Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 79

We have rather anticipated, for the sake of the subject, in our last chapter, and we must now recur to the time when, after his return from Paris, Endymion entered into what was virtually his first session in the House of Commons. Though in opposition, and with all the delights of the most charming society at his command, he was an habitual and constant attendant. One might have been tempted to believe that he would turn out to be, though a working, only a silent member, but his silence was only prudence. He was deeply interested and amused in watching the proceedings, especially when those took part in them with whom he was acquainted. Job Thornberry occupied a leading position in the debates. He addressed the House very shortly after he took his seat, and having a purpose and a most earnest one, and being what is styled a representative man of his subject, the House listened to him at once, and his place in debate was immediately recognised. The times favoured him, especially during the first and second session, while the commercial depression lasted; afterwards, he was always listened to, because he had great oratorical gifts, a persuasive style that was winning, and, though he had no inconsiderable powers of sarcasm, his extreme tact wisely guided him to restrain for the present that dangerous, though most effective, weapon.

The Pythagorean school, as Waldershare styled Mr. Bertie Tremaine and his following, very much amused Endymion. The heaven-born minister air of the great leader was striking. He never smiled, or at any rate contemptuously. Notice of a question was sometimes publicly given from this bench, but so abstruse in its nature and so quaint in its expression, that the House never comprehended it, and the unfortunate minister who had to answer, even with twenty-four hours’ study, was obliged to commence his reply by a conjectural interpretation of the query formally addressed to him. But though they were silent in the House, their views were otherwise powerfully represented. The weekly journal devoted to their principles was sedulously circulated among members of the House. It was called the “Precursor,” and systematically attacked not only every institution, but, it might be said, every law, and all the manners and customs, of the country. Its style was remarkable, never excited or impassioned, but frigid, logical, and incisive, and suggesting appalling revolutions with the calmness with which one would narrate the ordinary incidents of life. The editor of the “Precursor” was Mr. Jawett, selected by that great master of human nature, Mr. Bertie Tremaine. When it got about, that the editor of this fearful journal was a clerk in a public office, the indignation of the government, or at least of their supporters, was extreme, and there was no end to the punishments and disgrace to which he was to be subjected; but Waldershare, who lived a good deal in Bohemia, was essentially cosmopolitan, and dabbled in letters, persuaded his colleagues not to make the editor of the “Precursor” a martyr, and undertook with their authority to counteract his evil purposes by literary means alone.

Being fully empowered to take all necessary steps for this object, Waldershare thought that there was no better mode of arresting public attention to his enterprise than by engaging for its manager the most renowned pen of the hour, and he opened himself on the subject in the most sacred confidence to Mr. St. Barbe. That gentleman, invited to call upon a minister, sworn to secrecy, and brimful of state secrets, could not long restrain himself, and with admirable discretion consulted on his views and prospects Mr. Endymion Ferrars.

“But I thought you were one of us,” said Endymion; “you asked me to put you in the way of getting into Brooks’!”

“What of that?” said Mr. St. Barbe; “and when you remember what the Whigs owe to literary men, they ought to have elected me into Brooks’ without my asking for it.”

“Still, if you be on the other side?”

“It is nothing to do with sides,” said Mr. St. Barbe; “this affair goes far beyond sides. The ‘Precursor’ wants to put down the Crown; I shall put down the ‘Precursor.’ It is an affair of the closet, not of sides — an affair of the royal closet, sir. I am acting for the Crown, sir; the Crown has appealed to me. I save the Crown, and there must be personal relations with the highest,” and he looked quite fierce.

“Well, you have not written your first article yet,” said Endymion. “I shall look forward to it with much interest.”

After Easter, Lord Roehampton said to Endymion that a question ought to be put on a subject of foreign policy of importance, and on which he thought the ministry were in difficulties; “and I think you might as well ask it, Endymion. I will draw up the question, and you will give notice of it. It will be a reconnaissance.”

The notice of this question was the first time Endymion opened his mouth in the House of Commons. It was an humble and not a very hazardous office, but when he got on his legs his head swam, his heart beat so violently, that it was like a convulsion preceding death, and though he was only on his legs for a few seconds, all the sorrows of his life seemed to pass before him. When he sate down, he was quite surprised that the business of the House proceeded as usual, and it was only after some time that he became convinced that no one but himself was conscious of his sufferings, or that he had performed a routine duty otherwise than in a routine manner.

The crafty question, however, led to some important consequences. When asked, to the surprise of every one the minister himself replied to it. Waldershare, with whom Endymion dined at Bellamy’s that day, was in no good humour in consequence.

When Lord Roehampton had considered the ministerial reply, he said to Endymion, “This must be followed up. You must move for papers. It will be a good opportunity for you, for the House is up to something being in the wind, and they will listen. It will be curious to see whether the minister follows you. If so, he will give me an opening.”

Endymion felt that this was the crisis of his life. He knew the subject well, and he had all the tact and experience of Lord Roehampton to guide him in his statement and his arguments. He had also the great feeling that, if necessary, a powerful arm would support him. It was about a week before the day arrived, and Endymion slept very little that week, and the night before his motion not a wink. He almost wished he was dead as he walked down to the House in the hope that the exercise might remedy, or improve, his languid circulation; but in vain, and when his name was called and he had to rise, his hands and feet were like ice.

Lady Roehampton and Lady Montfort were both in the ventilator, and he knew it.

It might be said that he was sustained by his utter despair. He felt so feeble and generally imbecile, that he had not vitality enough to be sensible of failure.

He had a kind audience, and an interested one. When he opened his mouth, he forgot his first sentence, which he had long prepared. In trying to recall it and failing, he was for a moment confused. But it was only for a moment; the unpremeditated came to his aid, and his voice, at first tremulous, was recognised as distinct and rich. There was a murmur of sympathy, and not merely from his own side. Suddenly, both physically and intellectually, he was quite himself. His arrested circulation flowed, and fed his stagnant brain. His statement was lucid, his arguments were difficult to encounter, and his manner was modest. He sate down amid general applause, and though he was then conscious that he had omitted more than one point on which he had relied, he was on the whole satisfied, and recollected that he might use them in reply, a privilege to which he now looked forward with feelings of comfort and confidence.

The minister again followed him, and in an elaborate speech. The subject evidently, in the opinion of the minister, was of too delicate and difficult a character to trust to a subordinate. Overwhelmed as he was with the labours of his own department, the general conduct of affairs, and the leadership of the House, he still would undertake the representation of an office with whose business he was not familiar. Wary and accurate he always was, but in discussions on foreign affairs, he never exhibited the unrivalled facility with which he ever treated a commercial or financial question, or that plausible promptness with which, at a moment’s notice, he could encounter any difficulty connected with domestic administration.

All these were qualities which Lord Roehampton possessed with reference to the affairs over which he had long presided, and in the present instance, following the minister, he was particularly happy. He had a good case, and he was gratified by the success of Endymion. He complimented him and confuted his opponent, and, not satisfied with demolishing his arguments, Lord Roehampton indulged in a little raillery which the House enjoyed, but which was never pleasing to the more solemn organisation of his rival.

No language can describe the fury of Waldershare as to the events of this evening. He looked upon the conduct of the minister, in not permitting him to represent his department, as a decree of the incapacity of his subordinate, and of the virtual termination of the official career of the Under–Secretary of State. He would have resigned the next day had it not been for the influence of Lady Beaumaris, who soothed him by suggesting, that it would be better to take an early opportunity of changing his present post for another.

The minister was wrong. He was not fond of trusting youth, but it is a confidence which should be exercised, particularly in the conduct of a popular assembly. If the under-secretary had not satisfactorily answered Endymion, which no one had a right to assume, for Waldershare was a brilliant man, the minister could have always advanced to the rescue at the fitting time. As it was, he made a personal enemy of one who naturally might have ripened into a devoted follower, and who from his social influence, as well as from his political talents, was no despicable foe.

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