Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Book VII

Chapter 1

As Vivian left the room Mr. Beckendorff was seized with an unusual desire to converse with the Prince of Little Lilliput, and his Highness was consequently debarred the consolation of walking with his friend as far as the horses. At the little gate Vivian and Essper encountered the only male attendant who was allowed to approach the house of Mr. Beckendorff. As Vivian quietly walked his horse up the rough turf road, he could not refrain from recurring to his conversation of the previous night; and when he called to mind the adventures of the last six days, he had new cause to wonder at, and perhaps to lament over, his singular fate. In that short time he had saved the life of a powerful Prince, and being immediately signalled out, without any exertion on his part, as the object of that Prince’s friendship, the moment he arrives at his castle, by a wonderful contingency, he becomes the depositary of state secrets, and assists in a consultation of importance with one of the most powerful Ministers in Europe. And now the object of so much friendship, confidence, and honour, he is suddenly on the road to the capital of the State of which his late host is the Prime Minister and his friend the chief subject, without even the convenience of a common letter of introduction; and with little prospect of viewing, with even the usual advantages of a common traveller, one of the most interesting of European Courts.

When he had proceeded about halfway up the turf lane he found a private road to his right, which, with that spirit of adventure for which Englishmen are celebrated, he immediately resolved must not only lead to Reisenburg, but also carry him to that city much sooner than the regular high road. He had not advanced far up this road before he came to the gate at which he had parted with Beckendorff on the morning that gentleman had roused him so unexpectedly from, his reverie in a green lane. He was surprised to find a horseman dismounting at the gate. Struck by this singular circumstance, the appearance of the stranger was not unnoticed. He was a tall and well proportioned man, and as the traveller passed he stared Vivian so fully in the face that our hero did not fail to remark his handsome countenance, the expression of which, however, was rather vacant and unpleasing. He was dressed in a riding-coat exactly similar to the one always worn by Beckendorff’s messenger, and had Vivian not seen him so distinctly he would have mistaken him for that person. The stranger was rather indifferently mounted, and carried his cloak and a small portmanteau at the back of his saddle.

“I suppose it is the butler,” said Essper George, who now spoke for the first time since his dismissal from the room. Vivian did not answer him; not because he entertained any angry feeling on account of his exceedingly unpleasant visit. By no means: it was impossible for a man like Vivian Grey to cherish an irritated feeling for a second. But he did not exchange a syllable with Essper George, merely because he was not in the humour to speak. He could not refrain from musing on the singular events of the last few days; and, above all, the character of Beckendorff particularly engrossed his meditation. Their conversation of the preceding night excited in his mind new feelings of wonder, and revived emotions which he thought were dead or everlastingly dormant. Apparently, the philosophy on which Beckendorff had regulated his career, and by which he had arrived at his pitch of greatness, was exactly the same with which he himself, Vivian Grey, had started in life; which he had found so fatal in its consequences; which he believed to be so vain in its principles. How was this? What radical error had he committed? It required little consideration. Thirty, and more than thirty, years had passed over the head of Beckendorff ere the world felt his power, or indeed was conscious of his existence. A deep student, not only of man in detail, but of man in groups; not only of individuals, but of nations; Beckendorff had hived up his ample knowledge of all subjects which could interest his fellow-creatures, and when that opportunity which in this world occurs to all men occurred to Beckendorff he was prepared. With acquirements equal to his genius, Beckendorff depended only upon himself, and succeeded. Vivian Grey, with a mind inferior to no man’s, dashed on the stage, in years a boy, though in feelings a man. Brilliant as might have been his genius, his acquirements necessarily were insufficient. He could not depend only upon himself; a consequent necessity arose to have recourse to the assistance of others; to inspire them with feelings which they could not share; and humour and manage the petty weaknesses which he himself could not experience. His colleagues were, at the same time, to work for the gratification of their own private interests, the most palpable of all abstract things; and to carry into execution a great purpose, which their feeble minds, interested only by the first point, cared not to comprehend. The unnatural combination failed, and its originator fell. To believe that he could recur again to the hopes, the feelings, the pursuits of his boyhood, he felt to be the vainest of delusions. It was the expectation of a man like Beckendorff, whose career, though difficult, though hazardous, had been uniformly successful; of a man who mistook cares for grief, and anxiety for sorrow.

The travellers entered the city at sunset. Proceeding through an ancient and unseemly town, full of long, narrow, and ill-paved streets, and black unevenly built houses, they ascended the hill, on the top of which was situated the new and Residence town of Reisenburg. The proud palace, the white squares, the architectural streets, the new churches, the elegant opera house, the splendid hotels, and the gay public gardens, full of busts, vases, and statues, and surrounded by an iron railing cast out of the cannon taken from both sides during the war by the Reisenburg troops, and now formed into pikes and fasces, glittering with gilded heads: all these, shining in the setting sun, produced an effect which, at any time and in any place, would have been beautiful and striking; but on the present occasion were still more so, from the remarkable contrast they afforded to the ancient, gloomy, and filthy town through which Vivian had just passed, and where, from the lowness of its situation, the sun had already set. There was as much difference between the old and new town of Reisenburg as between the old barbarous Margrave and the new and noble Grand Duke.

On the second day after his arrival at Reisenburg, Vivian received the following letter from the Prince of Little Lilliput. His luggage did not accompany the epistle.

“My Dear Friend,

“By the time you have received this I shall have returned to Turriparva. My visit to a certain gentleman was prolonged for one day. I never can convey to you by words the sense I entertain of the value of your friendship and of your services; I trust that time will afford me opportunities of testifying it by my actions. I return home by the same road by which we came; you remember how excellent the road was, as indeed are all the roads in Reisenburg; that must be confessed by all. I fear that the most partial admirers of the old régime cannot say as much for the convenience of travelling in the time of our fathers. Good roads are most excellent things, and one of the first marks of civilisation and prosperity. The Emperor Napoleon, who, it must be confessed, had, after all, no common mind, was celebrated for his roads. You have doubtless admired the Route Napoleon on the Rhine, and if you travel into Italy I am informed that you will be equally, and even more, struck by the passage over the Simplon and the other Italian roads. Reisenburg has certainly kept pace with the spirit of the time; nobody can deny that; and I confess to you that the more I consider the subject it appears to me that the happiness, prosperity, and content of a state are the best evidences of the wisdom and beneficent rule of a government. Many things are very excellent in theory, which are quite the reverse in practice, and even ludicrous. And while we should do our most to promote the cause and uphold the interests of rational liberty, still, at the same time, we should ever be on our guard against the crude ideas and revolutionary systems of those who are quite inexperienced in that sort of particular knowledge which is necessary for all statesmen. Nothing is so easy as to make things look fine on paper; we should never forget that: there is a great difference between high-sounding generalities and laborious details. Is it reasonable to expect that men who have passed their lives dreaming in colleges and old musty studies should be at all calculated to take the head of affairs, or know what measures those at the head of affairs ought to adopt? I think not. A certain personage, who by-the-bye is one of the most clear-headed and most perfect men of business that I ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with; a real practical man, in short; he tells me that Professor Skyrocket, whom you will most likely see at Reisenburg, wrote an article in the Military Quarterly Review, which is published there, on the probable expenses of a war between Austria and Prussia, and forgot the commissariat altogether. Did you ever know anything so ridiculous? What business have such fellows to meddle with affairs of state? They should certainly be put down: that, I think, none can deny. A liberal spirit in government is certainly a most excellent thing; but we must always remember that liberty may degenerate into licentiousness. Liberty is certainly an excellent thing, that all admit; but, as a certain person very well observed, so is physic, and yet it is not to be given at all times, but only when the frame is in a state to require it. People may be as unprepared for a wise and discreet use of liberty, as a vulgar person may be for the management of a great estate unexpectedly inherited: there is a great deal in this, and, in my opinion, there are cases in which to force liberty down a people’s throat is presenting them, not with a blessing, but a curse. I shall send your luggage on immediately; it is very probable that I may be in town at the end of the week, for a short time. I wish much to see and to consult you, and therefore hope that you will not leave Reisenburg before you see

“Your faithful and obliged friend,

“LITTLE LILLIPUT.”

Two days after the receipt of this letter Essper George ran into the room with a much less solemn physiognomy than he had thought proper to assume since his master’s arrival at Reisenburg.

“Lord, sir; whom do you think I have just met?”

“Whom?” asked Vivian, with eagerness, for, as is always the case when such questions are asked us, he was thinking of every person in the world except the right one. “It might be — ”

“To think that I should see him!” continued Essper.

“It is a man, then,” thought Vivian; “who is it at once, Essper?”

“I thought you would not guess, sir! It will quite cure you to hear it; Master Rodolph!”

“Master Rodolph!”

“Ay! and there’s great news in the wind.”

“Which of course you have confidentially extracted from him. Pray let us have it.”

“The Prince of Little Lilliput is coming to Reisenburg,” said Essper.

“Well! I had some idea of that before,” said Vivian.

“Oh! then, you know it all, sir, I suppose,” said Essper, with a look of great disappointment.

“I know nothing more than I have mentioned,” said his master.

“What! do you not know, sir, that the Prince has come over; that he is going to live at Court; and be, Heaven knows what! That he is to carry a staff every day before the Grand Duke at dinner; does not my master know that?”

“I know nothing of all this; and so tell me in plain German what the case is.”

“Well, then,” continued Essper, “I suppose you do not know that his Highness the Prince is to be his Excellency the Grand Marshal, that unfortunate but principal officer of state having received his dismissal yesterday. They are coming up immediately. Not a moment is to be lost, which seems to me very odd. Master Rodolph is arranging everything; and he has this morning purchased from his master’s predecessor his palace, furniture, wines, and pictures; in short, his whole establishment: the late Grand Marshal consoling himself for his loss of office, and revenging himself on his successor, by selling him his property at a hundred per cent. profit. However, Master Rodolph seems quite contented with his bargain; and your luggage is come, sir. His Highness, the Prince, will be in town at the end of the week; and all the men are to be put in new livery. Mr. Arnelm is to be his Highness’ chamberlain, and Von Neuwied master of the horse. So you see, sir, you were right; and that old puss in boots was no traitor, after all. Upon my soul, I did not much believe you, sir, until I heard all this good news.”

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