WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
YES ! the bank had stopped. The ancient
firm of Smith, Brown, Jones, Robinson, and
Co., which had been for some years past expand-
ing from a solid golden organism into a cobweb-
tissue and huge balloon of threadbare paper, had
at last worn through and collapsed, dropping its
car and human contents miserably into the Thames
mud. Why detail the pitiable post-mortem exami-
nation resulting? Lancelot sickened over it for
many a long day; not, indeed, mourning at his
private losses, but at the thorough hollowness of
the system which it exposed, about which he spoke
his mind pretty freely to his uncle, who bore it
good-humoredly enough. Indeed, the discussions
to which it gave rise rather comforted the good
man, by turning his thought from his own losses
to general principles. " I have ruined you, my
poor boy," he used to say ; " so you may as well
take your money 's worth out of me in bullying."
Nothing, indeed, could surpass his honest and
manly sorrow for having been the cause of Lan-
celot's beggary; but as for persuading him that
his system was wrong, it was quite impossible.
Not that Lancelot was hard upon him; on the
contrary, he assured him, repeatedly, of his con-
viction, that the precepts of the Bible had nothing to
What 's to be Done ? 245
do with the laws of commerce ; that though the Jews
were forbidden to take interest of Jews, Christians
had a perfect right to be as hard as they liked on
" brother " Christians ; that there could not be the
least harm in share-jobbing, for though it did, to be
sure, add nothing to the wealth of the community
only conjure money out of your neighbor's
pocket into your own yet was not that all fair
in trade ? If a man did not know the real value
of the shares he sold you, you were not bound to
tell him. Again, Lancelot quite agreed with his
uncle, that though covetousness might be idol-
atry, yet money-making could not be called cov-
etousness ; and that, on the whole, though making
haste to be rich was denounced as a dangerous
and ruinous temptation in St. Paul's times, that
was not the slightest reason why it should be so
now. All these concessions were made with a
freedom which caused the good banker to suspect
at times that his shrewd nephew was laughing at
him in his sleeve, but he could not but subscribe
to them for the sake of consistency; though as
a stanch Protestant, it puzzled him a little at
times to find it necessary to justify himself by
getting his " infidel " nephew to explain away so
much of the Bible for him. But men are accus-
tomed to do that nowadays, and so was he.
Once only did Lancelot break out with his real
sentiments when the banker was planning how to
re-establish his credit; to set to work, in fact,
to blow over again the same bubble which had
already burst under him.
"If I were a Christian," said Lancelot, "like
you, I would call this credit system of yours the
devil's selfish counterfeit of God's order of mutual
love and trust; the child of that miserable dream,
which, as Dr. Chalmers well said, expects uni-
versal selfishness to do the work of universal
love. Look at your credit system, how not in
its abuse, but in its very essence it carries the
seeds of self-destruction. In the first place, a
man's credit depends, not upon his real worth
and property, but upon his reputation for property ;
daily and hourly he is tempted, he is forced, to
puff himself, to pretend to be richer than he is."
The banker sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
"We all do it, my dear boy."
" I know it. You must do it, or be more than
human. There is lie the first, and look at lie the
second. This credit system is founded on the
universal faith and honor of men towards men.
But do you think faith and honor can be the
children of selfishness ? Men must be chivalrous
and disinterested to be honorable. And you
expect them all to join in universal faith each
for his own selfish interest ? You forget that if
that is the prime motive, men will be honorable
only as long as it suits that same self-interest."
The banker shrugged his shoulders again.
"Yes, my dear uncle," said Lancelot, "you all
forget it, though you suffer for it daily and
hourly; though the honorable men among you
complain of the stain which has fallen on the old
chivalrous good faith of English commerce, and
say that now, abroad as well as at home, an Eng-
lishman's word is no longer worth other men's
bonds. You see the evil, and you deplore it in
disgust. Ask yourself honestly, how can you
battle against it, while you allow in practice,
and in theory too, except in church on Sundays,
What's to be Done? 247
the very falsehood from which it all springs ?
that a man is bound to get wealth, not for his
country, but for himself; that, in short, not
patriotism, but selfishness, is the bond of all
society. Selfishness can collect, not unite, a
herd of cowardly wild cattle, that they may feed
together, breed together, keep off the wolf and
bear together. But when one of your wild cattle
falls sick, what becomes of the corporate feelings
of the herd then? For one man of your class
who is nobly helped by his fellows, are not the
thousand left behind to perish ? Your Bible talks
of society, not as a herd, but as a living tree,
an organic individual body, a holy brotherhood,
and kingdom of God. And here is an idol which
you have set up instead of it ! "
But the banker was deaf to all arguments. No
doubt he had plenty, for he was himself a just
and generous ay, and a God-fearing man in his
way, only he regarded Lancelot's young fancies
as too visionary to deserve an answer; which
they most probably are ; else, having been broached
as often as they have been, they would surely,
ere now, have provoked the complete refutation
which can, no doubt, be given to them by hun-
dreds of learned votaries of so-called commerce.
And here I beg my readers to recollect that I am
in no way answerable for the speculations, either
of Lancelot or any of his acquaintances ; and that
these papers have been, from beginning to end,
as in name, so in nature, Yeast an honest
sample of the questions which, good or bad, are
fermenting in the minds of the young of this day,
and are rapidly leavening the minds of the rising
generation. No doubt they are all as full of fal-
lacies as possible, but as long as the saying of
the German sage stands true, that "the destiny
of any nation, at any given moment, depends on
the opinions of its young men under five-and-
twenty," so long it must be worth while for those
who wish to preserve the present order of society
to justify its acknowledged evils somewhat, not
only to the few young men who are interested in
preserving them, but also to the many who are not.
Though, therefore, I am neither Plymouth
Brother nor Communist, and as thoroughly con-
vinced as the newspapers can make me, that to
assert the duties of property is only to plot its
destruction, and that a community of. goods must
needs imply a community of wives (as every one
knows was the case with the apostolic Christians),
I shall take the liberty of narrating Lancelot's
fanatical conduct, without execratory comment,
certain that he will still receive his just reward
of condemnation ; and that, if I find facts, a sen-
sible public will find abhorrence for them. His
behavior was, indeed, most singular; he abso-
lutely refused a good commercial situation which
his uncle procured him. He did not believe
in being "cured by a hair of the dog that bit
him;" and he refused, also, the really generous
offers of the creditors, to allow him a sufficient
"No," he said, "no more pay without work for
me. I will earn my bread or starve. It seems
God's will to teach me what poverty is I will
see that His intention is not left half fulfilled.
I have sinned, and only in the stern delight of a
just penance can I gain self-respect. "
"But, my dear madman," said his uncle, "you
What 's to be Done? 249
are just the innocent one among us all. You,
at least, were only a sleeping partner."
"And therein lies my sin; I took money which
I never earned, and cared as little how it was
gained as how I spent it. Henceforth I shall
touch no farthing which is the fruit of a system
which I cannot approve. I accuse no one.
Actions may vary in rightfulness, according to
the age and the person. But what may be right
for you because you think it right, is surely
wrong for me because I think it wrong."
So, with grim determination, he sent to the
hammer every article he possessed, till he had
literally nothing left but the clothes in which he
stood. "He could not rest," he said, "till he
had pulled out all his borrowed peacock's feathers.
When they were gone he should be able to see,
at last, whether he was jackdaw or eagle." And
wonder not, reader, at this same strength of will.
The very genius, which too often makes its pos-
sessor self-indulgent in common matters, from
the intense capability of enjoyment which it
brings, may also, when once his whole being is
stirred into motion by some great object, trans-
form him into a hero.
And he carried a letter, too, in his bosom,
night and day, which routed all coward fears
and sad forebodings as soon as they arose, and
converted the lonely and squalid lodging to which
he had retired, into a fairy palace peopled with
bright phantoms of future bliss. I need not say
from whom it came.
" Beloved ! " (it ran) " Darling ! you need not pain
yourself to tell me anything. I know all ; and I know,
too (do not ask me how), your noble determination to
drink the wholesome cup of poverty to the very dregs.
" Oh that I were with you ! Oh that I could give
you my fortune ! but that is not yet, alas ! in my own
power. No ! rather would I share that poverty with you,
and strengthen you in your purpose. And yet, I cannot
bear the thought of you, lonely perhaps miserable.
But, courage ! though you have lost all, you have found
me; and now you are knitting me to you forever
justifying my own love to me by your nobleness ; and am
I not worth all the world to you? I dare say this to
you; you will not think me conceited. Can we mis-
understand each other's hearts ? And all this while you
are alone ! Oh ! I have mourned for you ! Since I
heard of your misfortune I have not tasted pleasure.
The light of heaven has been black to me, and I have
lived only upon love. I will not taste comfort while you
are wretched. Would that I could be poor like you !
Every night upon the bare floor I lie down to sleep, and
fancy you in your little chamber, and nestle to you, and
cover that dear face with kisses. Strange ! that I should
dare to speak thus to you, whom a few months ago I had
never heard of ! Wonderful simplicity of love ! How
all that is prudish and artificial flees before it ! I seem
to have begun a new life. If I could play now, it would
be only with little children. Farewell ! be great a
glorious future is before you and me in you ! "
Lancelot's answer must remain untold; per-
haps the veil has been already too far lifted which
hides the sanctuary of such love. But, alas ! to
his letter no second had been returned; and he
felt though he dared not confess it to himself
a gloomy presentiment of evil flit across him,
as he thought of his fallen fortunes, and the
altered light in which his suit would be regarded
What 's to be Done? 251
by Argemone's parents. Once he blamed himself
bitterly for not having gone to Mr. Lavington
the moment he discovered Argemone's affection,
and insuring as he then might have done his
consent. But again he felt that no sloth had
kept him back, but adoring reverence for his
God-given treasure, and humble astonishment at
his own happiness; and he fled from the thought
into renewed examination into the state of the
masses, the effect of which was only to deepen
his own determination to share their lot.
But at the same time it seemed to him but
fair to live, as long as it would last, on that part
of his capital which his creditors would have
given nothing for namely, his information;
and he set to work to write. But, alas ! he had
but a "small literary connection;" and the entree
of the initiated ring is not obtained in a day. . . .
Besides, he would not write trash. He was in
far too grim a humor for that ; and if he wrote on
important subjects, able editors always were in
the habit of entrusting them to old contributors,
men, in short, in whose judgment they had
confidence not to say anything which would
commit the magazine to anything but its own
little party-theory. And behold ! poor Lancelot
found himself of no party whatsoever. He was
in a minority of one against the whole world, on
all points, right or wrong. He had the unhap-
piest knack (as all geniuses have) of seeing con-
nections, humorous or awful, between the most
seemingly antipodal things ; of illustrating every
subject from three or four different spheres which
it is anathema to mention in the same page. If
he wrote a physical-science article, able editors
asked him what the deuce a scrap of high-church
ism did in the middle of it? If he took the same
article to a high-church magazine, the editor
could not commit himself to any theory which
made the earth more than six thousand years old,
and was afraid that the public taste would not
approve of the allusions to free-masonry and
Soyer's soup. . . . And worse than that, one and
all Jew, Turk, infidel, and heretic, as well as
the orthodox joined in pious horror at his irrev-
erence ; the shocking way he had of jumbling
religion and politics the human and the divine
the theories of the pulpit with the facts of the
exchange. . . . The very atheists, who laughed
at him for believing in a God, agreed that that,
at least, was inconsistent with the dignity of the
God who did not exist. . . . It was Syncretism
. . . Pantheism. . . .
"Very well, friends," quoth Lancelot to him-
self, in bitter rage, one day, " if you choose to be
without God in the world, and to honor Him by
denying Him . . . do so! You shall have your
way; and go to the place whither it seems lead-
ing you just now, at railroad pace. But I must
live. . . . Well, at least, there is some old col-
lege nonsense of mine, written three years ago,
when I believed, like you, that all heaven and
earth was put together out of separate bits, like a
child's puzzle, and that each topic ought to have
its private little pigeon-hole all to itself in a
man's brain, like drugs in a chemist's shop.
Perhaps it will suit you, friends ; perhaps it will
be system -frozen, and narrow, and dogmatic, and
cowardly, and godless enough for you. "...
So he went forth with them to market; and
What's to be Done? 253
behold ! they were bought forthwith. There was
verily a demand for such; . . . and in spite of
the ten thousand ink-fountains which were daily
pouring out similar Stygian liquors, the public
thirst remained unslaked. "Well," thought
Lancelot, "the negro race is not the only one
which is afflicted with manias for eating dirt.
... By the by, where is poor Luke?"
Ah ! where was poor Luke ? Lancelot had
received from him one short and hurried note,
blotted with tears, which told how he had in-
formed his father; and how his father had refused
to see him, and had forbid him the house; and
how he had offered him an allowance of fifty
pounds a year (it should have been five hundred,
he said, if he had possessed it), which Luke's
director, sensibly enough, had compelled him to
accept. . . . And there the letter ended, abruptly,
leaving the writer evidently in lower depths than
he had either experienced already or expected at
Lancelot had often pleaded for him with his
father; but in vain. Not that the good man was
hard-hearted : he would cry like a child about it
all to Lancelot when they sat together after
dinner. But he was utterly beside himself, what
with grief, shame, terror, and astonishment. On
the whole, the sorrow was a real comfort to him :
it gave him something beside his bankruptcy to
think of; and, distracted between the two differ-
ent griefs, he could brood over neither. But of
the two, certainly his son's conversion was the
worst in his eyes. The bankruptcy was intelli-
gible measurable ; it was something known and
classified part of the ills which flesh (or, at
least, commercial flesh) is heir to. But going
to Rome !
"I can't understand it. I won't believe it.
It's so foolish, you see, Lancelot so foolish
like an ass that eats thistles ! . . . There must
be some reason ; there must be something we
don't know, sir! Do you think they could have
promised to make him a cardinal ? "
Lancelot quite agreed that there were reasons
for it, that they or, at least, the banker did
not know. . . .
"Depend upon it, they promised him some-
thing some prince-bishopric, perhaps. Else
why on earth could a man go over ! It 's out of
the course of nature ! "
Lancelot tried in vain to make him understand
that a man might sacrifice everything to con-
science, and actually give up all worldly weal for
what he thought right. The banker turned on
him with angry resignation
"Very well I suppose he's done right then!
I suppose you'll go next! Take up a false
religion, and give up everything for it ! Why,
then, he must be honest; and if he 's honest he 's
in the right ; and I suppose I 'd better go too !"
Lancelot argued: but in vain. The idea of
disinterested sacrifice was so utterly foreign to
the good man's own creed and practice, that he
could but see one pair of alternatives.
" Either he is a good man, or he 's a hypocrite.
Either he 's right, or he 's gone over for some vile
selfish end ; and what can that be but money ? "
Lancelot gently hinted that there might be
other selfish ends besides pecuniary ones sav-
ing one's soul, for instance.
What's to be Done? 255
"Why, if he wants to save his soul, he 's right.
What ought we all to do, but try to save our
souls? I tell you there's some sinister reason.
They've told him that they expect to convert
England I should like to see them do it ! and
that he'll be made a bishop. Don't argue with
me, or you'll drive me mad. I know those
And as soon as he began upon the Jesuits,
Lancelot prudently held his tongue. The good
man had worked himself up into a perfect frenzy
of terror and suspicion about them. He suspected
concealed Jesuits among his footmen and his
housemaids ; Jesuits in his counting-house, Jesuits
in his duns. . . .
" Hang it, sir ! how do I know that there ain't
a Jesuit listening to us now behind the curtain ? "
"I '11 go and look," quoth Lancelot, and suited
the action to the word.
"Well, if there ain't there might be. They 're
everywhere, I tell you. That vicar of Whitford
was a Jesuit. I was sure of it all along ; but the
man seemed so pious; and certainly he did my
poor dear boy a deal of good. But he ruined
you, you know. And I 'm convinced no, don't
contradict me; I tell you, I won't stand it
I 'm convinced that this whole mess of mine is a
plot of those rascals; I 'm as certain of it as if
they'd told me!"
"For what end?"
" How the deuce can I tell ? Am I a Jesuit,
to understand their sneaking, underhand pah!
I 'm sick of life ! Nothing but rogues wherever
one turns ! "
And then Lancelot used to try to persuade him
to take poor Luke back again. But vague terror
had steeled his heart.
"What! Why, he'd convert us all! He'd
convert his sisters! He'd bring his priests in
here, or his nuns disguised as ladies' maids, and
we should all go over, every one of us, like a set
of nine-pins ! "
"You seem to think Protestantism a rather
shaky cause, if it is so easy to be upset."
"Sir! Protestantism is the cause of England
and Christianity, and civilization, and freedom,
and common sense, sir ! and that 's the very reason
why it 's so easy to pervert men from it; and the
very reason why it's a lost cause, and Popery,
and Antichrist, and the gates of hell are coming
in like a flood to prevail against it ! "
"Well," thought Lancelot, "that is the very
strangest reason for its being a lost cause ! Per-
haps if my poor uncle believed it really to be the
cause of God Himself, he would not be in such
extreme fear for it, or fancy it required such a
hotbed and greenhouse culture. . . . Really, if
his sisters were little girls of ten years old, who
looked up to him as an oracle, there would be
some reason in it. ... But those tall, ball-
going, flirting, self-satisfied cousins of mine
who would have been glad enough, either of
them, two months ago, to snap up me, infidelity,
bad character, and all, as a charming rich young
rout if they have not learnt enough Protestant-
ism in the last five-and -twenty years to take care
of themselves, Protestantism must have very few
allurements, or else be very badly carried out in
practice by those who talk loudest in favor of it.
. . o I heard them praising O'Blareaway's ' rain-
What's to be Done? 257
istry, ' by the by, the other day. So he is up in
town at last at the summit of his ambition.
Well, he may suit them. I wonder how many
young creatures like Argemone and Luke he
would keep from Popery!"
But there was no use arguing with a man in
such a state of mind; and gradually Lancelot
gave it up, in hopes that time would bring the
good man to his sane wits again, and that a
father's feelings would prove themselves stronger,
because more divine, than a so-called Protestant's
fears, though that would have been, in the
banker's eyes, and in the Jesuit's also so do
extremes meet the very reason for expecting
them to be the weaker; for it is the rule with all
bigots that the right cause is always a lost cause,
and therefore requires God's weapons of love,
truth, and reason being well known to be too
weak to be defended, if it is to be saved, with
the devil's weapons of bad logic, spite, and
At last, in despair of obtaining tidings of his
cousin by any other method, Lancelot made up
his mind to apply to a certain remarkable man,
whose "conversion" had preceded Luke's about
a year, and had, indeed, mainly caused it.
He went, . . . and was not disappointed.
With the most winning courtesy and sweetness,
his story and his request were patiently listened to.
"The outcome of your speech, then, my dear
sir, as I apprehend it, is a request to me to send
.back the fugitive lamb into the jaws of the well-
meaning, but still lupine wolf?"
This was spoken with so sweet and arch a
smile, that it was impossible to be angry.
" On my honor, I have no wish to convert him.
All I want is to have human speech of him to
hear from his own lips that he is content.
Whither should I convert him? Not to my own
platform for I am nowhere. Not to that which
he has left, ... for if he could have found
standing ground there, he would not have gone
elsewhere for rest."
"Therefore they went out from you, because
they were not of you," said the "Father," half
"Most true, sir. I have felt long that argu-
ment was bootless with those whose root-ideas of
Deity, man, earth, and heaven, were as utterly
different from my own, as if we had been created
by two different beings."
" Do you include in that catalogue those ideas
of truth, love, and justice, which are Deity itself?
Have you no common ground in them ? "
"You are an elder and a better man than L
... It would be insolent in me to answer that
question, except in one way, . . . and "
" In that you cannot answer it. Be it so. ...
You shall see your cousin. You may make what
efforts you will for his re-conversion. The
Catholic Church," continued he, with one of his
arch, deep-meaning smiles, "is not, like popular
Protestantism, driven into shrieking terror at the
approach of a foe. She has too much faith in
herself, and in Him who gives to her the power
of truth, to expect every gay meadow to allure
away her lambs from the fold."
"I assure you that your gallant permission is
unnecessary. I am beginning, at least, to believe
that there is a Father in Heaven who educates
What's to be Done? 259
His children; and I have no wish to interfere
with His methods. Let my cousin go his way
... he will learn something which he wanted,
I doubt not, on his present path, even as I shall
on mine. ' Se tu segui la tua Stella ' is my motto.
. . . Let it be his too, wherever the star may
guide him. If it be a will-o'-the-wisp, and lead
to the morass, he will only learn how to avoid