Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 65

Maternal anxiety — The baronet — Little zest — Country life — Mr. Speaker! — The craving — Spirited address — An author.

After a short pause my host resumed his narration. ‘Though I was never sent to school, my education was not neglected on that account; I had tutors in various branches of knowledge, under whom I made a tolerable progress; by the time I was eighteen I was able to read most of the Greek and Latin authors with facility; I was likewise, to a certain degree, a mathematician. I cannot say that I took much pleasure in my studies; my chief aim in endeavouring to accomplish my tasks was to give pleasure to my beloved parent, who watched my progress with anxiety truly maternal. My life at this period may be summed up in a few words: I pursued my studies, roamed about the woods, walked the green lanes occasionally, cast my fly in a trout stream, and sometimes, but not often, rode a-hunting with my uncle. A considerable part of my time was devoted to my mother, conversing with her and reading to her; youthful companions I had none, and as to my mother, she lived in the greatest retirement, devoting herself to the superintendence of my education, and the practice of acts of charity; nothing could be more innocent than this mode of life, and some people say that in innocence there is happiness, yet I can’t say that I was happy. A continual dread overshadowed my mind, it was the dread of my mother’s death. Her constitution had never been strong, and it had been considerably shaken by her last illness; this I knew, and this I saw — for the eyes of fear are marvellously keen. Well, things went on in this way till I had come of age; my tutors were then dismissed, and my uncle the baronet took me in hand, telling my mother that it was high time for him to exert his authority; that I must see something of the world, for that, if I remained much longer with her, I should be ruined. “You must consign him to me,” said he, “and I will introduce him to the world.” My mother sighed and consented; so my uncle the baronet introduced me to the world, took me to horse-races and to London, and endeavoured to make a man of me according to his idea of the term, and in part succeeded. I became moderately dissipated — I say moderately, for dissipation had but little zest for me.

‘In this manner four years passed over. It happened that I was in London in the height of the season with my uncle, at his house; one morning he summoned me into the parlour, he was standing before the fire, and looked very serious. “I have had a letter,” said he; “your mother is very ill.” I staggered, and touched the nearest object to me; nothing was said for two or three minutes, and then my uncle put his lips to my ear and whispered something. I fell down senseless. My mother was . . . I remember nothing for a long time — for two years I was out of my mind; at the end of this time I recovered, or partly so. My uncle the baronet was very kind to me; he advised me to travel, he offered to go with me. I told him he was very kind, but I would rather go by myself. So I went abroad, and saw, amongst other things, Rome and the Pyramids. By frequent change of scene my mind became not happy, but tolerably tranquil. I continued abroad some years, when, becoming tired of travelling, I came home, found my uncle the baronet alive, hearty, and unmarried, as he still is. He received me very kindly, took me to Newmarket, and said that he hoped by this time I was become quite a man of the world; by his advice I took a house in town, in which I lived during the season. In summer I strolled from one watering-place to another; and, in order to pass the time, I became very dissipated.

‘At last I became as tired of dissipation as I had previously been of travelling, and I determined to retire to the country, and live on my paternal estate; this resolution I was not slow in putting into effect; I sold my house in town, repaired and refurnished my country house, and, for at least ten years, lived a regular country life; I gave dinner parties, prosecuted poachers, was charitable to the poor, and now and then went into my library; during this time I was seldom or never visited by the magic impulse, the reason being that there was nothing in the wide world for which I cared sufficiently to move a finger to preserve it. When the ten years, however, were nearly ended, I started out of bed one morning in a fit of horror, exclaiming, “Mercy, mercy! what will become of me? I am afraid I shall go mad. I have lived thirty-five years and upwards without doing anything; shall I pass through life in this manner? Horror!” And then in rapid succession I touched three different objects.

‘I dressed myself and went down, determining to set about something; but what was I to do? — there was the difficulty. I ate no breakfast, but walked about the room in a state of distraction; at last I thought that the easiest way to do something was to get into Parliament, there would be no difficulty in that. I had plenty of money, and could buy a seat; but what was I to do in Parliament? Speak, of course — but could I speak? “I’ll try at once,” said I, and forthwith I rushed into the largest dining-room, and, locking the door, I commenced speaking: “Mr. Speaker,” said I, and then I went on speaking for about ten minutes as I best could, and then I left off, for I was talking nonsense. No, I was not formed for Parliament; I could do nothing there. What — what was I to do?

‘Many, many times I thought this question over, but was unable to solve it; a fear now stole over me that I was unfit for anything in the world, save the lazy life of vegetation which I had for many years been leading; yet, if that were the case, thought I, why the craving within me to distinguish myself? Surely it does not occur fortuitously, but is intended to rouse and call into exercise certain latent powers that I possess? and then with infinite eagerness I set about attempting to discover these latent powers. I tried an infinity of pursuits, botany and geology amongst the rest, but in vain; I was fitted for none of them. I became very sorrowful and despondent, and at one time I had almost resolved to plunge again into the whirlpool of dissipation; it was a dreadful resource, it was true, but what better could I do?

‘But I was not doomed to return to the dissipation of the world. One morning a young nobleman, who had for some time past showed a wish to cultivate my acquaintance, came to me in a considerable hurry. “I am come to beg an important favour of you,” said he; “one of the county memberships is vacant — I intend to become a candidate; what I want immediately is a spirited address to the electors. I have been endeavouring to frame one all the morning, but in vain; I have, therefore, recourse to you as a person of infinite genius; pray, my dear friend, concoct me one by the morning!” “What you require of me,” I replied, “is impossible; I have not the gift of words; did I possess it I would stand for the county myself, but I can’t speak. Only the other day I attempted to make a speech, but left off suddenly, utterly ashamed, although I was quite alone, of the nonsense I was uttering.” “It is not a speech that I want,” said my friend; “I can talk for three hours without hesitating, but I want an address to circulate through the county, and I find myself utterly incompetent to put one together; do oblige me by writing one for me, I know you can; and, if at any time you want a person to speak for you, you may command me not for three but for six hours. Good-morning; tomorrow I will breakfast with you.” In the morning he came again. “Well,” said he, “what success?” “Very poor,” said I; “but judge for yourself”; and I put into his hand a manuscript of several pages. My friend read it through with considerable attention. “I congratulate you,” said he, “and likewise myself; I was not mistaken in my opinion of you; the address is too long by at least two-thirds, or I should rather say, that it is longer by two-thirds than addresses generally are; but it will do — I will not curtail it of a word. I shall win my election.” And in truth he did win his election; and it was not only his own but the general opinion that he owed it to the address.

‘But, however that might be, I had, by writing the address, at last discovered what had so long eluded my search — what I was able to do. I, who had neither the nerve nor the command of speech necessary to constitute the orator — who had not the power of patient research required by those who would investigate the secrets of nature, had, nevertheless, a ready pen and teeming imagination. This discovery decided my fate — from that moment I became an author.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32