Benjamin Disraeli.

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accepted mission of the Duke of Wellington, collected their scattered
senses, and rallied their forces. The agitators harangued, the mobs
hooted. The City of London, as if the King had again tried to seize the
five members, appointed a permanent committee of the Common Council to
watch the fortunes of the 'great national measure,' and to report daily.
Brookes', which was the only place that at first was really frightened
and talked of compromise, grew valiant again; while young Whig heroes
jumped upon club-room tables, and delivered fiery invectives. Emboldened
by these demonstrations, the House of Commons met in great force, and
passed a vote which struck, without disguise, at all rival powers in the
State; virtually announced its supremacy; revealed the forlorn position
of the House of Lords under the new arrangement; and seemed to lay for
ever the fluttering phantom of regal prerogative.

It was on the 9th of May that Lord Lyndhurst was with the King, and on
the 15th all was over. Nothing in parliamentary history so humiliating
as the funeral oration delivered that day by the Duke of Wellington
over the old constitution, that, modelled on the Venetian, had governed
England since the accession of the House of Hanover. He described his
Sovereign, when his Grace first repaired to his Majesty, as in a
state of the greatest 'difficulty and distress,' appealing to his
never-failing loyalty to extricate him from his trouble and vexation.
The Duke of Wellington, representing the House of Lords, sympathises
with the King, and pledges his utmost efforts for his Majesty's
relief. But after five days' exertion, this man of indomitable will and
invincible fortunes, resigns the task in discomfiture and despair, and
alleges as the only and sufficient reason for his utter and hopeless
defeat, that the House of Commons had come to a vote which ran counter
to the contemplated exercise of the prerogative.

From that moment power passed from the House of Lords to another
assembly. But if the peers have ceased to be magnificoes, may it
not also happen that the Sovereign may cease to be a Doge? It is not
impossible that the political movements of our time, which seem on
the surface to have a tendency to democracy, may have in reality a
monarchical bias.

In less than a fortnight's time the House of Lords, like James II.,
having abdicated their functions by absence, the Reform Bill passed; the
ardent monarch, who a few months before had expressed his readiness to
go down to Parliament, in a hackney coach if necessary, to assist its
progress, now declining personally to give his assent to its provisions.

In the protracted discussions to which this celebrated measure gave
rise, nothing is more remarkable than the perplexities into which the
speakers of both sides are thrown, when they touch upon the nature of
the representative principle. On one hand it was maintained, that, under
the old system, the people were virtually represented; while on the
other, it was triumphantly urged, that if the principle be conceded, the
people should not be virtually, but actually, represented. But who are
the people? And where are you to draw a line? And why should there
be any? It was urged that a contribution to the taxes was the
constitutional qualification for the suffrage. But we have established
a system of taxation in this country of so remarkable a nature, that the
beggar who chews his quid as he sweeps a crossing, is contributing
to the imposts! Is he to have a vote? He is one of the people, and he
yields his quota to the public burthens.

Amid these conflicting statements, and these confounding conclusions, it
is singular that no member of either House should have recurred to
the original character of these popular assemblies, which have always
prevailed among the northern nations. We still retain in the antique
phraseology of our statutes the term which might have beneficially
guided a modern Reformer in his reconstructive labours.

When the crowned Northman consulted on the welfare of his kingdom, he
assembled the ESTATES of his realm. Now an estate is a class of the
nation invested with political rights. There appeared the estate of the
clergy, of the barons, of other classes. In the Scandinavian kingdoms
to this day, the estate of the peasants sends its representatives to the
Diet. In England, under the Normans, the Church and the Baronage were
convoked, together with the estate of the Community, a term which then
probably described the inferior holders of land, whose tenure was
not immediate of the Crown. This Third Estate was so numerous, that
convenience suggested its appearance by representation; while the
others, more limited, appeared, and still appear, personally. The Third
Estate was reconstructed as circumstances developed themselves. It was a
Reform of Parliament when the towns were summoned.

In treating the House of the Third Estate as the House of the People,
and not as the House of a privileged class, the Ministry and Parliament
of 1831 virtually conceded the principle of Universal Suffrage. In this
point of view the ten-pound franchise was an arbitrary, irrational, and
impolitic qualification. It had, indeed, the merit of simplicity, and so
had the constitutions of Abbé Siéyès. But its immediate and inevitable
result was Chartism.

But if the Ministry and Parliament of 1831 had announced that the time
had arrived when the Third Estate should be enlarged and reconstructed,
they would have occupied an intelligible position; and if, instead of
simplicity of elements in its reconstruction, they had sought, on the
contrary, various and varying materials which would have neutralised the
painful predominance of any particular interest in the new scheme, and
prevented those banded jealousies which have been its consequences, the
nation would have found itself in a secure condition. Another class not
less numerous than the existing one, and invested with privileges not
less important, would have been added to the public estates of the
realm; and the bewildering phrase 'the People' would have remained,
what it really is, a term of natural philosophy, and not of political
science.

During this eventful week of May, 1832, when an important revolution
was effected in the most considerable of modern kingdoms, in a manner
so tranquil, that the victims themselves were scarcely conscious at
the time of the catastrophe, Coningsby passed his hours in unaccustomed
pleasures, and in novel excitement. Although he heard daily from the
lips of Mr. Rigby and his friends that England was for ever lost, the
assembled guests still contrived to do justice to his grandfather's
excellent dinners; nor did the impending ruin that awaited them
prevent the Princess Colonna from going to the Opera, whither she
very good-naturedly took Coningsby. Madame Colonna, indeed, gave such
gratifying accounts of her dear young friend, that Coningsby became
daily a greater favourite with Lord Monmouth, who cherished the idea
that his grandson had inherited not merely the colour of his eyes, but
something of his shrewd and fearless spirit.

With Lucretia, Coningsby did not much advance. She remained silent and
sullen. She was not beautiful; pallid, with a lowering brow, and an eye
that avoided meeting another's. Madame Colonna, though good-natured,
felt for her something of the affection for which step-mothers are
celebrated. Lucretia, indeed, did not encourage her kindness, which
irritated her step-mother, who seemed seldom to address her but to rate
and chide; Lucretia never replied, but looked dogged. Her father, the
Prince, did not compensate for this treatment. The memory of her mother,
whom he had greatly disliked, did not soften his heart. He was a man
still young; slender, not tall; very handsome, but worn; a haggard
Antinous; his beautiful hair daily thinning; his dress rich and
effeminate; many jewels, much lace. He seldom spoke, but was polished,
though moody.

At the end of the week, Coningsby returned to Eton. On the eve of
his departure, Lord Monmouth desired his grandson to meet him in his
apartments on the morrow, before quitting his roof. This farewell visit
was as kind and gracious as the first one had been repulsive. Lord
Monmouth gave Coningsby his blessing and ten pounds; desired that he
would order a dress, anything he liked, for the approaching Montem,
which Lord Monmouth meant to attend; and informed his grandson that he
should order that in future a proper supply of game and venison should
be forwarded to Eton for the use of himself and his friends.




CHAPTER VIII.


After eight o'clock school, the day following the return of Coningsby,
according to custom, he repaired to Buckhurst's room, where Henry
Sydney, Lord Vere, and our hero held with him their breakfast mess. They
were all in the fifth form, and habitual companions, on the river or on
the Fives' Wall, at cricket or at foot-ball. The return of Coningsby,
their leader alike in sport and study, inspired them to-day with unusual
spirits, which, to say the truth, were never particularly depressed.
Where he had been, what he had seen, what he had done, what sort of
fellow his grandfather was, whether the visit had been a success; here
were materials for almost endless inquiry. And, indeed, to do them
justice, the last question was not the least exciting to them; for the
deep and cordial interest which all felt in Coningsby's welfare far
outweighed the curiosity which, under ordinary circumstances, they
would have experienced on the return of one of their companions from
an unusual visit to London. The report of their friend imparted to
them unbounded satisfaction, when they learned that his relative was a
splendid fellow; that he had been loaded with kindness and favours; that
Monmouth House, the wonders of which he rapidly sketched, was hereafter
to be his home; that Lord Monmouth was coming down to Montem; that
Coningsby was to order any dress he liked, build a new boat if he chose;
and, finally, had been pouched in a manner worthy of a Marquess and a
grandfather.

'By the bye,' said Buckhurst, when the hubbub had a little subsided, 'I
am afraid you will not half like it, Coningsby; but, old fellow, I
had no idea you would be back this morning; I have asked Millbank to
breakfast here.'

A cloud stole over the clear brow of Coningsby.

'It was my fault,' said the amiable Henry Sydney; 'but I really wanted
to be civil to Millbank, and as you were not here, I put Buckhurst up to
ask him.'

'Well,' said Coningsby, as if sullenly resigned, 'never mind; but why
should you ask an infernal manufacturer?'

'Why, the Duke always wished me to pay him some attention,' said
Lord Henry, mildly. 'His family were so civil to us when we were at
Manchester.'

'Manchester, indeed!' said Coningsby; 'if you knew what I do about
Manchester! A pretty state we have been in in London this week past with
your Manchesters and Birminghams!'

'Come, come, Coningsby,' said Lord Vere, the son of a Whig minister; 'I
am all for Manchester and Birmingham.'

'It is all up with the country, I can tell you,' said Coningsby, with
the air of one who was in the secret.

'My father says it will all go right now,' rejoined Lord Vere. 'I had a
letter from my sister yesterday.'

'They say we shall all lose our estates, though,' said Buckhurst; 'I
know I shall not give up mine without a fight. Shirley was besieged, you
know, in the civil wars; and the rebels got infernally licked.'

'I think that all the people about Beaumanoir would stand by the Duke,'
said Lord Henry, pensively.

'Well, you may depend upon it you will have it very soon,' said
Coningsby. 'I know it from the best authority.'

'It depends on whether my father remains in,' said Lord Vere. 'He is the
only man who can govern the country now. All say that.'

At this moment Millbank entered. He was a good looking boy, somewhat
shy, and yet with a sincere expression in his countenance. He was
evidently not extremely intimate with those who were now his companions.
Buckhurst, and Henry Sydney, and Vere, welcomed him cordially. He looked
at Coningsby with some constraint, and then said:

'You have been in London, Coningsby?'

'Yes, I have been there during all the row.'

'You must have had a rare lark.'

'Yes, if having your windows broken by a mob be a rare lark. They could
not break my grandfather's, though. Monmouth House is in a court-yard.
All noblemen's houses should be in court-yards.'

'I was glad to see it all ended very well,' said Millbank.

'It has not begun yet,' said Coningsby.

'What?' said Millbank.

'Why, the revolution.'

'The Reform Bill will prevent a revolution, my father says,' said
Millbank.

'By Jove! here's the goose,' said Buckhurst.

At this moment there entered the room a little boy, the scion of a noble
house, bearing a roasted goose, which he had carried from the kitchen of
the opposite inn, the Christopher. The lower boy or fag, depositing
his burthen, asked his master whether he had further need of him; and
Buckhurst, after looking round the table, and ascertaining that he had
not, gave him permission to retire; but he had scarcely disappeared,
when his master singing out, 'Lower boy, St. John!' he immediately
re-entered, and demanded his master's pleasure, which was, that he
should pour some water in the teapot. This being accomplished, St. John
really made his escape, and retired to a pupil-room, where the bullying
of a tutor, because he had no derivations, exceeded in all probability
the bullying of his master, had he contrived in his passage from the
Christopher to have upset the goose or dropped the sausages.

In their merry meal, the Reform Bill was forgotten. Their thoughts were
soon concentrated in their little world, though it must be owned that
visions of palaces and beautiful ladies did occasionally flit over the
brain of one of the company. But for him especially there was much of
interest and novelty. So much had happened in his absence! There was a
week's arrears for him of Eton annals. They were recounted in so fresh
a spirit, and in such vivid colours, that Coningsby lost nothing by his
London visit. All the bold feats that had been done, and all the bright
things that had been said; all the triumphs, and all the failures,
and all the scrapes; how popular one master had made himself, and how
ridiculous another; all was detailed with a liveliness, a candour, and
a picturesque ingenuousness, which would have made the fortune of a
Herodotus or a Froissart.

'I'll tell you what,' said Buckhurst, 'I move that after twelve we five
go up to Maidenhead.'

'Agreed; agreed!'




CHAPTER IX.


Millbank was the son of one of the wealthiest manufacturers in
Lancashire. His father, whose opinions were of a very democratic bent,
sent his son to Eton, though he disapproved of the system of education
pursued there, to show that he had as much right to do so as any duke in
the land. He had, however, brought up his only boy with a due prejudice
against every sentiment or institution of an aristocratic character,
and had especially impressed upon him in his school career, to avoid the
slightest semblance of courting the affections or society of any member
of the falsely-held superior class.

The character of the son as much as the influence of the father, tended
to the fulfilment of these injunctions. Oswald Millbank was of a
proud and independent nature; reserved, a little stern. The early and
constantly-reiterated dogma of his father, that he belonged to a class
debarred from its just position in the social system, had aggravated the
grave and somewhat discontented humour of his blood. His talents were
considerable, though invested with no dazzling quality. He had not that
quick and brilliant apprehension, which, combined with a memory of rare
retentiveness, had already advanced Coningsby far beyond his age,
and made him already looked to as the future hero of the school. But
Millbank possessed one of those strong, industrious volitions whose
perseverance amounts almost to genius, and nearly attains its results.
Though Coningsby was by a year his junior, they were rivals. This
circumstance had no tendency to remove the prejudice which Coningsby
entertained against him, but its bias on the part of Millbank had a
contrary effect.

The influence of the individual is nowhere so sensible as at school.
There the personal qualities strike without any intervening and
counteracting causes. A gracious presence, noble sentiments, or a happy
talent, make their way there at once, without preliminary inquiries as
to what set they are in, or what family they are of, how much they
have a-year, or where they live. Now, on no spirit had the influence of
Coningsby, already the favourite, and soon probably to become the idol,
of the school, fallen more effectually than on that of Millbank, though
it was an influence that no one could suspect except its votary or its
victim.

At school, friendship is a passion. It entrances the being; it tears
the soul. All loves of after-life can never bring its rapture, or its
wretchedness; no bliss so absorbing, no pangs of jealousy or despair
so crushing and so keen! What tenderness and what devotion; what
illimitable confidence; infinite revelations of inmost thoughts; what
ecstatic present and romantic future; what bitter estrangements and what
melting reconciliations; what scenes of wild recrimination, agitating
explanations, passionate correspondence; what insane sensitiveness, and
what frantic sensibility; what earthquakes of the heart and whirlwinds
of the soul are confined in that simple phrase, a schoolboy's
friendship! Tis some indefinite recollection of these mystic passages of
their young emotion that makes grey-haired men mourn over the memory
of their schoolboy days. It is a spell that can soften the acerbity of
political warfare, and with its witchery can call forth a sigh even amid
the callous bustle of fashionable saloons.

The secret of Millbank's life was a passionate admiration and affection
for Coningsby. Pride, his natural reserve, and his father's injunctions,
had, however, hitherto successfully combined to restrain the slightest
demonstration of these sentiments. Indeed, Coningsby and himself
were never companions, except in school, or in some public game. The
demeanour of Coningsby gave no encouragement to intimacy to one, who,
under any circumstances, would have required considerable invitation to
open himself. So Millbank fed in silence on a cherished idea. It was
his happiness to be in the same form, to join in the same sport, with
Coningsby; occasionally to be thrown in unusual contact with him,
to exchange slight and not unkind words. In their division they were
rivals; Millbank sometimes triumphed, but to be vanquished by Coningsby
was for him not without a degree of mild satisfaction. Not a gesture,
not a phrase from Coningsby, that he did not watch and ponder over and
treasure up. Coningsby was his model, alike in studies, in manners,
or in pastimes; the aptest scholar, the gayest wit, the most graceful
associate, the most accomplished playmate: his standard of excellent.
Yet Millbank was the very last boy in the school who would have had
credit given him by his companions for profound and ardent feeling. He
was not indeed unpopular. The favourite of the school like Coningsby, he
could, under no circumstances, ever have become; nor was he qualified
to obtain that general graciousness among the multitude, which the sweet
disposition of Henry Sydney, or the gay profusion of Buckhurst, acquired
without any effort. Millbank was not blessed with the charm of manner.
He seemed close and cold; but he was courageous, just, and inflexible;
never bullied, and to his utmost would prevent tyranny. The little boys
looked up to him as a stern protector; and his word, too, throughout the
school was a proverb: and truth ranks a great quality among boys. In
a word, Millbank was respected by those among whom he lived; and
school-boys scan character more nicely than men suppose.

A brother of Henry Sydney, quartered in Lancashire, had been wounded
recently in a riot, and had received great kindness from the Millbank
family, in whose immediate neighbourhood the disturbance had occurred.
The kind Duke had impressed on Henry Sydney to acknowledge with
cordiality to the younger Millbank at Eton, the sense which his family
entertained of these benefits; but though Henry lost neither time nor
opportunity in obeying an injunction, which was grateful to his own
heart, he failed in cherishing, or indeed creating, any intimacy
with the object of his solicitude. A companionship with one who was
Coningsby's relative and most familiar friend, would at the first
glance have appeared, independently of all other considerations, a most
desirable result for Millbank to accomplish. But, perhaps, this
very circumstance afforded additional reasons for the absence of all
encouragement with which he received the overtures of Lord Henry.
Millbank suspected that Coningsby was not affected in his favour, and
his pride recoiled from gaining, by any indirect means, an intimacy
which to have obtained in a plain and express manner would have deeply
gratified him. However, the urgent invitation of Buckhurst and
Henry Sydney, and the fear that a persistence in refusal might be
misinterpreted into churlishness, had at length brought Millbank to
their breakfast-mess, though, when he accepted their invitation, he did
not apprehend that Coningsby would have been present.

It was about an hour before sunset, the day of this very breakfast, and
a good number of boys, in lounging groups, were collected in the
Long Walk. The sports and matches of the day were over. Criticism had
succeeded to action in sculling and in cricket. They talked over the
exploits of the morning; canvassed the merits of the competitors, marked
the fellow whose play or whose stroke was improving; glanced at another,
whose promise had not been fulfilled; discussed the pretensions, and
adjudged the palm. Thus public opinion is formed. Some, too, might
be seen with their books and exercises, intent on the inevitable
and impending tasks. Among these, some unhappy wight in the remove,
wandering about with his hat, after parochial fashion, seeking relief
in the shape of a verse. A hard lot this, to know that you must be
delivered of fourteen verses at least in the twenty-four hours, and to
be conscious that you are pregnant of none. The lesser boys, urchins of
tender years, clustered like flies round the baskets of certain vendors
of sugary delicacies that rested on the Long Walk wall. The pallid
countenance, the lacklustre eye, the hoarse voice clogged with
accumulated phlegm, indicated too surely the irreclaimable and hopeless
votary of lollypop, the opium-eater of schoolboys.

'It is settled, the match to-morrow shall be between Aquatics and
Drybobs,' said a senior boy; who was arranging a future match at
cricket.

'But what is to be done about Fielding major?' inquired another. 'He has
not paid his boating money, and I say he has no right to play among the
Aquatics before he has paid his money.'

'Oh! but we must have Fielding major, he is such a devil of a swipe.'

'I declare he shall not play among the Aquatics if he does not pay his
boating money. It is an infernal shame.'

'Let us ask Buckhurst. Where is Buckhurst?'

'Have you got any toffy?' inquired a dull looking little boy, in a
hoarse voice, of one of the vendors of scholastic confectionery.

'Tom Trot, sir.'

'No; I want toffy.'

'Very nice Tom Trot, sir.'

'No, I want toffy; I have been eating Tom Trot all day.'

'Where is Buckhurst? We must settle about the Aquatics.'

'Well, I for one will not play if Fielding major plays amongst the
Aquatics. That is settled.'

'Oh! nonsense; he will pay his money if you ask him.'

'I shall not ask him again. The captain duns us every day. It is an
infernal shame.'

'I say, Burnham, where can one get some toffy? This fellow never has
any.'

'I will tell you; at Barnes' on the bridge. The best toffy in the
world.'

'I will go at once. I must have some toffy.'

'Just help me with this verse, Collins,' said one boy to another, in an
imploring tone, 'that's a good fellow.'

'Well, give it us: first syllable in _fabri_ is short; three false
quantities in the two first lines! You're a pretty one. There, I have
done it for you.'

'That's a good fellow.'

'Any fellow seen Buckhurst?'

'Gone up the river with Coningsby and Henry Sydney.'



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 4 of 39)