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suddenly become a fervent admirer. The great Mr. Rigby, too, was a guest
out of Parliament, nor caring to be in; but hearing that his friends had
some hopes, he thought he would just come down to dash them.

The political grapes were sour for Mr. Rigby; a prophet of evil, he
preached only mortification and repentance and despair to his late
colleagues. It was the only satisfaction left Mr. Rigby, except assuring
the Duke that the finest pictures in his gallery were copies, and
recommending him to pull down Beaumanoir, and rebuild it on a design
with which Mr. Rigby would furnish him.

The battue and the banquet were over; the ladies had withdrawn; and the
butler placed fresh claret on the table.

'And you really think you could give us a majority, Tadpole?' said the

Mr. Tadpole, with some ceremony, took a memorandum-book out of his
pocket, amid the smiles and the faint well-bred merriment of his

'Tadpole is nothing without his book,' whispered Lord Fitz-Booby.

'It is here,' said Mr. Tadpole, emphatically patting his volume, 'a
clear working majority of twenty-two.'

'Near sailing that!' cried the Duke.

'A far better majority than the present Government have,' said Mr.

'There is nothing like a good small majority,' said Mr. Taper, 'and a
good registration.'

'Ay! register, register, register!' said the Duke. 'Those were immortal

'I can tell your Grace three far better ones,' said Mr. Tadpole, with a
self-complacent air. 'Object, object, object!'

'You may register, and you may object,' said Mr. Rigby, 'but you will
never get rid of Schedule A and Schedule B.'

'But who could have supposed two years ago that affairs would be in
their present position?' said Mr. Taper, deferentially.

'I foretold it,' said Mr. Rigby. 'Every one knows that no government now
can last twelve months.'

'We may make fresh boroughs,' said Taper. 'We have reduced Shabbyton at
the last registration under three hundred.'

'And the Wesleyans!' said Tadpole. 'We never counted on the Wesleyans!'

'I am told these Wesleyans are really a respectable body,' said Lord
Fitz-Booby. 'I believe there is no material difference between their
tenets and those of the Establishment. I never heard of them much till
lately. We have too long confounded them with the mass of Dissenters,
but their conduct at several of the later elections proves that they are
far from being unreasonable and disloyal individuals. When we come in,
something should be done for the Wesleyans, eh, Rigby?'

'All that your Lordship can do for the Wesleyans is what they will very
shortly do for themselves, appropriate a portion of the Church Revenues
to their own use.'

'Nay, nay,' said Mr. Tadpole with a chuckle, 'I don't think we shall
find the Church attacked again in a hurry. I only wish they would try! A
good Church cry before a registration,' he continued, rubbing his hands;
'eh, my Lord, I think that would do.'

'But how are we to turn them out?' said the Duke.

'Ah!' said Mr. Taper, 'that is a great question.'

'What do you think of a repeal of the Malt Tax?' said Lord Fitz-Booby.
'They have been trying it on in - - shire, and I am told it goes down
very well.'

'No repeal of any tax,' said Taper, sincerely shocked, and shaking his
head; 'and the Malt Tax of all others. I am all against that.'

'It is a very good cry though, if there be no other,' said Tadpole.

'I am all for a religious cry,' said Taper. 'It means nothing, and, if
successful, does not interfere with business when we are in.'

'You will have religious cries enough in a short time,' said Mr. Rigby,
rather wearied of any one speaking but himself, and thereat he commenced
a discourse, which was, in fact, one of his 'slashing' articles in petto
on Church Reform, and which abounded in parallels between the present
affairs and those of the reign of Charles I. Tadpole, who did not
pretend to know anything but the state of the registration, and Taper,
whose political reading was confined to an intimate acquaintance with
the Red Book and Beatson's Political Index, which he could repeat
backwards, were silenced. The Duke, who was well instructed and liked
to be talked to, sipped his claret, and was rather amused by Rigby's
lecture, particularly by one or two statements characterised by Rigby's
happy audacity, but which the Duke was too indolent to question. Lord
Fitz-Booby listened with his mouth open, but rather bored. At length,
when there was a momentary pause, he said:

'In my time, the regular thing was to move an amendment on the address.'

'Quite out of the question,' exclaimed Tadpole, with a scoff.

'Entirely given up,' said Taper, with a sneer.

'If you will drink no more claret, we will go and hear some music,' said
the Duke.


A breakfast at Beaumanoir was a meal of some ceremony. Every guest was
expected to attend, and at a somewhat early hour. Their host and hostess
set them the example of punctuality. 'Tis an old form rigidly adhered to
in some great houses, but, it must be confessed, does not contrast
very agreeably with the easier arrangements of establishments of less
pretension and of more modern order.

The morning after the dinner to which we have been recently introduced,
there was one individual absent from the breakfast-table whose
non-appearance could scarcely be passed over without notice; and several
inquired with some anxiety, whether their host were indisposed.

'The Duke has received some letters from London which detain him,'
replied the Duchess. 'He will join us.'

'Your Grace will be glad to hear that your son Henry is very well,' said
Mr. Rigby; 'I heard of him this morning. Harry Coningsby enclosed me a
letter for his grandfather, and tells me that he and Henry Sydney had
just had a capital run with the King's hounds.'

'It is three years since we have seen Mr. Coningsby,' said the Duchess.
'Once he was often here. He was a great favourite of mine. I hardly ever
knew a more interesting boy.'

'Yes, I have done a great deal for him,' said Mr. Rigby. 'Lord Monmouth
is fond of him, and wishes that he should make a figure; but how any one
is to distinguish himself now, I am really at a loss to comprehend.'

'But are affairs so very bad?' said the Duchess, smiling. 'I thought
that we were all regaining our good sense and good temper.'

'I believe all the good sense and all the good temper in England are
concentrated in your Grace,' said Mr. Rigby, gallantly.

'I should be sorry to be such a monopolist. But Lord Fitz-Booby was
giving me last night quite a glowing report of Mr. Tadpole's prospects
for the nation. We were all to have our own again; and Percy to carry
the county.'

'My dear Madam, before twelve months are past, there will not be
a county in England. Why should there be? If boroughs are to be
disfranchised, why should not counties be destroyed?'

At this moment the Duke entered, apparently agitated. He bowed to his
guests, and apologised for his unusual absence. 'The truth is,' he
continued, 'I have just received a very important despatch. An event has
occurred which may materially affect affairs. Lord Spencer is dead.'

A thunderbolt in a summer sky, as Sir William Temple says, could not
have produced a greater sensation. The business of the repast ceased in
a moment. The knives and forks were suddenly silent. All was still.

'It is an immense event,' said Tadpole.

'I don't see my way,' said Taper.

'When did he die?' said Lord Fitz-Booby.

'I don't believe it,' said Mr. Rigby.

'They have got their man ready,' said Tadpole.

'It is impossible to say what will happen,' said Taper.

'Now is the time for an amendment on the address,' said Fitz-Booby.

'There are two reasons which convince me that Lord Spencer is not dead,'
said Mr. Rigby.

'I fear there is no doubt of it,' said the Duke, shaking his head.

'Lord Althorp was the only man who could keep them together,' said Lord

'On the contrary,' said Tadpole. 'If I be right in my man, and I have
no doubt of it, you will have a radical programme, and they will be
stronger than ever.'

'Do you think they can get the steam up again?' said Taper, musingly.

'They will bid high,' replied Tadpole. 'Nothing could be more
unfortunate than this death. Things were going on so well and so
quietly! The Wesleyans almost with us!'

'And Shabbyton too!' mournfully exclaimed Taper. 'Another registration
and quiet times, and I could have reduced the constituency to two
hundred and fifty.'

'If Lord Spencer had died on the 10th,' said Rigby, 'it must have been
known to Henry Rivers. And I have a letter from Henry Rivers by this
post. Now, Althorp is in Northamptonshire, mark that, and Northampton is
a county - '

'My dear Rigby,' said the Duke, 'pardon me for interrupting you.
Unhappily, there is no doubt Lord Spencer is dead, for I am one of his

This announcement silenced even Mr. Rigby, and the conversation now
entirely merged in speculations on what would occur. Numerous were
the conjectures hazarded, but the prevailing impression was, that this
unforeseen event might embarrass those secret expectations of Court
succour in which a certain section of the party had for some time reason
to indulge.

From the moment, however, of the announcement of Lord Spencer's death, a
change might be visibly observed in the tone of the party at Beaumanoir.
They became silent, moody, and restless. There seemed a general, though
not avowed, conviction that a crisis of some kind or other was at hand.
The post, too, brought letters every day from town teeming with fanciful
speculations, and occasionally mysterious hopes.

'I kept this cover for Peel,' said the Duke pensively, as he loaded his
gun on the morning of the 14th. 'Do you know, I was always against his
going to Rome.'

'It is very odd,' said Tadpole, 'but I was thinking of the very same

'It will be fifteen years before England will see a Tory Government,'
said Mr. Rigby, drawing his ramrod, 'and then it will only last five

'Melbourne, Althorp, and Durham, all in the Lords,' said Taper. 'Three
leaders! They must quarrel.'

'If Durham come in, mark me, he will dissolve on Household Suffrage and
the Ballot,' said Tadpole.

'Not nearly so good a cry as Church,' replied Taper.

'With the Malt Tax,' said Tadpole. 'Church, without the Malt Tax, will
not do against Household Suffrage and Ballot.'

'Malt Tax is madness,' said Taper. 'A good farmer's friend cry without
Malt Tax would work just as well.'

'They will never dissolve,' said the Duke. 'They are so strong.'

'They cannot go on with three hundred majority,' said Taper. 'Forty is
as much as can be managed with open constituencies.'

'If he had only gone to Paris instead of Rome!' said the Duke.

'Yes,' said Mr. Rigby, 'I could have written to him then by every post,
and undeceived him as to his position.'

'After all he is the only man,' said the Duke; 'and I really believe the
country thinks so.'

'Pray, what is the country?' inquired Mr. Rigby. 'The country is
nothing; it is the constituency you have to deal with.'

'And to manage them you must have a good cry,' said Taper. 'All now
depends upon a good cry.'

'So much for the science of politics,' said the Duke, bringing down a
pheasant. 'How Peel would have enjoyed this cover!'

'He will have plenty of time for sport during his life,' said Mr. Rigby.

On the evening of the 15th of November, a despatch arrived at
Beaumanoir, informing his Grace that the King had dismissed the Whig
Ministry, and sent for the Duke of Wellington. Thus the first agitating
suspense was over; to be succeeded, however, by expectation still more
anxious. It was remarkable that every individual suddenly found that he
had particular business in London which could not be neglected. The Duke
very properly pleaded his executorial duties; but begged his guests on
no account to be disturbed by his inevitable absence. Lord Fitz-Booby
had just received a letter from his daughter, who was indisposed at
Brighton, and he was most anxious to reach her. Tadpole had to receive
deputations from Wesleyans, and well-registered boroughs anxious to
receive well-principled candidates. Taper was off to get the first job
at the contingent Treasury, in favour of the Borough of Shabbyton.
Mr. Rigby alone was silent; but he quietly ordered a post-chaise at
daybreak, and long before his fellow guests were roused from their
slumbers, he was halfway to London, ready to give advice, either at the
pavilion or at Apsley House.


Although it is far from improbable that, had Sir Robert Peel been in
England in the autumn of 1834, the Whig government would not have been
dismissed; nevertheless, whatever may now be the opinion of the policy
of that measure; whether it be looked on as a premature movement which
necessarily led to the compact reorganisation of the Liberal party,
or as a great stroke of State, which, by securing at all events a
dissolution of the Parliament of 1832, restored the healthy balance of
parties in the Legislature, questions into which we do not now wish
to enter, it must be generally admitted, that the conduct of every
individual eminently concerned in that great historical transaction was
characterised by the rarest and most admirable quality of public
life, moral courage. The Sovereign who dismissed a Ministry apparently
supported by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament and the nation,
and called to his councils the absent chief of a parliamentary section,
scarcely numbering at that moment one hundred and forty individuals, and
of a party in the country supposed to be utterly discomfited by a
recent revolution; the two ministers who in this absence provisionally
administered the affairs of the kingdom in the teeth of an enraged
and unscrupulous Opposition, and perhaps themselves not sustained by
a profound conviction, that the arrival of their expected leader would
convert their provisional into a permanent position; above all
the statesman who accepted the great charge at a time and under
circumstances which marred probably the deep projects of his own
prescient sagacity and maturing ambition; were all men gifted with a
high spirit of enterprise, and animated by that active fortitude which
is the soul of free governments.

It was a lively season, that winter of 1834! What hopes, what fears, and
what bets! From the day on which Mr. Hudson was to arrive at Rome to the
election of the Speaker, not a contingency that was not the subject of
a wager! People sprang up like mushrooms; town suddenly became full.
Everybody who had been in office, and everybody who wished to be in
office; everybody who had ever had anything, and everybody who ever
expected to have anything, were alike visible. All of course by mere
accident; one might meet the same men regularly every day for a month,
who were only 'passing through town.'

Now was the time for men to come forward who had never despaired of
their country. True they had voted for the Reform Bill, but that was to
prevent a revolution. And now they were quite ready to vote against the
Reform Bill, but this was to prevent a dissolution. These are the true
patriots, whose confidence in the good sense of their countrymen and in
their own selfishness is about equal. In the meantime, the hundred and
forty threw a grim glance on the numerous waiters on Providence, and
amiable trimmers, who affectionately enquired every day when news might
be expected of Sir Robert. Though too weak to form a government, and
having contributed in no wise by their exertions to the fall of the
late, the cohort of Parliamentary Tories felt all the alarm of men who
have accidentally stumbled on some treasure-trove, at the suspicious
sympathy of new allies. But, after all, who were to form the government,
and what was the government to be? Was it to be a Tory government, or an
Enlightened-Spirit-of-the-Age Liberal-Moderate-Reform government; was it
to be a government of high philosophy or of low practice; of principle
or of expediency; of great measures or of little men? A government of
statesmen or of clerks? Of Humbug or of Humdrum? Great questions these,
but unfortunately there was nobody to answer them. They tried the Duke;
but nothing could be pumped out of him. All that he knew, which he
told in his curt, husky manner, was, that he had to carry on the King's
government. As for his solitary colleague, he listened and smiled, and
then in his musical voice asked them questions in return, which is the
best possible mode of avoiding awkward inquiries. It was very unfair
this; for no one knew what tone to take; whether they should go down to
their public dinners and denounce the Reform Act or praise it; whether
the Church was to be re-modelled or only admonished; whether Ireland was
to be conquered or conciliated.

'This can't go on much longer,' said Taper to Tadpole, as they reviewed
together their electioneering correspondence on the 1st of December; 'we
have no cry.'

'He is half way by this time,' said Tadpole; 'send an extract from a
private letter to the _Standard_, dated Augsburg, and say he will be
here in four days.'

At last he came; the great man in a great position, summoned from Rome
to govern England. The very day that he arrived he had his audience with
the King.

It was two days after this audience; the town, though November, in a
state of excitement; clubs crowded, not only morning rooms, but halls
and staircases swarming with members eager to give and to receive
rumours equally vain; streets lined with cabs and chariots, grooms and
horses; it was two days after this audience that Mr. Ormsby, celebrated
for his political dinners, gave one to a numerous party. Indeed his
saloons to-day, during the half-hour of gathering which precedes dinner,
offered in the various groups, the anxious countenances, the inquiring
voices, and the mysterious whispers, rather the character of an Exchange
or Bourse than the tone of a festive society.

Here might be marked a murmuring knot of greyheaded privy-councillors,
who had held fat offices under Perceval and Liverpool, and who looked
back to the Reform Act as to a hideous dream; there some middle-aged
aspirants might be observed who had lost their seats in the convulsion,
but who flattered themselves they had done something for the party
in the interval, by spending nothing except their breath in fighting
hopeless boroughs, and occasionally publishing a pamphlet, which really
produced less effect than chalking the walls. Light as air, and proud as
a young peacock, tripped on his toes a young Tory, who had contrived to
keep his seat in a Parliament where he had done nothing, but who thought
an Under-Secretaryship was now secure, particularly as he was the son of
a noble Lord who had also in a public capacity plundered and blundered
in the good old time. The true political adventurer, who with dull
desperation had stuck at nothing, had never neglected a treasury note,
had been present at every division, never spoke when he was asked to be
silent, and was always ready on any subject when they wanted him to open
his mouth; who had treated his leaders with servility even behind their
backs, and was happy for the day if a future Secretary of the Treasury
bowed to him; who had not only discountenanced discontent in the party,
but had regularly reported in strict confidence every instance of
insubordination which came to his knowledge; might there too be detected
under all the agonies of the crisis; just beginning to feel the
dread misgiving, whether being a slave and a sneak were sufficient
qualifications for office, without family or connection. Poor fellow!
half the industry he had wasted on his cheerless craft might have made
his fortune in some decent trade!

In dazzling contrast with these throes of low ambition, were some
brilliant personages who had just scampered up from Melton, thinking it
probable that Sir Robert might want some moral lords of the bed-chamber.
Whatever may have been their private fears or feelings, all however
seemed smiling and significant, as if they knew something if they chose
to tell it, and that something very much to their own satisfaction.
The only grave countenance that was occasionally ushered into the room
belonged to some individual whose destiny was not in doubt, and who was
already practising the official air that was in future to repress the
familiarity of his former fellow-stragglers.

'Do you hear anything?' said a great noble who wanted something in the
general scramble, but what he knew not; only he had a vague feeling he
ought to have something, having made such great sacrifices.

'There is a report that Clifford is to be Secretary to the Board of
Control,' said Mr. Earwig, whose whole soul was in this subaltern
arrangement, of which the Minister of course had not even thought; 'but
I cannot trace it to any authority.'

'I wonder who will be their Master of the Horse,' said the great noble,
loving gossip though he despised the gossiper.

'Clifford has done nothing for the party,' said Mr. Earwig.

'I dare say Rambrooke will have the Buckhounds,' said the great noble,

'Your Lordship has not heard Clifford's name mentioned?' continued Mr.

'I should think they had not come to that sort of thing,' said the great
noble, with ill-disguised contempt.' The first thing after the Cabinet
is formed is the Household: the things you talk of are done last;' and
he turned upon his heel, and met the imperturbable countenance and clear
sarcastic eye of Lord Eskdale.

'You have not heard anything?' asked the great noble of his brother

'Yes, a great deal since I have been in this room; but unfortunately it
is all untrue.'

'There is a report that Rambrooke is to have the Buck-hounds; but I
cannot trace it to any authority.'

'Pooh!' said Lord Eskdale.

'I don't see that Rambrooke should have the Buckhounds any more than
anybody else. What sacrifices has he made?'

'Past sacrifices are nothing,' said Lord Eskdale. 'Present sacrifices
are the thing we want: men who will sacrifice their principles and join

'You have not heard Rambrooke's name mentioned?'

'When a Minister has no Cabinet, and only one hundred and forty
supporters in the House of Commons, he has something else to think of
than places at Court,' said Lord Eskdale, as he slowly turned away to
ask Lucian Gay whether it were true that Jenny Colon was coming over.

Shortly after this, Henry Sydney's father, who dined with Mr. Ornisby,
drew Lord Eskdale into a window, and said in an undertone:

'So there is to be a kind of programme: something is to be written.'

'Well, we want a cue,' said Lord Eskdale. 'I heard of this last night:
Rigby has written something.'

The Duke shook his head.

'No; Peel means to do it himself.'

But at this moment Mr. Ornisby begged his Grace to lead them to dinner.

'Something is to be written.' It is curious to recall the vague terms
in which the first projection of documents, that are to exercise a vast
influence on the course of affairs or the minds of nations, is often
mentioned. This 'something to be written' was written; and speedily; and
has ever since been talked of.

We believe we may venture to assume that at no period during the
movements of 1834-5 did Sir Robert Peel ever believe in the success
of his administration. Its mere failure could occasion him little
dissatisfaction; he was compensated for it by the noble opportunity
afforded to him for the display of those great qualities, both moral and
intellectual, which the swaddling-clothes of a routine prosperity had
long repressed, but of which his opposition to the Reform Bill had
given to the nation a significant intimation. The brief administration
elevated him in public opinion, and even in the eye of Europe; and it
is probable that a much longer term of power would not have contributed
more to his fame.

The probable effect of the premature effort of his party on his future
position as a Minister was, however, far from being so satisfactory. At
the lowest ebb of his political fortunes, it cannot be doubted that Sir
Robert Peel looked forward, perhaps through the vista of many years, to
a period when the national mind, arrived by reflection and experience
at certain conclusions, would seek in him a powerful expositor of its
convictions. His time of life permitted him to be tranquil in adversity,
and to profit by its salutary uses. He would then have acceded to power

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 8 of 39)