The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxiii

Snobs and Marriage

Everybody of the middle rank who walks through this life with a sympathy for his companions on the same journey — at any rate, every man who has been jostling in the world for some three or four lustres — must make no end of melancholy reflections upon the fate of those victims whom Society, that is, Snobbishness, is immolating every day. With love and simplicity and natural kindness Snobbishness is perpetually at war. People dare not be happy for fear of Snobs. People dare not love for fear of Snobs. People pine away lonely under the tyranny of Snobs. Honest kindly hearts dry up and die. Gallant generous lads, blooming with hearty youth, swell into bloated old-bachelorhood, and burst and tumble over. Tender girls wither into shrunken decay, and perish solitary, from whom Snobbishness has cut off the common claim to happiness and affection with which Nature endowed us all. My heart grows sad as I see the blundering tyrant’s handiwork. As I behold it I swell with cheap rage, and glow with fury against the Snob. Come down, I say, thou skulking dulness! Come down, thou stupid bully, and give up thy brutal ghost! And I arm myself with the sword and spear, and taking leave of my family, go forth to do battle with that hideous ogre and giant, that brutal despot in Snob Castle, who holds so many gentle hearts in torture and thrall.

When PUNCH is king, I declare there shall be no such thing as old maids and old bachelors. The Reverend Mr. Malthus shall be burned annually, instead of Guy Fawkes. Those who don’t marry shall go into the workhouse. It shall be a sin for the poorest not to have a pretty girl to love him.

The above reflections came to mind after taking a walk with an old comrade, Jack Spiggot by name, who is just passing into the state of old-bachelorhood, after the manly and blooming youth in which I remember him. Jack was one of the handsomest fellows in England when we entered together in the Highland Buffs; but I quitted the Cuttykilts early, and lost sight of him for many years.

Ah! how changed he is from those days! He wears a waistband now, and has begun to dye his whiskers. His cheeks, which were red, are now mottled; his eyes, once so bright and steadfast, are the colour of peeled plovers’ eggs.

‘Are you married, Jack?’ says I, remembering how consumedly in love he was with his cousin Letty Lovelace, when the Cuttykilts were quartered at Strathbungo some twenty years ago.

‘Married? no,’ says he. ‘Not money enough. Hard enough to keep myself, much more a family, on five hundred a year. Come to Dickinson’s; there’s some of the best Madeira in London there, my boy.’ So we went and talked over old times. The bill for dinner and wine consumed was prodigious, and the quantity of brandy-and-water that Jack took showed what a regular boozer he was. ‘A guinea or two guineas. What the devil do I care what I spend for my dinner?’ says he.

‘And Letty Lovelace?’ says I.

Jack’s countenance fell. However, he burst into a loud laugh presently. ‘Letty Lovelace!’ says he. ‘She’s Letty Lovelace still; but Gad, such a wizened old woman! She’s as thin as a thread-paper; (you remember what a figure she had:) her nose has got red, and her teeth blue. She’s always ill; always quarrelling with the rest of the family; always psalm-singing, and always taking pills. Gad, I had a rare escape THERE. Push round the grog, old boy.’

Straightway memory went back to the days when Letty was the loveliest of blooming young creatures: when to hear her sing was to make the heart jump into your throat; when to see her dance, was better than Montessu or Noblet (they were the Ballet Queens of those days); when Jack used to wear a locket of her hair, with a little gold chain round his neck, and, exhilarated with toddy, after a sederunt of the Cuttykilt mess, used to pull out this token, and kiss it, and howl about it, to the great amusement of the bottle-nosed old Major and the rest of the table.

‘My father and hers couldn’t put their horses together,’ Jack said. ‘The General wouldn’t come down with more than six thousand. My governor said it shouldn’t be done under eight. Lovelace told him to go and be hanged, and so we parted company. They said she was in a decline. Gammon! She’s forty, and as tough and as sour as this bit of lemon-peel. Don’t put much into your punch, Snob my boy. No man CAN stand punch after wine.’

‘And what are your pursuits, Jack?’ says I.

‘Sold out when the governor died. Mother lives at Bath. Go down there once a year for a week. Dreadful slow. Shilling whist. Four sisters — all unmarried except the youngest — awful work. Scotland in August. Italy in the winter. Cursed rheumatism. Come to London in March, and toddle about at the Club, old boy; and we won’t go home till maw-aw-rning till daylight does appear.

‘And here’s the wreck of two lives!’ mused the present Snobographer, after taking leave of Jack Spiggot. ‘Pretty merry Letty Lovelace’s rudder lost and she cast away, and handsome Jack Spiggot stranded on the shore like a drunken Trinculo.’

What was it that insulted Nature (to use no higher name), and perverted her kindly intentions towards them? What cursed frost was it that nipped the love that both were bearing, and condemned the girl to sour sterility, and the lad to selfish old-bachelorhood? It was the infernal Snob tyrant who governs us all, who says, ‘Thou shalt not love without a lady’s maid; thou shalt not marry without a carriage and horses; thou shalt have no wife in thy heart, and no children on thy knee, without a page in buttons and a French BONNE; thou shalt go to the devil unless thou hast a brougham; marry poor, and society shall forsake thee; thy kinsmen shall avoid thee as a criminal; thy aunts and uncles shall turn up their eyes and bemoan the sad, sad manner in which Tom or Harry has thrown himself away.’ You, young woman, may sell yourself without shame, and marry old Croesus; you, young man, may lie away your heart and your life for a jointure. But if ‘you are poor, woe be to you! Society, the brutal Snob autocrat, consigns you to solitary perdition. Wither, poor girl, in your garret; rot, poor bachelor, in your Club.

When I see those graceless recluses — those unnatural monks and nuns of the order of St. Beelzebub, (1) my hatred for Snobs, and their worship, and their idols, passes all continence. Let us hew down that man-eating Juggernaut, I say, that hideous Dagon; and I glow with the heroic courage of Tom Thumb, and join battle with the giant Snob.

(1) This, of course, is understood to apply only to those unmarried persons whom a mean and Snobbish fear about money has kept from fulfilling their natural destiny. Many persons there are devoted to celibacy because they cannot help it. Of these a man would be a brute who spoke roughly. Indeed, after Miss O’Toole’s conduct to the writer, he would be the last to condemn. But never mind, these are personal matters.

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