Benjamin Disraeli.

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as the representative of a Creed, instead of being the leader of a
Confederacy, and he would have been supported by earnest and enduring
enthusiasm, instead of by that churlish sufferance which is the
result of a supposed balance of advantages in his favour. This is
the consequence of the tactics of those short-sighted intriguers, who
persisted in looking upon a revolution as a mere party struggle, and
would not permit the mind of the nation to work through the inevitable
phases that awaited it. In 1834, England, though frightened at the
reality of Reform, still adhered to its phrases; it was inclined,
as practical England, to maintain existing institutions; but, as
theoretical England, it was suspicious that they were indefensible.

No one had arisen either in Parliament, the Universities, or the Press,
to lead the public mind to the investigation of principles; and not
to mistake, in their reformations, the corruption of practice for
fundamental ideas. It was this perplexed, ill-informed, jaded, shallow
generation, repeating cries which they did not comprehend, and wearied
with the endless ebullitions of their own barren conceit, that Sir
Robert Peel was summoned to govern. It was from such materials, ample
in quantity, but in all spiritual qualities most deficient; with
great numbers, largely acred, consoled up to their chins, but without
knowledge, genius, thought, truth, or faith, that Sir Robert Peel was to
form a 'great Conservative party on a comprehensive basis.' That he
did this like a dexterous politician, who can deny? Whether he realised
those prescient views of a great statesman in which he had doubtless
indulged, and in which, though still clogged by the leadership of 1834,
he may yet find fame for himself and salvation for his country, is
altogether another question. His difficult attempt was expressed in
an address to his constituents, which now ranks among state papers.
We shall attempt briefly to consider it with the impartiality of the
future.





CHAPTER V.


The Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 was an attempt to construct a
party without principles; its basis therefore was necessarily
Latitudinarianism; and its inevitable consequence has been Political
Infidelity.

At an epoch of political perplexity and social alarm, the confederation
was convenient, and was calculated by aggregation to encourage the timid
and confused. But when the perturbation was a little subsided, and
men began to inquire why they were banded together, the difficulty of
defining their purpose proved that the league, however respectable, was
not a party. The leaders indeed might profit by their eminent position
to obtain power for their individual gratification, but it was
impossible to secure their followers that which, after all, must be the
great recompense of a political party, the putting in practice of their
opinions; for they had none.

There was indeed a considerable shouting about what they called
Conservative principles; but the awkward question naturally arose, what
will you conserve? The prerogatives of the Crown, provided they are not
exercised; the independence of the House of Lords, provided it is not
asserted; the Ecclesiastical estate, provided it is regulated by a
commission of laymen. Everything, in short, that is established, as long
as it is a phrase and not a fact.

In the meantime, while forms and phrases are religiously cherished in
order to make the semblance of a creed, the rule of practice is to
bend to the passion or combination of the hour. Conservatism assumes in
theory that everything established should be maintained; but adopts
in practice that everything that is established is indefensible. To
reconcile this theory and this practice, they produce what they call
'the best bargain;' some arrangement which has no principle and no
purpose, except to obtain a temporary lull of agitation, until the mind
of the Conservatives, without a guide and without an aim, distracted,
tempted, and bewildered, is prepared for another arrangement, equally
statesmanlike with the preceding one.

Conservatism was an attempt to carry on affairs by substituting the
fulfilment of the duties of office for the performance of the functions
of government; and to maintain this negative system by the mere
influence of property, reputable private conduct, and what are called
good connections. Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from
Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for Antiquity,
it offers no redress for the Present, and makes no preparation for the
Future. It is obvious that for a time, under favourable circumstances,
such a confederation might succeed; but it is equally clear, that on
the arrival of one of those critical conjunctures that will periodically
occur in all states, and which such an unimpassioned system is even
calculated ultimately to create, all power of resistance will be
wanting: the barren curse of political infidelity will paralyse all
action; and the Conservative Constitution will be discovered to be a
Caput Mortuum.




CHAPTER VI.


In the meantime, after dinner, Tadpole and Taper, who were among the
guests of Mr. Ormsby, withdrew to a distant sofa, out of earshot, and
indulged in confidential talk.

'Such a strength in debate was never before found on a Treasury bench,'
said Mr. Tadpole; 'the other side will be dumbfounded.'

'And what do you put our numbers at now?' inquired Mr. Taper.

'Would you take fifty-five for our majority?' rejoined Mr. Tadpole.

'It is not so much the tail they have, as the excuse their junction will
be for the moderate, sensible men to come over,' said Taper. 'Our friend
Sir Everard for example, it would settle him.'

'He is a solemn impostor,' rejoined Mr. Tadpole; 'but he is a baronet
and a county member, and very much looked up to by the Wesleyans. The
other men, I know, have refused him a peerage.'

'And we might hold out judicious hopes,' said Taper.

'No one can do that better than you,' said Tadpole. 'I am apt to say too
much about those things.'

'I make it a rule never to open my mouth on such subjects,' said Taper.
'A nod or a wink will speak volumes. An affectionate pressure of the
hand will sometimes do a great deal; and I have promised many a peerage
without committing myself, by an ingenious habit of deference which
cannot be mistaken by the future noble.'

'I wonder what they will do with Rigby,' said Tadpole.

'He wants a good deal,' said Taper.

'I tell you what, Mr. Taper, the time is gone by when a Marquess of
Monmouth was Letter A, No. 1.'

'Very true, Mr. Tadpole. A wise man would do well now to look to
the great middle class, as I said the other day to the electors of
Shabbyton.'

'I had sooner be supported by the Wesleyans,' said Mr. Tadpole, 'than by
all the marquesses in the peerage.'

'At the same time,' said Mr. Taper, 'Rigby is a considerable man. If we
want a slashing article - '

'Pooh!' said Mr. Tadpole. 'He is quite gone by. He takes three months
for his slashing articles. Give me the man who can write a leader. Rigby
can't write a leader.'

'Very few can,' said Mr. Taper. 'However, I don't think much of the
press. Its power is gone by. They overdid it.'

'There is Tom Chudleigh,' said Tadpole. 'What is he to have?'

'Nothing, I hope,' said Taper. 'I hate him. A coxcomb! Cracking his
jokes and laughing at us.'

'He has done a good deal for the party, though,' said Tadpole. 'That,
to be sure, is only an additional reason for throwing him over, as he
is too far committed to venture to oppose us. But I am afraid from
something that dropped to-day, that Sir Robert thinks he has claims.'

'We must stop them,' said Taper, growing pale. 'Fellows like Chudleigh,
when they once get in, are always in one's way. I have no objection to
young noblemen being put forward, for they are preferred so rapidly,
and then their fathers die, that in the long run they do not practically
interfere with us.'

'Well, his name was mentioned,' said Tadpole. 'There is no concealing
that.'

'I will speak to Earwig,' said Taper. 'He shall just drop into
Sir Robert's ear by chance, that Chudleigh used to quiz him in the
smoking-room. Those little bits of information do a great deal of good.'

'Well, I leave him to you,' said Tadpole. 'I am heartily with you
in keeping out all fellows like Chudleigh. They are very well for
opposition; but in office we don't want wits.'

'And when shall we have the answer from Knowsley?' inquired Taper. 'You
anticipate no possible difficulty?'

'I tell you it is "carte blanche,"' replied Tadpole. 'Four places in
the cabinet. Two secretaryships at the least. Do you happen to know any
gentleman of your acquaintance, Mr. Taper, who refuses Secretaryships
of State so easily, that you can for an instant doubt of the present
arrangement?'

'I know none indeed,' said Mr. Taper, with a grim smile.

'The thing is done,' said Mr. Tadpole.

'And now for our cry,' said Mr. Taper.

'It is not a Cabinet for a good cry,' said Tadpole; 'but then, on the
other hand, it is a Cabinet that will sow dissension in the opposite
ranks, and prevent them having a good cry.'

'Ancient institutions and modern improvements, I suppose, Mr. Tadpole?'

'Ameliorations is the better word, ameliorations. Nobody knows exactly
what it means.'

'We go strong on the Church?' said Mr. Taper.

'And no repeal of the Malt Tax; you were right, Taper. It can't be
listened to for a moment.'

'Something might be done with prerogative,' said Mr. Taper; 'the King's
constitutional choice.'

'Not too much,' replied Mr. Tadpole. 'It is a raw time yet for
prerogative.'

'Ah! Tadpole,' said Mr. Taper, getting a little maudlin; 'I often think,
if the time should ever come, when you and I should be joint Secretaries
of the Treasury!'

'We shall see, we shall see. All we have to do is to get into
Parliament, work well together, and keep other men down.'

'We will do our best,' said Taper. 'A dissolution you hold inevitable?'

'How are you and I to get into Parliament if there be not one? We must
make it inevitable. I tell you what, Taper, the lists must prove a
dissolution inevitable. You understand me? If the present Parliament
goes on, where shall we be? We shall have new men cropping up every
session.'

'True, terribly true,' said Mr. Taper. 'That we should ever live to see
a Tory government again! We have reason to be very thankful.'

'Hush!' said Mr. Tadpole. 'The time has gone by for Tory governments;
what the country requires is a sound Conservative government.'

'A sound Conservative government,' said Taper, musingly. 'I understand:
Tory men and Whig measures.'




CHAPTER VII.


Amid the contentions of party, the fierce struggles of ambition, and the
intricacies of political intrigue, let us not forget our Eton friends.
During the period which elapsed from the failure of the Duke of
Wellington to form a government in 1832, to the failure of Sir Robert
Peel to carry on a government in 1835, the boys had entered, and
advanced in youth. The ties of friendship which then united several of
them had only been confirmed by continued companionship. Coningsby
and Henry Sydney, and Buckhurst and Vere, were still bound together by
entire sympathy, and by the affection of which sympathy is the only
sure spring. But their intimacies had been increased by another familiar
friend. There had risen up between Coningsby and Millbank mutual
sentiments of deep, and even ardent, regard. Acquaintance had developed
the superior qualities of Millbank. His thoughtful and inquiring mind,
his inflexible integrity, his stern independence, and yet the engaging
union of extreme tenderness of heart with all this strength of
character, had won the goodwill, and often excited the admiration, of
Coningsby. Our hero, too, was gratified by the affectionate deference
that was often shown to him by one who condescended to no other
individual; he was proud of having saved the life of a member of their
community whom masters and boys alike considered; and he ended by loving
the being on whom he had conferred a great obligation.

The friends of Coningsby, the sweet-tempered and intelligent Henry
Sydney, the fiery and generous Buckhurst, and the calm and sagacious
Vere, had ever been favourably inclined to Millbank, and had they not
been, the example of Coningsby would soon have influenced them. He had
obtained over his intimates the ascendant power, which is the destiny
of genius. Nor was this submission of such spirits to be held cheap.
Although they were willing to take the colour of their minds from him,
they were in intellect and attainments, in personal accomplishments and
general character, the leaders of the school; an authority not to be
won from five hundred high-spirited boys without the possession of great
virtues and great talents.

As for the dominion of Coningsby himself, it was not limited to the
immediate circle of his friends. He had become the hero of Eton; the
being of whose existence everybody was proud, and in whose career every
boy took an interest. They talked of him, they quoted him, they imitated
him. Fame and power are the objects of all men. Even their partial
fruition is gained by very few; and that too at the expense of social
pleasure, health, conscience, life. Yet what power of manhood in
passionate intenseness, appealing at the same time to the subject and
the votary, can rival that which is exercised by the idolised chieftain
of a great public school? What fame of after days equals the rapture of
celebrity that thrills the youthful poet, as in tones of rare emotion he
recites his triumphant verses amid the devoted plaudits of the flower
of England? That's fame, that's power; real, unquestioned, undoubted,
catholic. Alas! the schoolboy, when he becomes a man, finds that power,
even fame, like everything else, is an affair of party.

Coningsby liked very much to talk politics with Millbank. He heard
things from Millbank which were new to him. Himself, as he supposed, a
high Tory, which he was according to the revelation of the Rigbys, he
was also sufficiently familiar with the hereditary tenets of his Whig
friend, Lord Vere. Politics had as yet appeared to him a struggle
whether the country was to be governed by Whig nobles or Tory nobles;
and he thought it very unfortunate that he should probably have to enter
life with his friends out of power, and his family boroughs destroyed.
But in conversing with Millbank, he heard for the first time of
influential classes in the country who were not noble, and were yet
determined to acquire power. And although Millbank's views, which were
of course merely caught up from his father, without the intervention of
his own intelligence, were doubtless crude enough, and were often very
acutely canvassed and satisfactorily demolished by the clever prejudices
of another school, which Coningsby had at command, still they were,
unconsciously to the recipient, materials for thought, and insensibly
provoked in his mind a spirit of inquiry into political questions, for
which he had a predisposition.

It may be said, indeed, that generally among the upper boys there might
be observed at this time, at Eton, a reigning inclination for political
discussion. The school truly had at all times been proud of its
statesmen and its parliamentary heroes, but this was merely a
superficial feeling in comparison with the sentiment which now first
became prevalent. The great public questions that were the consequence
of the Reform of the House of Commons, had also agitated their young
hearts. And especially the controversies that were now rife respecting
the nature and character of ecclesiastical establishments, wonderfully
addressed themselves to their excited intelligence. They read their
newspapers with a keen relish, canvassed debates, and criticised
speeches; and although in their debating society, which had been
instituted more than a quarter of a century, discussion on topics of
the day was prohibited, still by fixing on periods of our history when
affairs were analogous to the present, many a youthful orator contrived
very effectively to reply to Lord John, or to refute the fallacies of
his rival.

As the political opinions predominant in the school were what in
ordinary parlance are styled Tory, and indeed were far better entitled
to that glorious epithet than the flimsy shifts which their fathers were
professing in Parliament and the country; the formation and the fall
of Sir Robert Peel's government had been watched by Etonians with great
interest, and even excitement. The memorable efforts which the Minister
himself made, supported only by the silent votes of his numerous
adherents, and contending alone against the multiplied assaults of his
able and determined foes, with a spirit equal to the great occasion, and
with resources of parliamentary contest which seemed to increase
with every exigency; these great and unsupported struggles alone were
calculated to gain the sympathy of youthful and generous spirits. The
assault on the revenues of the Church; the subsequent crusade against
the House of Lords; the display of intellect and courage exhibited
by Lord Lyndhurst in that assembly, when all seemed cowed and
faint-hearted; all these were incidents or personal traits apt to stir
the passions, and create in breasts not yet schooled to repress emotion,
a sentiment even of enthusiasm. It is the personal that interests
mankind, that fires their imagination, and wins their hearts. A cause is
a great abstraction, and fit only for students; embodied in a party, it
stirs men to action; but place at the head of that party a leader who
can inspire enthusiasm, lie commands the world. Divine faculty! Rare and
incomparable privilege! A parliamentary leader who possesses it, doubles
his majority; and he who has it not, may shroud himself in artificial
reserve, and study with undignified arrogance an awkward haughtiness,
but he will nevertheless be as far from controlling the spirit as from
captivating the hearts of his sullen followers.

However, notwithstanding this general feeling at Eton, in 1835, in
favour of 'Conservative principles,' which was, in fact, nothing more
than a confused and mingled sympathy with some great political truths,
which were at the bottom of every boy's heart, but nowhere else; and
with the personal achievements and distinction of the chieftains of
the party; when all this hubbub had subsided, and retrospection, in the
course of a year, had exercised its moralising influence over the
more thoughtful part of the nation, inquiries, at first faint and
unpretending, and confined indeed for a long period to limited, though
inquisitive, circles, began gently to circulate, what Conservative
principles were.

These inquiries, urged indeed with a sort of hesitating scepticism,
early reached Eton. They came, no doubt, from the Universities. They
were of a character, however, far too subtile and refined to exercise
any immediate influence over the minds of youth. To pursue them required
previous knowledge and habitual thought. They were not yet publicly
prosecuted by any school of politicians, or any section of the public
press. They had not a local habitation or a name. They were whispered in
conversation by a few. A tutor would speak of them in an esoteric vein
to a favourite pupil, in whose abilities he had confidence, and whose
future position in life would afford him the opportunity of influencing
opinion. Among others, they fell upon the ear of Coningsby. They were
addressed to a mind which was prepared for such researches.

There is a Library at Eton formed by the boys and governed by the boys;
one of those free institutions which are the just pride of that noble
school, which shows the capacity of the boys for self-government, and
which has sprung from the large freedom that has been wisely conceded
them, the prudence of which confidence has been proved by their rarely
abusing it. This Library has been formed by subscriptions of the present
and still more by the gifts of old Etonians. Among the honoured names of
these donors may be remarked those of the Grenvilles and Lord Wellesley;
nor should we forget George IV., who enriched the collection with a
magnificent copy of the Delphin Classics. The Institution is governed
by six directors, the three first Collegers and the three first Oppidans
for the time being; and the subscribers are limited to the one hundred
senior members of the school.

It is only to be regretted that the collection is not so extensive at
it is interesting and choice. Perhaps its existence is not so generally
known as it deserves to be. One would think that every Eton man would
be as proud of his name being registered as a donor in the Catalogue of
this Library, as a Venetian of his name being inscribed in the Golden
Book. Indeed an old Etonian, who still remembers with tenderness the
sacred scene of youth, could scarcely do better than build a Gothic
apartment for the reception of the collection. It cannot be doubted that
the Provost and fellows would be gratified in granting a piece of ground
for the purpose.

Great were the obligations of Coningsby to this Eton Library. It
introduced him to that historic lore, that accumulation of facts and
incidents illustrative of political conduct, for which he had imbibed an
early relish. His study was especially directed to the annals of his
own country, in which youth, and not youth alone, is frequently so
deficient. This collection could afford him Clarendon and Burnet, and
the authentic volumes of Coxe: these were rich materials for one anxious
to be versed in the great parliamentary story of his country. During
the last year of his stay at Eton, when he had completed his eighteenth
year, Coningsby led a more retired life than previously; he read much,
and pondered with all the pride of acquisition over his increasing
knowledge.

And now the hour has come when this youth is to be launched into a world
more vast than that in which he has hitherto sojourned, yet for which
this microcosm has been no ill preparation. He will become more wise;
will he remain as generous? His ambition may be as great; will it be as
noble? What, indeed, is to be the future of this existence that is now
to be sent forth into the great aggregate of entities? Is it an ordinary
organisation that will jostle among the crowd, and be jostled? Is it a
finer temperament, susceptible of receiving the impressions and imbibing
the inspirations of superior yet sympathising spirits? Or is it a
primordial and creative mind; one that will say to his fellows, 'Behold,
God has given me thought; I have discovered truth, and you shall
believe?'

The night before Coningsby left Eton, alone in his room, before he
retired to rest, he opened the lattice and looked for the last time upon
the landscape before him; the stately keep of Windsor, the bowery meads
of Eton, soft in the summer moon and still in the summer night. He gazed
upon them; his countenance had none of the exultation, that under such
circumstances might have distinguished a more careless glance, eager
for fancied emancipation and passionate for a novel existence. Its
expression was serious, even sad; and he covered his brow with his hand.

END OF BOOK II.




BOOK III.



CHAPTER I.


There are few things more full of delight and splendour, than to travel
during the heat of a refulgent summer in the green district of some
ancient forest.

In one of our midland counties there is a region of this character,
to which, during a season of peculiar lustre, we would introduce the
reader.

It was a fragment of one of those vast sylvan tracts wherein Norman
kings once hunted, and Saxon outlaws plundered; and although the plough
had for centuries successfully invaded brake and bower, the relics
retained all their original character of wildness and seclusion.
Sometimes the green earth was thickly studded with groves of huge and
vigorous oaks, intersected with those smooth and sunny glades, that seem
as if they must be cut for dames and knights to saunter on. Then again
the undulating ground spread on all sides, far as the eye could range,
covered with copse and fern of immense growth. Anon you found yourself
in a turfy wilderness, girt in apparently by dark woods. And when you
had wound your way a little through this gloomy belt, the landscape
still strictly sylvan, would beautifully expand with every combination
and variety of woodland; while in its centre, the wildfowl covered the
waters of a lake, and the deer basked on the knolls that abounded on its



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 9 of 39)