He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLVI

The American Minister

In the second week in October, Mr Glascock returned to Florence, intending to remain there till the weather should have become bearable at Naples. His father was said to be better, but was in such a condition as hardly to receive much comfort from his son’s presence. His mind was gone, and he knew no one but his nurse; and, though Mr Glascock was unwilling to put himself altogether out of the reach of returning at a day’s notice, he did not find himself obliged to remain in Naples during the heat of the autumn. So Mr Glascock returned to the hotel at Florence, accompanied by the tall man who wore the buttons. The hotel-keeper did not allow such a light to remain long hidden under a bushel, and it was soon spread far and wide that the Honourable Charles Glascock and his suite were again in the beautiful city.

And the fact was soon known to the American Minister and his family. Mr Spalding was a man who at home had been very hostile to English interests. Many American gentlemen are known for such hostility. They make anti-English speeches about the country, as though they thought that war with England would produce certain triumph to the States, certain increase to American trade, and certain downfall to a tyranny which no Anglo-Saxon nation ought to endure. But such is hardly their real opinion. There, in the States, as also here in England, you shall from day to day hear men propounding, in very loud language, advanced theories of political action, the assertion of which is supposed to be necessary to the end which they have in view. Men whom we know to have been as mild as sucking doves in the political aspiration of their whole lives, suddenly jump up, and with infuriated gestures declare themselves the enemies of everything existing. When they have obtained their little purpose or have failed to do so they revert naturally into their sucking-dove elements. It is so with Americans as frequently as with ourselves and there is no political subject on which it is considered more expedient to express pseudo-enthusiasm than on that of the sins of England. It is understood that we do not resent it. It is presumed that we regard it as the Irishman regarded his wife’s cuffs. In the States a large party, which consists chiefly of those who have lately left English rule, amid who are keen to prove to themselves how wise they have been in doing so, is pleased by this strong language against England; and, therefore, the strong language is spoken. But the speakers, who are, probably, men knowing something of the world, mean it not at all; they have no more idea of war with England than they have of war with all Europe; and their respect for England and for English opinion is unbounded. In their political tones of speech and modes of action they strive to be as English as possible. Mr Spalding’s aspirations were of this nature. He had uttered speeches against England which would make the hair stand on end on the head of an uninitiated English reader. He had told his countrymen that Englishmen hugged their chains, and would do so until American hammers had knocked those chains from off their wounded wrists and bleeding ankles. He had declared that, if certain American claims were not satisfied, there was nothing left for Americans to do but to cross the ferry with such a sheriff’s officer as would be able to make distraint on the great English household. He had declared that the sheriff’s officer would have very little trouble. He had spoken of Canada as an outlying American territory, not yet quite sufficiently redeemed from savage life to be received into the Union as a State. There is a multiplicity of subjects of this kind ready to the hand of the American orator. Mr Spalding had been quite successful, and was now Minister at Florence; but, perhaps, one of the greatest pleasures coming to him from his prosperity was the enjoyment of the society of well-bred Englishmen in the capital to which he had been sent. When, therefore, his wife and nieces pointed out to him the fact that it was manifestly his duty to call upon Mr Glascock after what had passed between them on that night under the Campanile, he did not rebel for an instant against the order given to him. His mind never reverted for a moment to that opinion which had gained for him such a round of applause, when expressed on the platform of the Temperance Hall at Nubbly Creek, State of Illinois, to the effect that the English aristocrat, thorough-born and thorough-bred, who inherited acres and title from his father, could never be fitting company for a thoughtful Christian American citizen. He at once had his hat brushed, and took up his best gloves and umbrella, and went off to Mr Glascock’s hotel. He was strictly enjoined by the ladies to fix a day on which Mr Glascock would come and dine at the American embassy.

‘“C. G.” has come back to see you,’ said Olivia to her elder sister. They had always called him ‘C. G.’ since the initials had been seen on the travelling bag.

‘Probably,’ said Carry. ‘There is so very little else to bring people to Florence, that there can hardly be any other reason for his coming. They do say it’s terribly hot at Naples just now; but that can have had nothing to do with it.’

‘We shall see,’ said Livy. ‘I’m sure he’s in love with you. He looked to me just like a proper sort of lover for you, when I saw his long legs creeping up over our heads into the banquette.’

‘You ought to have been very much obliged to his long legs so sick as you were at the time.’

‘I like him amazingly,’ said Livy, ‘legs and all. I only hope Uncle Jonas won’t bore him, so as to prevent his coming.’

‘His father is very ill,’ said Carry, ‘and I don’t suppose we shall see him at all.’

But the American Minister was successful. He found Mr Glascock sitting in his dressing-gown, smoking a cigar, and reading a newspaper. The English aristocrat seemed very glad to see his visitor, and assumed no airs at all. The American altogether forgot his speech at Nubbly Creek, and found the aristocrat’s society to be very pleasant. He lit a cigar, and they talked about Naples, Rome, and Florence. Mr Spalding, when the marbles of old Rome were mentioned, was a little too keen in insisting on the merits of Story, Miss Hosmer, and Hiram Powers, and hardly carried his listener with him in the parallel which he drew between Greenough and Phidias; and he was somewhat repressed by the apathetic curtness of Mr Glascock’s reply, when he suggested that the victory gained by the gunboats at Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, was vividly brought to his mind by an account which he had just been reading of the battle of Actium; but he succeeded in inducing Mr Glascock to accept an invitation to dinner for the next day but one, and the two gentlemen parted on the most amicable terms.

Everybody meets everybody in Florence every day. Carry and Livy Spalding had met Mr Glascock twice before the dinner at their uncle’s house, so that they met at dinner quite as intimate friends. Mrs Spalding had very large rooms, up three flights of stairs, on the Lungarno. The height of her abode was attributed by Mrs Spalding to her dread of mosquitoes. She had not yet learned that people in Florence require no excuse for being asked to walk up three flights of stairs. The rooms, when they were reached, were very lofty, floored with what seemed to be marble, and were of a nature almost to warrant Mrs Spalding in feeling that nature had made her more akin to an Italian countess than to a matron of Nubbly Creek, State of Illinois, where Mr Spalding had found her and made her his own. There was one other Englishman present, Mr Harris Hyde Granville Gore, from the Foreign Office, now serving temporarily at the English Legation in Florence; and an American, Mr Jackson Unthank, a man of wealth and taste, who was resolved on having such a collection of pictures at his house in Baltimore that no English private collection should in any way come near to it; and a Tuscan, from the Italian Foreign Office, to whom nobody could speak except Mr Harris Hyde Granville Gore, who did not indeed seem to enjoy the efforts of conversation which were expected of him. The Italian, who had a handle to his name — he was a Count Buonarosci — took Mrs Spalding into dinner. Mrs Spalding had been at great trouble to ascertain whether this was proper, or whether she should not entrust herself to Mr Glascock. There were different points to be considered in the matter. She did not quite know whether she was in Italy or in America. She had glimmerings on the subject of her privilege to carry her own nationality into her own drawing-room. And then she was called upon to deal between an Italian Count with an elder brother, and an English Honourable, who had no such encumbrance. Which of the two was possessed of the higher rank? ‘I’ve found it all out, Aunt Mary,’ said Livy. ‘You must take the Count.’ For Livy wanted to give her sister every chance. ‘How have you found it out?’ said the aunt. ‘You may be sure it is so,’ said Livy.

And the lady in her doubt yielded the point. Mrs Spalding, as she walked along the passage on the Count’s arm, determined that she would learn Italian. She would have given all Nubbly Creek to have been able to speak a word to Count Buonarosci. To do her justice, it must be admitted that she had studied a few words. But her courage failed her, and she could not speak them. She was very careful, however, that Mr H. H. G. Gore was placed in the chair next to the Count.

‘We are very glad to see you here,’ said Mr Spalding, addressing himself especially to Mr Glascock, as he stood up at his own seat at the round table. ‘In leaving my own country, sir, there is nothing that I value more than the privilege of becoming acquainted with those whose historic names and existing positions are of such inestimable value to the world at large.’ In saying this, Mr Spalding was not in the least insincere, nor did his conscience at all prick him in reference to that speech at Nubbly Creek. On both occasions he half thought as he spoke or thought that he thought so. Unless it be on subjects especially endeared to us the thoughts of but few of us go much beyond this.

Mr Glascock, who sat between Mrs Spalding and her niece, was soon asked by the elder lady whether he had been in the States. No; he had not been in the States. ‘Then you must come, Mr Glascock,’ said Mrs Spalding, ‘though I will not say, dwelling as we now are in the metropolis of the world of art, that we in our own homes have as much of the outer beauty of form to charm the stranger as is to be found in other lands. Yet I think that the busy lives of men, and the varied institutions of a free country, must always have an interest peculiarly their own.’ Mr Glascock declared that he quite agreed with her, and expressed a hope that he might some day find himself in New York.

‘You wouldn’t like it at all,’ said Carry; ‘because you are an aristocrat. I don’t mean that it would be your fault.’

‘Why should that prevent my liking it even if I were an aristocrat?’

‘One half of the people would run after you, and the other half would run away from you,’ said Carry.

‘Then I’d take to the people who ran after me, and would not regard the others.’

‘That’s all very well but you wouldn’t like it. And then you would become unfair to what you saw. When some of our speechifying people talked to you about our institutions through their noses, you would think that the institutions themselves must be bad. And we have nothing to show except our institutions.’

‘What are American institutions? asked Mr Glascock.

‘Everything is an institution. Having iced water to drink in every room of the house is an institution. Having hospitals in every town is an institution. Travelling altogether in one class of railway cars is an institution. Saying sir, is an institution. Teaching all the children mathematics is an institution. Plenty of food is an institution. Getting drunk is an institution in a great many towns. Lecturing is an institution. There are plenty of them, and some are very good but you wouldn’t like it.’

‘At any rate, I’ll go and see,’ said Mr Glascock.

‘If you do, I hope we may be at home,’ said Miss Spalding.

Mr Spalding, in the mean time, with the assistance of his countryman, the man of taste, was endeavouring to explain a certain point in American politics to the count. As, in doing this, they called upon Mr Gore to translate every speech they made into Italian, and as Mr Gore had never offered his services as an interpreter, and as the Italian did not quite catch the subtle meanings of the Americans in Mr Gore’s Tuscan version, and did not in the least wish to understand the things that were explained to him, Mr Gore and the Italian began to think that the two Americans were bores. ‘The truth is, Mr Spalding,’ said Mr Gore, ‘I’ve got such a cold in my head, that I don’t think I can explain it any more.’ Then Livy Spalding laughed aloud, and the two American gentlemen began to eat their dinner. ‘It sounds ridiculous, don’t it?’ said Mr Gore, in a whisper.

‘I ought not to have laughed, I know,’ said Livy.

‘The very best thing you could have done. I shan’t be troubled any more now. The fact is, I know just nine words of Italian. Now there is a difficulty in having to explain the whole theory of American politics to an Italian, who doesn’t want to know anything about it, with so very small a repertory of words at one’s command.’

‘How well you did it!’

‘Too well. I felt that. So well that, unless I had stopped it, I shouldn’t have been able to say a word to you all through dinner. Your laughter clenched it, and Buonarosci and I will be grateful to you for ever.’

After the ladies went there was rather a bad half hour for Mr Glascock. He was button-holed by the minister, and found it oppressive before he was enabled to escape into the drawing-room. ‘Mr Glascock,’ said the minister, ‘an English gentleman, sir, like you, who has the privilege of an hereditary seat in your parliament’— Mr Glascock was not quite sure whether he were being accused of having an hereditary seat in the House of Commons, but he would not stop to correct any possible error on that point —‘and who has been born to all the gifts of fortune, rank, and social eminence, should never think that his education is complete till he has visited our great cities in the west.’ Mr Glascock hinted that he by no means conceived his education to be complete; but the minister went on without attending to this. ‘Till you have seen, sir, what men can do who are placed upon the earth with all God’s gifts of free intelligence, free air, and a free soil, but without any of those other good things which we are accustomed to call the gifts of fortune, you can never become aware of the infinite ingenuity of man.’ There had been much said before, but just at this moment Mr Gore and the American left the room, and the Italian followed them briskly. Mr Glascock at once made a decided attempt to bolt; but the minister was on the alert, and was too quick for him. And he was by no means ashamed of what he was doing. He had got his guest by the coat, and openly declared his intention of holding him. ‘Let me keep you for a few minutes, sir,’ said he, ‘while I dilate on this point in one direction. In the drawing-room female spells are too potent for us male orators. In going among us, Mr Glascock, you must not look for luxury or refinement, for you will find them not. Nor must you hope to encounter the highest order of erudition. The lofty summits of acquired knowledge tower in your country with an altitude we have not reached yet.’ ‘It’s very good of you to say so,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘No, sir. In our new country and in our new cities we still lack the luxurious perfection of fastidious civilisation. But, sir, regard our level. That’s what I say to every unprejudiced Britisher that comes among us; look at our level. And when you have looked at our level, I think that you will confess that we live on the highest table-land that the world has yet afforded to mankind. You follow my meaning, Mr Glascock?’ Mr Glascock was not sure that he did, but the minister went on to make that meaning clear. ‘It is the multitude that with us is educated. Go into their houses, sir, and see how they thumb their books. Look at the domestic correspondence of our helps and servants, and see how they write and spell. We haven’t got the mountains, sir, but our table-lands are the highest on which the bright sun of our Almighty God has as yet shone with its illuminating splendour in this improving world of ours! It is because we are a young people, sir with nothing as yet near to us of the decrepitude of age. The weakness of age, sir, is the penalty paid by the folly of youth. We are not so wise, sir, but what we too shall suffer from its effects as years roll over our heads.’ There was a great deal more, but at last Mr Glascock did escape into the drawing-room.

‘My uncle has been saying a few words to you perhaps,’ said Carry Spalding.

‘Yes; he has,’ said Mr Glascock.

‘He usually does,’ said Carry Spalding.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43