I mentioned in my earlier post on Shabby Chic that I adore old books. Not only are they beautiful, but the worn covers and thick pages carry stories beyond the printed words: Who bought this book fresh off the press? Was it a gift? Sometimes there is a note written inside telling of a giver and a receiver or a bit of marginalia from a thoughtful reader or a conscientious student – I love those best. Most of my old books are over a hundred years old. Where have they been in that century of time? How many hands did they pass through before they found their sad way to the used section of the bookstore?
But not so sad – because people like me will take them down and touch those worn covers and feel that weight and sense those stories through the texture of cloth binding and inlaid printing, the rough-cut pages and tissue-thin paper protecting illustrations (publishers really don’t make them like they used to, do they?). Someone like me will find them and take them home where they will be treasured and admired as such venerable tomes should be.
Did I mention that I love old books?
I use them decoratively, of course, but books are meant most of all to be read, so I wanted to take the time to explore the many old books I’ve bought over the years and share some of the stories I’ve found.
The first I am going to share is a recent acquisition, but a fantastic one. William Makepeace Thackery is known today almost solely for his famous work Vanity Fair, but at just about the same time that he was working on Vanity Fair, he was finishing up a serial called The Book of Snobs, something I did not know existed and that I now cannot get enough of.
The Book of Snobs: A Review (Part 1)
Thackery’s satiric tone that infuses most of his writing is highlighted in this worn, old 1903 copy of The Book of Snobs, which was originally published in 1848. I learned from some quick Internet research that the word “snob” had been used for a good fifty years or so before Thackery got his hands on it, but Thackery may be the one who popularized its usage. I found that fascinating!
This delightful book categorizes snobs by type, so we have the following:
- The Snob Royal
- Respectable Snobs
- City Snobs
- Military Snobs
- Clerical Snobs
- University Snobs
- Literary Snobs
- Radical Snobs
- Irish Snobs
- Party-Giving Snobs
- Dining-out Snobs
- Dinner-Giving Snobs
- Continental Snobs
- English Snobs on the Continent
- Country Snobs
This is not even a comprehensive list. There are more! I have only just begun working my way through this delicious work, and I plan to share more as I read it.
For this post, I want to include some quotes from the “Prefatory Remarks” of the book, in which Thackery clarifies his intentions and defines his terms. Choosing what to quote has proven to be more difficult than I imagined because everything in this book is fantastic. I will do my best.
The preface begins with a summary of points that I found quite helpful:
The necessity of the Work on Snobs, demonstrated from History, and proved by felicitous illustrations: – I am the individual destined to write that work – My vocation is announced in terms of great eloquence – I show that the world has been gradually preparing itself for the WORK and the MAN – Snobs are to be studied like other objects of Natural Science, and are a part of the Beautiful (with a large B) – They pervade all classes – Affecting instance of Colonel Snobley (3).
One thing I noticed almost immediately was Thackery’s use of capitals. In a novella I wrote many moons ago (which shall not be discussed in any depth because it is exactly as well written as you might imagine a teenager’s early writing to be), I included a king who sometimes broke out in Capitals when he had something very Important to say, and his son always knew that things were serious when Capitals happened.
Of course, I am not the first to use capitals humorously. However, I find it interesting that Thackery does so in a time when using capitals is generally for serious and important wording rather than for satire.. There is one paragraph in the preface in which he goes so heavily into capitals that I almost had trouble reading it steadily:
I have long gone about with a conviction on my mind that I had a work to do – a Work, if you like, with a great W; a Purpose to fulfil; a Chasm to leap into, like Curtius, horse and foot; a Great Social Evil to Discover and to Remedy (5).
And so it goes on. Thackery is extremely invested in his topic, and he makes it evident that Fate has bestowed this task upon him and him alone:
Last Year, By Moonlight, in the Colosseum, the Little Sedulous Voice Came to Me and Said, […] “[M]y fine fellow, this is all very well, but you ought to be at home writing your great work on SNOBS” (5).
And what makes Thackery the man for the job? He answers that too, and does so, no less, by establishing his purpose from the very creation of the world:
First, the World was made: then, as a matter of course, Snobs; they existed for years and years, and were no more known than America. But presently […] people became darkly aware that there was such a race. Not above five-and-twenty years since, a name, an expressive monosyllable, arose to designate that race. That name spread over England like railroads subsequently; Snobs are known and recognised throughout an Empire on which I am given to understand the Sun never sets. Punch [a magazine for which Thackery wrote] appears at the ripe season, to chronicle their history: and the individual comes forth to write that history in Punch (5-6).
Thackery modestly accepts his role:
I have (and for this gift I congratulate myself with a Deep and Abiding Thankfulness) an eye for a Snob (6).
There is so much more I could share and wish to! I want to quote his lengthy description of his search for Snobs: “to sink shafts in society, and come upon rich veins of Snob-ore” (6).
However, I think if I go on, I will end up quoting the entire book in my blog. Thankfully, there is no need for me to do so. It is available for free from Project Gutenberg! But never fear, if your reading list is as long as mine, you can just get some summaries of good bits here as time goes on. I plan to savor this book.