Chapter 7. The Censorious Young Gentleman

by Charles Dickens

There is an amiable kind of young gentleman going about in society, upon whom, after much experience of him, and considerable turning over of the subject in our mind, we feel it our duty to affix the above appellation.  Young ladies mildly call him a ‘sarcastic’ young gentleman, or a ‘severe’ young gentleman.  We, who know better, beg to acquaint them with the fact, that he is merely a censorious young gentleman, and nothing else.

The censorious young gentleman has the reputation among his familiars of a remarkably clever person, which he maintains by receiving all intelligence and expressing all opinions with a dubious sneer, accompanied with a half smile, expressive of anything you please but good-humour.  This sets people about thinking what on earth the censorious young gentleman means, and they speedily arrive at the conclusion that he means something very deep indeed; for they reason in this way—‘This young gentleman looks so very knowing that he must mean something, and as I am by no means a dull individual, what a very deep meaning he must have if I can’t find it out!’  It is extraordinary how soon a censorious young gentleman may make a reputation in his own small circle if he bear this in his mind, and regulate his proceedings accordingly.

As young ladies are generally—not curious, but laudably desirous to acquire information, the censorious young gentleman is much talked about among them, and many surmises are hazarded regarding him.  ‘I wonder,’ exclaims the eldest Miss Greenwood, laying down her work to turn up the lamp, ‘I wonder whether Mr. Fairfax will ever be married.’  ‘Bless me, dear,’ cries Miss Marshall, ‘what ever made you think of him?’  ‘Really I hardly know,’ replies Miss Greenwood; ‘he is such a very mysterious person, that I often wonder about him.’  ‘Well, to tell you the truth,’ replies Miss Marshall, ‘and so do I.’  Here two other young ladies profess that they are constantly doing the like, and all present appear in the same condition except one young lady, who, not scrupling to state that she considers Mr. Fairfax ‘a horror,’ draws down all the opposition of the others, which having been expressed in a great many ejaculatory passages, such as ‘Well, did I ever!’—and ‘Lor, Emily, dear!’ ma takes up the subject, and gravely states, that she must say she does not think Mr. Fairfax by any means a horror, but rather takes him to be a young man of very great ability; ‘and I am quite sure,’ adds the worthy lady, ‘he always means a great deal more than he says.’

The door opens at this point of the disclosure, and who of all people alive walks into the room, but the very Mr. Fairfax, who has been the subject of conversation!  ‘Well, it really is curious,’ cries ma, ‘we were at that very moment talking about you.’  ‘You did me great honour,’ replies Mr. Fairfax; ‘may I venture to ask what you were saying?’  ‘Why, if you must know,’ returns the eldest girl, ‘we were remarking what a very mysterious man you are.’  ‘Ay, ay!’ observes Mr. Fairfax, ‘Indeed!’  Now Mr. Fairfax says this ay, ay, and indeed, which are slight words enough in themselves, with so very unfathomable an air, and accompanies them with such a very equivocal smile, that ma and the young ladies are more than ever convinced that he means an immensity, and so tell him he is a very dangerous man, and seems to be always thinking ill of somebody, which is precisely the sort of character the censorious young gentleman is most desirous to establish; wherefore he says, ‘Oh, dear, no,’ in a tone, obviously intended to mean, ‘You have me there,’ and which gives them to understand that they have hit the right nail on the very centre of its head.

When the conversation ranges from the mystery overhanging the censorious young gentleman’s behaviour, to the general topics of the day, he sustains his character to admiration.  He considers the new tragedy well enough for a new tragedy, but Lord bless us—well, no matter; he could say a great deal on that point, but he would rather not, lest he should be thought ill-natured, as he knows he would be.  ‘But is not Mr. So-and-so’s performance truly charming?’ inquires a young lady.  ‘Charming!’ replies the censorious young gentleman.  ‘Oh, dear, yes, certainly; very charming—oh, very charming indeed.’  After this, he stirs the fire, smiling contemptuously all the while: and a modest young gentleman, who has been a silent listener, thinks what a great thing it must be, to have such a critical judgment.  Of music, pictures, books, and poetry, the censorious young gentleman has an equally fine conception.  As to men and women, he can tell all about them at a glance.  ‘Now let us hear your opinion of young Mrs. Barker,’ says some great believer in the powers of Mr. Fairfax, ‘but don’t be too severe.’  ‘I never am severe,’ replies the censorious young gentleman.  ‘Well, never mind that now.  She is very lady-like, is she not?’  ‘Lady-like!’ repeats the censorious young gentleman (for he always repeats when he is at a loss for anything to say).  ‘Did you observe her manner?  Bless my heart and soul, Mrs. Thompson, did you observe her manner?—that’s all I ask.’  ‘I thought I had done so,’ rejoins the poor lady, much perplexed; ‘I did not observe it very closely perhaps.’  ‘Oh, not very closely,’ rejoins the censorious young gentleman, triumphantly.  ‘Very good; then I did.  Let us talk no more about her.’  The censorious young gentleman purses up his lips, and nods his head sagely, as he says this; and it is forthwith whispered about, that Mr. Fairfax (who, though he is a little prejudiced, must be admitted to be a very excellent judge) has observed something exceedingly odd in Mrs. Barker’s manner.

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