The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter vi

On Some Respectable Snobs

Having received a great deal of obloquy for dragging monarchs, princes, and the respected nobility into the Snob category, I trust to please everybody in the present chapter, by stating my firm opinion that it is among the RESPECTABLE classes of this vast and happy empire that the greatest profusion of Snobs is to be found. I pace down my beloved Baker Street, (I am engaged on a life of Baker, founder of this celebrated street,) I walk in Harley Street (where every other house has a hatchment), Wimpole Street, that is as cheerful as the Catacombs — a dingy Mausoleum of the genteel:— I rove round Regent’s Park, where the plaster is patching off the house walls; where Methodist preachers are holding forth to three little children in the green inclosures, and puffy valetudinarians are cantering in the solitary mud:— I thread the doubtful ZIG-ZAGS of May Fair, where Mrs. Kitty Lorimer’s Brougham may be seen drawn up next door to old Lady Lollipop’s belozenged family coach; — I roam through Belgravia, that pale and polite district, where all the inhabitants look prim and correct, and the mansions are painted a faint whity-brown: I lose myself in the new squares and terraces of the brilliant bran-new Bayswater-and-Tyburn-Junction line; and in one and all of these districts the same truth comes across me. I stop before any house at hazard, and say, ‘O house, you are inhabited — O knocker, you are knocked at — O undressed flunkey, sunning your lazy calves as you lean against the iron railings, you are paid — by Snobs.’ It is a tremendous thought that; and it is almost sufficient to drive a benevolent mind to madness to think that perhaps there is not one in ten of those houses where the ‘Peerage’ does not lie on the drawing-room table. Considering the harm that foolish lying book does, I would have all the copies of it burned, as the barber burned all Quixote’s books of humbugging chivalry.

Look at this grand house in the middle of the square. The Earl of Loughcorrib lives there: he has fifty thousand a year. A DEJEUNER DANSANT given at his house last week cost, who knows how much? The mere flowers for the room and bouquets for the ladies cost four hundred pounds. That man in drab trousers, coming crying down the stops, is a dun: Lord Loughcorrib has ruined him, and won’t see him: that is his lordship peeping through the blind of his study at him now. Go thy ways, Loughcorrib, thou art a Snob, a heartless pretender, a hypocrite of hospitality; a rogue who passes forged notes upon society; — but I am growing too eloquent.

You see that nice house, No. 23, where a butcher’s boy is ringing the area-bell. He has three muttonchops in his tray. They are for the dinner of a very different and very respectable family; for Lady Susan Scraper, and her daughters, Miss Scraper and Miss Emily Scraper. The domestics, luckily for them, are on board wages — two huge footmen in light blue and canary, a fat steady coachman who is a Methodist, and a butler who would never have stayed in the family but that he was orderly to General Scraper when the General distinguished himself at Walcheren. His widow sent his portrait to the United Service Club, and it is hung up in one of the back dressing-closets there. He is represented at a parlour window with red curtains; in the distance is a whirlwind, in which cannon are firing off; and he is pointing to a chart, on which are written the words ‘Walcheren, Tobago.’

Lady Susan is, as everybody knows by referring to the ‘British Bible,’ a daughter of the great and good Earl Bagwig before mentioned. She thinks everything belonging to her the greatest and best in the world. The first of men naturally are the Buckrams, her own race: then follow in rank the Scrapers. The General was the greatest general: his eldest son, Scraper Buckram Scraper, is at present the greatest and best; his second son the next greatest and best; and herself the paragon of women.

Indeed, she is a most respectable and honourable lady. She goes to church of course: she would fancy the Church in danger if she did not. She subscribes to Church and parish charities; and is a directress of meritorious charitable institutions — of Queen Charlotte’s Lying-in Hospital, the Washerwomen’s Asylum, the British Drummers’ Daughters’ Home, &c.. She is a model of a matron.

The tradesman never lived who could say that he was not paid on the quarter-day. The beggars of her neighbourhood avoid her like a pestilence; for while she walks out, protected by John, that domestic has always two or three mendicity tickets ready for deserving objects. Ten guineas a year will pay all her charities. There is no respectable lady in all London who gets her name more often printed for such a sum of money.

Those three mutton-chops which you see entering at the kitchen-door will be served on the family-plate at seven o’clock this evening, the huge footman being present, and the butler in black, and the crest and coat-of-arms of the Scrapers blazing everywhere. I pity Miss Emily Scraper — she is still young — young and hungry. Is it a fact that she spends her pocket-money in buns? Malicious tongues say so; but she has very little to spare for buns, the poor little hungry soul! For the fact is, that when the footmen, and the ladies’ maids, and the fat coach-horses, which are jobbed, and the six dinner-parties in the season, and the two great solemn evening-parties, and the rent of the big house, and the journey to an English or foreign watering-place for the autumn, are paid, my lady’s income has dwindled away to a very small sum, and she is as poor as you or I.

You would not think it when you saw her big carriage rattling up to the drawing-room, and caught a glimpse of her plumes, lappets, and diamonds, waving over her ladyship’s sandy hair and majestical hooked nose; — you would not think it when you hear ‘Lady Susan Scraper’s carriage’ bawled out at midnight so as to disturb all Belgravia:— you would not think it when she comes rustling into church, the obsequious John behind with the bag of Prayer-books. Is it possible, you would say, that so grand and awful a personage as that can be hard-up for money? Alas! So it is.

She never heard such a word as Snob, I will engage, in this wicked and vulgar world. And, O stars and garters! how she would start if she heard that she — she, as solemn as Minerva — she, as chaste as Diana (without that heathen goddess’s unladylike propensity for field-sports)— that she too was a Snob!

A Snob she is, as long as she sets that prodigious value upon herself, upon her name, upon her outward appearance, and indulges in that intolerable pomposity; as long as she goes parading abroad, like Solomon in all his glory; as long as she goes to bed — as I believe she does — with a turban and a bird of paradise in it, and a court train to her night-gown; as long as she is so insufferably virtuous and condescending; as long as she does not cut at least one of those footmen down into mutton-chops for the benefit of the young ladies.

I had my notions of her from my old schoolfellow — her son Sydney Scraper — a Chancery barrister without any practice — the most placid, polite, and genteel of Snobs, who never exceeded his allowance of two hundred a year, and who may be seen any evening at the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Club,’ simpering over the QUARTERLY REVIEW, in the blameless enjoyment of his half-pint of port.

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