Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter III.

I own that I am envious of the pleasure you will have in finding yourself more learned than other boys — even those who are older than yourself. What honour this will do you! What distinctions, what applauses will follow wherever you go!

— LORD CHESTERFIELD: Letters to his Son.

Example, my boy — example is worth a thousand precepts.

— MAXIMILIAN SOLEMN.

Tarpeia was crushed beneath the weight of ornaments. The language of the vulgar is a sort of Tarpeia. We have therefore relieved it of as many gems as we were able, and in the foregoing scene presented it to the gaze of our readers simplex munditiis. Nevertheless, we could timidly imagine some gentler beings of the softer sex rather displeased with the tone of the dialogue we have given, did we not recollect how delighted they are with the provincial barbarities of the sister kingdom, whenever they meet them poured over the pages of some Scottish story-teller. As, unhappily for mankind, broad Scotch is not yet the universal language of Europe, we suppose our countrywomen will not be much more unacquainted with the dialect of their own lower orders than with that which breathes nasal melodies over the paradise of the North.

It was the next day, at the hour of twilight, when Mrs. Margery Lobkins, after a satisfactory tete-a-tete with Mr. MacGrawler, had the happiness of thinking that she had provided a tutor for little Paul. The critic having recited to her a considerable portion of Propria qum Maribus, the good lady had no longer a doubt of his capacities for teaching; and on the other hand, when Mrs. Lobkins entered on the subject of remuneration, the Scotsman professed himself perfectly willing to teach any and every thing that the most exacting guardian could require. It was finally settled that Paul should attend Mr. MacGrawler two hours a day; that Mr. MacGrawler should be entitled to such animal comforts of meat and drink as the Mug afforded, and, moreover, to the weekly stipend of two shillings and sixpence — the shillings for instruction in the classics, and the sixpence for all other humanities; or, as Mrs. Lobkins expressed it, “two bobs for the Latin, and a site for the vartue.”

Let not thy mind, gentle reader, censure us for a deviation from probability in making so excellent and learned a gentleman as Mr. Peter MacGrawler the familiar guest of the lady of the Mug. First, thou must know that our story is cast in a period antecedent to the present, and one in which the old jokes against the circumstances of author and of critic had their foundation in truth; secondly, thou must know that by some curious concatenation of circumstances neither bailiff nor bailiff’s man was ever seen within the four walls continent of Mrs. Margery Lobkins; thirdly, the Mug was nearer than any other house of public resort to the abode of the critic; fourthly, it afforded excellent porter; and fifthly, O reader, thou dost Mrs. Margery Lobkins a grievous wrong if thou supposest that her door was only open to those mercurial gentry who are afflicted with the morbid curiosity to pry into the mysteries of their neighbours’ pockets — other visitors, of fair repute, were not unoften partakers of the good matron’s hospitality; although it must be owned that they generally occupied the private room in preference to the public one. And sixthly, sweet reader (we grieve to be so prolix), we would just hint to thee that Mr. MacGrawler was one of those vast-minded sages who, occupied in contemplating morals in the great scale, do not fritter down their intellects by a base attention to minute details. So that if a descendant of Langfanger did sometimes cross the venerable Scot in his visit to the Mug, the apparition did not revolt that benevolent moralist so much as, were it not for the above hint, thy ignorance might lead thee to imagine.

It is said that Athenodorus the Stoic contributed greatly by his conversation to amend the faults of Augustus, and to effect the change visible in that fortunate man after his accession to the Roman empire. If this be true, it may throw a new light on the character of Augustus, and instead of being the hypocrite, he was possibly the convert. Certain it is that there are few vices which cannot be conquered by wisdom; and yet, melancholy to relate, the instructions of Peter MacGrawler produced but slender amelioration in the habits of the youthful Paul. That ingenious stripling had, we have already seen, under the tuition of Ranting Bob, mastered the art of reading — nay, he could even construct and link together certain curious pot-hooks, which himself and Mrs. Lobkins were wont graciously to term “writing.” So far, then, the way of MacGrawler was smoothed and prepared.

But, unhappily, all experienced teachers allow that the main difficulty is not to learn, but to unlearn; and the mind of Paul was already occupied by a vast number of heterogeneous miscellanies which stoutly resisted the ingress either of Latin or of virtue. Nothing could wean him from an ominous affection for the history of Richard Turpin; it was to him what, it has been said, the Greek authors should be to the Academician — a study by day, and a dream by night. He was docile enough during lessons, and sometimes even too quick in conception for the stately march of Mr. MacGrawler’s intellect. But it not unfrequently happened that when that gentleman attempted to rise, he found himself, like the Lady in “Comus,” adhering to —

“A venomed seat Smeared with gums of glutinous heat;”

or his legs had been secretly united under the table, and the tie was not to be broken without overthrow to the superior powers. These, and various other little sportive machinations wherewith Paul was wont to relieve the monotony of literature, went far to disgust the learned critic with his undertaking. But “the tape” and the treasury of Mrs. Lobkins re-smoothed, as it were, the irritated bristles of his mind, and he continued his labours with this philosophical reflection: “Why fret myself? If a pupil turns out well, it is clearly to the credit of his master; if not, to the disadvantage of himself.” Of course, a similar suggestion never forced itself into the mind of Dr. Keate [A celebrated principal of Eton]. At Eton the very soul of the honest headmaster is consumed by his zeal for the welfare of the little gentlemen in stiff cravats.

But to Paul, who was predestined to enjoy a certain quantum of knowledge, circumstances happened, in the commencement of the second year of his pupilage, which prodigiously accelerated the progress of his scholastic career.

At the apartment of MacGrawler, Paul one morning encountered Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, a young man of great promise, who pursued the peaceful occupation of chronicling in a leading newspaper “Horrid Murders,” “Enormous Melons,” and “Remarkable Circumstances.” This gentleman, having the advantage of some years’ seniority over Paul, was slow in unbending his dignity; but observing at last the eager and respectful attention with which the stripling listened to a most veracious detail of five men being inhumanly murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by the Reverend Zedekiah Fooks Barnacle, he was touched by the impression he had created, and shaking Paul graciously by the hand, he told him there was a deal of natural shrewdness in his countenance, and that Mr. Augustus Tomlinson did not doubt but that he (Paul) might have the honour to be murdered himself one of these days. “You understand me,” continued Mr. Augustus — “I mean murdered in effigy — assassinated in type — while you yourself, unconscious of the circumstance, are quietly enjoying what you imagine to be your existence. We never kill common persons — to say truth, our chief spite is against the Church; we destroy bishops by wholesale. Sometimes, indeed, we knock off a leading barrister or so, and express the anguish of the junior counsel at a loss so destructive to their interests. But that is only a stray hit, and the slain barrister often lives to become Attorney–General, renounce Whig principles, and prosecute the very Press that destroyed him. Bishops are our proper food; we send them to heaven on a sort of flying griffin, of which the back is an apoplexy, and the wings are puffs. The Bishop of —— whom we despatched in this manner the other day, being rather a facetious personage, wrote to remonstrate with us thereon, observing that though heaven was a very good translation for a bishop, yet that in such cases he preferred ‘the original to the translation.’ As we murder bishop, so is there another class of persons whom we only afflict with lethiferous diseases. This latter tribe consists of his Majesty and his Majesty’s ministers. Whenever we cannot abuse their measures, we always fall foul on their health. Does the king pass any popular law, we immediately insinuate that his constitution is on its last legs. Does the minister act like a man of sense, we instantly observe, with great regret, that his complexion is remarkably pale. There is one manifest advantage in diseasinq people, instead of absolutely destroying them: the public may flatly contradict us in one case, but it never can in the other; it is easy to prove that a man is alive, but utterly impossible to prove that he is in health. What if some opposing newspaper take up the cudgels in his behalf, and assert that the victim of all Pandora’s complaints, whom we send tottering to the grave, passes one half the day in knocking up a ‘distinguished company’ at a shooting-party, and the other half in outdoing the same ‘distinguished company’ after dinner? What if the afflicted individual himself write us word that he never was better in his life? We have only mysteriously to shake our heads and observe that to contradict is not to prove, that it is little likely that our authority should have been mistaken, and (we are very fond of an historical comparison), beg our readers to remember that when Cardinal Richelieu was dying, nothing enraged him so much as hinting that he was ill. In short, if Horace is right, we are the very princes of poets; for I dare say, Mr. MacGrawler, that you — and you, too, my little gentleman, perfectly remember the words of the wise old Roman —

“‘Ille per extentum funem mihi posse videtur

Ire poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit,

Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet.’”

[“He appears to me to be, to the fullest extent, a poet who airily torments my breast, irritates, soothes, fills it with unreal terrors.”]

Having uttered this quotation with considerable self-complacency, and thereby entirely completed his conquest over Paul, Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, turning to MacGrawler, concluded his business with that gentleman — which was of a literary nature, namely, a joint composition against a man who, being under five-and-twenty, and too poor to give dinners, had had the impudence to write a sacred poem. The critics were exceedingly bitter at this; and having very little to say against the poem, the Court journals called the author a “coxcomb,” and the liberal ones “the son of a pantaloon!”

There was an ease, a spirit, a life about Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, which captivated the senses of our young hero; then, too, he was exceedingly smartly attired — wore red heels and a bag — had what seemed to Paul quite the air of a “man of fashion;” and, above all, he spouted the Latin with a remarkable grace!

Some days afterwards, MacGrawler sent our hero to Mr. Tomlinson’s lodgings, with his share of the joint abuse upon the poet.

Doubly was Paul’s reverence for Mr. Augustus Tomlinson increased by a sight of his abode. He found him settled in a polite part of the town, in a very spruce parlour, the contents of which manifested the universal genius of the inhabitant. It hath been objected unto us, by a most discerning critic, that we are addicted to the drawing of “universal geniuses.” We plead Not Guilty in former instances; we allow the soft impeachment in the instance of Mr. Augustus Tomlinson. Over his fireplace were arranged boxing-gloves and fencing foils; on his table lay a cremona and a flageolet. On one side of the wall were shelves containing the Covent Garden Magazine, Burn’s Justice, a pocket Horace, a Prayer–Book, Excerpta ex Tacito, a volume of plays, Philosophy made Easy, and a Key to all Knowledge. Furthermore, there were on another table a riding-whip and a driving-whip and a pair of spurs, and three guineas, with a little mountain of loose silver. Mr. Augustus was a tall, fair young man, with a freckled complexion, green eyes and red eyelids, a smiling mouth, rather under-jawed, a sharp nose, and a prodigiously large pair of ears. He was robed in a green damask dressing-gown; and he received the tender Paul most graciously.

There was something very engaging about our hero. He was not only good-looking, and frank in aspect, but he had that appearance of briskness and intellect which belongs to an embryo rogue. Mr. Augustus Tomlinson professed the greatest regard for him — asked him if he could box, made him put on a pair of gloves, and very condescendingly knocked him down three times successively. Next he played him, both upon his flageolet and his cremona, some of the most modish airs. Moreover, he sang him a little song of his own composing. He then, taking up the driving-whip, flanked a fly from the opposite wall, and throwing himself (naturally fatigued with his numerous exertions) on his sofa, observed, in a careless tone, that he and his friend Lord Dunshunner were universally esteemed the best whips in the metropolis. “I,” quoth Mr. Augustus, “am the best on the road; but my lord is a devil at turning a corner.”

Paul, who had hitherto lived too unsophisticated a life to be aware of the importance of which a lord would naturally be in the eyes of Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, was not so much struck with the grandeur of the connection as the murderer of the journals had expected. He merely observed, by way of compliment, that Mr. Augustus and his companion seemed to be “rolling kiddies.”

A little displeased with this metaphorical remark — for it may be observed that “rolling kiddy” is, among the learned in such lore, the customary expression for “a smart thief,”— the universal Augustus took that liberty to which by his age and station, so much superior to those of Paul, he imagined himself entitled, and gently reproved our hero for his indiscriminate use of flash phrases.

“A lad of your parts,” said he — “for I see you are clever, by your eye — ought to be ashamed of using such vulgar expressions. Have a nobler spirit, a loftier emulation, Paul, than that which distinguishes the little ragamuffins of the street. Know that in this country genius and learning carry everything before them; and if you behave yourself properly, you may, one day or another, be as high in the world as myself.”

At this speech Paul looked wistfully round the spruce parlour, and thought what a fine thing it would be to be lord of such a domain, together with the appliances of flageolet and cremona, boxing-gloves, books, fly-flanking flagellum, three guineas, with the little mountain of silver, and the reputation — shared only with Lord Dunshunner — of being the best whip in London.

“Yes,” continued Tomlinson, with conscious pride, “I owe my rise to myself. Learning is better than house and land. ‘Doctrina sed vim,’ etc. You know what old Horace says? Why, sir, you would not believe it; but I was the man who killed his Majesty the King of Sardinia in our yesterday’s paper. Nothing is too arduous for genius. Fag hard, my boy, and you may rival (for the thing, though difficult, may not be impossible) Augustus Tomlinson!”

At the conclusion of this harangue, a knock at the door being heard, Paul took his departure, and met in the hall a fine-looking person dressed in the height of the fashion, and wearing a pair of prodigiously large buckles in his shoes. Paul looked, and his heart swelled. “I may rival,” thought he — “those were his very words — I may rival (for the thing, though difficult, is not impossible) Augustus Tomlinson!” Absorbed in meditation, he went silently home. The next day the memoirs of the great Turpin were committed to the flames, and it was noticeable that henceforth Paul observed a choicer propriety of words, that he assumed a more refined air of dignity, and that he paid considerably more attention than heretofore to the lessons of Mr. Peter MacGrawler. Although it must be allowed that our young hero’s progress in the learned languages was not astonishing, yet an early passion for reading, growing stronger and stronger by application, repaid him at last with a tolerable knowledge of the mother-tongue. We must, however, add that his more favourite and cherished studies were scarcely of that nature which a prudent preceptor would have greatly commended. They lay chiefly among novels, plays, and poetry — which last he affected to that degree that he became somewhat of a poet himself. Nevertheless these literary avocations, profitless as they seemed, gave a certain refinement to his tastes which they were not likely otherwise to have acquired at the Mug; and while they aroused his ambition to see something of the gay life they depicted, they imparted to his temper a tone of enterprise and of thoughtless generosity which perhaps contributed greatly to counteract those evil influences towards petty vice to which the examples around him must have exposed his tender youth. But, alas! a great disappointment to Paul’s hope of assistance and companionship in his literary labours befell him. Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, one bright morning, disappeared, leaving word with his numerous friends that he was going to accept a lucrative situation in the North of England. Notwithstanding the shock this occasioned to the affectionate heart and aspiring temper of our friend Paul, it abated not his ardour in that field of science which it seemed that the distinguished absentee had so successfully cultivated. By little and little, he possessed himself (in addition to the literary stores we have alluded to) of all it was in the power of the wise and profound Peter MacGrawler to impart unto him; and at the age of sixteen he began (oh the presumption of youth!) to fancy himself more learned than his master.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31