The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxvii

Club Snobs

As I wish to be particularly agreeable to the ladies (to whom I make my most humble obeisance), we will now, if you please, commence maligning a class of Snobs against whom, I believe, most female minds are embittered — I mean Club Snobs. I have very seldom heard even the most gentle and placable woman speak without a little feeling of bitterness against those social institutions, those palaces swaggering in St. James’s, which are open to the men; while the ladies have but their dingy three-windowed brick boxes in Belgravia or in Paddingtonia, or in the region between the road of Edgware and that of Gray’s Inn.

In my grandfather’s time it used to be Freemasonry that roused their anger. It was my grand-aunt (whose portrait we still have in the family) who got into the clock-case at the Royal Rosicrucian Lodge at Bungay, Suffolk, to spy the proceedings of the Society, of which her husband was a member, and being frightened by the sudden whirring and striking eleven of the clock (just as the Deputy-Grand-Master was bringing in the mystic gridiron for the reception of a neophyte), rushed out into the midst of the lodge assembled; and was elected, by a desperate unanimity, Deputy-Grand-Mistress for life. Though that admirable and courageous female never subsequently breathed a word with regard to the secrets of the initiation, yet she inspired all our family with such a terror regarding the mysteries of Jachin and Boaz, that none of our family have ever since joined the Society, or worn the dreadful Masonic insignia.

It is known that Orpheus was torn to pieces by some justly indignant Thracian ladies for belonging to an Harmonic Lodge. ‘Let him go back to Eurydice,’ they said, ‘whom he is pretending to regret so.’ But the history is given in Dr. Lempriere’s elegant dictionary in a manner much more forcible than any this feeble pen can attempt. At once, then, and without verbiage, let us take up this subject-matter of Clubs.

Clubs ought not, in my mind, to be permitted to bachelors. If my friend of the Cuttykilts had not our club, the ‘Union Jack,’ to go to (I belong to the ‘U.J. and nine other similar institutions), who knows but he never would be a bachelor at this present moment? Instead of being made comfortable, and cockered up with every luxury, as they are at Clubs, bachelors ought to be rendered profoundly miserable, in my opinion. Every encouragement should be given to the rendering their spare time disagreeable. There can be no more odious object, according to my sentiments, than young Smith in the pride of health, commanding his dinner of three courses; than middle-aged Jones wallowing (as I may say) in an easy padded arm-chair, over the delicious novel or brilliant magazine; or than old Brown, that selfish old reprobate for whom mere literature has no charms, stretched on the best sofa, sitting on the second edition of THE TIMES, having the MORNING CHRONICLE between his knees, the HERALD pushed in between his coat and waistcoat, the STANDARD under his arm, the GLOBE under the other pinion, and the DAILY NEWS in perusal. ‘I’ll trouble you for PUNCH, Mr. Wiggins’ says the unconscionable old gormandiser, interrupting our friend, who is laughing over the periodical in question.

This kind of selfishness ought not to be. No, no. Young Smith, instead of his dinner and his wine, ought to be, where? — at the festive tea-table, to be sure, by the side of Miss Higgs, sipping the bohea, or tasting the harmless muffin; while old Mrs. Higgs looks on, pleased at their innocent dalliance, and my friend Miss Wirt, the governess, is performing Thalberg’s last sonata in treble X., totally unheeded, at the piano.

Where should the middle-aged Jones be? At his time of life, he ought to be the father of a family. At such an hour — say, at nine o’clock at night — the nursery-bell should have just rung the children to bed. He and Mrs. J. ought to be, by rights, seated on each side of the fire by the dining-room table, a bottle of port-wine between them, not so full as it was an hour since. Mrs. J. has had two glasses; Mrs. Grumble (Jones’s mother-inlaw) has had three; Jones himself has finished the rest, and dozes comfortably until bed-time.

And Brown, that old newspaper-devouring miscreant, what right has HE at a club at a decent hour of night? He ought to be playing his rubber with Miss MacWhirter, his wife, and the family apothecary. His candle ought to be brought to him at ten o’clock, and he should retire to rest just as the young people were thinking of a dance. How much finer, simpler, nobler are the several employments I have sketched out for these gentlemen than their present nightly orgies at the horrid Club.

And, ladies, think of men who do not merely frequent the dining-room and library, but who use other apartments of those horrible dens which it is my purpose to batter down; think of Cannon, the wretch, with his coat off, at his age and size, clattering the balls over the billiard-table all night, and making bets with that odious Captain Spot! — think of Pam in a dark room with Bob Trumper, Jack Deuceace, and Charley Vole, playing, the poor dear misguided wretch, guinea points and five pounds on the rubber! — above all, think — oh, think of that den of abomination, which, I am told, has been established in SOME clubs, called THE SMOKING-ROOM — think of the debauchees who congregate there, the quantities of reeking whisky-punch or more dangerous sherry-cobbler which they consume; — think of them coming home at cock-crow and letting themselves into the quiet house with the Chubb key; — think of them, the hypocrites, taking off their insidious boots before they slink upstairs, the children sleeping overhead, the wife of their bosom alone with the waning rushlight in the two-pair front — that chamber so soon to be rendered hateful by the smell of their stale cigars: I am not an advocate of violence; I am not, by nature, of an incendiary turn of mind: but if, my dear ladies, you are for assassinating Mr. Chubb and burning down Club-houses in St. James’s, there is ONE Snob at who will not think the worse of you.

The only men who, as I opine, ought to be allowed the use of Clubs, are married men without a profession. The continual presence of these in a house cannot be thought, even by the most loving of wives, desirable. Say the girls are beginning to practise their music, which in an honourable English family, ought to occupy every young gentlewoman three hours; it would be rather hard to call upon poor papa to sit in the drawing-room all that time, and listen to the interminable discords and shrieks which are elicited from the miserable piano during the above necessary operation. A man with a good ear, especially, would go mad, if compelled daily to submit to this horror.

Or suppose you have a fancy to go to the milliner’s, or to Howell and James’s, it is manifest, my dear Madam, that your husband is much better at the Club during these operations than by your side in the carriage, or perched in wonder upon one of the stools at Shawl and Gimcrack’s, whilst young counter-dandies are displaying their wares.

This sort of husbands should be sent out after breakfast, and if not Members of Parliament, or Directors of a Railroad, or an Insurance Company, should be put into their clubs, and told to remain there until dinner-time. No sight is more agreeable to my truly regulated mind than to see the noble characters so worthily employed. Whenever I pass by St. James’s Street, having the privilege, like the rest of the world, of looking in at the windows of ‘Blight’s,’ or ‘Foodle’s,’ or ‘Snook’s,’ or the great bay at the ‘Contemplative Club,’ I behold with respectful appreciation the figures within — the honest rosy old fogies, the mouldy old dandies, the waist-belts and glossy wigs and tight cravats of those most vacuous and respectable men. Such men are best there during the day-time surely. When you part with them, dear ladies, think of the rapture consequent on their return. You have transacted your household affairs; you have made your purchases; you have paid your visits; you have aired your poodle in the Park; your French maid has completed the toilette which renders you so ravishingly beautiful by candlelight, and you are fit to make home pleasant to him who has been absent all day.

Such men surely ought to have their Clubs, and we will not class them among Club Snobs therefore:— on whom let us reserve our attack for the next chapter.

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