Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 17

A few days before Lothair’s visit was to terminate, the cardinal and Monsignore Berwick arrived at Vauxe. His eminence was received with much ceremony; the marshalled household, ranged in lines, fell on their knees at his approach, and Lady St. Jerome, Miss Arundel, and some other ladies, scarcely less choice and fair, with the lowest obeisance, touched, with their honored lips, his princely hand.

The monsignore had made another visit to Paris on his intended return to Rome, but, in consequence of some secret intelligence which he had acquired in the French capital, had thought fit to return to England to consult with the cardinal. There seemed to be no doubt that the revolutionary party in Italy, assured by the withdrawal of the French troops from Rome, were again stirring. There seemed also little doubt that London was the centre of preparation, though the project and the projectors were involved in much, mystery. “They want money,” said the monsignore; “that we know, and that is now our best chance. The Aspromonte expedition drained their private resources; and as for further aid, that is out of the question; the galantuomo is bankrupt. But the atheists are desperate, and we must prepare for events.”

On the morning after their arrival, the cardinal invited Lothair to a stroll in the park. “There is the feeling of spring this morning,” said his eminence, “though scarcely yet its vision.” It was truly a day of balm, and sweetness, and quickening life; a delicate mist hung about the huge trees and the masses of more distant woods, and seemed to clothe them with that fulness of foliage which was not yet theirs. The cardinal discoursed much on forest-trees, and, happily. He recommended Lothair to read Evelyn’s “Sylva.” Mr. Evelyn had a most accomplished mind; indeed, a character in every respect that approached perfection. He was also a most religious man.

“I wonder,” said Lothair, “how any man who is religious can think of any thing but religion.”

“True,” said the cardinal, and looking at him earnestly, “most true. But all things that are good and beautiful make us more religious. They tend to the development of the religious principle in us, which is our divine nature. And, my dear young friend,” and here his eminence put his arm easily and affectionately into that of Lothair, “it is a most happy thing for you, that you live so much with a really religious family. It is a great boon for a young man, and a rare one.”

“I feel it so,” said Lothair, his face kindling.

“Ah!” said the cardinal, “when we remember that this country once consisted only of such families!” And then, with a sigh, and as if speaking to himself, “And they made it so great and so beautiful!”

“It is still great and beautiful,” said Lothair, but rather in a tone of inquiry than decision.

“But the cause of its greatness and its beauty no longer exists. It became great and beautiful because it believed in God.”

“But faith is not extinct?” said Lothair.

“It exists in the Church,” replied the cardinal, with decision. “All without that pale is practical atheism.”

“It seems to me that a sense of duty is natural to man,” said Lothair, “and that there can be no satisfaction in life without attempting to fulfil it.”

“Noble words, my dear young friend; noble and true. And the highest duty of man, especially in this age, is to vindicate the principles of religion, without which the world must soon become a scene of universal desolation.”

“I wonder if England will ever again be a religious country?” said Lothair, musingly.

“I pray for that daily,” said the cardinal; and he invited his companion to seat himself on the trunk of an oak that had been lying there since the autumn fall. A slight hectic flame played over the pale and attenuated countenance of the cardinal; he seemed for a moment in deep thought; and then, in a voice distinct yet somewhat hushed, and at first rather faltering, he said: “I know not a grander, or a nobler career, for a young man of talents and position in this age, than to be the champion and asserter of Divine truth. It is not probable that there could be another conqueror in out time. The world is wearied of statesmen; whom democracy has degraded into politicians, and of orators who have become what they call debaters. I do not believe there could be another Dante, even another Milton. The world is devoted to physical science, because it believes these discoveries will increase its capacity of luxury and self-indulgence. But the pursuit of science leads only to the insoluble. When we arrive at that barren term, the Divine voice summons man, as it summoned Samuel; all the poetry and passion and sentiment of human nature are taking refuge in religion; and he, whose deeds and words most nobly represent Divine thoughts, will be the man of this century.”

“But who could be equal to such a task?” murmured Lothair.

“Yourself,” exclaimed the cardinal, and he threw his glittering eye upon his companion. “Any one with the necessary gifts, who had implicit faith in the Divine purpose.”

“But the Church is perplexed; it is ambiguous, contradictory.”

“No, no,” said the cardinal; “not the Church of Christ; it is never perplexed, never ambiguous, never contradictory. Why should it be? How could it be? The Divine persons are ever with it, strengthening and guiding it with perpetual miracles. Perplexed churches are churches made by Act of Parliament, not by God.”

Lothair seemed to start, and looked at his guardian with a scrutinizing glance. And then he said, but not without hesitation, “I experience at times great despondency.”

“Naturally,” replied the cardinal. “Every man must be despondent who is not a Christian.”

“But I am a Christian,” said Lothair.

“A Christian estranged,” said the cardinal; “a Christian without the consolations of Christianity.”

“There is something in that,” said Lothair. “I require the consolations of Christianity, and yet I feel I have them not. Why is this?”

“Because what you call your religion is a thing apart from your life, and it ought to be your life. Religion should be the rule of life, not a casual incident of it. There is not a duty of existence, not a joy or sorrow which the services of the Church do not assert, or with which they do not sympathize. Tell me, now; you have, I was glad to hear, attended the services of the Church of late, since you have been under this admirable roof. Have you not then found some consolation?”

“Yes; without doubt I have been often solaced.” And Lothair sighed.

“What the soul is to man, the Church is to the world,” said the cardinal. “It is the link between us and the Divine nature. It came from heaven complete; it has never changed, and it can never alter. Its ceremonies are types of celestial truths; its services are suited to all the moods of man; they strengthen him in his wisdom and his purity, and control and save him in the hour of passion and temptation. Taken as a whole, with all its ministrations, its orders, its offices, and the divine splendor of its ritual, it secures us on earth some adumbration of that ineffable glory which awaits the faithful in heaven, where the blessed Mother of God and ten thousand saints perpetually guard over no with Divine intercession.”

“I was not taught these things in my boyhood,” said Lothair.

“And you might reproach me, and reasonably, as your guardian, for my neglect,” said the cardinal. “But my power was very limited, and, when my duties commenced, you must remember that I was myself estranged from the Church, I was myself a Parliamentary Christian, till despondency and study and ceaseless thought and prayer, and the Divine will, brought me to light and rest. But I at least saved you from a Presbyterian university; I at least secured Oxford for you; and I can assure you, of my many struggles, that was not the least.”

“It gave the turn to my mind,” said Lothair, “and I am grateful to you for it. What it will all end in, God only knows.”

“It will end in His glory and in yours,” said the cardinal. “I have spoken, perhaps, too much and too freely, but you greatly interest me, not merely because you are my charge, and the son of my beloved friend, but because I perceive in you great qualities — qualities so great,” continued the cardinal with earnestness, “that properly guided, they may considerably affect the history of this country, and perhaps even have a wider range.”

Lothair shook his head.

“Well, well,” continued the cardinal in a lighter tone, “we will pursue our ramble. At any rate, I am not wrong in this, that you have no objection to join in my daily prayer for the conversion of this kingdom to — religious truth,” his eminence added after a pause.

“Yes religious truth,” said Lothair, “we must all pray for that.”


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