Benjamin Disraeli.

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When she rose, she said, -

'In ten minutes the carriage will be at the door; and if you like, my
dear young friend, you shall be our beau.'

'There is nothing I should like so much,' said Coningsby.

'Ah!' said the lady, with the sweetest smile, 'he is frank.'

The ladies bowed and retired; Mr. Rigby returned to the Marquess, and
the groom of the chambers led Coningsby to his room.

This lady, so courteous to Coningsby, was the Princess Colonna, a Roman
dame, the second wife of Prince Paul Colonna. The prince had first
married when a boy, and into a family not inferior to his own. Of this
union, in every respect unhappy, the Princess Lucretia was the sole
offspring. He was a man dissolute and devoted to play; and cared for
nothing much but his pleasures and billiards, in which latter he was
esteemed unrivalled. According to some, in a freak of passion, according
to others, to cancel a gambling debt, he had united himself to his
present wife, whose origin was obscure; but with whom he contrived to
live on terms of apparent cordiality, for she was much admired, and
made the society of her husband sought by those who contributed to his
enjoyment. Among these especially figured the Marquess of Monmouth,
between whom and Prince Colonna the world recognised as existing the
most intimate and entire friendship, so that his Highness and his family
were frequent guests under the roof of the English nobleman, and now
accompanied him on a visit to England.


In the meantime, while ladies are luncheoning on Perigord pie, or
coursing in whirling britskas, performing all the singular ceremonies of
a London morning in the heart of the season; making visits where nobody
is seen, and making purchases which are not wanted; the world is in
agitation and uproar. At present the world and the confusion are limited
to St. James's Street and Pall Mall; but soon the boundaries and the
tumult will be extended to the intended metropolitan boroughs; to-morrow
they will spread over the manufacturing districts. It is perfectly
evident, that before eight-and-forty hours have passed, the country will
be in a state of fearful crisis. And how can it be otherwise? Is it not
a truth that the subtle Chief Baron has been closeted one whole hour
with the King; that shortly after, with thoughtful brow and compressed
lip, he was marked in his daring chariot entering the courtyard of
Apsley House? Great was the panic at Brookes', wild the hopes of
Carlton Terrace; all the gentlemen who expected to have been made peers
perceived that the country was going to be given over to a rapacious

In the meantime Tadpole and Taper, who had never quitted for an instant
the mysterious head-quarters of the late Opposition, were full of
hopes and fears, and asked many questions, which they chiefly answered

'I wonder what Lord Lyndhurst will say to the king,' said Taper.

'He has plenty of pluck,' said Tadpole.

'I almost wish now that Rigby had breakfasted with him this morning,'
said Taper.

'If the King be firm, and the country sound,' said Tadpole, 'and Lord
Monmouth keep his boroughs, I should not wonder to see Rigby made a
privy councillor.'

'There is no precedent for an under-secretary being a privy councillor,'
said Taper.

'But we live in revolutionary times,' said Tadpole.

'Gentlemen,' said the groom of the chambers, in a loud voice, entering
the room, 'I am desired to state that the Duke of Wellington is with the

'There _is_ a Providence!' exclaimed an agitated gentleman, the patent
of whose intended peerage had not been signed the day that the Duke had
quited office in 1830.

'I always thought the King would be firm,' said Mr. Tadpole.

'I wonder who will have the India Board,' said Taper.

At this moment three or four gentlemen entered the room in a state of
great bustle and excitement; they were immediately surrounded.

'Is it true?' 'Quite true; not the slightest doubt. Saw him myself. Not
at all hissed; certainly not hooted. Perhaps a little hissed. One
fellow really cheered him. Saw him myself. Say what they like, there is
reaction.' 'But Constitution Hill, they say?' 'Well, there was a sort
of inclination to a row on Constitution Hill; but the Duke quite firm;
pistols, and carriage doors bolted.'

Such may give a faint idea of the anxious inquiries and the satisfactory
replies that were occasioned by the entrance of this group.

'Up, guards, and at them!' exclaimed Tadpole, rubbing his hands in a fit
of patriotic enthusiasm.

Later in the afternoon, about five o'clock, the high change of political
gossip, when the room was crowded, and every one had his rumour, Mr.
Rigby looked in again to throw his eye over the evening papers, and
catch in various chit-chat the tone of public or party feeling on the
'crisis.' Then it was known that the Duke had returned from the
King, having accepted the charge of forming an administration. An
administration to do what? Portentous question! Were concessions to
be made? And if so, what? Was it altogether impossible, and too late,
'stare super vias antiquas?' Questions altogether above your Tadpoles
and your Tapers, whose idea of the necessities of the age was that they
themselves should be in office.

Lord Eskdale came up to Mr. Rigby. This peer was a noble Croesus,
acquainted with all the gradations of life; a voluptuary who could be a
Spartan; clear-sighted, unprejudiced, sagacious; the best judge in the
world of a horse or a man; he was the universal referee; a quarrel about
a bet or a mistress was solved by him in a moment, and in a manner which
satisfied both parties. He patronised and appreciated the fine arts,
though a jockey; respected literary men, though he only read French
novels; and without any affectation of tastes which he did not possess,
was looked upon by every singer and dancer in Europe as their natural
champion. The secret of his strong character and great influence was his
self-composure, which an earthquake or a Reform Bill could not disturb,
and which in him was the result of temperament and experience. He was
an intimate acquaintance of Lord Monmouth, for they had many tastes
in common; were both men of considerable, and in some degree similar
abilities; and were the two greatest proprietors of close boroughs in
the country.

'Do you dine at Monmouth House to-day?' inquired Lord Eskdale of Mr.

'Where I hope to meet your lordship. The Whig papers are very subdued,'
continued Mr. Rigby.

'Ah! they have not the cue yet,' said Lord Eskdale.

'And what do you think of affairs?' inquired his companion.

'I think the hounds are too hot to hark off now,' said Lord Eskdale.

'There is one combination,' said Rigby, who seemed meditating an attack
on Lord Eskdale's button.

'Give it us at dinner,' said Lord Eskdale, who knew his man, and made an
adroit movement forwards, as if he were very anxious to see the _Globe_

In the course of two or three hours these gentlemen met again in the
green drawing-room of Monmouth House. Mr. Rigby was sitting on a sofa
by Lord Monmouth, detailing in whispers all his gossip of the morn:
Lord Eskdale murmuring quaint inquiries into the ear of the Princess

Madame Colonna made remarks alternately to two gentlemen, who paid her
assiduous court. One of these was Mr. Ormsby; the school, the college,
and the club crony of Lord Monmouth, who had been his shadow through
life; travelled with him in early days, won money with him at play, had
been his colleague in the House of Commons; and was still one of his
nominees. Mr. Ormsby was a millionaire, which Lord Monmouth liked. He
liked his companions to be very rich or very poor; be his equals, able
to play with him at high stakes, or join him in a great speculation; or
to be his tools, and to amuse and serve him. There was nothing which he
despised and disliked so much as a moderate fortune.

The other gentleman was of a different class and character. Nature had
intended Lucian Gay for a scholar and a wit; necessity had made him a
scribbler and a buffoon. He had distinguished himself at the University;
but he had no patrimony, nor those powers of perseverance which success
in any learned profession requires. He was good-looking, had great
animal spirits, and a keen sense of enjoyment, and could not drudge.
Moreover he had a fine voice, and sang his own songs with considerable
taste; accomplishments which made his fortune in society and completed
his ruin. In due time he extricated himself from the bench and merged
into journalism, by means of which he chanced to become acquainted with
Mr. Rigby. That worthy individual was not slow in detecting the treasure
he had lighted on; a wit, a ready and happy writer, a joyous and
tractable being, with the education, and still the feelings and manners,
of a gentleman. Frequent were the Sunday dinners which found Gay a
guest at Mr. Rigby's villa; numerous the airy pasquinades which he
left behind, and which made the fortune of his patron. Flattered by
the familiar acquaintance of a man of station, and sanguine that he had
found the link which would sooner or later restore him to the polished
world that he had forfeited, Gay laboured in his vocation with
enthusiasm and success. Willingly would Rigby have kept his treasure
to himself; and truly he hoarded it for a long time, but it oozed out.
Rigby loved the reputation of possessing the complete art of
society. His dinners were celebrated at least for their guests. Great
intellectual illustrations were found there blended with rank and high
station. Rigby loved to patronise; to play the minister unbending and
seeking relief from the cares of council in the society of authors,
artists, and men of science. He liked dukes to dine with him and hear
him scatter his audacious criticisms to Sir Thomas or Sir Humphry.
They went away astounded by the powers of their host, who, had he not
fortunately devoted those powers to their party, must apparently have
rivalled Vandyke, or discovered the safety-lamp.

Now in these dinners, Lucian Gay, who had brilliant conversational
powers, and who possessed all the resources of boon companionship, would
be an invaluable ally. He was therefore admitted, and inspired both
by the present enjoyment, and the future to which it might lead, his
exertions were untiring, various, most successful. Rigby's dinners
became still, more celebrated. It, however, necessarily followed that
the guests who were charmed by Gay, wished Gay also to be their guest.
Rigby was very jealous of this, but it was inevitable; still by constant
manoeuvre, by intimations of some exercise, some day or other, of
substantial patronage in his behalf, by a thousand little arts by
which he carved out work for Gay which often prevented him accepting
invitations to great houses in the country, by judicious loans of
small sums on Lucian's notes of hand and other analogous devices, Rigby
contrived to keep the wit in a fair state of bondage and dependence.

One thing Rigby was resolved on: Gay should never get into Monmouth
House. That was an empyrean too high for his wing to soar in. Rigby kept
that social monopoly distinctively to mark the relation that subsisted
between them as patron and client. It was something to swagger about
when they were together after their second bottle of claret. Rigby kept
his resolution for some years, which the frequent and prolonged absence
of the Marquess rendered not very difficult. But we are the creatures
of circumstances; at least the Rigby race particularly. Lord Monmouth
returned to England one year, and wanted to be amused. He wanted a
jester: a man about him who would make him, not laugh, for that was
impossible, but smile more frequently, tell good stories, say good
things, and sing now and then, especially French songs. Early in life
Rigby would have attempted all this, though he had neither fun, voice,
nor ear. But his hold on Lord Monmouth no longer depended on the mere
exercise of agreeable qualities, he had become indispensable to his
lordship, by more serious if not higher considerations. And what with
auditing his accounts, guarding his boroughs, writing him, when absent,
gossip by every post and when in England deciding on every question and
arranging every matter which might otherwise have ruffled the sublime
repose of his patron's existence, Rigby might be excused if he shrank a
little from the minor part of table wit, particularly when we remember
all his subterranean journalism, his acid squibs, and his malicious
paragraphs, and, what Tadpole called, his 'slashing articles.'

These 'slashing articles' were, indeed, things which, had they appeared
as anonymous pamphlets, would have obtained the contemptuous reception
which in an intellectual view no compositions more surely deserved; but
whispered as the productions of one behind the scenes, and appearing in
the pages of a party review, they were passed off as genuine coin, and
took in great numbers of the lieges, especially in the country. They
were written in a style apparently modelled on the briefs of those sharp
attorneys who weary advocates with their clever commonplace; teasing
with obvious comment, and torturing with inevitable inference. The
affectation of order in the statement of facts had all the lucid method
of an adroit pettifogger. They dealt much in extracts from newspapers,
quotations from the _Annual Register_, parallel passages in forgotten
speeches, arranged with a formidable array of dates rarely accurate.
When the writer was of opinion he had made a point, you may be sure
the hit was in italics, that last resource of the Forcible Feebles. He
handled a particular in chronology as if he were proving an alibi at
the Criminal Court. The censure was coarse without being strong, and
vindictive when it would have been sarcastic. Now and then there was
a passage which aimed at a higher flight, and nothing can be conceived
more unlike genuine feeling, or more offensive to pure taste. And
yet, perhaps, the most ludicrous characteristic of these facetious
gallimaufreys was an occasional assumption of the high moral and
admonitory tone, which when we recurred to the general spirit of
the discourse, and were apt to recall the character of its writer,
irresistibly reminded one of Mrs. Cole and her prayer-book.

To return to Lucian Gay. It was a rule with Rigby that no one, if
possible, should do anything for Lord Monmouth but himself; and as a
jester must be found, he was determined that his Lordship should have
the best in the market, and that he should have the credit of furnishing
the article. As a reward, therefore, for many past services, and a fresh
claim to his future exertions, Rigby one day broke to Gay that the hour
had at length arrived when the highest object of reasonable ambition
on his part, and the fulfilment of one of Rigby's long-cherished and
dearest hopes, were alike to be realised. Gay was to be presented to
Lord Monmouth and dine at Monmouth House.

The acquaintance was a successful one; very agreeable to both parties.
Gay became an habitual guest of Lord Monmouth when his patron was in
England; and in his absence received frequent and substantial marks
of his kind recollection, for Lord Monmouth was generous to those who
amused him.

In the meantime the hour of dinner is at hand. Coningsby, who had lost
the key of his carpet-bag, which he finally cut open with a penknife
that he found on his writing-table, and the blade of which he broke
in the operation, only reached the drawing-room as the figure of his
grandfather, leaning on his ivory cane, and following his guests,
was just visible in the distance. He was soon overtaken. Perceiving
Coningsby, Lord Monmouth made him a bow, not so formal a one as in the
morning, but still a bow, and said, 'I hope you liked your drive.'


A little dinner, not more than the Muses, with all the guests clever,
and some pretty, offers human life and human nature under very
favourable circumstances. In the present instance, too, every one was
anxious to please, for the host was entirely well-bred, never selfish in
little things, and always contributed his quota to the general fund of
polished sociability.

Although there was really only one thought in every male mind present,
still, regard for the ladies, and some little apprehension of the
servants, banished politics from discourse during the greater part
of the dinner, with the occasional exception of some rapid and flying
allusion which the initiated understood, but which remained a mystery
to the rest. Nevertheless an old story now and then well told by Mr.
Ormsby, a new joke now and then well introduced by Mr. Gay, some
dashing assertion by Mr. Rigby, which, though wrong, was startling;
this agreeable blending of anecdote, jest, and paradox, kept everything
fluent, and produced that degree of mild excitation which is desirable.
Lord Monmouth sometimes summed up with an epigrammatic sentence, and
turned the conversation by a question, in case it dwelt too much on the
same topic. Lord Eskdale addressed himself principally to the ladies;
inquired after their morning drive and doings, spoke of new fashions,
and quoted a letter from Paris. Madame Colonna was not witty, but she
had that sweet Roman frankness which is so charming. The presence of
a beautiful woman, natural and good-tempered, even if she be not a
L'Espinasse or a De Stael, is animating.

Nevertheless, owing probably to the absorbing powers of the forbidden
subject, there were moments when it seemed that a pause was impending,
and Mr. Ormsby, an old hand, seized one of these critical instants to
address a good-natured question to Coningsby, whose acquaintance he had
already cultivated by taking wine with him.

'And how do you like Eton?' asked Mr. Ormsby.

It was the identical question which had been presented to Coningsby in
the memorable interview of the morning, and which had received no reply;
or rather had produced on his part a sentimental ebullition that had
absolutely destined or doomed him to the Church.

'I should like to see the fellow who did not like Eton,' said Coningsby,
briskly, determined this time to be very brave.

'Gad I must go down and see the old place,' said Mr. Ormsby, touched by
a pensive reminiscence. 'One can get a good bed and bottle of port at
the Christopher, still?'

'You had better come and try, sir,' said Coningsby. 'If you will come
some day and dine with me at the Christopher, I will give you such a
bottle of champagne as you never tasted yet.'

The Marquess looked at him, but said nothing.

'Ah! I liked a dinner at the Christopher,' said Mr. Ormsby; 'after
mutton, mutton, mutton, every day, it was not a bad thing.'

'We had venison for dinner every week last season,' said Coningsby;
'Buckhurst had it sent up from his park. But I don't care for dinner.
Breakfast is my lounge.'

'Ah! those little rolls and pats of butter!' said Mr. Ormsby. 'Short
commons, though. What do you think we did in my time? We used to send
over the way to get a mutton-chop.'

'I wish you could see Buckhurst and me at breakfast,' said Coningsby,
'with a pound of Castle's sausages!'

'What Buckhurst is that, Harry?' inquired Lord Monmouth, in a tone of
some interest, and for the first time calling him by his Christian name.

'Sir Charles Buckhurst, sir, a Berkshire man: Shirley Park is his

'Why, that must be Charley's son, Eskdale,' said Lord Monmouth; 'I had
no idea he could be so young.'

'He married late, you know, and had nothing but daughters for a long

'Well, I hope there will be no Reform Bill for Eton,' said Lord
Monmouth, musingly.

The servants had now retired.

'I think, Lord Monmouth,' said Mr. Rigby, 'we must ask permission to
drink one toast to-day.'

'Nay, I will myself give it,' he replied. 'Madame Colonna, you will, I
am sure, join us when we drink, THE DUKE!'

'Ah! what a man!' exclaimed the Princess. 'What a pity it is you have
a House of Commons here! England would be the greatest country in
the world if it were not for that House of Commons. It makes so much

'Don't abuse our property,' said Lord Eskdale; 'Lord Monmouth and I have
still twenty votes of that same body between us.'

'And there is a combination,' said Rigby, 'by which you may still keep

'Ah! now for Rigby's combination,' said Lord Eskdale.

'The only thing that can save this country,' said Rigby, 'is a coalition
on a sliding scale.'

'You had better buy up the Birmingham Union and the other bodies,' said
Lord Monmouth; 'I believe it might all be done for two or three hundred
thousand pounds; and the newspapers too. Pitt would have settled this
business long ago.'

'Well, at any rate, we are in,' said Rigby, 'and we must do something.'

'I should like to see Grey's list of new peers,' said Lord Eskdale.
'They say there are several members of our club in it.'

'And the claims to the honour are so opposite,' said Lucian Gay; 'one,
on account of his large estate; another, because he has none; one,
because he has a well-grown family to perpetuate the title; another,
because he has no heir, and no power of ever obtaining one.'

'I wonder how he will form his cabinet,' said Lord Monmouth; 'the old
story won't do.'

'I hear that Baring is to be one of the new cards; they say it will
please the city,' said Lord Eskdale. 'I suppose they will pick out
of hedge and ditch everything that has ever had the semblance of

'Affairs in my time were never so complicated,' said Mr. Ormsby.

'Nay, it appears to me to lie in a nutshell,' said Lucian Gay; 'one
party wishes to keep their old boroughs, and the other to get their new


The future historian of the country will be perplexed to ascertain what
was the distinct object which the Duke of Wellington proposed to himself
in the political manoeuvres of May, 1832. It was known that the passing
of the Reform Bill was a condition absolute with the King; it was
unquestionable, that the first general election under the new law must
ignominiously expel the Anti-Reform Ministry from power; who would then
resume their seats on the Opposition benches in both Houses with the
loss not only of their boroughs, but of that reputation for political
consistency, which might have been some compensation for the
parliamentary influence of which they had been deprived. It is difficult
to recognise in this premature effort of the Anti-Reform leader to
thrust himself again into the conduct of public affairs, any indications
of the prescient judgment which might have been expected from such a
quarter. It savoured rather of restlessness than of energy; and, while
it proved in its progress not only an ignorance on his part of the
public mind, but of the feelings of his own party, it terminated
under circumstances which were humiliating to the Crown, and painfully
significant of the future position of the House of Lords in the new
constitutional scheme.

The Duke of Wellington has ever been the votary of circumstances. He
cares little for causes. He watches events rather than seeks to produce
them. It is a characteristic of the military mind. Rapid combinations,
the result of quick, vigilant, and comprehensive glance, are generally
triumphant in the field: but in civil affairs, where results are
not immediate; in diplomacy and in the management of deliberative
assemblies, where there is much intervening time and many counteracting
causes, this velocity of decision, this fitful and precipitate action,
are often productive of considerable embarrassment, and sometimes of
terrible discomfiture. It is remarkable that men celebrated for military
prudence are often found to be headstrong statesmen. In civil life
a great general is frequently and strangely the creature of impulse;
influenced in his political movements by the last snatch of information;
and often the creature of the last aide-de-camp who has his ear.

We shall endeavour to trace in another chapter the reasons which on
this as on previous and subsequent occasions, induced Sir Robert Peel to
stand aloof, if possible, from official life, and made him reluctant
to re-enter the service of his Sovereign. In the present instance, even
temporary success could only have been secured by the utmost decision,
promptness, and energy. These were all wanting: some were afraid to
follow the bold example of their leader; many were disinclined. In
eight-and-forty hours it was known there was a 'hitch.'

The Reform party, who had been rather stupefied than appalled by the

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 3 of 39)