The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xliv

Club Snobs

Why — Why did I and Wagley ever do so cruel an action as to introduce young Sackville Maine into that odious ‘Sarcophagus’? Let our imprudence and his example be a warning to other gents; let his fate and that of his poor wife be remembered by every British female. The consequences of his entering the Club were as follows:—

One of the first vices the unhappy wretch acquired in this abode of frivolity was that of SMOKING. Some of the dandies of the Club, such as the Marquis of Macabaw, Lord Doodeen, and fellows of that high order, are in the habit of indulging in this propensity upstairs in the billiard-rooms of the ‘Sarcophagus’— and, partly to make their acquaintance, partly from a natural aptitude for crime, Sackville Maine followed them, and became an adept in the odious custom. Where it is introduced into a family I need not say how sad the consequences are, both to the furniture and the morals. Sackville smoked in his dining-room at home, and caused an agony to his wife and mother-inlaw which I do not venture to describe.

He then became a professed BILLIARD-PLAYER, wasting hours upon hours at that amusement; betting freely, playing tolerably, losing awfully to Captain Spot and Col. Cannon. He played matches of a hundred games with these gentlemen, and would not only continue until four or five o’clock in the morning at this work, but would be found at the Club of a forenoon, indulging himself to the detriment of his business, the ruin of his health, and the neglect of his wife.

From billiards to whist is but a step — and when a man gets to whist and five pounds on a rubber, my opinion is, that it is all up with him. How was the coal business to go on, and the connection of the firm to be kept up, and the senior partner always at the card-table?

Consorting now with genteel persons and Pall Mall bucks, Sackville became ashamed of his snug little residence in Kennington Oval, and transported his family to Pimlico, where, though Mrs. Chuff, his mother-inlaw, was at first happy, as the quarter was elegant and near her Sovereign, poor little Laura and the children found a woful difference. Where were her friends who came in with their work of a morning? — At Kennington and in the vicinity of Clapham. ‘Where were her children’s little playmates? — On Kennington Common. The great thundering carriages that roared up and down the drab-coloured streets of the new quarter, contained no friends for the sociable little Laura. The children that paced the squares, attended by a BONNE or a prim governess, were not like those happy ones that flew kites, or played hop-scotch, on the well-beloved old Common. And ah! what a difference at Church too! — between St. Benedict’s of Pimlico, with open seats, service in sing-song — tapers — albs — surplices — garlands and processions, and the honest old ways of Kennington! The footmen, too, attending St. Benedict’s were so splendid and enormous, that James, Mrs. Chuff’s boy, trembled amongst them, and said he would give warning rather than carry the books to that church any more.

The furnishing of the house was not done without expense.

And, ye gods! what a difference there was between Sackville’s dreary French banquets in Pimlico, and the jolly dinners at the Oval! No more legs-of-mutton, no more of ‘the best port-wine in England;’ but ENTREES on plate, and dismal twopenny champagne, and waiters in gloves, and the Club bucks for company — among whom Mrs. Chuff was uneasy and Mrs. Sackville quite silent.

Not that he dined at home often. The wretch had become a perfect epicure, and dined commonly at the Club with the gormandising clique there; with old Doctor Maw, Colonel Cramley (who is as lean as a greyhound and has jaws like a jack), and the rest of them. Here you might see the wretch tippling Sillery champagne and gorging himself with French viands; and I often looked with sorrow from my table, (on which cold meat, the Club small-beer, and a half-pint of Marsala form the modest banquet,) and sighed to think it was my work.

And there were other beings present to my repentant thoughts. Where’s his wife, thought I? Where’s poor, good, kind little Laura? At this very moment — it’s about the nursery bed-time, and while yonder good-for-nothing is swilling his wine — the little ones are at Laura’s knees lisping their prayers: and she is teaching them to say —‘Pray God bless Papa.’

When she has put them to bed, her day’s occupation is gone; and she is utterly lonely all night, and sad, and waiting for him.

Oh, for shame! Oh, for shame! Go home, thou idle tippler.

How Sackville lost his health: how he lost his business; how he got into scrapes; how he got into debt; how he became a railroad director; how the Pimlico house was shut up; how he went to Boulogne — all this I could tell, only I am too much ashamed of my part of the transaction. They returned to England, because, to the surprise of everybody, Mrs. Chuff came down with a great sum of money (which nobody knew she had saved), and paid his liabilities. He is in England; but at Kennington. His name is taken off the books of the ‘Sarcophagus’ long ago. When we meet, he crosses over to the other side of the street; I don’t call, as I should be sorry to see a look of reproach or sadness in Laura’s sweet face.

Not, however, all evil, as I am proud to think, has been the influence of the Snob of England upon Clubs in general:— Captain Shindy is afraid to bully the waiters any more, and eats his mutton-chop without moving Acheron. Gobemouche does not take more than two papers at a time for his private reading. Tiggs does not ring the bell and cause the library-waiter to walk about a quarter of a mile in order to give him Vol. II., which lies on the next table. Growler has ceased to walk from table to table in the coffee-room, and inspect what people are having for dinner. Trotty Veck takes his own umbrella from the hall — the cotton one; and Sydney Scraper’s paletot lined with silk has been brought back by Jobbins, who entirely mistook it for his own. Wiggle has discontinued telling stories about the ladies he has killed. Snooks does not any more think it gentlemanlike to blackball attorneys. Snuffler no longer publicly spreads out his great red cotton pocket-handkerchief before the fire, for the admiration of two hundred gentlemen; and if one Club Snob has been brought back to the paths of rectitude, and if one poor John has been spared a journey or a scolding — say, friends and brethren if these sketches of Club Snobs have been in vain?

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