Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 20

Mr. Rodney would have accompanied Endymion to Somerset House under any circumstances, but it so happened that he had reasons of his own for a visit to that celebrated building. He had occasion to see a gentleman who was stationed there. “Not,” as he added to Endymion, “that I know many here, but at the Treasury and in Downing Street I have several acquaintances.”

They separated at the door in the great quadrangle which led to the department to which Endymion was attached, and he contrived in due time to deliver to a messenger a letter addressed to his future chief. He was kept some time in a gloomy and almost unfurnished waiting-room, and his thoughts in a desponding mood were gathering round the dear ones who were distant, when he was summoned, and, following the messenger down a passage, was ushered into a lively apartment on which the sun was shining, and which, with its well-lined book-shelves, and tables covered with papers, and bright noisy clock, and general air of habitation and business, contrasted favourably with the room he had just quitted. A good-natured-looking man held out his hand and welcomed him cordially, and said at once, “I served, Mr. Ferrars, under your grandfather at the Treasury, and I am glad to see you here.” Then he spoke of the duties which Endymion would have at present to discharge. His labours at first would be somewhat mechanical; they would require only correctness and diligence; but the office was a large one, and promotion not only sure, but sometimes rapid, and as he was so young, he might with attention count on attaining, while yet in the prime of life, a future of very responsible duties and of no inconsiderable emolument. And while he was speaking he rang the bell and commanded the attendance of a clerk, under whose care Endymion was specially placed. This was a young man of pleasant address, who invited Endymion with kindness to accompany him, and leading him through several chambers, some capacious, and all full of clerks seated on high stools and writing at desks, finally ushered him into a smaller chamber where there were not above six or eight at work, and where there was a vacant seat. “This is your place,” he said, “and now I will introduce you to your future comrades. This is Mr. Jawett, the greatest Radical of the age, and who, when he is President of the Republic, will, I hope, do a job for his friends here. This is Mr. St. Barbe, who, when the public taste has improved, will be the most popular author of the day. In the meantime he will give you a copy of his novel, which has not sold as it ought to have done, and in which we say he has quizzed all his friends. This is Mr. Seymour Hicks, who, as you must perceive, is a man of fashion.” And so he went on, with what was evidently accustomed raillery. All laughed, and all said something courteous to Endymion, and then after a few minutes they resumed their tasks, Endymion’s work being to copy long lists of figures, and routine documents of public accounts.

In the meantime, Mr. St. Barbe was busy in drawing up a public document of a different but important character, and which was conceived something in this fashion:—

“We, the undersigned, highly approving of the personal appearance and manners of our new colleague, are unanimously of opinion that he should be invited to join our symposium today at the immortal Joe’s.”

This was quietly passed round and signed by all present, and then given to Mr. Trenchard, who, all unconsciously to the copying Endymion, wrote upon it, like a minister of state, “Approved,” with his initial.

Joe’s, more technically known as “The Blue Posts,” was a celebrated chop-house in Naseby Street, a large, low-ceilinged, wainscoted room, with the floor strewn with sawdust, and a hissing kitchen in the centre, and fitted up with what were called boxes, these being of various sizes, and suitable to the number of the guests requiring them. About this time the fashionable coffee-houses, George’s and the Piazza, and even the coffee-rooms of Stevens’ or Long’s, had begun to feel the injurious competition of the new clubs that of late years had been established; but these, after all, were limited, and, comparatively speaking, exclusive societies. Their influence had not touched the chop-houses, and it required another quarter of a century before their cheerful and hospitable roofs and the old taverns of London, so full, it ever seemed, of merriment and wisdom, yielded to the gradually increasing but irresistible influence of those innumerable associations, which, under classic names, or affecting to be the junior branches of celebrated confederacies, have since secured to the million, at cost price, all the delicacies of the season, and substituted for the zealous energy of immortal JOES the inexorable but frigid discipline of managing committees.

“You are our guest today,” said Mr. Trenchard to Endymion. “Do not be embarrassed. It is a custom with us, but not a ruinous one. We dine off the joint, but the meat is first-rate, and you may have as much as you like, and our tipple is half-and-half. Perhaps you do not know it. Let me drink to your health.”

They ate most heartily; but when their well-earned meal was despatched, their conversation, assisted by a moderate portion of some celebrated toddy, became animated, various, and interesting. Endymion was highly amused; but being a stranger, and the youngest present, his silence was not unbecoming, and his manner indicated that it was not occasioned by want of sympathy. The talk was very political. They were all what are called Liberals, having all of them received their appointments since the catastrophe of 1830; but the shades in the colour of their opinions were various and strong. Jawett was uncompromising; ruthlessly logical, his principles being clear, he was for what he called “carrying them out” to their just conclusions. Trenchard, on the contrary, thought everything ought to be a compromise, and that a public man ceased to be practical the moment he was logical. St. Barbe believed that literature and the arts, and intellect generally, had as little to hope for from one party as from the other; while Seymour Hicks was of opinion that the Tories never would rally, owing to their deficiency in social influences. Seymour Hicks sometimes got an invitation to a ministerial soiree.

The vote of the House of Commons in favour of an appropriation of the surplus revenues of the Irish Church to the purposes of secular education — a vote which had just changed the government and expelled the Tories — was much discussed. Jawett denounced it as a miserable subterfuge, but with a mildness of manner and a mincing expression, which amusingly contrasted with the violence of his principles and the strength of his language.

“The whole of the revenues of the Protestant Church should be at once appropriated to secular education, or to some other purpose of general utility,” he said. “And it must come to this.”

Trenchard thought the ministry had gone as far in this matter as they well could, and Seymour Hicks remarked that any government which systematically attacked the Church would have “society” against it. Endymion, who felt very nervous, but who on Church questions had strong convictions, ventured to ask why the Church should be deprived of its property.

“In the case of Ireland,” replied Jawett, quite in a tone of conciliatory condescension, “because it does not fulfil the purpose for which it was endowed. It has got the property of the nation, and it is not the Church of the people. But I go further than that. I would disendow every Church. They are not productive institutions. There is no reason why they should exist. There is no use in them.”

“No use in the Church!” said Endymion, reddening; but Mr. Trenchard, who had tact, here interfered, and said, “I told you our friend Jawett is a great Radical; but he is in a minority among us on these matters. Everybody, however, says what he likes at Joe’s.”

Then they talked of theatres, and critically discussed the articles in the daily papers and the last new book, and there was much discussion respecting a contemplated subscription boat; but still, in general, it was remarkable how they relapsed into their favourite subject — speculation upon men in office, both permanent and parliamentary, upon their characters and capacity, their habits and tempers. One was a good administrator, another did nothing; one had no detail, another too much; one was a screw, another a spendthrift; this man could make a set speech, but could not reply; his rival, capital at a reply but clumsy in a formal oration.

At this time London was a very dull city, instead of being, as it is now, a very amusing one. Probably there never was a city in the world, with so vast a population, which was so melancholy. The aristocracy probably have always found amusements adapted to the manners of the time and the age in which they lived. The middle classes, half a century ago, had little distraction from their monotonous toil and melancholy anxieties, except, perhaps, what they found in religious and philanthropic societies. Their general life must have been very dull. Some traditionary merriment always lingered among the working classes of England. Both in town and country they had always their games and fairs and junketing parties, which have developed into excursion trains and colossal pic-nics. But of all classes of the community, in the days of our fathers, there was none so unfortunate in respect of public amusements as the bachelors about town. There were, one might almost say, only two theatres, and they so huge, that it was difficult to see or hear in either. Their monopolies, no longer redeemed by the stately genius of the Kembles, the pathos of Miss O’Neill, or the fiery passion of Kean, were already menaced, and were soon about to fall; but the crowd of diminutive but sparkling substitutes, which have since taken their place, had not yet appeared, and half-price at Drury Lane or Covent Garden was a dreary distraction after a morning of desk work. There were no Alhambras then, and no Cremornes, no palaces of crystal in terraced gardens, no casinos, no music-halls, no aquaria, no promenade concerts. Evans’ existed, but not in the fulness of its modern development; and the most popular place of resort was the barbarous conviviality of the Cider Cellar.

Mr. Trenchard had paid the bill, collected his quotas and rewarded the waiter, and then, as they all rose, said to Endymion, “We are going to the Divan. Do you smoke?”

Endymion shook his head; but Trenchard added, “Well, you will some day; but you had better come with us. You need not smoke; you can order a cup of coffee, and then you may read all the newspapers and magazines. It is a nice lounge.”

So, emerging from Naseby Street into the Strand, they soon entered a tobacconist’s shop, and passing through it were admitted into a capacious saloon, well lit and fitted up with low, broad sofas, fixed against the walls, and on which were seated, or reclining, many persons, chiefly smoking cigars, but some few practising with the hookah and other oriental modes. In the centre of the room was a table covered with newspapers and publications of that class. The companions from Joe’s became separated after their entrance, and St. Barbe, addressing Endymion, said, “I am not inclined to smoke today. We will order some coffee, and you will find some amusement in this;” and he placed in his hands a number of “SCARAMOUCH.”

“I hope you will like your new life,” said St. Barbe, throwing down a review on the Divan, and leaning back sipping his coffee. “One thing may be said in favour of it: you will work with a body of as true-hearted comrades as ever existed. They are always ready to assist one. Thorough good-natured fellows, that I will say for them. I suppose it is adversity,” he continued, “that develops the kindly qualities of our nature. I believe the sense of common degradation has a tendency to make the degraded amiable — at least among themselves. I am told it is found so in the plantations in slave-gangs.”

“But I hope we are not a slave-gang,” said Endymion.

“It is horrible to think of gentlemen, and men of education, and perhaps first-rate talents — who knows? — reduced to our straits,” said St. Barbe. “I do not follow Jawett in all his views, for I hate political economy, and never could understand it; and he gives it you pure and simple, eh? eh? — but, I say, it is something awful to think of the incomes that some men are making, who could no more write an article in ‘SCARAMOUCH’ than fly.”

“But our incomes may improve,” said Endymion. “I was told today that promotion was even rapid in our office.”

“Our incomes may improve when we are bent and grey,” said St. Barbe, “and we may even retire on a pension about as good as a nobleman leaves to his valet. Oh, it is a horrid world! Your father is a privy councillor, is not he?”

“Yes, and so was my grandfather, but I do not think I shall ever be one.”

“It is a great thing to have a father a privy councillor,” said St. Barbe, with a glance of envy. “If I were the son of a privy councillor, those demons, Shuffle and Screw, would give me 500 pounds for my novel, which now they put in their beastly magazine and print in small type, and do not pay me so much as a powdered flunkey has in St. James’ Square. I agree with Jawett: the whole thing is rotten.”

“Mr. Jawett seems to have very strange opinions,” said Endymion. “I did not like to hear what he said at dinner about the Church, but Mr. Trenchard turned the conversation, and I thought it best to let it pass.”

“Trenchard is a sensible man, and a good fellow,” said St. Barbe; “you like him?”

“I find him kind.”

“Do you know,” said St. Barbe, in a whisper, and with a distressed and almost vindictive expression of countenance, “that man may come any day into four thousand a year. There is only one life between him and the present owner. I believe it is a good life,” he added, in a more cheerful voice, “but still it might happen. Is it not horrible? Four thousand a year! Trenchard with four thousand a year, and we receiving little more than the pay of a butler!”

“Well, I wish, for his sake, he might have it,” said Endymion, “though I might lose a kind friend.”

“Look at Seymour Hicks,” said St. Barbe; “he has smoked his cigar, and he is going. He never remains. He is going to a party, I’ll be found. That fellow gets about in a most extraordinary manner. Is it not disgusting? I doubt whether he is asked much to dinner though, or I think we should have heard of it. Nevertheless, Trenchard said the other day that Hicks had dined with Lord Cinque–Ports. I can hardly believe it; it would be too disgusting. No lord ever asked me to dinner. But the aristocracy of this country are doomed!”

“Mr. Hicks,” said Endymion, “probably lays himself out for society.”

“I suppose you will,” said St. Barbe, with a scrutinising air. “I should if I were the son of a privy councillor. Hicks is nothing; his father kept a stable-yard and his mother was an actress. We have had several dignitaries of the Church in my family and one admiral. And yet Hicks dines with Lord Cinque–Ports! It is positively revolting! But the things he does to get asked! — sings, rants, conjures, ventriloquises, mimics, stands on his head. His great performance is a parliamentary debate. We will make him do it for you. And yet with all this a dull dog — a very dull dog, sir. He wrote for ‘Scaramouch’ some little time, but they can stand it no more. Between you and me, he has had notice to quit. That I know; and he will probably get the letter when he goes home from his party to-night. So much for success in society! I shall now say good-night to you.”

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