The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter II.

I Go Home, and Harp On the Old String.

After quitting Mons and the army, and as he was waiting for a packet at Ostend, Esmond had a letter from his young kinsman Castlewood at Bruxelles, conveying intelligence whereof Frank besought him to be the bearer to London, and which caused Colonel Esmond no small anxiety.

The young scapegrace, being one-and-twenty years old, and being anxious to sow his “wild otes,” as he wrote, had married Mademoiselle de Wertheim, daughter of Count de Wertheim, Chamberlain to the Emperor, and having a post in the Household of the Governor of the Netherlands. “P.S.,” the young gentleman wrote: “Clotilda is OLDER THAN ME, which perhaps may be objected to her: but I am so OLD A RAIK that the age makes no difference, and I am DETERMINED to reform. We were married at St. Gudule, by Father Holt. She is heart and soul for the GOOD CAUSE. And here the cry is Vif-le-Roy, which my mother will JOIN IN, and Trix TOO. Break this news to ’em gently: and tell Mr. Finch, my agent, to press the people for their rents, and send me the RYNO anyhow. Clotilda sings, and plays on the Spinet BEAUTIFULLY. She is a fair beauty. And if it’s a son, you shall stand GODFATHER. I’m going to leave the army, having had ENUF OF SOLDERING; and my Lord Duke RECOMMENDS me. I shall pass the winter here: and stop at least until Clo’s lying in. I call her OLD CLO, but nobody else shall. She is the cleverest woman in all Bruxelles: understanding painting, music, poetry, and perfect at COOKERY AND PUDDENS. I borded with the Count, that’s how I came to know her. There are four Counts her brothers. One an Abbey — three with the Prince’s army. They have a lawsuit for AN IMMENCE FORTUNE: but are now in a PORE WAY. Break this to mother, who’ll take anything from YOU. And write, and bid Finch write AMEDIATELY. Hostel de l’Aigle Noire, Bruxelles, Flanders.”

So Frank had married a Roman Catholic lady, and an heir was expected, and Mr. Esmond was to carry this intelligence to his mistress at London. ’Twas a difficult embassy; and the Colonel felt not a little tremor as he neared the capital.

He reached his inn late, and sent a messenger to Kensington to announce his arrival and visit the next morning. The messenger brought back news that the Court was at Windsor, and the fair Beatrix absent and engaged in her duties there. Only Esmond’s mistress remained in her house at Kensington. She appeared in court but once in the year; Beatrix was quite the mistress and ruler of the little mansion, inviting the company thither, and engaging in every conceivable frolic of town pleasure. Whilst her mother, acting as the young lady’s protectress and elder sister, pursued her own path, which was quite modest and secluded.

As soon as ever Esmond was dressed (and he had been awake long before the town), he took a coach for Kensington, and reached it so early that he met his dear mistress coming home from morning prayers. She carried her prayer-book, never allowing a footman to bear it, as everybody else did: and it was by this simple sign Esmond knew what her occupation had been. He called to the coachman to stop, and jumped out as she looked towards him. She wore her hood as usual, and she turned quite pale when she saw him. To feel that kind little hand near to his heart seemed to give him strength. They were soon at the door of her ladyship’s house — and within it.

With a sweet sad smile she took his hand and kissed it.

“How ill you have been: how weak you look, my dear Henry,” she said.

’Tis certain the Colonel did look like a ghost, except that ghosts do not look very happy, ’tis said. Esmond always felt so on returning to her after absence, indeed whenever he looked in her sweet kind face.

“I am come back to be nursed by my family,” says he. “If Frank had not taken care of me after my wound, very likely I should have gone altogether.”

“Poor Frank, good Frank!” says his mother. “You’ll always be kind to him, my lord,” she went on. “The poor child never knew he was doing you a wrong.”

“My lord!” cries out Colonel Esmond. “What do you mean, dear lady?”

“I am no lady,” says she; “I am Rachel Esmond, Francis Esmond’s widow, my lord. I cannot bear that title. Would we never had taken it from him who has it now. But we did all in our power, Henry: we did all in our power; and my lord and I— that is —”

“Who told you this tale, dearest lady?” asked the Colonel.

“Have you not had the letter I writ you? I writ to you at Mons directly I heard it,” says Lady Esmond.

“And from whom?” again asked Colonel Esmond — and his mistress then told him that on her death-bed the Dowager Countess, sending for her, had presented her with this dismal secret as a legacy. “’Twas very malicious of the Dowager,” Lady Esmond said, “to have had it so long, and to have kept the truth from me.” “Cousin Rachel,” she said — and Esmond’s mistress could not forbear smiling as she told the story —“Cousin Rachel,” cries the Dowager, “I have sent for you, as the doctors say I may go off any day in this dysentery; and to ease my conscience of a great load that has been on it. You always have been a poor creature and unfit for great honor, and what I have to say won’t, therefore, affect you so much. You must know, Cousin Rachel, that I have left my house, plate, and furniture, three thousand pounds in money, and my diamonds that my late revered Saint and Sovereign, King James, presented me with, to my Lord Viscount Castlewood.”

“To my Frank?” says Lady Castlewood; “I was in hopes —”

To Viscount Castlewood, my dear; Viscount Castlewood and Baron Esmond of Shandon in the Kingdom of Ireland, Earl and Marquis of Esmond under patent of his Majesty King James the Second, conferred upon my husband the late Marquis — for I am Marchioness of Esmond before God and man.”

“And have you left poor Harry nothing, dear Marchioness?” asks Lady Castlewood (she hath told me the story completely since with her quiet arch way; the most charming any woman ever had: and I set down the narrative here at length, so as to have done with it). “And have you left poor Harry nothing?” asks my dear lady: “for you know, Henry,” she says with her sweet smile, “I used always to pity Esau — and I think I am on his side — though papa tried very hard to convince me the other way.”

“Poor Harry!” says the old lady. “So you want something left to poor Harry: he — he! (reach me the drops, cousin). Well, then, my dear, since you want poor Harry to have a fortune, you must understand that ever since the year 1691, a week after the battle of the Boyne, where the Prince of Orange defeated his royal sovereign and father, for which crime he is now suffering in flames (ugh! ugh!) Henry Esmond hath been Marquis of Esmond and Earl of Castlewood in the United Kingdom, and Baron and Viscount Castlewood of Shandon in Ireland, and a Baronet — and his eldest son will be, by courtesy, styled Earl of Castlewood — he! he! What do you think of that, my dear?”

“Gracious mercy! how long have you known this?” cries the other lady (thinking perhaps that the old Marchioness was wandering in her wits).

“My husband, before he was converted, was a wicked wretch,” the sick sinner continued. “When he was in the Low Countries he seduced a weaver’s daughter; and added to his wickedness by marrying her. And then he came to this country and married me — a poor girl — a poor innocent young thing — I say,”—“though she was past forty, you know, Harry, when she married: and as for being innocent”—“Well,” she went on, “I knew nothing of my lord’s wickedness for three years after our marriage, and after the burial of our poor little boy I had it done over again, my dear: I had myself married by Father Holt in Castlewood chapel, as soon as ever I heard the creature was dead — and having a great illness then, arising from another sad disappointment I had, the priest came and told me that my lord had a son before our marriage, and that the child was at nurse in England; and I consented to let the brat be brought home, and a queer little melancholy child it was when it came.

“Our intention was to make a priest of him: and he was bred for this, until you perverted him from it, you wicked woman. And I had again hopes of giving an heir to my lord, when he was called away upon the King’s business, and died fighting gloriously at the Boyne water.

“Should I be disappointed — I owed your husband no love, my dear, for he had jilted me in the most scandalous way and I thought there would be time to declare the little weaver’s son for the true heir. But I was carried off to prison, where your husband was so kind to me — urging all his friends to obtain my release, and using all his credit in my favor — that I relented towards him, especially as my director counselled me to be silent; and that it was for the good of the King’s service that the title of our family should continue with your husband the late viscount, whereby his fidelity would be always secured to the King. And a proof of this is, that a year before your husband’s death, when he thought of taking a place under the Prince of Orange, Mr. Holt went to him, and told him what the state of the matter was, and obliged him to raise a large sum for his Majesty; and engaged him in the true cause so heartily, that we were sure of his support on any day when it should be considered advisable to attack the usurper. Then his sudden death came; and there was a thought of declaring the truth. But ’twas determined to be best for the King’s service to let the title still go with the younger branch; and there’s no sacrifice a Castlewood wouldn’t make for that cause, my dear.

“As for Colonel Esmond, he knew the truth already.” (“And then, Harry,” my mistress said, “she told me of what had happened at my dear husband’s death-bed”). “He doth not intend to take the title, though it belongs to him. But it eases my conscience that you should know the truth, my dear. And your son is lawfully Viscount Castlewood so long as his cousin doth not claim the rank.”

This was the substance of the Dowager’s revelation. Dean Atterbury had knowledge of it, Lady Castlewood said, and Esmond very well knows how: that divine being the clergyman for whom the late lord had sent on his death-bed: and when Lady Castlewood would instantly have written to her son, and conveyed the truth to him, the Dean’s advice was that a letter should be writ to Colonel Esmond rather; that the matter should be submitted to his decision, by which alone the rest of the family were bound to abide.

“And can my dearest lady doubt what that will be?” says the Colonel.

“It rests with you, Harry, as the head of our house.”

“It was settled twelve years since, by my dear lord’s bedside,” says Colonel Esmond. “The children must know nothing of this. Frank and his heirs after him must bear our name. ’Tis his rightfully; I have not even a proof of that marriage of my father and mother, though my poor lord, on his death-bed, told me that Father Holt had brought such a proof to Castlewood. I would not seek it when I was abroad. I went and looked at my poor mother’s grave in her convent. What matter to her now? No court of law on earth, upon my mere word, would deprive my Lord Viscount and set me up. I am the head of the house, dear lady; but Frank is Viscount of Castlewood still. And rather than disturb him, I would turn monk, or disappear in America.”

As he spoke so to his dearest mistress, for whom he would have been willing to give up his life, or to make any sacrifice any day, the fond creature flung herself down on her knees before him, and kissed both his hands in an outbreak of passionate love and gratitude, such as could not but melt his heart, and make him feel very proud and thankful that God had given him the power to show his love for her, and to prove it by some little sacrifice on his own part. To be able to bestow benefits or happiness on those one loves is sure the greatest blessing conferred upon a man — and what wealth or name, or gratification of ambition or vanity, could compare with the pleasure Esmond now had of being able to confer some kindness upon his best and dearest friends?

“Dearest saint,” says he —“purest soul, that has had so much to suffer, that has blest the poor lonely orphan with such a treasure of love. ’Tis for me to kneel, not for you: ’tis for me to be thankful that I can make you happy. Hath my life any other aim? Blessed be God that I can serve you! What pleasure, think you, could all the world give me compared to that?”

“Don’t raise me,” she said, in a wild way, to Esmond, who would have lifted her. “Let me kneel — let me kneel, and — and — worship you.”

Before such a partial judge as Esmond’s dear mistress owned herself to be, any cause which he might plead was sure to be given in his favor; and accordingly he found little difficulty in reconciling her to the news whereof he was bearer, of her son’s marriage to a foreign lady, Papist though she was. Lady Castlewood never could be brought to think so ill of that religion as other people in England thought of it: she held that ours was undoubtedly a branch of the Catholic church, but that the Roman was one of the main stems on which, no doubt, many errors had been grafted (she was, for a woman, extraordinarily well versed in this controversy, having acted, as a girl, as secretary to her father, the late dean, and written many of his sermons, under his dictation); and if Frank had chosen to marry a lady of the church of south Europe, as she would call the Roman communion, there was no need why she should not welcome her as a daughter-inlaw: and accordingly she wrote to her new daughter a very pretty, touching letter (as Esmond thought, who had cognizance of it before it went), in which the only hint of reproof was a gentle remonstrance that her son had not written to herself, to ask a fond mother’s blessing for that step which he was about taking. “Castlewood knew very well,” so she wrote to her son, “that she never denied him anything in her power to give, much less would she think of opposing a marriage that was to make his happiness, as she trusted, and keep him out of wild courses, which had alarmed her a good deal:” and she besought him to come quickly to England, to settle down in his family house of Castlewood (“It is his family house,” says she, to Colonel Esmond, “though only his own house by your forbearance”) and to receive the accompt of her stewardship during his ten years’ minority. By care and frugality, she had got the estate into a better condition than ever it had been since the Parliamentary wars; and my lord was now master of a pretty, small income, not encumbered of debts, as it had been, during his father’s ruinous time. “But in saving my son’s fortune,” says she, “I fear I have lost a great part of my hold on him.” And, indeed, this was the case: her ladyship’s daughter complaining that their mother did all for Frank, and nothing for her; and Frank himself being dissatisfied at the narrow, simple way of his mother’s living at Walcote, where he had been brought up more like a poor parson’s son than a young nobleman that was to make a figure in the world. ’Twas this mistake in his early training, very likely, that set him so eager upon pleasure when he had it in his power; nor is he the first lad that has been spoiled by the over-careful fondness of women. No training is so useful for children, great or small, as the company of their betters in rank or natural parts; in whose society they lose the overweening sense of their own importance, which stay-at-home people very commonly learn.

But, as a prodigal that’s sending in a schedule of his debts to his friends, never puts all down, and, you may be sure, the rogue keeps back some immense swingeing bill, that he doesn’t dare to own; so the poor Frank had a very heavy piece of news to break to his mother, and which he hadn’t the courage to introduce into his first confession. Some misgivings Esmond might have, upon receiving Frank’s letter, and knowing into what hands the boy had fallen; but whatever these misgivings were, he kept them to himself, not caring to trouble his mistress with any fears that might be groundless.

However, the next mail which came from Bruxelles, after Frank had received his mother’s letters there, brought back a joint composition from himself and his wife, who could spell no better than her young scapegrace of a husband, full of expressions of thanks, love, and duty to the Dowager Viscountess, as my poor lady now was styled; and along with this letter (which was read in a family council, namely, the Viscountess, Mistress Beatrix, and the writer of this memoir, and which was pronounced to be vulgar by the maid of honor, and felt to be so by the other two), there came a private letter for Colonel Esmond from poor Frank, with another dismal commission for the Colonel to execute, at his best opportunity; and this was to announce that Frank had seen fit, “by the exhortation of Mr. Holt, the influence of his Clotilda, and the blessing of heaven and the saints,” says my lord, demurely, “to change his religion, and be received into the bosom of that church of which his sovereign, many of his family, and the greater part of the civilized world, were members.” And his lordship added a postscript, of which Esmond knew the inspiring genius very well, for it had the genuine twang of the Seminary, and was quite unlike poor Frank’s ordinary style of writing and thinking; in which he reminded Colonel Esmond that he too was, by birth, of that church; and that his mother and sister should have his lordship’s prayers to the saints (an inestimable benefit, truly!) for their conversion.

If Esmond had wanted to keep this secret, he could not; for a day or two after receiving this letter, a notice from Bruxelles appeared in the Post-Boy and other prints, announcing that “a young Irish lord, the Viscount C-stlew — d, just come to his majority, and who had served the last campaigns with great credit, as aide-de-camp to his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, had declared for the Popish religion at Bruxelles, and had walked in a procession barefoot, with a wax-taper in his hand.” The notorious Mr. Holt, who had been employed as a Jacobite agent during the last reign, and many times pardoned by King William, had been, the Post-Boy said, the agent of this conversion.

The Lady Castlewood was as much cast down by this news as Miss Beatrix was indignant at it. “So,” says she, “Castlewood is no longer a home for us, mother. Frank’s foreign wife will bring her confessor, and there will be frogs for dinner; and all Tusher’s and my grandfather’s sermons are flung away upon my brother. I used to tell you that you killed him with the catechism, and that he would turn wicked as soon as he broke from his mammy’s leading-strings. Oh, mother, you would not believe that the young scapegrace was playing you tricks, and that sneak of a Tusher was not a fit guide for him. Oh, those parsons, I hate ’em all!” says Mistress Beatrix, clapping her hands together; “yes, whether they wear cassocks and buckles, or beards and bare feet. There’s a horrid Irish wretch who never misses a Sunday at Court, and who pays me compliments there, the horrible man; and if you want to know what parsons are, you should see his behavior, and hear him talk of his own cloth. They’re all the same, whether they’re bishops, or bonzes, or Indian fakirs. They try to domineer, and they frighten us with kingdom come; and they wear a sanctified air in public, and expect us to go down on our knees and ask their blessing; and they intrigue, and they grasp, and they backbite, and they slander worse than the worst courtier or the wickedest old woman. I heard this Mr. Swift sneering at my Lord Duke of Marlborough’s courage the other day. He! that Teague from Dublin! because his Grace is not in favor, dares to say this of him; and he says this that it may get to her Majesty’s ear, and to coax and wheedle Mrs. Masham. They say the Elector of Hanover has a dozen of mistresses in his court at Herrenhausen, and if he comes to be king over us, I wager that the bishops and Mr. Swift, that wants to be one, will coax and wheedle them. Oh, those priests and their grave airs! I’m sick of their square toes and their rustling cassocks. I should like to go to a country where there was not one, or turn Quaker, and get rid of ’em; and I would, only the dress is not becoming, and I’ve much too pretty a figure to hide it. Haven’t I, cousin?” and here she glanced at her person and the looking-glass, which told her rightly that a more beautiful shape and face never were seen.

“I made that onslaught on the priests,” says Miss Beatrix, afterwards, “in order to divert my poor dear mother’s anguish about Frank. Frank is as vain as a girl, cousin. Talk of us girls being vain, what are WE to you? It was easy to see that the first woman who chose would make a fool of him, or the first robe — I count a priest and a woman all the same. We are always caballing; we are not answerable for the fibs we tell; we are always cajoling and coaxing, or threatening; and we are always making mischief, Colonel Esmond — mark my word for that, who know the world, sir, and have to make my way in it. I see as well as possible how Frank’s marriage hath been managed. The Count, our papa-inlaw, is always away at the coffee-house. The Countess, our mother, is always in the kitchen looking after the dinner. The Countess, our sister, is at the spinet. When my lord comes to say he is going on the campaign, the lovely Clotilda bursts into tears, and faints — so; he catches her in his arms — no, sir, keep your distance, cousin, if you please — she cries on his shoulder, and he says, ‘Oh, my divine, my adored, my beloved Clotilda, are you sorry to part with me?’ ‘Oh, my Francisco,’ says she, ‘oh my lord!’ and at this very instant mamma and a couple of young brothers, with moustaches and long rapiers, come in from the kitchen, where they have been eating bread and onions. Mark my word, you will have all this woman’s relations at Castlewood three months after she has arrived there. The old count and countess, and the young counts and all the little countesses her sisters. Counts! every one of these wretches says he is a count. Guiscard, that stabbed Mr. Harvey, said he was a count; and I believe he was a barber. All Frenchmen are barbers — Fiddledee! don’t contradict me — or else dancing-masters, or else priests.” And so she rattled on.

“Who was it taught YOU to dance, Cousin Beatrix?” says the Colonel.

She laughed out the air of a minuet, and swept a low curtsy, coming up to the recover with the prettiest little foot in the world pointed out. Her mother came in as she was in this attitude; my lady had been in her closet, having taken poor Frank’s conversion in a very serious way; the madcap girl ran up to her mother, put her arms round her waist, kissed her, tried to make her dance, and said: “Don’t be silly, you kind little mamma, and cry about Frank turning Papist. What a figure he must be, with a white sheet and a candle, walking in a procession barefoot!” And she kicked off her little slippers (the wonderfullest little shoes with wonderful tall red heels: Esmond pounced upon one as it fell close beside him), and she put on the drollest little moue, and marched up and down the room holding Esmond’s cane by way of taper. Serious as her mood was, Lady Castlewood could not refrain from laughing; and as for Esmond he looked on with that delight with which the sight of this fair creature always inspired him: never had he seen any woman so arch, so brilliant, and so beautiful.

Having finished her march, she put out her foot for her slipper. The Colonel knelt down: “If you will be Pope I will turn Papist,” says he; and her Holiness gave him gracious leave to kiss the little stockinged foot before he put the slipper on.

Mamma’s feet began to pat on the floor during this operation, and Beatrix, whose bright eyes nothing escaped, saw that little mark of impatience. She ran up and embraced her mother, with her usual cry of, “Oh, you silly little mamma: your feet are quite as pretty as mine,” says she: “they are, cousin, though she hides ’em; but the shoemaker will tell you that he makes for both off the same last.”

“You are taller than I am, dearest,” says her mother, blushing over her whole sweet face —“and — and it is your hand, my dear, and not your foot he wants you to give him;” and she said it with a hysteric laugh, that had more of tears than laughter in it; laying her head on her daughter’s fair shoulder, and hiding it there. They made a very pretty picture together, and looked like a pair of sisters — the sweet simple matron seeming younger than her years, and her daughter, if not older, yet somehow, from a commanding manner and grace which she possessed above most women, her mother’s superior and protectress.

“But oh!” cries my mistress, recovering herself after this scene, and returning to her usual sad tone, “’tis a shame that we should laugh and be making merry on a day when we ought to be down on our knees and asking pardon.”

“Asking pardon for what?” says saucy Mrs. Beatrix —“because Frank takes it into his head to fast on Fridays and worship images? You know if you had been born a Papist, mother, a Papist you would have remained to the end of your days. ’Tis the religion of the King and of some of the best quality. For my part, I’m no enemy to it, and think Queen Bess was not a penny better than Queen Mary.”

“Hush, Beatrix! Do not jest with sacred things, and remember of what parentage you come,” cries my lady. Beatrix was ordering her ribbons, and adjusting her tucker, and performing a dozen provokingly pretty ceremonies, before the glass. The girl was no hypocrite at least. She never at that time could be brought to think but of the world and her beauty; and seemed to have no more sense of devotion than some people have of music, that cannot distinguish one air from another. Esmond saw this fault in her, as he saw many others — a bad wife would Beatrix Esmond make, he thought, for any man under the degree of a Prince. She was born to shine in great assemblies, and to adorn palaces, and to command everywhere — to conduct an intrigue of politics, or to glitter in a queen’s train. But to sit at a homely table, and mend the stockings of a poor man’s children! that was no fitting duty for her, or at least one that she wouldn’t have broke her heart in trying to do. She was a princess, though she had scarce a shilling to her fortune; and one of her subjects — the most abject and devoted wretch, sure, that ever drivelled at a woman’s knees — was this unlucky gentleman; who bound his good sense, and reason, and independence, hand and foot, and submitted them to her.

And who does not know how ruthlessly women will tyrannize when they are let to domineer? and who does not know how useless advice is? I could give good counsel to my descendants, but I know they’ll follow their own way, for all their grandfather’s sermon. A man gets his own experience about women, and will take nobody’s hearsay; nor, indeed, is the young fellow worth a fig that would. ’Tis I that am in love with my mistress, not my old grandmother that counsels me: ’tis I that have fixed the value of the thing I would have, and know the price I would pay for it. It may be worthless to you, but ’tis all my life to me. Had Esmond possessed the Great Mogul’s crown and all his diamonds, or all the Duke of Marlborough’s money, or all the ingots sunk at Vigo, he would have given them all for this woman. A fool he was, if you will; but so is a sovereign a fool, that will give half a principality for a little crystal as big as a pigeon’s egg, and called a diamond: so is a wealthy nobleman a fool, that will face danger or death, and spend half his life, and all his tranquillity, caballing for a blue ribbon; so is a Dutch merchant a fool, that hath been known to pay ten thousand crowns for a tulip. There’s some particular prize we all of us value, and that every man of spirit will venture his life for. With this, it may be to achieve a great reputation for learning; with that, to be a man of fashion, and the admiration of the town; with another, to consummate a great work of art or poetry, and go to immortality that way; and with another, for a certain time of his life, the sole object and aim is a woman.

Whilst Esmond was under the domination of this passion, he remembers many a talk he had with his intimates, who used to rally Our Knight of the Rueful Countenance at his devotion, whereof he made no disguise, to Beatrix; and it was with replies such as the above he met his friends’ satire. “Granted, I am a fool,” says he, “and no better than you; but you are no better than I. You have your folly you labor for; give me the charity of mine. What flatteries do you, Mr. St. John, stoop to whisper in the ears of a queen’s favorite? What nights of labor doth not the laziest man in the world endure, foregoing his bottle, and his boon companions, foregoing Lais, in whose lap he would like to be yawning, that he may prepare a speech full of lies, to cajole three hundred stupid country-gentlemen in the House of Commons, and get the hiccupping cheers of the October Club! What days will you spend in your jolting chariot.” (Mr. Esmond often rode to Windsor, and especially, of later days, with the secretary.) “What hours will you pass on your gouty feet — and how humbly will you kneel down to present a despatch — you, the proudest man in the world, that has not knelt to God since you were a boy, and in that posture whisper, flatter, adore almost, a stupid woman, that’s often boozy with too much meat and drink, when Mr. Secretary goes for his audience! If my pursuit is vanity, sure yours is too.” And then the Secretary, would fly out in such a rich flow of eloquence, as this pen cannot pretend to recall; advocating his scheme of ambition, showing the great good he would do for his country when he was the undisputed chief of it; backing his opinion with a score of pat sentences from Greek and Roman authorities (of which kind of learning he made rather an ostentatious display), and scornfully vaunting the very arts and meannesses by which fools were to be made to follow him, opponents to be bribed or silenced, doubters converted, and enemies overawed.

“I am Diogenes,” says Esmond, laughing, “that is taken up for a ride in Alexander’s chariot. I have no desire to vanquish Darius or to tame Bucephalus. I do not want what you want, a great name or a high place: to have them would bring me no pleasure. But my moderation is taste, not virtue; and I know that what I do want is as vain as that which you long after. Do not grudge me my vanity, if I allow yours; or rather, let us laugh at both indifferently, and at ourselves, and at each other.”

“If your charmer holds out,” says St. John, “at this rate she may keep you twenty years besieging her, and surrender by the time you are seventy, and she is old enough to be a grandmother. I do not say the pursuit of a particular woman is not as pleasant a pastime as any other kind of hunting,” he added; “only, for my part, I find the game won’t run long enough. They knock under too soon — that’s the fault I find with ’em.”

“The game which you pursue is in the habit of being caught, and used to being pulled down,” says Mr. Esmond.

“But Dulcinea del Toboso is peerless, eh?” says the other. “Well, honest Harry, go and attack windmills — perhaps thou art not more mad than other people,” St. John added, with a sigh.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/esmond/chapter31.html

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