Monday, July 13, 2015


The Mobility and the Nobility

[Percival Leigh (1813-1889)], Portraits of Children of the Mobility. Drawn from Nature by J. Leech. With Memoirs and Characteristic Sketches by the Author of "The Comic English Grammar," Etc. (London: Richard Bentley, 1841), p. 1:
The Mobility are a variety of the human race, otherwise designated, in polite society, as "The Lower Orders," "The Inferior Classes," "The Rabble," "The Populace," "The Vulgar," or "The Common People." Among political philosophers, and promulgators of Useful Knowledge, they are known as "The People," "The Many," "The Masses," "The Millions." By persons of less refinement, they are termed "The Riff-raff,” and "The Tag-rag-and-bobtail."
Id. pp. 3-4:
The difference between the words Mobility and Nobility is merely a letter. So, between individuals belonging to the two classes, a single letter may constitute a distinction. There are some names peculiar to the Nobility, and some to the Mobility. Jenkins, for example, is one of the names of the Mobility, but it assumes an aristocratic character by being spelt Jenkyns. The addition of a letter, or the addition of one and the alteration of another, is sometimes necessary to effect this change. Thus, Brown and Smith are ennobled by being converted into Browne and Smythe. Persons who have acquired their property by dealing in cheese and so forth, are, some of them, aware of this fact, and hence it is that the butterfly state of a sugar-baker is often denoted by such a transformation, and that Gubbynses and Chubbes enrich the aristocracy of Tooting. Castlemaine, Mortimer, Percy, Howard, Stanley, Vere and Conyers, are well known as being among the names of the Nobility. In like manner, Tupp, Snooks, Pouch, Wiggins, Blogg, Scroggins, and Hogg, are names characteristic of the Mobility. Dobson, Jobson, and Timson, are appellations of the same order. How shocking it would be to impose any one of them on the hero of a fashionable novel! Johnson may now, perhaps, be tolerated; but we think Johnstone decidedly preferable.

The names which the Mobility derive from their sponsors may be Christian names; but some of them are, nevertheless, very shocking. No refined grammarian could venture to call them proper names; and to dream of disgracing a scutcheon by them would horrify any one but a savage. The mind shrinks, so to speak, at the bare idea of such an association of names as Ebenezer Arlington, Jonathan Tollemache, Moses Montague, Jacob Manners, or Timothy Craven. An attempt to emulate the higher ranks in the choice of Christian names is sometimes made by the Mobility, but their selection is chiefly confined to the theatrical or romantic species; as Oscar Pugsley, Wilhelmina Briggs, Orlando Bung, and the like. The Mobility, moreover, have seldom more than two names; though some of them, under peculiar circumstances, assume several, pro tempore, with the intervention of an alias. They very generally, too, neglect a practice universally adopted in the exclusive circles, of christening a child by a surname. It is to be wished that they would adopt this custom, for such combinations as Brown Green, Tubb Waters, White Smith, or Bull Bates, would certainly be highly amusing.

The Mobility are also in the habit of using abbreviations in addressing each other, as Jim, Bill, Dick, &c.; an eccentricity which, we are sorry to say, has proved contagious.
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time," Essays in Criticism (London: Macmillan and Co., 1893), pp 1-41 (at 23-24):
Wragg! If we are to talk of ideal perfection, of "the best in the whole world," has anyone reflected what a touch of grossness in our race, what an original shortcoming in the more delicate spiritual perceptions, is shown by the natural growth amongst us of such hideous names,—Higginbottom, Stiggins, Bugg! In Ionia and Attica they were luckier in this respect than "the best race in the world;" by the Ilissus there was no Wragg, poor thing!

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