Benjamin Disraeli.

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decide what would have been the consequences to the Whigs. Some of their
great friends might have lacked blue ribbons and lord-lieutenancies,
and some of their little friends comfortable places in the Customs and
Excise. They would have lost, undoubtedly, the distribution of four
years' patronage; we can hardly say the exercise of four years' power;
but they would have existed at this moment as the most powerful and
popular Opposition that ever flourished in this country, if, indeed, the
course of events had not long ere this carried them back to their old
posts in a proud and intelligible position. The Reform Bill did not
do more injury to the Tories, than the attempt to govern this country
without a decided Parliamentary majority did the Whigs. The greatest of
all evils is a weak government. They cannot carry good measures, they
are forced to carry bad ones.

The death of the King was a great blow to the Conservative Cause; that
is to say, it darkened the brow of Tadpole, quailed the heart of Taper,
crushed all the rising hopes of those numerous statesmen who believe
the country must be saved if they receive twelve hundred a-year. It is a
peculiar class, that; 1,200_l._ per annum, paid quarterly, is their idea
of political science and human nature. To receive 1,200_l._ per annum is
government; to try to receive 1,200_l._ per annum is opposition; to wish
to receive 1,200_l._ per annum is ambition. If a man wants to get into
Parliament, and does not want to get 1,200_l._ per annum, they look upon
him as daft; as a benighted being. They stare in each other's face,
and ask, 'What can ***** want to get into Parliament for?' They have no
conception that public reputation is a motive power, and with many men
the greatest. They have as much idea of fame or celebrity, even of the
masculine impulse of an honourable pride, as eunuchs of manly joys.

The twelve-hundred-a-yearers were in despair about the King's death.
Their loyal souls were sorely grieved that his gracious Majesty had not
outlived the Registration. All their happy inventions about 'hay-fever,'
circulated in confidence, and sent by post to chairmen of Conservative
Associations, followed by a royal funeral! General election about to
take place with the old registration; government boroughs against them,
and the young Queen for a cry. What a cry! Youth, beauty, and a Queen!
Taper grew pale at the thought. What could they possibly get up to
countervail it? Even Church and Corn-laws together would not do; and
then Church was sulky, for the Conservative Cause had just made it a
present of a commission, and all that the country gentlemen knew of
Conservatism was, that it would not repeal the Malt Tax, and had made
them repeal their pledges. Yet a cry must be found. A dissolution
without a cry, in the Taper philosophy, would be a world without a sun.
A rise might be got by 'Independence of the House of Lords;' and Lord
Lyndhurst's summaries might be well circulated at one penny per hundred,
large discount allowed to Conservative Associations, and endless credit.
Tadpole, however, was never very fond of the House of Lords; besides, it
was too limited. Tadpole wanted the young Queen brought in; the rogue!
At length, one morning, Taper came up to him with a slip of paper, and a
smile of complacent austerity on his dull visage, 'I think, Mr. Tadpole,
that will do!'

Tadpole took the paper and read, 'OUR YOUNG QUEEN, AND OUR OLD
INSTITUTIONS.'

The eyes of Tadpole sparkled as if they had met a gnomic sentence of
Periander or Thales; then turning to Taper, he said,

'What do you think of "ancient," instead of "old"?'

'You cannot have "Our modern Queen and our ancient Institutions,"' said
Mr. Taper.

The dissolution was soon followed by an election for the borough of
Cambridge. The Conservative Cause candidate was an old Etonian. That was
a bond of sympathy which imparted zeal even to those who were a little
sceptical of the essential virtues of Conservatism. Every undergraduate
especially who remembered 'the distant spires,' became enthusiastic.
Buckhurst took a very decided part. He cheered, he canvassed, he brought
men to the poll whom none could move; he influenced his friends and
his companions. Even Coningsby caught the contagion, and Vere, who had
imbibed much of Coningsby's political sentiment, prevailed on himself to
be neutral. The Conservative Cause triumphed in the person of its Eton
champion. The day the member was chaired, several men in Coningsby's
rooms were talking over their triumph.

'By Jove!' said the panting Buckhurst, throwing himself on the sofa, 'it
was well done; never was any thing better done. An immense triumph! The
greatest triumph the Conservative Cause has had. And yet,' he added,
laughing, 'if any fellow were to ask me what the Conservative Cause is,
I am sure I should not know what to say.'

'Why, it is the cause of our glorious institutions,' said Coningsby. 'A
Crown robbed of its prerogatives; a Church controlled by a commission;
and an Aristocracy that does not lead.'

'Under whose genial influence the order of the Peasantry, "a country's
pride," has vanished from the face of the land,' said Henry Sydney, 'and
is succeeded by a race of serfs, who are called labourers, and who burn
ricks.'

'Under which,' continued Coningsby, 'the Crown has become a cipher; the
Church a sect; the Nobility drones; and the People drudges.'

'It is the great constitutional cause,' said Lord Vere, 'that refuses
everything to opposition; yields everything to agitation; conservative
in Parliament, destructive out-of-doors; that has no objection to any
change provided only it be effected by unauthorised means.'

'The first public association of men,' said Coningsby, 'who have worked
for an avowed end without enunciating a single principle.'

'And who have established political infidelity throughout the land,'
said Lord Henry.

'By Jove!' said Buckhurst, 'what infernal fools we have made ourselves
this last week!'

'Nay,' said Coningsby, smiling, 'it was our last schoolboy weakness.
Floreat Etona, under all circumstances.'

'I certainly, Coningsby,' said Lord Vere, 'shall not assume the
Conservative Cause, instead of the cause for which Hampden died in the
field, and Sydney on the scaffold.'

'The cause for which Hampden died in the field and Sydney on the
scaffold,' said Coningsby, 'was the cause of the Venetian Republic.'

'How, how?' cried Buckhurst.

'I repeat it,' said Coningsby. 'The great object of the Whig leaders
in England from the first movement under Hampden to the last most
successful one in 1688, was to establish in England a high aristocratic
republic on the model of the Venetian, then the study and admiration of
all speculative politicians. Read Harrington; turn over Algernon
Sydney; then you will see how the minds of the English leaders in the
seventeenth century were saturated with the Venetian type. And they at
length succeeded. William III. found them out. He told the Whig leaders,
"I will not be a Doge." He balanced parties; he baffled them as the
Puritans baffled them fifty years before. The reign of Anne was a
struggle between the Venetian and the English systems. Two great Whig
nobles, Argyle and Somerset, worthy of seats in the Council of Ten,
forced their Sovereign on her deathbed to change the ministry. They
accomplished their object. They brought in a new family on their own
terms. George I. was a Doge; George II. was a Doge; they were what
William III., a great man, would not be. George III. tried not to be
a Doge, but it was impossible materially to resist the deeply-laid
combination. He might get rid of the Whig magnificoes, but he could not
rid himself of the Venetian constitution. And a Venetian constitution
did govern England from the accession of the House of Hanover until
1832. Now I do not ask you, Vere, to relinquish the political tenets
which in ordinary times would have been your inheritance. All I say is,
the constitution introduced by your ancestors having been subverted by
their descendants your contemporaries, beware of still holding Venetian
principles of government when you have not a Venetian constitution to
govern with. Do what I am doing, what Henry Sydney and Buckhurst are
doing, what other men that I could mention are doing, hold yourself
aloof from political parties which, from the necessity of things, have
ceased to have distinctive principles, and are therefore practically
only factions; and wait and see, whether with patience, energy, honour,
and Christian faith, and a desire to look to the national welfare and
not to sectional and limited interests; whether, I say, we may not
discover some great principles to guide us, to which we may adhere, and
which then, if true, will ultimately guide and control others.'

'The Whigs are worn out,' said Vere, 'Conservatism is a sham, and
Radicalism is pollution.'

'I certainly,' said Buckhurst, 'when I get into the House of Commons,
shall speak my mind without reference to any party whatever; and all
I hope is, we may all come in at the same time, and then we may make a
party of our own.'

'I have always heard my father say,' said Vere, 'that there was nothing
so difficult as to organise an independent party in the House of
Commons.'

'Ay! but that was in the Venetian period, Vere,' said Henry Sydney,
smiling.

'I dare say,' said Buckhurst, 'the only way to make a party in the
House of Commons is just the one that succeeds anywhere else. Men must
associate together. When you are living in the same set, dining together
every day, and quizzing the Dons, it is astonishing how well men
agree. As for me, I never would enter into a conspiracy, unless the
conspirators were fellows who had been at Eton with me; and then there
would be no treachery.'

'Let us think of principles, and not of parties,' said Coningsby.

'For my part,' said Buckhurst, 'whenever a political system is breaking
up, as in this country at present, I think the very best thing is to
brush all the old Dons off the stage. They never take to the new road
kindly. They are always hampered by their exploded prejudices and
obsolete traditions. I don't think a single man, Vere, that sat in the
Venetian Senate ought to be allowed to sit in the present English House
of Commons.'

'Well, no one does in our family except my uncle Philip,' said Lord
Henry; 'and the moment I want it, he will resign; for he detests
Parliament. It interferes so with his hunting.'

'Well, we all have fair parliamentary prospects,' said Buckhurst. 'That
is something. I wish we were in now.'

'Heaven forbid!' said Coningsby. 'I tremble at the responsibility of a
seat at any time. With my present unsettled and perplexed views, there
is nothing from which I should recoil so much as the House of Commons.'

'I quite agree with you,' said Henry Sydney. 'The best thing we can do
is to keep as clear of political party as we possibly can. How many
men waste the best part of their lives in painfully apologising for
conscientious deviation from a parliamentary course which they adopted
when they were boys, without thought, or prompted by some local
connection, or interest, to secure a seat.'

It was the midnight following the morning when this conversation
took place, that Coningsby, alone, and having just quitted a rather
boisterous party of wassailers who had been celebrating at Buckhurst's
rooms the triumph of 'Eton Statesmen,' if not of Conservative
principles, stopped in the precincts of that Royal College that reminded
him of his schooldays, to cool his brow in the summer air, that even
at that hour was soft, and to calm his mind in the contemplation of the
still, the sacred, and the beauteous scene that surrounded him.

There rose that fane, the pride and boast of Cambridge, not unworthy
to rank among the chief temples of Christendom. Its vast form was
exaggerated in the uncertain hour; part shrouded in the deepest
darkness, while a flood of silver light suffused its southern side,
distinguished with revealing beam the huge ribs of its buttresses, and
bathed with mild lustre its airy pinnacles.

'Where is the spirit that raised these walls?' thought Coningsby. 'Is it
indeed extinct? Is then this civilisation, so much vaunted, inseparable
from moderate feelings and little thoughts? If so, give me back
barbarism! But I cannot believe it. Man that is made in the image of the
Creator, is made for God-like deeds. Come what come may, I will cling to
the heroic principle. It can alone satisfy my soul.'




CHAPTER III.


We must now revert to the family, or rather the household, of Lord
Monmouth, in which considerable changes and events had occurred since
the visit of Coningsby to the Castle in the preceding autumn.

In the first place, the earliest frost of the winter had carried off
the aged proprietor of Hellingsley, that contiguous estate which Lord
Monmouth so much coveted, the possession of which was indeed one of the
few objects of his life, and to secure which he was prepared to pay
far beyond its intrinsic value, great as that undoubtedly was. Yet Lord
Monmouth did not become its possessor. Long as his mind had been intent
upon the subject, skilful as had been his combinations to secure his
prey, and unlimited the means which were to achieve his purpose, another
stepped in, and without his privity, without even the consolation of a
struggle, stole away the prize; and this too a man whom he hated, almost
the only individual out of his own family that he did hate; a man who
had crossed him before in similar enterprises; who was his avowed foe;
had lavished treasure to oppose him in elections; raised associations
against his interest; established journals to assail him; denounced him
in public; agitated against him in private; had declared more than
once that he would make 'the county too hot for him;' his personal,
inveterate, indomitable foe, Mr. Millbank of Millbank.

The loss of Hellingsley was a bitter disappointment to Lord Monmouth;
but the loss of it to such an adversary touched him to the quick. He did
not seek to control his anger; he could not succeed even in concealing
his agitation. He threw upon Rigby that glance so rare with him, but
under which men always quailed; that play of the eye which Lord Monmouth
shared in common with Henry VIII., that struck awe into the trembling
Commons when they had given an obnoxious vote, as the King entered the
gallery of his palace, and looked around him.

It was a look which implied that dreadful question, 'Why have I bought
you that such things should happen? Why have I unlimited means and
unscrupulous agents?' It made Rigby even feel; even his brazen tones
were hushed.

To fly from everything disagreeable was the practical philosophy of Lord
Monmouth; but he was as brave as he was sensual. He would not shrink
before the new proprietor of Hellingsley. He therefore remained at
the Castle with an aching heart, and redoubled his hospitalities. An
ordinary mind might have been soothed by the unceasing consideration and
the skilful and delicate flattery that ever surrounded Lord Monmouth;
but his sagacious intelligence was never for a moment the dupe of his
vanity. He had no self-love, and as he valued no one, there were really
no feelings to play upon. He saw through everybody and everything; and
when he had detected their purpose, discovered their weakness or their
vileness, he calculated whether they could contribute to his pleasure
or his convenience in a degree that counterbalanced the objections which
might be urged against their intentions, or their less pleasing and
profitable qualities. To be pleased was always a principal object with
Lord Monmouth; but when a man wants vengeance, gay amusement is not
exactly a satisfactory substitute.

A month elapsed. Lord Monmouth with a serene or smiling visage to his
guests, but in private taciturn and morose, scarcely ever gave a word
to Mr. Rigby, but continually bestowed on him glances which painfully
affected the appetite of that gentleman. In a hundred ways it was
intimated to Mr. Rigby that he was not a welcome guest, and yet
something was continually given him to do which rendered it impossible
for him to take his departure. In this state of affairs, another event
occurred which changed the current of feeling, and by its possible
consequences distracted the Marquess from his brooding meditations over
his discomfiture in the matter of Hellingsley. The Prince Colonna, who,
since the steeple-chase, had imbibed a morbid predilection for such
amusements, and indeed for every species of rough-riding, was thrown
from his horse and killed on the spot.

This calamity broke up the party at Coningsby, which was not at the
moment very numerous. Mr. Rigby, by command, instantly seized the
opportunity of preventing the arrival of other guests who were expected.
This catastrophe was the cause of Mr. Rigby resuming in a great measure
his old position in the Castle. There were a great many things to
be done, and all disagreeable; he achieved them all, and studied
everybody's convenience. Coroners' inquests, funerals especially,
weeping women, these were all spectacles which Lord Monmouth could not
endure, but he was so high-bred, that he would not for the world
that there should be in manner or degree the slightest deficiency in
propriety or even sympathy. But he wanted somebody to do everything that
was proper; to be considerate and consoling and sympathetic. Mr. Rigby
did it all; gave evidence at the inquest, was chief mourner at the
funeral, and arranged everything so well that not a single emblem of
death crossed the sight of Lord Monmouth; while Madame Colonna found
submission in his exhortations, and the Princess Lucretia, a little more
pale and pensive than usual, listened with tranquillity to his discourse
on the vanity of all sublunary things.

When the tumult had subsided, and habits and feelings had fallen into
their old routine and relapsed into their ancient channels, the
Marquess proposed that they should all return to London, and with great
formality, though with warmth, begged that Madame Colonna would ever
consider his roof as her own. All were glad to quit the Castle, which
now presented a scene so different from its former animation, and Madame
Colonna, weeping, accepted the hospitality of her friend, until the
impending expansion of the spring would permit her to return to Italy.
This notice of her return to her own country seemed to occasion the
Marquess great disquietude.

After they had remained about a month in London, Madame Colonna sent
for Mr. Rigby one morning to tell him how very painful it was to her
feelings to remain under the roof of Monmouth House without the sanction
of a husband; that the circumstance of being a foreigner, under such
unusual affliction, might have excused, though not authorised, the step
at first, and for a moment; but that the continuance of such a course
was quite out of the question; that she owed it to herself, to her
step-child, no longer to trespass on this friendly hospitality, which,
if persisted in, might be liable to misconstruction. Mr. Rigby
listened with great attention to this statement, and never in the least
interrupted Madame Colonna; and then offered to do that which he was
convinced the lady desired, namely, to make the Marquess acquainted with
the painful state of her feelings. This he did according to his fashion,
and with sufficient dexterity. Mr. Rigby himself was anxious to
know which way the wind blew, and the mission with which he had been
entrusted, fell in precisely with his inclinations and necessities. The
Marquess listened to the communication and sighed, then turned gently
round and surveyed himself in the mirror and sighed again, then said to
Rigby,

'You understand exactly what I mean, Rigby. It is quite ridiculous their
going, and infinitely distressing to me. They must stay.'

Rigby repaired to the Princess full of mysterious bustle, and with a
face beaming with importance and satisfaction. He made much of the
two sighs; fully justified the confidence of the Marquess in his
comprehension of unexplained intentions; prevailed on Madame Colonna to
have some regard for the feelings of one so devoted; expatiated on the
insignificance of worldly misconstructions, when replied to by such
honourable intentions; and fully succeeded in his mission. They did
stay. Month after month rolled on, and still they stayed; every
month all the family becoming more resigned or more content, and more
cheerful. As for the Marquess himself, Mr. Rigby never remembered him
more serene and even joyous. His Lordship scarcely ever entered general
society. The Colonna family remained in strict seclusion; and he
preferred the company of these accomplished and congenial friends to the
mob of the great world.

Between Madame Colonna and Mr. Rigby there had always subsisted
considerable confidence. Now, that gentleman seemed to have achieved
fresh and greater claims to her regard. In the pleasure with which he
looked forward to her approaching alliance with his patron, he reminded
her of the readiness with which he had embraced her suggestions for the
marriage of her daughter with Coningsby. Always obliging, she was never
wearied of chanting his praises to her noble admirer, who was apparently
much gratified she should have bestowed her esteem on one of whom she
would necessarily in after-life see so much. It is seldom the lot of
husbands that their confidential friends gain the regards of their
brides.

'I am glad you all like Rigby,' said Lord Monmouth, 'as you will see so
much of him.'

The remembrance of the Hellingsley failure seemed to be erased from the
memory of the Marquess. Rigby never recollected him more cordial and
confidential, and more equable in his manner. He told Rigby one day,
that he wished that Monmouth House should possess the most sumptuous
and the most fanciful boudoir in London or Paris. What a hint for Rigby!
That gentleman consulted the first artists, and gave them some hints in
return; his researches on domestic decoration ranged through all
ages; he even meditated a rapid tour to mature his inventions; but his
confidence in his native taste and genius ultimately convinced him that
this movement was unnecessary.

The summer advanced; the death of the King occurred; the dissolution
summoned Rigby to Coningsby and the borough of Darlford. His success was
marked certain in the secret books of Tadpole and Taper. A manufacturing
town, enfranchised under the Reform Act, already gained by the
Conservative cause! Here was reaction; here influence of property!
Influence of character, too; for no one was so popular as Lord Monmouth;
a most distinguished nobleman of strict Conservative principles, who,
if he carried the county and the manufacturing borough also, merited the
strawberry-leaf.

'There will be no holding Rigby,' said Taper; 'I'm afraid he will be
looking for something very high.'

'The higher the better,' rejoined Tadpole, 'and then he will not
interfere with us. I like your high-flyers; it is your plodders I
detest, wearing old hats and high-lows, speaking in committee, and
thinking they are men of business: d - - n them!'

Rigby went down, and made some impressive speeches; at least they read
very well in some of his second-rate journals, where all the uproar
figured as loud cheering, and the interruption of a cabbage-stalk was
represented as a question from some intelligent individual in the crowd.
The fact is, Rigby bored his audience too much with history, especially
with the French Revolution, which he fancied was his 'forte,' so that
the people at last, whenever he made any allusion to the subject, were
almost as much terrified as if they had seen the guillotine.

Rigby had as yet one great advantage; he had no opponent; and without
personal opposition, no contest can be very bitter. It was for some days
Rigby _versus_ Liberal principles; and Rigby had much the best of it;
for he abused Liberal principles roundly in his harangues, who, not
being represented on the occasion, made no reply; while plenty of ale,
and some capital songs by Lucian Gay, who went down express, gave the
right cue to the mob, who declared in chorus, beneath the windows of
Rigby's hotel, that he was 'a fine old English gentleman!'

But there was to be a contest; no question about that, and a sharp
one, although Rigby was to win, and well. The Liberal party had been so
fastidious about their new candidate, that they had none ready though
several biting. Jawster Sharp thought at one time that sheer necessity



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 22 of 39)