Charles James Lever.

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Produced by David Widger






THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE

By Charles James Lever

With Illustrations By Phiz.

In Two Volumes

Vol. I.

Boston: Little, Brown, And Company

1899.



TO ALEXANDER SPENCER, ESQ.

If the public would only prove as indulgent to the faults and demerits
of this volume as You have ever been to those of him who wrote it, I
should be as sanguine of its success as I am now happy in dedicating it
to the Oldest Friend I

HAVE IN THE WORLD.

Ever yours, most affectionately,

Charles Lever.

Schloss-Riedenburg, Tyrol,

June 20, 1847.




PREFACE.

I wrote this story in the Tyrol. The accident of my residence there was
in this wise: I had travelled about the Continent for a considerable
time in company with my family with my own horses. Our carriage was a
large and comfortable calèche, and our team, four horses; the leaders
of which, well-bred and thriving-looking, served as saddle horses when
needed.

There was something very gypsy-like in this roving, uncertain existence,
that had no positive bent or limit, and left every choice of place an
open question, that gave me intense enjoyment. It opened to me views of
Continental life, scenery, people and habits I should certainly never
have attained to by other modes of travel.

Not only were our journeys necessarily short each day, but we frequently
sojourned in little villages, and out-of-the-world spots, where, if
pleased by the place itself, and the accommodation afforded, we would
linger on for days, having at our disposal the total liberty of our
time, and all our nearest belongings around us.

In the course of these rambles we had arrived at the town of Bregenz,
on the Lake of Constance; where the innkeeper, to whom I was known,
accosted me with all the easy freedom of his calling, and half-jestingly
alluded to my mode of travelling as a most unsatisfactory and wasteful
way of life, which could never turn out profitably to myself or to mine.
From the window where we were standing as we talked, I could descry the
tall summit of an ancient castle, or schloss, about two miles away;
and rather to divert my antagonist from his argument than with any more
serious purpose, I laughingly told my host, if he could secure me such
a fine old chateau as that I then looked at, I should stable my nags and
rest where I was. On the following day, thinking of nothing less than
my late conversation, the host entered my room to assure me that he had
been over to the castle, had seen the baron, and learned that he would
have no objection to lease me his chateau, provided I took it for a
fixed term, and with all its accessories, not only of furniture but cows
and farm requisites. One of my horses, accidentally pricked in shoeing,
had obliged me at the moment to delay a day or two at the inn, and
for want of better to do, though without the most remote intention
of becoming a tenant of the castle, I yielded so far to my host's
solicitation, - to walk over and see it.

If the building itself was far from faultless it was spacious and
convenient, and its position on a low hill in the middle of a lawn finer
than anything I can convey; the four sides of the schloss commanding
four distinct and perfectly dissimilar views. By the north it looked
over a wooded plain, on which stood the Convent of Mehreran; and beyond
this, the broad expanse of the Lake of Constance. The south opened a
view towards the Upper Rhine, and the valley that led to the Via Mala.
On the east you saw the Gebhardsberg and its chapel, and the lovely
orchards that bordered Bregenz; while to the west rose the magnificent
Lenten and the range of the Swiss Alps, - their summits lost in the
clouds.

I was so enchanted by the glorious panorama around me, and so carried
away by the thought of a life of quiet labor and rest in such a spot,
that after hearing a very specious account of the varied economies I
should secure by this choice of a residence, and the resources I should
have in excursions on all sides, that I actually contracted to take the
chateau, and became master of the Rieden Schloss from that day.

Having thus explained by what chance I came to pitch my home in this
little-visited spot, I have no mind to dwell further on my Tyrol
experiences than as they concern the story which I wrote there.

If the scene in which I was living, the dress of the peasants, the daily
ways and interests had been my prompters, I could not have addressed
myself to an Irish theme; but long before I had come to settle at
Predeislarg, when wandering amongst the Rhine villages, on the vine-clad
slopes of the Bergstrasse, I had been turning over in my mind the Union
period of Ireland as the era for a story. It was a time essentially
rich in the men we are proud of as a people, and peculiarly abounding
in traits of self-denial and devotion which, in the corruption of a few,
have been totally lost sight of; the very patriotism of the time having
been stigmatized as factious opposition, or unreasoning resistance to
wiser counsels. That nearly every man of ability in the land was against
the Minister, that not only all the intellect of Ireland, but all the
high spirit of its squirearchy, and the generous impulses of its people,
were opposed to the Union, - there is no denying. If eloquent appeal and
powerful argument could have saved a nation, Henry Grattan or Plunkett
would not have spoken in vain; but the measure was decreed before it
was debated, and the annexation of Ireland was made a Cabinet decision
before it came to Irishmen to discuss it.

I had no presumption to imagine I could throw any new light on the
history of the period, or illustrate the story of the measure by any
novel details; but I thought it would not be uninteresting to sketch the
era itself; what aspect society presented; how the country gentleman of
the time bore himself in the midst of solicitations and temptings the
most urgent and insidious; what, in fact, was the character of that man
whom no national misfortunes could subdue, no Ministerial blandishments
corrupt; of him, in short, that an authority with little bias to the
land of his birth has called, - _The First Gentleman of Europe_.

I know well, I feel too acutely, how inadequately I have pictured what I
desired to paint; but even now, after the interval of years, I look
back on my poor attempt with the satisfaction of one whose aim was not
ignoble. A longer and deeper experience of life has succeeded to the
time since I wrote this story, but in no land nor amongst any people
have I ever found the type of what we love to emblematize by the word
Gentleman, so distinctly marked out as in the educated and travelled
Irishman of that period. The same unswerving fidelity of friendship, the
same courageous devotion to a cause, the same haughty contempt for all
that was mean or unworthy; these, with the lighter accessories of genial
temperament, joyous disposition, and a chivalrous respect for women,
made up what I had at least in my mind when I tried to present to my
readers my Knight of Gwynne.

That my character of him was not altogether ideal, I can give no better
proof than the fact that during the course of the publication I received
several letters from persons unknown to me, asking whether I had not
drawn my portrait from this or that original, several concurring in
the belief that I had taken as my model The Knight of Kerry, whose
qualities, I am well assured, fully warranted the suspicion.

For my attempt to paint the social habits of the period, I had but to
draw on my memory. In my boyish days I had heard much of that day, and
was familiar with most of the names of its distinguished men. Anecdotes
of Henry Grattan, Flood, Parsons, Ponsonby, and Curran jostled in my
mind with stories of their immediate successors, the Bushes and the
Plunketts, whose fame has come down to the very day we live in. As a
boy, it was my fortune to listen to the narratives of the men who had
been actors in the events of that exciting era, and who could even show
me in modern Dublin the scenes where memorable events occurred, and not
unfrequently the very houses where celebrated convivialities occurred.
And thus from Drogheda Street, the modern Sackville Street, where the
beaux of the day lounged in all their bravery, to the Circular road,
where a long file of carriages, six in hand, evidenced the luxury and
tone of display of the capital. I was deeply imbued with the features
of the time, and ransacked the old newspapers and magazines with a zest
which only great familiarity with the names of the leading characters
could have inspired.

Though I have many regrets on the same score, there is no period of my
life in which I have the same sorrow for not having kept some sort of
note-book, instead of trusting to a memory most fatally unretentive
and uncertain. Through this omission I have lost traces of innumerable
epigrams, and _jeux d'esprit_ of a time that abounded in such effusions,
and even where my memory has occasionally relieved the effort, I have
forgotten the author. To give an instance, the witty lines, -

"With a name that is borrowed, a title that 's bought,
Sir William would fain be a gentleman thought;
His wit is but cunning, his courage but vapor,
His pride is but money, his money but paper:" -

which, wrongfully attributed to a political leader in the Irish house,
were in reality written by Lovel Edgeworth on the well-known Sir William
Gladowes, who became Lord Newcomen; and the verse was not only poetry
but prophecy, for in his bankruptcy some years afterwards the sarcasm
became fact, - "his money was but paper."

This circumstance of the authorship was communicated to me by Miss Maria
Edgeworth, whose letter was my first step in acquaintance with her, and
gave me a pleasure and a pride which long years have not been able to
obliterate.

I remember in that letter her having told me how she was in the habit
of reading my story aloud to the audience of her nephews and nieces; a
simple announcement that imparted such a glow of proud delight to me,
that I can yet recall the courage with which I resumed the writing of my
tale, and the hope it suggested of my being able one day to win a place
of honor amongst those who, like herself, had selected Irish traits as
the characteristics to adorn fiction.

For Con Heffernan I had an original. For Bagenal Daly, too, I was not
without a model. His sister is purely imaginary, but that she is not
unreal I am bold enough to hope, since several have assured me that they
know where I found my type. In my brief sketch of Lord Castlereagh I was
not, I need scarcely say, much aided by the journals and pamphlets
of the time, where his character and conduct were ruthlessly and most
falsely assailed. It was my fortune, however, to have possessed the
close intimacy of one who had acted as his private secretary, and whose
abilities have since raised him to high station and great employment;
and from him I came to know the real nature of one of the ablest
statesmen of his age, as he was one of the most attractive companions,
and most accomplished gentlemen. I have no vain pretence to believe
that by my weak and unfinished sketch I have in any way vindicated the
Minister who carried the Union against the attacks of his opponents, but
I have tried at least to represent him such as he was in the society of
his intimates; his gay and cheerful temperament, his frank nature, and
what least the world is disposed to concede to him, his sincere belief
in the honesty of men whose convictions were adverse to him, and who
could not be won over to his opinions.

I have not tried to conceal the gross corruption of an era which remains
to us as a national shame, but I would wish to lay stress on the fact
that not a few resisted offers and temptations, which to men struggling
with humble fortune, and linked for life with the fate of the weaker
country, must redound to their high credit. All the nobler their
conduct, as around them on every side were the great names of the land
trafficking for title and place, and shamelessly demanding office for
their friends and relatives as the price of their own adhesion.

For that degree of intimacy which I have represented as existing
between Bagenal Daly and Freney the robber, I have been once or twice
reprehended as conveying a false and unreal view of the relations of
the time; but the knowledge I myself had of Freney, his habits and his
exploits, were given to me by a well-known and highly-connected Irish
gentleman, who represented a county in the Irish Parliament, and was a
man of unblemished honor, conspicuous alike in station and ability. And
there is still, and once the trait existed more remarkably in Ireland, a
wonderful sympathy between all classes and conditions of people: so that
the old stories and traditions that amuse the crouching listener round
the hearth of the cottage, find their way into luxurious drawing-rooms;
and by their means a brotherhood of sentiment was maintained between the
highest class in the land and the humblest peasant who labored for his
daily bread.

I tried to display the effect of this strange teaching on the mind of a
cultivated gentleman when describing the Knight of Gwynne. I endeavored
to show the "Irishry" of his nature was no other than the play of those
qualities by which he appreciated his countrymen and was appreciated by
them. So powerful is this sympathy, and so strong the sense of national
humor through all classes of the people, that each is able to entertain
a topic from the same point of view as his neighbor, and the subtle
_équivoque_ in the polished witticism that amuses the gentleman is never
lost on the untutored ear of the unlettered peasant. Is there any other
land of which one can say as much?

If this great feature of attractiveness pertains to the country and adds
to its adaptiveness as the subject of fiction, I cannot but feel that to
un-Irish ears it is necessary to make an explanation which will serve to
show that which would elsewhere imply a certain blending of station
and condition, is here but a proof of that widespread understanding by
which, however divided by race, tradition, and religion, we are always
able to appeal to certain sympathies and dispositions in common, and
feel the tie of a common country.

At the period in which I have placed this story the rivalry between
the two nations was, with all its violence, by no means ungenerous.
No contemptuous estimate of Irishmen formed the theme of English
journalism; and between the educated men of both countries there was
scarcely a jealousy that the character which political contest assumed
later on, changed much of this spirit and dyed nationalities with an
amount of virulence which, with all its faults and all its shortcomings,
we do not find in the times of the Knight of Gwynne.

CHARLES LEVER.

Trieste, 1872.





THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.




CHAPTER I. A FIRESIDE GROUP

It was exactly forty-five years ago that a group, consisting of three
persons, drew their chairs around the fire of a handsome dinner-room
in Merrion Square, Dublin. The brilliantly lighted apartment, the table
still cumbered with decanters and dessert, and the sideboard resplendent
with a gorgeous service of plate, showed that the preparations had
been made for a much larger party, the last of whom had just taken his
departure.

Of the three who now drew near the cheerful blaze, more intent, as it
seemed, on confidential intercourse than the pleasures of the table, he
who occupied the centre was a tall and singularly handsome man, of some
six or seven-and-twenty years of age. His features, perfectly classical
in their regularity, conveyed the impression of one of a cold and
haughty temperament, unmoved by sudden impulse, but animated by a spirit
daringly ambitious. His dress was in the height of the then mode, and he
wore it with the air of a man of fashion and elegance.

This was Lord Castlereagh, the youthful Secretary for Ireland, one whose
career was then opening with every promise of future distinction.

At his right hand sat, or rather lounged, in all the carelessness
of habitual indolence, a young man some years his junior, his dark
complexion and eyes, his aquiline features, and short, thin upper lip
almost resembling a Spanish face.

His dress was the uniform of the Foot Guards, - a costume which well
became him, and set off to the fullest advantage a figure of perfect
symmetry. A manner of careless inattention in which he indulged,
contrasted strongly with the quick impatience of his dark glances and
the eager rapidity of his utterance when momentarily excited; for
the Honorable Dick Forester was only cool by training, and not by
temperament, and, at the time we speak of, his worldly education was
scarcely more than well begun.

The third figure - strikingly unlike the other two - was a man of fifty or
thereabouts, short and plethoric. His features, rosy and sensual, were
lit up by two gray eyes whose twinkle was an incessant provocative to
laughter. The mouth was, however, the great index to his character. It
was large and full, the under lip slightly projecting, - a circumstance
perhaps acquired in the long habit of a life where the tasting function
had been actively employed; for Con Heffernan was a gourmand of the
first water, and the most critical judge of a vintage the island could
boast. Two fingers of either hand were inserted in the capacious pockets
of a white vest, while, his head jauntily leaning to one side, he sat
the very ideal of self-satisfied ease and contentment. The _aplomb_ - why
should there be a French word for an English quality? - he possessed was
not the vulgar ease of a presuming or underbred man, - far from it;
it was the impress of certain gifts which gave him an acknowledged
superiority in the society he moved in. He was shrewd, without
over-caution; he was ready-witted, but never rash; he possessed that
rare combination of quick intelligence with strong powers of judgment;
and, above all, he knew men, or at least such specimens of the race as
came before him in a varied life, well and thoroughly.

If he had a weak point in his character, it was a love of
popularity, - not that vulgar mob-worship which some men court and seek
after; no, it was the estimation of his own class and set he desired to
obtain. He was proud of his social position, and nervously sensitive in
whatever might prejudice or endanger it. His enemies - and Con was too
able a man not to have made some - said that his low origin was the
secret of his nature; that his ambiguous position in society demanded
exertions uncalled for from others less equivocally circumstanced; and
that Mr. Heffernan was, in secret, very far from esteeming the high and
titled associates with whom his daily life brought him in contact. If
this were the case, he was assuredly a consummate actor. No man ever
went through a longer or more searching trial unscathed, nor could an
expression be quoted, or an act mentioned, in which he derogated, even
for a moment, from the habits of "his order."

"You never did the thing better in your life, my Lord," said Con, as the
door closed upon the last departing guest. "You hit off Jack Massy to
perfection; and as for Watson, though he said nothing at the time,
I 'll wager my roan cob against Deane Moore's hackney - long odds,
I fancy - that you find him at the Treasury to-morrow morning, with a sly
request for five minutes' private conversation."

"I'm of your mind, Heffernan. I saw that he took the bait, - indeed, to
do the gentlemen justice, they are all open to conviction."

"You surely cannot blame them," said Con, "if they take a more
conciliating view of your Lordship's opinions when assisted by such
claret as this: this is old '72, if I mistake not."

"They sold it to me as such; but I own to you I 'm the poorest
connoisseur in the world as regards wine. Some one remarked this evening
that the '95 was richer in bouquet."

"It was Edward Harvey, my Lord. I heard him; but that was the year he
got his baronetcy, and he thinks the sun never shone so brightly
before; his father was selling Balbriggan stockings when this grape was
ripening, and now, the son has more than one foot on the steps of the
peerage." This was said with a short, quick glance beneath the eyelids,
and evidently more as a feeler than with any strong conviction of its
accuracy.

"No Government can afford to neglect its supporters, and the
acknowledgments must be proportioned to the sacrifices, as well as to
the abilities of the individuals who second it."

"By Jove! if these gentlemen are in the market," said Forester, who
broke silence for the first time, "I don't wonder at their price being a
high one; in consenting to the 'Union,' they are virtually voting their
own annihilation."

"By no means," said the Secretary, calmly; "the field open to their
ambition is imperial, and not provincial; the English Parliament will
form an arena for the display of ability as wide surely as this of
Dublin. Men of note and capacity will not be less rewarded: the losers
will be the small talkers, county squires of noisy politics, and crafty
lawyers of no principles; they will, perhaps, be obliged to remain at
home and look after their own affairs; but will the country be the worse
for that, while the advantages to trade and commerce are inconceivable?"

"I agree with you there," said Con; "we are likely to increase our
exports, by sending every clever fellow out of the country."

"Why not, if the market be a better one?"

"Would n't you spare us a few luxuries for home consumption?" said Con,
as he smacked his lips and looked at his glass through the candle.

His Lordship paid no attention to the remark, but, taking a small tablet
from his waistcoat-pocket, seemed to study its contents. "Are we certain
of Cuffe; is he pledged to us, Heffernan?"

"Yes, my Lord, he has no help for it; we are sure of him; he owes the
Crown eleven thousand pounds, and says the only ambition he possesses is
to make the debt twelve, and never pay it."

"What of that canting fellow from the North, - New-land?"

"He accepts your terms conditionally, my Lord," said Con, with a sly
roll of his eye. "If the arguments are equal to your liberality, he will
vote for you; but as yet he does not _see_ the advantages of a Union."

"Not _see_ them!" said Lord Castlereagh, with a look of irony; "why did
you not let him look at them from your own windows, Heffernan? The view
is enchanting for the Barrack Department."

"The poor man is short-sighted," said Con, with a sigh, "and never could
stretch his vision beyond the Custom House."

"Be it so, in the devil's name; a commissioner more or less shall never,
stop us!"

"What a set of rascals," muttered Forester between his teeth, as he
tossed off a bumper to swallow his indignation.

"Well, Forester, what of your mission? Have you heard from your friend
Darcy?"

"Yes; I have his note here. He cannot come over just now, but he has
given me an introduction to his father, and pledges himself I shall be
well received."

"What Darcy is that?" said Heffernan.

"The Knight of Gwynne," said his Lordship; "do you know him?"

"I believe, my Lord, there is not a gentleman in Ireland who could not
say yes to that question; while west of the Shannon, Maurice Darcy is a
name to swear by."

"We want such a man much," said the Secretary, in a low, distinct
utterance; "some well-known leader of public opinion is of great
value just now. How does he vote usually? I don't see his name in the
divisions."

"Oh, he rarely comes up to town, never liked Parliament; but when he
did attend the House, he usually sat with the Opposition, but, without
linking himself to party, spoke and voted independently, and, strange
to say, made considerable impression by conduct which in any other man
would have proved an utter failure."

"Did he speak well, then?"

"For the first five minutes you could think of nothing but his look
and appearance; he was the handsomest man in the House, a little
too particular, perhaps, in dress, but never finical; as he went on,
however, the easy fluency of his language, the grace and elegance of
his style, and the frank openness of his statements, carried his hearers
with him; and many who were guarded enough against the practised power
of the great speakers were entrapped by the unstudied, manly tone of the
Knight of Gwynne. You say truly, he would be a great card in your hands
at this time."

"We must have him at his own price, if he has one. Is he rich?"



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 1 of 34)