Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Book III

Chapter 1

Fredrick Cleveland was educated at Eton and at Cambridge; and after having proved, both at the school and the University, that he possessed talents of a high order, he had the courage, in order to perfect them, to immure himself for three years in a German University. It was impossible, therefore, for two minds to have been cultivated on more contrary systems than those of Frederick Cleveland and Vivian Grey. The systems on which they had been educated were not, however, more discordant than the respective tempers of the pupils. With that of Vivian Grey the reader is now somewhat acquainted. It has been shown that he was one precociously convinced of the necessity of managing mankind, by studying their tempers and humouring their weaknesses. Cleveland turned from the Book of Nature with contempt, and although his was a mind of extraordinary acuteness, he was, at three-and-thirty, as ignorant of the workings of the human heart as when, in the innocence of boyhood, he first reached Eton.

Although possessed of no fortune, from his connections and the reputation of his abilities, he entered Parliament at an early age. His success was eminent. It was at this period that he formed a, great intimacy with the present Marquess of Carabas, then Under Secretary of State. His exertions for the party to which Mr. Under Secretary Lorraine belonged were unremitting; and it was mainly through their influence that a great promotion took place in the official appointments of the party. When the hour of reward came, Mr. Lorraine and his friends unfortunately forgot their youthful champion. He remonstrated, and they smiled: he reminded them of private friendship, and they answered him with political expediency. Mr. Cleveland went down to the House, and attacked his old comates in a spirit of unexampled bitterness. He examined in review the various members of the party that had deserted him. They trembled on their seats, while they writhed beneath the keenness of his satire: but when the orator came to Mr. President Lorraine, he flourished the tomahawk on high like a wild Indian chieftain; and the attack was so awfully severe, so overpowering, so annihilating, that even this hackneyed and hardened official trembled, turned pale, and quitted the House, Cleveland’s triumph was splendid, but it was only for a night. Disgusted with mankind, he scouted the thousand offers of political connections which crowded upon him; and having succeeded in making an arrangement with his creditors, he accepted the Chiltern Hundreds.

By the interest of his friends he procured a judicial situation of sufficient emolument, but of local duty; and to fulfil this duty he was obliged to reside in North Wales. The locality, indeed, suited him well, for he was sick of the world at nine-and-twenty; and, carrying his beautiful and newly-married wife from the world, which without him she could not love, Mr. Cleveland enjoyed all the luxuries of a cottage ornée in the most romantic part of the Principality. Here were born unto him a son and daughter, beautiful children, upon whom the father lavished all the affection which Nature had intended for the world.

Four years had Cleveland now passed in his solitude, an unhappy man. A thousand times during the first year of his retirement he cursed the moment of excitement which had banished him from the world; for he found himself without resources, and restless as a curbed courser. Like many men who are born to be orators, like Curran and like Fox, Cleveland was not blessed, or cursed, with the faculty of composition; and indeed, had his pen been that of a ready writer, pique would have prevented him from delighting or instructing a world whose nature he endeavoured to persuade himself was base, and whose applause ought, consequently, to be valueless. In the second year he endeavoured to while away his time by interesting himself in those pursuits which Nature has kindly provided for country gentlemen. Farming kept him alive for a while; but, at length, his was the prize ox; and, having gained a cup, he got wearied of kine too prime for eating, wheat too fine for the composition of the staff of life, and ploughs so ingeniously contrived that the very ingenuity prevented them from being useful. Cleveland was now seen wandering over the moors and mountains, with a gun over his shoulder and a couple of dogs at his heels; but ennui returned in spite of his patent percussion: and so, at length, tired of being a sportsman, he almost became what he had fancied himself in an hour of passion, a misanthrope.

After having been closeted with Lord Carabas for a considerable time the morning after the cabinet dinner, Vivian left Château Desir.

He travelled night and day, until he arrived in the vicinity of Mr. Cleveland’s abode. What was he to do now? After some deliberation, he despatched a note to Mr. Cleveland, informing him “that he (Mr. Grey) was the bearer to Mr. Cleveland of a ‘communication of importance.’ Under the circumstances of the case, he observed that he had declined bringing any letters of introduction. He was quite aware, therefore, that he should have no right to complain if he had to travel back three hundred miles without having the honour of an interview; but he trusted that this necessary breach of etiquette would be overlooked.”

The note produced the desired effect, and an appointment was made for Mr. Grey to call at Kenrich Lodge on the following morning.

Vivian, as he entered the room, took a rapid glance at its master. Mr. Cleveland was tall and distinguished, with a fare which might have been a model for manly beauty. He came forward to receive Vivian with a Newfoundland dog on one side and a large black greyhound on the other; and the two animals, after having elaborately examined the stranger, divided between them the luxuries of the rug. The reception which Mr. Cleveland gave our hero was cold and constrained; but it did not appear to be purposely uncivil, and Vivian flattered himself that his manner was not unusually stiff.

“I do not know whether I have the honour of addressing the son of Mr. Horace Grey?” said Mr. Cleveland, with a frowning countenance, which was intended to be courteous.

“I have that honour.”

“Your father, sir, is a most amiable and able man. I had the pleasure of his acquaintance when I was in London, many years ago, at a time when Mr. Vivian Grey was not entrusted, I rather imagine, with missions ‘of importance.’” Although Mr. Cleveland smiled when he said this, his smile was anything but a gracious one. The subdued satire of his keen eye burst out for an instant, and he looked as if he would have said, “Who is this yonker who is trespassing upon my retirement?”

Vivian had, unbidden, seated himself by the side of Mr. Cleveland’s library table; and, not knowing exactly how to proceed, was employing himself by making a calculation whether there were more black than white spots on the body of the old Newfoundland, who was now apparently happily slumbering.

“Well, sir!” continued the Newfoundland’s master, “the nature of your communication? I am fond of coming to the point.”

Now this was precisely the thing which Vivian had determined not to do; and so he diplomatised, in order to gain time. “In stating, Mr. Cleveland, that the communication which I had to make was one of importance, I beg to be understood, that it was with reference merely to my opinion of its nature that that phrase was used, and not as relative to the possible, or, allow me to say, the probable, opinion of Mr. Cleveland.”

“Well, sir!” said that gentleman, with a somewhat disappointed air.

“As to the purport or nature of the communication it is,” said Vivian, with one of his sweetest cadences and looking up to Mr. Cleveland’s face with an eye expressive of all kindness, “it is of a political nature.”

“Well, sir!” again exclaimed Cleveland, looking very anxious, and moving restlessly on his library chair.

“When we take into consideration, Mr. Cleveland, the present aspect of the political world, when we call to mind the present situation of the two great political parties, you will not be surprised, I feel confident, when I mention that certain personages have thought that the season was at hand when a move might be made in the political world with very considerable effect — ”

“Mr. Grey, what am I to understand?” interrupted Mr. Cleveland, who began to suspect that the envoy was no greenhorn.

“I feel confident, Mr. Cleveland, that I am doing very imperfect justice to the mission with which I am entrusted; but, sir, you must be aware that the delicate nature of such disclosures, and — ”

“Mr. Grey, I feel confident that you do not doubt my honour; and, as for the rest, the world has, I believe, some foolish tales about me; but, believe me, you shall be listened to with patience. I am certain that, whatever may be the communication, Mr. Vivian Grey is a gentleman who will do its merits justice.”

And now Vivian, having succeeded in exciting Cleveland’s curiosity and securing himself the certainty of a hearing, and having also made a favourable impression, dropped the diplomatist altogether, and was explicit enough for a Spartan.

“Certain Noblemen and Gentlemen of eminence and influence, hitherto considered as props of the —— party, are about to take a novel and decided course next Session. It is to obtain the aid and personal co-operation of Mr. Cleveland that I am now in Wales.

“Mr. Grey, I have promised to listen to you with patience: you are too young a man to know much, perhaps, of the history of so insignificant a personage as myself, otherwise you would have been aware that there is no subject in the world on which I am less inclined to converse than that of politics. If I were entitled to take such a liberty, I would recommend you to think of them as little as I do; but enough of this. Who is the mover of the party?”

“My Lord Courtown is a distinguished member of it.”

“Courtown, Courtown; powerful enough: but surely the good Viscount’s skull is not exactly the head for the chief of a cabal?”

“There is my Lord Beaconsfield.”

“Powerful, too; but a dolt.”

“Well,” thought Vivian, “it must out at last; and so to it boldly. And, Mr. Cleveland, there is little fear that we may secure the great influence and tried talents of the Marquess of Carabas.”

“The Marquess of Carabas!” almost shrieked Mr. Cleveland, as be started from his seat and paced the room with hurried steps; and the greyhound and the Newfoundland jumped up from the rug, shook themselves, growled, and then imitated their master in promenading the apartment, but with more dignified and stately paces. “The Marquess of Carabas! Now, Mr. Grey, speak to me with the frankness which one gentleman should use to another; is the Marquess of Carabas privy to this application?”

“He himself proposed it.”

“Then he is baser than even I conceived. Mr. Grey, I am a man spare of my speech to those with whom I am unacquainted, and the world tails me a soured, malicious man. And yet, when I think for a moment that one so young as you are, endowed as I must suppose with no ordinary talents, and actuated as I will believe with a pure and honourable spirit, should be the dupe, or tool, or even present friend of such a creature as this perjured Peer, it gives me pang.”

“Mr. Cleveland,” said Vivian, “I am grateful for your kindness; and although we may probably part, in a few hours, never to meet again, I will speak to you with the frankness which you have merited, and to which I feel you are entitled. I am not the dupe of the Marquess of Carabas; I am not, I trust, the dupe, or tool, of any one whatever. Believe me, sir, there is that at work in England which, taken at the tide, may lead on to fortune. I see this, sir; I, a young man, uncommitted in political principles, unconnected in public life, feeling some confidence, I confess, in my own abilities, but desirous of availing myself, at the same time, of the powers of others. Thus situated, I find myself working for the same end as my Lord Carabas and twenty other men of similar calibre, mental and moral; and, sir, am I to play the hermit in the drama of life because, perchance, my fellow-actors may be sometimes fools, and occasionally knaves? If the Marquess of Carabas has done you the ill-service which Fame says he has, your sweetest revenge will be to make him your tool; your most perfect triumph, to rise to power by his influence.

“I confess that I am desirous of finding in you the companion of my career. Your splendid talents have long commanded my admiration; and, as you have given me credit for something like good feeling, I will say that my wish to find in you a colleague is greatly increased when I see that those splendid talents are even the least estimable points in Mr. Cleveland’s character. But, sir, perhaps all this time I am in error; perhaps Mr. Cleveland is, as the world reports him, no longer the ambitious being who once commanded the admiration of a listening Senate; perhaps, convinced of the vanity of human wishes, Mr. Cleveland would rather devote his attention to the furtherance of the interests of his immediate circle; and, having schooled his intellect in the Universities of two nations, is probably content to pass the hours of his life in mediating in the quarrels of a country village.”

Vivian ceased. Cleveland heard him with his head resting on both his arms. He started at the last expression, and something like a blush suffused his cheek, but he did not reply. At last he jumped up and rang the bell. “Come, Mr. Grey,” said he, “I am in no humour for politics this morning. You must not, at any rate, visit Wales for nothing. Morris! send down to the village for this gentleman’s luggage. Even we cottagers have a bed for a friend, Mr. Grey: come, and I will introduce you to my wife.”

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