The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Contains a Letter to Virginia

Having repaired one day to his accustomed dinner at the White Horse ordinary, Mr. Warrington was pleased to see amongst the faces round the table the jolly, good-looking countenance of Parson Sampson, who was regaling the company when Harry entered, with stories and bons-mots, which kept them in roars of laughter. Though he had not been in London for some months, the parson had the latest London news, or what passed for such with the folks at the ordinary: what was doing in the King’s house at Kensington; and what in the Duke’s in Pall Mall: how Mr. Byng was behaving in prison, and who came to him: what were the odds at Newmarket, and who was the last reigning toast in Covent Garden; — the jolly chaplain could give the company news upon all these points — news that might not be very accurate indeed, but was as good as if it were for the country gentlemen who heard it. For suppose that my Lord Viscount Squanderfield was ruining himself for Mrs. Polly, and Sampson called her Mrs. Lucy? that it was Lady Jane who was in love with the actor, and not Lady Mary? that it was Harry Hilton, of the Horse Grenadiers, who had the quarrel with Chevalier Solingen, at Marybone Garden, and not Tommy Ruffler, of the Foot Guards? The names and dates did not matter much. Provided the stories were lively and wicked, their correctness was of no great importance; and Mr. Sampson laughed and chattered away amongst his country gentlemen, charmed them with his spirits and talk, and drank his share of one bottle after another, for which his delighted auditory persisted in calling. A hundred years ago, the Abbe Parson, the clergyman who frequented the theatre, the tavern, the racecourse, the world of fashion, was no uncommon character in English society: his voice might be heard the loudest in the hunting-field; he could sing the jolliest song at the Rose or the Bedford Head, after the play was over at Covent Garden, and could call a main as well as any at the gaming-table.

It may have been modesty, or it may have been claret, which caused his reverence’s rosy face to redden deeper, but when he saw Mr. Warrington enter, he whispered “Maxima debetur” to the laughing country squire who sat next him in his drab coat and gold-laced red waistcoat, and rose up from his chair and ran, nay, stumbled forward, in his haste to greet the Virginian: “My dear sir, my very dear sir, my conqueror of spades, and clubs, and hearts, too, I am delighted to see your honour looking so fresh and well,” cries the chaplain.

Harry returned the clergyman’s greeting with great pleasure: he was glad to see Mr. Sampson; he could also justly compliment his reverence upon his cheerful looks and rosy gills.

The squire in the drab coat knew Mr. Warrington; he made a place beside himself; he called out to the parson to return to his seat on the other side, and to continue his story about Lord Ogle and the grocer’s wife in ———. Where he did not say, for his sentence was interrupted by a shout and an oath addressed to the parson for treading on his gouty toe.

The chaplain asked pardon, hurriedly turned round to Mr. Warrington, and informed him, and the rest of the company indeed, that my Lord Castlewood sent his affectionate remembrances to his cousin, and had given special orders to him (Mr. Sampson) to come to Tunbridge Wells and look after the young gentleman’s morals; that my Lady Viscountess and my Lady Fanny were gone to Harrogate for the waters; that Mr. Will had won his money at Newmarket, and was going on a visit to my Lord Duke; that Molly the housemaid was crying her eyes out about Gumbo, Mr. Warrington’s valet; — in fine, all the news of Castlewood and its neighbourhood. Mr. Warrington was beloved by all the country round, Mr. Sampson told the company, managing to introduce the names of some persons of the very highest rank into his discourse. “All Hampshire had heard of his successes at Tunbridge, successes of every kind,” says Mr. Sampson, looking particularly arch; my lord hoped, their ladyships hoped, Harry would not be spoilt for his quiet Hampshire home.

The guests dropped off one by one, leaving the young Virginian to his bottle of wine and the chaplain.

“Though I have had plenty,” says the jolly chaplain, “that is no reason why I should not have plenty more,” and he drank toast after toast, and bumper after bumper, to the amusement of Harry, who always enjoyed his society.

By the time when Sampson had had his “plenty more,” Harry, too, was become specially generous, warm-hearted, and friendly. A lodging — why should Mr. Sampson go to the expense of an inn, when there was a room at Harry’s quarters? The chaplain’s trunk was ordered thither, Gumbo was bidden to make Mr. Sampson comfortable — most comfortable; nothing would satisfy Mr. Warrington but that Sampson should go down to his stables and see his horses; he had several horses now; and when at the stable Sampson recognised his own horse which Harry had won from him; and the fond beast whinnied with pleasure, and rubbed his nose against his old master’s coat; Harry rapped out a brisk energetic expression or two, and vowed by Jupiter that Sampson should have his old horse back again: he would give him to Sampson, that he would; a gift which the chaplain accepted by seizing Harry’s hand, and blessing him — by flinging his arms round the horse’s neck, and weeping for joy there, weeping tears of Bordeaux and gratitude. Arm-inarm the friends walked to Madame Bernstein’s from the stable, of which they brought the odours into her ladyship’s apartment. Their flushed cheeks and brightened eyes showed what their amusement had been. Many gentlemen’s cheeks were in the habit of flushing in those days, and from the same cause.

Madame Bernstein received her nephew’s chaplain kindly enough. The old lady relished Sampson’s broad jokes and rattling talk from time to time, as she liked a highly-spiced dish or a new entree composed by her cook, upon its two or three first appearances. The only amusement of which she did not grow tired, she owned, was cards. “The cards don’t cheat,” she used to say. “A bad hand tells you the truth to your face: and there is nothing so flattering in the world as a good suite of trumps.” And when she was in a good humour, and sitting down to her favourite pastime, she would laughingly bid her nephew’s chaplain say grace before the meal. Honest Sampson did not at first care to take a hand at Tunbridge Wells. Her ladyship’s play was too high for him, he would own, slapping his pocket with a comical piteous look, and its contents had already been handed over to the fortunate youth at Castlewood. Like most persons of her age, and indeed her sex, Madame Bernstein was not prodigal of money. I suppose it must have been from Harry Warrington, whose heart was overflowing with generosity as his purse with guineas, that the chaplain procured a small stock of ready coin, with which he was presently enabled to appear at the card-table.

Our young gentleman welcomed Mr. Sampson to his coin, as to all the rest of the good things which he had gathered about him. ’Twas surprising how quickly the young Virginian adapted himself to the habits of life of the folks amongst whom he lived. His suits were still black, but of the finest cut and quality. “With a star and ribbon, and his stocking down, and his hair over his shoulder, he would make a pretty Hamlet,” said the gay old Duchess Queensberry. “And I make no doubt he has been the death of a dozen Ophelias already, here and amongst the Indians,” she added, thinking not at all the worse of Harry for his supposed successes among the fair. Harry’s lace and linen were as fine as his aunt could desire. He purchased fine shaving-plate of the toy-shop women, and a couple of magnificent brocade bedgowns, in which his worship lolled at ease, and sipped his chocolate of a morning. He had swords and walking-canes, and French watches with painted backs and diamond settings, and snuff boxes enamelled by artists of the same cunning nation. He had a levee of grooms, jockeys, tradesmen, daily waiting in his anteroom, and admitted one by one to him and Parson Sampson, over his chocolate, by Gumbo, the groom of the chambers. We have no account of the number of men whom Mr. Gumbo now had under him. Certain it is that no single negro could have taken care of all the fine things which Mr. Warrington now possessed, let alone the horses and the postchaise which his honour had bought. Also Harry instructed himself in the arts which became a gentleman in those days. A French fencing-master, and a dancing-master of the same nation, resided at Tunbridge during that season when Harry made his appearance: these men of science the young Virginian sedulously frequented, and acquired considerable skill and grace in the peaceful and warlike accomplishments which they taught. Ere many weeks were over he could handle the foils against his master or any frequenter of the fencing-school — and, with a sigh, Lady Maria (who danced very elegantly herself) owned that there was no gentleman at court who could walk a minuet more gracefully than Mr. Warrington. As for riding, though Mr. Warrington took a few lessons on the great horse from a riding-master who came to Tunbridge, he declared that their own Virginian manner was well enough for him, and that he saw no one amongst the fine folks and the jockeys who could ride better than his friend Colonel George Washington of Mount Vernon.

The obsequious Sampson found himself in better quarters than he had enjoyed for ever so long a time. He knew a great deal of the world, and told a great deal more, and Harry was delighted with his stories, real or fancied. The man of twenty looks up to the man of thirty, admires the latter’s old jokes, stale puns, and tarnished anecdotes, that are slopped with the wine of a hundred dinner-tables. Sampson’s town and college pleasantries were all new and charming to the young Virginian. A hundred years ago — no doubt there are no such people left in the world now — there used to be grown men in London who loved to consort with fashionable youths entering life; to tickle their young fancies with merry stories; to act as Covent Garden Mentors and masters of ceremonies at the Round-house; to accompany lads to the gaming-table, and perhaps have an understanding with the punters; to drink lemonade to Master Hopeful’s Burgundy, and to stagger into the streets with perfectly cool heads when my young lord reeled out to beat the watch. Of this, no doubt, extinct race, Mr. Sampson was a specimen: and a great comfort it is to think (to those who choose to believe the statement) that in Queen Victoria’s reign there are no flatterers left, such as existed in the reign of her royal great-grandfather, no parasites pandering to the follies of young men; in fact, that all the toads have been eaten off the face of the island (except one or two that are found in stones, where they have lain perdus these hundred years), and the toad-eaters have perished for lack of nourishment.

With some sauces, as I read, the above-mentioned animals are said to be exceedingly fragrant, wholesome, and savoury eating. Indeed, no man could look more rosy and healthy, or flourish more cheerfully, than friend Sampson upon the diet. He became our young friend’s confidential leader, and, from the following letter, which is preserved in the Warrington correspondence, it will be seen that Mr. Harry not only had dancing and fencing masters, but likewise a tutor, chaplain, and secretary:—


Mrs. Bligh’s Lodgings, Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells,

“August 25th, 1756.

“HONOURED MADAM— Your honoured letter of 20 June, per Mr. Trail of Bristol, has been forwarded to me duly, and I have to thank your goodness and kindness for the good advice which you are pleased to give me, as also for the remembrances of dear home, which I shall love never the worse for having been to the home of our ancestors in England.

“I writ you a letter by the last monthly packet, informing my honoured mother of the little accident I had on the road hither, and of the kind friends who I found and whom took me in. Since then I have been profiting of the fine weather and the good company here, and have made many friends among our nobility, whose acquaintance I am sure you will not be sorry that I should make. Among their lordships I may mention the famous Earl of Chesterfield, late Ambassador to Holland, and Viceroy of the Kingdom of Ireland; the Earl of March and Ruglen, who will be Duke of Queensberry at the death of his Grace; and her Grace the Duchess, a celebrated beauty of the Queen’s time, when she remembers my grandpapa at Court. These and many more persons of the first fashion attend my aunt’s assemblies, which are the most crowded at this crowded place. Also on my way hither I stayed at Westerham, at the house of an officer, Lieut.-Gen. Wolfe, who served with my grandfather and General Webb in the famous wars of the Duke of Marlborough. Mr. Wolfe has a son, Lieut.-Col. James Wolfe, engaged to be married to a beautiful lady now in this place, Miss Lowther of the North — and though but 30 years old he is looked up to as much as any officer in the whole army, and has served with honour under his Royal Highness the Duke wherever our arms have been employed.

“I thank my honoured mother for announcing to me that a quarter’s allowance of 52l. 10s. will be paid me by Mr. Trail. I am in no present want of cash, and by practising a rigid economy, which will be necessary (as I do not disguise) for the maintenance of horses, Gumbo, and the equipage and apparel requisite for a young gentleman of good family, hope to be able to maintain my credit without unduly trespassing upon yours. The linnen and clothes which I brought with me will with due care last for some years — as you say. ’Tis not quite so fine as worn here by persons of fashion, and I may have to purchase a few very fine shirts for great days: but those I have are excellent for daily wear.

“I am thankful that I have been quite without occasion to use your excellent family pills. Gumbo hath taken them with great benefit, who grows fat and saucy upon English beef, ale, and air. He sends his humble duty to his mistress, and prays Mrs. Mountain to remember him to all his fellow-servants, especially Dinah and Lily, for whom he has bought posey-rings at Tunbridge Fair.

“Besides partaking of all the pleasures of the place, I hope my honoured mother will believe that I have not been unmindful of my education. I have had masters in fencing and dancing, and my Lord Castlewood’s chaplain, the Reverend Mr. Sampson, having come hither to drink the waters, has been so good as to take a vacant room at my lodging. Mr. S. breakfasts with me, and we read together of a morning — he saying that I am not quite such a dunce as I used to appear at home. We have read in Mr. Rapin’s History, Dr. Barrow’s Sermons, and, for amusement, Shakspeare, Mr. Pope’s Homer, and (in French) the translation of an Arabian Work of Tales, very diverting. Several men of learning have been staying here besides the persons of fashion; and amongst the former was Mr. Richardson, the author of the famous books which you and Mountain and my dearest brother used to love so. He was pleased when I told him that his works were in your closet in Virginia, and begged me to convey his respectful compliments to my lady-mother. Mr. R. is a short fat man, with little of the fire of genius visible in his eye or person.

“My aunt and my cousin, the Lady Maria, desire their affectionate compliments to you, and with best regards for Mountain, to whom I enclose a note, I am — Honoured madam, your dutiful son, H. ESMOND WARRINGTON.”

Note in Madam Esmond’s Handwriting,

“From my son. Received October 15 at Richmond. Sent 16 jars preserved peaches, 224 lbs. best tobacco, 24 finest hams, per Royal William of Liverpool, 8 jars peaches, 12 hams for my nephew, the Rt. Honourable the Earl of Castlewood. 4 jars, 6 hams for the Baroness Bernstein, ditto ditto for Mrs. Lambert of Oakhurst, Surrey, and 1/2 cwt. tobacco. Packet of Infallible Family Pills for Gumbo. My Papa’s large silver-gilt shoe-buckles for H., and red silver-laced saddle-cloth.”

II. (enclosed in No. I.)

“For Mrs. Mountain.

“What do you mien, you silly old Mountain, by sending an order for your poor old divadends dew at Xmas? I’d have you to know I don’t want your 7l. 10, and have toar your order up into 1000 bitts. I’ve plenty of money. But I’m obleaged to you all same. A kiss to Fanny from — Your loving HARRY.”

Note in Madam Esmond’s Handwriting

“This note, which I desired M. to show to me, proves that she hath a good heart, and that she wished to show her gratitude to the family, by giving up her half-yearly divd. (on L500 3 per ct.) to my boy. Hence I reprimanded her very slightly for daring to send money to Mr. E. Warrington, unknown to his mother. Note to Mountain not so well spelt as letter to me.

“Mem. to write to Revd. Mr. Sampson desire to know what theolog. books he reads with H. Recommend Law, Baxter, Drelincourt. — Request H. to say his catechism to Mr. S., which he has never quite been able to master. By next ship peaches (3), tobacco 1/2 cwt. Hams for Mr. S.”

The mother of the Virginians and her sons have long long since passed away. So how are we to account for the fact, that of a couple of letters sent under one enclosure and by one packet, one should be well spelt, and the other not entirely orthographical? Had Harry found some wonderful instructor, such as exists in the present lucky times, and who would improve his writing in six lessons? My view of the case, after deliberately examining the two notes, is this: No. 1, in which there appears a trifling grammatical slip (“the kind, friends who I found and whom took me in”), must have been re-written from a rough copy which had probably undergone the supervision of a tutor or friend. The more artless composition, No. 2, was not referred to the scholar who prepared No. 1 for the maternal eye, and to whose corrections of “who” and “whom” Mr. Warrington did not pay very close attention. Who knows how he may have been disturbed? A pretty milliner may have attracted Harry’s attention out of window — a dancing bear with pipe and tabor may have passed along the common — a jockey come under his windows to show off a horse there? There are some days when any of us may be ungrammatical and spell ill. Finally, suppose Harry did not care to spell so elegantly for Mrs. Mountain as for his lady-mother, what affair is that of the present biographer, century, reader? And as for your objection that Mr. Warrington, in the above communication to his mother, showed some little hypocrisy and reticence in his dealings with that venerable person, I dare say, young folks, you in your time have written more than one prim letter to your papas and mammas in which not quite all the transactions of your lives were narrated, or if narrated, were exhibited in the most favourable light for yourselves — I dare say, old folks! you, in your time, were not altogether more candid. There must be a certain distance between me and my son Jacky. There must be a respectful, an amiable, a virtuous hypocrisy between us. I do not in the least wish that he should treat me as his equal, that he should contradict me, take my arm-chair, read the newspaper first at breakfast, ask unlimited friends to dine when I have a party of my own, and so forth. No; where there is not equality there must be hypocrisy. Continue to be blind to my faults; to hush still as mice when I fall asleep after dinner; to laugh at my old jokes; to admire my sayings; to be astonished at the impudence of those unbelieving reviewers; to be dear filial humbugs, O my children! In my castle I am king. Let all my royal household back before me. ’Tis not their natural way of walking, I know: but a decorous, becoming, and modest behaviour highly agreeable to me. Away from me they may do, nay, they do do, what they like. They may jump, skip, dance, trot, tumble over heads and heels, and kick about freely, when they are out of the presence of my majesty. Do not then, my dear young friends, be surprised at your mother and aunt when they cry out, “Oh, it was highly immoral and improper of Mr. Warrington to be writing home humdrum demure letters to his dear mamma, when he was playing all sorts of merry pranks!”— but drop a curtsey, and say, “Yes, dear grandmamma (or aunt, as may be), it was very wrong of him: and I suppose you never had your fun when you were young.” Of course, she didn’t! And the sun never shone, and the blossoms never budded, and the blood never danced, and the fiddles never sang, in her spring-time. Eh, Babet! mon lait de poule et mon bonnet de nuit! Ho, Betty! my gruel and my slippers! And go, ye frisky, merry little souls! and dance, and have your merry little supper of cakes and ale!

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