Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 64

This strangely-revived acquaintance with Job Thornberry was not an unfruitful incident in the life of Endymion. Thornberry was a man of original mind and singular energy; and, although of extreme views on commercial subjects, all his conclusions were founded on extensive and various information, combined with no inconsiderable practice. The mind of Thornberry was essentially a missionary one. He was always ready to convert people; and he acted with ardour and interest on a youth who, both by his ability and his social position, was qualified to influence opinion. But this youth was gifted with a calm, wise judgment, of the extent and depth of which he was scarcely conscious himself; and Thornberry, like all propagandists, was more remarkable for his zeal and his convictions, than for that observation and perception of character which are the finest elements in the management of men and affairs.

“What you should do,” said Thornberry, one day, to Endymion, “is to go to Scotland; go to the Glasgow district; that city itself, and Paisley, and Kilmarnock — keep your eye on Paisley. I am much mistaken if there will not soon be a state of things there which alone will break up the whole concern. It will burst it, sir; it will burst it.”

So Endymion, without saying anything, quietly went to Glasgow and its district, and noted enough to make him resolve soon to visit there again; but the cabinet reassembled in the early part of November, and he had to return to his duties.

In his leisure hours, Endymion devoted himself to the preparation of a report, for Mr. Sidney Wilton, on the condition and prospects of the manufacturing districts of the North of England, with some illustrative reference to that of the country beyond the Tweed. He concluded it before Christmas, and Mr. Wilton took it down with him to Gaydene, to study it at his leisure. Endymion passed his holidays with Lord and Lady Montfort, at their southern seat, Princedown.

Endymion spoke to Lady Montfort a little about his labours, for he had no secrets from her; but she did not much sympathise with him, though she liked him to be sedulous and to distinguish himself. “Only,” she observed, “take care not to be doctrinaire, Endymion. I am always afraid of that with you. It is Sidney’s fault; he always was doctrinaire. It was a great thing for you becoming his private secretary; to be the private secretary of a cabinet minister is a real step in life, and I shall always be most grateful to Sidney, whom I love for appointing you; but still, if I could have had my wish, you should have been Lord Roehampton’s private secretary. That is real politics, and he is a real statesman. You must not let Mr. Wilton mislead you about the state of affairs in the cabinet. The cabinet consists of the prime minister and Lord Roehampton, and, if they are united, all the rest is vapour. And they will not consent to any nonsense about touching the corn laws; you may be sure of that. Besides, I will tell you a secret, which is not yet Pulchinello’s secret, though I daresay it will be known when we all return to town — we shall have a great event when parliament meets; a royal marriage. What think you of that? The young queen is going to be married, and to a young prince, like a prince in a fairy tale. As Lord Roehampton wrote to me this morning, ‘Our royal marriage will be much more popular than the Anti–Corn-Law League.’”

The royal marriage was very popular; but, unfortunately, it reflected no splendour on the ministry. The world blessed the queen and cheered the prince, but shook its head at the government. Sir Robert Peel also — whether from his own motive or the irresistible impulse of his party need not now be inquired into — sanctioned a direct attack on the government, in the shape of a vote of want of confidence in them, immediately the court festivities were over, and the attack was defeated by a narrow majority.

“Nothing could be more unprincipled,” said Berengaria, “after he had refused to take office last year. As for our majority, it is, under such circumstances, twenty times more than we want. As Lord Roehampton says, one is enough.”

Trade and revenue continued to decline. There was again the prospect of a deficiency. The ministry, too, was kept in by the Irish vote, and the Irish then were very unpopular. The cabinet itself generally was downcast, and among themselves occasionally murmured a regret that they had not retired when the opportunity offered in the preceding year. Berengaria, however, would not bate an inch of confidence and courage. “You think too much,” she said to Endymion, “of trade and finance. Trade always comes back, and finance never ruined a country, or an individual either if he had pluck. Mr. Sidney Wilton is a croaker. The things he fears will never happen; or, if they do, will turn out to be unimportant. Look to Lord Roehampton; he is the man. He does not care a rush whether the revenue increases or declines. He is thinking of real politics: foreign affairs; maintaining our power in Europe. Something will happen, before the session is over, in the Mediterranean;” and she pressed her finger to her lip, and then she added, “The country will support Lord Roehampton as they supported Pitt, and give him any amount of taxes that he likes.”

In the meantime, the social world had its incidents as well as the political, and not less interesting. Not one of the most insignificant, perhaps, was the introduction into society of the Countess of Beaumaris. Her husband, sacrificing even his hunting, had come up to town at the meeting of parliament, and received his friends in a noble mansion on Piccadilly Terrace. All its equipments were sumptuous and refined, and everything had been arranged under the personal supervision of Mr. Waldershare. They commenced very quietly; dinners little but constant, and graceful and finished as a banquet of Watteau. No formal invitations; men were brought in to dinner from the House of Lords “just up,” or picked up, as it were carelessly, in the House of Commons by Mr. Waldershare, or were asked by Imogene, at a dozen hours’ notice, in billets of irresistible simplicity. Soon it was whispered about, that the thing to do was to dine with Beaumaris, and that Lady Beaumaris was “something too delightful.” Prince Florestan frequently dined there; Waldershare always there, in a state of coruscation; and every man of fashion in the opposite ranks, especially if they had brains.

Then, in a little time, it was gently hoped that Imogene should call on their wives and mothers, or their wives and mothers call on her; and then she received, without any formal invitation, twice a week; and as there was nothing going on in London, or nothing half so charming, everybody who was anybody came to Piccadilly Terrace; and so as, after long observation, a new planet is occasionally discovered by a philosopher, thus society suddenly and indubitably discovered that there was at last a Tory house.

Lady Roehampton, duly apprised of affairs by her brother, had called on Lord and Lady Beaumaris, and had invited them to her house. It was the first appearance of Imogene in general society, and it was successful. Her large brown eyes, and long black lashes, her pretty mouth and dimple, her wondrous hair — which, it was whispered, unfolded, touched the ground — struck every one, and the dignified simplicity of her carriage was attractive. Her husband never left her side; while Mr. Waldershare was in every part of the saloons, watching her from distant points, to see how she got on, or catching the remarks of others on her appearance. Myra was kind to her as well as courteous, and, when the stream of arriving guests had somewhat ceased, sought her out and spoke to her; and then put her arm in hers, walked with her for a moment, and introduced her to one or two great personages, who had previously intimated their wish or their consent to that effect. Lady Montfort was not one of these. When parties are equal, and the struggle for power is intense, society loses much of its sympathy and softness. Lady Montfort could endure the presence of Tories, provided they were her kinsfolk, and would join, even at their houses, in traditionary festivities; but she shrank from passing the line, and at once had a prejudice against Imogene, who she instinctively felt might become a power for the enemy.

“I will not have you talk so much to that Lady Beaumaris,” she said to Endymion.

“She is an old friend of mine,” he replied.

“How could you have known her? She was a shop-girl, was not she, or something of that sort?”

“She and her family were very kind to me when I was not much better than a shop-boy myself,” replied Endymion, with a mantling cheek. “They are most respectable people, and I have a great regard for her.”

“Indeed! Well; I will not keep you from your Tory woman,” said Berengaria rudely; and she walked away.

Altogether, this season of ‘40 was not a very satisfactory one in any respect, as regarded society or the country in general. Party passion was at its highest. The ministry retained office almost by a casting vote; were frequently defeated on important questions; and whenever a vacancy occurred, it was filled by their opponents. Their unpopularity increased daily, and it was stimulated by the general distress. All that Job Thornberry had predicted as to the state of manufacturing Scotland duly occurred. Besides manufacturing distress, they had to encounter a series of bad harvests. Never was a body of statesmen placed in a more embarrassing and less enviable position. There was a prevalent, though unfounded, conviction that they were maintained in power by a combination of court favour with Irish sedition.

Lady Montfort and Lord Roehampton were the only persons who never lost heart. She was defiant; and he ever smiled, at least in public. “What nonsense!” she would say. “Mr. Sidney Wilton talks about the revenue falling off! As if the revenue could ever really fall off! And then our bad harvests. Why, that is the very reason we shall have an excellent harvest this year. You cannot go on always having bad harvests. Besides, good harvests never make a ministry popular. Nobody thanks a ministry for a good harvest. What makes a ministry popular is some great coup in foreign affairs.”

Amid all these exciting disquietudes, Endymion pursued a life of enjoyment, but also of observation and much labour. He lived more and more with the Montforts, but the friendship of Berengaria was not frivolous. Though she liked him to be seen where he ought to figure, and required a great deal of attention herself, she ever impressed on him that his present life was only a training for a future career, and that his mind should ever be fixed on the attainment of a high position. Particularly she impressed on him the importance of being a linguist. “There will be a reaction some day from all this political economy,” she would say, “and then there will be no one ready to take the helm.” Endymion was not unworthy of the inspiring interest which Lady Montfort took in him. The terrible vicissitudes of his early years had gravely impressed his character. Though ambitious, he was prudent; and, though born to please and be pleased, he was sedulous and self-restrained. Though naturally deeply interested in the fortunes of his political friends, and especially of Lord Roehampton and Mr. Wilton, a careful scrutiny of existing circumstances had prepared him for an inevitable change; and, remembering what was their position but a few years back, he felt that his sister and himself should be reconciled to their altered lot, and be content. She would still be a peeress, and the happy wife of an illustrious man; and he himself, though he would have to relapse into the drudgery of a public office, would meet duties the discharge of which was once the object of his ambition, coupled now with an adequate income and with many friends.

And among those friends, there were none with whom he maintained his relations more intimately than with the Neuchatels. He was often their guest both in town and at Hainault, and he met them frequently in society, always at the receptions of Lady Montfort and his sister. Zenobia used sometimes to send him a card; but these condescending recognitions of late had ceased, particularly as the great dame heard he was “always at that Lady Beaumaris’s.” One of the social incidents of his circle, not the least interesting to him, was the close attendance of Adriana and her mother on the ministrations of Nigel Penruddock. They had become among the most devoted of his flock; and this, too, when the rapid and startling development of his sacred offices had so alarmed the easy, though sagacious, Lord Roehampton, that he had absolutely expressed his wish to Myra that she should rarely attend them, and, indeed, gradually altogether drop a habit which might ultimately compromise her. Berengaria had long ago quitted him. This was attributed to her reputed caprice, yet it was not so. “I like a man to be practical,” she said. “When I asked for a deanery for him the other day, the prime minister said he could hardly make a man a dean who believed in the Real Presence.” Nigel’s church, however, was more crowded than ever, and a large body of the clergy began to look upon him as the coming man.

Towards the end of the year the “great coup in foreign affairs,” which Lady Montfort had long brooded over, and indeed foreseen, occurred, and took the world, who were all thinking of something else, entirely by surprise. A tripartite alliance of great powers had suddenly started into life; the Egyptian host was swept from the conquered plains of Asia Minor and Syria by English blue-jackets; St. Jean d’Acre, which had baffled the great Napoleon, was bombarded and taken by a British fleet; and the whole fortunes of the world in a moment seemed changed, and permanently changed.

“I am glad it did not occur in the season,” said Zenobia. “I really could not stand Lady Montfort if it were May.”

The ministry was elate, and their Christmas was right merrie. There seemed good cause for this. It was a triumph of diplomatic skill, national valour, and administrative energy. Myra was prouder of her husband than ever, and, amid all the excitement, he smiled on her with sunny fondness. Everybody congratulated her. She gave a little reception before the holidays, to which everybody came who was in town or passing through. Even Zenobia appeared; but she stayed a very short time, talking very rapidly. Prince Florestan paid his grave devoirs, with a gaze which seemed always to search into Lady Roehampton’s inmost heart, yet never lingering about her; and Waldershare, full of wondrous compliments and conceits, and really enthusiastic, for he ever sympathised with action; and Imogene, gorgeous with the Beaumaris sapphires; and Sidney Wilton, who kissed his hostess’s hand, and Adriana, who kissed her cheek.

“I tell you what, Mr. Endymion,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “you should make Lord Roehampton your Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then your government might perhaps go on a little.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53