Benjamin Disraeli.

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Millbank, who liked nothing so much as an invention, unless it were an
experiment, took care to consume his own smoke.

The sun was declining when Coningsby arrived at Millbank, and the
gratification which he experienced on first beholding it, was not a
little diminished, when, on enquiring at the village, he was informed
that the hour was past for seeing the works. Determined not to
relinquish his purpose without a struggle, he repaired to the principal
mill, and entered the counting-house, which was situated in one of the
wings of the building.

'Your pleasure, sir?' said one of three individuals sitting on high
stools behind a high desk.

'I wish, if possible, to see the works.'

'Quite impossible, sir;' and the clerk, withdrawing his glance,
continued his writing. 'No admission without an order, and no admission
with an order after two o'clock.'

'I am very unfortunate,' said Coningsby.

'Sorry for it, sir. Give me ledger K. X., will you, Mr. Benson?'

'I think Mr. Millbank would grant me permission,' said Coningsby.

'Very likely, sir; to-morrow. Mr. Millbank is there, sir, but very much
engaged.' He pointed to an inner counting-house, and the glass doors
permitted Coningsby to observe several individuals in close converse.

'Perhaps his son, Mr. Oswald Millbank, is here?' inquired Coningsby.

'Mr. Oswald is in Belgium,' said the clerk.

'Would you give a message to Mr. Millbank, and say a friend of his son's
at Eton is here, and here only for a day, and wishes very much to see
his works?'

'Can't possibly disturb Mr. Millbank now, sir; but, if you like to sit
down, you can wait and see him yourself.'

Coningsby was content to sit down, though he grew very impatient at the
end of a quarter of an hour. The ticking of the clock, the scratching
of the pens of the three silent clerks, irritated him. At length, voices
were heard, doors opened, and the clerk said, 'Mr. Millbank is coming,
sir,' but nobody came; voices became hushed, doors were shut; again
nothing was heard, save the ticking of the clock and the scratching of
the pen.

At length there was a general stir, and they all did come forth, Mr.
Millbank among them, a well-proportioned, comely man, with a fair face
inclining to ruddiness, a quick, glancing, hazel eye, the whitest teeth,
and short, curly, chestnut hair, here and there slightly tinged with
grey. It was a visage of energy and decision.

He was about to pass through the counting-house with his companions,
with whom his affairs were not concluded, when he observed Coningsby,
who had risen.

'This gentleman wishes to see me?' he inquired of his clerk, who bowed
assent.

'I shall be at your service, sir, the moment I have finished with these
gentlemen.'

'The gentleman wishes to see the works, sir,' said the clerk.

'He can see the works at proper times,' said Mr. Millbank, somewhat
pettishly; 'tell him the regulations;' and he was about to go.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Coningsby, coming forward, and with an
air of earnestness and grace that arrested the step of the manufacturer.
'I am aware of the regulations, but would beg to be permitted to
infringe them.'

'It cannot be, sir,' said Mr. Millbank, moving.

'I thought, sir, being here only for a day, and as a friend of your
son - '

Mr. Millbank stopped and said,

'Oh! a friend of Oswald's, eh? What, at Eton?'

'Yes, sir, at Eton; and I had hoped perhaps to have found him here.'

'I am very much engaged, sir, at this moment,' said Mr. Millbank; 'I am
sorry I cannot pay you any personal attention, but my clerk will show
you everything. Mr. Benson, let this gentleman see everything;' and he
withdrew.

'Be pleased to write your name here, sir,' said Mr. Benson, opening
a book, and our friend wrote his name and the date of his visit to
Millbank:

'HARRY CONINGSBY, Sept. 2, 1836.'

Coningsby beheld in this great factory the last and the most refined
inventions of mechanical genius. The building had been fitted up by a
capitalist as anxious to raise a monument of the skill and power of his
order, as to obtain a return for the great investment.

'It is the glory of Lancashire!' exclaimed the enthusiastic Mr. Benson.

The clerk spoke freely of his master, whom he evidently idolised, and
his great achievements, and Coningsby encouraged him. He detailed to
Coningsby the plans which Mr. Millbank had pursued, both for the moral
and physical well-being of his people; how he had built churches,
and schools, and institutes; houses and cottages on a new system of
ventilation; how he had allotted gardens; established singing classes.

'Here is Mr. Millbank,' continued the clerk, as he and Coningsby,
quitting the factory, re-entered the court.

Mr. Millbank was approaching the factory, and the moment that he
observed them, he quickened his pace.

'Mr. Coningsby?' he said, when he reached them. His countenance was
rather disturbed, and his voice a little trembled, and he looked on our
friend with a glance scrutinising and serious. Coningsby bowed.

'I am sorry that you should have been received at this place with
so little ceremony, sir,' said Mr. Millbank; 'but had your name been
mentioned, you would have found it cherished here.' He nodded to the
clerk, who disappeared.

Coningsby began to talk about the wonders of the factory, but Mr.
Millbank recurred to other thoughts that were passing in his mind. He
spoke of his son: he expressed a kind reproach that Coningsby should
have thought of visiting this part of the world without giving them
some notice of his intention, that he might have been their guest, that
Oswald might have been there to receive him, that they might have made
arrangements that he should see everything, and in the best manner; in
short, that they might all have shown, however slightly, the deep sense
of their obligations to him.

'My visit to Manchester, which led to this, was quite accidental,' said
Coningsby. 'I am bound for the other division of the county, to pay a
visit to my grandfather, Lord Monmouth; but an irresistible desire came
over me during my journey to view this famous district of industry. It
is some days since I ought to have found myself at Coningsby, and this
is the reason why I am so pressed.'

A cloud passed over the countenance of Millbank as the name of Lord
Monmouth was mentioned, but he said nothing. Turning towards Coningsby,
with an air of kindness:

'At least,' said he, 'let not Oswald hear that you did not taste our
salt. Pray dine with me to-day; there is yet an hour to dinner; and
as you have seen the factory, suppose we stroll together through the
village.'




CHAPTER IV.


The village clock struck five as Mr. Millbank and his guest entered the
gardens of his mansion. Coningsby lingered a moment to admire the beauty
and gay profusion of the flowers.

'Your situation,' said Coningsby, looking up the green and silent
valley, 'is absolutely poetic.'

'I try sometimes to fancy,' said Mr. Millbank, with a rather fierce
smile, 'that I am in the New World.'

They entered the house; a capacious and classic hall, at the end a
staircase in the Italian fashion. As they approached it, the sweetest
and the clearest voice exclaimed from above, 'Papa! papa!' and instantly
a young girl came bounding down the stairs, but suddenly seeing a
stranger with her father she stopped upon the landing-place, and was
evidently on the point of as rapidly retreating as she had advanced,
when Mr. Millbank waved his hand to her and begged her to descend. She
came down slowly; as she approached them her father said, 'A friend you
have often heard of, Edith: this is Mr. Coningsby.'

She started; blushed very much; and then, with a trembling and uncertain
gait, advanced, put forth her hand with a wild unstudied grace, and said
in a tone of sensibility, 'How often have we all wished to see and to
thank you!'

This daughter of his host was of tender years; apparently she could
scarcely have counted sixteen summers. She was delicate and fragile, but
as she raised her still blushing visage to her father's guest, Coningsby
felt that he had never beheld a countenance of such striking and such
peculiar beauty.

'My only daughter, Mr. Coningsby, Edith; a Saxon name, for she is the
daughter of a Saxon.'

But the beauty of the countenance was not the beauty of the Saxons. It
was a radiant face, one of those that seem to have been touched in
their cradle by a sunbeam, and to have retained all their brilliancy and
suffused and mantling lustre. One marks sometimes such faces, diaphanous
with delicate splendour, in the southern regions of France. Her eye,
too, was the rare eye of Aquitaine; soft and long, with lashes drooping
over the cheek, dark as her clustering ringlets.

They entered the drawing-room.

'Mr. Coningsby,' said Millbank to his daughter, 'is in this part of the
world only for a few hours, or I am sure he would become our guest. He
has, however, promised to stay with us now and dine.'

'If Miss Millbank will pardon this dress,' said Coningsby, bowing an
apology for his inevitable frock and boots; the maiden raised her eyes
and bent her head.

The hour of dinner was at hand. Millbank offered to show Coningsby to
his dressing-room. He was absent but a few minutes. When he returned he
found Miss Millbank alone. He came somewhat suddenly into the room. She
was playing with her dog, but ceased the moment she observed Coningsby.

Coningsby, who since his practice with Lady Everingham, flattered
himself that he had advanced in small talk, and was not sorry that
he had now an opportunity of proving his prowess, made some lively
observations about pets and the breeds of lapdogs, but he was not
fortunate in extracting a response or exciting a repartee. He began then
on the beauty of Millbank, which he would on no account have avoided
seeing, and inquired when she had last heard of her brother. The young
lady, apparently much distressed, was murmuring something about Antwerp,
when the entrance of her father relieved her from her embarrassment.

Dinner being announced, Coningsby offered his arm to his fair companion,
who took it with her eyes fixed on the ground.

'You are very fond, I see, of flowers,' said Coningsby, as they moved
along; and the young lady said 'Yes.'

The dinner was plain, but perfect of its kind. The young hostess seemed
to perform her office with a certain degree of desperate determination.
She looked at a chicken and then at Coningsby, and murmured something
which he understood. Sometimes she informed herself of his tastes
or necessities in more detail, by the medium of her father, whom she
treated as a sort of dragoman; in this way: 'Would not Mr. Coningsby,
papa, take this or that, or do so and so?' Coningsby was always careful
to reply in a direct manner, without the agency of the interpreter; but
he did not advance. Even a petition for the great honour of taking a
glass of sherry with her only induced the beautiful face to bow. And yet
when she had first seen him, she had addressed him even with emotion.
What could it be? He felt less confidence in his increased power of
conversation. Why, Theresa Sydney was scarcely a year older than
Miss Millbank, and though she did not certainly originate like Lady
Everingham, he got on with her perfectly well.

Mr. Millbank did not seem to be conscious of his daughter's silence:
at any rate, he attempted to compensate for it. He talked fluently
and well; on all subjects his opinions seemed to be decided, and his
language was precise. He was really interested in what Coningsby had
seen, and what he had felt; and this sympathy divested his manner of the
disagreeable effect that accompanies a tone inclined to be dictatorial.
More than once Coningsby observed the silent daughter listening with
extreme attention to the conversation of himself and her father.

The dessert was remarkable. Millbank was proud of his fruit. A bland
expression of self-complacency spread over his features as he surveyed
his grapes, his peaches, his figs.

'These grapes have gained a medal,' he told Coningsby. 'Those too are
prize peaches. I have not yet been so successful with my figs. These
however promise, and perhaps this year I may be more fortunate.'

'What would your brother and myself have given for such a dessert at
Eton!' said Coningsby to Miss Millbank, wishing to say something, and
something too that might interest her.

She seemed infinitely distressed, and yet this time would speak.

'Let me give you some,' He caught by chance her glance immediately
withdrawn; yet it was a glance not only of beauty, but of feeling
and thought. She added, in a hushed and hurried tone, dividing very
nervously some grapes, 'I hardly know whether Oswald will be most
pleased or grieved when he hears that you have been here.'

'And why grieved?' said Coningsby.

'That he should not have been here to welcome you, and that your stay is
for so brief a time. It seems so strange that after having talked of you
for years, we should see you only for hours.'

'I hope I may return,' said Coningsby, 'and that Millbank may be here to
welcome me; but I hope I may be permitted to return even if he be not.'

But there was no reply; and soon after, Mr. Millbank talking of the
American market, and Coningsby helping himself to a glass of claret, the
daughter of the Saxon, looking at her father, rose and left the room, so
suddenly and so quickly that Coningsby could scarcely gain the door.

'Yes,' said Millbank, filling his glass, and pursuing some previous
observations, 'all that we want in this country is to be masters of our
own industry; but Saxon industry and Norman manners never will agree;
and some day, Mr. Coningsby, you will find that out.'

'But what do you mean by Norman manners?' inquired Coningsby.

'Did you ever hear of the Forest of Rossendale?' said Millbank. 'If
you were staying here, you should visit the district. It is an area of
twenty-four square miles. It was disforested in the early part of the
sixteenth century, possessing at that time eighty inhabitants.
Its rental in James the First's time was 120_l._ When the woollen
manufacture was introduced into the north, the shuttle competed with the
plough in Rossendale, and about forty years ago we sent them the Jenny.
The eighty souls are now increased to upwards of eighty thousand, and
the rental of the forest, by the last county assessment, amounts to more
than 50,000_l._, 41,000 per cent, on the value in the reign of James
I. Now I call that an instance of Saxon industry competing successfully
with Norman manners.'

'Exactly,' said Coningsby, 'but those manners are gone.'

'From Rossendale, 'said Millbank, with a grim smile; 'but not from
England.'

'Where do you meet them?'

'Meet them! In every place, at every hour; and feel them, too, in every
transaction of life.'

'I know, sir, from your son,' said Coningsby, inquiringly, 'that you are
opposed to an aristocracy.'

'No, I am not. I am for an aristocracy; but a real one, a natural one.'

'But, sir, is not the aristocracy of England,' said Coningsby, 'a real
one? You do not confound our peerage, for example, with the degraded
patricians of the Continent.'

'Hum!' said Millbank. 'I do not understand how an aristocracy can exist,
unless it be distinguished by some quality which no other class of the
community possesses. Distinction is the basis of aristocracy. If you
permit only one class of the population, for example, to bear arms, they
are an aristocracy; not one much to my taste; but still a great fact.
That, however, is not the characteristic of the English peerage. I have
yet to learn they are richer than we are, better informed, wiser, or
more distinguished for public or private virtue. Is it not monstrous,
then, that a small number of men, several of whom take the titles of
Duke and Earl from towns in this very neighbourhood, towns which they
never saw, which never heard of them, which they did not form, or
build, or establish, I say, is it not monstrous, that individuals
so circumstanced, should be invested with the highest of conceivable
privileges, the privilege of making laws? Dukes and Earls indeed! I say
there is nothing in a masquerade more ridiculous.'

'But do you not argue from an exception, sir?' said Coningsby. 'The
question is, whether a preponderance of the aristocratic principle in a
political constitution be, as I believe, conducive to the stability and
permanent power of a State; and whether the peerage, as established
in England, generally tends to that end? We must not forget in such an
estimate the influence which, in this country, is exercised over opinion
by ancient lineage.'

'Ancient lineage!' said Mr. Millbank; 'I never heard of a peer with an
ancient lineage. The real old families of this country are to be found
among the peasantry; the gentry, too, may lay some claim to old blood.
I can point you out Saxon families in this county who can trace their
pedigrees beyond the Conquest; I know of some Norman gentlemen whose
fathers undoubtedly came over with the Conqueror. But a peer with an
ancient lineage is to me quite a novelty. No, no; the thirty years of
the wars of the Roses freed us from those gentlemen. I take it, after
the battle of Tewkesbury, a Norman baron was almost as rare a being in
England as a wolf is now.'

'I have always understood,' said Coningsby, 'that our peerage was the
finest in Europe.'

'From themselves,' said Millbank, 'and the heralds they pay to paint
their carriages. But I go to facts. When Henry VII. called his first
Parliament, there were only twenty-nine temporal peers to be found,
and even some of them took their seats illegally, for they had been
attainted. Of those twenty-nine not five remain, and they, as the
Howards for instance, are not Norman nobility. We owe the English
peerage to three sources: the spoliation of the Church; the open
and flagrant sale of its honours by the elder Stuarts; and the
boroughmongering of our own times. Those are the three main sources of
the existing peerage of England, and in my opinion disgraceful ones. But
I must apologise for my frankness in thus speaking to an aristocrat.'

'Oh, by no means, sir, I like discussion. Your son and myself at Eton
have had some encounters of this kind before. But if your view of the
case be correct,' added Coningsby, smiling, 'you cannot at any rate
accuse our present peers of Norman manners.'

'Yes, I do: they adopted Norman manners while they usurped Norman
titles. They have neither the right of the Normans, nor do they fulfil
the duty of the Normans: they did not conquer the land, and they do not
defend it.'

'And where will you find your natural aristocracy?' asked Coningsby.

'Among those men whom a nation recognises as the most eminent for
virtue, talents, and property, and, if you please, birth and standing
in the land. They guide opinion; and, therefore, they govern. I am no
leveller; I look upon an artificial equality as equally pernicious with
a factitious aristocracy; both depressing the energies, and checking the
enterprise of a nation. I like man to be free, really free: free in his
industry as well as his body. What is the use of Habeas Corpus, if a man
may not use his hands when he is out of prison?'

'But it appears to me you have, in a great measure, this natural
aristocracy in England.'

'Ah, to be sure! If we had not, where should we be? It is the
counteracting power that saves us, the disturbing cause in the
calculations of short-sighted selfishness. I say it now, and I have said
it a hundred times, the House of Commons is a more aristocratic body
than the House of Lords. The fact is, a great peer would be a greater
man now in the House of Commons than in the House of Lords. Nobody
wants a second chamber, except a few disreputable individuals. It is
a valuable institution for any member of it who has no distinction,
neither character, talents, nor estate. But a peer who possesses all or
any of these great qualifications, would find himself an immeasurably
more important personage in what, by way of jest, they call the Lower
House.'

'Is not the revising wisdom of a senate a salutary check on the
precipitation of a popular assembly?'

'Why should a popular assembly, elected by the flower of a nation,
be precipitate? If precipitate, what senate could stay an assembly so
chosen? No, no, no! the thing has been tried over and over again;
the idea of restraining the powerful by the weak is an absurdity; the
question is settled. If we wanted a fresh illustration, we need only
look to the present state of our own House of Lords. It originates
nothing; it has, in fact, announced itself as a mere Court of
Registration of the decrees of your House of Commons; and if by any
chance it ventures to alter some miserable detail in a clause of a bill
that excites public interest, what a clatter through the country, at
Conservative banquets got up by the rural attorneys, about the power,
authority, and independence of the House of Lords; nine times nine, and
one cheer more! No, sir, you may make aristocracies by laws; you can
only maintain them by manners. The manners of England preserve it
from its laws. And they have substituted for our formal aristocracy an
essential aristocracy; the government of those who are distinguished by
their fellow-citizens.'

'But then it would appear,' said Coningsby, 'that the remedial action of
our manners has removed all the political and social evils of which you
complain?'

'They have created a power that may remove them; a power that has the
capacity to remove them. But in a great measure they still exist, and
must exist yet, I fear, for a long time. The growth of our civilisation
has ever been as slow as our oaks; but this tardy development is
preferable to the temporary expansion of the gourd.'

'The future seems to me sometimes a dark cloud.'

'Not to me,' said Mr. Millbank. 'I am sanguine; I am the Disciple of
Progress. But I have cause for my faith. I have witnessed advance. My
father has often told me that in his early days the displeasure of
a peer of England was like a sentence of death to a man. Why it was
esteemed a great concession to public opinion, so late as the reign of
George II., that Lord Ferrars should be executed for murder. The king of
a new dynasty, who wished to be popular with the people, insisted on
it, and even then he was hanged with a silken cord. At any rate we
may defend ourselves now,' continued Mr. Millbank, 'and, perhaps, do
something more. I defy any peer to crush me, though there is one who
would be very glad to do it. No more of that; I am very happy to see you
at Millbank, very happy to make your acquaintance,' he continued, with
some emotion, 'and not merely because you are my son's friend and more
than friend.'

The walls of the dining-room were covered with pictures of great merit,
all of the modern English school. Mr. Millbank understood no other, he
was wont to say! and he found that many of his friends who did, bought
a great many pleasing pictures that were copies, and many originals that
were very displeasing. He loved a fine free landscape by Lee, that gave
him the broad plains, the green lanes, and running streams of his own
land; a group of animals by Landseer, as full of speech and sentiment as
if they were designed by Aesop; above all, he delighted in the household
humour and homely pathos of Wilkie. And if a higher tone of imagination
pleased him, he could gratify it without difficulty among his favourite
masters. He possessed some specimens of Etty worthy of Venice when
it was alive; he could muse amid the twilight ruins of ancient cities
raised by the magic pencil of Danby, or accompany a group of fair
Neapolitans to a festival by the genial aid of Uwins.

Opposite Coningsby was a portrait, which had greatly attracted his
attention during the whole dinner. It represented a woman, young and of
a rare beauty. The costume was of that classical character prevalent in
this country before the general peace; a blue ribbon bound together as
a fillet her clustering chestnut curls. The face was looking out of the
canvas, and Coningsby never raised his eyes without catching its glance
of blended vivacity and tenderness.

There are moments when our sensibility is affected by circumstances of
a trivial character. It seems a fantastic emotion, but the gaze of this
picture disturbed the serenity of Coningsby. He endeavoured sometimes to
avoid looking at it, but it irresistibly attracted him. More than once
during dinner he longed to inquire whom it represented; but it is a



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 14 of 39)