Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Book of Snobs.
The author demonstrates on examples from history that when a nation is in need, the right man appears to save the people. He identifies himself as the Man who is destined to accomplish the necessary Work in which "Snobs are to be studied like other objects of Natural Science" (p. 403). He stresses that the phenomenon of snobs is universal, snobs pervade all of the classes. He gives an instance of Colonel Snobley, a disagreeable snob, whom he managed to drive from his table in a restaurant simply by using his fork as a toothpick.
"The Snob Playfully Dealt with"
The author once lost a worthy friend, Mr George Marrowfat, who had saved his life before. The author discovered his habit of eating peas with the help of his knife. Marrowfat was not a positive snob, who is snobbish in all he does, but a relative snob, who happens to be snobbish at certain occasions only. As an English gentleman, a Christian, and a morally upright person, the author had no choice but to quit their friendship. Their relationship was recovered only when the author accidentally found out that Marrowfat has improved his eating habits. The author draws the moral that one must conform to the rules of society, whatever they are, and bear them with a pleasant smile.
He relates another incident which happened to him on a diplomatic mission to Russia. The custom of the place was such that guests were fed with the best portions of meals rolled up into balls and shoved in their mouths by their host. The author's friend could not bear it and ended up as a prisoner in Ural mines. The author himself complied to the custom and finished his diplomatic mission successfully.
"The Snob Royal"
The author describes a social gathering at which the dressed up footmen of an aristocratic gentleman were at first puffed with pride at their appearance, but then fled for shame when much more impressive footmen of the Queen appeared. This incident illustrates that "[h]e who meanly admires mean things is a Snob" (p. 409). Common people admire what they are taught to admire and when one idol is replaced by another, they seldom even notice.
"The Influence of the Aristocracy on Snobs"
The nation is led to Lordolatry, that is worshipping aristocrats for their title and wealth rather than for their personal qualities. Both common people and aristocracy are guilty for the state of things, both classes equally contribute to the "increase, encouragement, and maintenance of Snobs" (p. 411).
"The 'Court Circular' and its Influence on Snobs"
The author condemns the Court Circular, an "engine and propagator of Snobbishness", otherwise a paper reporting on the movements of the court (p. 416). He defines the characteristics of a Snob Royal on the example of the King-Consort of Portugal, who degrades the keeper of his game by refusing to accept a loaded gun directly from his hands and uses one of his noblemen as a mediator. The same manner almost cost the life of the King of Spain because his clothes caught fire and it needed too many mediators to extinguish the King in time.
"What Snobs Admire"
All Britons are naturally snobs. Lower or middle-classes tend to snobbishness less than aristocrats, who are surrounded by a flock of toadies and leeches and are always admired whatever their personal qualities. One example is the unprincipled Lord Buckram, who was bred to snobbishness from his early childhood, so that for instance when the principal of his school caught the lord and his own son robbing an orchard, he punished his own child most severely for leading the young lord astray.
"On Some Respectable Snobs"
The author observes "that the greatest profusion of Snobs is to be found" among aristocracy and gives examples (p. 419).
Lady Susan Scraper is a paragon of snobs; she believes herself, her family, and her possessions superior to anything else. Her pretentiousness is very well manifested in her aspirations to charity, for she contributes very meagre sum to the poor, but has her name very often mentioned in connection with charitable projects. Similar attention to outward appearance is paid for instance in her ostentatious attendance of the Church.
Another caste of snobs are originally humble commoners who elbowed their way up to high society. Such is the case with Lady de Mogyns, an Irishwoman, who succeeded through high marriages and bribes to the post of a Lady.
"Great City Snobs"
The author describes Banking Snobs, wealthy financiers of middle-class origin, and the connections they make with Aristocratic Snobs, impoverished people of noble descent. The genuine aristocrats pay off their mortgages by selling their genteel daughters to Banking Snobs and after several generations, the fake aristocrats are no more to be distinguished from the genuine ones and succeed to their posts from which they "[rule] hereditarily over this nation of Snobs" (p. 427).
"On Some Military Snobs"
The author observes the pitiful situation of an old veteran retiring without receiving anything for his life-long service to his country, whereas a young aristocrat on entering the army immediately follows the upward scale of military posts without having any other recommendation than his birth.
"On Clerical Snobs"
The author begins by paying tribute to those clergymen who pursue their vocation as they are supposed to do. Then he describes the fall of parson Tom Sniffle, who succumbed to the temptation of worldly high-life, failed in his aspirations, and was made outlaw by the Church. The author shifts his focus to university education which contributes to the breeding of snobs. University policies are disadvantageous to poor students and favourable to aristocrats, who are awarded their diplomas automatically, as a matter of fact.
"On University Snobs"
Two specimens of snobs are presented, Crump and Hugby, both former Saint Boniface tutors. Crump made a successful career, advanced to the President of Saint Boniface, and now believes himself to be "the greatest Greek scholar of the greatest College of the greatest University of the greatest Empire in the world" (p. 441). Hugby made hardly any career at all, he spent his life by toadying to aristocracy and leading an ostentatious life. Both Cump and Hugby are snobs, but the worst kind of university snobs are such young men who start regarding themselves superior to their poor families and bring shame on their parents who worked hard to be able to provide them with their university education.
"On Literary Snobs"
The author professes that he will treat snobs of his own profession mercilessly. Then he continues to assert that there are absolutely no snobs among writers, editors, or critics. He gives an ironically idealistic portrayal of the easy life of the author who is respected and rewarded by his appreciative audience.
"A Little About Irish Snobs"
Irish snobs are contrasted to English snobs in that the English proudly believe themselves to be superior to anyone else, whereas the Irish know themselves inferior and so they snobbishly attempt to imitate English manners.
The author wonders at the motives of ball-givers, dinner-givers, tea-givers, and such others, who give parties to other people of fashion for their guests typically hate one another and bore one another to death.
Dinner-giving snobs are people who entertain themselves by throwing ostentatious parties to pretend that they are wealthier than is actually the case. Their guests abuse their hosts under their very noses. The author suggests to replace the artificial poses by simple family dinners with friends, for such would not ruin the finances and nerves of the dinner-giver and would ensure a comfortable and easy atmosphere in the party.
The author portrays the splendidly dressed up people of fashion who make a show out of their visiting the Continent and "carry into far lands the famous image of the British Snob" (p. 459). Continental snobs are marked by "amazing and indomitable insular pride", which prevents them from appreciating anything not English and makes them universally hated (p. 462).
The author visits his friend, Major Ponto, in the country. He expects to get rid of pretentious snobs and enjoy the simple happiness of country life. His expectations are marred by the appearance of Mrs Ponto, a fashionable snob, who keeps up to her pretensions even in the country. The author is tortured, among other things, by Misses Ponto practising on the piano in a most terrible way. The Pontos do not associate with their neighbours because "what can one do in one's position" (p. 476)?
The author surveys the abandoned seat of Lord St. Michaels, a gentleman who ruined himself, his family, and his servants by building the splendid showy palace which is now attended by one servant and not visited by the Michaels family at all.
The Pontos receive with raptures the visit of their son's friend, Lord Gules, a dissipated young officer. Young Wellesley Ponto seeks to imitate the expensive life style of his aristocratic friend, by which he ruins his family's finances.
The author is acquainted with some of the country families whom the Pontos think high enough to be associated with. The dinner given by the Pontos for this occasion is even more boring than the dinners given by city snobs. The chief subjects for the ladies conversation are diseases and literature. The author is inexpressibly pleased when the painting of his London rooms is finished and he can quit the Pontos.
The author replies to a letter sent to him by a young lady who asks whether she is a snob or not. The reply is that "none of us should be too confident that we are not Snobs" (p. 492). The author suggests a meeting in a church so that he could examine the snobbishness of the lady in person.
"Snobs and Marriage"
Marriage is often incompatible with snobbishness. Such is the case of author's friend, Mr Jack Spiggot, who failed to marry his love Letty Lovelace because their parents could not settle on financial matters.
A different case is the marriage of the respectable Miss Emily Harley Baker to Mr Raymond Gray, a man of modest means. Their union is a success, but also a source of amused wonder in high society. The Grays invite the snobbish Mr Goldmore for dinner, the man is stricken by what he supposes their poverty, and eventually promotes Mr Gray to a well-paid professional position.
A yet different case is that of Miss Polly Temple who is engaged to Serjeant Shirker but never becomes his wife because of the man's selfishness and excessive ambitiousness in his profession.
The author describes the "nightly orgies at the horrid Club" and claims that instead of spending late evening in clubs, married men should be with their families and unmarried ones should court their future wives (p. 507). Clubs are to be allowed only to "married men without a profession" because "[t]he continual presence of these in a house cannot be thought, even by the most loving of wives, desirable" (p. 507).
Clubs nourish one kind of snobs especially, that is political snobs, characteristic for their fondness of arguing over newspapers. Another specimen of club snobs are those who attend clubs without talking to anybody and spend their time there by watching and guessing at the other men's fortunes. A harmless but comical kind of snobs are Lady-Killing Snobs, represented here by Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle, young middle-class men trying to pose as dandies, showing off their supposed success with women, and composing poor poems celebrating their mistresses. A disagreeable sort of club snobs are heavy-drinking snobs.
Club snobbishness is connected with the misfortunes of Mr Sackville Maine whose happy marriage breaks up when he starts frequenting a club and acquires the habits of smoking, drinking, and gambling.
"Concluding Observations on Snobs"
The "Snob of England" bids the reader farewell. There are many more specimens of snobs left as yet unexamined, but "[t]he national mind is wakened to the subject of snobs" (p. 527). The author dismisses the Snobbish system and states that is the business of the Punch (the name of the magazine in which this series of essays first appeared) to laugh at it, "never forgetting that if Fun is good, Truth is still better, and Love best of all" (p. 529).
AuthorThackeray, William Makepeace. (1811 - 1863).
Full TitleThe Book of Snobs. By One of Themselves.
First PublishedIn: Punch. 1846-7.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Book of Snobs. 1848. London: Caxton, 1910.