"Them's a sight o' larned beuks, Muster Mackaye?"
"Yow maun ha' got a deal o' scholarship among they, noo?"
"Dee yow think, noo, yow could find out my boy out of un, by any ways o' conjuring like?"
"Conjuring—to strike a perpendicular, noo, or say the Lord's Prayer backwards?"
"Wadna ye prefer a meeracle or twa?" asked Sandy, after a long pull at the whisky-toddy.
"Or a few efreets?" added I.
"Whatsoever you likes, gentlemen. You're best judges, to be sure," answered Farmer Porter, in an awed and helpless voice.
"Aweel—I'm no that disinclined to believe in the occult sciences. I dinna haud a'thegither wi' Salverte. There was mair in them than Magia naturalis, I'm thinking. Mesmerism and magic-lanterns, benj and opium, winna explain all facts, Alton, laddie. Dootless they were an unco' barbaric an' empiric method o' expressing the gran' truth o' man's mastery ower matter. But the interpenetration o' the spiritual an' physical worlds is a gran' truth too; an' aiblins the Deity might ha' allowed witchcraft, just to teach that to puir barbarous folk—signs and wonders, laddie, to mak them believe in somewhat mair than the beasts that perish: an' so ghaists an warlocks might be a necessary element o' the divine education in dark and carnal times. But I've no read o' a case in which necromancy, nor geomancy, nor coskinomancy, nor ony other mancy, was applied to sic a purpose as this. Unco gude they were, may be, for the discovery o' stolen spunes—but no that o' stolen tailors."
Farmer Porter had listened to this harangue, with mouth and eyes gradually expanding between awe and the desire to comprehend; but at the last sentence his countenance fell.
"So I'm thinking, Mister Porter, that the best witch in siccan a case is ane that ye may find at the police-office."
"Thae detective police are gran' necromancers an' canny in their way: an' I just took the liberty, a week agone, to ha' a crack wi' ane o' 'em. An noo, gin ye're inclined, we'll leave the whusky awhile, an' gang up to that cave o' Trophawnius, ca'd by the vulgar Bow-street, an' speir for tidings o' the twa lost sheep."
So to Bow-street we went, and found our man, to whom the farmer bowed with obsequiousness most unlike his usual burly independence. He evidently half suspected him to have dealings with the world of spirits: but whether he had such or not, they had been utterly unsuccessful; and we walked back again, with the farmer between us, half-blubbering—
"I tell ye, there's nothing like ganging to a wise 'ooman. Bless ye, I mind one up to Guy Hall, when I was a barn, that two Irish reapers coom down, and murthered her for the money—and if you lost aught she'd vind it, so sure as the church—and a mighty hand to cure burns; and they two villains coom back, after harvest, seventy mile to do it—and when my vather's cows was shrew-struck, she made un be draed under a brimble as growed together at the both ends, she a praying like mad all the time; and they never got nothing but fourteen shilling and a crooked sixpence; for why, the devil carried off all the rest of her money; and I seen um both a-hanging in chains by Wisbeach river, with my own eyes. So when they Irish reapers comes into the vens, our chaps always says, 'Yow goo to Guy Hall, there's yor brithren a-waitin' for yow,' and that do make um joost mad loike, it do. I tell ye there's nowt like a wise 'ooman, for vinding out the likes o' this."
At this hopeful stage of the argument I left them to go to the Magazine office. As I passed through Covent Garden, a pretty young woman stopped me under a gas-lamp. I was pushing on when I saw it was Jemmy Downes's Irish wife, and saw, too, that she did not recognise me. A sudden instinct made me stop and hear what she had to say.
"Shure, thin, and ye're a tailor, my young man?"
"Yes," I said, nettled a little that my late loathed profession still betrayed itself in my gait.
"From the counthry?"
I nodded, though I dared not speak a white lie to that effect. I fancied that, somehow, through her I might hear of poor Kelly and his friend Porter.
"Ye'll be wanting work, thin?"
"I have no work."
"Och, thin, it's I can show ye the flower o' work, I can. Bedad, there's a shop I know of where ye'll earn—bedad, if ye're the ninth part of a man, let alone a handy young fellow like the looks of you—och, ye'll earn thirty shillings the week, to the very least—an' beautiful lodgings; och, thin, just come and see 'em—as chape as mother's milk! Gome along, thin—och, it's the beauty ye are—just the nate figure for a tailor."
The fancy still possessed me; and I went with her through one dingy back street after another. She seemed to be purposely taking an indirect road, to mislead me as to my whereabouts; but after a half-hour's walking, I knew, as well as she, that we were in one of the most miserable slop-working nests of the East-end.
She stopped at a house door, and hurried me in, up to the first floor, and into a dirty, slatternly parlour, smelling infamously of gin; where the first object I beheld was Jemmy Downes, sitting before the fire, three-parts drunk, with a couple of dirty, squalling children on the hearthrug, whom he was kicking and cuffing alternately.
"Och, thin, ye villain, beating the poor darlints whinever I lave ye a minute." And pouring out a volley of Irish curses, she caught up the urchins, one under each arm, and kissed and hugged them till they were nearly choked. "Och, ye plague o' my life—as drunk as a baste; an' I brought home this darlint of a young gentleman to help ye in the business."
Downes got up, and steadying himself by the table, leered at me with lacklustre eyes, and attempted a little ceremonious politeness. How this was to end I did not see; but I was determined to carry it through, on the chance of success, infinitely small as that might be.
"An' I've told him thirty shillings a week's the least he'll earn; and charge for board and lodgings only seven shillings."
"Thirty!—she lies; she's always a lying; don't you mind her. Five-and-forty is the werry lowest figure. Ask my respectable and most piousest partner, Shemei Solomons. Why, blow me—it's Locke!"
"Yes, it is Locke; and surely you're my old friend Jemmy Downes? Shake hands. What an unexpected pleasure to meet you again!"
"Werry unexpected pleasure. Tip us your daddle! Delighted—delighted, as I was a saying, to be of the least use to yer. Take a caulker? Summat heavy, then? No? 'Tak' a drap o' kindness yet, for auld langsyne?"
"You forget I was always a teetotaller."
"Ay," with a look of unfeigned pity. "An' you're a going to lend us a hand? Oh, ah! perhaps you'd like to begin? Here's a most beautiful uniform, now, for a markis in her Majesty's Guards; we don't mention names—tarn't businesslike. P'r'aps you'd like best to work here to-night, for company—'for auld langsyne, my boys;' and I'll introduce yer to the gents up-stairs to-morrow."
"No," I said; "I'll go up at once, if you've no objection."
"Och, thin, but the sheets isn't aired—no—faix; and I'm thinking the gentleman as is a going isn't gone yet."
But I insisted on going up at once; and, grumbling, she followed me. I stopped on the landing of the second floor, and asked which way; and seeing her in no hurry to answer, opened a door, inside which I heard the hum of many voices, saying in as sprightly a tone as I could muster, that I supposed that was the workroom.
As I had expected, a fetid, choking den, with just room enough in it for the seven or eight sallow, starved beings, who, coatless, shoeless, and ragged, sat stitching, each on his truckle-bed. I glanced round; the man whom I sought was not there.
My heart fell; why it had ever risen to such a pitch of hope I cannot tell; and half-cursing myself for a fool, in thus wildly thrusting my head into a squabble, I turned back and shut the door, saying—
"A very pleasant room, ma'am, but a leetle too crowded."
Before she could answer, the opposite door opened; and a face appeared—unwashed, unshaven, shrunken to a skeleton. I did not recognise it at first.
"Blessed Vargen! but that wasn't your voice, Locke?"
"And who are you?"
"Tear and ages! and he don't know Mike Kelly!"
My first impulse was to catch him up in my arms, and run down-stairs with him. I controlled myself, however, not knowing how far he might be in his tyrant's power. But his voluble Irish heart burst out at once—
"Oh! blessed saints, take me out o' this! take me out for the love of Jesus! take me out o' this hell, or I'll go mad intirely! Och! will nobody have pity on poor sowls in purgatory—here in prison like negur slaves? We're starved to the bone, we are, and kilt intirely with cowld."
And as he clutched my arm, with his long, skinny, trembling fingers, I saw that his hands and feet were all chapped and bleeding. Neither shoe nor stocking did he possess; his only garments were a ragged shirt and trousers; and—and, and in horrible mockery of his own misery, a grand new flowered satin vest, which to-morrow was to figure in some gorgeous shop-window!
"Och! Mother of Heaven!" he went on, wildly, "when will I get out to the fresh air? For five months I haven't seen the blessed light of sun, nor spoken to the praste, nor ate a bit o' mate, barring bread-and-butter. Shure, it's all the blessed Sabbaths and saints' days I've been a working like a haythen Jew, an niver seen the insides o' the chapel to confess my sins, and me poor sowl's lost intirely—and they've pawned the relaver [Footnote: A coat, we understand, which is kept by the coatless wretches in these sweaters' dungeons, to be used by each of them in turn when they want to go out.—EDITOR.] this fifteen weeks, and not a boy of us iver sot foot in the street since."
"Vot's that row?" roared at this juncture Downes's voice from below.
"Och, thin," shrieked the woman, "here's that thief o' the warld, Micky Kelly, slandhering o' us afore the blessed heaven, and he owing L2. 14s. 1/2d. for his board an' lodging, let alone pawn-tickets, and goin' to rin away, the black-hearted ongrateful sarpent!" And she began yelling indiscriminately, "Thieves!" "Murder!" "Blasphemy!" and such other ejaculations, which (the English ones at least) had not the slightest reference to the matter in hand.
"I'll come to him!" said Downes, with an oath, and rushed stumbling up the stairs, while the poor wretch sneaked in again, and slammed the door to. Downes battered at it, but was met with a volley of curses from the men inside; while, profiting by the Babel, I blew out the light, ran down-stairs, and got safe into the street.
In two hours afterwards, Mackaye, Porter, Crossthwaite, and I were at the door, accompanied by a policeman, and a search-warrant. Porter had insisted on accompanying us. He had made up his mind that his son was at Downes's; and all representations of the smallness of his chance were fruitless. He worked himself up into a state of complete frenzy, and flourished a huge stick in a way which shocked the policeman's orderly and legal notions.
"That may do very well down in your country, sir; but you arn't a goin' to use that there weapon here, you know, not by no hact o' Parliament as I knows on."
"Ow, it's joost a way I ha' wi' me." And the stick was quiet for fifty yards or so, and then recommenced smashing imaginary skulls.
"You'll do somebody a mischief, sir, with that. You'd much better a lend it me."
Porter tucked it under his arm for fifty yards more; and so on, till we reached Downes's house.
The policeman knocked: and the door was opened, cautiously, by an old Jew, of a most un-"Caucasian" cast of features, however "high-nosed," as Mr. Disraeli has it.
The policeman asked to see Michael Kelly.
"Michaelsh? I do't know such namesh—" But before the parley could go farther, the farmer burst past policeman and Jew, and rushed into the passage, roaring, in a voice which made the very windows rattle,
"Billy Poorter! Billy Poorter! whor be yow? whor be yow?"
We all followed him up-stairs, in time to see him charging valiantly, with his stick for a bayonet, the small person of a Jew-boy, who stood at the head of the stairs in a scientific attitude. The young rascal planted a dozen blows in the huge carcase—he might as well have thumped the rhinoceros in the Regent's Park; the old man ran right over him, without stopping, and dashed up the stairs; at the head of which—oh, joy!—appeared a long, shrunken, red-haired figure, the tears on its dirty cheeks glittering in the candle-glare. In an instant father and son were in each other's arms.
"Oh, my barn! my barn! my barn! my barn!" And then the old Hercules held him off at arm's length, and looked at him with a wistful face, and hugged him again with "My barn! my barn!" He had nothing else to say. Was it not enough? And poor Kelly danced frantically around them, hurrahing; his own sorrows forgotten in his friend's deliverance.
The Jew-boy shook himself, turned, and darted down stairs past us; the policeman quietly put out his foot, tripped him headlong, and jumping down after him, extracted from his grasp a heavy pocket-book.
"Ah! my dear mothersh's dying gift! Oh, dear! oh dear! give it back to a poor orphansh!"
"Didn't I see you take it out o' the old un's pocket, you young villain?" answered the maintainer of order, as he shoved the book into his bosom, and stood with one foot on his writhing victim, a complete nineteenth-century St. Michael.
"Let me hold him," I said, "while you go up-stairs."
"You hold a Jew-boy!—you hold a mad cat!" answered the policeman, contemptuously—and with justice—for at that moment Downes appeared on the first-floor landing, cursing and blaspheming.
"He's my 'prentice! he's my servant! I've got a bond, with his own hand to it, to serve me for three years. I'll have the law of you—I will!"
Then the meaning of the big stick came out. The old man leapt down the stairs, and seized Downes. "You're the tyrant as has locked my barn up here!" And a thrashing commenced, which it made my bones ache only to look at. Downes had no chance; the old man felled him on his face in a couple of blows, and taking both hands to his stick, hewed away at him as if he had been a log.
"I waint hit a's head! I waint hit a's head!"—whack, whack. "Let me be!"—whack, whack-puff. "It does me gude, it does me gude!"—puff, puff, puff—whack. "I've been a bottling of it up for three years, come Whitsuntide!"—whack, whack, whack—while Mackaye and Crossthwaite stood coolly looking on, and the wife shut herself up in the side-room, and screamed "Murder!"
The unhappy policeman stood at his wits' end, between the prisoner below and the breach of the peace above, bellowing in vain, in the Queen's name, to us, and to the grinning tailors on the landing. At last, as Downes's life seemed in danger, he wavered; the Jew-boy seized the moment, jumped up, upsetting the constable, dashed like an eel between Crossthwaite and Mackaye, gave me a back-handed blow in passing, which I felt for a week after, and vanished through the street-door, which he locked after him.
"Very well!" said the functionary, rising solemnly, and pulling out a note-book—"Scar under left eye, nose a little twisted to the right, bad chilblains on the hands. You'll keep till next time, young man. Now, you fat gentleman up there, have you done a qualifying of yourself for Newgate?"
The old man had ran up-stairs again, and was hugging his son; but when the policeman lifted Downes, he rushed back to his victim, and begged, like a great school-boy, for leave to "bet him joost won bit moor."
"Let me bet un! I'll pay un!—I'll pay all as my son owes un! Marcy me! where's my pooss?" And so on raged the Babel, till we got the two poor fellows safe out of the house. We had to break open the door to do it, thanks to that imp of Israel.
"For God's sake, take us too!" almost screamed five or six other voices.
"They're all in debt—every onesh; they sha'n't go till they paysh, if there's law in England," whined the old Jew, who had re-appeared.
"I'll pay for 'em—I'll pay every farden, if so be as they treated my boy well. Here, you, Mr. Locke, there's the ten pounds as I promised you. Why, whor is my pooss?"
The policeman solemnly handed it to him. He took it, turned it over, looked at the policeman half frightened, and pointed with his fat thumb at Mackaye.
"Well, he said as you was a conjuror—and sure he was right."
He paid me the money. I had no mind to keep it in such company; so I got the poor fellows' pawn-tickets, and Crossthwaite and I took the things out for them. When we returned, we found them in a group in the passage, holding the door open, in their fear lest we should be locked up, or entrapped in some way. Their spirits seemed utterly broken. Some three or four went off to lodge where they could; the majority went upstairs again to work. That, even that dungeon, was their only home—their only hope—as it is of thousands of "free" Englishmen at this moment.
We returned, and found the old man with his new-found prodigal sitting on his knee, as if he had been a baby. Sandy told me afterwards, that he had scarcely kept him from carrying the young man all the way home; he was convinced that the poor fellow was dying of starvation. I think really he was not far wrong. In the corner sat Kelly, crouched together like a baboon, blubbering, hurrahing, invoking the saints, cursing the sweaters, and blessing the present company. We were afraid, for several days, that his wits were seriously affected.
And, in his old arm-chair, pipe in mouth, sat good Sandy Mackaye, wiping his eyes with the many-coloured sleeve, and moralizing to himself, sotto voce:
"The auld Romans made slaves o' their debitors; sae did the Anglo-Saxons, for a' good Major Cartwright has writ to the contrary. But I didna ken the same Christian practice was part o' the Breetish constitution. Aweel, aweel—atween Riot Acts, Government by Commissions, and ither little extravagants and codicils o' Mammon's making, it's no that easy to ken, the day, what is the Breetish constitution, and what isn't. Tak a drappie, Billy Porter, lad?"
"Never again so long as I live. I've learnt a lesson and a half about that, these last few months."
"Aweel, moderation's best, but abstinence better than naething. Nae man shall deprive me o' my leeberty, but I'll tempt nae man to gie up his." And he actually put the whisky-bottle by into the cupboard.
The old man and his son went home next day, promising me, if I would but come to see them, "twa hundert acres o' the best partridge-shooting, and wild dooks as plenty as sparrows; and to live in clover till I bust, if I liked." And so, as Bunyan has it, they went on their way, and I saw them no more.
AN EMERSONIAN SERMON.
Certainly, if John Crossthwaite held the victim-of-circumstance doctrine in theory, he did not allow Mike Kelly to plead it in practice, as an extenuation of his misdeeds. Very different from his Owenite "it's-nobody's-fault" harangues in the debating society, or his admiration for the teacher of whom my readers shall have a glimpse shortly, was his lecture that evening to the poor Irishmen on "It's all your own fault." Unhappy Kelly! he sat there like a beaten cur, looking first at one of us, and then at the other, for mercy, and finding none. As soon as Crossthwaite's tongue was tired, Mackaye's began, on the sins of drunkenness, hastiness, improvidence, over-trustfulness, &c., &c., and, above all, on the cardinal offence of not having signed the protest years before, and spurned the dishonourable trade, as we had done. Even his most potent excuse that "a boy must live somehow," Crossthwaite treated as contemptuously as if he had been a very Leonidas, while Mackaye chimed in with—
"An' ye a Papist! ye talk o' praying to saints an' martyrs, that died in torments because they wad na do what they should na do? What ha' ye to do wi' martyrs?—a meeserable wretch that sells his soul for a mess o' pottage—four slices per diem o' thin bread-and-butter? Et propter veetam veevendi perdere causas! Dinna tell me o' your hardships—ye've had your deserts—your rights were just equivalent to your mights, an' so ye got them."
"Faix, thin, Misther Mackaye, darlint, an' whin did I desarve to pawn me own goose an' board, an' sit looking at the spidhers for the want o' them?"
"Pawn his ain goose! Pawn himsel! pawn his needle—gin it had been worth the pawning, they'd ha' ta'en it. An' yet there's a command in Deuteronomy, Ye shall na tak the millstone in pledge, for it's a man's life; nor yet keep his raiment ower night, but gie it the puir body back, that he may sleep in his ain claes, an' bless ye. O—but pawnbrokers dinna care for blessings—na marketable value in them, whatsoever."
"And the shopkeeper," said I, "in 'the Arabian Nights,' refuses to take the fisherman's net in pledge, because he gets his living thereby."
"Ech! but, laddie, they were puir legal Jews, under carnal ordinances, an' daur na even tak an honest five per cent interest for their money. An' the baker o' Bagdad, why he was a benighted heathen, ye ken, an' deceivit by that fause prophet, Mahomet, to his eternal damnation, or he wad never ha' gone aboot to fancy a fisherman was his brither."
"Faix, an' ain't we all brothers?" asked Kelly.
"Ay, and no," said Sandy, with an expression which would have been a smile, but for its depths of bitter earnestness; "brethren in Christ, my laddie."
"An' ain't that all over the same?"
"Ask the preachers. Gin they meant brothers, they'd say brothers, be sure; but because they don't mean brothers at a', they say brethren—ye'll mind, brethren—to soun' antiquate, an' professional, an' perfunctory-like, for fear it should be ower real, an' practical, an' startling, an' a' that; and then jist limit it down wi' a' in Christ,' for fear o' owre wide applications, and a' that. But
"For a' that, and a' that. It's comin' yet, for a' that, When man an' man, the warld owre, Shall brothers be, for a' that—
"An' na brithren any mair at a'!"
"An' didn't the blessed Jesus die for all?"
"What? for heretics, Micky?"
"Bedad, thin, an' I forgot that intirely!"
"Of course you did! It's strange, laddie," said he, turning to me, "that that Name suld be everywhere, fra the thunderers o' Exeter Ha' to this puir, feckless Paddy, the watchword o' exclusiveness. I'm thinking ye'll no find the workmen believe in't, till somebody can fin' the plan o' making it the sign o' universal comprehension. Gin I had na seen in my youth that a brither in Christ meant less a thousand-fold than a brither out o' him, I might ha' believit the noo—we'll no say what. I've an owre great organ o' marvellousness, an' o' veneration too, I'm afeard."
"Ah!" said Crossthwaite, "you should come and hear Mr. Windrush to-night, about the all-embracing benevolence of the Deity, and the abomination of limiting it by all those narrow creeds and dogmas."
"An' wha's Meester Windrush, then?"
"Oh, he's an American; he was a Calvinist preacher originally, I believe; but, as he told us last Sunday evening, he soon cast away the worn-out vestures of an obsolete faith, which were fast becoming only crippling fetters."
"An' ran oot sarkless on the public, eh? I'm afeard there's mony a man else that throws awa' the gude auld plaid o' Scots Puritanism, an' is unco fain to cover his nakedness wi' ony cast popinjay's feathers he can forgather wi'. Aweel, aweel—a puir priestless age it is, the noo. We'll e'en gang hear him the nicht, Alton, laddie; ye ha' na darkened the kirk door this mony a day—nor I neither, mair by token."
It was too true. I had utterly given up the whole problem of religion as insoluble. I believed in poetry, science, and democracy—and they were enough for me then; enough, at least, to leave a mighty hunger in my heart, I knew not for what. And as for Mackaye, though brought up, as he told me, a rigid Scotch Presbyterian, he had gradually ceased to attend the church of his fathers.
"It was no the kirk o' his fathers—the auld God—trusting kirk that Clavers dragoonit down by burns and muirsides. It was a' gane dead an' dry; a piece of Auld-Bailey barristration anent soul-saving dodges. What did he want wi' proofs o' the being o' God, an' o' the doctrine o' original sin? He could see eneugh o' them ayont the shop-door, ony tide. They made puir Rabbie Burns an anything-arian, wi' their blethers, an' he was near gaun the same gate."
And, besides, he absolutely refused to enter any place of worship where there were pews. "He wadna follow after a multitude to do evil; he wad na gang before his Maker wi' a lee in his right hand. Nae wonder folks were so afraid o' the names o' equality an' britherhood, when they'd kicked them out e'en o' the kirk o' God. Pious folks may ca' me a sinfu' auld Atheist. They winna gang to a harmless stage play—an' richt they—for fear o' countenancing the sin that's dune there, an' I winna gang to the kirk, for fear o' countenancing the sin that's dune there, by putting down my hurdies on that stool o' antichrist, a haspit pew!"
I was, therefore, altogether surprised at the promptitude with which he agreed to go and hear Crossthwaite's new-found prophet. His reasons for so doing may be, I think, gathered from the conversation towards the end of this chapter.
Well, we went; and I, for my part, was charmed with Mr. Windrush's eloquence. His style, which was altogether Emersonian, quite astonished me by its alternate bursts of what I considered brilliant declamation, and of forcible epigrammatic antithesis. I do not deny that I was a little startled by some of his doctrines, and suspected that he had not seen much, either of St. Giles's cellars or tailors' workshops either, when he talked of sin as "only a lower form of good. Nothing," he informed us, "was produced in nature without pain and disturbance; and what we had been taught to call sin was, in fact, nothing but the birth-throes attendant on the progress of the species.—As for the devil, Novalis, indeed, had gone so far as to suspect him to be a necessary illusion. Novalis was a mystic, and tainted by the old creeds. The illusion was not necessary—it was disappearing before the fast-approaching meridian light of philosophic religion. Like the myths of Christianity, it had grown up in an age of superstition, when men, blind to the wondrous order of the universe, believed that supernatural beings, like the Homeric gods, actually interfered in the affairs of mortals. Science had revealed the irrevocability of the laws of nature—was man alone to be exempt from them? No. The time would come when it would be as obsolete an absurdity to talk of the temptation of a fiend, as it was now to talk of the wehrwolf, or the angel of the thunder-cloud. The metaphor might remain, doubtless, as a metaphor, in the domain of poetry, whose office was to realize, in objective symbols, the subjective ideas of the human intellect; but philosophy, and the pure sentiment of religion, which found all things, even God himself, in the recesses of its own enthusiastic heart, must abjure such a notion."
* * * * *
"What!" he asked again, "shall all nature be a harmonious whole, reflecting, in every drop of dew which gems the footsteps of the morning, the infinite love and wisdom of its Maker, and man alone be excluded from his part in that concordant choir? Yet such is the doctrine of the advocates of free-will, and of sin—its phantom-bantling. Man disobey his Maker! disarrange and break the golden wheels and springs of the infinite machine! The thought were blasphemy!—impossibility! All things fulfil their destiny; and so does man, in a higher or lower sphere of being. Shall I punish the robber? Shall I curse the profligate? As soon destroy the toad, because my partial taste may judge him ugly; or doom to hell, for his carnivorous appetite, the muscanonge of my native lakes! Toad is not horrible to toad, or thief to thief. Philanthropists or statesmen may environ him with more genial circumstances, and so enable his propensities to work more directly for the good of society; but to punish him—to punish nature for daring to be nature!—Never! I may thank the Upper Destinies that they have not made me as other men are—that they have endowed me with nobler instincts, a more delicate conformation than the thief; but I have my part to play, and he has his. Why should we wish to be other than the All-wise has made us?"
"Fine doctrine that," grumbled Sandy; "gin ye've first made up your mind wi' the Pharisee, that ye are no like ither men."
"Shall I pray, then? For what? I will coax none, natter none—not even the Supreme! I will not be absurd enough to wish to change that order, by which sun and stars, saints and sinners, alike fulfil their destinies. There is one comfort, my friends; coax and flatter as we will, he will not hear us."
"Pleasant, for puir deevils like us!" quoth Mackaye.
"What then remains? Thanks, thanks—not of words, but of actions. Worship is a life, not a ceremony. He who would honour the Supreme, let him cheerfully succumb to the destiny which the Supreme has allotted, and, like the shell or the flower—('Or the pickpocket,' added Mackaye, almost audibly)—become the happy puppet of the universal impulse. He who would honour Christ, let him become a Christ himself! Theodore of Mopsuestia—born, alas! before his time—a prophet for whom as yet no audience stood ready in the amphitheatre of souls—'Christ!' he was wont to say; 'I can become Christ myself, if I will.' Become thou Christ, my brother! He has an idea—the idea of utter submission—abnegation of his own fancied will before the supreme necessities. Fulfil that idea, and thou art he! Deny thyself, and then only wilt thou be a reality; for thou hast no self. If thou hadst a self, thou wouldst but lie in denying it—and would The Being thank thee for denying what he had given thee? But thou hast none! God is circumstance, and thou his creature! Be content! Fear not, strive not, change not, repent not! Thou art nothing! Be nothing, and thou becomest a part of all things!"
And so Mr. Windrush ended his discourse, which Crossthwaite had been all the while busily taking down in short-hand, for the edification of the readers of a certain periodical, and also for those of this my Life.
I plead guilty to having been entirely carried away by what I heard. There was so much which was true, so much more which seemed true, so much which it would have been convenient to believe true, and all put so eloquently and originally, as I then considered, that, in short, I was in raptures, and so was poor dear Crossthwaite; and as we walked home, we dinned Mr. Windrush's praises one into each of Mackaye's ears. The old man, however, paced on silent and meditative. At last—
"A hunder sects or so in the land o' Gret Britain; an' a hunder or so single preachers, each man a sect of his ain! an' this the last fashion! Last, indeed! The moon of Calvinism's far gone in the fourth quarter, when it's come to the like o' that. Truly, the soul-saving business is a'thegither fa'n to a low ebb, as Master Tummas says somewhere!"
"Well, but," asked Crossthwaite, "was not that man, at least, splendid?"
"An' hoo much o' thae gran' objectives an' subjectives did ye comprehen', then, Johnnie, my man?"
"Quite enough for me," answered John, in a somewhat nettled tone.
"An' sae did I."
"But you ought to hear him often. You can't judge of his system from one sermon, in this way."
"Seestem! and what's that like?"
"Why, he has a plan for uniting all sects and parties, on the one broad fundamental ground of the unity of God as revealed by science—"
"Verra like uniting o' men by just pu'ing aff their claes, and telling 'em, 'There, ye're a' brithers noo, on the one broad fundamental principle o' want o' breeks.'"
"Of course," went on Crossthwaite, without taking notice of this interruption, "he allows full liberty of conscience. All he wishes for is the emancipation of intellect. He will allow every one, he says, to realize that idea to himself, by the representations which suit him best."
"An' so he has no objection to a wee playing at Papistry, gin a man finds it good to tickle up his soul?"
"Ay, he did speak of that—what did he call it? Oh! 'one of the ways in which the Christian idea naturally embodied itself in imaginative minds!' but the higher intellects, of course, would want fewer helps of that kind. 'They would see'—ay, that was it—'the pure white light of truth, without requiring those coloured refracting media.'"
"That wad depend muckle on whether the light o' truth chose or not, I'm thinking. But, Johnnie, lad—guide us and save us!—whaur got ye a' these gran' outlandish words the nicht?"
"Haven't I been taking down every one of these lectures for the press?"
"The press gang to the father o't—and you too, for lending your han' in the matter—for a mair accursed aristocrat I never heerd, sin' I first ate haggis. Oh, ye gowk—ye gowk! Dinna ye see what be the upshot o' siccan doctrin'? That every puir fellow as has no gret brains in his head will be left to his superstition, an' his ignorance to fulfil the lusts o' his flesh; while the few that are geniuses, or fancy themselves sae, are to ha' the monopoly o' this private still o' philosophy—these carbonari, illuminati, vehmgericht, samothracian mysteries o' bottled moonshine. An' when that comes to pass, I'll just gang back to my schule and my catechism, and begin again wi' 'who was born o' the Virgin Mary, suffered oonder Pontius Pilate!' Hech! lads, there's no subjectives and objectives there, na beggarly, windy abstractions, but joost a plain fact, that God cam' down to look for puir bodies, instead o' leaving puir bodies to gang looking for Him. An' here's a pretty place to be left looking for Him in—between gin shops and gutters! A pretty Gospel for the publicans an' harlots, to tell 'em that if their bairns are canny eneugh, they may possibly some day be allowed to believe that there is one God, and not twa! And then, by way of practical application—'Hech! my dear, starving, simple brothers, ye manna be sae owre conscientious, and gang fashing yourselves anent being brutes an' deevils, for the gude God's made ye sae, and He's verra weel content to see you sae, gin ye be content or no.'"
"Then, do you believe in the old doctrines of Christianity?" I asked.
"Dinna speir what I believe in. I canna tell ye. I've been seventy years trying to believe in God, and to meet anither man that believed in him. So I'm just like the Quaker o' the town o' Redcross, that met by himself every First-day in his ain hoose."
"Well, but," I asked again, "is not complete freedom of thought a glorious aim—to emancipate man's noblest part—the intellect—from the trammels of custom and ignorance?"
"Intellect—intellect!" rejoined he, according to his fashion, catching one up at a word, and playing on that in order to answer, not what one said, but what one's words led to. "I'm sick o' all the talk anent intellect I hear noo. An' what's the use o' intellect? 'Aristocracy o' intellect,' they cry. Curse a' aristocracies—intellectual anes, as well as anes o' birth, or rank, or money! What! will I ca' a man my superior, because he's cleverer than mysel?—will I boo down to a bit o' brains, ony mair than to a stock or a stane? Let a man prove himsel' better than me, my laddie—honester, humbler, kinder, wi' mair sense o' the duty o' man, an' the weakness o' man—and that man I'll acknowledge—that man's my king, my leader, though he war as stupid as Eppe Dalgleish, that could na count five on her fingers, and yet keepit her drucken father by her ain hands' labour for twenty-three yeers."
We could not agree to all this, but we made a rule of never contradicting the old sage in one of his excited moods, for fear of bringing on a week's silent fit—a state which generally ended in his smoking himself into a bilious melancholy; but I made up my mind to be henceforth a frequent auditor of Mr. Windrush's oratory.
"An' sae the deevil's dead!" said Sandy, half to himself, as he sat crooning and smoking that night over the fire. "Gone at last, puir fallow!—an' he sae little appreciated, too! Every gowk laying his ain sins on Nickie's back, puir Nickie!—verra like that much misunderstood politeecian, Mr. John Cade, as Charles Buller ca'd him in the Hoose o' Commons—an' he to be dead at last! the warld'll seem quite unco without his auld-farrant phizog on the streets. Aweel, aweel—aiblins he's but shammin'.—
"When pleasant Spring came on apace, And showers began to fa', John Barleycorn got up again, And sore surprised them a'.
"At ony rate, I'd no bury him till he began smell a wee strong like. It's a grewsome thing, is premature interment, Alton, laddie!"
THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.
But all this while, my slavery to Mr. O'Flynn's party-spirit and coarseness was becoming daily more and more intolerable—an explosion was inevitable; and an explosion came.
Mr. O'Flynn found out that I had been staying at Cambridge, and at a cathedral city too; and it was quite a godsend to him to find any one who knew a word about the institutions at which he had been railing weekly for years. So nothing would serve him but my writing a set of articles on the universities, as a prelude to one on the Cathedral Establishments. In vain I pleaded the shortness of my stay there, and the smallness of my information.
"Och, were not abuses notorious? And couldn't I get them up out of any Radical paper—and just put in a little of my own observations, and a dashing personal cut or two, to spice the thing up, and give it an original look? and if I did not choose to write that—why," with an enormous oath, "I should write nothing." So—for I was growing weaker and weaker, and indeed my hack-writing was breaking down my moral sense, as it does that of most men—I complied; and burning with vexation, feeling myself almost guilty of a breach of trust toward those from whom I had received nothing but kindness, I scribbled off my first number and sent it to the editor—to see it appear next week, three-parts re-written, and every fact of my own furnishing twisted and misapplied, till the whole thing was as vulgar and commonplace a piece of rant as ever disgraced the people's cause. And all this, in spite of a solemn promise, confirmed by a volley of oaths, that I "should say what I liked, and speak my whole mind, as one who had seen things with his own eyes had a right to do."
Furious, I set off to the editor; and not only my pride, but what literary conscience I had left, was stirred to the bottom by seeing myself made, whether I would or not, a blackguard and a slanderer.
As it was ordained, Mr. O'Flynn was gone out for an hour or two; and, unable to settle down to any work till I had fought my battle with him fairly out, I wandered onward, towards the West End, staring into print-shop windows, and meditating on many things.
As it was ordained, also, I turned up Regent Street, and into Langham Place; when, at the door of All-Souls Church, behold a crowd and a long string of carriages arriving, and all the pomp and glory of a grand wedding.
I joined the crowd from mere idleness, and somehow found myself in the first rank, just as the bride was stepping out of the carriage—it was Miss Staunton; and the old gentleman who handed her out was no other than the dean. They were, of course, far too deeply engaged to recognise insignificant little me, so that I could stare as thoroughly to my heart's content as any of the butcher-boys and nursery-maids around me.
She was closely veiled—but not too closely to prevent my seeing her magnificent lip and nostril curling with pride, resolve, rich tender passion. Her glorious black-brown hair—the true "purple locks" which Homer so often talks of—rolled down beneath her veil in great heavy ringlets; and with her tall and rounded figure, and step as firm and queenly as if she were going to a throne, she seemed to me the very ideal of those magnificent Eastern Zubeydehs and Nourmahals, whom I used to dream of after reading the "Arabian Nights."
As they entered the doorway, almost touching me, she looked round, as if for some one. The dean whispered something in his gentle, stately way, and she answered by one of those looks so intense, and yet so bright, so full of unutterable depths of meaning and emotion, that, in spite of all my antipathy, I felt an admiration akin to awe thrill through me, and gazed after her so intently, that Lillian—Lillian herself—was at my side, and almost passed me before I was aware of it.
Yes, there she was, the foremost among a bevy of fair girls, "herself the fairest far," all April smiles and tears, golden curls, snowy rosebuds, and hovering clouds of lace—a fairy queen;—but yet—but yet—how shallow that hazel, eye, how empty of meaning those delicate features, compared with the strength and intellectual richness of the face which had preceded her!
It was too true—I had never remarked it before; but now it flashed across me like lightning—and like lightning vanished; for Lillian's eye caught mine, and there was the faintest spark of a smile of recognition, and pleased surprise, and a nod. I blushed scarlet with delight; some servant-girl or other, who stood next to me, had seen it too—quick-eyed that women are—and was looking curiously at me. I turned, I knew not why, in my delicious shame, and plunged through the crowd to hide I knew not what.
I walked on—poor fool—in an ecstasy; the whole world was transfigured in my eyes, and virtue and wisdom beamed from every face I passed. The omnibus-horses were racers, and the drivers—were they not my brothers of the people? The very policemen looked sprightly and philanthropic. I shook hands earnestly with the crossing-sweeper of the Regent Circus, gave him my last twopence, and rushed on, like a young David, to exterminate that Philistine O'Flynn.
Ah well! I was a great fool, as others too have been; but yet, that little chance-meeting did really raise me. It made me sensible that I was made for better things than low abuse of the higher classes. It gave me courage to speak out, and act without fear, of consequences, once at least in that confused facing-both-ways period of my life. O woman! woman! only true missionary of civilization and brotherhood, and gentle, forgiving charity; is it in thy power, and perhaps in thine only, to bind up the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives? One real lady, who should dare to stoop, what might she not do with us—with our sisters? If—
There are hundreds, answers the reader, who do stoop. Elizabeth Fry was a lady, well-born, rich, educated, and she has many scholars.
True, my dear readers, true—and may God bless her and her scholars. Do you think the working men forget them? But look at St. Giles's, or Spitalfields, or Shadwell, and say, is not the harvest plentiful, and the labourers, alas! few? No one asserts that nothing is done; the question is, is enough done? Does the supply of mercy meet the demand of misery? Walk into the next court and see!
* * * * *
I found Mr. O'Flynn in his sanctum, busy with paste and scissors, in the act of putting in a string of advertisements—indecent French novels, Atheistic tracts, quack medicines, and slopsellers' puffs; and commenced with as much dignity as I could muster:
"What on earth do you mean, sir, by re-writing my article?"
"What—(in the other place)—do you mean by giving me the trouble of re-writing it? Me head's splitting now with sitting up, cutting out, and putting in. Poker o' Moses! but ye'd given it an intirely aristocratic tendency. What did ye mane" (and three or four oaths rattled out) "by talking about the pious intentions of the original founders, and the democratic tendencies of monastic establishments?"
"I wrote it because I thought it."
"Is that any reason ye should write it? And there was another bit, too—it made my hair stand on end when I saw it, to think how near I was sending the copy to press without looking at it—something about a French Socialist, and Church Property."
"Oh! you mean, I suppose, the story of the French Socialist, who told me that church property was just the only property in England which he would spare, because it was the only one which had definite duties attached to it, that the real devourers of the people were not the bishops, who, however rich, were at least bound to work in return for their riches, but the landlords and millionaires, who refused to confess the duties of property, while they raved about its rights."
"Bedad, that's it; and pretty doctrine, too!"
"But it's true: it's an entirely new and a very striking notion, and I consider it my duty to mention it."
"Thrue! What the devil does that matter? There's a time to speak the truth, and a time not, isn't there? It'll make a grand hit, now, in a leader upon the Irish Church question, to back the prastes against the landlords. But if I'd let that in as it stood, bedad, I'd have lost three parts of my subscribers the next week. Every soul of the Independents, let alone the Chartists, would have bid me good morning. Now do, like a good boy, give us something more the right thing next time. Draw it strong.—A good drunken supper-party and a police-row; if ye haven't seen one, get it up out of Pater Priggins—or Laver might do, if the other wasn't convanient. That's Dublin, to be sure, but one university's just like another. And give us a seduction or two, and a brace of Dons carried home drunk from Barnwell by the Procthors."
"Really I never saw anything of the kind; and as for profligacy amongst the Dons, I don't believe it exists. I'll call them idle, and bigoted, and careless of the morals of the young men, because I know that they are so; but as for anything more, I believe them to be as sober, respectable a set of Pharisees as the world ever saw."
Mr. O'Flynn was waxing warm, and the bully-vein began fast to show itself.
"I don't care a curse, sir! My subscribers won't stand it, and they sha'n't! I am a man of business, sir, and a man of the world, sir, and faith that's more than you are, and I know what will sell the paper, and by J——s I'll let no upstart spalpeen dictate to me!"
"Then I'll tell you what, sir," quoth I, waxing warm in my turn, "I don't know which are the greater rogues, you or your subscribers. You a patriot? You are a humbug. Look at those advertisements, and deny it if you can. Crying out for education, and helping to debauch the public mind with Voltaire's 'Candide,' and Eugene Sue—swearing by Jesus, and puffing Atheism and blasphemy—yelling at a quack government, quack law, quack priesthoods, and then dirtying your fingers with half-crowns for advertising Holloway's ointment and Parr's life pills—shrieking about slavery of labour to capital, and inserting Moses and Son's doggerel—ranting about searching investigations and the march of knowledge, and concealing every fact which cannot be made to pander to the passions of your dupes—extolling the freedom of the press, and showing yourself in your own office a tyrant and a censor of the press. You a patriot? You the people's friend? You are doing everything in your power to blacken the people's cause in the eyes of their enemies. You are simply a humbug, a hypocrite, and a scoundrel; and so I bid you good morning."
Mr. O'Flynn had stood, during this harangue, speechless with passion, those loose lips of his wreathing like a pair of earthworms. It was only when I stopped that he regained his breath, and with a volley of incoherent oaths, caught up his chair and hurled it at my head. Luckily, I had seen enough of his temper already, to keep my hand on the lock of the door for the last five minutes. I darted out of the room quicker than I ever did out of one before or since. The chair took effect on the luckless door; and as I threw a flying glance behind me, I saw one leg sticking through the middle panel, in a way that augured ill for my skull, had it been in the way of Mr. O'Flynn's fury.
I ran home to Mackaye in a state of intense self-glorification, and told him the whole story. He chuckled, he crowed, he hugged me to his bosom.
"Leeze me o' ye! but I kenned ye were o' the true Norse blude after a'!
"For a' that, an' a' that, A man's a man for a' that.
"Oh, but I hae expeckit it this month an' mare! Oh, but I prophesied it, Johnnie!"
"Then why, in Heaven's name, did you introduce me to such a scoundrel?"
"I sent you to schule, lad, I sent you to schule. Ye wad na be ruled by me. Ye tuk me for a puir doited auld misanthrope; an' I thocht to gie ye the meat ye lusted after, an' fill ye wi' the fruit o' your ain desires. An' noo that ye've gane doon in the fire o' temptation, an' conquered, here's your reward standin' ready. Special prawvidences!—wha can doot them? I ha' had mony—miracles I might ca' them, to see how they cam' just when I was gaun daft wi' despair."
And then he told me that the editor of a popular journal, of the Howitt and Eliza Cook school, had called on me that morning, and promised me work enough, and pay enough, to meet all present difficulties.
I did indeed accept the curious coincidence, if not as a reward for an act of straightforwardness, in which I saw no merit, at least as proof that the upper powers had not altogether forgotten me. I found both the editor and his periodical, as I should have wished them, temperate and sunny—somewhat clap-trap and sentimental, perhaps, and afraid of speaking out, as all parties are, but still willing to allow my fancy free range in light fictions, descriptions of foreign countries, scraps of showy rose-pink morality and such like; which, though they had no more power against the raging mass of crime, misery, and discontent, around, than a peacock's feather against a three-decker, still were all genial, graceful, kindly, humanizing, and soothed my discontented and impatient heart in the work of composition.
THE TOWNSMAN'S SERMON TO THE GOWNSMAN.
One morning in February, a few days after this explosion, I was on the point of starting to go to the dean's house about that weary list of subscribers, which seemed destined never to be filled up, when my cousin George burst in upon me. He was in the highest good spirits at having just taken a double first-class at Cambridge; and after my congratulations, sincere and hearty enough, were over, he offered to accompany me to that reverend gentleman's house.
He said in an off-hand way, that he had no particular business there, but he thought it just as well to call on the dean and mention his success, in case the old fellow should not have heard of it.
"For you see," he said, "I am a sort of protege, both on my own account and on Lord Lynedale's—Ellerton, he is now—you know he is just married to the dean's niece, Miss Staunton—and Ellerton's a capital fellow—promised me a living as soon as I'm in priest's orders. So my cue is now," he went on as we walked down the Strand together, "to get ordained as fast as ever I can."
"But," I asked, "have you read much for ordination, or seen much of what a clergyman's work should be?"
"Oh! as for that—you know it isn't one out of ten who's ever entered a school, or a cottage even, except to light a cigar, before he goes into the church: and as for the examination, that's all humbug; any man may cram it all up in a month—and, thanks to King's College, I knew all I wanted to know before I went to Cambridge. And I shall be three-and-twenty by Trinity Sunday, and then in I go, neck or nothing. Only the confounded bore is, that this Bishop of London won't give one a title—won't let any man into his diocese, who has not been ordained two years; and so I shall be shoved down into some poking little country-curacy, without a chance of making play before the world, or getting myself known at all. Horrid bore! isn't it?"
"I think," I said, "considering what London is just now, the bishop's regulation seems to be one of the best specimens of episcopal wisdom that I've heard of for some time."
"Great bore for me, though, all the same: for I must make a name, I can tell you, if I intend to get on. A person must work like a horse, now-a-days, to succeed at all; and Lynedale's a desperately particular fellow, with all sorts of outre notions about people's duties and vocations and heaven knows what."
"Well," I said, "my dear cousin, and have you no high notions of a clergyman's vocation? because we—I mean the working men—have. It's just their high idea of what a clergyman should be, which makes them so furious at clergymen for being what they are."
"It's a queer way of showing their respect to the priesthood," he answered, "to do all they can to exterminate it."
"I dare say they are liable, like other men, to confound the thing with its abuses; but if they hadn't some dim notion that the thing might be made a good thing in itself, you may depend upon it they would not rave against those abuses so fiercely." (The reader may see that I had not forgotten my conversation with Miss Staunton.) "And," thought I to myself, "is it not you, and such as you, who do so incorporate the abuses into the system, that one really cannot tell which is which, and longs to shove the whole thing aside as rotten to the core, and make a trial of something new?"
"Well, but," I said, again returning to the charge, for the subject was altogether curious and interesting to me, "do you really believe the doctrines of the Prayer-book, George?"
"Believe them!" he answered, in a tone of astonishment, "why not? I was brought up a Churchman, whatever my parents were; I was always intended for the ministry. I'd sign the Thirty-nine Articles now, against any man in the three kingdoms: and as for all the proofs out of Scripture and Church History, I've known them ever since I was sixteen—I'll get them all up again in a week as fresh as ever."
"But," I rejoined, astonished in my turn at my cousin's notion of what belief was, "have you any personal faith?—you know what I mean—I hate using cant words—but inward experience of the truth of all these great ideas, which, true or false, you will have to preach and teach? Would you live by them, die for them, as a patriot would for his country, now?"
"My dear fellow, I don't know anything about all those Methodistical, mystical, Calvinistical, inward experiences, and all that. I'm a Churchman, remember, and a High Churchman, too; and the doctrine of the Church is, that children are regenerated in holy baptism; and there's not the least doubt, from the authority both of Scripture and the fathers, that that's the—"
"For Heaven's sake," I said, "no polemical discussions! Whether you're right or wrong, that's not what I'm talking about. What I want to know is this:—you are going to teach people about God and Jesus Christ. Do you delight in God? Do you love Jesus Christ? Never mind what I do, or think, or believe. What do you do, George?"
"Well, my dear fellow, if you take things in that way, you know, of course"—and he dropped his voice into that peculiar tone, by which all sects seem to think they show their reverence; while to me, as to most other working men, it never seemed anything but a symbol of the separation and discrepancy between their daily thoughts and their religious ones—"of course, we don't any of us think of these things half enough, and I'm sure I wish I could be more earnest than I am; but I can only hope it will come in time. The Church holds that there's a grace given in ordination; and really—really, I do hope and wish to do my duty—indeed, one can't help doing it; one is so pushed on by the immense competition for preferment; an idle parson hasn't a chance now-a-days."
"But," I asked again, half-laughing, half-disgusted, "do you know what your duty is?"
"Bless you, my good fellow, a man can't go wrong there. Carry out the Church system; that's the thing—all laid down by rule and method. A man has but to work out that—and it's the only one for the lower classes I'm convinced."
"Strange," I said, "that they have from the first been so little of that opinion, that every attempt to enforce it, for the last three hundred years, has ended either in persecution or revolution."
"Ah! that was all those vile puritans' fault. They wouldn't give the Church a chance of showing her powers."
"What! not when she had it all her own way, during the whole eighteenth century?"
"Ah! but things are very different now. The clergy are awakened now to the real beauty of the Catholic machinery; and you have no notion how much is doing in church-building and schools, and societies of every sort and kind. It is quite incredible what is being done now for the lower orders by the Church."
"I believe," I said, "that the clergy are exceedingly improved; and I believe, too, that the men to whom they owe all their improvement are the Wesleys and Whitfields—in short, the very men whom they drove one by one out of the Church, from persecution or disgust. And I do think it strange, that if so much is doing for the lower classes, the working men, who form the mass of the lower classes, are just those who scarcely feel the effects of it; while the churches seem to be filled with children, and rich and respectable, to the almost entire exclusion of the adult lower classes. A strange religion this!" I went on, "and, to judge by its effects, a very different one from that preached in Judea 1800 years ago, if we are to believe the Gospel story."
"What on earth do you mean? Is not the Church of England the very purest form of Apostolic Christianity?"
"It may be—and so may the other sects. But, somehow, in Judea, it was the publicans and harlots who pressed into the kingdom of heaven; and it was the common people who heard Christ gladly. Christianity, then, was a movement in the hearts of the lower order. But now, my dear fellow, you rich, who used to be told, in St. James's time, to weep and howl, have turned the tables upon us poor. It is you who are talking, all day long, of converting us. Look at any place of worship you like, orthodox and heretical.—Who fill the pews?—the outcast and the reprobate? No! the Pharisees and the covetous, who used to deride Christ, fill His churches, and say still, 'This people, these masses, who know not the Gospel are accursed.' And the universal feeling, as far as I can judge, seems to be, not 'how hardly shall they who have,' but how hardly shall they who have not, 'riches, enter into the kingdom of heaven!'"
"Upon my word," said he, laughing, "I did not give you credit for so much eloquence: you seem to have studied the Bible to some purpose, too. I didn't think that so much Radicalism could be squeezed out of a few texts of Scripture. It's quite a new light to me. I'll just mark that card, and play it when I get a convenient opportunity. It may be a winning one in these democratic times."
And he did play it, as I heard hereafter; but at present he seemed to think that the less that was said further on clerical subjects the better, and commenced quizzing the people whom we passed, humorously and neatly enough; while I walked on in silence, and thought of Mr. Bye-Ends, in the "Pilgrim's Progress." And yet I believe the man was really in earnest. He was really desirous to do what was right, as far as he knew it; and all the more desirous, because he saw, in the present state of society, what was right would pay him. God shall judge him, not I. Who can unravel the confusion of mingled selfishness and devotion that exists even in his own heart, much less in that of another?
The dean was not at home that day, having left town on business. George nodded familiarly to the footman who opened the door.
"You'll mind and send me word the moment your master comes home—mind now!"
The fellow promised obedience, and we walked away.
"You seem to be very intimate here," said I, "with all parties?"
"Oh! footmen are useful animals—a half-sovereign now and then is not altogether thrown away upon them. But as for the higher powers, it is very easy to make oneself at home in the dean's study, but not so much so as to get a footing in the drawing-room above. I suspect he keeps a precious sharp eye upon the fair Miss Lillian."
"But," I asked, as a jealous pang shot through my heart, "how did you contrive to get this same footing at all? When I met you at Cambridge, you seemed already well acquainted with these people."
"How?—how does a hound get a footing on a cold scent? By working and casting about and about, and drawing on it inch by inch, as I drew on them for years, my boy; and cold enough the scent was. You recollect that day at the Dulwich Gallery? I tried to see the arms on the carriage, but there were none; so that cock wouldn't fight."
"The arms! I should never have thought of such a plan."
"Dare say you wouldn't. Then I harked back to the doorkeeper, while you were St. Sebastianizing. He didn't know their names, or didn't choose to show me their ticket, on which it ought to have been; so I went to one of the fellows whom I knew, and got him to find out. There comes out the value of money—for money makes acquaintances. Well, I found who they were.—Then I saw no chance of getting at them. But for the rest of that year at Cambridge, I beat every bush in the university, to find some one who knew them; and as fortune favours the brave, at last I hit off this Lord Lynedale; and he, of course, was the ace of trumps—a fine catch in himself, and a double catch because he was going to marry the cousin. So I made a dead set at him; and tight work I had to nab him, I can tell you, for he was three or four years older than I, and had travelled a good deal, and seen life. But every man has his weak side; and I found his was a sort of a High-Church Radicalism, and that suited me well enough, for I was always a deuce of a radical myself; so I stuck to him like a leech, and stood all his temper, and his pride, and those unpractical, windy visions of his, that made a common-sense fellow like me sick to listen to; but I stood it, and here I am."
"And what on earth induced you to stoop to all this—" meanness I was on the point of saying. "Surely you are in no want of money—your father could buy you a good living to-morrow."
"And he will, but not the one I want; and he could not buy me reputation, power, rank, do you see, Alton, my genius? And what's more, he couldn't buy me a certain little tit-bit, a jewel, worth a Jew's eye and a half, Alton, that I set my heart on from the first moment I set my eye on it."
My heart beat fast and fierce, but he ran on—
"Do you think I'd have eaten all this dirt if it hadn't lain in my way to her? Eat dirt! I'd drink blood, Alton—though I don't often deal in strong words—if it lay in that road. I never set my heart on a thing yet, that I didn't get it at last by fair means or foul—and I'll get her! I don't care for her money, though that's a pretty plum. Upon my life, I don't. I worship her, limbs and eyes. I worship the very ground she treads on. She's a duck and a darling," said he, smacking his lips like an Ogre over his prey, "and I'll have her before I've done, so help me—"
"Whom do you mean?" I stammered out.
"Lillian, you blind beetle."
I dropped his arm—"Never, as I live!"
He started back, and burst into a horse-laugh.
"Hullo! my eye and Betty Martin! You don't mean to say that I have the honour of finding a rival in my talented cousin?"
I made no answer.
"Come, come, my dear fellow, this is too ridiculous. You and I are very good friends, and we may help each other, if we choose, like kith and kin in this here wale. So if you're fool enough to quarrel with me, I warn you I'm not fool enough to return the compliment. Only" (lowering his voice), "just bear one little thing in mind—that I am, unfortunately, of a somewhat determined humour; and if folks will get in my way, why it's not my fault if I drive over them. You understand? Well, if you intend to be sulky, I don't. So good morning, till you feel yourself better."
And he turned gaily down a side-street and disappeared, looking taller, handsomer, manfuller than ever.
I returned home miserable; I now saw in my cousin not merely a rival, but a tyrant; and I began to hate him with that bitterness which fear alone can inspire. The eleven pounds still remained unpaid. Between three and four pounds was the utmost which I had been able to hoard up that autumn, by dint of scribbling and stinting; there was no chance of profit from my book for months to come—if indeed it ever got published, which I hardly dare believe it would; and I knew him too well to doubt that neither pity nor delicacy would restrain him from using his power over me, if I dared even to seem an obstacle in his way.
I tried to write, but could not. I found it impossible to direct my thoughts, even to sit still; a vague spectre of terror and degradation crushed me. Day after day I sat over the fire, and jumped up and went into the shop, to find something which I did not want, and peep listlessly into a dozen books, one after the other, and then wander back again to the fireside, to sit mooning and moping, starting at that horrible incubus of debt—a devil which may give mad strength to the strong, but only paralyses the weak. And I was weak, as every poet is, more or less. There was in me, as I have somewhere read that there is in all poets, that feminine vein—a receptive as well as a creative faculty—which kept up in me a continual thirst after beauty, rest, enjoyment. And here was circumstance after circumstance goading me onward, as the gadfly did Io, to continual wanderings, never ceasing exertions; every hour calling on me to do, while I was only longing to be—to sit and observe, and fancy, and build freely at my own will. And then—as if this necessity of perpetual petty exertion was not in itself sufficient torment—to have that accursed debt—that knowledge that I was in a rival's power, rising up like a black wall before me, to cripple, and render hopeless, for aught I knew, the very exertions to which it compelled me! I hated the bustle—the crowds; the ceaseless roar of the street outside maddened me. I longed in vain for peace—for one day's freedom—to be one hour a shepherd-boy, and lie looking up at the blue sky, without a thought beyond the rushes that I was plaiting! "Oh! that I had wings as a dove!—then would I flee away, and be at rest!"—
And then, more than once or twice either, the thoughts of suicide crossed me; and I turned it over, and looked at it, and dallied with it, as a last chance in reserve. And then the thought of Lillian came, and drove away the fiend. And then the thought of my cousin came, and paralysed me again; for it told me that one hope was impossible. And then some fresh instance of misery or oppression forced itself upon me, and made me feel the awful sacredness of my calling, as a champion of the poor, and the base cowardice of deserting them for any selfish love of rest. And then I recollected how I had betrayed my suffering brothers.—How, for the sake of vanity and patronage, I had consented to hide the truth about their rights—their wrongs. And so on through weary weeks of moping melancholy—"a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways?"
At last, Mackaye, who, as I found afterwards, had been watching all along my altered mood, contrived to worm my secret out of me. I had dreaded, that whole autumn, having to tell him the truth, because I knew that his first impulse would be to pay the money instantly out of his own pocket; and my pride, as well as my sense of justice, revolted at that, and sealed my lips. But now this fresh discovery—the knowledge that it was not only in my cousin's power to crush me, but also his interest to do so—had utterly unmanned me; and after a little innocent and fruitless prevarication, out came the truth with tears of bitter shame.
The old man pursed up his lips, and, without answering me, opened his table drawer, and commenced fumbling among accounts and papers.
"No! no! no! best, noblest of friends! I will not burden you with the fruits of my own vanity and extravagance. I will starve, go to gaol sooner than take your money. If you offer it me I will leave the house, bag and baggage, this moment." And I rose to put my threat into execution.
"I havena at present ony sic intention," answered he, deliberately, "seeing that there's na necessity for paying debits twice owre, when ye ha' the stampt receipt for them." And he put into my hands, to my astonishment and rapture, a receipt in full for the money, signed by my cousin.
Not daring to believe my own eyes, I turned it over and over, looked at it, looked at him—there was nothing but clear, smiling assurance in his beloved old face, as he twinkled, and winked, and chuckled, and pulled off his spectacles, and wiped them, and put them on upside-down; and then relieved himself by rushing at his pipe, and cramming it fiercely with tobacco till he burst the bowl.
Yes; it was no dream!—the money was paid, and I was free! The sudden relief was as intolerable as the long burden had been; and, like a prisoner suddenly loosed from off the rack, my whole spirit seemed suddenly to collapse, and I sank with my head upon the table to faint even for gratitude.
* * * * *
But who was my benefactor? Mackaye vouchsafed no answer, but that I "suld ken better than he." But when he found that I was really utterly at a loss to whom to attribute the mercy, he assured me, by way of comfort, that he was just as ignorant as myself; and at last, piecemeal, in his circumlocutory and cautious Scotch method, informed me, that some six weeks back he had received an anonymous letter, "a'thegither o' a Belgravian cast o' phizog," containing a bank note for twenty pounds, and setting forth the writer's suspicions that I owed my cousin money, and their desire that Mr. Mackaye, "o' whose uprightness and generosity they were pleased to confess themselves no that ignorant," should write to George, ascertain the sum, and pay it without my knowledge, handing over the balance, if any, to me, when he thought fit—"Sae there's the remnant—aucht pounds, sax shillings, an' saxpence; tippence being deduckit for expense o' twa letters anent the same transaction."
"But what sort of handwriting was it?" asked I, almost disregarding the welcome coin.
"Ou, then—aiblins a man's, aiblins a maid's. He was no chirographosophic himsel—an' he had na curiosity anent ony sic passage o' aristocratic romance."
"But what was the postmark of the letter?"
"Why for suld I speired? Gin the writers had been minded to be beknown, they'd ha' sign't their names upon the document. An' gin they didna sae intend, wad it be coorteous o' me to gang speiring an' peering ower covers an' seals?"
"But where is the cover?"
"Ou, then," he went on, with the same provoking coolness, "white paper's o' geyan use, in various operations o' the domestic economy. Sae I just tare it up—aiblins for pipe-lights—I canna mind at this time."
"And why," asked I, more vexed and disappointed than I liked to confess—"why did you not tell me before?"
"How wad I ken that you had need o't? An' verily, I thocht it no that bad a lesson for ye, to let ye experiment a towmond mair on the precious balms that break the head—whereby I opine the Psalmist was minded to denote the delights o' spending borrowed siller."
There was nothing more to be extracted from him; so I was fain to set to work again (a pleasant compulsion truly) with a free heart, eight pounds in my pocket, and a brainful of conjectures. Was it the dean? Lord Lynedale? or was it—could it be—Lillian herself? That thought was so delicious that I made up my mind, as I had free choice among half a dozen equally improbable fancies, to determine that the most pleasant should be the true one; and hoarded the money, which I shrunk from spending as much as I should from selling her miniature or a lock of her beloved golden hair. They were a gift from her—a pledge—the first fruits of—I dare not confess to myself what.
Whereat the reader will smile, and say, not without reason, that I was fast fitting myself for Bedlam; if, indeed, I had not proved my fitness for it already, by paying the tailors' debts, instead of my own, with the ten pounds which Farmer Porter had given me. I am not sure that he would not be correct; but so I did, and so I suffered.
A TRUE NOBLEMAN.
At last my list of subscribers was completed, and my poems actually in the press. Oh! the childish joy with which I fondled my first set of proofs! And how much finer the words looked in print than they ever did in manuscript!—One took in the idea of a whole page so charmingly at a glance, instead of having to feel one's way through line after line, and sentence after sentence.—There was only one drawback to my happiness—Mackaye did not seem to sympathize with it. He had never grumbled at what I considered, and still do consider, my cardinal offence, the omission of the strong political passages; he seemed, on the contrary, in his inexplicable waywardness, to be rather pleased at it than otherwise. It was my publishing at all at which he growled.
"Ech," he said, "owre young to marry, is owre young to write; but it's the way o' these puir distractit times. Nae chick can find a grain o' corn, but oot he rins cackling wi' the shell on his head, to tell it to a' the warld, as if there was never barley grown on the face o' the earth before. I wonder whether Isaiah began to write before his beard was grown, or Dawvid either? He had mony a long year o' shepherding an' moss-trooping, an' rugging an' riving i' the wilderness, I'll warrant, afore he got thae gran' lyrics o' his oot o' him. Ye might tak example too, gin ye were minded, by Moses, the man o' God, that was joost forty years at the learning o' the Egyptians, afore he thocht gude to come forward into public life, an' then fun' to his gran' surprise, I warrant, that he'd begun forty years too sune—an' then had forty years mair, after that, o' marching an' law-giving, an' bearing the burdens o' the people, before he turned poet."
"Poet, sir! I never saw Moses in that light before."
"Then ye'll just read the 90th Psalm—'the prayer o' Moses, the man o' God'—the grandest piece o' lyric, to my taste, that I ever heard o' on the face o' God's earth, an' see what a man can write that'll have the patience to wait a century or twa before he rins to the publisher's. I gie ye up fra' this moment; the letting out o' ink is like the letting out o' waters, or the eating o' opium, or the getting up at public meetings.—When a man begins he canna stop. There's nae mair enslaving lust o' the flesh under the heaven than that same furor scribendi, as the Latins hae it."
But at last my poems were printed, and bound, and actually published, and I sat staring at a book of my own making, and wondering how it ever got into being! And what was more, the book "took," and sold, and was reviewed in People's journals, and in newspapers; and Mackaye himself relaxed into a grin, when his oracle, the Spectator, the only honest paper, according to him, on the face of the earth, condescended, after asserting its impartiality by two or three searching sarcasms, to dismiss me, grimly-benignant, with a paternal pat on the shoulder. Yes—I was a real live author at last, and signed myself, by special request, in the * * * * Magazine, as "the author of Songs of the Highways." At last it struck me, and Mackaye too, who, however he hated flunkeydom, never overlooked an act of discourtesy, that it would be right for me to call upon the dean, and thank him formally for all the real kindness he had shown me. So I went to the handsome house off Harley-street, and was shown into his study, and saw my own book lying on the table, and was welcomed by the good old man, and congratulated on my success, and asked if I did not see my own wisdom in "yielding to more experienced opinions than my own, and submitting to a censorship which, however severe it might have appeared at first, was, as the event proved, benignant both in its intentions and effects?"
And then I was asked, even I, to breakfast there the next morning. And I went, and found no one there but some scientific gentlemen, to whom I was introduced as "the young man whose poems we were talking of last night." And Lillian sat at the head of the table, and poured out the coffee and tea. And between ecstasy at seeing her, and the intense relief of not finding my dreaded and now hated cousin there, I sat in a delirium of silent joy, stealing glances at her beauty, and listening with all my ears to the conversation, which turned upon the new-married couple.
I heard endless praises, to which I could not but assent in silence, of Lord Ellerton's perfections. His very personal appearance had been enough to captivate my fancy; and then they went on to talk of his magnificent philanthropic schemes, and his deep sense, of the high duties of a landlord; and how, finding himself, at his father's death, the possessor of two vast but neglected estates, he had sold one in order to be able to do justice to the other, instead of laying house to house, and field to field, like most of his compeers, "till he stood alone in the land, and there was no place left;" and how he had lowered his rents, even though it had forced him to put down the ancestral pack of hounds, and live in a corner of the old castle; and how he was draining, claying, breaking up old moorlands, and building churches, and endowing schools, and improving cottages; and how he was expelling the old ignorant bankrupt race of farmers, and advertising everywhere for men of capital, and science, and character, who would have courage to cultivate flax and silk, and try every species of experiment; and how he had one scientific farmer after another, staying in his house as a friend; and how he had numbers of his books rebound in plain covers, that he might lend them to every one on his estate who wished to read them; and how he had thrown open his picture gallery, not only to the inhabitants of the neighbouring town, but what (strange to say) seemed to strike the party as still more remarkable, to the labourers of his own village; and how he was at that moment busy transforming an old unoccupied manor-house into a great associate farm, in which all the labourers were to live under one roof, with a common kitchen and dining-hall, clerks and superintendents, whom they were to choose, subject only to his approval, and all of them, from the least to the greatest, have their own interest in the farm, and be paid by percentage on the profits; and how he had one of the first political economists of the day staying with him, in order to work out for him tables of proportionate remuneration, applicable to such an agricultural establishment; and how, too, he was giving the spade-labour system a fair-trial, by laying out small cottage-farms, on rocky knolls and sides of glens, too steep to be cultivated by the plough; and was locating on them the most intelligent artisans whom he could draft from the manufacturing town hard by—
And at that notion, my brain grew giddy with the hope of seeing myself one day in one of those same cottages, tilling the earth, under God's sky, and perhaps—. And then a whole cloud-world of love, freedom, fame, simple, graceful country luxury steamed up across my brain, to end—not, like the man's in the "Arabian Nights," in my kicking over the tray of China, which formed the base-point of my inverted pyramid of hope—but in my finding the contents of my plate deposited in my lap, while I was gazing fixedly at Lillian.
I must say for myself, though, that such accidents happened seldom; whether it was bashfulness, or the tact which generally, I believe, accompanies a weak and nervous body, and an active mind; or whether it was that I possessed enough relationship to the monkey-tribe to make me a first-rate mimic, I used to get tolerably well through on these occasions, by acting on the golden rule of never doing anything which I had not seen some one else do first—a rule which never brought me into any greater scrape than swallowing something intolerably hot, sour, and nasty (whereof I never discovered the name), because I had seen the dean do so a moment before.
But one thing struck me through the whole of this conversation—the way in which the new-married Lady Ellerton was spoken of, as aiding, encouraging, originating—a helpmeet, if not an oracular guide, for her husband—in all these noble plans. She had already acquainted herself with every woman on the estate; she was the dispenser, not merely of alms—for those seemed a disagreeable necessity, from which Lord Ellerton was anxious to escape as soon as possible—but of advice, comfort, and encouragement. She not only visited the sick, and taught in the schools—avocations which, thank God, I have reason to believe are matters of course, not only in the families of clergymen, but those of most squires and noblemen, when they reside on their estates—but seemed, from the hints which I gathered, to be utterly devoted, body and soul, to the welfare of the dwellers on her husband's land.
"I had no notion," I dared at last to remark, humbly enough, "that Miss—Lady Ellerton cared so much for the people."
"Really! One feels inclined sometimes to wish that she cared for anything beside them," said Lillian, half to her father and half to me.
This gave a fresh shake to my estimate of that remarkable woman's character. But still, who could be prouder, more imperious, more abrupt in manner, harsh, even to the very verge of good-breeding? (for I had learnt what good-breeding was, from the debating society as well as from the drawing-room;) and, above all, had she not tried to keep me from Lillian? But these cloudy thoughts melted rapidly away in that sunny atmosphere of success and happiness, and I went home as merry as a bird, and wrote all the morning more gracefully and sportively, as I fancied, than I had ever yet done.
But my bliss did not end here. In a week or so, behold one morning a note—written, indeed, by the dean—but directed in Lillian's own hand, inviting me to come there to tea, that I might see a few, of the literary characters of the day.
I covered the envelope with kisses, and thrust it next my fluttering heart. I then proudly showed the note to Mackaye. He looked pleased, yet pensive, and then broke out with a fresh adaptation of his favourite song,
—and shovel hats and a' that— A man's a man for a' that.
"The auld gentleman is a man and a gentleman; an' has made a verra courteous, an' weel considerit move, gin ye ha' the sense to profit by it, an' no turn it to yer ain destruction."
"Ay—that's the word, an' nothing less, laddie!"
And he went into the outer shop, and returned with a volume of Bulwer's "Ernest Maltravers."
"What! are you a novel reader, Mr. Mackaye?"
"How do ye ken what I may ha' thocht gude to read in my time? Yell be pleased the noo to sit down an' begin at that page—an read, mark, learn, an' inwardly digest, the history of Castruccio Cesarini—an' the gude God gie ye grace to lay the same to heart."
I read that fearful story; and my heart sunk, and my eyes were full of tears, long ere I had finished it. Suddenly I looked up at Mackaye, half angry at the pointed allusion to my own case.
The old man was watching me intently, with folded hands, and a smile of solemn interest and affection worthy of Socrates himself. He turned his head as I looked up, but his lips kept moving. I fancied, I know not why, that he was praying for me.
THE TRIUMPHANT AUTHOR.
So to the party I went, and had the delight of seeing and hearing the men with whose names I had been long acquainted, as the leaders of scientific discovery in this wondrous age; and more than one poet, too, over whose works I had gloated, whom I had worshipped in secret. Intense was the pleasure of now realizing to myself, as living men, wearing the same flesh and blood as myself, the names which had been to me mythic ideas. Lillian was there among them, more exquisite than ever; but even she at first attracted my eyes and thoughts less than did the truly great men around her. I hung on every word they spoke, I watched every gesture, as if they must have some deep significance; the very way in which they drank their coffee was a matter of interest to me. I was almost disappointed to see them eat and chat like common men. I expected that pearls and diamonds would drop from their lips, as they did from those of the girl, in the fairy-tale, every time they opened their mouths; and certainly, the conversation that evening was a new world to me—though I could only, of course, be a listener. Indeed, I wished to be nothing more. I felt that I was taking my place there among the holy guild of authors—that I too, however humbly, had a thing to say, and had said it; and I was content to sit on the lowest step of the literary temple, without envy for those elder and more practised priests of wisdom, who had earned by long labour the freedom of the inner shrine. I should have been quite happy enough standing there, looking and listening—but I was at last forced to come forward. Lillian was busy chatting with grave, grey-headed men, who seemed as ready to flirt, and pet and admire the lovely little fairy, as if they had been as young and gay as herself. It was enough for me to see her appreciated and admired. I loved them for smiling on her, for handing her from her seat to the piano with reverent courtesy: gladly would I have taken their place: I was content, however, to be only a spectator; for it was not my rank, but my youth, I was glad to fancy, which denied me that blissful honour. But as she sang, I could not help stealing up to the piano; and, feasting my greedy eyes with every motion of those delicious lips, listen and listen, entranced, and living only in that melody.
Suddenly, after singing two or three songs, she began fingering the keys, and struck into an old air, wild and plaintive, rising and falling like the swell of an AEolian harp upon a distant breeze.
"Ah! now," she said, "if I could get words for that! What an exquisite lament somebody might write to it, if they could only thoroughly take in the feeling and meaning of it."
"Perhaps," I said, humbly, "that is the only way to write songs—to let some air get possession of ones whole soul, and gradually inspire the words for itself; as the old Hebrew prophets had music played before them, to wake up the prophetic spirit within them."
She looked up, just as if she had been unconscious of my presence till that moment.
"Ah! Mr. Locke!—well, if you understand my meaning so thoroughly, perhaps you will try and write some words for me."
"I am afraid that I do not enter sufficiently into the meaning of the air."
"Oh! then, listen while I play it over again. I am sure you ought to appreciate anything so sad and tender."
And she did play it, to my delight, over again, even more gracefully and carefully than before—making the inarticulate sounds speak a mysterious train of thoughts and emotions. It is strange how little real intellect, in women especially, is required for an exquisite appreciation of the beauties of music—perhaps, because it appeals to the heart and not the head.
She rose and left the piano, saying archly, "Now, don't forget your promise;" and I, poor fool, my sunlight suddenly withdrawn, began torturing my brains on the instant to think of a subject.
As it happened, my attention was caught by hearing two gentlemen close to me discuss a beautiful sketch by Copley Fielding, if I recollect rightly, which hung on the wall—a wild waste of tidal sands, with here and there a line of stake-nets fluttering in the wind—a grey shroud of rain sweeping up from the westward, through which low red cliffs glowed dimly in the rays of the setting sun—a train of horses and cattle splashing slowly through shallow desolate pools and creeks, their wet, red, and black hides glittering in one long line of level light.
They seemed thoroughly conversant with art; and as I listened to their criticisms, I learnt more in five minutes about the characteristics of a really true and good picture, and about the perfection to which our unrivalled English landscape-painters have attained, than I ever did from all the books and criticisms which I had read. One of them had seen the spot represented, at the mouth of the Dee, and began telling wild stories of salmon-fishing, and wildfowl shooting—and then a tale of a girl, who, in bringing her father's cattle home across the sands, had been caught by a sudden flow of the tide, and found next day a corpse hanging among the stake-nets far below. The tragedy, the art of the picture, the simple, dreary grandeur of the scenery, took possession of me; and I stood gazing a long time, and fancying myself pacing the sands, and wondering whether there were shells upon it—I had often longed for once only in my life to pick up shells—when Lady Ellerton, whom I had not before noticed, woke me from my reverie.
I took the liberty of asking after Lord Ellerton.
"He is not in town—he has stayed behind for one day to attend a great meeting of his tenantry—you will see the account in the papers to-morrow morning—he comes to-morrow." And as she spoke her whole face and figure seemed to glow and heave, in spite of herself, with pride and affection.
"And now, come with me, Mr. Locke—the * * * ambassador wishes to speak to you."
"The * * * ambassador!" I said, startled; for let us be as democratic as we will, there is something in the name of great officers which awes, perhaps rightly, for the moment, and it requires a strong act of self-possession to recollect that "a man's a man for a' that." Besides, I knew enough of the great man in question to stand in awe of him for his own sake, having lately read a panegyric of him, which perfectly astounded me, by its description of his piety and virtue, his family affection, and patriarchal simplicity, the liberality and philanthropy of all his measures, and the enormous intellectual powers, and stores of learning, which enabled him, with the affairs of Europe on his shoulders, to write deeply and originally on the most abstruse questions of theology, history, and science.
Lady Ellerton seemed to guess my thoughts. "You need not be afraid of meeting an aristocrat, in the vulgar sense of the word. You will see one who, once perhaps as unknown as yourself, has risen by virtue and wisdom to guide the destinies of nations—and shall I tell you how? Not by fawning and yielding to the fancies of the great; not by compromising his own convictions to suit their prejudices—"
I felt the rebuke, but she went on—
"He owes his greatness to having dared, one evening, to contradict a crown-prince to his face, and fairly conquer him in argument, and thereby bind the truly royal heart to him for ever."
"There are few scions of royalty to whose favour that would be a likely path."
"True; and therefore the greater honour is due to the young student who could contradict, and the prince who could be contradicted."
By this time we had arrived in the great man's presence; he was sitting with a little circle round him, in the further drawing-room, and certainly I never saw a nobler specimen of humanity. I felt myself at once before a hero—not of war and bloodshed, but of peace and civilization; his portly and ample figure, fair hair and delicate complexion, and, above all, the benignant calm of his countenance, told of a character gentle and genial—at peace with himself and all the world; while the exquisite proportion of his chiselled and classic features, the lofty and ample brain, and the keen, thoughtful eye, bespoke, at the first glance, refinement and wisdom—