Benjamin Disraeli.

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inmost soul.




CHAPTER VI.


The state of political parties in England in the spring of 1841 offered
a most remarkable contrast to their condition at the period commemorated
in the first chapter of this work. The banners of the Conservative camp
at this moment lowered on the Whig forces, as the gathering host of the
Norman invader frowned on the coast of Sussex. The Whigs were not
yet conquered, but they were doomed; and they themselves knew it. The
mistake which was made by the Conservative leaders in not retaining
office in 1839; and, whether we consider their conduct in a national
and constitutional light, or as a mere question of political tactics and
party prudence, it was unquestionably a great mistake; had infused into
the corps of Whig authority a kind of galvanic action, which only the
superficial could mistake for vitality. Even to form a basis for their
future operations, after the conjuncture of '39, the Whigs were obliged
to make a fresh inroad on the revenue, the daily increasing debility
of which was now arresting attention and exciting public alarm. It was
clear that the catastrophe of the government would be financial.

Under all the circumstances of the case, the conduct of the Whig
Cabinet, in their final propositions, cannot be described as deficient
either in boldness or prudence. The policy which they recommended was
in itself a sagacious and spirited policy; but they erred in supposing
that, at the period it was brought forward, any measure promoted by the
Whigs could have obtained general favour in the country. The Whigs were
known to be feeble; they were looked upon as tricksters. The country
knew they were opposed by a powerful party; and though there certainly
never was any authority for the belief, the country did believe that
that powerful party were influenced by great principles; had in their
view a definite and national policy; and would secure to England,
instead of a feeble administration and fluctuating opinions, energy and
a creed.

The future effect of the Whig propositions of '41 will not be
detrimental to that party, even if in the interval they be appropriated
piecemeal, as will probably be the case, by their Conservative
successors. But for the moment, and in the plight in which the Whig
party found themselves, it was impossible to have devised measures more
conducive to their precipitate fall. Great interests were menaced by a
weak government. The consequence was inevitable. Tadpole and Taper
saw it in a moment. They snuffed the factious air, and felt the coming
storm. Notwithstanding the extreme congeniality of these worthies,
there was a little latent jealousy between them. Tadpole worshipped
Registration: Taper, adored a Cry. Tadpole always maintained that it
was the winnowing of the electoral lists that could alone gain the day;
Taper, on the contrary, faithful to ancient traditions, was ever of
opinion that the game must ultimately be won by popular clamour. It
always seemed so impossible that the Conservative party could ever be
popular; the extreme graciousness and personal popularity of the leaders
not being sufficiently apparent to be esteemed an adequate set-off
against the inveterate odium that attached to their opinions; that the
Tadpole philosophy was the favoured tenet in high places; and Taper had
had his knuckles well rapped more than once for manoeuvring too actively
against the New Poor-law, and for hiring several link-boys to bawl
a much-wronged lady's name in the Park when the Court prorogued
Parliament.

And now, after all, in 1841, it seemed that Taper was right. There was
a great clamour in every quarter, and the clamour was against the Whigs
and in favour of Conservative principles. What Canadian timber-merchants
meant by Conservative principles, it is not difficult to conjecture;
or West Indian planters. It was tolerably clear on the hustings
what squires and farmers, and their followers, meant by Conservative
principles. What they mean by Conservative principles now is another
question: and whether Conservative principles mean something higher than
a perpetuation of fiscal arrangements, some of them impolitic, none of
them important. But no matter what different bodies of men understood by
the cry in which they all joined, the Cry existed. Taper beat Tadpole;
and the great Conservative party beat the shattered and exhausted Whigs.

Notwithstanding the abstraction of his legal studies, Coningsby could
not be altogether insensible to the political crisis. In the political
world of course he never mixed, but the friends of his boyhood were
deeply interested in affairs, and they lost no opportunity which
he would permit them, of cultivating his society. Their occasional
fellowship, a visit now and then to Sidonia, and a call sometimes
on Flora, who lived at Richmond, comprised his social relations. His
general acquaintance did not desert him, but he was out of sight, and
did not wish to be remembered. Mr. Ormsby asked him to dinner, and
occasionally mourned over his fate in the bow window of White's; while
Lord Eskdale even went to see him in the Temple, was interested in his
progress, and said, with an encouraging look, that, when he was called
to the bar, all his friends must join and get up the steam. Coningsby
had once met Mr. Rigby, who was walking with the Duke of Agincourt,
which was probably the reason he could not notice a lawyer. Mr. Rigby
cut Coningsby.

Lord Eskdale had obtained from Villebecque accurate details as to the
cause of Coningsby being disinherited. Our hero, if one in such fallen
fortunes may still be described as a hero, had mentioned to Lord Eskdale
his sorrow that his grandfather had died in anger with him; but Lord
Eskdale, without dwelling on the subject, had assured him that he had
reason to believe that if Lord Monmouth had lived, affairs would have
been different. He had altered the disposition of his property at a
moment of great and general irritation and excitement; and had been too
indolent, perhaps really too indisposed, which he was unwilling ever to
acknowledge, to recur to a calmer and more equitable settlement. Lord
Eskdale had been more frank with Sidonia, and had told him all about
the refusal to become a candidate for Darlford against Mr. Millbank; the
communication of Rigby to Lord Monmouth, as to the presence of Oswald
Millbank at the castle, and the love of Coningsby for his sister; all
these details, furnished by Villebecque to Lord Eskdale, had been truly
transferred by that nobleman to his co-executor; and Sidonia, when he
had sufficiently digested them, had made Lady Wallinger acquainted with
the whole history.

The dissolution of the Whig Parliament by the Whigs, the project of
which had reached Lord Monmouth a year before, and yet in which nobody
believed to the last moment, at length took place. All the world was
dispersed in the heart of the season, and our solitary student of the
Temple, in his lonely chambers, notwithstanding all his efforts, found
his eye rather wander over the pages of Tidd and Chitty as he remembered
that the great event to which he had so looked forward was now
occurring, and he, after all, was no actor in the mighty drama. It was
to have been the epoch of his life; when he was to have found himself
in that proud position for which all the studies, and meditations, and
higher impulses of his nature had been preparing him. It was a keen
trial of a man. Every one of his friends and old companions were
candidates, and with sanguine prospects. Lord Henry was certain for a
division of his county; Buckhurst harangued a large agricultural
borough in his vicinity; Eustace Lyle and Vere stood in coalition for
a Yorkshire town; and Oswald Millbank solicited the suffrages of an
important manufacturing constituency. They sent their addresses to
Coningsby. He was deeply interested as he traced in them the influence
of his own mind; often recognised the very expressions to which he
had habituated them. Amid the confusion of a general election, no
unimpassioned critic had time to canvass the language of an address to
an isolated constituency; yet an intelligent speculator on the movements
of political parties might have detected in these public declarations
some intimation of new views, and of a tone of political feeling that
has unfortunately been too long absent from the public life of this
country.

It was the end of a sultry July day, the last ray of the sun shooting
down Pall Mall sweltering with dust; there was a crowd round the doors
of the Carlton and the Reform Clubs, and every now and then an express
arrived with the agitating bulletin of a fresh defeat or a new triumph.
Coningsby was walking up Pall Mall. He was going to dine at the Oxford
and Cambridge Club, the only club on whose list he had retained his
name, that he might occasionally have the pleasure of meeting an Eton or
Cambridge friend without the annoyance of encountering any of his former
fashionable acquaintances. He lighted in his walk on Mr. Tadpole and
Mr. Taper, both of whom he knew. The latter did not notice him, but Mr.
Tadpole, more good-natured, bestowed on him a rough nod, not unmarked by
a slight expression of coarse pity.

Coningsby ordered his dinner, and then took up the evening papers, where
he learnt the return of Vere and Lyle; and read a speech of Buckhurst
denouncing the Venetian Constitution, to the amazement of several
thousand persons, apparently not a little terrified by this unknown
danger, now first introduced to their notice. Being true Englishmen,
they were all against Buckhurst's opponent, who was of the Venetian
party, and who ended by calling out Buckhurst for his personalities.

Coningsby had dined, and was reading in the library, when a waiter
brought up a third edition of the _Sun_, with electioneering bulletins
from the manufacturing districts to the very latest hour. Some large
letters which expressed the name of Darlford caught his eye. There
seemed great excitement in that borough; strange proceedings had
happened. The column was headed, 'Extraordinary Affair! Withdrawal of
the Liberal Candidate! Two Tory Candidates in the field!!!'

His eye glanced over an animated speech of Mr. Millbank, his
countenance changed, his heart palpitated. Mr. Millbank had resigned
the representation of the town, but not from weakness; his avocations
demanded his presence; he had been requested to let his son supply his
place, but his son was otherwise provided for; he should always take a
deep interest in the town and trade of Darlford; he hoped that the
link between the borough and Hellingsley would be ever cherished; loud
cheering; he wished in parting from them to take a step which should
conciliate all parties, put an end to local heats and factious
contentions, and secure the town an able and worthy representative. For
these reasons he begged to propose to them a gentleman who bore a
name which many of them greatly honoured; for himself, he knew the
individual, and it was his firm opinion that whether they considered his
talents, his character, or the ancient connection of his family with
the district, he could not propose a candidate more worthy of their
confidence than HARRY CONINGSBY, ESQ.

This proposition was received with that wild enthusiasm which
occasionally bursts out in the most civilised communities. The contest
between Millbank and Rigby was equally balanced, neither party was
over-confident. The Conservatives were not particularly zealous in
behalf of their champion; there was no Marquess of Monmouth and no
Coningsby Castle now to back him; he was fighting on his own resources,
and he was a beaten horse. The Liberals did not like the prospect of a
defeat, and dreaded the mortification of Rigby's triumph. The Moderate
men, who thought more of local than political circumstances, liked the
name of Coningsby. Mr. Millbank had dexterously prepared his leading
supporters for the substitution. Some traits of the character and
conduct of Coningsby had been cleverly circulated. Thus there was a
combination of many favourable causes in his favour. In half an hour's
time his image was stamped on the brain of every inhabitant of the
borough as an interesting and accomplished youth, who had been wronged,
and who deserved to be rewarded. It was whispered that Rigby was his
enemy. Magog Wrath and his mob offered Mr. Millbank's committee to throw
Mr. Rigby into the river, or to burn down his hotel, in case he was
prudent enough not to show. Mr. Rigby determined to fight to the last.
All his hopes were now staked on the successful result of this contest.
It were impossible if he were returned that his friends could refuse him
high office. The whole of Lord Monmouth's reduced legacy was devoted
to this end. The third edition of the _Sun_ left Mr. Rigby in vain
attempting to address an infuriated populace.

Here was a revolution in the fortunes of our forlorn Coningsby! When his
grandfather first sent for him to Monmouth House, his destiny was
not verging on greater vicissitudes. He rose from his seat, and was
surprised that all the silent gentlemen who were about him did not mark
his agitation. Not an individual there that he knew. It was now an hour
to midnight, and to-morrow the almost unconscious candidate was to go to
the poll. In a tumult of suppressed emotion, Coningsby returned to his
chambers. He found a letter in his box from Oswald Millbank, who had
been twice at the Temple. Oswald had been returned without a contest,
and had reached Darlford in time to hear Coningsby nominated. He set off
instantly to London, and left at his friend's chambers a rapid narrative
of what had happened, with information that he should call on him
again on the morrow at nine o'clock, when they were to repair together
immediately to Darlford in time for Coningsby to be chaired, for no one
entertained a doubt of his triumph.

Coningsby did not sleep a wink that night, and yet when he rose early
felt fresh enough for any exploit, however difficult or hazardous. He
felt as an Egyptian does when the Nile rises after its elevation had
been despaired of. At the very lowest ebb of his fortunes, an event
had occurred which seemed to restore all. He dared not contemplate the
ultimate result of all these wonderful changes. Enough for him, that
when all seemed dark, he was about to be returned to Parliament by
the father of Edith, and his vanquished rival who was to bite the dust
before him was the author of all his misfortunes. Love, Vengeance,
Justice, the glorious pride of having acted rightly, the triumphant
sense of complete and absolute success, here were chaotic materials from
which order was at length evolved; and all subsided in an overwhelming
feeling of gratitude to that Providence that had so signally protected
him.

There was a knock at the door. It was Oswald. They embraced. It seemed
that Oswald was as excited as Coningsby. His eye sparkled, his manner
was energetic.

'We must talk it all over during our journey. We have not a minute to
spare.'

During that journey Coningsby learned something of the course of affairs
which gradually had brought about so singular a revolution in his
favour. We mentioned that Sidonia had acquired a thorough knowledge of
the circumstances which had occasioned and attended the disinheritance
of Coningsby. These he had told to Lady Wallinger, first by letter,
afterwards in more detail on her arrival in London. Lady Wallinger had
conferred with her husband. She was not surprised at the goodness of
Coningsby, and she sympathised with all his calamities. He had ever been
the favourite of her judgment, and her romance had always consisted in
blending his destinies with those of her beloved Edith. Sir Joseph was a
judicious man, who never cared to commit himself; a little selfish, but
good, just, and honourable, with some impulses, only a little afraid
of them; but then his wife stepped in like an angel, and gave them the
right direction. They were both absolutely impressed with Coningsby's
admirable conduct, and Lady Wallinger was determined that her husband
should express to others the convictions which he acknowledged in unison
with herself. Sir Joseph spoke to Mr. Millbank, who stared; but Sir
Joseph spoke feebly. Lady Wallinger conveyed all this intelligence, and
all her impressions, to Oswald and Edith. The younger Millbank talked
with his father, who, making no admissions, listened with interest,
inveighed against Lord Monmouth, and condemned his will.

After some time, Mr. Millbank made inquiries about Coningsby, took an
interest in his career, and, like Lord Eskdale, declared that when he
was called to the bar, his friends would have an opportunity to evince
their sincerity. Affairs remained in this state, until Oswald thought
that circumstances were sufficiently ripe to urge his father on
the subject. The position which Oswald had assumed at Millbank had
necessarily made him acquainted with the affairs and fortune of his
father. When he computed the vast wealth which he knew was at his
parent's command, and recalled Coningsby in his humble chambers, toiling
after all his noble efforts without any results, and his sister pining
in a provincial solitude, Oswald began to curse wealth, and to
ask himself what was the use of all their marvellous industry and
supernatural skill? He addressed his father with that irresistible
frankness which a strong faith can alone inspire. What are the objects
of wealth, if not to bless those who possess our hearts? The only
daughter, the friend to whom the only son was indebted for his life,
here are two beings surely whom one would care to bless, and both are
unhappy. Mr. Millbank listened without prejudice, for he was already
convinced. But he felt some interest in the present conduct of
Coningsby. A Coningsby working for his bread was a novel incident for
him. He wished to be assured of its authenticity. He was resolved to
convince himself of the fact. And perhaps he would have gone on yet
for a little time, and watched the progress of the experiment,
already interested and delighted by what had reached him, had not the
dissolution brought affairs to a crisis. The misery of Oswald at the
position of Coningsby, the silent sadness of Edith, his own conviction,
which assured him that he could do nothing wiser or better than take
this young man to his heart, so ordained it that Mr. Millbank, who
was after all the creature of impulse, decided suddenly, and decided
rightly. Never making a single admission to all the representations of
his son, Mr. Millbank in a moment did all that his son could have dared
to desire.

This is a very imperfect and crude intimation of what had occurred
at Millbank and Hellingsley; yet it conveys a faint sketch of the
enchanting intelligence that Oswald conveyed to Coningsby during their
rapid travel. When they arrived at Birmingham, they found a messenger
and a despatch, informing Coningsby, that at mid-day, at Darlford, he
was at the head of the poll by an overwhelming majority, and that Mr.
Rigby had resigned. He was, however, requested to remain at Birmingham,
as they did not wish him to enter Darlford, except to be chaired, so
he was to arrive there in the morning. At Birmingham, therefore, they
remained.

There was Oswald's election to talk of as well as Coningsby's. They had
hardly had time for this. Now they were both Members of Parliament.
Men must have been at school together, to enjoy the real fun of meeting
thus, and realising boyish dreams. Often, years ago, they had talked
of these things, and assumed these results; but those were words and
dreams, these were positive facts; after some doubts and struggles, in
the freshness of their youth, Oswald Millbank and Harry Coningsby
were members of the British Parliament; public characters, responsible
agents, with a career.

This afternoon, at Birmingham, was as happy an afternoon as usually
falls to the lot of man. Both of these companions were labouring under
that degree of excitement which is necessary to felicity. They had
enough to talk about. Edith was no longer a forbidden or a sorrowful
subject. There was rapture in their again meeting under such
circumstances. Then there were their friends; that dear Buckhurst, who
had just been called out for styling his opponent a Venetian, and all
their companions of early days. What a sudden and marvellous change in
all their destinies! Life was a pantomime; the wand was waved, and it
seemed that the schoolfellows had of a sudden become elements of power,
springs of the great machine.

A train arrived; restless they sallied forth, to seek diversion in the
dispersion of the passengers. Coningsby and Millbank, with that glance,
a little inquisitive, even impertinent, if we must confess it, with
which one greets a stranger when he emerges from a public conveyance,
were lounging on the platform. The train arrived; stopped; the doors
were thrown open, and from one of them emerged Mr. Rigby! Coningsby, who
had dined, was greatly tempted to take off his hat and make him a bow,
but he refrained. Their eyes met. Rigby was dead beat. He was evidently
used up; a man without a resource; the sight of Coningsby his last blow;
he had met his fate.

'My dear fellow,' said Coningsby, 'I remember I wanted you to dine with
my grandfather at Montem, and that fellow would not ask you. Such is
life!'

About eleven o'clock the next morning they arrived at the Darlford
station. Here they were met by an anxious deputation, who received
Coningsby as if he were a prophet, and ushered him into a car covered
with satin and blue ribbons, and drawn by six beautiful grey horses,
caparisoned in his colours, and riden by postilions, whose very whips
were blue and white. Triumphant music sounded; banners waved; the
multitude were marshalled; the Freemasons, at the first opportunity,
fell into the procession; the Odd Fellows joined it at the nearest
corner. Preceded and followed by thousands, with colours flying,
trumpets sounding, and endless huzzas, flags and handkerchiefs waving
from every window, and every balcony filled with dames and maidens
bedecked with his colours, Coningsby was borne through enthusiastic
Darlford like Paulus Emilius returning from Macedon. Uncovered, still
in deep mourning, his fine figure, and graceful bearing, and his
intelligent brow, at once won every female heart.

The singularity was, that all were of the same opinion: everybody
cheered him, every house was adorned with his colours. His triumphal
return was no party question. Magog Wrath and Bully Bluck walked
together like lambs at the head of his procession.

The car stopped before the principal hotel in the High Street. It was
Mr. Millbank's committee. The broad street was so crowded, that, as
every one declared, you might have walked on the heads of the people.
Every window was full; the very roofs were peopled. The car stopped,
and the populace gave three cheers for Mr. Millbank. Their late member,
surrounded by his friends, stood in the balcony, which was fitted up
with Coningsby's colours, and bore his name on the hangings in gigantic
letters formed of dahlias. The flashing and inquiring eye of Coningsby
caught the form of Edith, who was leaning on her father's arm.

The hustings were opposite the hotel, and here, after a while, Coningsby
was carried, and, stepping from his car, took up his post to address,
for the first time, a public assembly. Anxious as the people were
to hear him, it was long before their enthusiasm could subside into
silence. At length that silence was deep and absolute. He spoke; his
powerful and rich tones reached every ear. In five minutes' time every
one looked at his neighbour, and without speaking they agreed that there
never was anything like this heard in Darlford before.

He addressed them for a considerable time, for he had a great deal to
say; not only to express his gratitude for the unprecedented manner in
which he had become their representative, and for the spirit in which
they had greeted him, but he had to offer them no niggard exposition
of the views and opinions of the member whom they had so confidingly
chosen, without even a formal declaration of his sentiments.

He did this with so much clearness, and in a manner so pointed and
popular, that the deep attention of the multitude never wavered. His
lively illustrations kept them often in continued merriment. But when,
towards his close, he drew some picture of what he hoped might be the
character of his future and lasting connection with the town, the vast
throng was singularly affected. There were a great many present at that



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 38 of 39)