Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 332, June, 1843 online

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"Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puft up with wind,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in the pitched battle heard
Loud 'larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?"

Why I give the world a sketch of my career through it, is not among the
discoveries which I intend to make. I have been a public man; let those
who know public life imagine what interest may be felt in reviewing the
scenes and struggles of which such a life is full. May there not be a
pleasure in conceiving once again the shapes and circumstances of
things, as one sitting by his fireside sees castles and cottages, men,
women, and children in the embers, and shapes them the better for the
silence and the solitude round him? Let the reader take what reason he
will. I have seen the world, and fought my way through it; have
stumbled, like greater men, have risen, like lesser; have been flung
into the most rapid current of the most hurried, wild, and vivid time
that the world has ever seen - I have _lived_ through the last fifty
years. In all the vigour of my life, I have mingled in some of the
greatest transactions, and been mingled with some of the greatest men,
of my time. Like one who has tumbled down Niagara, and survived the
fall, though I have reached still water, the roar of the cataract is yet
in my ears; and I can even survey it with a fuller gaze, and stronger
sense of its vastness and power, than, when I was rolling down its

I have been soldier, adventurer, traveller, statesman. I have been
lover, husband, father - poor and opulent; obscure and conspicuous. There
are few sensations of our nature, or circumstances of our life, which I
have not undergone. Alternately suffering to the verge of ruin, and
enjoying like an epicurean deity: I have been steeped in poverty to the
lips; I have been surcharged with wealth. I have sacrificed, and
fearfully, to the love of power; I have been disgusted with its
possession. I figured in the great Babel until I loved even its
confusion of tongues; I grew weary of it, until I hated the voice of

Every man is born for a special purpose, and with a special passion. The
multitude, possessing both, exhibit neither; they are flung, or choose
to be flung, into the pond, where they float only to perish, like blind
puppies. But there are others who stem the great tide, and are only the
stronger for the struggle. From my first sense, the passion to be known
and felt, nay, at the expense of being feared, was my impulse. It has
been the impulse of all men who have ever impressed the world. With
great talents it is all-commanding: the thunderbolt in the hands of
Jove. Even with inferior faculties, and I make no pretence of mine, it
singularly excites, urges, and animates. When the prophet saw the
leopard _winged_, he saw a miracle; I claim for my powers only those of
the muscle and sinew.

Ambition was the original passion of my nature. It rose before me, as
the sun ascends before the Indian, until its fire drives him to the
shade. I, too, have been scorched, have shrunk, and now I regret my
shrinking. But time deals alike with all. I can now amuse myself only by
images of the past; and, in the darkness and solitude of years, I take
their Magic Lantern, and replace life by the strange, wild, and
high-coloured extravagances, the ghosts and genii of the phantasmagoria
of ambition.

I was the seventh son of one of the oldest families of England. If I had
been the seventh son of the seventh son, I should, by all the laws of
juggling, have been a conjurer; but I was a generation too early for
fame. My father was an earl, and as proud of his titles as if he had won
them at Crecy or Poictiers, and not in the campaigns of Westminster,
consummated on the backstairs of Whitehall. He had served his country,
as he termed it, in a long succession of Parliaments; and served her
still more, as his country neighbours termed it, by accepting a peerage,
which opened the county to any other representative among the sons of
men. He was a strong-built, stern-countenanced, and haughty-tongued
personage - by some thought a man of sense; by others a fool, with all
his depth, arising from his darkness. My own experience convinced me,
that no man made more of a secret, or thought less of a job. From my
boyhood I own I feared more than honoured him; and as for love, if I had
been more susceptible, mine would have flown round the globe before it
could have fixed on that iron visage. The little love that I could
afford for any human being, was for another and a different order of
existence. Boys have a natural fondness for the mother; and mine was
gentle, timid, and fond. She always parted with me, on my going to
school, as if she had lost a limb, and when I returned, received me as
if she had found a pinion in its place. She perhaps spoiled me by
indulgence, as much as my lord and father spoiled me by severity; but
indulgence is the pleasanter of the two, and I followed the course of
nature, and gave her whatever heart I have. I still remember her. She
was remarkably indebted to nature, at least for externals. She had fine
eyes - large, dark, and sentimental; her dress, which would now be
preposterous, seemed to me, then, the perfection of all taste, and was
in the highest fashion of her time. Her beauty worked miracles; for now
and then I have observed even my father's eye fixed on her, with
something of the admiration which we might conceive in an Esquimaux for
a fixed star, or in an Italian highwayman for some Parian statue which
he had stumbled on in his thickets. But the admiration was soon absorbed
in the job in hand, and he turned away - to scribble to the Minister. Of
the younger portion of the family I shall say but little. Children are
happiest in the nursery, and there I leave them. I had two sisters,
sweet little creatures, one with black eyes and the other with blue.
This is enough for their description. My four brothers were four rough,
bold, well-looking animals, all intended for ambassadors, admirals,
generals, and secretaries of state - for my father had too long tasted of
the honey of official life to think that there was any other food for a
gentleman in the world. He had been suckled for too many years at those
breasts, which, like the bosom of the great Egyptian goddess, pour the
stream of life through whole generations of hangers-on, to believe that
any other fount of existence was to be named but the civil list. I am
strongly inclined to surmise that he would have preferred a pencil,
purloined from the Treasury, to all the cedars of Lebanon.

It may be presumed that I was destined for public life - in other words,
to live on the public; and, to prepare me for the performance of a part,
alternately menial and master - supple as the slave, and superb as the
minister - I was sent to Eton. At this great school of the aristocracy,
would-be and real - barons and dukes _in esse_, and the herald's office
alone, or bedlam, knows what _in posse_, I remained for the customary
number of years. If whoever does me the honour to read these pages,
hates the history of schooldays as much as I do their memory, he will
easily pardon my passing by the topic altogether. If the first purpose
of all great public institutions is to stand still; the great schools of
England, fifty years ago, were righteous adherents to their contract;
they never moved. The world might whirl round them as it would; there
remained the grey milestones, only measuring the speed with which every
thing on the road passed them. This, they say, has largely and
fortunately changed in later years. But the change must proceed; the
venerable cripples must throw by their crutches, and try the effect of
flesh and blood. Flogging and fagging, are the education for a footman;
they disgrace the common sense, and offend the feelings of a manly
people. The pugilist must be expelled, and the puppy must follow him.
The detestable grossness of classical impurity, must be no longer the
price at which Latin "quantities" are to be learned. The last lesson of
the "prodigal son," must not be the first learned by the son of the
gentleman of England - to be fed on the "husks" fit only for the swine.

* * * * *

On my delighted release from this supreme laboratory of statesmen, I
found the state of things considerably altered at Mortimer Castle. I had
left it a stately but rather melancholy-looking household; I found the
mansion glittering in all the novelty of French furniture, gilding, and
_or-molu_ - crowded with fashion, and all its menial tribe, from the
groom in the stables to the gentleman's gentleman, who slipped along the
chambers in soft silence, and seemed an embodying of Etiquette, all in
new equipments of all kinds - the avenue trimmed, until it resembled a
theatrical wood; and the grounds, once sober and silent enough for a
Jacques to escape from the sight of human kind, and hold dialogues with
the deer; now levelled, opened, shorn, and shaved, with the precision of
a retired citizen's elysium.

The heads of the family were equally changed; my mother, unhappily, for
the worse. Her fine eyes beamed with joy as she threw herself upon my
neck, and murmured some of those mingled blessings and raptures which
have a language of their own. But when the first flush was past, I
perceived that the cheek was thin, the eye was hollow and heavy, and the
tremulous motion of her slight hand, as it lay in mine, alarmed me; in
all my ignorance of the frailty of the human frame. But the grand change
was in the Earl. My father, whom I had left rather degenerating into the
shape which three courses and a bottle of claret a-day inflict on
country gentlemen "who live at home at ease," was now braced and laced,
costumed in the newest fashion, and overflowing with exuberant
volatility. He breathed of Bond Street. He welcomed me with an ardour
which astonished, more than delighted, me; Talked fragments of French,
congratulated me on my "_air distingué_," advised me to put myself "_en
grande tenue_;" and, after enchanting me in all kinds of strange ways,
concluded by making an attempt to kiss me on both cheeks, like a true
Frenchman. My Eton recollections enabled me to resist the paternal
embrace; until the wonder was simplified, by the discovery that the
family had but just returned from a continental residence of a couple of
years - a matter of which no letter or word had given me the knowledge at
my school. My next discovery was, that an old uncle had died, and left
us money enough to carry the county; and the last and crowning one was,
that my eldest brother had just been returned for the North Riding.

This was such an accumulation of good-luck as might have thrown any
elderly gentleman off the balance of his gravity. It was like Philip's
three plates at the Greek horse-races, crowned by the birth of
Alexander. If my lordly father had danced the "Minuette de la Cour" over
the marble tesselation of his own hall, I should now not have been
surprised. But, from my first sense, or insensibility, I had felt no
great delight in matters which were to make my own condition neither
better nor worse; and after a remarkably brief period, the showy
_déjeûnés_ and dinners which commemorated the triumphs of the
heir-apparent of our house, grew tiresome to me beyond all count, and I
openly petitioned to be sent to college, or to the world's end.

My petition was listened to with a mixture of contempt for my want of
taste, and astonishment at my presumption. But before the reply had time
to burst out from lips, at no time too retentive, I was told, that at
the end of one week more I should be suffered to take my way; that week
being devoted to a round of especial entertainments in honour of my
brother's election; the whole to be wound up by that most preposterous
of all delights, an amateur play.

To keep a house in commotion, to produce mysterious conversations,
conferences without number, and confidences without end; and to swell
maidens' hearts and milliners' bills, let me recommend an amateur play
in the country. The very mention of it awoke every soul in the Castle;
caps and complexions were matched, and costumes criticised, from morning
till night, among the ladies. The "acting drama" was turned over leaf by
leaf by the gentlemen. The sound of many a heavy tread of many a heavy
student, was heard in the chambers; the gardens were haunted by "the
characters" getting their parts; and the poet's burlesque of those who
"rave, recite, and madden round the land," was realized to the life in
the histrionic labours of the votaries of Thalia and Melpomene, who
ranged the groves of Mortimer Castle.

Then we had all the charming difficulty of fixing on the play. The
dullest and dreariest of our country Rosciuses were uniformly for
comedy; but the fair sex have a leaning to the tragic muse. We had one
or two, who would have had no objection to be piquant in Lady Teazle, or
petulant in Lady Townley; but we had half a dozen Desdemonas and
Ophelias. The soul of an O'Neil was in every one of our party conscious
of a pair of good eyes, a tolerable shape, and the captivation which, in
some way or other, most women in existence contrive to discover in their
own share of the gifts of nature. At length the votes carried it for
Romeo and Juliet. The eventful night came; the _élite_ of the county
poured in, the theatre was crowded; all was expectancy before the
curtain; all was terror, nervousness, and awkwardness behind. The
orchestra performed its flourish, and the curtain rose.

To do the heads of the household justice, they had done their duty as
managers. The theatre, though but a temporary building, projecting from
the ball-room into one of the gardens, was worthy of the very handsome
apartment which formed its vestibule. The skill of a famous London
architect had been exerted on this fairy erection, and Verona itself
had, perhaps, in its palmiest days, seldom exhibited a display of more
luxuriant elegance. The audience, too, so totally different from the
mingled, ill-dressed, and irregular assemblage that fills a city
theatre; blooming girls and showy matrons, range above range, feathered
and flowered, glittering with all the family jewels, and all animated by
the novelty of the scene before them, formed an exhibition which, for
the night, inspired me with the idea, that (strolling excepted) the
stage might not be a bad resource for a man of talents, after all.

But the play was - must I confess it? though I myself figured as the
Romeo - utterly deplorable. The men forgot their parts, and their casual
attempts to recover them made terrible havoc of the harmony of
Shakspeare. The ladies lost their voices, and carried on their loves,
their sorrows, and even their scoldings, in a whisper. Our play
perfectly deserved the criticism of the old gentleman, who, after a
similar performance, being asked which of the personages he liked best,
candidly replied, "the prompter, for of him he had heard the most and
seen the least."

However, every thing has an end; and we had carried Juliet to the tomb
of all the Capulets, the chant was done, and the mourners were gathered
in the green-room. I was standing, book in hand, preparing for the last
agonies of a love very imperfectly committed to memory, when I heard a
slight confusion in the court-yard, and shortly after the rattle of a
post-chaise. The sound subsided, and I was summoned to my post at the
entrance to the place where the lovely Juliet lay entranced. The
pasteboard gate gave way to knocks enforced with an energy which called
down rapturous applause; and in all the tortures of a broken heart,
rewarded by a profusion of handkerchiefs applied to bright eyes, and a
strong scent of hartshorn round the house, I summoned my fair bride to
my arms. There was no reply. I again invoked her; still silent. Her
trance was evidently of the deepest order. I rose from the ground, where
I had been "taking the measure of my unmade grave," and approaching the
bier, ventured to drop a despairing hand upon her pillow. To my utter
surprise, it was vacant. If I had been another Shakspeare, the situation
was a fine one for a display of original genius. But I was paralyzed. A
sense of the general embarrassment was my first impression, and I was
absolutely struck dumb. But this was soon shaken off. My next was a
sense of the particular burlesque of my situation; I burst out into
laughter, in which the whole house joined; and throwing down my mattock,
rushed off the stage. My theatrical dream was broken up for ever.

* * * * *

But weightier matters now absorbed the universal interest. The
disappearance of the heroine from the stage was speedily accounted for
by her flight in the carriage whose wheels had disturbed my study. But
where fled, why, and with whom? We now found other defalcations in our
numbers; the Chevalier Paul Charlatanski, a gallant Polish exile, who
contrived to pass a very pleasant time on the merit of his misfortunes,
a man of enormous mustaches and calamities, was also missing. His valet,
his valise, every atom that ever appertained to him, had vanished; the
clearance was complete. The confusion now thickened. I never saw the
master of the mansion in such a rage before. Pistols and post-chaises
were in instant requisition. He vowed that the honour of his house was
involved in the transaction, and that nothing should tempt him to
slumber until he had brought the fugitive fair one to the arms of her
noble family; my Juliet being the ward of a duke, and being also
entitled to about twenty thousand pounds a-year on her coming of age.

As for the unlucky, or rather the lucky, Chevalier, nothing human ever
received a hotter shower of surmise and sarcasm. That he was "an
impostor, a swindler, a spy," was the Earl's conviction, declared in the
most public manner. The whole body of matrons looked round on their
blooming innocents, as if they had been snatched from the jaws of a
legion of wolves and thanked their own prudence which had not trusted
those men of mustaches within their hall doors. The blooming innocents
responded in filial gratitude, and, with whatever sincerity, thanked
their stars for their fortunate escape.

Still, the Earl's indignation was of so _ultra_ a quality; his revenge
was so fiery, and his tongue so fluent; that I began to suspect he had
other motives than the insulted laws of hospitality. I reached this
discovery, too, in time. The declining health of his partner had made
him speculate on the chances of survivorship. He certainly was no longer
young, and he had never been an Adonis. Yet his glass did not altogether
throw him into the rank of the impracticable. A coronet was a well-known
charm, which had often compensated for every other; in short, he had
quietly theorized himself into the future husband of the ducal ward; and
felt on this occasion as an Earl should, plundered, before his face, of
a clear twenty thousand a-year.

But he was not to suffer alone. On further enquiry, it was ascertained
that the chevalier's valet had not gone with him. This fellow, a
Frenchman, had taken wing in another direction, and carried off his
turtle-dove, too; not one of the full-blown roses of the servant's-hall,
but a rosebud, the daughter of one of the bulkiest squires of the
Riding; a man of countless beeves and blunders; one of our Yorkshire
Nimrods, "a mighty hunter," until club dinners and home-brewed ale tied
him to his arm-chair, and gout made him a man of peace and flannels, the
best thriven weed in the swamps of Yorkshire. The young lady had been
intended for my eldest brother, as a convenient medium of connexion
between two estates, palpably made for matrimony. Thus we received two
mortal blows in one evening; never was family pilfered more
ignominiously; never was amateur play more peevishly catastrophized.

It must be owned, to the credit of "private theatricals," that the play
had no slight share in the plot. The easy intercourse produced by
rehearsals, the getting of tender speeches by heart, the pretty
personalities and allusions growing out of those speeches, the ramblings
through shades and rose-twined parterres, the raptures and romance, all
tend prodigiously to take off the alarm, or instruct the inexperience,
of the female heart. I know no more certain cure for the rigidity that
is supposed to be a barrier. At all events, the Chevalier and his valet,
probably both footmen, alike had profited of their opportunity. Our play
had cost us two elopements; two shots between wind and water, which
threatened to send the ship down; two breakings of that heart which men
carry in their purse. I laughed, and the world laughed also. But I was
then thoughtless, and the world is malicious. My father and the member,
though they had "never told their love," felt the blow "like a worm in
the bud," and from that night I date the family decline.

Of course, the two whiskered vagabonds could not be suffered to carry
off their laurels without an attempt to diminish them, and my father and
brother were too much in earnest in their objects to lose time. In half
an hour, four post-horses to each britchska whirled them off; - my
father, to take the northern road, some hints of Gretna having
transpired in the slipshod secrecy of the servants' hall - my brother, to
pursue on the Dover road, conjecturing, with more sagacity than I had
given him credit for, that as the fox runs round to his earth, the
Frenchman always speeds for Paris.

The company soon dispersed, after having stayed long enough to glean all
that they could of the family misfortune, and fix appointments for every
day in the week to meet each other, and make the most of the whole
transaction. But still a tolerable number of the steadier hands
remained, who, to show their sympathy with us, resolved not to separate
until they received tidings of his lordship's success. I was voted to
the head of the table, more claret was ordered, the wreck of the general
supper was cleared for one of a snugger kind; and we drew our chairs
together. Toast followed toast, and all became communicative. Family
histories, not excepting our own, were now discussed, with a confidence
new to my boyish conjectures. Charlatanski's career abroad and at home
seemed to be as well known as if he had been pilloried in the county
town; the infinite absurdity of the noble duke who suffered him to make
his way under his roof, and the palpable _penchant_ of his ward, next
underwent discussion; until the ignorance of my noble father on the
subject, gave, with me, the death-blow to his penetration. The
prettinesses which had won the primrose heart of my brother's intended
spouse, I found were equally notorious; the Earl's project was as plain
as if he had pronounced it _viva voce_; and before we parted for the
night, which did not occur until the sun was blazing through the
curtains of our banqueting room, I had made up my mind, once for all,
that neither character nor cunning can be concealed in this world; that
the craftiest impostor is but a clumsier kind of clown; and that the
most dexterous disguise is but a waste of time.

I must hasten to the _dénouement_. Our excellent friends indulged us
with their company, and bored us with their society for a mortal week.
But, as Sterne says of the sentimental traveller, scenes of sentiment
are always exhibiting themselves to an appetite eager for knowing what

Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 332, June, 1843 → online text (page 1 of 24)