William Makepeace Thackeray.

Complete works (Volume 22) online

. (page 29 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 29 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

becomes a man of Macbeth s mountainous habits ; it
leaves his legs quite free, to run whithersoever he pleases
whether to the stables, to look at the animals to the
farm, to see the pig that has been slaughtered that
morning to the garden, to examine whether that
scoundrel of a John Hoskins has dug up the potato-bed
to the nursery, to have a romp with the little Macbeths
that are spluttering and quarrelling over their porridge
or whither you will. A man in a jacket is fit com-
pany for anybody ; there is no shame about it as about
being seen in a changed coat ; it is simple, steady, and
straightforward. It is, as I have stated, all over pockets,
which contain everything you want ; in one, your
buttons, hammer, small nails, thread, twine, and cloth-
strips for the trees on the south wall ; in another, your
dog-whip and whistle, your knife, cigar-case, gingerbread
for the children, paper of Epsom salts for John Hoskins's
mother, who is mortal bad and so on : there is no end
to the pockets, and to the things you put in them.
Walk about in your jacket, and meet what person you


will, you assume at once an independent air; and,
thrusting your hands into the receptacle that flaps over
each hip, look the visitor in the face, and talk to the
ladies on a footing of perfect equality. Whereas, look
at the sneaking way in which a man caught in a dressing-
gown, in loose bagging trousers most likely (for the man
who has a dressing-gown, has, two to one, no braces),
and in shuffling slippers see how he whisks his dressing-
gown over his legs, and looks ashamed and uneasy. His
lanky hair hangs over his blowsy, fat, shining, unhealthy
face ; his bristly dumpling-shaped double-chin peers over
a flaccid shirt-collar ; the sleeves of his gown are in rags,
and you see underneath a pair of black wristbands, and
the rim of a dingy flannel waistcoat.

A man who is not strictly neat in his person is not
an honest man. I shall not enter into this very ticklish
subject of personal purification and neatness, because
this essay will be read by hundreds of thousands of ladies
as well as men ; and for the former I would wish to
provide nothing but pleasure. Men may listen to stern
truths ; but for ladies one should only speak verities
that are sparkling, rosy, brisk, and agreeable. A man
who wears a dressing-gown is not neat in his person ;
his moral character takes invariably some of the
slatternliness and looseness of his costume ; he becomes
enervated, lazy, incapable of great actions ; a man IN
A JACKET is a man. All great men wore jackets.
Walter Scott wore a jacket, as everybody knows ;
Byron wore a jacket (not that I count a man who turns
down his collars for much) ; I have a picture of
Napoleon in a jacket at Saint Helena ; Thomas Carlyle
wears a jacket ; Lord John Russell always mounts a
jacket on arriving at the Colonial Office ; and if I have
a single fault to find with that popular writer, the

author of never mind what, you know his name as

well as I, it is that he is in the habit of composing his
works in a large-flowered damask dressing-gown, and


morocco slippers ; whereas, in a jacket he would write
you off something, not so flowery, if you please, but
of honest texture, something not so long, but terse,
modest, and comfortable, no great, long, strealing
tails of periods, no staring peonies and hollyhocks of
illustrations, no flaring cords and tassels of episodes,
no great, dirty, wadded sleeves of sentiment, ragged at
the elbows and cuffs, and mopping up everything that
comes in their way, cigar-ashes, ink, candle-wax, cold
brandy and water, coffee, or whatever aids to the brain
he may employ as a literary man ; not to mention the
quantity of tooth-powder, whisker-dye, soapsuds, and
pomatum that the same garment receives in the course
of the toilets at which it assists. Let all literary men,
then, get jackets. I prefer them without tails ; but do
not let this interfere with another man's pleasure : he
may have tails if he likes, and I for one will never say
him nay.

Like all things, however, jackets are subject to
abuse ; and the pertness and conceit of those jackets
cannot be sufficiently reprehended which one sees on
the backs of men at watering-places, with a telescope
poking out of one pocket, and a yellow bandanna
flaunting from the other. Nothing is more contempt-
ible than Tims in a jacket, with a blue bird's-eye neck-
handkerchief tied sailor-fashion, puffing smoke like a
steamer, with his great broad orbicular stern shining in
the sun. I always long to give the wretch a smart
smack upon that part where his coat-tails ought to be,
and advise him to get into a more decent costume.
There is an age and a figure for jackets ; those who are
of a certain build should not wear them in public.
Witness fat officers of the dragoon-guards that one has
seen bumping up and down the Steyne, at Brighton, on
their great chargers, with a laced and embroidered coat,
a cartridge-box, or whatever you call it, of the size of a
twopenny loaf, placed on the small of their backs, if


their backs may be said to have a small, and two little
twinkling abortions of tails pointing downwards to the
enormity jolting in the saddle. Officers should be
occasionally measured, and after passing a certain width,
should be drafted into other regiments, or allowed
nay, ordered to wear frock-coats.

The French tailors make frock-coats very well, but
the people who wear them have the disgusting habit of
wearing stays, than which nothing can be more unbe-
coming the dignity of man. Look what a waist the
Apollo has, not above four inches less in the girth than
the chest is. Look, ladies, at the waist of the Venus,
and pray, pray do not pinch in your dear little ribs in
that odious and unseemly way. In a young man a slim
waist is very well ; and if he looks like the Eddystone
lighthouse, it is as nature intended him to look. A man
of certain age may be built like a tower, stalwart and
straight. Then a man's middle may expand from the
pure cylindrical to the barrel shape ; well, let him be
content. Nothing is so horrid as a fat man with a
band ; an hour glass is a most mean and ungracious
figure. Daniel Lambert is ungracious, but not mean.
One meets with some men who look in their frock-coats
perfectly sordid, sneaking, and ungentlemanlike, who if
you see them dressed for an evening have a slim, easy,
almost fashionable, appearance. Set these persons down
as fellows of poor spirit and milksops. Stiff white ties and
waistcoats, prim straight tails, and a gold chain will give
any man of moderate lankiness an air of factitious gen-
tility ; but if you want to understand the individual, look
at him in the daytime ; see him walking with his hat
on. There is a great deal in the build and wearing of
hats, a great deal more than at first meets the eye. I
know a man who in a particular hat looked so extra-
ordinarily like a man of property, that no tradesman on
earth could refuse to give him credit. It was one of
Andre's, and cost a guinea and a half ready money ; but


the person in question was frightened at the enormous
charge, and afterwards purchased beavers in the City
at the cost of seventeen-and-sixpence. And what
was the consequence? He fell off in public estimation,
and very soon after he came out in his City hat it
began to be whispered abroad that he was a ruined

A blue coat is, after all, the best ; but a gentleman of
my acquaintance has made his fortune by an Oxford
mixture, of all colours in the world, with a pair of white
buckskin gloves. He looks as if he had just got off his
horse, and as if he had three thousand a year in the
country. There is a kind of proud humility in an
Oxford mixture. Velvet collars, and all such gimcracks,
had best be avoided by sober people. This paper is not
written for drivelling dandies, but for honest men.
There is a great deal of philosophy and forethought in
Sir Robert Peel's dress ; he does not wear those white
waistcoats for nothing. I say that O'Connell's costume
is likewise that of a profound rhetorician, slouching and
careless as it seems. Lord Melbourne's air of reckless,
good - humoured, don't - care - a - damnativeness is not
obtained without an effort. Look at the Duke as he
passes along in that stern little straight frock and plaid
breeches ; look at him, and off with your hat ! How
much is there in that little grey coat of Napoleon's ! A
spice of clap-trap and dandyism, no doubt ; but we must
remember the country which he had to govern. I
never see a picture of George III. in his old stout
Windsor uniform without feeling a respect ; or of
George IV., breeches and silk stockings, a wig, a sham
smile, a frog frock-coat and a fur collar, without that
proper degree of reverence which such a costume should
inspire. The coat is the expression of the man, oiri<rtp
^uXXwn, &c. ; and as the peach-tree throws out peach-
leaves, the pear-tree pear ditto, as old George appeared
invested in the sober old garment of blue and red, so did


young George in oiled wigs, fur collars, stays, and
braided surtouts, according to his nature.

Enough, enough ; and may these thoughts, arising
in the writer's mind from the possession of a new coat,
which circumstance caused him to think not only of
new coats but of old ones, and of coats neither old or
new, and not of coats merely, but of men, may these
thoughts so inspired answer the purpose for which they
have been set down on paper, and which is not a silly
wish to instruct mankind, no, no ; but an honest
desire to pay a deserving tradesman whose confidence
supplied the garment in question.

PENTONVILLE : April 25, 1841.


I WAS recently talking in a very touching and poetical
strain about the above delicate fish to my friend Foozle
and some others at the Club, and expatiating upon the
excellence of the dinner which our little friend Guttle-
bury had given us : when Foozle, looking round about
him with an air of triumph and immense wisdom,

4 I'll tell you what, Wagstaff, I'm a plain man, and
despise all your gormandising and kickshaws. I don't
know the difference between one of your absurd made
dishes and another give me a plain cut of mutton or
beef. I'm a plain Englishman, I am, and no glutton.'

Foozle, I say, thought this speech a terrible set-down
for me and indeed acted up to his principles you may
see him any day at six sitting down before a great
reeking joint of meat ; his eyes quivering, his face red,
and he cutting great smoking red collops out of the beef


before him, which he devours with corresponding
quantities of cabbage and potatoes, and the other gratis
luxuries of the club-table.

What I complain of is, not that the man should enjoy
his great meal of steaming beef; let him be happy over
that as much as the beef he is devouring was in life
happy over oil-cakes or mangel-wurzel : but I hate the
fellow's brutal self-complacency, and his scorn of other
people who have different tastes from his. A man who
brags regarding himself, that whatever he swallows is
the same to him, and that his coarse palate recognises
no difference between venison and turtle, pudding, or
mutton-broth, as his indifferent jaws close over them,
brags about a personal defect the wretch and not
about a virtue. It is like a man boasting that he has no
ear for music, or no eye for colour, or that his nose
cannot scent the difference between a rose and a cabbage
I say, as a general rule, set that man down as a con-
ceited fellow who swaggers about not caring for his

Why shouldn't we care about it ? Was eating not
made to be a pleasure to us ? Yes, I say, a daily
pleasure : a sweet solamen : a pleasure familiar, yet ever
new, the same and yet how different ! It is one of the
causes of domesticity : the neat dinner makes the husband
pleased, the housewife happy, the children consequently
are well brought up and love their papa and mamma.
A good dinner is the centre of the circle of the social
sympathies it warms acquaintanceship into friendship
it maintains that friendship comfortably unimpaired :
enemies meet over it and are reconciled. How many of
you, dear friends, has that late bottle of claret warmed
into affectionate forgiveness, tender recollections of old
times, and ardent glowing anticipations of new ! The
brain is a tremendous secret. I believe some chemist
will arise anon, who will know how to doctor the brain
as they do the body now, as Liebig doctors the ground.


They will apply certain medicines, and produce crops of
certain qualities that are lying dormant now for want of
intellectual guano. But this is a subject for future
speculation a parenthesis growing out of another
parenthesis. What I would urge especially here is a
point which must be familiar to every person accustomed
to cat good dinners viz., the noble and friendly qualities
that they elicit. How is it we cut such jokes over
them ? How is it we become so remarkably friendly ?
How is it that some of us, inspired by a good dinner,
have sudden gusts of genius unknown in the quiet un-
festive state ? Some men make speeches, some shake
their neighbour by the hand, and invite him or them-
selves to dine some sing prodigiously my friend
Saladin, for instance, goes home, he says, with the most
beautiful harmonies ringing in his ears ; and I, for my
part, will take any given tune, and make variations upon
it for any given period of hours, greatly, no doubt, to
the delight of all hearers. These are only temporary
inspirations given us by the jolly genius, but are they to
be despised on that account ? No. Good dinners have
been the greatest vehicles of benevolence since man
began to eat.

A taste for good living, then, is praiseworthy in modera-
tion like all the other qualities and endowments of man.
If a man were to neglect his family or his business
on account of his love for the fiddle or the fine arts he
would commit just the crime that the dinner-sensualist
is guilty of : but to enjoy wisely is a maxim of which
no man need be ashamed. But if you cannot eat a
dinner of herbs as well as a stalled ox, then you are an
unfortunate man your love for good dinners has passed
the wholesome boundary, and degenerated into gluttony.

Oh, shall I ever forget the sight of the only City
dinner I ever attended in my life at the hall of the
Right Worshipful Company of Chimney-sweepers it
was in May, and a remarkable late pea-season ? The


hall was decorated with banners and escutcheons of
deceased chummies martial music resounded from the
balconies as the Master of the Company and the great
ones marched in. We sat down, grace was said, the
tureen-covers removed, and instantly a silence in the
hall a breathless silence and then a great gurgle !
grwlwlwlw it sounded like. The worshipful Company
were sucking in the turtle ! Then came the venison,
and with it were two hundred quarts of peas, at five
and-twenty shillings a quart oh, my heart sank within
me as we devoured the green ones ! as the old waddling,
trembling, winking citizens held out their plates quiver-
ing with anxiety, and, said Mr. Jones, 4 A little bit of
the f-f-fat, another spoonful of the p-p-pe-as* and
they swallowed them down, the prematurely born
children of the spring and there were thousands in
London that day without bread.

This is growing serious and is a long grace before
whitebait to be sure but at a whitebait dinner, haven't
you remarked that you take a number of dishes first ?
In the first place, water-souchy, soochy, or soojy
flounder-souchy is incomparably, exquisitely the best
perch is muddy, bony, and tough ; compared to it, slips
are coarse ; and salmon perhaps salmon is next to the
flounder. You hear many people exclaim against
flounder-souchy I dined with Jorrocks, Sangsue, the
Professor, and one or two more, only the other day,
and they all voted it tasteless. Tasteless! ! It has an
almost angelic delicacy of flavour : it is as fresh as the
recollections of childhood it wants a Correggio's
pencil to describe it with sufficient tenderness.

* If a flounder had two backs? Saladin said at the * Star
and Garter' the other day, c it would be divine ! '

Foolish man, whither will your wild desires carry
you ? As he is, a flounder is a perfect being. And the
best reply to those people who talk about its tasteless-


ness, is to say, 4 Yes,' and draw over the tureen to
yourself, and never leave it while a single slice of brown
bread remains beside it, or a single silver-breasted fishlet
floats in the yellow parsley-flavoured wave.

About eels, salmon, lobsters, either au gratin or in
cutlets, and about the variety of sauces Genevese
sauce, Indian sauce (a strong but agreeable compound),
&c., I don't think it is necessary to speak. The slimy
eel is found elsewhere than in the stream of Thames (I
have tasted him charmingly matelotted with mushrooms
and onions, at the * Marronniers' at Passy), the lusty
salmon flaps in other waters by the fair tree-clad banks
of Lismore by the hospitable margin of Ballynahinch
by the beauteous shores of Wye and on the sandy
flats of Scheveningen, I have eaten and loved him. I
do not generally eat him at Greenwich. Not that he
is not good. But he is not good in such a place. It is
like Mrs. Siddons dancing a hornpipe, or a chapter of
Burke in a novel the salmon is too vast for Greenwich.

I would say the same, and more, regarding turtle. It
has no business in such a feast as that fresh and simple
one provided at the * Trafalgar ' or the * Old Ship.' It
is indecorous somehow to serve it in that company. A
fine large lively turtle, and a poor little whitebait by
his side ! Ah, it is wrong to place them by each other.

At last we come to the bait the twelve dishes of
preparatory fish are removed, the Indian-sauced salmon
has been attacked in spite of our prohibition, the stewed
eels have been mauled, and the flounder-soup tureen is
empty. All those receptacles of pleasure are removed
eyes turned eagerly to the door, and enter

Mr. Derbyshire (with a silver dish of whitebait).
John (brown bread and butter).
Samuel (lemons and cayenne).
Frederick (a dish of whitebait).
Gustavus (brown bread and butter).


Adolphus (whitebait).

A waiter with a napkin, which he flaps about the
room in an easy dtgage manner.

' There's plenty more to follow, sir,' says Mr. D., whisk-
ing off the cover. Frederick and Adolphus pass rapidly
round with their dishes ; John and Gustavus place their
refreshments on the table, and Samuel obsequiously
insinuates the condiments under his charge.

Ah ! he must have had a fine mind who first invented
brown bread and butter with whitebait ! That man
was a kind, modest, gentle benefactor to his kind. We
don't recognise sufficiently the merits of those men who
leave us such quiet benefactions. A statue ought to
be put up to the philosopher who joined together this
charming couple. Who was it ? Perhaps it was done
by the astronomer at Greenwich, who observed it when
seeking for some other discovery. If it were the
astronomer why, the next time we go to Greenwich
we will go into the Park and ascend the hill, and pay
our respects to the Observatory.

That, by the way, is another peculiarity about
Greenwich. People leave town, and say they will walk
in the Park before dinner. But we never do. We
may suppose there is a Park from seeing trees ; but
we have never entered it. We walk wistfully up and
down on the terrace before the Hospital, looking at the
clock a great many times ; at the brown old seamen
basking in the sun ; at the craft on the river ; at the
nursery-maids mayhap, and the gambols of the shrill-
voiced Jacks-ashore on the beach. But the truth is,
one's thinking of something else all the time. Of the
bait. Remark how silent fellows are on steamboats
going down to Greenwich. They won't acknowledge
it, but they are thinking of what I tell you.

Well, when the whitebait does come, what is it after
all ? Come now. Tell us, my dear sir, your real senti-
ments about this fish, this little little fish about which


we all make such a noise ! There it lies. Lemon it,
pepper it ; pop it into your mouth and 'what then?
a crisp crunch and it is gone. Does it realise your
expectations is it better than anything you ever
tasted ? Is it as good as raspberry open tarts used to
be at school ? Come, upon your honour and conscience
now, is it better than a fresh dish of tittlebacks or
gudgeons ?

O fool, to pry with too curious eye into these secrets !
O blunderer, to wish to dash down a fair image because
it may be of plaster ! O dull philosopher, not to know
that pursuit is pleasure, and possession worthless without
it ! I, for my part, never will, as long as I live, put
to myself that question about whitebait. Whitebait is
a butterfly of the waters and as the animal mentioned
by Lord Byron invites the young pursuer near, and leads
him through thy fields Cashmere as it carries him in
his chase through a thousand agreeable paths scented
with violets, sparkling with sunshine, with beauty to
feast his eyes, and health in the air let the right-
thinking man be content with the pursuit, nor inquire
too curiously about the object. How many hunters get
the brush of the fox ? and what, when gotten, is the
worth of that tawny wisp of hair ?

Whitebait, then, is only a little means for acquiring
a great deal of pleasure. Somehow, it is always allied
with sunshine : it is always accompanied by jolly friends
and good-humour. You rush after that little fish, and
leave the cares of London behind you the row and
struggle, the foggy darkness, the slippery pavement
where every man jostles you, striding on his way pre-
occupied, with care written on his brow. Look out of
the window, the sky is tinted with a thousand glorious
hues the ships pass silent over the blue glittering
waters there is no object within sight that is not calm,
and happy, and beautiful. Yes ! turn your head a little
and there lie the towers of London in the dim smoky


sunset. There lie Care, Labour, To-morrow. Friends,
let us have another glass of claret, and thank our luck
that we have still to-day.

On thinking over the various whitebait dinners which
have fallen to our lot in the last month somehow you
are sure to find the remembrance of them all pleasant.
I have seen some wretches taking whitebait and /<</,
which has always inspired me with a sort of terror, and
a yearning to go up to the miserable object so employed,
and say, * My good friend, here is a crown-piece ; have
a bottle of iced punch, or a tankard of delicious cider-
cup but not tea, dear sir ; no, no, not tea ; you can
get that at home there's no exhilaration in congo. It
was not made to be drunk on holidays.' Those people
are unworthy of the 'Ship* I don't wish to quarrel
with the enjoyments of any man ; but fellows who take
tea and whitebait should not be allowed to damp the
festive feelings of persons better engaged. They should
be consigned to the smiling damsels whom one meets
on the walk to Mr. Derbyshire's, who issue from dingy
tenements no bigger than houses in a pantomime, and
who, whatever may be the rank of the individual, persist
in saying, 'Tea, sir I can accommodate your party tea,
sir, srimps ? '

About the frequenters of Greenwich and the various
classes of ichthyophagi, many volumes might be written.
All classes of English Christians, with the exception of
Her Majesty and Prince Albert (and the more is the
pity that their exalted rank deprives them of an amuse-
ment so charming !) frequent the hospitable taverns
the most celebrated gormandiser and the very humble.
There are the annual Ministerial Saturnalia, which,
whenever I am called in by Her Majesty, I shall have
great pleasure in describing in these pages, and in which
the lowest becomes the highest for the occasion, and
Taper and Tadpole take just as high a rank as Lord
Eskdale or Lord Monmouth. There are the private


banquets in which Lord Monmouth diverts himself with
his friends from the little French but this subject has
been already touched upon at much length. There are
the lawyers' dinners, when Sir Frederick or Sir William
is advanced to the honour of the bench or the attorney-

Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 29 of 31)