Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 7

The Duke of Wellington applied himself to the treatment of the critical circumstances of 1830 with that blended patience and quickness of perception to which he owed the success of so many campaigns. Quite conscious of the difficulties he had to encounter, he was nevertheless full of confidence in his ability to control them. It is probable that the paramount desire of the Duke in his effort to confirm his power was to rally and restore the ranks of the Tory party, disturbed rather than broken up by the passing of the Relief Bill. During the very heat of the struggle it was significantly observed that the head of the powerful family of Lowther, in the House of Commons, was never asked to resign his office, although he himself and his following voted invariably against the Government measure. The order the day was the utmost courtesy to the rebels, who were treated, as some alleged, with more consideration than the compliant. At the same time the desire of the Whigs to connect, perhaps even to merge themselves with the ministerial ranks, was not neglected. A Whig had been appointed to succeed the eccentric and too uncompromising Wetherell in the office of attorney-general, other posts had been placed at their disposal, and one even, an old companion in arms of the Duke, had entered the cabinet. The confidence in the Duke’s star was not diminished, and under ordinary circumstances this balanced strategy would probably have been successful. But it was destined to cope with great and unexpected events.

The first was the unexpected demise of the crown. The death of King George the Fourth at the end of the month of June, according to the then existing constitution, necessitated a dissolution of parliament, and so deprived the minister of that invaluable quality of time, necessary to soften and win back his estranged friends. Nevertheless, it is not improbable, that the Duke might still have succeeded, had it not been for the occurrence of the French insurrection of 1830, in the very heat of the preparations for the general election in England. The Whigs who found the Duke going to the country without that reconstruction of his ministry on which they had counted, saw their opportunity and seized it. The triumphant riots of Paris were dignified into “the three glorious days,” and the three glorious days were universally recognised as the triumph of civil and religious liberty. The names of Polignac and Wellington were adroitly connected together, and the phrase Parliamentary Reform began to circulate.

It was Zenobia’s last reception for the season; on the morrow she was about to depart for her county, and canvass for her candidates. She was still undaunted, and never more inspiring. The excitement of the times was reflected in her manner. She addressed her arriving guests as they made their obeisance to her, asked for news and imparted it before she could be answered, declared that nothing had been more critical since ‘93, that there was only one man who was able to deal with the situation, and thanked Heaven that he was not only in England, but in her drawing-room.

Ferrars, who had been dining with his patron, Lord Pomeroy, and had the satisfaction of feeling, that at any rate his return to the new parliament was certain, while helping himself to coffee could not refrain from saying in a low tone to a gentleman who was performing the same office, “Our Whig friends seem in high spirits, baron.”

The gentleman thus addressed was Baron Sergius, a man of middle age. His countenance was singularly intelligent, tempered with an expression mild and winning. He had attended the Congress of Vienna to represent a fallen party, a difficult and ungracious task, but he had shown such high qualities in the fulfilment of his painful duties — so much knowledge, so much self-control, and so much wise and unaffected conciliation — that he had won universal respect, and especially with the English plenipotentiaries, so that when he visited England, which he did frequently, the houses of both parties were open to him, and he was as intimate with the Whigs as he was with the great Duke, by whom he was highly esteemed.

“As we have got our coffee, let us sit down,” said the baron, and they withdrew to a settee against the wall.

“You know I am a Liberal, and have always been a Liberal,” said the baron; “I know the value of civil and religious liberty, for I was born in a country where we had neither, and where we have since enjoyed either very fitfully. Nothing can be much drearier than the present lot of my country, and it is probable that these doings at Paris may help my friends a little, and they may again hold up their heads for a time; but I have seen too much, and am too old, to indulge in dreams. You are a young man and will live to see what I can only predict. The world is thinking of something else than civil and religious liberty. Those are phrases of the eighteenth century. The men who have won these ‘three glorious days’ at Paris, want neither civilisation nor religion. They will not be content till they have destroyed both. It is possible that they may be parried for a time; that the adroit wisdom of the house of Orleans, guided by Talleyrand, may give this movement the resemblance, and even the character, of a middle-class revolution. It is no such thing; the barricades were not erected by the middle class. I know these people; it is a fraternity, not a nation. Europe is honeycombed with their secret societies. They are spread all over Spain. Italy is entirely mined. I know more of the southern than the northern nations; but I have been assured by one who should know that the brotherhood are organised throughout Germany and even in Russia. I have spoken to the Duke about these things. He is not indifferent, or altogether incredulous, but he is so essentially practical that he can only deal with what he sees. I have spoken to the Whig leaders. They tell me that there is only one specific, and that a complete one — constitutional government; that with representative institutions, secret societies cannot coexist. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that with these secret societies representative institutions rather will disappear.”

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