M. Lupot went to and fro—from the reception-room to the bed-chamber, and back again—he smiled, he bowed, and rubbed his hands. But the new-comers, who had not come to his house to see him smile and rub his hands, began to say, in very audible whispers, "Ah, well, do people pass the whole night here looking at each other? Very delightful—very!"
M. Lupot has tried to start a conversation with a big man in spectacles, with a neckcloth of great dimensions, and who makes extraordinary faces as he looks round on the company. M. Lupot has been told, that the gentleman with the large neckcloth is a literary man, and that he will probably be good enough to read or recite some lines of his own composition. The ancient stationer coughs three times before venturing to address so distinguished a character, but says at last—"Enchanted to see at my house a gentleman so—an author of such——"
"Ah, you're the host here, are you?—the master of the house?"—said the man in the neckcloth.
"I flatter myself I am—with my wife, of course—the lady on the sofa—you see her? My daughter, sir—she's the tall young lady, so upright in her figure. She designs, and has an excellent touch on the piano. I have a son also—a little fiend—it was he who crept this minute between my legs—he's an extraordinary clev——"
"There is one thing, sir," replied the big man, "that I can't comprehend—a thing that amazes me—and that is, that people who live in the Rue Grenetat should give parties. It is a miserable street—a horrid street—covered eternally with mud—choked up with cars—a wretched part of the town, dirty, noisy, pestilential—bah!"
"And yet, sir, for thirty years I have lived here."
"Oh Lord, sir, I should have died thirty times over! When people live in the Rue Grenetat they should give up society, for you'll grant it is a regular trap to seduce people into such an abominable street. I"——
M. Lupot gave up smiling and rubbing his hands. He moves off from the big man in the spectacles, whose conversation had by no means amused him, and he goes up to a group of young people who seem examining the Belisarius of Mademoiselle Celanire.
"They're admiring my daughter's drawing," said M. Lupot to himself; "I must try to overhear what these artists are saying." The young people certainly made sundry remarks on the performance, plentifully intermixed with sneers of a very unmistakable kind.
"Can you make out what the head is meant for?"
"Not I. I confess I never saw any thing so ridiculous."
"It's Belisarius, my dear fellow."
"Impossible!—it's the portrait of some grocer, some relation, probably, of the family—look at the nose—the mouth—"
"It is intolerable folly to put a frame to such a daub."
"They must be immensely silly."
"Why, it isn't half so good as the head of the Wandering Jew at the top of a penny ballad."
M. Lupot has heard enough. He slips off from the group without a word, and glides noiselessly to the piano. The young performer who had sacrificed a great concert to come to his soiree, had sat down to the instrument and run his fingers over the notes.
"What a spinnet!" he cried—"what a wretched kettle! How can you expect a man to perform on such a miserable instrument? The thing is absurd—hear this A—hear this G—it's like a hurdygurdy—not one note of it in tune!" But the performer stayed at the piano notwithstanding, and played incessantly, thumping the keys with such tremendous force, that every minute a chord snapped; when such a thing happened—he burst into a laugh, and said, "Good! there's another gone—there will soon be none left."
M. Lupot flushed up to the ears. He felt very much inclined to say to the celebrated performer, "Sir, I didn't ask you here to break all the chords of my piano. Let the instrument alone if you don't like it, but don't hinder other people from playing on it for our amusement."
But the good M. Lupot did not venture on so bold a speech, which would have been a very sensible speech nevertheless; and he stood quietly while his chords were getting smashed, though it was by no means a pleasant thing to do.
Mademoiselle Celanire goes up to her father. She is distressed at the way her piano is treated; she has no opportunity of playing her air; but she hopes to make up for it by singing a romance, which one of their old neighbours is going to accompany on the guitar.
It is not without some difficulty that M. Lupot obtains silence for his daughter's song. At sight of the old neighbour and his guitar a smothered laugh is visible in the assembly. It is undeniable that the gentleman is not unlike a respectable Troubadour with a barrel organ, and that his guitar is like an ancient harp. There is great curiosity to hear the old gentleman touch his instrument. He begins by beating time with his feet and his head, which latter movement gives him very much the appearance of a mandarin that you sometimes see on a mantelpiece. Nevertheless Mademoiselle Lupot essays her ballad; but she can never manage to overtake her accompanier, who, instead of following the singer, seems determined to make no alteration in the movement of his head and feet. The ballad is a failure—Celanire is confused, she has mistaken her notes—she loses her recollection; and, instead of hearing his daughter's praises, M. Lupot overhears the young people whispering—"It wouldn't do in a beer-shop."
"I must order in the tea," thought the ex-stationer—"it will perhaps put them into good-humour."
And M. Lupot rushes off to give instructions to the maid; and that old individual, who has never seen such a company before, does not know how to get on, and breaks cups and saucers without mercy, in the effort to make haste.
"Nannette, have you got ready the other things you were to bring in with the tea?—the muffins—the cakes?"
"Yes, sir"—replied Nannette—"all is ready—every thing will be in in a moment."
"But there is another thing I told you, Nannette—the sandwiches."
"The witches, sir?—the sand?"—enquired the puzzled Nannette.
"It is an English dish—I explained it to you before—slices of bread and butter, with ham between."
"Oh la, sir!" exclaimed the maid—"I have forgotten that ragout—oh dear!"
"Well—make haste, Nannette; get ready some immediately, while my daughter hands round the tea and muffins—you can bring them in on a tray."
The old domestic hurries into the kitchen grumbling at the English dainty, and cuts some slices of bread and covers them with butter; but as she had never thought of the ham, she cogitates a long time how she can supply the want of it—at last, on looking round, she discovers a piece of beef that had been left at dinner.
"Pardieu," she says, "I'll cut some lumps of this and put them on the bread. With plenty of salt they'll pass very well for ham—they'll drive me wild with their English dishes—they will."
The maid speedily does as she says, and then hurries into the room with a tray covered with her extempore ham sandwiches.
Every body takes one,—for they have grown quite fashionable along with tea. But immediately there is an universal murmur in the assembly. The ladies throw their slices into the fire, the gentlemen spit theirs on the furniture, and they cry—"why the devil do people give us things like these?—they're detestable."
"It's my opinion, God forgive me! the man means to feed us with scraps from the pig-trough," says another.
"It's a regular do, this soiree," says a third.
"The tea is disgustingly smoked," says a fourth.
"And all the little cakes look as if they had been fingered before," says the fifth.
"Decidedly they wish to poison us," says the big man in the neckcloth, looking very morose.
M. Lupot is in despair. He goes in search of Nannette, who has hidden herself in the kitchen; and he busies himself in gathering up the fragments of the bread and butter from the floor and the fireplace.
Madame Lupot says nothing; but she is in very bad humour, for she has put on a new cap, which she felt sure would be greatly admired; and a lady has come to her and said—
"Ah, madame, what a shocking head-dress!—your cap is very old-fashioned—those shapes are quite gone out."
"And yet, madame," replies Madame Lupot, "I bought it, not two days ago, in the Rue St Martin."
"Well, madame—Is that the street you go to for the fashions? Go to Mademoiselle Alexina Larose Carrefous Gaillon—you'll get delicious caps there—new fashions and every thing so tasteful: for Heaven's sake, madame, never put on that cap again. You look, at least, a hundred."
"It's worth one's while, truly," thought Madame Lupot, "to tire one's self to death receiving people, to be treated to such pretty compliments."
Her husband, in the meanwhile, continued his labours in pursuit of the rejected sandwiches.
The big man in spectacles, who wondered that people could live in the Rue Grenetat, had no idea, nevertheless, of coming there for nothing. He has seated himself in an arm-chair in the middle of the room, and informs the company that he is going to repeat a few lines of his own to them.—The society seems by no means enchanted with the announcement, but forms itself in a circle, to listen to the poet. He coughs and spits, wipes his mouth, tales a pinch of snuff, sneezes, has the lamps raised, the doors shut, asks a tumbler of sugar and water, and passes his hand through his hair. After continuing these operations for some minutes, the literary man at last begins. He spouts his verses in a voice enough to break the glasses; before he has spoken a minute, he has presented a tremendous picture of crimes, and deaths, and scaffolds, sufficient to appal the stoutest hearts, when suddenly a great crash from the inner room attracts universal attention. It is the young Ascanius, who was trying to get a muffin on the top of a pile of dishes, and has upset the table, with muffin, and dishes, and all on his own head. M. Lupot runs off to ascertain the cause of the dreadful cries of his son; the company follow him, not a little rejoiced to find an excuse for hearing no more of the poem; and the poet, deprived in this way of an audience, gets up in a furious passion, takes his hat, and rushes from the room, exclaiming—"It serves me right. How could I have been fool enough to recite good verses in the Rue Grenetat!"
Ascanius is brought in and roars lustily, for two of the dishes have been broken on his nose; and as there is no chance now, either of poetry or music, the party have recourse to cards—for it is impossible to sit all night and do nothing.
They make up a table at bouillote, and another at ecarte. M. Lupot takes his place at the latter. He is forced to cover all the bets when his side refuses; and M. Lupot, who never played higher than shilling stakes in his life, is horrified when they tell him—"You must lay down fifteen francs to equal our stakes."
"Fifteen francs!" says M. Lupot, "what is the meaning of all this?"
"It means, that you must make up the stakes of your side, to what we have put down on this. The master of the house is always expected to make up the difference."
M. Lupot dare not refuse. He lays down his fifteen francs and loses them; next game the deficiency is twenty. In short, in less than half an hour, the ex-stationer loses ninety francs. His eyes start out of his head—he scarcely knows where he is; and to complete his misery, the opposite party, in lifting up the money they have won, upset one of the lamps he had borrowed from his neighbours, and smashed it into fifty pieces.
At last the hour of separation comes. The good citizen has been anxious for it for a long time. All his gay company depart, without even wishing good-night to the host who has exerted himself so much for their entertainment. The family of the Lupots are left alone; Madame, overcome with fatigue, and vexed because her cap had been found fault with; Celanire, with tears in her eyes, because her music and Belisarius had been laughed at; and Ascanius sick and ill, because he has nearly burst himself with cakes and muffins; M. Lupot was, perhaps, the unhappiest of all, thinking of his ninety francs and the broken lamp. Old Annette gathered up the crumbs of the sandwiches, and muttered—"Do they think people make English dishes to have them thrown into the corners of the room?"
"It's done," said M. Lupot; "I shall give no more soirees. I begin to think I was foolish in wishing to leave my own sphere. When people of the same class lark and joke each other, it's all very well; but when you meddle with your superiors, and they are uncivil, it hurts your feelings. Their mockery is an insult, and you don't get over it soon. My dear Celanire, I shall decidedly try to marry you to a stationer."
* * * * *
THE WORLD OF LONDON. SECOND SERIES. PART III.
THE ARISTOCRACIES OF LONDON LIFE.
The HEAVY SWELL was recorded in our last for the admiration and instruction of remote ages. When the nineteenth century shall be long out of date, and centuries in general out of their teens, posterity will revert to our delineation of the heavy swell with pleasure undiminished, through the long succession of ages yet to come; the macaroni, the fop, the dandy, will be forgotten, or remembered only in our graphic portraiture of the heavy swell. But the heavy swell is, after all, a harmless nobody. His curse, his besetting sin, his monomania, is vanity tinctured with pride: his weak point can hardly be called a crime, since it affects and injures nobody but himself, if, indeed, it can be said to injure him who glories in his vocation—who is the echo of a sound, the shadow of a shade.
The GENTILITY-MONGERS, on the contrary, are positively noxious to society, as well particular as general. There is a twofold or threefold iniquity in their goings-on; they sin against society, their families, and themselves; the whole business of their lives is a perversion of the text of Scripture, which commandeth us, "in whatever station we are, therewith to be content."
The gentility-monger is a family man, having a house somewhere in Marylebone, or Pancras parish. He is sometimes a man of independent fortune—how acquired, nobody knows; that is his secret, his mystery. He will let no one suppose that he has ever been in trade; because, when a man intends gentility-mongering, it must never be known that he has formerly carried on the tailoring, or the shipping, or the cheese-mongering, or the fish-mongering, or any other mongering than the gentility-mongering. His house is very stylishly furnished; that is to say, as unlike the house of a man of fashion as possible—the latter having only things the best of their kind, and for use; the former displaying every variety of extravagant gimcrackery, to impress you with a profound idea of combined wealth and taste, but which, to an educated eye and mind only, conveys a lively idea of ostentation. When you call upon a gentility-monger, a broad-shouldered, coarse, ungentlemanlike footman, in Aurora plushes, ushers you to a drawing-room, where, on tables round, and square, and hexagonal, are set forth jars, porcelain, china, and delft; shells, spars; stuffed parrots under bell-glasses; corals, minerals, and an infinity of trumpery, among which albums, great, small, and intermediate, must by no means be forgotten.
The room is papered with some splendacious pattern in blue and gold; a chandelier of imposing gingerbread depends from the richly ornamented ceiling; every variety of ottoman, lounger, settee, is scattered about, so that to get a chair involves the right-of-search question; the bell-pulls are painted in Poonah; there is a Brussels carpet of flaming colours, curtains with massive fringes, bad pictures in gorgeous frames; prints, after Ross, of her Majesty and Prince Albert, of course; and mezzotints of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, for whom the gentility-monger has a profound respect, and of whom he talks with a familiarity showing that it is not his fault, at least, if these exalted personages do not admit him to the honour of their acquaintance.
In fact, you see the drawing-room is not intended for sitting down in, and when the lady appears, you are inclined to believe she never sits down; at least the full-blown swell of that satin skirt seems never destined to the compression of a chair. The conversation is as usual—"Have you read the morning paper?"—meaning the Court Circular and fashionable intelligence; "do you know whether the Queen is at Windsor or Claremont, and how long her Majesty intends to remain; whether town is fuller than it was, or not so full; when the next Almacks' ball takes place; whether you were at the last drawing-room, and which of the fair debutantes you most admire; whether Tamburini is to be denied us next year?" with many lamentations touching the possible defection, as if the migrations of an opera thrush were of the least consequence to any rational creature—of course you don't say so, but lament Tamburini as if he were your father; "whether it is true that we are to have the two Fannies, Taglioni and Cerito, this season; and what a heaven of delight we shall experience from the united action of these twenty supernatural pettitoes." You needn't express yourself after this fashion, else you will shock miss, who lounges near you in an agony of affected rapture: you must sigh, shrug your shoulders, twirl your cane, and say "divine—yes—hope it may be so—exquisite—exquisite." This naturally leads you to the last new songs, condescendingly exhibited to you by miss, if you are somebody, (if nobody, miss does not appear;) you are informed that "My heart is like a pickled salmon" is dedicated to the Duchess of Mundungus, and thereupon you are favoured with sundry passages (out of Debrett) upon the intermarriages, &c., of that illustrious family; you are asked whether Bishop is the composer of "I saw her in a twinkling," and whether the minor is not fine? Miss tells you she has transposed it from G to C, as suiting her voice better—whereupon mamma acquaints you, that a hundred and twenty guineas for a harp is moderate, she thinks; you think so too, taking that opportunity to admire the harp, saying that you saw one exactly like it at Lord (any Lord that strikes you) So-and-So's, in St James's Square. This produces an invitation to dinner; and with many lamentations on English weather, and an eulogium on the climate of Florence, you pay your parting compliments, and take your leave.
At dinner you meet a claret-faced Irish absentee, whose good society is a good dinner, and who is too happy to be asked any where that a good dinner is to be had; a young silky clergyman, in black curled whiskers, and a white choker; one of the meaner fry of M.P.'s; a person who calls himself a foreign count; a claimant of a dormant peerage; a baronet of some sort, not above the professional; sundry propriety-faced people in yellow waistcoats, who say little, and whose social position you cannot well make out; half-a-dozen ladies of an uncertain age, dressed in grand style, with turbans of imposing tournure; and a young, diffident, equivocal-looking gent who sits at the bottom of the table, and whom you instinctively make out to be a family doctor, tutor, or nephew, with expectations. No young ladies, unless the young ladies of the family, appear at the dinner-parties of these gentility-mongers; because the motive of the entertainment is pride, not pleasure; and therefore prigs and frumps are in keeping, and young women with brains, or power of conversation, would only distract attention from the grand business of life, that is to say, dinner; besides, a seat at table here is an object, where the expense is great, and nobody is asked for his or her own sake, but for an object either of ostentation, interest, or vanity. Hospitality never enters into the composition of a gentility-monger: he gives a dinner, wine, and a shake of the hand, but does not know what the word welcome means: he says, now and then, to his wife "My dear, I think we must give a dinner;" a dinner is accordingly determined on, cards issued three weeks in advance, that you may be premeditatedly dull; the dinner is gorgeous to repletion, that conversation may be kept as stagnant as possible. Of those happy surprize invitations—those unexpected extemporaneous dinners, that as they come without thinking or expectation, so go off with eclat, and leave behind the memory of a cheerful evening—he has no idea; a man of fashion, whose place is fixed, and who has only himself to please, will ask you to a slice of crimped cod and a hash of mutton, without ceremony; and when he puts a cool bottle on the table, after a dinner that he and his friend have really enjoyed, will never so much as apologize with, "my dear sir, I fear you have had a wretched dinner," or "I wish I had known: I should have had something better." This affected depreciation of his hospitality he leaves to the gentility-monger, who will insist on cramming you with fish, flesh, and fowls, till you are like to burst; and then, by way of apology, get his guests to pay the reckoning in plethoric laudation of his mountains of victual.
If you wait in the drawing-room, kicking your heels for an hour after the appointed time, although you arrived to a minute, as every Christian does, you may be sure that somebody who patronizes the gentility-monger, probably the Honourable Mr Sniftky, is expected, and has not come. It is vain for you to attempt to talk to your host, hostess, or miss, who are absorbed, body and soul, in expectation of Honourable Sniftky; the propriety-faced people in the yellow waistcoats attitudinize in groups about the room, putting one pump out, drawing the other in, inserting the thumb gracefully in the arm-hole of the yellow waistcoats, and talking icicles; the young fellows play with a sprig of lily-of-the-valley in a button-hole—admire a flowing portrait of miss, asking one another if it is not very like—or hang over the back of a chair of one of the turbaned ladies, who gives good evening parties; the host receives a great many compliments upon one thing and another, from some of the professed diners-out, who take every opportunity of paying for their dinner beforehand; every body freezes with the chilling sensation of dinner deferred, and "curses, not loud but deep," are imprecated on the Honourable Sniftky. At last, a prolonged rat-tat-tat announces the arrival of the noble beast, the lion of the evening; the Honourable Sniftky, who is a junior clerk in the Foreign Office, is announced by the footman out of livery, (for the day,) and announces himself a minute after: he comes in a long-tailed coat and boots, to show his contempt for his entertainers, and mouths a sort of apology for keeping his betters waiting, which is received by the gentility-monger, his lady, and miss, with nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles of unqualified admiration and respect.
As the order of precedence at the house of a gentility-monger is not strictly understood, the host desires Honourable Sniftky to take down miss; and calling out the names of the other guests, like muster-master of the guards, pairs them, and sends them down to the dining-room, where you find the nephew, or family doctor, (or whatever he is,) who has inspected the arrangement of the table, already in waiting.
You take your place, not without that excess of ceremony that distinguishes the table of a gentility-monger; the Honourable Sniftky, ex-officio, takes his place between mamma and miss, glancing vacancy round the table, lest any body should think himself especially honoured by a fixed stare; covers are removed by the mob of occasional waiters in attendance, and white soup and brown soup, thick and heavy as judges of assize, go circuit.
Then comes hobnobbing, with an interlocutory dissertation upon a plateau, candelabrum, or some other superfluous machine, in the centre of the table. One of the professed diners-out, discovers for the twentieth time an inscription in dead silver on the pedestal, and enquires with well-affected ignorance whether that is a present; the gentility-monger asks the diner-out to wine, as he deserves, then enters into a long apologetical self-laudation of his exertions in behalf of the CANNIBAL ISLANDS, ABORIGINES, PROTECTION, AND BRITISH SUBJECT TRANSPORTATION SOCIETY, (some emigration crimping scheme, in short,) in which his humble efforts to diffuse civilization and promote Christianity, however unworthy, ("No, no!" from the diner-out,) gained the esteem of his fellow-labourers, and the approbation of his own con——"Shall I send you some fish, sir?" says the man at the foot of the table, addressing himself to the Honourable Sniftky, and cutting short the oration.
A monstrous salmon and a huge turbot are now dispensed to the hungry multitude; the gentility-monger has no idea that the biggest turbot is not the best; he knows it is the dearest, and that is enough for him; he would have his dishes like his cashbook, to show at a glance how much he has at his banker's. When the flesh of the guests has been sufficiently fishified, there is an interregnum, filled up with another circuit of wine, until the arrival of the pieces de resistance, the imitations of made dishes, and the usual etceteras. The conversation, meanwhile, is carried on in a staccato style; a touch here, a hit there, a miss almost every where; the Honourable Sniftky turning the head of mamma with affected compliments, and hobnobbing to himself without intermission. After a sufficiently tedious interval, the long succession of wasteful extravagance is cleared away with the upper tablecloth; the dowagers, at a look from our hostess, rise with dignity and decorously retire, miss modestly bringing up the rear—the man at the foot of the table with the handle of the door in one hand, and a napkin in the other, bowing them out.
Now the host sings out to the Honourable Sniftky to draw his chair closer and be jovial, as if people, after an oppressively expensive dinner, can be jovial to order. The wine goes round, and laudations go with it; the professed diners-out enquire the vintage; the Honourable Mr Sniftky intrenches himself behind a rampart of fruit dishes, speaking only when he is spoken to, and glancing inquisitively at the several speakers, as much as to say, "What a fellow you are, to talk;" the host essays a bon-mot, or tells a story bordering on the ideal, which he thinks is fashionable, and shows that he knows life; the Honourable Sniftky drinks claret from a beer-glass, and after the third bottle affects to discover his mistake, wondering what he could be thinking of; this produces much laughter from all save the professed diners-out, who dare not take such a liberty, and is the jest of the evening.
When the drinkers, drinkables, and talk are quite exhausted, the noise of a piano recalls to our bewildered recollections the ladies, and we drink their healths: the Honourable Sniftky, pretending that it is foreign-post night at the Foreign Office, walks off without even a bow to the assembled diners, the gentility-monger following him submissively to the door; then returning, tells us that he's sorry Sniftky's gone, he's such a good-natured fellow, while the gentleman so characterized gets into his cab, drives to his club, and excites the commiseration of every body there, by relating how he was bored with an old ruffian, who insisted upon his (Sniftky's) going to dinner in Bryanston Square; at which there are many "Oh's!" and "Ah's!" and "what could you expect?—Bryanston Square!—served you right."
In the mean time, the guests, relieved of the presence of the Honourable Sniftky, are rather more at their ease; a baronet (who was lord mayor, or something of that sort) waxes jocular, and gives decided indications of something like "how came you so;" the man at the foot of the table contradicts one of the diners-out, and is contradicted in turn by the baronet; the foreign count is in deep conversation with a hard-featured man, supposed to be a stockjobber; the clergyman extols the labours of the host in the matter of the Cannibal Islands' Aborigines Protection Society, in which his reverence takes an interest; the claimant of the dormant peerage retails his pedigree, pulling to pieces the attorney-general, who has expressed an opinion hostile to his pretensions.
In the mean time, the piano is joined by a harp, in musical solicitation of the company to join the ladies in the drawing-room; they do so, looking flushed and plethoric, sink into easy-chairs, sip tea, the younger beaux turning over, with miss, Books of Beauty and Keepsakes: at eleven, coaches and cabs arrive, you take formal leave, expressing with a melancholy countenance your sense of the delightfulness of the evening, get to your chambers, and forget, over a broiled bone and a bottle of Dublin stout, in what an infernal, prosy, thankless, stone-faced, yellow-waistcoated, unsympathizing, unintellectual, selfish, stupid set you have been condemned to pass an afternoon, assisting, at the ostentatious exhibition of vulgar wealth, where gulosity has been unrelieved by one single sally of wit, humour, good-nature, humanity, or charity; where you come without a welcome, and leave without a friend.
The whole art of the gentility-mongers of all sorts in London, and a fortiori of their wives and families, is to lay a tax upon social intercourse as nearly as possible amounting to a prohibition; their dinners are criminally wasteful, and sinfully extravagant to this end; to this end they insist on making price the test of what they are pleased to consider select society in their own sets, and they consequently cannot have a dance without guinea tickets nor a pic-nic without dozens of champagne. This shows their native ignorance and vulgarity more than enough; genteel people go upon a plan directly contrary, not merely enjoying themselves, but enjoying themselves without extravagance or waste: in this respect the gentility-mongers would do well to imitate people of fashion.
The exertions a gentility-monger will make, to rub his skirts against people above him; the humiliations, mortifications, snubbing, he will submit to, are almost incredible. One would hardly believe that a retired tradesman, of immense wealth, and enjoying all the respect that immense wealth will secure, should actually offer large sums of money to a lady of fashion, as an inducement to procure for him cards of invitation to her set, which he stated was the great object of his existence. Instead of being indignant at his presumption, the lady in question, pitying the poor man's folly, attempted to reason with him, assuring him with great truth that whatever might be his wealth, his power or desire of pleasing, he would be rendered unhappy and ridiculous, by the mere dint of pretension to a circle to which he had no legitimate claim, and advising him, as a friend, to attempt some more laudable and satisfactory ambition.
All this good advice was, however, thrown away; our gentility-monger persevered, contriving somehow to gain a passport to some of the outer circles of fashionable life; was ridiculed, laughed at, and honoured with the soubriquet (he was a pianoforte maker) of the Semi-Grand!
We know another instance, where two young men, engaged in trade in the city, took a splendid mansion at the West End, furnished it sumptuously, got some desperate knight or baronet's widow to give parties at their house, inviting whomsoever she thought proper, at their joint expense. It is unnecessary to say, the poor fellows succeeded in getting into good society, not indeed in the Court Circular, but in the—Gazette.
There is another class of gentility-mongers more to be pitied than the last; those, namely, who are endeavouring to "make a connexion," as the phrase is, by which they may gain advancement in their professions, and are continually on the look-out for introductions to persons of quality, their hangers-on and dependents. There is too much of this sort of thing among medical men in London, the family nature of whose profession renders connexion, private partiality, and personal favour, more essential to them than to others. The lawyer, for example, need not be a gentility-monger; he has only to get round attorneys, for the opportunity to show what he can do, when he has done this, in which a little toadying, "on the sly," is necessary—all the rest is easy. The court and the public are his judges; his powers are at once appreciable, his talent can be calculated, like the money in his pocket; he can now go on straight forward, without valuing the individual preference or aversion of any body.
But a profession where men make way through the whisperings of women, and an inexhaustible variety of sotto voce contrivances, must needs have a tendency to create a subserviency of spirit and of manner, which naturally directs itself into gentility-mongering: where realities, such as medical experience, reading, and skill, are remotely, or not at all, appreciable, we must take up with appearances; and of all appearances, the appearance of proximity to people of fashion is the most taking and seductive to people not of fashion. It is for this reason that a rising physician, if he happen to have a lord upon his sick or visiting list, never has done telling his plebeian patients the particulars of his noble case, which they swallow like almond milk, finding it an excellent placebo.
As it is the interest of a gentility-monger, and his constant practice, to be attended by a fashionable physician, in order that he may be enabled continually to talk of what Sir Henry thinks of this, and how Sir Henry objects to that, and the opinion of Sir Henry upon t'other, so it is the business of the struggling doctor to be a gentility-monger, with the better chance of becoming one day or other a fashionable physician. Acting on this principle, the poor man must necessarily have a house in a professional neighbourhood, which usually abuts upon a neighbourhood fashionable or exclusive; he must hire a carriage by the month, and be for ever stepping in and out of it, at his own door, keeping it purposely bespattered with mud to show the extent of his visiting acquaintance; he must give dinners to people "who may be useful," and be continually on the look-out for those lucky accidents which have made the fortunes, and, as a matter of course, the merit, of so many professional men.
He becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society, which gives him the chance of conversing with a lord, and the right of entering a lord's (the president's) house, which is turned into sandwich-shop four times a-year for his reception; this, being the nearest approach he makes to acquaintance with great personages, he values with the importance it deserves.
His servants, with famine legibly written on their bones, are assiduous and civil; his wife, though half-starved, is very genteel, and at her dinner parties burns candle-ends from the palace.
 In a wax-chandler's shop in Piccadilly, opposite St. James's Street, may be seen stumps, or, as the Scotch call them, doups of wax-lights, with the announcement "Candle-ends from Buckingham Palace." These are eagerly bought up by the gentility-mongers, who burn, or it may be, in the excess of their loyalty, eat them!
If you pay her a morning visit, you will have some such conversation as follows.
"Pray, Mr ——, is there any news to-day?"
"Great distress, I understand, throughout the country."
"Indeed—the old story, shocking—very.—Pray, have you heard the delightful news? The Princess-Royal has actually cut a tooth!"
"Yes, I assure you; and the sweet little royal love of a martyr has borne it like a hero."
"Positively, I assure you; Doctor Tryiton has just returned from a consultation with his friend Sir Henry, upon a particularly difficult case—Lord Scruffskin—case of elephantiasis I think they call it, and tells me that Sir Henry has arrives express from Windsor with the news."
"Do you think, Mr ——, there will be a general illumination?"
"Really, madam, I cannot say."
"There ought to be, [with emphasis.] You must know, Mr ——, Dr Tryiton has forwarded to a high quarter a beautifully bound copy of his work on ulcerated sore throat; he says there is a great analogy between ulcers of the throat and den—den—den—something, I don't know what—teething, in short. If nothing comes of it, Dr Tryiton, thank Heaven, can do without it; but you know, Mr ——, it may, on a future occasion, be useful to our family."
If there is, in the great world of London, one thing more spirit-sinking than another, it is to see men condemned, by the necessities of an overcrowded profession, to sink to the meannesses of pretension for a desperate accident by which they may insure success. When one has had an opportunity of being behind the scenes, and knowing what petty shifts, what poor expedients of living, what anxiety of mind, are at the bottom of all this empty show, one will not longer marvel that many born for better things should sink under the difficulties of their position, or that the newspapers so continually set forth the miserably unprovided for condition in which they so often are compelled to leave their families. To dissipate the melancholy that always oppresses us when constrained to behold the ridiculous antics of the gentility-mongers, which we chronicle only to endeavour at a reformation—let us contrast the hospitality of those who, with wiser ambition, keep themselves, as the saying is, "to themselves;" and, as a bright example, let us recollect our old friend Joe Stimpson.
Joe Stimpson is a tanner and leather-seller in Bermondsey, the architect of his own fortune, which he has raised to the respectable elevation of somewhere about a quarter of a million sterling. He is now in his seventy-second year, has a handsome house, without and pretension, overlooking his tanyard. He has a joke upon prospects, calling you to look from the drawing-room window at his tanpits, asking you if you ever saw any thing like that at the west end of the town; replying in the negative, Joe, chuckling, observes that it is the finest prospect he ever saw in his life, and although he has been admiring it for half a century, he has not done admiring it yet. Joe's capacity for the humorous may be judged of by this specimen; but in attention to business few can surpass him, while his hospitality can command a wit whenever he chooses to angle for one with a good dinner. He has a wife, a venerable old smiling lady in black silk, neat cap, and polished shoes; three daughters, unmarried; and a couple of sons, brought up, after the London fashion, to inherit their father's business, or, we might rather say, estate.
Why the three Miss Stimpsons remain unmarried, we cannot say, nor would it be decorous to enquire; but hearing them drop a hint now and then about visits, "a considerable time ago," to Brighthelmstone and Bath, we are led, however reluctantly in the case of ladies now evangelical, to conclude, their attention has formerly been directed to gentility-mongering at these places of fashionable resort; the tanyard acting as a repellent to husbands of a social position superior to their own, and their great fortunes operating in deterring worthy persons of their own station from addressing them; or being the means of inducing them to be too prompt with refusals, these amiable middle-aged young ladies are now "on hands," paying the penalty of one of the many curses that pride of wealth brings in its train. At present, however, their "affections are set on things above;" and, without meaning any thing disrespectful to my friend Joe Stimpson, Sarah, Harriet, and Susan Stimpson are certainly the three least agreeable members of the family. The sons are, like all other sons in the houses of their fathers, steady, business-like, unhappy, and dull; they look like fledged birds in the nest of the old ones, out of place; neither servants nor masters, their social position is somewhat equivocal, and having lived all their lives in the house of their father, seeing as he sees, thinking as he thinks, they can hardly be expected to appear more than a brace of immature Joe Stimpsons. They are not, it is true, tainted with much of the world's wickedness, neither have they its self-sustaining trials, its hopes, its fears, its honest struggles, or that experience which is gathered only by men who quit, when they can quit it, the petticoat string, and the paternal despotism of even a happy home. As for the old couple, time, although silvering the temples and furrowing the front, is hardly seen to lay his heavy hand upon the shoulder of either, much less to put his finger on eyes, ears, or lips—the two first being yet as "wide awake," and the last as open to a joke, or any other good thing, as ever they were; in sooth, it is no unpleasing sight to see this jolly old couple with nearly three half centuries to answer for, their affection unimpaired, faculties unclouded, and temper undisturbed by the near approach, beyond hope of respite, of that stealthy foe whose assured advent strikes terror to us all. Joe Stimpson, if he thinks of death at all, thinks of him as a pitiful rascal, to be kicked down stairs by the family physician; the Bible of the old lady is seldom far from her hand, and its consolations are cheering, calming, and assuring. The peevish fretfulness of age has nothing in common with man or wife, unless when Joe, exasperated with his evangelical daughters' continual absence at the class-meetings, and love-feasts, and prayer-meetings, somewhat indignantly complains, that "so long as they can get to heaven, they don't care who goes to ——," a place that Virgil and Tasso have taken much pains in describing, but which the old gentleman sufficiently indicates by one emphatic monosyllable.
Joe is a liberal-minded man, hates cant and humbug, and has no prejudices—hating the French he will not acknowledge is a prejudice, but considers the bounden duty of an Englishman; and, though fierce enough upon other subjects of taxation, thinks no price too high for drubbing them. He was once prevailed upon to attempt a journey to Paris; but having got to Calais, insisted upon returning by the next packet, swearing it was a shabby concern, and he had seen enough of it.
He takes in the Gentleman's Magazine, because his father did it before him—but he never reads it; he takes pride in a corpulent dog, which is ever at his heels; he is afflicted with face-ache, and swears at any body who calls it tic-douloureux.
When you go to dine with him, you are met at the door by a rosy-checked lass, with ribands in her cap, who smiles a hearty welcome, and assures you, though an utter stranger, of the character of the house and its owner. You are conducted to the drawing-room, a plain, substantial, honest-looking apartment; there you find the old couple, and are received with a warmth that gives assurance of the nearest approach to what is understood by home. The sons, released from business, arrive, shake you heartily by the hand, and are really glad to see you; of the daughters we say nothing, as there is nothing in them.
The other guests of the day come dropping in—all straightforward, business-like, free, frank-hearted fellows—aristocrats of wealth, the best, because the unpretending, of their class; they come, too, before their time, for they know their man, and that Joe Stimpson keeps nobody waiting for nobody. When the clock—for here is no gong—strikes five, you descend to dinner; plain, plentiful, good, and well dressed; no tedious course, with long intervals between; no oppressive set-out of superfluous plate, and what, perhaps, is not the least agreeable accessory, no piebald footmen hanging over your chair, whisking away your plate before you have done with it, and watching every bit you put into your mouth.
Your cherry-cheeked friend and another, both in the family from childhood, (another good sign of the house,) and looking as if they really were glad—and so they are—to have an opportunity of obliging you, do the servitorial offices of the table; you are sure of a glass of old sherry, and you may call for strong beer, or old port, with your cheese—or, if a Scotchman, for a dram—without any other remark than an invitation to "try it again, and make yourself comfortable."
After dinner, you are invited, as a young man, to smoke a cigar with the "boys," as Joe persists in calling them. You ascend to a bed-room, and are requested to keep your head out o' window while smoking, lest the "Governor" should snuff the fumes when he comes up stairs to bed: while you are "craning" your neck, the cherry-cheeked lass enters with brandy and water, and you are as merry and easy as possible. The rest of the evening passes away in the same unrestrained interchange of friendly courtesy; nor are you permitted to take your leave without a promise to dine on the next Sunday or holiday—Mrs Stimpson rating you for not coming last Easter Sunday, and declaring she cannot think "why young men should mope by themselves, when she is always happy to see them."
Honour to Joe Stimpson and his missus! They have the true ring of the ancient coin of hospitality; none of your hollow-sounding raps: they know they have what I want, a home, and they will not allow me, at their board, to know that I want one: they compassionate a lonely, isolated man, and are ready to share with him the hearty cheer and unaffected friendliness of their English fireside: they know that they can get nothing by me, nor do they ever dream of an acknowledgment for their kindness; but I owe them for many a social day redeemed from cheerless solitude; many an hour of strenuous labour do I owe to the relaxation of the old wainscotted dining-room at Bermondsey.
Honour to Joe Stimpson, and to all who are satisfied with their station, happy in their home, have no repinings after empty sounds of rank and shows of life; and who extend the hand of friendly fellowship to the homeless, because they have no home!
THE ARISTOCRACY OF TALENT.
"There is a quantity of talent latent among men, ever rising to the level of the great occasions that call it forth."
This illustration, borrowed by Sir James Mackintosh from chemical science, and so happily applied, may serve to indicate the undoubted truth, that talent is a growth as much as a gift; that circumstances call out and develop its latent powers; that as soil, flung upon the surface from the uttermost penetrable depths of earth, will be found to contain long-dormant germs of vegetable life, so the mind of man, acted upon by circumstances, will ever be found equal to a certain sum of production—the amount of which will be chiefly determined by the force and direction of the external influence which first set it in motion.
The more we reflect upon this important subject, we shall find the more, that external circumstances have an influence upon intellect, increasing in an accumulating ratio; that the political institutions of various countries have their fluctuating and contradictory influences; that example controls in a great degree intellectual production, causing after-growths, as it were, of the first luxuriant crop of masterminds, and giving a character and individuality to habits of thought and modes of expression; in brief, that great occasions will have great instruments, and there never was yet a noted time that had not noted men. Dull, jog-trot, money-making, commercial times will make, if they do not find, dull, jog-trot, money-making, commercial men: in times when ostentation and expense are the measures of respect, when men live rather for the world's opinion than their own, poverty becomes not only the evil but the shame, not only the curse but the disgrace, and will be shunned by every man as a pestilence; every one will fling away immortality, to avoid it; will sink, as far as he can, his art in his trade; and he will be the greatest genius who can turn most money.
It may be urged that true genius has the power not only to take opportunities, but to make them: true, it may make such opportunities as the time in which it lives affords; but these opportunities will be great or small, noble or ignoble, as the time is eventful or otherwise. All depends upon the time, and you might as well have expected a Low Dutch epic poet in the time of the great herring fishery, as a Napoleon, a Demosthenes, a Cicero in this, by some called the nineteenth, but which we take leave to designate the "dot-and-carry-one" century. If a Napoleon were to arise at any corner of any London street, not five seconds would elapse until he would be "hooked" off to the station-house by Superintendent DOGSNOSE of the D division, with an exulting mob of men and boys hooting at his heels: if Demosthenes or Cicero, disguised as Chartist orators, mounting a tub at Deptford, were to Philippicize, or entertain this motley auditory with speeches against Catiline or Verres, straightway the Superintendent of the X division, with a posse of constables at his heels, dismounts the patriot orator from his tub, and hands him over to a plain-spoken business-like justice of the peace, who regards an itinerant Cicero in the same unsympathizing point of view with any other vagabond.
What is become of the eloquence of the bar? Why is it that flowery orators find no grist coming to their mills? How came it that, at Westminster Hall, Charles Philips missed his market? What is the reason, that if you step into the Queen's Bench, or Common Pleas, or Exchequer, you will hear no such thing as a speech—behold no such animal as an orator—only a shrewd, plain, hard-working, steady man, called an attorney-general, or a sergeant, or a leading counsel, quietly talking over a matter of law with the judge, or a matter of fact with the jury, like men of business as they are, and shunning, as they would a rattlesnake, all clap-trap arguments, figures, flowers, and the obsolete embroidery of rhetoric?
The days of romantic eloquence are fled—the great constitutional questions that called forth "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," from men like Erskine, are determined. Would you have men oratorical over a bottomry bond, Demosthenic about an action of trespass on the case, or a rule to compute?
To be sure, when Follett practised before committees of the House of Commons, and, by chance, any question involving points of interest and difficulty in Parliamentary law and practice came before the Court, there was something worth hearing: the opportunity drew out the man, and the orator stepped before the advocate. Even now, sometimes, it is quite refreshing to get a topic in these Courts worthy of Austin, and Austin working at it. But no man need go to look for orators in our ordinary courts of law; judgment, patience, reading, and that rare compound of qualities known and appreciated by the name of tact, tell with judges, and influence juries; the days of palaver are gone, and the talking heroes extinguished for ever.
All this is well known in London; but the three or four millions (it may be five) of great men, philosophers, poets, orators, patriots, and the like, in the rural districts, require to be informed of this our declension from the heroics, in order to appreciate, or at least to understand, the modesty, sobriety, business-like character, and division of labour, in the vast amount of talent abounding in every department of life in London.
London overflows with talent. You may compare it, for the purpose of illustration, to one of George Robins' patent filters, into which pours turbid torrents of Thames water, its sediment, mud, dirt, weeds, and rottenness; straining through the various strata, its grosser particles are arrested in their course, and nothing that is not pure, transparent, and limpid is transmitted. In the great filter of London life, conceit, pretension, small provincial abilities, pseudo-talent, soi-disant intellect, are tried, rejected, and flung out again. True genius is tested by judgment, fastidiousness, emulation, difficulty, privation; and, passing through many ordeals, persevering, makes its way through all; and at length, in the fulness of time, flows forth, in acknowledged purity and refinement, upon the town.
There is a perpetual onward, upward tendency in the talent, both high and low, mechanical and intellectual, that abounds in London:
"Emulation hath a thousand sons,"
who are ever and always following fast upon your heels. There is no time to dawdle or linger on the road, no "stop and go on again:" if you but step aside to fasten your shoe-tie, your place is occupied—you are edged off, pushed out of the main current, and condemned to circle slowly in the lazy eddy of some complimenting clique. Thousands are to be found, anxious and able to take your place; while hardly one misses you, or turns his head to look after you should you lose your own: you live but while you labour, and are no longer remembered than while you are reluctant to repose.
Talent of all kinds brings forth perfect fruits, only when concentrated upon one object: no matter how versatile men may be, mankind has a wise and salutary prejudice against diffused talent; for although knowledge diffused immortalizes itself, diffused talent is but a shallow pool, glittering in the noonday sun, and soon evaporated; concentrated, it is a well, from whose depths perpetually may we draw the limpid waters. Therefore is the talent of London concentrated, and the division of labour minute. When we talk of a lawyer, a doctor, a man of letters, in a provincial place, we recognize at once a man who embraces all that his opportunities present him with, in whatever department of his profession. The lawyer is, at one and the same time, advocate, chamber counsel, conveyancer, pleader; the doctor an accoucheur, apothecary, physician, surgeon, dentist, or at least, in a greater or less degree, unites in his own person, these—in London, distinct and separate—professions, according as his sphere of action is narrow or extended; the country journalist is sometimes proprietor, editor, sub-editor, traveller, and canvasser, or two or more of these heterogeneous and incompatible avocations. The result is, an obvious, appreciable, and long-established superiority in that product which is the result of minutely divided labour.
The manufacture of a London watch or piano will employ, each, at least twenty trades, exclusive of the preparers, importers, and venders of the raw material used in these articles; every one of these tradesmen shall be nay, must be, the best of their class, or at least the best that can be obtained; and for this purpose, the inducements of high wages are held out to workmen generally, and their competition for employment enables the manufacturer to secure the most skilful. It is just the same with a broken-down constitution, or a lawsuit: the former shall be placed under the care of a lung-doctor, a liver-doctor, a heart-doctor, a dropsy-doctor, or whatever other doctor is supposed best able to understand the case; each of these doctors shall have read lectures and published books, and made himself known for his study and exclusive attention to one of the "thousand ills that flesh is heir to:" the latter shall go through the hands of dozens of men skilful in that branch of the law connected with the particular injury. So it is with every thing else of production, mechanical or intellectual, or both, that London affords: the extent of the market permits the minute division of labour, and the minute division of labour reacts upon the market, raising the price of its produce, and branding it with the signs of a legitimate superiority.
Hence the superior intelligence of working men, of all classes, high and low, in the World of London; hence that striving after excellence, that never-ceasing tendency to advance in whatever they are engaged in, that so distinguishes the people of this wonderful place; hence the improvements of to-day superseded by the improvements of to-morrow; hence speculation, enterprize, unknown to the inhabitants of less extended spheres of action.
Competition, emulation, and high wages give us an aristocracy of talent, genius, skill, tact, or whatever you like to call it; but you are by no means to understand that any of these aristocracies, or better classes, stand prominently before their fellows socially, or, that one is run after in preference to another; nobody runs after anybody in the World of London.
In this respect, no capital, no country on the face of the earth, resembles us; every where else you will find a leading class, giving a tone to society, and moulding it in some one or other direction; a predominating set, the pride of those who are in, the envy of those who are below it. There is nothing of this kind in London; here every man has his own set, and every man his proper pride. In every set, social or professional, there are great names, successful men, prominent; but the set is nothing the greater for them: no man sheds any lustre upon his fellows, nor is a briefless barrister a whit more thought of because he and Lyndhurst are of the same profession.
Take a look at other places: in money-getting places, you find society following, like so many dogs, the aristocracy of 'Change: every man knows the worth of every other man, that is to say, what he is worth.
A good man, elsewhere a relative term, is there a man good for so much; hats are elevated and bodies depressed upon a scale of ten thousand pounds to an inch; "I hope you are well," from one of the aristocracy of these places is always translated to mean, "I hope you are solvent," and "how d'ye do?" from another, is equivalent to "doing a bill."
Go abroad, to Rome for example—You are smothered beneath the petticoats of an ecclesiastical aristocracy. Go to the northern courts of Europe—You are ill-received, or perhaps not received at all, save in military uniform; the aristocracy of the epaulet meets you at every turn, and if you are not at least an ensign of militia, you are nothing. Make your way into Germany—What do you find there? an aristocracy of functionaries, mobs of nobodies living upon everybodies; from Herr Von, Aulic councillor, and Frau Von, Aulic councilloress, down to Herr Von, crossing-sweeper, and Frau Von, crossing-sweeperess—for the women there must be better-half even in their titles—you find society led, or, to speak more correctly, society consisting of functionaries, and they, every office son of them, and their wives—nay, their very curs—alike insolent and dependent. "Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart, see they bark at me!" There, to get into society, you must first get into a place: you must contrive to be the servant of the public before you are permitted to be the master: you must be paid by, before you are in a condition to despise, the canaille.
Passing Holland and Belgium as more akin to the genius of the English people, as respects the supremacy of honest industry, its independent exercise, and the comparative insignificance of aristocracies, conventionally so called, we come to FRANCE: there we find a provincial and a Parisian aristocracy—the former a servile mob of placemen, one in fifty, at least, of the whole population; and the latter—oh! my poor head, what a clanjaffrey of journalistes, feuilletonistes, artistes, dramatists, novelists, vaudivellistes, poets, literary ladies, lovers of literary ladies, hommes de lettres, claqueurs, litterateurs, gerants, censeurs, rapporteurs, and le diable boiteux verily knows what else!
These people, with whom, or at least with a great majority of whom, common sense, sobriety of thought, consistency of purpose, steady determination in action, and sound reasoning, are so sadly eclipsed by their vivacity, empressement, prejudice, and party zeal, form a prominent, indeed, the prominent aristocracy of the salons: and only conceive what must be the state of things in France, when we know that Paris acts upon the provinces, and that Paris is acted upon by this foolscap aristocracy, without station, or, what is perhaps worse, enjoying station without property; abounding in maddening and exciting influences, but lamentably deficient in those hard-headed, ungenius-like qualities of patience, prudence, charity, forbearance, and peace-lovings, of which their war-worn nation, more than any other in Europe, stands in need.
When, in the name of goodness, is the heart of the philanthropist to be gladdened with the desire of peace fulfilled over the earth? When are paltry family intrigues to cease, causing the blood of innocent thousands to be shed? When will the aristocracy of genius in France give over jingling, like castanets, their trashy rhymes "gloire" and "victoire," and apply themselves to objects worthy of creatures endowed with the faculty of reason? Or, if they must have fighting, if it is their nature, if the prime instinct with them is the thirst of human blood, how cowardly, how paltry, is it to hound on their fellow-countrymen to war with England, to war with Spain, to war with every body, while snug in their offices, doing their little best to bleed nations with their pen!
Why does not the foolscap aristocracy rush forth, inkhorn in hand, and restore the glories (as they call them) of the Empire, nor pause till they mend their pens victorious upon the brink of the Rhine.
To resume: the aristocracies of our provincial capitals are those of literature in the one, and lickspittling in the other: mercantile towns have their aristocracies of money, or muckworm aristocracies: Rome has an ecclesiastical—Prussia, Russia, military aristocracies: Germany, an aristocracy of functionaries: France has two, or even three, great aristocracies—the military, place-hunting, and foolscap.
Now, then, attend to what we are going to say: London is cursed with no predominating, no overwhelming, no characteristic aristocracy. There is no set or clique of any sort or description of men that you can point to, and say, that's the London set. We turn round and desire to be informed what set do you mean: every salon has its set, and every pot-house its set also; and the frequenters of each set are neither envious of the position of the other, nor dissatisfied with their own: the pretenders to fashion, or hangers-on upon the outskirts of high life, are alone the servile set, or spaniel set, who want the proper self-respecting pride which every distinct aristocracy maintains in the World of London.
We are a great firmament, a moonless azure, glowing with stars of all magnitudes, and myriads of nebulae of no magnitudes at all: we move harmoniously in our several orbits, minding our own business, satisfied with our position, thinking, it may be, with harmless vanity, that we bestow more light upon earth than any ten, and that the eyes of all terrestrial stargazers are upon us. Adventurers, pretenders, and quacks, are our meteors, our aurorae, our comets, our falling-stars, shooting athwart our hemisphere, and exhaling into irretrievable darkness: our tuft-hunters are satellites of Jupiter, invisible to the naked eye: our clear frosty atmosphere that sets us all a-twinkling is prosperity, and we, too have our clouds that hide us from the eyes of men. The noonday of our own bustling time beholds us dimly; but posterity regards us as it were from the bottom of a well. Time, that exact observer, applies his micrometer to every one of us, determining our rank among celestial bodies without appeal and from time to time enrolling in his ephemeris such new luminaries as may be vouchsafed to the long succession of ages.
If there is one thing that endears London to men of superior order—to true aristocrats, no matter of what species, it is that universal equality of outward condition, that republicanism of everyday life, which pervades the vast multitudes who hum, and who drone, who gather honey, and who, without gathering, consume the products of this gigantic hive. Here you can never be extinguished or put out by any overwhelming interest.
Neither are we in London pushed to the wall by the two or three hundred great men of every little place. We are not invited to a main of small talk with the cock of his own dung-hill; we are never told, as a great favour, that Mr Alexander Scaldhead, the phrenologist, is to be there, and that we can have our "bumps" felt for nothing; or that the Chevalier Doembrownski (a London pickpocket in disguise) is expected to recite a Polish ode, accompanying himself on the Jew's harp; we are not bored with the misconduct of the librarian, who never has the first volume of the last new novel, or invited to determine whether Louisa Fitzsmythe or Angelina Stubbsville deserves to be considered the heroine; we are not required to be in raptures because Mrs Alfred Shaw or Clara Novello are expected, or to break our hearts with disappointment because they didn't come: the arrival, performances, and departure, of Ducrow's horses, or Wombwell's wild beasts, affect us with no extraordinary emotion; even Assizes time concerns most of us nothing.
Then, again, how vulgar, how commonplace in London is the aristocracy of wealth; of Mrs Grub, who, in a provincial town, keeps her carriage, and is at once the envy and the scandal of all the Ladies who have to proceed upon their ten toes, we wot not the existence. Mr Bill Wright, the banker, the respected, respectable, influential, twenty per cent Wright, in London is merely a licensed dealer in money; he visits at Camberwell Hill, or Hampstead Heath, or wherever other tradesmen of his class delight to dwell; his wife and daughters patronize the Polish balls, and Mr Bill Wright, jun., sports a stall at the (English) opera; we are not overdone by Mr Bill Wright, overcome by Mrs Bill Wright, or the Misses Bill Wright, nor overcrowed by Mr Bill Wright the younger: in a word, we don't care a crossed cheque for the whole Bill Wrightish connexion.
What are carriages, or carriage-keeping people in London? It is not here, as in the provinces, by their carriages shall you know them; on the contrary, the carriage of a duchess is only distinguishable from that of a parvenu, by the superior expensiveness and vulgarity of the latter.
The vulgarity of ostentatious wealth with us, defeats the end it aims at. That expense which is lavished to impress us with awe and admiration, serves only as a provocative to laughter, and inducement to contempt; where great wealth and good taste go together, we at once recognize the harmonious adaptation of means and ends; where they do not, all extrinsic and adventitious expenditure availeth its disbursers nothing.
What animal on earth was ever so inhumanly preposterous as a lord mayor's footman, and yet it takes sixty guineas, at the least, to make that poor lick-plate a common laughing-stock?
No, sir; in London we see into, and see through, all sorts of pretension: the pretension of wealth or rank, whatever kind of quackery and imposture. When I say we, I speak of the vast multitudes forming the educated, discriminating, and thinking classes of London life. We pass on to what a man is, over who he is, and what he has; and, with one of the most accurate observers of human character and nature to whom a man of the world ever sat for his portrait—the inimitable La Bruyere—when offended with the hollow extravagance of vulgar riches, we exclaim—"Tu te trompes, Philemon, si avec ce carrosse brillant, ce grand nombre de coquins qui te suivent, et ces six betes qui te trainent, tu penses qu'on t'en estime d'avantage: ou ecarte tout cet attirail qui t'est etranger, pour penetrer jusq'a toi qui n'es qu'un fat."
In London, every man is responsible for himself, and his position is the consequence of his conduct. If a great author, for example, or artist, or politician, should choose to outrage the established rules of society in any essential particular, he is neglected and even shunned in his private, though he may be admired and lauded in his public capacity. Society marks the line between the public and the social man; and this line no eminence, not even that of premier minister of England, will enable a public man to confound.
Wherever you are invited in London to be introduced to a great man, by any of his parasites or hangers-on, you may be assured that your great man is no such thing; you may make up your mind to be presented to some quack, some hollow-skulled fellow, who makes up by little arts, small tactics, and every variety of puff, for the want of that inherent excellence which will enable him to stand alone. These gentlemen form the Cockney school proper of art, literature, the drama, every thing; and they go about seeking praise, as a goatsucker hunts insects, with their mouths wide open; they pursue their prey in troops, like Jackals, and like them, utter at all times a melancholy, complaining howl; they imagine that the world is in a conspiracy not to admire them, and they would bring an action against the world if they could. But as that is impossible, they are content to rail against the world in good set terms; they are always puffing in the papers, but in a side-winded way, yet you can trace them always at work, through the daily, weekly, monthly periodicals, in desperate exertion to attract public attention. They have at their head one sublime genius, whom they swear by, and they admire him the more, the more incomprehensible and oracular he appears to the rest of mankind.
These are the men who cultivate extensive tracts of forehead, and are deeply versed in the effective display of depending ringlets and ornamental whiskers; they dress in black, with white chokers, and you will be sure to find a lot of them at evening parties of the middling sort of doctors, or the better class of boarding-houses.
This class numbers not merely literary men, but actors, artists, adventuring politicians, small scientifics, and a thousand others, who have not energy or endurance to work their way in solitary labour, or who feel that they do not possess the power to go alone.
Public men in London appear naked at the bar of public opinion; laced coats, ribands, embroidery, titles, avail nothing, because these things are common, and have the common fate of common things, to be cheaply estimated. The eye is satiated with them, they come like shadows, so depart; but they do not feed the eye of the mind; the understanding is not the better for such gingerbread; we are compelled to look out for some more substantial nutriment, and we try the inward man, and test his capacity. Instead of measuring his bumps, like a landsurveyor, we dissect his brain, like an anatomist; we estimate him, whether he be high or low, in whatever department of life, not by what he says he can do, or means to do, but by what he has done. By this test is every man of talent tried in London; this is his grand, his formal difficulty, to get the opportunity of showing what he can do, of being put into circulation, of having the chance of being tested, like a shilling, by the ring of the customer and the bite of the critic; for the opportunity, the chance to edge in, the chink to wedge in, the purchase whereon to work the length of his lever, he must be ever on the watch; for the sunshine blink of encouragement, the April shower of praise, he must await the long winter of "hope deferred" passing away. Patience, the courage of the man of talent, he must exert for many a dreary and unrewarded day; he must see the quack and the pretender lead an undiscerning public by the nose, and say nothing; nor must he exult when the too-long enduring public at length kicks the pretender and the quack into deserved oblivion. From many a door that will hereafter gladly open for him, he must be content to be presently turned away. Many a scanty meal, many a lonely and unfriended evening, in this vast wilderness, must he pass in trying on his armour, and preparing himself for the fight that he still believes will come, and in which his spirit, strong within him, tells him he must conquer. While the night yet shrouds him he must labour, and with patient, and happily for him, if, with religious hope, he watch the first faint glimmerings of the dawning day; for his day, if he is worthy to behold it, will come, and he will yet be recompensed "by that time and chance which happeneth to all." And if his heart fails him, and his coward spirit turns to flee, often as he sits, tearful, in the solitude of his chamber, will the remembrance of the early struggles of the immortals shame that coward spirit. The shade of the sturdy Johnson, hungering, dinnerless, will mutely reproach him for sinking thus beneath the ills that the "scholar's life assail." The kindly-hearted, amiable Goldsmith, pursued to the gates of a prison by a mercenary wretch who fattened upon the produce of that lovely mind, smiling upon him, will bid him be of good cheer. A thousand names, that fondly live in the remembrance of our hearts, will he conjure up, and all will tell the same story of early want, and long neglect, and lonely friendlessness. Then will reproach himself, saying, "What am I, that I should quail before the misery that broke not minds like these? What am I, that I should be exempt from the earthly fate of the immortals?"
Nor marvel, then, that men who have passed the fiery ordeal, whose power has been tried and not found wanting, whose nights of probation, difficulty, and despair are past, and with whom it is now noon, should come forth, with deportment modest and subdued, exempt from the insolent assumption of vulgar minds, and their yet more vulgar hostilities and friendships: that such men as Campbell and Rogers, and a thousand others in every department of life and letters, should partake of that quietude of manner, that modesty of deportment, that compassion for the unfortunate of their class, that unselfish admiration for men who, successful, have deserved success, that abomination of cliques, coteries, and conversaziones, and all the littleness of inferior fry: that such men should have parasites, and followers, and hangers-on; or that, since men like themselves are few and far between, they should live for and with such men alone.
But thou, O Vanity! thou curse, thou shame, thou sin, with what tides of pseudo talent hast thou not filled this ambitious town? Ass, dolt, miscalculator, quack, pretender, how many hast thou befooled, thou father of multifarious fools? Serpent, tempter, evil one, how many hast thou seduced from the plough tail, the carpenter's bench, the schoolmaster's desk, the rural scene, to plunge them into misery and contempt in this, the abiding-place of their betters, thou unhanged cheat? Hence the querulous piping against the world and the times, and the neglect of genius, and appeals to posterity, and damnation of managers, publishers, and the public; hence cliques, and claqueurs, and coteries, and the would-if-I-could-be aristocracy of letters; hence bickerings, quarellings, backbitings, slanderings, and reciprocity of contempt; hence the impossibility of literary union, and the absolute necessity imposed upon the great names of our time of shunning, like a pestilence, the hordes of vanity-struck individuals who would tear the coats off their backs in desperate adherence to the skirts. Thou, too, O Vanity! art responsible for greater evils:—Time misspent, industry misdirected, labour unrequited, because uselessly or imprudently applied: poverty and isolation, families left unprovided for, pensions, solicitations, patrons, meannesses, subscriptions!
True talent, on the contrary, in London, meets its reward, if it lives to be rewarded; but it has, of its own right, no social pre-eminence, nor is it set above or below any of the other aristocracies, in what we may take the liberty of calling its private life. In this, as in all other our aristocracies, men are regarded not as of their set, but as of themselves: they are individually admired, not worshipped as a congregation: their social influence is not aggregated, though their public influence may be. When a man, of whatever class, leaves his closet, he is expected to meet society upon equal terms: the scholar, the man of rank, the politician, the millionaire, must merge in the gentleman: if he chooses to individualize his aristocracy in his own person, he must do so at home, for it will not be understood or submitted to any where else.
The rewards of intellectual labour applied to purposes of remote, or not immediately appreciable usefulness, as in social literature, and the loftier branches of the fine arts, are, with us, so few, as hardly to be worth mentioning, and pity 'tis that it should be so. The law, the church, the army, and the faculty of physic, have not only their fair and legitimate remuneration for independent labour, but they have their several prizes, to which all who excel, may confidently look forward when the time of weariness and exhaustion shall come; when the pressure of years shall slacken exertion, and diminished vigour crave some haven of repose, or, at the least, some mitigated toil, with greater security of income: some place of honour with repose—the ambition of declining years. The influence of the great prize of the law, the church, and other professions in this country, has often been insisted upon with great reason: it has been said, and truly said, that not only do these prizes reward merit already passed through its probationary stages, but serve as inducements to all who are pursuing the same career. It is not so much the example of the prize-holder, as the prize, that stimulates men onward and upward: without the hope of reaching one of those comfortable stations, hope would be extinguished, talent lie fallow, energy be limited to the mere attainment of subsistence; great things would not be done, or attempted, and we would behold only a dreary level of indiscriminate mediocrity. If this be true of professions, in which, after a season of severe study, a term of probation, the knowledge acquired in early life sustains the professor, with added experience of every day, throughout the rest of his career, with how much more force will it apply to professions or pursuits, in which the mind is perpetually on the rack to produce novelties, and in which it is considered derogatory to a man to reproduce his own ideas, copy his own pictures, or multiply, after the same model, a variety of characters and figures!
A few years of hard reading, constant attention in the chambers of the conveyancer, the equity craftsman, the pleader, and a few years more of that disinterested observance of the practice of the courts, which is liberally afforded to every young barrister, and indeed which many enjoy throughout life, and he is competent, with moderate talent, to protect the interests of his client, and with moderate mental labour to make a respectable figure in his profession. In like manner, four or five years sedulous attendance on lectures, dissections, and practice of the hospitals, enables your physician to see how little remedial power exists in his boasted art; knowing this, he feels pulses, and orders a recognized routine of draughts and pills with the formality which makes the great secret of his profession. When the patient dies, nature, of course, bears the blame; and when nature, happily uninterfered with, recovers his patient, the doctor stands on tiptoe. Henceforward his success is determined by other than medical sciences: a pillbox and pair, a good house in some recognized locality, Sunday dinners, a bit of a book, grand power of head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging, bamboozling weak-minded men and women, and, if possible, a religious connexion.
For the clergyman, it is only necessary that he should be orthodox, humble, and pious; that he should on no occasion, right or wrong, set himself in opposition to his ecclesiastical superiors; that he should preach unpretending sermons; that he should never make jokes, nor understand the jokes of another: this is all that he wants to get on respectably. If he is ambitious, and wishes one of the great prizes, he must have been a free-thinking reviewer, have written pamphlets, or made a fuss about the Greek particle, or, what will avail him more than all, have been tutor to a minister of state.
Thus you perceive, for men whose education is intellectual, but whose practice is more or less mechanical, you have many great, intermediate, and little prizes in the lottery of life; but where, on the contrary, are the prizes for the historian, transmitting to posterity the events, and men, and times long since past; where the prize of the analyst of mind, of the dramatic, the epic, or the lyric poet, the essayist, and all whose works are likely to become the classics of future times; where the prize of the public journalist, who points the direction of public opinion, and, himself without place, station, or even name, teaches Governments their duty, and prevents Ministers of State becoming, by hardihood or ignorance, intolerable evils; where the prize of the great artist, who has not employed himself making faces for hire, but who has worked in loneliness and isolation, living, like Barry, upon raw apples and cold water, that he might bequeath to his country some memorial worthy the age in which he lived, and the art for which he lived? For these men, and such as these, are no prizes in the lottery of life; a grateful country sets apart for them no places where they can retire in the full enjoyment of their fame; condemned to labour for their bread, not in a dull mechanical routine of professional, official, or business-like duties, but in the most severe, most wearing of all labour, the labour of the brain, they end where they begun. With struggling they begin life, with struggling they make their way in life, with struggling they end life; poverty drives away friends, and reputation multiplies enemies. The man whose thoughts will become the thoughts of our children, whose minds will be reflected in the mirror of his mind, who will store in their memories his household words, and carry his lessons in their hearts, dies not unwillingly, for he has nothing in life to look forward to; closes with indifference his eyes on a prospect where no gleam of hope sheds its sunlight on the broken spirit; he dies, is borne by a few humble friends to a lowly sepulchre, and the newspapers of some days after give us the following paragraph:—
"We regret to be obliged to state that Dr ——, or —— ——, Esq. (as the case may be) died, on Saturday last at his lodgings two pair back in Back Place, Pimlico, (or) at his cottage (a miserable cabin where he retired to die) at Kingston-upon-Thames. It is our melancholy duty to inform our readers that this highly gifted and amiable man, who for so many years delighted and improved the town, and who was a most strenuous supporter of the (Radical or Conservative) cause, (it is necessary to set forth this miserable statement to awaken the gratitude of faction towards the family of the dead,) has left a rising family totally unprovided for. We are satisfied that it is only necessary to allude to this distressing circumstance, in order to enlist the sympathies, &c. &c., (in short, to get up a subscription)."
We confess we are at a loss to understand why the above advertisement should be kept stereotyped, to be inserted with only the interpolation of name and date, when any man dies who has devoted himself to pursuits of a purely intellectual character. Nor are we unable to discover in the melancholy, and, as it would seem, unavoidable fates of such men, substantial grounds of that diversion of the aristocracy of talent to the pursuit of professional distinction, accompanied by profit, of which our literature, art, and science are now suffering, and will continue to suffer, the consequences.
In a highly artificial state of society, where a command, not merely of the essentials, but of some of the superfluities of life are requisite as passports to society, no man will willingly devote himself to pursuits which will render him an outlaw, and his family dependent on the tardy gratitude of an indifferent world. The stimulus of fame will be inadequate to maintain the energies even of great minds, in a contest of which the victories are wreaths of barren bays. Nor will any man willingly consume the morning of his days in amassing intellectual treasures for posterity, when his contemporaries behold him dimming with unavailing tears his twilight of existence, and dying with the worse than deadly pang, the consciousness that those who are nearest and dearest to his heart must eat the bread of charity. Nor is it quite clear to our apprehension, that the prevalent system of providing for merely intellectual men, by a State annuity or pension, is the best that can be devised: it is hard that the pensioned aristocracy of talent should be exposed to the taunt of receiving the means of their subsistence from this or that minister, upon suppositions of this or that ministerial assistance which, whether true or false, cannot fail to derogate from that independent dignity of mind which is never extinguished in the breast of the true aristocrat of talent, save by unavailing struggles, long-continued, with the unkindness of fortune.
We wish the aristocracy of power to think over this, and so very heartily bid them farewell.
* * * * *
THE LOST LAMB.
A shepherd laid upon his bed, With many a sigh, his aching head, For him—his favourite boy—on whom Had fallen death, a sudden doom. "But yesterday," with sobs he cried, "Thou wert, with sweet looks, at my side, Life's loveliest blossom, and to-day, Woes me! thou liest a thing of clay! It cannot be that thou art gone; It cannot be, that now, alone, A grey-hair'd man on earth am I, Whilst thou within its bosom lie? Methinks I see thee smiling there, With beaming eyes, and sunny hair, As thou were wont, when fondling me, To clasp my neck from off my knee! Was it thy voice? Again, oh speak, My boy, or else my heart will break!"
Each adding to that father's woes, A thousand bygone scenes arose; At home—a field—each with its joy, Each with its smile—and all his boy! Now swell'd his proud rebellious breast, With darkness and with doubt opprest; Now sank despondent, while amain Unnerving tears fell down like rain: Air—air—he breathed, yet wanted breath— It was not life—it was not death— But the drear agony between, Where all is heard, and felt, and seen— The wheels of action set ajar; The body with the soul at war. 'Twas vain, 'twas vain; he could not find A haven for his shipwreck'd mind; Sleep shunn'd his pillow. Forth he went— The noon from midnight's azure tent Shone down, and, with serenest light, Flooded the windless plains of night; The lake in its clear mirror show'd Each little star that twinkling glow'd; Aspens, that quiver with a breath, Were stirless in that hush of death; The birds were nestled in their bowers; The dewdrops glitter'd on the flowers; Almost it seem'd as pitying Heaven A while its sinless calm had given To lower regions, lest despair Should make abode for ever there; So tranquil—so serene—so bright— Brooded o'er earth the wings of night.
O'ershadow'd by its ancient yew, His sheep-cot met the shepherd's view; And, placid, in that calm profound, His silent flocks lay slumbering round: With flowing mantle, by his side, Sudden, a stranger he espied, Bland was his visage, and his voice Soften'd the heart, yet bade rejoice.— "Why is thy mourning thus?" he said, "Why thus doth sorrow bow thy head? Why faltereth thus thy faith, that so Abroad despairing thou dost go? As if the God who gave thee breath, Held not the keys of life and death! When from the flocks that feed about, A single lamb thou choosest out, Is it not that which seemeth best That thou dost take, yet leave the rest? Yes! such thy wont; and, even so, With his choice little ones below Doth the Good Shepherd deal; he breaks Their earthly bands, and homeward takes, Early, ere sin hath render'd dim The image of the seraphim!"
Heart-struck, the shepherd home return'd; Again within his bosom burn'd The light of faith; and, from that day, He trode serene life's onward way.
* * * * *
Cours de Philosophie Positive, par M. Auguste Comte.
It is pleasant to find in some extreme, uncompromising, eccentric work, written for the complete renovation of man, a new establishment of truth, little else, after all its tempest of thought has swept over the mind, than another confirmation of old, and long-settled, and temperate views. Our sober philosophy, like some familiar landscape seen after a thunder storm, comes out but the more distinct, the brighter, and the more tranquil, for the bursting cloud and the windy tumult that had passed over its surface. Some such experience have we just had. Our Conservative principles, our calm and patient manner of viewing things, have rarely received a stronger corroboration than from the perusal or the extraordinary work of M. Comte—a work written, assuredly, for no such comfortable purpose, but for the express object (so far as we can at present state it to our readers) of re-organizing political society, by means of an intellectual reformation amongst political thinkers.
We would not be thought to throw an idle sneer at those generous hopes of the future destiny of society which have animated some of the noblest and most vigorous minds. It is no part of a Conservative philosophy to doubt on the broad question of the further and continuous improvement of mankind. Nor will the perusal of M. Comte's work induce, or permit, such a doubt. But while he leaves with his reader a strong impression of the unceasing development of social man, he leaves a still stronger impression of the futile or mischievous efforts of those—himself amongst the number—who are thrusting themselves forward as the peculiar and exclusive advocates of progress and improvement. He exhibits himself in the attitude of an innovator, as powerless in effect as he is daring to design; whilst, at the same time, he deals a crashing blow (as upon rival machinators) on that malignant party in European politics, whether it call itself liberal or of the movement, whose most distinct aim seems to be to unloose men from the bonds of civil government. We, too, believe in the silent, irresistible progress of human society, but we believe also that he is best working for posterity, as well as for the welfare of his contemporaries, who promotes order and tranquil effort in his own generation, by means of those elements of order which his own generation supplies.
That which distinguishes M. Comte's work from all other courses of philosophy, or treatises upon science, is the attempt to reduce to the scientific method of cogitation the affairs of human society—morality, politics; in short, all those general topics which occupy our solitary and perplexed meditation, or sustain the incessant strife of controversy. These are to constitute a new science, to be called Social Physics, or Sociology. To apply the Baconian, or, as it is here called, the positive method, to man in all phases of his existence—to introduce the same fixed, indissoluble, imperturbable order in our ideas of morals, politics, and history, that we attain to astronomy and mechanics, is the bold object of his labours. He does not here set forth a model of human society based on scientific conclusions; something of this kind is promised us in a future work; in the present undertaking he is especially anxious to compel us to think on all such topics in the scientific method, and in no other. For be it known, that science is not only weak in herself, and has been hitherto incompetent to the task of unravelling the complicate proceedings of humanity, but she has also a great rival in the form of theologic method, wherein the mind seeks a solution for its difficulties in a power above nature. The human being has contracted an inveterate habit of viewing itself as standing in a peculiar relation to a supreme Architect and Governor of the world—a habit which in many ways, direct and indirect, interferes, it seems, with the application of the positive method. This habit is to be corrected; such supreme Architect and Governor is to be dismissed from the imagination of men; science is to supply the sole mode of thought, and humanity to be its only object.