Benjamin Disraeli.

Coningsby online

. (page 37 of 39)
Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 37 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

'Now is the moment when philosophy is of use; that is to say, now is
the moment when you should clearly comprehend the circumstances which
surround you. Holiday philosophy is mere idleness. You think, for
example, that you have just experienced a great calamity, because you
have lost the fortune on which you counted?'

'I must say I do.'

'I ask you again, which would you have rather lost, your grandfather's
inheritance or your right leg?'

'Most certainly my inheritance,'

'Or your left arm?'

'Still the inheritance.'

'Would you have received the inheritance on condition that your front
teeth should be knocked out?'


'Would you have given up a year of your life for that fortune trebled?'

'Even at twenty-three I would have refused the terms.'

'Come, come, Coningsby, the calamity cannot be very great.'

'Why, you have put it in an ingenious point of view; and yet it is
not so easy to convince a man, that he should be content who has lost

'You have a great many things at this moment that you separately prefer
to the fortune that you have forfeited. How then can you be said to have
lost everything?'

'What have I?' said Coningsby, despondingly.

'You have health, youth, good looks, great abilities, considerable
knowledge, a fine courage, a lofty spirit, and no contemptible
experience. With each of these qualities one might make a fortune; the
combination ought to command the highest.'

'You console me,' said Coningsby, with a faint blush and a fainter

'I teach you the truth. That is always solacing. I think you are a most
fortunate young man; I should not have thought you more fortunate if
you had been your grandfather's heir; perhaps less so. But I wish you
to comprehend your position: if you understand it you will cease to

'But what should I do?'

'Bring your intelligence to bear on the right object. I make you no
offers of fortune, because I know you would not accept them, and indeed
I have no wish to see you a lounger in life. If you had inherited a
great patrimony, it is possible your natural character and previous
culture might have saved you from its paralysing influence; but it is a
question, even with you. Now you are free; that is to say, you are free,
if you are not in debt. A man who has not seen the world, whose fancy is
harassed with glittering images of pleasures he has never experienced,
cannot live on 300_l._ per annum; but you can. You have nothing to haunt
your thoughts, or disturb the abstraction of your studies. You have seen
the most beautiful women; you have banqueted in palaces; you know what
heroes, and wits, and statesmen are made of: and you can draw on
your memory instead of your imagination for all those dazzling and
interesting objects that make the inexperienced restless, and are the
cause of what are called scrapes. But you can do nothing if you be in
debt. You must be free. Before, therefore, we proceed, I must beg you
to be frank on this head. If you have any absolute or contingent
incumbrances, tell me of them without reserve, and permit me to clear
them at once to any amount. You will sensibly oblige me in so doing:
because I am interested in watching your career, and if the racer start
with a clog my psychological observations will be imperfect.'

'You are, indeed, a friend; and had I debts I would ask you to pay
them. I have nothing of the kind. My grandfather was so lavish in his
allowance to me that I never got into difficulties. Besides, there
are horses and things without end which I must sell, and money at

'That will produce your outfit, whatever the course you adopt. I
conceive there are two careers which deserve your consideration. In the
first place there is Diplomacy. If you decide upon that, I can assist
you. There exist between me and the Minister such relations that I can
at once secure you that first step which is so difficult to obtain.
After that, much, if not all, depends on yourself. But I could advance
you, provided you were capable. You should, at least, not languish for
want of preferment. In an important post, I could throw in your way
advantages which would soon permit you to control cabinets. Information
commands the world. I doubt not your success, and for such a career,
speedy. Let us assume it as a fact. Is it a result satisfactory? Suppose
yourself in a dozen years a Plenipotentiary at a chief court, or at
a critical post, with a red ribbon and the Privy Council in immediate
perspective; and, after a lengthened career, a pension and a peerage.
Would that satisfy you? You don't look excited. I am hardly surprised.
In your position it would not satisfy me. A Diplomatist is, after all,
a phantom. There is a want of nationality about his being. I always look
upon Diplomatists as the Hebrews of politics; without country, political
creeds, popular convictions, that strong reality of existence which
pervades the career of an eminent citizen in a free and great country.'

'You read my thoughts,' said Coningsby. 'I should be sorry to sever
myself from England.'

'There remains then the other, the greater, the nobler career,' said
Sidonia, 'which in England may give you all, the Bar. I am absolutely
persuaded that with the requisite qualifications, and with perseverance,
success at the Bar is certain. It may be retarded or precipitated by
circumstances, but cannot be ultimately affected. You have a right to
count with your friends on no lack of opportunities when you are ripe
for them. You appear to me to have all the qualities necessary for the
Bar; and you may count on that perseverance which is indispensable, for
the reason I have before mentioned, because it will be sustained by your

'I have resolved,' said Coningsby; 'I will try for the Great Seal.'


Alone in his chambers, no longer under the sustaining influence of
Sidonia's converse and counsel, the shades of night descending
and bearing gloom to the gloomy, all the excitement of his spirit
evaporated, the heart of Coningsby sank. All now depended on himself,
and in that self he had no trust. Why should he succeed? Success was the
most rare of results. Thousands fail; units triumph. And even success
could only be conducted to him by the course of many years. His career,
even if prosperous, was now to commence by the greatest sacrifice which
the heart of man could be called upon to sustain. Upon the stern altar
of his fortunes he must immolate his first and enduring love. Before,
he had a perilous position to offer Edith; now he had none. The future
might then have aided them; there was no combination which could improve
his present. Under any circumstances he must, after all his thoughts and
studies, commence a new novitiate, and before he could enter the arena
must pass years of silent and obscure preparation. 'Twas very bitter.
He looked up, his eye caught that drawing of the towers of Hellingsley
which she had given him in the days of their happy hearts. That was all
that was to remain of their loves. He was to bear it to the future
scene of his labours, to remind him through revolving years of toil and
routine, that he too had had his romance, had roamed in fair gardens,
and whispered in willing ears the secrets of his passion. That drawing
was to become the altar-piece of his life.

Coningsby passed an agitated night of broken sleep, waking often with a
consciousness of having experienced some great misfortune, yet with an
indefinite conception of its nature. He woke exhausted and dispirited.
It was a gloomy day, a raw north-easter blowing up the cloisters of
the Albany, in which the fog was lingering, the newspaper on his
breakfast-table, full of rumoured particulars of his grandfather's
will, which had of course been duly digested by all who knew him. What
a contrast to St. Geneviève! To the bright, bracing morn of that merry
Christmas! That radiant and cheerful scene, and those gracious and
beaming personages, seemed another world and order of beings to the
one he now inhabited, and the people with whom he must now commune. The
Great Seal indeed! It was the wild excitement of despair, the frenzied
hope that blends inevitably with absolute ruin, that could alone have
inspired such a hallucination! His unstrung heart deserted him. His
energies could rally no more. He gave orders that he was at home to no
one; and in his morning gown and slippers, with his feet resting on the
fireplace, the once high-souled and noble-hearted Coningsby delivered
himself up to despair.

The day passed in a dark trance rather than a reverie. Nothing rose
to his consciousness. He was like a particle of chaos; at the best,
a glimmering entity of some shadowy Hades. Towards evening the wind
changed, the fog dispersed, there came a clear starry night, brisk and
bright. Coningsby roused himself, dressed, and wrapping his cloak around
him, sallied forth. Once more in the mighty streets, surrounded by
millions, his petty griefs and personal fortunes assumed their proper
position. Well had Sidonia taught him, view everything in its relation
to the rest. 'Tis the secret of all wisdom. Here was the mightiest of
modern cities; the rival even of the most celebrated of the ancient.
Whether he inherited or forfeited fortunes, what was it to the passing
throng? They would not share his splendour, or his luxury, or his
comfort. But a word from his lip, a thought from his brain, expressed
at the right time, at the right place, might turn their hearts, might
influence their passions, might change their opinions, might affect
their destiny. Nothing is great but the personal. As civilisation
advances, the accidents of life become each day less important.
The power of man, his greatness and his glory, depend on essential
qualities. Brains every day become more precious than blood. You must
give men new ideas, you must teach them new words, you must modify
their manners, you must change their laws, you must root out prejudices,
subvert convictions, if you wish to be great. Greatness no longer
depends on rentals, the world is too rich; nor on pedigrees, the world
is too knowing.

'The greatness of this city destroys my misery,' said Coningsby, 'and my
genius shall conquer its greatness.'

This conviction of power in the midst of despair was a revelation of
intrinsic strength. It is indeed the test of a creative spirit. From
that moment all petty fears for an ordinary future quitted him. He felt
that he must be prepared for great sacrifices, for infinite suffering;
that there must devolve on him a bitter inheritance of obscurity,
struggle, envy, and hatred, vulgar prejudice, base criticism, petty
hostilities, but the dawn would break, and the hour arrive, when the
welcome morning hymn of his success and his fame would sound and be

He returned to his rooms; calm, resolute. He slept the deep sleep of
a man void of anxiety, that has neither hope nor fear to haunt his
visions, but is prepared to rise on the morrow collected for the great
human struggle.

And the morning came. Fresh, vigorous, not rash or precipitate, yet
determined to lose no time in idle meditation, Coningsby already
resolved at once to quit his present residence, was projecting a visit
to some legal quarter, where he intended in future to reside, when his
servant brought him a note. The handwriting was feminine. The note was
from Flora. The contents were brief. She begged Mr. Coningsby, with
great earnestness, to do her the honour and the kindness of calling on
her at his earliest convenience, at the hotel in Brook Street where she
now resided.

It was an interview which Coningsby would rather have avoided; yet it
seemed to him, after a moment's reflection, neither just, nor kind, nor
manly, to refuse her request. Flora had not injured him. She was, after
all, his kin. Was it for a moment to be supposed that he was envious of
her lot? He replied, therefore, that in an hour he would wait upon her.

In an hour, then, two individuals are to be brought together whose first
meeting was held under circumstances most strangely different. Then
Coningsby was the patron, a generous and spontaneous one, of a being
obscure, almost friendless, and sinking under bitter mortification.
His favour could not be the less appreciated because he was the
chosen relative of a powerful noble. That noble was no more; his vast
inheritance had devolved on the disregarded, even despised actress,
whose suffering emotions Coningsby had then soothed, and whose fortune
had risen on the destruction of all his prospects, and the balk of all
his aspirations.

Flora was alone when Coningsby was ushered into the room. The extreme
delicacy of her appearance was increased by her deep mourning; and
seated in a cushioned chair, from which she seemed to rise with an
effort, she certainly presented little of the character of a fortunate
and prosperous heiress.

'You are very good to come to me,' she said, faintly smiling.

Coningsby extended his hand to her affectionately, in which she placed
her own, looking down much embarrassed.

'You have an agreeable situation here,' said Coningsby, trying to break
the first awkwardness of their meeting.

'Yes; but I hope not to stop here long?'

'You are going abroad?'

'No; I hope never to leave England!'

There was a slight pause; and then Flora sighed and said,

'I wish to speak to you on a subject that gives me pain; yet of which I
must speak. You think I have injured you?'

'I am sure,' said Coningsby, in a tone of great kindness, 'that you
could injure no one.'

'I have robbed you of your inheritance.'

'It was not mine by any right, legal or moral. There were others who
might have urged an equal claim to it; and there are many who will now
think that you might have preferred a superior one.'

'You had enemies; I was not one. They sought to benefit themselves by
injuring you. They have not benefited themselves; let them not say that
they have at least injured you.'

'We will not care what they say,' said Coningsby; 'I can sustain my

'Would that I could mine!' said Flora. She sighed again with a downcast
glance. Then looking up embarrassed and blushing deeply, she added, 'I
wish to restore to you that fortune of which I have unconsciously and
unwillingly deprived you.'

'The fortune is yours, dear Flora, by every right,' said Coningsby,
much moved; 'and there is no one who wishes more fervently that it may
contribute to your happiness than I do.'

'It is killing me,' said Flora, mournfully; then speaking with unusual
animation, with a degree of excitement, she continued, 'I must tell what
I feel. This fortune is yours. I am happy in the inheritance, if you
generously receive it from me, because Providence has made me the means
of baffling your enemies. I never thought to be so happy as I shall be
if you will generously accept this fortune, always intended for you. I
have lived then for a purpose; I have not lived in vain; I have returned
to you some service, however humble, for all your goodness to me in my

'You are, as I have ever thought you, the kindest and most
tender-hearted of beings. But you misconceive our mutual positions,
my gentle Flora. The custom of the world does not permit such acts to
either of us as you contemplate. The fortune is yours. It is left you by
one on whose affections you had the highest claim. I will not say
that so large an inheritance does not bring with it an alarming
responsibility; but you are not unequal to it. Have confidence in
yourself. You have a good heart; you have good sense; you have a
well-principled being. Your spirit will mount with your fortunes, and
blend with them. You will be happy.'

'And you?'

'I shall soon learn to find content, if not happiness, from other
sources,' said Coningsby; 'and mere riches, however vast, could at no
time have secured my felicity.'

'But they may secure that which brings felicity,' said Flora, speaking
in a choking voice, and not meeting the glance of Coningsby. 'You had
some views in life which displeased him who has done all this; they may
be, they must be, affected by this fatal caprice. Speak to me, for I
cannot speak, dear Mr. Coningsby; do not let me believe that I, who
would sacrifice my life for your happiness, am the cause of such

'Whatever be my lot, I repeat I can sustain it,' said Coningsby, with a
cheek of scarlet.

'Ah! he is angry with me,' exclaimed Flora; 'he is angry with me!' and
the tears stole down her pale cheek.

'No, no, no! dear Flora; I have no other feelings to you than those of
affection and respect,' and Coningsby, much agitated, drew his chair
nearer to her, and took her hand. 'I am gratified by these kind wishes,
though they are utterly impracticable; but they are the witnesses of
your sweet disposition and your noble spirit. There never shall exist
between us, under any circumstances, other feelings than those of kin
and kindness.'

He rose as if to depart. When she saw that, she started, and seemed to
summon all her energies.

'You are going,' she exclaimed, 'and I have said nothing, I have said
nothing; and I shall never see you again. Let me tell you what I mean.
This fortune is yours; it must be yours. It is an arrow in my heart. Do
not think I am speaking from a momentary impulse. I know myself. I have
lived so much alone, I have had so little to deceive or to delude me,
that I know myself. If you will not let me do justice you declare my
doom. I cannot live if my existence is the cause of all your prospects
being blasted, and the sweetest dreams of your life being defeated. When
I die, these riches will be yours; that you cannot prevent. Refuse my
present offer, and you seal the fate of that unhappy Flora whose fragile
life has hung for years on the memory of your kindness.'

'You must not say these words, dear Flora; you must not indulge in these
gloomy feelings. You must live, and you must live happily. You have
every charm and virtue which should secure happiness. The duties and
the affections of existence will fall to your lot. It is one that will
always interest me, for I shall ever be your friend. You have conferred
on me one of the most delightful of feelings, gratitude, and for that I
bless you. I will soon see you again.' Mournfully he bade her farewell.


About a week after this interview with Flora, as Coningsby one morning
was about to sally forth from the Albany to visit some chambers in the
Temple, to which his notice had been attracted, there was a loud ring, a
bustle in the hall, and Henry Sydney and Buckhurst were ushered in.

There never was such a cordial meeting; and yet the faces of his
friends were serious. The truth is, the paragraphs in the newspapers had
circulated in the country, they had written to Coningsby, and after a
brief delay he had confirmed their worst apprehensions. Immediately they
came up to town. Henry Sydney, a younger son, could offer little but
sympathy, but he declared it was his intention also to study for the
bar, so that they should not be divided. Buckhurst, after many embraces
and some ordinary talk, took Coningsby aside, and said, 'My dear fellow,
I have no objection to Henry Sydney hearing everything I say, but still
these are subjects which men like to be discussed in private. Of course
I expect you to share my fortune. There is enough for both. We will have
an exact division.'

There was something in Buckhurst's fervent resolution very lovable and a
little humorous, just enough to put one in good temper with human nature
and life. If there were any fellow's fortune in the world that Coningsby
would share, Buckhurst's would have had the preference; but while he
pressed his hand, and with a glance in which a tear and a smile seemed
to contend for mastery, he gently indicated why such arrangements were,
with our present manners, impossible.

'I see,' said Buckhurst, after a moment's thought, 'I quite agree with
you. The thing cannot be done; and, to tell you the truth, a fortune
is a bore. What I vote that we three do at once is, to take plenty of
ready-money, and enter the Austrian service. By Jove! it is the only
thing to do.'

'There is something in that,' said Coningsby. 'In the meantime, suppose
you two fellows walk with me to the Temple, for I have an appointment to
look at some chambers.'

It was a fine day, and it was by no means a gloomy walk. Though the
two friends had arrived full of indignation against Lord Monmouth, and
miserable about their companion, once more in his society, and finding
little difference in his carriage, they assumed unconsciously their
habitual tone. As for Buckhurst, he was delighted with the Temple, which
he visited for the first time. The name enchanted him. The tombs in the
church convinced him that the Crusades were the only career. He would
have himself become a law student if he might have prosecuted his
studies in chain armour. The calmer Henry Sydney was consoled for the
misfortunes of Coningsby by a fanciful project himself to pass a portion
of his life amid these halls and courts, gardens and terraces, that
maintain in the heart of a great city in the nineteenth century, so much
of the grave romance and picturesque decorum of our past manners.
Henry Sydney was sanguine; he was reconciled to the disinheritance of
Coningsby by the conviction that it was a providential dispensation to
make him a Lord Chancellor.

These faithful friends remained in town with Coningsby until he was
established in Paper Buildings, and had become a pupil of a celebrated
special pleader. They would have remained longer had not he himself
suggested that it was better that they should part. It seemed a terrible
catastrophe after all the visions of their boyish days, their college
dreams, and their dazzling adventures in the world.

'And this is the end of Coningsby, the brilliant Coningsby, that we all
loved, that was to be our leader!' said Buckhurst to Lord Henry as
they quitted him. 'Well, come what may, life has lost something of its

'The great thing now,' said Lord Henry, 'is to keep up the chain of
our friendship. We must write to him very often, and contrive to be
frequently together. It is dreadful to think that in the ways of life
our hearts may become estranged. I never felt more wretched than I do at
this moment, and yet I have faith that we shall not lose him.'

'Amen!' said Buckhurst; 'but I feel my plan about the Austrian service
was, after all, the only thing. The Continent offers a career. He might
have been prime minister; several strangers have been; and as for war,
look at Brown and Laudohn, and half a hundred others. I had a much
better chance of being a field-marshal than he has of being a Lord

'I feel quite convinced that Coningsby will be Lord Chancellor,' said
Henry Sydney, gravely.

This change of life for Coningsby was a great social revolution. It was
sudden and complete. Within a month after the death of his grandfather
his name had been erased from all his fashionable clubs, and his horses
and carriages sold, and he had become a student of the Temple. He
entirely devoted himself to his new pursuit. His being was completely
absorbed in it. There was nothing to haunt his mind; no unexperienced
scene or sensation of life to distract his intelligence. One sacred
thought alone indeed there remained, shrined in the innermost sanctuary
of his heart and consciousness. But it was a tradition, no longer a
hope. The moment that he had fairly recovered from the first shock of
his grandfather's will; had clearly ascertained the consequences to
himself, and had resolved on the course to pursue; he had communicated
unreservedly with Oswald Millbank, and had renounced those pretensions
to the hand of his sister which it ill became the destitute to prefer.

His letter was answered in person. Millbank met Henry Sydney and
Buckhurst at the chambers of Coningsby. Once more they were all
four together; but under what different circumstances, and with what
different prospects from those which attended their separation at Eton!
Alone with Coningsby, Millbank spoke to him things which letters could
not convey. He bore to him all the sympathy and devotion of Edith; but
they would not conceal from themselves that, at this moment, and in the
present state of affairs, all was hopeless. In no way did Coningsby ever
permit himself to intimate to Oswald the cause of his disinheritance. He
was, of course, silent on it to his other friends; as any communication
of the kind must have touched on a subject that was consecrated in his

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 37 of 39)