The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Concluding Observations On Snobs

How it is that we have come to No. 45 of this present series of papers, my dear friends and brother Snobs, I hardly know — but for a whole mortal year have we been together, prattling, and abusing the human race; and were we to live for a hundred years more, I believe there is plenty of subject for conversation in the enormous theme of Snobs.

The national mind is awakened to the subject. Letters pour in every day, conveying marks of sympathy; directing the attention of the Snob of England to races of Snobs yet undescribed. ‘Where are your Theatrical Snobs; your Commercial Snobs; your Medical and Chirurgical Snobs; your Official Snobs; your Legal Snobs; your Artistical Snobs; your Musical Snobs; your Sporting Snobs?’ write my esteemed correspondents. ‘Surely you are not going to miss the Cambridge Chancellor election, and omit showing up your Don Snobs, who are coming, cap in hand, to a young Prince of six-and-twenty, and to implore him to be the chief of their renowned University?’ writes a friend who seals with the signet of the Cam and Isis Club. ‘Pray, pray,’ cries another, ‘now the Operas are opening, give us a lecture about Omnibus Snobs.’ Indeed, I should like to write a chapter about the Snobbish Dons very much, and another about the Snobbish Dandies. Of my dear Theatrical Snobs I think with a pang; and I can hardly break away from some Snobbish artists, with whom I have long, long intended to have a palaver.

But what’s the use of delaying? When these were done there would be fresh Snobs to pourtray. The labour is endless. No single man could complete it. Here are but fifty-two bricks — and a pyramid to build. It is best to stop. As Jones always quits the room as soon as he has said his good thing — as Cincinnatus and General Washington both retired into private life in the height of their popularity — as Prince Albert, when he laid the first stone of the Exchange, left the bricklayers to complete that edifice and went home to his royal dinner — as the poet Bunn comes forward at the end of the season, and with feelings too tumultuous to describe, blesses his KYIND friends over the footlights: so, friends, in the flush of conquest and the splendour of victory, amid the shouts and the plaudits of a people — triumphant yet modest — the Snob of England bids ye farewell.

But only for a season. Not for ever. No, no. There is one celebrated author whom I admire very much — who has been taking leave of the public any time these ten years in his prefaces, and always comes back again when everybody is glad to see him. How can he have the heart to be saying good-bye so often? I believe that Bunn is affected when he blesses the people. Parting is always painful. Even the familiar bore is dear to you. I should be sorry to shake hands even with Jawkins for the last time. I think a well-constituted convict, on coming home from transportation, ought to be rather sad when he takes leave of Van Diemen’s Land. When the curtain goes down on the last night of a pantomime, poor old clown must be very dismal, depend on it. Ha! with what joy he rushes forward on the evening of the 26th of December next, and says —‘How are you? — Here we are!’ But I am growing too sentimental:— to return to the theme.

THE NATIONAL MIND IS AWAKENED TO THE SUBJECT OF SNOBS. The word Snob has taken a place in our honest English vocabulary. We can’t define it, perhaps. We can’t say what it is, any more than we can define wit, or humour, or humbug; but we KNOW what it is. Some weeks since, happening to have the felicity to sit next to a young lady at a hospitable table, where poor old Jawkins was holding forth in a very absurd pompous manner, I wrote upon the spotless damask ‘S— B,’ and called my neighbour’s attention to the little remark.

That young lady smiled. She knew it at once. Her mind straightway filled up the two letters concealed by apostrophic reserve, and I read in her assenting eyes that she knew Jawkins was a Snob. You seldom get them to make use of the word as yet, it is true; but it is inconceivable how pretty an expression their little smiling mouths assume when they speak it out. If any young lady doubts, just let her go up to her own room, look at herself steadily in the glass, and say ‘Snob.’ If she tries this simple experiment, my life for it, she will smile, and own that the word becomes her mouth amazingly. A pretty little round word, all composed of soft letters, with a hiss at the beginning, just to make it piquant, as it were.

Jawkins, meanwhile, went on blundering, and bragging and boring, quite unconsciously. And so he will, no doubt, go on roaring and braying, to the end of time or at least so long as people will hear him. You cannot alter the nature of men and Snobs by any force of satire; as, by laying ever so many stripes on a donkey’s back, you can’t turn him into a zebra.

But we can warn the neighbourhood that the person whom they and Jawkins admire is an impostor. We apply the Snob test to him, and try whether he is conceited and a quack, whether pompous and lacking humility — whether uncharitable and proud of his narrow soul? How does he treat a great man — how regard a small one? How does he comport himself in the presence of His Grace the Duke; and how in that of Smith the tradesman?

And it seems to me that all English society is cursed by this mammoniacal superstition; and that we are sneaking and bowing and cringing on the one hand, or bullying and scorning on the other, from the lowest to the highest. My wife speaks with great circumspection —‘proper pride,’ she calls it — to our neighbour the tradesman’s lady: and she, I mean Mrs. Snob — Eliza — would give one of her eyes to go to Court, as her cousin, the Captain’s wife, did. She, again, is a good soul, but it costs her agonies to be obliged to confess that we live in Upper Thompson Street, Somers Town. And though I believe in her heart Mrs. Whiskerington is fonder of us than of her cousins, the Smigsmags, you should hear how she goes on prattling about Lady Smigsmag — and ‘I said to Sir John, my dear John;’ and about the Smigsmags’ house and parties in Hyde Park Terrace.

Lady Smigsmag, when she meets Eliza — who is a sort of a kind of a species of a connection of the family, pokes out one finger, which my wife is at liberty to embrace in the most cordial manner she can devise. But oh, you should see her ladyship’s behaviour on her first-chop dinner-party days, when Lord and Lady Longears come!

I can bear it no longer — this diabolical invention of gentility which kills natural kindliness and honest friendship. Proper pride, indeed! Rank and precedence, forsooth! The table of ranks and degrees is a lie, and should be flung into the fire. Organize rank and precedence! that was well for the masters of ceremonies of former ages. Come forward, some great marshal, and organize Equality in society, and your rod shall swallow up all the juggling old court goldsticks. If this is not gospel-truth — if the world does not tend to this — if hereditary-great-man worship is not a humbug and an idolatry — let us have the Stuarts back again, and crop the Free Press’s ears in the pillory.

If ever our cousins, the Smigsmags, asked me to meet Lord Longears, I would like to take an opportunity after dinner and say, in the most good-natured way in the world:— Sir, Fortune makes you a present of a number of thousand pounds every year. The ineffable wisdom of our ancestors has placed you as a chief and hereditary legislator over me. Our admirable Constitution (the pride of Britons and envy of surrounding nations) obliges me to receive you as my senator, superior, and guardian. Your eldest son, Fitz-Heehaw, is sure of a place in Parliament; your younger sons, the De Brays, will kindly condescend to be post-captains and lieutenants-colonels, and to represent us in foreign courts or to take a good living when it falls convenient. These prizes our admirable Constitution (the pride and envy of, &c.) pronounces to be your due: without count of your dulness, your vices, your selfishness; or your entire incapacity and folly. Dull as you may be (and we have as good a right to assume that my lord is an ass, as the other proposition, that he is an enlightened patriot); — dull, I say, as you may be, no one will accuse you of such monstrous folly, as to suppose that you are indifferent to the good luck which you possess, or have any inclination to part with it. No — and patriots as we are, under happier circumstances, Smith and I, I have no doubt, were we dukes ourselves, would stand by our order.

We would submit good-naturedly to sit in a high place. We would acquiesce in that admirable Constitution (pride and envy of, &c.) which made us chiefs and the world our inferiors; we would not cavil particularly at that notion of hereditary superiority which brought many simple people cringing to our knees. May be we would rally round the Corn-Laws; we would make a stand against the Reform Bill; we would die rather than repeal the Acts against Catholics and Dissenters; we would, by our noble system of class-legislation, bring Ireland to its present admirable condition.

But Smith and I are not Earls as yet. ‘We don’t believe that it is for the interest of Smith’s army that De Bray should be a Colonel at five-and-twenty, of Smith’s diplomatic relations that Lord Longears should go Ambassador to Constantinople — of our politics, that Longears should put his hereditary foot into them.

This bowing and cringing Smith believes to be the act of Snobs; and he will do all in his might and main to be a Snob and to submit to Snobs no longer. To Longears he says, ‘We can’t help seeing, Longears, that we are as good as you. We can spell even better; can think quite as rightly; we will not have you for our master, or black your shoes any more. Your footmen do it, but they are paid; and the fellow who comes to get a list of the company when you give a banquet or a dancing breakfast at Longueoreille House, gets money from the newspapers for performing that service. But for us, thank you for nothing, Longears my boy, and we don’t wish to pay you any more than we owe. We will take off our hats to Wellington because he is Wellington; but to you — who are you?’

I am sick of COURT CIRCULARS. I loathe HAUT-TON intelligence. I believe such words as Fashionable, Exclusive, Aristocratic, and the like, to be wicked, unchristian epithets, that ought to be banished from honest vocabularies. A Court system that sends men of genius to the second table, I hold to be a Snobbish system. A society that sets up to be polite, and ignores Arts and Letters, I hold to be a Snobbish society. You, who despise your neighbour, are a Snob; you, who forget your own friends, meanly to follow after those of a higher degree, are a Snob; you, who are ashamed of your poverty, and blush for your calling, are a Snob; as are you who boast of your pedigree, or are proud of your wealth.

To laugh at such is MR. PUNCH’S business. May he laugh honestly, hit no foul blow, and tell the truth when at his very broadest grin — never forgetting that if Fun is good, Truth is still better, and Love best of all.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

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