The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxix

Club Snobs

Why does not some great author write ‘The Mysteries of the Club-houses; or St. James’s Street unveiled?’ It would be a fine subject for an imaginative writer. We must all, as boys, remember when we went to the fair, and had spent all our money — the sort of awe and anxiety with which we loitered round the outside of the show, speculating upon the nature of the entertainment going on within.

Man is a Drama — of Wonder and Passion, and Mystery and Meanness, and Beauty and Truthfulness, and Etcetera. Each Bosom is a Booth in Vanity Fair. But let us stop this capital style, I should die if I kept it up for a column (a pretty thing a column all capitals would be, by the way). In a Club, though there mayn’t be a soul of your acquaintance in the room, you have always the chance of watching strangers, and speculating on what is going on within those tents and curtains of their souls, their coats and waistcoats. This is a never-failing sport. Indeed I am told there are some Clubs in the town where nobody ever speaks to anybody. They sit in the coffee-room, quite silent, and watching each other.

Yet how little you can tell from a man’s outward demeanour! There’s a man at our Club — large, heavy, middle-aged — gorgeously dressed — rather bald — with lacquered boots — and a boa when he goes out; quiet in demeanour, always ordering and consuming a RECHERCHE little dinner: whom I have mistaken for Sir John Pocklington any time these five years, and respected as a man with five hundred pounds PER DIEM; and I find he is but a clerk in an office in the City, with not two hundred pounds income, and his name is Jubber. Sir John Pocklington was, on the contrary, the dirty little snuffy man who cried out so about the bad quality of the beer, and grumbled at being overcharged three-halfpence for a herring, seated at the next table to Jubber on the day when some one pointed the Baronet out to me.

Take a different sort of mystery. I see, for instance, old Fawney stealing round the rooms of the Club, with glassy, meaningless eyes, and an endless greasy simper — he fawns on everybody he meets, and shakes hands with you, and blesses you, and betrays the most tender and astonishing interest in your welfare. You know him to be a quack and a rogue, and he knows you know it. But he wriggles on his way, and leaves a track of slimy flattery after him wherever he goes. Who can penetrate that man’s mystery? What earthly good can he get from you or me? You don’t know what is working under that leering tranquil mask. You have only the dim instinctive repulsion that warns you, you are in the presence of a knave — beyond which fact all Fawney’s soul is a secret to you.

I think I like to speculate on the young men best. Their play is opener. You know the cards in their hand, as it were. Take, for example, Messrs. Spavin and Cockspur.

A specimen or two of the above sort of young fellows may be found, I believe, at most Clubs. They know nobody. They bring a fine smell of cigars into the room with them, and they growl together, in a corner, about sporting matters. They recollect the history of that short period in which they have been ornaments of the world by the names of winning horses. As political men talk about ‘the Reform year,’ ‘the year the Whigs went out,’ and so forth, these young sporting bucks speak of TARNATION’S year, or OPODELDOC’S year, or the year when CATAWAMPUS ran second for the Chester Cup. They play at billiards in the morning, they absorb pale ale for breakfast, and ‘top up’ with glasses of strong waters. They read BELL’S LIFE (and a very pleasant paper too, with a great deal of erudition in the answers to correspondents). They go down to Tattersall’s, and swagger in the Park, with their hands plunged in the pockets of their paletots.

What strikes me especially in the outward demeanour of sporting youth is their amazing gravity, their conciseness of speech, and careworn and moody air. In the smoking-room at the ‘Regent,’ when Joe Millerson will be setting the whole room in a roar with laughter, you hear young Messrs. Spavin and Cockspur grumbling together in a corner. ‘I’ll take your five-and-twenty to one about Brother to Bluenose,’ whispers Spavin. ‘Can’t do it at the price,’ Cockspur says, wagging his head ominously. The betting-book is always present in the minds of those unfortunate youngsters. I think I hate that work even more than the ‘Peerage.’ There is some good in the latter — though, generally speaking, a vain record: though De Mogyns is not descended from the giant Hogyn Mogyn; though half the other genealogies are equally false and foolish; yet the mottoes are good reading — some of them; and the book itself a sort of gold-laced and livened lackey to History, and in so far serviceable. But what good ever came out of, or went into, a betting-book? If I could be Caliph Omar for a week, I would pitch every one of those despicable manuscripts into the flames; from my Lord’s, who is ‘in’ with Jack Snaffle’s stable, and is over-reaching worse-informed rogues and swindling greenhorns, down to Sam’s, the butcher-boy’s, who books eighteenpenny odds in the tap-room, and ‘stands to win five-and-twenty bob.’

In a turf transaction, either Spavin or Cockspur would try to get the better of his father, and, to gain a point in the odds, victimise his best friends. One day we shall hear of one or other levanting; an event at which, not being sporting men, we shall not break our hearts. See — Mr. Spavin is settling his toilette previous to departure; giving a curl in the glass to his side-wisps of hair. Look at him! It is only at the hulks, or among turf-men, that you ever see a face so mean, so knowing, and so gloomy.

A much more humane being among the youthful Clubbists is the Lady-killing Snob. I saw Wiggle just now in the dressing-room, talking to Waggle, his inseparable.

WAGGLE. —‘Pon my honour, Wiggle, she did.’

WIGGLE. —‘Well, Waggle, as you say — I own I think she DID look at me rather kindly. We’ll see to-night at the French play.’

And having arrayed their little persons, these two harmless young bucks go upstairs to dinner.

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