Benjamin Disraeli.

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Mr. Rigby was member for one of Lord Monmouth's boroughs. He was the
manager of Lord Monmouth's parliamentary influence, and the auditor of
his vast estates. He was more; he was Lord Monmouth's companion when in
England, his correspondent when abroad; hardly his counsellor, for Lord
Monmouth never required advice; but Mr. Rigby could instruct him
in matters of detail, which Mr. Rigby made amusing. Rigby was not a
professional man; indeed, his origin, education, early pursuits, and
studies, were equally obscure; but he had contrived in good time to
squeeze himself into parliament, by means which no one could ever
comprehend, and then set up to be a perfect man of business. The world
took him at his word, for he was bold, acute, and voluble; with no
thought, but a good deal of desultory information; and though destitute
of all imagination and noble sentiment, was blessed with a vigorous,
mendacious fancy, fruitful in small expedients, and never happier than
when devising shifts for great men's scrapes.

They say that all of us have one chance in this life, and so it was with
Rigby. After a struggle of many years, after a long series of the
usual alternatives of small successes and small failures, after a
few cleverish speeches and a good many cleverish pamphlets, with a
considerable reputation, indeed, for pasquinades, most of which he
never wrote, and articles in reviews to which it was whispered he had
contributed, Rigby, who had already intrigued himself into a subordinate
office, met with Lord Monmouth.

He was just the animal that Lord Monmouth wanted, for Lord Monmouth
always looked upon human nature with the callous eye of a jockey. He
surveyed Rigby; and he determined to buy him. He bought him; with his
clear head, his indefatigable industry, his audacious tongue, and his
ready and unscrupulous pen; with all his dates, all his lampoons; all
his private memoirs, and all his political intrigues. It was a good
purchase. Rigby became a great personage, and Lord Monmouth's man.

Mr. Rigby, who liked to be doing a great many things at the same time,
and to astonish the Tadpoles and Tapers with his energetic versatility,
determined to superintend the education of Coningsby. It was a relation
which identified him with the noble house of his pupil, or, properly
speaking, his charge: for Mr. Rigby affected rather the graceful dignity
of the governor than the duties of a tutor. The boy was recalled
from his homely, rural school, where he had been well grounded by
a hard-working curate, and affectionately tended by the curate's
unsophisticated wife. He was sent to a fashionable school preparatory
to Eton, where he found about two hundred youths of noble families
and connections, lodged in a magnificent villa, that had once been
the retreat of a minister, superintended by a sycophantic Doctor of
Divinity, already well beneficed, and not despairing of a bishopric by
favouring the children of the great nobles. The doctor's lady, clothed
in cashmeres, sometimes inquired after their health, and occasionally
received a report as to their linen.

Mr. Rigby had a classical retreat, not distant from this establishment,
which he esteemed a Tusculum. There, surrounded by his busts and books,
he wrote his lampoons and articles; massacred a she liberal (it was
thought that no one could lash a woman like Rigby), cut up a rising
genius whose politics were different from his own, or scarified some
unhappy wretch who had brought his claims before parliament, proving,
by garbled extracts from official correspondence that no one could refer
to, that the malcontent instead of being a victim, was, on the contrary,
a defaulter. Tadpole and Taper would back Rigby for a 'slashing reply'
against the field. Here, too, at the end of a busy week, he found it
occasionally convenient to entertain a clever friend or two of equivocal
reputation, with whom he had become acquainted in former days of equal
brotherhood. No one was more faithful to his early friends than Mr.
Rigby, particularly if they could write a squib.

It was in this refined retirement that Mr. Rigby found time enough,
snatched from the toils of official life and parliamentary struggles,
to compose a letter on the study of History, addressed to Coningsby.
The style was as much like that of Lord Bolingbroke as if it had been
written by the authors of the 'Rejected Addresses,' and it began, 'My
dear young friend.' This polished composition, so full of good feeling
and comprehensive views, and all in the best taste, was not published.
It was only privately printed, and a few thousand copies were
distributed among select personages as an especial favour and mark
of high consideration. Each copy given away seemed to Rigby like a
certificate of character; a property which, like all men of dubious
repute, he thoroughly appreciated. Rigby intrigued very much that the
headmaster of Eton should adopt his discourse as a class-book. For this
purpose he dined with the Doctor, told him several anecdotes of the
King, which intimated personal influence at Windsor; but the headmaster
was inflexible, and so Mr. Rigby was obliged to be content with
having his Letter on History canonized as a classic in the Preparatory
Seminary, where the individual to whom it was addressed was a scholar.

This change in the life of Coningsby contributed to his happiness. The
various characters which a large school exhibited interested a young
mind whose active energies were beginning to stir. His previous
acquirements made his studies light; and he was fond of sports, in which
he was qualified to excel. He did not particularly like Mr. Rigby. There
was something jarring and grating in that gentleman's voice and modes,
from which the chords of the young heart shrank. He was not tender,
though perhaps he wished to be; scarcely kind: but he was good-natured,
at least to children. However, this connection was, on the whole, an
agreeable one for Coningsby. He seemed suddenly to have friends: he
never passed his holydays again at school. Mr. Rigby was so clever that
he contrived always to quarter Coningsby on the father of one of his
school-fellows, for Mr. Rigby knew all his school-fellows and all their
fathers. Mr. Rigby also called to see him, not unfrequently would give
him a dinner at the Star and Garter, or even have him up to town for
a week to Whitehall. Compared with his former forlorn existence, these
were happy days, when he was placed under the gallery as a member's son,
or went to the play with the butler!

When Coningsby had attained his twelfth year, an order was received from
Lord Monmouth, who was at Rome, that he should go at once to Eton.
This was the first great epoch of his life. There never was a youth
who entered into that wonderful little world with more eager zest than
Coningsby. Nor was it marvellous.

That delicious plain, studded with every creation of graceful
culture; hamlet and hall and grange; garden and grove and park; that
castle-palace, grey with glorious ages; those antique spires, hoar with
faith and wisdom, the chapel and the college; that river winding through
the shady meads; the sunny glade and the solemn avenue; the room in the
Dame's house where we first order our own breakfast and first feel we
are free; the stirring multitude, the energetic groups, the individual
mind that leads, conquers, controls; the emulation and the affection;
the noble strife and the tender sentiment; the daring exploit and the
dashing scrape; the passion that pervades our life, and breathes in
everything, from the aspiring study to the inspiring sport: oh! what
hereafter can spur the brain and touch the heart like this; can give us
a world so deeply and variously interesting; a life so full of quick and
bright excitement, passed in a scene so fair?




CHAPTER III.


Lord Monmouth, who detested popular tumults as much as he despised
public opinion, had remained during the agitating year of 1831 in his
luxurious retirement in Italy, contenting himself with opposing the
Reform Bill by proxy. But when his correspondent, Mr. Rigby, had
informed him, in the early part of the spring of 1832, of the
probability of a change in the tactics of the Tory party, and that
an opinion was becoming prevalent among their friends, that the great
scheme must be defeated in detail rather than again withstood on
principle, his Lordship, who was never wanting in energy when his own
interests were concerned, immediately crossed the Alps, and travelled
rapidly to England. He indulged a hope that the weight of his presence
and the influence of his strong character, which was at once shrewd and
courageous, might induce his friends to relinquish their half measure,
a course to which his nature was repugnant. At all events, if they
persisted in their intention, and the Bill went into committee, his
presence was indispensable, for in that stage of a parliamentary
proceeding proxies become ineffective.

The counsels of Lord Monmouth, though they coincided with those of the
Duke of Wellington, did not prevail with the Waverers. Several of these
high-minded personages had had their windows broken, and they were of
opinion that a man who lived at Naples was not a competent judge of the
state of public feeling in England. Besides, the days are gone by for
senates to have their beards plucked in the forum. We live in an age of
prudence. The leaders of the people, now, generally follow. The truth
is, the peers were in a fright. 'Twas a pity; there is scarcely a less
dignified entity than a patrician in a panic.

Among the most intimate companions of Coningsby at Eton, was Lord Henry
Sydney, his kinsman. Coningsby had frequently passed his holydays of
late at Beaumanoir, the seat of the Duke, Lord Henry's father. The
Duke sat next to Lord Monmouth during the debate on the enfranchising
question, and to while away the time, and from kindness of disposition,
spoke, and spoke with warmth and favour, of his grandson. The polished
Lord Monmouth bowed as if he were much gratified by this notice of one
so dear to him. He had too much tact to admit that he had never yet
seen his grandchild; but he asked some questions as to his progress
and pursuits, his tastes and habits, which intimated the interest of an
affectionate relative.

Nothing, however, was ever lost upon Lord Monmouth. No one had a more
retentive memory, or a more observant mind. And the next day, when he
received Mr. Rigby at his morning levee, Lord Monmouth performed this
ceremony in the high style of the old court, and welcomed his visitors
in bed, he said with imperturbable calmness, and as if he had been
talking of trying a new horse, 'Rigby, I should like to see the boy at
Eton.'

There might be some objection to grant leave to Coningsby at this
moment; but it was a rule with Mr. Rigby never to make difficulties, or
at least to persuade his patron that he, and he only, could remove
them. He immediately undertook that the boy should be forthcoming, and
notwithstanding the excitement of the moment, he went off next morning
to fetch him.

They arrived in town rather early; and Rigby, wishing to know how
affairs were going on, ordered the servant to drive immediately to the
head-quarters of the party; where a permanent committee watched every
phasis of the impending revolution; and where every member of the
Opposition, of note and trust, was instantly admitted to receive or to
impart intelligence.

It was certainly not without emotion that Coningsby contemplated his
first interview with his grandfather. All his experience of the ties of
relationship, however limited, was full of tenderness and rapture. His
memory often dwelt on his mother's sweet embrace; and ever and anon a
fitful phantom of some past passage of domestic love haunted his gushing
heart. The image of his father was less fresh in his mind; but still
it was associated with a vague sentiment of kindness and joy; and the
allusions to her husband in his mother's letters had cherished these
impressions. To notice lesser sources of influence in his estimate of
the domestic tie, he had witnessed under the roof of Beaumanoir the
existence of a family bound together by the most beautiful affections.
He could not forget how Henry Sydney was embraced by his sisters when he
returned home; what frank and fraternal love existed between his kinsman
and his elder brother; how affectionately the kind Duke had welcomed his
son once more to the house where they had both been born; and the dim
eyes, and saddened brows, and tones of tenderness, which rather looked
than said farewell, when they went back to Eton.

And these rapturous meetings and these mournful adieus were occasioned
only by a separation at the most of a few months, softened by constant
correspondence and the communication of mutual sympathy. But Coningsby
was to meet a relation, his near, almost his only, relation, for the
first time; the relation, too, to whom he owed maintenance, education;
it might be said, existence. It was a great incident for a great drama;
something tragical in the depth and stir of its emotions. Even the
imagination of the boy could not be insensible to its materials; and
Coningsby was picturing to himself a beneficent and venerable gentleman
pressing to his breast an agitated youth, when his reverie was broken by
the carriage stopping before the gates of Monmouth House.

The gates were opened by a gigantic Swiss, and the carriage rolled into
a huge court-yard. At its end Coningsby beheld a Palladian palace, with
wings and colonnades encircling the court.

A double flight of steps led into a circular and marble hall, adorned
with colossal busts of the Caesars; the staircase in fresco by Sir James
Thornhill, breathed with the loves and wars of gods and heroes. It led
into a vestibule, painted in arabesques, hung with Venetian girandoles,
and looking into gardens. Opening a door in this chamber, and proceeding
some little way down a corridor, Mr. Rigby and his companion arrived at
the base of a private staircase. Ascending a few steps, they reached a
landing-place hung with tapestry. Drawing this aside, Mr. Rigby opened a
door, and ushered Coningsby through an ante-chamber into a small saloon,
of beautiful proportions, and furnished in a brilliant and delicate
taste.

'You will find more to amuse you here than where you were before,' said
Mr. Rigby, 'and I shall not be nearly so long absent.' So saying, he
entered into an inner apartment.

The walls of the saloon, which were covered with light blue satin, held,
in silver panels, portraits of beautiful women, painted by Boucher.
Couches and easy chairs of every shape invited in every quarter to
luxurious repose; while amusement was afforded by tables covered with
caricatures, French novels, and endless miniatures of foreign dancers,
princesses, and sovereigns.

But Coningsby was so impressed with the impending interview with his
grandfather, that he neither sought nor required diversion. Now that the
crisis was at hand, he felt agitated and nervous, and wished that he was
again at Eton. The suspense was sickening, yet he dreaded still more the
summons. He was not long alone; the door opened; he started, grew pale;
he thought it was his grandfather; it was not even Mr. Rigby. It was
Lord Monmouth's valet.

'Monsieur Konigby?'

'My name is Coningsby,' said the boy.

'Milor is ready to receive you,' said the valet.

Coningsby sprang forward with that desperation which the scaffold
requires. His face was pale; his hand was moist; his heart beat with
tumult. He had occasionally been summoned by Dr. Keate; that, too,
was awful work, but compared with the present, a morning visit. Music,
artillery, the roar of cannon, and the blare of trumpets, may urge a man
on to a forlorn hope; ambition, one's constituents, the hell of previous
failure, may prevail on us to do a more desperate thing; speak in the
House of Commons; but there are some situations in life, such, for
instance, as entering the room of a dentist, in which the prostration of
the nervous system is absolute.

The moment had at length arrived when the desolate was to find a
benefactor, the forlorn a friend, the orphan a parent; when the youth,
after a childhood of adversity, was to be formally received into the
bosom of the noble house from which he had been so long estranged, and
at length to assume that social position to which his lineage entitled
him. Manliness might support, affection might soothe, the happy anguish
of such a meeting; but it was undoubtedly one of those situations
which stir up the deep fountains of our nature, and before which the
conventional proprieties of our ordinary manners instantaneously vanish.

Coningsby with an uncertain step followed his guide through a
bed-chamber, the sumptuousness of which he could not notice, into
the dressing-room of Lord Monmouth. Mr. Rigby, facing Coningsby as
he entered, was leaning over the back of a large chair, from which as
Coningsby was announced by the valet, the Lord of the house slowly rose,
for he was suffering slightly from the gout, his left hand resting on
an ivory stick. Lord Monmouth was in height above the middle size, but
somewhat portly and corpulent. His countenance was strongly marked;
sagacity on the brow, sensuality in the mouth and jaw. His head was
bald, but there were remains of the rich brown locks on which he once
prided himself. His large deep blue eye, madid and yet piercing,
showed that the secretions of his brain were apportioned, half to
voluptuousness, half to common sense. But his general mien was truly
grand; full of a natural nobility, of which no one was more sensible
than himself. Lord Monmouth was not in dishabille; on the contrary, his
costume was exact, and even careful. Rising as we have mentioned when
his grandson entered, and leaning with his left hand on his ivory cane,
he made Coningsby such a bow as Louis Quatorze might have bestowed on
the ambassador of the United Provinces. Then extending his right hand,
which the boy tremblingly touched, Lord Monmouth said:

'How do you like Eton?'

This contrast to the reception which he had imagined, hoped, feared,
paralysed the reviving energies of young Coningsby. He felt stupefied;
he looked almost aghast. In the chaotic tumult of his mind, his memory
suddenly seemed to receive some miraculous inspiration. Mysterious
phrases heard in his earliest boyhood, unnoticed then, long since
forgotten, rose to his ear. Who was this grandfather, seen not before,
seen now for the first time? Where was the intervening link of blood
between him and this superb and icy being? The boy sank into the chair
which had been placed for him, and leaning on the table burst into
tears.

Here was a business! If there were one thing which would have made Lord
Monmouth travel from London to Naples at four-and-twenty hours' notice,
it was to avoid a scene. He hated scenes. He hated feelings. He saw
instantly the mistake he had made in sending for his grandchild. He
was afraid that Coningsby was tender-hearted like his father. Another
tender-hearted Coningsby! Unfortunate family! Degenerate race! He
decided in his mind that Coningsby must be provided for in the Church,
and looked at Mr. Rigby, whose principal business it always was to
disembarrass his patron from the disagreeable.

Mr. Rigby instantly came forward and adroitly led the boy into the
adjoining apartment, Lord Monmouth's bedchamber, closing the door of the
dressing-room behind him.

'My dear young friend,' said Mr. Rigby, 'what is all this?'

A sob the only answer.

'What can be the matter?' said Mr. Rigby.

'I was thinking,' said Coningsby, 'of poor mamma!'

'Hush!' said Mr. Rigby; 'Lord Monmouth never likes to hear of people
who are dead; so you must take care never to mention your mother or your
father.'

In the meantime Lord Monmouth had decided on the fate of Coningsby. The
Marquis thought he could read characters by a glance, and in general
he was successful, for his natural sagacity had been nurtured by great
experience. His grandson was not to his taste; amiable no doubt, but
spooney.

We are too apt to believe that the character of a boy is easily read.
'Tis a mystery the most profound. Mark what blunders parents constantly
make as to the nature of their own offspring, bred, too, under their
eyes, and displaying every hour their characteristics. How often in the
nursery does the genius count as a dunce because he is pensive; while a
rattling urchin is invested with almost supernatural qualities because
his animal spirits make him impudent and flippant! The school-boy, above
all others, is not the simple being the world imagines. In that young
bosom are often stirring passions as strong as our own, desires not less
violent, a volition not less supreme. In that young bosom what burning
love, what intense ambition, what avarice, what lust of power; envy that
fiends might emulate, hate that man might fear!




CHAPTER IV.


'Come,' said Mr. Rigby, when Coningsby was somewhat composed, 'come with
me and we will see the house.'

So they descended once more the private staircase, and again entered the
vestibule.

'If you had seen these gardens when they were illuminated for a fête to
George IV.,' said Rigby, as crossing the chamber he ushered his charge
into the state apartments. The splendour and variety of the surrounding
objects soon distracted the attention of the boy, for the first time in
the palace of his fathers. He traversed saloon after saloon hung with
rare tapestry and the gorgeous products of foreign looms; filled with
choice pictures and creations of curious art; cabinets that sovereigns
might envy, and colossal vases of malachite presented by emperors.
Coningsby alternately gazed up to ceilings glowing with color and with
gold, and down upon carpets bright with the fancies and vivid with the
tints of Aubusson and of Axminster.

'This grandfather of mine is a great prince,' thought Coningsby, as
musing he stood before a portrait in which he recognised the features of
the being from whom he had so recently and so strangely parted. There
he stood, Philip Augustus, Marquess of Monmouth, in his robes of state,
with his new coronet on a table near him, a despatch lying at hand that
indicated the special mission of high ceremony of which he had been the
illustrious envoy, and the garter beneath his knee.

'You will have plenty of opportunities to look at the pictures,' said
Rigby, observing that the boy had now quite recovered himself. 'Some
luncheon will do you no harm after our drive;' and he opened the door of
another apartment.

It was a pretty room adorned with a fine picture of the chase; at a
round table in the centre sat two ladies interested in the meal to which
Rigby had alluded.

'Ah, Mr. Rigby!' said the eldest, yet young and beautiful, and speaking,
though with fluency, in a foreign accent, 'come and tell me some news.
Have you seen Milor?' and then she threw a scrutinizing glance from a
dark flashing eye at his companion.

'Let me present to your Highness,' said Rigby, with an air of some
ceremony, 'Mr. Coningsby.'

'My dear young friend,' said the lady, extending her white hand with
an air of joyous welcome, 'this is Lucretia, my daughter. We love you
already. Lord Monmouth will be so charmed to see you. What beautiful
eyes he has, Mr. Rigby. Quite like Milor.'

The young lady, who was really more youthful than Coningsby, but of a
form and stature so developed that she appeared almost a woman, bowed
to the guest with some ceremony, and a faint sullen smile, and then
proceeded with her Perigord pie.

'You must be so hungry after your drive,' said the elder lady, placing
Coningsby at her side, and herself filling his plate.

This was true enough; and while Mr. Rigby and the lady talked an
infinite deal about things which he did not understand, and persons
of whom he had never heard, our little hero made his first meal in his
paternal house with no ordinary zest; and renovated by the pasty and
a glass of sherry, felt altogether a different being from what he
was, when he had undergone the terrible interview in which he began to
reflect he had considerably exposed himself. His courage revived,
his senses rallied, he replied to the interrogations of the lady with
calmness, but with promptness and propriety. It was evident that he had
made a favourable impression on her Highness, for ever and anon she put
a truffle or some delicacy in his plate, and insisted upon his taking
some particular confectionery, because it was a favourite of her own.



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 2 of 39)