Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 3

The rumour of the arrival of “a new fellow” circulated with rapidity through the inmates of Burnsley Vicarage, and about fifty young devils were preparing to quiz the newcomer, when the school-room door opened, and Mr. Dallas, accompanied by Vivian, entered.

“A dandy, by Jove!” whispered St. Leger Smith. “What a knowing set out!” squeaked Johnson secundus. “Mammy-sick!” growled Barlow primus. This last exclamation was, however, a scandalous libel, for certainly no being ever stood in a pedagogue’s presence with more perfect sang froid, and with a bolder front, than did, at this moment, Vivian Grey.

One principle in Mr. Dallas’s system was always to introduce a new-comer in school-hours. He was thus carried immediately in medias res, and the curiosity of his co-mates being in a great degree satisfied at the time when that curiosity could not personally annoy him, the new-comer was, of course, much better prepared to make his way when the absence of the ruler became a signal for some oral communication with “the arrival.”

However, in the present instance the young savages at Burnsley Vicarage had caught a Tartar; and in a very few days Vivian Grey was decidedly the most popular fellow in the school. He was “so dashing! so devilish good-tempered! so completely up to everything!” The magnates of the land were certainly rather jealous of his success, but their very sneers bore witness to his popularity. “Cursed puppy,” whispered St. Leger Smith. “Thinks himself knowing,” squeaked Johnson secundus. “Thinks himself witty,” growled Barlow primus.

Notwithstanding this cabal, days rolled on at Burnsley Vicarage only to witness the increase of Vivian’s popularity. Although more deficient than most of his own age in accurate classical attainments, he found himself, in talents and various acquirements, immeasurably their superior. And singular is it that at school distinction in such points is ten thousand times more admired by the multitude than the most profound knowledge of Greek Metres, or the most accurate acquaintance with the value of Roman coins. Vivian Grey’s English verses and Vivian Grey’s English themes were the subject of universal commendation. Some young lads made copies of these productions, to enrich, at the Christmas holidays, their sisters’ albums; while the whole school were scribbling embryo prize-poems, epics of twenty lines on “the Ruins of Paestum” and “the Temple of Minerva;” “Agrigentum,” and “the Cascade of Terni.” Vivian’s productions at this time would probably have been rejected by the commonest twopenny publication about town, yet they turned the brain of the whole school; while fellows who were writing Latin Dissertations and Greek Odes, which might have made the fortune of the Classical Journal, were looked on by the multitude as as great dunderheads as themselves. Such is the advantage which, even in this artificial world, everything that is genuine has over everything that is false and forced. The dunderheads who wrote “good Latin” and “Attic Greek” did it by a process by means of which the youngest fellow in the school was conscious he could, if he chose, attain the same perfection. Vivian Grey’s verses were unlike anything which had yet appeared in the literary Annals of Burnsley Vicarage, and that which was quite novel was naturally thought quite excellent.

There is no place in the world where greater homage is paid to talent than an English school. At a public school, indeed, if a youth of great talents be blessed with an amiable and generous disposition, he ought not to envy the Minister of England. If any captain of Eton or praefect of Winchester be reading these pages, let him dispassionately consider in what situation of life he can rationally expect that it will be in his power to exercise such influence, to have such opportunities of obliging others, and be so confident of an affectionate and grateful return. Aye, there’s the rub! Bitter thought! that gratitude should cease the moment we become men.

And sure I am that Vivian Grey was loved as ardently and as faithfully us you might expect from innocent young hearts. His slight accomplishments were the standard of all perfection, his sayings were the soul of all good fellowship, and his opinion the guide in any crisis which occurred in the monotonous existence of the little commonwealth. And time flew gaily on.

One winter evening, as Vivian, with some of his particular cronies, were standing round the school-room fire, they began, as all schoolboys do when it grows rather dark and they grow rather sentimental, to talk of HOME.

“Twelve weeks more,” said Augustus Etherege; “twelve weeks more, and we are free! The glorious day should be celebrated.”

“A feast, a feast!” exclaimed Poynings.

“A feast is but the work of a night,” said Vivian Grey; “something more stirring for me! What say you to private theatricals?”

The proposition was, of course, received with enthusiasm, and it was not until they had unanimously agreed to act that they universally remembered that acting was not allowed. And then they consulted whether they should ask Dallas, and then they remembered that Dallas had been asked fifty times, and then they “supposed they must give it up;” and then Vivian Grey made a proposition which the rest were secretly sighing for, but which they were afraid to make themselves; he proposed that they should act without asking Dallas. “Well, then, we’ll do it without asking him,” said Vivian; “nothing is allowed in this life, and everything is done: in town there is a thing called the French play, and that is not allowed, yet my aunt has got a private box there. Trust me for acting, but what shall we perform?”

This question was, as usual, the fruitful source of jarring opinions. One proposed Othello, chiefly because it would be so easy to black a face with a burnt cork. Another was for Hamlet, solely because he wanted to act the ghost, which he proposed doing in white shorts and a night-cap. A third was for Julius Caesar, because the murder scene would be such fun.

“No! no!” said Vivian, tired at these various and varying proposals, “this will never do. Out upon Tragedies; let’s have a Comedy!”

“A Comedy! a Comedy! oh! how delightful!”

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