By Edward Bulwer Lytton
Ou peut-on etre mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?—French Song. [Where can on be better than in the bosom of one's family?]
I am an only child. My father was the younger son of one of our oldest earls; my mother the dowerless daughter of a Scotch peer. Mr. Pelham was a moderate whig, and gave sumptuous dinners; Lady Frances was a woman of taste, and particularly fond of diamonds and old china.
Vulgar people know nothing of the necessaries required in good society, and the credit they give is as short as their pedigree. Six years after my birth, there was an execution in our house. My mother was just setting off on a visit to the Duchess of D__; she declared it was impossible to go without her diamonds. The chief of the bailiffs declared it was impossible to trust them out of his sight. The matter was compromised—the bailiff went with my mother to C_, and was introduced as my tutor. "A man of singular merit," whispered my mother, "but so shy!" Fortunately, the bailiff was abashed, and by losing his impudence he kept the secret. At the end of the week, the diamonds went to the jeweller's, and Lady Frances wore paste.
I think it was about a month afterwards that a sixteenth cousin left my mother twenty thousand pounds. "It will just pay off our most importunate creditors, and equip me for Melton," said Mr. Pelham.
"It will just redeem my diamonds, and refurnish the house," said Lady Frances.
The latter alternative was chosen. My father went down to run his last horse at Newmarket, and my mother received nine hundred people in a Turkish tent. Both were equally fortunate, the Greek and the Turk; my father's horse lost, in consequence of which he pocketed five thousand pounds; and my mother looked so charming as a Sultana, that Seymour Conway fell desperately in love with her.
Mr. Conway had just caused two divorces; and of course, all the women in London were dying for him—judge then of the pride which Lady Frances felt at his addresses. The end of the season was unusually dull, and my mother, after having looked over her list of engagements, and ascertained that she had none remaining worth staying for, agreed to elope with her new lover.
The carriage was at the end of the square. My mother, for the first time in her life, got up at six o'clock. Her foot was on the step, and her hand next to Mr. Conway's heart, when she remembered that her favourite china monster and her French dog were left behind. She insisted on returning—re-entered the house, and was coming down stairs with one under each arm, when she was met by my father and two servants. My father's valet had discovered the flight (I forget how), and awakened his master.
When my father was convinced of his loss, he called for his dressing-gown—searched the garret and the kitchen—looked in the maid's drawers and the cellaret—and finally declared he was distracted. I have heard that the servants were quite melted by his grief, and I do not doubt it in the least, for he was always celebrated for his skill in private theatricals. He was just retiring to vent his grief in his dressing-room, when he met my mother. It must altogether have been an awkward rencontre, and, indeed, for my father, a remarkably unfortunate occurrence; for Seymour Conway was immensely rich, and the damages would, no doubt, have been proportionably high. Had they met each other alone, the affair might easily have been settled, and Lady Frances gone off in tranquillity;—those d—d servants are always in the way!
I have, however, often thought that it was better for me that the affair ended thus,—as I know, from many instances, that it is frequently exceedingly inconvenient to have one's mother divorced.
I have observed that the distinguishing trait of people accustomed to good society, is a calm, imperturbable quiet, which pervades all their actions and habits, from the greatest to the least: they eat in quiet, move in quiet, live in quiet, and lose their wife, or even their money, in quiet; while low persons cannot take up either a spoon or an affront without making such an amazing noise about it. To render this observation good, and to return to the intended elopement, nothing farther was said upon that event. My father introduced Conway to Brookes's, and invited him to dinner twice a week for a whole twelvemonth.
Not long after this occurrence, by the death of my grandfather, my uncle succeeded to the title and estates of the family. He was, as people justly observed, rather an odd man: built schools for peasants, forgave poachers, and diminished his farmers' rents; indeed, on account of these and similar eccentricities, he was thought a fool by some, and a madman by others. However, he was not quite destitute of natural feeling; for he paid my father's debts, and established us in the secure enjoyment of our former splendour. But this piece of generosity, or justice, was done in the most unhandsome manner; he obtained a promise from my father to retire from Brookes's, and relinquish the turf; and he prevailed upon my mother to take an aversion to diamonds, and an indifference to china monsters.
Tell arts they have no soundness, But vary by esteeming; Tell schools they want profoundness, And stand too much on seeming. If arts and schools reply, Give arts and schools the lie.—The Soul's Errand.
At ten years old I went to Eton. I had been educated till that period by my mother, who, being distantly related to Lord ———, (who had published "Hints upon the Culinary Art"), imagined she possessed an hereditary claim to literary distinction. History was her great forte; for she had read all the historical romances of the day, and history accordingly I had been carefully taught.
I think at this moment I see my mother before me, reclining on her sofa, and repeating to me some story about Queen Elizabeth and Lord Essex; then telling me, in a languid voice, as she sank back with the exertion, of the blessings of a literary taste, and admonishing me never to read above half an hour at a time for fear of losing my health.
Well, to Eton I went; and the second day I had been there, I was half killed for refusing, with all the pride of a Pelham, to wash tea-cups. I was rescued from the clutches of my tyrant by a boy not much bigger than myself, but reckoned the best fighter, for his size, in the whole school. His name was Reginald Glanville: from that period, we became inseparable, and our friendship lasted all the time he stayed at Eton, which was within a year of my own departure for Cambridge.
His father was a baronet, of a very ancient and wealthy family; and his mother was a woman of some talent and more ambition. She made her house one of the most recherchee in London. Seldom seen at large assemblies, she was eagerly sought after in the well winnowed soirees of the elect. Her wealth, great as it was, seemed the least prominent ingredient of her establishment. There was in it no uncalled for ostentation—no purse-proud vulgarity—no cringing to great, and no patronizing condescension to little people; even the Sunday newspapers could not find fault with her, and the querulous wives of younger brothers could only sneer and be silent.
"It is an excellent connexion," said my mother, when I told her of my friendship with Reginald Glanville, "and will be of more use to you than many of greater apparent consequence. Remember, my dear, that in all the friends you make at present, you look to the advantage you can derive from them hereafter; that is what we call knowledge of the world, and it is to get the knowledge of the world that you are sent to a public school."
I think, however, to my shame, that notwithstanding my mother's instructions, very few prudential considerations were mingled with my friendship for Reginald Glanville. I loved him with a warmth of attachment, which has since surprised even myself.
He was of a very singular character: he used to wander by the river in the bright days of summer, when all else were at play, without any companion but his own thoughts; and these were tinged, even at that early age, with a deep and impassioned melancholy. He was so reserved in his manner, that it was looked upon as coldness or pride, and was repaid as such by a pretty general dislike. Yet to those he loved, no one could be more open and warm; more watchful to gratify others, more indifferent to gratification for himself: an utter absence of all selfishness, and an eager and active benevolence were indeed the distinguishing traits of his character. I have seen him endure with a careless goodnature the most provoking affronts from boys much less than himself; but directly I, or any other of his immediate friends, was injured or aggrieved, his anger was almost implacable. Although he was of a slight frame, yet early exercise had brought strength to his muscles, and activity to his limbs; and his skill in all athletic exercises whenever (which was but rarely) he deigned to share them, gave alike confidence and success to whatever enterprise his lion-like courage tempted him to dare.
Such, briefly and imperfectly sketched, was the character of Reginald Glanville—the one, who of all my early companions differed the most from myself; yet the one whom I loved the most, and the one whose future destiny was the most intertwined with my own.
I was in the head class when I left Eton. As I was reckoned an uncommonly well-educated boy, it may not be ungratifying to the admirers of the present system of education to pause here for a moment, and recal what I then knew. I could make twenty Latin verses in half an hour; I could construe, without an English translation, all the easy Latin authors, and many of the difficult ones, with it: I could read Greek fluently, and even translate it though the medium of a Latin version at the bottom of the page. I was thought exceedingly clever, for I had only been eight years acquiring all this fund of information, which, as one can never recal it in the world, you have every right to suppose that I had entirely forgotten before I was five and twenty. As I was never taught a syllable of English during this period; as when I once attempted to read Pope's poems, out of school hours, I was laughed at, and called "a sap;" as my mother, when I went to school, renounced her own instructions; and as, whatever school-masters may think to the contrary, one learns nothing now-a-days by inspiration: so of everything which relates to English literature, English laws, and English history (with the exception of the said story of Queen Elizabeth and Lord Essex,) you have the same right to suppose that I was, at the age of eighteen, when I left Eton, in the profoundest ignorance.
At this age, I was transplanted to Cambridge, where I bloomed for two years in the blue and silver of a fellow commoner of Trinity. At the end of that time (being of royal descent) I became entitled to an honorary degree. I suppose the term is in contradistinction to an honourable degree, which is obtained by pale men in spectacles and cotton stockings, after thirty-six months of intense application.
I do not exactly remember how I spent my time at Cambridge. I had a piano-forte in my room, and a private billiard-room at a village two miles off; and between these resources, I managed to improve my mind more than could reasonably have been expected. To say truth, the whole place reeked with vulgarity. The men drank beer by the gallon, and eat cheese by the hundred weight—wore jockey-cut coats, and talked slang—rode for wagers, and swore when they lost—smoked in your face, and expectorated on the floor. Their proudest glory was to drive the mail—their mightiest exploit to box with the coachman—their most delicate amour to leer at the barmaid.
It will be believed, that I felt little regret in quitting companions of this description. I went to take leave of our college tutor. "Mr. Pelham," said he, affectionately squeezing me by the hand, "your conduct has been most exemplary; you have not walked wantonly over the college grassplats, nor set your dog at the proctor—nor driven tandems by day, nor broken lamps by night—nor entered the chapel in order to display your intoxication—nor the lecture-room, in order to caricature the professors. This is the general behaviour of young men of family and fortune; but it has not been your's. Sir, you have been an honour to your college."
Thus closed my academical career. He who does not allow that it passed creditably to my teachers, profitably to myself, and beneficially to the world, is a narrow-minded and illiterate man, who knows nothing of the advantages of modern education.
Thus does a false ambition rule us, Thus pomp delude, and folly fool us. —Shenstone.
An open house, haunted with great resort.—Bishop Hall's Satires.
I left Cambridge in a very weak state of health; and as nobody had yet come to London, I accepted the invitation of Sir Lionel Garrett to pay him a visit at his country seat. Accordingly, one raw winter's day, full of the hopes of the reviving influence of air and exercise, I found myself carefully packed up in three great coats, and on the high road to Garrett Park.
Sir Lionel Garrett was a character very common in England, and, in describing him, I describe the whole species. He was of an ancient family, and his ancestors had for centuries resided on their estates in Norfolk. Sir Lionel, who came to his majority and his fortune at the same time, went up to London at the age of twenty-one, a raw, uncouth sort of young man, in a green coat and lank hair. His friends in town were of that set whose members are above ton, whenever they do not grasp at its possession, but who, whenever they do, lose at once their aim and their equilibrium, and fall immeasurably below it. I mean that set which I call "the respectable," consisting of old peers of an old school; country gentlemen, who still disdain not to love their wine and to hate the French; generals who have served in the army; elder brothers who succeed to something besides a mortgage; and younger brothers who do not mistake their capital for their income. To this set you may add the whole of the baronetage—for I have remarked that baronets hang together like bees or Scotchmen; and if I go to a baronet's house, and speak to some one whom I have not the happiness to know, I always say "Sir John—."
It was no wonder, then, that to this set belonged Sir Lionel Garrett—no more the youth in a green coat and lank hair, but pinched in, and curled out—abounding in horses and whiskers—dancing all night—lounging all day—the favourite of the old ladies, the Philander of the young.
One unfortunate evening Sir Lionel Garrett was introduced to the celebrated Duchess of D. From that moment his head was turned. Before then, he had always imagined that he was somebody—that he was Sir Lionel Garrett, with a good-looking person and eight thousand a-year; he now knew that he was nobody unless he went to Lady G.'s and unless he bowed to Lady S. Disdaining all importance derived from himself, it became absolutely necessary to his happiness, that all his importance should be derived solely from his acquaintance with others. He cared not a straw that he was a man of fortune, of family, of consequence; he must be a man of ton; or he was an atom, a nonentity, a very worm, and no man. No lawyer at Gray's Inn, no galley slave at the oar, ever worked so hard at his task as Sir Lionel Garrett at his. Ton, to a single man, is a thing attainable enough. Sir Lionel was just gaining the envied distinction, when he saw, courted, and married Lady Harriett Woodstock.
His new wife was of a modern and not very rich family, and striving like Sir Lionel for the notoriety of fashion; but of this struggle he was ignorant. He saw her admitted into good society—he imagined she commanded it; she was a hanger on—he believed she was a leader. Lady Harriett was crafty and twenty-four—had no objection to be married, nor to change the name of Woodstock for Garrett. She kept up the baronet's mistake till it was too late to repair it.
Marriage did not bring Sir Lionel wisdom. His wife was of the same turn of mind as himself: they might have been great people in the country—they preferred being little people in town. They might have chosen friends among persons of respectability and rank—they preferred being chosen as acquaintance by persons of ton. Society was their being's end and aim, and the only thing which brought them pleasure was the pain of attaining it. Did I not say truly that I would describe individuals of a common species? Is there one who reads this, who does not recognize that overflowing class of the English population, whose members would conceive it an insult to be thought of sufficient rank to be respectable for what they are?—who take it as an honour that they are made by their acquaintance?—who renounce the ease of living for themselves, for the trouble of living for persons who care not a pin for their existence—who are wretched if they are not dictated to by others—and who toil, groan, travail, through the whole course of life, in order to forfeit their independence?
I arrived at Garrett Park just time enough to dress for dinner. As I was descending the stairs after having performed that ceremony, I heard my own name pronounced by a very soft, lisping voice, "Henry Pelham! dear, what a pretty name. Is he handsome?"
"Rather distingue than handsome," was the unsatisfactory reply, couched in a slow, pompous accent, which I immediately recognized to belong to Lady Harriett Garrett.
"Can we make something of him?" resumed the first voice.
"Something!" said Lady Harriett, indignantly; "he will be Lord Glenmorris! and he is son to Lady Frances Pelham."
"Ah," said the lisper, carelessly; "but can he write poetry, and play proverbes?"
"No, Lady Harriett," said I, advancing; "but permit me, through you, to assure Lady Nelthorpe that he can admire those who do."
"So you know me then?" said the lisper: "I see we shall be excellent friends;" and disengaging herself from Lady Harriett, she took my arm, and began discussing persons and things, poetry and china, French plays and music, till I found myself beside her at dinner, and most assiduously endeavouring to silence her by the superior engrossments of a bechamelle de poisson.
I took the opportunity of the pause, to survey the little circle of which Lady Harriett was the centre. In the first place, there was Mr. Davison, a great political economist, a short, dark, corpulent gentleman, with a quiet, serene, sleepy countenance, which put me exceedingly in mind of my grandmother's arm-chair; beside him was a quick, sharp little woman, all sparkle and bustle, glancing a small, grey, prying eye round the table, with a most restless activity: this, as Lady Nelthorpe afterwards informed me, was a Miss Trafford, an excellent person for a Christmas in the country, whom every body was dying to have: she was an admirable mimic, an admirable actress, and an admirable reciter; made poetry and shoes, and told fortunes by the cards, which came actually true.
There was also Mr. Wormwood, the noli-me-tangere of literary lions—an author who sowed his conversation not with flowers but thorns. Nobody could accuse him of the flattery generally imputed to his species; through the course of a long and varied life, he had never once been known to say a civil thing. He was too much disliked not to be recherche; whatever is once notorious, even for being disagreeable, is sure to be courted in England. Opposite to him sat the really clever, and affectedly pedantic Lord Vincent, one of those persons who have been "promising young men" all their lives; who are found till four o'clock in the afternoon in a dressing-gown, with a quarto before them; who go down into the country for six weeks every session, to cram an impromptu reply; and who always have a work in the press which is never to be published.
Lady Nelthorpe herself I had frequently seen. She had some reputation for talent, was exceedingly affected, wrote poetry in albums, ridiculed her husband, who was a fox hunter, and had a great penchant pour les beaux arts et les beaux hommes.
There were four or five others of the unknown vulgar, younger brothers, who were good shots and bad matches; elderly ladies, who lived in Baker-street, and liked long whist; and young ones, who never took wine, and said "Sir."
I must, however, among this number, except the beautiful Lady Roseville, the most fascinating woman, perhaps, of the day. She was evidently the great person there, and, indeed, among all people who paid due deference to ton, was always sure to be so every where. I have never seen but one person more beautiful. Her eyes were of the deepest blue; her complexion of the most delicate carnation; her hair of the richest auburn: nor could even Mr. Wormwood detect the smallest fault in the rounded yet slender symmetry of her figure.
Although not above twenty-five, she was in that state in which alone a woman ceases to be a dependant—widowhood. Lord Roseville, who had been dead about two years, had not survived their marriage many months; that period was, however, sufficiently long to allow him to appreciate her excellence, and to testify his sense of it: the whole of his unentailed property, which was very large, he bequeathed to her.
She was very fond of the society of literati, though without the pretence of belonging to their order. But her manners constituted her chief attraction: while they were utterly different from those of every one else, you could not, in the least minutiae, discover in what the difference consisted: this is, in my opinion, the real test of perfect breeding. While you are enchanted with the effect, it should possess so little prominency and peculiarity, that you should never be able to guess the cause.
"Pray," said Lord Vincent to Mr. Wormwood, "have you been to P—this year?"
"No," was the answer.
"I have, my lord," said Miss Trafford, who never lost an opportunity of slipping in a word.
"Well, and did they make you sleep, as usual, at the Crown, with the same eternal excuse, after having brought you fifty miles from town, of small house—no beds—all engaged—inn close by? Ah, never shall I forget that inn, with its royal name, and its hard beds—
"'Uneasy sleeps a head beneath the Crown!'"
"Ha, ha! Excellent!" cried Miss Trafford, who was always the first in at the death of a pun. "Yes, indeed they did: poor old Lord Belton, with his rheumatism; and that immense General Grant, with his asthma; together with three 'single men,' and myself, were safely conveyed to that asylum for the destitute."
"Ah! Grant, Grant!" said Lord Vincent, eagerly, who saw another opportunity of whipping in a pun. "He slept there also the same night I did; and when I saw his unwieldy person waddling out of the door the next morning, I said to Temple, 'Well, that's the largest Grant I ever saw from the Crown.'" [Note: It was from Mr. J. Smith that Lord Vincent purloined this pun.]
"Very good," said Wormwood, gravely. "I declare, Vincent, you are growing quite witty. Do you remember Jekyl? Poor fellow, what a really good punster he was—not agreeable though—particularly at dinner—no punsters are. Mr. Davison, what is that dish next to you?"
Mr. Davison was a great gourmand: "Salmi de perdreaux aux truffes," replied the political economist.
"Truffles!" said Wormwood, "have you been eating any?"
"Yes," said Davison, with unusual energy, "and they are the best I have tasted for a long time."
"Very likely," said Wormwood, with a dejected air. "I am particularly fond of them, but I dare not touch one—truffles are so very apoplectic—you, I make no doubt, may eat them in safety."
Wormwood was a tall, meagre man, with a neck a yard long. Davison was, as I have said, short and fat, and made without any apparent neck at all—only head and shoulders, like a cod-fish.
Poor Mr. Davison turned perfectly white; he fidgeted about in his chair; cast a look of the most deadly fear and aversion at the fatal dish he had been so attentive to before; and, muttering "apoplectic," closed his lips, and did not open them again all dinner-time.
Mr. Wormwood's object was effected. Two people were silenced and uncomfortable, and a sort of mist hung over the spirits of the whole party. The dinner went on and off, like all other dinners; the ladies retired, and the men drank, and talked indecorums. Mr. Davison left the room first, in order to look out the word "truffle," in the Encyclopaedia; and Lord Vincent and I went next, "lest (as my companion characteristically observed) that d—d Wormwood should, if we stayed a moment longer, 'send us weeping to our beds.'"
Oh! la belle chose que la Poste!—Lettres de Sevigne.
Ay—but who is it?—As you Like it.
I had mentioned to my mother my intended visit to Garrett Park, and the second day after my arrival there came the following letter:—
"My dear Henry,
"I was very glad to hear you were rather better than you had been. I trust you will take great care of yourself. I think flannel waistcoats might be advisable; and, by-the-by, they are very good for the complexion. Apropos of the complexion: I did not like that green coat you wore when I last saw you—you look best in black—which is a great compliment, for people must be very distingue in appearance, in order to do so.
"You know, my dear, that those Garretts are in themselves any thing but unexceptionable; you will, therefore, take care not to be too intimate; it is, however, a very good house: all you meet there are worth knowing, for one thing or the other. Remember, Henry, that the acquaintance (not the friends) of second or third-rate people are always sure to be good: they are not independent enough to receive whom they like—their whole rank is in their guests: you may be also sure that the menage will, in outward appearance at least, be quite comme il faut, and for the same reason. Gain as much knowledge de l'art culinaire as you can: it is an accomplishment absolutely necessary. You may also pick up a little acquaintance with metaphysics, if you have any opportunity; that sort of thing is a good deal talked about just at present.
"I hear Lady Roseville is at Garrett Park. You must be particularly attentive to her; you will probably now have an opportunity de faire votre cour that may never again happen. In London, she is so much surrounded by all, that she is quite inaccessible to one; besides, there you will have so many rivals. Without flattery to you, I take it for granted, that you are the best looking and most agreeable person at Garrett Park, and it will, therefore, be a most unpardonable fault if you do not make Lady Roseville of the same opinion. Nothing, my dear son, is like a liaison (quite innocent of course) with a woman of celebrity in the world. In marriage a man lowers a woman to his own rank; in an affaire du coeur he raises himself to her's. I need not, I am sure, after what I have said, press this point any further.
"Write to me and inform me of all your proceedings. If you mention the people who are at Garrett Park, I can tell you the proper line of conduct to pursue with each.
"I am sure that I need not add that I have nothing but your real good at heart, and that I am your very affectionate mother,
"P.S. Never talk much to young men—remember that it is the women who make a reputation in society."
"Well," said I, when I had read this letter, and adjusted my best curl, "my mother is very right, and so now for Lady Roseville."
I went down stairs to breakfast. Miss Trafford and Lady Nelthorpe were in the room talking with great interest, and, on Miss Trafford's part, with still greater vehemence.
"So handsome," said Lady Nelthorpe, as I approached.
"Are you talking of me?" said I.
"Oh, you vanity of vanities!" was the answer. "No, we were speaking of a very romantic adventure which has happened to Miss Trafford and myself, and disputing about the hero of it. Miss Trafford declares he is frightful; I say that he is beautiful. Now, you know, Mr. Pelham, as to you—" "There can," interrupted I, "be but one opinion—but the adventure?"
"Is this!" cried Miss Trafford, in a great fright, lest Lady Nelthorpe should, by speaking first, have the pleasure of the narration.—"We were walking, two or three days ago, by the sea-side, picking up shells and talking about the 'Corsair,' when a large fierce—"
"Man!" interrupted I.
"No, dog, (renewed Miss Trafford) flew suddenly out of a cave, under a rock, and began growling at dear Lady Nelthorpe and me, in the most savage manner imaginable. He would certainly have torn us to pieces if a very tall—" "Not so very tall either," said Lady Nelthorpe.
"Dear, how you interrupt one," said Miss Trafford, pettishly; "well, a very short man, then, wrapped up in a cloak—"
"In a great coat," drawled Lady Nelthorpe. Miss Trafford went on without noticing the emendation,—"had not with incredible rapidity sprung down the rock and—"
"Called him off," said Lady Nelthorpe.
"Yes, called him off," pursued Miss Trafford, looking round for the necessary symptoms of our wonder at this very extraordinary incident.
"What is the most remarkable," said Lady Nelthorpe, "is, that though he seemed from his dress and appearance to be really a gentleman, he never stayed to ask if we were alarmed or hurt—scarcely even looked at us—" ("I don't wonder at that!" said Mr. Wormwood, who, with Lord Vincent, had just entered the room;)—"and vanished among the rocks as suddenly as he had appeared."
"Oh, you've seen that fellow, have you?" said Lord Vincent: "so have I, and a devilish queer looking person he is,—
"'The balls of his broad eyes roll'd in his head, And glar'd betwixt a yellow and a red; He looked a lion with a gloomy stare, And o'er his eyebrows hung his matted hair.'
"Well remembered, and better applied—eh, Mr. Pelham!"
"Really," said I, "I am not able to judge of the application, since I have not seen the hero."
"Oh! it's admirable," said Miss Trafford, "just the description I should have given of him in prose. But pray, where, when, and how did you see him?"
"Your question is religiously mysterious, tria juncta in uno," replied Vincent; "but I will answer it with the simplicity of a Quaker. The other evening I was coming home from one of Sir Lionel's preserves, and had sent the keeper on before in order more undisturbedly to—"
"Con witticisms for dinner," said Wormwood.
"To make out the meaning of Mr. Wormwood's last work," continued Lord Vincent. "My shortest way lay through that churchyard about a mile hence, which is such a lion in this ugly part of the country, because it has three thistles and a tree. Just as I got there, I saw a man suddenly rise from the earth, where he appeared to have been lying; he stood still for a moment, and then (evidently not perceiving me) raised his clasped hands to Heaven, and muttered some words I was not able distinctly to hear. As I approached nearer to him which I did with no very pleasant sensations, a large black dog, which, till then, had remained couchant, sprung towards me with a loud growl,
"'Sonat hic de nare canina Litera,'
as Persius has it. I was too terrified to move—
and I should most infallibly have been converted into dog's meat, if our mutual acquaintance had not started from his reverie, called his dog by the very appropriate name of Terror, and then slouching his hat over his face, passed rapidly by me, dog and all. I did not recover the fright for an hour and a quarter. I walked—ye gods, how I did walk—no wonder, by the by, that I mended my pace, for as Pliny says truly: 'Timor est emendator asperrimus.'"
Mr. Wormwood had been very impatient during this recital, preparing an attack upon Lord Vincent, when Mr. Davison entering suddenly, diverted the assault.
"Good God!" said Wormwood, dropping his roll, "how very ill you look to-day, Mr. Davison; face flushed—veins swelled—oh, those horrid truffles! Miss Trafford, I'll trouble you for the salt."
Be she fairer than the day, Or the flowery meads in May; If she be not so to me, What care I how fair she be?—George Withers.
It was a great pity, so it was, That villainous saltpetre should be digged Out of the bowels of the harmless earth, Which many a good tall fellow had destroyed.—First Part of King Henry IV.
Several days passed. I had taken particular pains to ingratiate myself with Lady Roseville, and so far as common acquaintance went, I had no reason to be dissatisfied with my success. Any thing else, I soon discovered, notwithstanding my vanity, (which made no inconsiderable part in the composition of Henry Pelham) was quite out of the question. Her mind was wholly of a different mould from my own. She was like a being, not perhaps of a better, but of another world than myself; we had not one thought or opinion in common; we looked upon things with a totally different vision; I was soon convinced that she was of a nature exactly contrary to what was generally believed—she was any thing but the mere mechanical woman of the world. She possessed great sensibility, and even romance of temper, strong passions, and still stronger imagination; but over all these deeper recesses of her character, the extreme softness and languor of her manners, threw a veil which no superficial observer could penetrate. There were times when I could believe that she was inwardly restless and unhappy; but she was too well versed in the arts of concealment, to suffer such an appearance to be more than momentary.
I must own that I consoled myself very easily for my want, in this particular instance, of that usual good fortune which attends me aupres des dames; the fact was, that I had another object in pursuit. All the men at Sir Lionel Garrett's were keen sportsmen. Now, shooting is an amusement I was never particularly partial to. I was first disgusted with that species of rational recreation at a battue, where, instead of bagging anything, I was nearly bagged, having been inserted, like wine in an ice pail, in a wet ditch for three hours, during which time my hat had been twice shot at for a pheasant, and my leather gaiters once for a hare; and to crown all, when these several mistakes were discovered, my intended exterminators, instead of apologizing for having shot at me, were quite disappointed at having missed.
Seriously, that same shooting is a most barbarous amusement, only fit for majors in the army, and royal dukes, and that sort of people; the mere walking is bad enough, but embarrassing one's arms moreover, with a gun, and one's legs with turnip tops, exposing oneself to the mercy of bad shots and the atrocity of good, seems to me only a state of painful fatigue, enlivened by the probability of being killed.
This digression is meant to signify, that I never joined the single men and double Mantons that went in and off among Sir Lionel Garrett's preserves. I used, instead, to take long walks by myself, and found, like virtue, my own reward, in the additional health and strength these diurnal exertions produced me.
One morning, chance threw into my way une bonne fortune, which I took care to improve. From that time the family of a farmer Sinclair, (one of Sir Lionel's tenants) was alarmed by strange and supernatural noises: one apartment in especial, occupied by a female member of the household, was allowed, even by the clerk of the parish, a very bold man, and a bit of a sceptic, to be haunted; the windows of that chamber were wont to open and shut, thin airy voices confabulate therein, and dark shapes hover thereout, long after the fair occupant had, with the rest of the family, retired to repose. But the most unaccountable thing was the fatality which attended me, and seemed to mark me out, nolens volens, for an untimely death. I, who had so carefully kept out of the way of gunpowder as a sportsman, very narrowly escaped being twice shot as a ghost. This was but a poor reward for a walk more than a mile long, in nights by no means of cloudless climes and starry skies; accordingly I resolved to "give up the ghost" in earnest rather than in metaphor, and to pay my last visit and adieus to the mansion of Farmer Sinclair. The night on which I executed this resolve was rather memorable in my future history.
The rain had fallen so heavily during the day, as to render the road to the house almost impassable, and when it was time to leave, I inquired with very considerable emotion, whether there was not an easier way to return. The answer was satisfactory, and my last nocturnal visit at Farmer Sinclair's concluded.
Why sleeps he not, when others are at rest?—Byron.
According to the explanation I had received, the road I was now to pursue was somewhat longer, but much better, than that which I generally took. It was to lead me home through the churchyard of—, the same, by the by, which Lord Vincent had particularized in his anecdote of the mysterious stranger. The night was clear, but windy: there were a few light clouds passing rapidly over the moon, which was at her full, and shone through the frosty air, with all that cold and transparent brightness so peculiar to our northern winters. I walked briskly on till I came to the churchyard; I could not then help pausing (notwithstanding my total deficiency in all romance) to look for a few moments at the exceeding beauty of the scene around me. The church itself was extremely old, and stood alone and grey, in the rude simplicity of the earliest form of gothic architecture: two large dark yew-trees drooped on each side over tombs, which from their size and decorations, appeared to be the last possession of some quondam lords of the soil. To the left, the ground was skirted by a thick and luxuriant copse of evergreens, in the front of which stood one tall, naked oak, stern and leafless, a very token of desolation and decay; there were but few grave stones scattered about, and these were, for the most part, hidden by the long wild grass which wreathed and climbed round them. Over all, the blue skies and still moon shed that solemn light, the effect of which, either on the scene or the feelings, it is so impossible to describe.
I was just about to renew my walk, when a tall, dark figure, wrapped up, like myself, in a large French cloak, passed slowly along from the other side of the church, and paused by the copse I have before mentioned. I was shrouded at that moment from his sight by one of the yew trees; he stood still only for a few moments; he then flung himself upon the earth, and sobbed, audibly even at the spot where I was standing. I was in doubt whether to wait longer or to proceed; my way lay just by him, and it might be dangerous to interrupt so substantial an apparition. However, my curiosity was excited, and my feet were half frozen, two cogent reasons for proceeding; and, to say truth, I was never very much frightened by any thing dead or alive.
Accordingly I left my obscurity, and walked slowly onwards. I had not got above three paces before the figure rose, and stood erect and motionless before me. His hat had fallen off, and the moon shone full upon his countenance; it was not the wild expression of intense anguish which dwelt on those hueless and sunken features; nor their quick change to ferocity and defiance, as his eyes fell upon me, which made me start back and feel my heart stand still! Notwithstanding the fearful ravages graven in that countenance, then so brilliant with the graces of boyhood, I recognized, at one glance, those still noble and chiselled features. It was Reginald Glanville who stood before me! I recovered myself instantly; I threw myself towards him, and called him by his name. He turned hastily; but I would not suffer him to escape; I put my hand upon his arm, and drew him towards me. "Glanville!" I exclaimed, "it is I! it is your old—old friend, Henry Pelham. Good God! have I met you at last, and in such a scene?"
Glanville shook me from him in an instant, covered his face with his hands, and sunk down with one wild cry, which went fearfully through that still place, upon the spot from which he had but just risen. I knelt beside him; I took his hand; I spoke to him in every endearing term that I could think of; and roused and excited as my feelings were, by so strange and sudden a meeting, I felt my tears involuntarily falling over the hand which I held in my own. Glanville turned; he looked at me for one moment, as if fully to recognize me: and then throwing himself in my arms, wept like a child.
It was but for a few minutes that this weakness lasted; he rose suddenly—the whole expression of his countenance was changed—the tears still rolled in large drops down his cheeks, but the proud, stern character which the features had assumed, seemed to deny the feelings which that feminine weakness had betrayed.
"Pelham," he said, "you have seen me thus; I had hoped that no living eye would—this is the last time in which I shall indulge this folly. God bless you—we shall meet again—and this night shall then seem to you like a dream."
I would have answered, but he turned swiftly, passed in one moment through the copse, and in the next had utterly disappeared.
You reach a chilling chamber, where you dread Damps.—Crabbe's Borough.
I could not sleep the whole of that night, and the next morning, I set off early, with the resolution of discovering where Glanville had taken up his abode; it was evident from his having been so frequently seen, that it must be in the immediate neighbourhood.
I went first to Farmer Sinclair's; they had often remarked him, but could give me no other information. I then proceeded towards the coast; there was a small public house belonging to Sir Lionel close by the sea shore; never had I seen a more bleak and dreary prospect than that which stretched for miles around this miserable cabaret. How an innkeeper could live there is a mystery to me at this day—I should have imagined it a spot upon which anything but a sea-gull or a Scotchman would have starved.
"Just the sort of place, however," thought I, "to hear something of Glanville." I went into the house; I inquired, and heard that a strange gentleman had been lodging for the last two or three weeks at a cottage about a mile further up the coast. Thither I bent my steps; and after having met two crows, and one officer on the preventive service, I arrived safely at my new destination.
It was a house very little better, in outward appearance, than the wretched but I had just left, for I observe in all situations, and in all houses, that "the public" is not too well served. The situation was equally lonely and desolate; the house, which belonged to an individual, half fisherman and half smuggler, stood in a sort of bay, between two tall, rugged, black cliffs. Before the door hung various nets, to dry beneath the genial warmth of a winter's sun; and a broken boat, with its keel uppermost, furnished an admirable habitation for a hen and her family, who appeared to receive en pension, an old clerico-bachelor-looking raven. I cast a suspicious glance at the last-mentioned personage, which hopped towards me with a very hostile appearance, and entered the threshold with a more rapid step, in consequence of sundry apprehensions of a premeditated assault.
"I understand," said I, to an old, dried, brown female, who looked like a resuscitated red-herring, "that a gentleman is lodging here."
"No, Sir," was the answer: "he left us this morning."
The reply came upon me like a shower bath; I was both chilled and stunned by so unexpected a shock. The old woman, on my renewing my inquiries, took me up stairs, to a small, wretched room, to which the damps literally clung. In one corner was a flock-bed, still unmade, and opposite to it, a three-legged stool, a chair, and an antique carved oak table, a donation perhaps from some squire in the neighbourhood; on this last were scattered fragments of writing paper, a cracked cup half full of ink, a pen, and a broken ramrod. As I mechanically took up the latter, the woman said, in a charming patois, which I shall translate, since I cannot do justice to the original: "The gentleman, Sir, said he came here for a few weeks to shoot; he brought a gun, a large dog, and a small portmanteau. He used to spend all the mornings in the fens, though he must have been but a poor shot, for he seldom brought home anything; and we fear, Sir, that he was rather out of his mind, for he used to go out alone at night, and stay sometimes till morning. However, he was quite quiet, and behaved to us like a gentleman; so it was no business of ours, only my husband does think—"
"Pray," interrupted I, "why did he leave you so suddenly?"
"Lord, Sir, I don't know! but he told us for several days past that he should not stay over the week, and so we were not surprised when he left us this morning at seven o'clock. Poor gentleman, my heart bled for him when I saw him look so pale and ill."
And here I did see the good woman's eyes fill with tears: but she wiped them away, and took advantage of the additional persuasion they gave to her natural whine to say, "If, Sir, you know of any young gentleman who likes fen-shooting, and wants a nice, pretty, quiet apartment—"
"I will certainly recommend this," said I.
"You see it at present," rejoined the landlady, "quite in a litter like: but it is really a sweet place in summer."
"Charming," said I, with a cold shiver, hurrying down the stairs, with a pain in my ear, and the rheumatism in my shoulder.
"And this," thought I, "was Glanville's residence for nearly a month! I wonder he did not exhale into a vapour, or moisten into a green damp."
I went home by the churchyard. I paused on the spot where I had last seen him. A small gravestone rose over the mound of earth on which he had thrown himself; it was perfectly simple. The date of the year and month (which showed that many weeks had not elapsed since the death of the deceased) and the initials G. D. were all that was engraved upon the stone. Beside this tomb was one of a more pompous description, to the memory of a Mrs. Douglas, which had with the simple tumulus nothing in common, unless the initial letter of the surname corresponding with the latter initial on the neighbouring gravestone, might authorize any connection between them, not supported by that similitude of style usually found in the cenotaphs of the same family: the one, indeed, might have covered the grave of a humble villager—the other, the resting-place of the lady of the manor.
I found, therefore, no clue for the labyrinth of surmise: and I went home, more vexed and disappointed with my day's expedition than I liked to acknowledge to myself.
Lord Vincent met me in the hall. "Delighted to see you," said he, "I have just been to—, (the nearest town) in order to discover what sort of savages abide there. Great preparations for a ball—all the tallow candles in the town are bespoken—and I heard a most uncivilized fiddle,
"'Twang short and sharp, like the shrill swallow's cry.'"
The one milliner's shop was full of fat squiresses, buying muslin ammunition, to make the ball go off; and the attics, even at four o'clock, were thronged with rubicund damsels, who were already, as Shakspeare says of waves in a storm,
"'Curling their monstrous heads.'"
Jusqu'au revoir le ciel vous tienne tous en joie.—Moliere.
I was now pretty well tried of Garrett Park. Lady Roseville was going to H—t—d, where I also had an invitation. Lord Vincent meditated an excursion to Paris. Mr. Davison had already departed. Miss Trafford had been gone, God knows how long, and I was not at all disposed to be left, like "the last rose of summer," in single blessedness at Garrett Park. Vincent, Wormwood, and myself, all agreed to leave on the same day.
The morning of our departure arrived. We sat down to breakfast as usual. Lord Vincent's carriage was at the door; his groom was walking about his favourite saddle horse.
"A beautiful mare that is of your's," said I, carelessly looking at it, and reaching across the table to help myself to the pate de foie gras.
"Mare!" exclaimed the incorrigible punster, delighted with my mistake: "I thought that you would have been better acquainted with your propria quoe maribus."
"Humph!" said Wormwood, "when I look at you I am always at least reminded of the as in praoesenti!"
Lord Vincent drew up and looked unutterable anger. Wormwood went on with his dry toast, and Lady Roseville, who that morning had, for a wonder, come down to breakfast, good naturedly took off the bear. Whether or not his ascetic nature was somewhat mollified by the soft smiles and softer voice of the beautiful countess, I cannot pretend to say; but he certainly entered into a conversation with her, not much rougher than that of a less gifted individual might have been. They talked of literature, Lord Byron, converzaziones, and Lydia White. [Note: Written before the death of that lady.]
"Miss White," said Lady Roseville, "has not only the best command of language herself, but she gives language to other people. Dinner parties, usually so stupid, are, at her house, quite delightful. I have actually seen English people look happy, and one or two even almost natural."
"Ah!" said Wormwood, "that is indeed rare. With us every thing is assumption. We are still exactly like the English suitor to Portia, in the Merchant of Venice. We take our doublet from one country, our hose from another, and our behaviour every where. Fashion with us is like the man in one of Le Sage's novels, who was constantly changing his servants, and yet had but one suit of livery, which every new comer, whether he was tall or short, fat or thin, was obliged to wear. We adopt manners, however incongruous and ill suited to our nature, and thus we always seem awkward and constrained. But Lydia White's soirees are indeed agreeable. I remember the last time I dined there we were six in number, and though we were not blessed with the company of Lord Vincent, the conversation was without 'let or flaw.' Every one, even S——, said good things."
"Indeed!" cried Lord Vincent; "and pray, Mr. Wormwood, what did you say!"
"Why," answered the poet, glancing with a significant sneer over Vincent's somewhat inelegant person, "I thought of your lordship's figure, and said—grace!"
"Hem—hem!—'Gratia malorum tam infida est quam ipsi,' as Pliny says," muttered Lord Vincent, getting up hastily, and buttoning his coat.
I took the opportunity of the ensuing pause to approach Lady Roseville, and whisper my adieus. She was kind and even warm to me in returning them; and pressed me, with something marvellously like sincerity, to be sure to come and see her directly she returned to London. I soon discharged the duties of my remaining farewells, and in less than half an hour, was more than a mile distant from Garrett Park and its inhabitants. I can't say that for one, who, like me, is fond of being made a great deal of, that there is any thing very delightful in those visits into the country. It may be all well enough for married people, who, from the mere fact of being married, are always entitled to certain consideration, put—par exemple—into a bed-room, a little larger than a dog kennel, and accommodated with a looking-glass, that does not distort one's features like a paralytic stroke. But we single men suffer a plurality of evils and hard-ships, in entrusting ourselves to the casualties of rural hospitality. We are thrust up into any attic repository—exposed to the mercy of rats, and the incursions of swallows. Our lavations are performed in a cracked basin, and we are so far removed from human assistance, that our very bells sink into silence before they reach half way down the stairs. But two days before I left Garrett Park, I myself saw an enormous mouse run away with my almond paste, without any possible means of resisting the aggression. Oh! the hardships of a single man are beyond conception; and what is worse, the very misfortune of being single deprives one of all sympathy. "A single man can do this, and a single man ought to do that, and a single man may be put here, and a single man may be sent there," are maxims that I have been in the habit of hearing constantly inculcated and never disputed during my whole life; and so, from our fare and treatment being coarse in all matters, they have at last grown to be all matters in course.
Therefore to France.—Henry IV.
I was rejoiced to find myself again in London. I went to my father's house in Grosvenor-square. All the family, viz. he and my mother, were down at H—t—d; and, malgre my aversion to the country, I thought I might venture as far as Lady S—'s for a couple of days. Accordingly, to H—t—d I went. That is really a noble house—such a hall—such a gallery. I found my mother in the drawing-room, admiring the picture of his late Majesty. She was leaning on the arm of a tall, fair young man. "Henry," said she, (introducing me to him) "do you remember your old schoolfellow, Lord George Clinton?"
"Perfectly," said I, (though I remembered nothing about him) and we shook hands in the most cordial manner imaginable. By the way, there is no greater bore than being called upon to recollect men, with whom one had been at school some ten years back. In the first place, if they were not in one's own set, one most likely scarcely knew them to speak to; and, in the second place, if they were in one's own set, they are sure to be entirely opposite to the nature we have since acquired: for I scarcely ever knew an instance of the companions of one's boyhood being agreeable to the tastes of one's manhood: a strong proof of the folly of common people, who send their sons to Eton and Harrow to form connections.
Clinton was on the eve of setting out upon his travels. His intention was to stay a year at Paris, and he was full of the blissful expectations the idea of that city had conjured up. We remained together all the evening, and took a prodigious fancy to one another. Long before I went to bed, he had perfectly inoculated me with his own ardour for continental adventures; and, indeed, I had half promised to accompany him. My mother, when I first told her of my travelling intentions, was in despair, but by degrees she grew reconciled to the idea.
"Your health will improve by a purer air," said she, "and your pronunciation of French is, at present, any thing but correct. Take care of yourself, therefore, my dear son, and pray lose no time in engaging Coulon as your maitre de danse."
My father gave me his blessing, and a check on his banker. Within three days I had arranged every thing with Clinton, and on the fourth, I returned with him to London. From thence we set off to Dover—embarked—dined, for the first time in our lives, on French ground—were astonished to find so little difference between the two countries, and still more so at hearing even the little children talk French so well [Note: See Addison's Travels for this idea.]—proceeded to Abbeville—there poor Clinton fell ill: for several days we were delayed in that abominable town, and then Clinton, by the advice of the doctors, returned to England. I went back with him as far as Dover, and then, impatient at my loss of time, took no rest, night or day, till I found myself at Paris.
Young, well-born, tolerably good-looking, and never utterly destitute of money, nor grudging whatever enjoyment it could produce, I entered Paris with the ability and the resolution to make the best of those beaux jours which so rapidly glide from our possession.
Seest thou how gayly my young maister goes?—Bishop Hall's Satires.
Qui vit sans folie, n'est pas si sage qu'il croit.—La Rochefoucault.
I lost no time in presenting my letters of introduction, and they were as quickly acknowledged by invitations to balls and dinners. Paris was full to excess, and of a better description of English than those who usually overflow that reservoir of the world. My first engagement was to dine with Lord and Lady Bennington, who were among the very few English intimate in the best French houses.
On entering Paris I had resolved to set up "a character;" for I was always of an ambitious nature, and desirous of being distinguished from the ordinary herd. After various cogitations as to the particular one I should assume, I thought nothing appeared more likely to be remarkable among men, and therefore pleasing to women, than an egregious coxcomb: accordingly I arranged my hair into ringlets, dressed myself with singular plainness and simplicity (a low person, by the by, would have done just the contrary), and putting on an air of exceeding languor, made my maiden appearance at Lord Bennington's. The party was small, and equally divided between French and English: the former had been all emigrants, and the conversation was chiefly in our own tongue.
I was placed, at dinner, next to Miss Paulding, an elderly young lady, of some notoriety at Paris, very clever, very talkative, and very conceited. A young, pale, ill-natured looking man, sat on her left hand; this was Mr. Aberton, one of the attaches.
"Dear me!" said Miss Paulding, "what a pretty chain that is of your's, Mr. Aberton."
"Yes," said the attache, "I know it must be pretty, for I got it at Brequet's, with the watch." (How common people always buy their opinions with their goods, and regulate the height of the former by the mere price or fashion of the latter.)
"Pray, Mr. Pelham," said Miss Paulding, turning to me, "have you got one of Brequet's watches yet?"
"Watch!" said I: "do you think I could ever wear a watch? I know nothing so plebeian. What can any one, but a man of business, who has nine hours for his counting-house and one for his dinner, ever possibly want to know the time for? An assignation, you will say: true, but (here I played with my best ringlet) if a man is worth having, he is surely worth waiting for!"
Miss Paulding opened her eyes, and Mr. Aberton his mouth. A pretty lively French woman opposite (Madame D'Anville) laughed, and immediately joined in our conversation, which, on my part, was, during the whole dinner, kept up exactly in the same strain.
"What do you think of our streets?" said the old, yet still animated Madame de G—s. "You will not find them, I fear, so agreeable for walking as the trottoirs in London."
"Really," I answered, "I have only been once out in your streets, at least a pied, since my arrival, and then I was nearly perishing for want of help."
"What do you mean?" said Madame D'Anville.
"Why, I fell into that intersecting stream which you call a kennel, and I a river. Pray, Mr. Aberton, what do you think I did in that dangerous dilemma?"
"Why, got out again as fast as you could," said the literal attache.
"No such thing, I was too frightened: I stood still and screamed for assistance."
Madame D'Anville was delighted, and Miss Paulding astonished. Mr. Aberton muttered to a fat, foolish Lord Luscombe, "What a damnation puppy,"—and every one, even to the old Madame de G—s, looked at me six times as attentively as they had done before.
As for me, I was perfectly satisfied with the effect I had produced, and I went away the first, in order to give the men an opportunity of abusing me; for whenever the men abuse, the women, to support alike their coquetry and the conversation, think themselves called upon to defend.
The next day I rode into the Champs Elysees. I always valued myself particularly upon my riding, and my horse was both the most fiery and the most beautiful in Paris. The first person I saw was Madame D'Anville. At that moment I was reining in my horse, and conscious, as the wind waved my long curls, that I was looking to the very best advantage, I made my horse bound towards her carriage, which she immediately stopped, and speaking in my natural tone of voice, and without the smallest affectation, I made at once my salutations and my court.
"I am going," said she, "to the Duchesse D—g's this evening—it is her night—do come."
"I don't know her," said I.
"Tell me your hotel, and I'll send you an invitation before dinner," rejoined Madame D'Anville.
"I lodge," said I, "at the Hotel de—, Rue de Rivoli, au second at present; next year, I suppose, according to the usual gradations in the life of a garcon, I shall be au troisieme: for here the purse and the person seem to be playing at see-saw—the latter rises as the former descends."
We went on conversing for about a quarter of an hour, in which I endeavoured to make the pretty Frenchwoman believe that all the good opinion I possessed of myself the day before, I had that morning entirely transferred to her account.
As I rode home I met Mr. Aberton, with three or four other men; with that glaring good-breeding, so peculiar to the English, he instantly directed their eyes towards me in one mingled and concentrated stare. "N'importe," thought I, "they must be devilish clever fellows if they can find a single fault either in my horse or myself."
Lud! what a group the motley scene discloses, False wits, false wives, false virgins, and false spouses.—Goldsmith's Epilogue to the Comedy of the Sisters.
Madame D'Anville kept her promise—the invitation was duly sent, and accordingly at half past ten to the Rue D'Anjou I drove.
The rooms were already full. Lord Bennington was standing by the door, and close by him, looking exceedingly distrait, was my old friend Lord Vincent. They both came towards me at the same moment. "Strive not," thought I, looking at the stately demeanour of the one, and the humourous expression of countenance in the other—"strive not, Tragedy nor Comedy, to engross a Garrick." I spoke first to Lord Bennington, for I knew he would be the sooner dispatched, and then for the next quarter of an hour found myself overflowed with all the witticisms poor Lord Vincent had for days been obliged to retain. I made an engagement to dine with him at Very's the next day, and then glided off towards Madame D'Anville.
She was surrounded with men, and talking to each with that vivacity which, in a Frenchwoman, is so graceful, and in an Englishwoman would be so vulgar. Though her eyes were not directed towards me, she saw me approach by that instinctive perception which all coquets possess, and suddenly altering her seat, made way for me beside her. I did not lose so favourable an opportunity of gaining her good graces, and losing those of all the male animals around her. I sunk down on the vacant chair, and contrived, with the most unabashed effrontery, and yet with the most consummate dexterity, to make every thing that I said pleasing to her, revolting to some one of her attendants. Wormwood himself could not have succeeded better. One by on they dropped off, and we were left alone among the crowd. Then, indeed, I changed the whole tone of my conversation. Sentiment succeeded to satire, and the pretence of feeling to that of affectation. In short, I was so resolved to please that I could scarcely fail to succeed.
In this main object of the evening I was not however solely employed. I should have been very undeserving of that character for observation which I flatter myself I peculiarly deserve, if I had not during the three hours I stayed at Madame D—g's, conned over every person remarkable for any thing, from rank to a ribbon. The duchesse herself was a fair, pretty, clever woman, with manners rather English than French. She was leaning, at the time I paid my respects to her, on the arm of an Italian count, tolerably well known at Paris. Poor O—i! I hear he is just married. He did not deserve so heavy a calamity!
Sir Henry Millington was close by her, carefully packed up in his coat and waistcoat. Certainly that man is the best padder in Europe.
"Come and sit by me, Millington," cried old Lady Oldtown; "I have a good story to tell you of the Duc de G—e."
Sir Henry, with difficulty, turned round his magnificent head, and muttered out some unintelligible excuse. The fact was, that poor Sir Henry was not that evening made to sit down—he had only his standing up coat on. Lady Oldtown—heaven knows—is easily consoled. She supplied the place of the dilapidated baronet with a most superbly mustachioed German.
"Who," said I, to Madame D'Anville, "are those pretty girls in white, talking with such eagerness to Mr. Aberton and Lord Luscombe?"
"What!" said the Frenchwoman, "have you been ten days at Paris and not been introduced to the Miss Carltons? Let me tell you that your reputation among your countrymen at Paris depends solely upon their verdict."
"And upon your favour," added I.
"Ah!" said she, "you must have had your origin in France; you have something about you presque Parisien."
"Pray," said I, (after having duly acknowledged this compliment, the very highest that a Frenchwoman can bestow) "what did you really and candidly think of our countrymen during your residence in England?"
"I will tell you," answered Madame D'Anville; "they are brave, honest, generous, mais ils sont demi-barbares."
Pia mater, Plus quam se sapere, et virtutibus esse priorem Vult, et ait prope vera.—Horace.
Vere mihi festus atras Eximet curas.—Horace.
The next morning I received a letter from my mother.
"My dear Henry," began my affectionate and incomparable parent—
"My dear Henry,
"You have now fairly entered the world, and though at your age my advice may be but little followed, my experience cannot altogether be useless. I shall, therefore, make no apology for a few precepts, which I hope may tend to make you a wiser and better man.
"I hope, in the first place, that you have left your letter at the ambassador's, and that you will not fail to go there as often as possible. Pay your court in particular to Lady—She is a charming person, universally popular, and one of the very few English people to whom one may safely be civil. Apropos, of English civility, you have, I hope, by this time discovered, that you have to assume a very different manner with French people than with our own countrymen: with us, the least appearance of feeling or enthusiasm is certain to be ridiculed every where; but in France, you may venture to seem not quite devoid of all natural sentiments: indeed, if you affect enthusiasm, they will give you credit for genius, and they will place all the qualities of the heart to the account of the head. You know that in England, if you seem desirous of a person's acquaintance you are sure to lose it; they imagine you have some design upon their wives or their dinners; but in France you can never lose by politeness: nobody will call your civility forwardness and pushing. If the Princess De T—, and the Duchesse de D—, ask you to their houses (which indeed they will, directly you have left your letters), go there two or three times a week, if only for a few minutes in the evening. It is very hard to be acquainted with great French people, but when you are, it is your own fault if you are not intimate with them.
"Most English people have a kind of diffidence and scruple at calling in the evening—this is perfectly misplaced: the French are never ashamed of themselves, like us, whose persons, families, and houses are never fit to be seen, unless they are dressed out for a party.
"Don't imagine that the ease of French manners is at all like what we call ease: you must not lounge on your chair—nor put your feet upon a stool—nor forget yourself for one single moment when you are talking with women.
"You have heard a great deal about the gallantries of the French ladies; but remember that they demand infinitely greater attention than English women do; and that after a month's incessant devotion, you may lose every thing by a moment's impolitesse.
"You will not, my dear son, misinterpret these hints. I suppose, of course, that all your liaisons are platonic.
"Your father is laid up with the gout, and dreadfully ill-tempered and peevish; however, I keep out of the way as much as possible. I dined yesterday at Lady Roseville's: she praised you very much, said your manners were particularly good, and that you had already quite the usage du monde. Lord Vincent is, I understand, at Paris: though very tiresome with his learning and Latin, he is exceedingly clever and repandu; be sure to cultivate his acquaintance.
"If you are ever at a loss as to the individual character of a person you wish to gain, the general knowledge of human nature will teach you one infallible specific,—flattery! The quantity and quality may vary according to the exact niceties of art; but, in any quantity and in any quality, it is more or less acceptable, and therefore certain to please. Only never (or at least very rarely) flatter when other people, besides the one to be flattered, are by; in that case you offend the rest, and you make even your intended dupe ashamed to be pleased.
"In general, weak minds think only of others, and yet seem only occupied with themselves; you, on the contrary, must appear wholly engrossed with those about you, and yet never have a single idea which does not terminate in yourself: a fool, my dear Henry, flatters himself—a wise man flatters the fool.
"God bless you, my dear child, take care of your health—don't forget Coulon; and believe me your most affectionate mother,
By the time I had read this letter and dressed myself for the evening, Vincent's carriage was at the porte cocher. I hate the affection of keeping people waiting, and went down so quickly, that I met his facetious lordship upon the stairs. "Devilish windy," said I, as we were getting into the carriage.
"Yes," said Vincent; "but the moral Horace reminds us of our remedies as well as our misfortune—
"'Jam galeam Pallas, et aegida, Currusque parat,'—
that is, 'Providence that prepares the gale, gives us also a great coat and a carriage.'"
We were not long driving to the Palais Royal. Very's was crowded to excess—"A very low set!" said Lord Vincent, (who, being half a liberal, is of course a thorough aristocrat) looking round at the various English who occupied the apartment.
There was, indeed, a motley congregation; country esquires; extracts from the Universities; half-pay officers; city clerks in frogged coats and mustachios; two or three of a better looking description, but in reality half swindlers half gentlemen. All, in short, fit specimens of that wandering tribe, which spread over the continent the renown and the ridicule of good old England. I know not why it is that we should look and act so very disgracefully abroad; but I never meet in any spot out of this happy island, a single Englishman, without instinctively blushing for my native country.
"Garcon, garcon," cried a stout gentleman, who made one of three at the table next to us. "Donnez-nous une sole frite pour un, et des pommes de terre pour trois!"
"Humph!" said Lord Vincent; "fine ideas of English taste these garcons must entertain; men who prefer fried soles and potatoes to the various delicacies they can command here, might, by the same perversion of taste, prefer Bloomfield's poems to Byron's. Delicate taste depends solely upon the physical construction; and a man who has it not in cookery, must want it in literature. Fried sole and potatoes!! If I had written a volume, whose merit was in elegance, I would not show it to such a man!—but he might be an admirable critic upon 'Cobbett's Register,' or 'Every Man his own Brewer.'"
"Excessively true," said I; "what shall we order?"
"D'abord des huitres d'Ostende," said Vincent; "as to the rest," taking hold of the carte, "deliberare utilia mora utilissima est."
We were soon engaged in all the pleasures and pains of a dinner.
"Petimus," said Lord Vincent, helping himself to some poulet a l'Austerlitz, "petimus bene vivere—quod petis, hic est?"
We were not, however, assured of that fact at the termination of dinner. If half the dishes were well conceived and better executed, the other half were proportionably bad. Very is, indeed, no longer the prince of Restaurateurs. The low English who have flocked there, have entirely ruined the place. What waiter—what cook can possibly respect men who take no soup, and begin with a roti; who know neither what is good nor what is bad; who eat rognons at dinner instead of at breakfast, and fall into raptures over sauce Robert and pieds de cochon; who cannot tell, at the first taste, whether the beaune is premiere qualite, or the fricassee made of yesterday's chicken; who suffer in the stomach after champignon, and die with indigestion of a truffle? O! English people, English people! why can you not stay and perish of apoplexy and Yorkshire pudding at home?
By the time we had drank our coffee it was considerably past nine o'clock, and Vincent had business at the ambassador's before ten; we therefore parted for the night.
"What do you think of Very's?" said I, as we were at the door.
"Why," replied Vincent, "when I recal the astonishing heat of the place, which has almost sent me to sleep; the exceeding number of times in which that becasse had been re-roasted, and the extortionate length of our bills, I say of Very's, what Hamlet said of the world, 'Weary, stale, and unprofitable!'"
I would fight with broad swords, and sink point on the first blood drawn like a gentleman's.—The Chronicles of the Canongate.
I strolled idly along the Palais Royal (which English people, in some silly proverb, call the capital of Paris, whereas no French man of any rank, nor French woman of any respectability, are ever seen in its promenades) till, being somewhat curious to enter some of the smaller cafes, I went into one of the meanest of them; took up a Journal des Spectacles, and called for some lemonade. At the next table to me sat two or three Frenchmen, evidently of inferior rank, and talking very loudly over L'Angleterre et les Anglois. Their attention was soon fixed upon me.
Have you ever observed that if people are disposed to think ill of you, nothing so soon determines them to do so as any act of yours, which, however innocent and inoffensive, differs from their ordinary habits and customs? No sooner had my lemonade made its appearance, than I perceived an increased sensation among my neighbours of the next table. In the first place, lemonade is not much drank, as you may suppose, among the French in winter; and, in the second, my beverage had an appearance of ostentation, from being one of the dearest articles I could have called for. Unhappily, I dropped my newspaper—it fell under the Frenchmen's table; instead of calling the garcon, I was foolish enough to stoop for it myself. It was exactly under the feet of one of the Frenchmen; I asked him with the greatest civility, to move: he made no reply. I could not, for the life of me, refrain from giving him a slight, very slight push; the next moment he moved in good earnest; the whole party sprung up as he set the example. The offended leg gave three terrific stamps upon the ground, and I was immediately assailed by a whole volley of unintelligible abuse. At that time I was very little accustomed to French vehemence, and perfectly unable to reply to the vituperations I received.
Instead of answering them, I therefore deliberated what was best to be done. If, thought I, I walk away, they will think me a coward, and insult me in the streets; if I challenge them, I shall have to fight with men probably no better than shopkeepers; if I strike this most noisy amongst them, he may be silenced, or he may demand satisfaction: if the former, well and good; if the latter, why I shall have a better excuse for fighting him than I should have now.
My resolution was therefore taken. I was never more free from passion in my life, and it was, therefore, with the utmost calmness and composure that, in the midst of my antagonist's harangue, I raised my hand and—quietly knocked him down.
He rose in a moment. "Sortons," said he, in a low tone, "a Frenchman never forgives a blow!"
At that moment, an Englishman, who had been sitting unnoticed in an obscure corner of the cafe, came up and took me aside.
"Sir," said he, "don't think of fighting the man; he is a tradesman in the Rue St. Honore. I myself have seen him behind the counter; remember that 'a ram may kill a butcher.'"
"Sir," I replied, "I thank you a thousand times for your information. Fight, however, I must, and I'll give you, like the Irishman, my reasons afterwards: perhaps you will be my second."
"With pleasure," said the Englishman, (a Frenchman would have said, "with pain!")
We left the cafe together. My countryman asked them if he should go the gunsmith's for the pistols.
"Pistols!" said the Frenchman's second: "we will only fight with swords."
"No, no," said my new friend. "'On ne prend le lievre au tabourin.' We are the challenged, and therefore have the choice of weapons."
Luckily I overheard this dispute, and called to my second—"Swords or pistols," said I; "it is quite the same to me. I am not bad at either, only do make haste."
Swords, then, were chosen and soon procured. Frenchmen never grow cool upon their quarrels: and as it was a fine, clear, starlight night, we went forthwith to the Bois de Boulogne. We fixed our ground on a spot tolerably retired, and, I should think, pretty often frequented for the same purpose. I was exceedingly confident, for I knew myself to have few equals in the art of fencing; and I had all the advantage of coolness, which my hero was a great deal too much in earnest to possess. We joined swords, and in a very few moments I discovered that my opponent's life was at my disposal.
"C'est bien," thought I; "for once I'll behave handsomely."
The Frenchman made a desperate lunge. I struck his sword from his hand, caught it instantly, and, presenting it to him again, said,
"I think myself peculiarly fortunate that I may now apologize for the affront I have put upon you. Will you permit my sincerest apologies to suffice? A man who can so well resent an injury, can forgive one."
Was there ever a Frenchman not taken by a fine phrase? My hero received the sword with a low bow—the tears came into his eyes.
"Sir," said he, "you have twice conquered."
We left the spot with the greatest amity and affection, and re-entered, with a profusion of bows, our several fiacres.
"Let me," I said, when I found myself alone with my second, "let me thank you most cordially for your assistance; and allow me to cultivate an acquaintance so singularly begun. I lodge at the Hotel de—, Rue de Rivoli; my name is Pelham. Your's is—"
"Thornton," replied my countryman. "I will lose no time in profiting by an offer of acquaintance which does me so much honour."
With these and various other fine speeches, we employed the time till I was set down at my hotel; and my companion, drawing his cloak round him, departed on foot, to fulfil (he said, with a mysterious air) a certain assignation in the Faubourg St. Germain.
I said to Mr. Thornton, that I would give him many reasons for fighting after I had fought. As I do not remember that I ever did, and as I am very unwilling that they should be lost, I am now going to bestow them on the reader. It is true that I fought a tradesman. His rank in life made such an action perfectly gratuitous on my part, and to many people perhaps perfectly unpardonable. The following was, however, my view of the question: In striking him I had placed myself on his level; if I did so in order to insult him, I had a right also to do it in order to give him the only atonement in my power: had the insult come solely from him, I might then, with some justice, have intrenched myself in my superiority of rank—contempt would have been as optional as revenge: but I had left myself no alternative in being the aggressor, for if my birth was to preserve me from redressing an injury, it was also to preserve me from committing one. I confess, that the thing would have been wholly different had it been an English, instead of a French, man; and this, because of the different view of the nature and importance of the affront, which the Englishman would take. No English tradesman has an idea of les lois d'armes—a blow can be returned, or it can be paid for.
But in France, neither a set-to, nor an action for assault, would repay the generality of any class removed from the poverty of the bas peuple, for so great and inexcusable an affront. In all countries it is the feelings of the generality of people, that courtesy, which is the essence of honour, obliges one to consult. As in England I should, therefore, have paid, so in France I fought.
If it be said that a French gentleman would not have been equally condescending to a French tradesman, I answer that the former would never have perpetrated the only insult for which the latter might think there could be only one atonement. Besides, even if this objection held good, there is a difference between the duties of a native and a stranger. In receiving the advantages of a foreign country, one ought to be doubly careful not to give offence, and it is therefore doubly incumbent upon us to redress it when given. To the feelings of the person I had offended, there was but one redress. Who can blame me if I granted it?
Erat homo ingeniosus, acutus, acer, et qui plurimum et salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus.—Pliny.
I do not know a more difficult character to describe than Lord Vincent's. Did I imitate certain writers, who think that the whole art of pourtraying individual character is to seize hold of some prominent peculiarity, and to introduce this distinguishing trait, in all times and in all scenes, the difficulty would be removed. I should only have to present to the reader a man, whose conversation was nothing but alternate jest and quotation—a due union of Yorick and Partridge. This would, however, be rendering great injustice to the character I wish to delineate. There were times when Vincent was earnestly engrossed in discussion in which a jest rarely escaped him, and quotation was introduced only as a serious illustration, not as a humorous peculiarity. He possessed great miscellaneous erudition, and a memory perfectly surprising for its fidelity and extent. He was a severe critic, and had a peculiar art of quoting from each author he reviewed, some part that particularly told against him. Like most men, in the theory of philosophy he was tolerably rigid; in its practice, more than tolerably loose. By his tenets you would have considered him a very Cato for stubbornness and sternness: yet was he a very child in his concession to the whim of the moment. Fond of meditation and research, he was still fonder of mirth and amusement; and while he was among the most instructive, he was also the boonest of companions. When alone with me, or with men whom he imagined like me, his pedantry (for more or less, he always was pedantic) took only a jocular tone; with the savan or the bel esprit, it became grave, searching, and sarcastic. He was rather a contradicter than a favourer of ordinary opinions: and this, perhaps, led him not unoften into paradox: yet was there much soundness, even in his most vehement notions, and the strength of mind which made him think only for himself, was visible in all the productions it created. I have hitherto only given his conversation in one of its moods; henceforth I shall be just enough occasionally to be dull, and to present it sometimes to the reader in a graver tone.
Buried deep beneath the surface of his character, was a hidden, yet a restless ambition: but this was perhaps, at present, a secret even to himself. We know not our own characters till time teaches us self-knowledge: if we are wise, we may thank ourselves; if we are great, we must thank fortune.
It was this insight into Vincent's nature which drew us closer together. I recognized in the man, who as yet was only playing a part, a resemblance to myself, while he, perhaps, saw at times that I was somewhat better than the voluptuary, and somewhat wiser than the coxcomb, which were all that at present it suited me to appear.
In person, Vincent was short, and though not ill—yet ungracefully made—but his countenance was singularly fine. His eyes were dark, bright and penetrating, and his forehead (high and thoughtful) corrected the playful smile of his mouth, which might otherwise have given to his features too great an expression of levity. He was not positively ill dressed, yet he paid no attention to any external art, except cleanliness. His usual garb was a brown coat, much too large for him, a coloured neckcloth, a spotted waistcoat, grey trowsers, and short gaiters: add to these gloves of most unsullied doeskin, and a curiously thick cane, and the portrait is complete.
In manners, he was civil, or rude, familiar, or distant, just as the whim seized him; never was there any address less common, and less artificial. What a rare gift, by the by, is that of manners! how difficult to define—how much more difficult to impart! Better for a man to possess them, than wealth, beauty, or talent; they will more than supply all. No attention is too minute, no labour too exaggerated, which tends to perfect them. He who enjoys their advantages in the highest degree, viz., he who can please, penetrate, persuade, as the object may require, possesses the subtlest secret of the diplomatist and the statesman, and wants nothing but opportunity to become "great."
Le plaisir de la societe entre les amis se cultive par une ressemblance de gout sur ce qui regarde les moeurs, et par quelque difference d'opinions sur les sciences; par la ou l'on s'affermit dans ses sentiments, ou l'on s'exerce et l'on s'instruit par la dispute.—La Bruyere.
There was a party at Monsieur de V—e's, to which Vincent and myself were the only Englishmen invited: accordingly as the Hotel de V. was in the same street as my hotel, we dined together at my rooms, and walked from thence to the minister's house.
The party was as stiff and formal as such assemblies invariably are, and we were both delighted when we espied Monsieur d'A—, a man of much conversational talent, and some celebrity as an ultra writer, forming a little group in one corner of the room.
We took advantage of our acquaintance with the urbane Frenchman to join his party; the conversation turned almost entirely on literary subjects. Allusion being made to Schlegel's History of Literature, and the severity with which he speaks of Helvetius, and the philosophers of his school, we began to discuss what harm the free-thinkers in philosophy had effected.
"For my part," said Vincent, "I am not able to divine why we are supposed, in works where there is much truth, and little falsehood, much good, and a little evil, to see only the evil and the falsehood, to the utter exclusion of the truth and the good. All men whose minds are sufficiently laborious or acute to love the reading of metaphysical inquiries, will by the same labour and acuteness separate the chaff from the corn—the false from the true. It is the young, the light, the superficial, who are easily misled by error, and incapable of discerning its fallacy; but tell me, if it is the light, the young, the superficial, who are in the habit of reading the abstruse and subtle speculations of the philosopher. No, no! believe me that it is the very studies Monsieur Schlegel recommends, which do harm to morality and virtue; it is the study of literature itself, the play, the poem, the novel, which all minds, however frivolous, can enjoy and understand, that constitute the real foes to religion and moral improvement."
"Ma foi," cried Monsieur de G., (who was a little writer, and a great reader of romances) "why, you would not deprive us of the politer literature, you would not bid us shut up our novels, and burn our theatres."
"Certainly not!" replied Vincent; "and it is in this particular that I differ from certain modern philosophers of our own country, for whom, for the most part, I entertain the highest veneration. I would not deprive life of a single grace, or a single enjoyment, but I would counteract whatever is pernicious in whatever is elegant; if among my flowers there is a snake, I would not root up my flowers, I would kill the snake. Thus, who are they that derive from fiction and literature a prejudicial effect? We have seen already—the light and superficial;—but who are they that derive profit from them?—they who enjoy well regulated and discerning minds. Who pleasure?—all mankind! Would it not therefore be better, instead of depriving some of profit, and all of pleasure, by banishing poetry and fiction from our Utopia, to correct the minds which find evil, where, if they were properly instructed, they would find good? Whether we agree with Helvetius, that all men are born with an equal capacity of improvement, or merely go the length with all other metaphysicians, that education can improve the human mind to an extent yet incalculable, it must be quite clear, that we can give sound views instead of fallacies, and make common truths as easy to discern and adopt as common errors. But if we effect this, which we all allow is so easy, with our children; if we strengthen their minds, instead of weakening them, and clear their vision, rather than confuse it, from that moment, we remove the prejudicial effects of fiction, and just as we have taught them to use a knife, without cutting their fingers, we teach them to make use of fiction without perverting it to their prejudice. What philosopher was ever hurt by reading the novels of Crebillon, or seeing the comedies of Moliere? You understand me, then, Monsieur de G., I do, it is true, think that polite literature (as it is termed,) is prejudicial to the superficial, but for that reason, I would not do away with the literature, I would do away with the superficial."
"I deny," said M. D'A—, "that this is so easy a task—you cannot make all men wise."
"No," replied Vincent; "but you can all children, at least to a certain extent. Since you cannot deny the prodigious effects of education, you must allow that they will, at least, give common sense; for it they cannot do this, they can do nothing. Now common sense is all that is necessary to distinguish what is good and evil, whether it be in life or in books: but then your education must not be that of public teaching and private fooling; you must not counteract the effects of common sense by instilling prejudice, or encouraging weakness; your education may not be carried to the utmost goal: but as far as it does go you must see that the road is clear. Now, for instance, with regard to fiction, you must not first, as is done in all modern education, admit the disease, and then dose with warm water to expel it; you must not put fiction into your child's hands, and not give him a single principle to guide his judgment respecting it, till his mind has got wedded to the poison, and too weak, by its long use, to digest the antidote. No; first fortify his intellect by reason, and you may then please his fancy by fiction. Do not excite his imagination with love and glory, till you can instruct his judgment as to what love and glory are. Teach him, in short, to reflect, before you permit him full indulgence to imagine."