Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 24

The Oxford professor, who was the guest of the American colonel, was quite a young man, of advanced opinions on all subjects, religious, social, and political. He was clever, extremely well-informed, so far as books can make a man knowing, but unable to profit even by his limited experience of life from a restless vanity and overflowing conceit, which prevented him from ever observing or thinking of any thing but himself. He was gifted with a great command of words, which took the form of endless exposition, varied by sarcasm and passages of ornate jargon. He was the last person one would have expected to recognize in an Oxford professor; but we live in times of transition.

A Parisian man of science, who had passed his life in alternately fighting at barricades and discovering planets, had given Colonel Campian, who had lived much in the French capital, a letter of introduction to the professor, whose invectives against the principles of English society were hailed by foreigners as representative of the sentiments of venerable Oxford. The professor, who was not satisfied with his home career, and, like many men of his order of mind, had dreams of wild vanity which the New World, they think, can alone realize, was very glad to make the colonel’s acquaintance, which might facilitate his future movements. So he had lionized the distinguished visitors during the last few days over the university, and had availed himself of plenteous opportunities for exhibiting to them his celebrated powers of exposition, his talent for sarcasm, which he deemed peerless, and several highly-finished, picturesque passages, which were introduced with contemporary art.

The professor was very much surprised when he saw Lothair enter the saloon at the hotel. He was the last person in Oxford whom he expected to encounter. Like sedentary men of extreme opinions, he was a social parasite, and instead of indulging in his usual invectives against peers and princes, finding himself unexpectedly about to dine with one of that class, he was content only to dazzle and amuse him.

Mrs. Campian only entered the room when dinner was announced. She greeted Lothair with calmness but amenity, and took his offered arm.

“You have not suffered, I hope?” said Lothair.

“Very little, and through your kindness.”

It was a peculiar voice, low and musical, too subdued to call thrilling, but a penetrating voice, so that, however ordinary the observation, it attracted and impressed attention. But it was in harmony with all her appearance and manner. Lothair thought he had never seen any one or any thing so serene; the serenity, however, not of humbleness, nor of merely conscious innocence; it was not devoid of a degree of majesty; what one pictures of Olympian repose. And the countenance was Olympian: a Phidian face, with large gray eyes and dark lashes; wonderful hair, abounding without art, and gathered together by Grecian fillets.

The talk was of Oxford, and was at first chiefly maintained by the colonel and the professor.

“And do you share Colonel Campian’s feeling about Old England?” inquired Lothair of his hostess.

“The present interests me more than the past,” said the lady, “and the future more than the present.”

“The present seems to me as unintelligible as the future,” said Lothair.

“I think it is intelligible,” said the lady, with a faint smile. “It has many faults but, not, I think, the want of clearness.”

“I am not a destructive,” said the professor, addressing the colonel, but speaking loudly; “I would maintain Oxford, under any circumstances, with the necessary changes.”

“And what are those might I ask?” inquired Lothair.

“In reality, not much. I would get rid of the religion.”

“Get rid of the religion!” said Lothair.

“You have got rid of it once,” said the professor.

“You have altered, you have what people call reformed it,” said Lothair; “but you have not abolished or banished it from the university.”

“The shock would not be greater, nor so great, as the change from the papal to the Reformed faith. Besides, universities have nothing to do with religion.”

“I thought universities were universal,” said Lothair, “and had something to do with every thing.”

“I cannot conceive any society of any kind without religion,” said the lady.

Lothair glanced at her beautiful brow with devotion as she uttered these words.

Colonel Campian began to talk about horses. After that the professor proved to him that he was related to Edmund Campian, the Jesuit; and then he got to the Gunpowder Plot, which, he was not sure, if successful, might not have beneficially influenced the course of our history. Probably the Irish difficulty would not then have existed.

“I dislike plots,” said the lady; “they always fail.”

“And, whatever their object, are they not essentially immoral?” said Lothair.

“I have more faith in ideas than in persons,” said the lady. “When a truth is uttered, it will, sooner or later, be recognized. It is only an affair of time. It is better that it should mature and naturally germinate than be forced.”

“You would reduce us to lotus-eaters,” exclaimed the professor. “Action is natural to man. And what, after all, are conspiracies and revolutions but great principles in violent action?”

“I think you must be an admirer of repose,” said Lothair to the lady, in a low voice.

“Because I have seen something of action in my life;” said the lady, “and it is an experience of wasted energies and baffled thoughts.”

When they returned to the saloon, the colonel and the professor became interested in the constitution and discipline of the American universities. Lothair hung about the lady, who was examining some views of Oxford, and who was ascertaining what she had seen and what she had omitted to visit. They were thinking of returning home on the morrow.

“Without seeing Blenheim?” said Lothair.

“Without seeing Blenheim,” said the lady; “I confess to a pang; but I shall always associate with that name your great kindness to us.”

“But cannot we for once enter into a conspiracy together,” said Lothair, “and join in a happy plot and contrive to go? Besides, I could take you to the private gardens, for the duke has given me a perpetual order, and they are really exquisite.”

The lady seemed to smile.

“Theodora,” said the colonel, speaking from the end of the room, “what have you settled about your train tomorrow?”

“We want, to stay another day here,” said Theodora, “and go to Blenheim.”

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