Изображения страниц

Like Dickens, he has a reverence for the family, for tender and simple sentiments, calm and pure contentments, such as are relished by the fireside between a child and a wife. When this misanthrope, so reflective and harsh, lights upon a filial effusion or a maternal grief, he is wounded in a sensitive place, and, like Dickens, he makes us weep.*

We have enemies because we have friends, and aversions because we have preferences. If we prefer devoted kindliness and tender affections, we dislike arrogance and harshness; the cause of love is also the cause of hate; and sarcasm, like sympathy, is the criticism of a social form and a public vice. This is why Thackeray's novels are a war against aristocracy. Like Rousseau, he praised simple and affectionate manners; like Rousseau, he hated the distinction of ranks.

He wrote a whole book on this, a sort of moral and half political pamphlet, the Book of Snobs. The word does not exist in France, because they have not the thing. The snob is a child of aristocratical societies; perched on his step of the long ladder, he respects the man on the step above him, and despises the man on the step below, without inquiring what they are worth, solely on account of their position; in his innermost heart he finds it natural to kiss the boots of the first, and to kick the second. Thackeray reckons up at length the degrees of this habit. Hear his conclusion:

"I can bear it no longer-this diabolical invention of gentility, which kills natural kindliness and honest friendship. Proper pride, indeed! Rank and precedence, forsooth! The table of ranks and degrees is a lie and should be fung into the fire. Organise rank and precedence that was well for the masters of ceremories of former ages. Come forward, some great marshal, and organise Equality in society."

Then he adds, with common sense, altogether English bitterness and familiarity:

"If ever our cousins the Smigsmags asked me to meet Lord Longears, I would like to take an opportunity after dinner, and say, in the most good-natured way in the world :-Sir,

See, for example, in the Great Hoggarty Diamond, the death of the little child. The Book of Snobs ends thus: Fun is good, Truth is still better, and Love best of all.


Fortune makes you a present of a number of thousand pounds every year. The ineffable wisdom of our ancestors has placed you as a chief and hereditary legislator over me. Our admirable Constitution (the pride of Britons and envy of surrounding nations) obliges me to receive you as my senator, superior, and guardian. Your eldest son, Fitz-Heehaw, is sure of a place in Parliament; your younger sons, the De Brays, will kindly condescend to be post-cap tains and lieutenant-colonels, and to represent us in foreign courts, or to take a good living when it falls convenient. These prizes our ad mirable Constitution (the pride and envy of, etc.) pronounces to be your due; without count of your dulness, your vices, your selfishness; of your entire incapacity and folly. Dull as you may be (and we have as good a right to assume that my lord is an ass, as the other proposition, that he is an enlightened patriot);-dull, I say, as you may be, no one will accuse you of such different to the good luck which you possess, monstrous folly, as to suppose that you are inor have any inclination to part with it. Noand patriots as we are, under happier circumstances, Smith and I, I have no doubt, were we dukes ourselves, would stand by our order. "We would submit good-naturedly to sit in a high place. We would acquiesce in that admir able Constitution (pride and envy of, etc.) which made us chiefs and the world our inferiors; we hereditary superiority which brought so many would not cavil particularly it that notion of simple people cringing to our knees. May be we would rally round the Corn-Laws; we would make a stand against the Reform Bill; we would die rather than repeal the acts against Catholics and Dissenters; we would, by our noble system of class-legislation, bring Ireland to its present admirable condition.

"But Smith and I are not Earls as yet. We

don't believe that it is for the interest of Smith's army, that young De Bray should be a Colonel at five-and-twenty, of Smith's diplo matic relations, that Lord Longears should go that Longears should but his hereditary foot ambassador to Constantinople,-of our politics, into them.


"This booing and cringing Smith believes to be the act of Snobs; and he will do all in his might and main to be a Snob, and to submit to Snobs no longer. To Longears he says, can't help seeing, Longears, that we are as good as you. We can spell even better; we can think quite as rightly; we will not have you for our master, or black your shoes any more.""

Thackeray's opinion on politics only continues his remarks as a moralist. Í he hates aristocracy, it is less because it oppresses man than because it corrupts him; in deforming social life, it deforms private life; in establishing injustice, it establishes vice; after hav ing-made itself master of the govern ment, it poisons the soul: and Thack eray finds its trace in the perversity and foolishness of all classes and all senti


The Book of Snobs, last chapter.

The king opens this list of vengeful | vances to the bec portraits. It is George IV., "the first gentleman in Europe." This great monarch, so justly regretted, could cut out a coat, drive a four-in-hand nearly as well as the Brighton coachman, and play the fiddle well. "In the vigor of youth and the prime force of his invention, he invented Maraschino punch, a shoe-buckle, and a Chinese pavilion, the most hideous building in the world:"

he was.


hand; her eyes are ghted up with a
a dagger in her
smile so ghastly, that peopie quake as
they look at her; Brava brava! old
Steyne's strident voice was heard roar.
ing over all the rest, "By she'd do
it, too!" We can hear that he has the
true cor jugal feeling. His conversation
is remarkably frank. "I cart send
Briggs away,'
her her wages, I suppose," said the
Becky said." You owe
peer.- -"Worse than that, I have ruined
her."-" Ruined her? then why don't
you turn her out?"

"Two boys had leave from their loyal masters to go from Slaughter House School where they were educated, and to appear on Drury Lane stage, amongst a crowd which assembled He is, moreover, an accomplished there to greet the king. THE KING? There gentleman, of fascinating sweetness; he Beef-eaters were before the august treats his women like a pacha, and his box: the Marquis of Steyne (Lord of the Pow-words are like blows. Let us read der Closet) and other great officers of state where behind the chair on which he sate, He again the domestic scene in which he sate-florid of face, portly of person, covered gives the order to invite Mrs. Crawley. with orders, and in a rich curling head of hair Lady Gaunt, his daughter-in-law, says -How we sang God save him! How the house that she will not be present at dinner, rocked and shouted with that magnificent music. and will go home. His lordship anHow they cheered, and cried, and waved handkerchiefs. Ladies wept: mothers clasped their swered: children: some fainted with emotion. Yes, we saw him. Fate cannot deprive us of that. Others have seen Napoleon. Some few still exist who have beheld Frederick the Great, Doctor Johnson, Marie Antoinette, etc.-be it our reasonable boast to our children, that we saw George the Good, the Magnificent, the

Great." *

Dear prince! the virtues emanating from his heroic throne spread through the hearts of all his courtiers. Whoever presented a better example than the Marquis of Steyne? This lord, a king in his own house, tried to prove that he was so. He forces his wife to sit at table beside women without any character, his mistresses. Like a true prince he had for his special enemy his eldest son, presumptive heir to the marquisate, whom he leaves to starve, and compels to run into debt. He is now making love to a charming person, Mrs. Rebecca Crawley, whom he loves for her hypocrisy, coolness, and unequalled, insensibility. The Marquis, by dint of debasing and oppressing all who surround him, ends by hating and despising men.; he has no taste for any thing but perfect rascalities. Rebecca rouses him; one day even she transports him with enthusiasm. She plays Clytemnestra in a charade, and her husband Agamemnon; she ad

Vanity Fair, ch. xlviii. This passage is only found in the original octavo edition.-TR.

"I wish you would, and stay there. You will find the bailiffs at Bareacres very pleasant company, and I shall be freed from lending money to your relations, and from your own damned tragedy airs. Who are you to give got no brains. You were here to have chilorders here? You have no money. You've dren, and you have not had any. Gaunt's tired of you; and George's wife is the only person in the family who doesn't wish you were dead. Gaunt would marry again if you were.. You, forsooth, must give yourself airs of virtue. Pray, madame, shall I tell you some little anecdotes about my Lady Bareacres, your mamma?" ⇓

[ocr errors]

The rest is in the same style. His daughters-in-law, driven to despair, say they wish they were dead. This declaration rejoices him, and he concludes with these words "This Temple of Virtue belongs to me. And if I invite all Newgate or all Bedlam here, by, they shall be welcome." The habit of despotism makes despots and the best means of implanting des pots in families, is to preserve nobles in the State.

Let us take rest in the contempla. tion of the country gentleman. The innocence of the fields, hereditary respect, family traditions, the pursuit of agriculture, the exercise of local magistracy, must have produced these up right and sensible men, full of kindness and probity, protectors of their coun * Vanity Fair, ch. xlix.


These are the rich; probably money has corrupted them. Let us look for a poor aristocrat, free from tempta tions; his lofty mind, left to itself, will display all its native beauty. Sir Francis Clavering is in this case. He has played, drunk, and supped until he has nothing more left. tions at the gambling table speedily effected his ruin; he had been forced to sell out of his regiment; had shown the white feather, and after frequenting all the billiard-rooms in Europe, been thrown into prison by his uncourteous creditors. To get out he married a good-natured Indian widow, who outrages spelling, and whose money was left her by her father, a disreputable old lawyer and indigo-smuggler. Clavering ruins her, goes on his knees to obtain gold and pardon, swears on the Bible to contract no more debts, and when he goes out runs straight to the money-lender. Of all the rascals that novelists have ever exhibited, he is the basest. He has neither resolution nor common sense; he is simply a man in a state of dissolution. He swallows insults like water, weeps, begs pardon, and begins again. He debases himself, prostrates himself, and the next moment swears and storms, to fall back into the depths of the extremest cowardice. He implores, threatens, and in the same quarter of an hour accepts the threatened man as his intimate confidant and friend:

ty, and servants of their country. Sir | farthing in his life," growled Tinker Pitt Crawley is a model; he has four "Never, and never will: it is against thousand a year and two parliamentary my principle." He is impudent, brutal, boroughs. It is true that these are coarse, stingy, shrewd, extravagant; rotten boroughs, and that he sells the but is courted by ministers, is a highsecond for fifteen hundred a year. He sheriff, honored, powerful, he rolls in a is an excellent steward, and shears his gilded carriage, and is one of the pil. farmers so close that he can only find lars of the State. bankrupt-tenants. A coach proprietor, a government contractor, a mine proprietor, he pays his subordinates so bailly, and is so niggard in outlay, that his mines are filled with water; and as for his coach-horses, every mail proprietor in the kingdom knew that he lost more horses than any man in the country; "the Government flung his contract of damaged beef upon his hands. A popular man, he always prefers the society of a horse-dealer to the company of a gentleman. "He was fond of drink, of swearing, of joking with the farmers' daughters; would cut his joke and drink his glass with a tenant, and sell him up the next day; or have his laugh with the poacher he was transporting with equal good humor." He speaks with a country accent, has the mind of a lackey, the habits of a boor. At table, waited on by three men and a butler, on massive silver, he inquires into the dishes, and the beasts which have furnished them. "What ship was it, Horrocks, and when did you kill?" "One of the black-faced Scotch, Sir Pitt: we killed on Thursday." "Who took any?" "Steel of Mudbury took the saddie and two legs, Sir Pitt; but he says the last was too young and confounded woolly, Sir Pitt." "What became of the shoulders?" The dialogue goes on in the same tone; after the Scotch mutton comes the Black Kentish pig: these animals might be Sir Pitt's family, so much is he interested "Now, ain't it hard that she won't trust me in them. As for his daughters, he lets with a single tea-spoon; ain't it ungentleman them stray to the gardener's cottage, like, Altamont? You know my lady's of low where they pick up their education. is, it's most cruel of her not to show more conbirth-that is-I beg your pardon-hem-that As for his wife, he beats her from time fidence in me. And the very servants begin to to time. If he pays his people one laugh-the dam scoundrels! They don't farthing more than he owes them he answer my bell; and-and my man was at asks it back. "A farthing a day is and my velvet waistcoat on, I know it was Vauxhall last night with one of my dress shirts seven shillings a year: seven shillings mine the confounded impudent blackguard: a year is the interest of seven guineas.and he went on dancing before my eyes, conTake care of your farthings, old Tink- found him! I'm sure he'll live to be hangedhe deserves to be hanged-all those infernal er, and your guineas will come quite rascals of valets ! " nat'ral." "He never gave away a

[ocr errors]

*Pendennis, ch. Is


His conversation is a compound of oaths, whines, and ravings; he is not a man, but the wreck of a man: there survive in him but the discordant remains of vile passions, like the fragments of a crushed snake, which, unable to bite, bruise themselves and wriggle about in their slaver and mud. The sight of a bank-note makes him launch blindly into a mass of entreaties and lies. The future has disappeared for him, he sees but the present. He will sign a bill for twenty pounds at three months to get a sovereign. His degradation has become imbecility; his eyes are shut; he does not see that his protestations excite mistrust, that his lies excite disgust, that by his very baseness he loses the fruit of his baseness; so that when he comes in, a man feels a violent inclination to take the honorable baronet, the member of parliament, the proud inhabitant of a historic house, by the neck, and pitch him, like a basket of rubbish, from the top of the stairs to the bottom.

missions in the army, the isolation o classes, the outrages on nature and family invented by society and law. Behind this philosophy is shown a sec ond gallery of portraits as insulting as the first; for inequality, having cor rupted the great men whom it exalts corrupts the small men whom it de grades; and the spectacle of envy of baseness in the small, is as ugly as that of insolence or despotism in the great According to Thackeray, English so ciety is a compound of flatteries and intrigues, each striving to hoist himself up a step higher on the social ladder and to push back those who are climb ing. To be received at court, to see one's name in the papers amongst a list of illustrious guests, to give a cup of tea at home to some stupid and bloated peer; such is the supreme limit of human ambition and felicity. For one master there are always a hun dred lackeys. Major Pendennis, a res olute man, cool and clever, has contracted this leprosy. His happiness We must stop. A volume would not to-day is to bow to a lord. He is only exhaust the list of perfections which at peace in a drawing-room, or in a Thackeray discovers in the English park of the aristocracy. He craves to aristocracy. The Marquis of Farintosh, be treated with that humiliating contwenty-fifth of his name, an illustrious descension wherewith the great overfool, healthy and full of self-conceit, whelm their inferiors. He pockets whom all the women ogle and all the lack of attention with ease, and dines men bow to; Lady Kew, an old woman graciously at a noble board, where he of the world, tyrannical and corrupted, is invited twice in three years to stop at enmity with her daughter, and a a gap. He leaves a man of genius or matchmaker; Sir Barnes Newcome, one a woman of wit, to converse with a of the most cowardly of men, the wick-titled fool or a tipsy lord. He prefers edest, the falsest, the best abused and being tolerated at a Marquis' to being beaten who has ever smiled in a draw-respected at a commoner's. Having ing-room or spoken in Parliament. I see only one estimable character, and he is not in the front rank-Lord Kew, who, after many follies and excesses, is touched by his Puritan old mother and repents. But these portraits are sweet compared to the dissertations; the commentator is still more bitter than the artist; he wounds more in speaking than in making his personages speak. We must read his biting diatribes against marriages for the sake of money or rank, and against the sacrifice of girls ; against the inequality of inheritance and the envy of young er sons; against the education of the nobles, and their traditionary insolence; against the purchase of com

exalted these fine dispositions into principles, he inculcates them on his nephew, whom he loves, and to push him on in the world, offers him in marriage a basely acquired fortune and the daughter of a convict. Others glide through the proud drawing-rooms, nol with parasitic manners, but on account of their splendid balance at the banker's. Once upon a time in France. the nobles manured their estates with the money of citizens; now in England the citizens ennoble their money by marrying a lady of noble birth. For a hundred thousand pounds to the father, Pump, the merchant, marries Lady Blanche Stiffneck, who, though mar ried, remains my Ladv. Naturally

[ocr errors]

young Pump is scorned by her, as a tradesman, and moreover, hated for having made her half a woman of the people. He dare not see his own friends in his own house, they are too vulgar for his wife. He dare not visit the friends of his wife; they are too higa for him. He is his wife's butler, the butt of his father-in-law, the servant of his son, and consoles himself by thinking that his grandsons, when they become Lord Pump, will blush for him and never mention his name.* A third means of entering the aristocracy is to ruin oneself, and never see any This ingenious method is employed by Mrs. Major Ponto in the country. She has an incomparable governess for her daughters, who thinks that Dante is called Alighieri because he was born at Algiers, but who has educated two marchionesses and a countess.


"Some one wondered we were not enlivened

snubbed vanity, the meanness of the attentions offered, the triumph of folly, the scorn of talent, the consecrated injustice, the heart rendered unnatural, the morals perverted. Before this striking picture of truth and genius, we need remember that this injurious ine quality is the cause of a wholesome liberty, that social injustice produces political welfare, that a class of heredi tary nobles is a class of hereditary states men, that in a century and a half Eng. land has had a hundred and fifty years of good government, that in a century and a half France has had a hundred and fifty years of bad government, that all is compensated, and that it is possi ble to pay dearly for capable leaders, a consistent policy, free elections, and the control of the government by the nation. We must also remember that this talent, founded on intense reflec tion, concentrated in moral prejudices, could not but have transformed the Picture of manners into a systematic and combative satire, exasperate satire into calculated and implacable animosity, blacken human nature, and attack again and again with studied, redoubled and natural hatred, the chief vice of his country and of his time.




by the appearance of some of the neighbours. We can't in our position of life, we can't well associate with the attorney's family, as I leave you to suppose-and the Doctor-one may ask. one's medical man to one's table, certainly: but his family. The people in that large red house just outside of the town.What! the château-calicot. That purse-proud ex-linendraper.-The parson-Oh! he used to preach in a surplice. He is a Puseyite!" This sensible Ponto family yawns in solitude for six months, and the rest of the year enjoys the gluttony of the Country-squires whom they regale, and In literature as well as in politics, we the rebuffs of the great lords whom cannot have every thing. Talents, like they visit. The son, an officer of the happiness, do not always follow suit. nussars, requires to be kept in luxury Whatever constitution it selects, a peoso as to be on an equality with his no-ple is always half unhappy; whatever ble comrades, and his tailor receives above three hundred a year out of the aine hundred which make up the whole family income. I should never end, if I recounted all the villanies and niseries which Thackeray attributes to the aristocratic spirit, the division of families, the pride of the ennobled sister, the jealousy of the sister who has not been ennobled, the degradation of What is a novelist? In my opinion the characters trained up from school he is a psychologist, who naturally and to reverence the little lords, the abase-involuntarily sets psychology at work; ment of the daughters who strive to compass noble marriages, the rage of

[blocks in formation]

genius he has, a writer is always half impotent. We cannot preserve at once more than a single attitude. To transform the novel is to deform it: he who, like Thackeray, gives to the novel satire for its object, ceases to give it art for its rule, and the complete strength of the satirist is the weakness of the novelist.

he is nothing else, nor more. He loves to picture feelings, to perceive their consequences; and he indulges in this connections, their precedents, their pleasure. In his eyes they are forces

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »