The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Newcome and Liberty

We have said that the Baronet’s lecture was discussed in the midnight senate assembled at the King’s Arms, where Mr. Tom Potts showed the orator no mercy. The senate of the King’s Arms was hostile to Sir Barnes Newcome. Many other Newcomites besides were savage and inclined to revolt against the representative of their borough. As these patriots met over their cups, and over the bumper of friendship uttered the sentiments of freedom, they had often asked of one another, where should a man be found to rid Newcome of its dictator? Generous hearts writhed under the oppression: patriotic eyes scowled when Barnes Newcome went by: with fine satire, Tom Potts at Brown the hatter’s shop, who made the hats for Sir Barnes Newcome’s domestics, proposed to take one of the beavers — a gold-laced one with a cockade and a cord — and set it up in the market-place and bid all Newcome come bow to it, as to the hat of Gessler. “Don’t you think, Potts,” says F. Bayham, who of course was admitted into the King’s Arms club, and ornamented that assembly by his presence and discourse, “Don’t you think the Colonel would make a good William Tell to combat against that Gessler?” Ha! Proposal received with acclamation — eagerly adopted by Charles Tucker, Esq., Attorney-at-Law, who would not have the slightest objection to conduct Colonel Newcome’s, or any other gentleman’s electioneering business in Newcome or elsewhere.

Like those three gentlemen in the plays and pictures of William Tell, who conspire under the moon, calling upon liberty and resolving to elect Tell as their especial champion — like Arnold, Melchthal, and Werner — Tom Potts, Fred Bayham, and Charles Tucker, Esqs., conspired round a punch-bowl, and determined that Thomas Newcome should be requested to free his country. A deputation from the electors of Newcome, that is to say, these very gentlemen waited on the Colonel in his apartment the very next morning, and set before him the state of the borough; Barnes Newcome’s tyranny, under which it groaned; and the yearning of all honest men to be free from that usurpation. Thomas Newcome received the deputation with great solemnity and politeness, crossed his legs, folded his arms, smoked his cheroot, and listened moat decorously, as now Potts, now Tucker, expounded to him; Bayham giving the benefit of his emphatic “hear, hear,” to their statements, and explaining dubious phrases to the Colonel in the most affable manner.

Whatever the conspirators had to say against Barnes, Colonel Newcome was only too ready to believe. He had made up his mind that that criminal ought to be punished and exposed. The lawyer’s covert innuendoes, who was ready to insinuate any amount of evil against Barnes which could safely be uttered, were by no means strong enough for Thomas Newcome. “‘Sharp practice! exceedingly alive to his own interests — reported violence of temper and tenacity of money’— say swindling at once, sir — say falsehood and rapacity — say cruelty and avarice,” cries the Colonel. “I believe, upon my honour and conscience, that unfortunate young man to be guilty of every one of those crimes.”

Mr. Bayham remarks to Mr. Potts that our friend the Colonel, when he does utter an opinion, takes care that there shall be no mistake about it.

“And I took care there should be no mistake before I uttered it at all, Bayham!” cries F. B.‘s patron. “As long as I was in any doubt about this young man, I gave the criminal the benefit of it, as a man who admires our glorious constitution should do, and kept my own counsel, sir.”

“At least,” remarks Mr. Tucker, “enough is proven to show that Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Baronet, is scarce a fit person to represent this great borough in Parliament.”

“Represent Newcome in Parliament! It is a disgrace to that noble institution the English House of Commons, that Barnes Newcome should sit in it. A man whose word you cannot trust; a man stained with every private crime. What right has he to sit in the assembly of the legislators of the land, sir?” cries the Colonel, waving his hand as if addressing a chamber of deputies.

“You are for upholding the House of Commons?” inquires the lawyer.

“Of course, sir, of course.”

“And for increasing the franchise, Colonel Newcome, I should hope?” continues Mr. Tucker.

“Every man who can read and write ought to have a vote, sir; that is my opinion!” cries the Colonel.

“He’s a Liberal to the backbone,” says Potts to Tucker.

“To the backbone!” responds Tucker to Potts. “The Colonel will do for us, Potts.”

“We want such a man, Tucker; the Independent has been crying out for such a man for years past. We ought to have a Liberal as second representative of this great town — not a sneaking half-and-half Ministerialist like Sir Barnes, a fellow with one leg in the Carlton and the other in Brookes’s. Old Mr. Bunce we can’t touch. His place is safe; he is a good man of business: we can’t meddle with Mr. Bunce — I know that, who know the feeling of the country pretty well.”

“Pretty well! Better than any man in Newcome, Potts!” cries Mr. Tucker.

“But a good man like the Colonel — a good Liberal like the Colonel — a man who goes in for household suffrage ——”

“Certainly, gentlemen.”

“And the general great Liberal principles — we know, of course — such a man would assuredly have a chance against Sir Barnes Newcome at the coming election! could we find such a man! a real friend of the people!”

“I know a friend of the people if ever there was one,” F. Bayham interposes.

“A man of wealth, station, experience; a man who has fought for his country; a man who is beloved in this place as you are, Colonel Newcome: for your goodness is known, sir — You are not ashamed of your origin, and there is not a Newcomite old or young, but knows how admirably good you have been to your old friend, Mrs. — Mrs. What-d’-you-call’-em.”

“Mrs. Mason,” from F. B.

“Mrs. Mason. If such a man as you, sir, would consent to put himself in nomination at the next election, every true Liberal in this place would rush to support you; and crush the oligarchy who rides over the liberties of this borough!”

“Something of this sort, gentlemen, I own to you had crossed my mind,” Thomas Newcome remarked. “When I saw that disgrace to my name, and the name of my father’s birthplace, representing the borough in Parliament, I thought for the credit of the town and the family, the Member for Newcome at least might be an honest man. I am an old soldier; have passed all my life in India; and am little conversant with affairs at home” (cries of “You are, you are”). “I hoped that my son, Mr. Clive Newcome, might have been found qualified to contest this borough against his unworthy cousin, and possibly to sit as your representative in Parliament. The wealth I have had the good fortune to amass will descend to him naturally, and at no very distant period of time, for I am nearly seventy years of age, gentlemen.”

The gentlemen are astonished at this statement.

“But,” resumed the Colonel; “my son Clive, as my friend Bayham knows, and to my own regret and mortification, as I don’t care to confess to you, declares he has no interest or desire in politics, or for public distinction — prefers his own pursuits — and even these I fear do not absorb him — declines the offer which I made him, to present himself in opposition to Sir Barnes Newcome. It becomes men in a certain station, as I think, to assert that station; and though a few years back I never should have thought of public life at all, and proposed to end my days in quiet as a retired dragoon officer, since — since it has pleased Heaven to increase very greatly my pecuniary means, to place me, as a director and manager of an important banking company, in a station of great public responsibility, I and my brother-directors have thought it but right that one of us should sit in Parliament, if possible, and I am not a man to shirk from that or from any other duty.”

“Colonel, will you attend a meeting of electors which we will call, and say as much to them and as well?” cries Mr. Potts. “Shall I put an announcement in my paper to the effect that you are ready to come forward?”

“I am prepared to do so, my good sir.”

And presently this solemn palaver ended.

Besides the critical article upon the Baronet’s lecture, of which Mr. Warrington was the author, there appeared in the leading columns of the ensuing number of Mr. Potts’ Independent, some remarks of a very smashing or hostile nature, against the Member for Newcome. “This gentleman has shown such talent in the lecturing business,” the Independent said, “that it is a great pity he should not withdraw himself from politics, and cultivate what all Newcome knows are the arts which he understands best; namely, poetry and the domestic affections. The performance of our talented representative last night was so pathetic as to bring tears into the eyes of several of our fair friends. We have heard, but never believed until now, that Sir Barnes Newcome possessed such a genius for making women cry. Last week we had the talented Miss Noakes, from Slowcome, reading Milton to us; how far superior was the eloquence of Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Bart., even to that of the celebrated jestress! Bets were freely offered in the room last night that Sir Barnes would beat any woman — bets which were not taken, as we scarcely need say, so well do our citizens appreciate the character of our excellent, our admirable representative. — Let the Baronet stick to his lectures, and let Newcome relieve him of his political occupations. He is not fit for them, he is too sentimental a man for us; the men of Newcome want a sound practical person; the Liberals of Newcome have a desire to be represented. When we elected Sir Barnes, he talked liberally enough, and we thought he would do, but you see the honourable Baronet is so poetical! we ought to have known that, and not to have believed him. Let us have a straightforward gentleman. If not a man of words, at least let us have a practical man. If not a man of eloquence, one at any rate whose word we can trust, and we can’t trust Sir Barnes Newcome’s; we have tried him, and we can’t really. Last night when the ladies were crying, we could not for the souls of us help laughing. We hope we know how to conduct ourselves as gentlemen. We trust we did not interrupt the harmony of the evening; but Sir Barnes Newcome, prating about children and virtue, and affection and poetry, this is really too strong.

“The Independent, faithful to its name, and ever actuated by principles of honour, has been, as our thousands of readers know, disposed to give Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Bart., a fair trial. When he came forward after his father’s death, we believed in his pledges and promises, as a retrencher and reformer, and we stuck by him. Is there any man in Newcome, except, perhaps, our twaddling old contemporary the Sentinel, who believes in Sir B. N. any more? We say no, and we now give the readers of the Independent, and the electors of this borough, fair notice, that when the dissolution of Parliament takes place, a good man, a true man, a man of experience, no dangerous Radical, or brawling tap orator — Mr. Hicks’s friends well understand whom we mean — but a gentleman of Liberal principles, well-won wealth, and deserved station and honour, will ask the electors of Newcome whether they are, or are not discontented with their present unworthy Member. The Independent for one, says, we know good men of your family, we know in it men who would do honour to any name; but you, Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Bart., we trust no more.”

In the electioneering matter, which had occasioned my unlucky interference, and that subsequent little coolness upon the good Colonel’s part, Clive Newcome had himself shown that the scheme was not to his liking; had then submitted as his custom was: and doing so with a bad grace, as also was to be expected, had got little thanks for his obedience. Thomas Newcome was hurt at his son’s faint-heartedness, and of course little Rosey was displeased at his hanging back. He set off in his father’s train, a silent, unwilling partisan. Thomas Newcome had the leisure to survey Clive’s glum face opposite to him during the whole of their journey, and to chew his mustachios, and brood upon his wrath and wrongs. His life had been a sacrifice for that boy! What darling schemes had he not formed in his behalf, and how superciliously did Clive meet his projects! The Colonel could not see the harm of which he had himself been the author. Had he not done everything in mortal’s power for his son’s happiness, and how many young men in England were there with such advantages as this moody, discontented, spoiled boy? As Clive backed out of the contest, of course his father urged it only the more vehemently. Clive slunk away from committees and canvassing, and lounged about the Newcome manufactories, whilst his father, with anger and bitterness in his heart, remained at the post of honour, as he called it, bent upon overcoming his enemy and carrying his point against Barnes Newcome. “If Paris will not fight, sir,” the Colonel said, with a sad look following his son, “Priam must.” Good old Priam believed his cause to be a perfectly just one, and that duty and his honour called upon him to draw the sword. So there was difference between Thomas Newcome and Clive his son. I protest it is with pain and reluctance I have to write that the good old man was in error — that there was a wrong-doer, and that Atticus was he.

Atticus, be it remembered, thought himself compelled by the very best motives. Thomas Newcome, the Indian banker, was at war with Barnes, the English banker. The latter had commenced the hostilities by a sudden and cowardly act of treason. There were private wrongs to envenom the contest, but it was the mercantile quarrel on which the Colonel chose to set his declaration of war. Barnes’s first dastardly blow had occasioned it, and his uncle was determined to carry it through. This I have said was also George Warrington’s judgment, who, in the ensuing struggle between Sir Barnes and his uncle, acted as a very warm and efficient partisan of the latter. “Kinsmanship!” says George, “what has old Tom Newcome ever had from his kinsman but cowardice and treachery? If Barnes had held up his finger, the young one might have been happy; if he could have effected it, the Colonel and his bank would have been ruined. I am for war, and for seeing the old boy in Parliament. He knows no more about politics than I do about dancing the polka; but there are five hundred wiseacres in that assembly who know no more than he does, and an honest man taking his seat there, in place of a confounded little rogue, at least makes a change for the better.”

I dare say Thomas Newcome, Esq. would by no means have concurred in the above estimate of his political knowledge, and thought himself as well informed as another. He used to speak with the greatest gravity about our constitution as the pride and envy of the world, though he surprised you as much by the latitudinarian reforms, which he was eager to press forward, as by the most singular old Tory opinions which he advocated on other occasions. He was for having every man to vote; every poor man to labour short time and get high wages; every poor curate to be paid double or treble; every bishop to be docked of his salary, and dismissed from the House of Lords. But he was a staunch admirer of that assembly, and a supporter of the rights of the Crown. He was for sweeping off taxes from the poor, and as money must be raised to carry on government, he opined that the rich should pay. He uttered all these opinions with the greatest gravity and emphasis, before a large assembly of electors, and others convened in the Newcome Town Hall, amid the roars of applause of the non-electors, and the bewilderment and consternation of Mr. Potts, of the Independent, who had represented the Colonel in his paper as a safe and steady reformer. Of course the Sentinel showed him up as a most dangerous radical, a sepoy republican, and so forth, to the wrath and indignation of Colonel Newcome. He a republican! he scorned the name! He would die as he had bled many a time for his sovereign. He an enemy of our beloved Church! He esteemed and honoured it, as he hated and abhorred the superstitions of Rome. (Yells, from the Irish in the crowd.) He an enemy of the House of Lords! He held it to be the safeguard of the constitution and the legitimate prize of our most illustrious, naval, military, and — and — legal heroes (ironical cheers). He repelled with scorn the dastard attacks of the journal which had assailed him; he asked, laying his hands on his heart, if as a gentleman, an officer bearing Her Majesty’s commission, he could be guilty of a desire to subvert her empire and to insult the dignity of her crown?

After this second speech at the Town Hall, it was asserted by a considerable party in Newcome, that Old Tom (as the mob familiarly called him) was a Tory, while an equal number averred that he was a Radical. Mr. Potts tried to reconcile his statements, a work in which I should think the talented editor of the Independent had no little difficulty. “He knows nothing about it,” poor Clive said with a sigh; “his politics are all sentiment and kindness; he will have the poor man paid double wages, and does not remember that the employer would be ruined: you have heard him, Pen, talking in this way at his own table, but when he comes out armed cap-a-pied, and careers against windmills in public, don’t you see that as Don Quixote’s son I had rather the dear brave old gentleman was at home?”

So this faineant took but little part in the electioneering doings, holding moodily aloof from the meetings, and councils, and public-houses, where his father’s partisans were assembled.

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