As I wish to be particularly agreeable to the ladies (to whom I make my most humble obeisance), we will now, if you please, commence maligning a class of Snobs against whom, I believe, most female minds are embittered--I mean Club Snobs. I have very seldom heard even the most gentle and placable woman speak without a little feeling of bitterness against those social institutions, those palaces swaggering in St. James's, which are open to the men; while the ladies have but their dingy three-windowed brick boxes in Belgravia or in Paddingtonia, or in the region between the road of Edgware and that of Gray's Inn.
In my grandfather's time it used to be Freemasonry that roused their anger. It was my grand-aunt (whose portrait we still have in the family) who got into the clock-case at the Royal Rosicrucian Lodge at Bungay, Suffolk, to spy the proceedings of the Society, of which her husband was a member, and being frightened by the sudden whirring and striking eleven of the clock (just as the Deputy-Grand-Master was bringing in the mystic gridiron for the reception of a neophyte), rushed out into the midst of the lodge assembled; and was elected, by a desperate unanimity, Deputy-Grand-Mistress for life. Though that admirable and courageous female never subsequently breathed a word with regard to the secrets of the initiation, yet she inspired all our family with such a terror regarding the mysteries of Jachin and Boaz, that none of our family have ever since joined the Society, or worn the dreadful Masonic insignia.
It is known that Orpheus was torn to pieces by some justly indignant Thracian ladies for belonging to an Harmonic Lodge. 'Let him go back to Eurydice,' they said, 'whom he is pretending to regret so.' But the history is given in Dr. Lempriere's elegant dictionary in a manner much more forcible than any this feeble pen can attempt. At once, then, and without verbiage, let us take up this subject-matter of Clubs.
Clubs ought not, in my mind, to be permitted to bachelors. If my friend of the Cuttykilts had not our club, the 'Union Jack,' to go to (I belong to the 'U.J. and nine other similar institutions), who knows but he never would be a bachelor at this present moment? Instead of being made comfortable, and cockered up with every luxury, as they are at Clubs, bachelors ought to be rendered profoundly miserable, in my opinion. Every encouragement should be given to the rendering their spare time disagreeable. There can be no more odious object, according to my sentiments, than young Smith in the pride of health, commanding his dinner of three courses; than middle-aged Jones wallowing (as I may say) in an easy padded arm-chair, over the delicious novel or brilliant magazine; or than old Brown, that selfish old reprobate for whom mere literature has no charms, stretched on the best sofa, sitting on the second edition of The Times, having the Morning ChronicleMorning Chronicle between his knees, the Herald pushed in between his coat and waistcoat, the Standard under his arm, the Globe under the other pinion, and the Daily News in perusal. 'I'll trouble you for Punch, Mr. Wiggins' says the unconscionable old gormandiser, interrupting our friend, who is laughing over the periodical in question.
This kind of selfishness ought not to be. No, no. Young Smith, instead of his dinner and his wine, ought to be, where?--at the festive tea-table, to be sure, by the side of Miss Higgs, sipping the bohea, or tasting the harmless muffin; while old Mrs. Higgs looks on, pleased at their innocent dalliance, and my friend Miss Wirt, the governess, is performing Thalberg's last sonata in treble X., totally unheeded, at the piano.
Where should the middle-aged Jones be? At his time of life, he ought to be the father of a family. At such an hour--say, at nine o'clock at night--the nursery-bell should have just rung the children to bed. He and Mrs. J. ought to be, by rights, seated on each side of the fire by the dining-room table, a bottle of port-wine between them, not so full as it was an hour since. Mrs. J. has had two glasses; Mrs. Grumble (Jones's mother-in-law) has had three; Jones himself has finished the rest, and dozes comfortably until bed-time.
And Brown, that old newspaper-devouring miscreant, what right has HE at a club at a decent hour of night? He ought to be playing his rubber with Miss MacWhirter, his wife, and the family apothecary. His candle ought to be brought to him at ten o'clock, and he should retire to rest just as the young people were thinking of a dance. How much finer, simpler, nobler are the several employments I have sketched out for these gentlemen than their present nightly orgies at the horrid Club.
And, ladies, think of men who do not merely frequent the dining-room and library, but who use other apartments of those horrible dens which it is my purpose to batter down; think of Cannon, the wretch, with his coat off, at his age and size, clattering the balls over the billiard-table all night, and making bets with that odious Captain Spot!--think of Pam in a dark room with Bob Trumper, Jack Deuceace, and Charley Vole, playing, the poor dear misguided wretch, guinea points and five pounds on the rubber!--above all, think--oh, think of that den of abomination, which, I am told, has been established in somme clubs, called The Smoking Room--think of the debauchees who congregate there, the quantities of reeking whisky-punch or more dangerous sherry-cobbler which they consume;--think of them coming home at cock-crow and letting themselves into the quiet house with the Chubb key;--think of them, the hypocrites, taking off their insidious boots before they slink upstairs, the children sleeping overhead, the wife of their bosom alone with the waning rushlight in the two-pair front--that chamber so soon to be rendered hateful by the smell of their stale cigars: I am not an advocate of violence; I am not, by nature, of an incendiary turn of mind: but if, my dear ladies, you are for assassinating Mr. Chubb and burning down Club-houses in St. James's, there is one Snob at who will not think the worse of you.
The only men who, as I opine, ought to be allowed the use of Clubs, are married men without a profession. The continual presence of these in a house cannot be thought, even by the most loving of wives, desirable. Say the girls are beginning to practise their music, which in an honourable English family, ought to occupy every young gentlewoman three hours; it would be rather hard to call upon poor papa to sit in the drawing-room all that time, and listen to the interminable discords and shrieks which are elicited from the miserable piano during the above necessary operation. A man with a good ear, especially, would go mad, if compelled daily to submit to this horror.
Or suppose you have a fancy to go to the milliner's, or to Howell and James's, it is manifest, my dear Madam, that your husband is much better at the Club during these operations than by your side in the carriage, or perched in wonder upon one of the stools at Shawl and Gimcrack's, whilst young counter-dandies are displaying their wares.
This sort of husbands should be sent out after breakfast, and if not Members of Parliament, or Directors of a Railroad, or an Insurance Company, should be put into their clubs, and told to remain there until dinner-time. No sight is more agreeable to my truly regulated mind than to see the noble characters so worthily employed. Whenever I pass by St. James's Street, having the privilege, like the rest of the world, of looking in at the windows of 'Blight's,' or 'Foodle's,' or 'Snook's,' or the great bay at the 'Contemplative Club,' I behold with respectful appreciation the figures within--the honest rosy old fogies, the mouldy old dandies, the waist-belts and glossy wigs and tight cravats of those most vacuous and respectable men. Such men are best there during the day-time surely. When you part with them, dear ladies, think of the rapture consequent on their return. You have transacted your household affairs; you have made your purchases; you have paid your visits; you have aired your poodle in the Park; your French maid has completed the toilette which renders you so ravishingly beautiful by candlelight, and you are fit to make home pleasant to him who has been absent all day.
Such men surely ought to have their Clubs, and we will not class them among Club Snobs therefore:--on whom let us reserve our attack for the next chapter.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Such a Sensation has been created in the Clubs by the appearance of the last paper on Club Snobs, as can't but be complimentary to me who am one of their number.
I belong to many Clubs. The 'Union Jack,' the 'Sash and Marlin-spike'--Military Clubs. 'The True Blue,' the 'No Surrender,' the 'Blue and Buff,' the 'Guy Fawkes,' and the 'Cato Street'--Political Clubs. 'The Brummel' and the 'Regent'--Dandy Clubs. The 'Acropolis,' the 'Palladium,' the 'Areopagus,' the 'Pnyx' the 'Pentelicus,' the 'Ilissus' and the 'Poluphloisboio Thalasses'--Literary Clubs. I never could make out how the latter set of Clubs got their names; I don't know Greek for one, and I wonder how many other members of those institutions do? Ever since the Club Snobs have been announced, I observe a sensation created on my entrance into any one of these places. Members get up and hustle together; they nod, they scowl, as they glance towards the present Snob. 'Infernal impudent jackanapes! If he shows me up,' says Colonel Bludyer, 'I'll break every bone in his skin.' 'I told you what would come of admitting literary men into the Club,' says Ranville Ranville to his colleague, Spooney, of the Tape and Sealing-Wax Office. 'These people are very well in their proper places, and as a public man, I make a point of shaking hands with them, and that sort of thing; but to have one's privacy obtruded upon by such people is really too much. Come along, Spooney,' and the pair of prigs retire superciliously.
As I came into the coffee-room at the 'No Surrender,' old Jawkins was holding out to a knot of men, who were yawning, as usual. There he stood, waving the Standard, and swaggering before the fire. 'What,' says he, 'did I tell Peel last year? If you touch the Corn Laws, you touch the Sugar Question; if you touch the Sugar, you touch the Tea. I am no monopolist. I am a liberal man, but I cannot forget that I stand on the brink of a precipice; and if were to have Free Trade, give me reciprocity. And what was Sir Robert Peel's answer to me? "Mr. Jawkins," he said--'
Here Jawkins's eye suddenly turning on your humble servant, he stopped his sentence, with a guilty look--his stale old stupid sentence, which every one of us at the Club has heard over and over again.
Jawkins is a most pertinacious Club Snob. Every day he is at that fireplace, holding that Standard, of which he reads up the leading-article, and pours it out ore rotundo, with the most astonishing composure, in the face of his neighbour, who has just read every word of it in the paper. Jawkins has money, as you may see by the tie of his neckcloth. He passes the morning swaggering about the City, in bankers' and brokers parlours, and says:--'I spoke with Peel yesterday, and his intentions are so and so. Graham and I were talking over the matter, and I pledge you my word of honour, his opinion coincides with mine; and that What-d'ye-call-um is the only measure Government will venture on trying.' By evening-paper time he is at the Club: 'I can tell you the opinion of the City, my lord,' says he, 'and the way in which Jones Loyd looks at it is briefly this: Rothschilds told me so themselves. In Mark Lane, people's minds are quite made up.' He is considered rather a well-informed man.
He lives in Belgravia, of course; in a drab-coloured genteel house, and has everything about him that is properly grave, dismal, and comfortable. His dinners are in the Morning Herald, among the parties for the week; and his wife and daughters make a very handsome appearance at the Drawing-Room, once a year, when he comes down to the Club in his Deputy-Lieutenant's uniform.
He is fond of beginning a speech to you by saying, 'When I was in the House, I &c.'--in fact he sat for Skittlebury for three weeks in the first Reformed Parliament, and was unseated for bribery; since which he has three times unsuccessfully contested that honourable borough.
Another sort of Political Snob I have seen at most Clubs and that is the man who does not care so much for home politics, but is great upon foreign affairs. I think this sort of man is scarcely found anywhere but in Clubs. It is for him the papers provide their foreign articles, at the expense of some ten thousand a-year each. He is the man who is really seriously uncomfortable about the designs of Russia, and the atrocious treachery of Louis Philippe. He it is who expects a French fleet in the Thames, and has a constant eye upon the American President, every word of whose speech (goodness help him!) he reads. He knows the names of the contending leaders in Portugal, and what they are fighting about: and it is he who says that Lord Aberdeen ought to be impeached, and Lord Palmerston hanged, or vice versa.
Lord Palmerston's being sold to Russia, the exact number of roubles paid, by what house in the City, is a favourite theme with this kind of Snob. I once overheard him--it was Captain Spitfire, R.N., (who had been refused a ship by the Whigs, by the way)--indulging in the following conversation with Mr. Minns after dinner.
Why wasn't the Princess Scragamoffsky at Lady Palmerston's party, Minns? Because she can't show--why can't she show? Shall I tell you, Minns, why she can't show? The Princess Scragainoffsky's back is flayed alive, Minns--I tell you it's raw, sir! On Tuesday last, at twelve o'clock, three drummers of the Preobajinski Regiment arrived at Ashburnham House, and at half-past twelve, in the yellow drawing-room at the Russian Embassy, before the ambassadress and four ladies'-maids, the Greek Papa, and the Secretary of Embassy, Madame de Scragamoffsky received thirteen dozen. She was knouted, sir, knouted in the midst of England--in Berkeley Square, for having said that the Grand Duchess Olga's hair was red. And now, sir, will you tell me Lord Palmerston ought to continue Minister?'
Minns: 'Good Ged!'
Minns follows Spitfire about, and thinks him the greatest and wisest of human beings.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Why does not some great author write 'The Mysteries of the Club-houses; or St. James's Street unveiled?' It would be a fine subject for an imaginative writer. We must all, as boys, remember when we went to the fair, and had spent all our money--the sort of awe and anxiety with which we loitered round the outside of the show, speculating upon the nature of the entertainment going on within.
Man is a Drama--of Wonder and Passion, and Mystery and Meanness, and Beauty and Truthfulness, and Etcetera. Each Bosom is a Booth in Vanity Fair. But let us stop this capital style, I should die if I kept it up for a column (a pretty thing a column all capitals would be, by the way). In a Club, though there mayn't be a soul of your acquaintance in the room, you have always the chance of watching strangers, and speculating on what is going on within those tents and curtains of their souls, their coats and waistcoats. This is a never-failing sport. Indeed I am told there are some Clubs in the town where nobody ever speaks to anybody. They sit in the coffee-room, quite silent, and watching each other.
Yet how little you can tell from a man's outward demeanour! There's a man at our Club--large, heavy, middle-aged--gorgeously dressed--rather bald--with lacquered boots--and a boa when he goes out; quiet in demeanour, always ordering and consuming a recherche little dinner: whom I have mistaken for Sir John Pocklington any time these five years, and respected as a man with five hundred pounds per diem; and I find he is but a clerk in an office in the City, with not two hundred pounds income, and his name is Jubber. Sir John Pocklington was, on the contrary, the dirty little snuffy man who cried out so about the bad quality of the beer, and grumbled at being overcharged three-halfpence for a herring, seated at the next table to Jubber on the day when some one pointed the Baronet out to me.
Take a different sort of mystery. I see, for instance, old Fawney stealing round the rooms of the Club, with glassy, meaningless eyes, and an endless greasy simper--he fawns on everybody he meets, and shakes hands with you, and blesses you, and betrays the most tender and astonishing interest in your welfare. You know him to be a quack and a rogue, and he knows you know it. But he wriggles on his way, and leaves a track of slimy flattery after him wherever he goes. Who can penetrate that man's mystery? What earthly good can he get from you or me? You don't know what is working under that leering tranquil mask. You have only the dim instinctive repulsion that warns you, you are in the presence of a knave--beyond which fact all Fawney's soul is a secret to you.
I think I like to speculate on the young men best. Their play is opener. You know the cards in their hand, as it were. Take, for example, Messrs. Spavin and Cockspur.
A specimen or two of the above sort of young fellows may be found, I believe, at most Clubs. They know nobody. They bring a fine smell of cigars into the room with them, and they growl together, in a corner, about sporting matters. They recollect the history of that short period in which they have been ornaments of the world by the names of winning horses. As political men talk about 'the Reform year,' 'the year the Whigs went out,' and so forth, these young sporting bucks speak of Tarnation's year, or Opodeldoc's year, or the year when Catawampus ran second for the Chester Cup. They play at billiards in the morning, they absorb pale ale for breakfast, and 'top up' with glasses of strong waters. They read Bell's Life (and a very pleasant paper too, with a great deal of erudition in the answers to correspondents). They go down to Tattersall's, and swagger in the Park, with their hands plunged in the pockets of their paletots.
What strikes me especially in the outward demeanour of sporting youth is their amazing gravity, their conciseness of speech, and careworn and moody air. In the smoking-room at the 'Regent,' when Joe Millerson will be setting the whole room in a roar with laughter, you hear young Messrs. Spavin and Cockspur grumbling together in a corner. 'I'll take your five-and-twenty to one about Brother to Bluenose,' whispers Spavin. 'Can't do it at the price,' Cockspur says, wagging his head ominously. The betting-book is always present in the minds of those unfortunate youngsters. I think I hate that work even more than the 'Peerage.' There is some good in the latter--though, generally speaking, a vain record: though De Mogyns is not descended from the giant Hogyn Mogyn; though half the other genealogies are equally false and foolish; yet the mottoes are good reading--some of them; and the book itself a sort of gold-laced and livened lackey to History, and in so far serviceable. But what good ever came out of, or went into, a betting-book? If I could be Caliph Omar for a week, I would pitch every one of those despicable manuscripts into the flames; from my Lord's, who is 'in' with Jack Snaffle's stable, and is over-reaching worse-informed rogues and swindling greenhorns, down to Sam's, the butcher-boy's, who books eighteenpenny odds in the tap-room, and 'stands to win five-and-twenty bob.'
In a turf transaction, either Spavin or Cockspur would try to get the better of his father, and, to gain a point in the odds, victimise his best friends. One day we shall hear of one or other levanting; an event at which, not being sporting men, we shall not break our hearts. See--Mr. Spavin is settling his toilette previous to departure; giving a curl in the glass to his side-wisps of hair. Look at him! It is only at the hulks, or among turf-men, that you ever see a face so mean, so knowing, and so gloomy.
A much more humane being among the youthful Clubbists is the Lady-killing Snob. I saw Wiggle just now in the dressing-room, talking to Waggle, his inseparable.
WAGGLE.--'Pon my honour, Wiggle, she did.'
WIGGLE.--'Well, Waggle, as you say--I own I think she did look at me rather kindly. We'll see to-night at the French play.'
And having arrayed their little persons, these two harmless young bucks go upstairs to dinner.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Both sorts of young men, mentioned in my last under the flippant names of Wiggle and Waggle, may be found in tolerable plenty, I think, in Clubs. Wiggle and Waggle are both idle. They come of the middle classes. One of them very likely makes believe to be a barrister, and the other has smart apartments about Piccadilly. They are a sort of second-chop dandies; they cannot imitate that superb listlessness of demeanour, and that admirable vacuous folly which distinguish the noble and high-born chiefs of the race; but they lead lives almost as bad (were it but for the example), and are personally quite as useless. I am not going to arm a thunderbolt, and launch it at the beads of these little Pall Mall butterflies. They don't commit much public harm, or private extravagance. They don't spend a thousand pounds for diamond earrings for an Opera-dancer, as Lord Tarquin can: neither of them ever set up a public-house or broke the bank of a gambling-club, like the young Earl of Martingale. They have good points, kind feelings, and deal honourably in money-transactions--only in their characters of men of second-rate pleasure about town, they and their like are so utterly mean, self-contented, and absurd, that they must not be omitted in a work treating on Snobs.
Wiggle has been abroad, where he gives you to understand that his success among the German countesses and Italian princesses, whom he met at the tables d’hôte, was perfectly terrific. His rooms are hung round with pictures of actresses and ballet-dancers. He passes his mornings in a fine dressing-gown, burning pastilles, and reading 'Don Juan' and French novels (by the way, the life of the author of 'Don Juan,' as described by himself, was the model of the life of a Snob). He has twopenny-halfpenny French prints of women with languishing eyes, dressed in dominoes,--guitars, gondolas, and so forth,--and tells you stories about them.
'It's a bad print,' says he, 'I know, but I've a reason for liking it. It reminds me of somebody--somebody I knew in other climes. You have heard of the Principessa di Monte Pulciano? I met her at Rimini. Dear, dear Francesca! That fair-haired, bright-eyed thing in the Bird of Paradise and the Turkish Simar with the love-bird on her finger, I'm sure must have been taken from--from somebody perhaps whom you don't know--but she's known at Munich, Waggle my boy,--everybody knows the Countess Ottilia de Eulenschreckenstein. Gad, sir, what a beautiful creature she was when I danced with her on the birthday of Prince Attila of Bavaria, in '44. Prince Carloman was our vis-a-vis, and Prince Pepin danced the same contredanse. She had a Polyanthus in her bouquet. Waggle, I have it now.' His countenance assumes an agonized and mysterious expression, and he buries his head in the sofa cushions, as if plunging into a whirlpool of passionate recollections.
Last year he made a considerable sensation by having on his table a morocco miniature-case locked by a gold key, which he always wore round his neck, and on which was stamped a serpent--emblem of eternity--with the letter M in the circle. Sometimes he laid this upon his little morocco writing-table, as if it were on an altar--generally he had flowers upon it; in the middle of a conversation he would start up and kiss it. He would call out from his bed-room to his valet, 'Hicks, bring me my casket!'
'I don't know who it is,' Waggle would say. 'Who does know that fellow's intrigues! Desborough Wiggle, sir, is the slave of passion. I suppose you have heard the story of the Italian princess locked up in the Convent of Saint Barbara, at Rimini? He hasn't told you? Then I'm not at liberty to speak. Or the countess, about whom he nearly had the duel with Prince Witikind of Bavaria? Perhaps you haven't even heard about that beautiful girl at Pentonville, daughter of a most respectable Dissenting clergyman. She broke her heart when she found he was engaged (to a most lovely creature of high family, who afterwards proved false to him), and she's now in Hanwell.'
Waggle's belief in his friend amounts to frantic adoration. 'What a genius he is, if he would but apply himself!' he whispers to me. 'He could be anything, sir, but for his passions. His poems are the most beautiful things you ever saw. He's written a continuation of "Don Juan," from his own adventures. Did you ever read his lines to Mary? They're superior to Byron, sir--superior to Byron.'
I was glad to hear this from so accomplished a critic as Waggle; for the fact is, I had composed the verses myself for honest Wiggle one day, whom I found at his chambers plunged in thought over a very dirty old-fashioned album, in which he had not as yet written a single word.
'I can't,' says he. 'Sometimes I can write whole cantos, and to-day not a line. Oh, Snob! such an opportunity! Such a divine creature! She's asked me to write verses for her album, and I can't.'
'Is she rich?' said I. 'I thought you would never marry any but an heiress.'
'Oh, Snob! she's the most accomplished, highly-connected creature!--and I can't get out a line.'
'How will you have it?' says I. 'Hot, with sugar?'
'Don't, don't! You trample on the most sacred feelings, Snob. I want something wild and tender,--like Byron. I want to tell her that amongst the festive balls, and that sort of thing, you know--I only think about her, you know--that I scorn the world, and am weary of it, you know, and--something about a gazelle, and a bulbul, you know.'
'And a yataghan to finish off with,' the present writer observed, and we began:--
'I seem, in the midst of the crowd, The lightest of all; My laughter rings cheery and loud, In banquet and ball. My lip hath its smiles and its sneers, For all men to see; But my soul, and my truth, and my tears, Are for thee, are for thee!'
'Do you call that neat, Wiggle?' says I. 'I declare it almost makes me cry myself.'
'Now suppose,' says Wiggle, 'we say that all the world is at my feet--make her jealous, you know, and that sort of thing--and that--that I'm going to travel, you know? That perhaps may work upon her feelings.'
So we (as this wretched prig said) began again:--
'Around me they flatter and fawn--The young and the old, The fairest are ready to pawn Their hearts for my gold. They sue me--I laugh as I spurn The slaves at my knee, But in faith and in fondness I turn Unto thee, unto thee!'
'Now for the travelling, Wiggle my boy!' And I began, in a voice choked with emotion--
'Away! for my heart knows no rest Since you taught it to feel; The secret must die in my breast I burn to reveal; The passion I may not. . . .'
'I say, Snob!' Wiggle here interrupted the excited bard (just as I was about to break out into four lines so pathetic that they would drive you into hysterics). 'I say--ahem--couldn't you say that I was--a--military man, and that there was some danger of my life?'
'You a military man?--danger of your life? What the deuce do you mean?'
'Why,' said Wiggle, blushing a great deal, 'I told her I was going out--on--the--Ecuador--expedition.'
'You abominable young impostor,' I exclaimed. 'Finish the poem for yourself!' And so he did, and entirely out of all metre, and bragged about the work at the Club as his own performance.
Poor Waggle fully believed in his friend's genius, until one day last week he came with a grin on his countenance to the Club, and said, 'Oh, Snob, I've made such a discovery! Going down to the skating to-day, whom should I see but Wiggle walking with that splendid woman--that lady of illustrious family and immense fortune, Mary, you know, whom he wrote the beautiful verses about. She's five-and-forty. She's red hair. She's a nose like a pump-handle. Her father made his fortune by keeping a ham-and-beef shop, and Wiggle's going to marry her next week.'
'So much the better, Waggle, my young friend,' I exclaimed. 'Better for the sake of womankind that this dangerous dog should leave off lady-killing--this Blue-Beard give up practice. Or, better rather for his own sake. For as there is not a word of truth in any of those prodigious love-stories which you used to swallow, nobody has been hurt except Wiggle himself, whose affections will now centre in the ham-and-beef shop. There are people, Mr. Waggle, who do these things in earnest, and hold a good rank in the world too. But these are not subjects for ridicule, and though certainly Snobs, are scoundrels likewise. Their cases go up to a higher Court.'
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Bacchus is the divinity to whom Waggle devotes his especial worship. 'Give me wine, my boy,' says he to his friend Wiggle, who is prating about lovely woman; and holds up his glass full of the rosy fluid, and winks at it portentously, and sips it, and smacks his lips after it, and meditates on it, as if he were the greatest of connoisseurs.
I have remarked this excessive wine-amateurship especially in youth. Snoblings from college, Fledglings from the army, Goslings from the public schools, who ornament our Clubs, are frequently to be heard in great force upon wine questions. 'This bottle's corked,' says Snobling; and Mr. Sly, the butler, taking it away, returns presently with the same wine in another jug, which the young amateur pronounces excellent. 'Hang champagne!' says Fledgling, 'it's only fit for gals and children. Give me pale sherry at dinner, and my twenty-three claret afterwards.' 'What's port now?' says Gosling; 'disgusting thick sweet stuff--where's the old dry wine one used to get?' Until the last twelve month, Fledgling drank small-beer at Doctor Swishtail's; and Gosling used to get his dry old port at a gin-shop in Westminster--till he quitted that seminary, in 1844.
Anybody who has looked at the caricatures of thirty years ago, must remember how frequently bottle-noses, pimpled faces, and other Bardolphian features are introduced by the designer. They are much more rare now (in nature, and in pictures, therefore,) than in those good old times; but there are still to be found amongst the youth of our Clubs lads who glory in drinking-bouts, and whose faces, quite sickly and yellow, for the most part are decorated with those marks which Rowland's Kalydor is said to efface. 'I was SO cut last night--old boy!' Hopkins says to Tomkins (with amiable confidence). 'I tell you what we did. We breakfasted with Jack Herring at twelve, and kept up with brandy and soda-water and weeds till four; then we toddled into the Park for an hour; then we dined and drank mulled port till half-price; then we looked in for an hour at the Haymarket; then we came back to the Club, and had grills and whisky punch till all was blue--Hullo, waiter! Get me a glass of cherry-brandy.' Club waiters, the civilest, the kindest, the patientest of men, die under the infliction of these cruel young topers. But if the reader wishes to see a perfect picture on the stage of this class of young fellows, I would recommend him to witness the ingenious comedy of London Assurance--the amiable heroes of which are represented, not only as drunkards and five-o'clock-in-the-morning men, but as showing a hundred other delightful traits of swindling, lying, and general debauchery, quite edifying to witness.
How different is the conduct of these outrageous youths to the decent behaviour of my friend, Mr. Papworthy; who says to Poppins, the butler at the Club:--
PAPWORTHY: 'Poppins, I'm thinking of dining early; is there any cold game in the house?'
POPPINS: 'There's a game pie, sir; there's cold grouse, sir; there's cold pheasant, sir; there's cold peacock, sir; cold swan, sir; cold ostrich, sir,' &c. &c. (as the case may be).
PAPWORTHY: 'Hem! What's your best claret now, Poppins?--in pints, I mean.'
POPPINS: 'There's Cooper and Magnum's Lafitte, sir: there's Lath and Sawdust's St. Julien, sir; Bung's Leoville is considered remarkably fine; and I think you'd like Jugger's Chateau-Margaux.'
PAPWORTHY: 'Hum!--hah!--well--give me a crust of bread and a glass of beer. I'll only lunch, Poppins.
Captain Shindy is another sort of Club bore. He has been known to throw all the Club in an uproar about the quality of his mutton-chop.
'Look at it, sir! Is it cooked, sir? Smell it, sir! Is it meat fit for a gentleman?' he roars out to the steward, who stands trembling before him, and who in vain tells him that the Bishop of Bullocksmithy has just had three from the same loin. All the waiters in the Club are huddled round the captain's mutton-chop. He roars out the most horrible curses at John for not bringing the pickles; he utters the most dreadful oaths because Thomas has not arrived with the Harvey Sauce; Peter comes tumbling with the water-jug over Jeames, who is bringing 'the glittering canisters with bread.' Whenever Shindy enters the room (such is the force of character), every table is deserted, every gentleman must dine as he best may, and all those big footmen are in terror.
He makes his account of it. He scolds, and is better waited upon in consequence. At the Club he has ten servants scudding about to do his bidding.
Poor Mrs. Shindy and the children are, meanwhile, in dingy lodgings somewhere, waited upon by a charity-girl in pattens.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Every well-bred English female will sympathize with the subject of the harrowing tale, the history of Sackville Maine, I am now about to recount. The pleasures of Clubs have been spoken of: let us now glance for a moment at the dangers of those institutions, and for this purpose I must introduce you to my young acquaintance, Sackville Maine.
It was at a ball at the house of my respected friend, Mrs. Perkins, that I was introduced to this gentleman and his charming lady. Seeing a young creature before me in a white dress, with white satin shoes; with a pink ribbon, about a yard in breadth, flaming out as she twirled in a polka in the arms of Monsieur de Springbock, the German diplomatist; with a green wreath on her head, and the blackest hair this individual set eyes on--seeing, I say, before me a charming young woman whisking beautifully in a beautiful dance, and presenting, as she wound and wound round the room, now a full face, then a three-quarter face, then a profile--a face, in fine, which in every way you saw it, looked pretty, and rosy, and happy, I felt (as I trust) a not unbecoming curiosity regarding the owner of this pleasant countenance, and asked Wagley (who was standing by, in conversation with an acquaintance) who was the lady in question?
'Which?' says Wagley.
'That one with the coal-black eyes,' I replied.
'Hush!' says he; and the gentleman with whom he was talking moved off, with rather a discomfited air.
When he was gone Wagley burst out laughing. 'Coal black eyes!' said he; 'you've just hit it. That's Mrs. Sackville Maine, and that was her husband who just went away. He's a coal-merchant, Snob my boy, and I have no doubt Mr. Perkins's Wallsends are supplied from his wharf. He is in a flaming furnace when he hears coals mentioned. He and his wife and his mother are very proud of Mrs. Sackville's family; she was a Miss Chuff, daughter of Captain Chuff, R.N. That is the widow; that stout woman in crimson tabinet, battling about the odd trick with old Mr. Dumps, at the card-table.'
And so, in fact, it was. Sackville Maine (whose name is a hundred times more elegant, surely, than that of Chuff) was blest with a pretty wife, and a genteel mother-in-law, both of whom some people may envy him.
Soon after his marriage the old lady was good enough to come and pay him a visit--just for a fortnight--at his pretty little cottage, Kennington Oval; and, such is her affection for the place, has never quitted it these four years. She has also brought her son, Nelson Collingwood Chuff, to live with her; but he is not so much at home as his mamma, going as a day-boy to Merchant Taylors' School, where he is getting a sound classical education.
If these beings, so closely allied to his wife, and so justly dear to her, may be considered as drawbacks to Maine's happiness, what man is there that has not some things in life to complain of? And when I first knew Mr. Maine, no man seemed more comfortable than he. His cottage was a picture of elegance and comfort; his table and cellar were excellently and neatly supplied. There was every enjoyment, but no ostentation. The omnibus took him to business of a morning; the boat brought him back to the happiest of homes, where he would while away the long evenings by reading out the fashionable novels to the ladies as they worked; or accompany his wife on the flute (which he played elegantly); or in any one of the hundred pleasing and innocent amusements of the domestic circle. Mrs. Chuff covered the drawing-rooms with prodigious tapestries, the work of her hands. Mrs. Sackville had a particular genius for making covers of tape or network for these tapestried cushions. She could make home-made wines. She could make preserves and pickles. She had an album, into which, during the time of his courtship, Sackville Maine bad written choice scraps of Byron's and Moore's poetry, analogous to his own situation, and in a fine mercantile hand. She had a large manuscript receipt-book--every quality, in a word, which indicated a virtuous and well-bred English female mind.
'And as for Nelson Collingwood,' Sackville would say, laughing, 'we couldn't do without him in the house. If he didn't spoil the tapestry we should be 'over-cushioned in a few months; and whom could we get but him to drink Laura's home-made wine?' The truth is, the gents who came from the City to dine at the 'Oval' could not be induced to drink it--in which fastidiousness, I myself, when I grew to be intimate with the family, confess that I shared.
'And yet, sir, that green ginger has been drunk by some of England's proudest heroes,' Mrs. Chuff would exclaim. 'Admiral Lord Exmouth tasted and praised it, sir, on board Captain Chuff's ship, the "Nebuchadnezzar," 74, at Algiers; and he had three dozen with turn in the "Pitchfork" frigate, a part of which was served out to the men before he went into his immortal action with the "Furibonde," Captain Choufleur, in the Gulf of Panama.'
All this, though the old dowager told us the story every day when the wine was produced, never served to get rid of any quantity of it--and the green ginger, though it had fired British tars for combat and victory, was not to the taste of us peaceful and degenerate gents of modern times.
I see Sackville now, as on the occasion when, presented by Wagley, I paid my first visit to him. It was in July--a Sunday afternoon--Sackville Maine was coming from church, with his wife on one arm, and his mother-ill-law (in red tabinet, as usual,) on the other. A half-grown, or hobbadehoyish footman, so to speak, walked after them, carrying their shining golden prayer-books--the ladies had splendid parasols with tags and fringes. Mrs. Chuff's great gold watch, fastened to her stomach, gleamed there like a ball of fire. Nelson Collingwood was in the distance, shying stones at an old horse on Kennington Common. 'Twas on that verdant spot we met--nor can I ever forget the majestic courtesy of Mrs. Chuff, as she remembered having had the pleasure of seeing me at Mrs. Perkins's--nor the glance of scorn which she threw at an unfortunate gentleman who was preaching an exceedingly desultory discourse to a sceptical audience of omnibus-cads and nurse-maids, on a tub, as we passed by. 'I cannot help it, sir,' says she; 'I am the widow of an officer of Britain's Navy: I was taught to honour my Church and my King: and I cannot bear a Radical or a Dissenter.'
With these fine principles I found Sackville Maine impressed. 'Wagley,' said he, to my introducer, 'if no better engagement, why shouldn't self and friend dine at the "Oval?" Mr. Snob, sir, the mutton's coming off the spit at this very minute. Laura and Mrs. Chuff' (he said Laurar and Mrs. Chuff; but I hate people who make remarks on these peculiarities of pronunciation,) 'will be most happy to see you; and I can promise you a hearty welcome, and as good a glass of port-wine as any in England.'
'This is better than dining at the "Sarcophagus,"' thinks I to myself, at which Club Wagley and I had intended to take our meal; and so we accepted the kindly invitation, whence arose afterwards a considerable intimacy.
Everything about this family and house was so good-natured, comfortable, and well-conditioned, that a cynic would have ceased to growl there. Mrs. Laura was all graciousness and smiles, and looked to as great advantage in her pretty morning-gown as in her dress-robe at Mrs. Perkins's. Mrs. Chuff fired off her stories about the 'Nebuchadnezzar,' 74, the action between the 'Pitchfork' and the 'Furibonde'--the heroic resistance of Captain Choufleur, and the quantity of snuff he took, &c. &c.; which, as they were heard for the first time, were pleasanter than I have subsequently found them. Sackville Maine was the best of hosts. He agreed in everything everybody said, altering his opinions without the slightest reservation upon the slightest possible contradiction. He was not one of those beings who would emulate a Schonbein or Friar Bacon, or act the part of an incendiary towards the Thames, his neighbour--but a good, kind, simple, honest, easy fellow--in love with his wife--well disposed to all the world--content with himself, content even with his mother-in-law. Nelson Collingwood, I remember, in the course of the evening, when whisky-and-water was for some reason produced, grew a little tipsy. This did not in the least move Sackville's equanimity. 'Take him upstairs, Joseph,' said he to the hobbadehoy, 'and--Joseph--don't tell his mamma.'
What could make a man so happily disposed, unhappy? What could cause discomfort, bickering, and estrangement in a family so friendly and united? Ladies, it was not my fault--it was Mrs. Chuff's doing--but the rest of the tale you shall have on a future day.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The misfortune which befell the simple and good-natured young Sackville, arose entirely from that abominable 'Sarcophagus Club;' and that he ever entered it was partly the fault of the present writer.
For seeing Mrs. Chuff, his mother-in-law, had a taste for the genteel--(indeed, her talk was all about Lord Collingwood, Lord Gambier, Sir Jahaleel Brenton, and the Gosport and Plymouth balls)--Wagley and I, according to our wont, trumped her conversation, and talked about Lords, Dukes, Marquises, and Baronets, as if those dignitaries were our familiar friends.
'Lord Sextonbury,' says I, 'seems to have recovered her ladyship's death. He and the Duke were very jolly over their wine at the "Sarcophagus" last night; weren't they, Wagley?'
'Good fellow, the Duke,' Wagley replied. 'Pray, ma'am' (to Mrs. Chuff), 'you who know the world and etiquette, will you tell me what a man ought to do in my case? Last June, his Grace, his son Lord Castlerampant, Tom Smith, and myself were dining at the Club, when I offered the odds against Daddy Long Legs for the Derby--forty to one, in sovereigns only. His Grace took the bet, and of course I won. He has never paid me. Now, can I ask such a great man for a sovereign?--One more lump of sugar, if you please, my dear madam.'
It was lucky Wagley gave her this opportunity to elude the question, for it prostrated the whole worthy family among whom we were. They telegraphed each other with wondering eyes. Mrs. Chuff's stories about the naval nobility grew quite faint and kind little Mrs. Sackville became uneasy, and went upstairs to look at the children--not at that young monster, Nelson Collingwood, who was sleeping off the whisky-and-water--but at a couple of little ones who had made their appearance at dessert, and of whom she and Sackville were the happy parents.
The end of this and subsequent meetings with Mr. Maine was, that we proposed and got him elected as a member of the 'Sarcophagus Club.'
It was not done without a deal of opposition--the secret having been whispered that the candidate was a coal-merchant. You may be sure some of the proud people and most of the parvenus of the Club were ready to blackball him. We combated this opposition successfully, however. We pointed out to the parvenus that the Lambtons and the Stuarts sold coals: we mollified the proud by accounts of his good birth, good nature, and good behaviour; and Wagley went about on the day of election, describing with great eloquence, the action between the 'Pitchfork' and the 'Furibonde,' and the valour of Captain Maine, our friend's father. There was a slight mistake in the narrative; but we carried our man, with only a trifling sprinkling of black beans in the boxes: Byles's, of course, who blackballs everybody: and Bung's, who looks down upon a coal-merchant, having himself lately retired from the wine-trade.
Some fortnight afterwards I saw Sackville Maine under the following circumstances:--
He was showing the Club to his family. He had 'brought them thither in the light-blue fly, waiting at the Club door; with Mrs. Chuff's hobbadehoy footboy on the box, by the side of the flyman, in a sham livery. Nelson Collingwood; pretty Mrs. Sackville; Mrs. Captain Chuff (Mrs. Commodore Chuff we call her), were all there; the latter, of course, in the vermilion tabinet, which, splendid as it is, is nothing in comparison to the splendour of the 'Sarcophagus.' The delighted Sackville Maine was pointing out the beauties of the place to them. It seemed as beautiful as Paradise to that little party.
The 'Sarcophagus' displays every known variety of architecture and decoration. The great library is Elizabethan; the small library is pointed Gothic; the dining-room is severe Doric; the strangers' room has an Egyptian look; the drawing-rooms are Louis Quatorze (so called because the hideous ornaments displayed were used in the time of Louis Quinze); the cortile, or hall, is Morisco-Italian. It is all over marble, maplewood, looking-glasses, arabesques, ormolu, and scagliola. Scrolls, ciphers, dragons, Cupids, polyanthuses, and other flowers writhe up the walls in every kind of cornucopiosity. Fancy every gentleman in Jullien's band playing with all his might, and each performing a different tune; the ornaments at our Club, the 'Sarcophagus,' so bewilder and affect me. Dazzled with emotions which I cannot describe, and which she dared not reveal, Mrs. Chuff, followed by her children and son-in-law, walked wondering amongst these blundering splendours.
In the great library (225 feet long by 150) the only man Mrs. Chuff saw, was Tiggs. He was lying on a crimson-velvet sofa, reading a French novel of Paul de Kock. It was a very little book. He is a very little man. In that enormous hall he looked like a mere speck. As the ladies passed breathless and trembling in the vastness of the magnificent solitude, he threw a knowing, killing glance at the fair strangers, as much as to say, 'Ain't I a fine fellow?' They thought so, I am sure.
'Who is that?' hisses out Mrs. Chuff, when we were about fifty yards off him at the other end of the room.
'Tiggs!' says I, in a similar whisper.
'Pretty comfortable this, isn't it, my dear?' says Maine in a free-and-easy way to Mrs. Sackville; 'all the magazines, you see--writing materials--new works--choice library, containing every work of importance--what have we here?--"Dugdale's Monasticon," a most valuable and, I believe, entertaining book.'
And proposing to take down one of the books for Mrs. Maine's inspection, he selected Volume VII., to which he was attracted by the singular fact that a brass door-handle grew out of the back. Instead of pulling out a book, however, he pulled open a cupboard, only inhabited by a lazy housemaid's broom and duster, at which he looked exceedingly discomfited; while Nelson Collingwood, losing all respect, burst into a roar of laughter.
'That's the rummest book I ever saw,' says Nelson. 'I wish we'd no others at Merchant Taylors'.'
'Hush, Nelson!' cries Mrs. Chuff, and we went into the other magnificent apartments.
How they did admire the drawing-room hangings, (pink and silver brocade, most excellent wear for London,) and calculated the price per yard; and revelled on the luxurious sofas; and gazed on the immeasurable looking-glasses.
'Pretty well to shave by, eh?' says Maine to his mother-in-law. (He was getting more abominably conceited every minute.) 'Get away, Sackville,' says she, quite delighted, and threw a glance over her shoulder, and spread out the wings of the red tabinet, and took a good look at herself; so did Mrs. Sackville--just one, and I thought the glass reflected a very smiling, pretty creature.
But what's a woman at a looking-glass? Bless the little dears, it's their place. They fly to it naturally. It pleases them, and they adorn it. What I like to see, and watch with increasing joy and adoration, is the Club men at the great looking-glasses. Old Gills pushing up his collars and grinning at his own mottled face. Hulker looking solemnly at his great person, and tightening his coat to give himself a waist. Fred Minchin simpering by as he is going out to dine, and casting upon the reflection of his white neckcloth a pleased moony smile. What a deal of vanity that Club mirror has reflected, to be sure!
Well, the ladies went through the whole establishment with perfect pleasure. They beheld the coffee-rooms, and the little tables laid for dinner, and the gentlemen who were taking their lunch, and old Jawkins thundering away as usual; they saw the reading-rooms, and the rush for the evening papers; they saw the kitchens--those wonders of art--where the chef was presiding over twenty pretty kitchen-maids, and ten thousand shining saucepans: and they got into the light-blue fly perfectly bewildered with pleasure.
Sackville did not enter it, though little Laura took the back seat on purpose, and left him the front place alongside of Mrs. Chuff's red tabinet.
'We have your favourite dinner,' says she, in a timid voice; 'won't you come, Sackville?'
'I shall take a chop here to-day, my dear,' Sackville replied. 'Home, James.' And he went up the steps of the 'Sarcophagus,' and the pretty face looked very sad out of the carriage, as the blue fly drove away.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Why--Why did I and Wagley ever do so cruel an action as to introduce young Sackville Maine into that odious 'Sarcophagus'? Let our imprudence and his example be a warning to other gents; let his fate and that of his poor wife be remembered by every British female. The consequences of his entering the Club were as follows:--
One of the first vices the unhappy wretch acquired in this abode of frivolity was that of smoking. Some of the dandies of the Club, such as the Marquis of Macabaw, Lord Doodeen, and fellows of that high order, are in the habit of indulging in this propensity upstairs in the billiard-rooms of the 'Sarcophagus'--and, partly to make their acquaintance, partly from a natural aptitude for crime, Sackville Maine followed them, and became an adept in the odious custom. Where it is introduced into a family I need not say how sad the consequences are, both to the furniture and the morals. Sackville smoked in his dining-room at home, and caused an agony to his wife and mother-in-law which I do not venture to describe.
He then became a professed billiard player, wasting hours upon hours at that amusement; betting freely, playing tolerably, losing awfully to Captain Spot and Col. Cannon. He played matches of a hundred games with these gentlemen, and would not only continue until four or five o'clock in the morning at this work, but would be found at the Club of a forenoon, indulging himself to the detriment of his business, the ruin of his health, and the neglect of his wife.
From billiards to whist is but a step--and when a man gets to whist and five pounds on a rubber, my opinion is, that it is all up with him. How was the coal business to go on, and the connection of the firm to be kept up, and the senior partner always at the card-table?
Consorting now with genteel persons and Pall Mall bucks, Sackville became ashamed of his snug little residence in Kennington Oval, and transported his family to Pimlico, where, though Mrs. Chuff, his mother-in-law, was at first happy, as the quarter was elegant and near her Sovereign, poor little Laura and the children found a woful difference. Where were her friends who came in with their work of a morning?--At Kennington and in the vicinity of Clapham. 'Where were her children's little playmates?--On Kennington Common. The great thundering carriages that roared up and down the drab-coloured streets of the new quarter, contained no friends for the sociable little Laura. The children that paced the squares, attended by a bonne or a prim governess, were not like those happy ones that flew kites, or played hop-scotch, on the well-beloved old Common. And ah! what a difference at Church too!--between St. Benedict's of Pimlico, with open seats, service in sing-song--tapers--albs--surplices--garlands and processions, and the honest old ways of Kennington! The footmen, too, attending St. Benedict's were so splendid and enormous, that James, Mrs. Chuff's boy, trembled amongst them, and said he would give warning rather than carry the books to that church any more.
The furnishing of the house was not done without expense.
And, ye gods! what a difference there was between Sackville's dreary French banquets in Pimlico, and the jolly dinners at the Oval! No more legs-of-mutton, no more of 'the best port-wine in England;' but entrées on plate, and dismal twopenny champagne, and waiters in gloves, and the Club bucks for company--among whom Mrs. Chuff was uneasy and Mrs. Sackville quite silent.
Not that he dined at home often. The wretch had become a perfect epicure, and dined commonly at the Club with the gormandising clique there; with old Doctor Maw, Colonel Cramley (who is as lean as a greyhound and has jaws like a jack), and the rest of them. Here you might see the wretch tippling Sillery champagne and gorging himself with French viands; and I often looked with sorrow from my table, (on which cold meat, the Club small-beer, and a half-pint of Marsala form the modest banquet,) and sighed to think it was my work.
And there were other beings present to my repentant thoughts. Where's his wife, thought I? Where's poor, good, kind little Laura? At this very moment--it's about the nursery bed-time, and while yonder good-for-nothing is swilling his wine--the little ones are at Laura's knees lisping their prayers: and she is teaching them to say--'Pray God bless Papa.'
When she has put them to bed, her day's occupation is gone; and she is utterly lonely all night, and sad, and waiting for him.
Oh, for shame! Oh, for shame! Go home, thou idle tippler.
How Sackville lost his health: how he lost his business; how he got into scrapes; how he got into debt; how he became a railroad director; how the Pimlico house was shut up; how he went to Boulogne,--all this I could tell, only I am too much ashamed of my part of the transaction. They returned to England, because, to the surprise of everybody, Mrs. Chuff came down with a great sum of money (which nobody knew she had saved), and paid his liabilities. He is in England; but at Kennington. His name is taken off the books of the 'Sarcophagus' long ago. When we meet, he crosses over to the other side of the street; I don't call, as I should be sorry to see a look of reproach or sadness in Laura's sweet face.
Not, however, all evil, as I am proud to think, has been the influence of the Snob of England upon Clubs in general:--Captain Shindy is afraid to bully the waiters any more, and eats his mutton-chop without moving Acheron. Gobemouche does not take more than two papers at a time for his private reading. Tiggs does not ring the bell and cause the library-waiter to walk about a quarter of a mile in order to give him Vol. II., which lies on the next table. Growler has ceased to walk from table to table in the coffee-room, and inspect what people are having for dinner. Trotty Veck takes his own umbrella from the hall--the cotton one; and Sydney Scraper's paletot lined with silk has been brought back by Jobbins, who entirely mistook it for his own. Wiggle has discontinued telling stories about the ladies he has killed. Snooks does not any more think it gentlemanlike to blackball attorneys. Snuffler no longer publicly spreads out his great red cotton pocket-handkerchief before the fire, for the admiration of two hundred gentlemen; and if one Club Snob has been brought back to the paths of rectitude, and if one poor John has been spared a journey or a scolding--say, friends and brethren if these sketches of Club Snobs have been in vain?
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