Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 56

Endymion was glad to meet Baron Sergius one day when he dined with Prince Florestan. There were several distinguished foreigners among the guests, who had just arrived. They talked much, and with much emphasis. One of them, the Marquis of Vallombrosa, expatiated on the Latin race, their great qualities, their vivacity, invention, vividness of perception, chivalrous valour, and sympathy with tradition. The northern races detested them, and the height of statesmanship was to combine the Latin races into an organised and active alliance against the barbarism which menaced them. There had been for a short time a vacant place next to Endymion, when Baron Sergius, according to his quiet manner, stole into the room and slipped into the unoccupied seat. “It is some time since we met,” he said, “but I have heard of you. You are now a public man, and not a public character. That is a not unsatisfactory position.”

The prince listened apparently with much interest to the Marquis of Vallombrosa, occasionally asked him a question, and promoted discussion without himself giving any opinion. Baron Sergius never spoke except to Endymion, and then chiefly social inquiries about Lord and Lady Roehampton, their good friends the Neuchatels, and frequently about Mr. Sidney Wilton, whom, it appeared, he had known years ago, and intimately. After dinner the guests, on the return to the saloon, ranged themselves in a circle, but not too formally, and the prince moving round addressed each of them in turn. When this royal ceremony was concluded, the prince motioned to the Marquis of Vallombrosa to accompany him, and then they repaired to an adjacent salon, the door of which was open, but where they could converse without observation. The Duke of St. Angelo amused the remaining guests with all the resources of a man practised in making people feel at their ease, and in this he was soon greatly assisted by Mr. Waldershare, who was unable to dine with the prince today, but who seemed to take much interest in this arrival of the representatives of the Latin race.

Baron Sergius and Endymion were sitting together rather apart from the rest. The baron said, “You have heard today a great deal about the Latin race, their wondrous qualities, their peculiar destiny, their possible danger. It is a new idea, or rather a new phrase, that I observe is now getting into the political world, and is probably destined to produce consequences. No man will treat with indifference the principle of race. It is the key of history, and why history is often so confused is that it has been written by men who were ignorant of this principle and all the knowledge it involves. As one who may become a statesman and assist in governing mankind, it is necessary that you should not be insensible to it; whether you encounter its influence in communities or in individuals, its qualities must ever be taken into account. But there is no subject which more requires discriminating knowledge, or where your illustrating principle, if you are not deeply founded, may not chance to turn out a will-o’-the-wisp. Now this great question of the Latin race, by which M. de Vallombrosa may succeed in disturbing the world — it might be well to inquire where the Latin race is to be found. In the North of Italy, peopled by Germans and named after Germans, or in the South of Italy, swarming with the descendants of Normans and Arabs? Shall we find the Latin race in Spain, stocked by Goths, and Moors, and Jews? Or in France, where there is a great Celtic nation, occasionally mingled with Franks? Now I do not want to go into the origin of man and nations — I am essentially practical, and only endeavour to comprehend that with which I have personally to deal, and that is sufficiently difficult. In Europe I find three great races with distinct qualities — the Teutons, the Sclaves, and the Celts; and their conduct will be influenced by those distinctive qualities. There is another great race which influences the world, the Semites. Certainly, when I was at the Congress of Vienna, I did not believe that the Arabs were more likely to become a conquering race again than the Tartars, and yet it is a question at this moment whether Mehemet Ali, at their head, may not found a new empire in the Mediterranean. The Semites are unquestionably a great race, for among the few things in this world which appear to be certain, nothing is more sure than that they invented our alphabet. But the Semites now exercise a vast influence over affairs by their smallest though most peculiar family, the Jews. There is no race gifted with so much tenacity, and such skill in organisation. These qualities have given them an unprecedented hold over property and illimitable credit. As you advance in life, and get experience in affairs, the Jews will cross you everywhere. They have long been stealing into our secret diplomacy, which they have almost appropriated; in another quarter of a century they will claim their share of open government. Well, these are races; men and bodies of men influenced in their conduct by their particular organisation, and which must enter into all the calculations of a statesman. But what do they mean by the Latin race? Language and religion do not make a race — there is only one thing which makes a race, and that is blood.”

“But the prince,” said Endymion inquiringly; “he seemed much interested in what M. de Vallombrosa was saying; I should like to know what his opinions are about the Latin race.”

“The prince rarely gives an opinion,” said the baron. “Indeed, as you well know, he rarely speaks; he thinks and he acts.”

“But if he acts on wrong information,” continued Endymion, “there will probably be only one consequence.”

“The prince is very wise,” said the baron; “and, trust me, knows as much about mankind, and the varieties of mankind, as any one. He may not believe in the Latin race, but he may choose to use those who do believe in it. The weakness of the prince, if he have one, is not want of knowledge, or want of judgment, but an over-confidence in his star, which sometimes seduces him into enterprises which he himself feels at the time are not perfectly sound.”

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