Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XVIII

My Good Fortune Begins to Waver

And now, if any people should be disposed to think my history immoral (for I have heard some assert that I was a man who never deserved that so much prosperity should fall to my share), I will beg those cavillers to do me the favour to read the conclusion of my adventures; when they will see it was no such great prize that I had won, and that wealth, splendour, thirty thousand per annum, and a seat in Parliament, are often purchased at too dear a rate, when one has to buy those enjoyments at the price of personal liberty, and saddled with the charge of a troublesome wife.

They are the deuce, these troublesome wives, and that is the truth. No man knows until he tries how wearisome and disheartening the burthen of one of them is, and how the annoyance grows and strengthens from year to year, and the courage becomes weaker to bear it; so that that trouble which seemed light and trivial the first year, becomes intolerable ten years after. I have heard of one of the classical fellows in the dictionary who began by carrying a calf up a hill every day, and so continued until the animal grew to be a bull, which he still easily accommodated upon his shoulders; but take my word for it, young unmarried gentlemen, a wife is a very much harder pack to the back than the biggest heifer in Smithfield and, if I can prevent one of you from marrying, the ‘Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq.’ will not be written in vain. Not that my Lady was a scold or a shrew, as some wives are; I could have managed to have cured her of that; but she was of a cowardly, crying, melancholy, maudlin temper, which is to me still more odious: do what one would to please her, she would never be happy or in good-humour. I left her alone after a while; and because, as was natural in my case, where a disagreeable home obliged me to seek amusement and companions abroad, she added a mean detestable jealousy to all her other faults: I could not for some time pay the commonest attention to any other woman, but my Lady Lyndon must weep, and wring her hands, and threaten to commit suicide, and I know not what.

Her death would have been no comfort to me, as I leave any person of common prudence to imagine; for that scoundrel of a young Bullingdon (who was now growing up a tall, gawky, swarthy lad, and about to become my greatest plague and annoyance) would have inherited every penny of the property, and I should have been left considerably poorer even than when I married the widow: for I spent my personal fortune as well as the lady’s income in the keeping up of our rank, and was always too much a man of honour and spirit to save a penny of Lady Lyndon’s income. Let this be flung in the teeth of my detractors, who say I never could have so injured the Lyndon property had I not been making a private purse for myself; and who believe that, even in my present painful situation, I have hoards of gold laid by somewhere, and could come out as a Croesus when I choose. I never raised a shilling upon Lady Lyndon’s property but I spent it like a man of honour; besides incurring numberless personal obligations for money, which all went to the common stock. Independent of the Lyndon mortgages and incumbrances, I owe myself at least one hundred and twenty thousand pounds, which I spent while in occupancy of my wife’s estate; so that I may justly say that property is indebted to me in the above-mentioned sum.

Although I have described the utter disgust and distaste which speedily took possession of my breast as regarded Lady Lyndon; and although I took no particular pains (for I am all frankness and above-board) to disguise my feelings in general, yet she was of such a mean spirit, that she pursued me with her regard in spite of my indifference to her, and would kindle up at the smallest kind word I spoke to her. The fact is, between my respected reader and myself, that I was one of the handsomest and most dashing young men of England in those days, and my wife was violently in love with me; and though I say it who shouldn’t, as the phrase goes, my wife was not the only woman of rank in London who had a favourable opinion of the humble Irish adventurer. What a riddle these women are, I have often thought! I have seen the most elegant creatures at St. James’s grow wild for love of the coarsest and most vulgar of men; the cleverest women passionately admire the most illiterate of our sex, and so on. There is no end to the contrariety in the foolish creatures; and though I don’t mean to hint that I am vulgar or illiterate, as the persons mentioned above (I would cut the throat of any man who dared to whisper a word against my birth or my breeding), yet I have shown that Lady Lyndon had plenty of reason to dislike me if she chose: but, like the rest of her silly sex, she was governed by infatuation, not reason; and, up to the very last day of our being together, would be reconciled to me, and fondle me, if I addressed her a single kind word.

‘Ah,’ she would say, in these moments of tenderness —‘Ah, REDMOND, if you would always be so!’ And in these fits of love she was the most easy creature in the world to be persuaded, and would have signed away her whole property, had it been possible. And, I must confess, it was with very little attention on my part that I could bring her into good-humour. To walk with her on the Mall, or at Ranelagh, to attend her to church at St. James’s, to purchase any little present or trinket for her, was enough to coax her. Such is female inconsistency! The next day she would be calling me ‘Mr. Barry’ probably, and be bemoaning her miserable fate that she ever should have been united to such a monster. So it was she was pleased to call one of the most brilliant men in His Majesty’s three kingdoms: and I warrant me OTHER ladies had a much more flattering opinion of me.

Then she would threaten to leave me; but I had a hold of her in the person of her son, of whom she was passionately fond: I don’t know why, for she had always neglected Bullingdon her older son, and never bestowed a thought upon his health, his welfare, or his education.

It was our young boy, then, who formed the great bond of union between me and her Ladyship; and there was no plan of ambition I could propose in which she would not join for the poor lad’s behoof, and no expense she would not eagerly incur, if it might by any means be shown to tend to his advancement. I can tell you, bribes were administered, and in high places too — so near the royal person of His Majesty, that you would be astonished were I to mention what great personages condescended to receive our loans. I got from the English and Irish heralds a description and detailed pedigree of the Barony of Barryogue, and claimed respectfully to be reinstated in my ancestral titles, and also to be rewarded with the Viscounty of Ballybarry. ‘This head would become a coronet,’ my Lady would sometimes say, in her fond moments, smoothing down my hair; and, indeed, there is many a puny whipster in their Lordships’ house who has neither my presence nor my courage, my pedigree, nor any of my merits.

The striving after this peerage I considered to have been one of the most unlucky of all my unlucky dealings at this period. I made unheard-of sacrifices to bring it about. I lavished money here and diamonds there. I bought lands at ten times their value; purchased pictures and articles of vertu at ruinous prices. I gave repeated entertainments to those friends to my claims who, being about the Royal person, were likely to advance it. I lost many a bet to the Royal Dukes His Majesty’s brothers; but let these matters be forgotten, and, because of my private injuries, let me not be deficient in loyalty to my Sovereign.

The only person in this transaction whom I shall mention openly, is that old scamp and swindler, Gustavus Adolphus, thirteenth Earl of Crabs. This nobleman was one of the gentlemen of His Majesty’s closet, and one with whom the revered monarch was on terms of considerable intimacy. A close regard had sprung up between them in the old King’s time; when His Royal Highness, playing at battledore and shuttlecock with the young lord on the landing-place of the great staircase at Kew, in some moment of irritation the Prince of Wales kicked the young Earl downstairs, who, falling, broke his leg. The Prince’s hearty repentance for his violence caused him to ally himself closely with the person whom he had injured; and when His Majesty came to the throne there was no man, it is said, of whom the Earl of Bute was so jealous as of my Lord Crabs. The latter was poor and extravagant, and Bute got him out of the way, by sending him on the Russian and other embassies; but on this favourite’s dismissal, Crabs sped back from the Continent, and was appointed almost immediately to a place about His Majesty’s person.

It was with this disreputable nobleman that I contracted an unluckly intimacy; when, fresh and unsuspecting, I first established myself in town, after my marriage with Lady Lyndon: and, as Crabs was really one of the most entertaining fellows in the world, I took a sincere pleasure in his company; besides the interesting desire I had in cultivating the society of a man who was so near the person of the highest personage in the realm.

To hear the fellow, you would fancy that there was scarce any appointment made in which he had not a share. He told me, for instance, of Charles Fox being turned out of his place a day before poor Charley himself was aware of the fact. He told me when the Howes were coming back from America, and who was to succeed to the command there. Not to multiply instances, it was upon this person that I fixed my chief reliance for the advancement of my claim to the Barony of Barryogue and the Viscounty which I proposed to get.

One of the main causes of expense which this ambition of mine entailed upon me was the fitting out and arming a company of infantry from the Castle Lyndon and Hackton estates in Ireland, which I offered to my gracious Sovereign for the campaign against the American rebels. These troops, superbly equipped and clothed, were embarked at Portsmouth in the year 1778; and the patriotism of the gentleman who had raised them was so acceptable at Court, that, on being presented by my Lord North, His Majesty condescended to notice me particularly, and said, ‘That’s right, Mr. Lyndon, raise another company; and go with them, too!’ But this was by no means, as the reader may suppose, to my notions. A man with thirty thousand pounds per annum is a fool to risk his life like a common beggar: and on this account I have always admired the conduct of my friend Jack Bolter, who had been a most active and resolute cornet of horse, and, as such, engaged in every scrape and skirmish which could fall to his lot; but just before the battle of Minden he received news that his uncle, the great army contractor, was dead, and had left him five thousand per annum. Jack that instant applied for leave; and, as it was refused him on the eve of a general action, my gentleman took it, and never fired a pistol again: except against an officer who questioned his courage, and whom he winged in such a cool and determined manner, as showed all the world that it was from prudence and a desire of enjoying his money, not from cowardice, that he quitted the profession of arms.

When this Hackton company was raised, my stepson, who was now sixteen years of age, was most eager to be allowed to join it, and I would have gladly consented to have been rid of the young man; but his guardian, Lord Tiptoff, who thwarted me in everything, refused his permission, and the lad’s military inclinations were balked. If he could have gone on the expedition, and a rebel rifle had put an end to him, I believe, to tell the truth, I should not have been grieved over-much; and I should have had the pleasure of seeing my other son the heir to the estate which his father had won with so much pains.

The education of this young nobleman had been, I confess, some of the loosest; and perhaps the truth is, I DID neglect the brat. He was of so wild, savage, and insubordinate a nature, that I never had the least regard for him; and before me and his mother, at least, was so moody and dull, that I thought instruction thrown away upon him, and left him for the most part to shift for himself. For two whole years he remained in Ireland away from us; and when in England, we kept him mainly at Hackton, never caring to have the uncouth ungainly lad in the genteel company in the capital in which we naturally mingled. My own poor boy, on the contrary, was the most polite and engaging child ever seen: it was a pleasure to treat him with kindness and distinction; and before he was five years old, the little fellow was the pink of fashion, beauty, and good breeding.

In fact he could not have been otherwise, with the care both his parents bestowed upon him, and the attentions that were lavished upon him in every way. When he was four years old, I quarrelled with the English nurse who had attended upon him, and about whom my wife had been so jealous, and procured for him a French gouvernante, who had lived with families of the first quality in Paris; and who, of course, must set my Lady Lyndon jealous too. Under the care of this young woman my little rogue learned to chatter French most charmingly. It would have done your heart good to hear the dear rascal swear Mort de ma vie! and to see him stamp his little foot, and send the manants and canaille of the domestics to the trente mille diables. He was precocious in all things: at a very early age he would mimic everybody; at five, he would sit at table, and drink his glass of champagne with the best of us; and his nurse would teach him little French catches, and the last Parisian songs of Vade and Collard — pretty songs they were too; and would make such of his hearers as understood French burst with laughing, and, I promise you, scandalise some of the old dowagers who were admitted into the society of his mamma: not that there were many of them; for I did not encourage the visits of what you call respectable people to Lady Lyndon. They are sad spoilers of sport — tale-bearers, envious narrow-minded people; making mischief between man and wife. Whenever any of these grave personages in hoops and high heels used to make their appearance at Hackton, or in Berkeley Square, it was my chief pleasure to frighten them off; and I would make my little Bryan dance, sing, and play the diable a quatre, and aid him myself, so as to scare the old frumps.

I never shall forget the solemn remonstrances of our old square-toes of a rector at Hackton, who made one or two vain attempts to teach little Bryan Latin, and with whose innumerable children I sometimes allowed the boy to associate. They learned some of Bryan’s French songs from him, which their mother, a poor soul who understood pickles and custards much better than French, used fondly to encourage them in singing; but which their father one day hearing, he sent Miss Sarah to her bedroom and bread and water for a week, and solemnly horsed Master Jacob in the presence of all his brothers and sisters, and of Bryan, to whom he hoped that flogging would act as a warning. But my little rogue kicked and plunged at the old parson’s shins until he was obliged to get his sexton to hold him down, and swore, corbleu, morbleu, ventrebleu, that his young friend Jacob should not be maltreated. After this scene, his reverence forbade Bryan the rectory-house; on which I swore that his eldest son, who was bringing up for the ministry, should never have the succession of the living of Hackton, which I had thoughts of bestowing on him; and his father said, with a canting hypocritical air, which I hate, that Heaven’s will must be done; that he would not have his children disobedient or corrupted for the sake of a bishopric, and wrote me a pompous and solemn letter, charged with Latin quotations, taking farewell of me and my house. ‘I do so with regret,’ added the old gentleman, ‘for I have received so many kindnesses from the Hackton family that it goes to my heart to be disunited from them. My poor, I fear, may suffer in consequence of my separation from you, and my being hence-forward unable to bring to your notice instances of distress and affliction; which, when they were known to you, I will do you the justice to say, your generosity was always prompt to relieve.’

There may have been some truth in this, for the old gentleman was perpetually pestering me with petitions, and I know for a certainty, from his own charities, was often without a shilling in his pocket; but I suspect the good dinners at Hackton had a considerable share in causing his regrets at the dissolution of our intimacy: and I know that his wife was quite sorry to forego the acquaintance of Bryan’s gouvernante, Mademoiselle Louison, who had all the newest French fashions at her fingers’ ends, and who never went to the rectory but you would see the girls of the family turn out in new sacks or mantles the Sunday after.

I used to punish the old rebel by snoring very loud in my pew on Sundays during sermon-time; and I got a governor presently for Bryan, and a chaplain of my own, when he became of age sufficient to be separated from the women’s society and guardianship. His English nurse I married to my head gardener, with a handsome portion; his French gouvernante I bestowed upon my faithful German Fritz, not forgetting the dowry in the latter instance; and they set up a French dining-house in Soho, and I believe at the time I write they are richer in the world’s goods than their generous and free-handed master.

For Bryan I now got a young gentleman from Oxford, the Rev. Edmund Lavender, who was commissioned to teach him Latin, when the boy was in the humour, and to ground him in history, grammar, and the other qualifications of a gentleman. Lavender was a precious addition to our society at Hackton. He was the means of making a deal of fun there. He was the butt of all our jokes, and bore them with the most admirable and martyrlike patience. He was one of that sort of men who would rather be kicked by a great man than not be noticed by him; and I have often put his wig into the fire in the face of the company, when he would laugh at the joke as well as any man there. It was a delight to put him on a high-mettled horse, and send him after the hounds — pale, sweating, calling on us, for Heaven’s sake, to stop, and holding on for dear life by the mane and the crupper. How it happened that the fellow was never killed I know not; but I suppose hanging is the way in which HIS neck will be broke. He never met with any accident, to speak of, in our hunting-matches: but you were pretty sure to find him at dinner in his place at the bottom of the table making the punch, whence he would be carried off fuddled to bed before the night was over. Many a time have Bryan and I painted his face black on those occasions. We put him into a haunted room, and frightened his soul out of his body with ghosts; we let loose cargoes of rats upon his bed; we cried fire, and filled his boots with water; we cut the legs of his preaching-chair, and filled his sermon-book with snuff. Poor Lavender bore it all with patience; and at our parties, or when we came to London, was amply repaid by being allowed to sit with the gentlefolks, and to fancy himself in the society of men of fashion. It was good to hear the contempt with which he talked about our rector. ‘He has a son, sir, who is a servitor: and a servitor at a small college,’ he would say. ‘How COULD you, my dear sir, think of giving the reversion of Hackton to such a low-bred creature?’

I should now speak of my other son, at least my Lady Lyndon’s: I mean the Viscount Bullingdon. I kept him in Ireland for some years, under the guardianship of my mother, whom I had installed at Castle Lyndon; and great, I promise you, was her state in that occupation, and prodigious the good soul’s splendour and haughty bearing. With all her oddities, the Castle Lyndon estate was the best managed of all our possessions; the rents were excellently paid, the charges of getting them in smaller than they would have been under the management of any steward. It was astonishing what small expenses the good widow incurred; although she kept up the dignity of the TWO families, as she would say. She had a set of domestics to attend upon the young lord; she never went out herself but in an old gilt coach and six; the house was kept clean and tight; the furniture and gardens in the best repair; and, in our occasional visits to Ireland, we never found any house we visited in such good condition as our own. There were a score of ready serving-lasses, and half as many trim men about the castle; and everything in as fine condition as the best housekeeper could make it. All this she did with scarcely any charges to us: for she fed sheep and cattle in the parks, and made a handsome profit of them at Ballinasloe; she supplied I don’t know how many towns with butter and bacon; and the fruit and vegetables from the gardens of Castle Lyndon got the highest prices in Dublin market. She had no waste in the kitchen, as there used to be in most of our Irish houses; and there was no consumption of liquor in the cellars, for the old lady drank water, and saw little or no company. All her society was a couple of the girls of my ancient flame Nora Brady, now Mrs. Quin; who with her husband had spent almost all their property, and who came to see me once in London, looking very old, fat, and slatternly, with two dirty children at her side. She wept very much when she saw me, called me ‘Sir,’ and ‘Mr. Lyndon,’ at which I was not sorry, and begged me to help her husband; which I did, getting him, through my friend Lord Crabs, a place in the excise in Ireland, and paying the passage of his family and himself to that country. I found him a dirty, cast-down, snivelling drunkard; and, looking at poor Nora, could not but wonder at the days when I had thought her a divinity. But if ever I have had a regard for a woman, I remain through life her constant friend, and could mention a thousand such instances of my generous and faithful disposition.

Young Bullingdon, however, was almost the only person with whom she was concerned that my mother could not keep in order. The accounts she sent me of him at first were such as gave my paternal heart considerable pain. He rejected all regularity and authority. He would absent himself for weeks from the house on sporting or other expeditions. He was when at home silent and queer, refusing to make my mother’s game at piquet of evenings, but plunging into all sorts of musty old books, with which he muddled his brains; more at ease laughing and chatting with the pipers and maids in the servants’ hall, than with the gentry in the drawing-room; always cutting jibes and jokes at Mrs. Barry, at which she (who was rather a slow woman at repartee) would chafe violently: in fact, leading a life of insubordination and scandal. And, to crown all, the young scapegrace took to frequenting the society of the Romish priest of the parish — a threadbare rogue, from some Popish seminary in France or Spain — rather than the company of the vicar of Castle Lyndon, a gentleman of Trinity, who kept his hounds and drank his two bottles a day.

Regard for the lad’s religion made me not hesitate then how I should act towards him. If I have any principle which has guided me through life, it has been respect for the Establishment, and a hearty scorn and abhorrence of all other forms of belief. I therefore sent my French body-servant, in the year 17 — to Dublin with a commission to bring the young reprobate over; and the report brought to me was that he had passed the whole of the last night of his stay in Ireland with his Popish friend at the mass-house; that he and my mother had a violent quarrel on the very last day; that, on the contrary, he kissed Biddy and Dosy, her two nieces, who seemed very sorry that he should go; and that being pressed to go and visit the rector, he absolutely refused, saying he was a wicked old Pharisee, inside whose doors he would never set his foot. The doctor wrote me a letter, warning me against the deplorable errors of this young imp of perdition, as he called him; and I could see that there was no love lost between them. But it appeared that, if not agreeable to the gentry of the country, young Bullingdon had a huge popularity among the common people. There was a regular crowd weeping round the gate when his coach took its departure. Scores of the ignorant savage wretches ran for miles along by the side of the chariot; and some went even so far as to steal away before his departure, and appear at the Pigeon-House at Dublin to bid him a last farewell. It was with considerable difficulty that some of these people could be kept from secreting themselves in the vessel, and accompanying their young lord to England.

To do the young scoundrel justice, when he came among us, he was a manly noble-looking lad, and everything in his bearing and appearance betokened the high blood from which he came. He was the very portrait of some of the dark cavaliers of the Lyndon race, whose pictures hung in the gallery at Hackton: where the lad was fond of spending the chief part of his time, occupied with the musty old books which he took out of the library, and which I hate to see a young man of spirit poring over. Always in my company he preserved the most rigid silence, and a haughty scornful demeanour; which was so much the more disagreeable because there was nothing in his behaviour I could actually take hold of to find fault with: although his whole conduct was insolent and supercilious to the highest degree. His mother was very much agitated at receiving him on his arrival; if he felt any such agitation he certainly did not show it. He made her a very low and formal bow when he kissed her hand; and, when I held out mine, put both his hands behind his back, stared me full in the face, and bent his head, saying, ‘Mr. Barry Lyndon, I believe;’ turned on his heel, and began talking about the state of the weather to his mother, whom he always styled ‘Your Ladyship.’ She was angry at this pert bearing, and, when they were alone, rebuked him sharply for not shaking hands with his father.

‘My father, madam?’ said he; ‘surely you mistake. My father was the Right Honourable Sir Charles Lyndon. I at least have not forgotten him, if others have.’ It was a declaration of war to me, as I saw at once; though I declare I was willing enough to have received the boy well on his coming amongst us, and to have lived with him on terms of friendliness. But as men serve me I serve them. Who can blame me for my after-quarrels with this young reprobate, or lay upon my shoulders the evils which afterwards befell? Perhaps I lost my temper, and my subsequent treatment of him WAS hard. But it was he began the quarrel, and not I; and the evil consequences which ensued were entirely of his creating.

As it is best to nip vice in the bud, and for a master of a family to exercise his authority in such a manner as that there may be no question about it, I took the earliest opportunity of coming to close quarters with Master Bullingdon; and the day after his arrival among us, upon his refusal to perform some duty which I requested of him, I had him conveyed to my study, and thrashed him soundly. This process, I confess, at first agitated me a good deal, for I had never laid a whip on a lord before; but I got speedily used to the practice, and his back and my whip became so well acquainted, that I warrant there was very little CEREMONY between us after a while.

If I were to repeat all the instances of the insubordination and brutal conduct of young Bullingdon, I should weary the reader. His perseverance in resistance was, I think, even greater than mine in correcting him: for a man, be he ever so much resolved to do his duty as a parent, can’t be flogging his children all day, or for every fault they commit: and though I got the character of being so cruel a stepfather to him, I pledge my word I spared him correction when he merited it many more times than I administered it. Besides, there were eight clear months in the year when he was quit of me, during the time of my presence in London, at my place in Parliament, and at the Court of my Sovereign.

At this period I made no difficulty to allow him to profit by the Latin and Greek of the old rector; who had christened him, and had a considerable influence over the wayward lad. After a scene or a quarrel between us, it was generally to the rectory-house that the young rebel would fly for refuge and counsel; and I must own that the parson was a pretty just umpire between us in our disputes. Once he led the boy back to Hackton by the hand, and actually brought him into my presence, although he had vowed never to enter the doors in my lifetime again, and said, ‘He had brought his Lordship to acknowledge his error, and submit to any punishment I might think proper to inflict.’ Upon which I caned him in the presence of two or three friends of mine, with whom I was sitting drinking at the time; and to do him justice, he bore a pretty severe punishment without wincing or crying in the least. This will show that I was not too severe in my treatment of the lad, as I had the authority of the clergyman himself for inflicting the correction which I thought proper.

Twice or thrice, Lavender, Bryan’s governor, attempted to punish my Lord Bullingdon; but I promise you the rogue was too strong for HIM, and levelled the Oxford man to the ground with a chair: greatly to the delight of little Byran, who cried out, ‘Bravo, Bully! thump him, thump him!’ And Bully certainly did, to the governor’s heart’s content; who never attempted personal chastisement afterwards; but contented himself by bringing the tales of his Lordship’s misdoings to me, his natural protector and guardian.

With the child, Bullingdon was, strange to say, pretty tractable. He took a liking for the little fellow — as, indeed, everybody who saw that darling boy did — liked him the more, he said, because he was ‘half a Lyndon.’ And well he might like him, for many a time, at the dear angel’s intercession of ‘Papa, don’t flog Bully today!’ I have held my hand, and saved him a horsing, which he richly deserved.

With his mother, at first, he would scarcely deign to have any communication. He said she was no longer one of the family. Why should he love her, as she had never been a mother to him? But it will give the reader an idea of the dogged obstinacy and surliness of the lad’s character, when I mention one trait regarding him. It has been made a matter of complaint against me, that I denied him the education befitting a gentleman, and never sent him to college or to school; but the fact is, it was of his own choice that he went to neither. He had the offer repeatedly from me (who wished to see as little of his impudence as possible), but he as repeatedly declined; and, for a long time, I could not make out what was the charm which kept him in a house where he must have been far from comfortable.

It came out, however, at last. There used to be very frequent disputes between my Lady Lyndon and myself, in which sometimes she was wrong, sometimes I was; and which, as neither of us had very angelical tempers, used to run very high. I was often in liquor; and when in that condition, what gentleman is master of himself? Perhaps I DID, in this state, use my Lady rather roughly; fling a glass or two at her, and call her by a few names that were not complimentary. I may have threatened her life (which it was obviously my interest not to take), and have frightened her, in a word, considerably.

After one of these disputes, in which she ran screaming through the galleries, and I, as tipsy as a lord, came staggering after, it appears Bullingdon was attracted out of his room by the noise; as I came up with her, the audacious rascal tripped up my heels, which were not very steady, and catching his fainting mother in his arms, took her into his own room; where he, upon her entreaty, swore he would never leave the house as long as she continued united with me. I knew nothing of the vow, or indeed of the tipsy frolic which was the occasion of it; I was taken up ‘glorious,’ as the phrase is, by my servants, and put to bed, and, in the morning, had no more recollection of what had occurred any more than of what happened when I was a baby at the breast. Lady Lyndon told me of the circumstance years after; and I mention it here, as it enables me to plead honourably ‘not guilty’ to one of the absurd charges of cruelty trumped up against me with respect to my stepson. Let my detractors apologise, if they dare, for the conduct of a graceless ruffian who trips up the heels of his own natural guardian and stepfather after dinner.

This circumstance served to unite mother and son for a little; but their characters were too different. I believe she was too fond of me ever to allow him to be sincerely reconciled to her. As he grew up to be a man, his hatred towards me assumed an intensity quite wicked to think of (and which I promise you I returned with interest): and it was at the age of sixteen, I think, that the impudent young hangdog, on my return from Parliament one summer, and on my proposing to cane him as usual, gave me to understand that he would submit to no farther chastisement from me, and said, grinding his teeth, that he would shoot me if I laid hands on him. I looked at him; he was grown, in fact, to be a tall young man, and I gave up that necessary part of his education.

It was about this time that I raised the company which was to serve in America; and my enemies in the country (and since my victory over the Tiptoffs I scarce need say I had many of them) began to propagate the most shameful reports regarding my conduct to that precious young scapegrace my stepson, and to insinuate that I actually wished to get rid of him. Thus my loyalty to my Sovereign was actually construed into a horrid unnatural attempt on my part on Bullingdon’s life; and it was said that I had raised the American corps for the sole purpose of getting the young Viscount to command it, and so of getting rid of him. I am not sure that they had not fixed upon the name of the very man in the company who was ordered to despatch him at the first general action, and the bribe I was to give him for this delicate piece of service.

But the truth is, I was of opinion then (and though the fulfilment of my prophecy has been delayed, yet I make no doubt it will be brought to pass ere long), that my Lord Bullingdon needed none of MY aid in sending him into the other world; but had a happy knack of finding the way thither himself, which he would be sure to pursue. In truth, he began upon this way early: of all the violent, daring, disobedient scapegraces that ever caused an affectionate parent pain, he was certainly the most incorrigible; there was no beating him, or coaxing him, or taming him.

For instance, with my little son, when his governor brought him into the room as we were over the bottle after dinner, my Lord would begin his violent and undutiful sarcasms at me.

‘Dear child,’ he would say, beginning to caress and fondle him, ‘what a pity it is I am not dead for thy sake! The Lyndons would then have a worthier representative, and enjoy all the benefit of the illustrious blood of the Barrys of Barryogue; would they not, Mr. Barry Lyndon?’ He always chose the days when company, or the clergy or gentry of the neighbourhood, were present, to make these insolent speeches to me.

Another day (it was Bryan’s birthday) we were giving a grand ball and gala at Hackton, and it was time for my little Bryan to make his appearance among us, as he usually did in the smartest little court-suit you ever saw (ah me! but it brings tears into my old eyes now to think of the bright looks of that darling little face). There was a great crowding and tittering when the child came in, led by his half-brother, who walked into the dancing-room (would you believe it?) in his stocking-feet, leading little Bryan by the hand, paddling about in the great shoes of the elder! ‘Don’t you think he fits my shoes very well, Sir Richard Wargrave?’ says the young reprobate: upon which the company began to look at each other and to titter; and his mother, coming up to Lord Bullingdon with great dignity, seized the child to her breast, and said, ‘From the manner in which I love this child, my Lord, you ought to know how I would have loved his elder brother had he proved worthy of any mother’s affection!’ and, bursting into tears, Lady Lyndon left the apartment, and the young lord rather discomfited for once.

At last, on one occasion, his behaviour to me was so outrageous (it was in the hunting-field and in a large public company), that I lost all patience, rode at the urchin straight, wrenched him out of his saddle with all my force, and, flinging him roughly to the ground, sprang down to it myself, and administered such a correction across the young caitiff’s head and shoulders with my horsewhip as might have ended in his death, had I not been restrained in time; for my passion was up, and I was in a state to do murder or any other crime. The lad was taken home and put to bed, where he lay for a day or two in a fever, as much from rage and vexation as from the chastisement I had given him; and three days afterwards, on sending to inquire at his chamber whether he would join the family at table, a note was found on his table, and his bed was empty and cold. The young villain had fled, and had the audacity to write in the following terms regarding me to my wife, his mother:—

‘Madam,’ he said, ‘I have borne as long as mortal could endure the ill-treatment of the insolent Irish upstart whom you have taken to your bed. It is not only the lowness of his birth and the general brutality of his manners which disgust me, and must make me hate him so long as I have the honour to bear the name of Lyndon, which he is unworthy of, but the shameful nature of his conduct towards your Ladyship; his brutal and ungentlemanlike behaviour, his open infidelity, his habits of extravagance, intoxication, his shameless robberies and swindling of my property and yours. It is these insults to you which shock and annoy me, more than the ruffian’s infamous conduct to myself. I would have stood by your Ladyship as I promised, but you seem to have taken latterly your husband’s part; and, as I cannot personally chastise this low-bred ruffian, who, to our shame be it spoken, is the husband of my mother; and as I cannot bear to witness his treatment of you, and loathe his horrible society as if it were the plague, I am determined to quit my native country: at least during his detested life, or during my own. I possess a small income from my father, of which I have no doubt Mr. Barry will cheat me if he can; but which, if your Ladyship has some feelings of a mother left, you will, perhaps, award to me. Messrs. Childs, the bankers, can have orders to pay it to me when due; if they receive no such orders, I shall be not in the least surprised, knowing you to be in the hands of a villain who would not scruple to rob on the highway; and shall try to find out some way in life for myself more honourable than that by which the penniless Irish adventurer has arrived to turn me out of my rights and home.’

This mad epistle was signed ‘Bullingdon,’ and all the neighbours vowed that I had been privy to his flight, and would profit by it; though I declare on my honour my true and sincere desire, after reading the above infamous letter, was to have the author within a good arm’s length of me, that I might let him know my opinion regarding him. But there was no eradicating this idea from people’s minds, who insisted that I wanted to kill Bullingdon; whereas murder, as I have said, was never one of my evil qualities: and even had I wished to injure my young enemy ever so much, common prudence would have made my mind easy, as I knew he was going to ruin his own way.

It was long before we heard of the fate of the audacious young truant; but after some fifteen months had elapsed, I had the pleasure of being able to refute some of the murderous calumnies which had been uttered against me, by producing a bill with Bullingdon’s own signature, drawn from General Tarleton’s army in America, where my company was conducting itself with the greatest glory, and with which my Lord was serving as a volunteer. There were some of my kind friends who persisted still in attributing all sorts of wicked intentions to me. Lord Tiptoff would never believe that I would pay any bill, much more any bill of Lord Bullingdon’s; old Lady Betty Grimsby, his sister, persisted in declaring the bill was a forgery, and the poor dear lord dead; until there came a letter to her Ladyship from Lord Bullingdon himself, who had been at New York at headquarters, and who described at length the splendid festival given by the officers of the garrison to our distinguished chieftains, the two Howes.

In the meanwhile, if I HAD murdered my Lord, I could scarcely have been received with more shameful obloquy and slander than now followed me in town and country. ‘You will hear of the lad’s death, be sure,’ exclaimed one of my friends. ‘And then his wife’s will follow,’ added another. ‘He will marry Jenny Jones,’ added a third; and so on. Lavender brought me the news of these scandals about me: the country was up against me. The farmers on market-days used to touch their hats sulkily, and get out of my way; the gentlemen who followed my hunt now suddenly seceded from it, and left off my uniform; at the county ball, where I led out Lady Susan Capermore, and took my place third in the dance after the duke and the marquis, as was my wont, all the couples turned away as we came to them, and we were left to dance alone. Sukey Capermore has a love of dancing which would make her dance at a funeral if anybody asked her, and I had too much spirit to give in at this signal instance of insult towards me; so we danced with some of the very commonest low people at the bottom of the set — your apothecaries, wine-merchants, attorneys, and such scum as are allowed to attend our public assemblies.

The bishop, my Lady Lyndon’s relative, neglected to invite us to the palace at the assizes; and, in a word, every indignity was put upon me which could by possibility be heaped upon an innocent and honourable gentleman.

My reception in London, whither I now carried my wife and family, was scarcely more cordial. On paying my respects to my Sovereign at St. James’s, His Majesty pointedly asked me when I had news of Lord Bullingdon. On which I replied, with no ordinary presence of mind, ‘Sir, my Lord Bullingdon is fighting the rebels against your Majesty’s crown in America. Does your Majesty desire that I should send another regiment to aid him?’ On which the King turned on his heel, and I made my bow out of the presence-chamber. When Lady Lyndon kissed the Queen’s hand at the drawing-room, I found that precisely the same question had been put to her Ladyship; and she came home much agitated at the rebuke which had been administered to her. Thus it was that my loyalty was rewarded, and my sacrifice, in favour of my country, viewed! I took away my establishment abruptly to Paris, where I met with a very different reception: but my stay amidst the enchanting pleasures of that capital was extremely short; for the French Government, which had been long tampering with the American rebels, now openly acknowledged the independence of the United States. A declaration of war ensued: all we happy English were ordered away from Paris; and I think I left one or two fair ladies there inconsolable. It is the only place where a gentleman can live as he likes without being incommoded by his wife. The Countess and I, during our stay, scarcely saw each other except upon public occasions, at Versailles, or at the Queen’s play-table; and our dear little Bryan advanced in a thousand elegant accomplishments which rendered him the delight of all who knew him.

I must not forget to mention here my last interview with my good uncle, the Chevalier de Ballybarry, whom I left at Brussels with strong intentions of making his salut, as the phrase is, and who had gone into retirement at a convent there. Since then he had come into the world again, much to his annoyance and repentance; having fallen desperately in love in his old age with a French actress, who had done, as most ladies of her character do — ruined him, left him, and laughed at him. His repentance was very edifying. Under the guidance of Messieurs of the Irish College, he once more turned his thoughts towards religion; and his only prayer to me when I saw him and asked in what I could relieve him, was to pay a handsome fee to the convent into which he proposed to enter.

This I could not, of course, do: my religious principles forbidding me to encourage superstition in any way; and the old gentleman and I parted rather coolly, in consequence of my refusal, as he said, to make his old days comfortable.

I was very poor at the time, that is the fact; and entre nous, the Rosemont of the French Opera, an indifferent dancer, but a charming figure and ankle, was ruining me in diamonds, equipages, and furniture bills, added to which I had a run of ill-luck at play, and was forced to meet my losses by the most shameful sacrifices to the money-lenders, by pawning part of Lady Lyndon’s diamonds (that graceless little Rosemont wheedled me out of some of them), and by a thousand other schemes for raising money. But when Honour is in the case, was I ever found backward at her call: and what man can say that Barry Lyndon lost a bet which he did not pay?

As for my ambitious hopes regarding the Irish peerage, I began, on my return, to find out that I had been led wildly astray by that rascal Lord Crabs; who liked to take my money, but had no more influence to get me a coronet than to procure for me the Pope’s tiara. The Sovereign was not a whit more gracious to me on returning from the Continent than he had been before my departure; and I had it from one of the aides-de-camp of the Royal Dukes his brothers, that my conduct and amusements at Paris had been odiously misrepresented by some spies there, and had formed the subject of Royal comment; and that the King had, influenced by these calumnies, actually said I was the most disreputable man in the three kingdoms. I disreputable! I a dishonour to my name and country! When I heard these falsehoods, I was in such a rage that I went off to Lord North at once to remonstrate with the Minister; to insist upon being allowed to appear before His Majesty and clear myself of the imputations against me, to point out my services to the Government in voting with them, and to ask when the reward that had been promised to me — viz., the title held by my ancestors — was again to be revived in my person?

There was a sleepy coolness in that fat Lord North which was the most provoking thing that the Opposition had ever to encounter from him. He heard me with half-shut eyes. When I had finished a long violent speech — which I made striding about his room in Downing Street, and gesticulating with all the energy of an Irishman — he opened one eye, smiled, and asked me gently if I had done. On my replying in the affirmative, he said, ‘Well, Mr. Barry, I’ll answer you, point by point. The King is exceedingly averse to make peers, as you know. Your claims, as you call them, HAVE been laid before him, and His Majesty’s gracious reply was, that you were the most impudent man in his dominions, and merited a halter rather than a coronet. As for withdrawing your support from us, you are perfectly welcome to carry yourself and your vote whithersoever you please. And now, as I have a great deal of occupation, perhaps you will do me the favour to retire.’ So saying, he raised his hand lazily to the bell, and bowed me out; asking blandly if there was any other thing in the world in which he could oblige me.

I went home in a fury which can’t be described; and having Lord Crabs to dinner that day, assailed his Lordship by pulling his wig off his head, and smothering it in his face, and by attacking him in that part of the person where, according to report, he had been formerly assaulted by Majesty. The whole story was over the town the next day, and pictures of me were hanging in the clubs and print-shops performing the operation alluded to. All the town laughed at the picture of the lord and the Irishman, and, I need not say, recognised both. As for me, I was one of the most celebrated characters in London in those days: my dress, style, and equipage being as well known as those of any leader of the fashion; and my popularity, if not great in the highest quarters, was at least considerable elsewhere. The people cheered me in the Gordon rows, at the time they nearly killed my friend Jemmy Twitcher and burned Lord Mansfield’s house down. Indeed, I was known as a staunch Protestant, and after my quarrel with Lord North veered right round to the Opposition, and vexed him with all the means in my power.

These were not, unluckily, very great, for I was a bad speaker, and the House would not listen to me, and presently, in 1780, after the Gordon disturbance, was dissolved, when a general election took place. It came on me, as all my mishaps were in the habit of coming, at a most unlucky time. I was obliged to raise more money, at most ruinous rates, to face the confounded election, and had the Tiptoffs against me in the field more active and virulent than ever.

My blood boils even now when I think of the rascally conduct of my enemies in that scoundrelly election. I was held up as the Irish Bluebeard, and libels of me were printed, and gross caricatures drawn representing me flogging Lady Lyndon, whipping Lord Bullingdon, turning him out of doors in a storm, and I know not what. There were pictures of a pauper cabin in Ireland, from which it was pretended I came; others in which I was represented as a lacquey and shoeblack. A flood of calumny was let loose upon me, in which any man of less spirit would have gone down.

But though I met my accusers boldly, though I lavished sums of money in the election, though I flung open Hackton Hall and kept champagne and Burgundy running there, and at all my inns in the town, as commonly as water, the election went against me. The rascally gentry had all turned upon me and joined the Tiptoff faction: it was even represented that I held my wife by force; and though I sent her into the town alone, wearing my colours, with Bryan in her lap, and made her visit the mayor’s lady and the chief women there, nothing would persuade the people but that she lived in fear and trembling of me; and the brutal mob had the insolence to ask her why she dared to go back, and how she liked horsewhip for supper.

I was thrown out of my election, and all the bills came down upon me together — all the bills I had been contracting during the years of my marriage, which the creditors, with a rascally unanimity, sent in until they lay upon my table in heaps. I won’t cite their amount: it was frightful. My stewards and lawyers made matters worse. I was bound up in an inextricable toil of bills and debts, of mortgages and insurances, and all the horrible evils attendant upon them. Lawyers upon lawyers posted down from London; composition after composition was made, and Lady Lyndon’s income hampered almost irretrievably to satisfy these cormorants. To do her justice, she behaved with tolerable kindness at this season of trouble; for whenever I wanted money I had to coax her, and whenever I coaxed her I was sure of bringing this weak and light-minded woman to good-humour: who was of such a weak terrified nature, that to secure an easy week with me she would sign away a thousand a year. And when my troubles began at Hackton, and I determined on the only chance left, viz. to retire to Ireland and retrench, assigning over the best part of my income to the creditors until their demands were met, my Lady was quite cheerful at the idea of going, and said, if we would be quiet, she had no doubt all would be well; indeed, was glad to undergo the comparative poverty in which we must now live for the sake of the retirement and the chance of domestic quiet which she hoped to enjoy.

We went off to Bristol pretty suddenly, leaving the odious and ungrateful wretches at Hackton to vilify us, no doubt, in our absence. My stud and hounds were sold off immediately; the harpies would have been glad to pounce upon my person; but that was out of their power. I had raised, by cleverness and management, to the full as much on my mines and private estates as they were worth; so the scoundrels were disappointed in THIS instance; and as for the plate and property in the London house, they could not touch that, as it was the property of the heirs of the house of Lyndon.

I passed over to Ireland, then, and took up my abode at Castle Lyndon for a while; all the world imagining that I was an utterly ruined man, and that the famous and dashing Barry Lyndon would never again appear in the circles of which he had been an ornament. But it was not so. In the midst of my perplexities, Fortune reserved a great consolation for me still. Despatches came home from America announcing Lord Cornwallis’s defeat of General Gates in Carolina, and the death of Lord Bullingdon, who was present as a volunteer.

For my own desires to possess a paltry Irish title I cared little. My son was now heir to an English earldom, and I made him assume forthwith the title of Lord Viscount Castle Lyndon, the third of the family titles. My mother went almost mad with joy at saluting her grandson as ‘my Lord,’ and I felt that all my sufferings and privations were repaid by seeing this darling child advanced to such a post of honour.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/lyndon/chapter18.html

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