William Makepeace Thackeray.

Complete works (Volume 22) online

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

anecdote ? There are stories of mine which would fail
utterly were they narrated in any but an undertone ;
others in which I laugh, am overcome by emotion,
and so forth what I call my intimes stories. Now it is
impossible to do justice to these except in the midst of a
general hush, and in a small circle ; so that I am
commonly silent. And as no anecdote is positively new
in a party of twenty, the chances are so much against
you that somebody should have heard the story before,
in which case you are done.

In these large assemblies, a wit, then, is of no use, and
does not have a chance : a raconteur does not get a fair
hearing, and both of these real ornaments of a dinner-
table are thus utterly thrown away. I have seen Jack
Jolliffe, who can keep a table of eight or ten persons in
a roar of laughter for four hours, remain utterly mute
in a great entertainment, smothered by the numbers
and the dowager on each side of him : and Tom
Yarnold, the most eminent of conversationists, sit
through a dinner as dumb as the footman behind him.
They do not care to joke, unless there is a sympathising
society, and prefer to be silent rather than throw their
good things away.

What I would recommend, then, with all my power,
is, that dinners should be more simple, more frequent,
and should comprise fewer persons. Ten is the utmost
number that a man of moderate means should ever
invite to his table ; although in a great house, managed


by a great establishment, the case may be different.
A man and woman may look as if they were glad to
see ten people ; but in a great dinner they abdicate
their position as host and hostess, are mere creatures
in the hands of the sham butlers, sham footmen, and
tall confectioners' emissaries who crowd the room,
and are guests at their own table, where they are helped
last, and of which they occupy the top and bottom. I
have marked many a lady watching with timid glances
the large artificial major-domo, who officiates for that
night only, and thought to myself, * Ah, my dear
madam, how much happier might we all be if there
were but half the splendour, half the made dishes, and
half the company assembled.'

If any dinner-giving person who reads this shall be
induced by my representations to pause in his present
career, to cut off some of the luxuries of his table, and
instead of giving one enormous feast to twenty persons
to have three simple dinners for ten, my dear Nephew
will not have been addressed in vain. Everybody will
be bettered ; and while the guests will be better pleased,
and more numerous, the host will actually be left with
money in his pocket.


BOB BROWN is in love, then, and undergoing the
common lot ! And so, my dear lad, you are this
moment enduring the delights and tortures, the jealousy
and wakefulness, the longing and raptures, the frantic
despair and elation, attendant upon the passion of love.
In the year 1812 (it was before I contracted my alliance


with your poor dear Aunt, who never caused me any of
the disquietudes above enumerated), I myself went
through some of those miseries and pleasures which you
now, O my Nephew, are enduring. I pity and
sympathise with you. I am an old cock now, with a
feeble strut and a faltering crow. But I was young
once : and remember the time very well. Since that
time, amavi amantes\: if I see two young people happy, I
like it, as I like to see children enjoying a pantomime.
I have been the confidant of numbers of honest fellows,
and the secret watcher of scores of little pretty intrigues
in life. Miss Y., I know why you go so eagerly to
balls now : and, Mr. Z., what has set you off dancing
at your mature age. Do you fancy, Mrs. Alpha, that I
believe you walk every day at half-past eleven by the
Serpentine for nothing, and that I don't see young
O'Mega in Rotten Row ? . . . And so, my poor Bob,
you are shot.

If you lose the object of your desires, the loss won't
kill you : you may set that down as a certainty. If you
win, it is possible that you will be disappointed : that
point also is to be considered. But hit or miss, good
luck or bad I should be sorry, my honest Bob, that
thou didst not undergo the malady. Every man ought
to be in love a few times in his life, and to have a smart
attack of the fever. You are the better for it when it
is over : the better for your misfortune if you endure it
with a manly heart ; how much the better for success if
you win it and a good wife into the bargain ! Ah ! Bob
there is a stone in the burying-ground at Funchal
which I often and often think of many hopes and
passions lie beneath it, along with the fairest and
gentlest creature in the world it's not Mrs. Brown
that lies there. After life's fitful fever, she sleeps in
Marylebone burying-ground, poor dear soul ! Emily
Blenkinsop might have been Mrs. Brown, but but
let us change the subject.


Of course you will take advice, my dear Bob, about
your flame. All men and women do. It is notorious
that they listen to the opinions of all their friends, and
never follow their own counsel. Well, tell us about
this girl. What are her qualifications, expectations,
belongings, station in life, and so forth ?

About beauty I do not argue. I take it for granted.
A man sees beauty, or that which he likes, with eyes
entirely his own. I don't say that plain women get
husbands as readily as the pretty girls but so many
handsome girls are unmarried, and so many of the other
sort wedded, that there is no possibility of establishing
a rule, or of setting up a standard. Poor dear Mrs.
Brown was a far finer woman than Emily Blenkinsop,
and yet I loved Emily's little finger more than the whole
hand which your Aunt Martha gave me I see the
plainest women exercising the greatest fascinations over
men in fine, a man falls in love with a woman because
it is fate, because she is a woman ; Bob, too, is a man,
and endowed with a heart and a beard.

Is she a clever woman ? I do not mean to disparage
you, my good fellow, but you are not a man that is
likely to set the Thames on fire ; and I should rather
like to see you fall to the lot of a clever woman. A set
has been made against clever women in all times. Take
all Shakspeare's heroines they all seem to me pretty
much the same affectionate, motherly, tender, that
sort of thing. Take Scott's ladies, and other writers'
each man seems to draw from one model an exquisite
slave is what we want for the most part ; a humble,
flattering, smiling, child-loving, tea-making, pianoforte-
playing being, who laughs at our jokes, however old
they may be, coaxes and wheedles us in our humours,
and fondly lies to us through life. I never could get
your poor Aunt into this system, though I confess I
should have been a happier man had she tried it.

There are many more clever women in the world than


men think for. Our habit is to despise them j we
believe they do not think because they do not contradict
us ; and are weak because they do not struggle and rise
up against us. A man only begins to know women as
he grows old ; and for my part my opinion of their
cleverness rises every day.

When I say I know women, I mean I know that I
don't know them. Every single woman I ever knew is
a puzzle to me, as I have no doubt she is to herself. Say
they are not clever ? Their hypocrisy is a perpetual
marvel to me, and a constant exercise of cleverness of
the finest sort. You see a demure-looking woman
perfect in all her duties, constant in house-bills and shirt-
buttons, obedient to her lord, and anxious to please him
in all things ; silent when you and he talk politics, or
literature, or balderdash together, and if referred to,
saying, with a smile of perfect humility, 'Oh, women
are not judges upon such and such matters ; we leave
learning and politics to men.' * Yes, poor Polly,' says
Jones, patting the back of Mrs. J.'s head good-naturedly,
1 attend to the house, my dear ; that's the best thing you
can do, and leave the rest to us.' Benighted idiot ! She
has long ago taken your measure and your friends' ; she
knows your weaknesses, and ministers to them in a
thousand artful ways. She knows your obstinate points,
and marches round them with the most curious art and
patience, as you will see an ant on a journey turn round
an obstacle. Every woman manages her husband : every
person who manages another is a hypocrite. Her smiles,
her submission, her good-humour, for all which we value
her, what are they but admirable duplicity? We
expect falseness from her, and order and educate her
to be dishonest. Should he upbraid, I'll own that he
prevail ; say that he frown, I'll answer with a smile ;
what are these but lies, that we exact from our slaves ?
lies, the dexterous performance of which we announce to
be the female virtues ; brutal Turks that we are ! I do


not say that Mrs. Brown ever obeyed me on the
contrary : but I should have liked it, for I am a Turk
like my neighbour.

I will instance your mother now. When my brother
comes in to dinner after a bad day's sport, or after
looking over the bills of some of you boys, he naturally
begins to be surly with your poor dear mother, and to
growl at the mutton. What does she do ? She may be
hurt, but she doesn't show it. She proceeds to coax, to
smile, to turn the conversation, to stroke down Bruin,
and get him in a good-humour. She sets him on his old
stories, and she and all the girls poor dear little
Sapphiras ! set off laughing ; there is that story about
the Goose walking into church, which your father tells,
and your mother and sisters laugh at, until I protest I am
so ashamed that I hardly know where to look. On he
goes with that story time after time : and your poor
mother sits there and knows that I know she is a
humbug, and laughs on ; and teaches all the girls to
laugh too. Had that dear creature been born to wear a
nose-ring and bangles instead of a muff and bonnet ; and
had she a brown skin in the place of that fair one with
which Nature has endowed her, she would have done
Suttee, after your brown Brahmin father had died, and
thought women very irreligious too, who refused to roast
themselves for their masters and lords. I do not mean
to say that the late Mrs. Brown would have gone
through the process of incremation for me far from
it : by a timely removal she was spared from the grief
which her widowhood would have doubtless caused
her, and I acquiesce in the decrees of Fate in this
instance, and have not the least desire to have preceded

I hope the ladies will not take my remarks in ill part.
If I die for it, I must own that I don't think they have
fair play. In the bargain we make with them I don't
think they get their rights. And as a labourer


notoriously does more by the piece than he does by the
day, and a free man works harder than a slave, so I doubt
whether we get the most out of our women by enslaving
them as we do by law and custom. There are some
folks who would limit the range of women's duties to
little more than a kitchen-range others who like them
to administer to our delectation in a ball-room, and
permit them to display dimpled shoulders and flowing
ringlets just as you have one horse for a mill, and
another for the Park. But in whatever way we like
them, it is for our use somehow that we have women
brought up : to work for us, or to shine for us, or to
dance for us, or what not ? It would not have been
thought shame of our fathers fifty years ago, that they
could not make a custard or a pie, but our mothers
would have been rebuked had they been ignorant on
these matters. Why should not you and I be ashamed
now because we cannot make our own shoes, or cut out
our own breeches ? We know better : we can get
cobblers and tailors to do that and it was we who made
the laws for women, who, we are in the habit of saying,
are not so clever as we are.

My dear Nephew, as I grow old and consider these
things, I know which are the stronger, men or women :
but which are the cleverer I doubt.


LONG years ago, indeed it was at the Peace of Amiens,
when with several other young bucks I was making the
grand tour, I recollect how sweet we all of us were upon
the lovely Duchess of Montepulciano at Naples, who, to
be sure, was not niggardly of her smiles in return.


There came a man amongst us, however, from London,
a very handsome young fellow, with such an air of
fascinating melancholy in his looks, that he cut out all
the other suitors of the Duchess in the course of a week,
and would have married her very likely, but that war was
declared while this youth was still hankering about his
Princess, and he was sent off to Verdun, whence he
did not emerge for twelve years, and until he was
as fat as a porpoise, and the Duchess was long since
married to General Count Raff, one of the Emperor's

I mention poor Tibbits to show the curious difference
of manner which exists amongst us ; and which, though
not visible to foreigners, is instantly understood by
English people. Brave, clever, tall, slim, dark, and
sentimental-looking, he passed muster in a foreign
saloon, and, as I must own to you, cut us fellows out :
whereas we English knew instantly that the man was
not well bred, by a thousand little signs, not to be
understood by the foreigner. In his early youth, for
instance, he had been cruelly deprived of his /;'s by his
parents, and though he tried to replace them in after
life, they were no more natural than a glass eye, but
stared at you as it were in a ghastly manner out of the
conversation, and pained you by their horrid intrusions.
Not acquainted with these refinements of our language,
foreigners did not understand what Tibbits's errors were,
and doubtless thought it was from envy that we con-
spired to slight the poor fellow.

I mention Mr. Tibbits, because he was handsome,
clever, honest, and brave, and in almost all respects our
superior ; and yet laboured under disadvantages of
manner which unfitted him for certain society. It is
not Tibbits the man, it is not Tibbits the citizen, of
whom I would wish to speak lightly : his morals, his
reading, his courage, his generosity, his talents are
undoubted it is the social Tibbits of whom I speak ;


and as I do not go to balls because I do not dance, or
to meetings of the Political Economy Club, or other
learned associations, because taste and education have
not fitted me for the pursuits for which other persons
are adapted, so Tibbits's sphere is not in drawing-
rooms, where the h y and other points of etiquette, are
rigorously maintained.

I say thus much because one or two people have taken
some remarks of mine in ill part, and hinted that I am a
Tory in disguise : and an aristocrat that should be hung
up to a lamp-post. Not so, dear Bob ; there is nothing
like the truth, about whomsoever it may be. I mean no
more disrespect towards any fellow-man by saying that
he is not what is called in Society well-bred, than by
stating that he is not tall or short, or that he cannot
dance, or that he does not know Hebrew ; or whatever
the case may be. I mean that if a man works with a
pickaxe or shovel all day, his hands will be harder than
those of a lady of fashion, and that his opinion about
Madame Sontag's singing, or the last new novel, will
not probably be of much value. And though I own my
conviction that there are some animals which frisk
advantageously in ladies' drawing-rooms, whilst others
pull stoutly at the plough, I do not most certainly mean
to reflect upon a horse for not being a lap-dog, or see
that he has any cause to be ashamed that he is other than
a horse.

And, in a word, as you are what is called a gentleman
yourself, I hope that Mrs. Bob Brown, whoever she may
be, is not only by nature, but by education, a gentle-
woman. No man ought ever to be called upon to blush
for his wife. I see good men rush into marriage with
ladies of whom they are afterwards ashamed ; and in the
same manner charming women linked to partners whose
vulgarity they try to screen. Poor Mrs. Botibol, what
a constant hypocrisy your life is, and how you insist
upon informing everybody that Botibol is the best of


men ! Poor Jack Jinkins ! what a female is that you
brought back from Bagnigge Wells to introduce to
London society ! a handsome, tawdry, flaunting, water-
ing-place belle ; a boarding-house beauty : tremendous
in brazen ornaments and cheap finery.

If you marry, dear Bob, I hope Mrs. Robert B. will
be a lady not very much above or below your own

I would sooner that you should promote your wife,
than that she should advance you. And though every
man can point you out instances where his friends have
been married to ladies of superior rank, who have
accepted their new position with perfect grace, and
made their husbands entirely happy ; as there are
examples of maid-servants decorating coronets, and
sempstresses presiding worthily over Baronial Halls ; yet
I hope Mrs. Robert Brown will not come out of a
palace or a kitchen : but out of a house something like
yours, out of a family something like yours, with a snug
jointure something like that modest portion which I
daresay you will inherit.

I remember when Arthur Rowdy (who I need not
tell you belongs to the firm of Stumpy, Rowdy, & Co.,
of Lombard Street, bankers) married Lady Cleopatra :
what a grand match it was thought by the Rowdy
family ; and how old Mrs. Rowdy in Portman Square
was elated at the idea of her son's new connection.
Her daughters were to go to all the parties in London ; and
her house was to be filled with the very greatest of great
folks. We heard of nothing but dear Lady Stonehenge
from morning till night ; and the old frequenters of the
house were perfectly pestered with stories of dear Lady
Zenobia and dear Lady Cornelia, and of the dear
Marquis, whose masterly translation of Cornelius
Nepos had placed him among the most learned of our

When Rowdy went to live in Mayfair, what a


wretched house it was into which he introduced such of
his friends as were thought worthy of presentation to his
new society ! The rooms were filled with young dandies
of the Stonehenge connection beardless bucks from
Downing Street, gay young sprigs of the Guards their
sisters and mothers, their kith and kin. They overdrew
their accounts at Rowdy's bank, and laughed at him in
his drawing-room ; they made their bets and talked their
dandy talk over his claret, at which the poor fellow sat
quite silent. Lady Stonehenge invaded his nursery,
appointed and cashiered his governess and children's
maids ; established her apothecary in permanence over
him : quarrelled with old Mrs. Rowdy, so that the poor
old body was only allowed to see her grandchildren by
stealth, and have secret interviews with them in the
garden of Berkeley Square j made Rowdy take villas at
Tunbridge, which she filled with her own family ;
massacred her daughter's visiting-book, in the which
Lady Cleopatra, a good-natured woman, at first admitted
some of her husband's relatives and acquaintance ; and
carried him abroad upon excursions, in which all he had
to do was to settle the bills with the courier. And she
went so far as to order him to change his side of the
House and his politics, and adopt those of Lord Stone-
henge, which were of the age of the Druids, his Lord-
ship's ancestors ; but here the honest British merchant
made a stand and conquered his mother-in-law, who
would have smothered him the other day for voting for
Rothschild. If it were not for the Counting House in
the morning, and the House of Commons at night, what
would become of Rowdy ? They say he smokes there,
and drinks when he smokes. He has been known to go
to Vauxhall, and has even been seen, with a comforter
over his nose, listening to Sam Hall at the Cider Cellars.
All this misery and misfortune came to the poor fellow
for marrying out of his degree. The clerks at Lombard
Street laugh when Lord Mistletoe steps out of his cab


and walks into the bank-parlour ; and Rowdy's private
account invariably tells tales of the visit of his young
scapegrace of a brother-in-law.


LET us now, beloved and ingenuous youth, take the
other side of the question, and discourse a little while
upon the state of that man who takes unto himself a
wife inferior to him in degree. I have before me in mv
acquaintance many most pitiable instances of individuals
who have made this fatal mistake.

Although old fellows are as likely to be made fools as
young in love matters, and Dan Cupid has no respect for
the most venerable age, yet I remark that it is generally
the young men who marry vulgar wives. They arc on
a reading tour for the Long Vacation, they are quartered
at Ballinafad, they see Miss Smith or Miss O'Shaugh-
nessy every day, healthy, lively, jolly girls with red
cheeks, bright eyes, and high spirits they come away at
the end of the vacation, or when the regiment changes
its quarters, engaged men ; family rows ensue, mothers
cry out, papas grumble, Miss pines and loses her health
at Baymouth or Ballinafad consent is got at last, Jones
takes his degree, Jenkins gets his company ; Miss Smith
and Miss O'Shaughnessy become Mrs. Jones and Mrs.

For the first year it is all very well. Mrs. Jones is a
great bouncing handsome creature, lavishly fond of her
adored Jones, and caring for no other company but his.
They have a cottage at Bayswater. He walks her out
every evening. He sits and reads the last new novel to
her whilst she works slippers for him, or makes some


little tiny caps, and dear Julia, dear Edward ! they are
all in all to one another.

Old Mrs. Smith of course comes up from Swansea at
the time when the little caps are put into requisition,
and takes possession of the cottage at Bayswater. Mrs.
Jones Senior calls upon Mrs. Edward Jones's mamma,
and, of course, is desirous to do everything that is civil
to the family of Edward's wife.

Mrs. Jones finds in the mother-in-law of her Edward
a large woman with a cotton umbrella, who dines in the
middle of the day, and has her beer, and who calls Mrs.
Jones Mum. What a state they are in in Pocklington
Square about this woman ! How can they be civil to
her ? Whom can they ask to meet her ? How the
girls, Edward's sisters, go on about her ! Fanny says
she ought to be shown to the housekeeper's room when
she calls ; Mary proposes that Mrs. Shay, the washer-
woman, should be invited on the day when Mrs. Smith
comes to dinner : and Emma (who was Edward's
favourite sister, and who considers herself jilted by his
marriage with Julia) points out the most dreadful thing
of all, that Mrs. Smith and Julia are exactly alike, and
that in a few years Mrs. Edward Jones will be the very
image of that great enormous unwieldy horrid old

Closeted with her daughter, of whom and of her baby
she has taken possession, Mrs. Smith gives her opinion
about the Joneses : They may be very good, but they
are too fine ladies for her ; and they evidently think she
is not good enough for them : they are sad worldly people,
and have never sat under a good minister, that is clear :
they talked French before her on the day she called in
Pocklington Gardens, ' and though they were laughiug
at me, I'm sure I can pardon them,' Mrs. Smith says.
Edward and Julia have a little altercation about the
manner in which his family has treated Mrs. Smith, and
Julia, bursting into tears as she clasps her child to her


bosom, says, * My child, my child, will you be taught to
be ashamed of your mother ?'

Edward flings out of the room in a rage. It is true
that Mrs. Smith is not fit to associate with his family,
and that her manners are not like theirs j that Julia's
eldest brother, who is a serious tanner at Cardiff, is not
a pleasant companion after dinner : and that it is not
agreeable to be called * Ned ' and ' Old Cove ' by her
younger brother, who is an attorney's clerk in Gray's
Inn, and favours Ned by asking him to lend him a <sov,'
and by coming to dinner on Sundays. It is true that
the appearance of that youth at the first little party

Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 15 of 31)