The Man Who Laughs
Part 4 out of 13
been born. For the same reason they had not yet designed on the slope of
the green hill towards the east, fashioned flat on the soil by cutting
away the turf and leaving the bare chalk to the view, the white horse,
an acre long, bearing the king upon his back, and always turning, in
honour of George III., his tail to the city. These honours, however,
were deserved. George III., having lost in his old age the intellect he
had never possessed in his youth, was not responsible for the calamities
of his reign. He was an innocent. Why not erect statues to him?
Weymouth, a hundred and eighty years ago, was about as symmetrical as a
game of spillikins in confusion. In legends it is said that Astaroth
travelled over the world, carrying on her back a wallet which contained
everything, even good women in their houses. A pell-mell of sheds thrown
from her devil's bag would give an idea of that irregular Weymouth--the
good women in the sheds included. The Music Hall remains as a specimen
of those buildings. A confusion of wooden dens, carved and eaten by
worms (which carve in another fashion)--shapeless, overhanging
buildings, some with pillars, leaning one against the other for support
against the sea wind, and leaving between them awkward spaces of narrow
and winding channels, lanes, and passages, often flooded by the
equinoctial tides; a heap of old grandmother houses, crowded round a
grandfather church--such was Weymouth; a sort of old Norman village
thrown up on the coast of England.
The traveller who entered the tavern, now replaced by the hotel, instead
of paying royally his twenty-five francs for a fried sole and a bottle
of wine, had to suffer the humiliation of eating a pennyworth of soup
made of fish--which soup, by-the-bye, was very good. Wretched fare!
The deserted child, carrying the foundling, passed through the first
street, then the second, then the third. He raised his eyes, seeking in
the higher stories and in the roofs a lighted window-pane; but all were
closed and dark. At intervals he knocked at the doors. No one answered.
Nothing makes the heart so like a stone as being warm between sheets.
The noise and the shaking had at length awakened the infant. He knew
this because he felt her suck his cheek. She did not cry, believing him
He was about to turn and wander long, perhaps, in the intersections of
the Scrambridge lanes, where there were then more cultivated plots than
dwellings, more thorn hedges than houses; but fortunately he struck into
a passage which exists to this day near Trinity schools. This passage
led him to a water-brink, where there was a roughly built quay with a
parapet, and to the right he made out a bridge. It was the bridge over
the Wey, connecting Weymouth with Melcombe Regis, and under the arches
of which the Backwater joins the harbour.
Weymouth, a hamlet, was then the suburb of Melcombe Regis, a city and
port. Now Melcombe Regis is a parish of Weymouth. The village has
absorbed the city. It was the bridge which did the work. Bridges are
strange vehicles of suction, which inhale the population, and sometimes
swell one river-bank at the expense of its opposite neighbour.
The boy went to the bridge, which at that period was a covered timber
structure. He crossed it. Thanks to its roofing, there was no snow on
the planks. His bare feet had a moment's comfort as they crossed them.
Having passed over the bridge, he was in Melcombe Regis. There were
fewer wooden houses than stone ones there. He was no longer in the
village; he was in the city.
The bridge opened on a rather fine street called St. Thomas's Street. He
entered it. Here and there were high carved gables and shop-fronts. He
set to knocking at the doors again: he had no strength left to call or
At Melcombe Regis, as at Weymouth, no one was stirring. The doors were
all carefully double-locked, The windows were covered by their shutters,
as the eyes by their lids. Every precaution had been taken to avoid
being roused by disagreeable surprises. The little wanderer was
suffering the indefinable depression made by a sleeping town. Its
silence, as of a paralyzed ants' nest, makes the head swim. All its
lethargies mingle their nightmares, its slumbers are a crowd, and from
its human bodies lying prone there arises a vapour of dreams. Sleep has
gloomy associates beyond this life: the decomposed thoughts of the
sleepers float above them in a mist which is both of death and of life,
and combine with the possible, which has also, perhaps, the power of
thought, as it floats in space. Hence arise entanglements. Dreams, those
clouds, interpose their folds and their transparencies over that star,
the mind. Above those closed eyelids, where vision has taken the place
of sight, a sepulchral disintegration of outlines and appearances
dilates itself into impalpability. Mysterious, diffused existences
amalgamate themselves with life on that border of death, which sleep is.
Those larvae and souls mingle in the air. Even he who sleeps not feels a
medium press upon him full of sinister life. The surrounding chimera,
in which he suspects a reality, impedes him. The waking man, wending his
way amidst the sleep phantoms of others, unconsciously pushes back
passing shadows, has, or imagines that he has, a vague fear of adverse
contact with the invisible, and feels at every moment the obscure
pressure of a hostile encounter which immediately dissolves. There is
something of the effect of a forest in the nocturnal diffusion of
This is what is called being afraid without reason.
What a man feels a child feels still more.
The uneasiness of nocturnal fear, increased by the spectral houses,
increased the weight of the sad burden under which he was struggling.
He entered Conycar Lane, and perceived at the end of that passage the
Backwater, which he took for the ocean. He no longer knew in what
direction the sea lay. He retraced his steps, struck to the left by
Maiden Street, and returned as far as St. Alban's Row.
There, by chance and without selection, he knocked violently at any
house that he happened to pass. His blows, on which he was expending his
last energies, were jerky and without aim; now ceasing altogether for a
time, now renewed as if in irritation. It was the violence of his fever
striking against the doors.
One voice answered.
That of Time.
Three o'clock tolled slowly behind him from the old belfry of St.
Then all sank into silence again.
That no inhabitant should have opened a lattice may appear surprising.
Nevertheless that silence is in a great measure to be explained. We must
remember that in January 1790 they were just over a somewhat severe
outbreak of the plague in London, and that the fear of receiving sick
vagabonds caused a diminution of hospitality everywhere. People would
not even open their windows for fear of inhaling the poison.
The child felt the coldness of men more terribly than the coldness of
night. The coldness of men is intentional. He felt a tightening on his
sinking heart which he had not known on the open plains. Now he had
entered into the midst of life, and remained alone. This was the summit
of misery. The pitiless desert he had understood; the unrelenting town
was too much to bear.
The hour, the strokes of which he had just counted, had been another
blow. Nothing is so freezing in certain situations as the voice of the
hour. It is a declaration of indifference. It is Eternity saying, "What
does it matter to me?"
He stopped, and it is not certain that, in that miserable minute, he did
not ask himself whether it would not be easier to lie down there and
die. However, the little infant leaned her head against his shoulder,
and fell asleep again.
This blind confidence set him onwards again. He whom all supports were
failing felt that he was himself a basis of support. Irresistible
summons of duty!
Neither such ideas nor such a situation belonged to his age. It is
probable that he did not understand them. It was a matter of instinct.
He did what he chanced to do.
He set out again in the direction of Johnstone Row. But now he no longer
walked; he dragged himself along. He left St. Mary's Street to the left,
made zigzags through lanes, and at the end of a winding passage found
himself in a rather wide open space. It was a piece of waste land not
built upon--probably the spot where Chesterfield Place now stands. The
houses ended there. He perceived the sea to the right, and scarcely
anything more of the town to his left.
What was to become of him? Here was the country again. To the east great
inclined planes of snow marked out the wide slopes of Radipole. Should
he continue this journey? Should he advance and re-enter the solitudes?
Should he return and re-enter the streets? What was he to do between
those two silences--the mute plain and the deaf city? Which of the two
refusals should he choose?
There is the anchor of mercy. There is also the look of piteousness. It
was that look which the poor little despairing wanderer threw around
All at once he heard a menace.
MISANTHROPY PLAYS ITS PRANKS.
A strange and alarming grinding of teeth reached him through the
It was enough to drive one back: he advanced. To those to whom silence
has become dreadful a howl is comforting.
That fierce growl reassured him; that threat was a promise. There was
there a being alive and awake, though it might be a wild beast. He
advanced in the direction whence came the snarl.
He turned the corner of a wall, and, behind in the vast sepulchral light
made by the reflection of snow and sea, he saw a thing placed as if for
shelter. It was a cart, unless it was a hovel. It had wheels--it was a
carriage. It had a roof--it was a dwelling. From the roof arose a
funnel, and out of the funnel smoke. This smoke was red, and seemed to
imply a good fire in the interior. Behind, projecting hinges indicated a
door, and in the centre of this door a square opening showed a light
inside the caravan. He approached.
Whatever had growled perceived his approach, and became furious. It was
no longer a growl which he had to meet; it was a roar. He heard a sharp
sound, as of a chain violently pulled to its full length, and suddenly,
under the door, between the hind wheels, two rows of sharp white teeth
appeared. At the same time as the mouth between the wheels a head was
put through the window.
"Peace there!" said the head.
The mouth was silent.
The head began again,--
"Is any one there?"
The child answered,--
"You? Who are you? whence do you come?"
"I am weary," said the child.
"What o'clock is it?"
"I am cold."
"What are you doing there?"
"I am hungry."
The head replied,--
"Every one cannot be as happy as a lord. Go away."
The head was withdrawn and the window closed.
The child bowed his forehead, drew the sleeping infant closer in his
arms, and collected his strength to resume his journey. He had taken a
few steps, and was hurrying away.
However, at the same time that the window closed the door had opened; a
step had been let down; the voice which had spoken to the child cried
out angrily from the inside of the van,--
"Well! why do you not enter?"
The child turned back.
"Come in," resumed the voice. "Who has sent me a fellow like this, who
is hungry and cold, and who does not come in?"
The child, at once repulsed and invited, remained motionless.
The voice continued,--
"You are told to come in, you young rascal."
He made up his mind, and placed one foot on the lowest step.
There was a great growl under the van. He drew back. The gaping jaws
"Peace!" cried the voice of the man.
The jaws retreated, the growling ceased.
"Come up!" continued the man.
The child with difficulty climbed up the three steps. He was impeded by
the infant, so benumbed, rolled up and enveloped in the jacket that
nothing could be distinguished of her, and she was but a little
He passed over the three steps; and having reached the threshold,
No candle was burning in the caravan, probably from the economy of want.
The hut was lighted only by a red tinge, arising from the opening at the
top of the stove, in which sparkled a peat fire. On the stove were
smoking a porringer and a saucepan, containing to all appearance
something to eat. The savoury odour was perceptible. The hut was
furnished with a chest, a stool, and an unlighted lantern which hung
from the ceiling. Besides, to the partition were attached some boards on
brackets and some hooks, from which hung a variety of things. On the
boards and nails were rows of glasses, coppers, an alembic, a vessel
rather like those used for graining wax, which are called granulators,
and a confusion of strange objects of which the child understood
nothing, and which were utensils for cooking and chemistry. The caravan
was oblong in shape, the stove being in front. It was not even a little
room; it was scarcely a big box. There was more light outside from the
snow than inside from the stove. Everything in the caravan was
indistinct and misty. Nevertheless, a reflection of the fire on the
ceiling enabled the spectator to read in large letters,--
The child, in fact, was entering the house of Homo and Ursus. The one he
had just heard growling, the other speaking.
The child having reached the threshold, perceived near the stove a man,
tall, smooth, thin and old, dressed in gray, whose head, as he stood,
reached the roof. The man could not have raised himself on tiptoe. The
caravan was just his size.
"Come in!" said the man, who was Ursus.
The child entered.
"Put down your bundle."
The child placed his burden carefully on the top of the chest, for fear
of awakening and terrifying it.
The man continued,--
"How gently you put it down! You could not be more careful were it a
case of relics. Is it that you are afraid of tearing a hole in your
rags? Worthless vagabond! in the streets at this hour! Who are you?
Answer! But no. I forbid you to answer. There! You are cold. Warm
yourself as quick as you can," and he shoved him by the shoulders in
front of the fire.
"How wet you are! You're frozen through! A nice state to come into a
house! Come, take off those rags, you villain!" and as with one hand,
and with feverish haste, he dragged off the boy's rags which tore into
shreds, with the other he took down from a nail a man's shirt, and one
of those knitted jackets which are up to this day called kiss-me-quicks.
"Here are clothes."
He chose out of a heap a woollen rag, and chafed before the fire the
limbs of the exhausted and bewildered child, who at that moment, warm
and naked, felt as if he were seeing and touching heaven. The limbs
having been rubbed, he next wiped the boy's feet.
"Come, you limb; you have nothing frost-bitten! I was a fool to fancy
you had something frozen, hind legs or fore paws. You will not lose the
use of them this time. Dress yourself!"
The child put on the shirt, and the man slipped the knitted jacket over
The man kicked the stool forward and made the little boy sit down, again
shoving him by the shoulders; then he pointed with his finger to the
porringer which was smoking upon the stove. What the child saw in the
porringer was again heaven to him--namely, a potato and a bit of bacon.
"You are hungry; eat!"
The man took from the shelf a crust of hard bread and an iron fork, and
handed them to the child.
The boy hesitated.
"Perhaps you expect me to lay the cloth," said the man, and he placed
the porringer on the child's lap.
"Gobble that up."
Hunger overcame astonishment. The child began to eat. The poor boy
devoured rather than ate. The glad sound of the crunching of bread filed
the hut. The man grumbled,--
"Not so quick, you horrid glutton! Isn't he a greedy scoundrel? When
such scum are hungry, they eat in a revolting fashion. You should see a
lord sup. In my time I have seen dukes eat. They don't eat; that's
noble. They drink, however. Come, you pig, stuff yourself!"
The absence of ears, which is the concomitant of a hungry stomach,
caused the child to take little heed of these violent epithets, tempered
as they were by charity of action involving a contradiction resulting in
his benefit. For the moment he was absorbed by two exigencies and by two
ecstasies--food and warmth.
Ursus continued his imprecations, muttering to himself,--
"I have seen King James supping _in propria persona_ in the Banqueting
House, where are to be admired the paintings of the famous Rubens. His
Majesty touched nothing. This beggar here browses: browses, a word
derived from brute. What put it into my head to come to this Weymouth
seven times devoted to the infernal deities? I have sold nothing since
morning I have harangued the snow. I have played the flute to the
hurricane. I have not pocketed a farthing; and now, to-night, beggars
drop in. Horrid place! There is battle, struggle, competition between
the fools in the street and myself. They try to give me nothing but
farthings. I try to give them nothing but drugs. Well, to-day I've made
nothing. Not an idiot on the highway, not a penny in the till. Eat away,
hell-born boy! Tear and crunch! We have fallen on times when nothing can
equal the cynicism of spongers. Fatten at my expense, parasite! This
wretched boy is more than hungry; he is mad. It is not appetite, it is
ferocity. He is carried away by a rabid virus. Perhaps he has the
plague. Have you the plague, you thief? Suppose he were to give it to
Homo! No, never! Let the populace die, but not my wolf. But by-the-bye I
am hungry myself. I declare that this is all very disagreeable. I have
worked far into the night. There are seasons in a man's life when he is
hard pressed. I was to-night, by hunger. I was alone. I made a fire. I
had but one potato, one crust of bread, a mouthful of bacon, and a drop
of milk, and I put it to warm. I said to myself, 'Good.' I think I am
going to eat, and bang! this crocodile falls upon me at the very moment.
He installs himself clean between my food and myself. Behold, how my
larder is devastated! Eat, pike, eat! You shark! how many teeth have you
in your jaws? Guzzle, wolf-cub; no, I withdraw that word. I respect
wolves. Swallow up my food, boa. I have worked all day, and far into the
night, on an empty stomach; my throat is sore, my pancreas in distress,
my entrails torn; and my reward is to see another eat. 'Tis all one,
though! We will divide. He shall have the bread, the potato, and the
bacon; but I will have the milk."
Just then a wail, touching and prolonged, arose in the hut. The man
"You cry, sycophant! Why do you cry?"
The boy turned towards him. It was evident that it was not he who cried.
He had his mouth full.
The cry continued.
The man went to the chest.
"So it is your bundle that wails! Vale of Jehoshaphat! Behold a
vociferating parcel! What the devil has your bundle got to croak about?"
He unrolled the jacket. An infant's head appeared, the mouth open and
"Well, who goes there?" said the man. "Here is another of them. When is
this to end? Who is there? To arms! Corporal, call out the guard!
Another bang! What have you brought me, thief! Don't you see it is
thirsty? Come! the little one must have a drink. So now I shall not have
even the milk!"
He took down from the things lying in disorder on the shelf a bandage of
linen, a sponge and a phial, muttering savagely, "What an infernal
Then he looked at the little infant. "'Tis a girl! one can tell that by
her scream, and she is drenched as well." He dragged away, as he had
done from the boy, the tatters in which she was knotted up rather than
dressed, and swathed her in a rag, which, though of coarse linen, was
clean and dry. This rough and sudden dressing made the infant angry.
"She mews relentlessly," said he.
He bit off a long piece of sponge, tore from the roll a square piece of
linen, drew from it a bit of thread, took the saucepan containing the
milk from the stove, filled the phial with milk, drove down the sponge
halfway into its neck, covered the sponge with linen, tied this cork in
with the thread, applied his cheeks to the phial to be sure that it was
not too hot, and seized under his left arm the bewildered bundle which
was still crying. "Come! take your supper, creature! Let me suckle you,"
and he put the neck of the bottle to its mouth.
The little infant drank greedily.
He held the phial at the necessary incline, grumbling, "They are all the
same, the cowards! When they have all they want they are silent."
The child had drunk so ravenously, and had seized so eagerly this breast
offered by a cross-grained providence, that she was taken with a fit of
"You are going to choke!" growled Ursus. "A fine gobbler this one, too!"
He drew away the sponge which she was sucking, allowed the cough to
subside, and then replaced the phial to her lips, saying, "Suck, you
In the meantime the boy had laid down his fork. Seeing the infant drink
had made him forget to eat. The moment before, while he ate, the
expression in his face was satisfaction; now it was gratitude. He
watched the infant's renewal of life; the completion of the resurrection
begun by himself filled his eyes with an ineffable brilliancy. Ursus
went on muttering angry words between his teeth. The little boy now and
then lifted towards Ursus his eyes moist with the unspeakable emotion
which the poor little being felt, but was unable to express. Ursus
addressed him furiously.
"Well, will you eat?"
"And you?" said the child, trembling all over, and with tears in his
eyes. "You will have nothing!"
"Will you be kind enough to eat it all up, you cub? There is not too
much for you, since there was not enough for me."
The child took up his fork, but did not eat.
"Eat," shouted Ursus. "What has it got to do with me? Who speaks of me?
Wretched little barefooted clerk of Penniless Parish, I tell you, eat it
all up! You are here to eat, drink, and sleep--eat, or I will kick you
out, both of you."
The boy, under this menace, began to eat again. He had not much trouble
in finishing what was left in the porringer. Ursus muttered, "This
building is badly joined. The cold comes in by the window pane." A pane
had indeed been broken in front, either by a jolt of the caravan or by a
stone thrown by some mischievous boy. Ursus had placed a star of paper
over the fracture, which had become unpasted. The blast entered there.
He was half seated on the chest. The infant in his arms, and at the same
time on his lap, was sucking rapturously at the bottle, in the happy
somnolency of cherubim before their Creator, and infants at their
"She is drunk," said Ursus; and he continued, "After this, preach
sermons on temperance!"
The wind tore from the pane the plaster of paper, which flew across the
hut; but this was nothing to the children, who were entering life anew.
Whilst the little girl drank, and the little boy ate, Ursus grumbled,--
"Drunkenness begins in the infant in swaddling clothes. What useful
trouble Bishop Tillotson gives himself, thundering against excessive
drinking. What an odious draught of wind! And then my stove is old. It
allows puffs of smoke to escape enough to give you trichiasis. One has
the inconvenience of cold, and the inconvenience of fire. One cannot see
clearly. That being over there abuses my hospitality. Well, I have not
been able to distinguish the animal's face yet. Comfort is wanting
here. By Jove! I am a great admirer of exquisite banquets in well closed
rooms. I have missed my vocation. I was born to be a sensualist. The
greatest of stoics was Philoxenus, who wished to possess the neck of a
crane, so as to be longer in tasting the pleasures of the table.
Receipts to-day, naught. Nothing sold all day. Inhabitants, servants,
and tradesmen, here is the doctor, here are the drugs. You are losing
your time, old friend. Pack up your physic. Every one is well down here.
It's a cursed town, where every one is well! The skies alone have
diarrhoea--what snow! Anaxagoras taught that the snow was black; and he
was right, cold being blackness. Ice is night. What a hurricane! I can
fancy the delight of those at sea. The hurricane is the passage of
demons. It is the row of the tempest fiends galloping and rolling head
over heels above our bone-boxes. In the cloud this one has a tail, that
one has horns, another a flame for a tongue, another claws to its wings,
another a lord chancellor's paunch, another an academician's pate. You
may observe a form in every sound. To every fresh wind a fresh demon.
The ear hears, the eye sees, the crash is a face. Zounds! There are
folks at sea--that is certain. My friends, get through the storm as best
you can. I have enough to do to get through life. Come now, do I keep an
inn, or do I not? Why should I trade with these travellers? The
universal distress sends its spatterings even as far as my poverty. Into
my cabin fall hideous drops of the far-spreading mud of mankind. I am
given up to the voracity of travellers. I am a prey--the prey of those
dying of hunger. Winter, night, a pasteboard hut, an unfortunate friend
below and without, the storm, a potato, a fire as big as my fist,
parasites, the wind penetrating through every cranny, not a halfpenny,
and bundles which set to howling. I open them and find beggars inside.
Is this fair? Besides, the laws are violated. Ah! vagabond with your
vagabond child! Mischievous pick-pocket, evil-minded abortion, so you
walk the streets after curfew? If our good king only knew it, would he
not have you thrown into the bottom of a ditch, just to teach you
better? My gentleman walks out at night with my lady, and with the glass
at fifteen degrees of frost, bare-headed and bare-footed. Understand
that such things are forbidden. There are rules and regulations, you
lawless wretches. Vagabonds are punished, honest folks who have houses
are guarded and protected. Kings are the fathers of their people. I have
my own house. You would have been whipped in the public street had you
chanced to have been met, and quite right, too. There must be order in
an established city. For my own part, I did wrong not to denounce you to
the constable. But I am such a fool! I understand what is right and do
what is wrong. O the ruffian! to come here in such a state! I did not
see the snow upon them when they came in; it had melted, and here's my
whole house swamped. I have an inundation in my home. I shall have to
burn an incredible amount of coals to dry up this lake--coals at twelve
farthings the miners' standard! How am I going to manage to fit three
into this caravan? Now it is over; I enter the nursery; I am going to
have in my house the weaning of the future beggardom of England. I shall
have for employment, office, and function, to fashion the miscarried
fortunes of that colossal prostitute, Misery, to bring to perfection
future gallows' birds, and to give young thieves the forms of
philosophy. The tongue of the wolf is the warning of God. And to think
that if I had not been eaten up by creatures of this kind for the last
thirty years, I should be rich; Homo would be fat; I should have a
medicine-chest full of rarities; as many surgical instruments as Doctor
Linacre, surgeon to King Henry VIII.; divers animals of all kinds;
Egyptian mummies, and similar curiosities; I should be a member of the
College of Physicians, and have the right of using the library, built in
1652 by the celebrated Hervey, and of studying in the lantern of that
dome, whence you can see the whole of London. I could continue my
observations of solar obfuscation, and prove that a caligenous vapour
arises from the planet. Such was the opinion of John Kepler, who was
born the year before the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, and who was
mathematician to the emperor. The sun is a chimney which sometimes
smokes; so does my stove. My stove is no better than the sun. Yes, I
should have made my fortune; my part would have been a different one--I
should not be the insignificant fellow I am. I should not degrade
science in the highways, for the crowd is not worthy of the doctrine,
the crowd being nothing better than a confused mixture of all sorts of
ages, sexes, humours, and conditions, that wise men of all periods have
not hesitated to despise, and whose extravagance and passion the most
moderate men in their justice detest. Oh, I am weary of existence! After
all, one does not live long! The human life is soon done with. But
no--it is long. At intervals, that we should not become too discouraged,
that we may have the stupidity to consent to bear our being, and not
profit by the magnificent opportunities to hang ourselves which cords
and nails afford, nature puts on an air of taking a little care of
man--not to-night, though. The rogue causes the wheat to spring up,
ripens the grape, gives her song to the nightingale. From time to time a
ray of morning or a glass of gin, and that is what we call happiness! It
is a narrow border of good round a huge winding-sheet of evil. We have a
destiny of which the devil has woven the stuff and God has sewn the hem.
In the meantime, you have eaten my supper, you thief!"
In the meantime the infant whom he was holding all the time in his arms
very tenderly whilst he was vituperating, shut its eyes languidly; a
sign of repletion. Ursus examined the phial, and grumbled,--
"She has drunk it all up, the impudent creature!"
He arose, and sustaining the infant with his left arm, with his right he
raised the lid of the chest and drew from beneath it a bear-skin--the
one he called, as will be remembered, his real skin. Whilst he was doing
this he heard the other child eating, and looked at him sideways.
"It will be something to do if, henceforth, I have to feed that growing
glutton. It will be a worm gnawing at the vitals of my industry."
He spread out, still with one arm, the bear-skin on the chest, working
his elbow and managing his movements so as not to disturb the sleep into
which the infant was just sinking.
Then he laid her down on the fur, on the side next the fire. Having done
so, he placed the phial on the stove, and exclaimed,--
"I'm thirsty, if you like!"
He looked into the pot. There were a few good mouthfuls of milk left in
it; he raised it to his lips. Just as he was about to drink, his eye
fell on the little girl. He replaced the pot on the stove, took the
phial, uncorked it, poured into it all the milk that remained, which was
just sufficient to fill it, replaced the sponge and the linen rag over
it, and tied it round the neck of the bottle.
"All the same, I'm hungry and thirsty," he observed.
And he added,--
"When one cannot eat bread, one must drink water."
Behind the stove there was a jug with the spout off. He took it and
handed it to the boy.
"Will you drink?"
The child drank, and then went on eating.
Ursus seized the pitcher again, and conveyed it to his mouth. The
temperature of the water which it contained had been unequally modified
by the proximity of the stove.
He swallowed some mouthfuls and made a grimace.
"Water! pretending to be pure, thou resemblest false friends. Thou art
warm at the top and cold at bottom."
In the meantime the boy had finished his supper. The porringer was more
than empty; it was cleaned out. He picked up and ate pensively a few
crumbs caught in the folds of the knitted jacket on his lap.
Ursus turned towards him.
"That is not all. Now, a word with you. The mouth is not made only for
eating; it is made for speaking. Now that you are warmed and stuffed,
you beast, take care of yourself. You are going to answer my questions.
Whence do you come?"
The child replied,--
"I do not know."
"How do you mean? you don't know?"
"I was abandoned this evening on the sea-shore."
"You little scamp! what's your name? He is so good for nothing that his
relations desert him."
"I have no relations."
"Give in a little to my tastes, and observe that I do not like those who
sing to a tune of fibs. Thou must have relatives since you have a
"It is not my sister."
"It is not your sister?"
"Who is it then?"
"It is a baby that I found."
"What! did you pick her up?"
"Where? If you lie I will exterminate you."
"On the breast of a woman who was dead in the snow."
"An hour ago."
"A league from here."
The arched brow of Ursus knitted and took that pointed shape which
characterizes emotion on the brow of a philosopher.
"Dead! Lucky for her! We must leave her in the snow. She is well off
there. In which direction?"
"In the direction of the sea."
"Did you cross the bridge?"
Ursus opened the window at the back and examined the view.
The weather had not improved. The snow was falling thickly and
He shut the window.
He went to the broken glass; he filled the hole with a rag; he heaped
the stove with peat; he spread out as far as he could the bear-skin on
the chest; took a large book which he had in a corner, placed it under
the skin for a pillow, and laid the head of the sleeping infant on it.
Then he turned to the boy.
"Lie down there."
The boy obeyed, and stretched himself at full length by the side of the
Ursus rolled the bear-skin over the two children, and tucked it under
He took down from a shelf, and tied round his waist, a linen belt with a
large pocket containing, no doubt, a case of instruments and bottles of
Then he took the lantern from where it hung to the ceiling and lighted
it. It was a dark lantern. When lighted it still left the children in
Ursus half opened the door, and said,--
"I am going out; do not be afraid. I shall return. Go to sleep."
Then letting down the steps, he called Homo. He was answered by a
Ursus, holding the lantern in his hand, descended. The steps were
replaced, the door was reclosed. The children remained alone.
From without, a voice, the voice of Ursus, said,--
"You, boy, who have just eaten up my supper, are you already asleep?"
"No," replied the child.
"Well, if she cries, give her the rest of the milk."
The clinking of a chain being undone was heard, and the sound of a man's
footsteps, mingled with that of the pads of an animal, died off in the
distance. A few minutes after, both children slept profoundly.
The little boy and girl, lying naked side by side, were joined through
the silent hours, in the seraphic promiscuousness of the shadows; such
dreams as were possible to their age floated from one to the other;
beneath their closed eyelids there shone, perhaps, a starlight; if the
word marriage were not inappropriate to the situation, they were husband
and wife after the fashion of the angels. Such innocence in such
darkness, such purity in such an embrace; such foretastes of heaven are
possible only to childhood, and no immensity approaches the greatness of
little children. Of all gulfs this is the deepest. The fearful
perpetuity of the dead chained beyond life, the mighty animosity of the
ocean to a wreck, the whiteness of the snow over buried bodies, do not
equal in pathos two children's mouths meeting divinely in sleep, and
the meeting of which is not even a kiss. A betrothal perchance,
perchance a catastrophe. The unknown weighs down upon their
juxtaposition. It charms, it terrifies; who knows which? It stays the
pulse. Innocence is higher than virtue. Innocence is holy ignorance.
They slept. They were in peace. They were warm. The nakedness of their
bodies, embraced each in each, amalgamated with the virginity of their
souls. They were there as in the nest of the abyss.
The beginning of day is sinister. A sad pale light penetrated the hut.
It was the frozen dawn. That wan light which throws into relief the
mournful reality of objects which are blurred into spectral forms by the
night, did not awake the children, so soundly were they sleeping. The
caravan was warm. Their breathings alternated like two peaceful waves.
There was no longer a hurricane without. The light of dawn was slowly
taking possession of the horizon. The constellations were being
extinguished, like candles blown out one after the other. Only a few
large stars resisted. The deep-toned song of the Infinite was coming
from the sea.
The fire in the stove was not quite out. The twilight broke, little by
little, into daylight. The boy slept less heavily than the girl. At
length, a ray brighter than the others broke through the pane, and he
opened his eyes. The sleep of childhood ends in forgetfulness. He lay in
a state of semi-stupor, without knowing where he was or what was near
him, without making an effort to remember, gazing at the ceiling, and
setting himself an aimless task as he gazed dreamily at the letters of
the inscription--"Ursus, Philosopher"--which, being unable to read, he
examined without the power of deciphering.
The sound of the key turning in the lock caused him to turn his head.
The door turned on its hinges, the steps were let down. Ursus was
returning. He ascended the steps, his extinguished lantern in his hand.
At the same time the pattering of four paws fell upon the steps. It was
Homo, following Ursus, who had also returned to his home.
The boy awoke with somewhat of a start. The wolf, having probably an
appetite, gave him a morning yawn, showing two rows of very white teeth.
He stopped when he had got halfway up the steps, and placed both
forepaws within the caravan, leaning on the threshold, like a preacher
with his elbows on the edge of the pulpit. He sniffed the chest from
afar, not being in the habit of finding it occupied as it then was. His
wolfine form, framed by the doorway, was designed in black against the
light of morning. He made up his mind, and entered. The boy, seeing the
wolf in the caravan, got out of the bear-skin, and, standing up, placed
himself in front of the little infant, who was sleeping more soundly
Ursus had just hung the lantern up on a nail in the ceiling. Silently,
and with mechanical deliberation, he unbuckled the belt in which was his
case, and replaced it on the shelf. He looked at nothing, and seemed to
see nothing. His eyes were glassy. Something was moving him deeply in
his mind. His thoughts at length found breath, as usual, in a rapid
outflow of words. He exclaimed,--
"Happy, doubtless! Dead! stone dead!"
He bent down, and put a shovelful of turf mould into the stove; and as
he poked the peat he growled out,--
"I had a deal of trouble to find her. The mischief of the unknown had
buried her under two feet of snow. Had it not been for Homo, who sees as
clearly with his nose as Christopher Columbus did with his mind, I
should be still there, scratching at the avalanche, and playing hide and
seek with Death. Diogenes took his lantern and sought for a man; I took
my lantern and sought for a woman. He found a sarcasm, and I found
mourning. How cold she was! I touched her hand--a stone! What silence in
her eyes! How can any one be such a fool as to die and leave a child
behind? It will not be convenient to pack three into this box. A pretty
family I have now! A boy and a girl!"
Whilst Ursus was speaking, Homo sidled up close to the stove. The hand
of the sleeping infant was hanging down between the stove and the chest.
The wolf set to licking it. He licked it so softly that he did not awake
the little infant.
Ursus turned round.
"Well done, Homo. I shall be father, and you shall be uncle."
Then he betook himself again to arranging the fire with philosophical
care, without interrupting his aside.
"Adoption! It is settled; Homo is willing."
He drew himself up.
"I should like to know who is responsible for that woman's death? Is it
He raised his eyes, but looked beyond the ceiling, and his lips
"Is it Thou?"
Then his brow dropped, as if under a burden, and he continued,--
"The night took the trouble to kill the woman."
Raising his eyes, they met those of the boy, just awakened, who was
listening. Ursus addressed him abruptly,--
"What are you laughing about?"
The boy answered,--
"I am not laughing."
Ursus felt a kind of shock, looked at him fixedly for a few minutes, and
"Then you are frightful."
The interior of the caravan, on the previous night, had been so dark
that Ursus had not yet seen the boy's face. The broad daylight revealed
it. He placed the palms of his hands on the two shoulders of the boy,
and, examining his countenance more and more piercingly, exclaimed,--
"Do not laugh any more!"
"I am not laughing," said the child.
Ursus was seized with a shudder from head to foot.
"You do laugh, I tell you."
Then seizing the child with a grasp which would have been one of fury
had it not been one of pity, he asked him: roughly,--
"Who did that to you?"
The child replied,--
"I don't know what you mean."
"How long have you had that laugh?"
"I have always been thus," said the child.
Ursus turned towards the chest, saying in a low voice,--
"I thought that work was out of date."
He took from the top of it, very softly, so as not to awaken the infant,
the book which he had placed there for a pillow.
"Let us see Conquest," he murmured.
It was a bundle of paper in folio, bound in soft parchment. He turned
the pages with his thumb, stopped at a certain one, opened the book wide
on the stove, and read,--
"'_De Denasatis_,' it is here."
And he continued,--
"_Bucca fissa usque ad aures, genezivis denudatis, nasoque murdridato,
masca eris, et ridebis semper_."
"There it is for certain."
Then he replaced the book on one of the shelves, growling.
"It might not be wholesome to inquire too deeply into a case of the
kind. We will remain on the surface. Laugh away, my boy!"
Just then the little girl awoke. Her good-day was a cry.
"Come, nurse, give her the breast," said Ursus.
The infant sat up. Ursus taking the phial from the stove gave it to her
Then the sun arose. He was level with the horizon. His red rays gleamed
through the glass, and struck against the face of the infant, which was
turned towards him. Her eyeballs, fixed on the sun, reflected his purple
orbit like two mirrors. The eyeballs were immovable, the eyelids also.
"See!" said Ursus. "She is blind."
BOOK THE FIRST.
_THE EVERLASTING PRESENCE OF THE
PAST: MAN REFLECTS MAN_.
There was, in those days, an old tradition.
That tradition was Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie.
Linnaeus Baron Clancharlie, a contemporary of Cromwell, was one of the
peers of England--few in number, be it said--who accepted the republic.
The reason of his acceptance of it might, indeed, for want of a better,
be found in the fact that for the time being the republic was
triumphant. It was a matter of course that Lord Clancharlie should
adhere to the republic, as long as the republic had the upper hand; but
after the close of the revolution and the fall of the parliamentary
government, Lord Clancharlie had persisted in his fidelity to it. It
would have been easy for the noble patrician to re-enter the
reconstituted upper house, repentance being ever well received on
restorations, and Charles II. being a kind prince enough to those who
returned to their allegiance to him; but Lord Clancharlie had failed to
understand what was due to events. While the nation overwhelmed with
acclamation the king come to retake possession of England, while
unanimity was recording its verdict, while the people were bowing their
salutation to the monarchy, while the dynasty was rising anew amidst a
glorious and triumphant recantation, at the moment when the past was
becoming the future, and the future becoming the past, that nobleman
remained refractory. He turned his head away from all that joy, and
voluntarily exiled himself. While he could have been a peer, he
preferred being an outlaw. Years had thus passed away. He had grown old
in his fidelity to the dead republic, and was therefore crowned with the
ridicule which is the natural reward of such folly.
He had retired into Switzerland, and dwelt in a sort of lofty ruin on
the banks of the Lake of Geneva. He had chosen his dwelling in the most
rugged nook of the lake, between Chillon, where is the dungeon of
Bonnivard, and Vevay, where is Ludlow's tomb. The rugged Alps, filled
with twilight, winds, and clouds, were around him; and he lived there,
hidden in the great shadows that fall from the mountains. He was rarely
met by any passer-by. The man was out of his country, almost out of his
century. At that time, to those who understood and were posted in the
affairs of the period, no resistance to established things was
justifiable. England was happy; a restoration is as the reconciliation
of husband and wife, prince and nation return to each other, no state
can be more graceful or more pleasant. Great Britain beamed with joy; to
have a king at all was a good deal--but furthermore, the king was a
charming one. Charles II. was amiable--a man of pleasure, yet able to
govern; and great, if not after the fashion of Louis XIV. He was
essentially a gentleman. Charles II. was admired by his subjects. He had
made war in Hanover for reasons best known to himself; at least, no one
else knew them. He had sold Dunkirk to France, a manoeuvre of state
policy. The Whig peers, concerning whom Chamberlain says, "The cursed
republic infected with its stinking breath several of the high
nobility," had had the good sense to bow to the inevitable, to conform
to the times, and to resume their seats in the House of Lords. To do so,
it sufficed that they should take the oath of allegiance to the king.
When these facts were considered--the glorious reign, the excellent
king, august princes given back by divine mercy to the people's love;
when it was remembered that persons of such consideration as Monk, and,
later on, Jeffreys, had rallied round the throne; that they had been
properly rewarded for their loyalty and zeal by the most splendid
appointments and the most lucrative offices; that Lord Clancharlie could
not be ignorant of this, and that it only depended on himself to be
seated by their side, glorious in his honours; that England had, thanks
to her king, risen again to the summit of prosperity; that London was
all banquets and carousals; that everybody was rich and enthusiastic,
that the court was gallant, gay, and magnificent;--if by chance, far
from these splendours, in some melancholy, indescribable half-light,
like nightfall, that old man, clad in the same garb as the common
people, was observed pale, absent-minded, bent towards the grave,
standing on the shore of the lake, scarce heeding the storm and the
winter, walking as though at random, his eye fixed, his white hair
tossed by the wind of the shadow, silent, pensive, solitary, who could
forbear to smile?
It was the sketch of a madman.
Thinking of Lord Clancharlie, of what he might have been and what he
was, a smile was indulgent; some laughed out aloud, others could not
restrain their anger. It is easy to understand that men of sense were
much shocked by the insolence implied by his isolation.
One extenuating circumstance: Lord Clancharlie had never had any brains.
Every one agreed on that point.
It is disagreeable to see one's fellows practise obstinacy. Imitations
of Regulus are not popular, and public opinion holds them in some
derision. Stubborn people are like reproaches, and we have a right to
laugh at them.
Besides, to sum up, are these perversities, these rugged notches,
virtues? Is there not in these excessive advertisements of
self-abnegation and of honour a good deal of ostentation? It is all
parade more than anything else. Why such exaggeration of solitude and
exile? to carry nothing to extremes is the wise man's maxim. Be in
opposition if you choose, blame if you will, but decently, and crying
out all the while "Long live the King." The true virtue is common
sense--what falls ought to fall, what succeeds ought to succeed.
Providence acts advisedly, it crowns him who deserves the crown; do you
pretend to know better than Providence? When matters are settled--when
one rule has replaced another--when success is the scale in which truth
and falsehood are weighed, in one side the catastrophe, in the other
the triumph; then doubt is no longer possible, the honest man rallies to
the winning side, and although it may happen to serve his fortune and
his family, he does not allow himself to be influenced by that
consideration, but thinking only of the public weal, holds out his hand
heartily to the conqueror.
What would become of the state if no one consented to serve it? Would
not everything come to a standstill? To keep his place is the duty of a
good citizen. Learn to sacrifice your secret preferences. Appointments
must be filled, and some one must necessarily sacrifice himself. To be
faithful to public functions is true fidelity. The retirement of public
officials would paralyse the state. What! banish yourself!--how weak! As
an example?--what vanity! As a defiance?--what audacity! What do you set
yourself up to be, I wonder? Learn that we are just as good as you. If
we chose we too could be intractable and untameable and do worse things
than you; but we prefer to be sensible people. Because I am a
Trimalcion, you think that I could not be a Cato! What nonsense!
Never was a situation more clearly defined or more decisive than that of
1660. Never had a course of conduct been more plainly indicated to a
well-ordered mind. England was out of Cromwell's grasp. Under the
republic many irregularities had been committed. British preponderance
had been created. With the aid of the Thirty Years' War, Germany had
been overcome; with the aid of the Fronde, France had been humiliated;
with the aid of the Duke of Braganza, the power of Spain had been
lessened. Cromwell had tamed Mazarin; in signing treaties the Protector
of England wrote his name above that of the King of France. The United
Provinces had been put under a fine of eight millions; Algiers and Tunis
had been attacked; Jamaica conquered; Lisbon humbled; French rivalry
encouraged in Barcelona, and Masaniello in Naples; Portugal had been
made fast to England; the seas had been swept of Barbary pirates from
Gibraltar to Crete; maritime domination had been founded under two
forms, Victory and Commerce. On the 10th of August, 1653, the man of
thirty-three victories, the old admiral who called himself the sailors'
grandfather, Martin Happertz van Tromp, who had beaten the Spanish, had
been destroyed by the English fleet. The Atlantic had been cleared of
the Spanish navy, the Pacific of the Dutch, the Mediterranean of the
Venetian, and by the patent of navigation, England had taken possession
of the sea-coast of the world. By the ocean she commanded the world; at
sea the Dutch flag humbly saluted the British flag. France, in the
person of the Ambassador Mancini, bent the knee to Oliver Cromwell; and
Cromwell played with Calais and Dunkirk as with two shuttlecocks on a
battledore. The Continent had been taught to tremble, peace had been
dictated, war declared, the British Ensign raised on every pinnacle. By
itself the Protector's regiment of Ironsides weighed in the fears of
Europe against an army. Cromwell used to say, "_I wish the Republic of
England to be respected, as was respected the Republic of Rome_." No
longer were delusions held sacred; speech was free, the press was free.
In the public street men said what they listed; they printed what they
pleased without control or censorship. The equilibrium of thrones had
been destroyed. The whole order of European monarchy, in which the
Stuarts formed a link, had been overturned. But at last England had
emerged from this odious order of things, and had won its pardon.
The indulgent Charles II. had granted the declaration of Breda. He had
conceded to England oblivion of the period in which the son of the
Huntingdon brewer placed his foot on the neck of Louis XIV. England said
its mea culpa, and breathed again. The cup of joy was, as we have just
said, full; gibbets for the regicides adding to the universal delight. A
restoration is a smile; but a few gibbets are not out of place, and
satisfaction is due to the conscience of the public. To be good subjects
was thenceforth the people's sole ambition. The spirit of lawlessness
had been expelled. Royalty was reconstituted. Men had recovered from the
follies of politics. They mocked at revolution, they jeered at the
republic, and as to those times when such strange words as _Right,
Liberty, Progress_, had been in the mouth--why, they laughed at such
bombast! Admirable was the return to common sense. England had been in a
dream. What joy to be quit of such errors! Was ever anything so mad?
Where should we be if every one had his rights? Fancy every one's
having a hand in the government? Can you imagine a city ruled by its
citizens? Why, the citizens are the team, and the team cannot be driver.
To put to the vote is to throw to the winds. Would you have states
driven like clouds? Disorder cannot build up order. With chaos for an
architect, the edifice would be a Babel. And, besides, what tyranny is
this pretended liberty! As for me, I wish to enjoy myself; not to
govern. It is a bore to have to vote; I want to dance. A prince is a
providence, and takes care of us all. Truly the king is generous to take
so much trouble for our sakes. Besides, he is to the manner born. He
knows what it is. It's his business. Peace, War, Legislation,
Finance--what have the people to do with such things? Of course the
people have to pay; of course the people have to serve; but that should
suffice them. They have a place in policy; from them come two essential
things, the army and the budget. To be liable to contribute, and to be
liable to serve; is not that enough? What more should they want? They
are the military and the financial arm. A magnificent _role_. The king
reigns for them, and they must reward him accordingly. Taxation and the
civil list are the salaries paid by the peoples and earned by the
prince. The people give their blood and their money, in return for which
they are led. To wish to lead themselves! what an absurd idea! They
require a guide; being ignorant, they are blind. Has not the blind man
his dog? Only the people have a lion, the king, who consents to act the
dog. How kind of him! But why are the people ignorant? because it is
good for them. Ignorance is the guardian of Virtue. Where there is no
perspective there is no ambition. The ignorant man is in useful
darkness, which, suppressing sight, suppresses covetousness: whence
innocence. He who reads, thinks; who thinks, reasons. But not to reason
is duty; and happiness as well. These truths are incontestable; society
is based on them.
Thus had sound social doctrines been re-established in England; thus had
the nation been reinstated. At the same time a correct taste in
literature was reviving. Shakespeare was despised, Dryden admired.
"_Dryden is the greatest poet of England, and of the century_," said
Atterbury, the translator of "Achitophel." It was about the time when M.
Huet, Bishop of Avranches, wrote to Saumaise, who had done the author
of "Paradise Lost" the honour to refute and abuse him, "_How can you
trouble yourself about so mean a thing as that Milton?_" Everything was
falling into its proper place: Dryden above, Shakespeare below; Charles
II. on the throne, Cromwell on the gibbet. England was raising herself
out of the shame and the excesses of the past. It is a great happiness
for nations to be led back by monarchy to good order in the state and
good taste in letters.
That such benefits should be misunderstood is difficult to believe. To
turn the cold shoulder to Charles II., to reward with ingratitude the
magnanimity which he displayed in ascending the throne--was not such
conduct abominable? Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie had inflicted this vexation
upon honest men. To sulk at his country's happiness, alack, what
We know that in 1650 Parliament had drawn up this form of declaration:
"_I promise to remain faithful to the republic, without king, sovereign,
or lord_." Under pretext of having taken this monstrous oath, Lord
Clancharlie was living out of the kingdom, and, in the face of the
general joy, thought that he had the right to be sad. He had a morose
esteem for that which was no more, and was absurdly attached to things
which had been.
To excuse him was impossible. The kindest-hearted abandoned him; his
friends had long done him the honour to believe that he had entered the
republican ranks only to observe the more closely the flaws in the
republican armour, and to smite it the more surely, when the day should
come, for the sacred cause of the king. These lurkings in ambush for the
convenient hour to strike the enemy a death-blow in the back are
attributes to loyalty. Such a line of conduct had been expected of Lord
Clancharlie, so strong was the wish to judge him favourably; but, in the
face of his strange persistence in republicanism, people were obliged to
lower their estimate. Evidently Lord Clancharlie was confirmed in his
convictions--that is to say, an idiot!
The explanation given by the indulgent, wavered between puerile
stubbornness and senile obstinacy.
The severe and the just went further; they blighted the name of the
renegade. Folly has its rights, but it has also its limits. A man may be
a brute, but he has no right to be a rebel. And, after all, what was
this Lord Clancharlie? A deserter. He had fled his camp, the
aristocracy, for that of the enemy, the people. This faithful man was a
traitor. It is true that he was a traitor to the stronger, and faithful
to the weaker; it is true that the camp repudiated by him was the
conquering camp, and the camp adopted by him, the conquered; it is true
that by his treason he lost everything--his political privileges and his
domestic hearth, his title and his country. He gained nothing but
ridicule, he attained no benefit but exile. But what does all this
prove?--that he was a fool. Granted.
Plainly a dupe and traitor in one. Let a man be as great a fool as he
likes, so that he does not set a bad example. Fools need only be civil,
and in consideration thereof they may aim at being the basis of
monarchies. The narrowness of Clancharlie's mind was incomprehensible.
His eyes were still dazzled by the phantasmagoria of the revolution. He
had allowed himself to be taken in by the republic--yes; and cast out.
He was an affront to his country. The attitude he assumed was downright
felony. Absence was an insult. He held aloof from the public joy as from
the plague. In his voluntary banishment he found some indescribable
refuge from the national rejoicing. He treated loyalty as a contagion;
over the widespread gladness at the revival of the monarchy, denounced
by him as a lazaretto, he was the black flag. What! could he look thus
askance at order reconstituted, a nation exalted, and a religion
restored? Over such serenity why cast his shadow? Take umbrage at
England's contentment! Must he be the one blot in the clear blue sky! Be
as a threat! Protest against a nation's will! refuse his Yes to the
universal consent! It would be disgusting, if it were not the part of a
fool. Clancharlie could not have taken into account the fact that it did
not matter if one had taken the wrong turn with Cromwell, as long as one
found one's way back into the right path with Monk.
Take Monk's case. He commands the republican army. Charles II., having
been informed of his honesty, writes to him. Monk, who combines virtue
with tact, dissimulates at first, then suddenly at the head of his
troops dissolves the rebel parliament, and re-establishes the king on
the throne. Monk is created Duke of Albemarle, has the honour of having
saved society, becomes very rich, sheds a glory over his own time, is
created Knight of the Garter, and has the prospect of being buried in
Westminster Abbey. Such glory is the reward of British fidelity!
Lord Clancharlie could never rise to a sense of duty thus carried out.
He had the infatuation and obstinacy of an exile. He contented himself
with hollow phrases. He was tongue-tied by pride. The words conscience
and dignity are but words, after all. One must penetrate to the depths.
These depths Lord Clancharlie had not reached. His "eye was single," and
before committing an act he wished to observe it so closely as to be
able to judge it by more senses than one. Hence arose absurd disgust to
the facts examined. No man can be a statesman who gives way to such
overstrained delicacy. Excess of conscientiousness degenerates into
infirmity. Scruple is one-handed when a sceptre is to be seized, and a
eunuch when fortune is to be wedded. Distrust scruples; they drag you
too far. Unreasonable fidelity is like a ladder leading into a
cavern--one step down, another, then another, and there you are in the
dark. The clever reascend; fools remain in it. Conscience must not be
allowed to practise such austerity. If it be, it will fall until, from
transition to transition, it at length reaches the deep gloom of
political prudery. Then one is lost. Thus it was with Lord Clancharlie.
Principles terminate in a precipice.
He was walking, his hands behind him, along the shores of the Lake of
Geneva. A fine way of getting on!
In London they sometimes spoke of the exile. He was accused before the
tribunal of public opinion. They pleaded for and against him. The cause
having been heard, he was acquitted on the ground of stupidity.
Many zealous friends of the former republic had given their adherence to
the Stuarts. For this they deserve praise. They naturally calumniated
him a little. The obstinate are repulsive to the compliant. Men of
sense, in favour and good places at Court, weary of his disagreeable
attitude, took pleasure in saying, "_If he has not rallied to the
throne, it is because he has not been sufficiently paid_," _etc_. "_He
wanted the chancellorship which the king has given to Hyde_." One of his
old friends went so far as to whisper, "_He told me so himself_." Remote
as was the solitude of Linnaeus Clancharlie, something of this talk
would reach him through the outlaws he met, such as old regicides like
Andrew Broughton, who lived at Lausanne. Clancharlie confined himself to
an imperceptible shrug of the shoulders, a sign of profound
deterioration. On one occasion he added to the shrug these few words,
murmured in a low voice, "I pity those who believe such things."
Charles II., good man! despised him. The happiness of England under
Charles II. was more than happiness, it was enchantment. A restoration
is like an old oil painting, blackened by time, and revarnished. All the
past reappeared, good old manners returned, beautiful women reigned and
governed. Evelyn notices it. We read in his journal, "Luxury,
profaneness, contempt of God. I saw the king on Sunday evening with his
courtesans, Portsmouth, Cleveland, Mazarin, and two or three others, all
nearly naked, in the gaming-room." We feel that there is ill-nature in
this description, for Evelyn was a grumbling Puritan, tainted with
republican reveries. He did not appreciate the profitable example given
by kings in those grand Babylonian gaieties, which, after all, maintain
luxury. He did not understand the utility of vice. Here is a maxim: Do
not extirpate vice, if you want to have charming women; if you do you
are like idiots who destroy the chrysalis whilst they delight in the
Charles II., as we have said, scarcely remembered that a rebel called
Clancharlie existed; but James II. was more heedful. Charles II.
governed gently, it was his way; we may add, that he did not govern the
worse on that account. A sailor sometimes makes on a rope intended to
baffle the wind, a slack knot which he leaves to the wind to tighten.
Such is the stupidity of the storm and of the people.
The slack knot very soon becomes a tight one. So did the government of
Under James II. the throttling began; a necessary throttling of what
remained of the revolution. James II. had a laudable ambition to be an
efficient king. The reign of Charles II. was, in his opinion, but a
sketch of restoration. James wished for a still more complete return to
order. He had, in 1660, deplored that they had confined themselves to
the hanging of ten regicides. He was a more genuine reconstructor of
authority. He infused vigour into serious principles. He installed true
justice, which is superior to sentimental declamations, and attends,
above all things, to the interests of society. In his protecting
severities we recognize the father of the state. He entrusted the hand
of justice to Jeffreys, and its sword to Kirke. That useful Colonel, one
day, hung and rehung the same man, a republican, asking him each time,
"Will you renounce the republic?" The villain, having each time said
"No," was dispatched. "_I hanged him four times_," said Kirke, with
satisfaction. The renewal of executions is a great sign of power in the
executive authority. Lady Lisle, who, though she had sent her son to
fight against Monmouth, had concealed two rebels in her house, was
executed; another rebel, having been honourable enough to declare that
an Anabaptist female had given him shelter, was pardoned, and the woman
was burned alive. Kirke, on another occasion, gave a town to understand
that he knew its principles to be republican, by hanging nineteen
burgesses. These reprisals were certainly legitimate, for it must be
remembered that, under Cromwell, they cut off the noses and ears of the
stone saints in the churches. James II., who had had the sense to choose
Jeffreys and Kirke, was a prince imbued with true religion; he practised
mortification in the ugliness of his mistresses; he listened to le Pere
la Colombiere, a preacher almost as unctuous as le Pere Cheminais, but
with more fire, who had the glory of being, during the first part of his
life, the counsellor of James II., and, during the latter, the inspirer
of Mary Alcock. It was, thanks to this strong religious nourishment,
that, later on, James II. was enabled to bear exile with dignity, and to
exhibit, in his retirement at Saint Germain, the spectacle of a king
rising superior to adversity, calmly touching for king's evil, and
conversing with Jesuits.
It will be readily understood that such a king would trouble himself to
a certain extent about such a rebel as Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie.
Hereditary peerages have a certain hold on the future, and it was
evident that if any precautions were necessary with regard to that lord,
James II. was not the man to hesitate.
LORD DAVID DIRRY-MOIR.
Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie had not always been old and proscribed; he had
had his phase of youth and passion. We know from Harrison and Pride that
Cromwell, when young, loved women and pleasure, a taste which, at times
(another reading of the text "Woman"), betrays a seditious man. Distrust
the loosely-clasped girdle. _Male proecinctam juvenem cavete_. Lord
Clancharlie, like Cromwell, had had his wild hours and his
irregularities. He was known to have had a natural child, a son. This
son was born in England in the last days of the republic, just as his
father was going into exile. Hence he had never seen his father. This
bastard of Lord Clancharlie had grown up as page at the court of Charles
II. He was styled Lord David Dirry-Moir: he was a lord by courtesy, his
mother being a woman of quality. The mother, while Lord Clancharlie was
becoming an owl in Switzerland, made up her mind, being a beauty, to
give over sulking, and was forgiven that Goth, her first lover, by one
undeniably polished and at the same time a royalist, for it was the king
She had been but a short time the mistress of Charles II., sufficiently
long however to have made his Majesty--who was delighted to have won so
pretty a woman from the republic--bestow on the little Lord David, the
son of his conquest, the office of keeper of the stick, which made that
bastard officer, boarded at the king's expense, by a natural revulsion
of feeling, an ardent adherent of the Stuarts. Lord David was for some
time one of the hundred and seventy wearing the great sword, while
afterwards, entering the corps of pensioners, he became one of the forty
who bear the gilded halberd. He had, besides being one of the noble
company instituted by Henry VIII. as a bodyguard, the privilege of
laying the dishes on the king's table. Thus it was that whilst his
father was growing gray in exile, Lord David prospered under Charles II.
After which he prospered under James II.
The king is dead. Long live the king! It is the _non deficit alter,
It was on the accession of the Duke of York that he obtained permission
to call himself Lord David Dirry-Moir, from an estate which his mother,
who had just died, had left him, in that great forest of Scotland, where
is found the krag, a bird which scoops out a nest with its beak in the
trunk of the oak.
James II. was a king, and affected to be a general. He loved to surround
himself with young officers. He showed himself frequently in public on
horseback, in a helmet and cuirass, with a huge projecting wig hanging
below the helmet and over the cuirass--a sort of equestrian statue of
imbecile war. He took a fancy to the graceful mien of the young Lord
David. He liked the royalist for being the son of a republican. The
repudiation of a father does not damage the foundation of a court
fortune. The king made Lord David gentleman of the bedchamber, at a
salary of a thousand a year.
It was a fine promotion. A gentleman of the bedchamber sleeps near the
king every night, on a bed which is made up for him. There are twelve
gentlemen who relieve each other.
Lord David, whilst he held that post, was also head of the king's
granary, giving out corn for the horses and receiving a salary of L260.
Under him were the five coachmen of the king, the five postilions of the
king, the five grooms of the king, the twelve footmen of the king, and
the four chair-bearers of the king. He had the management of the
race-chorses which the king kept at Newmarket, and which cost his
Majesty L600 a year. He worked his will on the king's wardrobe, from
which the Knights of the Garter are furnished with their robes of
ceremony. He was saluted to the ground by the usher of the Black Rod,
who belongs to the king. That usher, under James II., was the knight of
Duppa. Mr. Baker, who was clerk of the crown, and Mr. Brown, who was
clerk of the Parliament, kotowed to Lord David. The court of England,
which is magnificent, is a model of hospitality. Lord David presided, as
one of the twelve, at banquets and receptions. He had the glory of
standing behind the king on offertory days, when the king give to the
church the golden _byzantium_; on collar-days, when the king wears the
collar of his order; on communion days, when no one takes the sacrament
excepting the king and the princes. It was he who, on Holy Thursday,
introduced into his Majesty's presence the twelve poor men to whom the
king gives as many silver pence as the years of his age, and as many
shillings as the years of his reign. The duty devolved on him when the
king was ill, to call to the assistance of his Majesty the two grooms of
the almonry, who are priests, and to prevent the approach of doctors
without permission from the council of state. Besides, he was
lieutenant-colonel of the Scotch regiment of Guards, the one which plays
the Scottish march. As such, he made several campaigns, and with glory,
for he was a gallant soldier. He was a brave lord, well-made, handsome,
generous, and majestic in look and in manner. His person was like his
quality. He was tall in stature as well as high in birth.
At one time he stood a chance of being made groom of the stole, which
would have given him the privilege of putting the king's shirt on his
Majesty: but to hold that office it was necessary to be either prince or
peer. Now, to create a peer is a serious thing; it is to create a
peerage, and that makes many people jealous. It is a favour; a favour
which gives the king one friend and a hundred enemies, without taking
into account that the one friend becomes ungrateful. James II., from
policy, was indisposed to create peerages, but he transferred them
freely. The transfer of a peerage produces no sensation. It is simply
the continuation of a name. The order is little affected by it.
The goodwill of royalty had no objection to raise Lord David Dirry-Moir
to the Upper House so long as it could do so by means of a substituted
peerage. Nothing would have pleased his majesty better than to transform
Lord David Dirry-Moir, lord by courtesy, into a lord by right.
The opportunity occurred.
One day it was announced that several things had happened to the old
exile, Lord Clancharlie, the most important of which was that he was
dead. Death does just this much good to folks: it causes a little talk
about them. People related what they knew, or what they thought they
knew, of the last years of Lord Linnaeus. What they said was probably
legend and conjecture. If these random tales were to be credited, Lord
Clancharlie must have had his republicanism intensified towards the end
of his life, to the extent of marrying (strange obstinacy of the exile!)
Ann Bradshaw, the daughter of a regicide; they were precise about the
name. She had also died, it was said, but in giving birth to a boy. If
these details should prove to be correct, his child would of course be
the legitimate and rightful heir of Lord Clancharlie. These reports,
however, were extremely vague in form, and were rumours rather than
facts. Circumstances which happened in Switzerland, in those days, were
as remote from the England of that period as those which take place in
China from the England of to-day. Lord Clancharlie must have been
fifty-nine at the time of his marriage, they said, and sixty at the
birth of his son, and must have died shortly after, leaving his infant
orphaned both of father and mother. This was possible, perhaps, but
improbable. They added that the child was beautiful as the day,--just as
we read in all the fairy tales. King James put an end to these rumours,
evidently without foundation, by declaring, one fine morning, Lord David
Dirry-Moir sole and positive heir _in default of legitimate issue_, and
by his royal pleasure, of Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, his natural father,
_the absence of all other issue and descent being established_, patents
of which grant were registered in the House of Lords. By these patents
the king instituted Lord David Dirry-Moir in the titles, rights, and
prerogatives of the late Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, on the sole
condition that Lord David should wed, when she attained a marriageable
age, a girl who was, at that time, a mere infant a few months old, and
whom the king had, in her cradle, created a duchess, no one knew exactly
why; or, rather, every one knew why. This little infant was called the
The English fashion then ran on Spanish names. One of Charles II.'s
bastards was called Carlos, Earl of Plymouth. It is likely that Josiana
was a contraction for Josefa-y-Ana. Josiana, however, may have been a
name--the feminine of Josias. One of Henry VIII.'s gentlemen was called
Josias du Passage.
It was to this little duchess that the king granted the peerage of
Clancharlie. She was a peeress till there should be a peer; the peer
should be her husband. The peerage was founded on a double castleward,
the barony of Clancharlie and the barony of Hunkerville; besides, the
barons of Clancharlie were, in recompense of an ancient feat of arms,
and by royal licence, Marquises of Corleone, in Sicily.
Peers of England cannot bear foreign titles; there are, nevertheless,
exceptions; thus--Henry Arundel, Baron Arundel of Wardour, was, as well
as Lord Clifford, a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Lord Cowper
is a prince. The Duke of Hamilton is Duke of Chatelherault, in France;
Basil Fielding, Earl of Denbigh, is Count of Hapsburg, of Lauffenberg,
and of Rheinfelden, in Germany. The Duke of Marlborough was Prince of
Mindelheim, in Suabia, just as the Duke of Wellington was Prince of
Waterloo, in Belgium. The same Lord Wellington was a Spanish Duke of
Ciudad Rodrigo, and Portuguese Count of Vimiera.
There were in England, and there are still, lands both noble and common.
The lands of the Lords of Clancharlie were all noble. These lands,
burghs, bailiwicks, fiefs, rents, freeholds, and domains, adherent to
the peerage of Clancharlie-Hunkerville, belonged provisionally to Lady
Josiana, and the king declared that, once married to Josiana, Lord David
Dirry-Moir should be Baron Clancharlie.
Besides the Clancharlie inheritance, Lady Josiana had her own fortune.
She possessed great wealth, much of which was derived from the gifts of
_Madame sans queue_ to the Duke of York. _Madame sans queue_ is short
for Madame. Henrietta of England, Duchess of Orleans, the lady of
highest rank in France after the queen, was thus called.
Having prospered under Charles and James, Lord David prospered under
William. His Jacobite feeling did not reach to the extent of following
James into exile. While he continued to love his legitimate king, he had
the good sense to serve the usurper; he was, moreover, although
sometimes disposed to rebel against discipline, an excellent officer. He
passed from the land to the sea forces, and distinguished himself in the
White Squadron. He rose in it to be what was then called captain of a
light frigate. Altogether he made a very fine fellow, carrying to a
great extent the elegancies of vice: a bit of a poet, like every one
else; a good servant of the state, a good servant to the prince;
assiduous at feasts, at galas, at ladies' receptions, at ceremonies,
and in battle; servile in a gentlemanlike way; very haughty; with
eyesight dull or keen, according to the object examined; inclined to
integrity; obsequious or arrogant, as occasion required; frank and
sincere on first acquaintance, with the power of assuming the mask
afterwards; very observant of the smiles and frowns of the royal humour;
careless before a sword's point; always ready to risk his life on a sign
from his Majesty with heroism and complacency, capable of any insult but
of no impoliteness; a man of courtesy and etiquette, proud of kneeling
at great regal ceremonies; of a gay valour; a courtier on the surface, a
paladin below; quite young at forty-five. Lord David sang French songs,
an elegant gaiety which had delighted Charles II. He loved eloquence and
fine language. He greatly admired those celebrated discourses which are
called the funeral orations of Bossuet.
From his mother he had inherited almost enough to live on, about L10,000
a year. He managed to get on with it--by running into debt. In
magnificence, extravagance, and novelty he was without a rival. Directly
he was copied he changed his fashion. On horseback he wore loose boots
of cow-hide, which turned over, with spurs. He had hats like nobody
else's, unheard-of lace, and bands of which he alone had the pattern.
THE DUCHESS JOSIANA.
Towards 1705, although Lady Josiana was twenty-three and Lord David
forty-four, the wedding had not yet taken place, and that for the best
reasons in the world. Did they hate each other? Far from it; but what
cannot escape from you inspires you with no haste to obtain it. Josiana
wanted to remain free, David to remain young. To have no tie until as
late as possible appeared to him to be a prolongation of youth.
Middle-aged young men abounded in those rakish times. They grew gray as
young fops. The wig was an accomplice: later on, powder became the
auxiliary. At fifty-five Lord Charles Gerrard, Baron Gerrard, one of the
Gerrards of Bromley, filled London with his successes. The young and
pretty Duchess of Buckingham, Countess of Coventry, made a fool of
herself for love of the handsome Thomas Bellasys, Viscount Falconberg,
who was sixty-seven. People quoted the famous verses of Corneille, the
septuagenarian, to a girl of twenty--"_Marquise, si mon visage_." Women,
too, had their successes in the autumn of life. Witness Ninon and
Marion. Such were the models of the day.
Josiana and David carried on a flirtation of a particular shade. They
did not love, they pleased, each other. To be at each other's side
sufficed them. Why hasten the conclusion? The novels of those days
carried lovers and engaged couples to that kind of stage which was the
most becoming. Besides, Josiana, while she knew herself to be a bastard,
felt herself a princess, and carried her authority over him with a high
tone in all their arrangements. She had a fancy for Lord David. Lord
David was handsome, but that was over and above the bargain. She
considered him to be fashionable.
To be fashionable is everything. Caliban, fashionable and magnificent,
would distance Ariel, poor. Lord David was handsome, so much the better.
The danger in being handsome is being insipid; and that he was not. He
betted, boxed, ran into debt. Josiana thought great things of his
horses, his dogs, his losses at play, his mistresses. Lord David, on his
side, bowed down before the fascinations of the Duchess Josiana--a
maiden without spot or scruple, haughty, inaccessible, and audacious. He
addressed sonnets to her, which Josiana sometimes read. In these sonnets
he declared that to possess Josiana would be to rise to the stars, which
did not prevent his always putting the ascent off to the following year.
He waited in the antechamber outside Josiana's heart; and this suited
the convenience of both. At court all admired the good taste of this
delay. Lady Josiana said, "It is a bore that I should be obliged to
marry Lord David; I, who would desire nothing better than to be in love
Josiana was "the flesh." Nothing could be more resplendent. She was very
tall--too tall. Her hair was of that tinge which might be called red
gold. She was plump, fresh, strong, and rosy, with immense boldness and
wit. She had eyes which were too intelligible. She had neither lovers
nor chastity. She walled herself round with pride. Men! oh, fie! a god
only would be worthy of her, or a monster. If virtue consists in the
protection of an inaccessible position, Josiana possessed all possible
virtue, but without any innocence. She disdained intrigues; but she
would not have been displeased had she been supposed to have engaged in
some, provided that the objects were uncommon, and proportioned to the
merits of one so highly placed. She thought little of her reputation,
but much of her glory. To appear yielding, and to be unapproachable, is
perfection. Josiana felt herself majestic and material. Hers was a
cumbrous beauty. She usurped rather than charmed. She trod upon hearts.
She was earthly. She would have been as much astonished at being proved
to have a soul in her bosom as wings on her back. She discoursed on
Locke; she was polite; she was suspected of knowing Arabic.
To be "the flesh" and to be woman are two different things. Where a
woman is vulnerable, on the side of pity, for instance, which so readily
turns to love, Josiana was not. Not that she was unfeeling. The ancient
comparison of flesh to marble is absolutely false. The beauty of flesh
consists in not being marble: its beauty is to palpitate, to tremble, to
blush, to bleed, to have firmness without hardness, to be white without
being cold, to have its sensations and its infirmities; its beauty is to
be life, and marble is death.
Flesh, when it attains a certain degree of beauty, has almost a claim to
the right of nudity; it conceals itself in its own dazzling charms as in
a veil. He who might have looked upon Josiana nude would have perceived
her outlines only through a surrounding glory. She would have shown
herself without hesitation to a satyr or a eunuch. She had the
self-possession of a goddess. To have made her nudity a torment, ever
eluding a pursuing Tantalus, would have been an amusement to her.
The king had made her a duchess, and Jupiter a Nereid--a double
irradiation of which the strange, brightness of this creature was
composed. In admiring her you felt yourself becoming a pagan and a
lackey. Her origin had been bastardy and the ocean. She appeared to have
emerged from the foam. From the stream had risen the first jet of her
destiny; but the spring was royal. In her there was something of the
wave, of chance, of the patrician, and of the tempest. She was well read
and accomplished. Never had a passion approached her, yet she had
sounded them all. She had a disgust for realizations, and at the same
time a taste for them. If she had stabbed herself, it would, like
Lucretia, not have been until afterwards. She was a virgin stained with
every defilement in its visionary stage. She was a possible Astarte in a
real Diana. She was, in the insolence of high birth, tempting and
inaccessible. Nevertheless, she might find it amusing to plan a fall for
herself. She dwelt in a halo of glory, half wishing to descend from it,
and perhaps feeling curious to know what a fall was like. She was a
little too heavy for her cloud. To err is a diversion. Princely
unconstraint has the privilege of experiment, and what is frailty in a
plebeian is only frolic in a duchess. Josiana was in everything--in
birth, in beauty, in irony, in brilliancy--almost a queen. She had felt
a moment's enthusiasm for Louis de Bouffles, who used to break
horseshoes between his fingers. She regretted that Hercules was dead.
She lived in some undefined expectation of a voluptuous and supreme
Morally, Josiana brought to one's mind the line--
"Un beau torse de femme en hydre se termine."
Hers was a noble neck, a splendid bosom, heaving harmoniously over a
royal heart, a glance full of life and light, a countenance pure and
haughty, and who knows? below the surface was there not, in a
semi-transparent and misty depth, an undulating, supernatural
prolongation, perchance deformed and dragon-like--a proud virtue ending
in vice in the depth of dreams.
With all that she was a prude.
It was the fashion.
Elizabeth was of a type that prevailed in England for three
centuries--the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth. Elizabeth was
more than English--she was Anglican. Hence the deep respect of the
Episcopalian Church for that queen--respect resented by the Church of
Rome, which counterbalanced it with a dash of excommunication. In the
mouth of Sixtus V., when anathematizing Elizabeth, malediction turned to
madrigal. "_Un gran cervello di principessa_," he says. Mary Stuart,
less concerned with the church and more with the woman part of the
question, had little respect for her sister Elizabeth, and wrote to her
as queen to queen and coquette to prude: "Your disinclination to
marriage arises from your not wishing to lose the liberty of being made
love to." Mary Stuart played with the fan, Elizabeth with the axe. An
uneven match. They were rivals, besides, in literature. Mary Stuart
composed French verses; Elizabeth translated Horace. The ugly Elizabeth
decreed herself beautiful; liked quatrains and acrostics; had the keys
of towns presented to her by cupids; bit her lips after the Italian
fashion, rolled her eyes after the Spanish; had in her wardrobe three
thousand dresses and costumes, of which several were for the character
of Minerva and Amphitrite; esteemed the Irish for the width of their
shoulders; covered her farthingale with braids and spangles; loved
roses; cursed, swore, and stamped; struck her maids of honour with her
clenched fists; used to send Dudley to the devil; beat Burleigh, the
Chancellor, who would cry--poor old fool! spat on Matthew; collared
Hatton; boxed the ears of Essex; showed her legs to Bassompierre; and
was a virgin.
What she did for Bassompierre the Queen of Sheba had done for
Solomon; consequently she was right, Holy Writ having created the
precedent. That which is biblical may well be Anglican. Biblical
precedent goes so far as to speak of a child who was called Ebnehaquem
or Melilechet--that is to say, the Wise Man's son.
Why object to such manners? Cynicism is at least as good as hypocrisy.
Nowadays England, whose Loyola is named Wesley, casts down her eyes a
little at the remembrance of that past age. She is vexed at the memory,
yet proud of it.
These fine ladies, moreover, knew Latin. From the 16th century this had
been accounted a feminine accomplishment. Lady Jane Grey had carried
fashion to the point of knowing Hebrew. The Duchess Josiana Latinized.
Then (another fine thing) she was secretly a Catholic; after the manner
of her uncle, Charles II., rather than her father, James II. James II.
had lost his crown for his Catholicism, and Josiana did not care to risk
her peerage. Thus it was that while a Catholic amongst her intimate
friends and the refined of both sexes, she was outwardly a Protestant
for the benefit of the riffraff.
This is the pleasant view to take of religion. You enjoy all the good
things belonging to the official Episcopalian church, and later on you
die, like Grotius, in the odour of Catholicity, having the glory of a
mass being said for you by le Pere Petau.
Although plump and healthy, Josiana was, we repeat, a perfect prude.
At times her sleepy and voluptuous way of dragging out the end of her
phrases was like the creeping of a tiger's paws in the jungle.
The advantage of prudes is that they disorganize the human race. They
deprive it of the honour of their adherence. Beyond all, keep the human
species at a distance. This is a point of the greatest importance.
When one has not got Olympus, one must take the Hotel de Rambouillet.
Juno resolves herself into Araminta. A pretension to divinity not
admitted creates affectation. In default of thunderclaps there is
impertinence. The temple shrivels into the boudoir. Not having the power
to be a goddess, she is an idol.
There is besides, in prudery, a certain pedantry which is pleasing to
women. The coquette and the pedant are neighbours. Their kinship is
visible in the fop. The subtile is derived from the sensual. Gluttony
affects delicacy, a grimace of disgust conceals cupidity. And then woman
feels her weak point guarded by all that casuistry of gallantry which
takes the place of scruples in prudes. It is a line of circumvallation
with a ditch. Every prude puts on an air of repugnance. It is a
protection. She will consent, but she disdains--for the present.
Josiana had an uneasy conscience. She felt such a leaning towards
immodesty that she was a prude. The recoils of pride in the direction
opposed to our vices lead us to those of a contrary nature. It was the
excessive effort to be chaste which made her a prude. To be too much on
the defensive points to a secret desire for attack; the shy woman is not
strait-laced. She shut herself up in the arrogance of the exceptional
circumstances of her rank, meditating, perhaps, all the while, some
sudden lapse from it.
It was the dawn of the eighteenth century. England was a sketch of what
France was during the regency. Walpole and Dubois are not unlike.
Marlborough was fighting against his former king, James II., to whom it
was said he had sold his sister, Miss Churchill. Bolingbroke was in his
meridian, and Richelieu in his dawn. Gallantry found its convenience in
a certain medley of ranks. Men were equalized by the same vices as they
were later on, perhaps, by the same ideas. Degradation of rank, an
aristocratic prelude, began what the revolution was to complete. It was
not very far off the time when Jelyotte was seen publicly sitting, in
broad daylight, on the bed of the Marquise d'Epinay. It is true (for
manners re-echo each other) that in the sixteenth century Smeton's
nightcap had been found under Anne Boleyn's pillow.
If the word woman signifies fault, as I forget what Council decided,
never was woman so womanlike as then. Never, covering her frailty by her
charms, and her weakness by her omnipotence, has she claimed absolution
more imperiously. In making the forbidden the permitted fruit, Eve fell;
in making the permitted the forbidden fruit, she triumphs. That is the
climax. In the eighteenth century the wife bolts out her husband. She
shuts herself up in Eden with Satan. Adam is left outside.
All Josiana's instincts impelled her to yield herself gallantly rather
than to give herself legally. To surrender on the score of gallantry
implies learning, recalls Menalcas and Amaryllis, and is almost a
literary act. Mademoiselle de Scudery, putting aside the attraction of
ugliness for ugliness' sake, had no other motive for yielding to
The maiden a sovereign, the wife a subject, such was the old English
notion. Josiana was deferring the hour of this subjection as long as she
could. She must eventually marry Lord David, since such was the royal
pleasure. It was a necessity, doubtless; but what a pity! Josiana
appreciated Lord David, and showed him off. There was between them a
tacit agreement neither to conclude nor to break off the engagement.
They eluded each other. This method of making love, one step in advance
and two back, is expressed in the dances of the period, the minuet and
It is unbecoming to be married--fades one's ribbons and makes one look
old. An espousal is a dreary absorption of brilliancy. A woman handed
over to you by a notary, how commonplace! The brutality of marriage
creates definite situations; suppresses the will; kills choice; has a
syntax, like grammar; replaces inspiration by orthography; makes a
dictation of love; disperses all life's mysteries; diminishes the rights
both of sovereign and subject; by a turn of the scale destroys the
charming equilibrium of the sexes, the one robust in bodily strength,
the other all-powerful in feminine weakness--strength on one side,
beauty on the other; makes one a master and the other a servant, while
without marriage one is a slave, the other a queen.
To make Love prosaically decent, how gross! to deprive it of all
impropriety, how dull!
Lord David was ripening. Forty; 'tis a marked period. He did not
perceive this, and in truth he looked no more than thirty. He considered
it more amusing to desire Josiana than to possess her. He possessed
others. He had mistresses. On the other hand, Josiana had dreams.
The Duchess Josiana had a peculiarity, less rare than it is supposed.
One of her eyes was blue and the other black. Her pupils were made for
love and hate, for happiness and misery. Night and day were mingled in
Her ambition was this--to show herself capable of impossibilities. One
day she said to Swift, "You people fancy that you know what scorn is."
"You people" meant the human race.
She was a skin-deep Papist. Her Catholicism did not exceed the amount
necessary for fashion. She would have been a Puseyite in the present
day. She wore great dresses of velvet, satin, or moire, some composed of
fifteen or sixteen yards of material, with embroideries of gold and
silver; and round her waist many knots of pearls, alternating with other
precious stones. She was extravagant in gold lace. Sometimes she wore an
embroidered cloth jacket like a bachelor. She rode on a man's saddle,
notwithstanding the invention of side-saddles, introduced into England
in the fourteenth century by Anne, wife of Richard II. She washed her
face, arms, shoulders, and neck, in sugar-candy, diluted in white of
egg, after the fashion of Castile. There came over her face, after any
one had spoken wittily in her presence, a reflective smile of singular
grace. She was free from malice, and rather good-natured than otherwise.
THE LEADER OF FASHION.
Josiana was bored. The fact is so natural as to be scarcely worth
Lord David held the position of judge in the gay life of London. He was
looked up to by the nobility and gentry. Let us register a glory of Lord
David's. He was daring enough to wear his own hair. The reaction against
the wig was beginning. Just as in 1824 Eugene Deveria was the first to
allow his beard to grow, so in 1702 Prince Devereux was the first to
risk wearing his own hair in public disguised by artful curling. For to
risk one's hair was almost to risk one's head. The indignation was
universal. Nevertheless Prince Devereux was Viscount Hereford, and a
peer of England. He was insulted, and the deed was well worth the
insult. In the hottest part of the row Lord David suddenly appeared
without his wig and in his own hair. Such conduct shakes the foundations
of society. Lord David was insulted even more than Viscount Hereford. He
held his ground. Prince Devereux was the first, Lord David Dirry-Moir
the second. It is sometimes more difficult to be second than first. It
requires less genius, but more courage. The first, intoxicated by the
novelty, may ignore the danger; the second sees the abyss, and rushes
into it. Lord David flung himself into the abyss of no longer wearing a
wig. Later on these lords found imitators. Following these two
revolutionists, men found sufficient audacity to wear their own hair,
and powder was introduced as an extenuating circumstance.
In order to establish, before we pass on, an important period of
history, we should remark that the first blow in the war of wigs was
really struck by a Queen, Christina of Sweden, who wore man's clothes,
and had appeared in 1680, in her hair of golden brown, powdered, and
brushed up from her head. She had, besides, says Misson, a slight beard.
The Pope, on his part, by a bull of March 1694, had somewhat let down
the wig, by taking it from the heads of bishops and priests, and in
ordering churchmen to let their hair grow.
Lord David, then, did not wear a wig, and did wear cowhide boots. Such
great things made him a mark for public admiration. There was not a club
of which he was not the leader, not a boxing match in which he was not
desired as referee. The referee is the arbitrator.
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