William Makepeace Thackeray.

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they hear : their eager imaginations fancy an oration or
a dialogue, which supplies the words delivered by the
English speakers, and replaces them by figures and
sentiments of their own fafon ; and they believe, no
doubt, that their reports are pretty accurate, and that
they have actually heard and understood something.

To see the faces of these good folks of a Sunday their
dreary bewilderment and puzzled demeanour as they
walk the blank streets (if they have not the means of
flight to Richemont or Amstedd, or some other pretty


environs of the town where gazon is plentiful and ale
cheap), is always a most queer and comic sight. Has
not one seen that peculiar puzzled look in certain little
amusing manikins at the Zoological Gardens and else-
where when presented with a nut which they can't
crack, or examining a looking-glass of which they can't
understand the mystery that look so delightfully piteous
and ludicrous ? I do not mean to say that all French-
men are like the active and ingenious animals alluded to,
and make a simious comparison odious to a mighty
nation ; this, in the present delicate condition of the
diplomatic relations between the two countries, and
while Lord Stanley's questions are pending respecting
papers which have reference to the affairs of a celebrated
namesake of mine,* would be a dangerous and unkind
simile ; but that, as our proverbial dulness and ferocity
often shows itself in the resemblance between the
countenances of our people and our boules-dogues^ so the
figure and motions of the Frenchman bear an occasional
likeness to the lively ring-tail, or the brisk and interesting
marmoset. They can't crack any of our nuts ; an
impenetrable shell guards them from our friends' teeth.
I saw last year, at Paris, a little play called i Une
Semaine a Londres,' intending to ridicule the amuse-
ments of the excursionists, and, no doubt, to satirise the
manners of the English. Very likely the author had
come to see London so had M. Gautier so had M.
Valentino the first of whom saw * vases chiselled by
Benvenuto' in the pot from which Mrs. Jones at
Clapham poured out the poet's tea ; the second, from a
conversation in English, of which he didn't understand a
syllable, with a young man in Messrs. Hunt and Roskell's
shop, found out that the shopman was a Red Republican,
and that he and most of his fellows were groaning under
the tyranny of the aristocracy. Very likely, we say, the

* A Jew named Pacifico, who claimed compensation for damage done to
his property in a riot at Athens in 1847.


author of Une Semaine a Londres* had travelled hither.
There is no knowing what he did not see : he saw the
barge of the Queen pulling to Greenwich, whither Her
Majesty was going to manger un excellent sandwidg ; he
saw the bateaux of the b/anchissewes on the river ; and
with these and a hundred similar traits, he strove to paint
our manners in behalf of his countrymen.

I was led into the above and indeed the ensuing
reflections, by reading an article in the Times newspaper
last week, on Citizen Ledru Rollin's work on the
decadence of this unhappy country ; and by a subsequent
reference to the work itself. That great citizen
protests that he has cracked the British nut, and having
broken his grinders at it, pronounces the kernel utterly
poisonous, bitter, and rotten. No man since the days of
Pittetcobourg has probably cursed us with a more hearty
ill-will not O'Connell himself (whom the ex-tribune
heartily curses and abuses too) abused us more in his
best days. An enthusiastic malevolence, a happy instinct
for blundering, an eye that naturally distorts the objects
which its bloodshot glances rest upon, and a fine natural
ignorance, distinguish the prophet who came among
us when his own country was too hot to hold him, and
who bellows out to us his predictions of hatred and ruin.
England is an assassin and corrupter (roars our friend) :
it has nailed Ireland to the cross (this is a favourite image
of the orator ; he said, two years ago in Paris, that he
was nailed to the cross for the purpose of saving the
nation !) ; that, while in France the press is an apostle-
ship, in England it is a business ; that the Church is a
vast aristocratic corruption, the Prelate of Canterbury
having three million francs of revenue, and the Bishop of
Hawkins having died worth six millions two hundred
and fifty thousand ; that the commercial aristocracy is
an accursed power, making * Rule Britannia ' resound in
distant seas, from the height of its victorious masts; and
so forth. I am not going to enter into an argument or


quarrel with the accuracy of details so curious my
purpose in writing is that of friendly negotiator and
interposer of good offices, and my object eminently

But though a man paints an odious picture, and writes
beneath it, as the boys do, 'This is England,' that is no
reason that the portrait should be like. Mr. Spec, for
instance, who tried to draw Erminia as a figure-head for
the Proser of last week, made a face which was no more
like hers than it was like mine ; and how should he,
being himself but a wretched performer, and having only
once seen the young lady, at an exhibition, where I
pointed her out ? As with Spec and Erminia, so with
Ledru and Britannia. I doubt whether the Frenchman
has ever seen at all the dear old country of ours which he
reviles, and curses, and abuses.

How is Ledru to see England ? We may wager that
he does not know a word of the language, any more
than nine hundred and ninety-nine of a thousand French-
men. What do they want with Jordan when they have
Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, which they
consider to be the finest and most cleansing waters of the
world ? In the reader's acquaintance with Frenchmen,
how many does he know who can speak our language
decently ? I have for my part, and for example, seen
many of the refugees whom the troubles of '48 sent over
among us, and not met one who, in the couple of years'
residence, has taken the trouble to learn our language
tolerably, who can understand it accurately when spoken,
much more express himself in it with any fluency. And
without any knowledge of Mr. Rollin, who blunders in
every page of his book, who does not make the least
allusion to our literature, one may pretty surely argue
that this interesting exile does not know our language,
and could not construe, without enormous errors, any
half-a-dozen sentences in the Times. When Macaulay
was busy with his great chapters on King William, he


thoroughly learned Dutch, in order to understand, and
have at first-hand, the despatches of the Prince of Orange.
Have you heard of many Frenchmen swallowing a
language or two before they thought of producing
a history ? Can Thiers read a page of Napier ? No
more than Ledru can, or communicate in our native
language with any Englishman, of any party, from Lord
John Manners to Mr. Julian Harney.

How many houses has Ledru visited of the ruffian
aristocrats who are plundering the people, of the priests
who are cheating them, of the middle classes who are
leagued with the aristocracy, or of the people themselves ?
Is he intimate with any three English families ? with any
single nobleman, with any one parson, tradesman, or
working man ? He quotes a great mass of evidence
against England from the Morning Chronicle : did he
translate from the Chronicle himself, or get a secretary ?
Can he translate ? If he will, without the aid of a
dictionary, sit down in our office, and translate this
paper fairly into French, he shall have the last volume of
Punch, gilt, and presented to him gratis.

The chances are that this exile never sees our society
at all ; that he gets his dinner at a French table-d'hdte^
where other unfortunates of his nation meet and eat and
grumble ; that he goes to a French cafe, or coffee-shop
used by Frenchmen to read the French newspapers ;
that he buys his cigars at a French house ; that he takes
his walk between the Quadrant and Leicester Square ;
that he takes his amusement at the French play, or at an
hotel in Leicester Place where there is a billiard- and a
smoking-room, and where the whiskered Red men can
meet and curse finf&me Angleterre.

Marius sitting in the ruins of Carthage and scowling
on his pursuers, is a grand figure enough ; but a French
tribune looking upon our Carthage, standing alone we
may fancy against the desolate statue yonder in Leicester
Square, is the most dismal, absurd, ludicrous image


imaginable. * Thou hireling soldier ' (says he, folding
his arms against the statue and knitting his brows with
an awful air), l thou shuddering Cimbrian slave, tell thy
master that thou hast seen Caius Marius, banished and a
fugitive, seated on the ruins of,' &c. The minion of
despots whom he addresses does not care in the least
about his scowls, or his folded arms, or his speech ; not
he Policeman X points with his staff, thinks within
himself that it's only a Frenchman, and tells him to
move on.

To an exile of this sort what a daily humiliation
London must be ! How small he appears amongst the
two millions ! Who the deuce cares for him ? The
Government does not even pay him the compliment of
the slightest persecution, or set so much as a spy or a
policeman as a guard of honour at his door. Every man
he meets of the two millions has his own business to
mind. Yonder man can't attend to Marius : he is
Chowler, and has got to * chaw up ' Peel. The next
can't listen : he is Cobden, who is so pressed that he
cannot even receive Captain Aaron Smith, who has
something particular to say to him. A third is engaged :
it is Lord Ashley, who has the bettering of the working
classes at heart, and the model houses to visit. A fourth
gives Marius a little sympathy, but must pass on : it is
Mr. G. W. M. Reynolds, Author of c The Mysteries of
London' and 'The People's Instructor,' who is going to
beard Lord John at the meeting, and ask his Lordship
what his Lordship is going to do for the millions ? One
and all they have their own affairs to mind. Who cares
about Marius ? Get along, Marius, and play a pool at
billiards, and smoke a cigar, and curse England to the
other braves. Move on, Marius, and don't block up the


As you sit in the great drawing-room at the Megatherium,
or any other club, I dare say you will remark that as
each man passes the great mirror in the middle room, be
he ever so handsome or homely, so well or ill dressed, so
hurried or busy, he nevertheless has time for a good
survey of himself in the glass, and a deliberate examina-
tion of his clothes and person. He is anxious to know
what the glass thinks of him. We are anxious to know
what all reflective persons think of us. Hence our
constant pleasure in reading books of travel by foreigners :
by Hadji Babas and Persian Princes ; by Ledru Rollins
or German philosophers ; by Americans who come to
England ; and the like. If the black gentleman in St.
Paul's Churchyard, who was called away from his broom
the other day, and lifted up into the Nepaulese General's
carriage in the quality of interpreter, writes his account
of London life, its crossings and sweepings, I have no
doubt we shall all read it ; and as for the Americans, I
think a smart publisher might bring over a traveller
from the States every season at least, so constant is our
curiosity regarding ourselves, so pleased are we to hear
ourselves spoken of, of such an unfailing interest are We
to Us.

Thus, after reading Ledru Rollings book the other
day, and taking the dismal view supplied of ourselves by
that cracked and warped and dingy old estaminet
looking-glass, I, for one, was glad to survey my person
in such a bright and elegant New York mirror as that
of Mr. Parker Willis ; and seized eagerly, at a railway
station, upon a new volume by that gentleman, bearing
the fascinating title of c People I have Met.' Parker



Willis is no other than that famous and clever N. P.
Willis of former days, whose reminiscences have
delighted so many of us, and in whose company one is
always sure to find amusement of some sort or the other.
Sometimes it is amusement at the writer's wit and
smartness, his brilliant descriptions, and wondrous flow
and rattle of spirits ; sometimes it is wicked amusement,
and, it must be confessed, at Willis's own expense
amusement at the immensity of N. P.'s blunders,
amusement at the prodigiousness of his self-esteem ;
amusement always, with him or at him ; with or at
Willis the poet, Willis the man, Willis the dandy,
Willis the lover now the Broadway Crichton, once the
ruler of fashion, and heart-enslaver of Bond Street, and
the Boulevard, and the Corso and the Chiaja, and the
Constantinople Bazaar. It is well for the general peace
of families that the world does not produce many such
men ; there would be no keeping our wives and daughters
in their senses were such fascinators to make frequent
apparitions amongst us ; but it is comfortable that there
should have been a Willis ; and (since the appearance of
the Proser) a literary man myself, and anxious for the
honour of that profession, I am proud to think that a
man of our calling should have come, should have seen,
should have conquered, as Willis has done.

* There is more or less of truth,' he nobly says, * in
every one of the stories' which he narrates here in
1 People I have Met ' more or less, to be sure there is
and it is on account of this more or less of truth that
I, for my part, love and applaud this hero and poet so ;
and recommend every man who reads Punch to lay out a
shilling and read Willis. We live in our country and
don't know it : Willis walks into it and dominates it at
once. To know a Duchess, for instance, is given to
very few of us. He sees things that are not given to us
to see. We see the Duchess pass by in her carriage, and
gaze with much reverence on the strawberry leaves on


the panels and her Grace within : whereas the odds are
that that lovely Duchess has had one time or the other a
desperate flirtation with Willis the Conqueror : perhaps
she is thinking of him at this very minute as her jewelled
hand presses her perfumed cambric handkerchief to her
fair and coroneted brow, and she languidly stops to
purchase a ruby bracelet at Gunter's, or to sip an ice at
Howell and James's. He must have whole mattresses
stuffed with the blonde, or raven, or auburn memories of
England's fairest daughters. When the female English
aristocracy read this title of * People I have Met,' I can
fancy the whole female peerage of Willis's time in a
shudder : and the melancholy Marchioness, and the
abandoned Countess, and the heart-stricken Baroness,
trembling as each gets the volume, and asking of her
guilty conscience, ' Gracious goodness! is the monster
going to show up me? '

'The greater number of his stories,' Willis says,
' embody such passages in the personal history of the
eminent men and women of Europe as the author came
to the knowledge of, by conversance with the circles in
which they moved' and this is the point, rather than
their own liveliness, elegance of style, and intrinsic
merit, which makes them so valuable to English readers.
We can't hope for the facilities accorded to him. As at
Paris, by merely exhibiting his passport, a foreigner will
walk straight into an exhibition, which is only visible to
a native on certain days in the year ; so with English
aristocratic society, to be admitted into that Elysium
you had best be a stranger. Indeed, how should it be
otherwise ? A lady of fashion, however benevolently
disposed, can't ask everybody to her house in Grosvenor
Square or Carlton Gardens. Say there are five hundred
thousand people in London (a moderate calculation) who
have heard of Lady P.'s Saturday evening parties and
would like to attend them : where could her Ladyship
put the thousandth part of them ? We on the outside


must be content to hear at second-hand of the pleasures
which the initiated enjoy.

With strangers it is different, and they claim and get
admittance as strangers. Here, for instance, is an
account of one Brown, an American (though, under that
modest mask of Brown, I can't help fancying that I see
the features of an N. P. W. himself) : Brown arrived in
London with a budget of introductions like the postman's
bag on Valentine's Day ; he ' began with a most noble
Duke' (the sly rogue), and, of course, was quickly * on
the dinner-list of most of the patricians of Mayfair.'

' As I was calling myself to account the other day over my
breakfast,' said Brown, filling his glass, and pushing the bottle,
' it occurred to me that my round of engagements required
some little variation. There's a foujours perdrix, even among
lords and ladies, particularly when you belong as much to
their sphere, and are as likely to become a part of it, as the
fly revolving in aristocratic dust on the wheel of my Lord's
carriage. I thought, perhaps, I had better see some other
sort of people.

* I had, under a presse-papier on the table, about a hundred
letters of introduction the condemned remainder, after the
selection, by advice, of four or five only. I determined to
cut this heap like a pack of cards and follow up the trump.

'" JOHN MIMPSON, Esquire, House of Mimpson and Phipps,
Mark Lane, Londtn"

'The gods had devoted me to the acquaintance of Mr. (and
probably Mrs.) John Mimpson.'

After a ' dialogue of accost,' Brown produced his
introductory letter to Mimpson, whom he finely
describes as having { that highly-washed look peculiar to
London City men ; ' and Mimpson asked Brown to
lunch and sleep at his villa at Hampstead the next day,
whither the American accordingly went in a 'poshay'
with 'a pair of Newman's posters.' Brown might, as
he owns, have performed this journey in an omnibus for


sixpence, whereas the chaise would cost four dollars at
least ; but the stranger preferred the more costly and
obsolete contrivance.

'Mrs. Mimpson was in the garden. The dashing footman
who gave me the information led me through a superb draw-
ing-room, and out at a glass door upon the lawn, and left me
to make my own way to the lady's presence.

* It was a delicious spot, and 1 should have been very glad
to ramble about by myself till dinner ; but, at a turn in the
grand walk, I came suddenly upon two ladies.

'I made my bow, and begged leave to introduce myself as
" Mr. Brown."

* With a very slight inclination of the head, and no smile
whatever, one of the ladies asked me if I had walked from
town, and begged her companion (without introducing me to
her) to show me in to lunch. The spokester was a stout
and tall woman, who had rather an aristocratic nose, and was
not handsome ; but, to give her her due, she had made a
narrow escape of it. She was dressed very showily, and
evidently had great pretensions ; but that she was not at all
glad to see Mr. Brown was as apparent as was at all necessary.
As the other and younger lady who was to accompany me,
however, was very pretty, though dressed very plainly, and
had, withal, a look in her eye which assured me she was
amused with my unwelcome apparition, I determined, as I
should not otherwise have done, to stay it out, and accepted
her convoy with submissive civility very much inclined,
however, to be impudent to somebody, somehow.

* The lunch was on a tray in a side room, and I rang the
bell and ordered a bottle of champagne. The servant looked
surprised, but brought it, and meantime I was getting through
the weather, and the other commonplaces, and the lady,
saying little, was watching me very calmly. I liked her
looks, however, and was sure she was not a Mimpson.

* " Hand this to Miss Armstrong," said I to the footman,
pouring out a glass of champagne.

' " Miss Bellamy, you mean, sir,"

'I rose and bowed, and, with as grave a courtesy as I
could command, expressed my pleasure at my first introduc-


tion to Miss Bellamy through Thomas the footman ! Miss
Bellamy burst into a laugh, and was pleased to compliment
my American manners, and in ten minutes we were a very
merry pair of friends, and she accepted my arm for a stroll
through the grounds, carefully avoiding the frigid neighbour-
hood of Mrs. Mimpson.'

There's a rascal for you ! He enters a house, is
received coolly by the mistress (and if Mrs. Mimpson
had to receive every Brown in London ye gods ! what
was she to do ?), walks into chicken fixings in a side
room, and, not content with Mimpson's sherry, calls for
a bottle of champagne not for a glass of champagne,
but for a bottle ; he catches hold of it and pours out for
himself, the rogue, and for Miss Bellamy, to whom
Thomas introduces him. And this upon an introduction
of five years' date, from one mercantile man to another ;
upon an introduction, one of a thousand which lucky
Brown possesses, and on the strength of which Brown
sneers at Mimpson, sneers at Mrs. M., sneers at M.'s
sherry, makes a footman introduce him to a lady, and
consumes a bottle of champagne ! Come, Brown ! you
are a stranger, and on the dinner-list of most of the
patricians of Mayfair ; but isn't this un peufort, my boy ?
If Mrs. Mimpson, who is described as a haughty lady,
fourth cousin of a Scotch Earl, and marrying M. for his
money merely, had suspicions regarding the conduct of
her husband's friends, don't you see that this sort of
behaviour on your part, my dear Brown, was not likely
to do away with Mrs. M.'s little prejudices ? I should
not like a stranger to enter my house, pooh-pooh my
Marsala, order my servant about, and desire an intro-
duction to my daughter through him ; and deferentially
think, Brown, that you had no right to be impudent
somehow to somebody, as in this instance you certainly

The upshot of the story is, that Mrs. M. was dying to


take her daughter to Almack's, for which place of
entertainment Brown, through one of the patronesses,
Lady X, * the best friend he has,' could get as many
tickets as he wished ; and that, to punish Mrs. Mimpson
for her rudeness, and reward Miss Bellamy for her kind-
ness, Brown got tickets for Miss Bellamy and her
mamma, and would get never a ticket for Miss Mimpson
and hers a wonderful story truly, and with a wonderful


MY rising young friend Hitchings, the author of
* Randolph the Robber,' * The Murderers of Mayfair,'
and other romances, and one of the chief writers in the
Lictor newspaper a highly liberal, nay, seven-leagued-
boots progressional journal, was discoursing with the
writer of the present lines upon the queer decision to
which the French Assembly has come, and which
enforces a signature henceforth to all the leading articles
in the French papers. As an act of government, Hitch-
ings said he thought the measure most absurd and
tyrannous, but he was not sorry for it, as it would
infallibly increase the importance of the profession of
letters, to which we both belonged. The man of letters
will no longer be the anonymous slave of the newspaper-
press proprietor, Hitchings said ; the man of letters will
no longer be used and flung aside in his old days ; he
will be rewarded according to his merits, and have the
chance of making himself a name. And then Hitchings
spoke with great fervour regarding the depressed con-
dition of literary men, and said the time was coming
when their merits would get them their own.


On this latter subject, which is a favourite one with
many gentlemen of our profession, I, for one, am con-
fessedly incredulous. I am resolved not to consider
myself a martyr. I never knew a man who had written
a good book (unless, indeed, it were a Barrister with
Attorneys) hurt his position in society by having done
so. On the contrary, a clever writer, with decent
manners and conduct, makes more friends than any
other man. And I do not believe (parenthetically) that
it will make much difference to my friend Hitchings
whether his name is affixed to one, twenty, or two
thousand articles of his composition. But what would
happen in England if such a regulation as that just
passed in France were to become law ; and the House
of Commons omnipotent, which can shut up our parks

Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 19 of 31)