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On Clerical Snobs and Snobbishness

After Snobs-Military, Snobs-Clerical suggest themselves quite naturally, and it is clear that, with every respect for the cloth, yet having a regard for truth, humanity, and the British public, such a vast and influential class must not be omitted from our notices of the great Snob world.

Of these Clerics there are some whose claim to snobbishness is undoubted, and yet it cannot be discussed here; for the same reason that Punch would not set up his show in a Cathedral, out of respect for the solemn service celebrated within. There are some places where he acknowledges himself not privileged to make a noise, and puts away his show, and silences his drum, and takes off his hat, and holds his peace.

And I know this, that if there are some Clerics who do wrong, there are straightway a thousand newspapers to haul up those unfortunates, and cry, 'Fie upon them, fie upon them!' while, though the press is always ready to yell and bellow excommunication against these stray delinquent parsons, it somehow takes very little count of the many good ones--of the tens of thousands of honest men, who lead Christian lives, who give to the poor generously, who deny themselves rigidly, and live and die in their duty, without ever a newspaper paragraph in their favour. My beloved friend and reader, I wish you and I could do the same: and let me whisper my belief, entre nous that of those eminent philosophers who cry out against parsons the loudest, there are not many who have got their knowledge of the church by going thither often.

But you who have ever listened to village bells, or walked to church as children on sunny Sabbath mornings; you who have ever seen the parson's wife tending the poor man's bedside; or the town clergyman threading the dirty stairs of noxious alleys upon his business;--do not raise a shout when one falls away, or yell with the mob that howls after him.

Every man can do that. When old Father Noah was overtaken in his cups, there was only one of his sons that dared to make merry at his disaster, and he was not the most virtuous of the family. Let us too turn away silently, nor huzza like a parcel of school-boys, because some big young rebel suddenly starts up and whops the schoolmaster.

I confess, though, if I had by me the names of those seven or eight Irish bishops, the probates of whose wills were mentioned in last year's journals, and who died leaving behind them some two hundred thousand a-piece--I would like to put them up as patrons of my Clerical Snobs, and operate upon them as successfully as I see from the newspapers Mr. Eisenberg, Chiropodist, has lately done upon 'His Grace the Reverend Lord Bishop of Tapioca.'

I confess that when those Right Reverend Prelates come up to the gates of Paradise with their probates of wills in their hands, I think that their chance is.... But the gates of Paradise is a far way to follow their Lordships; so let us trip down again lest awkward questions be asked there about our own favourite vices too.

And don't let us give way to the vulgar prejudice, that clergymen are an over-paid and luxurious body of men. When that eminent ascetic, the late Sydney Smith--(by the way, by what law of nature is it that so many Smiths in this world are called Sydney Smith?)--lauded the system of great prizes in the Church,--without which he said gentlemen would not be induced to follow the clerical profession, he admitted most pathetically that the clergy in general were by no means to be envied for their worldly prosperity. From reading the works of some modern writers of repute, you would fancy that a parson's life was passed in gorging himself with plum-pudding and port-wine; and that his Reverence's fat chaps were always greasy with the crackling of tithe pigs. Caricaturists delight to represent him so: round, short-necked, pimple-faced, apoplectic, bursting out of waistcoat, like a black-pudding, a shovel-hatted fuzz-wigged Silenus. Whereas, if you take the real man, the poor fellow's flesh-pots are very scantily furnished with meat. He labours commonly for a wage that a tailor's foreman would despise: he has, too, such claims upon his dismal income as most philosophers would rather grumble to meet; many tithes are levied upon his pocket, let it be remembered, by those who grudge him his means of livelihood. He has to dine with the Squire: and his wife must dress neatly; and he must 'look like a gentleman,' as they call it, and bring up six great hungry sons as such. Add to this, if he does his duty, he has such temptations to spend his money as no mortal man could withstand. Yes; you who can't resist purchasing a chest of cigars, because they are so good; or an ormolu clock at Howell and James's, because it is such a bargain; or a box at the Opera, because Lablache and Grisi are divine in the puritani; fancy how difficult it is for a parson to resist spending a half-crown when John Breakstone's family are without a loaf; or 'standing' a bottle of port for poor old Polly Rabbits, who has her thirteenth child; or treating himself to a suit of corduroys for little Bob Scarecrow, whose breeches are sadly out at elbows. Think of these temptations, brother moralists and philosophers, and don't be too hard on the parson.

But what is this? Instead of 'showing up' the parsons, are we indulging in maudlin praises of that monstrous black-coated race? O saintly Francis, lying at rest under the turf; O Jimmy, and Johnny, and Willy, friends of my youth! O noble and dear old Elias! how should he who knows you not respect you and your calling? May this pen never write a pennyworth again, if it ever casts ridicule upon either!

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'Dear Mr. Snob,' an amiable young correspondent writes, who signs himself Snobling, 'ought the clergyman who, at the request of a noble Duke, lately interrupted a marriage ceremony between two persons perfectly authorised to marry, to be ranked or not among the Clerical Snobs?'

This, my dear young friend, is not a fair question. One of the illustrated weekly papers has already seized hold of the clergyman, and blackened him most unmercifully, by representing him in his cassock performing the marriage service. Let that be sufficient punishment; and, if you please, do not press the query.

It is very likely that if Miss Smith had come with a licence to marry Jones, the parson in question, not seeing old Smith present, would have sent off the beadle in a cab to let the old gentleman know what was going on; and would have delayed the service until the arrival of Smith senior. He very likely thinks it his duty to ask all marriageable young ladies, who come without their papa, why their parent is absent; and, no doubt, always sends off the beadle for that missing governor.

Or, it is very possible that the Duke of Coeurdelion was Mr. What-d'ye-call'im's most intimate friend, and has often said to him, 'What-d'ye-call'im, my boy, my daughter must never marry the Capting. If ever they try at your church, I beseech you, considering the terms of intimacy on which we are, to send off Rattan in a hack cab to fetch me.'

In either of which cases, you see, dear Snobling, that though the parson would not have been authorised, yet he might have been excused for interfering. He has no more right to stop my marriage than to stop my dinner, to both of which, as a free-born Briton, I am entitled by law, if I can pay for them. But, consider pastoral solicitude, a deep sense of the duties of his office, and pardon this inconvenient, but genuine zeal.

But if the clergyman did in the Duke's case what he would not do in Smith's; if he has no more acquaintance with the Coeurdelion family than I have with the Royal and Serene House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha,--then, I confess, my dear Snobling, your question might elicit a disagreeable reply, and one which I respectfully decline to give. I wonder what Sir George Tufto would say, if a sentry left his post because a noble lord (not the least connected with the service) begged the sentinel not to do his duty!

Alas! that the beadle who canes little boys and drives them out, cannot drive worldliness out too; what is worldliness but snobbishness? When, for instance, I read in the newspapers that the Right Reverend the Lord Charles James administered the rite of confirmation to a part of the juvenile nobility at the Chapel Royal,--as if the Chapel Royal were a sort of ecclesiastical Almack's, and young people were to get ready for the next world in little exclusive genteel knots of the aristocracy, who were not to be disturbed in their journey thither by the company of the vulgar:--when I read such a paragraph as that (and one or two such generally appear during the present fashionable season), it seems to me to be the most odious, mean and disgusting part of that odious, mean, and disgusting publication, the Court Circular; and that snobbishness is therein carried to quite an awful pitch. What, gentlemen, can't we even in the Church acknowledge a republic? There, at least, the Heralds' College itself might allow that we all of us have the same pedigree, and are direct descendants of Eve and Adam, whose inheritance is divided amongst us.

I hereby call upon all Dukes, Earls, Baronets, and other potentates, not to lend themselves to this shameful scandal and error, and beseech all Bishops who read this publication to take the matter into consideration, and to protest against the continuance of the practice, and to declare, 'We won't confirm or christen Lord Tomnoddy, or Sir Carnaby Jenks, to the exclusion of any other young Christian;' the which declaration if their Lordships are induced to make, a great lapis offensionis will be removed, and the Snob Papers will not have been written in vain.

A story is current of a celebrated nouveau-riche, who having had occasion to oblige that excellent prelate the Bishop of Bullocksmithy, asked his Lordship, in return, to confirm his children privately in his Lordship's own chapel; which ceremony the grateful prelate accordingly performed. Can satire go farther than this? Is there even in this most amusing of prints, any more naive absurdity? It is as if a man wouldn't go to heaven unless he went in a special train, or as if he thought (as some people think about vaccination) Confirmation more effectual when administered at first hand. When that eminent person, the Begum Sumroo, died, it is said she left ten thousand pounds to the Pope, and ten thousand to the Archbishop of Canterbury,--so that there should be no mistake,--so as to make sure of having the ecclesiastical authorities on her side. This is only a little more openly and undisguisedly snobbish than the cases before alluded to. A well-bred Snob is just as secretly proud of his riches and honours as a parvenu Snob who makes the most ludicrous exhibition of them; and a high-born Marchioness or Duchess just as vain of herself and her diamonds, as Queen Quashyboo, who sews a pair of epaulets on to her skirt, and turns out in state in a cocked hat and feathers.

It is not out of disrespect to my 'Peerage,' which I love and honour, (indeed, have I not said before, that I should be ready to jump out of my skin if two Dukes would walk down Pall Mall with me?)--it is not out of disrespect for the individuals, that I wish these titles had never been invented; but, consider, if there were no tree, there would be no shadow; and how much more honest society would be, and how much more serviceable the clergy would be (which is our present consideration), if these temptations of rank and continual baits of worldliness were not in existence, and perpetually thrown out to lead them astray.

I have seen many examples of their falling away. When, for instance, Tom Sniffle first went into the country as Curate for Mr. Fuddleston (Sir Huddleston Fuddleston's brother), who resided on some other living, there could not be a more kind, hardworking, and excellent creature than Tom. He had his aunt to live with him. His conduct to his poor was admirable. He wrote annually reams of the best-intentioned and vapid sermons. When Lord Brandyball's family came down into the country, and invited him to dine at Brandyball Park, Sniffle was so agitated that he almost forgot how to say grace, and upset a bowl of currant-jelly sauce in Lady Fanny Toffy's lap.

What was the consequence of his intimacy with that noble family? He quarrelled with his aunt for dining out every night. The wretch forgot his poor altogether, and killed his old nag by always riding over to Brandyball; where he revelled in the maddest passion for Lady Fanny. He ordered the neatest new clothes and ecclesiastical waistcoats from London; he appeared with corazza-shirts, lackered boots, and perfumery; he bought a blood-horse from Bob Toffy: was seen at archery meetings, public breakfasts,--actually at cover; and, I blush to say, that I saw him in a stall at the Opera; and afterwards riding by Lady Fanny's side in Rotten Row. He double barrelled his name, (as many poor Snobs do,) and instead of T. Sniffle, as formerly, came out, in a porcelain card, as Rev. T. D'Arcy Sniffle, Burlington Hotel.

The end of all this may be imagined: when the Earl of Brandyball was made acquainted with the curate's love for Lady Fanny, he had that fit of the gout which so nearly carried him off (to the inexpressible grief of his son, Lord Alicompayne), and uttered that remarkable speech to Sniffle, which disposed of the claims of the latter:--' If I didn't respect the Church, Sir,' his Lordship said, 'by Jove, I'd kick you downstairs:' his Lordship then fell back into the fit aforesaid; and Lady Fanny, as we all know, married General Podager.

As for poor Tom, he was over head and ears in debt as well as in love: his creditors came down upon him. Mr. Hemp, of Portugal Street, proclaimed his name lately as a reverend outlaw; and he has been seen at various foreign watering-places; sometimes doing duty; sometimes 'coaching' a stray gentleman's son at Carlsruhe or Kissingen; sometimes--must we say it?--lurking about the roulette-tables with a tuft to his chin.

If temptation had not come upon this unhappy fellow in the shape of a Lord Brandyball, he might still have been following his profession, humbly and worthily. He might have married his cousin with four thousand pounds, the wine-merchant's daughter (the old gentleman quarrelled with his nephew for not soliciting wine-orders from Lord B. for him): he might have had seven children, and taken private pupils, and eked out his income, and lived and died a country parson.

Could he have done better? You who want to know how great, and good, and noble such a character may be, read Stanley's 'Life of Doctor Arnold.'

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Among the varieties of the Snob Clerical, the University Snob and the Scholastic Snob ought never to be forgotten; they form a very strong battalion in the black-coated army.

The wisdom of our ancestors (which I admire more and more every day) seemed to have determined that education of youth was so paltry and unimportant a matter, that almost any man, armed with a birch and regulation cassock and degree, might undertake the charge: and many an honest country gentleman may be found to the present day, who takes very good care to have a character with his butler when he engages him and will not purchase a horse without the warranty and the closest inspection; but sends off his son, young John Thomas, to school without asking any questions about the Schoolmaster, and places the lad at Switchester College, under Doctor Block, because he (the good old English gentleman) had been at Switchester, under Doctor Buzwig, forty years ago.

We have a love for all little boys at school; for many scores of thousands of them read and love Punch:--may he never write a word that shall not be honest and fit for them to read! He will not have his young friends to be Snobs in the future, or to be bullied by Snobs, or given over to such to be educated. Our connexion with the youth at the Universities is very close and affectionate. The candid undergraduate is our friend. The pompous old College Don trembles in his common room, lest we should attack him and show him up as a Snob.

When railroads were threatening to invade the land which they have since conquered, it may be recollected what a shrieking and outcry the authorities of Oxford and Eton made, lest the iron abominations should come near those seats of pure learning, and tempt the British youth astray. The supplications were in vain; the railroad is in upon them, and the old-world institutions are doomed. I felt charmed to read in the papers the other day a most veracious puffing advertisement headed, 'To College and back for Five Shillings.' 'The College Gardens (it said) will be thrown open on this occasion; the College youths will perform a regatta; the Chapel of King's College will have its celebrated music;'--and all for five shillings! The Goths have got into Rome; Napoleon Stephenson draws his republican lines round the sacred old cities and the ecclesiastical big-wigs who garrison them must prepare to lay down key and crosier before the iron conqueror.

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University System produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the 'College Youths,' you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master's gown and hat, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

He may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University gives him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings, would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars--servitors at Oxford--(a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.

When this wicked and shameful distinction was set up, it was of a piece with all the rest--a part of the brutal, unchristian, blundering feudal system. Distinctions of rank were then so strongly insisted upon, that it would have been thought blasphemy to doubt them, as blasphemous as it is in parts of the United States now for a nigger to set up as the equal of a white man. A ruffian like Henry VIII. talked as gravely about the divine powers vested in him, as if he had been an inspired prophet. A wretch like James I. not only believed that there was in himself a particular sanctity, but other people believed him. Government regulated the length of a merchant's shoes as well as meddled with his trade, prices, exports, machinery. It thought itself justified in roasting a man for his religion, or pulling a Jew's teeth out if he did not pay a contribution, or ordered him to dress in a yellow gabardine, and locked him in a particular quarter.

Now a merchant may wear what boots he pleases, and has pretty nearly acquired the privilege of buying and selling without the Government laying its paws upon the bargain. The stake for heretics is gone; the pillory is taken down; Bishops are even found lifting up their voices against the remains of persecution, and ready to do away with the last Catholic Disabilities. Sir Robert Peel, though he wished it ever so much, has no power over Mr. Benjamin Disraeli's grinders, or any means of violently handling that gentleman's jaw. Jews are not called upon to wear badges: on the contrary, they may live in Piccadilly, or the Minories, according to fancy; they may dress like Christians, and do sometimes in a most elegant and fashionable manner.

Why is the poor College servitor to wear that name and that badge still? Because Universities are the last places into which Reform penetrates. But now that she can go to College and back for five shillings, let her travel down thither.

William Makepeace Thackeray