The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 8

Will Be Pronounced to Be Cynical by the Benevolent.

Gentle readers will not, I trust, think the worse of their most obedient, humble servant for the confession that I talked to my wife on my return home regarding Philip and his affairs. When I choose to be frank, I hope no man can be more open than myself: when I have a mind to be quiet, no fish can be more mute. I have kept secrets so ineffably, that I have utterly forgotten them, until my memory was refreshed by people who also knew them. But what was the use of hiding this one from the being to whom I open all, or almost all — say all, excepting just one or two — of the closets of this heart? So I say to her, “My love; it is as I suspected. Philip and his cousin Agnes are carrying on together.”

“Is Agnes the pale one, or the very pale one?” asks the joy of my existence.

“No, the elder is Blanche. They are both older than Mr. Firmin: but Blanche is the elder of the two.”

“Well, I am not saying anything malicious, or contrary to the fact, am I, sir?”

No. Only I know by her looks, when another lady’s name is mentioned, whether my wife likes her or not. And I am bound to say, though this statement may meet with a denial, that her countenance does not vouchsafe smiles at the mention of all ladies’ names.

“You don’t go to the house? You and Mrs. Twysden have called on each other, and there the matter has stopped? Oh, I know! It is because poor Talbot brags so about his wine, and gives such abominable stuff, that you have such an un-Christian feeling for him!”

“That is the reason, I daresay,” says the lady.

“No. It is no such thing. Though you do know sherry from port, I believe upon my conscience you do not avoid the Twysdens because they give bad wine. Many others sin in that way, and you forgive them. You like your fellow-creatures better than wine — some fellow-creatures — and you dislike some fellow-creatures worse than medicine. You swallow them, madam. You say nothing, but your looks are dreadful. You make wry faces: and when you have taken them, you want a piece of sweetmeat to take the taste out of your mouth.”

The lady, thus wittily addressed, shrugs her lovely shoulders. My wife exasperates me in many things; in getting up at insane hours to go to early church, for instance; in looking at me in a particular way at dinner, when I am about to eat one of those entrées which Dr. Goodenough declares disagree with me; in nothing more than in that obstinate silence, which she persists in maintaining sometimes when I am abusing people, whom I do not like, whom she does not like, and who abuse me. This reticence makes me wild. What confidence can there be between a man and his wife, if he can’t say to her, “Confound So-and-so, I hate him; “ or, “What a prig What-d’-you-call-em is!” or, “What a bloated aristocrat Thingamy has become, since he got his place!” or what you will?

“No,” I continue, “I know why you hate the Twysdens, Mrs. Pendennis. You hate them because they move in a world which you can only occasionally visit. You envy them because they are hand in glove with the great: because they possess an easy grace, and a frank and noble elegance with which common country people and apothecaries’ sons are not endowed.”

“My dear Arthur, I do think you are ashamed of being an apothecary’s son. You talk about it so often,” says the lady. Which was all very well: but you see she was not answering my remarks about the Twysdens.

“You are right, my dear,” I say then. “I ought not to be censorious, being myself no more virtuous than my neighbour.”

“I know people abuse you, Arthur; but I think you are a very good sort of man,” says the lady, over her little tea-tray.

“And so are the Twysdens very good people — very nice, artless, unselfish, simple, generous, well-bred people. Mr. Twysden is all heart: Twysden’s conversational powers are remarkable and pleasing; and Philip is eminently fortunate in getting one of those charming girls for a wife.”

“I’ve no patience with them,” cries my wife, losing that quality to my great satisfaction: for then I knew I had found the crack in Madam Pendennis’s armour of steel, and had smitten her in a vulnerable little place.

“No patience with them? Quiet, lady-like young women!” I cry.

“Ah,” sighs my wife, “what have they got to give Philip in return for — ”

“In return for his thirty thousand? They will have ten thousand pounds a piece when their mother dies.”

“Oh! I wouldn’t have our boy marry a woman like one of those, not if she had a million. I wouldn’t, my child and my blessing!” (This is addressed to a little darling who happens to be eating sweet cakes, in a high chair, off the little table by his mother’s side, and who, though he certainly used to cry a good deal at the period, shall be a mute personage in this history.)

“You are alluding to Blanche’s little affair with — ”

“No, I am not, sir!”

“How do you know which one I meant, then? — Or that notorious disappointment of Agnes, when Lord Farintosh became a widower? If he wouldn’t, she couldn’t, you know, my dear. And I am sure she tried her best: at least, everybody said so.”

“Ah! I have no patience with the way in which you people of the world treat the most sacred of subjects — the most sacred, sir. Do you hear me? Is a woman’s love to be pledged, and withdrawn every day? Is her faith and purity only to be a matter of barter, and rank, and social consideration? I am sorry, because I don’t wish to see Philip, who is good, and honest, and generous, and true as yet — however great his faults may be — because I don’t wish to see him given up to — Oh! it’s shocking, shocking!”

Given up to what? to anything dreadful in this world, or the next? Don’t imagine that Philip’s relations thought they were doing Phil any harm by condescending to marry him, or themselves any injury. A doctor’s son, indeed! Why, the Twysdens were far better placed in the world than their kinsmen of Old Parr Street; and went to better houses. The year’s levée and drawing-room would have been incomplete without Mr. and Mrs. Twysden. There might be families with higher titles, more wealth, higher positions; but the world did not contain more respectable folks than the Twysdens: of this every one of the family was convinced, from Talbot himself down to his heir. If somebody or some Body of savans would write the history of the harm that has been done in the world by people who believe themselves to be virtuous, what a queer, edifying book it would be, and how poor oppressed rogues might look up! Who burns the Protestants? — the virtuous Catholics to be sure. Who roasts the Catholics? — the virtuous Reformers. Who thinks I am a dangerous character, and avoids me at the club? — the virtuous Squaretoes. Who scorns? who persecutes? who doesn’t forgive? — the virtuous Mrs. Grundy. She remembers her neighbour’s peccadilloes to the third and fourth generation; and, if she finds a certain man fallen in her path, gathers up her affrighted garments with a shriek, for fear the muddy, bleeding wretch should contaminate her, and passes on.

I do not seek to create even surprises in this modest history, or condescend to keep candid readers in suspense about many matters which might possibly interest them. For instance, the matter of love has interested novel-readers for hundreds of years past, and doubtless will continue so to interest them. Almost all young people read love books and histories with eagerness, as oldsters read books of medicine, and whatever it is — heart complaint, gout, liver, palsy — cry, “Exactly so, precisely my case!” Phil’s first love affair, to which we are now coming, was a false start. I own it at once. And in this commencement of his career I believe he was not more or less fortunate than many and many a man and woman in this world. Suppose the course of true love always did run smooth, and everybody married his or her first love. Ah! what would marriage be?

A generous young fellow comes to market with a heart ready to leap out of his waistcoat, for ever thumping and throbbing, and so wild that he can’t have any rest till he has disposed of it. What wonder if he falls upon a wily merchant in Vanity Fair, and barters his all for a stale bauble not worth sixpence? Phil chose to fall in love with his cousin; and I warn you that nothing will come of that passion, except the influence which it had upon the young man’s character. Though my wife did not love the Twysdens, she loves sentiment, she loves love affairs — all women do. Poor Phil used to bore me after dinner with endless rodomontades about his passion and his charmer; but my wife was never tired of listening. “You are a selfish, heartless, blasé man of the world, you are,” he would say. “Your own immense and undeserved good fortune in the matrimonial lottery has rendered you hard, cold, crass, indifferent. You have been asleep, sir, twice to-night, whilst I was talking. I will go up and tell madam everything. She has a heart.” And presently engaged with my book or my after-dinner doze, I would hear Phil striding and creaking overhead, and plunging energetic pokers in the drawing-room fire.

Thirty thousand pounds to begin with; a third part of that sum coming to the lady from her mother; all the doctor’s savings and property; — here certainly was enough in possession and expectation to satisfy many young couples; and as Phil is twenty-two, and Agnes (must I own it?) twenty-five, and as she has consented to listen to the warm outpourings of the eloquent and passionate youth, and exchange for his fresh, new-minted, golden sovereign heart, that used little three-penny-piece, her own — why should they not marry at once, and so let us have an end of them and this history? They have plenty of money to pay the parson and the postchaise; they may drive off to the country, and live on their means, and lead an existence so humdrum and tolerably happy that Phil may grow quite too fat, lazy, and unfit for his present post of hero of a novel. But stay — there are obstacles; coy, reluctant, amorous delays. After all, Philip is a dear, brave, handsome, wild, reckless, blundering boy, treading upon everybody’s dress skirts, smashing the little Dresden ornaments and the pretty little decorous gimcracks of society, life, conversation; — but there is time yet. Are you so very sure about that money of his mother’s? and how is it that his father the doctor has not settled accounts with him yet! C’est louche. A family of high position and principle must look to have the money matters in perfect order, before they consign a darling accustomed to every luxury to the guardianship of a confessedly wild and eccentric, though generous and amiable, young man. Besides — ah! besides — besides!

. . . “It’s horrible, Arthur! It’s cruel, Arthur! It’s a shame to judge a woman, or Christian people so! Oh! my loves! my blessings! would I sell you?” says this young mother, clutching a little belaced, befurbelowed being to her heart, infantine, squalling, with blue shoulder-ribbons, a mottled little arm that has just been vaccinated, and the sweetest red shoes. “Would I sell you?” says mamma. Little Arty, I say, squalls; and little Nelly looks up from her bricks with a wondering, whimpering expression.

Well, I am ashamed to say what the “besides” is; but the fact is, that young Woolcomb of the Life Guards Green, who has inherited immense West India property, and, we will say, just a teaspoonful of that dark blood which makes a man naturally partial to blonde beauties, has cast his opal eyes very warmly upon the golden-haired Agnes of late; has danced with her not a little; and when Mrs. Twysden’s barouche appears by the Serpentine, you may not unfrequently see a pair of the neatest little yellow kid gloves just playing with the reins, a pair of the prettiest little boots just touching the stirrup, a magnificent horse dancing, and tittupping, and tossing, and performing the most graceful caracoles and gambadoes, and on the magnificent horse a neat little man with a blazing red flower in his bosom, and glancing opal eyes, and a dark complexion, and hair so very black and curly, that I really almost think in some of the Southern States of America he would be likely to meet with rudeness in a railway car.

But in England we know better. In England Grenville Woolcomb is a man and a brother. Half of Arrowroot Island, they say, belongs to him; besides Mangrove Hall, in Hertfordshire; ever so much property in other counties, and that fine house in Berkeley Square. He is called the Black Prince behind the scenes of many theatres: ladies nod at him from those broughams which, you understand, need not be particularized. The idea of his immense riches is confirmed by the known fact that he is a stingy black Prince, and most averse to parting with his money except for his own adornment or amusement. When he receives at his country house, his entertainments are, however, splendid. He has been flattered, followed, caressed all his life, and allowed by a fond mother to have his own way; and as this has never led him to learning, it must be owned that his literary acquirements are small, and his writing defective. But in the management of his pecuniary affairs he is very keen and clever. His horses cost him less than any young man’s in England who is so well mounted. No dealer has ever been known to get the better of him; and, though he is certainly close about money, when his wishes have very keenly prompted him, no sum has been known to stand in his way.

Witness the purchase of the — . But never mind scandal. Let bygones be bygones. A young doctor’s son, with a thousand a year for a fortune, may be considered a catch in some circles, but not, vous concevez, in the upper regions of society. And dear woman — dear, angelic, highly accomplished, respectable woman — does she not know how to pardon many failings in our sex? Age? psha! She will crown my bare old poll with the roses of her youth. Complexion? What contrast is sweeter and more touching than Desdemona’s golden ringlets on swart Othello’s shoulder. A past life of selfishness and bad company? Come out from among the swine, my prodigal, and I will purify thee!

This is what is called cynicism, you know. Then I suppose my wife is a cynic, who clutches her children to her pure heart, and prays gracious heaven to guard them from selfishness, from worldliness, from heartlessness, from wicked greed.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00