The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXIII

Which is passed in the Neighbourhood of Ludgate Hill

Our imprisoned Captain announced, in smart and emphatic language in his prospectus, that the time had come at last when it was necessary for the gentlemen of England to band together in defence of their common rights and their glorious order, menaced on all sides by foreign revolutions, by intestine radicalism, by the artful calumnies of mill-owners and cotton-lords, and the stupid hostility of the masses whom they gulled and led. “The ancient monarchy was insulted,” the Captain said, “by a ferocious republican rabble. The Church was deserted by envious dissent, and undermined by stealthy infidelity. The good institutions, which had made our country glorious, and the name of English Gentleman the proudest in the world, were left without defence, and exposed to assault and contumely from men to whom no sanctuary was sacred, for they believed in nothing holy; no history venerable, for they were too ignorant to have heard of the past; and no law was binding which they were strong enough to break, when their leaders gave the signal for plunder. It was because the kings of France mistrusted their gentlemen,” Mr. Shandon remarked, “that the monarchy of Saint Louis went down: it was because the people of England still believed in their gentlemen, that this country encountered and overcame the greatest enemy a nation ever met: it was because we were headed by gentlemen, that the Eagles retreated before us from the Donro to the Garonne: it was a gentleman who broke the line at Trafalgar, and swept the plain of Waterloo.”

Bungay nodded his head in a knowing manner, and winked his eyes when the Captain came to the Waterloo passage: and Warrington burst out laughing.

“You see how our venerable friend Bungay is affected,” Shandon said, slily looking up from his papers —“that’s your true sort of test. I have used the Duke of Wellington and the battle of Waterloo a hundred times, and I never knew the Duke to fail.”

The Captain then went on to confess, with much candour, that up to the present time the gentlemen of England, confident of their right, and careless of those who questioned it, had left the political interest of their order as they did the management of their estates, or the settlement of their legal affairs, to persons affected to each peculiar service, and had permitted their interests to be represented in the press by professional proctors and advocates. That time Shandon professed to consider was now gone by: the gentlemen of England must be their own champions: the declared enemies of their order were brave, strong, numerous, and uncompromising. They must meet their foes in the field: they must not be belied and misrepresented by hireling advocates: they must not have Grub Street publishing Gazettes from Whitehall; “that’s a dig at Bacon’s people, Mr. Bungay,” said Shandon, turning round to the publisher. Bungay clapped his stick on the floor. “Hang him, pitch into him, Capting,” he said with exultation: and turning to Warrington, wagged his dull head more vehemently than ever, and said, “For a slashing article, sir, there’s nobody like the Capting — no-obody like him.”

The prospectus-writer went on to say that some gentlemen, whose names were, for obvious reasons, not brought before the public (at which Mr. Warrington began to laugh again), had determined to bring forward a journal, of which the principles were so-and-so. “These men are proud of their order, and anxious to uphold it,” cried out Captain Shandon, flourishing his paper with a grin. “They are loyal to their Sovereign, by faithful conviction and ancestral allegiance; they love their Church, where they would have their children worship, and for which their forefathers bled; they love their country, and would keep it what the gentlemen of England — yes, the gentlemen of England (we’ll have that in large caps, Bungay, my boy) have made it — the greatest and freest in the world: and as the names of some of them are appended to the deed which secured our liberties at Runnymede —”

“What’s that?” asked Mr. Bungay.

“An ancestor of mine sealed it with his sword-hilt,” Pen said, with great gravity.

“It’s the Habeas Corpus, Mr. Bungay,” Warrington said, on which the publisher answered, “All right, I dare say,” and yawned, though he said, “Go on, Capting.”

“— at Runnymede; they are ready to defend that freedom today with sword and pen, and now, as then, to rally round the old laws and liberties of England.”

“Bravo!” cried Warrington. The little child stood wondering; the lady was working silently, and looking with fond admiration. “Come here, little Mary,” said Warrington, and patted the child’s fair curls with his large hand. But she shrank back from his rough caress, and preferred to go and take refuge at Pen’s knee, and play with his fine watch-chain: and Pen was very much pleased that she came to him; for he was very soft-hearted and simple, though he concealed his gentleness under a shy and pompous demeanour. So she clambered up on his lap, whilst her father continued to read his programme.

“You were laughing,” the Captain said to Warrington, “about ‘the obvious reasons’ which I mentioned. Now, I’ll show ye what they are, ye unbelieving heathen. ‘We have said,’” he went on, “‘that we cannot give the names of the parties engaged in this undertaking, and that there were obvious reasons for that concealment. We number influential friends in both Houses of the Senate, and have secured allies in every diplomatic circle in Europe. Our sources of intelligence are such as cannot, by any possibility, be made public — and, indeed, such as no other London or European journal could, by any chance, acquire. But this we are free to say, that the very earliest information connected with the movement of English and Continental politics will be found only in the columns of the Pall Mall Gazette, The Statesman and the Capitalist, the Country Gentleman and the Divine, will be amongst our readers, because our writers are amongst them. We address ourselves to the higher circles of society: we care not to disown it — the Pall Mall Gazette is written by gentlemen for gentlemen; its conductors speak to the classes in which they live and were born. The field-preacher has his journal, the radical free-thinker has his journal: why should the Gentlemen of England be unrepresented in the Press?’”

Mr. Shandon then went on with much modesty to descant upon the literary and fashionable departments of the Pall Mall Gazette, which were to be conducted by gentlemen of acknowledged reputation; men famous at the Universities (at which Mr Pendennis could scarcely help laughing and blushing), known at the Clubs, and of the Society which they described. He pointed out delicately to advertisers that there would be no such medium as the Pall Mall Gazette for giving publicity to their sales; and he eloquently called upon the nobility of England, the baronetage of England, the revered clergy of England, the bar of England, the matrons, the daughters, the homes and hearths of England, to rally round the good old cause; and Bungay at the conclusion of the reading woke up from a second snooze in which he had indulged himself, and again said it was all right.

The reading of the prospectus concluded, the gentlemen present entered into some details regarding the political and literary management of the paper, and Mr. Bungay sate by listening and nodding his head, as if he understood what was the subject of their conversation, and approved of their opinions. Bungay’s opinions, in truth, were pretty simple. He thought the Captain could write the best smashing article in England. He wanted the opposition house of Bacon smashed, and it was his opinion that the Captain could do that business. If the Captain had written a letter of Junius on a sheet of paper, or copied a part of the Church Catechism, Mr. Bungay would have been perfectly contented, and have considered that the article was a smashing article. And he pocketed the papers with the greatest satisfaction: and he not only paid for the MS., as we have seen, but he called little Mary to him, and gave her a penny as he went away.

The reading of the manuscript over, the party engaged in general conversation, Shandon leading with a jaunty fashionable air in compliment to the two guests who sate with him and, and who, by their appearance and manner, he presumed to be persons of the beau monde. He knew very little indeed of the great world, but he had seen it, and made the most of what he had seen. He spoke of the characters of the day, and great personages of the fashion, with easy familiarity and jocular allusions, as if it had been his habit to live amongst them. He told anecdotes of their private life, and of conversations he had had, and entertainments at which he had been present, and at which such and such a thing occurred. Pen was amused to hear the shabby prisoner in a tattered dressing-gown talking glibly about the great of the land. Mrs. Shandon was always delighted when her husband told these tales, and believed in them fondly every one. She did not want to mingle in the fashionable world herself, she was not clever enough; but the great Society was the very place for her Charles: he shone in it: he was respected in it. Indeed, Shandon had once been asked to dinner by the Earl of X; his wife treasured the invitation-card in her workbox at that very day.

Mr. Bungay presently had enough of this talk and got up to take leave, whereupon Warrington and Pen rose to depart with the publisher, though the latter would have liked to stay to make a further acquaintance with this family, who interested him and touched him. He said something about hoping for permission to repeat his visit, upon which Shandon, with a rueful grin, said he was always to be found at home, and should be delighted to see Mr. Pennington.

“I’ll see you to my park-gate, gentlemen,” said Captain Shandon, seizing his hat, in spite of a deprecatory look and a faint cry of “Charles” from Mrs. Shandon. And the Captain, in shabby slippers, shuffled out before his guests, leading the way through the dismal passages of the prison. His hand was already fiddling with his waistcoat pocket, where Bungay’s five-pound note was, as he took leave of the three gentlemen at the wicket; one of them, Mr. Arthur Pendennis, being greatly relieved when he was out of the horrid place, and again freely treading the flags of Farringdon Street.

Mrs. Shandon sadly went on with her work at the window looking into the court. She saw Shandon with a couple of men at his heels run rapidly in the direction of the prison tavern. She had hoped to have had him to dinner herself that day: there was a piece of meat, and some salad in a basin, on the ledge outside of the window of their room which she had expected that she and little Mary were to share with the child’s father. But there was no chance of that now. He would be in that tavern until the hours for closing it; then he would go and play at cards or drink in some other man’s room and come back silent, with glazed eyes, reeling a little on his walk, that his wife might nurse him. Oh, what varieties of pain do we not make our women suffer!

So Mrs. Shandon went to the cupboard, and, in lieu of a dinner, made herself some tea. And in those varieties of pain of which we spoke anon, what a part of confidante has that poor tea-pot played ever since the kindly plant was introduced among us! What myriads of women have cried over it, to be sure! What sick-beds it has smoked by! What fevered lips have received refreshment from out of it! Nature meant very gently by women when she made that tea-plant; and with a little thought what a series of pictures and groups the fancy may conjure up and assemble round the tea-pot and cup! Melissa and Sacharissa are talking love-secrets over it. Poor Polly has it and her lover’s letters upon the table; his letters who was her lover yesterday, and when it was with pleasure, not despair, she wept over them. Mary tripping noiselessly comes into her mother’s bedroom, bearing a cup of the consoler to the widow who will take no other food, Ruth is busy concocting it for her husband, who is coming home from the harvest-field — one could fill a page with hints for such pictures; — finally, Mrs. Shandon and little Mary sit down and drink their tea together, while the Captain goes out and takes his pleasure. She cares for nothing else but that, when her husband is away.

A gentleman with whom we are already slightly acquainted, Mr. Jack Finucane, a townsman of Captain Shandon’s, found the Captain’s wife and little Mary (for whom Jack always brought a sweetmeat in his pocket) over this meal. Jack thought Shandon the greatest of created geniuses, had had one or two helps from the good-natured prodigal, who had always a kind word, and sometimes a guinea for any friend in need; and never missed a day in seeing his patron. He was ready to run Shandon’s errands and transact his money-business with publishers and newspaper editors, duns, creditors, holders of Shandon’s acceptances, gentlemen disposed to speculate in those securities, and to transact the thousand little affairs of an embarrassed Irish gentleman. I never knew an embarrassed Irish gentleman yet, but he had an aide-de-camp of his own nation, likewise in circumstances of pecuniary discomfort. That aide-de-camp has subordinates of his own, who again may have other insolvent dependents — all through his life our Captain marched at the head of a ragged staff, who shared in the rough fortunes of their chieftain.

“He won’t have that five-pound note very long, I bet a guinea,” Mr. Bungay said of the Captain, as he and his two companions walked away from the prison; and the publisher judged rightly, for when Mrs. Shandon came to empty her husband’s pockets, she found but a couple of shillings, and a few halfpence out of the morning’s remittance. Shandon had given a pound to one follower; had sent a leg of mutton and potatoes and beer to an acquaintance in the poor side of the prison; had paid an outstanding bill at the tavern where he had changed his five-pound note; had had a dinner with two friends there, to whom he lost sundry half-crowns at cards afterwards; so that the night left him as poor as the morning had found him.

The publisher and the two gentlemen had had some talk together after quitting Shandon, and Warrington reiterated to Bungay what he had said to his rival, Bacon, viz., that Pen was a high fellow, of great genius, and what was more, well with the great world, and related to “no end” of the peerage. Bungay replied that he should be happy to have dealings with Mr. Pendennis, and hoped to have the pleasure of seeing both gents to cut mutton with him before long, and so, with mutual politeness and protestations, they parted.

“It is hard to see such a man as Shandon,” Pen said, musing, and talking that night over the sight which he had witnessed, “of accomplishments so multifarious, and of such an undoubted talent and humour, an inmate of a gaol for half his time, and a bookseller’s hanger-on when out of prison.”

“I am a bookseller’s hanger-on — you are going to try your paces as a hack,” Warrington said with a laugh. “We are all hacks upon some road or other. I would rather be myself, than Paley our neighbour in chambers: who has as much enjoyment of his life as a mole. A deuced deal of undeserved compassion has been thrown away upon what you call your bookseller’s drudge.”

“Much solitary pipes and ale make a cynic of you,” said Pen “You are a Diogenes by a beer-barrel, Warrington. No man shall tell me that a man of genius, as Shandon is, ought to be driven by such a vulgar slave-driver, as yonder Mr. Bungay, whom we have just left, who fattens on the profits of the other’s brains, and enriches himself out of his journeyman’s labour. It makes me indignant to see a gentleman the serf of such a creature as that, of a man who can’t speak the language that he lives by, who is not fit to black Shandon’s boots.”

“So you have begun already to gird at the publishers, and to take your side amongst our order. Bravo, Pen, my be boy!” Warrington answered, laughing still. “What have you got to say against Bungay’s relations with Shandon? Was it the publisher, think you, who sent the author to prison? Is it Bungay who is tippling away the five-pound note which we saw just now, or Shandon?”

“Misfortune drives a man into bad company,” Pen said. “It is easy to cry ‘Fie!’ against a poor fellow who has no society but such as he finds in a prison; and no resource except forgetfulness and the bottle. We must deal kindly with the eccentricities of genius, and remember that the very ardour and enthusiasm of temperament which makes the author delightful often leads the man astray.”

“A fiddlestick about men of genius!” Warrington cried out, who was a very severe moralist upon some points, though possibly a very had practitioner. “I deny that there are so many geniuses as people who whimper about the fate of men of letters assert there are. There are thousands of clever fellows in the world who could, if they would, turn verses, write articles, read books, and deliver a judgment upon them; the talk of professional critics and writers is not a whit more brilliant, or profound, or amusing, than that of any other society of educated people. If a lawyer, or a soldier, or a parson, outruns his income, and does not pay his bills, he must go to gaol; and an author must go, too. If an author fuddles himself, I don’t know why he should be let off a headache the next morning — if he orders a coat from the tailor’s, why he shouldn’t pay for it.”

“I would give him more money to buy coats,” said Pen, smiling. I suppose I should like to belong to a well-dressed profession. I protest against that wretch of a middle-man whom I see between Genius and his great landlord, the Public, and who stops more than half of the labourer’s earnings and fame.”

“I am a prose labourer,” Warrington said; “you, my boy, are a poet in a small way, and so, I suppose, consider you are authorised to be flighty. What is it you want? Do you want a body of capitalists that shall be forced to purchase the works of all authors, who may present themselves, manuscript in hand? Everybody who writes his epic, every driveller who can or can’t spell, and produces his novel or his tragedy — are they all to come and find a bag of sovereigns in exchange for their worthless reams of paper? Who is to settle what is good or bad, saleable or otherwise? Will you give the buyer leave, in fine, to purchase or not? Why, sir, when Johnson sate behind the screen at Saint John’s Gate, and took his dinner apart, because he was too shabby and poor to join the literary bigwigs who were regaling themselves, round Mr. Cave’s best table-cloth, the tradesman was doing him no wrong. You couldn’t force the publisher to recognise the man of genius in the young man who presented himself before him, ragged, gaunt, and hungry. Rags are not a proof of genius; whereas capital is absolute, as times go, and is perforce the bargain-master. It has a right to deal with the literary inventor as with any other; — if I produce a novelty in the book trade, I must do the best I can with it; but I can no more force Mr. Murray to purchase my book of travels or sermons, than I can compel Mr. Tattersall to give me a hundred guineas for my horse. I may have my own ideas of the value of my Pegasus, and think him the most wonderful of animals; but the dealer has a right to his opinion, too, and may want a lady’s horse, or a cob for a heavy timid rider, or a sound hack for the road, and my beast won’t suit him.”

“You deal in metaphors, Warrington,” Pen said; “but you rightly say that you are very prosaic. Poor Shandon! There is something about the kindness of that man, and the gentleness of that sweet creature of a wife, which touches me profoundly. I like him, I am afraid, better than a better man”

“And so do I,” Warrington said. “Let us give him the benefit of our sympathy, and the pity that is due to his weakness: though I fear that sort of kindness would be resented as contempt by a more high-minded man. You see he takes his consolation along with his misfortune, and one generates the other or balances ii, as the way of the world. He is a prisoner, but he is not unhappy.”

“His genius sings within his prison bars,” Pen said.

“Yes,” Warrington said, bitterly; “Shandon accommodates himself to a cage pretty well. He ought to be wretched, but he has Jack and Tom to drink with, and that consoles him: he might have a high place, but, as he can’t, why, he can drink with Tom and Jack; — he might be providing for his wife and children, but Thomas and John have got a bottle of brandy which they want him to taste; — he might pay poor Snip, the tailor, the twenty pounds which the poor devil wants for his landlord, but John and Thomas lay their hands upon his purse; — and so he drinks whilst his tradesman goes to gaol and his family to ruin. Let us pity the misfortunes of genius, and conspire against the publishing tyrants who oppress men of letters.”

“What! are you going to have another glass of brandy-and-water?” Pen said, with a humorous look. It was at the Black Kitchen that the above philosophical conversation took place between the two young men.

Warrington began to laugh as usual. “Video meliora proboque — I mean, bring it me hot, with sugar, John,” he said to waiter.

“I would have some more, too, only I don’t want it,” said Pen. “It does not seem to me, Warrington, that we are much better than our neighbours.” And Warrington’s last glass having been despatched, the pair returned to their chambers.

They found a couple of notes in the letter-box, on their return, which had been sent by their acquaintance of the morning, Mr. Bungay. That hospitable gentleman presented his compliments to each of the gentlemen, and requested their pleasure of company at dinner on an early day, to meet a few literary friends.

“We shall have a grand spread, Warrington. We shall meet all Bungay’s corps.”

“All except poor Shandon,” said Pen, nodding a good-night to his friend, and he went into his own little room. The events and acquaintances of the day had excited him a good deal, and he lay for some time awake thinking over them, as Warrington’s vigorous and regular snore from the neighbouring apartment pronounced that that gentleman was engaged in deep slumber.

Is it true, thought Pendennis, lying on his bed and gazing at a bright moon without, that lighted up a corner of his dressing-table, and the frame of a little sketch of Fairoaks drawn by Laura, and hung over his drawers — is it true that I am going to earn my bread at last, and with my pen? that I shall impoverish the dear mother no longer; and that I may gain a name and reputation in the world, perhaps? These are welcome if they come, thought the young visionary, laughing and blushing to himself, though alone and in the night, as he thought how dearly he would relish honour and fame if they could be his. If fortune favours me, I laud her; if she frowns, I resign her. I pray Heaven I may be honest if I fail, or if I succeed. I pray Heaven I may tell the truth as far as I know it: that I mayn’t swerve from it through flattery, or interest, or personal enmity, or party prejudice. Dearest old mother, what a pride will you have, if I can do anything worthy of our name I and you, Laura, you won’t scorn me as the worthless idler and spendthrift, when you see that I— when I have achieved a — psha! what an Alnaschar I am because I have made five pounds by my poems, and am engaged to write half a dozen articles for a newspaper. He went on with these musings, more happy and hopeful, and in a humbler frame of mind, than he had felt to be for many a day. He thought over the errors and idleness, the passions, extravagances, disappointments, of his wayward youth: he got up from the bed: threw open the window, and looked out into the night: and then, by some impulse, which we hope was a good one, he went up and kissed the picture of Fairoaks, and flinging himself down on his knees by the bed, remained for some time in that posture of hope and submission. When he rose, it was with streaming eyes. He had found himself repeating, mechanically, some little words which he had been accustomed to repeat as a child at his mother’s side, after the saying of which she would softly take him to his bed and close the curtains round him, hushing him with a benediction.

The next day, Mr. Pidgeon, their attendant, brought in a large brown-paper parcel, directed to G. Warrington, Esq., with Mr. Trotter’s compliments, and a note which Warrington read.

“Pen, you beggar!” roared Warrington to Pen, who was in his own room.

“Hullo!” sung out Pen.

“Come here, you’re wanted,” cried the other, and Pen came out.

“What is it?” said he.

“Catch!” cried Warrington, and flung the parcel at Pen’s head, who would have been knocked down had he not caught it.

“It’s books for review for the Pall Mall Gazette: pitch into ’em,” Warrington said. As for Pen, he never had been so delighted in his life: his hand trembled as he cut the string of the packet, and beheld within a smart set of new neat calico-bound books — travels, and novels, and poems.

“Sport the oak, Pidgeon,” said he. “I’m not at home to anybody today.” And he flung into his easy-chair, and hardly gave himself time to drink his tea, so eager was he to begin to read and to review.

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