Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

On Some Military Snobs

As no society in the world is more agreeable than that of well-bred and well-informed military gentlemen, so, likewise, none is more insufferable than that of Military Snobs. They are to be found of all grades, from the General Officer, whose padded old breast twinkles over with a score of stars, clasps, and decorations, to the budding cornet, who is shaving for a beard, and has just been appointed to the Saxe-Coburg Lancers.

I have always admired that dispensation of rank in our country, which sets up this last-named little creature (who was flogged only last week because he could not spell) to command great whiskered warriors, who have faced all dangers of climate and battle; which, because he has money, to lodge at the agent's, will place him over the heads of men who have a thousand times more experience and desert: and which, in the course of time, will bring him all the honours of his profession, when the veteran soldier he commanded has got no other reward for his bravery than a berth in Chelsea Hospital, and the veteran officer he superseded has slunk into shabby retirement, and ends his disappointed life on a threadbare half-pay.

When I read in the Gazette such announcements as 'Lieutenant and Captain Grig, from the Bombardier Guards, to be Captain, vice Grizzle, who retires,' I know what becomes of the Peninsular Grizzle; I follow him in spirit to the humble country town, where he takes up his quarters, and occupies himself with the most desperate attempts to live like a gentleman, on the stipend of half a tailor's foreman; and I picture to myself little Grig rising from rank to rank, skipping from one regiment to another, with an increased grade in each, avoiding disagreeable foreign service, and ranking as a colonel at thirty;--all because he has money, and Lord Grigsby is his father, who had the same luck before him. Grig must blush at first to give his orders to old men in every way his betters. And as it is very difficult for a spoiled child to escape being selfish and arrogant, so it is a very hard task indeed for this spoiled child of fortune not to be a Snob.

It must have often been a matter of wonder to the candid reader, that the army, the most enormous job of all our political institutions, should yet work so well in the field; and we must cheerfully give Grig, and his like, the credit for courage which they display whenever occasion calls for it. The Duke's dandy regiments fought as well as any (they said better than any, but that is absurd). The great Duke himself was a dandy once, and jobbed on, as Marlborough did before him. But this only proves that dandies are brave as well as other Britons--as all Britons. Let us concede that the high-born Grig rode into the entrenchments at Sobraon as gallantly as Corporal Wallop, the ex-ploughboy.

The times of war are more favourable to him than the periods of peace. Think of Grig's life in the Bombardier Guards, or the Jack-boot Guards; his marches from Windsor to London, from London to Windsor, from Knightsbridge to Regent's Park; the idiotic services he has to perform, which consist in inspecting the pipeclay of his company, or the horses in the stable, or bellowing out 'Shoulder humps! Carry humps!' all which duties the very smallest intellect that ever belonged to mortal man would suffice to comprehend. The professional duties of a footman are quite as difficult and various. The red-jackets who hold gentlemen's horses in St. James's Street could do the work just as well as those vacuous, good-natured, gentlemanlike, rickety little lieutenants, who may be seen sauntering about Pall Mall, in high-heeled little boots, or rallying round the standard of their regiment in the Palace Court, at eleven o'clock, when the band plays. Did the beloved reader ever see one of the young fellows staggering under the flag, or, above all, going through the operation of saluting it? It is worth a walk to the Palace to witness that magnificent piece of tomfoolery.

I have had the honour of meeting once or twice an old gentleman, whom I look upon to be a specimen of army-training, and who has served in crack regiments, or commanded them, all his life. I allude to Lieutenant-General the Honourable Sir George Granby Tufto, K.C.B., K.T.S., K.H., K.S.W., &c. &c.. His manners are irreproachable generally; in society he is a perfect gentleman, and a most thorough Snob.

A man can't help being a fool, be he ever so old, and Sir George is a greater ass at sixty-eight than he was when he first entered the army at fifteen. He distinguished himself everywhere: his name is mentioned with praise in a score of Gazettes: he is the man, in fact, whose padded breast, twinkling over with innumerable decorations, has already been introduced to the reader. It is difficult to say what virtues this prosperous gentleman possesses. He never read a book in his life, and, with his purple, old gouty fingers, still writes a schoolboy hand. He has reached old age and grey hairs without being the least venerable. He dresses like an outrageously young man to the present moment, and laces and pads his old carcass as if he were still handsome George Tufto of 1800. He is selfish, brutal, passionate, and a glutton. It is curious to mark him at table, and see him heaving in his waistband, his little bloodshot eyes gloating over his meal. He swears considerably in his talk, and tells filthy garrison stories after dinner. On account of his rank and his services, people pay the bestarred and betitled old brute a sort of reverence; and he looks down upon you and me, and exhibits his contempt for us, with a stupid and artless candour which is quite amusing to watch. Perhaps, had he been bred to another profession, he would not have been the disreputable old creature he now is. But what other? He was fit for none; too incorrigibly idle and dull for any trade but this, in which he has distinguished himself publicly as a good and gallant officer, and privately for riding races, drinking port, fighting duels, and seducing women. He believes himself to be one of the most honourable and deserving beings in the world. About Waterloo Place, of afternoons, you may see him tottering in his varnished boots, and leering under the bonnets of the women who pass by. When he dies of apoplexy, The Times will have a quarter of a column about his services and battles--four lines of print will be wanted to describe his titles and orders alone--and the earth will cover one of the wickedest and dullest old wretches that ever strutted over it.

Lest it should be imagined that I am of so obstinate a misanthropic nature as to be satisfied with nothing, I beg (for the comfort of the forces) to state my belief that the army is not composed of such persons as the above. He has only been selected for the study of civilians and the military, as a specimen of a prosperous and bloated Army Snob. No: when epaulets are not sold; when corporal punishments are abolished, and Corporal Smith has a chance to have his gallantry rewarded as well as that of Lieutenant Grig; when there is no such rank as ensign and lieutenant (the existence of which rank is an absurd anomaly, and an insult upon all the rest of the army), and should there be no war, I should not be disinclined to be a major-general myself.

I have a little sheaf of Army Snobs in my portfolio, but shall pause in my attack upon the forces till next week.


       *      *      *      *      *      *      *       *       *       *       *       *


Walking in the Park yesterday with my young friend Tagg, and discoursing with him upon the next number of the Snob, at the very nick of time who should pass us but two very good specimens of Military Snobs,--the Sporting Military Snob, Capt. Rag, and the 'lurking' or raffish Military Snob, Ensign Famish. Indeed you are fully sure to meet them lounging on horseback, about five o'clock, under the trees by the Serpentine, examining critically the inmates of the flashy broughams which parade up and down 'the Lady's Mile.'

Tagg and Rag are very well acquainted, and so the former, with that candour inseparable from intimate friendship, told me his dear friend's history. Captain Rag is a small dapper north-country man. He went when quite a boy into a crack light cavalry regiment, and by the time he got his troop, had cheated all his brother officers so completely, selling them lame horses for sound ones, and winning their money by all manner of strange and ingenious contrivances, that his Colonel advised him to retire; which he did without much reluctance, accommodating a youngster, who had just entered the regiment, with a glandered charger at an uncommonly stiff figure.

He has since devoted his time to billiards, steeple-chasing, and the turf. His head-quarters are 'Rummer's,' in Conduit Street, where he keeps his kit; but he is ever on the move in the exercise of his vocation as a gentleman-jockey and gentleman-leg.

According to Bell's Life, he is an invariable attendant at all races, and an actor in most of them. He rode the winner at Leamington; he was left for dead in a ditch a fortnight ago at Harrow; and yet there he was, last week, at the Croix de Berny, pale and determined as ever, astonishing the Badauds of Paris by the elegance of his seat and the neatness of his rig, as he took a preliminary gallop on that vicious brute 'The Disowned,' before starting for 'the French Grand National.'

He is a regular attendant at the Corner, where he compiles a limited but comfortable libretto. During season he rides often in the Park, mounted on a clever well-bred pony. He is to be seen escorting celebrated horsewoman, Fanny Highflyer, or in confidential converse with Lord Thimblerig, the eminent handicapper.

He carefully avoids decent society, and would rather dine off a steak at the 'One Tun' with Sam Snaffle the jockey, Captain O'Rourke, and two or three other notorious turf robbers, than with the choicest company in London. He likes to announce at 'Rummer's' that he is going to run down and spend his Saturday and Sunday in a friendly way with Hocus, the leg, at his little box near Epsom; where, if report speak true, many 'rummish plants' are concocted.

He does not play billiards often, and never in public: but when he does play, he always contrives to get hold of a good flat, and never leaves him till he has done him uncommonly brown. He has lately been playing a good deal with Famish.

When he makes his appearance in the drawing-room, which occasionally happens at a hunt-meeting or a race-ball, he enjoys himself extremely.

His young friend is Ensign Famish, who is not a little pleased to be seen with such a smart fellow as Rag, who bows to the best turf company in the Park. Rag lets Famish accompany him to Tattersall's, and sells him bargains in horse-flesh, and uses Famish's cab. That young gentleman's regiment is in India, and he is at home on sick leave. He recruits his health by being intoxicated every night, and fortifies his lungs, which are weak, by smoking cigars all day. The policemen about the Haymarket know the little creature, and the early cabmen salute him. The closed doors of fish and lobster shops open after service, and vomit out little Famish, who is either tipsy and quarrelsome--when he wants to fight the cabmen; or drunk and helpless--when some kind friend (in yellow satin) takes care of him. All the neighbourhood, the cabmen, the police, the early potato-men, and the friends in yellow satin, know the young fellow, and he is called Little Bobby by some of the very worst reprobates in Europe.

His mother, Lady Fanny Famish, believes devoutly that Robert is in London solely for the benefit of consulting the physician; is going to have him exchanged into a dragoon regiment, which doesn't go to that odious India; and has an idea that his chest is delicate, and that he takes gruel every evening, when he puts his feet in hot water. Her Ladyship resides at Cheltenham, and is of a serious turn.

Bobby frequents the 'Union Jack Club' of course; where he breakfasts on pale ale and devilled kidneys at three o'clock; where beardless young heroes of his own sort congregate, and make merry, and give each other dinners; where you may see half-a-dozen of young rakes of the fourth or fifth order lounging and smoking on the steps; where you behold Slapper's long-tailed leggy mare in the custody of a red-jacket until the Captain is primed for the Park with a glass of curacoa; and where you see Hobby, of the Highland Buffs, driving up with Dobby, of the Madras Fusiliers, in the great banging, swinging cab, which the latter hires from Rumble of Bond Street.

In fact, Military Snobs are of such number and variety, that a hundred weeks of Punch would not suffice to give an audience to them. There is, besides the disreputable old Military Snob, who has seen service, the respectable old Military Snob, who has seen none, and gives himself the most prodigious Martinet airs. There is the Medical-Military Snob, who is generally more outrageously military in his conversation than the greatest sabreur in the army. There is the Heavy-Dragoon Snob, whom young ladies, admire with his great stupid pink face and yellow moustaches--a vacuous, solemn, foolish, but brave and honourable Snob. There is the Amateur-Military Snob who writes Captain on his card because he is a Lieutenant in the Bungay Militia. There is the Lady-killing Military Snob; and more, who need not be named.

But let no man, we repeat, charge Mr. Punch with disrespect for the Army in general--that gallant and judicious Army, every man of which, from F.M. the Duke of Wellington, &c., downwards--(with the exception of H.R.H. Field-Marshal Prince Albert, who, however, can hardly count as a military man,)--reads Punch in every quarter of the globe.

Let those civilians who sneer at the acquirements of the army read Sir Harry Smith's account of the Battle of Aliwal. A noble deed was never told in nobler language. And you who doubt if chivalry exists, or the age of heroism has passed by, think of Sir Henry Hardinge, with his son, 'dear little Arthur,' riding in front of the lines at Ferozeshah. I hope no English painter will endeavour to illustrate that scene; for who is there to do justice to it? The history of the world contains no more brilliant and heroic picture. No, no; the men who perform these deeds with such brilliant valour, and describe them with such modest manliness--such are not Snobs. Their country admires them, their Sovereign rewards them, and Punch, the universal railer, takes off his hat and, says, Heaven save them!


William Makepeace Thackeray