The Voyage of Captain Popanilla, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 12

The most commercial nation in the world was now busily preparing to diffuse the blessings of civilisation and competition throughout the native country of their newly-acquired friend. The greatest exporters that ever existed had never been acquainted with such a subject for exportation as the Isle of Fantaisie. There everything was wanted. It was not a partial demand which was to be satisfied, nor a particular deficiency which was to be supplied; but a vast population was thoroughly to be furnished with every article which a vast population must require. From the manufacturer of steam-engines to the manufacturer of stockings, all were alike employed. There was no branch of trade in Vraibleusia which did not equally rejoice at this new opening for commercial enterprise, and which was not equally interested in this new theatre for Vraibleusian industry, Vraibleusian invention, Vraibleusian activity, and, above all, Vraibleusian competition.

Day and night the whole island was employed in preparing for the great fleet and in huzzaing Popanilla. When at borne, every ten minutes he was obliged to appear in the balcony, and then, with hand on heart and hat in hand, ah! that bow! that perpetual motion of popularity! If a man love ease, let him be most unpopular. The Managers did the impossible to assist and advance the intercourse between the two nations. They behaved in a liberal and enlightened manner, and a deputation of liberal and enlightened merchants consequently waited upon them with a vote of thanks. They issued so many pink shells that the price of the public funds was doubled, and affairs arranged so skilfully that money was universally declared to be worth nothing, so that every one in the island, from the Premier down to the Mendicant whom the lecture-loving Skindeep threatened with the bastinado, was enabled to participate, in some degree, in the approaching venture, if we should use so dubious a term in speaking of profits so certain.

Compared with the Fantaisian connection, the whole commerce of the world appeared to the Vraibleusians a retail business. All other customers were neglected or discarded, and each individual seemed to concentrate his resources to supply the wants of a country where they dance by moonlight, live on fruit, and sleep on flowers. At length the first fleet of five hundred sail, laden with wonderful specimens of Vraibleusian mechanism, and innumerable bales of Vraibleusian manufactures; articles raw and refined, goods dry and damp, wholesale and retail; silks and woollen cloths; cottons, cutlery, and camlets; flannels and ladies’ albums; under waistcoats, kid gloves, engravings, coats, cloaks, and ottomans; lamps and looking-glasses; sofas, round tables, equipages, and scent-bottles; fans and tissue-flowers; porcelain, poetry, novels, newspapers, and cookery books; bear’s-grease, blue pills, and bijouterie; arms, beards, poodles, pages, mustachios, court-guides, and bon-bons; music, pictures, ladies’ maids, scrapbooks, buckles, boxing-gloves, guitars, and snuff-boxes; together with a company of opera-singers, a band of comedians, a popular preacher, some quacks, lecturers, artists, and literary gentlemen, principally sketch-book men, quitted, one day, with a favourable wind, and amid the exultation of the inhabitants, the port of Hubbabub!

When his Excellency Prince Popanilla heard of the contents of this stupendous cargo, notwithstanding his implicit confidence in the superior genius and useful knowledge of the Vraibleusians, he could not refrain from expressing a doubt whether, in the present undeveloped state of his native land, any returns could be made proportionate to so curious and elaborate an importation; but whenever he ventured to intimate his opinion to any of the most commercial nation in the world he was only listened to with an incredulous smile which seemed to pity his inexperience, or told, with an air of profound self-complacency, that in Fantaisie ‘there must be great resources.’

In the meantime, public companies were formed for working the mines, colonizing the waste lands, and cutting the coral rocks of the Indian Isle, of all which associations Popanilla was chosen Director by acclamation. These, however, it must be confessed, were speculations of a somewhat doubtful nature; but the Branch Bank Society of the Isle of Fantaisie really held out flattering prospects.

When the fleet had sailed they gave Popanilla a public dinner. It was attended by all the principal men in the island, and he made a speech, which was received in a rather different manner than was his sunset oration by the monarch whom he now represented. Faintaisie and its accomplished Envoy were at the same time the highest and the universal fashion. The ladies sang la Syrene, dressed their hair la Mermede, and themselves la Fantastique; which, by-the-bye, was not new; and the gentlemen wore boa-constrictor cravats and waltzed la mer Indienne — a title probably suggested by a remembrance of the dangers of the sea.

It was soon discovered that, without taking into consideration the average annual advantages which would necessarily spring from their new connection, the profits which must accrue upon the present expedition alone had already doubled the capital of the island. Everybody in Vraibleusia had either made a fortune, or laid the foundation of one. The penniless had become prosperous, and the principal merchants and manufacturers, having realised large capitals, retired from business. But the colossal fortunes were made by the gentlemen who had assisted the administration in raising the price of the public funds and in managing the issues of the pink shells. The effect of this immense increase of the national wealth and of this creation of new and powerful classes of society was speedily felt. Great moves to the westward were perpetual, and a variety of sumptuous squares and streets were immediately run up in that chosen land. Butlers were at a premium; coach-makers never slept; card-engravers, having exhausted copper, had recourse to steel; and the demand for arms at the Heralds’ College was so great that even the mystical genius of Garter was exhausted, and hostile meetings were commenced between the junior members of some ancient families, to whom the same crest had been unwittingly apportioned; but, the seconds interfering, they discovered themselves to be relations. All the eldest sons were immediately to get into Parliament, and all the younger ones as quickly into the Guards; and the simple Fantaisian Envoy, who had the peculiar felicity of taking everything au pied du lettre, made a calculation that, if these arrangements were duly effected, in a short time the Vraibleusian representatives would exceed the Vraibleusian represented; and that there would be at least three officers in the Vraibleusian guards to every private. Judging from the beards and mustachios which now abounded, this great result was near at hand. With the snub nose which is the characteristic of the millionaires, these appendages produce a pleasing effect.

When the excitement had a little subsided; when their mighty mansions were magnificently furnished; when their bright equipages were fairly launched, and the due complement of their liveried retainers perfected; when, in short, they had imitated the aristocracy in every point in which wealth could rival blood: then the new people discovered with dismay that one thing was yet wanting, which treasure could not purchase, and which the wit of others could not supply — Manner. In homely phrase, the millionaires did not know how to behave themselves. Accustomed to the counting-house, the factory, or the exchange, they looked queer in saloons, and said ‘Sir!’ when they addressed you; and seemed stiff, and hard, and hot. Then the solecisms they committed in more formal society, oh! they were outrageous; and a leading article in an eminent journal was actually written upon the subject. I dare not write the deeds they did; but it was whispered that when they drank wine they filled their glasses to the very brim. All this delighted the old class, who were as envious of their riches as the new people were emulous of their style.

In any other country except Vraibleusia persons so situated would have consoled themselves for their disagreeable position by a consciousness that their posterity would not be annoyed by the same deficiencies; but the wonderful Vraibleusian people resembled no other, even in their failings. They determined to acquire in a day that which had hitherto been deemed the gradual consequence of tedious education.

A ‘Society for the Diffusion of Fashionable Knowledge’ was announced; the Millionaires looked triumphantly mysterious, the aristocrats quizzed. The object of the society is intimated by its title; and the method by which its institutors proposed to attain this object was the periodical publication of pamphlets, under the superintendence of a competent committee. The first treatise appeared: its subject was NONCHALANCE. It instructed its students ever to appear inattentive in the society of men, and heartless when they conversed with women. It taught them not to understand a man if he were witty; to misunderstand him if he were eloquent; to yawn or stare if he chanced to elevate his voice, or presumed to ruffle the placidity of the social calm by addressing his fellow-creatures with teeth unparted. Excellence was never to be recognised, but only disparaged with a look: an opinion or a sentiment, and the nonchalant was lost for ever. For these, he was to substitute a smile like a damp sunbeam, a moderate curl of the upper lip, and the all-speaking and perpetual shrug of the shoulders. By a skilful management of these qualities it was shown to be easy to ruin another’s reputation and ensure your own without ever opening your mouth. To woman, this exquisite treatise said much in few words: ‘Listlessness, listlessness, listlessness,’ was the edict by which the most beautiful works of nature were to be regulated, who are only truly charming when they make us feel and feel themselves. ‘Listlessness, listlessness, listlessness;’ for when you choose not to be listless, the contrast is so striking that the triumph must be complete.

The treatise said much more, which I shall omit. It forgot, however, to remark that this vaunted nonchalance may be the offspring of the most contemptible and the most odious of passions: and that while it may be exceedingly refined to appear uninterested when others are interested, to witness excellence without emotion, and to listen to genius without animation, the heart of the Insensible may as often be inflamed by Envy as inspired by Fashion.

Dissertations ‘On leaving cards,’ ‘On cutting intimate friends,’ ‘On cravats,’ ‘On dinner courses,’ ‘On poor relations.’ ‘On bores,’ ‘On lions,’ were announced as speedily to appear. In the meantime, the Essay on Nonchalance produced the best effects. A ci-devant stockbroker cut a Duke dead at his club the day after its publication; and his daughter yawned while his Grace’s eldest son, the Marquess, made her an offer as she was singing ‘Di tanti palpiti.’ The aristocrats got a little frightened, and when an eminent hop-merchant and his lady had asked a dozen Countesses to dinner, and forgot to be at home to receive them, the old class left off quizzing.

The pamphlets, however, continued issuing forth, and the new people advanced at a rate which was awful. They actually began to originate some ideas of their own, and there was a whisper among the leaders of voting the aristocrats old-fashioned. The Diffusion Society now caused these exalted personages great anxiety and uneasiness. They argued that Fashion was a relative quality; that it was quite impossible, and not to be expected, that all people were to aspire to be fashionable; that it was not in the nature of things, and that, if it were, society could not exist; that the more their imitators advanced the more they should baffle their imitations; that a first and fashion able class was a necessary consequence of the organisation of man; and that a line of demarcation would for ever be drawn between them and the other islanders. The warmth and eagerness with which they maintained and promulgated their opinions might have tempted, however, an impartial person to suspect that they secretly entertained some doubts of their truth and soundness.

On the other hand, the other party maintained that Fashion was a positive quality; that the moment a person obtained a certain degree of refinement he or she became, in fact and essentially, fashionable; that the views of the old class were unphilosophical and illiberal, and unworthy of an enlightened age; that men were equal, and that everything is open to everybody; and that when we take into consideration the nature of man, the origin of society, and a few other things, and duly consider the constant inclination and progression towards perfection which mankind evince, there was no reason why, in the course of time, the whole nation should not go to Almack’s on the same night.

At this moment of doubt and dispute the Government of Vraibleusia, with that spirit of conciliation and liberality and that perfect wisdom for which it had been long celebrated, caring very little for the old class, whose interest, it well knew, was to support it, and being exceedingly desirous of engaging the affections of the new race, declared in their favour; and acting upon that sublime scale of measures for which this great nation has always been so famous, the Statue issued an edict that a new literature should be invented, in order at once to complete the education of the Millionaires and the triumph of the Romantic over the Classic School of Manners.

The most eminent writers were, as usual, in the pay of the Government, and BURLINGTON, A TALE OF FASHIONABLE LIFE in three volumes post octavo, was sent forth. Two or three similar works, bearing titles equally euphonious and aristocratic, were published daily; and so exquisite was the style of these productions, so naturally artificial the construction of their plots, and so admirably inventive the conception of their characters, that many who had been repulsed by the somewhat abstract matter and arid style of the treatises, seduced by the interest of a story, and by the dazzling delicacies of a charming style, really now picked up a considerable quantity of very useful knowledge; so that when the delighted students had eaten some fifty or sixty imaginary dinners in my lord’s dining-room, and whirled some fifty or sixty imaginary waltzes in my lady’s dancing-room, there was scarcely a brute left among the whole Millionaires. But what produced the most beneficial effects on the new people, and excited the greatest indignation and despair among the old class, were some volumes which the Government, with shocking Machiavelism, bribed some needy scions of nobility to scribble, and which revealed certain secrets vainly believed to be quite sacred and inviolable.

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