The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter viii

Great City Snobs

There is no disguising the fact that this series of papers is making a prodigious sensation among all classes in this Empire. Notes of admiration (!), of interrogation (?), of remonstrance, approval, or abuse, come pouring into MR. PUNCH’S box. We have been called to task for betraying the secrets of three different families of De Mogyns; no less than four Lady Scrapers have been discovered; and young gentlemen are quite shy of ordering half-a-pint of port and simpering over the QUARTERLY REVIEW at the Club, lest they should be mistaken for Sydney Scraper, Esq. ‘What CAN be your antipathy to Baker Street?’ asks some fair remonstrant, evidently writing from that quarter.

‘Why only attack the aristocratic Snobs?’ says one ‘estimable correspondent: ‘are not the snobbish Snobs to have their turn?’—‘Pitch into the University Snobs!’ writes an indignant gentleman (who spelt ELEGANT with two I’s)—‘Show up the Clerical Snob,’ suggests another. —‘Being at “Meurice’s Hotel,” Paris, some time since,’ some wag hints, ‘I saw Lord B. leaning out of the window with his boots in his hand, and bawling out “GARCON, CIREZ-MOI CES BOTTES.” Oughtn’t he to be brought in among the Snobs?’

No; far from it. If his lordship’s boots are dirty, it is because he is Lord B., and walks. There is nothing snobbish in having only one pair of boots, or a favourite pair; and certainly nothing snobbish in desiring to have them cleaned. Lord B., in so doing, performed a perfectly natural and gentlemanlike action; for which I am so pleased with him that I have had him designed in a favourable and elegant attitude, and put at the head of this Chapter in the place of honour. No, we are not personal in these candid remarks. As Phidias took the pick of a score of beauties before he completed a Venus, so have we to examine, perhaps, a thousand Snobs, before one is expressed upon paper.

Great City Snobs are the next in the hierarchy, and ought to be considered. But here is a difficulty. The great City Snob is commonly most difficult of access. Unless you are a capitalist, you cannot visit him in the recesses of his bank parlour in Lombard Street. Unless you are a sprig of nobility there is little hope of seeing him at home. In a great City Snob firm there is generally one partner whose name is down for charities, and who frequents Exeter Hall; you may catch a glimpse of another (a scientific City Snob) at my Lord N——‘s SOIREES, or the lectures of the London Institution; of a third (a City Snob of taste) at picture-auctions, at private views of exhibitions, or at the Opera or the Philharmonic. But intimacy is impossible, in most cases, with this grave, pompous, and awful being.

A mere gentleman may hope to sit at almost anybody’s table — to take his place at my lord duke’s in the country — to dance a quadrille at Buckingham Palace itself —(beloved Lady Wilhelmina Wagglewiggle! do you recollect the sensation we made at the ball of our late adored Sovereign Queen Caroline, at Brandenburg House, Hammersmith?) but the City Snob’s doors are, for the most part, closed to him; and hence all that one knows of this great class is mostly from hearsay.

In other countries of Europe, the Banking Snob is more expansive and communicative than with us, and receives all the world into his circle. For instance, everybody knows the princely hospitalities of the Scharlaschild family at Paris, Naples, Frankfort, &c.. They entertain all the world, even the poor, at their FETES. Prince Polonia, at Rome, and his brother, the Duke of Strachino, are also remarkable for their hospitalities. I like the spirit of the first-named nobleman. Titles not costing much in the Roman territory, he has had the head clerk of the banking-house made a Marquis, and his Lordship will screw a BAJOCCO out of you in exchange as dexterously as any commoner could do. It is a comfort to be able to gratify such grandees with a farthing or two; it makes the poorest man feel that he can do good. ‘The Polonias have intermarried with the greatest and most ancient families of Rome, and you see their heraldic cognizance (a mushroom or on an azure field) quartered in a hundred places in the city with the arms of the Colonnas and Dorias.

City Snobs have the same mania for aristocratic marriages. I like to see such. I am of a savage and envious nature — I like to see these two humbugs which, dividing, as they do, the social empire of this kingdom between them, hate each other naturally, making truce and uniting, for the sordid interests of either. I like to see an old aristocrat, swelling with pride of race, the descendant of illustrious Norman robbers, whose blood has been pure for centuries, and who looks down upon common Englishmen as a free American does on a nigger — I like to see old Stiffneck obliged to bow down his head and swallow his infernal pride, and drink the cup of humiliation poured out by Pump and Aldgate’s butler. ‘Pump and Aldgate, says he, ‘your grandfather was a bricklayer, and his hod is still kept in the bank. Your pedigree begins in a workhouse; mine can be dated from all the royal palaces of Europe. I came over with the Conqueror; I am own cousin to Charles Martel, Orlando Furioso, Philip Augustus, Peter the Cruel, and Frederick Barbarossa. I quarter the Royal Arms of Brentford in my coat. I despise you, but I want money; and I will sell you my beloved daughter, Blanche Stiffneck, for a hundred thousand pounds, to pay off my mortgages. Let your son marry her, and she shall become Lady Blanche Pump and Aldgate.’

Old Pump and Aldgate clutches at the bargain. And a comfortable thing it is to think that birth can be bought for money. So you learn to value it. Why should we, who don’t possess it, set a higher store on it than those who do? Perhaps the best use of that book, the ‘Peerage,’ is to look down the list, and see how many have bought and sold birth — how poor sprigs of nobility somehow sell themselves to rich City Snobs’ daughters, how rich City Snobs purchase noble ladies — and so to admire the double baseness of the bargain.

Old Pump and Aldgate buys the article and pays the money. The sale of the girl’s person is blessed by a Bishop at St. George’s, Hanover Square, and next year you read, ‘At Roehampton, on Saturday, the Lady Blanche Pump, of a son and heir.

After this interesting event, some old acquaintance, who saw young Pump in the parlour at the bank in the City, said to him, familiarly, ‘How’s your wife, Pump, my boy?’

Mr. Pump looked exceedingly puzzled and disgusted, and, after a pause, said, ‘LADY BLANCHE PUMP’ is pretty well, I thank you.’

‘OH, I THOUGHT SHE WAS YOUR WIFE!’ said the familiar brute, Snooks, wishing him good-bye; and ten minutes after, the story was all over the Stock Exchange, where it is told, when young Pump appears, to this very day.

We can imagine the weary life this poor Pump, this martyr to Mammon, is compelled to undergo. Fancy the domestic enjoyments of a man who has a wife who scorns him; who cannot see his own friends in his own house; who having deserted the middle rank of life, is not yet admitted to the higher; but who is resigned to rebuffs and delay and humiliation, contented to think that his son will be more fortunate.

It used to be the custom of some very old-fashioned clubs in this city, when a gentleman asked for change a guinea, always to bring it to him in WASHED SILVER: that which had passed immediately out of the hands of vulgar being considered ‘as too coarse to soil a gentleman’s fingers.’ So, when the City Snob’s money has been washed during a generation or so; has been washed into estates, and woods, and castles, and town-mansions, it is allowed to pass current as real aristocratic coin. Old Pump sweeps a shop, runs of messages, becomes a confidential clerk and partner. Pump the Second becomes chief of the house, spins more and more money, marries his son to an Earl’s daughter. Pump Tertius goes on with the bank; but his chief business in life is to become the father of Pump Quartus, who comes out a full-blown aristocrat, and takes his seat as Baron Pumpington, and his race rules hereditarily over this nation of Snobs.

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