Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 55

The balance of parties in the House of Commons, which had been virtually restored by Sir Robert Peel’s dissolution of 1834, might be said to be formally and positively established by the dissolution of parliament in the autumn of 1837, occasioned by the demise of the crown. The ministerial majority became almost nominal, while troubles from all quarters seemed to press simultaneously upon them: Canadian revolts, Chartist insurrections, Chinese squabbles, and mysterious complications in Central Asia, which threatened immediate hostilities with Persia, and even with one of the most powerful of European empires. In addition to all this, the revenue continually declined, and every day the general prejudice became more intense against the Irish policy of the ministry. The extreme popularity of the Sovereign, reflecting some lustre on her ministers, had enabled them, though not without difficulty, to tide through the session of 1838; but when parliament met in 1839 their prospects were dark, and it was known that there was a section of the extreme Liberals who would not be deeply mortified if the government were overthrown. All efforts, therefore, political and social, and particularly the latter, in which the Whigs excelled, were to be made to prevent or to retard the catastrophe.

Lady Montfort and Lady Roehampton opened their houses to the general world at an unusually early period. Their entertainments rivalled those of Zenobia, who with unflagging gallantry, her radiant face prescient of triumph, stopped her bright vis-a-vis and her tall footmen in the midst of St. James’ Street or Pall Mall, while she rapidly inquired from some friendly passer-by whom she had observed, “Tell me the names of the Radical members who want to turn out the government, and I will invite them directly.”

Lady Montfort had appropriated the Saturdays, as was her custom and her right; so Myra, with the advice of Lord Roehampton, had fixed on Wednesdays for her receptions.

“I should have liked to have taken Wednesdays,” said Zenobia, “but I do not care to seem to be setting up against Lady Roehampton, for her mother was my dearest friend. Not that I think any quarter ought to be shown to her after joining those atrocious Whigs, but to be sure she was corrupted by her husband, whom I remember the most thorough Tory going. To be sure, I was a Whig myself in those days, so one must not say too much about it, but the Whigs then were gentlemen. I will tell you what I will do. I will receive both on Saturdays and Wednesdays. It is an effort, and I am not as young as I was, but it will only be for a season or less, for I know these people cannot stand. It will be all over by May.”

Prince Florestan had arrived in town, and was now settled in his mansion in Carlton Terrace. It was the fashion among the creme de la creme to keep aloof from him. The Tories did not love revolutionary dynasties, and the Whigs being in office could not sanction a pretender, and one who, they significantly intimated with a charitable shrug of the shoulders, was not a very scrupulous one. The prince himself, though he was not insensible to the charms of society, and especially of agreeable women, was not much chagrined by this. The world thought that he had fitted up his fine house, and bought his fine horses, merely for the enjoyment of life. His purposes were very different. Though his acquaintances were limited, they were not undistinguished, and he lived with them in intimacy. There had arisen between himself and Mr. Waldershare the closest alliance both of thought and habits. They were rarely separated. The prince was also a frequent guest at the Neuchatels’, and was a favourite with the head of the house.

The Duke of St. Angelo controlled the household at Carlton Gardens with skill. The appointments were finished and the cuisine refined. There was a dinner twice a week, from which Waldershare was rarely absent, and to which Endymion, whom the prince always treated with kindness, had a general invitation. When he occasionally dined there he met always several foreign guests, and all men apparently of mark — at any rate, all distinguished by their intelligence. It was an interesting and useful house for a young man, and especially a young politician, to frequent. Endymion heard many things and learnt many things which otherwise would not have met his ear or mind. The prince encouraged conversation, though himself inclined to taciturnity. When he did speak, his terse remarks and condensed views were striking, and were remembered. On the days on which he did not receive, the prince dined at the Travellers’ Club, to which Waldershare had obtained his introduction, and generally with Waldershare, who took this opportunity of gradually making his friend acquainted with eminent and influential men, many of whom in due time became guests at Carlton Terrace. It was clear, indeed, that these club-dinners were part of a system.

The prince, soon after his arrival in town, while riding, had passed Lady Roehampton’s carriage in the park, and he had saluted her with a grave grace which distinguished him. She was surprised at feeling a little agitated by this rencontre. It recalled Hainault, her not mortifying but still humble position beneath that roof, the prince’s courtesy to her under those circumstances, and, indeed, his marked preference for her society. She felt it something like ingratitude to treat him with neglect now, when her position was so changed and had become so elevated. She mentioned to Lord Roehampton, while they were dining alone, that she should like to invite the prince to her receptions, and asked his opinion on the point. Lord Roehampton shrugged his shoulders and did not encourage her. “You know, my darling, our people do not much like him. They look upon him as a pretender, as having forfeited his parole, and as a refugee from justice. I have no prejudices against him myself, and perhaps in the same situation might have acted in the same manner; but if he is to be admitted into society, it should hardly be at a ministerial reception, and of all houses, that of one who holds my particular post.”

“I know nothing about his forfeiting his parole,” said Lady Roehampton; “the charge is involved in mystery, and Mr. Waldershare told me it was an entire fabrication. As for his being a pretender, he seems to me as legitimate a prince as most we meet; he was born in the purple, and his father was recognised by every government in Europe except our own. As for being a refugee from justice, a prince in captivity has certainly a right to escape if he can, and his escape was romantic. However, I will not contest any decision of yours, for I think you are always right. Only I am disappointed, for, to say nothing of the unkindness, I cannot help feeling our not noticing him is rather shabby.”

There was silence, a longer silence than usually occurred in tete-a-tete dinners between Lord and Lady Roehampton. To break the silence he began to converse on another subject, and Lady Roehampton replied to him cheerfully, but curtly. He saw she was vexed, and this great man, who was at that time meditating one of the most daring acts of modern diplomacy, who had the reputation, in the conduct of public affairs, of not only being courageous, but of being stern, inflexible, unfeeling, and unscrupulous beyond ordinary statesmen, who had passed his mornings in writing a menacing despatch to a great power and intimating combinations to the ambassadors of other first-rate states which they almost trembled to receive, was quite upset by seeing his wife chagrined. At last, after another embarrassing pause, he said gaily, “Do you know, my dear Myra, I do not see why you should not ask Prince Florestan. It is you that ask him, not I. That is one of the pleasant results of our system of political entertainments. The guests come to pay their respects to the lady of the house, so no one is committed. The prince may visit you on Wednesday just as well as the leaders of the opposition who want our places, or the malcontent Radicals who they say are going to turn us out.”

So Prince Florestan was invited to Lady Roehampton’s receptions, and he came; and he never missed one. His visits were brief. He appeared, made his bow, had the pleasure of some slight conversation with her, and then soon retired. Received by Lady Roehampton, in time, though sluggishly, invitations arrived from other houses, but he rarely availed himself of them. He maintained in this respect great reserve, and was accustomed to say that the only fine lady in London who had ever been kind to him was Lady Roehampton.

All this time Endymion, who was now thoroughly planted in society, saw a great deal of the Neuchatels, who had returned to Portland Place at the beginning of February. He met Adriana almost every evening, and was frequently invited to the house — to the grand dinners now, as well as the domestic circle. In short, our Endymion was fast becoming a young man of fashion and a personage. The brother of Lady Roehampton had now become the private secretary of Mr. Sydney Wilton and the great friend of Lady Montfort. He was indeed only one of the numerous admirers of that lady, but he seemed not the least smiled on. There was never anything delightful at Montfort House at which he was not present, or indeed in any other place, for under her influence, invitations from the most distinguished houses crowded his mantelpiece and were stuck all round his looking-glass. Endymion in this whirl of life did not forget his old friends. He took care that Seymour Hicks should have a frequent invitation to Lady Roehampton’s assemblies. Seymour Hicks only wanted a lever to raise the globe, and this introduction supplied him with one. It was astonishing how he made his way in society, and though, of course, he never touched the empyrean regions in which Endymion now breathed, he gradually, and at last rapidly, planted himself in a world which to the uninitiated figures as the very realm of nobility and fashion, and where doubtless is found a great fund of splendour, refinement, and amusement. Seymour Hicks was not ill-favoured, and was always well dressed, and he was very civil, but what he really owed his social advancement to was his indomitable will. That quality governs all things, and though the will of Seymour Hicks was directed to what many may deem a petty or a contracted purpose, life is always interesting when you have a purpose and live in its fulfilment. It appeared from what he told Endymion that matters at the office had altered a good deal since he left it. The retirement of St. Barbe was the first brick out of the wall; now, which Endymion had not yet heard, the brother of Trenchard had most unexpectedly died, and that gentleman come into a good estate. “Jawett remains, and is also the editor of the ‘Precursor,’ but his new labours so absorb his spare time that he is always at the office of the paper. So it is pretty well all over with the table at Joe’s. I confess I could not stand it any longer, particularly after you left. I have got into the junior Pan–Ionian; and I am down for the senior; I cannot get in for ten years, but when I do it will be a coup; the society there is tiptop, a cabinet minister sometimes, and very often a bishop.”

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