William Makepeace Thackeray.

Complete works (Volume 22) online

. (page 12 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 12 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


We pass by the worthy porter, and alert pages a
fifteen-hundredth part of each of whom is henceforth
your paid-for property and you see he takes down your
name as Mr. R. Brown, Junior, and will know you and
be civil to you until death. Ha, there is Jawkins, as


usual : he has nailed poor Styles up against a pillar, and
is telling him what the opinion of the City is about
George Hudson, Esquire, and when Sir Robert will
take the government. How d'you do, Jawlcins ? Satis-
factory news from India? Gilbert to be made Baron
Gilbert of Goojerat ? Indeed, I don't introduce you
to Jawkins, my poor Bob ; he will do that for himself,
and you will have quite enough of him before many
days are over.

Those three gentlemen sitting on the sofa are from
our beloved sister island ; they come here every day,
and wait for the Honourable Member for Ballinafad,
who is at present in the writing-room.

I have remarked, in London, however, that every
Irish gentleman is accompanied by other Irish gentle-
men, who wait for him as here, or at the corner of
the street. These are waiting until the Honour-
able Member for Ballinafad can get them three places
in the Excise, in the Customs, and a little thing in
the Post Office, no doubt. One of them sends home
a tremendous account of parties and politics here, which
appears in the Ballinafad Banner. He knows every-
thing. He has just been closeted with Peel, and can
vouch for it that Clarendon has been sent for. He
knows who wrote the famous pamphlet, l Ways and
Means for Ireland,' all the secrets of the present
Cabinet, the designs of Sir James Graham. How Lord
John can live under those articles which he writes in
the Banner is a miracle to me ! I hope he will get
that little thing in the Post Office soon.

This is the newspaper-room enter the porter with
the evening papers what a rush the men make for
them ! Do you want to see one ? Here is the
Standard nice article about the 'Starling Club* very
pleasant, candid, gentlemanlike notice Club composed
of clergymen, atheists, authors, and artists. Their
chief conversation is blasphemy : they have statues of


Socrates and Mahomet on the centre-piece of the
dinner-table, take every opportunity of being disrespect-
ful to Moses, and a dignified clergyman always pro-
poses the Glorious, Pious, and Immortal Memory of
Confucius. Grace is said backwards, and the Catechism
treated with the most irreverent ribaldry by the comic
authors and the general company. Are these men to
be allowed to meet, and their horrid orgies to con-
tinue ? Have you had enough ? let us go into the
other rooms.

What a calm and pleasant seclusion the library
presents after the bawl and bustle of the newspaper-
room ! There is never anybody here. English gentle-
men get up such a prodigious quantity of knowledge in
their early life, that they leave oft reading soon after
they begin to shave, or never look at anything but a
newspaper. How pleasant this room is, isn't it ? with
its sober draperies, and long calm lines of peaceful
volumes nothing to interrupt the quiet only the
melody of Homer's nose as he lies asleep upon one of
the sofas. What is he reading ? Hah ! * Pendennis,'
No. VII. Hum, let us pass on. Have you read c David
Copperfield,' by the way ? How beautiful it is how
charmingly fresh and simple ! In those admirable
touches of tender humour and I should call humour,
Bob, a mixture of love and wit who can equal this
great genius ? There are little words and phrases in
his books which are like personal benefits to the
reader. What a place it is to hold in the affections of
men ! What an awful responsibility hanging over a
writer! What man holding such a place, and knowing
that his words go forth to vast congregations of man-
kind, to grown folks to their children, and perhaps
to their children's children, but must think of his
calling with a solemn and humble heart ! May love and
truth guide such a man always ! It is an awful prayer :
may Heaven further its fulfilment ! And then, Bob,


let the Record revile him. See, here's Horner waking
up * How do you do, Horner ? '

This neighbouring room, which is almost as quiet
as the library, is the card-room, you see. There
are always three or four devotees assembled in it ;
and the lamps are scarcely ever out in this Temple of

I admire as I see them, my dear Bobby, grave and
silent at these little green tables, not moved outwardly
by grief or pleasure at losing or winning, but calmly
pursuing their game (as that pursuit is called, which is
in fact the most elaborate science and study) at noon-
day, entirely absorbed, and philosophically indifferent to
the bustle and turmoil of the enormous working world
without. Disraeli may make his best speech ; the
Hungarians may march into Vienna ; the protectionists
come in ; Louis Phillippe be restored ; or the Thames
set on fire ; and Colonel Pam and Mr. Trumpington
will never leave their table, so engaging is their occupa-
tion at it. The turning up of an ace is of more
interest to them than all the affairs of all the world
besides and so they will go on until Death summons
them, and their last trump is played.

It is curious to think that a century ago almost all
gentlemen, soldiers, statesmen, men of science, and
divines, passed hours at play every day ; as our grand-
mothers did likewise. The poor old kings and queens
must feel the desertion now, and deplore the present
small number of their worshippers, as compared to the
myriads of faithful subjects who served them in past

I do not say that other folk's pursuits are much more
or less futile ; but fancy a life such as that of the Colonel
eight or nine hours of sleep, eight of trumps, and the
rest for business, reading, exercise and domestic duty or
affection (to be sure he's most likely a bachelor, so that
the latter offices do not occupy him much) fancy such


a life, and at its conclusion at the age of seventy-five,
the worthy gentleman being able to say, I have spent
twenty-five years of my existence turning up trumps.

With Trumpington matters are different. Whist is
a profession with him, just as much as Law is yours.
He makes the deepest study of it he makes every
sacrifice to his pursuit : he may be fond of wine and
company, but he eschews both, to keep his head cool
and play his rubber. He is a man of good parts, and was
once well read, as you see by his conversation when he
is away from the table, but he gives up reading for play
and knows that to play well a man must play every
day. He makes three or four hundred a year by his
Whist, and well he may with his brains, and half his
industry, he could make a larger income at any other

In a game with these two gentlemen, the one who has
been actually seated at that card-table for a term as long as
your whole life, the other who is known as a consummate
practitioner, do you think it is likely you will come off a
winner? The state of your fortune is your look-out,
not theirs. They arc there at their posts like knights
ready to meet all comers. If you choose to engage
them, sit down. They will with the most perfect
probity, calmness, and elegance of manner, win and win of
you until they have won every shilling of a fortune, when
they will make you a bow, and wish you good-morning.
You may go and drown yourself afterwards it is not
their business. Their business is to be present in that
room, and to play cards with you or anybody. When
you are done with Bon jour. My dear Colonel, let me
introduce you to a new member, my nephew, Mr. Robert

The other two men at the table are the Honourable
G. Windgall and Mr. Chanter : perhaps you have not
heard that the one made rather a queer settlement at
the last Derby ; and the other has just issued from


one of Her Majesty's establishments in St. George's

Either of these gentlemen is perfectly affable, good-
natured, and easy of access and will cut you for half-
crowns if you like, or play you at any game on the cards.
They descend from their broughams or from horseback
at the Club door with the most splendid air, and they
feast upon the best dishes and wines in the place.

But do you think it advisable to play cards with them ?
Which know the games best you or they ? Which
are most likely we will not say to play foul but to
take certain little advantages in the game which their
consummate experience teaches them you or they ?
Finally, is it a matter of perfect certainty, if you won,
that they would pay you ?

Let us leave these gentlemen, my dear Bob, and go
through the rest of the house.


FROM the library we proceed to the carved and gilded
drawing-room of the Club, the damask hangings of
which are embroidered with our lovely emblem, the
Polyanthus, and which is fitted with a perfectly un-
intelligible splendour. Sardanapalus, if he had pawned
one of his kingdoms, could not have had such mirrors as
one of those in which I see my dear Bob admiring the
tie of his cravat with such complacency, and I am sure I
cannot comprehend why Smith and Brown should have
their persons reflected in such vast sheets of quicksilver ;
or why, if we have a mind to a sixpenny cup of tea and
muffins, when we come in with muddy boots from a
dirty walk, those refreshments should be served to us as
we occupy a sofa much more splendid, and far better


stuffed, than any Louis Quatorze ever sat upon. I
want a sofa, as I want a friend, upon which I can repose
familiarly. If you can't have intimate terms and
freedom with one and the other, they are of no good.
A full-dress Club is an absurdity and no man ought to
come into this room except in a uniform or Court suit.
I daren't put my feet on yonder sofa for fear of sullying
the damask, or, worse still, for fear that Hicks the
Committee-man should pass, and spy out my sacrilegious
boots on the cushion.

We pass through these double doors, and enter rooms
of a very different character.

By the faint and sickly odour pervading this apart-
ment, by the opened windows, by the circular stains
upon the marble tables, which indicate the presence of
brandies-and-waters long passed into the world of spirits,
my dear Bob will have no difficulty in recognising the
smoking-room, where I dare say he will pass a good deal
of his valuable time henceforth.

If I could recommend a sure way of advancement and
profit to a young man about town, it would be, after he
has come away from a friend's house and dinner, where
he has to a surety had more than enough of claret and
good things, when he ought to be going to bed at
midnight, so that he might rise fresh and early for his
morning's work, to stop, nevertheless, for a couple of
hours at the Club, and smoke in this room and tipple
weak brandy-and-water.

By a perseverance in this system, you may get a
number of advantages. By sitting up till three of a
summer morning, you have the advantage of seeing the
sun rise, and as you walk home to Pump Court, can
mark the quiet of the streets in the rosy glimmer of the
dawn. You can easily spend in that smoking-room (as
for the billiard-room adjacent, how much more can't
you get rid of there), and without any inconvenience or
extravagance whatever, enough money to keep you a


horse. Three or four cigars when you are in the
Club, your case filled when you are going away, a
couple of glasses of very weak cognac and cold water,
will cost you sixty pounds a year, as sure as your
name is Bob Brown. And as for the smoking and
tippling, plus billiards, they may be made to cost any-

And then you have the advantage of hearing such
delightful and instructive conversation in a Club
smoking-room, between the hours of twelve and three !
Men who frequent that place at that hour are commonly
men of studious habits and philosophical and reflective
minds, to whose opinions it is pleasant and profitable to
listen. They are full of anecdotes, which are always
moral and well chosen ; their talk is never free, or on
light subjects. I have one or two old smoking-room
pillars in my eye now, who would be perfect models for
any young gentleman entering life, and to whom a
father could not do better than entrust the education of
his son.

To drop the satirical vein, my dear Bob, I am com-
pelled as a man to say my opinion, that the best thing
you can do with regard to that smoking-room is to keep
out of it ; or at any rate never to be seen in the place
after midnight. They are very pleasant and frank, those
jolly fellows, those loose fishes, those fast young men
but the race in life is not to such fast men as these and
you who want to win must get up early of a morning,
my boy. You and an old college-chum or two may
sit together over your cigar-boxes in one another s
chambers, and talk till all hours, and do yourselves good
probably. Talking among you is a wholesome exercita-
tion ; humour comes in an easy flow ; it doesn't preclude
grave argument and manly interchange of thought I
own myself, when I was younger, to have smoked many
a pipe with advantage in the company of Doctor Parr.
Honest men, with pipes or cigars in our mouths, have


great physical advantages in conversation. You may
stop talking if you like but the breaks of silence never
seem disagreeable, being filled up by the puffing of the
smoke hence there is no awkwardness in resuming the
conversation no straining for effect sentiments are
delivered in a grave easy manner the cigar harmonises
the society, and soothes at once the speaker and the
subject whereon he converses. I have no doubt that it
is from the habit of smoking that Turks and American-
Indians are such monstrous well-bred men. The pipe
draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts
up the mouth of the foolish : it generates a style of
conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and
unaffected : in fact, dear Bob, I must out with it I am
an old smoker. At home I have done it up the
chimney rather than not do it (the which I own is a
crime). I vow and believe that the cigar has been
one of the greatest creature- comforts of my life
a kind companion, a gentle stimulant, an amiable
anodyne, a cementer of friendship. May I die if I
abuse that kindly weed which has given me so much
pleasure !

Since I have been a member of that Club, what
numbers of men have occupied this room and departed
from it, like so many smoked-out cigars, leaving nothing
behind but a little disregarded ashes ! Bob, my boy,
they drop off in the course of twenty years, our boon
companions, and jolly fellow bottle-crackers. I mind
me of many a good fellow who has talked and laughed
here, and whose pipe is put out for ever. Men, I
remember as dashing youngsters but the other day, have
passed into the state of old fogies : they have sons, sir,
of almost our age, when first we joined the * Polyanthus.'
Grass grows over others in all parts of the world.
Where is poor Ned ? Where is poor Fred ? Dead
rhymes with Ned and Fred too their place knows
them not their names one year appeared at the end of


the Club list, under the dismal category of 'Members
Deceased,' in which you and I shall rank some day.
Do you keep that subject steadily in your mind ? I do
not see why one shouldn't meditate upon Death in Pall
Mall as well as in a howling wilderness. There is
enough to remind one of it at every corner. There is a
strange face looking out of Jack's old lodgings in Jermyn
Street, somebody else has got the Club chair which
Tom used to occupy. He doesn't dine here and grumble
as he used formerly. He has been sent for and has not
come back again one day P'ate will send for us, and we
shall not return and the people will come down to the
Club as usual, saying, ' Well, and so poor old Brown is
gone.' Indeed, a smoking-room on a morning is not a
cheerful spot.

Our room has a series of tenants of quite distinct
characters. After an early and sober dinner below,
certain habitues of the * Polyanthus' mount up to this
apartment for their coffee and cigar, and talk as gravely
as Sachems at a Palaver. Trade and travel, politics and
geography, are their discourse they are in bed long
before their successors the jolly fellows begin their night
life, and the talk of the one set is as different to the con-
versation of the other as any talk can be.

After the grave old Sachems, come other frequenters
of the room ; a squad of sporting men very likely very
solemn and silent personages these who give the odds,
and talk about the Cup in a darkling undertone. Then
you shall have three or four barristers with high voices,
seldom able to sit long without talking of their pro-
fession, or mentioning something about Westminster
Hall. About eleven, men in white neckcloths drop in
from dinner-parties, and show their lacquered boots and
shirt-studs with a little complacency and at midnight,
after the theatres, the young rakes and viveurs come
swaggering in, and call loudly for gin-twist.

But as for a Club smoking-room after midnight, I


vow again that you are better out of it : that you will
waste money and your precious hours and health there :
and you may frequent this ' Polyanthus ' room for a
year, and not carry away from the place one single idea
or story that can do you the least good in life. How
much you shall take away of another sort, I do not here
set down ; but I have before my mind's eye the image
of old Silenus, with purple face and chalk-stone fingers,
telling his foul old garrison legends over his gin-and-
water. He is in the smoking-room every night ; and I
feel that no one can get benefit from the society of that
old man.

What society he has he gets from this place. He sits
for hours in a corner of the sofa, and makes up his
parties here. He will ask you after a little time, seeing
that you are a gentleman and have a good address, and
will give you an exceedingly good dinner. I went once,
years ago, to a banquet of his and found all the men
at his table were Polyanthuses : so that it was a house

dinner in Square, with Mrs. Silenus at the head of

the table.

After dinner she retired and was no more seen, and
Silenus amused himself by making poor Mr. Tippleton
drunk. He came to the Club the next day ; he amused
himself by describing the arts by which he had practised
upon the easy brains of poor Mr. Tippleton (as if that
poor fellow wanted any arts or persuasion to induce him
to intoxicate himself), and told all the smoking-room
how he had given a dinner, how many bottles of wine
had been emptied, and how many Tippleton had drunk
for his share. * I kept my eye on Tip, sir,' the horrid
old fellow said ' I took care to make him mix his
liquors well, and before eleven o'clock I finished him,
and had him as drunk as a lord, sir ! ' Will you like to
have that gentleman for a friend ? He has elected him-
self our smoking-room king at the * Polyanthus,' and
midnight monarch.


As he talks, in comes poor Tippleton a kind soul
a gentleman a man of reading and parts who has
friends at home very likely, and had once a career before
him and what is he now ? His eyes are vacant ; he
reels into a sofa corner, and sits in maudlin silence, and
hiccups every now and then. Old Silenus winks know-
ingly round at the whole smoking-room : most of the
men sneer some pity some very young cubs laugh
and jeer at him. Tippleton's drunk.


FROM the Library and Smoking-room regions let us
descend to the lower floor. Here you behold the
Coffee-room, where the neat little tables are already
laid out, awaiting the influx of diners.

A great advance in civilisation was made, and the
honesty as well as economy of young men of the middle
classes immensely promoted, when the ancient tavern
system was overthrown, and those houses of meeting
instituted where a man, without sacrificing his dignity,
could dine for a couple of shillings. I remember in the
days of my youth when a very moderate dinner at a
reputable coffee-house cost a man half-a-guinea : when
you were obliged to order a pint of wine for the good
of the house ; when the waiter got a shilling for his
attendance ; and when young gentlemen were no richer
than they are now, and had to pay thrice as much as
they at present need to disburse for the maintenance of
their station.

Then men (who had not the half-guinea at command)
used to dive into dark streets in the vicinage of Soho
or Covent Garden, and get a meagre meal at shilling
taverns or Tom, the clerk, issued out from your


chambers in Pump Court and brought back your dinner
between two plates from a neighbouring ham-and-beef
shop. Either repast was strictly honourable, and one
can find no earthly fault with a poor gentleman for
eating a poor meal. But that solitary meal in chambers
was, indeed, a dismal refection. I think with anything
but regret of those lonely feasts of beef and cabbage ;
and how there was no resource for the long evenings but
those books, over which you had been poring all day, or
the tavern with its deuced expenses, or the theatre with
its vicious attractions. A young bachelor's life was a
clumsy piece of wretchedness then mismanaged and
ill economised just as your Temple Chambers or
College rooms now are, which are quite behind the age
in the decent conveniences which every modern
tenement possesses.

And that dining for a shilling and strutting about
Pall Mall afterwards was, after all, an hypocrisy. At
the time when the * Trois Freres Provengaux ' at Paris
had two entrances, one into the place of the Palais
Royal, and one into the street behind, where the
sixteen-sous dinner-houses are, I have seen bucks with
profuse toothpicks walk out of these latter houses of
entertainment, pass up the ' Trois Freres ' stairs, and
descend from the other door into the Palais Royal, so
that the people walking there might fancy these poor
fellows had been dining regardless of expense. No :
what you call putting a good face upon poverty, that is,
hiding it under a grin, or concealing its rags under a
makeshift, is always rather a base stratagem. Your
Beaux Tibbs and twopenny dandies can never be
respectable altogether ; and if a man is poor, I say he
ought to seem poor ; and that both he and Society are in
the wrong, if either sees any cause of shame in poverty.

That is why we ought to be thankful for Clubs.
Here is no skulking to get a cheap dinner ; no ordering
of expensive liquors and dishes for the good of the house,


or cowering sensitiveness as to the opinion of the waiter.
We advance in simplicity and honesty as we advance in
civilisation, and it is my belief that we become better
bred and less artificial, and tell more truth every day.

This, you see, is the Club Coffee-room it is three
o'clock ; young Wideawake is just finishing his break-
fast (with whom I have nothing to do at present, but to
say parenthetically, that if you will sit up till five o'clock
in the morning, Bob my boy, you may look out to have
a headache and a breakfast at three in the afternoon).
Wideawake is at breakfast Goldsworthy is ordering his
dinner while Mr. Nudgit, whom you see yonder, is
making his lunch. In those two gentlemen is the
moral and exemplification of the previous little remarks
which I have been making.

You must know, sir, that at the ' Polyanthus,' in
common with most Clubs, gentlemen are allowed to
enjoy, gratis, in the Coffee-room, bread, beer, sauces and

After four o'clock, if you order your dinner, you have
to pay sixpence for what is called the table the clean
cloth, the vegetables, cheese, and so forth : before that
hour you may have lunch, when there is no table

Now Goldsworthy is a gentleman and a man of
genius, who has courage and simplicity enough to be
poor not like some fellows whom one meets, and who
make a fanfaronnade of poverty, and draping themselves
in their rags, seem to cry, * See how virtuous I am,
how honest Diogenes is ! ' but he is a very poor man,
whose education and talents are of the best, and who in
so far claims to rank with the very best people in the
world. In his place in Parliament, when he takes off his
hat (which is both old and well brushed), the Speaker's

Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 12 of 31)