Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 3

The father of Mr. Ferrars had the reputation of being the son of a once somewhat celebrated statesman, but the only patrimony he inherited from his presumed parent was a clerkship in the Treasury, where he found himself drudging at an early age. Nature had endowed him with considerable abilities, and peculiarly adapted to the scene of their display. It was difficult to decide which was most remarkable, his shrewdness or his capacity of labour. His quickness of perception and mastery of details made him in a few years an authority in the office, and a Secretary of the Treasury, who was quite ignorant of details, but who was a good judge of human character, had the sense to appoint Ferrars his private secretary. This happy preferment in time opened the whole official world to one not only singularly qualified for that kind of life, but who possessed the peculiar gifts that were then commencing to be much in demand in those circles. We were then entering that era of commercial and financial reform which had been, if not absolutely occasioned, certainly precipitated, by the revolt of our colonies. Knowledge of finance and acquaintance with tariffs were then rare gifts, and before five years of his private secretaryship had expired, Ferrars was mentioned to Mr. Pitt as the man at the Treasury who could do something that the great minister required. This decided his lot. Mr. Pitt found in Ferrars the instrument he wanted, and appreciating all his qualities placed him in a position which afforded them full play. The minister returned Ferrars to Parliament, for the Treasury then had boroughs of its own, and the new member was preferred to an important and laborious post. So long as Pitt and Grenville were in the ascendant, Mr. Ferrars toiled and flourished. He was exactly the man they liked; unwearied, vigilant, clear and cold; with a dash of natural sarcasm developed by a sharp and varied experience. He disappeared from the active world in the latter years of the Liverpool reign, when a newer generation and more bustling ideas successfully asserted their claims; but he retired with the solace of a sinecure, a pension, and a privy-councillorship. The Cabinet he had never entered, nor dared to hope to enter. It was the privilege of an inner circle even in our then contracted public life. It was the dream of Ferrars to revenge in this respect his fate in the person of his son, and only child. He was resolved that his offspring should enjoy all those advantages of education and breeding and society of which he himself had been deprived. For him was to be reserved a full initiation in those costly ceremonies which, under the names of Eton and Christ Church, in his time fascinated and dazzled mankind. His son, William Pitt Ferrars, realised even more than his father’s hopes. Extremely good-looking, he was gifted with a precocity of talent. He was the marvel of Eton and the hope of Oxford. As a boy, his Latin verses threw enraptured tutors into paroxysms of praise, while debating societies hailed with acclamation clearly another heaven-born minister. He went up to Oxford about the time that the examinations were reformed and rendered really efficient. This only increased his renown, for the name of Ferrars figured among the earliest double-firsts. Those were days when a crack university reputation often opened the doors of the House of Commons to a young aspirant; at least, after a season. But Ferrars had not to wait. His father, who watched his career with the passionate interest with which a Newmarket man watches the development of some gifted yearling, took care that all the odds should be in his favour in the race of life. An old colleague of the elder Mr. Ferrars, a worthy peer with many boroughs, placed a seat at the disposal of the youthful hero, the moment he was prepared to accept it, and he might be said to have left the University only to enter the House of Commons.

There, if his career had not yet realised the dreams of his youthful admirers, it had at least been one of progress and unbroken prosperity. His first speech was successful, though florid, but it was on foreign affairs, which permit rhetoric, and in those days demanded at least one Virgilian quotation. In this latter branch of oratorical adornment Ferrars was never deficient. No young man of that time, and scarcely any old one, ventured to address Mr. Speaker without being equipped with a Latin passage. Ferrars, in this respect, was triply armed. Indeed, when he entered public life, full of hope and promise, though disciplined to a certain extent by his mathematical training, he had read very little more than some Latin writers, some Greek plays, and some treatises of Aristotle. These with a due course of Bampton Lectures and some dipping into the “Quarterly Review,” then in its prime, qualified a man in those days, not only for being a member of Parliament, but becoming a candidate for the responsibility of statesmanship. Ferrars made his way; for two years he was occasionally asked by the minister to speak, and then Lord Castlereagh, who liked young men, made him a Lord of the Treasury. He was Under–Secretary of State, and “very rising,” when the death of Lord Liverpool brought about the severance of the Tory party, and Mr. Ferrars, mainly under the advice of zealots, resigned his office when Mr. Canning was appointed Minister, and cast in his lot with the great destiny of the Duke of Wellington.

The elder Ferrars had the reputation of being wealthy. It was supposed that he had enjoyed opportunities of making money, and had availed himself of them, but this was not true. Though a cynic, and with little respect for his fellow-creatures, Ferrars had a pride in official purity, and when the Government was charged with venality and corruption, he would observe, with a dry chuckle, that he had seen a great deal of life, and that for his part he would not much trust any man out of Downing Street. He had been unable to resist the temptation of connecting his life with that of an individual of birth and rank; and in a weak moment, perhaps his only one, he had given his son a stepmother in a still good-looking and very expensive Viscountess–Dowager.

Mr. Ferrars was anxious that his son should make a great alliance, but he was so distracted between prudential considerations and his desire that in the veins of his grand-children there should flow blood of undoubted nobility, that he could never bring to his purpose that clear and concentrated will which was one of the causes of his success in life; and, in the midst of his perplexities, his son unexpectedly settled the question himself. Though naturally cold and calculating, William Ferrars, like most of us, had a vein of romance in his being, and it asserted itself. There was a Miss Carey, who suddenly became the beauty of the season. She was an orphan, and reputed to be no inconsiderable heiress, and was introduced to the world by an aunt who was a duchess, and who meant that her niece should be the same. Everybody talked about them, and they went everywhere — among other places to the House of Commons, where Miss Carey, spying the senators from the old ventilator in the ceiling of St. Stephen’s Chapel, dropped in her excitement her opera-glass, which fell at the feet of Mr. Under–Secretary Ferrars. He hastened to restore it to its beautiful owner, whom he found accompanied by several of his friends, and he was not only thanked, but invited to remain with them; and the next day he called, and he called very often afterwards, and many other things happened, and at the end of July the beauty of the season was married not to a Duke, but to a rising man, who Zenobia, who at first disapproved of the match — for Zenobia never liked her male friends to marry — was sure would one day be Prime Minister of England.

Mrs. Ferrars was of the same opinion as Zenobia, for she was ambitious, and the dream was captivating. And Mrs. Ferrars soon gained Zenobia’s good graces, for she had many charms, and, though haughty to the multitude, was a first-rate flatterer. Zenobia liked flattery, and always said she did. Mr. Under–Secretary Ferrars took a mansion in Hill Street, and furnished it with befitting splendour. His dinners were celebrated, and Mrs. Ferrars gave suppers after the opera. The equipages of Mrs. Ferrars were distinguished, and they had a large retinue of servants. They had only two children, and they were twins, a brother and a sister, who were brought up like the children of princes. Partly for them, and partly because a minister should have a Tusculum, the Ferrars soon engaged a magnificent villa at Wimbledon, which had the advantage of admirable stables, convenient, as Mrs. Ferrars was fond of horses, and liked the children too, with their fancy ponies, to be early accustomed to riding. All this occasioned expenditure, but old Mr. Ferrars made his son a liberal allowance, and young Mrs. Ferrars was an heiress, or the world thought so, which is nearly the same, and then, too, young Mr. Ferrars was a rising man, in office, and who would always be in office for the rest of his life; at least, Zenobia said so, because he was on the right side and the Whigs were nowhere, and never would be anywhere, which was quite right, as they had wished to make us the slaves of Bonaparte.

When the King, after much hesitation, send for Mr. Canning, on the resignation of Lord Liverpool, the Zenobian theory seemed a little at fault, and William Ferrars absolutely out of office had more than one misgiving; but after some months of doubt and anxiety, it seemed after all the great lady was right. The unexpected disappearance of Mr. Canning from the scene, followed by the transient and embarrassed phantom of Lord Goderich, seemed to indicate an inexorable destiny that England should be ruled by the most eminent men of the age, and the most illustrious of her citizens. William Ferrars, under the inspiration of Zenobia, had thrown in his fortunes with the Duke, and after nine months of disquietude found his due reward. In the January that succeeded the August conversation in St. James’ Street with Sidney Wilton, William Ferrars was sworn of the Privy Council, and held high office, on the verge of the Cabinet.

Mr. Ferrars had a dinner party in Hill Street on the day he had returned from Windsor with the seals of his new office. The catastrophe of the Goderich Cabinet, almost on the eve of the meeting of Parliament, had been so sudden, that, not anticipating such a state of affairs, Ferrars, among his other guests, had invited Sidney Wilton. He was rather regretting this when, as his carriage stopped at his own door, he observed that very gentleman on his threshold.

Wilton greeted him warmly, and congratulated him on his promotion. “I do so at once,” he added, “because I shall not have the opportunity this evening. I was calling here in the hope of seeing Mrs. Ferrars, and asking her to excuse me from being your guest today.”

“Well, it is rather awkward,” said Ferrars, “but I could have no idea of this when you were so kind as to say you would come.”

“Oh, nothing of that sort,” said Sidney. “I am out and you are in, and I hope you may be in for a long, long time. I dare say it may be so, and the Duke is the man of the age, as you always said he was. I hope your being in office is not to deprive me of your pleasant dinners; it would be too bad to lose my place both at Whitehall and in Hill Street.”

“I trust that will never happen, my dear fellow; but today I thought it might be embarrassing.”

“Not at all; I could endure without wincing even the triumphant glances of Zenobia. The fact is, I have some business of the most pressing nature which has suddenly arisen, and which demands my immediate attention.”

Ferrars expressed his regret, though in fact he was greatly relieved, and they parted.

Zenobia did dine with the William Ferrars today, and her handsome husband came with her, a knight of the garter, and just appointed to a high office in the household by the new government. Even the excitement of the hour did not disturb his indigenous repose. It was a dignified serenity, quite natural, and quite compatible with easy and even cordial manners, and an address always considerate even when not sympathetic. He was not a loud or a long talker, but his terse remarks were full of taste and a just appreciation of things. If they were sometimes trenchant, the blade was of fine temper. Old Mr. Ferrars was there and the Viscountess Edgware. His hair had become quite silvered, and his cheek rosy as a December apple. His hazel eyes twinkled with satisfaction as he remembered the family had now produced two privy councillors. Lord Pomeroy was there, the great lord who had returned William Ferrars to Parliament, a little man, quite, shy, rather insignificant in appearance, but who observed everybody and everything; a conscientious man, who was always doing good, in silence and secrecy, and denounced as a boroughmonger, had never sold a seat in his life, and was always looking out for able men of character to introduce them to public affairs. It was not a formal party, but had grown up in great degree out of the circumstances of the moment. There were more men than women, and all men in office or devoted supporters of the new ministry.

Mrs. Ferrars, without being a regular beauty, had a voluptuous face and form. Her complexion was brilliant, with large and long-lashed eyes of blue. Her mouth was certainly too large, but the pouting richness of her lips and the splendour of her teeth baffled criticism. She was a woman who was always gorgeously or fantastically attired.

“I never can understand,” would sometimes observe Zenobia’s husband to his brilliant spouse, “how affairs are carried on in this world. Now we have, my dear, fifty thousand per annum; and I do not see how Ferrars can have much more than five; and yet he lives much as we do, perhaps better. I know Gibson showed me a horse last week that I very much wanted, but I would not give him two hundred guineas for it. I called there today to look after it again, for it would have suited me exactly, but I was told I was too late, and it was sold to Mrs. Ferrars.”

“My dear, you know I do not understand money matters,” Zenobia said in reply. “I never could; but you should remember that old Ferrars must be very rich, and that William Ferrars is the most rising man of the day, and is sure to be in the Cabinet before he is forty.”

Everybody had an appetite for dinner today, and the dinner was worthy of the appetites. Zenobia’s husband declared to himself that he never dined so well, though he gave his chef 500 pounds a year, and old Lord Pomeroy, who had not yet admitted French wines to his own table, seemed quite abashed with the number of his wine-glasses and their various colours, and, as he tasted one succulent dish after another, felt a proud satisfaction in having introduced to public life so distinguished a man as William Ferrars.

With the dessert, not without some ceremony, were introduced the two most remarkable guests of the entertainment, and these were the twins; children of singular beauty, and dressed, if possible, more fancifully and brilliantly than their mamma. They resembled each other, and had the same brilliant complexion, rich chestnut hair, delicately arched brows, and dark blue eyes. Though only eight years of age, a most unchildlike self-possession distinguished them. The expression of their countenances was haughty, disdainful, and supercilious. Their beautiful features seemed quite unimpassioned, and they moved as if they expected everything to yield to them. The girl, whose long ringlets were braided with pearls, was ushered to a seat next to her father, and, like her brother, who was placed by Mrs. Ferrars, was soon engaged in negligently tasting delicacies, while she seemed apparently unconscious of any one being present, except when she replied to those who addressed her with a stare and a haughty monosyllable. The boy, in a black velvet jacket with large Spanish buttons of silver filagree, a shirt of lace, and a waistcoat of white satin, replied with reserve, but some condescension, to the good-natured but half-humorous inquiries of the husband of Zenobia.

“And when do you go to school?” asked his lordship in a kind voice and with a laughing eye.

“I shall go to Eton in two years,” replied the child without the slightest emotion, and not withdrawing his attention from the grapes he was tasting, or even looking at his inquirer, “and then I shall go to Christ Church, and then I shall go into Parliament.”

“Myra,” said an intimate of the family, a handsome private secretary of Mr. Ferrars, to the daughter of the house, as he supplied her plate with some choicest delicacies, “I hope you have not forgotten your engagement to me which you made at Wimbledon two years ago?”

“What engagement?” she haughtily inquired.

“To marry me.”

“I should not think of marrying any one who was not in the House of Lords,” she replied, and she shot at him a glance of contempt.

The ladies rose. As they were ascending the stairs, one of them said to Mrs. Ferrars, “Your son’s name is very pretty, but it is very uncommon, is it not?”

“’Tis a family name. The first Carey who bore it was a courtier of Charles the First, and we have never since been without it. William wanted our boy to be christened Pomeroy but I was always resolved, if I ever had a son, that he should be named ENDYMION.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/disraeli/benjamin/endymion/chapter3.html

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