Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 8

THE HONOURABLE CYNTHIA COURTOWN TO VIVIAN GREY, ESQ.

“Alburies, Oct. 18 — .

“DEAR GREY,

“We have now been at Alburies for a fortnight. Nothing can be more delightful. Here is everybody in the world that I wish to see, except yourself. The Knightons, with as many outriders as usual: Lady Julia and myself are great allies; I like her amazingly. The Marquess of Grandgoût arrived here last week, with a most delicious party; all the men who write ‘John Bull.’ I was rather disappointed at the first sight of Stanislaus Hoax. I had expected, I do not know why, something juvenile and squibbish, when lo! I was introduced to a corpulent individual, with his coat buttoned up to his chin, looking dull, gentlemanlike, and apoplectic. However, on acquaintance, he came out quite rich, sings delightfully, and improvises like a prophet, ten thousand times more entertaining than Pistrucci. We are sworn friends; and I know all the secret history of ‘John Bull.’ There is not much, to be sure, that you did not tell me yourself; but still there are some things. I must not trust them, however, to paper, and therefore pray dash down to Alburies immediately; I shall be most happy to introduce you to Lord Devildrain. There was an interview. What think you of that? Stanislaus told me all, circumstantially, and after dinner; I do not doubt that it is quite true. What would you give for the secret history of the ‘rather yellow, rather yellow,’ chanson? I dare not tell it you. It came from a quarter that will quite astound you, and in a very elegant, small, female hand. You remember Lambton did stir very awkwardly in the Lisbon business. Stanislaus wrote all the songs that appeared in the first number, except that; but he never wrote a single line of prose for the first three months: it all came from Vivida Vis.

“I like the Marquess of Grandgoût so much! I hope he will be elevated in the peerage: he looks as if he wanted it so! Poor dear man!”

“Oh! do you know I have discovered a liaison between Bull and Blackwood. I am to be in the next Noctes; I forget the words of the chorus exactly, but Courtown is to rhyme with port down, or something of that kind, and then they are to dash their glasses over their heads, give three cheers, and adjourn to whisky-toddy and the Chaldee chamber. How delightful!

“The Prima Donnas are at Cheltenham, looking most respectable. Do you ever see the ‘Age’? It is not proper for me to take it in. Pray send me down your numbers, and tell me all about it. Is it true that his Lordship paragraphises a little?

“I have not heard from Ernest Clay, which I think very odd. If you write to him, mention this, and tell him to send me word how Dormer Stanhope behaves at mess. I understand there has been a melee, not much; merely a rouette; do get it all out of him.

“Colonel Delmington is at Cheltenham, with the most knowing beard you can possibly conceive; Lady Julia rather patronises him. Lady Doubtful has been turned out of the rooms; fifty challenges in consequence and one duel; missed fire, of course.

“I have heard from Alhambra; he has been wandering about in all directions. He has been to the Lakes, and is now at Edinburgh. He likes Southey. He gave the laureate a quantity of hints for his next volume of the Peninsular War, but does not speak very warmly of Wordsworth: gentlemanly man, but only reads his own poetry.

“Here has been a cousin of yours about us; a young barrister going the circuit; by name Hargrave Grey. The name attracted my notice, and due inquiries having been made and satisfactorily answered, I patronised the limb of law. Fortunate for him! I got him to all the fancy balls and pic-nics that were going on. He was in heaven for a fortnight, and at length, having overstayed his time, he left us, also leaving his bag and only brief behind him. They say he is ruined for life. Write soon.

“Yours ever,

“CYNTHIA COURTOWN.”

ERNEST CLAY, ESQ., TO VlVIAN GREY, ESQ.

“October, 18 — .

“DEAR GREY,

“I am sick of key-bugles and country-balls! All the girls in the town are in love with me, or my foraging cap. I am very much obliged to you for your letter to Kennet, which procured everything I wanted. The family turned out bores, as you had prepared me. I never met such a clever family in my life; the father is summoning up courage to favour the world with a volume of sermons; and Isabella Kennet most satisfactorily proved to me, after an argument of two hours, which for courtesy’s sake I fought very manfully, that Sir Walter Scott was not the author of Waverley; and then she vowed, as I have heard fifty young literary ladies vow before, that she had ‘seen the Antiquary in manuscript.’

“There has been a slight row to diversify the monotony of our military life. Young Premium, the son of the celebrated loan-monger, has bought in; and Dormer Stanhope, and one or two others equally fresh, immediately anticipated another Battier business; but, with the greatest desire to make a fool of myself, I have a natural repugnance to mimicking the foolery of others; so with some little exertion, and very fortunately for young Premium, I got the tenth voted vulgar, on the score of curiosity, and we were civil to the man. As it turned out, it was all very well, for Premium is a quiet, gentlemanlike fellow enough, and exceedingly useful. He will keep extra grooms for the whole mess, if they want it. He is very grateful to me for what does not deserve any gratitude, and for what gave me no trouble; for I did not defend him from any feeling of kindness: and both the Mounteneys, and young Stapylton Toad, and Augustus, being in the regiment, why, I have very little trouble in commanding a majority, if it come to a division.

“I dined the other day at old Premium’s, who lives near this town in a magnificent old hall; which, however, is not nearly splendid enough for a man who is the creditor of every nation from California to China; and, consequently, the great Mr. Stucco is building a plaster castle for him in another part of the park. Glad am I enough that I was prevailed upon to patronise the Premium; for I think I seldom witnessed a more amusing scene than I did the day I dined there.

“I was ushered through an actual street of servitors, whose liveries were really cloth of gold, and whose elaborately powdered heads would not have disgraced the most ancient mansion in St. James’s Square, into a large and crowded saloon. I was, of course, received with miraculous consideration; and the ear of Mrs. Premium seemed to dwell upon the jingling of my spurs (for I am adjutant) as upon exquisite music. It was bona fide evidence of ‘the officers being there.’

“Premium is a short, but by no means vulgar-looking man, about fifty, with a high forehead covered with wrinkles, and with eyes deep sunk in his head. I never met a man of apparently less bustle, and of a cooler temperament. He was an object of observation from his very unobtrusiveness. There were. I immediately perceived, a great number of foreigners in the room. They looked much too knowing for Arguelles and Co., and I soon found that they were members of the different embassies, or missions of the various Governments to whose infant existence Premium is foster father. There were two striking figures in Oriental costume, who were shown to me as the Greek Deputies; not that you are to imagine that they always appear in this picturesque dress. It was only as a particular favour, and to please Miss Premium (there, Grey, my boy! there is a quarry!), that the illustrious envoys appeared habited this day in their national costume.

“You would have enjoyed the scene. In one part of the room was a naval officer, just hot from the mines of Mexico, and lecturing eloquently on the passing of the Cordillera. In another was a man of science, dilating on the miraculous powers of a newly-discovered amalgamation process to a knot of merchants, who, with bent brows and eager eyes, were already forming a Company for its adoption. Here floated the latest anecdote of Bolivar; and there a murmur of some new movement of Cochrane’s. And then the perpetual babble about ‘rising states,’ and ‘new loans,’ and ‘enlightened views,’ and ‘juncture of the two oceans,’ and ‘liberal principles,’ and ‘steamboats to Mexico,’ and the earnest look which every one had in the room. How different to the vacant gaze that we have been accustomed to! I was really particularly struck by the circumstance. Every one at Premium’s looked full of some great plan, as if the fate of empires wag on his very breath. I hardly knew whether they were most like conspirators, or gamblers, or the lions of a public dinner, conscious of an universal gaze, and consequently looking proportionately interesting. One circumstance particularly struck me: as I was watching the acute countenance of an individual, who young Premium informed me was the Chilian minister, and who was listening with great attention to a dissertation from Captain Tropic, the celebrated traveller, on the feasibility of a railroad over the Andes, I observed a great sensation among those around me; every one shifting, and shuffling, and staring, and assisting in that curious and confusing ceremony called ‘making way.’ Even Premium appeared a little excited when he came forward with a smile on his face to receive an individual, apparently a foreigner, and who stepped on with great though gracious dignity. Being curious to know who this great man was, I found that this was an ambassador, the representative of a recognised state.

“‘Pon my honour, when I saw all this, I could not refrain from moralising on the magic of wealth; and when I just remembered the embryo plot of some young Hussar officers to cut the son of the magician, I rather smiled; but while I, with even greater reverence than all others, was making way for his Excellency, I observed Mrs. Premium looking at my spurs. ‘Farewell Philosophy!’ thought I; ‘Puppyism for ever!’

“Dinner was at last announced, and the nice etiquette which was observed between recognised states and non-recognised states was really excessively amusing: not only the ambassador would take precedence of the mere political agent, but his Excellency’s private secretary was equally tenacious as to the agent’s private secretary. At length we were all seated: the spacious dining-room was hung round with portraits of most of the successful revolutionary leaders, and over Mr. Premium was suspended a magnificent portrait of Bolivar. If you could but have seen the plate! By Jove! I have eaten off the silver of most of the first families in England, yet never in my life did it enter into my imagination that it was possible for the most ingenious artist that ever existed to repeat a crest half so often in a tablespoon as in that of Premium. The crest is a bubble, and really the effect produced by it is most ludicrous.

“I was very much struck at table by the appearance of an individual who came in very late, but who was evidently, by his bearing, no insignificant personage. He was a tall man, with a long hooked nose and high cheek bones, and with an eye (were you ever at the Old Bailey? there you may see its fellow); his complexion looked as if it had been accustomed to the breezes of many climes, and his hair, which had once been red, was now silvered, or rather iron-greyed, not by age. Yet there was in his whole bearing, in his slightest actions, even in the easy, desperate air with which he took; a glass of wine, an indefinable something (you know what I mean) which attracted your unremitting attention to him. I was not wrung in my suspicions of his celebrity; for, as Miss Premium, whom I sat next to, whispered, ‘he was quite a lion.’ It was Lord Oceanville What he is after no one knows. Some say he is going to Greece, others whisper an invasion of Paraguay, and others, of course, say other things; perhaps equally correct. I think he is for Greece. I know he is one of the most extraordinary men I ever met with. I am getting prosy. Good-bye! Write soon. Any fun going on? How is Cynthia? I ought to have written. How is Mrs. Felix Lorraine? She is a deuced odd woman!

“Yours faithfully,

“ERNEST CLAY.”

HARGRAVE GREY, ESQ., TO VIVIAN GREY, ESQ.

“October, 18 — .

“DEAR VIVIAN,

“You ought not to expect a letter from me. I cannot conceive why you do not occasionally answer your correspondents’ letters, if correspondents they may be called. It is really a most unreasonable habit of yours; any one but myself would quarrel with you.

“A letter from Baker met me at this place, and I find that the whole of that most disagreeable and annoying business is arranged. From the promptitude, skill, and energy which are apparent in the whole affair, I suspect I have to thank the very gentleman whom I was just going to quarrel with. You are a good fellow, Vivian, after all. For want of a brief, I sit down to give you a sketch of my adventures on this my first circuit.

“This circuit is a cold and mercantile adventure, and I am disappointed in it. Not so either, for I looked for but little to enjoy. Take one day of my life as a specimen; the rest are mostly alike. The sheriff’s trumpets are playing; one, some tune of which I know nothing, and the other no tune at all. I am obliged to turn out at eight. It is the first day of the Assize, so there is some chance of a brief, being a new place. I push my way into court through files of attorneys, as civil to the rogues as possible, assuring them there is plenty of room, though I am at the very moment gasping for breath wedged-in in a lane of well-lined waistcoats. I get into court, take my place in the quietest corner, and there I sit, and pass other men’s fees and briefs like a twopenny postman, only without pay. Well! ’tis six o’clock, dinner-time, at the bottom of the table, carve for all, speak to none, nobody speaks to me, must wait till last to sum up, and pay the bill. Reach home quite devoured by spleen, after having heard every one abused who happened to be absent.

“I travelled to this place with Manners, whom I believe you know, and amused myself by getting from him an account of my fellows, anticipating, at the same time, what in fact happened; to wit, that I should afterwards get his character from them. It is strange how freely they deal with each other; that is, the person spoken of being away. I would not have had you see our Stanhope for half a hundred pounds; your jealousy would have been so excited. To say the truth, we are a little rough; our mane wants pulling and our hoofs trimming, but we jog along without performing either operation; and, by dint of rattling the whip against the splash-board, using all one’s persuasion of hand and voice, and jerking the bit in his mouth, we do contrive to get into the circuit town, usually, just about the time that the sheriff and his posse comitatus are starting to meet my Lord the King’s Justice: and that is the worst of it; for their horses are prancing and pawing coursers just out of the stable, sleek skins and smart drivers. We begin to be knocked up just then, and our appearance is the least brilliant of any part of the day. Here I had to pass through a host of these powdered, scented fops; and the multitude who had assembled to gaze on the nobler exhibition rather scoffed at our humble vehicle. As Manners had just then been set down to find the inn and lodging, I could not jump out and leave our equipage to its fate, so I settled my cravat, and seemed not to mind it, only I did.

“But I must leave off this nonsense, and attend to his Lordship’s charge, which is now about to commence. I have not been able to get you a single good murder, although I have kept a sharp look-out, as you desired me; but there is a chance of a first-rate one at —— n.

“I am quite delighted with Mr. Justice St. Prose. He is at this moment in a most entertaining passion, preparatory to a ‘conscientious’ summing up; and in order that his ideas may not be disturbed, he has very liberally ordered the door-keeper to have the door oiled immediately, at his own expense. Now for my Lord the King’s Justice.

“‘Gentlemen of the Jury,

“‘The noise is insufferable, the heat is intolerable, the door-keepers let the people keep shuffling in, the ducks in the corner are going quack, quack, quack, here’s a little girl being tried for her life, and the judge can’t hear a word that’s said. Bring me my black cap, and I’ll condemn her to death instantly.’

“‘You can’t, my Lord.’ shrieks the infant sinner; ‘it’s only for petty larceny!’

“I have just got an invite from the Kearneys. Congratulate me.

“Dear Vivian, yours faithfully,

“HARGRAVE GREY.”

LADY SCROPE TO VIVIAN GREY, ESQ.

“Ormsby Park, Oct. 18 — .

“MY DEAR VIVIAN,

“By desire of Sir Berdmore, I have to request the fulfilment of a promise, upon the hope of which being performed I have existed through this dull month. Pray, my dear Vivian, come to us immediately. Ormsby has at present little to offer for your entertainment. We have had that unendurable bore Vivacity Dull with us for a whole fortnight. A report of the death of the Lord Chancellor, or a rumour of the production of a new tragedy, has carried him up to town; but whether it be to ask for the seals, or to indite an ingenious prologue to a play which will be condemned the first night, I cannot inform you. I am quite sure he is capable of doing either. However, we shall have other deer in a few days.

“I believe you have never met the Mounteneys. They have never been at Hallesbrooke since you have been at Desir. They are coming to us immediately. I am sure you will like them very much. Lord Mounteney is one of those kind, easy-minded, accomplished men, who, after all, are nearly the pleasantest society one ever meets. Rather wild in his youth, but with his estate now unencumbered, and himself perfectly domestic. His lady is an unaffected, agreeable woman. But it is Caroline Mounteney whom I wish you particularly to meet. She is one of those delicious creatures who, in spite of not being married, are actually conversable. Spirited, without any affectation or brusquerie; beautiful, and knowing enough to be quite conscious of it; perfectly accomplished, and yet never annoying you with tattle about Bochsa, and Ronzi de Begnis, and D’Egville.

“We also expect the Delmonts, the most endurable of the Anglo–Italians that I know. Mrs. Delmont is not always dropping her handkerchief like Lady Gusto, as if she expected a miserable cavalier servente to be constantly upon his knees; or giving those odious expressive looks, which quite destroy my nerves whenever I am under the same roof as that horrible Lady Soprano. There is a little too much talk, to be sure, about Roman churches, and newly-discovered mosaics, and Abbate Maii, but still we cannot expect perfection. There are reports going about that Ernest Clay is either ruined or going to be married. Perhaps both are true. Young Premium has nearly lost his character by driving a square-built, striped green thing, drawn by one horse. Ernest Clay got him through this terrible affair. What can be the reasons of the Sieur Ernest’s excessive amiability?

“Both the young Mounteneys are with their regiment, but Aubrey Vere is coming to us, and I have half a promise from —; but I know you never speak to unmarried men, so why do I mention them? Let me, I beseech you, my dear Vivian, have a few days of you to myself before Ormsby is full, and before you are introduced to Caroline Mounteney. I did not think it was possible that I could exist so long without seeing you; but you really must not try me too much, or I shall quarrel with you. I have received all your letters, which are very, very agreeable; but I think rather, rather impudent. Adieu!

“HARRIETTE SCROPE.”

HORACE GREY, ESQ., TO VIVIAN GREY, ESQ.

“Paris, Oct. 18 — .

“MY DEAR VIVIAN,

“I have received yours of the 9th, and have read it with mixed feelings of astonishment and sorrow.

“You are now, my dear son, a member of what is called the great world; society formed on anti-social principles. Apparently you have possessed yourself of the object of your wishes; but the scenes you live in are very moveable; the characters you associate with are all masked; and it will always be doubtful whether you c an retain that long, which has been obtained by some slippery artifice. Vivian, you are a juggler; and the deceptions of your sleight-of-hand tricks depend upon instantaneous motions.

“When the selfish combine with the selfish, bethink you how many projects are doomed to disappointment! how many cross interests baffle the parties at the same time joined together without ever uniting. What a mockery is their love! but how deadly are their hatreds! All this great society, with whom so young an adventurer has trafficked, abate nothing of their price in the slavery of their service and the sacrifice of violated feelings. What sleepless nights has it cost you to win over the disobliged, to conciliate the discontented, to cajole the contumatious! You may smile at the hollow flatteries, answering to flatteries as hollow, which like bubbles when they touch, dissolve into nothing; but tell me, Vivian, what has the self-tormentor felt at the laughing treacheries which force a man down into self-contempt?

“Is it not obvious, my dear Vivian, that true Fame and true Happiness must rest upon the imperishable social affections? I do not mean that coterie celebrity which paltry minds accept as fame; but that which exists independent of the opinions or the intrigues of individuals: nor do I mean that glittering show of perpetual converse with the world which some miserable wanderers call Happiness; but that which can only be drawn from the sacred and solitary fountain of your own feelings.

“Active as you have now become in the great scenes of human affairs, I would not have you be guided by any fanciful theories of morals or of human nature. Philosophers have amused themselves by deciding on human actions by systems; but, as these system? are of the most opposite natures, it is evident that each philosopher, in reflecting his own feelings in the system he has so elaborately formed, has only painted his own character.

“Do not, therefore, conclude, with Hobbes and Mandeville, that man lives in a state of civil warfare with man; nor with Shaftesbury, adorn with a poetical philosophy our natural feelings. Man is neither the vile nor the excellent being which he sometimes imagines himself to be. He does not so much act by system as by sympathy. If this creature cannot always feel for others, he is doomed to feel for himself; and the vicious are, at least, blessed with the curse of remorse.

“You are now inspecting one of the worst portions of society in what is called the great world (St. Giles’ is bad, but of another kind), and it may be useful, on the principle that the actual sight of brutal ebriety was supposed to have inspired youth with the virtue of temperance; on the same principle that the Platonist, in the study of deformity, conceived the beautiful. Let me warn you not to fall into the usual error of youth in fancying that the circle you move in is precisely the world itself. Do not imagine that there are not other beings, whose benevolent principle is governed by finer sympathies, by more generous passions, and by those nobler emotions which really constitute all our public and private virtues. I give you this hint, lest, in your present society, you might suppose these virtues were merely historical.

“Once more, I must beseech you not to give loose to any elation of mind. The machinery by which you have attained this unnatural result must be so complicated that in the very tenth hour you will find yourself stopped in some part where you never counted on an impediment; and the want of a slight screw or a little oil will prevent you from accomplishing your magnificent end.

“We are, and have been, very dull here. There is every probability of Madame de Genlis writing more volumes than ever. I called on the old lady, and was quite amused with the enthusiasm of her imbecility. Chateaubriand is getting what you call a bore; and the whole city is mad about a new opera by Boieldieu. Your mother sends her love, and desires me to say, that the salmi of woodcocks, à la Lucullus, which you write about, does not differ from the practice here in vogue. How does your cousin Hargrave prosper on his circuit? The Delmingtons are here, which makes it very pleasant for your mother, as well as for myself; for it allows me to hunt over the old bookshops at my leisure. There are no new books worth sending you, or they would accompany this; but I would recommend you to get Meyer’s new volume from Treüttel and Wurtz, and continue to make notes as you read it. Give my compliments to the Marquess, and believe me,

“Your affectionate father,

“HORACE GREY.”

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