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- Little Travels and Roadside Sketches - 1/8 -



by William Makepeace Thackeray



Ghent (1840)





. . . I quitted the "Rose Cottage Hotel" at Richmond, one of the comfortablest, quietest, cheapest, neatest little inns in England, and a thousand times preferable, in my opinion, to the "Star and Garter," whither, if you go alone, a sneering waiter, with his hair curled, frightens you off the premises; and where, if you are bold enough to brave the sneering waiter, you have to pay ten shillings for a bottle of claret; and whence, if you look out of the window, you gaze on a view which is so rich that it seems to knock you down with its splendor--a view that has its hair curled like the swaggering waiter: I say, I quitted the "Rose Cottage Hotel" with deep regret, believing that I should see nothing so pleasant as its gardens, and its veal cutlets, and its dear little bowling-green, elsewhere. But the time comes when people must go out of town, and so I got on the top of the omnibus, and the carpet-bag was put inside.

If I were a great prince and rode outside of coaches (as I should if I were a great prince), I would, whether I smoked or not, have a case of the best Havanas in my pocket--not for my own smoking, but to give them to the snobs on the coach, who smoke the vilest cheroots. They poison the air with the odor of their filthy weeds. A man at all easy in his circumstances would spare himself much annoyance by taking the above simple precaution.

A gentleman sitting behind me tapped me on the back and asked for a light. He was a footman, or rather valet. He had no livery, but the three friends who accompanied him were tall men in pepper-and- salt undress jackets with a duke's coronet on their buttons.

After tapping me on the back, and when he had finished his cheroot, the gentleman produced another wind-instrument, which he called a "kinopium," a sort of trumpet, on which he showed a great inclination to play. He began puffing out of the "kinopium" a most abominable air, which he said was the "Duke's March." It was played by particular request of one of the pepper-and-salt gentry.

The noise was so abominable that even the coachman objected (although my friend's brother footmen were ravished with it), and said that it was not allowed to play toons on HIS 'bus. "Very well," said the valet, "WE'RE ONLY OF THE DUKE OF B----'S ESTABLISHMENT, THAT'S ALL." The coachman could not resist that appeal to his fashionable feelings. The valet was allowed to play his infernal kinopium, and the poor fellow (the coachman), who had lived in some private families, was quite anxious to conciliate the footmen "of the Duke of B.'s establishment, that's all," and told several stories of his having been groom in Captain Hoskins's family, NEPHEW OF GOVERNOR HOSKINS; which stories the footmen received with great contempt.

The footmen were like the rest of the fashionable world in this respect. I felt for my part that I respected them. They were in daily communication with a duke! They were not the rose, but they had lived beside it. There is an odor in the English aristocracy which intoxicates plebeians. I am sure that any commoner in England, though he would die rather than confess it, would have a respect for those great big hulking Duke's footmen.

The day before, her Grace the Duchess had passed us alone in a chariot-and-four with two outriders. What better mark of innate superiority could man want? Here was a slim lady who required four--six horses to herself, and four servants (kinopium was, no doubt, one of the number) to guard her.

We were sixteen inside and out, and had consequently an eighth of a horse apiece.

A duchess = 6, a commoner = 1/8; that is to say,

1 duchess = 48 commoners.

If I were a duchess of the present day, I would say to the duke my noble husband, "My dearest grace, I think, when I travel alone in my chariot from Hammersmith to London, I will not care for the outriders. In these days, when there is so much poverty and so much disaffection in the country, we should not eclabousser the canaille with the sight of our preposterous prosperity.

But this is very likely only plebeian envy, and I dare say, if I were a lovely duchess of the realm, I would ride in a coach-and- six, with a coronet on the top of my bonnet and a robe of velvet and ermine even in the dog-days.

Alas! these are the dog-days. Many dogs are abroad--snarling dogs, biting dogs, envious dogs, mad dogs; beware of exciting the fury of such with your flaming red velvet and dazzling ermine. It makes ragged Lazarus doubly hungry to see Dives feasting in cloth-of- gold; and so if I were a beauteous duchess . . . Silence, vain man! Can the Queen herself make you a duchess? Be content, then, nor gibe at thy betters of "the Duke of B----'s establishment-- that's all."


We have bidden adieu to Billingsgate, we have passed the Thames Tunnel; it is one o'clock, and of course people are thinking of being hungry. What a merry place a steamer is on a calm sunny summer forenoon, and what an appetite every one seems to have! We are, I assure you, no less than 170 noblemen and gentlemen together, pacing up and down under the awning, or lolling on the sofas in the cabin, and hardly have we passed Greenwich when the feeding begins. The company was at the brandy and soda-water in an instant (there is a sort of legend that the beverage is a preservative against sea-sickness), and I admired the penetration of gentlemen who partook of the drink. In the first place, the steward WILL put so much brandy into the tumbler that it is fit to choke you; and, secondly, the soda-water, being kept as near as possible to the boiler of the engine, is of a fine wholesome heat when presented to the hot and thirsty traveller. Thus he is prevented from catching any sudden cold which might be dangerous to him.

The forepart of the vessel is crowded to the full as much as the genteeler quarter. There are four carriages, each with piles of imperials and aristocratic gimcracks of travel, under the wheels of which those personages have to clamber who have a mind to look at the bowsprit, and perhaps to smoke a cigar at ease. The carriages overcome, you find yourself confronted by a huge penful of Durham oxen, lying on hay and surrounded by a barricade of oars. Fifteen of these horned monsters maintain an incessant mooing and bellowing. Beyond the cows come a heap of cotton-bags, beyond the cotton-bags more carriages, more pyramids of travelling trunks, and valets and couriers bustling and swearing round about them. And already, and in various corners and niches, lying on coils of rope, black tar-cloths, ragged cloaks, or hay, you see a score of those dubious fore-cabin passengers, who are never shaved, who always look unhappy, and appear getting ready to be sick.

At one, dinner begins in the after-cabin--boiled salmon, boiled beef, boiled mutton, boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, and parboiled wine for any gentlemen who like it, and two roast-ducks between seventy. After this, knobs of cheese are handed round on a plate, and there is a talk of a tart somewhere at some end of the table. All this I saw peeping through a sort of meat-safe which ventilates the top of the cabin, and very happy and hot did the people seem below.

"How the deuce CAN people dine at such an hour?" say several genteel fellows who are watching the manoeuvres. "I can't touch a morsel before seven."

But somehow at half-past three o'clock we had dropped a long way down the river. The air was delightfully fresh, the sky of a faultless cobalt, the river shining and flashing like quicksilver, and at this period steward runs against me bearing two great smoking dishes covered by two great glistening hemispheres of tin. "Fellow," says I, "what's that?"

He lifted up the cover: it was ducks and green pease, by jingo!

"What! haven't they done YET, the greedy creatures?" I asked. "Have the people been feeding for three hours?"

"Law bless you, sir, it's the second dinner. Make haste, or you won't get a place." At which words a genteel party, with whom I had been conversing, instantly tumbled down the hatchway, and I find myself one of the second relay of seventy who are attacking the boiled salmon, boiled beef, boiled cabbage, &c. As for the ducks, I certainly had some pease, very fine yellow stiff pease, that ought to have been split before they were boiled; but, with regard to the ducks, I saw the animals gobbled up before my eyes by an old widow lady and her party just as I was shrieking to the steward to bring a knife and fork to carve them. The fellow! (I mean the widow lady's whiskered companion)--I saw him eat pease with the very knife with which he had dissected the duck!

After dinner (as I need not tell the keen observer of human nature who peruses this) the human mind, if the body be in a decent state, expands into gayety and benevolence, and the intellect longs to measure itself in friendly converse with the divers intelligences

Little Travels and Roadside Sketches - 1/8

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