Having had occasion to mention a noble earl once or twice, I am sure no polite reader will consent that his lordship should push through this history along with the crowd of commoner characters, and without a special word regarding himself. If you are in the least familiar with Burke or Debrett, you know that the ancient family of Ringwood has long been famous for its great possessions, and its loyalty to the British crown.
In the troubles which unhappily agitated this kingdom after the deposition of the late reigning house, the Ringwoods were implicated with many other families, but on the accession of his Majesty George III. these differences happily ended, nor had the monarch any subject more loyal and devoted than Sir John Ringwood, Baronet, of Wingate and Whipham Market. Sir John’s influence sent three members to Parliament; and during the dangerous and vexatious period of the American war, this influence was exerted so cordially and consistently in the cause of order and the crown, that his Majesty thought fit to advance Sir John to the dignity of Baron Ringwood. Sir John’s brother, Sir Francis Ringwood, of Appleshaw, who followed the profession of the law, was promoted to be a Baron of his Majesty’s Court of Exchequer. The first baron, dying A.D. 1786, was succeeded by the eldest of his two sons — John, second Baron and first Earl of Ringwood. His lordship’s brother, the Honourable Colonel Philip Ringwood, died gloriously, at the head of his regiment and in the defence of his country, in the battle of Busaco, 1810, leaving two daughters, Louisa and Maria.
The Earl of Ringwood had but one son, Charles Viscount Cinqbars, who, unhappily, died of a decline, in his twenty-second year. And thus the descendants of Sir Francis Ringwood became heirs to the earl’s great estates of Wingate and Whipham Market, though not of the peerages which had been conferred on the earl and his father.
Lord Ringwood had, living with him, two nieces, daughters of his late brother Colonel Philip Ringwood, who fell in the Peninsular War. Of these ladies, the youngest, Louisa, was his lordship’s favourite; and though both the ladies had considerable fortunes of their own, it was supposed their uncle would further provide for them, especially as he was on no very good terms with his cousin, Sir John of the Shaw, who took the Whig side in politics, whilst his lordship was a chief of the Tory party.
Of these two nieces, the eldest, Maria, never any great favourite with her uncle, married, 1824, Talbot Twysden, Esq., a Commissioner of Powder and Pomatum Tax; but the youngest, Louisa, incurred my lord’s most serious anger by eloping with George Brand Firmin, Esq., M.D., a young gentleman of Cambridge University, who had been with Lord Cinqbars when he died at Naples, and had brought home his body to Wingate Castle.
The quarrel with the youngest niece, and the indifference with which he generally regarded the elder (whom his lordship was in the habit of calling an old schemer), occasioned at first a little rapprochement between Lord Ringwood and his heir, Sir John of Appleshaw; but both gentlemen were very firm, not to say obstinate, in their natures. They had a quarrel with respect to the cutting off of a small entailed property, of which the earl wished to dispose; and they parted with much rancour and bad language on his lordship’s part, who was an especially free-spoken nobleman, and apt to call a spade a spade, as the saying is.
After this difference, and to spite his heir, it was supposed that the Earl of Ringwood would marry. He was little more than seventy years of age, and had once been of a very robust constitution. And though his temper was violent and his person not at all agreeable (for even in Sir Thomas Lawrence’s picture his countenance is very ill-favoured), there is little doubt he could have found a wife for the asking among the young beauties of his own county, or the fairest of May Fair.
But he was a cynical nobleman, and perhaps morbidly conscious of his own ungainly appearance. “Of course, I can buy a wife” (his lordship would say). “Do you suppose people won’t sell their daughters to a man of my rank and means? Now look at me, my good sir, and say whether any woman alive could fall in love with me? I have been married, and once was enough. I hate ugly women, and your virtuous women, who tremble and cry in private, and preach at a man, bore me. Sir John Ringwood of Appleshaw is an ass, and I hate him; but I don’t hate him enough to make myself miserable for the rest of my days, in order to spite him. When I drop, I drop. Do you suppose I care what comes after me?” And with much sardonical humour this old lord used to play off one good dowager after another who would bring her girl in his way. He would send pearls to Emily, diamonds to Fanny, opera-boxes to lively Kate, books of devotion to pious Selinda, and, at the season’s end, drive back to his lonely great castle in the west. They were all the same, such was his lordship’s opinion. I fear, a wicked and corrupt old gentleman, my dears. But ah, would not a woman submit to some sacrifices to reclaim that unhappy man; to lead that gifted but lost being into the ways of right; to convert to a belief in woman’s purity that erring soul? They tried him with high-church altar-cloths for his chapel at Wingate; they tried him with low-church tracts; they danced before him; they jumped fences on horseback; they wore bandeaux, or ringlets, according as his taste dictated; they were always at home when he called, and poor you and I were gruffly told they were engaged; they gushed in gratitude over his bouquets; they sang for him, and their mothers, concealing their sobs, murmured, “What an angel that Cecilia of mine is!” Every variety of delicious chaff they flung to that old bird. But he was uncaught at the end of the season: he winged his way back to his western hills. And if you dared to say that Mrs. Netley had tried to take him, or Lady Trapboys had set a snare for him, you know you were a wicked, gross calumniator, and notorious everywhere for your dull and vulgar abuse of women.
In the year 1830, this great nobleman was seized with a fit of the gout, which had very nearly consigned his estates to his kinsman the Baronet of Appleshaw. A revolution took place in a neighbouring State. An illustrious reigning family was expelled from its country, and projects of reform (which would pretty certainly end in revolution) were rife in ours. The events in France, and those pending at home, so agitated Lord Ringwood’s mind, that he was attacked by one of the severest fits of gout under which he ever suffered. His shrieks, as he was brought out of his yacht at Ryde to a house taken for him in the town, were dreadful; his language to all persons about him was frightfully expressive, as Lady Quamley and her daughter, who had sailed with him several times, can vouch. An ill return that rude old man made for all their kindness and attention to him. They had danced on board his yacht; they had dined on board his yacht; they had been out sailing with him, and cheerfully braved the inconveniences of the deep in his company. And when they ran to the side of his chair — as what would they not do to soothe an old gentleman in illness and distress? — when they ran up to his chair as it was wheeled along the pier, he called mother and daughter by the most
vulgar and opprobrious names, and roared out to them to go to a place which I certainly shall not more particularly mention.
Now it happened, at this period, that Dr. and Mrs. Firmin were at Ryde with their little boy, then some three years of age. The doctor was already taking his place as one of the most fashionable physicians then in London, and had begun to be celebrated for the treatment of this especial malady. (Firmin on Gout and Rheumatism was, you remember, dedicated to his Majesty George IV.) Lord Ringwood’s valet bethought him of calling the doctor in, and mentioned how he was present in the town. Now Lord Ringwood was a nobleman who never would allow his angry feelings to stand in the way of his present comforts or ease. He instantly desired Mr. Firmin’s attendance, and submitted to his treatment; a part of which was a hauteur to the full as great as that which the sick man exhibited. Firmin’s appearance was so tall and grand, that he looked vastly more noble than a great many noblemen. Six feet, a high manner, a polished forehead, a flashing eye, a snowy shirt-frill, a rolling velvet collar, a beautiful hand appearing under a velvet cuff — all these advantages he possessed and used. He did not make the slightest allusion to bygones, but treated his patient with a perfect courtesy and an impenetrable self-possession.
This defiant and darkling politeness did not always displease the old man. He was so accustomed to slavish compliance and eager obedience from all people round about him, that he sometimes wearied of their servility, and relished a little independence. Was it from calculation, or because he was a man of high spirit, that Firmin determined to maintain an independent course with his lordship? From the first day of their meeting he never departed from it, and had the satisfaction of meeting with only civil behaviour from his noble relative and patient, who was notorious for his rudeness and brutality to almost every person who came in his way.
From hints which his lordship gave in conversation, he showed the doctor that he was acquainted with some particulars of the latter’s early career. It had been wild and stormy. Firmin had incurred debts; had quarrelled with his father; had left the university and gone abroad; had lived in a wild society, which used dice and cards every night, and pistols sometimes in the morning; and had shown a fearful dexterity in the use of the latter instrument, which he employed against the person of a famous Italian adventurer, who fell under his hand at Naples. When this century was five-and-twenty years younger, the crack of the pistol-shot might still occasionally be heard in the suburbs of London in the very early morning; and the dice-box went round in many a haunt of pleasure. The knights of the Four Kings travelled from capital to capital, and engaged each other, or made prey of the unwary. Now, the times are changed. The cards are coffined in their boxes. Only sous-officiers, brawling in their provincial cafés over ther dominos, fight duels. “Ah, dear me,” I heard a veteran punter sigh the other day, at Bays’s, “isn’t it a melancholy thing to think, that if I wanted to amuse myself with a fifty-pound note, I don’t know the place in London where I could go and lose it?” And he fondly recounted the names of twenty places where he could have cheerfully staked and lost his money in his young time.
After a somewhat prolonged absence abroad, Mr. Firmin came back to this country, was permitted to return to the university, and left it with the degree of Bachelor of Medicine. We have told how he ran away with Lord Ringwood’s niece, and incurred the anger of that nobleman. Beyond abuse and anger his lordship was powerless. The young lady was free to marry whom she liked, and her uncle to disown or receive him; and accordingly she was, as we have seen, disowned by his lordship, until he found it convenient to forgive her. What were Lord Ringwood’s intentions regarding his property, what were his accumulations, and who his heirs would be, no one knew. Meanwhile, of course, there were those who felt a very great interest on the point. Mrs. Twysden and her husband and children were hungry and poor. If uncle Ringwood had money to leave, it would be very welcome to those three darlings, whose father had not a great income like Dr. Firmin. Philip was a dear, good, frank, amiable, wild fellow, and they all loved him. But he had his faults — that could not be concealed — and so poor Phil’s faults were pretty constantly canvassed before uncle Ringwood, by dear relatives who knew them only too well. The dear relatives! How kind they are! I don’t think Phil’s aunt abused him to my lord. That quiet woman calmly and gently put forward the claims of her own darlings, and affectionately dilated on the young man’s present prosperity, and magnificent future prospects. The interest of thirty thousand pounds now, and the inheritance of his father’s great accumulations! What young man could want for more? Perhaps he had too much already. Perhaps he was too rich to work. The sly old peer acquiesced in his niece’s statements, and perfectly understood the point towards which they tended. “A thousand a year! What’s a thousand a year,” growled the old lord. “Not enough to make a gentleman, more than enough to make a fellow idle.”
“Ah, indeed, it was but a small income,” sighed Mrs. Twysden. “With a large house, a good establishment, and Mr. Twysden’s salary from his office — it was but a pittance.”
“Pittance! Starvation,” growls my lord, with his usual frankness. “Don’t I know what housekeeping costs, and see how you screw? Butlers and footmen, carriages and job-horses, rent and dinners — though yours, Maria, are not famous.”
“Very bad — I know they are very bad,” says the contrite lady, “I wish we could afford any better.”
“Afford any better? Of course you can’t. You are the crockery pots, and you swim down-stream with the brass pots. I saw Twysden the other day walking down St. James’s Street with Rhodes — that tall fellow.” (Here my lord laughed, and showed many fangs, the exhibition of which gave a peculiarly fierce air to his lordship when in good-humour.) “If Twysden walks with a big fellow, he always tries to keep step with him. You know that.” Poor Maria naturally knew her husband’s peculiarities; but she did not say that she had no need to be reminded of them.
“He was so blown he could hardly speak,” continued uncle Ringwood; “but he would stretch his little legs, and try and keep up. He has a little body, le cher mari, but a good pluck. Those little fellows often have. I’ve seen him half dead out shooting, and plunging over the ploughed fields after fellows with twice his stride. Why don’t men sink in the world, I want to know? Instead of a fine house, and a parcel of idle servants, why don’t you have a maid and a leg of mutton, Maria? You go half crazy in trying to make both ends meet. You know you do. It keeps you awake of nights; I know that very well. You’ve got a house fit for people with four times your money. I lend you my cook and so forth; but I can’t come and dine with you unless I send the wine in. Why don’t you have a pot of porter, and a joint, or some tripe? — tripe’s a famous good thing. The miseries which people entail on themselves in trying to live beyond their means are perfectly ridiculous, by George! Look at that fellow who opened the door to me; he’s as tall as one of my own men. Go and live in a quiet little street in Belgravia somewhere, and have a neat little maid. Nobody will think a penny the worse of you — and you will be just as well off as if you lived here with an extra couple of thousand a year. The advice I am giving you is worth half that, every shilling of it.”
“It is very good advice; but I think, sir, I should prefer the thousand pounds,” said the lady.
“Of course you would. That is the consequence of your false position. One of the good points about that doctor is, that he is as proud as Lucifer, and so is his boy. They are not always hungering after money. They keep their independence; though he’ll have his own too, the fellow will. Why, when I first called him in, I thought, as he was a relation, he’d doctor me for nothing; but he wouldn’t. He would have his fee, by George! and wouldn’t come without it. Confounded independent fellow Firmin is. And so is the young one.”
But when Twysden and his son (perhaps inspirited by Mrs. Twysden) tried once or twice to be independent in the presence of this lion, he roared, and he rushed at them, and he rent them, so that they fled from him howling. And this reminds me of an old story I have heard — quite an old, old story, such as kind old fellows at clubs love to remember — of my lord, when he was only Lord Cinqbars, insulting a half-pay lieutenant, in his own country, who horsewhipped his lordship in the most private and ferocious manner. It was said Lord Cinqbars had had a rencontre with poachers; but it was my lord who was poaching and the lieutenant who was defending his own dovecote. I do not say that this was a model nobleman; but that, when his own passions or interests did not mislead him, he was a nobleman of very considerable acuteness, humour, and good sense; and could give quite good advice on occasion. If men would kneel down and kiss his boots, well and good. There was the blacking, and you were welcome to embrace toe and heel. But those who would not, were free to leave the operation alone. The Pope himself does not demand the ceremony from Protestants; and if they object to the slipper, no one thinks of forcing it into their mouths. Phil and his father probably declined to tremble before the old man, not because they knew he was a bully who might be put down, but because they were men of spirit, who cared not whether a man was bully or no.
I have told you I like Philip Firmin, though it must be confessed that the young fellow had many faults, and that his career, especially his early career, was by no means exemplary. Have I ever excused his conduct to his father, or said a word in apology of his brief and inglorious university life? I acknowledge his shortcomings with that candour which my friends exhibit in speaking of mine. Who does not see a friend’s weaknesses, and is so blind that he cannot perceive that enormous beam in his neighbour’s eye? Only a woman or two, from time to time. And even they are undeceived some day. A man of the world, I write about my friends as mundane fellow-creatures. Do you suppose there are many angels here? I say again, perhaps a woman or two. But as for you and me, my good sir, are there any signs of wings sprouting from our shoulder-blades? Be quiet. Don’t pursue your snarling, cynical remarks, but go on with your story.
As you go through life, stumbling, and slipping, and staggering to your feet again, ruefully aware of your own wretched weakness, and praying, with a contrite heart let us trust, that you may not be led into temptation, have you not often looked at other fellow-sinners, and speculated with an awful interest on their career? Some there are on whom, quite in their early lives, dark Ahrimanes has seemed to lay his dread mark: children, yet corrupt, and wicked of tongue; tender of age, yet cruel; who should be truth-telling and generous yet (they were at their mothers’ bosoms yesterday), but are false, and cold, and greedy before their time. Infants almost, they practise the art and selfishness of old men. Behind their candid faces are wiles and wickedness, and a hideous precocity of artifice. I can recal such, and in the vista of far-off, unforgotten boyhood, can see marching that sad little procession of enfans perdus. May they be saved, pray heaven! Then there is the doubtful class, those who are still on trial; those who fall and rise again; those who are often worsted in life’s battle; beaten down, wounded, imprisoned; but escape and conquer sometimes. And then there is the happy class about whom there seems no doubt at all: the spotless and white-robed ones, to whom virtue is easy; in whose pure bosoms faith nestles, and cold doubt finds no entrance; who are children, and yet good; young men, and good; husbands and fathers, and yet good. Why could the captain of our school write his Greek Iambics without an effort, and without an error? Others of us blistered the page with unavailing tears and blots, and might toil ever so, and come in lag last at the bottom of the from. Our friend Philip belongs to the middle class, in which you and I probably are, my dear sir — not yet, I hope, irredeemably consigned to that awful third class whereof mention has been made.
But, being homo, and liable to err, there is no doubt Mr. Philip exercised his privilege, and there was even no little fear at one time that he should overdraw his account. He went from school to the university, and there distinguished himself certainly, but in a way in which very few parents would choose that their sons should excel. That he should hunt, that he should give parties, that he should pull a good oar in one of the best boats on the river, that he should speak at the Union — all these were very well. But why should he speak such awful radicalism and republicanism — he with noble blood in his veins, and the son of a parent whose interest at least it was to keep well with people of high station?
“Why, Pendennis,” said Dr. Firmin to me, with tears in his eyes, and much genuine grief exhibited on his handsome pale face — “why should it be said that Philip Firmin — both of whose grandfathers fought nobly for their king — should be forgetting the principles of his family, and — and, I haven’t words to tell you how deeply he disappoints me. Why, I actually heard of him at that horrible Union advocating the death of Charles the First! I was wild enough myself when I was at the university, but I was a gentleman.”
“Boys, sir, are boys,” I urged. “They will advocate anything for an argument: and Philip would have taken the other side quite as readily.”
“Lord Axminster and Lord St. Dennis told me of it at the club. I can tell you it has made a most painful impression,” cried the father. “That my son should be a radical and a republican, is a cruel thought for a father; and I, who had hoped for Lord Ringwood’s borough for him — who had hoped — who had hoped very much better things for him and from him — He is not a comfort to me. You saw how he treated me one night? A man might live on different terms, I think, with his only son!” And with a breaking voice, a pallid cheek, and a real grief at his heart, the unhappy physician moved away.
How had the doctor bred his son, that the young man should be thus unruly? Was the revolt the boy’s fault, or the father’s? Dr. Firmin’s horror seemed to be because his noble friends were horrified by Phil’s radical doctrine. At that time of my life, being young and very green, I had a little mischievous pleasure in infuriating Squaretoes, and causing him to pronounce that I was “a dangerous man.” Now, I am ready to say that Nero was a monarch with many elegant accomplishments, and considerable natural amiability of disposition. I praise and admire success wherever I meet it. I make allowance for faults and shortcomings, especially in my superiors; and feel that, did we know all, we should judge them very differently. People don’t believe me, perhaps, quite so much as formerly. But I don’t offend: I trust I don’t offend. Have I said anything painful? Plague on my blunders! I recal the expression. I regret it. I contradict it flat.
As I am ready to find excuses for everybody, let poor Philip come in for the benefit of this mild amnesty; and if he vexed his father, as he certainly did, let us trust — let us be thankfully sure — he was not so black as the old gentleman depicted him. Phil was unruly because he was bold, and wild, and young. His father was hurt, naturally hurt, because of the boy’s extravagances and follies. They will come together again, as father and son should. These little differences of temper will be smoothed and equalized anon. The boy has led a wild life. He has been obliged to leave college. He has given his father hours of anxiety and nights of painful watching. But stay, father, what of you? Have you shown to the boy the practice of confidence, the example of love and honour? Did you accustom him to virtue, and teach truth to the child at your knee? “Honour your father and mother.” Amen. May his days be long who fulfils the command: but implied, though unwritten on the table, is there not the order, “Honour your son and daughter?” Pray heaven that we, whose days are already not few in the land, may keep this ordinance too.
What had made Philip wild, extravagant, and insubordinate? Cured of that illness in which we saw him, he rose up, and from school went his way to the university, and there entered on a life such as wild young men will lead. From that day of illness his manner towards his father changed, and regarding the change the elder Firmin seemed afraid to question his son. He used the house as if his own, came and absented himself at will, ruled the servants, and was spoilt by them; spent the income which was settled on his mother and her children, and gave of it liberally to poor acquaintances. To the remonstrances of old friends he replied that he had a right to do as he chose with his own; that other men who were poor might work, but that he had enough to live on, without grinding over classics and mathematics. He was implicated in more rows than one; his tutors saw him not, but he and the proctors became a great deal too well acquainted. If I were to give a history of Mr. Philip Firmin at the university, it would be the story of an Idle Apprentice, of whom his pastors and masters were justified in prophesying evil. He was seen on lawless London excursions, when his father and tutor supposed him unwell in his rooms in college. He made acquaintance with jolly companions, with whom his father grieved that he should be intimate. He cut the astonished uncle Twysden in London street, and blandly told him that he must be mistaken — he one Frenchman, he no speak English. He stared the master of his own college out of countenance, dashed back to college with a Turpin-like celerity, and was in rooms with a ready proved alibi when inquiries were made. I am afraid there is no doubt that Phil screwed up his tutor’s door; Mr. Okes discovered him in the fact. He had to go down, the young prodigal. I wish I could say he was repentant. But he appeared before his father with the utmost nonchalance; said that he was doing no good at the university, and should be much better away, and then went abroad on a dashing tour to France and Italy, whither it is by no means our business to follow him. Something had poisoned the generous blood. The once kindly, honest lad was wild and reckless. He had money in sufficiency, his own horses and equipage, and free quarters in his father’s house. But father and son scarce met, and seldom took a meal together. “I know his haunts, but I don’t know his friends, Pendennis,” the elder man said. “I don’t think they are vicious, so much as low. I do not charge him with vice, mind you; but with idleness, and a fatal love of low company, and a frantic, suicidal determination to fling his chances in life away. Ah, think where he might be, and where he is!”
Where he was? Do not be alarmed. Philip was only idling. Philip might have been much more industriously, more profitably, and a great deal more wickedly employed. What is now called Bohemia had no name in Philip’s young days, though many of us knew the country very well. A pleasant land, not fenced with drab stucco, like Tyburnia or Belgravia; not guarded by a huge standing army of footmen; not echoing with noble chariots; not replete with polite chintz drawing-rooms and neat tea-tables; a land over which hangs an endless fog, occasioned by much tobacco; a land of chambers, billiard-rooms, supper-rooms, oysters; a land of song; a land where soda-water flows freely in the morning; a land of tin dish-covers from taverns, and frothing porter; a land of lotos-eating (with lots of cayenne pepper), of pulls on the river, of delicious reading of novels, magazines, and saunterings in many studios; a land where men call each other by their Christian names; where most are poor, where almost all are young, and where if a few oldsters do enter, it is because they have preserved more tenderly and carefully than other folks their youthful spirits, and the delightful capacity to be idle. I have lost my way to Bohemia now, but it is certain that Prague is the most picturesque city in the world.
Having long lived there, and indeed only lately quitted the Bohemian land at the time whereof I am writing, I could not quite participate in Dr. Firmin’s indignation at his son persisting in his bad courses and wild associates. When Firmin had been wild himself, he had fought, intrigued, and gambled in good company. Phil chose his friends amongst a banditti never heard of in fashionable quarters. Perhaps he liked to play the prince in the midst of these associates, and was not averse to the flattery which a full purse brought him among men most of whose pockets had a meagre lining. He had not emigrated to Bohemia, and settled there altogether. At school and in his brief university career he had made some friends who lived in the world, and with whom he was still familiar. “These come and knock at my front door, my father’s door,” he would say, with one of his old laughs; “the Bandits, who have the signal, enter only by the dissecting-room. I know which are the most honest, and that it is not always the poor Freebooters who best deserve to be hanged.”
Like many a young gentleman who has no intention of pursuing legal studies seriously, Philip entered at an inn of court, and kept his terms duly, though he vowed that his conscience would not allow him to practise (I am not defending the opinions of this squeamish moralist — only stating them). His acquaintance here lay amongst the Temple Bohemians. He had part of a set of chambers in Parchment Buildings, to be sure, and you might read on a door, “Mr. Cassidy, Mr. P. Firmin, Mr. Vanjohn;” but were these gentlemen likely to advance Philip in life? Cassidy was a newspaper reporter, and young Vanjohn a betting man who was always attending races. Dr. Firmin had a horror of newspaper men, and considered they belonged to the dangerous classes, and treated them with a distant affability.
“Look at the governor, Pen,” Philip would say to the present chronicler. “He always watches you with a secret suspicion, and has never got over his wonder at your being a gentleman. I like him when he does the Lord Chatham business, and condescends towards you, and gives you his hand to kiss. He considers he is your better, don’t you see? Oh, he is a paragon of a père noble, the governor is! and I ought to be a young Sir Charles Grandison.” And the young scapegrace would imitate his father’s smile, and the doctor’s manner of laying his hand to his breast and putting out his neat right leg, all of which movements or postures were, I own, rather pompous and affected.
Whatever the paternal faults were, you will say that Philip was not the man to criticize them; nor in this matter shall I attempt to defend him. My wife has a little pensioner whom she found wandering in the street, and singing a little artless song. The child could not speak yet — only warble its little song; and had thus strayed away from home, and never once knew of her danger. We kept her for a while, until the police found her parents. Our servants bathed her, and dressed her, and sent her home in such neat clothes as the poor little wretch had never seen until fortune sent her in the way of those good-natured folks. She pays them frequent visits. When she goes away from us, she is always neat and clean; when she comes to us, she is in rags and dirty. A wicked little slattern! And, pray, whose duty is it to keep her clean? and has not the parent in this case forgotten to honour her daughter? Suppose there is some reason which prevents Philip from loving his father — that the doctor has neglected to cleanse the boy’s heart, and by carelessness and indifference has sent him erring into the world. If so, woe be to that doctor! If I take my little son to the tavern to dinner, shall I not assuredly pay? If I suffer him in tender youth to go astray, and harm comes to him, whose is the fault?
Perhaps the very outrages and irregularities of which Phil’s father complained, were in some degree occasioned by the elder’s own faults. He was so laboriously obsequious to great men, that the son in a rage defied and avoided them. He was so grave, so polite, so complimentary, so artificial, that Phil, in revolt at such hypocrisy, chose to be frank, cynical, and familiar. The grave old bigwigs whom the doctor loved to assemble, bland and solemn men of the ancient school, who dined solemnly with each other at their solemn old houses — such men as Lord Botley, Baron Bumpsher, Cricklade (who published Travels in Asia Minor, 4to, 1804), the Bishop of St. Bees, and the like — wagged their old heads sadly when they collogued in clubs, and talked of poor Firmin’s scapegrace of a son. He would come to no good; he was giving his good father much pain; he had been in all sorts of rows and disturbances at the university, and the Master of Boniface reported most unfavourably of him. And at the solemn dinners in Old Parr Street — the admirable, costly, silent dinners — he treated these old gentlemen with a familiarity which caused the old heads to shake with surprise and choking indignation. Lord Botley and Baron Bumpsher had proposed and seconded Firmin’s boy at the Megatherium club. The pallid old boys toddled away in alarm when he made his appearance there. He brought a smell of tobacco-smoke with him. He was capable of smoking in the drawing-room itself. They trembled before Philip, who, for his part, used to relish their senile anger; and loved, as he called it, to tie all their pigtails together.
In no place was Philip seen or heard to so little advantage as in his father’s house. “I feel like a humbug myself amongst those old humbugs,” he would say to me. “Their old jokes, and their old compliments, and their virtuous old conversation sicken me. Are all old men humbugs, I wonder?” It is not pleasant to hear misanthropy from young lips, and to find eyes that are scarce twenty years old already looking out with distrust on the world.
In other houses than his own I am bound to say Philip was much more amiable, and he carried with him a splendour of gaiety and cheerfulness which brought sunshine and welcome into many a room which he frequented. I have said that many of his companions were artists and journalists, and their clubs and haunts were his own. Ridley the Academician had Mrs. Brandon’s rooms in Thornhaugh Street, and Philip was often in J. J.‘s studio, or in the widow’s little room below. He had a very great tenderness and affection for her; her presence seemed to purify him; and in her company the boisterous, reckless young man was invariably gentle and respectful. Her eyes used to fill with tears when she spoke about him; and when he was present, followed and watched him with sweet motherly devotion. It was pleasant to see him at her homely little fireside, and hear his jokes and prattle, with a fatuous old father, who was one of Mrs. Brandon’s lodgers. Philip would play cribbage for hours with this old man, frisk about him with a hundred harmless jokes, and walk out by his invalid chair, when the old captain went to sun himself in the New Road. He was an idle fellow, Philip, that’s the truth. He had an agreeable perseverance in doing nothing, and would pass half a day in perfect contentment over his pipe, watching Ridley at his easel. J. J. painted that charming head of Philip, which hangs in Mrs. Brandon’s little room — with the fair hair, the tawny beard and whiskers, and the bold blue eyes.
Phil had a certain after-supper song of “Garryowen na Gloria,” which it did you good to hear, and which, when sung at his full pitch, you might hear for a mile round. One night I had been to dine in Russell Square, and was brought home in his carriage by Dr. Firmin, who was of the party. As we came through Soho, the windows of a certain club-room called the “Haunt” were open, and we could hear Philip’s song booming through the night, and especially a certain wild Irish war-whoop with which it concluded, amidst universal applause and enthusiastic battering of glasses.
The poor father sank back in the carriage as though a blow had struck him. “Do you hear his voice?” he groaned out. “Those are his haunts. My son, who might go anywhere, prefers to be captain in a pothouse, and sing songs in a taproom!”
I tried to make the best of the case. I knew there was no harm in the place; that clever men of considerable note frequented it. But the wounded father was not to be consoled by such commonplaces; and a deep and natural grief oppressed him, in consequence of the faults of his son.
What ensued by no means surprised me. Among Dr. Firmin’s patients was a maiden lady of suitable age and large fortune, who looked upon the accomplished doctor with favourable eyes. That he should take a companion to cheer him in his solitude was natural enough, and all his friends concurred in thinking that he should marry. Every one had cognizance of the quiet little courtship, except the doctor’s son, between whom and his father there were only too many secrets.
Some man in a club asked Philip whether he should condole with him or congratulate him on his father’s approaching marriage? His what? The younger Firmin exhibited the greatest surprise and agitation on hearing of this match. He ran home: he awaited his father’s return. When Dr. Firmin came home and betook himself to his study, Philip confronted him there. “This must be a lie, sir, which I have heard to-day,” the young man said, fiercely.
“A lie! what lie, Philip” asked the father. They were both very resolute and courageous men.
“That you are going to marry Miss Benson.”
“Do you make my house so happy, that I don’t need any other companion?” asked the father.
“That’s not the question,” said Philip, hotly. “You can’t and mustn’t marry that lady, sir.”
“And why not, sir?”
“Because in the eyes of God and heaven you are married already, sir. And I swear I will tell Miss Benson the story to-morrow, if you persist in your plan.”
“So you know that story?” groaned the father.
“Yes. God forgive you,” said the son.
“It was a fault of my youth that has been bitterly repented.”
“A fault! — a crime!” said Philip.
“Enough, sir! Whatever my fault, it is not for you to charge me with it.”
“If you won’t guard your own honour, I must. I shall go to Miss Benson now.”
“If you go out of this house, you don’t pretend to return to it?”
“Be it so. Let us settle our accounts, and part, sir.”
“Philip, Philip! you break my heart,” cried the father.
“You don’t suppose mine is very light, sir?” said the son.
Philip never had Miss Benson for a mother-in-law. But father and son loved each other no better after their dispute.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00