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Chapter 17
How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano
If there is any exhibition in all Vanity Fair which Satire and Sentiment can visit arm in
arm together; where you light on the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful: where you
may be gentle and pathetic, or savage and cynical with perfect propriety: it is at one of
those public assemblies, a crowd of which are advertised every day in the last page of the
Times newspaper, and over which the late Mr. George Robins used to preside with so
much dignity. There are very few London people, as I fancy, who have not attended at
these meetings, and all with a taste for moralizing must have thought, with a sensation
and interest not a little startling and queer, of the day when their turn shall come too, and
Mr. Hammerdown will sell by the orders of Diogenes' assignees, or will be instructed by
the executors, to offer to public competition, the library, furniture, plate, wardrobe, and
choice cellar of wines of Epicurus deceased.
Even with the most selfish disposition, the Vanity Fairian, as he witnesses this sordid part
of the obsequies of a departed friend, can't but feel some sympathies and regret. My Lord
Dives's remains are in the family vault: the statuaries are cutting an inscription
veraciously commemorating his virtues, and the sorrows of his heir, who is disposing of
his goods. What guest at Dives's table can pass the familiar house without a sigh?--the
familiar house of which the lights used to shine so cheerfully at seven o'clock, of which
the hall-doors opened so readily, of which the obsequious servants, as you passed up the
comfortable stair, sounded your name from landing to landing, until it reached the
apartment where jolly old Dives welcomed his friends! What a number of them he had;
and what a noble way of entertaining them. How witty people used to be here who were
morose when they got out of the door; and how courteous and friendly men who
slandered and hated each other everywhere else! He was pompous, but with such a cook
what would one not swallow? he was rather dull, perhaps, but would not such wine make
any conversation pleasant? We must get some of his Burgundy at any price, the mourners
cry at his club. "I got this box at old Dives's sale," Pincher says, handing it round, "one of
Louis XV's mistresses-- pretty thing, is it not?--sweet miniature," and they talk of the way
in which young Dives is dissipating his fortune.
How changed the house is, though! The front is patched over with bills, setting forth the
particulars of the furniture in staring capitals. They have hung a shred of carpet out of an
upstairs window--a half dozen of porters are lounging on the dirty steps--the hall swarms
with dingy guests of oriental countenance, who thrust printed cards into your hand, and
offer to bid. Old women and amateurs have invaded the upper apartments, pinching the
bed- curtains, poking into the feathers, shampooing the mattresses, and clapping the
wardrobe drawers to and fro. Enterprising young housekeepers are measuring the
looking-glasses and hangings to see if they will suit the new menage (Snob will brag for
years that he has purchased this or that at Dives's sale), and Mr. Hammerdown is sitting
on the great mahogany dining-tables, in the dining-room below, waving the ivory
hammer, and employing all the artifices of eloquence, enthusiasm, entreaty, reason,