A Little Dinner at Timmin’s

Author: William Makepeace Thackeray


Of course it does not become the present writer, who has partaken of the best entertainment which his friends could supply, to make fun of their (somewhat ostentatious, as it must be confessed) hospitality. If they gave a dinner beyond their means, it is no business of mine. I hate a man who goes and eats a friend’s meat, and then blabs the secrets of the mahogany. Such a man deserves never to be asked to dinner again; and though at the close of a London season that seems no great loss, and you sicken of a whitebait as you would of a whale—yet we must always remember that there’s another season coming, and hold our tongues for the present.

As for describing, then, the mere victuals on Timmins’s table, that would be absurd. Everybody—(I mean of the genteel world of course, of which I make no doubt the reader is a polite ornament)— Everybody has the same everything in London. You see the same coats, the same dinners, the same boiled fowls and mutton, the same cutlets, fish, and cucumbers, the same lumps of Wenham Lake ice, &c. The waiters with white neck-cloths are as like each other everywhere as the peas which they hand round with the ducks of the second course. Can’t any one invent anything new?

The only difference between Timmins’s dinner and his neighbor’s was, that he had hired, as we have said, the greater part of the plate, and that his cowardly conscience magnified faults and disasters of which no one else probably took heed.

But Rosa thought, from the supercilious air with which Mrs. Topham Sawyer was eying the plate and other arrangements, that she was remarking the difference of the ciphers on the forks and spoons— which had, in fact, been borrowed from every one of Fitzroy’s friends—(I know, for instance, that he had my six, among others, and only returned five, along with a battered old black-pronged plated abomination, which I have no doubt belongs to Mrs. Gashleigh, whom I hereby request to send back mine in exchange)— their guilty consciences, I say, made them fancy that every one was spying out their domestic deficiencies: whereas, it is probable that nobody present thought of their failings at all. People never do: they never see holes in their neighbors’ coats—they are too indolent, simple, and charitable.

Some things, however, one could not help remarking: for instance, though Fitz is my closest friend, yet could I avoid seeing and being amused by his perplexity and his dismal efforts to be facetious? His eye wandered all round the little room with quick uneasy glances, very different from those frank and jovial looks with which he is accustomed to welcome you to a leg of mutton; and Rosa, from the other end of the table, and over the flowers, entree dishes, and wine-coolers, telegraphed him with signals of corresponding alarm. Poor devils! why did they ever go beyond that leg of mutton?

Funnyman was not brilliant in conversation, scarcely opening his mouth, except for the purposes of feasting. The fact is, our friend Tom Dawson was at table, who knew all his stories, and in his presence the greatest wag is always silent and uneasy.

Fitz has a very pretty wit of his own, and a good reputation on circuit; but he is timid before great people. And indeed the presence of that awful Lady Bungay on his right hand was enough to damp him. She was in court mourning (for the late Prince of Schlippenschloppen). She had on a large black funereal turban and appurtenances, and a vast breastplate of twinkling, twiddling black bugles. No wonder a man could not be gay in talking to HER.

Mrs. Rowdy and Mrs. Topham Sawyer love each other as women do who have the same receiving nights, and ask the same society; they were only separated by Ranville Ranville, who tries to be well with both and they talked at each other across him.

Topham and Rowdy growled out a conversation about Rum, Ireland, and the Navigation Laws, quite unfit for print. Sawyer never speaks three words without mentioning the House and the Speaker.

The Irish Peer said nothing (which was a comfort) but he ate and drank of everything which came in his way; and cut his usual absurd figure in dyed whiskers and a yellow under-waistcoat.

General Gulpin sported his star, and looked fat and florid, but melancholy. His wife ordered away his dinner, just like honest Sancho’s physician at Barataria.

Botherby’s stories about Lamartine are as old as the hills, since the barricades of 1848; and he could not get in a word or cut the slightest figure. And as for Tom Dawson, he was carrying on an undertoned small-talk with Lady Barbara St. Mary’s, so that there was not much conversation worth record going on WITHIN the dining-room.

Outside it was different. Those houses in Lilliput Street are so uncommonly compact, that you can hear everything which takes place all over the tenement; and so—

In the awful pauses of the banquet, and the hall-door being furthermore open, we had the benefit of hearing:

The cook, and the occasional cook, below stairs, exchanging rapid phrases regarding the dinner;

The smash of the soup-tureen, and swift descent of the kitchenmaid and soup-ladle down the stairs to the lower regions. This accident created a laugh, and rather amused Fitzroy and the company, and caused Funnyman to say, bowing to Rosa, that she was mistress of herself, though China fall. But she did not heed him, for at that moment another noise commenced, namely, that of—

The baby in the upper rooms, who commenced a series of piercing yells, which, though stopped by the sudden clapping to of the nursery-door, were only more dreadful to the mother when suppressed. She would have given a guinea to go up stairs and have done with the whole entertainment.

A thundering knock came at the door very early after the dessert, and the poor soul took a speedy opportunity of summoning the ladies to depart, though you may be sure it was only old Mrs. Gashleigh, who had come with her daughters—of course the first person to come. I saw her red gown whisking up the stairs, which were covered with plates and dishes, over which she trampled.

Instead of having any quiet after the retreat of the ladies, the house was kept in a rattle, and the glasses jingled on the table as the flymen and coachmen plied the knocker, and the soiree came in. From my place I could see everything: the guests as they arrived (I remarked very few carriages, mostly cabs and flies), and a little crowd of blackguard boys and children, who were formed round the door, and gave ironical cheers to the folks as they stepped out of their vehicles.

As for the evening-party, if a crowd in the dog-days is pleasant, poor Mrs. Timmins certainly had a successful soiree. You could hardly move on the stair. Mrs. Sternhold broke in the banisters, and nearly fell through. There was such a noise and chatter you could not hear the singing of the Miss Gashleighs, which was no great loss. Lady Bungay could hardly get to her carriage, being entangled with Colonel Wedgewood in the passage. An absurd attempt was made to get up a dance of some kind; but before Mrs. Crowder had got round the room, the hanging-lamp in the dining-room below was stove in, and fell with a crash on the table, now prepared for refreshment.

Why, in fact, did the Timminses give that party at all? It was quite beyond their means. They have offended a score of their old friends, and pleased none of their acquaintances. So angry were many who were not asked, that poor Rosa says she must now give a couple more parties and take in those not previously invited. And I know for a fact that Fubsby’s bill is not yet paid; nor Binney and Latham’s the wine-merchants; that the breakage and hire of glass and china cost ever so much money; that every true friend of Timmins has cried out against his absurd extravagance, and that now, when every one is going out of town, Fitz has hardly money to pay his circuit, much more to take Rosa to a watering-place, as he wished and promised.

As for Mrs. Gashleigh, the only feasible plan of economy which she can suggest, is that she could come and live with her daughter and son-in-law, and that they should keep house together. If he agrees to this, she has a little sum at the banker’s, with which she would not mind easing his present difficulties; and the poor wretch is so utterly bewildered and crestfallen that it is very likely he will become her victim.

The Topham Sawyers, when they go down into the country, will represent Fitz as a ruined man and reckless prodigal; his uncle, the attorney, from whom he has expectations, will most likely withdraw his business, and adopt some other member of his family—Blanche Crowder for instance, whose husband, the doctor, has had high words with poor Fitzroy already, of course at the women’s instigation. And all these accumulated miseries fall upon the unfortunate wretch because he was good-natured, and his wife would have a Little Dinner.


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William Makepeace Thackeray

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Chicago: William Makepeace Thackeray, "VII.," A Little Dinner at Timmin’s, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 in A Little Dinner at Timmin’s (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1911), Original Sources, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LBSXIJY1NCBMLHD.

MLA: Thackeray, William Makepeace. "VII." A Little Dinner at Timmin’s, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906, in A Little Dinner at Timmin’s, Boston, John W. Luce and Company, 1911, Original Sources. 27 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LBSXIJY1NCBMLHD.

Harvard: Thackeray, WM, 'VII.' in A Little Dinner at Timmin’s, ed. and trans. . cited in 1911, A Little Dinner at Timmin’s, John W. Luce and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 27 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LBSXIJY1NCBMLHD.