Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 14

The Cavaliers have left the ancient Hall, and the old pictures frown only upon empty tables. The Marquess immediately gained a seat by Mrs. Million, and was soon engrossed in deep converse with that illustrious lady. In one room, the most eminent and exclusive, headed by Mrs. Felix Lorraine, were now winding through the soothing mazes of a slow waltz, and now whirling, with all the rapidity of Eastern dervishes, to true double Wien time. In another saloon, the tedious tactics of quadrilles commanded the exertions of less civilised beings: here Liberal Snake, the celebrated political economist, was lecturing to a knot of alarmed country gentlemen; and there an Italian improvisatore poured forth to an admiring audience all the dulness of his inspiration. Vivian Grey was holding an earnest conversation in one of the recesses with Mr. Stapylton Toad. He had already charmed that worthy by the deep interest which he took in everything relating to elections and the House of Commons, and now they were hard at work on the Corn Laws. Although they agreed upon the main points, and Vivian’s ideas upon this important subject had, of course, been adopted after studying Mr. Toad’s “most luminous and convincing pamphlet,” still there were a few minor points on which Vivian “was obliged to confess” that “he did not exactly see his way.” Mr. Toad was astonished, but argumentative, and, of course, in due time, had made a convert of his companion; “a young man,” as he afterwards remarked to Lord Mounteney, “in whom he knew not which most to admire, the soundness of his own views, or the candour with which he treated those of others.” If you wish to win a man’s heart, allow him to confute you.

“I think, Mr. Grey, you must admit that my definition of labour is the correct one?” said Mr. Toad, looking earnestly in Vivian’s face, his finger just presuming to feel a button.

“That exertion of mind or body which is not the involuntary effect of the influence of natural sensations,” slowly repeated Vivian, as if his whole soul was concentrated in each monosyllable. “Y-e-s, Mr. Toad, I do admit it.”

“Then, my dear sir, the rest follows of course,” triumphantly exclaimed the member; “don’t you see it?”

“Although I admit the correctness of your definition, Mr. Toad, I am not free to confess that I am ex-act-ly convinced of the soundness of your conclusion,” said Vivian, in a musing mood.

“But, my dear sir, I am surprised that you don’t see that — ”

“Stop, Mr. Toad,” eagerly exclaimed Vivian; “I see my error. I misconceived your meaning: you are right, sir; your definition is correct.”

“I was confident that I should convince you, Mr. Grey.”

“This conversation, I assure you, Mr. Toad, has been to me a peculiarly satisfactory one. Indeed, sir, I have long wished to have the honour of making your acquaintance. When but a boy, I remember, at my father’s table, the late Marquess of Almack’s — ”

“Yes, Mr. Grey.”

“One of the ablest men, Mr. Toad, after all, that this country ever produced.”

“Oh, poor dear man!”

“I remember his observing to a friend of mine, who was at that time desirous of getting into the House: ‘Hargrave,’ said his Lordship, ‘if you want any information upon points of practical politics;’ that was his phrase; you remember, Mr. Toad, that his Lordship was peculiar in his phrases?”

“Oh! yes, poor dear man; but you were observing, Mr. Grey — ”

“Ay, ay! ‘If you want any information,’ said his Lordship, ‘on such points, there is only one man in the kingdom whom you should consult, and he is one of the soundest heads I know, and that is Stapylton Toad, the member for Mounteney;’ you know you were in for Mounteney then, Mr. Toad.”

“I was, and accepted the Chilterns to make room for Augustus Clay, Ernest Clay’s brother, who was so involved, that the only way to keep him out of the House of Correction was to get him into the House of Commons. But the Marquess said so, eh?”

“Ay, and much more, which I scarcely can remember;” and then followed a long dissertation on the character of the noble statesman, and his views as to the agricultural interest, and the importance of the agricultural interest; and then a delicate hint was thrown out as to “how delightful it would be to write a pamphlet together” on this mighty agricultural interest; and then came a panegyric on the character of country gentlemen, and English yeomen, and the importance of keeping up the old English spirit in the peasantry, &c. &c. &c. &c.; and then, when Vivian had led Mr. Toad to deliver a splendid and patriotic oration on this point, he “just remembered (quite apropos to the sentiments which Mr. Toad had just delivered, and which, he did not hesitate to say, ‘did equal honour to his head and heart’) that there was a little point, which, if it was not trespassing too much on Mr. Toad’s attention, he would just submit to him;” and then he mentioned poor John Conyers’ case, although “he felt convinced, from Mr. Toad’s well-known benevolent character, that it was quite unnecessary for him to do so, as he felt assured that it would be remedied immediately it fell under his cognisance; but then Mr. Toad had really so much business to transact, that perhaps these slight matters might occasionally not be submitted to him,” &c. &c. &c.

What could Stapylton Toad do but, after a little amiable grumbling about “bad system and bad precedent,” promise everything that Vivian Grey required?

“Mr. Vivian Grey,” said Mrs. Felix Lorraine, “I cannot understand why you have been talking to Mr. Toad so long. Will you waltz?”

Before Vivian could answer, a tittering, so audible that it might almost be termed a shout, burst forth from the whole room. Cynthia Courtown had stolen behind Lord Alhambra, as he was sitting on an ottoman a la Turque, and had folded a cashmere shawl round his head with a most Oriental tie. His Lordship, who, notwithstanding his eccentricities, was really a very amiable man, bore his blushing honours with a gracious dignity worthy of a descendant of the Abencerrages. The sensation which this incident occasioned favoured Vivian’s escape from Mrs. Felix, for he had not left Mr. Stapylton Toad with any intention of waltzing.

But he had hardly escaped from the waltzers ere he found himself in danger of being involved in a much more laborious duty; for now he stumbled on the Political Economist, and he was earnestly requested by the contending theorists to assume the office of moderator. Emboldened by his success. Liberal Snake had had the hardihood to attack a personage of whose character he was not utterly ignorant, but on whom he was extremely desirous of “making an — impression.” This important person was Sir Christopher Mowbray, who, upon the lecturer presuming to inform him “what rent was,” damned himself several times from sheer astonishment at the impudence of the fellow. I don’t wish to be coarse, but Sir Christopher is a great man, and the sayings of great men, particularly when they are representative of the sentiment of a species, should not pass unrecorded.

Sir Christopher Mowbray is member for the county of ——; and member for the county he intends to be next election, although he is in his seventy-ninth year, for he can still follow a fox with as pluck a heart and with as stout a voice as any squire in Christendom. Sir Christopher, it must be confessed, is rather peculiar in his ideas. His grandson, Peregrine Mowbray, who is as pert a genius as the applause of a common-room ever yet spoiled, and as sublime an orator as the cheerings of the Union ever yet inspired, says “the Baronet is not up to the nineteenth century;” and perhaps this phrase will give the reader a more significant idea of Sir Christopher Mowbray than a character as long and as laboured as the most perfect of my Lord Clarendon’s. The truth is, the good Baronet had no idea of “liberal principles,” or anything else of that school. His most peculiar characteristic is a singular habit which he has got of styling political economists French Smugglers. Nobody has ever yet succeeded in extracting a reason from him for this singular appellation, and even if you angle with the most exquisite skill for the desired definition, Sir Christopher immediately salutes you with a volley of oaths, and damns French wines, Bible Societies, and Mr. Huskisson. Sir Christopher for half a century has supported in the senate, with equal sedulousness and silence, the constitution and the corn laws; he is perfectly aware of “the present perilous state of the country,” and watches with great interest all “the plans and plots” of this enlightened age. The only thing which he does not exactly comprehend is the London University. This affair really puzzles the worthy gentleman, who could as easily fancy a county member not being a freeholder as an university not being at Oxford or Cambridge. Indeed to this hour the old gentleman believes that the whole business is “a hoax;” and if you tell him that, far from the plan partaking of the visionary nature he conceives, there are actually four acres of very valuable land purchased near White Conduit House for the erection, and that there is little apprehension that, in the course of a century, the wooden poles which are now stuck about the ground will not be as fair and flourishing as the most leafy bowers of New College Gardens, the old gentleman looks up to heaven, as if determined not to be taken in, and leaning back in his chair, sends forth a sceptical and smiling “No! no! no! that won’t do.”

Vivian extricated himself with as much grace as possible from the toils of the Economist, and indeed, like a skilful general, turned this little rencontre to account in accomplishing the very end for the attainment of which he had declined waltzing with Mrs. Felix Lorraine.

“My dear Lord,” said Vivian, addressing the Marquess, who was still by the side of Mrs. Million, “I am going to commit a most ungallant act; but you great men must pay a tax for your dignity. I am going to disturb you. You are wanted by half the county! What could possibly induce you ever to allow a Political Economist to enter Château Desir? There are. at least, three baronets and four squires in despair, writhing under the tortures of Liberal Snake. They have deputed me to request your assistance, to save them from being defeated in the presence of half their tenantry; and I think, my Lord,” said Vivian, with a serious voice, “if you could possibly contrive to interfere, it would be desirable. That lecturing knave never knows when to stop, and he is actually insulting men before whom, after all, he ought not to dare open his lips. I see that your Lordship is naturally not very much inclined to quit your present occupation, in order to act moderator to a set of brawlers; but come, you shall not be quite sacrificed to the county. I will give up the waltz in which I was engaged, and keep your seat until your return.”

The Marquess, who was always “keeping up county influence,” was very shocked at the obstreperous conduct of Liberal Snake. Indeed he had viewed the arrival of this worthy with no smiling countenance, but what could he say, as he came in the suit of Lord Pert, who was writing, with the lecturer’s assistance, a little pamphlet on the Currency? Apologising to Mrs. Million, and promising to return as soon as possible and lead her to the music-room, the Marquess retired, with the determination of annihilating one of the stoutest members of the Political Economy Club.

Vivian began by apologising to Mrs. Million for disturbing her progress to the Hall by his sudden arrival before dinner; and then for a quarter of an hour poured forth the usual quantity of piquant anecdotes and insidious compliments. Mrs. Million found Vivian’s conversation no disagreeable relief to the pompous prosiness of his predecessor.

And now, having succeeded in commanding Mrs. Million’s attention by that general art of pleasing which was for all the world, and which was, of course, formed upon his general experience of human nature, Vivian began to make his advances to Mrs. Million’s feelings by a particular art of pleasing; that is, an art which was for the particular person alone whom he was at any time addressing, and which was founded on his particular knowledge of that person’s character.

“How beautiful the old Hall looked to-day! It is a scene which can only be met with in ancient families.”

“Ah! there is nothing like old families!” remarked Mrs. Million, with all the awkward feelings of a parvenue.

“Do you think so?” said Vivian; “I once thought so myself, but I confess that my opinion is greatly changed. After all, what is noble blood? My eye is now resting on a crowd of nobles; and yet, being among them, do we treat them in a manner differing in any way from that which we should employ to individuals of a lower caste who were equally uninteresting?”

“Certainly not,” said Mrs. Million.

“The height of the ambition of the less exalted ranks is to be noble, because they conceive to be noble implies to be superior; associating in their minds, as they always do, a pre-eminence over then equals. But to be noble among nobles, where is the preeminence?”

“Where indeed?” said Mrs. Million; and she thought of herself, sitting the most considered personage in this grand castle, and yet with sufficiently base blood flowing in her veins.

“And thus, in the highest circles,” continued Vivian, “a man is of course not valued because he is a Marquess or a Duke; but because he is a great warrior, or a great statesman, or very fashionable, or very witty. In all classes but the highest, a peer, however unbefriended by nature or by fortune, becomes a man of a certain rate of consequence; but to be a person of consequence in the highest class requires something else besides high blood.”

“I quite agree with you in your sentiments, Mr. Grey. Now what character or what situation in life would you choose, if you had the power of making your choice?”

“That is really a most metaphysical question. As is the custom of all young men, I have sometimes, in my reveries, imagined what I conceived to be a lot of pure happiness: and yet Mrs. Million will perhaps be astonished that I was neither to be nobly born nor to acquire nobility, that I was not to be a statesman, or a poet, or a warrior, or a merchant, nor indeed any profession, not even a professional dandy.”

“Oh! love in a cottage, I suppose,” interrupted Mrs. Million.

“Neither love in a cottage, nor science in a cell.”

“Oh! pray tell me what it is.”

“What if is? Oh! Lord Mayor of London, I suppose; that is the only situation which answers to my oracular description.”

“Then you have been joking all this time!”

“Not at all. Come then, let us imagine this perfect lot. In the first place, I would be born in the middle classes of society, or even lower, because I would wish my character to be impartially developed. I would be born to no hereditary prejudices, no hereditary passions. My course in life should not be carved out by the example of a grandfather, nor my ideas modelled to a preconceived system of family perfection. Do you like my first principle, Mrs. Million?”

“I must hear everything before I give an opinion.”

“When, therefore, my mind was formed, I would wish to become the proprietor of a princely fortune.”

“Yes!” eagerly exclaimed Mrs. Million.

“And now would come the moral singularity of my fate. If I had gained this fortune by commerce, or in any other similar mode, my disposition, before the creation of this fortune, would naturally have been formed, and been permanently developed; and my mind would have been similarly affected, had I succeeded to some ducal father; for I should then, in all probability, have inherited some family line of conduct, both moral and political. But under the circumstances I have imagined, the result would be far different. I should then be in the singular situation of possessing, at the same time, unbounded wealth, and the whole powers and natural feelings of my mind unoppressed and unshackled. Oh! how splendid would be my career! I would not allow the change in my condition to exercise any influence on my natural disposition. I would experience the same passions and be subject to the same feelings, only they should be exercised and influential in a wider sphere. Then would be seen the influence of great wealth, directed by a disposition similar to that of the generality of men, inasmuch as it had been formed like that of the generality of men; and consequently, one much better acquainted with their feelings, their habits, and their wishes. Such a lot would indeed be princely! Such a lot would infallibly ensure the affection and respect of the great majority of mankind; and, supported by them, what should I care if I were misunderstood by a few fools and abused by a few knaves?”

Here came the Marquess to lead the lady to the concert. As she quitted her seat, a smile, beaming with graciousness, rewarded her youthful companion. “Ah!” thought Mrs. Million, “I go to the concert, but leave sweeter music than can possibly meet me there. What is the magic of these words? It is not flattery; such is not the language of Miss Gusset! It is not a rifacimento of compliments; such is not the style with which I am saluted by the Duke of Doze and the Earl of Leatherdale! Apparently I have heard a young philosopher delivering his sentiments upon an abstract point in human life; and yet have I not listened to a brilliant apology for my own character, and a triumphant defence of my own conduct. Of course it was unintentional; and yet how agreeable to be unintentionally defended!” So mused Mrs. Million, and she made a thousand vows not to let a day pass over without obtaining a pledge from Vivian Grey to visit her on their return to the metropolis.

Vivian remained in his seat for some time after the departure of his companion. “On my honour, I have half a mind to desert my embryo faction and number myself in her gorgeous retinue. Let me see. What part should I act? her secretary, or her toad-eater, or her physician, or her cook? or shall I be her page? Me-thinks I should make a pretty page, and hand a chased goblet as gracefully as any monkey that ever bent his knee in a lady’s chamber. Well! at any rate, there is this chance to be kept back, as the gambler does his last trump, or the cunning fencer his last ruse.”

He rose to offer his arm to some stray fair one; for crowds were now hurrying to pineapples and lobster salads: that is to say, supper was ready in the Long Gallery.

In a moment Vivian’s arm was locked in that of Mrs. Felix Lorraine.

“Oh, Mr. Grey, I have got a much better ghost story than even that of the Leyden Professor for you; but I am so wearied with waltzing that I must tell it you to-morrow. How came you to be so late this morning? Have you been paying many calls to-day? I quite missed you at dinner. Do you think Ernest Clay handsome? I dare not repeat what Lady Scrope said of you! You are an admirer of Lady Julia Knighton, I believe? I do not much like this plan of supping in the Long Gallery; it is a favourite locale of mine, and I have no idea of my private promenade being invaded by the uninteresting presence of trifles and Italian creams. Have you been telling Mrs. Million that she was very witty?” asked Vivian’s companion, with a significant look.

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