EDWARD BULWER LYTTON (Lord Lytton)
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE PRESENT EDITION.
IN this edition of a work composed in early youth, I have not attempted to remove those faults of construction which may be sufficiently apparent in the plot, but which could not indeed be thoroughly rectified without re-writing the whole work. I can only hope that with the defects of inexperience may be found some of the merits of frank and artless enthusiasm. I have, however, lightened the narrative of certain episodical and irrelevant passages, and relieved the general style of some boyish extravagances of diction. At the time this work was written I was deeply engaged in the study of metaphysics and ethics, and out of that study grew the character of Algernon Mordaunt. He is represented as a type of the Heroism of Christian Philosophy,—a union of love and knowledge placed in the midst of sorrow, and labouring on through the pilgrimage of life, strong in the fortitude that comes from belief in Heaven.
KNEBWORTH, May 3, 1852.
E. B. L.
JOHN AULDJO, ESQ., ETC.,
MY DEAR AULDJO,—Permit me, as a memento of the pleasant hours we passed together, and the intimacy we formed by the winding shores and the rosy seas of the old Parthenope, to dedicate to you this romance. It was written in perhaps the happiest period of my literary life,—when success began to brighten upon my labours, and it seemed to me a fine thing to make a name. Reputation, like all possessions, fairer in the hope than the reality, shone before me in the gloss of novelty; and I had neither felt the envy it excites, the weariness it occasions, nor (worse than all) that coarse and painful notoriety, that, something between the gossip and the slander, which attends every man whose writings become known,—surrendering the grateful privacies of life to
"The gaudy, babbling, and remorseless day."
In short, yet almost a boy (for, in years at least, I was little more, when "Pelham" and "The Disowned" were conceived and composed), and full of the sanguine arrogance of hope, I pictured to myself far greater triumphs than it will ever be mine to achieve: and never did architect of dreams build his pyramid upon (alas!) a narrower base, or a more crumbling soil!... Time cures us effectually of these self-conceits, and brings us, somewhat harshly, from the gay extravagance of confounding the much that we design with the little that we can accomplish.
"The Disowned" and "Devereux" were both completed in retirement, and in the midst of metaphysical studies and investigations, varied and miscellaneous enough, if not very deeply conned. At that time I was indeed engaged in preparing for the press a Philosophical Work which I had afterwards the good sense to postpone to a riper age and a more sobered mind. But the effect of these studies is somewhat prejudicially visible in both the romances I have referred to; and the external and dramatic colourings which belong to fiction are too often forsaken for the inward and subtile analysis of motives, characters, and actions. The workman was not sufficiently master of his art to forbear the vanity of parading the wheels of the mechanism, and was too fond of calling attention to the minute and tedious operations by which the movements were to be performed and the result obtained. I believe that an author is generally pleased with his work less in proportion as it is good, than in proportion as it fulfils the idea with which he commenced it. He is rarely perhaps an accurate judge how far the execution is in itself faulty or meritorious; but he judges with tolerable success how far it accomplishes the end and objects of the conception. He is pleased with his work, in short, according as he can say, "This has expressed what I meant it to convey." But the reader, who is not in the secret of the author's original design, usually views the work through a different medium; and is perhaps in this the wiser critic of the two: for the book that wanders the most from the idea which originated it may often be better than that which is rigidly limited to the unfolding and denouement of a single conception. If we accept this solution, we may be enabled to understand why an author not unfrequently makes favourites of some of his productions most condemned by the public. For my own part, I remember that "Devereux" pleased me better than "Pelham" or "The Disowned," because the execution more exactly corresponded with the design. It expressed with tolerable fidelity what I meant it to express. That was a happy age, my dear Auldjo, when, on finishing a work, we could feel contented with our labour, and fancy we had done our best! Now, alas I I have learned enough of the wonders of the Art to recognize all the deficiencies of the Disciple; and to know that no author worth the reading can ever in one single work do half of which he is capable.
What man ever wrote anything really good who did not feel that he had the ability to write something better? Writing, after all, is a cold and a coarse interpreter of thought. How much of the imagination, how much of the intellect, evaporates and is lost while we seek to embody it in words! Man made language and God the genius. Nothing short of an eternity could enable men who imagine, think, and feel, to express all they have imagined, thought, and felt. Immortality, the spiritual desire, is the intellectual necessity.
In "Devereux" I wished to portray a man flourishing in the last century with the train of mind and sentiment peculiar to the present; describing a life, and not its dramatic epitome, the historical characters introduced are not closely woven with the main plot, like those in the fictions of Sir Walter Scott, but are rather, like the narrative romances of an earlier school, designed to relieve the predominant interest, and give a greater air of truth and actuality to the supposed memoir. It is a fiction which deals less with the Picturesque than the Real. Of the principal character thus introduced (the celebrated and graceful, but charlatanic, Bolingbroke) I still think that my sketch, upon the whole, is substantially just. We must not judge of the politicians of one age by the lights of another. Happily we now demand in a statesman a desire for other aims than his own advancement; but at that period ambition was almost universally selfish—the Statesman was yet a Courtier—a man whose very destiny it was to intrigue, to plot, to glitter, to deceive. It is in proportion as politics have ceased to be a secret science, in proportion as courts are less to be flattered and tools to be managed, that politicians have become useful and honest men; and the statesman now directs a people, where once he outwitted an ante-chamber. Compare Bolingbroke—not with the men and by the rules of this day, but with the men and by the rules of the last. He will lose nothing in comparison with a Walpole, with a Marlborough on the one side,—with an Oxford or a Swift upon the other.
And now, my dear Auldjo, you have had enough of my egotisms. As our works grow up,—like old parents, we grow garrulous, and love to recur to the happier days of their childhood; we talk over the pleasant pain they cost us in their rearing, and memory renews the season of dreams and hopes; we speak of their faults as of things past, of their merits as of things enduring: we are proud to see them still living, and, after many a harsh ordeal and rude assault, keeping a certain station in the world; we hoped perhaps something better for them in their cradle, but as it is we have good cause to be contented. You, a fellow-author, and one whose spirited and charming sketches embody so much of personal adventure, and therefore so much connect themselves with associations of real life as well as of the studious closet; you know, and must feel with me, that these our books are a part of us, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh! They treasure up the thoughts which stirred us, the affections which warmed us, years ago; they are the mirrors of how much of what we were! To the world they are but as a certain number of pages,—good or bad,—tedious or diverting; but to ourselves, the authors, they are as marks in the wild maze of life by which we can retrace our steps, and be with our youth again. What would I not give to feel as I felt, to hope as I hoped, to believe as I believed, when this work was first launched upon the world! But time gives while it takes away; and amongst its recompenses for many losses are the memories I referred to in commencing this letter, and gratefully revert to at its close. From the land of cloud and the life of toil, I turn to that golden clime and the happy indolence that so well accords with it; and hope once more, ere I die, with a companion whose knowledge can recall the past and whose gayety can enliven the present, to visit the Disburied City of Pompeii, and see the moonlight sparkle over the waves of Naples. Adieu, my dear Auldjo,
And believe me, Your obliged and attached friend, E. B. LYTTON.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHER'S INTRODUCTION.
MY life has been one of frequent adventure and constant excitement. It has been passed, to this present day, in a stirring age, and not without acquaintance of the most eminent and active spirits of the time. Men of all grades and of every character have been familiar to me. War, love, ambition, the scroll of sages, the festivals of wit, the intrigues of states,—all that agitate mankind, the hope and the fear, the labour and the pleasure, the great drama of vanities, with the little interludes of wisdom; these have been the occupations of my manhood; these will furnish forth the materials of that history which is now open to your survey. Whatever be the faults of the historian, he has no motive to palliate what he has committed nor to conceal what he has felt.
Children of an after century, the very time in which these pages will greet you destroys enough of the connection between you and myself to render me indifferent alike to your censure and your applause. Exactly one hundred years from the day this record is completed will the seal I shall place on it be broken and the secrets it contains be disclosed. I claim that congeniality with you which I have found not among my own coevals. Their thoughts, their feelings, their views, have nothing kindred to my own. I speak their language, but it is not as a native: they know not a syllable of mine! With a future age my heart may have more in common; to a future age my thoughts may be less unfamiliar, and my sentiments less strange. I trust these confessions to the trial!
Children of an after century, between you and the being who has traced the pages ye behold—that busy, versatile, restless being—there is but one step,—but that step is a century! His now is separated from your now by an interval of three generations! While he writes, he is exulting in the vigour of health and manhood; while ye read, the very worms are starving upon his dust. This commune between the living and the dead; this intercourse between that which breathes and moves and is, and that which life animates not nor mortality knows,—annihilates falsehood, and chills even self-delusion into awe. Come, then, and look upon the picture of a past day and of a gone being, without apprehension of deceit; and as the shadows and lights of a checkered and wild existence flit before you, watch if in your own hearts there be aught which mirrors the reflection.
NOTE TO THE PRESENT EDITION (1852).
If this work possess any merit of a Narrative order, it will perhaps be found in its fidelity to the characteristics of an Autobiography. The reader must, indeed, comply with the condition exacted from his imagination and faith; that is to say, he must take the hero of the story upon the terms for which Morton Devereux himself stipulates; and regard the supposed Count as one who lived and wrote in the last century, but who (dimly conscious that the tone of his mind harmonized less with his own age than with that which was to come) left his biography as a legacy to the present. This assumption (which is not an unfair one) liberally conceded, and allowed to account for occasional anachronisms in sentiment, Morton Devereux will be found to write as a man who is not constructing a romance, but narrating a life. He gives to Love, its joy and its sorrow, its due share in an eventful and passionate existence; but it is the share of biography, not of fiction. He selects from the crowd of personages with whom he is brought into contact, not only those who directly influence his personal destinies, but those of whom a sketch or an anecdote would appear to a biographer likely to have interest for posterity. Louis XIV., the Regent Orleans, Peter the Great, Lord Bolingbroke, and others less eminent, but still of mark in their own day, if growing obscure to ours, are introduced not for the purposes and agencies of fiction, but as an autobiographer's natural illustrations of the men and manners of his time.
And here be it pardoned if I add that so minute an attention has been paid to accuracy that even in petty details, and in relation to historical characters but slightly known to the ordinary reader, a critic deeply acquainted with the memoirs of the age will allow that the novelist is always merged in the narrator.
Unless the Author has failed more in his design than, on revising the work of his early youth with the comparatively impartial eye of maturer judgment, he is disposed to concede, Morton Devereux will also be found with that marked individuality of character which distinguishes the man who has lived and laboured from the hero of romance. He admits into his life but few passions; those are tenacious and intense: conscious that none who are around him will sympathize with his deeper feelings, he veils them under the sneer of an irony which is often affected and never mirthful. Wherever we find him, after surviving the brief episode of love, we feel—though he does not tell us so—that he is alone in the world. He is represented as a keen observer and a successful actor in the busy theatre of mankind, precisely in proportion as no cloud from the heart obscures the cold clearness of the mind. In the scenes of pleasure there is no joy in his smile; in the contests of ambition there is no quicker beat of the pulse. Attaining in the prime of manhood such position and honour as would first content and then sate a man of this mould, he has nothing left but to discover the vanities of this world and to ponder on the hopes of the next; and, his last passion dying out in the retribution that falls on his foe, he finally sits down in retirement to rebuild the ruined home of his youth,—unconscious that to that solitude the Destinies have led him to repair the waste and ravages of his own melancholy soul.
But while outward Dramatic harmonies between cause and effect, and the proportionate agencies which characters introduced in the Drama bring to bear upon event and catastrophe, are carefully shunned,—as real life does for the most part shun them,—yet there is a latent coherence in all that, by influencing the mind, do, though indirectly, shape out the fate and guide the actions.
Dialogue and adventures which, considered dramatically, would be episodical,—considered biographically, will be found essential to the formation, change, and development of the narrator's character. The grave conversations with Bolingbroke and Richard Cromwell, the light scenes in London and at Paris, the favour obtained with the Czar of Russia, are all essential to the creation of that mixture of wearied satiety and mournful thought which conducts the Probationer to the lonely spot in which he is destined to learn at once the mystery of his past life and to clear his reason from the doubts that had obscured the future world.
Viewing the work in this more subtile and contemplative light, the reader will find not only the true test by which to judge of its design and nature, but he may also recognize sources of interest in the story which might otherwise have been lost to him; and if so, the Author will not be without excuse for this criticism upon the scope and intention of his own work. For it is not only the privilege of an artist, but it is also sometimes his duty to the principles of Art, to place the spectator in that point of view wherein the light best falls upon the canvas. "Do not place yourself there," says the painter; "to judge of my composition you must stand where I place you."
CHAPTER I. Of the Hero's Birth and Parentage.—Nothing can differ more from the End of Things than their Beginning
CHAPTER II. A Family Consultation.—A Priest, and an Era in Life
CHAPTER III. A Change in Conduct and in Character: our evil Passions will some- times produce good Effects; and on the contrary, an Alteration for the better in Manners will, not unfrequently, have amongst its Causes a little Corruption of Mind; for the Feelings are so blended that, in suppressing those disagreeable to others, we often suppress those which are amiable in themselves
CHAPTER IV. A Contest of Art and a League of Friendship.—Two Characters in mutual Ignorance of each other, and the Reader no wiser than either of them
CHAPTER V. Rural Hospitality.—An extraordinary Guest.—A Fine Gentleman is not necessarily a Fool
CHAPTER VI. A Dialogue, which might be dull if it were longer
CHAPTER VII. A Change of Prospects.—A new Insight into the Character of the Hero. —A Conference between two Brothers
CHAPTER VIII. First Love
CHAPTER IX. A Discovery and a Departure
CHAPTER X. A very short Chapter,—containing a Valet
CHAPTER XI. The Hero acquits himself honourably as a Coxcomb.—A Fine Lady of the Eighteenth Century, and a fashionable Dialogue; the Substance of fashionable Dialogue being in all Centuries the same
CHAPTER XII. The Abbe's Return.—A Sword, and a Soliloquy
CHAPTER XIII. A mysterious Letter.-A Duel.—The Departure of one of the Family
CHAPTER XIV. Being a Chapter of Trifles
CHAPTER XV. The Mother and Son.—Virtue should be the Sovereign of the Feelings, not their Destroyer
CHAPTER I. The Hero in London.—Pleasure is often the shortest, as it is the earliest road to Wisdom, and we may say of the World what Zeal-of- the-Land-Busy says of the Pig-Booth, "We escape so much of the other Vanities by our early Entering"
CHAPTER II. Gay Scenes and Conversations.—The New Exchange and the Puppet- Show.—The Actor, the Sexton, and the Beauty
CHAPTER III. More Lions
CHAPTER IV. An intellectual Adventure
CHAPTER V. The Beau in his Den, and a Philosopher discovered
CHAPTER VI. A universal Genius.—Pericles turned Barber.—Names of Beauties in 171-.—The Toasts of the Kit-Cat Club
CHAPTER VII. A Dialogue of Sentiment succeeded by the Sketch of a Character, in whose Eyes Sentiment was to Wise Men what Religion is to Fools; namely, a Subject of Ridicule
CHAPTER VIII. Lightly won, lightly lost.—A Dialogue of equal Instruction and Amusement.—A Visit to Sir Godfrey Kneller
CHAPTER IX. A Development of Character, and a long Letter; a Chapter, on the whole, more important than it seems
CHAPTER X. Being a short Chapter, containing a most important Event
CHAPTER XI. Containing more than any other Chapter in the Second Book of this History
CHAPTER I. Wherein the History makes great Progress and is marked by one important Event in Human Life
CHAPTER II. Love; Parting; a Death-Bed.—After all human Nature is a beautiful Fabric; and even its Imperfections are not odious to him who has studied the Science of its Architecture, and formed a reverent Estimate of its Creator
CHAPTER III. A great Change of Prospects
CHAPTER IV. An Episode.—The Son of the Greatest Man who (one only excepted) ever rose to a Throne, but by no means of the Greatest Man (save one) who ever existed
CHAPTER V. In which the Hero shows Decision on more Points than one.—More of Isora's Character is developed
CHAPTER VI. An Unexpected Meeting.—Conjecture and Anticipation
CHAPTER VII. The Events of a Single Night.—Moments make the Hues in which Years are coloured
CHAPTER I. A Re-entrance into Life through the Ebon Gate, Affliction
CHAPTER II. Ambitious Projects
The real Actors Spectators to the false ones
CHAPTER IV. Paris.—A Female Politician, and an Ecclesiastical One.—Sundry other Matters
CHAPTER V. A Meeting of Wits.—Conversation gone out to Supper in her Dress of Velvet and Jewels
CHAPTER VI. A Court, Courtiers, and a King
CHAPTER VII. Reflections.—A Soiree.—The Appearance of one important in the History.—A Conversation with Madame de Balzac highly satisfactory and cheering.—A Rencontre with a curious old Soldier.— The Extinction of a once great Luminary
CHAPTER VIII. In which there is Reason to fear that Princes are not invariably free from Human Peccadilloes
CHAPTER IX. A Prince, an Audience, and a Secret Embassy
CHAPTER X. Royal Exertions for the Good of the People
CHAPTER XI. An Interview
CHAPTER I. A Portrait
CHAPTER II. The Entrance into Petersburg.—A Rencontre with an inquisitive and mysterious Stranger.—Nothing like Travel
CHAPTER III. The Czar.—The Czarina.—A Feast at a Russian Nobleman's
CHAPTER IV. Conversations with the Czar.—If Cromwell was the greatest Man (Caesar excepted) who ever rose to the Supreme Power, Peter was the greatest Man ever born to it
CHAPTER V. Return to Paris.—Interview with Bolingbroke.—A gallant Adventure. —Affair with Dubois.—Public Life is a Drama, in which private Vices generally play the Part of the Scene-shifters
CHAPTER VI. A long Interval of Years.—A Change of Mind and its Causes
CHAPTER I. The Retreat
CHAPTER II. The Victory
CHAPTER III. The Hermit of the Well
CHAPTER IV. The Solution of many Mysteries.—A dark View of the Life and Nature of Man
CHAPTER V. In which the History makes a great Stride towards the final Catastrophe. —The Return to England, and the Visit to a Devotee
CHAPTER VI. The Retreat of a celebrated Man, and a Visit to a great Poet
CHAPTER VII. The Plot approaches its Denouement
CHAPTER VIII. The Catastrophe
OF THE HERO'S BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.—NOTHING CAN DIFFER MORE FROM THE END OF THINGS THAN THEIR BEGINNING.
MY grandfather, Sir Arthur Devereux (peace be with his ashes!) was a noble old knight and cavalier, possessed of a property sufficiently large to have maintained in full dignity half a dozen peers,—such as peers have been since the days of the first James. Nevertheless, my grandfather loved the equestrian order better than the patrician, rejected all offers of advancement, and left his posterity no titles but those to his estate.
Sir Arthur had two children by wedlock,—both sons; at his death, my father, the younger, bade adieu to the old hall and his only brother, prayed to the grim portraits of his ancestors to inspire him, and set out—to join as a volunteer the armies of that Louis, afterwards surnamed le grand. Of him I shall say but little; the life of a soldier has only two events worth recording,—his first campaign and his last. My uncle did as his ancestors had done before him, and, cheap as the dignity had grown, went up to court to be knighted by Charles II. He was so delighted with what he saw of the metropolis that he forswore all intention of leaving it, took to Sedley and champagne, flirted with Nell Gwynne, lost double the value of his brother's portion at one sitting to the chivalrous Grammont, wrote a comedy corrected by Etherege, and took a wife recommended by Rochester. The wife brought him a child six months after marriage, and the infant was born on the same day the comedy was acted. Luckily for the honour of the house, my uncle shared the fate of Plemneus, king of Sicyon, and all the offspring he ever had (that is to say, the child and the play) "died as soon as they were born." My uncle was now only at a loss what to do with his wife,—that remaining treasure, whose readiness to oblige him had been so miraculously evinced. She saved him the trouble of long cogitation, an exercise of intellect to which he was never too ardently inclined. There was a gentleman of the court, celebrated for his sedateness and solemnity; my aunt was piqued into emulating Orpheus, and, six weeks after her confinement, she put this rock into motion,—they eloped. Poor gentleman! it must have been a severe trial of patience to a man never known before to transgress the very slowest of all possible walks, to have had two events of the most rapid nature happen to him in the same week: scarcely had he recovered the shock of being run away with by my aunt, before, terminating forever his vagrancies, he was run through by my uncle. The wits made an epigram upon the event, and my uncle, who was as bold as a lion at the point of a sword, was, to speak frankly, terribly disconcerted by the point of a jest. He retired to the country in a fit of disgust and gout. Here his natural goodness soon recovered the effects of the artificial atmosphere to which it had been exposed, and he solaced himself by righteously governing domains worthy of a prince, for the mortifications he had experienced in the dishonourable career of a courtier.
Hitherto I have spoken somewhat slightingly of my uncle, and in his dissipation he deserved it, for he was both too honest and too simple to shine in that galaxy of prostituted genius of which Charles II. was the centre. But in retirement he was no longer the same person; and I do not think that the elements of human nature could have furnished forth a more amiable character than Sir William Devereux presiding at Christmas over the merriment of his great hall.
Good old man! his very defects were what we loved best in him: vanity was so mingled with good-nature, that it became graceful, and we reverenced one the most, while we most smiled at the other.
One peculiarity had he which the age he had lived in and his domestic history rendered natural enough; namely, an exceeding distaste to the matrimonial state: early marriages were misery, imprudent marriages idiotism, and marriage, at the best, he was wont to say, with a kindling eye and a heightened colour, marriage at the best was the devil! Yet it must not be supposed that Sir William Devereux was an ungallant man. On the contrary, never did the beau sexe have a humbler or more devoted servant. As nothing in his estimation was less becoming to a wise man than matrimony, so nothing was more ornamental than flirtation.
He had the old man's weakness, garrulity; and he told the wittiest stories in the world, without omitting anything in them but the point. This omission did not arise from the want either of memory or of humour; but solely from a deficiency in the malice natural to all jesters. He could not persuade his lips to repeat a sarcasm hurting even the dead or the ungrateful; and when he came to the drop of gall which should have given zest to the story, the milk of human kindness broke its barrier, despite of himself,—and washed it away. He was a fine wreck, a little prematurely broken by dissipation, but not perhaps the less interesting on that account; tall, and somewhat of the jovial old English girth, with a face where good-nature and good living mingled their smiles and glow. He wore the garb of twenty years back, and was curiously particular in the choice of his silk stockings. Between you and me, he was not a little vain of his leg, and a compliment on that score was always sure of a gracious reception.
The solitude of my uncle's household was broken by an invasion of three boys,—none of the quietest,—and their mother, who, the gentlest and saddest of womankind, seemed to follow them, the emblem of that primeval silence from which all noise was born. These three boys were my two brothers and myself. My father, who had conceived a strong personal attachment for Louis XIV., never quitted his service, and the great King repaid him by orders and favours without number; he died of wounds received in battle,—a Count and a Marshal, full of renown and destitute of money. He had married twice: his first wife, who died without issue, was a daughter of the noble house of La Tremouille; his second, our mother, was of a younger branch of the English race of Howard. Brought up in her native country, and influenced by a primitive and retired education, she never loved that gay land which her husband had adopted as his own. Upon his death she hastened her return to England, and refusing, with somewhat of honourable pride, the magnificent pension which Louis wished to settle upon the widow of his favourite, came to throw herself and her children upon those affections which she knew they were entitled to claim.
My uncle was unaffectedly rejoiced to receive us; to say nothing of his love for my father, and his pride at the honours the latter had won to their ancient house, the good gentleman was very well pleased with the idea of obtaining four new listeners, out of whom he might select an heir, and he soon grew as fond of us as we were of him. At the time of our new settlement, I had attained the age of twelve; my second brother (we were twins) was born an hour after me; my third was about fifteen months younger. I had never been the favourite of the three. In the first place, my brothers (my youngest especially) were uncommonly handsome, and, at most, I was but tolerably good-looking: in the second place, my mind was considered as much inferior to theirs as my body; I was idle and dull, sullen and haughty,—the only wit I ever displayed was in sneering at my friends, and the only spirit, in quarrelling with my twin brother; so said or so thought all who saw us in our childhood; and it follows, therefore, that I was either very unamiable or very much misunderstood.
But, to the astonishment of myself and my relations, my fate was now to be reversed; and I was no sooner settled at Devereux Court than I became evidently the object of Sir William's pre-eminent attachment. The fact was, that I really liked both the knight and his stories better than my brothers did; and the very first time I had seen my uncle, I had commented on the beauty of his stocking, and envied the constitution of his leg; from such trifles spring affection! In truth, our attachment to each other so increased that we grew to be constantly together; and while my childish anticipations of the world made me love to listen to stories of courts and courtiers, my uncle returned the compliment by declaring of my wit, as the angler declared of the River Lea, that one would find enough in it, if one would but angle sufficiently long.
Nor was this all; my uncle and myself were exceedingly like the waters of Alpheus and Arethusa,—nothing was thrown into the one without being seen very shortly afterwards floating upon the other. Every witticism or legend Sir William imparted to me (and some, to say truth, were a little tinged with the licentiousness of the times he had lived in), I took the first opportunity of retailing, whatever might be the audience; and few boys, at the age of thirteen, can boast of having so often as myself excited the laughter of the men and the blushes of the women. This circumstance, while it aggravated my own vanity, delighted my uncle's; and as I was always getting into scrapes on his account, so he was perpetually bound, by duty, to defend me from the charges of which he was the cause. No man defends another long without loving him the better for it; and perhaps Sir William Devereux and his eldest nephew were the only allies in the world who had no jealousy of each other.
A FAMILY CONSULTATION.—A PRIEST, AND AN ERA IN LIFE.
"YOU are ruining the children, my dear Sir William," said my gentle mother, one day when I had been particularly witty; "and the Abbe Montreuil declares it absolutely necessary that they should go to school."
"To school!" said my uncle, who was caressing his right leg, as it lay over his left knee,—"to school, Madam! you are joking. What for, pray?"
"Instruction, my dear Sir William," replied my mother.
"Ah, ah; I forgot that; true, true!" said my uncle, despondingly, and there was a pause. My mother counted her rosary; my uncle sank into a revery; my twin brother pinched my leg under the table, to which I replied by a silent kick; and my youngest fixed his large, dark, speaking eyes upon a picture of the Holy Family, which hung opposite to him.
My uncle broke the silence; he did it with a start.
"Od's fish, Madam,"—(my uncle dressed his oaths, like himself, a little after the example of Charles II.)—"od's fish, Madam, I have thought of a better plan than that; they shall have instruction without going to school for it."
"And how, Sir William?"
"I will instruct them myself, Madam," and William slapped the calf of the leg he was caressing.
My mother smiled.
"Ay, Madam, you may smile; but I and my Lord Dorset were the best scholars of the age; you shall read my play."
"Do, Mother," said I, "read the play. Shall I tell her some of the jests in it, Uncle?"
My mother shook her head in anticipative horror, and raised her finger reprovingly. My uncle said nothing, but winked at me; I understood the signal, and was about to begin, when the door opened, and the Abbe Montreuil entered. My uncle released his right leg, and my jest was cut off. Nobody ever inspired a more dim, religious awe than the Abbe Montreuil. The priest entered with a smile. My mother hailed the entrance of an ally.
"Father," said she, rising, "I have just represented to my good brother the necessity of sending my sons to school; he has proposed an alternative which I will leave you to discuss with him."
"And what is it?" said Montreuil, sliding into a chair, and patting Gerald's head with a benignant air.
"To educate them himself," answered my mother, with a sort of satirical gravity. My uncle moved uneasily in his seat, as if, for the first time, he saw something ridiculous in the proposal.
The smile, immediately fading from the thin lips of the priest, gave way to an expression of respectful approbation. "An admirable plan," said he slowly, "but liable to some little exceptions, which Sir William will allow me to point out."
My mother called to us, and we left the room with her. The next time we saw my uncle, the priest's reasonings had prevailed. The following week we all three went to school. My father had been a Catholic, my mother was of the same creed, and consequently we were brought up in that unpopular faith. But my uncle, whose religion had been sadly undermined at court, was a terrible caviller at the holy mysteries of Catholicism; and while his friends termed him a Protestant, his enemies hinted, falsely enough, that he was a sceptic. When Montreuil first followed us to Devereux Court, many and bitter were the little jests my worthy uncle had provided for his reception; and he would shake his head with a notable archness whenever he heard our reverential description of the expected guest. But, somehow or other, no sooner had he seen the priest than all his proposed railleries deserted him. Not a single witticism came to his assistance, and the calm, smooth face of the ecclesiastic seemed to operate upon the fierce resolves of the facetious knight in the same manner as the human eye is supposed to awe into impotence the malignant intentions of the ignobler animals. Yet nothing could be blander than the demeanour of the Abbe Montreuil; nothing more worldly, in their urbanity, than his manner and address. His garb was as little clerical as possible, his conversation rather familiar than formal, and he invariably listened to every syllable the good knight uttered with a countenance and mien of the most attentive respect.
What then was the charm by which the singular man never failed to obtain an ascendency, in some measure allied with fear, over all in whose company he was thrown? This was a secret my uncle never could solve, and which only in later life I myself was able to discover. It was partly by the magic of an extraordinary and powerful mind, partly by an expression of manner, if I may use such a phrase, that seemed to sneer most, when most it affected to respect; and partly by an air like that of a man never exactly at ease; not that he was shy, or ungraceful, or even taciturn,—no! it was an indescribable embarrassment, resembling that of one playing a part, familiar to him, indeed, but somewhat distasteful. This embarrassment, however, was sufficient to be contagious, and to confuse that dignity in others, which, strangely enough, never forsook himself.
He was of low origin, but his address and appearance did not betray his birth. Pride suited his mien better than familiarity; and his countenance, rigid, thoughtful, and cold, even through smiles, in expression was strikingly commanding. In person he was slightly above the middle standard; and had not the texture of his frame been remarkably hard, wiry, and muscular, the total absence of all superfluous flesh would have given the lean gauntness of his figure an appearance of almost spectral emaciation. In reality, his age did not exceed twenty-eight years; but his high broad forehead was already so marked with line and furrow, his air was so staid and quiet, his figure so destitute of the roundness and elasticity of youth, that his appearance always impressed the beholder with the involuntary idea of a man considerably more advanced in life. Abstemious to habitual penance, and regular to mechanical exactness in his frequent and severe devotions, he was as little inwardly addicted to the pleasures and pursuits of youth, as he was externally possessed of its freshness and its bloom.
Nor was gravity with him that unmeaning veil to imbecility which Rochefoucauld has so happily called "the mystery of the body." The variety and depth of his learning fully sustained the respect which his demeanour insensibly created. To say nothing of his lore in the dead tongues, he possessed a knowledge of the principal European languages besides his own, namely, English, Italian, German, and Spanish, not less accurate and little less fluent than that of a native; and he had not only gained the key to these various coffers of intellectual wealth, but he had also possessed himself of their treasures. He had been educated at St. Omer: and, young as he was, he had already acquired no inconsiderable reputation among his brethren of that illustrious and celebrated Order of Jesus which has produced some of the worst and some of the best men that the Christian world has ever known,—which has, in its successful zeal for knowledge, and the circulation of mental light, bequeathed a vast debt of gratitude to posterity; but which, unhappily encouraging certain scholastic doctrines, that by a mind at once subtle and vicious can be easily perverted into the sanction of the most dangerous and systematized immorality, has already drawn upon its professors an almost universal odium.
So highly established was the good name of Montreuil that when, three years prior to the time of which I now speak, he had been elected to the office he held in our family, it was scarcely deemed a less fortunate occurrence for us to gain so learned and so pious a preceptor, than it was for him to acquire a situation of such trust and confidence in the household of a Marshal of France and the especial favourite of Louis XIV.
It was pleasant enough to mark the gradual ascendency he gained over my uncle; and the timorous dislike which the good knight entertained for him, yet struggled to conceal. Perhaps that was the only time in his life in which Sir William Devereux was a hypocrite.
Enough of the priest at present; I return to his charge. To school we went: our parting with our uncle was quite pathetic; mine in especial. "Hark ye, Sir Count," whispered he (I bore my father's title), "hark ye, don't mind what the old priest tells you; your real man of wit never wants the musty lessons of schools in order to make a figure in the world. Don't cramp your genius, my boy; read over my play, and honest George Etherege's 'Man of Mode;' they'll keep your spirits alive, after dozing over those old pages which Homer (good soul!) dozed over before. God bless you, my child; write to me; no one, not even your mother, shall see your letters; and—and be sure, my fine fellow, that you don't fag too hard. The glass of life is the best book, and one's natural wit the only diamond that can write legibly on it."
Such were my uncle's parting admonitions; it must be confessed that, coupled with the dramatic gifts alluded to, they were likely to be of infinite service to the debutant for academical honours. In fact, Sir William Devereux was deeply impregnated with the notion of his time,—that ability and inspiration were the same thing, and that, unless you were thoroughly idle, you could not be thoroughly a genius. I verily believe that he thought wisdom got its gems, as Abu Zeid al Hassan* declares some Chinese philosophers thought oysters got their pearls, namely, by gaping!
* In his Commentary on the account of China by two Travellers.
A CHANGE IN CONDUCT AND IN CHARACTER: OUR EVIL PASSIONS WILL SOMETIMES PRODUCE GOOD EFFECTS; AND ON THE CONTRARY, AN ALTERATION FOR THE BETTER IN MANNERS WILL, NOT UNFREQUENTLY, HAVE AMONGST ITS CAUSES A LITTLE CORRUPTION OF MIND; FOR THE FEELINGS ARE SO BLENDED THAT, IN SUPPRESSING THOSE DISAGREEABLE TO OTHERS, WE OFTEN SUPPRESS THOSE WHICH ARE AMIABLE IN THEMSELVES.
MY twin brother, Gerald, was a tall, strong, handsome boy, blessed with a great love for the orthodox academical studies, and extraordinary quickness of ability. Nevertheless, he was indolent by nature in things which were contrary to his taste; fond of pleasure; and, amidst all his personal courage, ran a certain vein of irresolution, which rendered it easy for a cool and determined mind to awe or to persuade him. I cannot help thinking, too, that, clever as he was, there was something commonplace in the cleverness; and that his talent was of that mechanical yet quick nature which makes wonderful boys but mediocre men. In any other family he would have been considered the beauty; in ours he was thought the genius.
My youngest brother, Aubrey, was of a very different disposition of mind and frame of body; thoughtful, gentle, susceptible, acute; with an uncertain bravery, like a woman's, and a taste for reading, that varied with the caprice of every hour. He was the beauty of the three, and my mother's favourite. Never, indeed, have I seen the countenance of man so perfect, so glowingly yet delicately handsome, as that of Aubrey Devereux. Locks, soft, glossy, and twining into ringlets, fell in dark profusion over a brow whiter than marble; his eyes were black and tender as a Georgian girl's; his lips, his teeth, the contour of his face, were all cast in the same feminine and faultless mould; his hands would have shamed those of Madame de la Tisseur, whose lover offered six thousand marks to any European who could wear her glove; and his figure would have made Titania give up her Henchman, and the King of the Fairies be anything but pleased with the exchange.
Such were my two brothers; or, rather (so far as the internal qualities are concerned), such they seemed to me; for it is a singular fact that we never judge of our near kindred so well as we judge of others; and I appeal to any one, whether, of all people by whom he has been mistaken, he has not been most often mistaken by those with whom he was brought up.
I had always loved Aubrey, but they had not suffered him to love me; and we had been so little together that we had in common none of those childish remembrances which serve, more powerfully than all else in later life, to cement and soften affection. In fact, I was the scapegoat of the family. What I must have been in early childhood I cannot tell; but before I was ten years old I was the object of all the despondency and evil forebodings of my relations. My father said I laughed at la gloire et le grand monarque the very first time he attempted to explain to me the value of the one and the greatness of the other. The countess said I had neither my father's eye nor her own smile,—that I was slow at my letters and quick with my tongue; and throughout the whole house nothing was so favourite a topic as the extent of my rudeness and the venom of my repartee. Montreuil, on his entrance into our family, not only fell in with, but favoured and fostered, the reigning humour against me; whether from that divide et impera system, which was so grateful to his temper, or from the mere love of meddling and intrigue, which in him, as in Alberoni, attached itself equally to petty as to large circles, was not then clearly apparent; it was only certain that he fomented the dissensions and widened the breach between my brothers and myself. Alas! after all, I believe my sole crime was my candour. I had a spirit of frankness which no fear could tame, and my vengeance for any infantine punishment was in speaking veraciously of my punishers. Never tell me of the pang of falsehood to the slandered: nothing is so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth!
As I grew older, I saw my power and indulged it; and, being scolded for sarcasm, I was flattered into believing I had wit; so I punned and jested, lampooned and satirized, till I was as much a torment to others as I was tormented myself. The secret of all this was that I was unhappy. Nobody loved me: I felt it to my heart of hearts. I was conscious of injustice, and the sense of it made me bitter. Our feelings, especially in youth, resemble that leaf which, in some old traveller, is described as expanding itself to warmth, but when chilled, not only shrinking and closing, but presenting to the spectator thorns which had lain concealed upon the opposite side of it before.
With my brother Gerald, I had a deadly and irreconcilable feud. He was much stouter, taller, and stronger than myself; and, far from conceding to me that respect which I imagined my priority of birth entitled me to claim, he took every opportunity to deride my pretensions, and to vindicate the cause of the superior strength and vigour which constituted his own. It would have done your heart good to have seen us cuff one another, we did it with such zeal. There is nothing in human passion like a good brotherly hatred! My mother said, with the most feeling earnestness, that she used to feel us fighting even before our birth: we certainly lost no time directly after it. Both my parents were secretly vexed that I had come into the world an hour sooner than my brother; and Gerald himself looked upon it as a sort of juggle,—a kind of jockeyship by which he had lost the prerogative of birthright. This very early rankled in his heart, and he was so much a greater favourite than myself that, instead of rooting out so unfortunate a feeling on his part, my good parents made no scruple of openly lamenting my seniority. I believe the real cause of our being taken from the domestic instructions of the Abbe (who was an admirable teacher) and sent to school, was solely to prevent my uncle deciding everything in my favour. Montreuil, however, accompanied us to our academy, and remained with us during the three years in which we were perfecting ourselves in the blessings of education.
At the end of the second year, a prize was instituted for the best proficient at a very severe examination; two months before it took place we went home for a few days. After dinner my uncle asked me to walk with him in the park. I did so: we strolled along to the margin of a rivulet which ornamented the grounds. There my uncle, for the first time, broke silence.
"Morton," said he, looking down at his left leg, "Morton, let me see; thou art now of a reasonable age,—fourteen at the least."
"Fifteen, if it please you, sir," said I, elevating my stature as much as I was able.
"Humph! my boy; and a pretty time of life it is, too. Your brother Gerald is taller than you by two inches."
"But I can beat him for all that, uncle," said I, colouring, and clenching my fist.
My uncle pulled down his right ruffle. "'Gad so, Morton, you're a brave fellow," said he; "but I wish you were less of a hero and more of a scholar. I wish you could beat him in Greek as well as in boxing. I will tell you what Old Rowley said," and my uncle occupied the next quarter of an hour with a story. The story opened the good old gentleman's heart; my laughter opened it still more. "Hark ye, sirrah!" said he, pausing abruptly, and grasping my hand with a vigorous effort of love and muscle, "hark ye, sirrah,—I love you,—'Sdeath, I do. I love you better than both your brothers, and that crab of a priest into the bargain; but I am grieved to the heart to hear what I do of you. They tell me you are the idlest boy in the school; that you are always beating your brother Gerald, and making a scurrilous jest of your mother or myself."
"Who says so? who dares say so?" said I, with an emphasis that would have startled a less hearty man than Sir William Devereux. "They lie, Uncle; by my soul they do. Idle I am; quarrelsome with my brother I confess myself; but jesting at you or my mother—never—never. No, no; you, too, who have been so kind to me,—the only one who ever was. No, no; do not think I could be such a wretch:" and as I said this the tears gushed from my eyes.
My good uncle was exceedingly affected. "Look ye, child," said he, "I do not believe them. 'Sdeath, not a word; I would repeat to you a good jest now of Sedley's, 'Gad, I would, but I am really too much moved just at present. I tell you what, my boy, I tell you what you shall do: there is a trial coming on at school—eh?—well, the Abbe tells me Gerald is certain of being first, and you of being last. Now, Morton, you shall beat your brother, and shame the Jesuit. There; my mind's spoken; dry your tears, my boy, and I'll tell you the jest Sedley made: it was in the Mulberry Garden one day—" And the knight told his story.
I dried my tears, pressed my uncle's hand, escaped from him as soon as I was able, hastened to my room, and surrendered myself to reflection.
When my uncle so good-naturedly proposed that I should conquer Gerald at the examination, nothing appeared to him more easy; he was pleased to think I had more talent than my brother, and talent, according to his creed, was the only master-key to unlock every science. A problem in Euclid or a phrase in Pindar, a secret in astronomy or a knotty passage in the Fathers, were all riddles, with the solution of which application had nothing to do. One's mother-wit was a precious sort of necromancy, which could pierce every mystery at first sight; and all the gifts of knowledge, in his opinion, like reading and writing in that of the sage Dogberry, "came by nature." Alas! I was not under the same pleasurable delusion; I rather exaggerated than diminished the difficulty of my task, and thought, at the first glance, that nothing short of a miracle would enable me to excel my brother. Gerald, a boy of natural talent, and, as I said before, of great assiduity in the orthodox studies,—especially favoured too by the instruction of Montreuil,—had long been esteemed the first scholar of our little world; and though I knew that with some branches of learning I was more conversant than himself, yet, as my emulation had been hitherto solely directed to bodily contention, I had never thought of contesting with him a reputation for which I cared little, and on a point in which I had been early taught that I could never hope to enter into any advantageous comparison with the "genius" of the Devereuxs.
A new spirit now passed into me: I examined myself with a jealous and impartial scrutiny; I weighed my acquisitions against those of my brother; I called forth, from their secret recesses, the unexercised and almost unknown stores I had from time to time laid up in my mental armoury to moulder and to rust. I surveyed them with a feeling that they might yet be polished into use; and, excited alike by the stimulus of affection on one side and hatred on the other, my mind worked itself from despondency into doubt, and from doubt into the sanguineness of hope. I told none of my design; I exacted from my uncle a promise not to betray it; I shut myself in my room; I gave out that I was ill; I saw no one, not even the Abbe; I rejected his instructions, for I looked upon him as an enemy; and, for the two months before my trial, I spent night and day in an unrelaxing application, of which, till then, I had not imagined myself capable.
Though inattentive to the school exercises, I had never been wholly idle. I was a lover of abstruser researches than the hackneyed subjects of the school, and we had really received such extensive and judicious instructions from the Abbe during our early years that it would have been scarcely possible for any of us to have fallen into a thorough distaste for intellectual pursuits. In the examination I foresaw that much which I had previously acquired might be profitably displayed,—much secret and recondite knowledge of the customs and manners of the ancients, as well as their literature, which curiosity had led me to obtain, and which I knew had never entered into the heads of those who, contented with their reputation in the customary academical routine, had rarely dreamed of wandering into less beaten paths of learning. Fortunately too for me, Gerald was so certain of success that latterly he omitted all precaution to obtain it; and as none of our schoolfellows had the vanity to think of contesting with him, even the Abbe seemed to imagine him justified in his supineness.
The day arrived. Sir William, my mother, the whole aristocracy of the neighbourhood, were present at the trial. The Abbe came to my room a few hours before it commenced: he found the door locked.
"Ungracious boy," said he, "admit me; I come at the earnest request of your brother Aubrey to give you some hints preparatory to the examination."
"He has indeed come at my wish," said the soft and silver voice of Aubrey, in a supplicating tone: "do admit him, dear Morton, for my sake!"
"Go," said I, bitterly, from within, "go: ye are both my foes and slanderers; you come to insult my disgrace beforehand; but perhaps you will yet be disappointed."
"You will not open the door?" said the priest.
"I will not; begone."
"He will indeed disgrace his family," said Montreuil, moving away.
"He will disgrace himself," said Aubrey, dejectedly.
I laughed scornfully. If ever the consciousness of strength is pleasant, it is when we are thought most weak.
The greater part of our examination consisted in the answering of certain questions in writing, given to us in the three days immediately previous to the grand and final one; for this last day was reserved the paper of composition (as it was termed) in verse and prose, and the personal examination in a few showy, but generally understood, subjects. When Gerald gave in his paper, and answered the verbal questions, a buzz of admiration and anxiety went round the room. His person was so handsome, his address so graceful, his voice so assured and clear, that a strong and universal sympathy was excited in his favour. The head-master publicly complimented him. He regretted only the deficiency of his pupil in certain minor but important matters. I came next, for I stood next to Gerald in our class. As I walked up the hall, I raised my eyes to the gallery in which my uncle and his party sat. I saw that my mother was listening to the Abbe, whose eye, severe, cold, and contemptuous, was bent upon me. But my uncle leaned over the railing of the gallery, with his plumed hat in his hand, which, when he caught my look, he waved gently,—as if in token of encouragement, and with an air so kind and cheering, that I felt my step grow prouder as I approached the conclave of the masters.
"Morton Devereux," said the president of the school, in a calm, loud, austere voice, that filled the whole hall, "we have looked over your papers on the three previous days, and they have given us no less surprise than pleasure. Take heed and time how you answer us now."
At this speech a loud murmur was heard in my uncle's party, which gradually spread round the hall. I again looked up: my mother's face was averted; that of the Abbe was impenetrable; but I saw my uncle wiping his eyes, and felt a strange emotion creeping into my own, I turned hastily away, and presented my paper; the head master received it, and, putting it aside, proceeded to the verbal examination. Conscious of the parts in which Gerald was likely to fail, I had paid especial attention to the minutiae of scholarship, and my forethought stood me in good stead at the present moment. My trial ceased; my last paper was read. I bowed, and retired to the other end of the hall. I was not so popular as Gerald; a crowd was assembled round him, but I stood alone. As I leaned against a column, with folded arms, and a countenance which I felt betrayed little of my internal emotions, my eye caught Gerald's. He was very pale, and I could see that his hand trembled. Despite of our enmity, I felt for him. The worst passions are softened by triumph, and I foresaw that mine was at hand.
The whole examination was over. Every boy had passed it. The masters retired for a moment; they reappeared and reseated themselves. The first sound I heard was that of my own name. I was the victor of the day: I was more; I was one hundred marks before my brother. My head swam round; my breath forsook me. Since then I have been placed in many trials of life, and had many triumphs; but never was I so overcome as at that moment. I left the hall; I scarcely listened to the applauses with which it rang. I hurried to my own chamber, and threw myself on the bed in a delirium of intoxicated feeling, which had in it more of rapture than anything but the gratification of first love or first vanity can bestow.
Ah! it would be worth stimulating our passions if it were only for the pleasure of remembering their effect; and all violent excitement should be indulged less for present joy than for future retrospection.
My uncle's step was the first thing which intruded on my solitude.
"Od's fish, my boy," said he, crying like a child, "this is fine work,—'Gad, so it is. I almost wish I were a boy myself to have a match with you,—faith I do,—see what it is to learn a little of life! If you had never read my play, do you think you would have done half so well?—no, my boy, I sharpened your wits for you. Honest George Etherege and I,—we were the making of you! and when you come to be a great man, and are asked what made you so, you shall say, 'My uncle's play;' 'Gad, you shall. Faith, boy, never smile! Od's fish, I'll tell you a story as a propos to the present occasion as if it had been made on purpose. Rochester and I and Sedley were walking one day, and—entre nous—awaiting certain appointments—hem!—for my part I was a little melancholy or so, thinking of my catastrophe,—that is, of my play's catastrophe; and so, said Sedley, winking at Rochester, 'Our friend is sorrowful.' 'Truly,' said I, seeing they were about to banter me,—for you know they were arch fellows,—'truly, little Sid' (we called Sedley Sid), 'you are greatly mistaken;'—you see, Morton, I was thus sharp upon him because when you go to court you will discover that it does not do to take without giving. And then Rochester said, looking roguishly towards me, the wittiest thing against Sedley that ever I heard; it was the most celebrated bon mot at court for three weeks; he said—no, boy, od's fish, it was so stinging I can't tell it thee; faith, I can't. Poor Sid; he was a good fellow, though malicious,—and he's dead now. I'm sorry I said a word about it. Nay, never look so disappointed, boy. You have all the cream of the story as it is. And now put on your hat, and come with me. I've got leave for you to take a walk with your old uncle."
That night, as I was undressing, I heard a gentle rap at the door, and Aubrey entered. He approached me timidly, and then, throwing his arms round my neck, kissed me in silence. I had not for years experienced such tenderness from him; and I sat now mute and surprised. At last I said, with the sneer which I must confess I usually assumed towards those persons whom I imagined I had a right to think ill of:—
"Pardon me, my gentle brother, there is something portentous in this sudden change. Look well round the room, and tell me at your earliest leisure what treasure it is that you are desirous should pass from my possession into your own."
"Your love, Morton," said Aubrey, drawing back, but apparently in pride, not anger; "your love: I ask nothing more."
"Of a surety, kind Aubrey," said I, "the favour seems somewhat slight to have caused your modesty such delay in requesting it. I think you have been now some years nerving your mind to the exertion."
"Listen to me, Morton," said Aubrey, suppressing his emotion; "you have always been my favourite brother. From our first childhood my heart yearned to you. Do you remember the time when an enraged bull pursued me, and you, then only ten years old, placed yourself before it and defended me at the risk of your own life? Do you think I could ever forget that,—child as I was?—never, Morton, never!"
Before I could answer the door was thrown open, and the Abbe entered. "Children," said he, and the single light of the room shone full upon his unmoved, rigid, commanding features—"children, be as Heaven intended you,—friends and brothers. Morton, I have wronged you, I own it; here is my hand: Aubrey, let all but early love, and the present promise of excellence which your brother displays, be forgotten."
With these words the priest joined our hands. I looked on my brother, and my heart melted. I flung myself into his arms and wept.
"This is well," said Montreuil, surveying us with a kind of grim complacency, and, taking my brother's arm, he blest us both, and led Aubrey away.
That day was a new era in my boyish life. I grew henceforth both better and worse. Application and I having once shaken hands became very good acquaintance. I had hitherto valued myself upon supplying the frailties of a delicate frame by an uncommon agility in all bodily exercises. I now strove rather to improve the deficiencies of my mind, and became orderly, industrious, and devoted to study. So far so well; but as I grew wiser, I grew also more wary. Candour no longer seemed to me the finest of virtues. I thought before I spoke: and second thought sometimes quite changed the nature of the intended speech; in short, gentlemen of the next century, to tell you the exact truth, the little Count Devereux became somewhat of a hypocrite!
A CONTEST OF ART AND A LEAGUE OF FRIENDSHIP.—TWO CHARACTERS IN MUTUAL IGNORANCE OF EACH OTHER, AND THE READER NO WISER THAN EITHER OF THEM.
THE Abbe was now particularly courteous to me. He made Gerald and myself breakfast with him, and told us nothing was so amiable as friendship among brothers. We agreed to the sentiment, and, like all philosophers, did not agree a bit the better for acknowledging the same first principles. Perhaps, notwithstanding his fine speeches, the Abbe was the real cause of our continued want of cordiality. However, we did not fight any more: we avoided each other, and at last became as civil and as distant as those mathematical lines which appear to be taking all possible pains to approach one another and never get a jot the nearer for it. Oh! your civility is the prettiest invention possible for dislike! Aubrey and I were inseparable, and we both gained by the intercourse. I grew more gentle, and he more masculine; and, for my part, the kindness of his temper so softened the satire of mine that I learned at last to smile full as often as to sneer.
The Abbe had obtained a wonderful hold over Aubrey; he had made the poor boy think so much of the next world, that he had lost all relish for this. He lived in a perpetual fear of offence: he was like a chemist of conscience, and weighed minutiae by scruples. To play, to ride, to run, to laugh at a jest, or to banquet on a melon, were all sins to be atoned for; and I have found (as a penance for eating twenty-three cherries instead of eighteen) the penitent of fourteen standing, barefooted, in the coldest nights of winter, upon the hearthstones, almost utterly naked, and shivering like a leaf, beneath the mingled effect of frost and devotion. At first I attempted to wrestle with this exceeding holiness, but finding my admonitions received with great distaste and some horror, I suffered my brother to be happy in his own way. I only looked with a very evil and jealous eye upon the good Abbe, and examined, while I encouraged them, the motives of his advances to myself. What doubled my suspicions of the purity of the priest was my perceiving that he appeared to hold out different inducements for trusting him to each of us, according to his notions of our respective characters. My brother Gerald he alternately awed and persuaded, by the sole effect of superior intellect. With Aubrey he used the mechanism of superstition. To me, he, on the one hand, never spoke of religion, nor, on the other, ever used threats or persuasion, to induce me to follow any plan suggested to my adoption; everything seemed to be left to my reason and my ambition. He would converse with me for hours upon the world and its affairs, speak of courts and kings, in an easy and unpedantic strain; point out the advantage of intellect in acquiring power and controlling one's species; and, whenever I was disposed to be sarcastic upon the human nature I had read of, he supported my sarcasm by illustrations of the human nature he had seen. We were both, I think (for myself I can answer), endeavouring to pierce the real nature of the other; and perhaps the talent of diplomacy for which, years afterwards, I obtained some applause, was first learnt in my skirmishing warfare with the Abbe Montreuil.
At last, the evening before we quitted school for good arrived. Aubrey had just left me for solitary prayers, and I was sitting alone by my fire, when Montreuil entered gently. He sat himself down by me, and, after giving me the salutation of the evening, sank into a silence which I was the first to break.
"Pray, Abbe," said I, "have one's years anything to do with one's age?"
The priest was accustomed to the peculiar tone of my sagacious remarks, and answered dryly,—
"Mankind in general imagine that they have."
"Faith, then," said I, "mankind know very little about the matter. To-day I am at school, and a boy; to-morrow I leave school; if I hasten to town I am presented at court; and lo! I am a man; and this change within half-a-dozen changes of the sun! therefore, most reverend father, I humbly opine that age is measured by events, not years."
"And are you not happy at the idea of passing the age of thraldom, and seeing arrayed before you the numberless and dazzling pomps and pleasures of the great world?" said Montreuil, abruptly, fixing his dark and keen eye upon me.
"I have not yet fully made up my mind whether to be happy or not," said I, carelessly.
"It is a strange answer;" said the priest; "but" (after a pause) "you are a strange youth: a character that resembles a riddle is at your age uncommon, and, pardon me, unamiable. Age, naturally repulsive, requires a mask; and in every wrinkle you may behold the ambush of a scheme: but the heart of youth should be open as its countenance! However, I will not weary you with homilies; let us change the topic. Tell me, Morton, do you repent having turned your attention of late to those graver and more systematic studies which can alone hereafter obtain you distinction?"
"No, father," said I, with a courtly bow, "for the change has gained me your good opinion."
A smile, of peculiar and undefinable expression, crossed the thin lips of the priest; he rose, walked to the door, and saw that it was carefully closed. I expected some important communication, but in vain; pacing the small room to and fro, as if in a musing mood, the Abbe remained silent, till, pausing opposite some fencing foils, which among various matters (books, papers, quoits, etc.) were thrown idly in one corner of the room, he said,—
"They tell me that you are the best fencer in the school—is it so?"
"I hope not, for fencing is an accomplishment in which Gerald is very nearly my equal," I replied.
"You run, ride, leap, too, better than any one else, according to the votes of your comrades?"
"It is a noble reputation," said I, "in which I believe I am only excelled by our huntsman's eldest son."
"You are a strange youth," repeated the priest; "no pursuit seems to give you pleasure, and no success to gratify your vanity. Can you not think of any triumph which would elate you?"
I was silent.
"Yes," cried Montreuil, approaching me,—"yes," cried he, "I read your heart, and I respect it; these are petty competitions and worthless honours. You require a nobler goal, and a more glorious reward. He who feels in his soul that Fate has reserved for him a great and exalted part in this world's drama may reasonably look with indifference on these paltry rehearsals of common characters."
I raised my eye, and as it met that of the priest, I was irresistibly struck with the proud and luminous expression which Montreuil's look had assumed. Perhaps something kindred to its nature was perceptible in my own; for, after surveying me with an air of more approbation than he had ever honoured me with before, he grasped my arm firmly, and said, "Morton, you know me not; for many years I have not known you: that time is past. No sooner did your talents develop themselves than I was the first to do homage to their power: let us henceforth be more to each other than we have been; let us not be pupil and teacher; let us be friends. Do not think that I invite you to an unequal exchange of good offices: you may be the heir to wealth and a distinguished name; I may seem to you but an unknown and undignified priest; but the authority of the Almighty can raise up, from the sheepfold and the cotter's shed, a power, which, as the organ of His own, can trample upon sceptres and dictate to the supremacy of kings. And I—I"—the priest abruptly paused, checked the warmth of his manner, as if he thought it about to encroach on indiscretion, and, sinking into a calmer tone, continued, "yes, I, Morton, insignificant as I appear to you, can, in every path through this intricate labyrinth of life, be more useful to your desires than you can ever be to mine. I offer to you in my friendship a fervour of zeal and energy of power which in none of your equals, in age and station, you can hope to find. Do you accept my offer?"
"Can you doubt," said I, with eagerness, "that I would avail myself of the services of any man, however displeasing to me, and worthless in himself? How, then, can I avoid embracing the friendship of one so extraordinary in knowledge and intellect as yourself? I do embrace it, and with rapture."
The priest pressed my hand. "But," continued he, fixing his eyes upon mine, "all alliances have their conditions: I require implicit confidence; and for some years, till time gives you experience, regard for your interests induces me also to require obedience. Name any wish you may form for worldly advancement, opulence, honour, the smile of kings, the gifts of states, and—I—I will pledge myself to carry that wish into effect. Never had eastern prince so faithful a servant among the Dives and Genii as Morton Devereux shall find in me: but question me not of the sources of my power; be satisfied when their channel wafts you the success you covet. And, more, when I in my turn (and this shall be but rarely) request a favour of you, ask me not for what end nor hesitate to adopt the means I shall propose. You seem startled; are you content at this understanding between us, or will you retract the bond?"
"My father," said I, "there is enough to startle me in your proposal; it greatly resembles that made by the Old Man of the Mountains to his vassals, and it would not exactly suit my inclinations to be called upon some morning to act the part of a private executioner."
The priest smiled. "My young friend," said he, "those days have passed; neither religion nor friendship requires of her votaries sacrifices of blood. But make yourself easy; whenever I ask of you what offends your conscience, even in a punctilio, refuse my request. With this exception, what say you?"
"That I think I will agree to the bond: but, father, I am an irresolute person; I must have time to consider."
"Be it so. To-morrow, having surrendered my charge to your uncle, I depart for France."
"For France!" said I; "and how? Surely the war will prevent your passage."
The priest smiled. Nothing ever displeased me more than that priest's smile. "The ecclesiastics," said he, "are the ambassadors of Heaven, and have nothing to do with the wars of earth. I shall find no difficulty in crossing the Channel. I shall not return for several months, perhaps not till the expiration of a year: I leave you, till then, to decide upon the terms I have proposed to you. Meanwhile, gratify my vanity by employing my power; name some commission in France which you wish me to execute."
"I can think of none,—yet, stay;" and I felt some curiosity to try the power of which he boasted,—"I have read that kings are blest with a most accommodating memory, and perfectly forget their favourites when they can be no longer useful. You will see, perhaps, if my father's name has become a Gothic and unknown sound at the court of the Great King. I confess myself curious to learn this, though I can have no personal interest in it."
"Enough, the commission shall be done. And now, my child, Heaven bless you! and send you many such friends as the humble priest, who, whatever be his failings, has, at least, the merit of wishing to serve those whom he loves."
So saying, the priest closed the door. Sinking into a revery, as his footsteps died upon my ear, I muttered to myself: "Well, well, my sage ecclesiastic, the game is not over yet; let us see if, at sixteen, we cannot shuffle cards, and play tricks with the gamester of thirty. Yet he may be in earnest, and faith I believe he is; but I must look well before I leap, or consign my actions into such spiritual keeping. However, if the worst come to the worst, if I do make this compact, and am deceived,—if, above all, I am ever seduced, or led blindfold into one of those snares which priestcraft sometimes lays to the cost of honour,—why, I shall have a sword, which I shall never be at a loss to use, and it can find its way through a priest's gown as well as a soldier's corselet."
Confess that a youth who could think so promptly of his sword was well fitted to wear one!
RURAL HOSPITALITY.—AN EXTRAORDINARY GUEST.—A FIN$ GENTLEMAN IS NOT NECESSARILY A FOOL.
WE were all three (my brothers and myself) precocious geniuses. Our early instructions, under a man like the Abbe, at once learned and worldly, and the society into which we had been initiated from our childhood, made us premature adepts in the manners of the world; and I, in especial, flattered myself that a quick habit of observation rendered me no despicable profiter by my experience. Our academy, too, had been more like a college than a school; and we had enjoyed a license that seemed to the superficial more likely to benefit our manners than to strengthen our morals. I do not think, however, that the latter suffered by our freedom from restraint. On the contrary, we the earlier learned that vice, but for the piquancy of its unlawfulness, would never be so captivating a goddess; and our errors and crimes in after life had certainly not their origin in our wanderings out of academical bounds.
It is right that I should mention our prematurity of intellect, because, otherwise, much of my language and reflections, as detailed in the first book of this history, might seem ill suited to the tender age at which they occurred. However, they approach, as nearly as possible, to my state of mind at that period; and I have, indeed, often mortified my vanity in later life by thinking how little the march of time has ripened my abilities, and how petty would have been the intellectual acquisitions of manhood, if they had not brought me something like content!
My uncle had always, during his retirement, seen as many people as he could assemble out of the "mob of gentlemen who live at ease." But, on our quitting school and becoming men, he resolved to set no bounds to his hospitality. His doors were literally thrown open; and as he was by far the greatest person in the district—to say nothing of his wines, and his French cook—many of the good people of London did not think it too great an honour to confer upon the wealthy representative of the Devereuxs the distinction of their company and compliments. Heavens! what notable samples of court breeding and furbelows did the crane-neck coaches, which made our own family vehicle look like a gilt tortoise, pour forth by couples and leashes into the great hall; while my gallant uncle, in new periwig and a pair of silver-clocked stockings (a present from a ci-devant fine lady), stood at the far end of the picture-gallery to receive his visitors with all the graces of the last age.
My mother, who had preserved her beauty wonderfully, sat in a chair of green velvet, and astonished the courtiers by the fashion of a dress only just imported. The worthy Countess (she had dropped in England the loftier distinction of Madame la Marechale) was however quite innocent of any intentional affectation of the mode; for the new stomacher, so admired in London, had been the last alteration in female garniture at Paris a month before my father died. Is not this "Fashion" a noble divinity to possess such zealous adherents?—a pitiful, lackey-like creature, which struts through one country with the cast-off finery of another!
As for Aubrey and Gerald, they produced quite an effect; and I should most certainly have been thrown irrevocably into the background had I not been born to the good fortune of an eldest son. This was far more than sufficient to atone for the comparative plainness of my person; and when it was discovered that I was also Sir William's favourite, it is quite astonishing what a beauty I became! Aubrey was declared too effeminate; Gerald too tall. And the Duchess of Lackland one day, when she had placed a lean, sallow ghost of a daughter on either side of me, whispered my uncle in a voice, like the aside of a player, intended for none but the whole audience, that the young Count had the most imposing air and the finest eyes she had ever seen. All this inspired me with courage, as well as contempt; and not liking to be beholden solely to my priority of birth for my priority of distinction, I resolved to become as agreeable as possible. If I had not in the vanity of my heart resolved also to be "myself alone," Fate would have furnished me at the happiest age for successful imitation with an admirable model.
Time rolled on; two years were flown since I had left school, and Montreuil was not yet returned. I had passed the age of eighteen, when the whole house, which, as it was summer, when none but cats and physicians were supposed gifted by Providence with the power to exist in town, was uncommonly full,—the whole house, I say, was thrown into a positive fever of expectation. The visit of a guest, if not of greater consequence at least of greater interest than any who had hitherto honoured my uncle, was announced. Even the young Count, with the most imposing air in the world and the finest eyes, was forgotten by everybody but the Duchess of Lackland and her daughters, who had just returned to Devereux Court to observe how amazingly the Count had grown! Oh! what a prodigy wisdom would be, if it were but blest with a memory as keen and constant as that of interest!
Struck with the universal excitement, I went to my uncle to inquire the name of the expected guest. My uncle was occupied in fanning the Lady Hasselton, a daughter of one of King Charles's Beauties. He had only time to answer me literally, and without comment; the guest's name was Mr. St. John.
I had never conned the "Flying Post," and I knew nothing about politics. "Who is Mr. St. John?" said I; my uncle had renewed the office of a zephyr. The daughter of the Beauty heard and answered, "The most charming person in England." I bowed and turned away. "How vastly explanatory!" said I. I met a furious politician. "Who is Mr. St. John?" I asked.
"The cleverest man in England," answered the politician, hurrying off with a pamphlet in his hand.
"Nothing can be more satisfactory," thought I. Stopping a coxcomb of the first water, "Who is Mr. St. John?" I asked.
"The finest gentleman in England," answered the coxcomb, settling his cravat.
"Perfectly intelligible!" was my reflection on this reply; and I forthwith arrested a Whig parson,—"Who is Mr. St. John?" said I.
"The greatest reprobate in England!" answered the Whig parson, and I was too stunned to inquire more.
Five minutes afterwards the sound of carriage wheels was heard in the courtyard, then a slight bustle in the hall, and the door of the ante-room being thrown open Mr. St. John entered.
He was in the very prime of life, about the middle height, and of a mien and air so strikingly noble that it was some time before you recovered the general effect of his person sufficiently to examine its peculiar claims to admiration. However, he lost nothing by a further survey: he possessed not only an eminently handsome but a very extraordinary countenance. Through an air of nonchalance, and even something of lassitude; through an ease of manners sometimes sinking into effeminate softness, sometimes bordering upon licentious effrontery,—his eye thoughtful, yet wandering, seemed to announce that the mind partook but little of the whim of the moment, or of those levities of ordinary life over which the grace of his manner threw so peculiar a charm. His brow was, perhaps, rather too large and prominent for the exactness of perfect symmetry, but it had an expression of great mental power and determination. His features were high, yet delicate, and his mouth, which, when closed, assumed a firm and rather severe expression, softened, when speaking, into a smile of almost magical enchantment. Richly but not extravagantly dressed, he appeared to cultivate rather than disdain the ornaments of outward appearance; and whatever can fascinate or attract was so inherent in this singular man that all which in others would have been most artificial was in him most natural: so that it is no exaggeration to add that to be well dressed seemed to the elegance of his person not so much the result of art as of a property innate and peculiar to himself.