The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter X.

I Go to Cambridge, and Do But Little Good There.

Mr lord, who said he should like to revisit the old haunts of his youth, kindly accompanied Harry Esmond in his first journey to Cambridge. Their road lay through London, where my Lord Viscount would also have Harry stay a few days to show him the pleasures of the town before he entered upon his university studies, and whilst here Harry’s patron conducted the young man to my Lady Dowager’s house at Chelsey near London: the kind lady at Castlewood having specially ordered that the young gentleman and the old should pay a respectful visit in that quarter.

Her ladyship the Viscountess Dowager occupied a handsome new house in Chelsey, with a garden behind it, and facing the river, always a bright and animated sight with its swarms of sailors, barges, and wherries. Harry laughed at recognizing in the parlor the well-remembered old piece of Sir Peter Lely, wherein his father’s widow was represented as a virgin huntress, armed with a gilt bow-and-arrow, and encumbered only with that small quantity of drapery which it would seem the virgins in King Charles’s day were accustomed to wear.

My Lady Dowager had left off this peculiar habit of huntress when she married. But though she was now considerably past sixty years of age, I believe she thought that airy nymph of the picture could still be easily recognized in the venerable personage who gave an audience to Harry and his patron.

She received the young man with even more favor than she showed to the elder, for she chose to carry on the conversation in French, in which my Lord Castlewood was no great proficient, and expressed her satisfaction at finding that Mr. Esmond could speak fluently in that language. “’Twas the only one fit for polite conversation,” she condescended to say, “and suitable to persons of high breeding.”

My lord laughed afterwards, as the gentlemen went away, at his kinswoman’s behavior. He said he remembered the time when she could speak English fast enough, and joked in his jolly way at the loss he had had of such a lovely wife as that.

My Lady Viscountess deigned to ask his lordship news of his wife and children; she had heard that Lady Castlewood had had the small-pox; she hoped she was not so VERY much disfigured as people said.

At this remark about his wife’s malady, my Lord Viscount winced and turned red; but the Dowager, in speaking of the disfigurement of the young lady, turned to her looking-glass and examined her old wrinkled countenance in it with such a grin of satisfaction, that it was all her guests could do to refrain from laughing in her ancient face.

She asked Harry what his profession was to be; and my lord, saying that the lad was to take orders, and have the living of Castlewood when old Dr. Tusher vacated it, she did not seem to show any particular anger at the notion of Harry’s becoming a Church of England clergyman, nay, was rather glad than otherwise, that the youth should be so provided for. She bade Mr. Esmond not to forget to pay her a visit whenever he passed through London, and carried her graciousness so far as to send a purse with twenty guineas for him, to the tavern at which my lord put up (the “Greyhound,” in Charing Cross); and, along with this welcome gift for her kinsman, she sent a little doll for a present to my lord’s little daughter Beatrix, who was growing beyond the age of dolls by this time, and was as tall almost as her venerable relative.

After seeing the town, and going to the plays, my Lord Castlewood and Esmond rode together to Cambridge, spending two pleasant days upon the journey. Those rapid new coaches were not established, as yet, that performed the whole journey between London and the University in a single day; however, the road was pleasant and short enough to Harry Esmond, and he always gratefully remembered that happy holiday which his kind patron gave him.

Mr. Esmond was entered a pensioner of Trinity College in Cambridge, to which famous college my lord had also in his youth belonged. Dr. Montague was master at this time, and received my Lord Viscount with great politeness: so did Mr. Bridge, who was appointed to be Harry’s tutor. Tom Tusher, who was of Emanuel College, and was by this time a junior soph, came to wait upon my lord, and to take Harry under his protection; and comfortable rooms being provided for him in the great court close by the gate, and near to the famous Mr. Newton’s lodgings, Harry’s patron took leave of him with many kind words and blessings, and an admonition to him to behave better at the University than my lord himself had ever done.

’Tis needless in these memoirs to go at any length into the particulars of Harry Esmond’s college career. It was like that of a hundred young gentlemen of that day. But he had the ill fortune to be older by a couple of years than most of his fellow-students; and by his previous solitary mode of bringing up, the circumstances of his life, and the peculiar thoughtfulness and melancholy that had naturally engendered, he was, in a great measure, cut off from the society of comrades who were much younger and higher-spirited than he. His tutor, who had bowed down to the ground, as he walked my lord over the college grass-plats, changed his behavior as soon as the nobleman’s back was turned, and was — at least Harry thought so — harsh and overbearing. When the lads used to assemble in their greges in hall, Harry found himself alone in the midst of that little flock of boys; they raised a great laugh at him when he was set on to read Latin, which he did with the foreign pronunciation taught to him by his old master, the Jesuit, than which he knew no other. Mr. Bridge, the tutor, made him the object of clumsy jokes, in which he was fond of indulging. The young man’s spirit was chafed, and his vanity mortified; and he found himself, for some time, as lonely in this place as ever he had been at Castlewood, whither he longed to return. His birth was a source of shame to him, and he fancied a hundred slights and sneers from young and old, who, no doubt, had treated him better had he met them himself more frankly. And as he looks back, in calmer days, upon this period of his life, which he thought so unhappy, he can see that his own pride and vanity caused no small part of the mortifications which he attributed to other’s ill will. The world deals good-naturedly with good-natured people, and I never knew a sulky misanthropist who quarrelled with it, but it was he, and not it, that was in the wrong. Tom Tusher gave Harry plenty of good advice on this subject, for Tom had both good sense and good humor; but Mr. Harry chose to treat his senior with a great deal of superfluous disdain and absurd scorn, and would by no means part from his darling injuries, in which, very likely, no man believed but himself. As for honest Doctor Bridge, the tutor found, after a few trials of wit with the pupil, that the young man was an ugly subject for wit, and that the laugh was often turned against him. This did not make tutor and pupil any better friends; but had, so far, an advantage for Esmond, that Mr. Bridge was induced to leave him alone; and so long as he kept his chapels, and did the college exercises required of him, Bridge was content not to see Harry’s glum face in his class, and to leave him to read and sulk for himself in his own chamber.

A poem or two in Latin and English, which were pronounced to have some merit, and a Latin oration, (for Mr. Esmond could write that language better than pronounce it,) got him a little reputation both with the authorities of the University and amongst the young men, with whom he began to pass for more than he was worth. A few victories over their common enemy, Mr. Bridge, made them incline towards him, and look upon him as the champion of their order against the seniors. Such of the lads as he took into his confidence found him not so gloomy and haughty as his appearance led them to believe; and Don Dismallo, as he was called, became presently a person of some little importance in his college, and was, as he believes, set down by the seniors there as rather a dangerous character.

Don Dismallo was a staunch young Jacobite, like the rest of his family; gave himself many absurd airs of loyalty; used to invite young friends to Burgundy, and give the King’s health on King James’s birthday; wore black on the day of his abdication; fasted on the anniversary of King William’s coronation; and performed a thousand absurd antics, of which he smiles now to think.

These follies caused many remonstrances on Tom Tusher’s part, who was always a friend to the powers that be, as Esmond was always in opposition to them. Tom was a Whig, while Esmond was a Tory. Tom never missed a lecture, and capped the proctor with the profoundest of bows. No wonder he sighed over Harry’s insubordinate courses, and was angry when the others laughed at him. But that Harry was known to have my Lord Viscount’s protection, Tom no doubt would have broken with him altogether. But honest Tom never gave up a comrade as long as he was the friend of a great man. This was not out of scheming on Tom’s part, but a natural inclination towards the great. ’Twas no hypocrisy in him to flatter, but the bent of his mind, which was always perfectly good-humored, obliging, and servile.

Harry had very liberal allowances, for his dear mistress of Castlewood not only regularly supplied him, but the Dowager of Chelsey made her donation annual, and received Esmond at her house near London every Christmas; but, in spite of these benefactions, Esmond was constantly poor; whilst ’twas a wonder with how small a stipend from his father Tom Tusher contrived to make a good figure. ’Tis true that Harry both spent, gave, and lent his money very freely, which Thomas never did. I think he was like the famous Duke of Marlborough in this instance, who, getting a present of fifty pieces, when a young man, from some foolish woman who fell in love with his good looks, showed the money to Cadogan in a drawer scores of years after, where it had lain ever since he had sold his beardless honor to procure it. I do not mean to say that Tom ever let out his good looks so profitably, for nature had not endowed him with any particular charms of person, and he ever was a pattern of moral behavior, losing no opportunity of giving the very best advice to his younger comrade; with which article, to do him justice, he parted very freely. Not but that he was a merry fellow, too, in his way; he loved a joke, if by good fortune he understood it, and took his share generously of a bottle if another paid for it, and especially if there was a young lord in company to drink it. In these cases there was not a harder drinker in the University than Mr. Tusher could be; and it was edifying to behold him, fresh shaved and with smug face, singing out “Amen!” at early chapel in the morning. In his reading, poor Harry permitted himself to go a-gadding after all the Nine Muses, and so very likely had but little favor from any one of them; whereas Tom Tusher, who had no more turn for poetry than a ploughboy, nevertheless, by a dogged perseverance and obsequiousness in courting the divine Calliope, got himself a prize, and some credit in the University, and a fellowship at his college, as a reward for his scholarship. In this time of Mr. Esmond’s life, he got the little reading which he ever could boast of, and passed a good part of his days greedily devouring all the books on which he could lay hand. In this desultory way the works of most of the English, French, and Italian poets came under his eyes, and he had a smattering of the Spanish tongue likewise, besides the ancient languages, of which, at least of Latin, he was a tolerable master.

Then, about midway in his University career, he fell to reading for the profession to which worldly prudence rather than inclination called him, and was perfectly bewildered in theological controversy. In the course of his reading (which was neither pursued with that seriousness or that devout mind which such a study requires) the youth found himself at the end of one month a Papist, and was about to proclaim his faith; the next month a Protestant, with Chillingworth; and the third a sceptic, with Hobbes and Bayle. Whereas honest Tom Tusher never permitted his mind to stray out of the prescribed University path, accepted the Thirty-nine Articles with all his heart, and would have signed and sworn to other nine-and-thirty with entire obedience. Harry’s wilfulness in this matter, and disorderly thoughts and conversation, so shocked and afflicted his senior, that there grew up a coldness and estrangement between them, so that they became scarce more than mere acquaintances, from having been intimate friends when they came to college first. Politics ran high, too, at the University; and here, also, the young men were at variance. Tom professed himself, albeit a high-churchman, a strong King William’s-man; whereas Harry brought his family Tory politics to college with him, to which he must add a dangerous admiration for Oliver Cromwell, whose side, or King James’s by turns, he often chose to take in the disputes which the young gentlemen used to hold in each other’s rooms, where they debated on the state of the nation, crowned and deposed kings, and toasted past and present heroes and beauties in flagons of college ale.

Thus, either from the circumstances of his birth, or the natural melancholy of his disposition, Esmond came to live very much by himself during his stay at the University, having neither ambition enough to distinguish himself in the college career, nor caring to mingle with the mere pleasures and boyish frolics of the students, who were, for the most part, two or three years younger than he. He fancied that the gentlemen of the common-room of his college slighted him on account of his birth, and hence kept aloof from their society. It may be that he made the ill will, which he imagined came from them, by his own behavior, which, as he looks back on it in after life, he now sees was morose and haughty. At any rate, he was as tenderly grateful for kindness as he was susceptible of slight and wrong; and, lonely as he was generally, yet had one or two very warm friendships for his companions of those days.

One of these was a queer gentleman that resided in the University, though he was no member of it, and was the professor of a science scarce recognized in the common course of college education. This was a French refugee-officer, who had been driven out of his native country at the time of the Protestant persecutions there, and who came to Cambridge, where he taught the science of the small-sword, and set up a saloon-of-arms. Though he declared himself a Protestant, ’twas said Mr. Moreau was a Jesuit in disguise; indeed, he brought very strong recommendations to the Tory party, which was pretty strong in that University, and very likely was one of the many agents whom King James had in this country. Esmond found this gentleman’s conversation very much more agreeable and to his taste than the talk of the college divines in the common-room; he never wearied of Moreau’s stories of the wars of Turenne and Conde, in which he had borne a part; and being familiar with the French tongue from his youth, and in a place where but few spoke it, his company became very agreeable to the brave old professor of arms, whose favorite pupil he was, and who made Mr. Esmond a very tolerable proficient in the noble science of escrime.

At the next term Esmond was to take his degree of Bachelor of Arts, and afterwards, in proper season, to assume the cassock and bands which his fond mistress would have him wear. Tom Tusher himself was a parson and a fellow of his college by this time; and Harry felt that he would very gladly cede his right to the living of Castlewood to Tom, and that his own calling was in no way to the pulpit. But as he was bound, before all things in the world, to his dear mistress at home, and knew that a refusal on his part would grieve her, he determined to give her no hint of his unwillingness to the clerical office: and it was in this unsatisfactory mood of mind that he went to spend the last vacation he should have at Castlewood before he took orders.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07