The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXII

The Way of the World

A short time after the piece of good fortune which befell Colonel Altamont at Epsom, that gentleman put into execution his projected foreign tour, and the chronicler of the polite world who goes down to London Bridge for the purpose of taking leave of the people of fashion who quit this country, announced that among the company on board the Soho to Antwerp last Saturday, were “Sir Robert, Lady, and the Misses Hodge; Mr. Serjeant Kewsy, and Mrs. and Miss Kewsy; Colonel Altamont, Major Coddy, etc.” The Colonel travelled in state, and as became a gentleman: he appeared in a rich travelling costume; he drank brandy-and-water freely during the passage, and was not sick, as some of the other passengers were; and he was attended by his body-servant; the faithful Irish legionary who had been for some time in waiting upon himself and Captain Strong in their chambers of Shepherd’s Inn.

The Chevalier partook of a copious dinner at Blackwall with his departing friend the Colonel, and one or two others, who drank many healths to Altamont at that liberal gentleman’s expense. “Strong, old boy,” the Chevalier’s worthy chum said, “if you want a little money, now’s your time. I’m your man. You’re a good feller, and have been a good feller to me, and a twenty-pound note, more or less, will make no odds to me,” But Strong said, No, he didn’t want any money; he was flush, quite flush — “that is, not flush enough to pay you back your last loan, Altamont, but quite able to carry on for some time to come,” and so, with a not uncordial greeting between them, the two parted. Had the possession of money really made Altamont more honest and amiable than he had hitherto been, or only caused him to seem more amiable in Strong’s eyes? Perhaps he really was better, and money improved him. Perhaps it was the beauty of wealth Strong saw and respected. But he argued within himself, “This poor devil, this unlucky outcast of a returned convict, is ten times as good a fellow as my friend Sir Francis Clavering, Bart. He has pluck and honesty in his way. He will stick to a friend, and face an enemy. The other never had courage to do either. And what is it that has put the poor devil under a cloud? He was only a little wild, and signed his father-inlaw’s name. Many a man has done worse, and come to no wrong, and holds his head up. Clavering does. No, he don’t hold his head up: he never did in his best days.” And Strong, perhaps, repented him of the falsehood which he had told to the free-handed Colonel, that he was not in want of money; but it was a falsehood on the side of honesty, and the Chevalier could not bring down his stomach to borrow a second time from his outlawed friend. Besides, he could get on. Clavering had promised him some: not that Clavering’s promises were much to be believed, but the Chevalier was of a hopeful turn, and trusted in many chances of catching his patron, and waylaying some of those stray remittances and supplies, in the procuring of which for his principal lay Mr. Strong’s chief business.

He had grumbled about Altamont’s companionship in the Shepherd’s Inn chambers; but he found those lodgings more glum now without his partner than with him. The solitary life was not agreeable to his social soul; and he had got into extravagant and luxurious habits, too, having a servant at his command to run his errands, to arrange his toilets, and to cook his meal. It was rather a grand and touching sight now to see the portly and handsome gentleman painting his own boots, and broiling his own mutton chop. It has been before stated that the Chevalier had a wife, a Spanish lady of Vittoria, who had gone back to her friends, after a few months’ union with the Captain, whose head she broke with a dish. He began to think whether he should not go back and see his Juanita. The Chevalier was growing melancholy after the departure of his friend the Colonel; or, to use his own picturesque expression, was “down on his luck.” These moments of depression and intervals of ill fortune occur constantly in the lives of heroes; Marius at Minturme, Charles Edward in the Highlands, Napoleon before Elba. What great man has not been called upon to face evil fortune?

From Clavering no supplies were to be had for some time, the five-and-twenty pounds or the “pony,” which the exemplary Baronet had received from Mr. Altamont, had fled out of Clavering’s keeping as swiftly as many previous ponies. He had been down the river with a choice party of sporting gents, who dodged the police and landed in Essex, where they put up Billy Bluck to fight Dick the cabman whom the Baronet backed, and who had it all his own way for thirteen rounds, when, by an unlucky blow in the windpipe, Billy killed him. “It’s always my luck, Strong,” Sir Francis said; “the betting was three to one on the cabman, and I thought myself as sure of thirty pound, as if I had it in my pocket. And dammy, I owe my man Lightfoot fourteen pound now which he’s lent and paid for me: and he duns me — the confounded impudent blackguard: and I wish to Heaven I knew any way of getting a bill done, or of screwing a little out of my lady! I’ll give you half, Ned, upon my soul and honour, I’ll give you half if you can get anybody to do us a little fifty.”

But Ned said sternly that he had given his word of honour, as a gentleman, that he would be no party to any future bill transactions in which her husband might engage (who had given his word of honour too), and the Chevalier said that he, at least, would keep his word, and would black his own boots all his life rather than break his promise. And what is more, he vowed he would advise Lady Clavering that Sir Francis was about to break his faith towards her upon the very first hint which he could get that such was Clavering’s intention.

Upon this information Sir Francis Clavering, according to his custom, cried and cursed very volubly. He spoke of death as his only resource. He besought and implored his dear Strong, his best friend, his dear old Ned, not to throw him over: and when he quitted his dearest Ned, as he went down the stairs of Shepherd’s Inn, swore and blasphemed at Ned as the most infernal villain, and traitor, and blackguard, and coward under the sun, and wished Ned was in his grave, and in a worse place, only he would like the confounded ruffian to live, until Frank Clavering had had his revenge out of him.

In Strong’s chambers the Baronet met a gentleman whose visits were now, as it has been shown, very frequent in Shepherd’s Inn, Mr. Samuel Huxter, of Clavering. That young fellow, who had poached the walnuts in Clavering Park in his youth, and had seen the Baronet drive through the street at home with four horses, and prance up to church with powdered footmen, had an immense respect for his Member, and a prodigious delight in making his acquaintance. He introduced himself with much blushing and trepidation, as a Clavering man — son of Mr. Huxter, of the market-place — father attended Sir Francis’s keeper, Coxwood, when his gun burst and took off three fingers — proud to make Sir Francis’s acquaintance. All of which introduction Sir Francis received affably. And honest Huxter talked about Sir Francis to the chaps at Bartholomew’s: and told Fanny, in the lodge, that, after all, there was nothing like a thoroughbred un, a regular good old English gentleman, one of the olden time! To which Fanny replied, that she thought Sir Francis was an ojous creature — she didn’t know why — but she couldn’t abear him — she was sure he was wicked, and low, and mean — she knew he was; and when Sam to this replied that Sir Francis was very affable, and had borrowed half a sov’ of him quite kindly, Fanny burst into a laugh, pulled Sam’s long hair (which was not yet of irreproachable cleanliness), patted his chin, and called him a stoopid, stoopid, old foolish stoopid, and said that Sir Francis was always borrering money of everybody, and that Mar had actially refused him twice, and had had to wait three months to get seven shillings which he had borrowed of ‘er.

“Don’t say ‘er but her, borrer but borrow, actially but actually, Fanny,” Mr. Huxter replied — not to a fault in her argument, but to grammatical errors in her statement.

“Well then, her, and borrow, and hactually — there then, you stoopid,” said the other; and the scholar made such a pretty face that the grammar master was quickly appeased, and would have willingly given her a hundred more lessons on the spot at the price which he took for that one.

Of course Mrs. Bolton was by, and I suppose that Fanny and Dr. Sam were on exceedingly familiar and confidential terms by this time, and that time had brought to the former certain consolations, and soothed certain regrets, which are deucedly bitter when they occur, but which are, no more than tooth-pulling, or any other pang, eternal.

As you sit, surrounded by respect and affection; happy, honoured, and flattered in your old age; your foibles gently indulged; your least words kindly cherished; your garrulous old stories received for the hundredth time with dutiful forbearance, and never-failing hypocritical smiles; the women of your house constant in their flatteries; the young men hushed and attentive when you begin to speak; the servants awestricken; the tenants cap in hand, and ready to act in the place of your worship’s horses when your honour takes a drive — it has often struck you, O thoughtful Dives! that this respect, and these glories, are for the main part transferred, with your fee-simple, to your successor — that the servants will bow, and the tenants shout, for your son as for you; that the butler will fetch him the wine (improved by a little keeping) that’s now in your cellar; and that, when your night is come, and the light of your life is gone down, as sure as the morning rises after you and without you, the sun of prosperity and flattery shines on your heir. Men come and bask in the halo of consols and acres that beams round about him: the reverence is transferred with the estate; of which, with all its advantages, pleasures, respect, and good-will, he in turn becomes the life-tenant. How long do you wish or expect that your people will regret you? How much time does a man devote to grief before he begins to enjoy? A great man must keep his heir at his feast like a living memento mori. If he holds very much by life, the presence of the other must be a constant sting and warning. “Make ready to go,” says the successor to your honour; “I am waiting: and I could hold it as well as you.”

What has this reference to the possible reader, to do with any of the characters of this history? Do we wish to apologise for Pen because he has got a white hat, and because his mourning for his mother is fainter? All the lapse of years, all the career of fortune, all the events of life, however strongly they may move or eagerly excite him, never can remove that sainted image from his heart, or banish that blessed love from its sanctuary. If he yields to wrong, the dear eyes will look sadly upon him when he dares to meet them; if he does well, endures pain, or conquers temptation, the ever present love will greet him, he knows, with approval and pity; if he falls, plead for him; if he suffers, cheer him; — be with him and accompany him always until death is past; and sorrow and sin are no more. Is this mere dreaming, or, on the part of an idle story-teller, useless moralising? May not the man of the world take his moment, too, to be grave and thoughtful? Ask of your own hearts and memories, brother and sister, if we do not live in the dead; and (to speak reverently) prove God by love?

Of these matters Pen and Warrington often spoke in many a solemn and friendly converse in after days; and Pendennis’s mother was worshipped in his memory, and canonised there, as such a saint ought to be. Lucky he in life who knows a few such women! A kind provision of Heaven it was, that sent us such; and gave us to admire that touching and wonderful spectacle of innocence, and love, and beauty.

But as it is certain that if, in the course of these sentimental conversations, any outer stranger, Major Pendennis for instance, had walked into Pen’s chambers, Arthur and Warrington would have stopped their talk, and chosen another subject, and discoursed about the Opera, or the last debate in Parliament, or Miss Jones’s marriage with Captain Smith, or what not — so, let us imagine that the public steps in at this juncture, and stops the confidential talk between author and reader, and begs us to resume our remarks about this world, with which both are certainly better acquainted than with that other one into which we have just been peeping.

On coming into his property, Arthur Pendennis at first comported himself with a modesty and equanimity which obtained his friend Warrington’s praises, though Arthur’s uncle was a little inclined to quarrel with his nephew’s meanness of spirit, for not assuming greater state and pretensions now that he had entered on the enjoyment of his kingdom. He would have had Arthur installed in handsome quarters, and riding on showy park hacks, or in well-built cabriolets, every day. “I am too absent,” Arthur said, with a laugh, “to drive a cab in London; the omnibus would cut me in two, or I should send my horse’s head into the ladies’ carriage-windows; and you wouldn’t have me driven about by my servant like an apothecary, uncle?” No, Major Pendennis would on no account have his nephew appear like an apothecary; the august representative of the house of Pendennis must not so demean himself. And when Arthur, pursuing his banter, said, “And yet, I dare say, sir, my father was proud enough when he first set up his gig,” the old Major hemmed and ha’d, and his wrinkled face reddened with a blush as he answered, “You know what Buonaparte said, sir, ‘Il faut laver son linge sale en famille.’ There is no need, sir, for you to brag that your father was a — a medical man. He came of a most ancient but fallen house, and was obliged to reconstruct the family fortunes as many a man of good family has done before him. You are like the fellow in Sterne, sir — the Marquis who came to demand his sword again. Your father got back yours for you. You are a man of landed estate, by Gad, sir, and a gentleman — never forget you are a gentleman.”

Then Arthur slily turned on his uncle the argument which he had heard the old gentleman often use regarding himself. “In the society which I have the honour of frequenting through your introduction, who cares to ask about my paltry means or my humble gentility, uncle?” he asked. “It would be absurd of me to attempt to compete with the great folks; and all that they can ask from us is, that we should have a decent address and good manners.”

“But for all that, sir, I should belong to a better Club or two,” the uncle answered: “I should give an occasional dinner, and select my society well; and I should come out of that horrible garret in the Temple, sir.” And so Arthur compromised by descending to the second floor in Lamb Court: Warrington still occupying his old quarters, and the two friends being determined not to part one from the other. Cultivate kindly, reader, those friendships of your youth: it is only in that generous time that they are formed. How different the intimacies of after days are, and how much weaker the grasp of your own hand after it has been shaken about in twenty years’ commerce with the world, and has squeezed and dropped a thousand equally careless palms! As you can seldom fashion your tongue to speak a new language after twenty, the heart refuses to receive friendship pretty soon: it gets too hard to yield to the impression.

So Pen had many acquaintances, and being of a jovial and easy turn, got more daily: but no friend like Warrington; and the two men continued to live almost as much in common as the Knights of the Temple, riding upon one horse (for Pen’s was at Warrington’s service), and having their chambers and their servitor in common.

Mr. Warrington had made the acquaintance of Pen’s friends of Grosvenor Place during their last unlucky season in London, and had expressed himself no better satisfied with Sir Francis and Lady Clavering and her ladyship’s daughter than was the public in general. “The world is right,” George said, “about those people. The young men laugh and talk freely before those ladies, and about them. The girl sees people whom she has no right to know, and talks to men with whom no girl should have an intimacy. Did you see those two reprobates leaning over Lady Clavering’s carriage in the Park the other day, and leering under Miss Blanche’s bonnet? No good mother would let her daughter know those men, or admit them within her doors.”

“The Begum is the most innocent and good-natured soul alive,” interposed Pen. “She never heard any harm of Captain Blackball, or read that trial in which Charley Lovelace figures. Do you suppose that honest ladies read and remember the Chronique Scandaleuse as well as you, you old grumbler?”

“Would you like Laura Bell to know those fellows?” Warrington asked, his face turning rather red. “Would you let any woman you loved be contaminated by their company? I have no doubt that the poor Begum is ignorant of their histories. It seems to me she is ignorant of a great number of better things. It seems to me that your honest Begum is not a lady, Pen. It is not her fault, doubtless, that she has not had the education, or learned the refinements of a lady.”

“She is as moral as Lady Portsea, who has all the world at her balls, and as refined as Mrs. Bull, who breaks the King’s English. and has half a dozen dukes at her table,” Pen answered, rather sulkily. “Why should you and I be more squeamish than the rest of the world? Why are we to visit the sins of her father on this harmless kind creature? She never did anything but kindness to you or any mortal soul. As far as she knows she does her best. She does not set up to be more than she is. She gives you the best dinners she can buy, and the best company she can get. She pays the debts of that scamp of a husband of hers. She spoils her boy like the most virtuous mother in England. Her opinion about literary matters, to be sure, is not much; and I daresay she never read a line of Wordsworth, or heard of Tennyson in her life.”

“No more has Mrs. Flanagan the laundress,” growled out Pen’s Mentor; “no more has Betty the housemaid; and I have no word of blame against them. But a high-souled man doesn’t make friends of these. A gentleman doesn’t choose these for his companions, or bitterly rues it afterwards if he do. Are you, who are setting up to be a man of the world and a philosopher, to tell me that the aim of life is to guttle three courses and dine off silver? Do you dare to own to yourself that your ambition in life is good claret, and that you’ll dine with any, provided you get a stalled ox to feed on? You call me a Cynic — why, what a monstrous Cynicism it is, which you and the rest of you men of the world admit! I’d rather live upon raw turnips and sleep in a hollow tree, or turn backwoodsman or savage, than degrade myself to this civilisation, and own that a French cook was the thing in life best worth living for.”

“Because you like a raw beefsteak and a pipe afterwards,” broke out Pen, “you give yourself airs of superiority over people whose tastes are more dainty, and are not ashamed of the world they live in. Who goes about professing particular admiration, or esteem, or friendship, or gratitude even, for the people one meets every day? If A. asks me to his house, and gives me his best, I take his good things for what they are worth and no more. I do not profess to pay him back in friendship, but in the conventional money of society. When we part, we part without any grief. When we meet, we are tolerably glad to see one another. If I were only to live with my friends, your black muzzle, old George, is the only face I should see.”

“You are your uncle’s pupil,” said Warrington, rather sadly; and you speak like a worldling.”

“And why not?” asked Pendennis; “why not acknowledge the world I stand upon, and submit to the conditions of the society which we live in and live by? I am older than you, George, in spite of your grizzled whiskers, and have seen much more of the world than you have in your garret here, shut up with your books and your reveries and your ideas of one-and-twenty. I say, I take the world as it is, and being of it, will not be ashamed of it. If the time is out of joint, have I any calling or strength to set it right?”

“Indeed, I don’t think you have much of either,” growled Pen’s interlocutor.

“If I doubt whether I am better than my neighbour,” Arthur continued, “if I concede that I am no better — I also doubt whether he is better than I. I see men who begin with ideas of universal reform, and who, before their beards are grown, propound their loud plans for the regeneration of mankind, give up their schemes after a few years of bootless talking and vainglorious attempts to lead their fellows; and after they have found that men will no longer bear them, as indeed they never were in the least worthy to be heard, sink quietly into the ranks-and-file — acknowledging their aims impracticable, or thankful that they were never put into practice. The fiercest reformers grow calm, and are faire to put up with things as they are: the loudest Radical orators become dumb, quiescent placemen: the most fervent Liberals when out of power, become humdrum Conservatives or downright tyrants or despots in office. Look at the Thiers, look at Guizot, in opposition and in place! Look at the Whigs appealing to the country, and the Whigs in power! Would you say that the conduct of these men is an act of treason, as the Radicals bawl — who would give way in their turn, were their turn ever to come? No, only that they submit to circumstances which are stronger than they — march as the world marches towards reform, but at the world’s pace (and the movements of the vast body of mankind must needs be slow), forgo this scheme as impracticable, on account of opposition — that as immature, because against the sense of the majority — are forced to calculate drawbacks and difficulties, as well as to think of reforms and advances — and compelled finally to submit, and to wait, and to compromise.”

“The Right Honourable Arthur Pendennis could not speak better, or be more satisfied with himself, if he was First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer,” Warrington said.

“Self-satisfied? Why self-satisfied?” continued Pen. “It seems to me that my scepticism is more respectful and more modest than the revolutionary ardour of other folks. Many a patriot of eighteen, many a Spouting-Club orator, would turn the Bishops out of the House of Lords tomorrow, and throw the Lords out after the Bishops, and throw the Throne into the Thames after the Peers and the Bench. Is that man more modest than I, who takes these institutions as I find them, and waits for time and truth to develop, or fortify, or (if you like) destroy them? A college tutor, or a nobleman’s toady, who appears one fine day as my right reverend lord, in a silk apron and a shovel-hat, and assumes benedictory airs over me, is still the same man we remember at Oxbridge, when he was truckling to the tufts, and bullying the poor undergraduates in the lecture-room. An hereditary legislator, who passes his time with jockeys and black-legs and ballet-girls, and who is called to rule over me and his other betters because his grandfather made a lucky speculation in the funds, or found a coal or tin mine on his property, or because his stupid ancestor happened to be in command of ten thousand men as brave as himself, who overcame twelve thousand Frenchmen, or fifty thousand Indians — such a man, I say, inspires me with no more respect than the bitterest democrat can feel towards him. But, such as he is, he is a part of the old society to which we belong and I submit to his lordship with acquiescence; and he takes his place above the best of us at all dinner-parties, and there bides his time. I don’t want to chop his head off with a guillotine, or to fling mud at him in the streets. When they call such a man a disgrace to his order; and such another, who is good and gentle, refined and generous, who employs his great means in promoting every kindness and charity, and art and grace of life, in the kindest and most gracious manner, an ornament to his rank — the question as to the use and propriety of the order is not in the least affected one way or other. There it is, extant among us, a part of our habits, the creed of many of us, the growth of centuries, the symbol of a most complicated tradition — there stand my lord the bishop and my lord the hereditary legislator — what the French call transactions both of them — representing in their present shape mail-clad barons and double-sworded chiefs (from whom their lordships the hereditaries, for the most part, don’t descend), and priests, professing to hold an absolute truth and a divinely inherited power, the which truth absolute our ancestors burned at the stake, and denied there; the which divine transmissible power still exists in print — to be believed, or not, pretty much at choice; and of these, I say, I acquiesce that they exist, and no more. If you say that these schemes, devised before printing was known, or steam was born; when thought was an infant, scared and whipped; and truth under its guardians was gagged, and swathed, and blindfolded, and not allowed to lift its voice, or to look out or to walk under the sun; before men were permitted to meet, or to trade, or to speak with each other — if any one says (as some faithful souls do) that these schemes are for ever, and having been changed and modified constantly are to be subject to no further development or decay, I laugh, and let the man speak. But I would have toleration for these, as I would ask it for my own opinions; and if they are to die, I would rather they had a decent and natural than an abrupt and violent death.”

“You would have sacrificed to Jove,” Warrington said, “had you lived in the time of the Christian persecutions.”

“Perhaps I would,” said Pen, with some sadness. “Perhaps I am a coward — perhaps my faith is unsteady; but this is my own reserve. What I argue here is that I will not persecute. Make a faith or a dogma absolute, and persecution becomes a logical consequence; and Dominic burns a Jew, or Calvin an Arian, or Nero a Christian, or Elizabeth or Mary a Papist or Protestant; or their father both or either, according to his humour; and acting without any pangs of remorse — but, on the contrary, notions of duty fulfilled. Make dogma absolute, and to inflict or to suffer death becomes easy and necessary; and Mahomet’s soldiers shouting, ‘Paradise! Paradise!’ and dying on the Christian spears, are not more or less praiseworthy than the same men slaughtering a townful of Jews, or cutting off the heads of all prisoners who would not acknowledge that there was but one Prophet of God.”

“A little while since, young one,” Warrington said, who had been listening to his friend’s confessions neither without sympathy nor scorn, for his mood led him to indulge in both, “you asked me why I remained out of the strife of the world, and looked on at the great labour of my neighbour without taking any part in the struggle? Why, what a mere dilettante you own yourself to be, in this confession of general scepticism, and what a listless spectator yourself! You are six-and-twenty years old; and as blase as a rake of sixty. You neither hope much nor care much, nor believe much. You doubt about other men as much as about yourself. Were it made of such pococuranti as you, the world would be intolerable; and I had rather live in a wilderness of monkeys, and listen to their chatter, than in a company of men who denied everything.”

“Were the world composed of Saint Bernards or Saint Dominies, it would be equally odious,” said Pen, “and at the end of a few scores of years would cease to exist altogether. Would you have every man with his head shaved, and every woman in a cloister — carrying out to the full the ascetic principle? Would you have conventicle hymns twanging from every lane in every city in the world? Would you have all the birds of the forest sing one note and fly with one feather? You call me a sceptic because I acknowledge what is; and in acknowledging that, be it linnet or lark, or priest or parson, be it, I mean, any single one of the infinite varieties of the creatures of God (whose very name I would be understood to pronounce with reverence, and never to approach but with distant awe), I say that the study and acknowledgment of that variety amongst men especially increases our respect and wonder for the Creator, Commander, and Ordainer of all these minds, so different and yet so united — meeting in a common adoration, and offering up, each according to his degree and means of approaching the Divine centre, his acknowledgment of praise and worship, each singing (to recur to the bird simile) his natural song.”

“And so, Arthur, the hymn of a saint, or the ode of a poet, or the chant of a Newgate thief, are all pretty much the same in your philosophy,” said George.

“Even that sneer could be answered were it to the point,” Pendennis replied; “but it is not; and it could be replied to you, that even to the wretched outcry of the thief on the tree, the wisest and the best of all teachers we know of, the untiring Comforter and Consoler, promised a pitiful hearing and a certain hope. Hymns of saints! odes of poets! who are we to measure the chances and opportunities, the means of doing, or even judging, right and wrong, awarded to men; and to establish the rule for meting out their punishments and rewards? We are as insolent and unthinking in judging of men’s morals as of their intellects. We admire this man as being a great philosopher, and set down the other as a dullard, not knowing either, or the amount of truth in either, or being certain of the truth anywhere. We sing Te Deum for this hero who has won a battle, and De Profundis for that other one who has broken out of prison, and has been caught afterwards by the policeman. Our measure of rewards and punishments is most partial and incomplete, absurdly inadequate, utterly worldly, and we wish to continue it into the next world. Into that next and awful world we strive to pursue men, and send after them our impotent party verdicts of condemnation or acquittal. We set up our paltry little rods to measure Heaven immeasurable, as if, in comparison to that, Newton’s mind or Pascal’s or Shakspeare’s was any loftier than mine; as if the ray which travels from the sun would reach me sooner than the man who blacks my boots. Measured by that altitude, the tallest and the smallest among us are so alike diminutive and pitifully base, that I say we should take no count of the calculation, and it is a meanness to reckon the difference.”

“Your figure fails there, Arthur,” said the other, better pleased; “if even by common arithmetic we can multiply as we can reduce almost infinitely, the Great Reckoner must take count of all; and the small is not small, or the great great, to his infinity.”

“I don’t call those calculations in question,” Arthur said; “I only say that yours are incomplete and premature; false in consequence, and, by every operation, multiplying into wider error. I do not condemn the men who murdered Socrates and damned Galileo. I say that they damned Galileo and murdered Socrates.”

“And yet but a moment since you admitted the propriety of acquiescence in the present, and, I suppose, all other tyrannies?”

“No: but that if an opponent menaces me, of whom and without cost of blood and violence I can get rid, I would rather wait him out, and starve him out, than fight him out. Fabius fought Hannibal sceptically. Who was his Roman coadjutor, whom we read of in Plutarch when we were boys, who scoffed at the other’s procrastination and doubted his courage, and engaged the enemy and was beaten for his pains?”

In these speculations and confessions of Arthur, the reader may perhaps see allusions to questions which, no doubt, have occupied and discomposed himself, and which he has answered by very different solutions to those come to by our friend. We are not pledging ourselves for the correctness of his opinions, which readers will please to consider are delivered dramatically, the writer being no more answerable for them, than for the sentiments uttered by any other character of the story: our endeavour is merely to follow out, in its progress, the development of the mind of a worldly and selfish, but not ungenerous or unkind or truth-avoiding man. And it will be seen that the lamentable stage to which his logic at present has brought him, is one of general scepticism and sneering acquiescence in the world as it is; or if you like so to call it, a belief qualified with scorn in all things extant. The tastes and habits of such a man prevent him from being a boisterous demagogue, and his love of truth and dislike of cant keep him from advancing crude propositions, such as many loud reformers are constantly ready with; much more of uttering downright falsehoods in arguing questions or abusing opponents, which he would die or starve rather than use. It was not in our friend’s nature to be able to utter certain lies; nor was he strong enough to protest against others, except with a polite sneer; his maxim being, that he owed obedience to all Acts of Parliament, as long as they were not repealed.

And to what does this easy and sceptical life lead a man? Friend Arthur was a Sadducee, and the Baptist might be in the Wilderness shouting to the poor, who were listening with all their might and faith to the preacher’s awful accents and denunciations of wrath or woe or salvation; and our friend the Sadducee would turn his sleek mule with a shrug and a smile from the crowd, and go home to the shade of his terrace, and muse over preacher and audience, and turn to his roll of Plato, or his pleasant Greek songbook babbling of honey and Hybla, and nymphs and fountains and love. To what, we say, does this scepticism lead? It leads a man to a shameful loneliness and selfishness, so to speak — the more shameful, because it is so good-humoured and conscienceless and serene. Conscience! What is conscience? Why accept remorse? What is public or private faith? Mythuses alike enveloped in enormous tradition. If seeing and acknowledging the lies of the world, Arthur, as see them you can with only too fatal a clearness, you submit to them without any protest further than a laugh: if, plunged yourself in easy sensuality, you allow the whole wretched world to pass groaning by you unmoved: if the fight for the truth is taking place, and all men of honour are on the ground armed on the one side or the other, and you alone are to lie on your balcony and smoke your pipe out of the noise and the danger, you had better have died, or never have been at all, than such a sensual coward.

“The truth, friend!” Arthur said, imperturbably; “where is the truth? Show it me. That is the question between us. I see it on both sides. I see it on the Conservative side of the house, and amongst the Radicals, and even on the ministerial benches. I see it in this man, who worships by Act of Parliament, and is rewarded with a silk apron and five thousand a year; in that man, who, driven fatally by the remorseless logic of his creed, gives up everything, friends, fame, dearest ties, closest vanities, the respect of an army of churchmen, the recognised position of a leader, and passes over, truth-impelled, to the enemy, in whose ranks he will serve henceforth as a nameless private soldier:— I see the truth in that man, as I do in his brother, whose logic drives him to quite a different conclusion, and who, after having passed a life in vain endeavours to reconcile an irreconcilable book, flings it at last down in despair, and declares, with tearful eyes, and hands up to heaven, his revolt and recantation. If the truth is with all these, why should I take side with any one of them? Some are called upon to preach: let them preach. Of these preachers there are somewhat too many, methinks, who fancy they have the gift. But we cannot all be parsons in church, that is clear. Some must sit silent and listen, or go to sleep mayhap. Have we not all our duties? The head charity-boy blows the bellows; the master canes the other boys in the organ-loft; the clerk sings out Amen from the desk; and the beadle with the staff opens the door for his Reverence, who rustles in silk up to the cushion. I won’t cane the boys, nay, or say Amen always, or act as the church’s champion and warrior, in the shape of the beadle with the staff; but I will take off my hat in the place, and say my prayers there too, and shake hands with the clergyman as he steps on the grass outside. Don’t I know that his being there is a compromise, and that he stands before me an Act of Parliament? That the church he occupies was built for other worship? That the Methodist chapel is next door; and that Bunyan the tinker is bawling out the tidings of damnation on the common hard by? Yes, I am a Sadducee; and I take things as I find them, and the world, and the Acts of Parliament of the world, as they are; and as I intend to take a wife, if I find one — not to be madly in love and prostrate at her feet like a fool — not to worship her as an angel, or to expect to find her as such — but to be good-natured to her, and courteous, expecting good-nature and pleasant society from her in turn. And so, George, if ever you hear of my marrying, depend on it, it won’t be a romantic attachment on my side: and if you hear of any good place under Government, I have no particular scruples that I know of, which would prevent me from accepting your offer.”

“O Pen, you scoundrel! I know what you mean,” here Warrington broke out. “This is the meaning of your scepticism, of your quietism, of your atheism, my poor fellow. You’re going to sell yourself, and Heaven help you! You are going to make a bargain which will degrade you and make you miserable for life, and there’s no use talking of it. If you are once bent on it, the devil won’t prevent you.”

“On the contrary, he’s on my side, isn’t he, George?” said Pen with a laugh. “What good cigars these are! Come down and have a little dinner at the Club; the chef’s in town, and he’ll cook a good one for me. No, you won’t? Don’t be sulky, old boy, I’m going down to — to the country tomorrow.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter62.html

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