Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6

Mr. Ferrars did not become a cabinet minister, but this was a vexation rather than a disappointment, and transient. The unexpected vacancies were filled by unexpected personages. So great a change in the frame of the ministry, without any promotion for himself, was on the first impression not agreeable, but reflection and the sanguine wisdom of Zenobia soon convinced him that all was for the best, that the thought of such rapid preferment was unreasonable, and that time and the due season must inevitably bring all that he could desire, especially as any term to the duration of the ministry was not now to be foreseen: scarcely indeed possible. In short, it was shown to him that the Tory party, renovated and restored, had entered upon a new lease of authority, which would stamp its character on the remainder of the nineteenth century, as Mr. Pitt and his school had marked its earlier and memorable years.

And yet this very reconstruction of the government necessarily led to an incident which, in its consequences, changed the whole character of English politics, and commenced a series of revolutions which has not yet closed.

One of the new ministers who had been preferred to a place which Mr. Ferrars might have filled was an Irish gentleman, and a member for one of the most considerable counties in his country. He was a good speaker, and the government was deficient in debating power in the House of Commons; he was popular and influential.

The return of a cabinet minister by a large constituency was more appreciated in the days of close boroughs than at present. There was a rumour that the new minister was to be opposed, but Zenobia laughed the rumour to scorn. As she irresistibly remarked at one of her evening gatherings, “Every landowner in the county is in his favour; therefore it is impossible.” The statistics of Zenobia were quite correct, yet the result was different from what she anticipated. An Irish lawyer, a professional agitator, himself a Roman Catholic and therefore ineligible, announced himself as a candidate in opposition to the new minister, and on the day of election, thirty thousand peasants, setting at defiance all the landowners of the county, returned O’Connell at the head of the poll, and placed among not the least memorable of historical events — the Clare election.

This event did not, however, occur until the end of the year 1828, for the state of the law then prevented the writ from being moved until that time, and during the whole of that year the Ferrars family had pursued a course of unflagging display. Courage, expenditure, and tact combined, had realised almost the height of that social ambition to which Mrs. Ferrars soared. Even in the limited and exclusive circle which then prevailed, she began to be counted among the great dames. As for the twins, they seemed quite worthy of their beautiful and luxurious mother. Proud, wilful, and selfish, they had one redeeming quality, an intense affection for each other. The sister seemed to have the commanding spirit, for Endymion was calm, but if he were ruled by his sister, she was ever willing to be his slave, and to sacrifice every consideration to his caprice and his convenience.

The year 1829 was eventful, but to Ferrars more agitating than anxious. When it was first known that the head of the cabinet, whose colleague had been defeated at Clare, was himself about to propose the emancipation of the Roman Catholics, there was a thrill throughout the country; but after a time the success of the operation was not doubted, and was anticipated as a fresh proof of the irresistible fortunes of the heroic statesman. There was some popular discontent in the country at the proposal, but it was mainly organised and stimulated by the Dissenters, and that section of Churchmen who most resembled them. The High Church party, the descendants of the old connection which had rallied round Sacheverell, had subsided into formalism, and shrank from any very active cooperation with their evangelical brethren.

The English Church had no competent leaders among the clergy. The spirit that has animated and disturbed our latter times seemed quite dead, and no one anticipated its resurrection. The bishops had been selected from college dons, men profoundly ignorant of the condition and the wants of the country. To have edited a Greek play with second-rate success, or to have been the tutor of some considerable patrician, was the qualification then deemed desirable and sufficient for an office, which at this day is at least reserved for eloquence and energy. The social influence of the episcopal bench was nothing. A prelate was rarely seen in the saloons of Zenobia. It is since the depths of religious thought have been probed, and the influence of woman in the spread and sustenance of religious feeling has again been recognised, that fascinating and fashionable prelates have become favoured guests in the refined saloons of the mighty, and, while apparently indulging in the vanities of the hour, have reestablished the influence which in old days guided a Matilda or the mother of Constantine.

The end of the year 1829, however, brought a private event of moment to the Ferrars family. The elder Mr. Ferrars died. The world observed at the time how deeply affected his son was at this event. The relations between father and son had always been commendable, but the world was hardly prepared for Mr. Ferrars, junior, being so entirely overwhelmed. It would seem that nothing but the duties of public life could have restored him to his friends, and even these duties he relinquished for an unusual time. The world was curious to know the amount of his inheritance, but the proof of the will was unusually delayed, and public events soon occurred which alike consigned the will and the will-maker to oblivion.


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