Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 1

It was a rich, warm night, at the beginning of August, when a gentleman enveloped in a cloak, for he was in evening dress, emerged from a club-house at the top of St. James’ Street, and descended that celebrated eminence. He had not proceeded more than half way down the street when, encountering a friend, he stopped with some abruptness.

“I have been looking for you everywhere,” he said.

“What is it?”

“We can hardly talk about it here.”

“Shall we go to White’s?”

“I have just left it, and, between ourselves, I would rather we should be more alone. ’Tis as warm as noon. Let us cross the street and get into St. James’ Place. That is always my idea of solitude.”

So they crossed the street, and, at the corner of St. James’ Place, met several gentlemen who had just come out of Brookes’ Club-house. These saluted the companions as they passed, and said, “Capital account from Chiswick — Lord Howard says the chief will be in Downing Street on Monday.”

“It is of Chiswick that I am going to speak to you,” said the gentleman in the cloak, putting his arm in that of his companion as they walked on. “What I am about to tell you is known only to three persons, and is the most sacred of secrets. Nothing but our friendship could authorise me to impart it to you.”

“I hope it is something to your advantage,” said his companion.

“Nothing of that sort; it is of yourself that I am thinking. Since our political estrangement, I have never had a contented moment. From Christ Church, until that unhappy paralytic stroke, which broke up a government that had lasted fifteen years, and might have continued fifteen more, we seemed always to have been working together. That we should again unite is my dearest wish. A crisis is at hand. I want you to use it to your advantage. Know then, that what they were just saying about Chiswick is moonshine. His case is hopeless, and it has been communicated to the King.”

“Hopeless!”

“Rely upon it; it came direct from the Cottage to my friend.”

“I thought he had a mission?” said his companion, with emotion; “and men with missions do not disappear till they have fulfilled them.”

“But why did you think so? How often have I asked you for your grounds for such a conviction! There are none. The man of the age is clearly the Duke, the saviour of Europe, in the perfection of manhood, and with an iron constitution.”

“The salvation of Europe is the affair of a past generation,” said his companion. “We want something else now. The salvation of England should be the subject rather of our present thoughts.”

“England! why when were things more sound? Except the split among our own men, which will be now cured, there is not a cause of disquietude.”

“I have much,” said his friend.

“You never used to have any, Sidney. What extraordinary revelations can have been made to you during three months of office under a semi-Whig Ministry?”

“Your taunt is fair, though it pains me. And I confess to you that when I resolved to follow Canning and join his new allies, I had many a twinge. I was bred in the Tory camp; the Tories put me in Parliament and gave me office; I lived with them and liked them; we dined and voted together, and together pasquinaded our opponents. And yet, after Castlereagh’s death, to whom like yourself I was much attached, I had great misgivings as to the position of our party, and the future of the country. I tried to drive them from my mind, and at last took refuge in Canning, who seemed just the man appointed for an age of transition.”

“But a transition to what?”

“Well, his foreign policy was Liberal.”

“The same as the Duke’s; the same as poor dear Castlereagh’s. Nothing more unjust than the affected belief that there was any difference between them — a ruse of the Whigs to foster discord in our ranks. And as for domestic affairs, no one is stouter against Parliamentary Reform, while he is for the Church and no surrender, though he may make a harmless speech now and then, as many of us do, in favour of the Catholic claims.”

“Well, we will not now pursue this old controversy, my dear Ferrars, particularly if it be true, as you say, that Mr. Canning now lies upon his deathbed.”

“If! I tell you at this very moment it may be all over.”

“I am shaken to my very centre.”

“It is doubtless a great blow to you,” rejoined Mr. Ferrars, “and I wish to alleviate it. That is why I was looking for you. The King will, of course, send for the Duke, but I can tell you there will be a disposition to draw back our friends that left us, at least the younger ones of promise. If you are awake, there is no reason why you should not retain your office.”

“I am not so sure the King will send for the Duke.”

“It is certain.”

“Well,” said his companion musingly, “it may be fancy, but I cannot resist the feeling that this country, and the world generally, are on the eve of a great change — and I do not think the Duke is the man for the epoch.”

“I see no reason why there should be any great change; certainly not in this country,” said Mr. Ferrars. “Here we have changed everything that was required. Peel has settled the criminal law, and Huskisson the currency, and though I am prepared myself still further to reduce the duties on foreign imports, no one can deny that on this subject the Government is in advance of public opinion.”

“The whole affair rests on too contracted a basis,” said his companion. “We are habituated to its exclusiveness, and, no doubt, custom in England is a power; but let some event suddenly occur which makes a nation feel or think, and the whole thing might vanish like a dream.”

“What can happen? Such affairs as the Luddites do not occur twice in a century, and as for Spafields riots, they are impossible now with Peel’s new police. The country is employed and prosperous, and were it not so, the landed interest would always keep things straight.”

“It is powerful, and has been powerful for a long time; but there are other interests besides the landed interest now.”

“Well, there is the colonial interest, and the shipping interest,” said Mr. Ferrars, “and both of them thoroughly with us.”

“I was not thinking of them,” said his companion. “It is the increase of population, and of a population not employed in the cultivation of the soil, and all the consequences of such circumstances that were passing over my mind.”

“Don’t you be too doctrinaire, my dear Sidney; you and I are practical men. We must deal with the existing, the urgent; and there is nothing more pressing at this moment than the formation of a new government. What I want is to see you as a member of it.”

“Ah!” said his companion with a sigh, “do you really think it so near as that?”

“Why, what have we been talking of all this time, my dear Sidney? Clear your head of all doubt, and, if possible, of all regrets; we must deal with the facts, and we must deal with them tomorrow.”

“I still think he had a mission,” said Sidney with a sigh, “if it were only to bring hope to a people.”

“Well, I do not see he could have done anything more,” said Mr. Ferrars, “nor do I believe his government would have lasted during the session. However, I must now say good-night, for I must look in at the Square. Think well of what I have said, and let me hear from you as soon as you can.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19