Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 37

With the assembling of parliament in November recommenced the sittings of the Union Society, of which Endymion had for some time been a member, and of whose meetings he was a constant and critical, though silent, attendant. There was a debate one night on the government of dependencies, which, although all reference to existing political circumstances was rigidly prohibited, no doubt had its origin in the critical state of one of our most important colonies, then much embarrassing the metropolis. The subject was one which Endymion had considered, and on which he had arrived at certain conclusions. The meeting was fully attended, and the debate had been conducted with a gravity becoming the theme. Endymion was sitting on a back bench, and with no companion near him with whom he was acquainted, when he rose and solicited the attention of the president. Another and a well-known speaker had also risen, and been called, but there was a cry of “new member,” a courteous cry, borrowed from the House of Commons, and Endymion for the first time heard his own voice in public. He has since admitted, though he has been through many trying scenes, that it was the most nervous moment of his life. “After Calais,” as a wise wit said, “nothing surprises;” and the first time a man speaks in public, even if only at a debating society, is also the unequalled incident in its way. The indulgence of the audience supported him while the mist cleared from his vision, and his palpitating heart subsided into comparative tranquillity. After a few pardonable incoherencies, he was launched into his subject, and spoke with the thoughtful fluency which knowledge alone can sustain. For knowledge is the foundation of eloquence.

“What a good-looking young fellow!” whispered Mr. Bertie Tremaine to his brother Mr. Tremaine Bertie. The Bertie Tremaines were the two greatest swells of the Union, and had a party of their own. “And he speaks well.”

“Who is he?” inquired Mr. Tremaine Bertie of their other neighbour.

“He is a clerk in the Treasury, I believe, or something of that sort,” was the reply.

“I never saw such a good-looking young fellow,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. “He is worth getting hold of. I shall ask to be introduced to him when we break up.”

Accordingly, Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who was always playing at politics, and who, being two-and-twenty, was discontented he was not Chancellor of the Exchequer like Mr. Pitt, whispered to a gentleman who sate behind him, and was, in short, the whip of his section, and signified, as a minister of state would, that an introduction to Mr. Ferrars should be arranged.

So when the meeting broke up, of which Mr. Ferrars’ maiden speech was quite the event, and while he was contemplating, not without some fair self-complacency, walking home with Trenchard, Endymion found himself encompassed by a group of bowing forms and smiling countenances, and, almost before he was aware of it, had made the acquaintance of the great Mr. Bertie Tremaine, and received not only the congratulations of that gentleman, but an invitation to dine with him on the morrow; “quite sans facon.”

Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who had early succeeded to the family estate, lived in Grosvenor Street, and in becoming style. His house was furnished with luxury and some taste. The host received his guests in a library, well stored with political history and political science, and adorned with the busts of celebrated statesmen and of profound political sages. Bentham was the philosopher then affected by young gentleman of ambition, and who wished to have credit for profundity and hard heads. Mr. Bertie Tremaine had been the proprietor of a close borough, which for several generations had returned his family to parliament, the faithful supporters of Pitt, and Perceval, and Liverpool, and he had contemplated following the same line, though with larger and higher objects than his ancestors. Being a man of considerable and versatile ability, and of ample fortune, with the hereditary opportunity which he possessed, he had a right to aspire, and, as his vanity more than equalled his talents, his estimate of his own career was not mean. Unfortunately, before he left Harrow, he was deprived of his borough, and this catastrophe eventually occasioned a considerable change in the views and conduct of Mr. Bertie Tremaine. In the confusion of parties and political thought which followed the Reform Act of Lord Grey, an attempt to govern the country by the assertion of abstract principles, and which it was now beginning to be the fashion to call Liberalism, seemed the only opening to public life; and Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who piqued himself on recognising the spirit of the age, adopted Liberal opinions with that youthful fervour which is sometimes called enthusiasm, but which is a heat of imagination subsequently discovered to be inconsistent with the experience of actual life. At Cambridge Mr. Bertie Tremaine was at first the solitary pupil of Bentham, whose principles he was prepared to carry to their extreme consequences, but being a man of energy and in possession of a good estate, he soon found followers, for the sympathies of youth are quick, and, even with an original bias, it is essentially mimetic. When Mr. Bertie Tremaine left the university he found in the miscellaneous elements of the London Union many of his former companions of school and college, and from them, and the new world to which he was introduced, it delighted him to form parties and construct imaginary cabinets. His brother Augustus, who was his junior only by a year, and was destined to be a diplomatist, was an efficient assistant in these enterprises, and was one of the guests who greeted Endymion when he arrived next day in Grosvenor Street according to his engagement. The other three were Hortensius, the whip of the party, and Mr. Trenchard.

The dinner was refined, for Mr. Bertie Tremaine combined the Sybarite with the Utilitarian sage, and it secretly delighted him to astonish or embarrass an austere brother republican by the splendour of his family plate or the polished appointments of his household. To-day the individual to be influenced was Endymion, and the host, acting up to his ideal of a first minister, addressed questions to his companions on the subjects which were peculiarly their own, and, after eliciting their remarks, continued to complete the treatment of the theme with adequate ability, though in a manner authoritative, and, as Endymion thought, a little pompous. What amused him most in this assemblage of youth was their earnest affectation of public life. The freedom of their comments on others was only equalled by their confidence in themselves. Endymion, who only spoke when he was appealed to, had casually remarked in answer to one of the observations which his host with elaborate politeness occasionally addressed to him, that he thought it was unpatriotic to take a certain course. Mr. Bertie Tremaine immediately drew up, and said, with a deep smile, “that he comprehended philanthropy, but patriotism he confessed he did not understand;” and thereupon delivered himself of an address on the subject which might have been made in the Union, and which communicated to the astonished Endymion that patriotism was a false idea, and entirely repugnant to the principles of the new philosophy. As all present were more or less impregnated with these tenets, there was no controversy on the matter. Endymion remained discreetly silent, and Augustus — Mr. Bertie Tremaine’s brother — who sate next to him, and whose manners were as sympathising as his brother’s were autocratic, whispered in a wheedling tone that it was quite true, and that the idea of patriotism was entirely relinquished except by a few old-fashioned folks who clung to superstitious phrases. Hortensius, who seemed to be the only one of the company who presumed to meet Mr. Bertie Tremaine in conversation on equal terms, and who had already astonished Endymion by what that inexperienced youth deemed the extreme laxity of his views, both social and political, evinced, more than once, a disposition to deviate into the lighter topics of feminine character, and even the fortunes of the hazard-table; but the host looked severe, and was evidently resolved that the conversation today should resemble the expression of his countenance. After dinner they returned to the library, and most of them smoked, but Mr. Bertie Tremaine, inviting Endymion to seat himself by his side on a sofa at the farther end of the room, observed, “I suppose you are looking to parliament?”

“Well, I do not know,” said the somewhat startled Endymion; “I have not thought much about it, and I have not yet reached a parliamentary age.”

“A man cannot enter parliament too soon,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine; “I hope to enter this session. There will be a certain vacancy on a petition, and I have arranged to have the seat.”

“Indeed!” said Endymion. “My father was in parliament, and so was my grandfather, but I confess I do not very well see my way there.”

“You must connect yourself with a party,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, “and you will soon enter; and being young, you should connect yourself with the party of the future. The country is wearied with the present men, who have no philosophical foundation, and are therefore perpetually puzzled and inconsistent, and the country will not stand the old men, as it is resolved against retrogression. The party of the future and of the speedy future has its headquarters under this roof, and I should like to see you belong to it.”

“You are too kind,” murmured Endymion.

“Yes, I see in you the qualities adapted to public life, and which may be turned to great account. I must get you into parliament as soon as you are eligible,” continued Mr. Bertie Tremaine in a musing tone. “This death of the King was very inopportune. If he had reigned a couple of years more, I saw my way to half a dozen seats, and I could have arranged with Lord Durham.”

“That was unfortunate,” said Endymion.

“What do you think of Hortensius?” inquired Mr. Bertie Tremaine.

“I think him the most brilliant speaker I know,” said Endymion. “I never met him in private society before; he talks well.”

“He wants conduct,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. “He ought to be my Lord Chancellor, but there is a tone of levity about him which is unfortunate. Men destined to the highest places should beware of badinage.”

“I believe it is a dangerous weapon.”

“All lawyers are loose in their youth, but an insular country subject to fogs, and with a powerful middle class, requires grave statesmen. I attribute a great deal of the nonsense called Conservative Reaction to Peel’s solemnity. The proper minister for England at this moment would be Pitt. Extreme youth gives hope to a country; coupled with ceremonious manners, hope soon assumes the form of confidence.”

“Ah!” murmured Endymion.

“I had half a mind to ask Jawett to dinner today. His powers are unquestionable, but he is not a practical man. For instance, I think myself our colonial empire is a mistake, and that we should disembarrass ourselves of its burthen as rapidly as is consistent with the dignity of the nation; but were Jawett in the House of Commons tomorrow, nothing would satisfy him but a resolution for the total and immediate abolition of the empire, with a preamble denouncing the folly of our fathers in creating it. Jawett never spares any one’s self-love.”

“I know him very well,” said Endymion; “he is in my office. He is very uncompromising.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine musingly; “if I had to form a government, I could hardly offer him the cabinet.” Then speaking more rapidly, he added, “The man you should attach yourself to is my brother Augustus — Mr. Tremaine Bertie. There is no man who understands foreign politics like Augustus, and he is a thorough man of the world.”

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