Benjamin Disraeli.

Coningsby online

. (page 13 of 39)
Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 13 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

apparent throughout the district that surrounded Beaumanoir. The ladies
of that house were deeply sensible of the responsibility of their
position; thoroughly comprehending their duties, they fulfilled them
without affectation, with earnestness, and with that effect which
springs from a knowledge of the subject. The consequences were visible
in the tone of the peasantry being superior to that which we too often
witness. The ancient feudal feeling that lingers in these sequestered
haunts is an instrument which, when skilfully wielded, may be productive
of vast social benefit. The Duke understood this well; and his family
had imbibed all his views, and seconded them. Lady Everingham, once more
in the scene of her past life, resumed the exercise of gentle offices,
as if she had never ceased to be a daughter of the house, and as if
another domain had not its claims upon her solicitude. Coningsby was
often the companion of herself and her sister in their pilgrimages
of charity and kindness. He admired the graceful energy, and thorough
acquaintance with details, with which Lady Everingham superintended
schools, organised societies of relief, and the discrimination which she
brought to bear upon individual cases of suffering or misfortune. He was
deeply interested as he watched the magic of her manner, as she melted
the obdurate, inspired the slothful, consoled the afflicted, and
animated with her smiles and ready phrase the energetic and the dutiful.
Nor on these occasions was Lady Theresa seen under less favourable
auspices. Without the vivacity of her sister, there was in her demeanour
a sweet seriousness of purpose that was most winning; and sometimes a
burst of energy, a trait of decision, which strikingly contrasted with
the somewhat over-controlled character of her life in drawing-rooms.

In the society of these engaging companions, time for Coningsby glided
away in a course which he sometimes wished nothing might disturb. Apart
from them, he frequently felt himself pensive and vaguely disquieted.
Even the society of Henry Sydney or Eustace Lyle, much as under
ordinary circumstances they would have been adapted to his mood, did not
compensate for the absence of that indefinite, that novel, that strange,
yet sweet excitement, which he felt, he knew not exactly how or why,
stealing over his senses. Sometimes the countenance of Theresa Sydney
flitted over his musing vision; sometimes the merry voice of Lady
Everingham haunted his ear. But to be their companion in ride or ramble;
to avoid any arrangement which for many hours should deprive him of
their presence; was every day with Coningsby a principal object.

One day he had been out shooting rabbits with Lyle and Henry Sydney, and
returned with them late to Beaumanoir to dinner. He had not enjoyed his
sport, and he had not shot at all well. He had been dreamy, silent, had
deeply felt the want of Lady Everingham's conversation, that was ever so
poignant and so interestingly personal to himself; one of the secrets of
her sway, though Coningsby was not then quite conscious of it. Talk to a
man about himself, and he is generally captivated. That is the real way
to win him. The only difference between men and women in this respect
is, that most women are vain, and some men are not. There are some men
who have no self-love; but if they have, female vanity is but a trifling
and airy passion compared with the vast voracity of appetite which in
the sterner sex can swallow anything, and always crave for more.

When Coningsby entered the drawing-room, there seemed a somewhat unusual
bustle in the room, but as the twilight had descended, it was at first
rather difficult to distinguish who was present. He soon perceived that
there were strangers. A gentleman of pleasing appearance was near a sofa
on which the Duchess and Lady Everingham were seated, and discoursing
with some volubility. His phrases seemed to command attention; his
audience had an animated glance, eyes sparkling with intelligence and
interest; not a word was disregarded. Coningsby did not advance as was
his custom; he had a sort of instinct, that the stranger was discoursing
of matters of which he knew nothing. He turned to a table, he took up a
book, which he began to read upside downwards. A hand was lightly placed
on his shoulder. He looked round, it was another stranger; who said,
however, in a tone of familiar friendliness,

'How do you do, Coningsby?'

It was a young man about four-and-twenty years of age, tall,
good-looking. Old recollections, his intimate greeting, a strong family
likeness, helped Coningsby to conjecture correctly who was the person
who addressed him. It was, indeed, the eldest son of the Duke, the
Marquis of Beaumanoir, who had arrived at his father's unexpectedly with
his friend, Mr. Melton, on their way to the north.

Mr. Melton was a gentleman of the highest fashion, and a great favourite
in society. He was about thirty, good-looking, with an air that
commanded attention, and manners, though facile, sufficiently finished.
He was communicative, though calm, and without being witty, had at his
service a turn of phrase, acquired by practice and success, which was,
or which always seemed to be, poignant. The ladies seemed especially to
be delighted at his arrival. He knew everything of everybody they cared
about; and Coningsby listened in silence to names which for the first
time reached his ears, but which seemed to excite great interest. Mr.
Melton frequently addressed his most lively observations and his most
sparkling anecdotes to Lady Everingham, who evidently relished all that
he said, and returned him in kind.

Throughout the dinner Lady Everingham and Mr. Melton maintained what
appeared a most entertaining conversation, principally about things and
persons which did not in any way interest our hero; who, however, had
the satisfaction of hearing Lady Everingham, in the drawing-room, say in
a careless tone to the Duchess.

'I am so glad, mamma, that Mr. Melton has come; we wanted some

What a confession! What a revelation to Coningsby of his infinite
insignificance! Coningsby entertained a great aversion for Mr. Melton,
but felt his spirit unequal to the social contest. The genius of
the untutored, inexperienced youth quailed before that of the
long-practised, skilful man of the world. What was the magic of this
man? What was the secret of this ease, that nothing could disturb, and
yet was not deficient in deference and good taste? And then his dress,
it seemed fashioned by some unearthly artist; yet it was impossible
to detect the unobtrusive causes of the general effect that was
irresistible. Coningsby's coat was made by Stultz; almost every fellow
in the sixth form had his coats made by Stultz; yet Coningsby fancied
that his own garment looked as if it had been furnished by some rustic
slopseller. He began to wonder where Mr. Melton got his boots from, and
glanced at his own, which, though made in St. James's Street, seemed to
him to have a cloddish air.

Lady Everingham was determined that Mr. Melton should see Beaumanoir to
the greatest advantage. Mr. Melton had never been there before, except
at Christmas, with the house full of visitors and factitious gaiety. Now
he was to see the country. Accordingly, there were long rides every day,
which Lady Everingham called expeditions, and which generally produced
some slight incident which she styled an adventure. She was kind to
Coningsby, but had no time to indulge in the lengthened conversations
which he had previously found so magical. Mr. Melton was always on
the scene, the monopolising hero, it would seem, of every thought, and
phrase, and plan. Coningsby began to think that Beaumanoir was not so
delightful a place as he had imagined. He began to think that he had
stayed there perhaps too long. He had received a letter from Mr. Rigby,
to inform him that he was expected at Coningsby Castle at the beginning
of September, to meet Lord Monmouth, who had returned to England, and
for grave and special reasons was about to reside at his chief seat,
which he had not visited for many years. Coningsby had intended to have
remained at Beaumanoir until that time; but suddenly it occurred to
him, that the Age of Ruins was past, and that he ought to seize the
opportunity of visiting Manchester, which was in the same county as the
castle of his grandfather. So difficult is it to speculate upon
events! Muse as we may, we are the creatures of circumstances; and the
unexpected arrival of a London dandy at the country-seat of an English
nobleman sent this representative of the New Generation, fresh from
Eton, nursed in prejudices, yet with a mind predisposed to inquiry
and prone to meditation, to a scene apt to stimulate both intellectual
processes; which demanded investigation and induced thought, the great




A great city, whose image dwells in the memory of man, is the type of
some great idea. Rome represents conquest; Faith hovers over the towers
of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique
world, Art.

In modern ages, Commerce has created London; while Manners, in the most
comprehensive sense of the word, have long found a supreme capital in
the airy and bright-minded city of the Seine.

Art was to the ancient world, Science is to the modern: the distinctive
faculty. In the minds of men the useful has succeeded to the beautiful.
Instead of the city of the Violet Crown, a Lancashire village has
expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses. Yet, rightly
understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens.

The inhabitants, indeed, are not so impressed with their idiosyncrasy as
the countrymen of Pericles and Phidias. They do not fully comprehend the
position which they occupy. It is the philosopher alone who can conceive
the grandeur of Manchester, and the immensity of its future. There are
yet great truths to tell, if we had either the courage to announce or
the temper to receive them.


A feeling of melancholy, even of uneasiness, attends our first entrance
into a great town, especially at night. Is it that the sense of all this
vast existence with which we have no connexion, where we are utterly
unknown, oppresses us with our insignificance? Is it that it is terrible
to feel friendless where all have friends?

Yet reverse the picture. Behold a community where you are unknown, but
where you will be known, perhaps honoured. A place where you have no
friends, but where, also, you have no enemies. A spot that has hitherto
been a blank in your thoughts, as you have been a cipher in its
sensations, and yet a spot, perhaps, pregnant with your destiny!

There is, perhaps, no act of memory so profoundly interesting as to
recall the careless mood and moment in which we have entered a town,
a house, a chamber, on the eve of an acquaintance or an event that has
given colour and an impulse to our future life.

What is this Fatality that men worship? Is it a Goddess?

Unquestionably it is a power that acts mainly by female agents. Women
are the Priestesses of Predestination.

Man conceives Fortune, but Woman conducts it.

It is the Spirit of Man that says, 'I will be great;' but it is the
Sympathy of Woman that usually makes him so.

It was not the comely and courteous hostess of the Adelphi Hotel,
Manchester, that gave occasion to these remarks, though she may deserve
them, and though she was most kind to our Coningsby as he came in late
at night very tired, and not in very good humour.

He had travelled the whole day through the great district of labour,
his mind excited by strange sights, and at length wearied by their
multiplication. He had passed over the plains where iron and coal
supersede turf and corn, dingy as the entrance of Hades, and flaming
with furnaces; and now he was among illumined factories with more
windows than Italian palaces, and smoking chimneys taller than Egyptian
obelisks. Alone in the great metropolis of machinery itself, sitting
down in a solitary coffee-room glaring with gas, with no appetite, a
whirling head, and not a plan or purpose for the morrow, why was he
there? Because a being, whose name even was unknown to him, had met him
in a hedge alehouse during a thunderstorm, and told him that the Age of
Ruins was past.

Remarkable instance of the influence of an individual; some evidence of
the extreme susceptibility of our hero.

Even his bedroom was lit by gas. Wonderful city! That, however, could be
got rid of. He opened the window. The summer air was sweet, even in this
land of smoke and toil. He feels a sensation such as in Lisbon or Lima
precedes an earthquake. The house appears to quiver. It is a sympathetic
affection occasioned by a steam-engine in a neighbouring factory.

Notwithstanding, however, all these novel incidents, Coningsby slept the
deep sleep of youth and health, of a brain which, however occasionally
perplexed by thought, had never been harassed by anxiety. He rose early,
freshened, and in fine spirits. And by the time the deviled chicken and
the buttered toast, that mysterious and incomparable luxury, which can
only be obtained at an inn, had disappeared, he felt all the delightful
excitement of travel.

And now for action! Not a letter had Coningsby; not an individual in
that vast city was known to him. He went to consult his kind hostess,
who smiled confidence. He was to mention her name at one place, his
own at another. All would be right; she seemed to have reliance in the
destiny of such a nice young man.

He saw all; they were kind and hospitable to the young stranger,
whose thought, and earnestness, and gentle manners attracted them. One
recommended him to another; all tried to aid and assist him. He entered
chambers vaster than are told of in Arabian fable, and peopled with
habitants more wondrous than Afrite or Peri. For there he beheld, in
long-continued ranks, those mysterious forms full of existence without
life, that perform with facility, and in an instant, what man can fulfil
only with difficulty and in days. A machine is a slave that neither
brings nor bears degradation; it is a being endowed with the greatest
degree of energy, and acting under the greatest degree of excitement,
yet free at the same time from all passion and emotion. It is,
therefore, not only a slave, but a supernatural slave. And why should
one say that the machine does not live? It breathes, for its breath
forms the atmosphere of some towns. It moves with more regularity than
man. And has it not a voice? Does not the spindle sing like a merry girl
at her work, and the steam-engine roar in jolly chorus, like a strong
artisan handling his lusty tools, and gaining a fair day's wages for a
fair day's toil?

Nor should the weaving-room be forgotten, where a thousand or fifteen
hundred girls may be observed in their coral necklaces, working like
Penelope in the daytime; some pretty, some pert, some graceful and
jocund, some absorbed in their occupation; a little serious some, few
sad. And the cotton you have observed in its rude state, that you have
seen the silent spinner change into thread, and the bustling weaver
convert into cloth, you may now watch as in a moment it is tinted
with beautiful colours, or printed with fanciful patterns. And yet the
mystery of mysteries is to view machines making machines; a spectacle
that fills the mind with curious, and even awful, speculation.

From early morn to the late twilight, our Coningsby for several days
devoted himself to the comprehension of Manchester. It was to him a new
world, pregnant with new ideas, and suggestive of new trains of thought
and feeling. In this unprecedented partnership between capital and
science, working on a spot which Nature had indicated as the fitting
theatre of their exploits, he beheld a great source of the wealth of
nations which had been reserved for these times, and he perceived that
this wealth was rapidly developing classes whose power was imperfectly
recognised in the constitutional scheme, and whose duties in the social
system seemed altogether omitted. Young as he was, the bent of his mind,
and the inquisitive spirit of the times, had sufficiently prepared him,
not indeed to grapple with these questions, but to be sensible of their
existence, and to ponder.

One evening, in the coffee-room of the hotel, having just finished his
well-earned dinner, and relaxing his mind for the moment in a fresh
research into the Manchester Guide, an individual, who had also been
dining in the same apartment, rose from his table, and, after lolling
over the empty fireplace, reading the framed announcements, looking
at the directions of several letters waiting there for their owners,
picking his teeth, turned round to Coningsby, and, with an air of uneasy
familiarity, said, -

'First visit to Manchester, sir?'

'My first.'

'Gentleman traveller, I presume?'

'I am a traveller.' said Coningsby.

'Hem! From south?'

'From the south.'

'And pray, sir, how did you find business as you came along? Brisk, I
dare say. And yet there is a something, a sort of a something; didn't
it strike you, sir, there was a something? A deal of queer paper about,

'I fear you are speaking on a subject of which I know nothing,' said
Coningsby, smiling;' I do not understand business at all; though I am
not surprised that, being at Manchester, you should suppose so.'

'Ah! not in business. Hem! Professional?'

'No,' said Coningsby, 'I am nothing.'

'Ah! an independent gent; hem! and a very pleasant thing, too. Pleased
with Manchester, I dare say?' continued the stranger.

'And astonished,' said Coningsby; 'I think, in the whole course of my
life, I never saw so much to admire.'

'Seen all the lions, have no doubt?'

'I think I have seen everything,' said Coningsby, rather eager and with
some pride.

'Very well, very well,' exclaimed the stranger, in a patronising tone.
'Seen Mr. Birley's weaving-room, I dare say?'

'Oh! isn't it wonderful?' said Coningsby.

'A great many people.' said the stranger, with a rather supercilious

'But after all,' said Coningsby, with animation, 'it is the machinery
without any interposition of manual power that overwhelms me. It haunts
me in my dreams,' continued Coningsby; 'I see cities peopled with
machines. Certainly Manchester is the most wonderful city of modern

The stranger stared a little at the enthusiasm of his companion, and
then picked his teeth.

'Of all the remarkable things here,' said Coningsby, 'what on the whole,
sir, do you look upon as the most so?'

'In the way of machinery?' asked the stranger.

'In the way of machinery.'

'Why, in the way of machinery, you know,' said the stranger, very
quietly, 'Manchester is a dead letter.'

'A dead letter!' said Coningsby.

'Dead and buried,' said the stranger, accompanying his words with
that peculiar application of his thumb to his nose that signifies so
eloquently that all is up.

'You astonish me!' said Coningsby.

'It's a booked place though,' said the stranger, 'and no mistake. We
have all of us a very great respect for Manchester, of course; look upon
her as a sort of mother, and all that sort of thing. But she is behind
the times, sir, and that won't do in this age. The long and short of it
is, Manchester is gone by.'

'I thought her only fault might be she was too much in advance of the
rest of the country,' said Coningsby, innocently.

'If you want to see life,' said the stranger, 'go to Staleybridge or
Bolton. There's high pressure.'

'But the population of Manchester is increasing,' said Coningsby.

'Why, yes; not a doubt. You see we have all of us a great respect for
the town. It is a sort of metropolis of this district, and there is
a good deal of capital in the place. And it has some firstrate
institutions. There's the Manchester Bank. That's a noble institution,
full of commercial enterprise; understands the age, sir; high-pressure
to the backbone. I came up to town to see the manager to-day. I am
building a new mill now myself at Staleybridge, and mean to open it by
January, and when I do, I'll give you leave to pay another visit to Mr.
Birley's weaving-room, with my compliments.'

'I am very sorry,' said Coningsby, 'that I have only another day left;
but pray tell me, what would you recommend me most to see within a
reasonable distance of Manchester?'

'My mill is not finished,' said the stranger musingly, 'and though there
is still a great deal worth seeing at Staleybridge, still you had
better wait to see my new mill. And Bolton, let me see; Bolton, there is
nothing at Bolton that can hold up its head for a moment against my new
mill; but then it is not finished. Well, well, let us see. What a pity
this is not the 1st of January, and then my new mill would be at work! I
should like to see Mr. Birley's face, or even Mr. Ashworth's, that day.
And the Oxford Road Works, where they are always making a little change,
bit by bit reform, eh! not a very particular fine appetite, I suspect,
for dinner, at the Oxford Road Works, the day they hear of my new mill
being at work. But you want to see something tip-top. Well, there's
Millbank; that's regular slap-up, quite a sight, regular lion; if I were
you I would see Millbank.'

'Millbank!' said Coningsby; 'what Millbank?'

'Millbank of Millbank, made the place, made it himself. About three
miles from Bolton; train to-morrow morning at 7.25, get a fly at the
station, and you will be at Millbank by 8.40.'

'Unfortunately I am engaged to-morrow morning,' said Coningsby, 'and yet
I am most anxious, particularly anxious, to see Millbank.'

'Well, there's a late train,' said the stranger, '3.15; you will be
there by 4.30.'

'I think I could manage that,' said Coningsby.

'Do,' said the stranger; 'and if you ever find yourself at Staleybridge,
I shall be very happy to be of service. I must be off now. My train goes
at 9.15.' And he presented Coningsby with his card as he wished him good



In a green valley of Lancaster, contiguous to that district of factories
on which we have already touched, a clear and powerful stream flows
through a broad meadow land. Upon its margin, adorned, rather than
shadowed, by some old elm-trees, for they are too distant to serve
except for ornament, rises a vast deep red brick pile, which though
formal and monotonous in its general character, is not without a
certain beauty of proportion and an artist-like finish in its occasional
masonry. The front, which is of great extent, and covered with many
tiers of small windows, is flanked by two projecting wings in the same
style, which form a large court, completed by a dwarf wall crowned
with a light, and rather elegant railing; in the centre, the principal
entrance, a lofty portal of bold and beautiful design, surmounted by a
statue of Commerce.

This building, not without a degree of dignity, is what is technically,
and not very felicitously, called a mill; always translated by the
French in their accounts of our manufacturing riots, 'moulin;' and which
really was the principal factory of Oswald Millbank, the father of that
youth whom, we trust, our readers have not quite forgotten.

At some little distance, and rather withdrawn from the principal stream,
were two other smaller structures of the same style. About a quarter of
a mile further on, appeared a village of not inconsiderable size, and
remarkable from the neatness and even picturesque character of its
architecture, and the gay gardens that surrounded it. On a sunny
knoll in the background rose a church, in the best style of Christian
architecture, and near it was a clerical residence and a school-house
of similar design. The village, too, could boast of another public
building; an Institute where there were a library and a lecture-room;
and a reading-hall, which any one might frequent at certain hours, and
under reasonable regulations.

On the other side of the principal factory, but more remote, about
half-a-mile up the valley, surrounded by beautiful meadows, and built
on an agreeable and well-wooded elevation, was the mansion of
the mill-owner; apparently a commodious and not inconsiderable
dwelling-house, built in what is called a villa style, with a variety
of gardens and conservatories. The atmosphere of this somewhat striking
settlement was not disturbed and polluted by the dark vapour, which,
to the shame of Manchester, still infests that great town, for Mr.

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 13 of 39)