Benjamin Disraeli.

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had hitherto deprecated, reappeared. Coningsby learnt in the course of
the day that the Wallingers were about to make, and immediately, a visit
to Hellingsley; their first visit; indeed, this was the first year that
Mr. Millbank had taken up his abode there. He did not much like the
change of life, Sir Joseph told Coningsby, but Edith was delighted with
Hellingsley, which Sir Joseph understood was a very distinguished place,
with fine gardens, of which his niece was particularly fond.

When Coningsby returned to his rooms, those rooms which he was soon
about to quit for ever, in arranging some papers preparatory to his
removal, his eye lighted on a too-long unanswered letter of Oswald
Millbank. Coningsby had often projected a visit to Oxford, which he much
desired to make, but hitherto it had been impossible for him to effect
it, except in the absence of Millbank; and he had frequently postponed
it that he might combine his first visit to that famous seat of learning
with one to his old schoolfellow and friend. Now that was practicable.
And immediately Coningsby wrote to apprise Millbank that he had
taken his degree, was free, and prepared to pay him immediately the
long-projected visit. Three years and more had elapsed since they had
quitted Eton. How much had happened in the interval! What new ideas, new
feelings, vast and novel knowledge! Though they had not met, they were
nevertheless familiar with the progress and improvement of each other's
minds. Their suggestive correspondence was too valuable to both of them
to have been otherwise than cherished. And now they were to meet on
the eve of entering that world for which they had made so sedulous a
preparation.




CHAPTER II.


There are few things in life more interesting than an unrestrained
interchange of ideas with a congenial spirit, and there are few things
more rare. How very seldom do you encounter in the world a man of great
abilities, acquirements, experience, who will unmask his mind, unbutton
his brains, and pour forth in careless and picturesque phrase all the
results of his studies and observation; his knowledge of men, books, and
nature. On the contrary, if a man has by any chance what he conceives
an original idea, he hoards it as if it were old gold; and rather avoids
the subject with which he is most conversant, from fear that you may
appropriate his best thoughts. One of the principal causes of our
renowned dulness in conversation is our extreme intellectual jealousy.
It must be admitted that in this respect authors, but especially poets,
bear the palm. They never think they are sufficiently appreciated, and
live in tremor lest a brother should distinguish himself. Artists have
the repute of being nearly as bad. And as for a small rising politician,
a clever speech by a supposed rival or suspected candidate for office
destroys his appetite and disturbs his slumbers.

One of the chief delights and benefits of travel is, that one is
perpetually meeting men of great abilities, of original mind, and rare
acquirements, who will converse without reserve. In these discourses
the intellect makes daring leaps and marvellous advances. The tone that
colours our afterlife is often caught in these chance colloquies, and
the bent given that shapes a career.

And yet perhaps there is no occasion when the heart is more open, the
brain more quick, the memory more rich and happy, or the tongue more
prompt and eloquent, than when two school-day friends, knit by every
sympathy of intelligence and affection, meet at the close of their
college careers, after a long separation, hesitating, as it were, on
the verge of active life, and compare together their conclusions of the
interval; impart to each other all their thoughts and secret plans
and projects; high fancies and noble aspirations; glorious visions of
personal fame and national regeneration.

Ah! why should such enthusiasm ever die! Life is too short to be
little. Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and
expresses himself with frankness and with fervour.

Most assuredly there never was a congress of friendship wherein more was
said and felt than in this meeting, so long projected, and yet perhaps
on the whole so happily procrastinated, between Coningsby and Millbank.
In a moment they seemed as if they had never parted. Their faithful
correspondence indeed had maintained the chain of sentiment unbroken.
But details are only for conversation. Each poured forth his mind
without stint. Not an author that had influenced their taste or judgment
but was canvassed and criticised; not a theory they had framed or a
principle they had adopted that was not confessed. Often, with boyish
glee still lingering with their earnest purpose, they shouted as they
discovered that they had formed the same opinion or adopted the same
conclusion. They talked all day and late into the night. They condensed
into a week the poignant conclusions of three years of almost unbroken
study. And one night, as they sat together in Millbank's rooms at
Oriel, their conversation having for some time taken a political colour,
Millbank said,

'Now tell me, Coningsby, exactly what you conceive to be the state of
parties in this country; for it seems to me that if we penetrate the
surface, the classification must be more simple than their many names
would intimate.'

'The principle of the exclusive constitution of England having been
conceded by the Acts of 1827-8-32,' said Coningsby, 'a party has arisen
in the State who demand that the principle of political liberalism
shall consequently be carried to its extent; which it appears to them is
impossible without getting rid of the fragments of the old constitution
that remain. This is the destructive party; a party with distinct and
intelligible principles. They seek a specific for the evils of our
social system in the general suffrage of the population.

'They are resisted by another party, who, having given up exclusion,
would only embrace as much liberalism as is necessary for the moment;
who, without any embarrassing promulgation of principles, wish to keep
things as they find them as long as they can, and then will manage them
as they find them as well as they can; but as a party must have the
semblance of principles, they take the names of the things that they
have destroyed. Thus they are devoted to the prerogatives of the Crown,
although in truth the Crown has been stripped of every one of its
prerogatives; they affect a great veneration for the constitution in
Church and State, though every one knows that the constitution in Church
and State no longer exists; they are ready to stand or fall with the
"independence of the Upper House of Parliament", though, in practice,
they are perfectly aware that, with their sanction, "the Upper House"
has abdicated its initiatory functions, and now serves only as a court
of review of the legislation of the House of Commons. Whenever public
opinion, which this party never attempts to form, to educate, or to
lead, falls into some violent perplexity, passion, or caprice, this
party yields without a struggle to the impulse, and, when the storm has
passed, attempts to obstruct and obviate the logical and, ultimately,
the inevitable results of the very measures they have themselves
originated, or to which they have consented. This is the Conservative
party.

'I care not whether men are called Whigs or Tories, Radicals or
Chartists, or by what nickname a bustling and thoughtless race may
designate themselves; but these two divisions comprehend at present the
English nation.

'With regard to the first school, I for one have no faith in the
remedial qualities of a government carried on by a neglected democracy,
who, for three centuries, have received no education. What prospect does
it offer us of those high principles of conduct with which we have
fed our imaginations and strengthened our will? I perceive none of the
elements of government that should secure the happiness of a people and
the greatness of a realm.

'But in my opinion, if Democracy be combated only by Conservatism,
Democracy must triumph, and at no distant date. This, then, is our
position. The man who enters public life at this epoch has to choose
between Political Infidelity and a Destructive Creed.'

'This, then,' said Millbank, 'is the dilemma to which we are brought
by nearly two centuries of Parliamentary Monarchy and Parliamentary
Church.'

''Tis true,' said Coningsby. 'We cannot conceal it from ourselves,
that the first has made Government detested, and the second Religion
disbelieved.'

'Many men in this country,' said Millbank, 'and especially in the class
to which I belong, are reconciled to the contemplation of democracy;
because they have accustomed themselves to believe, that it is the
only power by which we can sweep away those sectional privileges and
interests that impede the intelligence and industry of the community.'

'And yet,' said Coningsby, 'the only way to terminate what, in the
language of the present day, is called Class Legislation, is not to
entrust power to classes. You would find a Locofoco majority as much
addicted to Class Legislation as a factitious aristocracy. The only
power that has no class sympathy is the Sovereign.'

'But suppose the case of an arbitrary Sovereign, what would be your
check against him?'

'The same as against an arbitrary Parliament.'

'But a Parliament is responsible.'

'To whom?'

'To their constituent body.'

'Suppose it was to vote itself perpetual?'

'But public opinion would prevent that.'

'And is public opinion of less influence on an individual than on a
body?'

'But public opinion may be indifferent. A nation may be misled, may be
corrupt.'

'If the nation that elects the Parliament be corrupt, the elected body
will resemble it. The nation that is corrupt deserves to fall. But this
only shows that there is something to be considered beyond forms of
government, national character. And herein mainly should we repose our
hopes. If a nation be led to aim at the good and the great, depend upon
it, whatever be its form, the government will respond to its convictions
and its sentiments.'

'Do you then declare against Parliamentary government.'

'Far from it: I look upon political change as the greatest of evils,
for it comprehends all. But if we have no faith in the permanence of
the existing settlement, if the very individuals who established it are,
year after year, proposing their modifications or their reconstructions;
so also, while we uphold what exists, ought we to prepare ourselves for
the change we deem impending?

'Now I would not that either ourselves, or our fellow-citizens, should
be taken unawares as in 1832, when the very men who opposed the Reform
Bill offered contrary objections to it which destroyed each other, so
ignorant were they of its real character, its historical causes, its
political consequences. We should now so act that, when the occasions
arrives, we should clearly comprehend what we want, and have formed an
opinion as to the best means by which that want can be supplied.

'For this purpose I would accustom the public mind to the contemplation
of an existing though torpid power in the constitution, capable
of removing our social grievances, were we to transfer to it those
prerogatives which the Parliament has gradually usurped, and used in
a manner which has produced the present material and moral
disorganisation. The House of Commons is the house of a few; the
Sovereign is the sovereign of all. The proper leader of the people is
the individual who sits upon the throne.'

'Then you abjure the Representative principle?'

'Why so? Representation is not necessarily, or even in a principal
sense, Parliamentary. Parliament is not sitting at this moment, and yet
the nation is represented in its highest as well as in its most minute
interests. Not a grievance escapes notice and redress. I see in the
newspaper this morning that a pedagogue has brutally chastised his
pupil. It is a fact known over all England. We must not forget that a
principle of government is reserved for our days that we shall not find
in our Aristotles, or even in the forests of Tacitus, nor in our Saxon
Wittenagemotes, nor in our Plantagenet parliaments. Opinion is now
supreme, and Opinion speaks in print. The representation of the Press is
far more complete than the representation of Parliament. Parliamentary
representation was the happy device of a ruder age, to which it was
admirably adapted: an age of semi-civilisation, when there was a leading
class in the community; but it exhibits many symptoms of desuetude.
It is controlled by a system of representation more vigorous and
comprehensive; which absorbs its duties and fulfils them more
efficiently, and in which discussion is pursued on fairer terms, and
often with more depth and information.'

'And to what power would you entrust the function of Taxation?'

'To some power that would employ it more discreetly than in creating
our present amount of debt, and in establishing our present system of
imposts.

'In a word, true wisdom lies in the policy that would effect its ends
by the influence of opinion, and yet by the means of existing forms.
Nevertheless, if we are forced to revolutions, let us propose to our
consideration the idea of a free monarchy, established on fundamental
laws, itself the apex of a vast pile of municipal and local government,
ruling an educated people, represented by a free and intellectual press.
Before such a royal authority, supported by such a national opinion, the
sectional anomalies of our country would disappear. Under such a system,
where qualification would not be parliamentary, but personal, even
statesmen would be educated; we should have no more diplomatists who
could not speak French, no more bishops ignorant of theology, no more
generals-in-chief who never saw a field.

'Now there is a polity adapted to our laws, our institutions, our
feelings, our manners, our traditions; a polity capable of great ends
and appealing to high sentiments; a polity which, in my opinion, would
render government an object of national affection, which would terminate
sectional anomalies, assuage religious heats, and extinguish Chartism.'

'You said to me yesterday,' said Millbank after a pause, 'quoting the
words of another, which you adopted, that Man was made to adore and to
obey. Now you have shown to me the means by which you deem it possible
that government might become no longer odious to the subject; you have
shown how man may be induced to obey. But there are duties and interests
for man beyond political obedience, and social comfort, and national
greatness, higher interests and greater duties. How would you deal
with their spiritual necessities? You think you can combat political
infidelity in a nation by the principle of enlightened loyalty; how
would you encounter religious infidelity in a state? By what means is
the principle of profound reverence to be revived? How, in short, is man
to be led to adore?'

'Ah! that is a subject which I have not forgotten,' replied Coningsby.
'I know from your letters how deeply it has engaged your thoughts.
I confess to you that it has often filled mine with perplexity and
depression. When we were at Eton, and both of us impregnated with the
contrary prejudices in which we had been brought up, there was still
between us one common ground of sympathy and trust; we reposed with
confidence and affection in the bosom of our Church. Time and thought,
with both of us, have only matured the spontaneous veneration of our
boyhood. But time and thought have also shown me that the Church of our
heart is not in a position, as regards the community, consonant with its
original and essential character, or with the welfare of the nation.'

'The character of a Church is universality,' replied Millbank. 'Once
the Church in this country was universal in principle and practice; when
wedded to the State, it continued at least universal in principle, if
not in practice. What is it now? All ties between the State and
the Church are abolished, except those which tend to its danger and
degradation.

'What can be more anomalous than the present connection between State
and Church? Every condition on which it was originally consented to
has been cancelled. That original alliance was, in my view, an equal
calamity for the nation and the Church; but, at least, it was an
intelligible compact. Parliament, then consisting only of members of
the Established Church, was, on ecclesiastical matters, a lay synod, and
might, in some points of view, be esteemed a necessary portion of Church
government. But you have effaced this exclusive character of Parliament;
you have determined that a communion with the Established Church shall
no longer be part of the qualification for sitting in the House of
Commons. There is no reason, so far as the constitution avails, why
every member of the House of Commons should not be a dissenter. But the
whole power of the country is concentrated in the House of Commons.
The House of Lords, even the Monarch himself, has openly announced and
confessed, within these ten years, that the will of the House of Commons
is supreme. A single vote of the House of Commons, in 1832, made the
Duke of Wellington declare, in the House of Lords, that he was obliged
to abandon his sovereign in "the most difficult and distressing
circumstances." The House of Commons is absolute. It is the State.
"L'Etat c'est moi." The House of Commons virtually appoints the bishops.
A sectarian assembly appoints the bishops of the Established Church.
They may appoint twenty Hoadleys. James II was expelled the throne
because he appointed a Roman Catholic to an Anglican see. A Parliament
might do this to-morrow with impunity. And this is the constitution in
Church and State which Conservative dinners toast! The only consequences
of the present union of Church and State are, that, on the side of the
State, there is perpetual interference in ecclesiastical government, and
on the side of the Church a sedulous avoidance of all those principles
on which alone Church government can be established, and by the
influence of which alone can the Church of England again become
universal.'

'But it is urged that the State protects its revenues?'

'No ecclesiastical revenues should be safe that require protection.
Modern history is a history of Church spoliation. And by whom? Not by
the people; not by the democracy. No; it is the emperor, the king, the
feudal baron, the court minion. The estate of the Church is the estate
of the people, so long as the Church is governed on its real principles.
The Church is the medium by which the despised and degraded classes
assert the native equality of man, and vindicate the rights and power
of intellect. It made, in the darkest hour of Norman rule, the son of
a Saxon pedlar Primate of England, and placed Nicholas Breakspear, a
Hertfordshire peasant, on the throne of the Caesars. It would do as
great things now, if it were divorced from the degrading and tyrannical
connection that enchains it. You would have other sons of peasants
Bishops of England, instead of men appointed to that sacred office
solely because they were the needy scions of a factitious aristocracy;
men of gross ignorance, profligate habits, and grinding extortion, who
have disgraced the episcopal throne, and profaned the altar.'

'But surely you cannot justly extend such a description to the present
bench?'

'Surely not: I speak of the past, of the past that has produced so much
present evil. We live in decent times; frigid, latitudinarian, alarmed,
decorous. A priest is scarcely deemed in our days a fit successor to the
authors of the gospels, if he be not the editor of a Greek play; and he
who follows St. Paul must now at least have been private tutor of
some young nobleman who has taken a good degree! And then you are
all astonished that the Church is not universal! Why! nothing but the
indestructibleness of its principles, however feebly pursued, could have
maintained even the disorganised body that still survives.

'And yet, my dear Coningsby, with all its past errors and all its
present deficiencies, it is by the Church; I would have said until I
listened to you to-night; by the Church alone that I see any chance of
regenerating the national character. The parochial system, though
shaken by the fatal poor-law, is still the most ancient, the most
comprehensive, and the most popular institution of the country; the
younger priests are, in general, men whose souls are awake to the high
mission which they have to fulfil, and which their predecessors so
neglected; there is, I think, a rising feeling in the community, that
parliamentary intercourse in matters ecclesiastical has not tended
either to the spiritual or the material elevation of the humbler
orders. Divorce the Church from the State, and the spiritual power that
struggled against the brute force of the dark ages, against tyrannical
monarchs and barbarous barons, will struggle again in opposition to
influences of a different form, but of a similar tendency; equally
selfish, equally insensible, equally barbarising. The priests of God are
the tribunes of the people. O, ignorant! that with such a mission they
should ever have cringed in the antechambers of ministers, or bowed
before parliamentary committees!'

'The Utilitarian system is dead,' said Coningsby. 'It has passed through
the heaven of philosophy like a hailstorm, cold, noisy, sharp, and
peppering, and it has melted away. And yet can we wonder that it found
some success, when we consider the political ignorance and social torpor
which it assailed? Anointed kings turned into chief magistrates, and
therefore much overpaid; estates of the realm changed into parliaments
of virtual representation, and therefore requiring real reform; holy
Church transformed into national establishment, and therefore grumbled
at by all the nation for whom it was not supported. What an inevitable
harvest of sedition, radicalism, infidelity! I really think there is no
society, however great its resources, that could long resist the united
influences of chief magistrate, virtual representation, and Church
establishment!'

'I have immense faith in the new generation,' said Millbank, eagerly.

'It is a holy thing to see a state saved by its youth,' said Coningsby;
and then he added, in a tone of humility, if not of depression,
'But what a task! What a variety of qualities, what a combination
of circumstances is requisite! What bright abilities and what noble
patience! What confidence from the people, what favour from the Most
High!'

'But He will favour us,' said Millbank. 'And I say to you as Nathan said
unto David, "Thou art the man!" You were our leader at Eton; the friends
of your heart and boyhood still cling and cluster round you! they are
all men whose position forces them into public life. It is a nucleus of
honour, faith, and power. You have only to dare. And will you not dare?
It is our privilege to live in an age when the career of the highest
ambition is identified with the performance of the greatest good. Of the
present epoch it may be truly said, "Who dares to be good, dares to be
great."'

'Heaven is above all,' said Coningsby. 'The curtain of our fate is
still undrawn. We are happy in our friends, dear Millbank, and whatever
lights, we will stand together. For myself, I prefer fame to life;
and yet, the consciousness of heroic deeds to the most wide-spread
celebrity.'




CHAPTER III.


The beautiful light of summer had never shone on a scene and surrounding
landscape which recalled happier images of English nature, and better
recollections of English manners, than that to which we would now
introduce our readers. One of those true old English Halls, now
unhappily so rare, built in the time of the Tudors, and in its elaborate
timber-framing and decorative woodwork indicating, perhaps, the scarcity
of brick and stone at the period of its structure, as much as the
grotesque genius of its fabricator, rose on a terrace surrounded
by ancient and very formal gardens. The hall itself, during many
generations, had been vigilantly and tastefully preserved by its
proprietors. There was not a point which was not as fresh as if it had
been renovated but yesterday. It stood a huge and strange blending
of Grecian, Gothic, and Italian architecture, with a wild dash of the
fantastic in addition. The lantern watch-towers of a baronial castle
were placed in juxtaposition with Doric columns employed for chimneys,



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 29 of 39)