Alice, or The Mysteries, Book VI
Edward Bulwer Lytton
Produced by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and David Widger, email@example.com
"I will bring fire to thee--I reek not of the place."
--EURIPIDES: _Andromache_, 214.
. . . THIS ancient city,
How wanton sits she amidst Nature's smiles!
. . . Various nations meet,
As in the sea, yet not confined in space,
But streaming freely through the spacious streets.--YOUNG.
. . . His teeth he still did grind,
And grimly gnash, threatening revenge in vain.--SPENSER.
"PARIS is a delightful place,--that is allowed by all. It is delightful
to the young, to the gay, to the idle; to the literary lion, who likes to
be petted; to the wiser epicure, who indulges a more justifiable
appetite. It is delightful to ladies, who wish to live at their ease,
and buy beautiful caps; delightful to philanthropists, who wish for
listeners to schemes of colonizing the moon; delightful to the haunters
of balls and ballets, and little theatres and superb _cafes_, where men
with beards of all sizes and shapes scowl at the English, and involve
their intellects in the fascinating game of dominos. For these, and for
many others, Paris is delightful. I say nothing against it. But, for my
own part, I would rather live in a garret in London than in a palace in
the Chaussee d'Antin.--'Chacun a son mauvais gout.'
"I don't like the streets, in which I cannot walk but in the kennel; I
don't like the shops, that contain nothing except what's at the window; I
don't like the houses, like prisons which look upon a courtyard; I don't
like the _beaux jardins_, which grow no plants save a Cupid in plaster; I
don't like the wood fires, which demand as many _petits soins_ as the
women, and which warm no part of one but one's eyelids, I don't like the
language, with its strong phrases about nothing, and vibrating like a
pendulum between 'rapture' and 'desolation;' I don't like the accent,
which one cannot get, without speaking through one's nose; I don't like
the eternal fuss and jabber about books without nature, and revolutions
without fruit; I have no sympathy with tales that turn on a dead jackass,
nor with constitutions that give the ballot to the representatives, and
withhold the suffrage from the people; neither have I much faith in that
enthusiasm for the _beaux arts_, which shows its produce in execrable
music, detestable pictures, abominable sculpture, and a droll something
that I believe the _French_ call POETRY. Dancing and cookery,--these are
the arts the French excel in, I grant it; and excellent things they are;
but oh, England! oh, Germany! you need not be jealous of your rival!"
These are not the author's remarks,--he disowns them; they were Mr.
Cleveland's. He was a prejudiced man; Maltravers was more liberal, but
then Maltravers did not pretend to be a wit.
Maltravers had been several weeks in the city of cities, and now he had
his apartments in the gloomy but interesting Faubourg St. Germain, all to
himself. For Cleveland, having attended eight days at a sale, and having
moreover ransacked all the curiosity shops, and shipped off bronzes and
cabinets, and Genoese silks and _objets de vertu_, enough to have half
furnished Fonthill, had fulfilled his mission, and returned to his villa.
Before the old gentleman went, he flattered himself that change of air
and scene had already been serviceable to his friend; and that time would
work a complete cure upon that commonest of all maladies,--an unrequited
passion, or an ill-placed caprice.
Maltravers, indeed, in the habit of conquering, as well as of concealing
emotion, vigorously and earnestly strove to dethrone the image that had
usurped his heart. Still vain of his self-command, and still worshipping
his favourite virtue of Fortitude and his delusive philosophy of the calm
Golden Mean, he would not weakly indulge the passion, while he so sternly
fled from its object.
But yet the image of Evelyn pursued,--it haunted him; it came on him
unawares, in solitude, in crowds. That smile so cheering, yet so soft,
that ever had power to chase away the shadow from his soul; that youthful
and luxurious bloom of pure and eloquent thoughts, which was as the
blossom of genius before its fruit, bitter as well as sweet, is born;
that rare union of quick feeling and serene temper, which forms the very
ideal of what we dream of in the mistress, and exact from the wife,--all,
even more, far more, than the exquisite form and the delicate graces of
the less durable beauty, returned to him, after every struggle with
himself; and time only seemed to grave, in deeper if more latent folds of
his heart, the ineradicable impression.
Maltravers renewed his acquaintance with some persons not unfamiliar to
Valerie de Ventadour--how many recollections of the fairer days of life
were connected with that name! Precisely as she had never reached to his
love, but only excited his fancy (the fancy of twenty-two), had her image
always retained a pleasant and grateful hue; it was blended with no deep
sorrow, no stern regret, no dark remorse, no haunting shame.
They met again. Madame de Ventadour was still beautiful, and still
admired,--perhaps more admired than ever; for to the great, fashion and
celebrity bring a second and yet more popular youth. But Maltravers, if
rejoiced to see how gently Time had dealt with the fair Frenchwoman, was
yet more pleased to read in her fine features a more serene and contented
expression than they had formerly worn. Valerie de Ventadour had
preceded her younger admirer through the "MYSTERIES of LIFE;" she had
learned the real objects of being; she distinguished between the Actual
and the Visionary, the Shadow and the Substance; she had acquired content
for the present, and looked with quiet hope towards the future. Her
character was still spotless; or rather, every year of temptation and
trial had given it a fairer lustre. Love, that might have ruined, being
once subdued, preserved her from all after danger. The first meeting
between Maltravers and Valerie was, it is true, one of some embarrassment
and reserve: not so the second. They did but once, and that slightly,
recur to the past, and from that moment, as by a tacit understanding,
true friendship between them dated. Neither felt mortified to see that
an illusion had passed away,--they were no longer the same in each
other's eyes. Both might be improved, and were so; but the Valerie and
the Ernest of Naples were as things dead and gone! Perhaps Valerie's
heart was even more reconciled to the cure of its soft and luxurious
malady by the renewal of their acquaintance. The mature and experienced
reasoner, in whom enthusiasm had undergone its usual change, with the
calm brow and commanding aspect of sober manhood, was a being so
different from the romantic boy, new to the actual world of civilized
toils and pleasures, fresh from the adventures of Eastern wanderings, and
full of golden dreams of poetry before it settles into authorship or
action! She missed the brilliant errors, the daring aspirations,--even
the animated gestures and eager eloquence,--that had interested and
enamoured her in the loiterer by the shores of Baiae, or amidst the
tomb-like chambers of Pompeii. For the Maltravers now before her--wiser,
better, nobler, even handsomer than of yore (for he was one whom manhood
became better than youth)--the Frenchwoman could at any period have felt
friendship without danger. It seemed to her, not as it really was, the
natural _development_, but the very _contrast_, of the ardent, variable,
imaginative boy, by whose side she had gazed at night on the moonlit
waters and rosy skies of the soft Parthenope! How does time, after long
absence, bring to us such contrasts between the one we remember and the
one we see! And what a melancholy mockery does it seem of our own vain
hearts, dreaming of impressions never to be changed, and affections that
never can grow cool!
And now, as they conversed with all the ease of cordial and guileless
friendship, how did Valerie rejoice in secret that upon that friendship
there rested no blot of shame! and that she had not forfeited those
consolations for a home without love, which had at last settled into
cheerful nor unhallowed resignation,--consolations only to be found in
the conscience and the pride!
M. de Ventadour had not altered, except that his nose was longer, and
that he now wore a peruque in full curl instead of his own straight hair.
But somehow or other--perhaps by the mere charm of custom--he had grown
more pleasing in Valerie's eyes; habit had reconciled her to his foibles,
deficiencies, and faults; and, by comparison with others, she could
better appreciate his good qualities, such as they were,--generosity,
good-temper, good-nature, and unbounded indulgence to herself. Husband
and wife have so many interests in common, that when they have jogged on
through the ups and downs of life a sufficient time, the leash which at
first galled often grows easy and familiar; and unless the _temper_, or
rather the disposition and the heart, of either be insufferable, what was
once a grievous yoke becomes but a companionable tie. And for the rest,
Valerie, now that sentiment and fancy were sobered down, could take
pleasure in a thousand things which her pining affections once, as it
were, overlooked and overshot. She could feel grateful for all the
advantages her station and wealth procured her; she could cull the roses
in her reach, without sighing for the amaranths of Elysium.
If the great have more temptations than those of middle life, and if
their senses of enjoyment become more easily pampered into a sickly
apathy, so at least (if they can once outlive satiety) they have many
more resources at their command. There is a great deal of justice in the
old line, displeasing though it be to those who think of love in a
cottage, "'Tis best repenting in a coach and six!" If among the
Eupatrids, the Well Born, there is less love in wedlock, less quiet
happiness at home, still they are less chained each to each,--they have
more independence, both the woman and the man, and occupations and the
solace without can be so easily obtained! Madame de Ventadour, in
retiring from the mere frivolities of society--from crowded rooms, and
the inane talk and hollow smiles of mere acquaintanceship--became more
sensible of the pleasures that her refined and elegant intellect could
derive from art and talent, and the communion of friendship. She drew
around her the most cultivated minds of her time and country. Her
abilities, her wit, and her conversational graces enabled her not only to
mix on equal terms with the most eminent, but to amalgamate and blend the
varieties of talent into harmony. The same persons, when met elsewhere,
seemed to have lost their charm; under Valerie's roof every one breathed
a congenial atmosphere. And music and letters, and all that can refine
and embellish civilized life, contributed their resources to this gifted
and beautiful woman. And thus she found that the _mind_ has excitement
and occupation, as well as the heart; and, unlike the latter, the culture
we bestow upon the first ever yields us its return. We talk of education
for the poor, but we forget how much it is needed by the rich. Valerie
was a living instance of the advantages to women of knowledge and
intellectual resources. By them she had purified her fancy, by them she
had conquered discontent, by them she had grown reconciled to life and to
her lot! When the heavy heart weighed down the one scale, it was the
mind that restored the balance.
The spells of Madame de Ventadour drew Maltravers into this charmed
circle of all that was highest, purest, and most gifted in the society of
Paris. There he did not meet, as were met in the times of the old
_regime_, sparkling abbes intent upon intrigues; or amorous old dowagers,
eloquent on Rousseau; or powdered courtiers, uttering epigrams against
kings and religions,--straws that foretold the whirlwind. Paul Courier
was right! Frenchmen are Frenchmen still; they are full of fine phrases,
and their thoughts smell of the theatre; they mistake foil for diamonds,
the Grotesque for the Natural, the Exaggerated for the Sublime: but still
I say, Paul Courier was right,--there is more honesty now in a single
_salon_ in Paris than there was in all France in the days of Voltaire.
Vast interests and solemn causes are no longer tossed about like
shuttlecocks on the battledores of empty tongues. In the
_bouleversement_ of Revolutions the French have fallen on their feet!
Meeting men of all parties and all classes, Maltravers was struck with
the heightened tone of public morals, the earnest sincerity of feeling
which generally pervaded all, as compared with his first recollections of
the Parisians. He saw that true elements for national wisdom were at
work, though he saw also that there was no country in which their
operations would be more liable to disorder, more slow and irregular in
their results. The French are like the Israelites in the Wilderness,
when, according to a Hebrew tradition, every morning they seemed on the
verge of Pisgah, and every evening they were as far from it as ever. But
still time rolls on, the pilgrimage draws to its close, and the Canaan
must come at last!
At Valerie's house, Maltravers once more met the De Montaignes. It was a
painful meeting, for they thought of Cesarini when they met.
It is now time to return to that unhappy man. Cesarini had been removed
from England when Maltravers quitted it after Lady Florence's death; and
Maltravers had thought it best to acquaint De Montaigne with all the
circumstances that had led to his affliction. The pride and the honour
of the high-spirited Frenchman were deeply shocked by the tale of fraud
and guilt, softened as it was; but the sight of the criminal, his awful
punishment, merged every other feeling in compassion. Placed under the
care of the most skilful practitioners in Paris, great hopes of
Cesarini's recovery had been at first entertained. Nor was it long,
indeed, before he appeared entirely restored, so far as the external and
superficial tokens of sanity could indicate a cure. He testified
complete consciousness of the kindness of his relations, and clear
remembrance of the past: but to the incoherent ravings of delirium, an
intense melancholy, still more deplorable, succeeded. In this state,
however, he became once more the inmate of his brother-in-law's house;
and though avoiding all society, except that of Teresa, whose
affectionate nature never wearied of its cares, he resumed many of his
old occupations. Again he appeared to take delight in desultory and
unprofitable studies, and in the cultivation of that luxury of solitary
men, "the thankless muse." By shunning all topics connected with the
gloomy cause of his affliction, and talking rather of the sweet
recollections of Italy and childhood than of more recent events, his
sister was enabled to soothe the dark hour, and preserve some kind of
influence over the ill-fated man. One day, however, there fell into his
hands an English newspaper, which was full of the praises of Lord
Vargrave; and the article in lauding the peer referred to his services as
the commoner Lumley Ferrers.
This incident, slight as it appeared, and perfectly untraceable by his
relations, produced a visible effect on Cesarini; and three days
afterwards he attempted his own life. The failure of the attempt was
followed by the fiercest paroxysms. His disease returned in all its
dread force: and it became necessary to place him under yet stricter
confinement than he had endured before. Again, about a year from the
date now entered upon, he had appeared to recover; and again he was
removed to De Montaigne's house. His relations were not aware of the
influence which Lord Vargrave's name exercised over Cesarini; in the
melancholy tale communicated to them by Maltravers, that name had not
been mentioned. If Maltravers had at one time entertained some vague
suspicions that Lumley had acted a treacherous part with regard to
Florence, those suspicions had long since died away for want of
confirmation; nor did he (nor did therefore the De Montaignes) connect
Lord Vargrave with the affliction of Cesarini. De Montaigne himself,
therefore, one day at dinner, alluding to a question of foreign politics
which had been debated that morning in the Chamber, and in which he
himself had taken an active part, happened to refer to a speech of
Vargrave upon the subject, which had made some sensation abroad, as well
as at home. Teresa asked innocently who Lord Vargrave was; and De
Montaigne, well acquainted with the biography of the principal English
statesmen, replied that he had commenced his career as Mr. Ferrers, and
reminded Teresa that they had once been introduced to him in Paris.
Cesarini suddenly rose and left the room; his absence was not noted, for
his comings and goings were ever strange and fitful. Teresa soon
afterwards quitted the apartment with her children, and De Montaigne, who
was rather fatigued by the exertions and excitement of the morning,
stretched himself in his chair to enjoy a short _siesta_. He was
suddenly awakened by a feeling of pain and suffocation,--awakened in time
to struggle against a strong grip that had fastened itself at his throat.
The room was darkened in the growing shades of the evening; and, but for
the glittering and savage eyes that were fixed on him, he could scarcely
discern his assailant. He at length succeeded, however, in freeing
himself, and casting the intended assassin on the ground. He shouted for
assistance; and the lights borne by the servants who rushed into the room
revealed to him the face of his brother-in-law. Cesarini, though in
strong convulsions, still uttered cries and imprecations of revenge; he
denounced De Montaigne as a traitor and a murderer! In the dark
confusion of his mind, he had mistaken the guardian for the distant foe,
whose name sufficed to conjure up the phantoms of the dead, and plunge
reason into fury.
It was now clear that there was danger and death in Cesarini's disease.
His madness was pronounced to be capable of no certain and permanent
cure; he was placed at a new asylum (the superintendents of which were
celebrated for humanity as well as skill), a little distance from
Versailles, and there he still remained. Recently his lucid intervals
had become more frequent and prolonged; but trifles that sprang from his
own mind, and which no care could prevent or detect, sufficed to renew
his calamity in all its fierceness. At such times he required the most
unrelaxing vigilance, for his madness ever took an alarming and ferocious
character; and had he been left unshackled, the boldest and stoutest of
the keepers would have dreaded to enter his cell unarmed, or alone.
What made the disease of the mind appear more melancholy and confirmed
was, that all this time the frame seemed to increase in health and
strength. This is not an uncommon case in instances of mania--and it is
generally the worst symptom. In earlier youth, Cesarini had been
delicate even to effeminacy; but now his proportions were enlarged, his
form, though still lean and spare, muscular and vigorous,--as if in the
torpor which usually succeeded to his bursts of frenzy, the animal
portion gained by the repose or disorganization of the intellectual.
When in his better and calmer mood--in which indeed none but the
experienced could have detected his malady--books made his chief delight.
But then he complained bitterly, if briefly, of the confinement he
endured, of the injustice be suffered; and as, shunning all companions,
he walked gloomily amidst the grounds that surrounded that House of Woe,
his unseen guardians beheld him clenching his hands, as at some visionary
enemy, or overheard him accuse some phantom of his brain of the torments
Though the reader can detect in Lumley Ferrers the cause of the frenzy,
and the object of the imprecation, it was not so with the De Montaignes,
nor with the patient's keepers and physicians; for in his delirium he
seldom or never gave name to the shadows that he invoked,--not even to
that of Florence. It is, indeed, no unusual characteristic of madness to
shun, as by a kind of cunning, all mention of the names of those by whom
the madness has been caused. It is as if the unfortunates imagined that
the madness might be undiscovered if the images connected with it were
Such, at this time, was the wretched state of the man, whose talents had
promised a fair and honourable career, had it not been the wretched
tendency of his mind, from boyhood upward, to pamper every unwholesome
and unhallowed feeling as a token of the exuberance of genius. De
Montaigne, though he touched as lightly as possible upon this dark
domestic calamity in his first communications with Maltravers, whose
conduct in that melancholy tale of crime and woe had, he conceived, been
stamped with generosity and feeling, still betrayed emotions that told
how much his peace had been embittered.
"I seek to console Teresa," said he, turning away his manly head, "and to
point out all the blessings yet left to her; but that brother so beloved,
from whom so much was so vainly expected,--still ever and ever, though
she strives to conceal it from me, this affliction comes back to her, and
poisons every thought! Oh, better a thousand times that he had died!
When reason, sense, almost the soul, are dead, how dark and fiend-like is
the life that remains behind! And if it should be in the blood--if
Teresa's children--dreadful thought!"
De Montaigne ceased, thoroughly overcome.
"Do not, my dear friend, so fearfully exaggerate your misfortune, great
as it is; Cesarini's disease evidently arose from no physical
conformation,--it was but the crisis, the development, of a
long-contracted malady of mind, passions morbidly indulged, the reasoning
faculty obstinately neglected; and yet too he may recover. The further
memory recedes from the shock he has sustained, the better the chance
that his mind will regain its tone."
De Montaigne wrung his friend's hand.
"It is strange that from you should come sympathy and comfort!--you whom
he so injured; you whom his folly or his crime drove from your proud
career, and your native soil! But Providence will yet, I trust, redeem
the evil of its erring creature, and I shall yet live to see you restored
to hope and home, a happy husband, an honoured citizen. Till then, I
feel as if the curse lingered upon my race."
"Speak not thus. Whatever my destiny, I have recovered from that wound;
and still, De Montaigne, I find in life that suffering succeeds to
suffering, and disappointment to disappointment, as wave to wave. To
endure is the only philosophy; to believe that we shall live again in a
brighter planet, is the only hope that our reason should accept from our
MONSTRA evenerunt mihi:
Introit in aedes ater alienus canis,
Anguis per impluvium decidit de tegulis,
* "Prodigies have occurred: a strange black dog came into the house;
a snake glided from the tiles, through the court; the hen crowed."
WITH his constitutional strength of mind, and conformably with his
acquired theories, Maltravers continued to struggle against the latest
and strongest passion of his life. It might be seen in the paleness of
his brow, and that nameless expression of suffering which betrays itself
in the lines about the mouth, that his health was affected by the
conflict within him; and many a sudden fit of absence and abstraction,
many an impatient sigh, followed by a forced and unnatural gayety, told
the observant Valerie that he was the prey of a sorrow he was too proud
to disclose. He compelled himself, however, to take, or to affect, an
interest in the singular phenomena of the social state around
him,--phenomena that, in a happier or serener mood, would indeed have
suggested no ordinary food for conjecture and meditation.
The state of _visible transition_ is the state of nearly all the
enlightened communities in Europe. But nowhere is it so pronounced as in
that country which may be called the Heart of European Civilization.
There, all to which the spirit of society attaches itself appears broken,
vague, and half developed,--the Antique in ruins, and the New not formed.
It is, perhaps, the only country in which the Constructive principle has
not kept pace with the Destructive. The Has Been is blotted out; the To
Be is as the shadow of a far land in a mighty and perturbed sea.*
* The reader will remember that these remarks were written long
before the last French Revolution, and when the dynasty of Louis
Philippe was generally considered most secure.
Maltravers, who for several years had not examined the progress of modern
literature, looked with mingled feelings of surprise, distaste, and
occasional and most reluctant admiration, on the various works which the
successors of Voltaire and Rousseau have produced, and are pleased to
call the offspring of Truth united to Romance.
Profoundly versed in the mechanism and elements of those masterpieces of
Germany and England, from which the French have borrowed so largely while
pretending to be original, Maltravers was shocked to see the monsters
which these Frankensteins had created from the relics and the offal of
the holiest sepulchres. The head of a giant on the limbs of a dwarf,
incongruous members jumbled together, parts fair and beautiful,--the
whole a hideous distortion!
"It may be possible," said he to De Montaigne, "that these works are
admired and extolled; but how they can be vindicated by the examples of
Shakspeare and Goethe, or even of Byron, who redeemed poor and
melodramatic conceptions with a manly vigour of execution, an energy and
completeness of purpose, that Dryden himself never surpassed, is to me
"I allow that there is a strange mixture of fustian and maudlin in all
these things," answered De Montaigne; "but they are but the windfalls of
trees that may bear rich fruit in due season; meanwhile, any new school
is better than eternal imitations of the old. As for critical
vindications of the works themselves, the age that produces the phenomena
is never the age to classify and analyze them. We have had a deluge, and
now new creatures spring from the new soil."
"An excellent simile: they come forth from slime and mud,--fetid and
crawling, unformed and monstrous. I grant exceptions; and even in the
New School, as it is called, I can admire the real genius, the vital and
creative power of Victor Hugo. But oh, that a nation which has known a
Corneille should ever spawn forth a -----! And with these rickety and
drivelling abortions--all having followers and adulators--your Public can
still bear to be told that they have improved wonderfully on the day when
they gave laws and models to the literature of Europe; they can bear to
hear ----- proclaimed a sublime genius in the same circles which sneer
Voltaire is out of fashion in France, but Rousseau still maintains his
influence, and boasts his imitators. Rousseau was the worse man of the
two; perhaps he was also the more dangerous writer. But his reputation
is more durable, and sinks deeper into the heart of his nation; and the
danger of his unstable and capricious doctrines has passed away. In
Voltaire we behold the fate of all writers purely destructive; their uses
cease with the evils they denounce. But Rousseau sought to construct as
well as to destroy; and though nothing could well be more absurd than his
constructions, still man loves to look back and see even delusive
images--castles in the air--reared above the waste where cities have
been. Rather than leave even a burial-ground to solitude, we populate it
By degrees, however, as he mastered all the features of the French
literature, Maltravers become more tolerant of the present defects, and
more hopeful of the future results. He saw in one respect that that
literature carried with it its own ultimate redemption.
Its general characteristic--contradistinguished from the literature of
the old French classic school--is to take the _heart_ for its study; to
bring the passions and feelings into action, and let the Within have its
record and history as well as the Without. In all this our contemplative
analyst began to allow that the French were not far wrong when they
contended that Shakspeare made the fountain of their inspiration,--a
fountain which the majority of our later English Fictionists have
neglected. It is not by a story woven of interesting incidents, relieved
by delineations of the externals and surface of character, humorous
phraseology, and every-day ethics, that Fiction achieves its grandest
In the French literature, thus characterized, there is much false
morality, much depraved sentiment, and much hollow rant; but still it
carries within it the germ of an excellence, which, sooner or later, must
in the progress of national genius arrive at its full development.
Meanwhile, it is a consolation to know that nothing really immoral is
ever permanently popular, or ever, therefore, long deleterious; what is
dangerous in a work of genius cures itself in a few years. We can now
read "Werther," and instruct our hearts by its exposition of weakness and
passion, our taste by its exquisite and unrivalled simplicity of
construction and detail, without any fear that we shall shoot ourselves
in top-boots! We can feel ourselves elevated by the noble sentiments of
"The Robbers," and our penetration sharpened as to the wholesale
immorality of conventional cant and hypocrisy, without any danger of
turning banditti and becoming cutthroats from the love of virtue.
Providence, that has made the genius of the few in all times and
countries the guide and prophet of the many, and appointed Literature as
the sublime agent of Civilization, of Opinion, and of Law, has endowed
the elements it employs with a divine power of self-purification. The
stream settles of itself by rest and time; the impure particles fly off,
or are neutralized by the healthful. It is only fools that call the
works of a master-spirit immoral. There does not exist in the literature
of the world one _popular_ book that is immoral two centuries after it is
produced. For, in the heart of nations, the False does not live so long;
and the True is the Ethical to the end of time.
From the literary Maltravers turned to the political state of France his
curious and thoughtful eye. He was struck by the resemblance which this
nation--so civilized, so thoroughly European--bears in one respect to the
despotisms of the East: the convulsions of the capital decide the fate of
the country; Paris is the tyrant of France. He saw in this inflammable
concentration of power, which must ever be pregnant with great evils, one
of the causes why the revolutions of that powerful and polished people
are so incomplete and unsatisfactory, why, like Cardinal Fleury, system
after system, and Government after Government--
. . . "floruit sine fructu,
Defloruit sine luctu."*
* "Flourished without fruit, and was destroyed without regret."
Maltravers regarded it as a singular instance of perverse ratiocination,
that, unwarned by experience, the French should still persist in
perpetuating this political vice; that all their policy should still be
the policy of Centralization,--a principle which secures the momentary
strength, but ever ends in the abrupt destruction of States. It is, in
fact, the perilous tonic, which seems to brace the system, but drives the
blood to the head,--thus come apoplexy and madness. By centralization
the provinces are weakened, it is true,--but weak to assist as well as to
oppose a government, weak to withstand a mob. Nowhere, nowadays, is a
mob so powerful as in Paris: the political history of Paris is the
history of snobs. Centralization is an excellent quackery for a despot
who desires power to last only his own life, and who has but a
life-interest in the State; but to true liberty and permanent order
centralization is a deadly poison. The more the provinces govern their
own affairs, the more we find everything, even to roads and post-horses,
are left to the people; the more the Municipal Spirit pervades every vein
of the vast body, the more certain may we be that reform and change must
come from universal opinion, which is slow, and constructs ere it
destroys,--not from public clamour, which is sudden, and not only pulls
down the edifice but sells the bricks!
Another peculiarity in the French Constitution struck and perplexed
Maltravers. This people so pervaded by the republican sentiment; this
people, who had sacrificed so much for Freedom; this people, who, in the
name of Freedom, had perpetrated so much crime with Robespierre, and
achieved so much glory with Napoleon,--this people were, as a people,
contented to be utterly excluded from all power and voice in the State!
Out of thirty-three millions of subjects, less than two hundred thousand
electors! Where was there ever an oligarchy equal to this? What a
strange infatuation, to demolish an aristocracy and yet to exclude a
people! What an anomaly in political architecture, to build an inverted
pyramid! Where was the safety-valve of governments, where the natural
vents of excitement in a population so inflammable? The people itself
were left a mob,--no stake in the State, no action in its affairs, no
legislative interest in its security.*
* Has not all this proved prophetic?
On the other hand, it was singular to see how--the aristocracy of birth
broken down--the aristocracy of letters had arisen. A Peerage, half
composed of journalists, philosophers, and authors! This was the
beau-ideal of Algernon Sidney's Aristocratic Republic, of the Helvetian
vision of what ought to be the dispensation of public distinctions; yet
was it, after all, a desirable aristocracy? Did society gain; did
literature lose? Was the priesthood of Genius made more sacred and more
pure by these worldly decorations and hollow titles; or was aristocracy
itself thus rendered a more disinterested, a more powerful, or a more
sagacious element in the administration of law, or the elevation of
opinion? These questions, not lightly to be answered, could not fail to
arouse the speculation and curiosity of a man who had been familiar with
the closet and the forum; and in proportion as he found his interest
excited in these problems to be solved by a foreign nation, did the
thoughtful Englishman feel the old instinct--which binds the citizen to
the fatherland--begin to stir once more earnestly and vividly within him.
"You, yourself individually, are passing like us," said De Montaigne one
day to Maltravers, "through a state of transition. You have forever left
the Ideal, and you are carrying your cargo of experience over to the
Practical. When you reach that haven, you will have completed the
development of your forces."
"You mistake me,--I am but a spectator."
"Yes; but you desire to go behind the scenes; and he who once grows
familiar with the green-room, longs to be an actor."
With Madame de Ventadour and the De Montaignes Maltravers passed the
chief part of his time. They knew how to appreciate his nobler and to
love his gentler attributes and qualities; they united in a warm interest
for his future fate; they combated his Philosophy of Inaction; and they
felt that it was because he was not happy that he was not wise.
Experience was to him what ignorance had been to Alice. His faculties
were chilled and dormant. As affection to those who are unskilled in all
things, so is affection to those who despair of all things. The mind of
Maltravers was a world without a sun!
COELEBS, quid agam?*--HORACE.
* "What shall I do, a bachelor?"
IN a room at Fenton's Hotel sat Lord Vargrave and Caroline Lady
Doltimore,--two months after the marriage of the latter.
"Doltimore has positively fixed, then, to go abroad on your return from
"Positively,--to Paris. You can join us at Christmas, I trust?"
"I have no doubt of it; and before then I hope that I shall have arranged
certain public matters, which at present harass and absorb me even more
than my private affairs."
"You have managed to obtain terms with Mr. Douce, and to delay the
repayment of your debt to him?"
"Yes, I hope so, till I touch Miss Cameron's income; which will be mine,
I trust, by the time she is eighteen."
"You mean the forfeit money of thirty thousand pounds?"
"Not I; I mean what I said!"
"Can you really imagine she will still accept your hand?"
"With your aid, I do imagine it! Hear me. You must take Evelyn with you
to Paris. I have no doubt but that she will be delighted to accompany
you; nay, I have paved the way so far. For, of course, as a friend of
the family, and guardian to Evelyn, I have maintained a correspondence
with Lady Vargrave. She informs me that Evelyn has been unwell and
low-spirited; that she fears Brook-Green is dull for her, etc. I wrote,
in reply, to say that the more my ward saw of the world, prior to her
accession, when of age, to the position she would occupy in it, the more
she would fulfil my late uncle's wishes with respect to her education and
so forth. I added that as you were going to Paris, and as you loved her
so much, there could not be a better opportunity for her entrance into
life under the most favourable auspices. Lady Vargrave's answer to this
letter arrived this morning: she will consent to such an arrangement
should you propose it."
"But what good will result to yourself in this project? At Paris you
will be sure of rivals, and--"
"Caroline," interrupted Lord Vargrave, "I know very well what you would
say: I also know all the danger I must incur. But it is a choice of
evils, and I choose the least. You see that while she is at Brook-Green,
and under the eye of that sly old curate, I can effect nothing with her.
There, she is entirely removed from my influence: not so abroad; not so
under your roof. Listen to me still further. In this country, and
especially in the seclusion and shelter of Brook-Green, I have no scope
for any of those means which I shall be compelled to resort to, in
failure of all else."
"What can you intend?" said Caroline, with a slight shudder.
"I don't know what I intend yet. But this, at least, I can tell
you,--that Miss Cameron's fortune I must and will have. I am a desperate
man; and I can play a desperate game, if need be."
"And do you think that _I_ will aid, will abet?"
"Hush, not so loud! Yes, Caroline, you will, and you must aid and abet
me in any project I may form."
"Must! Lord Vargrave?"
"Ay," said Lumley, with a smile, and sinking his voice into a
whisper,--"ay! _you are in my power_!"
"Traitor!--you cannot dare! you cannot mean--"
"I mean nothing more than to remind you of the ties that exist between
us,--ties which ought to render us the firmest and most confidential of
friends. Come, Caroline, recollect all the benefit must not lie on one
side. I have obtained for you rank and wealth; I have procured you a
husband,--you must help me to a wife!"
Caroline sank back, and covered her face with her hands.
"I allow," continued Vargrave, coldly,--"I allow that your beauty and
talent were sufficient of themselves to charm a wiser man than Doltimore;
but had I not suppressed jealousy, sacrificed love, had I dropped a hint
to your liege lord,--nay, had I not fed his lap-dog vanity by all the
cream and sugar of flattering falsehoods,--you would be Caroline Merton
"Oh, would that I were! Oh that I were anything but your tool, your
victim! Fool that I was! wretch that I am! I am rightly punished!"
"Forgive me, forgive me, dearest," said Vargrave, soothingly; "I was to
blame, forgive me: but you irritated, you maddened me, by your seeming
indifference to my prosperity, my fate. I tell you again and again,
pride of my soul, I tell you, that you are the only being I love! and if
you will allow me, if you will rise superior, as I once fondly hoped, to
all the cant and prejudice of convention and education, the only woman I
could ever respect, as well as love. Oh, hereafter, when you see me at
that height to which I feel that I am born to climb, let me think that to
your generosity, your affection, your zeal, I owed the ascent. At
present I am on the precipice; without your hand I fall forever. My own
fortune is gone; the miserable forfeit due to me, if Evelyn continues to
reject my suit, when she has arrived at the age of eighteen, is deeply
mortgaged. I am engaged in vast and daring schemes, in which I may
either rise to the highest station or lose that which I now hold. In
either case, how necessary to me is wealth: in the one instance, to
maintain my advancement; in the other, to redeem my fall."
"But did you not tell me," said Caroline, "that Evelyn proposed and
promised to place her fortune at your disposal, even while rejecting your
"Absurd mockery!" exclaimed Vargrave; "the foolish boast of a girl,--an
impulse liable to every caprice. Can you suppose that when she launches
into the extravagance natural to her age and necessary to her position,
she will not find a thousand demands upon her rent-roll not dreamed of
now; a thousand vanities and baubles that will soon erase my poor and
hollow claim from her recollection? Can you suppose that, if she marry
another, her husband will ever consent to a child's romance? And even
were all this possible, were it possible that girls were not extravagant,
and that husbands had no common-sense, is it for me, Lord Vargrave, to be
a mendicant upon reluctant bounty,--a poor cousin, a pensioned
led-captain? Heaven knows I have as little false pride as any man, but
still this is a degradation I cannot stoop to. Besides, Caroline, I am
no miser, no Harpagon: I do not want wealth for wealth's sake, but for
the advantages it bestows,--respect, honour, position; and these I get as
the husband of the great heiress. Should I get them as her dependant?
No: for more than six years I have built my schemes and shaped my conduct
according to one assured and definite object; and that object I shall not
now, at the eleventh hour, let slip from my hands. Enough of this: you
will pass Brook-Green in returning from Cornwall; you will take Evelyn
with you to Paris,--leave the rest to me. Fear no folly, no violence,
from my plans, whatever they may be: I work in the dark. Nor do I
despair that Evelyn will love, that Evelyn will voluntarily accept me
yet: my disposition is sanguine; I look to the bright side of things; do
Here their conference was interrupted by Lord Doltimore, who lounged
carelessly into the room, with his hat on one side. "Ah, Vargrave, how
are you? You will not forget the letters of introduction? Where are you
"Only to my own room, to put on my bonnet; the carriage will be here in a
few minutes." And Caroline escaped.
"So you go to Cornwall to-morrow, Doltimore?"
"Yes; cursed bore! but Lady Elizabeth insists on seeing us, and I don't
object to a week's good shooting. The old lady, too, has something to
leave, and Caroline had no dowry,--not that I care for it; but still
marriage is expensive."
"By the by, you will want the five thousand pounds you lent me?"
"Why, whenever it is convenient."
Say no more,--it shall be seen to. Doltimore, I am very anxious that
Lady Doltimore's _debut_ at Paris should be brilliant: everything depends
on falling into the right set. For myself, I don't care about fashion,
and never did; but if I were married, and an idle man like you, it might
"Oh, you will be very useful to us when we return to London. Meanwhile,
you know, you have my proxy in the Lords. I dare say there will be some
sharp work the first week or two after the recess."
"Very likely; and depend on one thing, my dear Doltimore, that when I am
in the Cabinet, a certain friend of mine shall be an earl. Adieu."
"Good-by, my dear Vargrave, good-by; and, I say,--I say, don't distress
yourself about that trifle; a few months hence it will suit me just as
"Thanks. I will just look into my accounts, and use you without
ceremony. Well, I dare say we shall meet at Paris. Oh, I forgot,--I
observe that you have renewed your intimacy with Legard. Now, he is a
very good fellow, and I gave him that place to oblige you; still, as you
are no longer a _garcon_--but perhaps I shall offend you?"
"Not at all. What is there against Legard?"
"Nothing in the world,--but he is a bit of a boaster. I dare say his
ancestor was a Gascon, poor fellow!--and he affects to say that you can't
choose a coat, or buy a horse, without his approval and advice,--that he
can turn you round his finger. Now this hurts your consequence in the
world,--you don't get credit for your own excellent sense and taste.
Take my advice, avoid these young hangers-on of fashion, these club-room
lions. Having no importance of their own, they steal the importance of
their friends. _Verbum sap_."
"You are very right,--Legard _is_ a coxcomb; and now I see why he talked
of joining us at Paris."
"Don't let him do any such thing! He will be telling the Frenchmen that
her ladyship is in love with him, ha, ha!"
"Ha, ha!--a very good joke--poor Caroline!--very good joke!"
"Well, good-by, once more." And Vargrave closed the door.
"Legard go to Paris--not if Evelyn goes there!" muttered Lumley.
"Besides, I want no partner in the little that one can screw out of this
MR. BUMBLECASE, a word with you--I have a little business.
Farewell, the goodly Manor of Blackacre, with all its woods,
underwoods, and appurtenances whatever.--WYCHERLEY: _Plain Dealer_.
IN quitting Fenton's Hotel, Lord Vargrave entered into one of the clubs
in St. James's Street: this was rather unusual with him, for he was not a
club man. It was not his system to spend his time for nothing. But it
was a wet December day; the House was not yet assembled, and he had done
his official business. Here, as he was munching a biscuit and reading an
article in one of the ministerial papers--the heads of which he himself
had supplied--Lord Saxingham joined and drew him to the window.
"I have reason to think," said the earl, "that your visit to Windsor did
"Ah, indeed; so I fancied."
"I do not think that a certain personage will ever consent to the -----
question; and the premier, whom I saw to-day, seems chafed and
"Nothing can be better; I know that we are in the right boat."
"I hope it is not true, Lumley, that your marriage with Miss Cameron is
broken off; such was the _on dit_ in the club, just before you entered."
"Contradict it, my dear lord,--contradict it. I hope by the spring to
introduce Lady Vargrave to you. But who broached the absurd report?"
"Why, your _protege_, Legard, says he heard so from his uncle, who heard
it from Sir John Merton."
"Legard is a puppy, and Sir John Merton a jackass. Legard had better
attend to his office, if he wants to get on; and I wish you'd tell him
so. I have heard somewhere that he talks of going to Paris,--you can
just hint to him that he must give up such idle habits. Public
functionaries are not now what they were,--people are expected to work
for the money they pocket; otherwise Legard is a cleverish fellow, and
deserves promotion. A word or two of caution from you will do him a vast
deal of good."
"Be sure I will lecture him. Will you dine with me to-day, Lumley?"
"No. I expect my co-trustee, Mr. Douce, on matters of business,--a
Lord Vargrave had, as he conceived, very cleverly talked over Mr. Douce
into letting his debt to that gentleman run on for the present; and in
the meanwhile, he had overwhelmed Mr. Douce with his condescensions.
That gentleman had twice dined with Lord Vargrave, and Lord Vargrave had
twice dined with him. The occasion of the present more familiar
entertainment was in a letter from Mr. Douce, begging to see Lord
Vargrave on particular business; and Vargrave, who by no means liked the
word _business_ from a gentleman to whom he owed money, thought that it
would go off more smoothly if sprinkled with champagne.
Accordingly, he begged "My dear Mr. Douce" to excuse ceremony, and dine
with him on Thursday at seven o'clock,--he was really so busy all the
At seven o'clock, Mr. Douce came. The moment he entered Vargrave called
out, at the top of his voice, "Dinner immediately!" And as the little
man bowed and shuffled, and fidgeted and wriggled (while Vargrave shook
him by the hand), as if he thought he was going himself to be spitted,
his host said, "With your leave, we'll postpone the budget till after
dinner. It is the fashion nowadays to postpone budgets as long as we
can,--eh? Well, and how are all at home? Devilish cold; is it not? So
you go to your villa every day? That's what keeps you in such capital
health. You know I had a villa too,--though I never had time to go
"Ah, yes; I think, I remember, at Ful-Ful-Fulham!" gasped out Mr. Douce.
"Your poor uncle's--now Lady Var-Vargrave's jointure-house. So--so--"
"She don't live there!" burst in Vargrave (far too impatient to be
polite). "Too cockneyfied for her,--gave it up to me; very pretty place,
but d-----d expensive. I could not afford it, never went there, and so I
have let it to my wine-merchant; the rent just pays his bill. You will
taste some of the sofas and tables to-day in his champagne. I don't know
how it is, I always fancy my sherry smells like my poor uncle's old
leather chair: very odd smell it had,--a kind of respectable smell! I
hope you're hungry,--dinner's ready."
Vargrave thus rattled away in order to give the good banker to understand
that his affairs were in the most flourishing condition: and he continued
to keep up the ball all dinnertime, stopping Mr. Douce's little,
miserable, gasping, dacelike mouth, with "a glass of wine, Douce?" or "by
the by, Douce," whenever he saw that worthy gentleman about to make the
AEschylean improvement of a second person in the dialogue.
At length, dinner being fairly over, and the servants withdrawn, Lord
Vargrave, knowing that sooner or later Douce would have his say, drew his
chair to the fire, put his feet on the fender, and cried, as he tossed
off his claret, "NOW, DOUCE, WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?"
Mr. Douce opened his eyes to their full extent, and then as rapidly
closed them; and this operation he continued till, having snuffed them so
much that they could by no possibility burn any brighter, he was
convinced that he had not misunderstood his lordship.
"Indeed, then," he began, in his most frightened manner,
"indeed--I--really, your lordship is very good--I--I wanted to speak to
you on business."
"Well, what can I do for you,--some little favour, eh? Snug sinecure for
a favourite clerk, or a place in the Stamp-Office for your fat
footman--John, I think you call him? You know, my dear Douce, you may
"Oh, indeed, you are all good-good-goodness--but--but--"
Vargrave threw himself back, and shutting his eyes and pursing up his
mouth, resolutely suffered Mr. Douce to unbosom himself without
interruption. He was considerably relieved to find that the business
referred to related only to Miss Cameron.
Mr. Douce having reminded Lord Vargrave, as he had often done before, of
the wishes of his uncle, that the greater portion of the money bequeathed
to Evelyn should be invested in land, proceeded to say that a most
excellent opportunity presented itself for just such a purchase as would
have rejoiced the heart of the late lord,--a superb place, in the style
of Blickling,--deer-park six miles round, ten thousand acres of land,
bringing in a clear eight thousand pounds a year, purchase money only two
hundred and forty thousand pounds. The whole estate was, indeed, much
larger,--eighteen thousand acres; but then the more distant farms could
be sold in different lots, in order to meet the exact sum Miss Cameron's
trustees were enabled to invest.
"Well," said Vargrave, "and where is it? My poor uncle was after De
Clifford's estate, but the title was not good."
"Oh! this--is much--much--much fi-fi-finer; famous investment--but rather
far off--in--in the north, Li-Li-Lisle Court."
"Lisle Court! Why, does not that belong to Colonel Maltravers?"
"Yes. It is, indeed, quite, I may say, a secret-yes--really--a
se-se-secret--not in the market yet--not at all--soon snapped up."
"Humph! Has Colonel Maltravers been extravagant?"
"No; but he does not--I hear--or rather Lady--Julia--so I'm told, yes,
indeed--does not li-like--going so far, and so they spend the winter in
Italy instead. Yes--very odd--very fine place."
Lumley was slightly acquainted with the elder brother of his old
friend,--a man who possessed some of Ernest's faults,--very proud, and
very exacting, and very fastidious; but all these faults were developed
in the ordinary commonplace world, and were not the refined abstractions
of his younger brother.
Colonel Maltravers had continued, since he entered the Guards, to be
thoroughly the man of fashion, and nothing more. But rich and well-born,
and highly connected, and thoroughly _a la mode_ as he was, his pride
made him uncomfortable in London, while his fastidiousness made him
uncomfortable in the country. He was _rather_ a great person, but he
wanted to be a _very_ great person. This he was at Lisle Court; but that
did not satisfy him. He wanted not only to be a very great person, but a
very great person among very great persons--and squires and parsons bored
him. Lady Julia, his wife, was a fine lady, inane and pretty, who saw
everything through her husband's eyes. He was quite master _chez lui_,
was Colonel Maltravers! He lived a great deal abroad; for on the
Continent his large income seemed princely, while his high character,
thorough breeding, and personal advantages, which were remarkable,
secured him a greater position in foreign courts than at his own. Two
things had greatly disgusted him with Lisle Court,--trifles they might be
with others, but they were not trifles to Cuthbert Maltravers; in the
first place, a man who had been his father's attorney, and who was the
very incarnation of coarse unrepellable familiarity, had bought an estate
close by the said Lisle Court, and had, _horresco referens_, been made a
baronet! Sir Gregory Gubbins took precedence of Colonel Maltravers! He
could not ride out but he met Sir Gregory; he could not dine out but he
had the pleasure of walking behind Sir Gregory's bright blue coat with
its bright brass buttons. In his last visit to Lisle Court, which he had
then crowded with all manner of fine people, he had seen--the very first
morning after his arrival--seen from the large window of his state
saloon, a great staring white, red, blue, and gilt thing, at the end of
the stately avenue planted by Sir Guy Maltravers in honour of the victory
over the Spanish armada. He looked in mute surprise, and everybody else
looked; and a polite German count, gazing through his eye-glass, said,
"Ah! dat is vat you call a vim in your _pays_,--the vim of Colonel
This "vim" was the pagoda summer-house of Sir Gregory Gubbins, erected in
imitation of the Pavilion at Brighton. Colonel Maltravers was miserable:
the _vim_ haunted him; it seemed ubiquitous; he could not escape it,--it
was built on the highest spot in the county. Ride, walk, sit where he
would, the _vim_ stared at him; and he thought he saw little mandarins
shake their round little heads at him. This was one of the great curses
of Lisle Court; the other was yet more galling. The owners of Lisle
Court had for several generations possessed the dominant interest in the
county town. The colonel himself meddled little in politics, and was too
fine a gentleman for the drudgery of parliament. He had offered the seat
to Ernest, when the latter had commenced his public career; but the
result of a communication proved that their political views were
dissimilar, and the negotiation dropped without ill-feeling on either
side. Subsequently a vacancy occurred; and Lady Julia's brother (just
made a Lord of the Treasury) wished to come into parliament, so the
county town was offered to him. Now, the proud commoner had married into
the family of a peer as proud as himself, and Colonel Maltravers was
always glad whenever he could impress his consequence on his connections
by doing them a favour. He wrote to his steward to see that the thing
was properly settled, and came down on the nomination-day "to share the
triumph and partake the gale." Guess his indignation, when he found the
nephew of Sir Gregory Gubbins was already in the field! The result of
the election was that Mr. Augustus Gubbins came in, and that Colonel
Maltravers was pelted with cabbage-stalks, and accused of attempting to
sell the worthy and independent electors to a government nominee! In
shame and disgust, Colonel Maltravers broke up his establishment at Lisle
Court, and once more retired to the Continent.
About a week from the date now touched upon, Lady Julia and himself had
arrived in London from Vienna; and a new mortification awaited the
unfortunate owner of Lisle Court. A railroad company had been
established, of which Sir Gregory Gubbins was a principal shareholder;
and the speculator, Mr. Augustus Gubbins, one of the "most useful men in
the House," had undertaken to carry the bill through parliament. Colonel
Maltravers received a letter of portentous size, inclosing the map of the
places which this blessed railway was to bisect; and lo! just at the
bottom of his park ran a portentous line, which informed him of the
sacrifice he was expected to make for the public good,--especially for
the good of that very county town, the inhabitants of which had pelted
him with cabbage-stalks!
Colonel Maltravers lost all patience. Unacquainted with our wise
legislative proceedings, he was not aware that a railway planned is a
very different thing from a railway made; and that parliamentary
committees are not by any means favourable to schemes for carrying the
public through a gentleman's park.
"This country is not to be lived in," said he to Lady Julia; "it gets
worse and worse every year. I am sure I never had any comfort in Lisle
Court. I've a great mind to sell it."
"Why, indeed, as we have no sons, only daughters, and Ernest is so well
provided for," said Lady Julia, "and the place is so far from London, and
the neighbourhood is so disagreeable, I think we could do very well
Colonel Maltravers made no answer, but he revolved the pros and cons; and
then he began to think how much it cost him in gamekeepers and carpenters
and bailiffs and gardeners and Heaven knows whom besides; and then the
pagoda flashed across him; and then the cabbage-stalks, and at last he
went to his solicitor.
"You may sell Lisle Court," said he, quietly.
The solicitor dipped his pen in the ink. "The particulars, Colonel?"
"Particulars of Lisle Court! everybody, that is, every gentleman, knows
"You know the rents; calculate accordingly. It will be too large a
purchase for one individual; sell the outlying woods and farms separately
from the rest."
"We must draw up an advertisement, Colonel."
"Advertise Lisle Court! out of the question, sir. I can have no
publicity given to my intention: mention it quietly to any capitalist;
but keep it out of the papers till it is all settled. In a week or two
you will find a purchaser,--the sooner the better."
Besides his horror of newspaper comments and newspaper puffs, Colonel
Maltravers dreaded that his brother--then in Paris--should learn his
intention, and attempt to thwart it; and, somehow or other, the colonel
was a little in awe of Ernest, and a little ashamed of his resolution.
He did not know that, by a singular coincidence, Ernest himself had
thought of selling Burleigh.
The solicitor was by no means pleased with this way of settling the
matter. However, he whispered it about that Lisle Court was in the
market; and as it really was one of the most celebrated places of its
kind in England, the whisper spread among bankers and brewers and
soap-boilers and other rich people--the Medici of the New Noblesse rising
up amongst us--till at last it reached the ears of Mr. Douce.
Lord Vargrave, however bad a man he might be, had not many of those vices
of character which belong to what I may call the _personal class of
vices_,--that is, he had no ill-will to individuals. He was not,
ordinarily, a jealous man, nor a spiteful, nor a malignant, nor a
vindictive man: his vices arose from utter indifference to all men, and
all things--except as conducive to his own ends. He would not have
injured a worm if it did him no good; but he would have set any house on
fire if he had no other means of roasting his own eggs. Yet still, if
any feeling of personal rancour could harbour in his breast, it was,
first, towards Evelyn Cameron, and, secondly, towards Ernest Maltravers.
For the first time in his life, he did long for revenge,--revenge against
the one for stealing his patrimony, and refusing his hand; and that
revenge he hoped to gratify.
As to the other, it was not so much dislike he felt, as an uneasy
sentiment of inferiority. However well he himself had got on in the
world, he yet grudged the reputation of a man whom he had remembered a
wayward, inexperienced boy: he did not love to hear any one praise
Maltravers. He fancied, too, that this feeling was reciprocal, and that
Maltravers was pained at hearing of any new step in his own career. In
fact, it was that sort of jealousy which men often feel for the
companions of their youth, whose characters are higher than their own,
and whose talents are of an order they do not quite comprehend. Now, it
certainly did seem at that moment to Lord Vargrave that it would be a
most splendid triumph over Mr. Maltravers of Burleigh to be lord of Lisle
Court, the hereditary seat of the elder branch of the family to be, as it
were, in the very shoes of Mr. Ernest Maltravers's elder brother. He
knew, too, that it was a property of great consequence. Lord Vargrave of
Lisle Court would hold a very different post in the peerage from Lord
Vargrave of -----, Fulham! Nobody would call the owner of Lisle Court an
adventurer; nobody would suspect such a man of caring three straws about
place and salary. And if he married Evelyn, and if Evelyn bought Lisle
Court, would not Lisle Court be his? He vaulted over the _ifs_, stiff
monosyllables though they were, with a single jump. Besides, even should
the thing come to nothing, there was the very excuse he sought for
joining Evelyn at Paris, for conversing with her, consulting her. It was
true that the will of the late lord left it solely at the discretion of
the trustees to select such landed investment as seemed best to them; but
still it was, if not legally necessary, at least but a proper courtesy to
consult Evelyn. And plans, and drawings, and explanations, and
rent-rolls, would justify him in spending morning after morning alone
Thus cogitating, Lord Vargrave suffered Mr. Douce to stammer out sentence
upon sentence, till at length, as he rang for coffee, his lordship
stretched himself with the air of a man stretching himself into
self-complacency or a good thing, and said,--
"Mr. Douce, I will go down to Lisle Court as soon as I can; I will see
it; I will ascertain all about it; I will consider favourably of it. I
agree with you, I think it will do famously."
"But," said Mr. Douce, who seemed singularly anxious about the matter,
"we must make haste, my lord; for really--yes, indeed--if--if--if Baron
Roths--Rothschild should--that is to say--"
"Oh, yes, I understand; keep the thing close, my dear Douce; make friends
with the colonel's lawyer; play with him a little, till I can run down."
"Besides, you see, you are such a good man of business, my lord--that you
see, that--yes, really--there must be time to draw out the
purchase-money--sell out at a prop--prop--"
"To be sure, to be sure! Bless me, how late it is! I am afraid my
carriage is ready. I must go to Madame de L-----'s."
Mr. Douce, who seemed to have much more to say, was forced to keep it for
another time, and to take his leave. Lord Vargrave went to Madame de
L-----'s. His position in what is called Exclusive Society was rather
peculiar. By those who affected to be the best judges, the frankness of
his manner and the easy oddity of his conversation were pronounced at
variance with the tranquil serenity of thorough breeding. But still he
was a great favourite both with fine ladies and dandies. His handsome
keen countenance, his talents, his politics, his intrigues, and an
animated boldness in his bearing, compensated for his constant violation
of all the minutiae of orthodox conventionalism.
At this house he met Colonel Maltravers, and took an opportunity to renew
his acquaintance with that gentleman. He then referred, in a
confidential whisper, to the communication he had received touching Lisle
"Yes," said the colonel, "I suppose I must sell the place, if I can do so
quietly. To be sure, when I first spoke to my lawyer it was in a moment
of vexation, on hearing that the ----- railroad was to go through the
park, but I find that I overrated that danger. Still, if you will do me
the honour to go and look over the place, you will find very good
shooting; and when you come back, you can see if it will suit you. Don't
say anything about it when you are there; it is better not to publish my
intention all over the county. I shall have Sir Gregory Gubbins offering
to buy it if you do!"
"You may depend on my discretion. Have you heard anything of your
"Yes; I fancy he is going to Switzerland. He would soon be in England,
if he heard I was going to part with Lisle Court!"
"What, it would vex him so?"
"I fear it would; but he has a nice old place of his own, not half so
large, and therefore not half so troublesome as Lisle Court."
"Ay! and he _did_ talk of selling that nice old place."
"Selling Burleigh! you surprise me. But really country places in England
_are_ a bore. I suppose he has his Gubbins as well as myself!"
Here the chief minister of the government adorned by Lord Vargrave's
virtues passed by, and Lumley turned to greet him.
The two ministers talked together most affectionately in a close
whisper,--so affectionately, that one might have seen, with half an eye,
that they hated each other like poison!
INSPICERE tanquam in speculum, in vitas omnium
* "I bid you look into the lives of all men, as
it were into a mirror."
ERNEST MALTRAVERS still lingered at Paris: he gave up all notion of
proceeding farther. He was, in fact, tired of travel. But there was
another reason that chained him to that "Navel of the Earth,"--there is
not anywhere a better sounding-board to London rumours than the English
_quartier_ between the Boulevard des Italiennes and the Tuileries; here,
at all events, he should soonest learn the worst: and every day, as he
took up the English newspapers, a sick feeling of apprehension and fear
came over him. No! till the seal was set upon the bond, till the Rubicon
was passed, till Miss Cameron was the wife of Lord Vargrave, he could
neither return to the home that was so eloquent with the recollections of
Evelyn, nor, by removing farther from England, delay the receipt of an
intelligence which he vainly told himself he was prepared to meet.
He continued to seek such distractions from thought as were within his
reach; and as his heart was too occupied for pleasures which had, indeed,
long since palled, those distractions were of the grave and noble
character which it is a prerogative of the intellect to afford to the
De Montaigne was neither a Doctrinaire nor a Republican,--and yet,
perhaps, he was a little of both. He was one who thought that the
tendency of all European States is towards Democracy; but he by no means
looked upon Democracy as a panacea for all legislative evils. He thought
that, while a writer should be in advance of his time, a statesman should
content himself with marching by its side; that a nation could not be
ripened, like an exotic, by artificial means; that it must be developed
only by natural influences. He believed that forms of government are
never universal in their effects. Thus, De Montaigne conceived that we
were wrong in attaching more importance to legislative than to social
reforms. He considered, for instance, that the surest sign of our
progressive civilization is in our growing distaste to capital
punishments. He believed, not in the ultimate _perfection_ of mankind,
but in their progressive _perfectibility_. He thought that improvement
was indefinite; but he did not place its advance more under Republican
than under Monarchical forms. "Provided," he was wont to say, "all our
checks to power are of the right kind, it matters little to what hands
the power itself is confided."
"AEgina and Athens," said he, "were republics--commercial and
maritime--placed under the same sky, surrounded by the same neighbours,
and rent by the same struggles between Oligarchy and Democracy. Yet,
while one left the world an immortal heirloom of genius, where are the
poets, the philosophers, the statesmen of the other? Arrian tells us of
republics in India, still supposed to exist by modern investigators; but
they are not more productive of liberty of thought, or ferment of
intellect, than the principalities. In Italy there were commonwealths as
liberal as the Republic of Florence; but they did not produce a
Machiavelli or a Dante. What daring thought, what gigantic speculation,
what democracy of wisdom and genius, have sprung up amongst the
despotisms of Germany! You cannot educate two individuals so as to
produce the same results from both; you cannot, by similar constitutions
(which are the education of nations) produce the same results from
different communities. The proper object of statesmen should be to give
every facility to the people to develop themselves, and every facility to
philosophy to dispute and discuss as to the ultimate objects to be
obtained. But you cannot, as a practical legislator, place your country
under a melon-frame: it must grow of its own accord."
I do not say whether or not De Montaigne was wrong! but Maltravers saw at
least that he was faithful to his theories; that all his motives were
sincere, all his practice pure. He could not but allow, too, that in his
occupations and labours, De Montaigne appeared to feel a sublime
enjoyment; that, in linking all the powers of his mind to active and
useful objects, De Montaigne was infinitely happier than the Philosophy
of Indifference, the scorn of ambition, had made Maltravers. The
influence exercised by the large-souled and practical Frenchman over the
fate and the history of Maltravers was very peculiar.
De Montaigne had not, apparently and directly, operated upon his friend's
outward destinies; but he had done so indirectly, by operating on his
mind. Perhaps it was he who had consolidated the first wavering and
uncertain impulses of Maltravers towards literary exertion; it was he who
had consoled him for the mortifications at the earlier part of his
career; and now, perhaps he might serve, in the full vigour of his
intellect, permanently to reconcile the Englishman to the claims of life.
There were, indeed, certain conversations which Maltravers held with De
Montaigne, the germ and pith of which it is necessary that I should place
before the reader,--for I write the inner as well as the outer history of
a man; and the great incidents of life are not brought about only by the
dramatic agencies of others, but also by our own reasonings and habits of
thought. What I am now about to set down may be wearisome, but it is not
episodical; and I promise that it shall be the last didactic conversation
in the work.
One day Maltravers was relating to De Montaigne all that he had been
planning at Burleigh for the improvement of his peasantry, and all his
theories respecting Labour-Schools and Poor-rates, when De Montaigne
abruptly turned round, and said,--
"You have, then, really found that in your own little village your
exertions--exertions not very arduous, not demanding a tenth part of your
time--have done practical good?"
"Certainly I think so," replied Maltravers, in some surprise.
"And yet it was but yesterday that you declared that all the labours of
Philosophy and Legislation were labours vain; their benefits equivocal
and uncertain; that as the sea, where it loses in one place, gains in
another, so civilization only partially profits us, stealing away one
virtue while it yields another, and leaving the large proportions of good
and evil eternally the same."
"True; but I never said that man might not relieve individuals by
individual exertion: though he cannot by abstract theories--nay, even by
practical action in the wide circle--benefit the mass."
"Do you not employ on behalf of individuals the same moral agencies that
wise legislation or sound philosophy would adopt towards the multitude?
For example, you find that the children of your village are happier, more
orderly, more obedient, promise to be wiser and better men in their own
station of life, from the new, and, I grant, excellent system of school
discipline and teaching that you have established. What you have done in
one village, why should not legislation do throughout a kingdom? Again,
you find that, by simply holding out hope and emulation to industry, by
making stern distinctions between the energetic and the idle, the
independent exertion and the pauper-mendicancy, you have found a lever by
which you have literally moved and shifted the little world around you.
But what is the difference here between the rules of a village lord and
the laws of a wise legislature? The moral feelings you have appealed to
exist universally, the moral remedies you have practised are as open to
legislation as to the individual proprietor."
"Yes; but when you apply to a nation the same principles which regenerate
a village, new counterbalancing principles arise. If I give education to
my peasants, I send them into the world with advantages _superior_ to
their fellows,--advantages which, not being common to their class, enable
them to _outstrip_ their fellows. But if this education were universal
to the whole tribe, no man would have an advantage superior to the
others; the knowledge they would have acquired being shared by all, would
leave all as they now are, hewers of wood and drawers of water: the
principle of individual hope, which springs from knowledge, would soon be
baffled by the vast competition that _universal_ knowledge would produce.
Thus by the universal improvement would be engendered a universal
"Take a broader view of the subject. Advantages given to the _few_
around me--superior wages, lighter toils, a greater sense of the dignity
of man--are not productive of any change in society. Give these
advantages to the _whole mass_ of the labouring classes, and what in the
small orbit is the desire of the _individual_ to rise becomes in the
large circumference the desire of the _class_ to rise; hence social
restlessness, social change, revolution, and its hazards. For
revolutions are produced but by the aspirations of one order, and the
resistance of the other. Consequently, legislative improvement differs
widely from individual amelioration; the same principle, the same agency,
that purifies the small body, becomes destructive when applied to the
large one. Apply the flame to the log on the hearth, or apply it to the
forest, is there no distinction in the result? The breeze that freshens
the fountain passes to the ocean, current impels current, wave urges
wave, and the breeze becomes the storm."
"Were there truth in this train of argument," replied De Montaigne, "had
we ever abstained from communicating to the Multitude the enjoyments and
advantages of the Few, had we shrunk from the good, because the good is a
parent of the change and its partial ills, what now would be society? Is
there no difference in collective happiness and virtue between the
painted Picts and the Druid worship, and the glorious harmony, light, and
order of the great English nation?"
"The question is popular," said Maltravers, with a smile; "and were you
my opponent in an election, would be cheered on any hustings in the
kingdom. But I have lived among savage tribes,--savage, perhaps, as the
race that resisted Caesar; and their happiness seems to me, not perhaps
the same as that of the few whose sources of enjoyment are numerous,
refined, and, save by their own passions, unalloyed; but equal to that of
the mass of men in States the most civilized and advanced. The artisans,
crowded together in the fetid air of factories, with physical ills
gnawing at the core of the constitution, from the cradle to the grave;
drudging on from dawn to sunset and flying for recreation to the dread
excitement of the dram-shop, or the wild and vain hopes of political
fanaticism,--are not in my eyes happier than the wild Indians with hardy
frames and calm tempers, seasoned to the privations for which you pity
them, and uncursed with desires of that better state never to be theirs.
The Arab in his desert has seen all the luxuries of the pasha in his
harem; but he envies them not. He is contented with his barb, his tent,
his desolate sands, and his spring of refreshing water.
"Are we not daily told, do not our priests preach it from their pulpits,
that the cottage shelters happiness equal to that within the palace? Yet
what the distinction between the peasant and the prince, differing from
that between the peasant and the savage? There are more enjoyments and
more privations in the one than in the other; but if, in the latter case,
the enjoyments, though fewer, be more keenly felt,--if the privations,
though apparently sharper, fall upon duller sensibilities and hardier
frames,--your gauge of proportion loses all its value. Nay, in
civilization there is for the multitude an evil that exists not in the
savage state. The poor man sees daily and hourly all the vast
disparities produced by civilized society; and reversing the divine
parable, it is Lazarus who from afar, and from the despondent pit, looks
upon Dives in the lap of Paradise: therefore, his privations, his
sufferings, are made more keen by comparison with the luxuries of others.
Not so in the desert and the forest. There but small distinctions, and
those softened by immemorial and hereditary usage--that has in it the
sanctity of religion--separate the savage from his chief. The fact is,
that in civilization we behold a splendid aggregate,--literature and
science, wealth and luxury, commerce and glory; but we see not the
million victims crushed beneath the wheels of the machine,--the health
sacrificed, the board breadless, the jails filled, the hospitals reeking,
the human life poisoned in every spring, and poured forth like water!
Neither do we remember all the steps, marked by desolation, crime, and
bloodshed, by which this barren summit has been reached. Take the
history of any civilized state,--England, France, Spain before she rotted
back into second childhood, the Italian Republics, the Greek
Commonwealths, the Empress of the Seven Hills--what struggles, what
persecutions, what crimes, what massacres! Where, in the page of
history, shall we look back and say, 'Here improvement has diminished the
sum of evil'? Extend, too, your scope beyond the State itself: each
State has won its acquisitions by the woes of others. Spain springs
above the Old World on the blood-stained ruins of the New; and the groans
and the gold of Mexico produce the splendours of the Fifth Charles!
"Behold England, the wise, the liberal, the free England--through what
struggles she has passed; and is she yet contented? The sullen oligarchy
of the Normans; our own criminal invasions of Scotland and France; the
plundered people, the butchered kings; the persecutions of the Lollards;
the wars of Lancaster and York; the new dynasty of the Tudors, that at
once put back Liberty, and put forward Civilization! the Reformation,
cradled in the lap of a hideous despot, and nursed by violence and
rapine; the stakes and fires of Mary, and the craftier cruelties of
Elizabeth,--England, strengthened by the desolation of Ireland, the Civil
Wars, the reign of hypocrisy, followed by the reign of naked vice; the
nation that beheaded the graceful Charles gaping idly on the scaffold of
the lofty Sidney; the vain Revolution of 1688, which, if a jubilee in
England, was a massacre in Ireland; the bootless glories of Marlborough;
the organized corruption of Walpole, the frantic war with our own
American sons, the exhausting struggles with Napoleon!
"Well, we close the page; we say, Lo! a thousand years of incessant
struggles and afflictions! millions have perished, but Art has survived;
our boors wear stockings, our women drink tea, our poets read Shakspeare,
and our astronomers improve on Newton! Are we now contented? No! more
restless than ever. New classes are called into power; new forms of
government insisted on. Still the same catchwords,--Liberty here,
Religion there; Order with one faction, Amelioration with the other.
Where is the goal, and what have we gained? Books are written, silks are
woven, palaces are built,--mighty acquisitions for the few--but the
peasant is a peasant still! The crowd are yet at the bottom of the
wheel; better off, you say. No, for they are not more contented! The
artisan is as anxious for change as ever the serf was; and the
steam-engine has its victims as well as the sword.
"Talk of legislation: all isolated laws pave the way to wholesale changes
in the form of government! Emancipate Catholics, and you open the door
to democratic principle, that Opinion should be free. If free with the
sectarian, it should be free with the elector. The Ballot is a corollary
from the Catholic Relief-bill. Grant the Ballot, and the new corollary
of enlarged suffrage. Suffrage enlarged is divided but by a yielding
surface (a circle widening in the waters) from universal suffrage.
Universal suffrage is Democracy. Is Democracy better than the
aristocratic commonwealth? Look at the Greeks, who knew both forms; are
they agreed which is the best? Plato, Thucydides, Xenophon,
Aristophanes--the Dreamer, the Historian, the Philosophic Man of Action,
the penetrating Wit--have no ideals in Democracy. Algernon Sidney, the
martyr of liberty, allows no government to the multitude. Brutus died
for a republic, but a republic of Patricians! What form of government is
then the best? All dispute, the wisest cannot agree. The many still say
'a Republic;' yet, as you yourself will allow, Prussia, the Despotism,
does all that Republics do. Yes, but a good despot is a lucky accident;
true, but a just and benevolent Republic is as yet a monster equally
short-lived. When the People have no other tyrant, their own public
opinion becomes one. No secret espionage is more intolerable to a free
spirit than the broad glare of the American eye.
"A rural republic is but a patriarchal tribe--no emulation, no glory;
peace and stagnation. What Englishman, what Frenchman, would wish to be
a Swiss? A commercial republic is but an admirable machine for making
money. Is man created for nothing nobler than freighting ships and
speculating on silk and sugar? In fact, there is no certain goal in
legislation; we go on colonizing Utopia, and fighting phantoms in the
clouds. Let us content ourselves with injuring no man, and doing good
only in our own little sphere. Let us leave States and senates to fill
the sieve of the Danaides, and roll up the stone of Sisyphus."
"My dear friend," said De Montaigne, "you have certainly made the most of
an argument, which, if granted, would consign government to fools and
knaves, and plunge the communities of mankind into the Slough of Despond.
But a very commonplace view of the question might suffice to shake your
system. Is life, mere animal life, on the whole, a curse or a blessing?"
"The generality of men in all countries," answered Maltravers, "enjoy
existence, and apprehend death; were it otherwise, the world had been
made by a Fiend, and not a God!"
"Well, then, observe how the progress of society cheats the grave! In
great cities, where the effect of civilization must be the most visible,
the diminution of mortality in a corresponding ratio with the increase of
civilization is most remarkable. In Berlin, from the year 1747 to 1755,
the annual mortality was as one to twenty-eight; but from 1816 to 1822,
it was as one to thirty-four! You ask what England has gained by her
progress in the arts? I will answer you by her bills of mortality. In
London, Birmingham, and Liverpool, deaths have decreased in less than a
century from one to twenty, to one to forty (precisely one-half!).
Again, whenever a community--nay, a single city, decreases in
civilization, and in its concomitants, activity and commerce, its
mortality instantly increases. But if civilization be favourable to the
prolongation of life, must it not be favourable to all that blesses
life,--to bodily health, to mental cheerfulness, to the capacities for
enjoyment? And how much more grand, how much more sublime, becomes the
prospect of gain, if we reflect that, to each life thus called forth,
there is a soul, a destiny beyond the grave, multiplied immortalities!
What an apology for the continued progress of States! But you say that,
however we advance, we continue impatient and dissatisfied: can you
really suppose that, because man in every state is discontented with his
lot, there is no difference in the _degree_ and _quality_ of his
discontent, no distinction between pining for bread and longing for the
moon? Desire is implanted within us, as the very principle of existence;
the physical desire fills the world, and the moral desire improves it.
Where there is desire, there must be discontent: if we are satisfied with
all things, desire is extinct. But a certain degree of discontent is not
incompatible with happiness, nay, it has happiness of its own; what
happiness like hope,--what is hope but desire? The European serf, whose
seigneur could command his life, or insist as a right on the chastity of
his daughter, desires to better his condition. God has compassion on his
state; Providence calls into action the ambition of leaders, the contests
of faction, the movement of men's aims and passions: a change passes
through society and legislation, and the serf becomes free! He desires
still, but what? No longer personal security, no longer the privileges
of life and health; but higher wages, greater comforts, easier justice
for diminished wrongs. Is there no difference in the quality of that
desire? Was one a greater torment than the other is? Rise a scale
higher: a new class is created--the Middle Class,--the express creature
of Civilization. Behold the burgher and the citizen, and still
struggling, still contending, still desiring, and therefore still
discontented. But the discontent does not prey upon the springs of life:
it is the discontent of _hope_, not _despair_; it calls forth faculties,
energies, and passions, in which there is more joy than sorrow. It is
this desire which makes the citizen in private life an anxious father, a
careful master, an _active_, and therefore not an unhappy, man. You
allow that individuals can effect individual good: this very
restlessness, this very discontent with the exact place that he occupies,
makes the citizen a benefactor in his narrow circle. Commerce, better
than Charity, feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. Ambition, better
than brute affection, gives education to our children, and teaches them
the love of industry, the pride of independence, the respect for others
"In other words, a deference to such qualities as can best fit them to
get on in the world, and make the most money!"
"Take that view if you will; but the wiser, the more civilized the State,
the worse chances for the rogue to get on! There may be some art, some
hypocrisy, some avarice,--nay, some hardness of heart,--in paternal
example and professional tuition. But what are such sober infirmities to
the vices that arise from defiance and despair? Your savage has his
virtues, but they are mostly physical,--fortitude, abstinence, patience:
mental and moral virtues must be numerous or few, in proportion to the
range of ideas and the exigencies of social life. With the savage,
therefore, they must be fewer than with civilized men; and they are
consequently limited to those simple and rude elements which the safety
of his state renders necessary to him. He is usually hospitable;
sometimes honest. But vices are necessary to his existence as well as
virtues: he is at war with a tribe that may destroy his own; and
treachery without scruple, cruelty without remorse, are essential to him;
he feels their necessity, and calls them _virtues_! Even the
half-civilized man, the Arab whom you praise, imagines he has a necessity
for your money; and his robberies become virtues to him. But in
civilized States, vices are at least not necessary to the existence of
the majority; they are not, therefore, worshipped as virtues. Society
unites against them; treachery, robbery, massacre, are not essential to
the strength or safety of the community: they exist, it is true, but they
are not cultivated, but punished. The thief in St. Giles's has the
virtues of your savage: he is true to his companions, he is brave in
danger, he is patient in privation; he practises the virtues necessary to
the bonds of his calling and the tacit laws of his vocation. He might
have made an admirable savage: but surely the mass of civilized men are
better than the thief?"
Maltravers was struck, and paused a little before he replied; and then he
shifted his ground. "But at least all our laws, all our efforts, must
leave the multitude in every State condemned to a labour that deadens
intellect, and a poverty that embitters life."
"Supposing this were true, still there are multitudes besides _the_
multitude. In each State Civilization produces a middle class, more
numerous to-day than the whole peasantry of a thousand years ago. Would
Movement and Progress be without their divine uses, even if they limited
their effect to the production of such a class? Look also to the effect
of art, and refinement, and just laws, in the wealthier and higher
classes. See how their very habits of life tend to increase the sum of
enjoyment; see the mighty activity that their very luxury, the very
frivolity of their pursuits, create! Without an aristocracy, would there
have been a middle class? Without a middle class, would there ever have
been an interposition between lord and slave? Before commerce produces a
middle class, Religion creates one. The Priesthood, whatever its errors,
was the curb to Power. But, to return to the multitude,--you say that in
all times they are left the same. Is it so? I come to statistics again:
I find that not only civilization, but liberty, has a prodigious effect
upon human life. It is, as it were, by the instinct of self-preservation
that liberty is so passionately desired by the multitude. A negro slave,
for instance, dies annually as one to five or six, but a free African in
the English service only as one to thirty-five! Freedom is not,
therefore, a mere abstract dream, a beautiful name, a Platonic
aspiration: it is interwoven with the most practical of all
blessings,--life itself! And can you say fairly that by laws labour
cannot be lightened and poverty diminished? We have granted already that
since there are degrees in discontent, there is a difference between the
peasant and the serf: how know you what the peasant a thousand years
hence may be? Discontented, you will say,--still discontented. Yes; but
if he had not been discontented, he would have been a serf still! Far
from quelling this desire to better himself, we ought to hail it as the
source of his perpetual progress. That desire to him is often like
imagination to the poet, it transports him into the Future--
'Crura sonant ferro, sed canit inter opus.'
It is, indeed, the gradual transformation from the desire of Despair to
the desire of Hope, that makes the difference between man and man,
between misery and bliss."
"And then comes the crisis. Hope ripens into deeds; the stormy
revolution, perhaps the armed despotism; the relapse into the second
infancy of States!"
"Can we, with new agencies at our command, new morality, new wisdom,
predicate of the Future by the Past? In ancient States, the mass were
slaves; civilization and freedom rested with oligarchies; in Athens
twenty thousand citizens, four hundred thousand slaves! How easy
decline, degeneracy, overthrow in such States,--a handful of soldiers and
philosophers without a People! Now we have no longer barriers to the
circulation of the blood of States. The absence of slavery, the
existence of the Press; the healthful proportions of kingdoms, neither
too confined nor too vast, have created new hopes, which history cannot
destroy. As a proof, look to all late revolutions: in England the Civil
Wars, the Reformation,--in France her awful Saturnalia, her military
despotism! Has either nation fallen back? The deluge passes, and,
behold, the face of things more glorious than before! Compare the French
of to-day with the French of the old _regime_. You are silent; well, and
if in all States there is ever some danger of evil in their activity, is
that a reason why you are to lie down inactive; why you are to leave the
crew to battle for the helm? How much may individuals by the diffusion
of their own thoughts in letters or in action regulate the order of vast
events,--now prevent, now soften, now animate, now guide! And is a man
to whom Providence and Fortune have imparted such prerogatives to stand
aloof, because he can neither foresee the Future nor create Perfection?
And you talk of no certain and definite goal! How know we that there is
a certain and definite goal, even in heaven? How know we that excellence
may not be illimitable? Enough that we improve, that we proceed. Seeing
in the great design of earth that benevolence is an attribute of the
Designer, let us leave the rest to Posterity and to God."
"You have disturbed many of my theories," said Maltravers, candidly; "and
I will reflect on our conversation; but, after all, is every man to
aspire to influence others; to throw his opinion into the great scales in
which human destinies are weighed? Private life is not criminal. It is
no virtue to write a book, or to make a speech. Perhaps, I should be as
well engaged in returning to my country village, looking at my schools,
and wrangling with the parish overseers--"
"Ah," interrupted the Frenchman, laughing; "if I have driven you to this
point, I will go no further. Every state of life has its duties; every
man must be himself the judge of what he is most fit for. It is quite
enough that he desires to be active, and labours to be useful; that he
acknowledges the precept, 'Never to be weary in well-doing.' The divine
appetite once fostered, let it select its own food. But the man who,
after fair trial of his capacities, and with all opportunity for their
full development before him, is convinced that he has faculties which
private life cannot wholly absorb, must not repine that Human Nature is
not perfect, when he refuses even to exercise the gifts he himself
Now these arguments have been very tedious; in some places they have been
old and trite; in others they may appear too much to appertain to the
abstract theory of first principles. Yet from such arguments, _pro_ and
_con_, unless I greatly mistake, are to be derived corollaries equally
practical and sublime,--the virtue of Action, the obligations of Genius,
and the philosophy that teaches us to confide in the destinies, and
labour in the service, of mankind.
I'LL tell you presently her very picture;
Stay--yes, it is so--Lelia.
_The Captain_, Act V. sc. I.
MALTRAVERS had not shrunk into a system of false philosophy from wayward
and sickly dreams, from resolute self-delusion; on the contrary, his
errors rested on his convictions: the convictions disturbed, the errors
were rudely shaken.
But when his mind began restlessly to turn once more towards the duties
of active life; when he recalled all the former drudgeries and toils of
political conflict, or the wearing fatigues of literature, with its small
enmities, its false friendships, and its meagre and capricious
rewards,--ah, then, indeed, he shrank in dismay from the thoughts of the
solitude at home! No lips to console in dejection, no heart to
sympathize in triumph, no love within to counterbalance the hate
without,--and the best of man, his household affections, left to wither
away, or to waste themselves on ideal images, or melancholy remembrance.
It may, indeed, be generally remarked (contrary to a common notion), that
the men who are most happy at home are the most active abroad. The
animal spirits are necessary to healthful action; and dejection and the
sense of solitude will turn the stoutest into dreamers. The hermit is
the antipodes of the citizen; and no gods animate and inspire us like the
One evening, after an absence from Paris of nearly a fortnight, at De
Montaigne's villa, in the neighbourhood of St. Cloud, Maltravers, who,
though he no longer practised the art, was not less fond than heretofore
of music, was seated in Madame de Ventadour's box at the Italian Opera;
and Valerie, who was above all the woman's jealousy of beauty, was
expatiating with great warmth of eulogium upon the charms of a young
English lady whom she had met at Lady G-----'s the preceding evening.
"She is just my beau-ideal of the true English beauty," said Valerie: "it
is not only the exquisite fairness of the complexion, nor the eyes so
purely blue,--which the dark lashes relieve from the coldness common to
the light eyes of the Scotch and German,--that are so beautifully
national, but the simplicity of manner, the unconsciousness of
admiration, the mingled modesty and sense of the expression. No, I have
seen women more beautiful, but I never saw one more lovely: you are
silent; I expected some burst of patriotism in return for my compliment
to your countrywoman!"
"But I am so absorbed in that wonderful Pasta--"
"You are no such thing; your thoughts are far away. But can you tell me
anything about my fair stranger and her friends? In the first place,
there is a Lord Doltimore, whom I knew before--you need say nothing about
him; in the next there is his new married bride, handsome, dark--but you
are not well!"
"It was the draught from the door; go on, I beseech you, the young lady,
the friend, her name?"
"Her name I do not remember; but she was engaged to be married to one of
your statesmen, Lord Vargrave; the marriage is broken off--I know not if
that be the cause of a certain melancholy in her countenance,--a
melancholy I am sure not natural to its Hebe-like expression. But who
have just entered the opposite box? Ah, Mr. Maltravers, do look, there
is the beautiful English girl!"
And Maltravers raised his eyes, and once more beheld the countenance of
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