Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 91

Endymion arrived at home very late from the Montfort ball, and rose in consequence at an unusually late hour. He had taken means to become sufficiently acquainted with the cause of his sister’s absence the night before, so he had no anxiety on that head. Lady Roehampton had really intended to have been present, was indeed dressed for the occasion; but when the moment of trial arrived, she was absolutely unequal to the effort. All this was amplified in a little note from his sister, which his valet brought him in the morning. What, however, considerably surprised him in this communication was her announcement that her feelings last night had proved to her that she ought not to remain in London, and that she intended to find solitude and repose in the little watering-place where she had passed a tranquil autumn during the first year of her widowhood. What completed his astonishment, however, was the closing intimation that, in all probability, she would have left town before he rose. The moment she had got a little settled she would write to him, and when business permitted, he must come and pay her a little visit.

“She was always capricious,” exclaimed Lady Montfort, who had not forgotten the disturbance of her royal supper-table.

“Hardly that, I think,” said Endymion. “I have always looked on Myra as a singularly consistent character.”

“I know, you never admit your sister has a fault.”

“You said the other day yourself that she was the only perfect character you knew.”

“Did I say that? I think her capricious.”

“I do not think you are capricious,” said Endymion, “and yet the world sometimes says you are.”

“I change my opinion of persons when my taste is offended,” said Lady Montfort. “What I admired in your sister, though I confess I sometimes wished not to admire her, was that she never offended my taste.”

“I hope satisfied it,” said Endymion.

“Yes, satisfied it, always satisfied it. I wonder what will be her lot, for, considering her youth, her destiny has hardly begun. Somehow or other, I do not think she will marry Sidney Wilton.”

“I have sometimes thought that would be,” said Endymion.

“Well, it would be, I think, a happy match. All the circumstances would be collected that form what is supposed to be happiness. But tastes differ about destinies as well as about manners. For my part, I think to have a husband who loved you, and he clever, accomplished, charming, ambitious, would be happiness; but I doubt whether your sister cares so much about these things. She may, of course does, talk to you more freely; but with others, in her most open hours, there seems a secret fund of reserve in her character which I never could penetrate, except, I think, it is a reserve which does not originate in a love of tranquillity, but quite the reverse. She is a strong character.”

“Then, hardly a capricious one.”

“No, not capricious; I only said that to tease you. I am capricious; I know it. I disregard people sometimes that I have patronised and flattered. It is not merely that I have changed my opinion of them, but I positively hate them.”

“I hope you will never hate me,” said Endymion.

“You have never offended my taste yet,” said Lady Montfort with a smile.

Endymion was engaged to dine today with Mr. Bertie Tremaine. Although now in hostile political camps, that great leader of men never permitted their acquaintance to cease. “He is young,” reasoned Mr. Bertie Tremaine; “every political party changes its principles on an average once in ten years. Those who are young must often then form new connections, and Ferrars will then come to me. He will be ripe and experienced, and I could give him a good deal. I do not want numbers. I want men. In opposition, numbers often only embarrass. The power of the future is ministerial capacity. The leader with a cabinet formed will be the minister of England. He is not to trouble himself about numbers; that is an affair of the constituencies.”

Male dinners are in general not amusing. When they are formed, as they usually are, of men who are supposed to possess a strong and common sympathy — political, sporting, literary, military, social — there is necessarily a monotony of thought and feeling, and of the materials which induce thought and feeling. In a male dinner of party politicians, conversation soon degenerates into what is termed “shop;” anecdotes about divisions, criticism of speeches, conjectures about office, speculations on impending elections, and above all, that heinous subject on which enormous fibs are ever told, the registration. There are, however, occasional glimpses in their talk which would seem to intimate that they have another life outside the Houses of Parliament. But that extenuating circumstance does not apply to the sporting dinner. There they begin with odds and handicaps, and end with handicaps and odds, and it is doubtful whether it ever occurs to any one present, that there is any other existing combination of atoms than odds and handicaps. A dinner of wits is proverbially a place of silence; and the envy and hatred which all literary men really feel for each other, especially when they are exchanging dedications of mutual affection, always ensure, in such assemblies, the agreeable presence of a general feeling of painful constraint. If a good thing occurs to a guest, he will not express it, lest his neighbour, who is publishing a novel in numbers, shall appropriate it next month, or he himself, who has the same responsibility of production, be deprived of its legitimate appearance. Those who desire to learn something of the manoeuvres at the Russian and Prussian reviews, or the last rumour at Aldershot or the military clubs, will know where to find this feast of reason. The flow of soul in these male festivals is perhaps, on the whole, more genial when found in a society of young gentlemen, graduates of the Turf and the Marlborough, and guided in their benignant studies by the gentle experience and the mild wisdom of White’s. The startling scandal, the rattling anecdote, the astounding leaps, and the amazing shots, afford for the moment a somewhat pleasing distraction, but when it is discovered that all these habitual flim-flams are, in general, the airy creatures of inaccuracy and exaggeration — that the scandal is not true, the anecdote has no foundation, and that the feats and skill and strength are invested with the organic weakness of tradition, the vagaries lose something of the charm of novelty, and are almost as insipid as claret from which the bouquet has evaporated.

The male dinners of Mr. Bertie Tremaine were an exception to the general reputation of such meetings. They were never dull. In the first place, though to be known at least by reputation was an indispensable condition of being present, he brought different classes together, and this, at least for once, stimulates and gratifies curiosity. His house too was open to foreigners of celebrity, without reference to their political parties or opinions. Every one was welcome except absolute assassins. The host too had studied the art of developing character and conversation, and if sometimes he was not so successful in this respect as he deserved, there was no lack of amusing entertainment, for in these social encounters Mr. Bertie Tremaine was a reserve in himself, and if nobody else would talk, he would avail himself of the opportunity of pouring forth the treasures of his own teeming intelligence. His various knowledge, his power of speech, his eccentric paradoxes, his pompous rhetoric, relieved by some happy sarcasm, and the obvious sense, in all he said and did, of innate superiority to all his guests, made these exhibitions extremely amusing.

“What Bertie Tremaine will end in,” Endymion would sometimes say, “perplexes me. Had there been no revolution in 1832, and he had entered parliament for his family borough, I think he must by this time have been a minister. Such tenacity of purpose could scarcely fail. But he has had to say and do so many odd things, first to get into parliament, and secondly to keep there, that his future now is not so clear. When I first knew him, he was a Benthamite; at present, I sometimes seem to foresee that he will end by being the leader of the Protectionists and the Protestants.”

“And a good strong party too,” said Trenchard, “but query whether strong enough?”

“That is exactly what Bertie Tremaine is trying to find out.”

Mr. Bertie Tremaine’s manner in receiving his guests was courtly and ceremonious; a contrast to the free and easy style of the time. But it was adopted after due reflection. “No man can tell you what will be the position he may be called upon to fill. But he has a right to assume he will always be ascending. I, for example, may be destined to be the president of a republic, the regent of a monarchy, or a sovereign myself. It would be painful and disagreeable to have to change one’s manner at a perhaps advanced period of life, and become liable to the unpopular imputation that you had grown arrogant and overbearing. On the contrary, in my case, whatever my elevation, there will be no change. My brother, Mr. Tremaine Bertie, acts on a different principle. He is a Sybarite, and has a general contempt for mankind, certainly for the mob and the middle class, but he is ‘Hail fellow, well met!’ with them all. He says it answers at elections; I doubt it. I myself represent a popular constituency, but I believe I owe my success in no slight measure to the manner in which I gave my hand when I permitted it to be touched. As I say sometimes to Mr. Tremaine Bertie, ‘You will find this habit of social familiarity embarrassing when I send you to St. Petersburg or Vienna.’”

Waldershare dined there, now a peer, though, as he rejoiced to say, not a peer of parliament. An Irish peer, with an English constituency, filled, according to Waldershare, the most enviable of positions. His rank gave him social influence, and his seat in the House of Commons that power which all aspire to obtain. The cynosure of the banquet, however, was a gentleman who had, about a year before, been the president of a republic for nearly six weeks, and who being master of a species of rhapsodical rhetoric, highly useful in troubled times, when there is no real business to transact, and where there is nobody to transact it, had disappeared when the treasury was quite empty, and there were no further funds to reward the enthusiastic citizens who had hitherto patriotically maintained order at wages about double in amount to what they had previously received in their handicrafts. This great reputation had been brought over by Mr. Tremaine Bertie, now introducing him into English political society. Mr. Tremaine Bertie hung upon the accents of the oracle, every word of which was intended to be picturesque or profound, and then surveyed his friends with a glance of appreciating wonder. Sensible Englishmen, like Endymion and Trenchard, looked upon the whole exhibition as fustian, and received the revelations with a smile of frigid courtesy.

The presence, however, of this celebrity of six weeks gave occasionally a tone of foreign politics to the conversation, and the association of ideas, which, in due course, rules all talk, brought them, among other incidents and instances, to the remarkable career of King Florestan.

“And yet he has his mortifications,” said a sensible man. “He wants a wife, and the princesses of the world will not furnish him with one.”

“What authority have you for saying so?” exclaimed the fiery Waldershare. “The princesses of the world would be great fools if they refused such a man, but I know of no authentic instance of such denial.”

“Well, it is the common rumour.”

“And, therefore, probably a common falsehood.”

“Were he wise,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, “King Florestan would not marry. Dynasties are unpopular; especially new ones. The present age is monarchical, but not dynastic. The king, who is a man of reach, and who has been pondering such circumstances all his life, is probably well aware of this, and will not be such a fool as to marry.”

“How is the monarchy to go on, if there is to be no successor?” inquired Trenchard. “You would not renew the Polish constitution?”

“The Polish constitution, by the by, was not so bad a thing,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. “Under it a distinguished Englishman might have mixed with the crowned heads of Europe, as Sir Philip Sidney nearly did. But I was looking to something superior to the Polish constitution, or perhaps any other; I was contemplating a monarchy with the principle of adoption. That would give you all the excellence of the Polish constitution, and the order and constancy in which it failed. It would realise the want of the age; monarchical, not dynastical, institutions, and it would act independent of the passions and intrigues of the multitude. The principle of adoption was the secret of the strength and endurance of Rome. It gave Rome alike the Scipios and the Antonines.”

“A court would be rather dull without a woman at its head.”

“On the contrary,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. “It was Louis Quatorze who made the court; not his queen.”

“Well,” said Waldershare, “all the same, I fear King Florestan will adopt no one in this room, though he has several friends here, and I am one; and I believe that he will marry, and I cannot help fancying that the partner of this throne will not be as insignificant as Louis the Fourteenth’s wife, or Catherine of Braganza.”

Jawett dined this day with Mr. Bertie Tremaine. He was a frequent guest there, and still was the editor of the “Precursor,” though it sometimes baffled all that lucidity of style for which he was celebrated to reconcile the conduct of the party, of which the “Precursor” was alike the oracle and organ, with the opinions with which that now well-established journal first attempted to direct and illuminate the public mind. It seemed to the editor that the “Precursor” dwelt more on the past than became a harbinger of the future. Not that Mr. Bertie Tremaine ever for a moment admitted that there was any difficulty in any case. He never permitted any dogmas that he had ever enunciated to be surrendered, however contrary at their first aspect.

“All are but parts of one stupendous whole,”

and few things were more interesting than the conference in which Mr. Bertie Tremaine had to impart his views and instructions to the master of that lucid style, which had the merit of making everything so very clear when the master himself was, as at present, extremely perplexed and confused. Jawett lingered after the other guests, that he might have the advantage of consulting the great leader on the course which he ought to take in advocating a measure which seemed completely at variance with all the principles they had ever upheld.

“I do not see your difficulty,” wound up the host. “Your case is clear. You have a principle which will carry you through everything. That is the charm of a principle. You have always an answer ready.”

“But in this case,” somewhat timidly inquired Mr. Jawett, “what would be the principle on which I should rest?”

“You must show,” said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, “that democracy is aristocracy in disguise; and that aristocracy is democracy in disguise. It will carry you through everything.”

Even Jawett looked a little amazed.

“But”— he was beginning, when Mr. Bertie Tremaine arose. “Think of what I have said, and if on reflection any doubt or difficulty remain in your mind, call on me tomorrow before I go to the House. At present, I must pay my respects to Lady Beaumaris. She is the only woman the Tories can boast of; but she is a first-rate woman, and is a power which I must secure.”

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