill to do, and comfort us, and clothe us, and give us her money, and her silver forks? Alas and alas! what mortal man that speaks the truth can hope for such a landlady? And yet, all these instances of fond and credulous Snobbishness have occurred in the same week’s paper, with who knows how many score more?

Just as we had concluded the above remarks comes a pretty little note sealed with a pretty little butterfly — bearing a northern postmark — and to the following effect:—

‘19th November.

‘Mr. Punch — ‘Taking great interest in your Snob Papers, we are very anxious to know under what class of that respectable fraternity you would designate us.

‘We are three sisters, from seventeen to twenty-two. Our father is HONESTLY AND TRULY of a very good family (you will say it is Snobbish to mention that, but I wish to state the plain fact); our maternal grandfather was an Earl.’ (1)

‘We CAN afford to take in a stamped edition of YOU, and all Dickens’ works as fast as they come out, but we do NOT keep such a thing as a PEERAGE or even a BARONETAGE in the house.

‘We live with every comfort, excellent cellar, &c. &c.; but as we cannot well afford a butler, we have a neat table-maid (though our father was a military man, has travelled much, been in the best society, &c.) We HAVE a coachman and helper, but we don’t put the latter into buttons, nor make them wait at table, like Stripes and Tummus.’ (2)

‘We are just the same to persons with a handle to their name as to those without it. We wear a moderate modicum of crinoline, (3)and are never limp (4) in the morning. We have good and abundant dinners on CHINA though we have plate (5), and just as good when alone as with company.

‘Now, my dear MR. PUNCH, will you PLEASE give us a short answer in your next number, and I will be SO much obliged to you. Nobody knows we are writing to you, not even our father; nor will we ever tease (6) you again if you will only give us an answer — just for FUN, now do!

‘If you get as far as this, which is doubtful, you will probably fling it into the fire. If you do, I cannot help it; but I am of a sanguine disposition, and entertain a lingering hope. At all events, I shall be impatient for next Sunday, for you reach us on that day, and I am ashamed to confess, we CANNOT resist opening you in the carriage driving home from church. (7)

‘I remain, &c. &c., for myself and sisters.

Excuse this scrawl, but I always write headlong. (8)

‘P. S. — You were rather stupid last week, don’t you think? (9) We keep no gamekeeper, and yet have always abundant game for friends to shoot, in spite of the poachers. We never write on perfumed paper — in short, I can’t help thinking that if you knew us you would not think us Snobs.’

To this I reply in the following manner:—‘My dear young ladies, I know your post-town: and shall be at church there the Sunday AFTER next; when, will you please to wear a tulip or some little trifle in your bonnets, so that I may know you? You will recognize me and my dress — a quiet-looking young fellow, in a white top-coat, a crimson satin neckcloth, light blue trousers, with glossy tipped boots, and an emerald breast-pin. I shall have a black crape round my white hat; and my usual bamboo cane with the richly-gilt knob. I am sorry there will be no time to get up moustaches between now and next week.

‘From seventeen to two-and-twenty! Ye gods! what ages! Dear young creatures, I can see you all three. Seventeen suits me, as nearest my own time of life; but mind, I don’t say two-and-twenty is too old. No, no. And that pretty, roguish, demure, middle one. Peace, peace, thou silly little fluttering heart!

‘YOU Snobs, dear young ladies! I will pull any man’s nose who says so. There is no harm in being of a good family. You can’t help it, poor dears. What’s in a name? What is in a handle to it? I confess openly that I should not object to being a Duke myself; and between ourselves you might see a worse leg for a garter.

‘YOU Snobs, dear little good-natured things, no that is, I hope not — I think not — I won’t be too confident — none of us should be — that we are not Snobs. That very confidence savours of arrogance, and to be arrogant is to be a Snob. In all the social gradations from sneak to tyrant, nature has placed a most wondrous and various progeny of Snobs. But are there no kindly natures, no tender hearts, no souls humble, simple, and truth-loving? Ponder well on this question, sweet young ladies. And if you can answer it, as no doubt you can — lucky are you — and lucky the respected Herr Papa, and lucky the three handsome young gentlemen who are about to become each others’ brothers-inlaw.’

(1) The introduction of Grandpapa, is I fear, Snobbish.

(2) That is, as you like. I don’t object to buttons in moderation.

(3) Quite right.

(4) Bless you!

(5) Snobbish; and I doubt whether you ought to dine as well alone as with company. You will be getting too good dinners.

(6) We like to be teased; but tell Papa.

(7) O garters and stars! what will Captain Gordon and Exeter Hall say to this?

(8) Dear little enthusiast!

(9) You were never more mistaken, miss, in your life.

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