Story type: Essay
I. VISIT TO LAXTON
My route, after parting from Lord Westport at Birmingham, lay, as I have mentioned in the “Autobiographic Sketches,” through Stamford to Laxton, the Northamptonshire seat of Lord Carbery. From Stamford, which I had reached by some intolerable old coach, such as in those days too commonly abused the patience and long-suffering of Young England, I took a post-chaise to Laxton. The distance was but nine miles, and the postilion drove well, so that I could not really have been long upon the road; and yet, from gloomy rumination upon the unhappy destination which I believed myself approaching within three or four months, never had I weathered a journey that seemed to me so long and dreary. As I alighted on the steps at Laxton, the first dinner-bell rang; and I was hurrying to my toilet, when my sister Mary, who had met me in the portico, begged me first of all to come into Lady Carbery’s
[Footnote: Lady Carbery.–“To me, individually, she was the one sole friend that ever I could regard as entirely fulfilling the offices of an honest friendship. She had known me from infancy; when I was in my first year of life, she, an orphan and a great heiress, was in her tenth or eleventh.”–See closing pages of “Autobiographic Sketches.” ]
dressing-room, her ladyship having something special to communicate, which related (as I understood her) to one Simon. “What Simon? Simon Peter?”–O, no, you irreverend boy, no Simon at all with an S, but Cymon with a C,–Dryden’s Cymon,–
“That whistled as he went for want of thought.’”
This one indication was a key to the whole explanation that followed. The sole visitors, it seemed, at that time to Laxton, beside my sister and myself, were Lord and Lady Massey. They were understood to be domesticated at Laxton for a very long stay. In reality, my own private construction of the case (though unauthorized by anything ever hinted to me by Lady Carbery) was, that Lord Massey might probably be under some cloud of pecuniary embarrassments, such as suggested prudentially an absence from Ireland. Meantime, what was it that made him an object of peculiar interest to Lady Carbery? It was the singular revolution which, in one whom all his friends looked upon as sold to constitutional torpor, suddenly, and beyond all hope, had kindled a new and nobler life. Occupied originally by no shadow of any earthly interest, killed by ennui, all at once Lord Massey had fallen passionately in love with a fair young countrywoman, well connected, but bringing him no fortune (I report only from hearsay), and endowing him simply with the priceless blessing of her own womanly charms, her delightful society, and her sweet, Irish style of innocent gayety. No transformation that ever legends or romances had reported was more memorable. Lapse of time (for Lord Massey had now been married three or four years), and deep seclusion from general society, had done nothing, apparently, to lower the tone of his happiness. The expression of this happiness was noiseless and unobtrusive; no marks were there of vulgar uxoriousness–nothing that could provoke the sneer of the worldling; but not the less so entirely had the society of his young wife created a new principle of life within him, and evoked some nature hitherto slumbering, and which, no doubt, would else have continued to slumber till his death, that, at moments when he believed himself unobserved, he still wore the aspect of an impassioned lover.
A vision, and adored the thing he saw.
Arabian fiction never filled the world
With half the wonders that were wrought for him.
Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring
Her chamber window did surpass in glory
The portals of the dawn.”
And in no case was it more literally realized, as daily almost I witnessed, that
Could, by the simple opening of a door,
Let itself in upon him.”
[Footnote: Wordsworth’s “Vandracour and Julia.” ]
For never did the drawing-room door open, and suddenly disclose the beautiful figure of Lady Massey, than a mighty cloud seemed to roll away from the young Irishman’s brow. At this time it happened, and indeed it often happened, that Lord Carbery was absent in Ireland. It was probable, therefore, that during the long couple of hours through which the custom of those times bound a man to the dinner-table after the disappearance of the ladies, his time would hang heavily on his hands. To me, therefore, Lady Carbery looked, having first put me in possession of the case, for assistance to her hospitality, under the difficulties I have stated. She thoroughly loved Lady Massey, as, indeed, nobody could help doing; and for her sake, had there been no separate interest surrounding the young lord, it would have been most painful to her that through Lord Carbery’s absence a periodic tedium should oppress her guest at that precise season of the day which traditionally dedicated itself to genial enjoyment. Glad, therefore, was she that an ally had come at last to Laxton, who might arm her purposes of hospitality with some powers of self-fulfilment. And yet, for a service of that nature, could she reasonably rely upon me? Odious is the hobble-de-hoy to the mature young man. Generally speaking, that cannot be denied. But in me, though naturally the shyest of human beings, intense commerce with men of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, had availed to dissipate all arrears of mauvaise honte; I could talk upon innumerable subjects; and, as the readiest means of entering immediately upon business, I was fresh from Ireland, knew multitudes of those whom Lord Massey either knew or felt an interest in, and, at that happy period of life, found it easy, with three or four glasses of wine, to call back the golden spirits which were now so often deserting me. Renovated, meantime, by a hot bath, I was ready at the second summons of the dinner-bell, and descended a new creature to the drawing-room. Here I was presented to the noble lord and his wife. Lord Massey was in figure shortish, but broad and stout, and wore an amiable expression of face. That I could execute Lady Carbery’s commission, I felt satisfied at once. And, accordingly, when the ladies had retired from the dining-room, I found an easy opening, in various circumstances connected with the Laxton stables, for introducing naturally a picturesque and contrasting sketch of the stud and the stables at Westport. The stables and everything connected with the stables at Laxton were magnificent; in fact, far out of symmetry with the house, which, at that time, was elegant and comfortable, but not splendid. As usual in English establishments, all the appointments were complete, and carried to the same point of exquisite finish. The stud of hunters was first-rate and extensive; and the whole scene, at closing the stables for the night, was so splendidly arranged and illuminated, that Lady Carbery would take all her visitors once or twice a week to admire it. On the other hand, at Westport you might fancy yourself overlooking the establishment of some Albanian Pacha. Crowds of irregular helpers and grooms, many of them totally unrecognized by Lord Altamont, some half countenanced by this or that upper servant, some doubtfully tolerated, some not tolerated, but nevertheless slipping in by postern doors when the enemy had withdrawn, made up a strange mob as regarded the human element in this establishment. And Dean Browne regularly asserted that five out of six amongst these helpers he himself could swear to as active boys from Vinegar Hill. Trivial enough, meantime, in our eyes, was any little matter of rebellion that they might have upon their consciences. High treason we willingly winked at. But what we could not wink at was the systematic treason which they committed against our comfort, namely, by teaching our horses all imaginable tricks, and training them up in the way along which they should not go, so that when they were old they were very little likely to depart from it. Such a set of restive, hard-mouthed wretches as Lord Westport and I daily had to bestride, no tongue could describe. There was a cousin of Lord Westport’s, subsequently created Lord Oranmore, distinguished for his horsemanship, and always splendidly mounted from his father’s stables at Castle M’Garret, to whom our stormy contests with ruined tempers and vicious habits yielded a regular comedy of fun; and, in order to improve it, he would sometimes bribe Lord Westport’s treacherous groom into misleading us, when floundering amongst bogs, into the interior labyrinths of these morasses. Deep, however, as the morass, was this man’s remorse when, on leaving Westport, I gave him the heavy golden perquisite, which my mother (unaware of the tricks he had practised upon me) had by letter instructed me to give. He was a mere savage boy from the central bogs of Connaught, and, to the great amusement of Lord Westport, he persisted in calling me “your majesty” for the rest of that day; and by all other means open to him he expressed his penitence. But the dean insisted that, no matter for his penitence in the matter of the bogs, he had certainly carried a pike at Vinegar Hill; and probably had stolen a pair of boots at Furnes, when he kindly made a call at the Deanery, in passing through that place to the field of battle. It is always a pleasure to see the engineer of mischief “hoist with his own petard;”
[Footnote: “Hamlet,” but also “Ovid:”– “Lex nec justior ulla est, **Quam necis artifices arte perire sua.” ]
and it happened that the horses assigned to draw a post-chariot carrying Lord Westport, myself, and the dean, on our return journey to Dublin, were a pair utterly ruined by a certain under-postilion, named Moran. This particular ruin did Mr. Moran boast to have contributed as his separate contribution to the general ruinations of the stables. And the particular object was, that his horses, and consequently himself, might be left in genial laziness. But, as Nemesis would have it, Mr. Moran was the charioteer specially appointed to this particular service. We were to return by easy journeys of twenty-five miles a day, or even less; since every such interval brought us to the house of some hospitable family, connected by friendship or by blood with Lord Altamont. Fervently had Lord Westport pleaded with his father for an allowance of four horses; not at all with any foolish view to fleeting aristocratic splendor, but simply to the luxury of rapid motion. But Lord Altamont was firm in resisting this petition at that time. The remote consequence was, that by way of redressing the violated equilibrium to our feelings, we subscribed throughout Wales to extort six horses from the astonished innkeepers, most of whom declined the requisition, and would furnish only four, on the plea that the leaders would only embarrass the other horses; but one at Bangor, from whom we coolly requested eight, recoiled from our demand as from a sort of miniature treason. How so? Because in this island he had always understood eight horses to be consecrated to royal use. Not at all, we assured him; Pickford, the great carrier, always horsed his wagons with eight. And the law knew of no distinction between wagon and post- chaise, coach-horse or cart-horse. However, we could not compass this point of the eight horses, the double quadriga, in one single instance; but the true reason we surmised to be, not the pretended puritanism of loyalty to the house of Guelph, but the running short of the innkeeper’s funds. If he had to meet a daily average call for twenty-four horses, then it might well happen that our draft upon him for eight horses at one pull would bankrupt him for a whole day.
But I am anticipating. Returning to Ireland and Mr. Moran, the vicious driver of vicious horses, the immediate consequence to him of this unexpected limitation to a pair of horses was, that all his knavery in one hour recoiled upon himself. The horses whom he had himself trained to vice and restiveness, in the hope that thus his own services and theirs might be less in request, now became the very curse of his life. Every morning, duly as an attempt was made to put them in motion, they began to back, and no arts, gentle or harsh, would for a moment avail to coax or to coerce them into the counter direction. Could retrogression by any metaphysics have been translated into progress, we excelled in that; it was our forte; we could have backed to the North Pole. That might be the way to glory, or at least to distinction–sic itur ad astra; unfortunately, it was not the way to Dublin. Consequently, on every day of our journey–and the days were ten–not once, but always, we had the same deadly conflict to repeat; and this being always unavailing, found its solution uniformly in the following ultimate resource. Two large-boned horses, usually taken from the plough, were harnessed on as leaders. By main force they hauled our wicked wheelers into the right direction, and forced them, by pure physical superiority, into working. We furnished a joyous and comic spectacle to every town and village through which we passed. The whole community, men and children, came out to assist at our departure; and all alike were diverted, but not the less irritated, by the demoniac obstinacy of the brutes, who seemed under the immediate inspiration of the fiend. Everybody was anxious to share in the scourging which was administered to them right and left; and once propelled into a gallop (or such a gallop as our Brobdignagian leaders could accomplish), they were forced into keeping it up. But, without rehearsing all the details of the case, it may be readily conceived that the amount of trouble distributed amongst our whole party was enormous. Once or twice the friends at whose houses we slept were able to assist us. But generally they either had no horses, or none of the commanding power demanded. Often, again, it happened, as our route was very circuitous, that no inns lay in our neighborhood; or, if there were inns, the horses proved to be of too slight a build. At Ballinasloe, and again at Athlone, half the town came out to help us; and, having no suitable horses, thirty or forty men, with shouts of laughter, pulled at ropes fastened to our pole and splinter- bar, and compelled the snorting demons into a flying gallop. But, naturally, a couple of miles saw this resource exhausted. Then came the necessity of “drawing the covers,” as the dean called it; that is, hunting amongst the adjacent farmers for powerful cattle. This labor (O, Jupiter, thanks be for that!) fell upon Mr. Moran. And sometimes it would happen that the horses, which it had cost him three or four hours to find, could be spared only for four or five miles. Such a journey can rarely have been accomplished. Our zigzag course had prolonged it into from two hundred and thirty to two hundred and fifty miles; and it is literally true that, of this entire distance from Westport House to Sackville-street, Dublin, not one furlong had been performed under the spontaneous impulse of our own horses. Their diabolic resistance continued to the last. And one may venture to hope that the sense of final subjugation to man must have proved penally bitter to the horses. But, meantime, it vexes one that such wretches should be fed with good old hay and oats; as well littered down also in their stalls as a prebendary; and by many a stranger, ignorant of their true character, should have been patted and caressed. Let us hope that a fate, to which more than once they were nearly forcing us, namely, regress over a precipice, may ultimately have been their own. Once I saw such another case dramatically carried through to its natural crisis in the Liverpool Mail. It was on the stage leading into Lichfield; there was no conspiracy, as in our Irish case; one horse only out of the four was the criminal; and, according to the queen’s bench (Denman, C. J.), there is no conspiracy competent to one agent; but he was even more signally under a demoniac possession of mutinous resistance to man. The case was really a memorable one. If ever there was a distinct proclamation of rebellion against man, it was made by that brutal horse; and I, therefore, being a passenger on the box, took a note of the case; and on a proper occasion I may be induced to publish it, unless some Houynhm should whinny against me a chancery injunction.
From these wild, Tartar-like stables of Connaught, how vast was the transition to that perfection of elegance, and of adaptation between means and ends, that reigned from centre to circumference through the stables at Laxton! I, as it happened, could report to Lord Massey their earlier condition; he to me could report their immediate changes. I won him easily to an interest in my own Irish experiences, so fresh, and in parts so grotesque, wilder also by much in Connaught than in Lord Massey’s county of Limerick; whilst he (without affecting any delight in the hunting systems of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire) yet took pleasure in explaining to me those characteristic features of the English midland hunting as centralized at Melton, which even then gave to it the supreme rank for brilliancy and unity of effect amongst all varieties of the chase.
[Footnote: If mere names were allowed to dazzle the judgment, how magnificent to a gallant young Englishman of twenty seems at first the tiger- hunting of India, which yet (when examined searchingly) turns out the meanest and most cowardly mode of hunting known to human experience. Buffalo-hunting is much more dignified as regards the courageous exposure of the hunter; but, from all accounts, its excitement is too momentary and evanescent; one rifle-shot, and the crisis is past. Besides that, the generous and honest character of the buffalo disturbs the cordiality of the sport. The very opposite reason disturbs the interest of lion-hunting, especially at the Cape. The lion is everywhere a cowardly wretch, unless when sublimed into courage by famine; but, in southern Africa, he is the most currish of enemies. Those who fancied so much adventurousness in the lion conflicts of Mr. Gordon Cumming appear never to have read the missionary travels of Mr. Moffat. The poor missionary, without any arms whatever, came to think lightly of half a dozen lions seen drinking through the twilight at the very same pond or river as himself. Nobody can have any wish to undervalue the adventurous gallantry of Mr. G. Cumming. But, in the single case of the Cape lion, there is an unintentional advantage taken from the traditional name of lion, as though the Cape lion were such as that which ranges the torrid zone. ]
Horses had formed the natural and introductory topic of conversation between us. What we severally knew of Ireland, though in different quarters,–what we both knew of Laxton, the barbaric splendor, and the civilized splendor,–had naturally an interest for us both in their contrasts (at one time so picturesque, at another so grotesque), which illuminated our separate recollections. But my quick instinct soon made me aware that a jealousy was gathering in Lord Massey’s mind around such a topic, as though too ostentatiously levelled to his particular knowledge, or to his animal condition of taste. But easily I slipped off into another key. At Laxton, it happened that the library was excellent. Founded by whom, I never heard; but certainly, when used by a systematic reader, it showed itself to have been systematically collected; it stretched pretty equably through two centuries,–namely, from about 1600 to 1800,–and might, perhaps, amount to seventeen thousand volumes. Lord Massey was far from illiterate; and his interest in books was unaffected, if limited, and too often interrupted, by defective knowledge. The library was dispersed through six or seven small rooms, lying between the drawing-room in one wing, and the dining-room in the opposite wing. This dispersion, however, already furnished the ground of a rude classification. In some one of these rooms was Lord Massey always to be found, from the forenoon to the evening. And was it any fault of his that his daughter, little Grace, about two years old, pursued him down from her nursery every morning, and insisted upon seeing innumerable pictures, lurking (as she had discovered) in many different recesses of the library? More and more from this quarter it was that we drew the materials of our daily after-dinner conversation. One great discouragement arises commonly to the student, where the particular library in which he reads has been so disordinately collected that he cannot pursue a subject once started. Now, at Laxton, the books had been so judiciously brought together, so many hooks and eyes connected them, that the whole library formed what one might call a series of strata, naturally allied, through which you might quarry your way consecutively for many months. On rainy days, and often enough one had occasion to say through rainy weeks, what a delightful resource did this library prove to both of us! And one day it occurred to us, that, whereas the stables and the library were both jewels of attraction, the latter had been by much the least costly. Pretty often I have found, when any opening has existed for making the computation, that, in a library containing a fair proportion of books illustrated with plates, about ten shillings a volume might be taken as expressing, upon a sufficiently large number of volumes, small and great, the fair average cost of the whole. On this basis, the library at Laxton would have cost less than nine thousand pounds. On the other hand, thirty-live horses (hunters, racers, roadsters, carriage-horses, etc.) might have cost about eight thousand pounds, or a little more. But the library entailed no permanent cost beyond the annual loss of interest; the books did not eat, and required no aid from veterinary
[Footnote: “Veterinary.”–By the way, whence comes this odd-looking word? The word veterana I have met with in monkish writers, to express domesticated quadrupeds; and evidently from that word must have originated the word veterinary. But the question is still but one step removed; for, how came veterana by that acceptation in rural economy? ]
surgeons; whereas, for the horses, not only such ministrations were intermittingly required, but a costly permanent establishment of grooms and helpers. Lord Carbery, who had received an elaborate Etonian education, was even more earnestly a student than his friend Lord Massey, who had probably been educated at home under a private tutor. He read everything connected with general politics (meaning by general not personal politics) and with social philosophy. At Laxton, indeed; it was that I first saw Godwin’s “Political Justice;” not the second and emasculated edition in octavo, but the original quarto edition, with all its virus as yet undiluted of raw anti-social Jacobinism.
At Laxton it was that I first saw the entire aggregate labors, brigaded, as it were, and paraded as if for martial review, of that most industrious benefactor to the early stages of our English historical literature, Thomas Hearne. Three hundred guineas, I believe, had been the price paid cheerfully at one time for a complete set of Hearne. At Laxton, also, it was that first I saw the total array of works edited by Dr. Birch. It was a complete armilustrium, a recognitio, or mustering, as it were, not of pompous Praetorian cohorts, or unique guardsmen, but of the yeomanry, the militia, or what, under the old form of expression, you might regard as the trained bands of our literature–the fund from which ultimately, or in the last resort, students look for the materials of our vast and myriad-faced literature. A French author of eminence, fifty years back, having occasion to speak of our English literature collectively, in reference to the one point of its variety, being also a man of honor, and disdaining that sort of patriotism which sacrifices the truth to nationality, speaks of our pretensions in these words: Les Anglois qui ont une litterature infiniment plus variee que la notre. This fact is a feature in our national pretensions that could ever have been regarded doubtfully merely through insufficient knowledge. Dr. Johnson, indeed, made it the distinguishing merit of the French, that they “have a book upon every subject.” But Dr. Johnson was not only capricious as regards temper and variable humors, but as regards the inequality of his knowledge. Incoherent and unsystematic was Dr. Johnson’s information in most cases. Hence his extravagant misappraisement of Knolles, the Turkish historian, which is exposed so severely by Spittler, the German, who, again, is himself miserably superficial in his analysis of English history. Hence the feeble credulity which Dr. Johnson showed with respect to the forgery of De Foe (under the masque of Captain Carleton) upon the Catalonian campaign of Lord Peterborough. But it is singular that a literature, so unrivalled as ours in its compass and variety, should not have produced any, even the shallowest, manual of itself. And thus it happens, for example, that writers so laborious and serviceable as Birch are in any popular sense scarcely known. I showed to Lord Massey, among others of his works, that which relates to Lord Worcester’s (that is, Lord Glamorgan’s) negotiations with the Papal nuncio in Ireland, about the year 1644, etc. Connected with these negotiations were many names amongst Lord Massey’s own ancestors; so that here he suddenly alighted upon a fund of archeologic memorabilia, connecting what interested him as an Irishman in general with what most interested him as the head of a particular family. It is remarkable, also, as an indication of the general nobility and elevation which had accompanied the revolution in his life, that concurrently with the constitutional torpor previously besetting him, had melted away the intellectual torpor under which he had found books until recently of little practical value. Lady Carbery had herself told me that the two revolutions went on simultaneously. He began to take an interest in literature when life itself unfolded a new interest, under the companionship of his youthful wife. And here, by the way, as subsequently in scores of other instances, I saw broad evidences of the credulity with which we have adopted into our grave political faith the rash and malicious sketches of our novelists. With Fielding commenced the practice of systematically traducing our order of country gentlemen. His picture of Squire Western is not only a malicious, but also an incongruous libel. The squire’s ordinary language is impossible, being alternately bookish and absurdly rustic. In reality, the conventional dialect ascribed to the rustic order in general–to peasants even more than to gentlemen–in our English plays and novels, is a childish and fantastic babble, belonging to no form of real breathing life; nowhere intelligible; not in any province; whilst, at the same time, all provinces–Somersetshire, Devonshire, Hampshire–are confounded with our midland counties; and positively the diction of Parricombe and Charricombe from Exmoor Forest is mixed up with the pure Icelandic forms of the English lakes, of North Yorkshire, and of Northumberland. In Scotland, it needs but a slight intercourse with the peasantry to distinguish various dialects–the Aberdonian and Fifeshire, for instance, how easily distinguished, even by an English alien, from the western dialects of Ayrshire, etc.! And I have heard it said, by Scottish purists in this matter, that even Sir Walter Scott is chargeable with considerable licentiousness in the management of his colloquial Scotch. Yet, generally speaking, it bears the strongest impress of truthfulness. But, on the other hand, how false and powerless does this same Sir Walter become, when the necessities of his tale oblige him at any time to come amongst the English peasantry! His magic wand is instantaneously broken; and he moves along by a babble of impossible forms, as fantastic as any that our London theatres have traditionally ascribed to English rustics, to English sailors, and to Irishmen universally. Fielding is open to the same stern criticism, as a deliberate falsehood-monger; and from the same cause–want of energy to face the difficulty of mastering a real living idiom. This defect in language, however, I cite only as one feature in the complex falsehood which disfigures Fielding’s portrait of the English country gentleman. Meantime the question arises, Did he mean his Squire Western for a representative portrait? Possibly not. He might design it expressly as a sketch of an individual, and by no means of a class. And the fault may be, after all, not in him, the writer, but in us, the falsely interpreting readers. But, be that as it may, and figure to ourselves as we may the rustic squire of a hundred to a hundred and fifty years back (though manifestly at utter war, in the portraitures of our novelists, with the realities handed down to us by our Parliamentary annals), on that arena we are dealing with objects of pure speculative curiosity. Far different is the same question, when practically treated for purposes of present legislation or philosophic inference. One hundred years ago, such was the difficulty of social intercourse, simply from the difficulty of locomotion (though even then this difficulty was much lowered to the English, as beyond comparison the most equestrian of nations), that it is possible to imagine a shade of difference as still distinguishing the town-bred man from the rustic; though, considering the multiplied distribution of our assize towns, our cathedral towns, our sea-ports, and our universities, all so many recurring centres of civility, it is not very easy to imagine such a thing in an island n
o larger than ours. But can any human indulgence be extended to the credulity which assumes the same possibility as existing for us in the very middle of the nineteenth century? At a time when every week sees the town banker drawn from our rural gentry; railway directors in every quarter transferring themselves indifferently from town to country, from country to town; lawyers, clergymen, medical men, magistrates, local judges, etc., all shifting in and out between town and country; rural families all intermarrying on terms of the widest freedom with town families; all again, in the persons of their children, meeting for study at the same schools, colleges, military academies, etc. by what furious forgetfulness of the realities belonging to the case, has it been possible for writers in public journals to persist in arguing national questions upon the assumption of a bisection in our population–a double current, on the one side steeped to the lips in town prejudices, on the other side traditionally sold to rustic views and doctrines? Such double currents, like the Rhone flowing through the Lake of Geneva, and yet refusing to intermingle, probably did exist, and had an important significance in the Low Countries of the fifteenth century, or between the privileged cities and the unprivileged country of Germany down to the Thirty Years’ War; but, for us, they are in the last degree fabulous distinctions, pure fairy tales; and the social economist or the historian who builds on such phantoms as that of a rustic aristocracy still retaining any substantial grounds of distinction from the town aristocracies, proclaims the hollowness of any and all his doctrines that depend upon such assumptions. Lord Carbery was a thorough fox-hunter. The fox- hunting of the adjacent county of Leicestershire was not then what it is now. The state of the land was radically different for the foot of the horse, the nature and distribution of the fences was different; so that a class of horses thoroughly different was then required. But then, as now, it offered the finest exhibition of the fox-chase that is known in Europe; and then, as now, this is the best adapted among all known varieties of hunting to the exhibition of adventurous and skilful riding, and generally, perhaps, to the development of manly and athletic qualities. Lord Carbery, during the season, might be immoderately addicted to this mode of sporting, having naturally a pleasurable feeling connected with his own reputation as a skilful and fearless horseman. But, though the chases were in those days longer than they are at present, small was the amount of time really abstracted from that which he had disposable for general purposes; amongst which purposes ranked foremost his literary pursuits. And, however much he transcended the prevailing conception of his order, as sketched by satiric and often ignorant novelists, he might be regarded, in all that concerned the liberalization of his views, as pretty fairly representing that order. Thus, through every real experience, the crazy notion of a rural aristocracy flowing apart from the urban aristocracy, and standing on a different level of culture as to intellect, of polish as to manners, and of interests as to social objects, a notion at all times false as a fact, now at length became with all thoughtful men monstrous as a possibility.
Meantime Lord Massey was reached by reports, both through Lady Carbery and myself, of something which interested him more profoundly than all earthly records of horsemanship, or any conceivable questions connected with books. Lady Carbery, with a view to the amusement of Lady Massey and my sister, for both of whom youth and previous seclusion had created a natural interest in all such scenes, accepted two or three times in every week dinner invitations to all the families on her visiting list, and lying within her winter circle, which was measured, by a radius of about seventeen miles. For, dreadful as were the roads in those days, when the Bath, the Bristol, or the Dover mail was equally perplexed oftentimes to accomplish Mr. Palmer’s rate of seven miles an hour, a distance of seventeen was yet easily accomplished in one hundred minutes by the powerful Laxton horses. Magnificent was the Laxton turn-out; and in the roomy travelling coach of Lady Carbery, made large enough to receive upon occasion even a bed, it would have been an idle scruple to fear the crowding a party which mustered only three besides myself. For Lord Massey uniformly declined joining us; in which I believe that he was right. A schoolboy like myself had fortunately no dignity to lose. But Lord Massey, a needy Irish peer (or, strictly speaking, since the Union no peer at all, though still an hereditary lord), was bound to be trebly vigilant over his surviving honors. This he owed to his country as well as to his family. He recoiled from what he figured to himself (but too often falsely figured) as the haughty and disdainful English nobility—all so rich, all so polished in manner, all so punctiliously correct in the ritual of bienseance. Lord Carbery might face them gayly and boldly: for he was rich, and, although possessing Irish estates and an Irish mansion, was a thorough Englishman by education and early association. “But I,” said Lord Massey, “had a careless Irish education, and am never quite sure that I may not be trespassing on some mysterious law of English good-breeding.” In vain I suggested to him that most of what passed amongst foreigners and amongst Irishmen for English hauteur was pure reserve, which, among all people that were bound over by the inevitable restraints of their rank (imposing, it must be remembered, jealous duties as well as privileges), was sure to become the operative feeling. I contended that in the English situation there was no escaping this English reserve, except by great impudence and defective sensibility; and that, if examined, reserve was the truest expression of respect towards those who were its objects. In vain did Lady Carbery back me in this representation. He stood firm, and never once accompanied us to any dinner-party. Northamptonshire, I know not why, is (or then was) more thickly sown with aristocratic families than any in the kingdom. Many elegant and pretty women there naturally were in these parties; but undoubtedly our two Laxton baronesses shone advantageously amongst them. A boy like myself could lay no restraint upon the after-dinner feelings of the gentlemen; and almost uniformly I heard such verdicts passed upon the personal attractions of both, but especially Lady Massey, as tended greatly to soothe the feelings of Lord Massey. It is singular that Lady Massey universally carried off the palm of unlimited homage. Lady Carbery was a regular beauty, and publicly known for such; both were fine figures, and apparently not older than twenty-six; but in her Irish friend people felt something more thoroughly artless and feminine–for the masculine understanding of Lady Carbery in some way communicated its commanding expression to her deportment. I reported to Lord Massey, in terms of unexceptionable decorum, those flattering expressions of homage, which sometimes from the lips of young men, partially under the influence of wine, had taken a form somewhat too enthusiastic for a literal repetition to a chivalrous and adoring husband.
Meantime, the reader has been kept long enough at Laxton to warrant me in presuming some curiosity or interest to have gathered within his mind about the mistress of the mansion. Who was Lady Carbery? what was her present position, and what had been her original position, in society? All readers of Bishop Jeremy Taylor
[Footnote: The Life of Jeremy Taylor, by Reginald Heber, Bishop of Calcutta, is most elaborately incorrect. From want of research, and a chronology in some places thoroughly erroneous, various important facts are utterly misstated; and what is most to be regretted, in a matter deeply affecting the bishop’s candor and Christian charity, namely, a controversial correspondence with a Somersetshire Dissenting clergyman, the wildest misconception has vitiated the entire result. That fractional and splintered condition, into which some person had cut up the controversy with a view to his own more convenient study of its chief elements, Heber had misconceived as the actual form in which these parts had been originally exchanged between the disputants–a blunder of the worst consequence, and having the effect of translating general expressions (such as recorded a moral indignation against ancient fallacies or evasions connected with the dispute) into direct ebullitions of scorn or displeasure personally against his immediate antagonist. And the charge of intolerance and defective charity becomes thus very much stronger against the poor bishop, because it takes the shape of a confession extorted by mere force of truth from an else reluctant apologist, that would most gladly have denied everything that he could deny. The Life needs more than ever to be accurately written, since it has been thus chaotically mis-narrated by a prelate of so much undeniable talent. I once began a very elaborate life myself, and in these words: “Jeremy Taylor, the most eloquent and the subtlest of Christian philosophers, was the son of a barber, and the son-in-law of a king,”–alluding to the tradition (imperfectly verified, I believe) that he married an illegitimate daughter of Charles I. But this sketch was begun more than thirty years ago; and I retired from the labor as too overwhelmingly exacting in all that related to the philosophy and theology of that man 80 “myriad-minded,” and of that century so anarchical. ]
must be aware of that religious Lady Carbery, who was the munificent (and, for her kindness, one might say the filial) patroness of the all-eloquent and subtle divine. She died before the Restoration, and, consequently, before her spiritual director could have ascended the Episcopal throne. The title of Carbery was at that time an earldom; the earl married again, arid his second countess was also a devout patroness of Taylor. Having no peerage at hand, I do not know by what mode of derivation the modern title of the nineteenth century had descended from the old one of the seventeenth. I presume that some collateral branch of the original family had succeeded to the barony when the limitations of the original settlement had extinguished the earldom. But to me, who saw revived another religious Lady Carbery, distinguished for her beauty and accomplishments, it was interesting to read of the two successive ladies who had borne that title one hundred and sixty years before, and whom no reader of Jeremy Taylor is ever allowed to forget, since almost all his books are dedicated to one or other of the pious family that had protected him. Once more there was a religious Lady Carbery, supporting locally the Church of England, patronizing schools, diffusing the most extensive relief to every mode of indigence or distress. A century and a half ago such a Lady Carbery was in South Wales, at the “Golden Grove;” now such another Lady Carbery was in central England, at Laxton. The two cases, divided by six generations, interchanged a reciprocal interest, since in both cases it was young ladies, under the age of thirty, that originated the movement, and in both cases these ladies bore the same title; and I will therefore retrace rapidly the outline of that contemporary case so familiarly known to myself.
Colonel Watson and General Smith had been amongst the earliest friends of my mother’s family. Both served for many years in India: the first in the Company’s army, the other upon the staff of the king’s forces in that country. Each, about the same time, made a visit to England, and each of them, I believe, with the same principal purpose of providing for the education of his daughter; for each happened to have one sole child, which child, in each case, was a girl of singular beauty; and both of these little ladies were entitled to very large fortunes. The colonel and the general, being on brotherly terms of intimacy, resolved to combine their plans for the welfare of their daughters. What they wanted was, not a lady that could teach them any special arts or accomplishments–all these could be purchased;–but the two qualifications indispensable for the difficult situation of lady- superintendent over two children so singularly separated from all relatives whatever, were, in the first place, knowledge of the world, and integrity for keeping at a distance all showy adventurers that might else offer themselves, with unusual advantages, as suitors for the favor of two great heiresses; and, secondly, manners exquisitely polished. Looking to that last requisition, it seems romantic to mention, that the lady selected for the post, with the fullest approbation of both officers, was one who began life as the daughter of a little Lincolnshire farmer. What her maiden name had been, I do not at this moment remember; but this name was of very little importance, being soon merged in that of Harvey, bestowed on her at the altar by a country gentleman. The squire–not very rich, I believe, but rich enough to rank as a matrimonial prize in the lottery of a country girl, whom one single step of descent in life might have brought within sight of menial service–had been captivated by the young woman’s beauty; and this, at that period, when accompanied by the advantages of youth, must have been resplendent. I, who had known her all my life, down to my sixteenth year (during which year she died), and who naturally, therefore, referred her origin back to some remote ancestral generation, nevertheless, in her sole case, was made to feel that there might be some justification for the Church of England discountenancing in her Liturgy, “marriage with your great-grandmother; neither shalt thou marry thy great-grandfather’s widow.” She, poor thing! at that time was thinking little of marriage; for even then, though known only to herself and her femme de chambre, that dreadful organic malady (cancer) was raising its adder’s crest, under which finally she died. But, in spite of languor interchanging continually with disfiguring anguish, she still impressed one as a regal beauty. Her person, indeed, and figure, would have tended towards such a standard; but all was counteracted, and thrown back into the mould of sweet natural womanhood, by the cherubic beauty of her features. These it was–these features, so purely childlike–that reconciled me in a moment of time to great-grandmotherhood. The stories about Ninon de l’Enclos are French fables–speaking plainly, are falsehoods; and sorry I am that a nation so amiable as the French should habitually disregard truth, when coming into collision with their love for the extravagant. But, if anything could reconcile me to these monstrous old fibs about Ninon at ninety, it would be the remembrance of this English enchantress on the high-road to seventy. Guess, reader, what she must have been at twenty-eight to thirty-two, when she became the widow of the Gerenian horseman, Harvey. How bewitching she must have looked in her widow’s caps! So had once thought Colonel Watson, who happened to be in England at that period; and to the charming widow this man of war propounded his hand in marriage. This hand, this martial hand, for reason inexplicable to me, Mrs. Harvey declined; and the colonel bounced off in a rage to Bengal. There were others who saw young Mrs. Harvey, as well as Colonel Watson. And amongst them was an ancient German gentleman, to what century belonging I do not know, who had every possible bad quality known to European experience, and a solitary good one, namely, eight hundred thousand pounds sterling. The man’s name was Schreiber. Schreiber was an aggregate resulting from the conflux of all conceivable bad qualities. That was the elementary base of Schreiber; and the superstructure, or Corinthian decoration of his frontispiece, was, that Schreiber cultivated one sole science, namely, the science of taking snuff. Here were two separate objects for contemplation: one, bright as Aurora–that radiant Koh-i-noor, or mountain of light–the eight hundred thousand pounds; the other, sad, fuscous, begrimed with the snuff of ages, namely, the most ancient Schreiber. Ah! if they could have been divided–these twin yoke- fellows–and that ladies might have the privilege of choosing between them! For the moment there was no prudent course open to Mrs. Harvey, but that of marrying Schreiber (which she did, and survived); and, subsequently, when the state of the market became favorable to such “conversions” of stock, then the new Mrs. Schreiber parted from Schreiber, and disposed of her interest in Schreiber at a settled rate in three per cent. consols and terminable annuities; for every coupon of Schreiber receiving a bonus of so many thousand pounds, paid down according to the rate agreed on by the lawyers of the two parties; or, strictly speaking, quarrelled on between the adverse factions; for agreement it was hard to effect upon any point. The deadly fear which had been breathed into him by Mrs. Schreiber’s scale of expenditure in a Park Lane house proved her most salutary ally. Coerced by this horrid vision, Schreiber consented (which else he never would have done) to grant her an allowance, for life, of about two thousand per annum. Could that be reckoned an anodyne for the torment connected with a course of Schreiber? I pretend to no opinion.
Such were the facts: and exactly at this point in her career had Mrs. Schreiber arrived, when, once more, Colonel Watson and General Smith were visiting England, and for the last time, on the errand of settling permanently some suitable establishment for their two infant daughters. The superintendence of this they desired to devolve upon some lady, qualified by her manners and her connections for introducing the young ladies, when old enough, into general society. Mrs. Schreiber was the very person required. Intellectually she had no great pretensions; but these she did not need: her character was irreproachable, her manners were polished, and her own income placed her far above all mercenary temptations. She had not thought fit to accept the station of Colonel Watson’s wife, but some unavowed feeling prompted her to undertake, with enthusiasm, the duties of a mother to the colonel’s daughter. Chiefly on Miss Watson’s account it was at first that she extended her maternal cares to General Smith’s daughter; but very soon so sweet and winning was the disposition of Miss Smith that Mrs. Schreiber apparently loved her the best.
Both, however, appeared under a combination of circumstances too singularly romantic to fail of creating an interest that was universal. Both were solitary children, unchallenged by any relatives. Neither had ever known what it was to taste of love, paternal or maternal. Their mothers had been long dead–not consciously seen by either; and their fathers, not surviving their last departure from home long enough to see them again, died before returning from India. What a world of desolation seemed to exist for them! How silent was every hall into which, by natural right, they should have had entrance! Several people, kind, cordial people, men and women, were scattered over England, that, during their days of infancy, would have delighted to receive them; but, by some fatality, when they reached their fifteenth year, and might have been deemed old enough to undertake visits, all of these paternal friends, except two, had died; nor had they, by that time, any relatives at all that remained alive, or were eligible as associates. Strange, indeed, was the contrast between the silent past of their lives and that populous future to which their large fortunes would probably introduce them. Throw open a door in the rear that should lay bare the long vista of chambers through which their childhood might symbolically be represented as having travelled–what silence! what solemn solitude! Open a door in advance that should do the same figurative office for the future–suddenly what a jubilation! what a tumult of festal greetings!
But the succeeding stages of life did not, perhaps, in either case fully correspond to the early promise. Rank and station the two young ladies attained; but rank and station do not always throw people upon prominent stages of action or display. Many a family, possessing both rank and wealth, and not undistinguished possibly by natural endowments of an order fitted for brilliant popularity, never emerge from obscurity, or not into any splendor that can be called national; sometimes, perhaps, from a temper unfitted for worthy struggles in the head of the house; possibly from a haughty, possibly a dignified disdain of popular arts, hatred of petty rhetoric, petty sycophantic courtships, petty canvassing tricks; or again, in many cases, because accidents of ill-luck have intercepted the fair proportion of success due to the merits of the person; whence, oftentimes, a hasty self- surrender to impulses of permanent disgust. But, more frequently than any other cause, I fancy that impatience of the long struggle required for any distinguished success interferes to thin the ranks of competitors for the prizes of public ambition. Perseverance is soon refrigerated in those who fall back under any result, defeated or not defeated, upon splendid mansions and luxuries of every kind, already far beyond their needs or their wishes. The soldier described by the Roman satirist as one who had lost his purse, was likely enough, under the desperation of his misfortune, to see nothing formidable in any obstacle that crossed his path towards another supplementary purse; whilst the very same obstacle might reasonably alarm one who, in retreating, fell back under the battlements of twenty thousand per annum. In the present case, there was nothing at all to move wonder in the final result under so continual a siege of temptation from the seductions of voluptuous ease; the only wonder is, that one of the young ladies, namely, Miss Watson, whose mind was masculine, and in some directions aspiring, should so readily have acquiesced in a result which she might have anticipated from the beginning.
Happy was the childhood, happy the early dawn of womanhood, which these two young ladies passed under the guardianship of Mrs. Schreiber. Education in those days was not the austere old lady that she is now. At least, in the case of young ladies, her exactions were merciful and considerate. If Miss Smith sang pretty well, and Miss Watson very well, and with the power of singing difficult part music at sight, they did so for the same reason that the lark sings, and chiefly under the same gentle tuition–that of nature, glad almighty nature, breathing inspiration from her Delphic tripod of happiness, and health, and hope. Mrs. Schreiber pretended to no intellectual gifts whatever; and yet, practically, she was wiser than many who have the greatest. First of all other tasks which she imposed upon her wards, was that of daily exercise, and exercise carried to excess. She insisted upon four hours’ exercise daily; and, as young ladies walk fast, that would have yielded, at the rate of three and a half miles per hour, thirteen plus one third miles. But only two and a half hours were given to walking; the other one and a half to riding. No day was a day of rest; absolutely none. Days so stormy that they “kept the raven to her nest,” snow the heaviest, winds the most frantic, were never listened to as any ground of reprieve from the ordinary exaction. I once knew (that is, not personally, for I never saw her, but through the reports of her many friends) an intrepid lady,
[Footnote: If I remember rightly, some account is given of this palestric lady and her stern Pedo-gymnastics, in a clever book on household medicine and surgery under circumstances of inevitable seclusion from professional aid, written about the year 1820-22, by Mr. Haden, a surgeon of London. ]
living in the city of London (that is, technically the city, as opposed to Westminster, etc., Mary-le- bone, etc.), who made a point of turning out her newborn infants for a pretty long airing, even on the day of their birth. It made no difference to her whether the month were July or January; good, undeniable air is to be had in either month. Once only she was baffled, and most indignant it made her, because the little thing chose to be born at half-past nine P. M.; so that, by the time its toilet was finished, bonnet and cloak all properly adjusted, the watchman was calling “Past eleven, and a cloudy night;” upon which, most reluctantly, she was obliged to countermand the orders for that day’s exercise, and considered herself, like the Emperor Titus, to have lost a day. But what came of the London lady’s or of Mrs. Schreiber’s Spartan discipline? Did the little blind kittens of Gracechurch-street, who were ordered by their penthesilean mamma, on the very day of their nativity, to face the most cruel winds–did they, or did Mrs. Schreiber’s wards, justify, in after life, this fierce discipline, by commensurate results of hardiness? In words written beyond all doubt by Shakspeare, though not generally recognized as his, it might have been said to any one of this Amazonian brood,–
“Now mild may be thy life;
For a more blust’rous birth had never babe.
Quiet and gentle be thy temperature;
For thou’rt the rudeliest welcomed to this world
That e’er was woman’s child. Happy be the sequel!
Thou hast as chiding a nativity
As fire, air, water, earth, and heaven, can make,
To herald thee from darkness!”
— Pericles, Act III.
As to the city kittens, I heard that the treatment prospered; but the man who reported this added, that by original constitution they were as strong as Meux’s dray-horses; and thus, after all, they may simply illustrate the old logical dictum ascribed to some medical man, that the reason why London children of the wealthier classes are noticeable even to a proverb for their robustness and bloom, is because none but those who are already vigorous to excess, and who start with advantages of health far beyond the average scale, have much chance of surviving that most searching quarantine, which, in such
[Footnote: For myself, meantime, I am far from assenting to all the romantic abuse applied to the sewerage and the church-yards of London, and even more violently to the river Thames. As a tidal river, even: beyond the metropolitan bridges, the Thames undoubtedly does much towards cleansing the atmosphere, whatever may be the condition of its waters. And one most erroneous postulate there is from which the Times starts in all its arguments, namely, this, that supposing the Thames to be even a vast sewer, in short, the cloaca maxima of London, there is in that arrangement of things any special reproach applying to our mighty English capital. On the contrary, all great cities that ever were founded have sought out, as their first and elementary condition, the adjacency of some great cleansing river. In the long process of development through which cities pass, commerce and other functions of civilization come to usurp upon the earlier functions of such rivers, and sometimes (through increasing efforts of luxurious refinement) may come entirely to absorb them. But, in the infancy of every great city, the chief function for which she looks to her river is that of purification. Be thou my huge cloaca, says infant Babylon to the Euphrates, says infant Nineveh to the Tigris, says infant Rome to the Tiber. So far is that reproach from having any special application to London. Smoke is not unwholesome; in many circumstances it is salubrious, as a counter-agent to worse influences. Even sewerage is chiefly insalubrious from its moisture, and not, in any degree yet demonstrated, from its odor. ]
an atmosphere, they are summoned to weather at starting. Coming, however, to the special case of Mrs. Schreiber’s household, I am bound to report that in no instance have I known young ladies so thoroughly steeled against all the ordinary host of petty maladies which, by way of antithesis to the capital warfare of dangerous complaints, might be called the guerilla nosology; influenza, for instance, in milder forms, catarrh, headache, toothache, dyspepsia in transitory shapes, etc. Always the spirits of the two girls were exuberant; the enjoyment of life seemed to be intense, and never did I know either of them to suffer from ennui. My conscious knowledge of them commenced when I was about two years old, they being from ten to twelve years older. Mrs. Schreiber had been amongst my mother’s earliest friends as Mrs. Harvey, and in days when my mother had opportunities of doing her seasonable services. And as there were three special advantages which adorned my mother, and which ranked in Mrs. Schreiber’s estimate as the highest which earth could show, namely: 1 degrees, that she spoke and wrote English with singular elegance; 2 degrees, that her manners were eminently polished; and 3 degrees, that, even in that early stage of my mother’s life, a certain tone of religiosity, and even of ascetic devotion, was already diffused as a luminous mist that served to exalt the coloring of her morality. To this extent Mrs. Schreiber approved of religion; but nothing of a sectarian cast could she have tolerated; nor had she anything of that nature to apprehend from my mother. Viewing my mother, therefore, as a pure model of an English matron, and feeling for her, besides, a deeper sentiment of friendship and affection than for anybody else on her visiting list, it was natural enough that she should come with her wards on an annual visit to “The Farm” (a pretty, rustic dwelling occupied by my father in the neighborhood of Manchester), and subsequently (when that arose) to Greenhay.
[Footnote: “Greenhay.”–As this name might, under a false interpretation, seem absurd as including incongruous elements, I ought, in justification of my mother, who devised the name, to have mentioned that hay was meant for the old English word (derived from the old French word haie) indicating a rural enclosure. Conventionally, a hay or haie was understood to mean a country-house within a verdant ring-fence, narrower than a park: which word park, in Scotch use, means any enclosure whatever, though not twelve feet square; but in English use (witness Captain Burt’s wager about Culloden parks) means an enclosure measured by square miles, and usually accounted to want its appropriate furniture, unless tenanted by deer. By the way, it is a singular illustration of a fact illustrated in one way or other every hour, namely, of the imperfect knowledge which England possesses of England, that, within these last eight or nine months, I saw in the Illustrated London News an article assuming that the red deer was unknown in England. Whereas, if the writer had ever been at the English lakes during the hunting season, he might have seen it actually hunted over Martindale forest and its purlieus. Or, again, in Devonshire and Cornwall, over Dartmoor, etc., and, I believe, in many other regions, though naturally narrowing as civilization widens. The writer is equally wrong in supposing the prevailing deer of our parks to be the roe deer, which are very little known. It is the fallow deer that chiefly people our parks. Red deer were also found at Blenheim, in Oxfordshire, when it was visited by Dr. Johnson, as may be seen in “Boswell.” ]
As my father always retained a town-house in Manchester (somewhere in Fountain-street), and, though a plain, unpretending man, was literary to the extent of having written a book, all things were so arranged that there was no possibility of any commercial mementos ever penetrating to the rural retreat of his family; such mementos, I mean, as, by reviving painful recollections of that ancient Schreiber, who was or ought to be by this time extinct, would naturally be odious and distressing. Here, therefore, liberated from all jealousy of overlooking eyes, such as haunted persons of their expectations at Brighton, Weymouth, Sidmouth, or Bath, Miss Smith and Miss Watson used to surrender themselves without restraint to their glad animal impulses of girlish gayety, like the fawns of antelopes when suddenly transferred from tiger-haunted thickets to the serene preserves of secluded rajahs. On these visits it was, that I, as a young pet whom they carried about like a doll from my second to my eighth or ninth year, learned to know them; so as to take a fraternal interest in the succeeding periods of their lives. Their fathers I certainly had not seen; nor had they, consciously. These two fathers must both have died in India, before my inquiries had begun to travel in that direction. But, as old acquaintances of my mother’s, both had visited The Farm before I was born; and about General Smith, in particular, there had survived amongst the servants a remembrance which seemed to us (that is to them and to myself) ludicrously awful, though, at that time, the practice was common throughout our Indian possessions. He had a Hindoo servant with him; and this servant every night stretched himself along the “sill” or outer threshold of the door; so that he might have been trodden on by the general when retiring to rest; and from this it was but a moderate step in advance to say that he was trodden on. Upon which basis many other wonders were naturally reared. Miss Smith’s father, therefore, furnished matter for a not very amiable tradition; but Miss Smith herself was the sweetest-tempered and the loveliest of girls, and the most thoroughly English in the style of her beauty. Far different every way was Miss Watson. In person she was a finished beauty of the very highest pretensions, and generally recognized as such; that is to say, her figure was fine and queenly; her features were exquisitely cut, as regarded their forms and the correspondences of their parts; and usually by artists her face was said to be Grecian. Perhaps the nostrils, mouth, and forehead, might be so; but nothing could be less Grecian, or more eccentric in form and position, than the eyes. They were placed obliquely, in a way that I do not remember to have seen repeated in any other face whatever. Large they were, and particularly long, tending to an almond-shape; equally strange, in fact, as to color, shape, and position: but the remarkable position of these eyes would have absorbed your gaze to the obliteration of all other features or peculiarities in the face, were it not for one other even more remarkable distinction affecting her complexion: this lay in a suffusion that mantled upon her cheeks, of a color amounting almost to carmine. Perhaps it might be no more than what Pindar meant by the porphyreon phos erotos, which Gray has falsely
[Footnote: Falsely, because poxphuxeos rarely, perhaps, means in the Greek use what we mean properly by purple, and could not mean it in the Pindaric passage; much oftener it denotes some shade of crimson, or else of puniceus, or blood-red. Gibbon was never more mistaken than when he argued that all the endless disputing about the purpureus of the ancients might have been evaded by attending to its Greek designation, namely, porphyry-colored: since, said he, porphyry is always of the same color. Not at all. Porphyry, I have heard, runs through as large a gamut of hues as marble; but, if this should be an exaggeration, at all events porphyry is far from being so monochromatic as Gibbon’s argument would presume. The truth is, colors were as loosely and latitudinarially distinguished by the Greeks and Romans as degrees of affinity and consanguinity are everywhere. My son-in-law, says a woman, and she means my stepson. My cousin, she says, and she means any mode of relationship in the wide, wide world. Nos neveux, says a French writer, and means not our nephews, but our grandchildren, or more generally our descendants. ]
translated as “the bloom of young desire, and PURPLE light of love.” It was not unpleasing, and gave a lustre to the eyes, but it added to the eccentricity of the face; and by all strangers it was presumed to be an artificial color, resulting from some mode of applying a preparation more brilliant than rouge. But to us children, so constantly admitted to her toilet, it was well known to be entirely natural. Generally speaking, it is not likely to assist the effect of a young woman’s charms, that she presents any such variety in her style of countenance as could naturally be called odd. But Miss Watson, by the somewhat scenical effect resulting from the harmony between her fine figure and her fine countenance, triumphed over all that might else have been thought a blemish; and when she was presented at court on occasion of her marriage, the king himself pronounced her, to friends of Mrs. Schreiber, the most splendid of all the brides that had yet given lustre to his reign. In such cases the judgments of rustic, undisciplined tastes, though marked by narrowness, and often by involuntary obedience to vulgar ideals (which, for instance, makes them insensible to all the deep sanctities of beauty that sleep amongst the Italian varieties of the Madonna face), is not without its appropriate truth. Servants and rustics all thrilled in sympathy with the sweet English loveliness of Miss Smith; but all alike acknowledged, with spontaneous looks of homage, the fine presence and finished beauty of Miss Watson. Naturally, from the splendor with which they were surrounded, and the notoriety of their great expectations,–so much to dazzle in one direction, and, on the other hand, something for as tender a sentiment as pity, in the fact of both from so early an age having been united in the calamity of orphanage,– go where they might, these young women drew all eyes upon themselves; and from the audible comparisons sometimes made between them, it might be imagined that if ever there were a situation fitted to nourish rivalship and jealousy, between two girls, here it might be anticipated in daily operation. But, left to themselves, the yearnings of the female heart tend naturally towards what is noble; and, unless where it has been tried too heavily by artificial incitements applied to the pride, I do not believe that women generally are disposed to any unfriendly jealousy of each other. Why should they? Almost every woman, when strengthened in those charms which nature has given to her by such as she can in many ways give to herself, must feel that she has her own separate domain of empire unaffected by the most sovereign beauty upon earth. Every man that ever existed has probably his own peculiar talent (if only it were detected), in which he would be found to excel all the rest of his race. And in every female face possessing any attractions at all, no matter what may be her general inferiority, there lurks some secret peculiarity of expression–some mesmeric individuality–which is valid within its narrower range–limited superiority over the supreme of beauties within a narrow circle. It is unintelligibly but mesmerically potent, this secret fascination attached to features oftentimes that are absolutely plain; and as one of many cases within my own range of positive experience, I remember in confirmation, at this moment, that in a clergyman’s family, counting three daughters, all on a visit to my mother, the youngest, Miss F—- P—-, who was strikingly and memorably plain, never walked out on the Clifton Downs unattended, but she was followed home by a crowd of admiring men, anxious to learn her rank and abode; whilst the middle sister, eminently handsome, levied no such visible tribute of admiration on the public.
I mention this fact, one of a thousand similar facts, simply by way of reminding the reader of what he must himself have often witnessed; namely, that no woman is condemned by nature to any ignoble necessity of repining against the power of other women; her own may be far more confined, but within its own circle may possibly, measured against that of the haughtiest beauty, be the profounder. However, waiving the question thus generally put here, and as it specially affected these two young women that virtually were sisters, any question of precedency in power or display, when brought into collision with sisterly affection, had not a momentary existence. Each had soon redundant proofs of her own power to attract suitors without end; and, for the more or the less, that was felt to be a matter of accident. Never, on this earth, I am satisfied, did that pure sisterly love breathe a more steady inspiration than now into the hearts and through the acts of these two generous girls; neither was there any sacrifice which either would have refused to or for the other. The period, however, was now rapidly shortening during which they would have any opportunity for testifying this reciprocal love. Suitors were flocking around them, as rank as cormorants in a storm. The grim old chancellor (one, if not both, of the young ladies having been a ward in Chancery) had all his legal jealousies awakened on their behalf. The worshipful order of adventurers and fortune-hunters, at that time chiefly imported from Ireland, as in times more recent from Germany, and other moustachoed parts of the continent, could not live under the raking fire of Mrs. Schreiber, on the one side, with her female tact and her knowledge of life, and of the chancellor, with his huge discretional power, on the other. That particular chancellor, whom the chronology of the case brought chiefly into connection with Miss Watson’s interests, was (if my childish remembrances do not greatly mislead me) the iracund Lord Thurlow. Lovers and wooers this grim lawyer regarded as the most impertinent order of animals in universal zoology; and of these, in Miss Watson’s case, he had a whole menagerie to tend. Penelope, according to some school-boy remembrance of mine, had one hundred and eighteen suitors. These young ladies had almost as many. Heavens! I what a crew of Comus to follow or to lead! And what a suitable person was this truculent old lord on the woolsack to enact the part of shepherd–Corydon, suppose, or Alphesibeus–to this goodly set of lambs! How he must have admired the hero of the “Odyssey,” who in one way or other accounted for all the wooers that “sorned” upon his house, and had a receipt for their bodies from the grave-digger of Ithaca! But even this wily descendant of Sisyphus would have found it no such easy matter to deal with the English suitors, who were not the feeble voluptuaries of the Ionian Islands, that suffered themselves to be butchered as unresistingly as sheep in the shambles–actually standing at one end of a banqueting-room to be shot at with bows and arrows, not having pluck enough to make a rush–but were game men; all young, strong, rich, and in most cases technically “noble;” all, besides, contending for one or other of two prizes a thousand times better fitted to inspire romantic ardor than the poor, withered Penelope. One, by the way, amongst these suitors (I speak of those who addressed Miss Watson), merits a separate commemoration, as having drawn from Sheridan his very happiest impromptu–and an impromptu that was really such–(the rarest of all things from Sheridan). This was Lord Belgrave, eldest son of Lord Grosvenor-then an earl, but at some period, long subsequent to this, raised to the Marquisate of Westminster, a title naturally suggesting in itself a connection with the vast Grosvenor property, sweeping across the whole area of that most aristocratic region in the metropolis now called Belgravia, which was then a name unknown; and this Hesperian region had as yet no architectural value, and consequently no ground- rent value, simply because the world of fashion and distinction had as yet not expanded itself in that direction. In those days the territorial importance of this great house rested exclusively upon its connection
with the county of Chester. In this connection it was that the young Viscount Belgrave had been introduced, by his family interest, into the House of Commons; he had delivered his maiden speech with some effect; and had been heard favorably on various subsequent occasions; on one of which it was that, to the extreme surprise of the house, he terminated his speech with a passage from Demosthenes–not presented in English, but in sounding Attic Greek. Latin is a privileged dialect in parliament. But Greek! It would not have been at all more startling to the usages of the house, had his lordship quoted Persic or Telinga. Still, though felt as something verging on the ridiculous, there was an indulgent feeling to a young man fresh from academic bowers, which would not have protected a mature man of the world. Everybody bit his lips, and as yet did not laugh. But the final issue stood on the edge of a razor. A gas, an inflammable atmosphere, was trembling sympathetically through the whole excited audience; all depended on a match being applied to this gas whilst yet in the very act of escaping. Deepest silence still prevailed; and, had any commonplace member risen to address the house in an ordinary business key, all would have blown over. Unhappily for Lord Belgrave, in that critical moment up rose the one solitary man, to wit, Sheridan, whose look, whose voice, whose traditional character, formed a prologue to what was coming. Here let the reader understand that, throughout the “Iliad,” all speeches or commands, questions or answers, are introduced by Homer under some peculiar formula. For instance, replies are usually introduced thus:
” But him answering thus addressed the sovereign Agamemnon; “
or; in sonorous Greek:
“Ton d’ apameibomenos prosephe kreion Agamemnon;”
or, again, according to the circumstances:
“But him sternly surveying saluted the swift-footed Achilles;”
“Ton d’ar’, upodra idon, prosephe podas okus Achilleus.”
This being premised, and that every one of the audience, though pretending to no Greek, yet, from his school-boy remembrances, was as well acquainted with these formule as with the scriptural formula of Verily, verily, I say unto you, etc., Sheridan, without needing to break its force by explanations, solemnly opened thus:
“Ton d’ apameibomenos prosephe Sheridanios heros.”
Simply to have commenced his answer in Greek would have sufficiently met the comic expectation then thrilling the house; but, when it happened that this Greek (so suitable to the occasion) was also the one sole morsel of Greek that everybody in that assembly understood, the effect, as may be supposed, was overwhelming, and wrapt the whole house in what might be called a fiery explosion of laughter. Meantime, as prizes in the matrimonial lottery, and prizes in all senses, both young ladies were soon carried off. Miss Smith, whose expectations I never happened to hear estimated, married a great West India proprietor; and Miss Watson, who (according to the popular report) would succeed to six thousand a year on her twenty-first birthday, married Lord Carbery. Miss Watson inherited also from her father something which would not generally be rated very highly, namely, a chancery lawsuit, with the East India Company for defendant. However, if the company is a potent antagonist, thus far it is an eligible one, that, in the event of losing the suit, the honorable company is solvent; and such an event, after some nine or ten years’ delay, did really befall the company. The question at issue respected some docks which Colonel Watson had built for the company in some Indian port. And in the end this lawsuit, though so many years doubtful in its issue, proved very valuable to Miss Watson; I have heard (but cannot vouch for it) not less valuable than that large part of her property which had been paid over without demur upon her twenty-first birth-day. Both young ladies married happily; but in marriage they found their separation, and in that separation a shock to their daily comfort which was never replaced to either. As to Miss Smith’s husband, I did not know him; but Lord Carbery was every way an estimable man; in some things worthy of admiration; and his wife never ceased to esteem and admire him. But she yearned for the society of her early friend; and this being placed out of her reach by the accidents of life, she fell early into a sort of disgust with her own advantages of wealth and station, which, promising so much, were found able to perform nothing at all in this first and last desire of her heart. A portrait of her friend hung in the drawing- room; but Lady Carbery did not willingly answer the questions that were sometimes prompted by its extraordinary loveliness. There are women to whom a female friendship is indispensable, and cannot be supplied by any companion of the other sex. That blessing, therefore, of her golden youth, turned eventually into a curse for her after-life; for I believe that, through one accident or another, they never met again after they became married women. To me, as one of those who had known and loved Miss Smith, Lady Carbery always turned the more sunny side of her nature; but to the world generally she presented a chilling and somewhat severe aspect–as to a vast illusion that rested upon pillars of mockery and frauds. Honors, beauty of the first order, wealth, and the power which follows wealth as its shadow–what could these do? what had they done? In proportion as they had settled heavily upon herself, she had found them to entail a load of responsibility; and those claims upon her she had labored to fulfil conscientiously; but else they had only precipitated the rupture of such tics as had given sweetness to her life.
From the first, therefore, I had been aware, on this visit to Laxton, that Lady Carbery had changed, and was changing. She had become religious; so much I knew from my sister’s letters. And, in fact, this change had been due to her intercourse with my mother. But, in reality, her premature disgust with the world would, at any rate, have made her such; and, had any mode of monastic life existed for Protestants, I believe that she would before this have entered it, supposing Lord Carbery to have consented. People generally would have stated the case most erroneously; they would have said that she was sinking into gloom under religious influences; whereas the very contrary was the truth; namely, that, having sunk into gloomy discontent with life, and its miserable performances as contrasted with its promises, she sought relief and support to her wounded feelings from religion.
But the change brought with it a difficult trial to myself. She recoiled, by natural temperament and by refinement of taste, from all modes of religious enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a large word, and in many cases I could not go along with her; but canting of all descriptions was odious to both of us alike. To cultivate religious knowledge in an intellectual way, she very well understood that she must study divinity. And she relied upon me for assisting her. Not that she made the mistake of ascribing to me any knowledge on that subject; but I could learn; and, whatsoever I had learned, she knew, by experience, that I could make abundantly plain to her understanding. Wherever I did not understand, I was far too sincere to dissemble that fact. Where I did understand, I could enable her to understand.
On the subject of theology, it was not easy indeed for anybody, man or boy, to be more ignorant than myself. My studies in that field had been none at all. Nor was this any subject for wonder, or (considering my age) for blame. In reality, to make theology into a captivating study for the young, it must be translated into controversial theology. And in what way could such a polemic interest be evoked except through political partisanship? But such partisanship connects itself naturally with the irritability of sectarianism, and but little with the majestic repose of a church such as the Romish or the Anglican, founded upon the broad basis of national majorities, and sheltered from danger, or the sense of danger, by state protection. Dissenters stand upon another footing. The Dissenter from the national church, whether in England or in France, is reminded by his own distinguishing religious opinions of the historic struggles through which those opinions have travelled. The doctrines which give to his own sect a peculiar denomination are also those which record its honorable political conflicts; so that his own connection, through his religious brotherhood, with the civil history of his country, furnishes a standing motive of pride for some acquaintance more or less with divinity; since it is by deviating painfully, conscientiously, and at some periods dangerously, from the established divinity, that his fathers have achieved their station in the great drama of the national evolution.
But, whilst I was ignorant of theology, as a direct and separate branch of study, the points are so many at which theology inosculates with philosophy, and with endless casual and random suggestions of the self- prompted reason, that inevitably from that same moment in which I began to find a motive for directing my thoughts to this new subject, I wanted not something to say that might have perplexed an antagonist, or (in default of such a vicious associate) that might have amused a friend, more especially a friend so predisposed to a high estimate of myself as Lady Carbery. Sometimes I did more than amuse her; I startled her, and I even startled myself, with distinctions that to this hour strike me as profoundly just, and as undeniably novel. Two out of many I will here repeat; and with the more confidence, that in these two I can be sure of repeating the exact thoughts; whereas, in very many other cases, it would not be so certain that they might not have been insensibly modified by cross-lights or disturbing shadows from intervening speculations.
1. Lady Carbery one day told me that she could not see any reasonable ground for what is said of Christ, and elsewhere of John the Baptist, that he opened his mission by preaching “repentance.” Why “repentance”? Why then, more than at any other time? Her reason for addressing this remark to me was, that she fancied there might be some error in the translation of the Greek expression. I replied that, in my opinion, there was; and that I had myself always been irritated by the entire irrelevance of the English word, and by something very like cant, on which the whole burden of the passage is thrown. How was it any natural preparation for a vast spiritual revolution, that men should first of all acknowledge any special duty of repentance? The repentance, if any movement of that nature could intelligibly be supposed called for, should more naturally follow this great revolution–which, as yet, both in its principle and in its purpose, was altogether mysterious–than herald it, or ground it. In my opinion, the Greek word metanoia concealed a most profound meaning–a meaning of prodigious compass–which bore no allusion to any ideas whatever of repentance. The meta carried with it an emphatic expression of its original idea–the idea of transfer, of translation, of transformation; or, if we prefer a Grecian to a Roman apparelling, the idea of a metamorphosis. And this idea, to what is it applied? Upon what object is this idea of spiritual transfiguration made to bear? Simply upon the noetic or intellectual faculty–the faculty of shaping and conceiving things under their true relations. The holy herald of Christ, and Christ himself the finisher of prophecy, made proclamation alike of the same mysterious summons, as a baptism or rite of initiation; namely, Metanoei. Henceforth transfigure your theory of moral truth; the old theory is laid aside as infinitely insufficient; a new and spiritual revelation is established. Metanoeite–contemplate moral truth as radiating from a new centre; apprehend it under transfigured relations.
John the Baptist, like other earlier prophets, delivered a message which, probably enough, he did not himself more than dimly understand, and never in its full compass of meaning. Christ occupied another station. Not only was he the original Interpreter, but he was himself the Author–Founder, at once, and Finisher–of that great transfiguration applied to ethics, which he and the Baptist alike announced as forming the code for the new and revolutionary era now opening its endless career. The human race was summoned to bring a transfiguring sense and spirit of interpretation (metanoia) to a transfigured ethics–an altered organ to an altered object. This is by far the grandest miracle recorded in Scripture. No exhibition of blank power–not the arresting of the earth’s motion–not the calling back of the dead unto life, can approach in grandeur to this miracle which we all daily behold; namely, the inconceivable mystery of having written and sculptured upon the tablets of man’s heart a new code of moral distinctions, all modifying–many reversing–the old ones. What would have been thought of any prophet, if he should have promised to transfigure the celestial mechanics; if he had said, I will create a new pole-star, a new zodiac, and new laws of gravitation; briefly, I will make new earth and new heavens? And yet a thousand times more awful it was to undertake the writing of new laws upon the spiritual conscience of man. Metanoeite (was the cry from the wilderness), wheel into a new centre your moral system; geocentric has that system been up to this hour–that is, having earth and the earthly for its starting-point; henceforward make it heliocentric (that is, with the sun, or the heavenly for its principle of motion).
2. A second remark of mine was, perhaps, not more important, but it was, on the whole, better calculated to startle the prevailing preconceptions; for, as to the new system of morals introduced by Christ, generally speaking, it is too dimly apprehended in its great differential features to allow of its miraculous character being adequately appreciated; one flagrant illustration of which is furnished by our experience in Affghanistan, where some officers, wishing to impress Akhbar Khan with the beauty of Christianity, very judiciously repeated to him the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, by both of which the Khan was profoundly affected, and often recurred to them; but others, under the notion of conveying to him a more comprehensive view of the Scriptural ethics, repeated to him the Ten Commandments; although, with the sole exception of the two first, forbidding idolatry and Polytheism, there is no word in these which could have displeased or surprised a Pagan, and therefore nothing characteristic of Christianity. Meantime my second remark was substantially this which follows: What is a religion? To Christians it means, over and above a mode of worship, a dogmatic (that is, a doctrinal) system; a great body of doctrinal truths, moral and spiritual. But to the ancients (to the Greeks and Romans, for instance), it meant nothing of the kind. A religion was simply a cultus, a threskeia, a mode of ritual worship, in which there might be two differences, namely: 1. As to the particular deity who furnished the motive to the worship; 2. As to the ceremonial, or mode of conducting the worship. But in no case was there so much as a pretence of communicating any religious truths, far less any moral truths. The obstinate error rooted in modern minds is, that, doubtless, the moral instruction was bad, as being heathen; but that still it was as good as heathen opportunities allowed it to be. No mistake can be greater. Moral instruction had no existence even in the plan or intention of the religious service. The Pagan priest or flamen never dreamed of any function like that of teaching as in any way connected with his office. He no more undertook to teach morals than to teach geography or cookery. He taught nothing. What he undertook was, simply to do: namely, to present authoritatively (that is, authorized and supported by some civil community, Corinth, or Athens, or Rome, which he represented) the homage and gratitude of that community to the particular deity adored. As to morals or just opinions upon the relations to man of the several divinities, all this was resigned to the teaching of nature; and for any polemic functions the teaching was resigned to the professional philosophers–academic, peripatetic, stoic, etc. By religion it was utterly ignored.
The reader must do me the favor to fix his attention upon the real question at issue. What I say–what then I said to Lady Carbery–is this: that, by failing to notice as a differential feature of Christianity this involution of a doctrinal part, we elevate Paganism to a dignity which it never dreamed of. Thus, for instance, in the Eleusinian mysteries, what was the main business transacted? I, for my part, in harmony with my universal theory on this subject,–namely, that there could be no doctrinal truth delivered in a Pagan religion,– have always maintained that the only end and purpose of the mysteries was a more solemn and impressive worship of a particular goddess. Warburton, on the other hand, would insist upon it that some great affirmative doctrines, interesting to man, such as the immortality of the soul, a futurity of retribution, etc., might be here commemorated. And now, nearly a hundred years after Warburton, what is the opinion of scholars upon this point? Two of the latest and profoundest I will cite:–1. Lobeck, in his “Aglaophamus,” expressly repels all such notions; 2. Otfried Mueller, in the twelfth chapter, twenty-fourth section, of his “Introduction to a System of Mythology,” says: “I have here gone on the assumption which I consider unavoidable, that there was no regular instruction, no dogmatical communication, connected with the Grecian worship in general. There could be nothing of the kind introduced into the public service from the way in which it was conducted, for the priest did not address the people at all.” These opinions, which exactly tallied with my own assertion to Lady Carbery, that all religion amongst the Pagans resolved itself into a mere system of ceremonial worship, a pompous and elaborate cultus, were not brought forward in Germany until about ten or twelve years ago; whereas, my doctrine was expressly insisted on in 1800; that is, forty years earlier than any of these German writers had turned their thoughts in that direction.
Had I, then, really all that originality on this subject which for many years I secretly claimed? Substantially I had, because this great distinction between the modern (or Christian) idea of “a religion” and the ancient (or Pagan) idea of “a religion,” I had nowhere openly seen expressed in words. To myself exclusively I was indebted for it. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that this conception must have been long ago germinating in the world, and perhaps bearing fruit. This is past all denial, since, about thirteen or fourteen years ago, I read in some journal (a French journal, I think) this statement: namely, that some oriental people–Turks, according to my present impression, but it might have been Arabs–make an old traditional distinction (so said the French journal) between what they call “religions of the book” and all other religions. The religions of the book, according to them, are three, all equally founded upon written and producible documents, namely: first, the Judaic system, resting upon the Pentateuch, or more truly, I should imagine, upon the Law and the Prophets; secondly, the Christian system, resting upon the Old and New Testaments; thirdly, the Mahometan system, resting confessedly upon the Koran. The very meaning, therefore, of styling these systems, by way of honorable distinction, religions of the book, is, not that accidentally they had written vouchers for their creed, whereas the others had only oral vouchers, but that they severally offer to men’s acceptance a large body of philosophic truth, such as requires and presupposes a book. Whereas the various religions contradistinguished from these three– namely, the whole body of Pagan idolatries–are mere forms of adoration addressed to many different divinities; and the brief reason why they are essentially opposed to religions of the book is, not that they have not, but logically that they cannot have, books or documents, inasmuch as they have no truths to deliver. They do not profess to teach anything whatsoever. What they profess, as their justifying distinction, is, to adore a certain deity, or a certain collective Pantheon, according to certain old authorized forms– authorized, that is to say, by fixed, ancient, and oftentimes local traditions.
What was the great practical inference from the new distinction which I offered? It was this: that Christianity (which included Judaism as its own germinal principle, and Islamism as its own adaptation to a barbarous and imperfect civilization) carried along with itself its own authentication; since, whilst other religions introduced men simply to ceremonies and usages, which could furnish no aliment or material for their intellect, Christianity provided an eternal palestra or place of exercise for the human understanding vitalized by human affections: for every problem whatever, interesting to the human intellect, provided only that it bears a moral aspect, immediately passes into the field of religious speculation. Religion had thus become the great organ of human culture. Lady Carbery advanced half-way to meet me in these new views, finding my credentials as a theologian in my earnestness and my sincerity. She herself was painfully and sorrowfully in earnest. She had come at this early age of seven or eight and twenty, to the most bitter sense of hollowness, and (in a philosophic sense) of treachery as under-lying all things that stood round her; and she sought escape, if escape there were, through religion. Religion was to be sought in the Bible. But was the Bible intelligible at the first glance? Far from it. Search the Scriptures, was the cry in Protestant lands amongst all people, however much at war with each other. But I often told her that this was a vain pretence, without some knowledge of Greek. Or perhaps not always and absolutely a pretence; because, undoubtedly, it is true that oftentimes mere ignorant simplicity may, by bringing into direct collision passages that are reciprocally illustrative, restrain an error or illuminate a truth. And a reason, which I have since given in print (a reason additional to Bentley’s), for neglecting the thirty thousand various readings collected by the diligence of the New Testament collators, applied also to this case, namely: That, first, the transcendent nature, and, secondly, the recurrent nature, of Scriptural truths cause them to surmount verbal disturbances. A doctrine, for instance, which is sowed broadcast over the Scriptures, and recurs, on an average, three times in every chapter, cannot be affected by the casual inaccuracy of a phrase, since the phrase is continually varied. And, therefore, I would not deny the possibility of an effectual searching by very unlearned persons. Our authorized translators of the Bible in the Shakspearian age were not in any exquisite sense learned men; they were very able men, and in a better sense able than if they had been philologically profound scholars, which at that time, from the imperfect culture of philology, they could not easily have been; men they were whom religious feeling guided correctly in choosing their expressions, and with whom the state of the language in some respects cooperated, by furnishing a diction more homely, fervent, and pathetic, than would now be available. For their apostolic functions English was the language most in demand. But in polemic or controversial cases Greek is indispensable. And of this Lady Carbery was sufficiently convinced by my own demur on the word metanoia. If I were right, how profoundly wrong must those have been whom my new explanation superseded. She resolved, therefore, immediately on my suggesting it, that she would learn Greek; or, at least, that limited form of Greek which was required for the New Testament. In the language of Terence, dictum factum–no sooner said than done. On the very next morning we all rode in to Stamford, our nearest town for such a purpose, and astounded the bookseller’s apprentice by ordering four copies of the Clarendon Press Greek Testament, three copies of Parkhurst’s Greek and English Lexicon, and three copies of some grammar, but what I have now forgotten. The books were to come down by the mail-coach without delay. Consequently, we were soon at work. Lady Massey and my sister, not being sustained by the same interest as Lady Carbery, eventually relaxed in their attention. But Lady Carbery was quite in earnest, and very soon became expert in the original language of the New Testament.
I wished much that she should have gone on to the study of Herodotus. And I described to her the situation of the vivacious and mercurial Athenian, in the early period of Pericles, as repeating in its main features, for the great advantage of that Grecian Froissart, the situation of Adam during his earliest hours in Paradise, himself being the describer to the affable archangel. The same genial climate there was; the same luxuriation of nature in her early prime; the same ignorance of his own origin in the tenant of this lovely scenery; and the same eager desire to learn it.
of three rooms; but, thirdly and chiefly, in a pile of ruined archways, most picturesque so far as they went, but so small that Drury Lane could easily have found room for them on its stage. These stood in the miniature pleasure-ground, and were constantly resorted to by artists for specimens of architectural decays, or of nature working for the concealment of such decays by her ordinary processes of gorgeous floral vegetation. Ten rooms there may have been in the Priory, as offered to my mother for less than five hundred pounds. A drawing-room, bed-rooms, dressing-rooms, etc., making about ten more, were added by my mother for a sum under one thousand pounds. The same miniature scale was observed in all these additions. And, as the Priory was not within the walls of the city, whilst the river Dee, flowing immediately below, secured it from annoyance on one side, and the church, with its adjacent church-yard, insulated it from the tumults of life on all the other sides, an atmosphere of conventual stillness and tranquillity brooded over it and all around it forever.
Such was the house, such was the society, in which I now found myself; and upon the whole I might describe myself as being, according to the modern phrase, “in a false position.” I had, for instance, a vast superiority, as was to have been expected, in bookish attainments, and in adroitness of logic; whilst, on the other hand, I was ridiculously short-sighted or blind in all fields of ordinary human experience. It must not be supposed that I regarded my own particular points of superiority, or that I used them, with any vanity or view to present advantages. On the contrary, I sickened over them, and labored to defeat them. But in vain I sowed errors in my premises, or planted absurdities in my assumptions. Vainly I tried such blunders as putting four terms into a syllogism, which, as all the world knows, ought to run on three; a tripod it ought to be, by all rules known to man, and, behold, I forced it to become a quadruped. Upon my uncle’s military haste, and tumultuous energy in pressing his opinions, all such delicate refinements were absolutely thrown away. With disgust I saw, with disgust he saw, that too apparently the advantage lay with me in the result; and, whilst I worked like a dragon to place myself in the wrong, some fiend apparently so counterworked me, that eternally I was reminded of the Manx half-pennies, which lately I had continually seen current in North Wales, bearing for their heraldic distinction three human legs in armor, but so placed in relation to each other that always one leg is vertical and mounting guard on behalf of the other two, which, therefore, are enabled to sprawl aloft in the air–in fact, to be as absurdly negligent as they choose, relying upon their vigilant brother below, and upon the written legend or motto, STABIT QUOCUNQUE JECERIS (Stand it will upright, though you should fling it in any conceivable direction). What gave another feature of distraction and incoherency to my position was, that I still occupied the position of a reputed boy, nay, a child, in the estimate of my audience, and of a child in disgrace. Time enough had not passed since my elopement from school to win for me, in minds so fresh from that remembrance, a station of purification and assoilment. Oxford might avail to assoil me, and to throw into a distant retrospect my boyish trespasses; but as yet Oxford had not arrived. I committed, besides, a great fault in taking often a tone of mock seriousness, when the detection of the playful extravagance was left to the discernment or quick sympathy of the hearer; and I was blind to the fact, that neither my mother nor my uncle was distinguished by any natural liveliness of vision for the comic, or any toleration for the extravagant. My mother, for example, had an awful sense of conscientious fidelity in the payment of taxes. Many a respectable family I have known that would privately have encouraged a smuggler, and, in consequence, were beset continually by mock smugglers, offering, with airs of affected mystery, home commodities liable to no custom-house objections whatsoever, only at a hyperbolical price. I remember even the case of a duke, who bought in Piccadilly, under laughable circumstances of complex disguise, some silk handkerchiefs, falsely pretending to be foreign, and was so incensed at finding himself to have been committing no breach of law whatever, but simply to have been paying double the ordinary shop price, that he pulled up the soi-disant smuggler to Bowstreet, even at the certain price of exposure to himself. The charge he alleged against the man was the untenable one of not being a smuggler. My mother, on the contrary, pronounced all such attempts at cheating the king, or, as I less harshly termed it, cheating the tax-gatherer, as being equal in guilt to a fraud upon one’s neighbor, or to direct appropriation of another man’s purse. I, on my part, held, that government, having often defrauded me through its agent and creature the post-office, by monstrous over-charges on letters, had thus created in my behalf a right of retaliation. And dreadfully it annoyed my mother, that I, stating this right in a very plausible rule-of-three form–namely, As is the income of the said fraudulent government to my poor patrimonial income of one hundred and fifty pounds per annum, so is any one special fraud (as, for instance, that of yesterday morning, amounting to thirteen pence upon a single letter) to that equitable penalty which I am entitled to recover upon the goods and chattels (wherever found) of the ill-advised Britannic government. During the war with Napoleon, the income of this government ran, to all amounts, between fifty and seventy millions pounds sterling. Awful, therefore, seemed the inheritance of retaliation, inexhaustible the fund of reprisals, into which I stepped. Since, even a single case of robbery, such as I could plead by dozens, in the course of a few years, though no more than thirteen pence, yet multiplied into seventy million times two hundred and forty pence, minus one hundred and fifty pounds, made a very comfortable property. The right was clear; and the sole difficulty lay in asserting it; in fact, that same difficulty which beset the philosopher of old, in arguing with the Emperor Hadrian; namely, the want of thirty legions for the purpose of clearly pointing out to Cesar where it was that the truth lay; the secret truth; that rarest of all “nuggets.”
This counter-challenge of government, as the first mover in a system of frauds, annoyed, but also perplexed my mother exceedingly. For an argument that shaped itself into a rule-of-three illustration seemed really to wear too candid an aspect for summary and absolute rejection.
Such discussions wore to me a comic shape. But altogether serious were the disputes upon INDIA–a topic on separate grounds equally interesting to us all, as the mightiest of English colonies, and the superbest monument of demoniac English energy, revealing itself in such men as Clive, Hastings, and soon after in the two Wellesleys. To my mother, as the grave of one brother, as the home of another, and as a new centre from which Christianity (she hoped) would mount like an eagle; for just about that time the Bible Society was preparing its initial movements; whilst to my uncle India appeared as the arena upon which his activities were yet to find their adequate career. With respect to the Christianization of India, my uncle assumed a hope which he did not really feel; and in another point, more trying to himself personally, he had soon an opportunity for showing the sincerity of this deference to his spiritual-minded sister. For, very soon after his return to India, he received a civil appointment (Superintendent of Military Buildings in Bengal), highly lucrative, and the more so as it could be held conjointly with his military rank; but a good deal of its pecuniary advantages was said to lie in fees, or perquisites, privately offered, but perfectly regular and official, which my mother (misunderstanding the Indian system) chose to call “bribes.” A very ugly word was that; but I argued that even at home, even in the courts at Westminster, in the very fountains of justice, private fees constituted one part of the salaries–a fair and official part, so long as Parliament had not made such fees illegal by commuting them for known and fixed equivalents.
It was mere ignorance of India, as I dutifully insisted against “Mamma,” that could confound these regular oriental “nuzzers” with the clandestine wages of corruption. The pot-de-vin of French tradition, the pair of gloves (though at one time very costly gloves) to an English judge of assize on certain occasions, never was offered nor received in the light of a bribe. And (until regularly abolished by the legislature) I insisted–but vainly insisted–that these and similar honoraria ought to be accepted, because else you were lowering the prescriptive rights and value of the office, which you–a mere locum tenens for some coming successor–had no right to do upon a solitary scruple or crotchet, arising probably from dyspepsia. Better men, no doubt, than ever stood in your stockings, had pocketed thankfully the gifts of ancient, time-honored custom. My uncle, however, though not with the carnal recusancy which besieged the spiritual efforts of poor Cuthbert Headrigg, that incorrigible worldling, yet still with intermitting doubts, followed my mother’s earnest entreaties, and the more meritoriously (I conceive), as he yielded, in a point deeply affecting his interest, to a system of arguments very imperfectly convincing to his understanding. He held the office in question for as much (I believe) as eighteen or nineteen years; and, by knowing old bilious Indians, who laughed immoderately at my uncle and my mother, as the proper growth of a priory or some such monastic establishment, I have been assured that nothing short of two hundred thousand pounds ought, under the long tenure of office, to have been remitted to England. But, then, said one of these gentlemen, if your uncle lived (as I have heard that he did) in Calcutta and Meer-ut, at the rate of four thousand pounds a year, that would account for a considerable share of a mine which else would seem to have been worked in vain. Unquestionably, my uncle’s system of living was under no circumstances a self-denying one. To enjoy, and to make others enjoy–that was his law of action. Indeed, a more liberal creature, or one of more princely munificence, never lived.
It might seem useless to call back any fragment of conversations relating to India which passed more than fifty years ago, were it not for two reasons: one of which is this,–that the errors (natural at that time) which I vehemently opposed, not from any greater knowledge that I had, but from closer reflection, are even now the prevailing errors of the English people. My mother, for instance, uniformly spoke of the English as the subverters of ancient thrones. I, on the contrary, insisted that nothing political was ancient in India. Our own original opponents, the Rajahs of Oude and Bengal, had been all upstarts: in the Mysore, again, our more recent opponents, Hyder, and his son Tippoo, were new men altogether, whose grandfathers were quite unknown. Why was it that my mother, why is it that the English public at this day, connect so false an image–that of high, cloudy antiquity –with the thrones of India? It is simply from an old habit of associating the spirit of change and rapid revolution with the activities of Europe; so that, by a natural reaction of thought, the Orient is figured as the home of motionless monotony. In things religious, in habits, in costume, it is so. But so far otherwise in things political, that no instance can be alleged of any dynasty or system of government that has endured beyond a century or two in the East. Taking India in particular, the Mogul dynasty, established by Baber, the great-grandson of Timour, did not subsist in any vigor for two centuries; and yet this was by far the most durable of all established princely houses. Another argument against England urged by my mother (but equally urged by the English people at this day) was, that she had in no eminent sense been a benefactress to India; or, expressing it in words of later date, that the only memorials of our rule, supposing us suddenly ejected from India, would be vast heaps of champagne-bottles. I, on the other hand, alleged that our benefits, like all truly great and lasting benefits (religious benefits, for instance), must not be sought in external memorials of stone and masonry. Higher by far than the Mogul gifts of mile-stones, or travelling stations, or even roads and tanks, were the gifts of security, of peace, of law, and settled order. These blessings were travelling as fast as our rule advanced. I could not then appeal to the cases of Thuggee extirpated, of the Pindanees (full fifteen thousand bloody murderers) forever exterminated, or of the Marhattas bridled forever–a robber nation that previously had descended at intervals with a force of sometimes one hundred and fifty thousand troopers upon the afflicted province of Bengal, and Oude its neighbor; because these were events as yet unborn. But they were the natural extensions of that beneficent system on which I rested my argument. The two terrors of India at that particular time were Holkar and Scindiah (pronounced Sindy), who were soon cut short in their career by the hostilities which they provoked with us, but would else have proved, in combination, a deadlier scourge to India than either Hyder or his ferocious son. My mother, in fact, a great reader of the poet Cowper, drew from him her notions of Anglo-Indian policy and its effects. Cowper, in his “Task,” puts the question,–
“Is India free? and does she wear her plumed
And jewelled turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still?”
Pretty much the same authority it is which the British public of this day has for its craze upon the subject of English oppression amongst the Hindoos.
My uncle, meantime, who from his Indian experience should reasonably have known so much better, was disposed, from the mere passive habits of hearing and reading unresistingly so many assaults of this tone against our Indian policy, to go along with my mother. But he was too just, when forced into reflection upon the subject, not to bend at times to my way of stating the case for England. Suddenly, however, our Indian discussions were brought to a close by the following incident. My uncle had brought with him to England some Arabian horses, and amongst them a beautiful young Persian mare, called Sumroo, the gentlest of her race. Sumroo it was that he happened to be riding, upon a frosty day. Unused to ice, she came down with him, and broke his right leg. This accident laid him up for a month, during which my mother and I read to him by turns. One book, which one day fell to my share by accident, was De Foe’s “Memoirs of a Cavalier.” This book attempts to give a picture of the Parliamentary war; but in some places an unfair, and everywhere a most superficial account. I said so; and my uncle, who had an old craze in behalf of the book, opposed me with asperity; and, in the course of what he said, under some movement of ill-temper, he asked me, in a way which I felt to be taunting, how I could consent to waste my time as I did. Without any answering warmth, I explained that my guardians, having quarrelled with me, would not grant for my use anything beyond my school allowance of one hundred pounds per annum. But was it not possible that even this sum might by economy be made to meet the necessities of the case? I replied that, from what I had heard, very probably it was. Would I undertake an Oxford life upon such terms? Most gladly, I said. Upon that opening he spoke to my mother; and the result was, that, within seven days from the above conversation, I found myself entering that time-honored university.