Part 3 out of 18
"Have you got nothing else for my breakfast, Pritchard?" said Fred,
to the servant who brought in coffee and buttered toast;
while he walked round the table surveying the ham, potted beef,
and other cold remnants, with an air of silent rejection, and polite
forbearance from signs of disgust.
"Should you like eggs, sir?"
"Eggs, no! Bring me a grilled bone."
"Really, Fred," said Rosamond, when the servant had left the room,
"if you must have hot things for breakfast, I wish you would come
down earlier. You can get up at six o'clock to go out hunting;
I cannot understand why you find it so difficult to get up on
"That is your want of understanding, Rosy. I can get up to go
hunting because I like it."
"What would you think of me if I came down two hours after every
one else and ordered grilled bone?"
"I should think you were an uncommonly fast young lady," said Fred,
eating his toast with the utmost composure.
"I cannot see why brothers are to make themselves disagreeable,
any more than sisters."
"I don't make myself disagreeable; it is you who find me so.
Disagreeable is a word that describes your feelings and not my actions."
"I think it describes the smell of grilled bone."
"Not at all. It describes a sensation in your little nose associated
with certain finicking notions which are the classics of Mrs. Lemon's
school. Look at my mother you don't see her objecting to everything
except what she does herself. She is my notion of a pleasant woman."
"Bless you both, my dears, and don't quarrel," said Mrs. Vincy,
with motherly cordiality. "Come, Fred, tell us all about the new doctor.
How is your uncle pleased with him?"
"Pretty well, I think. He asks Lydgate all sorts of questions and
then screws up his face while he hears the answers, as if they were
pinching his toes. That's his way. Ah, here comes my grilled bone."
"But how came you to stay out so late, my dear? You only said you
were going to your uncle's."
"Oh, I dined at Plymdale's. We had whist. Lydgate was there too."
"And what do you think of him? He is very gentlemanly, I suppose.
They say he is of excellent family--his relations quite county people."
"Yes," said Fred. "There was a Lydgate at John's who spent
no end of money. I find this man is a second cousin of his.
But rich men may have very poor devils for second cousins."
"It always makes a difference, though, to be of good family,"
said Rosamond, with a tone of decision which showed that she had thought
on this subject. Rosamond felt that she might have been happier
if she had not been the daughter of a Middlemarch manufacturer.
She disliked anything which reminded her that her mother's father had
been an innkeeper. Certainly any one remembering the fact might think
that Mrs. Vincy had the air of a very handsome good-humored landlady,
accustomed to the most capricious orders of gentlemen.
"I thought it was odd his name was Tertius," said the
bright-faced matron, "but of course it's a name in the family.
But now, tell us exactly what sort of man he is."
"Oh, tallish, dark, clever--talks well--rather a prig, I think."
"I never can make out what you mean by a prig," said Rosamond.
"A fellow who wants to show that he has opinions."
"Why, my dear, doctors must have opinions," said Mrs. Vincy.
"What are they there for else?"
"Yes, mother, the opinions they are paid for. But a prig
is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions."
"I suppose Mary Garth admires Mr. Lydgate," said Rosamond,
not without a touch of innuendo.
"Really, I can't say." said Fred, rather glumly, as he left
the table, and taking up a novel which he had brought down with him,
threw himself into an arm-chair. "If you are jealous of her,
go oftener to Stone Court yourself and eclipse her."
"I wish you would not be so vulgar, Fred. If you have finished,
pray ring the bell."
"It is true, though--what your brother says, Rosamond," Mrs. Vincy began,
when the servant had cleared the table. "It is a thousand pities
you haven't patience to go and see your uncle more, so proud
of you as he is, and wanted you to live with him. There's no
knowing what he might have done for you as well as for Fred.
God knows, I'm fond of having you at home with me, but I can part
with my children for their good. And now it stands to reason
that your uncle Featherstone will do something for Mary Garth."
"Mary Garth can bear being at Stone Court, because she likes that
better than being a governess," said Rosamond, folding up her work.
"I would rather not have anything left to me if I must earn it
by enduring much of my uncle's cough and his ugly relations."
"He can't be long for this world, my dear; I wouldn't hasten his end,
but what with asthma and that inward complaint, let us hope there
is something better for him in another. And I have no ill-will
toward's Mary Garth, but there's justice to be thought of.
And Mr. Featherstone's first wife brought him no money, as my sister did.
Her nieces and nephews can't have so much claim as my sister's.
And I must say I think Mary Garth a dreadful plain girl--more fit
for a governess."
"Every one would not agree with you there, mother," said Fred,
who seemed to be able to read and listen too.
"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Vincy, wheeling skilfully, "if she
_had_ some fortune left her,--a man marries his wife's relations,
and the Garths are so poor, and live in such a small way.
But I shall leave you to your studies, my dear; for I must go and do
"Fred's studies are not very deep," said Rosamond, rising with
her mamma, "he is only reading a novel."
"Well, well, by-and-by he'll go to his Latin and things,"
said Mrs. Vincy, soothingly, stroking her son's head. "There's a
fire in the smoking-room on purpose. It's your father's wish,
you know--Fred, my dear--and I always tell him you will be good,
and go to college again to take your degree."
Fred drew his mother's hand down to his lips, but said nothing.
"I suppose you are not going out riding to-day?" said Rosamond,
lingering a little after her mamma was gone.
"Papa says I may have the chestnut to ride now."
"You can go with me to-morrow, if you like. Only I am going
to Stone Court, remember."
"I want to ride so much, it is indifferent to me where we go."
Rosamond really wished to go to Stone Court, of all other places.
"Oh, I say, Rosy," said Fred, as she was passing out of the room,
"if you are going to the piano, let me come and play some airs
"Pray do not ask me this morning."
"Why not this morning?"
"Really, Fred, I wish you would leave off playing the flute.
A man looks very silly playing the flute. And you play so out
"When next any one makes love to you, Miss Rosamond, I will tell
him how obliging you are."
"Why should you expect me to oblige you by hearing you play the flute,
any more than I should expect you to oblige me by not playing it?"
"And why should you expect me to take you out riding?"
This question led to an adjustment, for Rosamond had set her mind
on that particular ride.
So Fred was gratified with nearly an hour's practice of "Ar hyd y nos,"
"Ye banks and braes," and other favorite airs from his "Instructor
on the Flute;" a wheezy performance, into which he threw much
ambition and an irrepressible hopefulness.
"He had more tow on his distaffe
Than Gerveis knew."
The ride to Stone Court, which Fred and Rosamond took the next morning,
lay through a pretty bit of midland landscape, almost all meadows
and pastures, with hedgerows still allowed to grow in bushy beauty
and to spread out coral fruit for the birds. Little details gave
each field a particular physiognomy, dear to the eyes that have looked
on them from childhood: the pool in the corner where the grasses
were dank and trees leaned whisperingly; the great oak shadowing
a bare place in mid-pasture; the high bank where the ash-trees grew;
the sudden slope of the old marl-pit making a red background for
the burdock; the huddled roofs and ricks of the homestead without
a traceable way of approach; the gray gate and fences against
the depths of the bordering wood; and the stray hovel, its old,
old thatch full of mossy hills and valleys with wondrous modulations
of light and shadow such as we travel far to see in later life,
and see larger, but not more beautiful. These are the things
that make the gamut of joy in landscape to midland-bred souls--the
things they toddled among, or perhaps learned by heart standing
between their father's knees while he drove leisurely.
But the road, even the byroad, was excellent; for Lowick, as we
have seen, was not a parish of muddy lanes and poor tenants; and it
was into Lowick parish that Fred and Rosamond entered after a couple
of miles' riding. Another mile would bring them to Stone Court,
and at the end of the first half, the house was already visible,
looking as if it had been arrested in its growth toward a stone
mansion by an unexpected budding of farm-buildings on its left flank,
which had hindered it from becoming anything more than the substantial
dwelling of a gentleman farmer. It was not the less agreeable
an object in the distance for the cluster of pinnacled corn-ricks
which balanced the fine row of walnuts on the right.
Presently it was possible to discern something that might be a gig
on the circular drive before the front door.
"Dear me," said Rosamond, "I hope none of my uncle's horrible
relations are there."
"They are, though. That is Mrs. Waule's gig--the last yellow gig left,
I should think. When I see Mrs. Waule in it, I understand how yellow
can have been worn for mourning. That gig seems to me more funereal
than a hearse. But then Mrs. Waule always has black crape on.
How does she manage it, Rosy? Her friends can't always be dying."
"I don't know at all. And she is not in the least evangelical,"
said Rosamond, reflectively, as if that religious point of view
would have fully accounted for perpetual crape. "And, not poor,"
she added, after a moment's pause.
"No, by George! They are as rich as Jews, those Waules and Featherstones;
I mean, for people like them, who don't want to spend anything.
And yet they hang about my uncle like vultures, and are afraid
of a farthing going away from their side of the family. But I
believe he hates them all."
The Mrs. Waule who was so far from being admirable in the eyes
of these distant connections, had happened to say this very morning
(not at all with a defiant air, but in a low, muffled, neutral tone,
as of a voice heard through cotton wool) that she did not wish "to
enjoy their good opinion." She was seated, as she observed, on her own
brother's hearth, and had been Jane Featherstone five-and-twenty years
before she had been Jane Waule, which entitled her to speak when her
own brother's name had been made free with by those who had no right to it.
"What are you driving at there?" said Mr. Featherstone,
holding his stick between his knees and settling his wig,
while he gave her a momentary sharp glance, which seemed
to react on him like a draught of cold air and set him coughing.
Mrs. Waule had to defer her answer till he was quiet again,
till Mary Garth had supplied him with fresh syrup, and he had begun
to rub the gold knob of his stick, looking bitterly at the fire.
It was a bright fire, but it made no difference to the chill-looking
purplish tint of Mrs. Waule's face, which was as neutral as her voice;
having mere chinks for eyes, and lips that hardly moved in speaking.
"The doctors can't master that cough, brother. It's just like what I have;
for I'm your own sister, constitution and everything. But, as I
was saying, it's a pity Mrs. Vincy's family can't be better conducted."
"Tchah! you said nothing o' the sort. You said somebody had made
free with my name."
"And no more than can be proved, if what everybody says is true.
My brother Solomon tells me it's the talk up and down in Middlemarch
how unsteady young Vincy is, and has been forever gambling at
billiards since home he came."
"Nonsense! What's a game at billiards? It's a good gentlemanly game;
and young Vincy is not a clodhopper. If your son John took
to billiards, now, he'd make a fool of himself."
"Your nephew John never took to billiards or any other game, brother,
and is far from losing hundreds of pounds, which, if what everybody
says is true, must be found somewhere else than out of Mr. Vincy
the father's pocket. For they say he's been losing money for years,
though nobody would think so, to see him go coursing and keeping open
house as they do. And I've heard say Mr. Bulstrode condemns Mrs. Vincy
beyond anything for her flightiness, and spoiling her children so."!
"What's Bulstrode to me? I don't bank with him."
"Well, Mrs. Bulstrode is Mr. Vincy's own sister, and they do say that
Mr. Vincy mostly trades on the Bank money; and you may see yourself,
brother, when a woman past forty has pink strings always flying,
and that light way of laughing at everything, it's very unbecoming.
But indulging your children is one thing, and finding money to pay
their debts is another. And it's openly said that young Vincy has
raised money on his expectations. I don't say what expectations.
Miss Garth hears me, and is welcome to tell again. I know young
people hang together."
"No, thank you, Mrs. Waule," said Mary Garth. "I dislike hearing
scandal too much to wish to repeat it."
Mr. Featherstone rubbed the knob of his stick and made a brief
convulsive show of laughter, which had much the same genuineness
as an old whist-player's chuckle over a bad hand. Still looking
at the fire, he said--
"And who pretends to say Fred Vincy hasn't got expectations? Such
a fine, spirited fellow is like enough to have 'em."
There was a slight pause before Mrs. Waule replied, and when she
did so, her voice seemed to be slightly moistened with tears,
though her face was still dry.
"Whether or no, brother, it is naturally painful to me and my brother
Solomon to hear your name made free with, and your complaint being such
as may carry you off sudden, and people who are no more Featherstones
than the Merry-Andrew at the fair, openly reckoning on your property
coming to _them_. And me your own sister, and Solomon your own
brother! And if that's to be it, what has it pleased the Almighty
to make families for?" Here Mrs. Waule's tears fell, but with moderation.
"Come, out with it, Jane!" said Mr. Featherstone, looking at her.
"You mean to say, Fred Vincy has been getting somebody to advance him
money on what he says he knows about my will, eh?"
"I never said so, brother" (Mrs. Waule's voice had again become dry
and unshaken). "It was told me by my brother Solomon last night when
he called coming from market to give me advice about the old wheat,
me being a widow, and my son John only three-and-twenty, though steady
beyond anything. And he had it from most undeniable authority,
and not one, but many."
"Stuff and nonsense! I don't believe a word of it. It's all a
got-up story. Go to the window, missy; I thought I heard a horse.
See if the doctor's coming."
"Not got up by me, brother, nor yet by Solomon, who, whatever else he
may be--and I don't deny he has oddities--has made his will and parted
his property equal between such kin as he's friends with; though,
for my part, I think there are times when some should be considered
more than others. But Solomon makes it no secret what he means to do."
"The more fool he!" said Mr. Featherstone, with some difficulty;
breaking into a severe fit of coughing that required Mary Garth
to stand near him, so that she did not find out whose horses they
were which presently paused stamping on the gravel before the door.
Before Mr. Featherstone's cough was quiet, Rosamond entered,
bearing up her riding-habit with much grace. She bowed ceremoniously
to Mrs. Waule, who said stiffly, "How do you do, miss?" smiled and
nodded silently to Mary, and remained standing till the coughing
should cease, and allow her uncle to notice her.
"Heyday, miss!" he said at last, "you have a fine color.
"Seeing about the horses. He will be in presently."
"Sit down, sit down. Mrs. Waule, you'd better go."
Even those neighbors who had called Peter Featherstone an old fox,
had never accused him of being insincerely polite, and his sister
was quite used to the peculiar absence of ceremony with which he
marked his sense of blood-relationship. Indeed, she herself was
accustomed to think that entire freedom from the necessity of behaving
agreeably was included in the Almighty's intentions about families.
She rose slowly without any sign of resentment, and said in her
usual muffled monotone, "Brother, I hope the new doctor will be
able to do something for you. Solomon says there's great talk
of his cleverness. I'm sure it's my wish you should be spared.
And there's none more ready to nurse you than your own sister
and your own nieces, if you'd only say the word. There's Rebecca,
and Joanna, and Elizabeth, you know."
"Ay, ay, I remember--you'll see I've remembered 'em all--all
dark and ugly. They'd need have some money, eh? There never was
any beauty in the women of our family; but the Featherstones have
always had some money, and the Waules too. Waule had money too.
A warm man was Waule. Ay, ay; money's a good egg; and if you
've got money to leave behind you, lay it in a warm nest.
Good-by, Mrs. Waule." Here Mr. Featherstone pulled at both sides
of his wig as if he wanted to deafen himself, and his sister went
away ruminating on this oracular speech of his. Notwithstanding her
jealousy of the Vincys and of Mary Garth, there remained as the
nethermost sediment in her mental shallows a persuasion that her
brother Peter Featherstone could never leave his chief property
away from his blood-relations:--else, why had the Almighty carried
off his two wives both childless, after he had gained so much
by manganese and things, turning up when nobody expected it?--and
why was there a Lowick parish church, and the Waules and Powderells
all sit ting in the same pew for generations, and the Featherstone
pew next to them, if, the Sunday after her brother Peter's death,
everybody was to know that the property was gone out of the
family? The human mind has at no period accepted a moral chaos;
and so preposterous a result was not strictly conceivable.
But we are frightened at much that is not strictly conceivable.
When Fred came in the old man eyed him with a peculiar twinkle,
which the younger had often had reason to interpret as pride in the
satisfactory details of his appearance.
"You two misses go away," said Mr. Featherstone. "I want to speak
"Come into my room, Rosamond, you will not mind the cold for a
little while," said Mary. The two girls had not only known each
other in childhood, but had been at the same provincial school
together (Mary as an articled pupil), so that they had many memories
in common, and liked very well to talk in private. Indeed, this
tete-a-tete was one of Rosamond's objects in coming to Stone Court.
Old Featherstone would not begin the dialogue till the door had
been closed. He continued to look at Fred with the same twinkle
and with one of his habitual grimaces, alternately screwing
and widening his mouth; and when he spoke, it was in a low tone,
which might be taken for that of an informer ready to be bought off,
rather than for the tone of an offended senior. He was not a man
to feel any strong moral indignation even on account of trespasses
against himself. It was natural that others should want to get
an advantage over him, but then, he was a little too cunning for them.
"So, sir, you've been paying ten per cent for money which you've
promised to pay off by mortgaging my land when I'm dead and gone,
eh? You put my life at a twelvemonth, say. But I can alter my
Fred blushed. He had not borrowed money in that way, for excellent
reasons. But he was conscious of having spoken with some confidence
(perhaps with more than he exactly remembered) about his prospect
of getting Featherstone's land as a future means of paying present debts.
"I don't know what you refer to, sir. I have certainly never
borrowed any money on such an insecurity. Please to explain."
"No, sir, it's you must explain. I can alter my will yet, let me
tell you. I'm of sound mind--can reckon compound interest in my head,
and remember every fool's name as well as I could twenty years ago.
What the deuce? I'm under eighty. I say, you must contradict
"I have contradicted it, sir," Fred answered, with a touch
of impatience, not remembering that his uncle did not verbally
discriminate contradicting from disproving, though no one was further
from confounding the two ideas than old Featherstone, who often
wondered that so many fools took his own assertions for proofs.
"But I contradict it again. The story is a silly lie."
"Nonsense! you must bring dockiments. It comes from authority."
"Name the authority, and make him name the man of whom I borrowed
the money, and then I can disprove the story."
"It's pretty good authority, I think--a man who knows most
of what goes on in Middlemarch. It's that fine, religious,
charitable uncle o' yours. Come now!" Here Mr. Featherstone
had his peculiar inward shake which signified merriment.
"Who else, eh?"
"Then the story has grown into this lie out of some sermonizing
words he may have let fall about me. Do they pretend that he named
the man who lent me the money?"
"If there is such a man, depend upon it Bulstrode knows him.
But, supposing you only tried to get the money lent, and didn't
get it--Bulstrode 'ud know that too. You bring me a writing
from Bulstrode to say he doesn't believe you've ever promised
to pay your debts out o' my land. Come now!"
Mr. Featherstone's face required its whole scale of grimaces as a
muscular outlet to his silent triumph in the soundness of his faculties.
Fred felt himself to be in a disgusting dilemma.
"You must be joking, sir. Mr. Bulstrode, like other men, believes scores
of things that are not true, and he has a prejudice against me.
I could easily get him to write that he knew no facts in proof
of the report you speak of, though it might lead to unpleasantness.
But I could hardly ask him to write down what he believes or does
not believe about me." Fred paused an instant, and then added,
in politic appeal to his uncle's vanity, "That is hardly a thing
for a gentleman to ask." But he was disappointed in the result.
"Ay, I know what you mean. You'd sooner offend me than Bulstrode.
And what's he?--he's got no land hereabout that ever I heard tell of.
A speckilating fellow! He may come down any day, when the devil
leaves off backing him. And that's what his religion means: he
wants God A'mighty to come in. That's nonsense! There's one
thing I made out pretty clear when I used to go to church--and
it's this: God A'mighty sticks to the land. He promises land,
and He gives land, and He makes chaps rich with corn and cattle.
But you take the other side. You like Bulstrode and speckilation
better than Featherstone and land."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Fred, rising, standing with his
back to the fire and beating his boot with his whip. "I like
neither Bulstrode nor speculation." He spoke rather sulkily,
feeling himself stalemated.
"Well, well, you can do without me, that's pretty clear,"
said old Featherstone, secretly disliking the possibility that Fred
would show himself at all independent. "You neither want a bit
of land to make a squire of you instead of a starving parson,
nor a lift of a hundred pound by the way. It's all one to me.
I can make five codicils if I like, and I shall keep my bank-notes
for a nest-egg. It's all one to me."
Fred colored again. Featherstone had rarely given him presents
of money, and at this moment it seemed almost harder to part with
the immediate prospect of bank-notes than with the more distant
prospect of the land.
"I am not ungrateful, sir. I never meant to show disregard for
any kind intentions you might have towards me. On the contrary."
"Very good. Then prove it. You bring me a letter from Bulstrode
saying he doesn't believe you've been cracking and promising
to pay your debts out o' my land, and then, if there's any
scrape you've got into, we'll see if I can't back you a bit.
Come now! That's a bargain. Here, give me your arm. I'll try
and walk round the room."
Fred, in spite of his irritation, had kindness enough in him to be
a little sorry for the unloved, unvenerated old man, who with his
dropsical legs looked more than usually pitiable in walking.
While giving his arm, he thought that he should not himself
like to be an old fellow with his constitution breaking up;
and he waited good-temperedly, first before the window to hear
the wonted remarks about the guinea-fowls and the weather-cock,
and then before the scanty book-shelves, of which the chief glories
in dark calf were Josephus, Culpepper, Klopstock's "Messiah,"
and several volumes of the "Gentleman's Magazine."
"Read me the names o' the books. Come now! you're a college man."
Fred gave him the titles.
"What did missy want with more books? What must you be bringing
her more books for?"
"They amuse her, sir. She is very fond of reading."
"A little too fond," said Mr. Featherstone, captiously. "She was
for reading when she sat with me. But I put a stop to that.
She's got the newspaper to read out loud. That's enough for one day,
I should think. I can't abide to see her reading to herself.
You mind and not bring her any more books, do you hear?"
"Yes, sir, I hear." Fred had received this order before, and had
secretly disobeyed it. He intended to disobey it again.
"Ring the bell," said Mr. Featherstone; "I want missy to come down."
Rosamond and Mary had been talking faster than their male friends.
They did not think of sitting down, but stood at the toilet-table
near the window while Rosamond took off her hat, adjusted her veil,
and applied little touches of her finger-tips to her hair--hair
of infantine fairness, neither flaxen nor yellow. Mary Garth
seemed all the plainer standing at an angle between the two
nymphs--the one in the glass, and the one out of it, who looked
at each other with eyes of heavenly blue, deep enough to hold the
most exquisite meanings an ingenious beholder could put into them,
and deep enough to hide the meanings of the owner if these should
happen to be less exquisite. Only a few children in Middlemarch
looked blond by the side of Rosamond, and the slim figure displayed
by her riding-habit had delicate undulations. In fact, most men
in Middlemarch, except her brothers, held that Miss Vincy was the
best girl in the world, and some called her an angel. Mary Garth,
on the contrary, had the aspect of an ordinary sinner: she was brown;
her curly dark hair was rough and stubborn; her stature was low;
and it would not be true to declare, in satisfactory antithesis,
that she had all the virtues. Plainness has its peculiar
temptations and vices quite as much as beauty; it is apt either to
feign amiability, or, not feigning it, to show all the repulsiveness
of discontent: at any rate, to be called an ugly thing in contrast
with that lovely creature your companion, is apt to produce some
effect beyond a sense of fine veracity and fitness in the phrase.
At the age of two-and-twenty Mary had certainly not attained that
perfect good sense and good principle which are usually recommended
to the less fortunate girl, as if they were to be obtained in
quantities ready mixed, with a flavor of resignation as required.
Her shrewdness had a streak of satiric bitterness continually
renewed and never carried utterly out of sight, except by a strong
current of gratitude towards those who, instead of telling her
that she ought to be contented, did something to make her so.
Advancing womanhood had tempered her plainness, which was of a good
human sort, such as the mothers of our race have very commonly
worn in all latitudes under a more or less becoming headgear.
Rembrandt would have painted her with pleasure, and would have made
her broad features look out of the canvas with intelligent honesty.
For honesty, truth-telling fairness, was Mary's reigning virtue:
she neither tried to create illusions, nor indulged in them for her
own behoof, and when she was in a good mood she had humor enough
in her to laugh at herself. When she and Rosamond happened both to be
reflected in the glass, she said, laughingly--
"What a brown patch I am by the side of you, Rosy! You are
the most unbecoming companion."
"Oh no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible
and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,"
said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving
towards the new view of her neck in the glass.
"You mean my beauty," said Mary, rather sardonically.
Rosamond thought, "Poor Mary, she takes the kindest things ill."
Aloud she said, "What have you been doing lately?"
"I? Oh, minding the house--pouring out syrup--pretending to be
amiable and contented--learning to have a bad opinion of everybody."
"It is a wretched life for you."
"No," said Mary, curtly, with a little toss of her head. "I think
my life is pleasanter than your Miss Morgan's."
"Yes; but Miss Morgan is so uninteresting, and not young."
"She is interesting to herself, I suppose; and I am not at all sure
that everything gets easier as one gets older."
"No," said Rosamond, reflectively; "one wonders what such people do,
without any prospect. To be sure, there is religion as a support.
But," she added, dimpling, "it is very different with you,'Mary.
You may have an offer."
"Has any one told you he means to make me one?"
"Of course not. I mean, there is a gentleman who may fall in love
with you, seeing you almost every day."
A certain change in Mary's face was chiefly determined by the resolve
not to show any change.
"Does that always make people fall in love?" she answered, carelessly;
"it seems to me quite as often a reason for detesting each other."
"Not when they are interesting and agreeable. I hear that Mr. Lydgate
"Oh, Mr. Lydgate!" said Mary, with an unmistakable lapse
into indifference. "You want to know something about him,"
she added, not choosing to indulge Rosamond's indirectness.
"Merely, how you like him."
"There is no question of liking at present. My liking always wants
some little kindness to kindle it. I am not magnanimous enough
to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me."
"Is he so haughty?" said Rosamond, with heightened satisfaction.
"You know that he is of good family?"
"No; he did not give that as a reason."
"Mary! you are the oddest girl. But what sort of looking man
is he? Describe him to me."
"How can one describe a man? I can give you an inventory: heavy eyebrows,
dark eyes, a straight nose, thick dark hair, large solid white
hands--and--let me see--oh, an exquisite cambric pocket-handkerchief.
But you will see him. You know this is about the time of his visits."
Rosamond blushed a little, but said, meditatively, "I rather
like a haughty manner. I cannot endure a rattling young man."
"I did not tell you that Mr. Lydgate was haughty; but il y en
a pour tous les gouts, as little Mamselle used to say, and if any
girl can choose the particular sort of conceit she would like,
I should think it is you, Rosy."
"Haughtiness is not conceit; I call Fred conceited."
"I wish no one said any worse of him. He should be more careful.
Mrs. Waule has been telling uncle that Fred is very unsteady."
Mary spoke from a girlish impulse which got the better of her judgment.
There was a vague uneasiness associated with the word "unsteady"
which she hoped Rosamond might say something to dissipate.
But she purposely abstained from mentioning Mrs. Waule's more
"Oh, Fred is horrid!" said Rosamond. She would not have allowed
herself so unsuitable a word to any one but Mary.
"What do you mean by horrid?"
"He is so idle, and makes papa so angry, and says he will not
"I think Fred is quite right."
"How can you say he is quite right, Mary? I thought you had more
sense of religion."
"He is not fit to be a clergyman."
"But he ought to be fit."--"Well, then, he is not what he ought to be.
I know some other people who are in the same case."
"But no one approves of them. I should not like to marry a clergyman;
but there must be clergymen."
"It does not follow that Fred must be one."
"But when papa has been at the expense of educating him for it!
And only suppose, if he should have no fortune left him?"
"I can suppose that very well," said Mary, dryly.
"Then I wonder you can defend Fred," said Rosamond, inclined to push
"I don't defend him," said Mary, laughing; "I would defend any
parish from having him for a clergyman."
"But of course if he were a clergyman, he must be different."
"Yes, he would be a great hypocrite; and he is not that yet."
"It is of no use saying anything to you, Mary. You always take
"Why should I not take his part?" said Mary, lighting up.
"He would take mine. He is the only person who takes the least
trouble to oblige me."
"You make me feel very uncomfortable, Mary," said Rosamond,
with her gravest mildness; "I would not tell mamma for the world."
"What would you not tell her?" said Mary, angrily.
"Pray do not go into a rage, Mary," said Rosamond, mildly as ever.
"If your mamma is afraid that Fred will make me an offer, tell her
that I would not marry him if he asked me. But he is not going
to do so, that I am aware. He certainly never has asked me."
"Mary, you are always so violent."
"And you are always so exasperating."
"I? What can you blame me for?"
"Oh, blameless people are always the most exasperating. There is
the bell--I think we must go down."
"I did not mean to quarrel," said Rosamond, putting on her hat.
"Quarrel? Nonsense; we have not quarrelled. If one is not to get
into a rage sometimes, what is the good of being friends?"
"Am I to repeat what you have said?" "Just as you please. I never
say what I am afraid of having repeated. But let us go down."
Mr. Lydgate was rather late this morning, but the visitors stayed long
enough to see him; for Mr. Featherstone asked Rosamond to sing to him,
and she herself was so kind as to propose a second favorite song
of his--"Flow on, thou shining river"--after she had sung "Home,
sweet home" (which she detested). This hard-headed old Overreach
approved of the sentimental song, as the suitable garnish for girls,
and also as fundamentally fine, sentiment being the right thing
for a song.
Mr. Featherstone was still applauding the last performance,
and assuring missy that her voice was as clear as a blackbird's,
when Mr. Lydgate's horse passed the window.
His dull expectation of the usual disagreeable routine with an aged
patient--who can hardly believe that medicine would not "set him up"
if the doctor were only clever enough--added to his general disbelief
in Middlemarch charms, made a doubly effective background to this
vision of Rosamond, whom old Featherstone made haste ostentatiously
to introduce as his niece, though he had never thought it worth
while to speak of Mary Garth in that light. Nothing escaped
Lydgate in Rosamond's graceful behavior: how delicately she waived
the notice which the old man's want of taste had thrust upon her
by a quiet gravity, not showing her dimples on the wrong occasion,
but showing them afterwards in speaking to Mary, to whom she
addressed herself with so much good-natured interest, that Lydgate,
after quickly examining Mary more fully than he had done before,
saw an adorable kindness in Rosamond's eyes. But Mary from some
cause looked rather out of temper.
"Miss Rosy has been singing me a song--you've nothing to say
against that, eh, doctor?" said Mr. Featherstone. "I like it
better than your physic."
"That has made me forget how the time was going," said Rosamond,
rising to reach her hat, which she had laid aside before singing,
so that her flower-like head on its white stem was seen in perfection
above-her riding-habit. "Fred, we must really go."
"Very good," said Fred, who had his own reasons for not being
in the best spirits, and wanted to get away.
"Miss Vincy is a musician?" said Lydgate, following her with his eyes.
(Every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the consciousness
that she was being looked at. She was by nature an actress of parts
that entered into her physique: she even acted her own character,
and so well, that she did not know it to be precisely her own.)
"The best in Middlemarch, I'll be bound," said Mr. Featherstone,
"let the next be who she will. Eh, Fred? Speak up for your sister."
"I'm afraid I'm out of court, sir. My evidence would be good
"Middlemarch has not a very high standard, uncle," said Rosamond,
with a pretty lightness, going towards her whip, which lay at
Lydgate was quick in anticipating her. He reached the whip
before she did, and turned to present it to her. She bowed
and looked at him: he of course was looking at her, and their
eyes met with that peculiar meeting which is never arrived at
by effort, but seems like a sudden divine clearance of haze.
I think Lydgate turned a little paler than usual, but Rosamond
blushed deeply and felt a certain astonishment. After that,
she was really anxious to go, and did not know what sort of stupidity
her uncle was talking of when she went to shake hands with him.
Yet this result, which she took to be a mutual impression, called
falling in love, was just what Rosamond had contemplated beforehand.
Ever since that important new arrival in Middlemarch she had
woven a little future, of which something like this scene was
the necessary beginning. Strangers, whether wrecked and clinging
to a raft, or duly escorted and accompanied by portmanteaus,
have always had a circumstantial fascination for the virgin mind,
against which native merit has urged itself in vain. And a stranger
was absolutely necessary to Rosamond's social romance, which had
always turned on a lover and bridegroom who was not a Middlemarcher,
and who had no connections at all like her own: of late, indeed,
the construction seemed to demand that he should somehow be
related to a baronet. Now that she and the stranger had met,
reality proved much more moving than anticipation, and Rosamond
could not doubt that this was the great epoch of her life.
She judged of her own symptoms as those of awakening love, and she
held it still more natural that Mr. Lydgate should have fallen
in love at first sight of her. These things happened so often
at balls, and why not by the morning light, when the complexion
showed all the better for it? Rosamond, though no older than Mary,
was rather used to being fallen in love with; but she, for her part,
had remained indifferent and fastidiously critical towards both
fresh sprig and faded bachelor. And here was Mr. Lydgate suddenly
corresponding to her ideal, being altogether foreign to Middlemarch,
carrying a certain air of distinction congruous with good family,
and possessing connections which offered vistas of that middle-class
heaven, rank; a man of talent, also, whom it would be especially
delightful to enslave: in fact, a man who had touched her nature quite
newly, and brought a vivid interest into her life which was better than
any fancied "might-be" such as she was in the habit of opposing to the
Thus, in riding home, both the brother and the sister were preoccupied
and inclined to be silent. Rosamond, whose basis for her structure
had the usual airy slightness, was of remarkably detailed and
realistic imagination when the foundation had been once presupposed;
and before they had ridden a mile she was far on in the costume
and introductions of her wedded life, having determined on her
house in Middle-march, and foreseen the visits she would pay
to her husband's high-bred relatives at a distance, whose finished
manners she could appropriate as thoroughly as she had done
her school accomplishments, preparing herself thus for vaguer
elevations which might ultimately come. There was nothing financial,
still less sordid, in her previsions: she cared about what were
considered refinements, and not about the money that was to pay for them.
Fred's mind, on the other hand, was busy with an anxiety which
even his ready hopefulness could not immediately quell. He saw
no way of eluding Featherstone's stupid demand without incurring
consequences which he liked less even than the task of fulfilling it.
His father was already out of humor with him, and would be still
more so if he were the occasion of any additional coolness between
his own family and the Bulstrodes. Then, he himself hated having
to go and speak to his uncle Bulstrode, and perhaps after drinking
wine he had said many foolish things about Featherstone's property,
and these had been magnified by report. Fred felt that he made
a wretched figure as a fellow who bragged about expectations from
a queer old miser like Featherstone, and went to beg for certificates
at his bidding. But--those expectations! He really had them,
and he saw no agreeable alternative if he gave them up; besides,
he had lately made a debt which galled him extremely, and old
Featherstone had almost bargained to pay it off. The whole affair
was miserably small: his debts were small, even his expectations
were not anything so very magnificent. Fred had known men to whom he
would have been ashamed of confessing the smallness of his scrapes.
Such ruminations naturally produced a streak of misanthropic bitterness.
To be born the son of a Middlemarch manufacturer, and inevitable
heir to nothing in particular, while such men as Mainwaring and
Vyan--certainly life was a poor business, when a spirited young fellow,
with a good appetite for the best of everything, had so poor an outlook.
It had not occurred to Fred that the introduction of Bulstrode's name
in the matter was a fiction of old Featherstone's; nor could this
have made any difference to his position. He saw plainly enough
that the old man wanted to exercise his power by tormenting him
a little, and also probably to get some satisfaction out of seeing
him on unpleasant terms with Bulstrode. Fred fancied that he saw
to the bottom of his uncle Featherstone's soul, though in reality half
what he saw there was no more than the reflex of his own inclinations.
The difficult task of knowing another soul is not for young
gentlemen whose consciousness is chiefly made up of their own wishes.
Fred's main point of debate with himself was, whether he should tell
his father, or try to get through the affair without his father's
knowledge. It was probably Mrs. Waule who had been talking about him;
and if Mary Garth had repeated Mrs. Waule's report to Rosamond,
it would be sure to reach his father, who would as surely question
him about it. He said to Rosamond, as they slackened their pace--
"Rosy, did Mary tell you that Mrs. Waule had said anything about me?"
"Yes, indeed, she did."
"That you were very unsteady."
"Was that all?"
"I should think that was enough, Fred."
"You are sure she said no more?"
"Mary mentioned nothing else. But really, Fred, I think you ought
to be ashamed."
"Oh, fudge! Don't lecture me. What did Mary say about it?"
"I am not obliged to tell you. You care so very much what Mary says,
and you are too rude to allow me to speak."
"Of course I care what Mary says. She is the best girl I know."
"I should never have thought she was a girl to fall in love with."
"How do you know what men would fall in love with? Girls never know."
"At least, Fred, let me advise _you_ not to fall in love with her,
for she says she would not marry you if you asked her."
"She might have waited till I did ask her."
"I knew it would nettle you, Fred."
"Not at all. She would not have said so if you had not provoked her."
Before reaching home, Fred concluded that he would tell the whole
affair as simply as possible to his father, who might perhaps take
on himself the unpleasant business of speaking to Bulstrode.
OLD AND YOUNG.
1st Gent. How class your man?--as better than the most,
Or, seeming better, worse beneath that cloak?
As saint or knave, pilgrim or hypocrite?
2d Gent. Nay, tell me how you class your wealth of books
The drifted relics of all time.
As well sort them at once by size and livery:
Vellum, tall copies, and the common calf
Will hardly cover more diversity
Than all your labels cunningly devised
To class your unread authors.
In consequence of what he had heard from Fred, Mr. Vincy determined
to speak with Mr. Bulstrode in his private room at the Bank
at half-past one, when he was usually free from other callers.
But a visitor had come in at one o'clock, and Mr. Bulstrode had so
much to say to him, that there was little chance of the interview
being over in half an hour. The banker's speech was fluent,
but it was also copious, and he used up an appreciable amount
of time in brief meditative pauses. Do not imagine his sickly
aspect to have been of the yellow, black-haired sort: he had a pale
blond skin, thin gray-besprinkled brown hair, light-gray eyes,
and a large forehead. Loud men called his subdued tone an undertone,
and sometimes implied that it was inconsistent with openness;
though there seems to be no reason why a loud man should not be given
to concealment of anything except his own voice, unless it can be
shown that Holy Writ has placed the seat of candor in the lungs.
Mr. Bulstrode had also a deferential bending attitude in listening,
and an apparently fixed attentiveness in his eyes which made those
persons who thought themselves worth hearing infer that he was seeking
the utmost improvement from their discourse. Others, who expected
to make no great figure, disliked this kind of moral lantern turned
on them. If you are not proud of your cellar, there is no thrill of
satisfaction in seeing your guest hold up his wine-glass to the light
and look judicial. Such joys are reserved for conscious merit.
Hence Mr. Bulstrode's close attention was not agreeable to the
publicans and sinners in Middlemarch; it was attributed by some
to his being a Pharisee, and by others to his being Evangelical.
Less superficial reasoners among them wished to know who his father
and grandfather were, observing that five-and-twenty years ago nobody
had ever heard of a Bulstrode in Middlemarch. To his present visitor,
Lydgate, the scrutinizing look was a matter of indifference:
he simply formed an unfavorable opinion of the banker's constitution,
and concluded that he had an eager inward life with little enjoyment
of tangible things.
"I shall be exceedingly obliged if you will look in on me here
occasionally, Mr. Lydgate," the banker observed, after a brief pause.
"If, as I dare to hope, I have the privilege of finding you a
valuable coadjutor in the interesting matter of hospital management,
there will be many questions which we shall need to discuss
in private. As to the new hospital, which is nearly finished,
I shall consider what you have said about the advantages of the special
destination for fevers. The decision will rest with me, for though
Lord Medlicote has given the land and timber for the building,
he is not disposed to give his personal attention to the object."
"There are few things better worth the pains in a provincial town
like this," said Lydgate. "A fine fever hospital in addition
to the old infirmary might be the nucleus of a medical school here,
when once we get our medical reforms; and what would do more for
medical education than the spread of such schools over the country?
A born provincial man who has a grain of public spirit as well as a
few ideas, should do what he can to resist the rush of everything
that is a little better than common towards London. Any valid
professional aims may often find a freer, if not a richer field,
in the provinces."
One of Lydgate's gifts was a voice habitually deep and sonorous,
yet capable of becoming very low and gentle at the right moment.
About his ordinary bearing there was a certain fling, a fearless
expectation of success, a confidence in his own powers and integrity
much fortified by contempt for petty obstacles or seductions of which
he had had no experience. But this proud openness was made lovable
by an expression of unaffected good-will. Mr. Bulstrode perhaps liked
him the better for the difference between them in pitch and manners;
he certainly liked him the better, as Rosamond did, for being a stranger
in Middlemarch. One can begin so many things with a new person!--
even begin to be a better man.
"I shall rejoice to furnish your zeal with fuller opportunities,"
Mr. Bulstrode answered; "I mean, by confiding to you the superintendence
of my new hospital, should a maturer knowledge favor that issue,
for I am determined that so great an object shall not be shackled
by our two physicians. Indeed, I am encouraged to consider your
advent to this town as a gracious indication that a more manifest
blessing is now to be awarded to my efforts, which have hitherto
been much with stood. With regard to the old infirmary, we have
gained the initial point--I mean your election. And now I hope
you will not shrink from incurring a certain amount of jealousy
and dislike from your professional brethren by presenting yourself
as a reformer."
"I will not profess bravery," said Lydgate, smiling, "but I
acknowledge a good deal of pleasure in fighting, and I should not
care for my profession, if I did not believe that better methods
were to be found and enforced there as well as everywhere else."
"The standard of that profession is low in Middlemarch, my dear sir,"
said the banker. "I mean in knowledge and skill; not in social status,
for our medical men are most of them connected with respectable
townspeople here. My own imperfect health has induced me to give
some attention to those palliative resources which the divine
mercy has placed within our reach. I have consulted eminent men
in the metropolis, and I am painfully aware of the backwardness
under which medical treatment labors in our provincial districts."
"Yes;--with our present medical rules and education, one must
be satisfied now and then to meet with a fair practitioner.
As to all the higher questions which determine the starting-point
of a diagnosis--as to the philosophy of medial evidence--any glimmering
of these can only come from a scientific culture of which country
practitioners have usually no more notion than the man in the moon."
Mr. Bulstrode, bending and looking intently, found the form
which Lydgate had given to his agreement not quite suited to
his comprehension. Under such circumstances a judicious man changes
the topic and enters on ground where his own gifts may be more useful.
"I am aware," he said, "that the peculiar bias of medical
ability is towards material means. Nevertheless, Mr. Lydgate,
I hope we shall not vary in sentiment as to a measure in which
you are not likely to be actively concerned, but in which your
sympathetic concurrence may be an aid to me. You recognize,
I hope; the existence of spiritual interests in your patients?"
"Certainly I do. But those words are apt to cover different
meanings to different minds."
"Precisely. And on such subjects wrong teaching is as fatal as
no teaching. Now a point which I have much at heart to secure is
a new regulation as to clerical attendance at the old infirmary.
The building stands in Mr. Farebrother's parish. You know
"I have seen him. He gave me his vote. I must call to thank him.
He seems a very bright pleasant little fellow. And I understand he
is a naturalist."
"Mr. Farebrother, my dear sir, is a man deeply painful to contemplate.
I suppose there is not a clergyman in this country who has
greater talents." Mr. Bulstrode paused and looked meditative.
"I have not yet been pained by finding any excessive talent
in Middlemarch," said Lydgate, bluntly.
"What I desire," Mr. Bulstrode continued, looking still more serious,
"is that Mr. Farebrother's attendance at the hospital should be
superseded by the appointment of a chaplain--of Mr. Tyke, in fact--
and that no other spiritual aid should be called in."
"As a medial man I could have no opinion on such a point unless I knew
Mr. Tyke, and even then I should require to know the cases in which
he was applied." Lydgate smiled, but he was bent on being circumspect.
"Of course you cannot enter fully into the merits of this measure
at present. But"--here Mr. Bulstrode began to speak with a more
chiselled emphasis--"the subject is likely to be referred to
the medical board of the infirmary, and what I trust I may ask
of you is, that in virtue of the cooperation between us which I
now look forward to, you will not, so far as you are concerned,
be influenced by my opponents in this matter."
"I hope I shall have nothing to do with clerical disputes," said Lydgate.
"The path I have chosen is to work well in my own profession."
"My responsibility, Mr. Lydgate, is of a broader kind.
With me, indeed, this question is one of sacred accountableness;
whereas with my opponents, I have good reason to say that it
is an occasion for gratifying a spirit of worldly opposition.
But I shall not therefore drop one iota of my convictions, or cease
to identify myself with that truth which an evil generation hates.
I have devoted myself to this object of hospital-improvement, but I
will boldly confess to you, Mr. Lydgate, that I should have no interest
in hospitals if I believed that nothing more was concerned therein
than the cure of mortal diseases. I have another ground of action,
and in the face of persecution I will not conceal it."
Mr. Bulstrode's voice had become a loud and agitated whisper as he
said the last words.
"There we certainly differ," said Lydgate. But he was not sorry
that the door was now opened, and Mr. Vincy was announced.
That florid sociable personage was become more interesting to him
since he had seen Rosamond. Not that, like her, he had been weaving
any future in which their lots were united; but a man naturally
remembers a charming girl with pleasure, and is willing to dine
where he may see her again. Before he took leave, Mr. Vincy
had given that invitation which he had been "in no hurry about,"
for Rosamond at breakfast had mentioned that she thought her uncle
Featherstone had taken the new doctor into great favor.
Mr. Bulstrode, alone with his brother-in-law, poured himself out
a glass of water, and opened a sandwich-box.
"I cannot persuade you to adopt my regimen, Vincy?"
"No, no; I've no opinion of that system. Life wants padding,"
said Mr. Vincy, unable to omit his portable theory. "However," he
went on, accenting the word, as if to dismiss all irrelevance,
"what I came here to talk about was a little affair of my
young scapegrace, Fred's."
"That is a subject on which you and I are likely to take quite
as different views as on diet, Vincy."
"I hope not this time." (Mr. Vincy was resolved to be good-humored.)
"The fact is, it's about a whim of old Featherstone's. Somebody has
been cooking up a story out of spite, and telling it to the old man,
to try to set him against Fred. He's very fond of Fred, and is
likely to do something handsome for him; indeed he has as good
as told Fred that he means to leave him his land, and that makes
other people jealous."
"Vincy, I must repeat, that you will not get any concurrence from
me as to the course you have pursued with your eldest son. It was
entirely from worldly vanity that you destined him for the Church:
with a family of three sons and four daughters, you were not
warranted in devoting money to an expensive education which has
succeeded in nothing but in giving him extravagant idle habits.
You are now reaping the consequences."
To point out other people's errors was a duty that Mr. Bulstrode rarely
shrank from, but Mr. Vincy was not equally prepared to be patient.
When a man has the immediate prospect of being mayor, and is ready,
in the interests of commerce, to take up a firm attitude on
politics generally, he has naturally a sense of his importance
to the framework of things which seems to throw questions of private
conduct into the background. And this particular reproof irritated
him more than any other. It was eminently superfluous to him to be
told that he was reaping the consequences. But he felt his neck
under Bulstrode's yoke; and though he usually enjoyed kicking,
he was anxious to refrain from that relief.
"As to that, Bulstrode, it's no use going back. I'm not one of your
pattern men, and I don't pretend to be. I couldn't foresee everything
in the trade; there wasn't a finer business in Middlemarch than ours,
and the lad was clever. My poor brother was in the Church, and would
have done well--had got preferment already, but that stomach fever
took him off: else he might have been a dean by this time. I think I
was justified in what I tried to do for Fred. If you come to religion,
it seems to me a man shouldn't want to carve out his meat to an ounce
beforehand:--one must trust a little to Providence and be generous.
It's a good British feeling to try and raise your family a little:
in my opinion, it's a father's duty to give his sons a fine chance."
"I don't wish to act otherwise than as your best friend, Vincy,
when I say that what you have been uttering just now is one mass
of worldliness and inconsistent folly."
"Very well," said Mr. Vincy, kicking in spite of resolutions,
"I never professed to be anything but worldly; and, what's more,
I don't see anybody else who is not worldly. I suppose you don't
conduct business on what you call unworldly principles.
The only difference I see is that one worldliness is a little bit
honester than another."
"This kind of discussion is unfruitful, Vincy," said Mr. Bulstrode,
who, finishing his sandwich, had thrown himself back in his chair,
and shaded his eyes as if weary. "You had some more particular business."
"Yes, yes. The long and short of it is, somebody has told
old Featherstone, giving you as the authority, that Fred has been
borrowing or trying to borrow money on the prospect of his land.
Of course you never said any such nonsense. But the old fellow will
insist on it that Fred should bring him a denial in your handwriting;
that is, just a bit of a note saying you don't believe a word
of such stuff, either of his having borrowed or tried to borrow
in such a fool's way. I suppose you can have no objection to do that."
"Pardon me. I have an objection. I am by no means sure that your son,
in his recklessness and ignorance--I will use no severer word--
has not tried to raise money by holding out his future prospects,
or even that some one may not have been foolish enough to supply him
on so vague a presumption: there is plenty of such lax money-lending
as of other folly in the world."
"But Fred gives me his honor that he has never borrowed money
on the pretence of any understanding about his uncle's land.
He is not a liar. I don't want to make him better than he is.
I have blown him up well--nobody can say I wink at what he does.
But he is not a liar. And I should have thought--but I may be wrong--
that there was no religion to hinder a man from believing the best
of a young fellow, when you don't know worse. It seems to me it would
be a poor sort of religion to put a spoke in his wheel by refusing
to say you don't believe such harm of him as you've got no good reason
"I am not at all sure that I should be befriending your son by smoothing
his way to the future possession of Featherstone's property.
I cannot regard wealth as a blessing to those who use it simply
as a harvest for this world. You do not like to hear these things,
Vincy, but on this occasion I feel called upon to tell you that I
have no motive for furthering such a disposition of property
as that which you refer to. I do not shrink from saying that it
will not tend to your son's eternal welfare or to the glory of God.
Why then should you expect me to pen this kind of affidavit,
which has no object but to keep up a foolish partiality and secure
a foolish bequest?"
"If you mean to hinder everybody from having money but saints
and evangelists, you must give up some profitable partnerships,
that's all I can say," Mr. Vincy burst out very bluntly.
"It may be for the glory of God, but it is not for the glory of the
Middlemarch trade, that Plymdale's house uses those blue and green
dyes it gets from the Brassing manufactory; they rot the silk,
that's all I know about it. Perhaps if other people knew so much
of the profit went to the glory of God, they might like it better.
But I don't mind so much about that--I could get up a pretty row,
if I chose."
Mr. Bulstrode paused a little before he answered. "You pain me
very much by speaking in this way, Vincy. I do not expect you
to understand my grounds of action--it is not an easy thing even
to thread a path for principles in the intricacies of the world--
still less to make the thread clear for the careless and the scoffing.
You must remember, if you please, that I stretch my tolerance
towards you as my wife's brother, and that it little becomes you
to complain of me as withholding material help towards the worldly
position of your family. I must remind you that it is not your
own prudence or judgment that has enabled you to keep your place
in the trade."
"Very likely not; but you have been no loser by my trade yet,"
said Mr. Vincy, thoroughly nettled (a result which was seldom much
retarded by previous resolutions). "And when you married Harriet,
I don't see how you could expect that our families should not hang
by the same nail. If you've changed your mind, and want my family
to come down in the world, you'd better say so. I've never changed;
I'm a plain Churchman now, just as I used to be before doctrines
came up. I take the world as I find it, in trade and everything else.
I'm contented to be no worse than my neighbors. But if you want
us to come down in the world, say so. I shall know better what to
"You talk unreasonably. Shall you come down in the world for want
of this letter about your son?"
"Well, whether or not, I consider it very unhandsome of you to refuse it.
Such doings may be lined with religion, but outside they have
a nasty, dog-in-the-manger look. You might as well slander Fred:
it comes pretty near to it when you refuse to say you didn't set
a slander going. It's this sort of thing---this tyrannical spirit,
wanting to play bishop and banker everywhere--it's this sort of thing
makes a man's name stink."
"Vincy, if you insist on quarrelling with me, it will be exceedingly
painful to Harriet as well as myself," said Mr. Bulstrode,
with a trifle more eagerness and paleness than usual.
"I don't want to quarrel. It's for my interest--and perhaps
for yours too--that we should be friends. I bear you no grudge;
I think no worse of you than I do of other people. A man who half
starves himself, and goes the length in family prayers, and so on,
that you do, believes in his religion whatever it may be: you could
turn over your capital just as fast with cursing and swearing:--
plenty of fellows do. You like to be master, there's no denying that;
you must be first chop in heaven, else you won't like it much.
But you're my sister's husband, and we ought to stick together;
and if I know Harriet, she'll consider it your fault if we quarrel
because you strain at a gnat in this way, and refuse to do Fred a
good turn. And I don't mean to say I shall bear it well. I consider
Mr. Vincy rose, began to button his great-coat, and looked steadily
at his brother-in-law, meaning to imply a demand for a decisive answer.
This was not the first time that Mr. Bulstrode had begun by admonishing
Mr. Vincy, and had ended by seeing a very unsatisfactory reflection
of himself in the coarse unflattering mirror which that manufacturer's
mind presented to the subtler lights and shadows of his fellow-men;
and perhaps his experience ought to have warned him how the scene
would end. But a full-fed fountain will be generous with its
waters even in the rain, when they are worse than useless;
and a fine fount of admonition is apt to be equally irrepressible.
It was not in Mr. Bulstrode's nature to comply directly in consequence
of uncomfortable suggestions. Before changing his course,
he always needed to shape his motives and bring them into accordance
with his habitual standard. He said, at last--
"I will reflect a little, Vincy. I will mention the subject
to Harriet. I shall probably send you a letter."
"Very well. As soon as you can, please. I hope it will all be
settled before I see you to-morrow."
"Follows here the strict receipt
For that sauce to dainty meat,
Named Idleness, which many eat
By preference, and call it sweet:
First watch for morsels, like a hound
Mix well with buffets, stir them round
With good thick oil of flatteries,
And froth with mean self-lauding lies.
Serve warm: the vessels you must choose
To keep it in are dead men's shoes."
Mr. Bulstrode's consultation of Harriet seemed to have had the effect
desired by Mr. Vincy, for early the next morning a letter came
which Fred could carry to Mr. Featherstone as the required testimony.
The old gentleman was staying in bed on account of the cold weather,
and as Mary Garth was not to be seen in the sitting-room, Fred
went up-stairs immediately and presented the letter to his uncle,
who, propped up comfortably on a bed-rest, was not less able than
usual to enjoy his consciousness of wisdom in distrusting and
frustrating mankind. He put on his spectacles to read the letter,
pursing up his lips and drawing down their corners.
"Under the circumstances I will not decline to state my conviction--
tchah! what fine words the fellow puts! He's as fine as an auctioneer--
that your son Frederic has not obtained any advance of money
on bequests promised by Mr. Featherstone--promised? who said I
had ever promised? I promise nothing--I shall make codicils as long
as I like--and that considering the nature of such a proceeding,
it is unreasonable to presume that a young man of sense and character
would attempt it--ah, but the gentleman doesn't say you are a
young man of sense and character, mark you that, sir!--As to my own
concern with any report of such a nature, I distinctly affirm that I
never made any statement to the effect that your son had borrowed money
on any property that might accrue to him on Mr. Featherstone's demise--
bless my heart! `property'--accrue--demise! Lawyer Standish is
nothing to him. He couldn't speak finer if he wanted to borrow.
Well," Mr. Featherstone here looked over his spectacles at Fred,
while he handed back the letter to him with a contemptuous gesture, "you
don't suppose I believe a thing because Bulstrode writes it out fine, eh?"
Fred colored. "You wished to have the letter, sir. I should
think it very likely that Mr. Bulstrode's denial is as good
as the authority which told you what he denies."
"Every bit. I never said I believed either one or the other.
And now what d' you expect?" said Mr. Featherstone, curtly, keeping on
his spectacles, but withdrawing his hands under his wraps.
"I expect nothing, sir." Fred with difficulty restrained himself
from venting his irritation. "I came to bring you the letter.
If you like I will bid you good morning."
"Not yet, not yet. Ring the bell; I want missy to come."
It was a servant who came in answer to the bell.
"Tell missy to come!" said Mr. Featherstone, impatiently. "What business
had she to go away?" He spoke in the same tone when Mary came.
"Why couldn't you sit still here till I told you to go? want
my waistcoat now. I told you always to put it on the bed."
Mary's eyes looked rather red, as if she had been crying. It was
clear that Mr. Featherstone was in one of his most snappish humors
this morning, and though Fred had now the prospect of receiving
the much-needed present of money, he would have preferred being free
to turn round on the old tyrant and tell him that Mary Garth was
too good to be at his beck. Though Fred had risen as she entered
the room, she had barely noticed him, and looked as if her nerves
were quivering with the expectation that something would be thrown
at her. But she never had anything worse than words to dread.
When she went to reach the waistcoat from a peg, Fred went up
to her and said, "Allow me."
"Let it alone! You bring it, missy, and lay it down here,"
said Mr. Featherstone. "Now you go away again till I call you,"
he added, when the waistcoat was laid down by him. It was usual
with him to season his pleasure in showing favor to one person
by being especially disagreeable to another, and Mary was always
at hand to furnish the condiment. When his own relatives came
she was treated better. Slowly he took out a bunch of keys from
the waistcoat pocket, and slowly he drew forth a tin box which was
under the bed-clothes.
"You expect I am going to give you a little fortune, eh?" he said,
looking above his spectacles and pausing in the act of opening
"Not at all, sir. You were good enough to speak of making me
a present the other day, else, of course, I should not have
thought of the matter." But Fred was of a hopeful disposition,
and a vision had presented itself of a sum just large enough
to deliver him from a certain anxiety. When Fred got into debt,
it always seemed to him highly probable that something or other--
he did not necessarily conceive what--would come to pass enabling
him to pay in due time. And now that the providential occurrence
was apparently close at hand, it would have been sheer absurdity
to think that the supply would be short of the need: as absurd
as a faith that believed in half a miracle for want of strength
to believe in a whole one.
The deep-veined hands fingered many bank-notes-one after the other,
laying them down flat again, while Fred leaned back in his chair,
scorning to look eager. He held himself to be a gentleman at heart,
and did not like courting an old fellow for his money. At last,
Mr. Featherstone eyed him again over his spectacles and presented him
with a little sheaf of notes: Fred could see distinctly that there
were but five, as the less significant edges gaped towards him.
But then, each might mean fifty pounds. He took them, saying--
"I am very much obliged to you, sir," and was going to roll them
up without seeming to think of their value. But this did not suit
Mr. Featherstone, who was eying him intently.
"Come, don't you think it worth your while to count 'em? You take
money like a lord; I suppose you lose it like one."
"I thought I was not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, sir. But I
shall be very happy to count them."
Fred was not so happy, however, after he had counted them. For they
actually presented the absurdity of being less than his hopefulness
had decided that they must be. What can the fitness of things mean,
if not their fitness to a man's expectations? Failing this,
absurdity and atheism gape behind him. The collapse for Fred was severe
when he found that he held no more than five twenties, and his share
in the higher education of this country did not seem to help him.
Nevertheless he said, with rapid changes in his fair complexion--
"It is very handsome of you, sir."
"I should think it is," said Mr. Featherstone, locking his box
and replacing it, then taking off his spectacles deliberately,
and at length, as if his inward meditation had more deeply
convinced him, repeating, "I should think it handsome."
"I assure you, sir, I am very grateful," said Fred, who had had
time to recover his cheerful air.
"So you ought to be. You want to cut a figure in the world, and I
reckon Peter Featherstone is the only one you've got to trust to."
Here the old man's eyes gleamed with a curiously mingled satisfaction
in the consciousness that this smart young fellow relied upon him,
and that the smart young fellow was rather a fool for doing so.
"Yes, indeed: I was not born to very splendid chances. Few men have
been more cramped than I have been," said Fred, with some sense of
surprise at his own virtue, considering how hardly he was dealt with.
"It really seems a little too bad to have to ride a broken-winded hunter,
and see men, who, are not half such good judges as yourself,
able to throw away any amount of money on buying bad bargains."
"Well, you can buy yourself a fine hunter now. Eighty pound
is enough for that, I reckon--and you'll have twenty pound over
to get yourself out of any little scrape," said Mr. Featherstone,
"You are very good, sir," said Fred, with a fine sense of contrast
between the words and his feeling.
"Ay, rather a better uncle than your fine uncle Bulstrode.
You won't get much out of his spekilations, I think. He's got
a pretty strong string round your father's leg, by what I hear, eh?"
"My father never tells me anything about his affairs, sir."
"Well, he shows some sense there. But other people find 'em out
without his telling. _He'll_ never have much to leave you:
he'll most-like die without a will--he's the sort of man to do it--
let 'em make him mayor of Middlemarch as much as they like.
But you won't get much by his dying without a will, though you
_are_ the eldest son."
Fred thought that Mr. Featherstone had never been so disagreeable
before. True, he had never before given him quite so much money at once.
"Shall I destroy this letter of Mr. Bulstrode's, sir?" said Fred,
rising with the letter as if he would put it in the fire.
"Ay, ay, I don't want it. It's worth no money to me."
Fred carried the letter to the fire, and thrust the poker through
it with much zest. He longed to get out of the room, but he was
a little ashamed before his inner self, as well as before his uncle,
to run away immediately after pocketing the money. Presently, the
farm-bailiff came up to give his master a report, and Fred, to his
unspeakable relief, was dismissed with the injunction to come again soon.
He had longed not only to be set free from his uncle, but also
to find Mary Garth. She was now in her usual place by the fire,
with sewing in her hands and a book open on the little table
by her side. Her eyelids had lost some of their redness now,
and she had her usual air of self-command.
"Am I wanted up-stairs?" she said, half rising as Fred entered.
"No; I am only dismissed, because Simmons is gone up."
Mary sat down again, and resumed her work. She was certainly
treating him with more indifference than usual: she did not know
how affectionately indignant he had felt on her behalf up-stairs.
"May I stay here a little, Mary, or shall I bore you?"
"Pray sit down," said Mary; "you will not be so heavy a bore
as Mr. John Waule, who was here yesterday, and he sat down without
asking my leave."
"Poor fellow! I think he is in love with you."
"I am not aware of it. And to me it is one of the most odious
things in a girl's life, that there must always be some supposition
of falling in love coming between her and any man who is kind
to her, and to whom she is grateful. I should have thought that I,
at least, might have been safe from all that. I have no ground
for the nonsensical vanity of fancying everybody who comes near
me is in love with me."
Mary did not mean to betray any feeling, but in spite of herself
she ended in a tremulous tone of vexation.
"Confound John Waule! I did not mean to make you angry. I didn't
know you had any reason for being grateful to me. I forgot what
a great service you think it if any one snuffs a candle for you.
Fred also had his pride, and was not going to show that he knew
what had called forth this outburst of Mary's.
"Oh, I am not angry, except with the ways of the world. I do
like to be spoken to as if I had common-sense. I really often feel
as if I could understand a little more than I ever hear even from
young gentlemen who have been to college." Mary had recovered,
and she spoke with a suppressed rippling under-current of laughter
pleasant to hear.
"I don't care how merry you are at my expense this morning,"
said Fred, "I thought you looked so sad when you came up-stairs. It
is a shame you should stay here to be bullied in that way."
"Oh, I have an easy life--by comparison. I have tried being
a teacher, and I am not fit for that: my mind is too fond
of wandering on its own way. I think any hardship is better
than pretending to do what one is paid for, and never really
doing it. Everything here I can do as well as any one else could;
perhaps better than some--Rosy, for example. Though she is just the
sort of beautiful creature that is imprisoned with ogres in fairy tales."
"_Rosy!_" cried Fred, in a tone of profound brotherly scepticism.
"Come, Fred!" said Mary, emphatically; "you have no right to be
"Do you mean anything particular--just now?"
"No, I mean something general--always."
"Oh, that I am idle and extravagant. Well, I am not fit to be
a poor man. I should not have made a bad fellow if I had been rich."
"You would have done your duty in that state of life to which it
has not pleased God to call you," said Mary, laughing.
"Well, I couldn't do my duty as a clergyman, any more than you
could do yours as a governess. You ought to have a little
fellow-feeling there, Mary."
"I never said you ought to be a clergyman. There are other sorts
of work. It seems to me very miserable not to resolve on some
course and act accordingly."
"So I could, if--" Fred broke off, and stood up, leaning against
"If you were sure you should not have a fortune?"
"I did not say that. You want to quarrel with me. It is too bad
of you to be guided by what other people say about me."
"How can I want to quarrel with you? I should be quarrelling with
all my new books," said Mary, lifting the volume on the table.
"However naughty you may be to other people, you are good to me."
"Because I like you better than any one else. But I know you
"Yes, I do--a little," said Mary, nodding, with a smile.
"You would admire a stupendous fellow, who would have wise opinions
"Yes, I should." Mary was sewing swiftly, and seemed provokingly
mistress of the situation. When a conversation has taken a wrong turn
for us, we only get farther and farther into the swamp of awkwardness.
This was what Fred Vincy felt.
"I suppose a woman is never in love with any one she has always known--
ever since she can remember; as a man often is. It is always some
new fellow who strikes a girl."
"Let me see," said Mary, the corners of her mouth curling archly;
"I must go back on my experience. There is Juliet--she seems
an example of what you say. But then Ophelia had probably known
Hamlet a long while; and Brenda Troil--she had known Mordaunt Merton
ever since they were children; but then he seems to have been
an estimable young man; and Minna was still more deeply in love
with Cleveland, who was a stranger. Waverley was new to Flora MacIvor;
but then she did not fall in love with him. And there are Olivia
and Sophia Primrose, and Corinne--they may be said to have fallen
in love with new men. Altogether, my experience is rather mixed."
Mary looked up with some roguishness at Fred, and that look of hers
was very dear to him, though the eyes were nothing more than clear
windows where observation sat laughingly. He was certainly an
affectionate fellow, and as he had grown from boy to man, he had grown
in love with his old playmate, notwithstanding that share in the higher
education of the country which had exalted his views of rank and income.
"When a man is not loved, it is no use for him to say that he could
be a better fellow--could do anything--I mean, if he were sure
of being loved in return."
"Not of the least use in the world for him to say he _could_
be better. Might, could, would--they are contemptible auxiliaries."
"I don't see how a man is to be good for much unless he has some
one woman to love him dearly."
"I think the goodness should come before he expects that."
"You know better, Mary. Women don't love men for their goodness."
"Perhaps not. But if they love them, they never think them bad."
"It is hardly fair to say I am bad."
"I said nothing at all about you."
"I never shall be good for anything, Mary, if you will not say
that you love me--if you will not promise to marry me--I mean,
when I am able to marry."
"If I did love you, I would not marry you: I would certainly
not promise ever to marry you."
"I think that is quite wicked, Mary. If you love me, you ought
to promise to marry me."
"On the contrary, I think it would be wicked in me to marry you
even if I did love you."
"You mean, just as I am, without any means of maintaining a wife.
Of course: I am but three-and-twenty."
"In that last point you will alter. But I am not so sure of any
other alteration. My father says an idle man ought not to exist,
much less, be married."
"Then I am to blow my brains out?"
"No; on the whole I should think you would do better to pass your
examination. I have heard Mr. Farebrother say it is disgracefully easy."
"That is all very fine. Anything is easy to him. Not that
cleverness has anything to do with it. I am ten times cleverer
than many men who pass."
"Dear me!" said Mary, unable to repress her sarcasm; "that accounts
for the curates like Mr. Crowse. Divide your cleverness by ten,
and the quotient--dear me!--is able to take a degree. But that only
shows you are ten times more idle than the others."
"Well, if I did pass, you would not want me to go into the Church?"
"That is not the question--what I want you to do. You have a
conscience of your own, I suppose. There! there is Mr. Lydgate.
I must go and tell my uncle."
"Mary," said Fred, seizing her hand as she rose; "if you will not
give me some encouragement, I shall get worse instead of better."
"I will not give you any encouragement," said Mary, reddening.
"Your friends would dislike it, and so would mine. My father would
think it a disgrace to me if I accepted a man who got into debt,
and would not work!"
Fred was stung, and released her hand. She walked to the door,
but there she turned and said: "Fred, you have always been so good,
so generous to me. I am not ungrateful. But never speak to me in
that way again."
"Very well," said Fred, sulkily, taking up his hat and whip.
His complexion showed patches of pale pink and dead white.
Like many a plucked idle young gentleman, he was thoroughly
in love, and with a plain girl, who had no money! But having
Mr. Featherstone's land in the background, and a persuasion that,
let Mary say what she would, she really did care for him, Fred was
not utterly in despair.
When he got home, he gave four of the twenties to his mother, asking her
to keep them for him. "I don't want to spend that money, mother.
I want it to pay a debt with. So keep it safe away from my fingers."
"Bless you, my dear," said Mrs. Vincy. She doted on her eldest son
and her youngest girl (a child of six), whom others thought her two
naughtiest children. The mother's eyes are not always deceived
in their partiality: she at least can best judge who is the tender,
filial-hearted child. And Fred was certainly very fond of his mother.
Perhaps it was his fondness for another person also that made him
particularly anxious to take some security against his own liability
to spend the hundred pounds. For the creditor to whom he owed
a hundred and sixty held a firmer security in the shape of a bill
signed by Mary's father.
"Black eyes you have left, you say,
Blue eyes fail to draw you;
Yet you seem more rapt to-day,
Than of old we saw you.
"Oh, I track the fairest fair
Through new haunts of pleasure;
Footprints here and echoes there
Guide me to my treasure:
"Lo! she turns--immortal youth
Wrought to mortal stature,
Fresh as starlight's aged truth--
A great historian, as he insisted on calling himself, who had the
happiness to be dead a hundred and twenty years ago, and so to take
his place among the colossi whose huge legs our living pettiness
is observed to walk under, glories in his copious remarks and
digressions as the least imitable part of his work, and especially
in those initial chapters to the successive books of his history,
where he seems to bring his armchair to the proscenium and chat with
us in all the lusty ease of his fine English. But Fielding lived
when the days were longer (for time, like money, is measured by our
needs), when summer afternoons were spacious, and the clock ticked
slowly in the winter evenings. We belated historians must not linger
after his example; and if we did so, it is probable that our chat would
be thin and eager, as if delivered from a campstool in a parrot-house.
I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots,
and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light
I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not
dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.
At present I have to make the new settler Lydgate better known
to any one interested in him than he could possibly be even to those
who had seen the most of him since his arrival in Middlemarch.
For surely all must admit that a man may be puffed and belauded,
envied, ridiculed, counted upon as a tool and fallen in love with, or at
least selected as a future husband, and yet remain virtually unknown--
known merely as a cluster of signs for his neighbors' false suppositions.
There was a general impression, however, that Lydgate was not altogether
a common country doctor, and in Middlemarch at that time such an
impression was significant of great things being expected from him.
For everybody's family doctor was remarkably clever, and was understood
to have immeasurable skill in the management and training of the
most skittish or vicious diseases. The evidence of his cleverness
was of the higher intuitive order, lying in his lady-patients'
immovable conviction, and was unassailable by any objection except
that their intuitions were opposed by others equally strong; each lady
who saw medical truth in Wrench and "the strengthening treatment"
regarding Toller and "the lowering system" as medical perdition.
For the heroic times of copious bleeding and blistering had not
yet departed, still less the times of thorough-going theory,
when disease in general was called by some bad name, and treated
accordingly without shilly-shally--as if, for example, it were
to be called insurrection, which must not be fired on with
blank-cartridge, but have its blood drawn at once. The strengtheners
and the lowerers were all "clever" men in somebody's opinion,
which is really as much as can be said for any living talents.
Nobody's imagination had gone so far as to conjecture that Mr. Lydgate
could know as much as Dr. Sprague and Dr. Minchin, the two physicians,
who alone could offer any hope when danger was extreme,
and when the smallest hope was worth a guinea. Still, I repeat,
there was a general impression that Lydgate was something rather
more uncommon than any general practitioner in Middlemarch.
And this was true. He was but seven-and-twenty, an age at which many
men are not quite common--at which they are hopeful of achievement,
resolute in avoidance, thinking that Mammon shall never put a bit
in their mouths and get astride their backs, but rather that Mammon,
if they have anything to do with him, shall draw their chariot.
He had been left an orphan when he was fresh from a public school.
His father, a military man, had made but little provision for three
children, and when the boy Tertius asked to have a medical education,
it seemed easier to his guardians to grant his request by apprenticing
him to a country practitioner than to make any objections on the
score of family dignity. He was one of the rarer lads who early
get a decided bent and make up their minds that there is something
particular in life which they would like to do for its own sake,
and not because their fathers did it. Most of us who turn to any
subject with love remember some morning or evening hour when we got on
a high stool to reach down an untried volume, or sat with parted lips
listening to a new talker, or for very lack of books began to listen
to the voices within, as the first traceable beginning of our love.
Something of that sort happened to Lydgate. He was a quick fellow,
and when hot from play, would toss himself in a corner, and in five
minutes be deep in any sort of book that he could lay his hands on:
if it were Rasselas or Gulliver, so much the better, but Bailey's
Dictionary would do, or the Bible with the Apocrypha in it.
Something he must read, when he was not riding the pony, or running
and hunting, or listening to the talk of men. All this was true
of him at ten years of age; he had then read through "Chrysal,
or the Adventures of a Guinea," which was neither milk for babes,
nor any chalky mixture meant to pass for milk, and it had already
occurred to him that books were stuff, and that life was stupid.
His school studies had not much modified that opinion, for though he
"did" his classics and mathematics, he was not pre-eminent in them.
It was said of him, that Lydgate could do anything he liked,
but he had certainly not yet liked to do anything remarkable.
He was a vigorous animal with a ready understanding, but no spark
had yet kindled in him an intellectual passion; knowledge seemed
to him a very superficial affair, easily mastered: judging from the
conversation of his elders, he had apparently got already more than
was necessary for mature life. Probably this was not an exceptional
result of expensive teaching at that period of short-waisted coats,
and other fashions which have not yet recurred. But, one vacation,
a wet day sent him to the small home library to hunt once more for
a book which might have some freshness for him: in vain! unless,
indeed, he took down a dusty row of volumes with gray-paper backs
and dingy labels--the volumes of an old Cyclopaedia which he had
never disturbed. It would at least be a novelty to disturb them.
They were on the highest shelf, and he stood on a chair to get
them down. But he opened the volume which he first took from
the shelf: somehow, one is apt to read in a makeshift attitude,
just where it might seem inconvenient to do so. The page he
opened on was under the head of Anatomy, and the first passage
that drew his eyes was on the valves of the heart. He was not much
acquainted with valves of any sort, but he knew that valvae
were folding-doors, and through this crevice came a sudden light
startling him with his first vivid notion of finely adjusted
mechanism in the human frame. A liberal education had of course
left him free to read the indecent passages in the school classics,
but beyond a general sense of secrecy and obscenity in connection
with his internal structure, had left his imagination quite unbiassed,
so that for anything he knew his brains lay in small bags at
his temples, and he had no more thought of representing to himself
how his blood circulated than how paper served instead of gold.
But the moment of vocation had come, and before he got down from
his chair, the world was made new to him by a presentiment of.
endless processes filling the vast spaces planked out of his sight
by that wordy ignorance which he had supposed to be knowledge.
From that hour Lydgate felt the growth of an intellectual passion.
We are not afraid of telling over and over again how a man comes
to fall in love with a woman and be wedded to her, or else be fatally
parted from her. Is it due to excess of poetry or of stupidity that
we are never weary of describing what King James called a woman's
"makdom and her fairnesse," never weary of listening to the twanging
of the old Troubadour strings, and are comparatively uninterested
in that other kind of "makdom and fairnesse" which must be wooed
with industrious thought and patient renunciation of small desires?
In the story of this passion, too, the development varies:
sometimes it is the glorious marriage, sometimes frustration and
final parting. And not seldom the catastrophe is bound up with
the other passion, sung by the Troubadours. For in the multitude
of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course
determined for them much in the same way as the tie of their cravats,
there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own
deeds and alter the world a little. The story of their coming
to be shapen after the average and fit to be packed by the gross,
is hardly ever told even in their consciousness; for perhaps their
ardor in generous unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as the ardor
of other youthful loves, till one day their earlier self walked
like a ghost in its old home and made the new furniture ghastly.
Nothing in the world more subtle than the process of their
gradual change! In the beginning they inhaled it unknowingly:
you and I may have sent some of our breath towards infecting them,
when we uttered our conforming falsities or drew our silly conclusions:
or perhaps it came with the vibrations from a woman's glance.
Lydgate did not mean to be one of those failures, and there was
the better hope of him because his scientific interest soon took
the form of a professional enthusiasm: he had a youthful belief
in his bread-winning work, not to be stifled by that initiation
in makeshift called his 'prentice days; and he carried to his
studies in London, Edinburgh, and Paris, the conviction that the
medical profession as it might be was the finest in the world;
presenting the most perfect interchange between science and art;
offering the most direct alliance between intellectual conquest
and the social good. Lydgate's nature demanded this combination:
he was an emotional creature, with a flesh-and-blood sense of
fellowship which withstood all the abstractions of special study.
He cared not only for "cases," but for John and Elizabeth,
There was another attraction in his profession: it wanted reform,
and gave a man an opportunity for some indignant resolve to reject
its venal decorations and other humbug, and to be the possessor
of genuine though undemanded qualifications. He went to study
in Paris with the determination that when he provincial home again
he would settle in some provincial town as a general practitioner,
and resist the irrational severance between medical and surgical
knowledge in the interest of his own scientific pursuits, as well
as of the general advance: he would keep away from the range of
London intrigues, jealousies, and social truckling, and win celebrity,
however slowly, as Jenner had done, by the independent value of
his work. For it must be remembered that this was a dark period;
and in spite of venerable colleges which used great efforts to secure
purity of knowledge by making it scarce, and to exclude error
by a rigid exclusiveness in relation to fees and appointments,
it happened that very ignorant young gentlemen were promoted in town,
and many more got a legal right to practise over large areas
in the country. Also, the high standard held up to the public
mind by the College of which which gave its peculiar sanction
to the expensive and highly rarefied medical instruction obtained
by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, did not hinder quackery from
having an excellent time of it; for since professional practice
chiefly consisted in giving a great many drugs, the public inferred
that it might be better off with more drugs still, if they could only
be got cheaply, and hence swallowed large cubic measures of physic
prescribed by unscrupulous ignorance which had taken no degrees.
Considering that statistics had not yet embraced a calculation as
to the number of ignorant or canting doctors which absolutely must
exist in the teeth of all changes, it seemed to Lydgate that a change
in the units was the most direct mode of changing the numbers.
He meant to be a unit who would make a certain amount of difference
towards that spreading change which would one day tell appreciably
upon the averages, and in the mean time have the pleasure of making
an advantageous difference to the viscera of his own patients.
But he did not simply aim at a more genuine kind of practice than
was common. He was ambitious of a wider effect: he was fired with
the possibility that he might work out the proof of an anatomical
conception and make a link in the chain of discovery.
Does it seem incongruous to you that a Middlemarch surgeon should
dream of himself as a discoverer? Most of us, indeed, know little
of the great originators until they have been lifted up among
the constellations and already rule our fates. But that Herschel,
for example, who "broke the barriers of the heavens"--did he
not once play a provincial church-organ, and give music-lessons
to stumbling pianists? Each of those Shining Ones had to walk
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