"Well," said Riccabocca, "since your horse seems more disposed to be polite to me than yourself, Mr. Dale, I take the opportunity of your present involuntary pause to congratulate you on your elevation in life, and to breathe a friendly prayer that pride may not have a fall!"
"Tut," said the parson, affecting an easy air, though still contemplating the pad, who appeared to have fallen into a quiet doze, "it is true that I have not ridden much of late years, and the squire's horses are very high-fed and spirited; but there is no more harm in them than their master when one once knows their ways."
"'Chi va piano va sano, E chi va sano va lontano,'"
said Riccabocca, pointing to the saddle-bags. "You go slowly, therefore safely; and he who goes safely may go far. You seem prepared for a journey?"
"I am," said the parson; "and on a matter that concerns you a little."
"Me!" exclaimed Riccabocca,—"concerns me!"
"Yes, so far as the chance of depriving you of a servant whom you like and esteem affects you."
"Oh," said Riccabocca, "I understand: you have hinted to me very often that I or Knowledge, or both together, have unfitted Leonard Fairfield for service."
"I did not say that exactly; I said that you have fitted him for something higher than service. But do not repeat this to him. And I cannot yet say more to you, for I am very doubtful as to the success of my mission; and it will not do to unsettle poor Leonard until we are sure that we can improve his condition."
"Of that you can never be sure," quoth the wise man, shaking his head; "and I can't say that I am unselfish enough not to bear you a grudge for seeking to decoy away from me an invaluable servant,—faithful, steady, intelligent, and" (added Riccabocca, warming as he approached the climacteric adjective) "exceedingly cheap! Nevertheless go, and Heaven speed you. I am not an Alexander, to stand between man and the sun."
"You are a noble, great-hearted creature, Signor Riccabocca, in spite of your cold-blooded proverbs and villanous books." The parson, as he said this, brought down the whiphand with so indiscreet an enthusiasm on the pad's shoulder, that the poor beast, startled out of her innocent doze, made a bolt forward, which nearly precipitated Riccabocca from his seat on the stile, and then turning round—as the parson tugged desperately at the rein—caught the bit between her teeth, and set off at a canter. The parson lost both his stirrups; and when he regained them (as the pad slackened her pace), and had time to breathe and look about him, Riccabocca and the Casino were both out of sight.
"Certainly," quoth Parson Dale, as he resettled himself with great complacency, and a conscious triumph that he was still on the pad's back,—"certainly it is true 'that the noblest conquest ever made by man was that of the horse:' a fine creature it is,—a very fine creature,—and uncommonly difficult to sit on, especially without stirrups." Firmly in his stirrups the parson planted his feet; and the heart within him was very proud.
The borough town of Lansmere was situated in the county adjoining that which contained the village of Hazeldean. Late at noon the parson crossed the little stream which divided the two shires, and came to an inn, which was placed at an angle, where the great main road branched off into two directions, the one leading towards Lansmere, the other going more direct to London. At this inn the pad stopped, and put down both ears with the air of a pad who has made up her mind to bait. And the parson himself, feeling very warm and somewhat sore, said to the pad, benignly, "It is just,—thou shalt have corn and water!"
Dismounting, therefore, and finding himself very stiff as soon as he reached terra firma, the parson consigned the pad to the hostler, and walked into the sanded parlour of the inn, to repose himself on a very hard Windsor chair.
He had been alone rather more than half-an-hour, reading a county newspaper which smelled much of tobacco, and trying to keep off the flies that gathered round him in swarms, as if they had never before seen a parson, and were anxious to ascertain how the flesh of him tasted,—when a stagecoach stopped at the inn. A traveller got out with his carpetbag in his hand, and was shown into the sanded parlour.
The parson rose politely, and made a bow.
The traveller touched his hat, without taking it off, looked at Mr. Dale from top to toe, then walked to the window, and whistled a lively, impatient tune, then strode towards the fireplace and rang the bell; then stared again at the parson; and that gentleman having courteously laid down the newspaper, the traveller seized it, threw himself into a chair, flung one of his legs over the table, tossed the other up on the mantelpiece, and began reading the paper, while he tilted the chair on its hind-legs with so daring a disregard to the ordinary position of chairs and their occupants, that the shuddering parson expected every moment to see him come down on the back of his skull.
Moved, therefore, to compassion, Mr. Dale said mildly,—"Those chairs are very treacherous, sir. I'm afraid you'll be down."
"Eh," said the traveller, looking up much astonished. "Eh, down?—oh, you're satirical, sir."
"Satirical, sir? upon my word, no!" exclaimed the parson, earnestly.
"I think every freeborn man has a right to sit as he pleases in his own house," resumed the traveller, with warmth; "and an inn is his own house, I guess, so long as he pays his score. Betty, my dear."
For the chambermaid had now replied to the bell. "I han't Betty, sir; do you want she?"
"No, Sally; cold brandy and water—and a biscuit."
"I han't Sally, either," muttered the chambermaid; but the traveller, turning round, showed so smart a neckcloth and so comely a face, that she smiled, coloured, and went her way.
The traveller now rose, and flung down the paper. He took out a penknife, and began paring his nails. Suddenly desisting from this elegant occupation, his eye caught sight of the parson's shovel-hat, which lay on a chair in the corner.
"You're a clergyman, I reckon, sir," said the traveller, with a slight sneer.
Again Mr. Dale bowed,—bowed in part deprecatingly, in part with dignity. It was a bow that said, "No offence, sir, but I am a clergyman, and I'm not ashamed of it."
"Going far?" asked the traveller.
TRAVELLER.—"In a chaise or fly? If so, and we are going the same way, halves."
TRAVELLER.—"Yes, I'll pay half the damage, pikes inclusive."
PARSON.—"You are very good, sir. But" (spoken with pride) "I am on horseback."
TRAVELLER.—"On horseback! Well, I should not have guessed that! You don't look like it. Where did you say you were going?"
"I did not say where I was going, sir," said the parson, dryly, for he was much offended at that vague and ungrammatical remark applicable to his horsemanship, that "he did not look like it."
"Close!" said the traveller, laughing; "an old traveller, I reckon."
The parson made no reply, but he took up his shovel-hat, and, with a bow more majestic than the previous one, walked out to see if his pad had finished her corn.
The animal had indeed finished all the corn afforded to her, which was not much, and in a few minutes more Mr. Dale resumed his journey. He had performed about three miles, when the sound of wheels behind him made him turn his head; and he perceived a chaise driven very fast, while out of the windows thereof dangled strangely a pair of human legs. The pad began to curvet as the post-horses rattled behind, and the parson had only an indistinct vision of a human face supplanting those human legs. The traveller peered out at him as he whirled by,—saw Mr. Dale tossed up and down on the saddle, and cried out, "How's the leather?"
"Leather!" soliloquized the parson, as the pad recomposed herself, "what does he mean by that? Leather! a very vulgar man. But I got rid of him cleverly."
Mr. Dale arrived without further adventure at Lansmere. He put up at the principal inn, refreshed himself by a general ablution, and sat down with good appetite to his beefsteak and pint of port.
The parson was a better judge of the physiognomy of man than that of the horse; and after a satisfactory glance at the civil smirking landlord, who removed the cover and set on the wine, he ventured on an attempt at conversation. "Is my Lord at the Park?"
LANDLORD (still more civilly than before).—"No, sir, his Lordship and my Lady have gone to town to meet Lord L'Estrange!"
"Lord L'Estrange! He is in England, then?"
"Why, so I heard," replied the landlord, "but we never see him here now. I remember him a very pretty young man. Every one was fond of him and proud of him. But what pranks be did play when he was a lad! We hoped he would come in for our boro' some of these days, but he has taken to foren parts,—more 's the pity. I am a reg'lar Blue, sir, as I ought to be. The Blue candidate always does me the honour to come to the Lansmere Arms. 'T is only the low party puts up with the Boar," added the landlord, with a look of ineffable disgust. "I hope you like the wine, sir?"
"Very good, and seems old."
"Bottled these eighteen years, sir. I had in the cask for the great election of Dashmore and Egerton. I have little left of it, and I never give it but to old friends like,—for, I think, Sir, though you be grown stout, and look more grand, I may say that I've had the pleasure of seeing you before."
"That's true, I dare say, though I fear I was never a very good customer."
"Ah, it is Mr. Dale, then! I thought so when you came into the hall. I hope your lady is quite well, and the squire too; fine pleasant-spoken gentleman; no fault of his if Mr. Egerton went wrong. Well, we have never seen him—I mean Mr. Egerton—since that time. I don't wonder he stays away; but my Lord's son, who was brought up here, it an't nat'ral like that he should turn his back on us!"
Mr. Dale made no reply, and the landlord was about to retire, when the parson, pouring out another glass of the port, said, "There must be great changes in the parish. Is Mr. Morgan, the medical man, still here?"
"No, indeed! he took out his 'ploma after you left, and became a real doctor; and a pretty practice he had too, when he took, all of a sudden, to some new-fangled way of physicking,—I think they calls it homy-something."
"That's it; something against all reason: and so he lost his practice here and went up to Lunnun. I've not heard of him since."
"Do the Avenels still reside in their old house?"
"Oh, yes!—and are pretty well off, I hear say. John is always poorly, though he still goes now and then to the Odd Fellows, and takes his glass; but his wife comes and fetches him away before he can do himself any harm."
"Mrs. Avenel is the same as ever?"
"She holds her head higher, I think," said the landlord, smiling. "She was always—not exactly proud like, but what I calls Bumptious."
"I never heard that word before," said the parson, laying down his knife and fork. "Bumptious indeed, though I believe it is not in the dictionary, has crept into familiar parlance, especially amongst young folks at school and college."
"Bumptious is bumptious, and gumptious is Bumptious," said the landlord, delighted to puzzle a parson. "Now the town beadle is bumptious, and Mrs. Avenel is Bumptious."
"She is a very respectable woman," said Mr. Dale, somewhat rebukingly.
"In course, sir, all gumptious folks are; they value themselves on their respectability, and looks down on their neighbours."
PARSON (still philologically occupied).—"Gumptious—gumptious. I think I remember the substantive at school,—not that my master taught it to me. 'Gumption'—it means cleverness."
LANDLORD (doggedly).—"There's gumption and Bumptious! Gumption is knowing; but when I say that sum 'un is gumptious, I mean—though that's more vulgar like—sum 'un who does not think small beer of hisself. You take me, sir?"
"I think I do," said the parson, half smiling. "I believe the Avenels have only two of their children alive still,—their daughter who married Mark Fairfield, and a son who went off to America?"
"Ah, but he made his fortune there and has come back."
"Indeed! I'm very glad to hear it. He has settled at Lansmere?"
"No, Sir. I hear as he's bought a property a long way off. But he comes to see his parents pretty often—so John tells me—but I can't say that I ever see him. I fancy Dick does n't like to be seen by folks who remember him playing in the kennel."
"Not unnatural," said the parson, indulgently; "but he visits his parents; he is a good son at all events, then?"
"I've nothing to say against him. Dick was a wild chap before he took himself off. I never thought he would make his fortune; but the Avenels are a clever set. Do you remember poor Nora—the Rose of Lansmere, as they called her? Ah, no, I think she went up to Lunnun afore your time, sir."
"Humph!" said the parson, dryly. "Well, I think you may take away now. It will be dark soon, and I'll just stroll out and look about me."
"There's a nice tart coming, sir."
"Thank you, I've dined."
The parson put on his hat and sallied forth into the streets. He eyed the houses on either hand with that melancholy and wistful interest with which, in middle life, men revisit scenes familiar to them in youth,—surprised to find either so little change or so much, and recalling, by fits and snatches, old associations and past emotions. The long High Street which he threaded now began to change its bustling character, and slide, as it were gradually, into the high road of a suburb. On the left, the houses gave way to the moss-grown pales of Lansmere Park; to the right, though houses still remained, they were separated from each other by gardens, and took the pleasing appearance of villas,—such villas as retired tradesmen or their widows, old maids, and half-pay officers select for the evening of their days.
Mr. Dale looked at these villas with the deliberate attention of a man awakening his power of memory, and at last stopped before one, almost the last on the road, and which faced the broad patch of sward that lay before the lodge of Lansmere Park. An old pollard-oak stood near it, and from the oak there came a low discordant sound; it was the hungry cry of young ravens, awaiting the belated return of the parent bird! Mr. Dale put his hand to his brow, paused a moment, and then, with a hurried step, passed through the little garden, and knocked at the door. A light was burning in the parlour, and Mr. Dale's eye caught through the window a vague outline of three forms. There was an evident bustle within at the sound of the knock. One of the forms rose and disappeared. A very prim, neat, middle-aged maid-servant now appeared at the threshold, and austerely inquired the visitor's business.
"I want to see Mr. or Mrs. Avenel. Say that I have come many miles to see them; and take in this card."
The maid-servant took the card, and half closed the door. At least three minutes elapsed before she reappeared.
"Missis says it's late, sir; but walk in."
The parson accepted the not very gracious invitation, stepped across the little hall, and entered the parlour.
Old John Avenel, a mild-looking man, who seemed slightly paralytic, rose slowly from his armchair. Mrs. Avenel, in an awfully stiff, clean, Calvinistical cap, and a gray dress, every fold of which bespoke respectability and staid repute, stood erect on the floor, and fixing on the parson a cold and cautious eye, said,—
"You do the like of us great honour, Mr. Dale; take a chair. You call upon business?"
"Of which I apprised Mr. Avenel by letter."
"My husband is very poorly."
"A poor creature!" said John, feebly, and as if in compassion of himself. "I can't get about as I used to do. But it ben't near election time, be it, sir?"
"No, John," said Mrs. Avenel, placing her husband's arm within her own. "You must lie down a bit, while I talk to the gentleman."
"I'm a real good Blue," said poor John; "but I ain't quite the man I was;" and leaning heavily on his wife, he left the room, turning round at the threshold, and saying, with great urbanity, "Anything to oblige, sir!"
Mr. Dale was much touched. He had remembered John Avenel the comeliest, the most active, and the most cheerful man in Lansmere; great at glee club and cricket (though then somewhat stricken in years), greater in vestries; reputed greatest in elections.
"Last scene of all," murmured the parson; "and oh, well, turning from the poet, may we cry with the disbelieving philosopher, 'Poor, poor humanity!'"
In a few minutes Mrs. Avenel returned. She took a chair at some distance from the parson's, and resting one hand on the elbow of the chair, while with the other she stiffly smoothed the stiff gown, she said,—
That "Now, sir," had in its sound something sinister and warlike. This the shrewd parson recognized with his usual tact. He edged his chair nearer to Mrs. Avenel, and placing his hand on hers,—
"Yes, now then, and as friend to friend."
Mr. Dale had been more than a quarter of an hour conversing with Mrs. Avenel, and had seemingly made little progress in the object of his diplomatic mission, for now, slowly drawing on his gloves, he said,—
"I grieve to think, Mrs. Avenel, that you should have so hardened your heart—yes, you must pardon me,—it is my vocation to speak stern truths. You cannot say that I have not kept faith with you, but I must now invite you to remember that I specially reserved to myself the right of exercising a discretion to act as I judged best for the child's interest on any future occasion; and it was upon this understanding that you gave me the promise, which you would now evade, of providing for him when he came to manhood."
"I say I will provide for him. I say that you may 'prentice him in any distant town, and by and by we will stock a shop for him. What would you have more, sir, from folks like us, who have kept shop ourselves? It ain't reasonable what you ask, sir."
"My dear friend," said the parson, "what I ask of you at present is but to see him, to receive him kindly, to listen to his conversation, to judge for yourselves. We can have but a common object,—that your grandson should succeed in life, and do you credit. Now, I doubt very much whether we can effect this by making him a small shopkeeper."
"And has Jane Fairfield, who married a common carpenter, brought him up to despise small shopkeepers?" exclaimed Mrs. Avenel, angrily.
"Heaven forbid! Some of the first men in England have been the sons of small shopkeepers. But is it a crime in them, or in their parents, if their talents have lifted them into such rank or renown as the haughtiest duke might envy? England were not England if a man must rest where his father began."
"Good!" said, or rather grunted, an approving voice, but neither Mrs. Avenel nor the parson heard it.
"All very fine," said Mrs. Avenel, bluntly. "But to send a boy like that to the University—where's the money to come from?"
"My dear Mrs. Avenel," said the parson, coaxingly, "the cost need not be great at a small college at Cambridge; and if you will pay half the expense, I will pay the other half. I have no children of my own, and can afford it."
"That's very handsome in you, sir," said Mrs. Avenel, somewhat touched, yet still not graciously. "But the money is not the only point."
"Once at Cambridge," continued Mr. Dale, speaking rapidly, "at Cambridge, where the studies are mathematical,—that is, of a nature for which he has shown so great an aptitude,—and I have no doubt he will distinguish himself; if he does, he will obtain, on leaving, what is called a fellowship,—that is, a collegiate dignity accompanied by an income on which he could maintain himself until he made his way in life. Come, Mrs. Avenel, you are well off; you have no relations nearer to you in want of your aid. Your son, I hear, has been very fortunate."
"Sir," said—Mrs. Avenel, interrupting the parson, "it is not because my son Richard is an honour to us, and is a good son, and has made his fortin, that we are to rob him of what we have to leave, and give it to a boy whom we know nothing about, and who, in spite of what you say, can't bring upon us any credit at all."
"Why? I don't see that."
"Why!" exclaimed Mrs. Avenel, fiercely,—"why! you, know why. No, I don't want him to rise in life: I don't want folks to be speiring and asking about him. I think it is a very wicked thing to have put fine notions in his head, and I am sure my daughter Fairfield could not have done it herself. And now, to ask me to rob Richard, and bring out a great boy—who's been a gardener or ploughman, or suchlike—to disgrace a gentleman who keeps his carriage, as my son Richard does—I would have you to know, sir. No! I won't do it, and there's an end of the matter."
During the last two or three minutes, and just before that approving "good" had responded to the parson's popular sentiment, a door communicating with an inner room had been gently opened, and stood ajar; but this incident neither party had even noticed. But now the door was thrown boldly open, and the traveller whom the parson had met at the inn walked up to Mr. Dale, and said, "No! that's not the end of the matter. You say the boy's a 'cute, clever lad?"
"Richard, have you been listening?" exclaimed Mrs. Avenel.
"Well, I guess, yes,—the last few minutes."
"And what have you heard?"
"Why, that this reverend gentleman thinks so highly of my sister Fairfield's boy that he offers to pay half of his keep at college. Sir, I'm very much obliged to you, and there's my hand if you'll take it."
The parson jumped up, overjoyed, and, with a triumphant glance towards Mrs. Avenel, shook hands heartily with Mr. Richard.
"Now," said the latter, "just put on your hat, sir, and take a stroll with me, and we'll discuss the thing businesslike. Women don't understand business: never talk to women on business."
With these words, Mr. Richard drew out a cigar-case, selected a cigar, which he applied to the candle, and walked into the hall.
Mrs. Avenel caught hold of the parson. "Sir, you'll be on your guard with Richard. Remember your promise."
"He does not know all, then?"
"He? No! And you see he did not overhear more than what he says. I'm sure you're a gentleman, and won't go against your word."
"My word was conditional; but I will promise you never to break the silence without more reason than I think there is here for it. Indeed, Mr. Richard Avenel seems to save all necessity for that."
"Are you coming, sir?" cried Richard, as he opened the street-door.
The parson joined Mr. Richard Avenel on the road. It was a fine night, and the moon clear and shining.
"So, then," said Mr. Richard, thoughtfully, "poor Jane, who was always the drudge of the family, has contrived to bring up her son well; and the boy is really what you say, eh,—could make a figure at college?"
"I am sure of it," said the parson, hooking himself on to the arm which Mr. Avenel proffered.
"I should like to see him," said Richard. "Has he any manner? Is he genteel, or a mere country lout?"
"Indeed, he speaks with so much propriety, and has so much modest dignity about him, that there's many a rich gentleman who would be proud of such a son."
"It is odd," observed Richard, "what a difference there is in families. There's Jane, now, who can't read nor write, and was just fit to be a workman's wife, had not a thought above her station; and when I think of my poor sister Nora—you would not believe it, sir, but she was the most elegant creature in the world,—yes, even as a child (she was but a child when I went off to America). And often, as I was getting on in life, often I used to say to myself, 'My little Nora shall be a lady after all.' Poor thing—but she died young." Richard's voice grew husky.
The parson kindly pressed the arm on which he leaned, and said, after a pause,—
"Nothing refines us like education, sir. I believe your sister Nora had received much instruction, and had the talents to profit by it: it is the same with your nephew."
"I'll see him," said Richard, stamping his foot firmly on the ground, "and if I like him, I'll be as good as a father to him. Look you, Mr.—what's your name, sir?"
"Mr. Dale, look you, I'm a single man. Perhaps I may marry some day; perhaps I sha' n't. I'm not going to throw myself away. If I can get a lady of quality, why—but that's neither here nor there; meanwhile I should be glad of a nephew whom I need not be ashamed of. You see, sir, I am a new man, the builder of my own fortunes; and though I have picked up a little education—I don't well know how,—as I scramble on still, now I come back to the old country, I'm well aware that I 'm not exactly a match for those d—-d aristocrats; don't show so well in a drawing-room as I could wish. I could be a parliament man if I liked, but I might make a goose of myself; so, all things considered, if I can get a sort of junior partner to do the polite work, and show off the goods, I think the house of Avenel & Co. might become a pretty considerable honour to the Britishers. You understand me, sir?"
"Oh, very well," answered Mr. Dale, smiling, though rather gravely.
"Now," continued the New Man, "I'm not ashamed to have risen in life by my own merits; and I don't disguise what I've been. And, when I'm in my own grand house, I'm fond of saying, 'I landed at New York with L10 in my purse, and here I am!' But it would not do to have the old folks with me. People take you with all your faults if you're rich; but they won't swallow your family into the bargain. So if I don't have at my house my own father and mother, whom I love dearly, and should like to see sitting at table, with my servants behind their chairs, I could still less have sister Jane. I recollect her very well, but she can't have got genteeler as she's grown older. Therefore I beg you'll not set her on coming after me! it would not do by any manner of means. Don't say a word about me to her. But send the boy down here to his grandfather, and I'll see him quietly, you understand."
"Yes, but it will be hard to separate her from the boy."
"Stuff! all boys are separated from their parents when they go into the world. So that's settled. Now, just tell me. I know the old folks always snubbed Jane,—that is, Mother did. My poor dear father never snubbed any of us. Perhaps Mother has not behaved altogether well to Jane. But we must not blame her for that; you see this is how it happened. There were a good many of us, while Father and Mother kept shop in the High Street, so we were all to be provided for anyhow; and Jane, being very useful and handy at work, got a place when she was a little girl, and had no time for learning. Afterwards my father made a lucky hit, in getting my Lord Lansmere's custom after an election, in which he did a great deal for the Blues (for he was a famous electioneerer, my poor father). My Lady stood godmother to Nora; and then all my brothers, and two of my sisters, died off, and Father retired from business; and when he took Jane from service, she was so common-like that Mother could not help contrasting her with Nora. You see Jane was their child when they were poor little shop-people, with their heads scarce above water; and Nora was their child when they were well off, and had retired from trade, and lived genteel: so that makes a great difference. And Mother did not quite look on her as on her own child. But it was Jane's own fault: for Mother would have made it up with her if she had married the son of our neighbour the great linen-draper, as she might have done; but she would take Mark Fairfield, a common carpenter. Parents like best those of their children who succeed best in life. Natural. Why, they did not care for me till I came back the man I am. But to return to Jane: I'm afraid they've neglected her. How is she off?"
"She earns her livelihood, and is poor, but contented."
"Ah, just be good enough to give her this" (and Richard took a bank-note of L50 from his pocket-book).
"You can say the old folks sent it to her; or that it is a present from Dick, without telling her he has come back from America."
"My dear sir," said the parson, "I am more and more thankful to have made your acquaintance. This is a very liberal gift of yours; but your best plan will be to send it through your mother. For, though I don't want to betray any confidence you place in me, I should not know what to answer if Mrs. Fairfield began to question me about her brother. I never had but one secret to keep, and I hope I shall never have another. A secret is very like a lie!"
"You had a secret then?" said Richard, as he took back the bank-note. He had learned, perhaps in America, to be a very inquisitive man. He added point-blank, "Pray, what was it?"
"Why, what it would not be if I told you," said the parson, with a forced laugh,—"a secret!"
"Well, I guess we're in a land of liberty. Do as you like. Now, I dare say you think me a very odd fellow to come out of my shell to you in this off-hand way; but I liked the look of you, even when we were at the inn together. And just now I was uncommonly pleased to find that, though you are a parson, you don't want to keep a man's nose down to a shopboard, if he has anything in him. You're not one of the aristocrats—"
"Indeed," said the parson, with imprudent warmth, "it is not the character of the aristocracy of this country to keep people down. They make way amongst themselves for any man, whatever his birth, who has the talent and energy to aspire to their level. That's the especial boast of the British constitution, sir!"
"Oh, you think so, do you?" said Mr. Richard, looking sourly at the parson. "I dare say those are the opinions in which you have brought up the lad. Just keep him yourself and let the aristocracy provide for him!"
The parson's generous and patriotic warmth evaporated at once, at this sudden inlet of cold air into the conversation. He perceived that he had made a terrible blunder; and as it was not his business at that moment to vindicate the British constitution, but to serve Leonard Fairfield, he abandoned the cause of the aristocracy with the most poltroon and scandalous abruptness. Catching at the arm which Mr. Avenel had withdrawn from him, he exclaimed,—
"Indeed, sir, you are mistaken; I have never attempted to influence your nephew's political opinions. On the contrary, if, at his age, he can be said to have formed any opinions, I am greatly afraid—that is, I think his opinions are by no means sound—that is, constitutional. I mean, I mean—" And the poor parson, anxious to select a word that would not offend his listener, stopped short in lamentable confusion of idea.
Mr. Avenel enjoyed his distress for a moment, with a saturnine smile, and then said,—
"Well, I calculate he's a Radical. Natural enough, if he has not got a sixpence to lose—all come right by and by. I'm not a Radical,—at least not a Destructive—much too clever a man for that, I hope. But I wish to see things very different from what they are. Don't fancy that I want the common people, who've got nothing, to pretend to dictate to their betters, because I hate to see a parcel of fellows who are called lords and squires trying to rule the roast. I think, sir, that it is men like me who ought to be at the top of the tree! and that's the long and the short of it. What do you say?"
"I've not the least objection," said the crestfallen parson, basely. But, to do him justice, I must add that he did not the least know what he was saying!
Unconscious of the change in his fate which the diplomacy of the parson sought to effect, Leonard Fairfield was enjoying the first virgin sweetness of fame; for the principal town in his neighbourhood had followed the then growing fashion of the age, and set up a Mechanics' Institute, and some worthy persons interested in the formation of that provincial Athenaeum had offered a prize for the best Essay on the Diffusion of Knowledge,—a very trite subject, on which persons seem to think they can never say too much, and on which there is, nevertheless, a great deal yet to be said. This prize Leonard Fairfield had recently won. His Essay had been publicly complimented by a full meeting of the Institute; it had been printed at the expense of the Society, and had been rewarded by a silver medal,—delineative of Apollo crowning Merit (poor Merit had not a rag to his back; but Merit, left only to the care of Apollo, never is too good a customer to the tailor!) And the County Gazette had declared that Britain had produced another prodigy in the person of Dr. Riccabocca's self-educated gardener.
Attention was now directed to Leonard's mechanical contrivances. The squire, ever eagerly bent on improvements, had brought an engineer to inspect the lad's system of irrigation, and the engineer had been greatly struck by the simple means by which a very considerable technical difficulty had been overcome. The neighbouring farmers now called Leonard "Mr. Fairfield," and invited him on equal terms to their houses. Mr. Stirn had met him on the high road, touched his hat, and hoped that "he bore no malice." All this, I say, was the first sweetness of fame; and if Leonard Fairfield comes to be a great man, he will never find such sweets in the after fruit. It was this success which had determined the parson on the step which he had just taken, and which he had long before anxiously meditated. For, during the last year or so, he had renewed his old intimacy with the widow and the boy; and he had noticed, with great hope and great fear, the rapid growth of an intellect, which now stood out from the lowly circumstances that surrounded it in bold and unharmonizing relief.
It was the evening after his return home that the parson strolled up to the Casino. He put Leonard Fairfield's Prize Essay in his pocket; for he felt that he could not let the young man go forth into the world without a preparatory lecture, and he intended to scourge poor Merit with the very laurel wreath which it had received from Apollo. But in this he wanted Riccabocca's assistance; or rather he feared that, if he did not get the philosopher on his side, the philosopher might undo all the work of the parson.
A sweet sound came through the orange boughs, and floated to the ears of the parson, as he wound slowly up the gentle ascent,—so sweet, so silvery, he paused in delight—unaware, wretched man! that he was thereby conniving at Papistical errors. Soft it came and sweet; softer and sweeter,—"Ave Maria!" Violante was chanting the evening hymn to the Virgin Mother. The parson at last distinguished the sense of the words, and shook his head with the pious shake of an orthodox Protestant. He broke from the spell resolutely, and walked on with a sturdy step. Gaining the terrace, he found the little family seated under an awning,—Mrs. Riccabocca knitting; the signor with his arms folded on his breast: the book he had been reading a few moments before had fallen on the ground, and his dark eyes were soft and dreamy. Violante had finished her hymn, and seated herself on the ground between the two, pillowing her head on her stepmother's lap, but with her hand resting on her father's knee, and her gaze fixed fondly on his face.
"Good-evening," said Mr. Dale. Violante stole up to him, and, pulling him so as to bring his ear nearer to her lip, whispered, "Talk to Papa, do,—and cheerfully; he is sad."
She escaped from him as she said this, and appeared to busy herself with watering the flowers arranged on stands round the awning. But she kept her swimming lustrous eyes wistfully on her father.
"How fares it with you, my dear friend?" said the parson, kindly, as he rested his hand on the Italian's shoulder. "You must not let him get out of spirits, Mrs. Riccabocca."
"I am very ungrateful to her if I ever am so," said the poor Italian, with all his natural gallantry. Many a good wife, who thinks it is a reproach to her if her husband is ever "out of spirits," might have turned peevishly from that speech, more elegant than sincere, and so have made bad worse; but Mrs. Riccabocca took her husband's proffered hand affectionately, and said with great naivete,—
"You see I am so stupid, Mr. Dale; I never knew I was so stupid till I married. But I am very glad you are come. You can get on some learned subject together, and then he will not miss so much his—"
"His what?" asked Riccabocca, inquisitively.
"His country. Do you think that I cannot sometimes read your thoughts?"
"Very often. But you did not read them just then. The tongue touches where the tooth aches, but the best dentist cannot guess at the tooth unless one open one's mouth.—Basta! Can we offer you some wine of our own making, Mr. Dale?—it is pure."
"I 'd rather have some tea," quoth the parson, hastily. Mrs. Riccabocca, too pleased to be in her natural element of domestic use, hurried into the house to prepare our national beverage. And the parson, sliding into her chair, said,—
"But you are dejected then? Fie! If there's a virtue in the world at which we should always aim, it is cheerfulness."
"I don't dispute it," said Riccabocca, with a heavy sigh. "But though it is said by some Greek, who, I think, is quoted by your favourite Seneca, that a wise man carries his country with him at the soles of his feet, he can't carry also the sunshine over his head."
"I tell you what it is," said the parson, bluntly; "you would have a much keener sense of happiness if you had much less esteem for philosophy."
"Cospetto!" said the doctor, rousing himself. "Just explain, will you?"
"Does not the search after wisdom induce desires not satisfied in this small circle to which your life is confined? It is not so much your country for which you yearn, as it is for space to your intellect, employment for your thoughts, career for your aspirations."
"You have guessed at the tooth which aches," said Riccabocca, with admiration.
"Easy to do that," answered the parson. "Our wisdom teeth come last and give us the most pain; and if you would just starve the mind a little, and nourish the heart more, you would be less of a philosopher and more of a—" The parson had the word "Christian" at the tip of his tongue; he suppressed a word that, so spoken, would have been exceedingly irritating, and substituted, with elegant antithesis, "and more of a happy man!"
"I do all I can with my heart," quoth the doctor.
"Not you! For a man with such a heart as yours should never feel the want of the sunshine. My friend, we live in an age of over mental cultivation. We neglect too much the simple healthful outer life, in which there is so much positive joy. In turning to the world within us, we grow blind to this beautiful world without; in studying ourselves as men, we almost forget to look up to heaven, and warm to the smile of God."
The philosopher mechanically shrugged his shoulders, as he always did when another man moralized,—especially if the moralizer were a priest; but there was no irony in his smile, as he answered thoughtfully,—
"There is some truth in what you say. I own that we live too much as if we were all brain. Knowledge has its penalties and pains, as well as its prizes."
"That is just what I want you to say to Leonard."
"How have you settled the object of your journey?"
"I will tell you as we walk down to him after tea. At present, I am rather too much occupied with you."
"Me? The tree is formed—try only to bend the young twig!"
"Trees are trees, and twigs twigs," said the parson, dogmatically; "but man is always growing till he falls into the grave. I think I have heard you say that you once had a narrow escape of a prison?"
"Just suppose that you were now in that prison, and that a fairy conjured up the prospect of this quiet home in a safe land; that you saw the orange-trees in flower, felt the evening breeze on your cheek; beheld your child gay or sad, as you smiled or knit your brow; that within this phantom home was a woman, not, indeed, all your young romance might have dreamed of, but faithful and true, every beat of her heart all your own,—would you not cry from the depth of your dungeon, 'O fairy! such a change were a paradise!' Ungrateful man! you want interchange for your mind, and your heart should suffice for all!"
Riccabocca was touched and silent.
"Come hither, my child," said Mr. Dale, turning round to Violante, who stood still among the flowers, out of hearing, but with watchful eyes. "Come hither," he said, opening his arms.
Violante bounded forward, and nestled to the good man's heart.
"Tell me, Violante, when you are alone in the fields or the garden, and have left your father looking pleased and serene, so that you have no care for him at your heart,—tell me, Violante, though you are all alone, with the flowers below, and the birds singing overhead, do you feel that life itself is happiness or sorrow?"
"Happiness!" answered Violante, half shutting her eyes, and in a measured voice.
"Can you explain what kind of happiness it is?"
"Oh, no, impossible! and it is never the same. Sometimes it is so still—so still, and sometimes so joyous, that I long for wings to fly up to God, and thank Him!"
"O friend," said the parson, "this is the true sympathy between life and nature, and thus we should feel ever, did we take more care to preserve the health and innocence of a child. We are told that we must become as children to enter into the kingdom of Heaven; methinks we should also become as children to know what delight there is in our heritage of earth!"
The maid-servant (for Jackeymo was in the fields) brought the table under the awning, and with the English luxury of tea, there were other drinks as cheap and as grateful on summer evenings,—drinks which Jackeymo had retained and taught from the customs of the South,—unebriate liquors, pressed from cooling fruits, sweetened with honey, and deliciously iced: ice should cost nothing in a country in which one is frozen up half the year! And Jackeymo, too, had added to our good, solid, heavy English bread preparations of wheat much lighter, and more propitious to digestion,—with those crisp grissins, which seem to enjoy being eaten, they make so pleasant a noise between one's teeth.
The parson esteemed it a little treat to drink tea with the Riccaboccas. There was something of elegance and grace in that homely meal at the poor exile's table, which pleased the eye as well as taste. And the very utensils, plain Wedgwood though they were, had a classical simplicity, which made Mrs. Hazeldean's old India delf, and Mrs. Dale's best Worcester china, look tawdry and barbarous in comparison. For it was Flaxman who gave designs to Wedgwood, and the most truly refined of all our manufactures in porcelain (if we do not look to the mere material) is in the reach of the most thrifty.
The little banquet was at first rather a silent one; but Riccabocca threw off his gloom, and became gay and animated. Then poor Mrs. Riccabocca smiled, and pressed the grissins; and Violante, forgetting all her stateliness, laughed and played tricks on the parson, stealing away his cup of warm tea when his head was turned, and substituting iced cherry-juice. Then the parson got up and ran after Violante, making angry faces, and Violante dodged beautifully, till the parson, fairly tired out, was too glad to cry "Peace," and come back to the cherry-juice. Thus time rolled on, till they heard afar the stroke of the distant church-clock, and Mr. Dale started up and cried, "But we shall be too late for Leonard. Come, naughty little girl, get your father his hat."
"And umbrella!" said Riccabocca, looking up at the cloudless, moonlit sky.
"Umbrella against the stars?" asked the parson, laughing. "The stars are no friends of mine," said Riccabocca, "and one never knows what may happen!"
The philosopher and the parson walked on amicably.
"You have done me good," said Riccabocca, "but I hope I am not always so unreasonably melancholic as you seem to suspect. The evenings will sometimes appear long, and dull too, to a man whose thoughts on the past are almost his sole companions."
"Sole companions?—your child?"
"She is so young."
"She is so—" the bland Italian appeared to check some disparaging adjective, and mildly added, "so good, I allow; but you must own that she and I cannot have much in common."
"I own nothing of the sort. You have your house and your interests, your happiness and your lives, in common. We men are so exacting, we expect to find ideal nymphs and goddesses when we condescend to marry a mortal; and if we did, our chickens would be boiled to rags, and our mutton come up as cold as a stone."
"Per Bacco, you are an oracle," said Riccabocca, laughing. "But I am not so sceptical as you are. I honour the fair sex too much. There are a great many women who realize the ideal of men, to be found in—the poets!"
"There's my dear Mrs. Dale," resumed the parson, not heeding the sarcastic compliment to the sex, but sinking his voice into a whisper, and looking round cautiously,—"there's my dear Mrs. Dale, the best woman in the world,—an angel I would say, if the word were not profane; BUT—"
"What's the BUT?" asked the doctor, demurely.
"BUT I too might say that 'she and I have not much in common,' if I were only to compare mind to mind, and when my poor Carry says something less profound than Madame de Stael might have said, smile on her in contempt from the elevation of logic and Latin. Yet when I remember all the little sorrows and joys that we have shared together, and feel how solitary I should have been without her—oh, then, I am instantly aware that there is between us in common something infinitely closer and better than if the same course of study had given us the same equality of ideas; and I was forced to brace myself for a combat of intellect, as I am when I fall in with a tiresome sage like yourself. I don't pretend to say that Mrs. Riccabocca is a Mrs. Dale," added the parson, with lofty candour,—"there is but one Mrs. Dale in the world; but still, you have drawn a prize in the wheel matrimonial! Think of Socrates, and yet he was content even with his—Xantippe!"
Dr. Riccabocca called to mind Mrs. Dale's "little tempers," and inly rejoiced that no second Mrs. Dale had existed to fall to his own lot. His placid Jemima gained by the contrast. Nevertheless he had the ill grace to reply, "Socrates was a man beyond all imitation!—Yet I believe that even he spent very few of his evenings at home. But revenons a nos moutons, we are nearly at Mrs. Fairfield's cottage, and you have not yet told me what you have settled as to Leonard."
The parson halted, took Riccabocca by the button, and informed him, in very few words, that Leonard was to go to Lansmere to see some relations there, who had the fortune, if they had the will, to give full career to his abilities.
"The great thing, in the mean while," said the parson, "would be to enlighten him a little as to what he calls—enlightenment."
"Ah!" said Riccabocca, diverted, and rubbing his hands, "I shall listen with interest to what you say on that subject."
"And must aid me: for the first step in this modern march of enlightenment is to leave the poor parson behind; and if one calls out 'Hold! and look at the sign-post,' the traveller hurries on the faster, saying to himself, 'Pooh, pooh!—that is only the cry of the parson!' But my gentleman, when he doubts me, will listen to you,—you're a philosopher!"
"We philosophers are of some use now and then, even to parsons!"
"If you were not so conceited a set of deluded poor creatures already, I would say 'Yes,'" replied the parson, generously; and, taking hold of Riccabocca's umbrella, he applied the brass handle thereof, by way of a knocker, to the cottage door.
Certainly it is a glorious fever,—that desire To Know! And there are few sights in the moral world more sublime than that which many a garret might afford, if Asmodeus would bare the roofs to our survey,—namely, a brave, patient, earnest human being toiling his own arduous way, athwart the iron walls of penury, into the magnificent Infinite, which is luminous with starry souls.
So there sits Leonard the Self-taught in the little cottage alone: for, though scarcely past the hour in which great folks dine, it is the hour in which small folks go to bed, and Mrs. Fairfield has retired to rest, while Leonard has settled to his books.
He had placed his table under the lattice, and from time to time he looked up and enjoyed the stillness of the moon. Well for him that, in reparation for those hours stolen from night, the hardy physical labour commenced with dawn. Students would not be the sad dyspeptics they are, if they worked as many hours in the open air as my scholar-peasant. But even in him you could see that the mind had begun a little to affect the frame. They who task the intellect must pay the penalty with the body. Ill, believe me, would this work-day world get on if all within it were hard-reading, studious animals, playing the deuce with the ganglionic apparatus.
Leonard started as he heard the knock at the door; the parson's well-known voice reassured him. In some surprise he admitted his visitors.
"We are come to talk to you, Leonard," said Mr. Dale; "but I fear we shall disturb Mrs. Fairfield."
"Oh, no, sir! the door to the staircase is shut, and she sleeps soundly."
"Why, this is a French book! Do you read French, Leonard?" asked Riccabocca.
"I have not found French difficult, sir. Once over the grammar, and the language is so clear; it seems the very language for reasoning."
"True. Voltaire said justly, 'Whatever is obscure is not French,'" observed Riccabocca.
"I wish I could say the same of English," muttered the parson.
"But what is this,—Latin too?—Virgil?"
"Yes, sir. But I find I make little way there without a master. I fear I must give it up" (and Leonard sighed).
The two gentlemen exchanged looks, and seated themselves. The young peasant remained standing modestly, and in his air and mien there was something that touched the heart while it pleased the eye. He was no longer the timid boy who had shrunk from the frown of Mr. Stirn, nor that rude personation of simple physical strength, roused to undisciplined bravery, which had received its downfall on the village green of Hazeldean. The power of thought was on his brow,—somewhat unquiet still, but mild and earnest. The features had attained that refinement which is often attributed to race, but comes, in truth, from elegance of idea, whether caught from our parents or learned from books. In his rich brown hair, thrown carelessly from his temples, and curling almost to the shoulders; in his large blue eye, which was deepened to the hue of the violet by the long dark lash; in that firmness of lip, which comes from the grapple with difficulties, there was considerable beauty, but no longer the beauty of the mere peasant. And yet there was still about the whole countenance that expression of goodness and purity which a painter would give to his ideal of the peasant lover,—such as Tasso would have placed in the "Aminta," or Fletcher have admitted to the side of the Faithful Shepherdess.
"You must draw a chair here, and sit down between us, Leonard," said the parson.
"If any one," said Riccabocca, "has a right to sit, it is the one who is to hear the sermon; and if any one ought to stand, it is the one who is about to preach it."
"Don't be frightened, Leonard," said the parson, graciously; "it is only a criticism, not a sermon;" and he pulled out Leonard's Prize Essay.
PARSON.—"You take for your motto this aphorism, 'Knowledge is Power.'—BACON."
RICCABOCCA.—"Bacon make such an aphorism! The last man in the world to have said anything so pert and so shallow!"
LEONARD (astonished).—"Do you mean to say, sir, that that aphorism is not in Lord Bacon? Why, I have seen it quoted as his in almost every newspaper, and in almost every speech in favour of popular education."
RICCABOCCA.—"Then that should be a warning to you never again to fall into the error of the would-be scholar,—
[This aphorism has been probably assigned to Lord Bacon upon the mere authority of the index to his works. It is the aphorism of the index-maker, certainly not of the great master of inductive philosophy. Bacon has, it is true, repeatedly dwelt on the power of knowledge, but with so many explanations and distinctions that nothing could be more unjust to his general meaning than the attempt to cramp into a sentence what it costs him a volume to define. Thus, if on one page he appears to confound knowledge with power, in another he sets them in the strongest antithesis to each other; as follows "Adeo signanter Deus opera potentix et sapientive discriminavit." But it would be as unfair to Bacon to convert into an aphorism the sentence that discriminates between knowledge and power as it is to convert into an aphorism any sentence that confounds them.]
namely, quote second-hand. Lord Bacon wrote a great book to show in what knowledge is power, how that power should be defined, in what it might be mistaken. And, pray, do you think so sensible a man ever would have taken the trouble to write a great book upon the subject, if he could have packed up all he had to say into the portable dogma, 'Knowledge is power'? Pooh! no such aphorism is to be found in Bacon from the first page of his writings to the last."
PARSON (candidly).—"Well, I supposed it was Lord Bacon's, and I am very glad to hear that the aphorism has not the sanction of his authority."
LEONARD (recovering his surprise).—"But why so?"
PARSON.—"Because it either says a great deal too much, or just—nothing at all."
LEONARD.—"At least, sir, it seems to me undeniable."
PARSON.—"Well, grant that it is undeniable. Does it prove much in favour of knowledge? Pray, is not ignorance power too?"
RICCABOCCA.—"And a power that has had much the best end of the quarter-staff."
PARSON.—"All evil is power, and does its power make it anything the better?"
RICCABOCCA.—"Fanaticism is power,—and a power that has often swept away knowledge like a whirlwind. The Mussulman burns the library of a world, and forces the Koran and the sword from the schools of Byzantium to the colleges of Hindostan."
PARSON (bearing on with a new column of illustration).—"Hunger is power. The barbarians, starved out of their forests by their own swarming population, swept into Italy and annihilated letters. The Romans, however degraded, had more knowledge at least than the Gaul and the Visigoth."
RICCABOCCA (bringing up the reserve).—"And even in Greece, when Greek met Greek, the Athenians—our masters in all knowledge—were beat by the Spartans, who held learning in contempt."
PARSON.—"Wherefore you see, Leonard, that though knowledge be power, it is only one of the powers of the world; that there are others as strong, and often much stronger; and the assertion either means but a barren truism, not worth so frequent a repetition, or it means something that you would find it very difficult to prove."
LEONARD.—"One nation may be beaten by another that has more physical strength and more military discipline; which last, permit me to say, sir, is a species of knowledge—"
RICCABOCCA.—"Yes; but your knowledge-mongers at present call upon us to discard military discipline, and the qualities that produce it, from the list of the useful arts. And in your own Essay, you insist upon knowledge as the great disbander of armies, and the foe of all military discipline!"
PARSON.—"Let the young man proceed. Nations, you say, may be beaten by other nations less learned and civilized?"
LEONARD.—"But knowledge elevates a class. I invite the members of my own humble order to knowledge, because knowledge will lift them into power."
RICCABOCCA.—"What do you say to that, Mr. Dale?"
PARSON.—"In the first place, is it true that the class which has the most knowledge gets the most power? I suppose philosophers, like my friend Dr. Riccabocca, think they have the most knowledge. And pray, in what age have philosophers governed the world? Are they not always grumbling that nobody attends to them?"
RICCABOCCA.—"Per Bacco, if people had attended to us, it would have been a droll sort of world by this time!"
PARSON.—"Very likely. But, as a general rule, those have the most knowledge who give themselves up to it the most. Let us put out of the question philosophers (who are often but ingenious lunatics), and speak only of erudite scholars, men of letters and practical science, professors, tutors, and fellows of colleges. I fancy any member of parliament would tell us that there is no class of men which has less actual influence on public affairs. These scholars have more knowledge than manufacturers and shipowners, squires and farmers; but do you find that they have more power over the Government and the votes of the House of Parliament?"
"They ought to have," said Leonard.
"Ought they?" said the parson; "we'll consider that later. Meanwhile, you must not escape from your own proposition, which is, that knowledge is power,—not that it ought to be. Now, even granting your corollary, that the power of a class is therefore proportioned to its knowledge, pray, do you suppose that while your order, the operatives, are instructing themselves, all the rest of the community are to be at a standstill? Diffuse knowledge as you may, you will never produce equality of knowledge. Those who have most leisure, application, and aptitude for learning will still know the most. Nay, by a very natural law, the more general the appetite for knowledge, the more the increased competition will favour those most adapted to excel by circumstance and nature. At this day, there is a vast increase of knowledge spread over all society, compared with that in the Middle Ages; but is there not a still greater distinction between the highly educated gentleman and the intelligent mechanic, than there was then between the baron who could not sign his name and the churl at the plough; between the accomplished statesman, versed in all historical lore, and the voter whose politics are formed by his newspaper, than there was between the legislator who passed laws against witches and the burgher who defended his guild from some feudal aggression; between the enlightened scholar and the dunce of to-day, than there was between the monkish alchemist and the blockhead of yesterday? Peasant, voter, and dunce of this century are no doubt wiser than the churl, burgher, and blockhead of the twelfth. But the gentleman, statesman, and scholar of the present age are at least quite as favourable a contrast to the alchemist, witch-burner, and baron of old. As the progress of enlightenment has done hitherto, so will it ever do.
"Knowledge is like capital: the more there is in a country, the greater the disparities in wealth between one man and another. Therefore, if the working class increase in knowledge, so do the other classes; and if the working class rise peaceably and legitimately into power, it is not in proportion to their own knowledge alone, but rather according as it seems to the knowledge of the other orders of the community, that such augmentation of proportional power is just and safe and wise."
Placed between the parson and the philosopher, Leonard felt that his position was not favourable to the display of his forces. Insensibly he edged his chair somewhat away, and said mournfully,—
"Then, according to you, the reign of knowledge would be no great advance in the aggregate freedom and welfare of man?"
PARSON.—"Let us define. By knowledge, do you mean intellectual cultivation; by the reign of knowledge, the ascendency of the most cultivated minds?"
LEONARD (after a pause).—"Yes."
RICCABOCCA.—"Oh, indiscreet young man! that is an unfortunate concession of yours; for the ascendency of the most cultivated minds would be a terrible oligarchy!"
PARSON.—"Perfectly true; and we now reply to your assertion that men who, by profession, have most learning, ought to have more influence than squires and merchants, farmers and mechanics. Observe, all the knowledge that we mortals can acquire is not knowledge positive and perfect, but knowledge comparative, and subject to the errors and passions of humanity. And suppose that you could establish, as the sole regulators of affairs, those who had the most mental cultivation, do you think they would not like that power well enough to take all means which their superior intelligence could devise to keep it to themselves? The experiment was tried of old by the priests of Egypt; and in the empire of China, at this day, the aristocracy are elected from those who have most distinguished themselves in learned colleges. If I may call myself a member of that body, 'the people,' I would rather be an Englishman, however much displeased with dull ministers and blundering parliaments, than I would be a Chinese under the rule of the picked sages of the Celestial Empire. Happily, therefore, my dear Leonard, nations are governed by many things besides what is commonly called knowledge; and the greatest practical ministers, who, like Themistocles, have made small States great, and the most dominant races, who, like the Romans, have stretched their rule from a village half over the universe, have been distinguished by various qualities which a philosopher would sneer at, and a knowledge-monger would call 'sad prejudices' and 'lamentable errors of reason.'"
LEONARD (bitterly).—"Sir, you make use of knowledge itself to argue against knowledge."
PARSON.—"I make use of the little I know to prove the foolishness of idolatry. I do not argue against knowledge; I argue against knowledge-worship. For here, I see in your Essay, that you are not contented with raising human knowledge into something like divine omnipotence,—you must also confound her with virtue. According to you, it is but to diffuse the intelligence of the few among the many, and all at which we preachers aim is accomplished. Nay, more; for, whereas we humble preachers have never presumed to say, with the heathen Stoic, that even virtue is sure of happiness below (though it be the best road to it), you tell us plainly that this knowledge of yours gives not only the virtue of a saint, but bestows the bliss of a god. Before the steps of your idol, the evils of life disappear. To hear you, one has but 'to know,' in order to be exempt from the sins and sorrows of the ignorant. Has it ever been so? Grant that you diffuse amongst the many all the knowledge ever attained by the few. Have the wise few been so unerring and so happy? You supposed that your motto was accurately cited from Bacon. What was Bacon himself? The poet tells you
"'The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind!'
"Can you hope to bestow upon the vast mass of your order the luminous intelligence of this 'Lord Chancellor of Nature'? Grant that you do so, and what guarantee have you for the virtue and the happiness which you assume as the concomitants of the gift? See Bacon himself: what black ingratitude! what miserable self-seeking! what truckling servility! what abject and pitiful spirit! So far from intellectual knowledge, in its highest form and type, insuring virtue and bliss, it is by no means uncommon to find great mental cultivation combined with great moral corruption." (Aside to Riccabocca.—"Push on, will you?")
RICCASOCCA.—"A combination remarkable in eras as in individuals. Petronius shows us a state of morals at which a commonplace devil would blush, in the midst of a society more intellectually cultivated than certainly was that which produced Regulus or the Horatii. And the most learned eras in modern Italy were precisely those which brought the vices into the most ghastly refinement."
LEONARD (rising in great agitation, and clasping his hands).—"I cannot contend with you, who produce against information so slender and crude as mine the stores which have been locked from my reach; but I feel that there must be another side to this shield,—a shield that you will not even allow to be silver. And, oh, if you thus speak of knowledge, why have you encouraged me to know?"
"Ah, my son!" said the parson, "if I wished to prove the value of religion, would you think I served it much if I took as my motto, 'Religion is power'? Would not that be a base and sordid view of its advantages? And would you not say, He who regards religion as a power intends to abuse it as a priestcraft?"
"Well put!" said Riccabocca.
"Wait a moment—let me think! Ah, I see, Sir!" said Leonard.
PARSON.—"If the cause be holy, do not weigh it in the scales of the market; if its objects be peaceful, do not seek to arm it with the weapons of strife; if it is to be the cement of society, do not vaunt it as the triumph of class against class."
LEONARD (ingenuously).—"You correct me nobly, sir. Knowledge is power, but not in the sense in which I have interpreted the saying."
PARSON.—"Knowledge is one of the powers in the moral world, but one that, in its immediate result, is not always of the most worldly advantage to the possessor. It is one of the slowest, because one of the most durable, of agencies. It may take a thousand years for a thought to come into power; and the thinker who originated it might have died in rags or in chains."
RICCABOCCA.—"Our Italian proverb saith that 'the teacher is like the candle, which lights others in consuming itself.'"
PARSON.—"Therefore he who has the true ambition of knowledge should entertain it for the power of his idea, not for the power it may bestow on himself: it should be lodged in the conscience, and, like the conscience, look for no certain reward on this side the grave. And since knowledge is compatible with good and with evil, would not it be better to say, 'Knowledge is a trust'?"
"You are right, sir," said Leonard, cheerfully; "pray proceed."
PARSON.—"You ask me why we encourage you to KNOW. First, because (as you say yourself in your Essay) knowledge, irrespective of gain, is in itself a delight, and ought to be something far more. Like liberty, like religion, it may be abused; but I have no more right to say that the poor shall be ignorant than I have to say that the rich only shall be free, and that the clergy alone shall learn the truths of redemption. You truly observe in your treatise that knowledge opens to us other excitements than those of the senses, and another life than that of the moment. The difference between us is this,—that you forget that the same refinement which brings us new pleasures exposes us to new pains; the horny hand of the peasant feels not the nettles which sting the fine skin of the scholar. You forget also, that whatever widens the sphere of the desires opens to them also new temptations. Vanity, the desire of applause, pride, the sense of superiority, gnawing discontent where that superiority is not recognized, morbid susceptibility, which comes with all new feelings, the underrating of simple pleasures apart from the intellectual, the chase of the imagination, often unduly stimulated, for things unattainable below,—all these are surely amongst the first temptations that beset the entrance into knowledge." Leonard shaded his face with his hand.
"Hence," continued the parson, benignantly,—"hence, so far from considering that we do all that is needful to accomplish ourselves as men, when we cultivate only the intellect, we should remember that we thereby continually increase the range of our desires, and therefore of our temptations; and we should endeavour, simultaneously, to cultivate both those affections of the heart which prove the ignorant to be God's children no less than the wise, and those moral qualities which have made men great and good when reading and writing were scarcely known: to wit,—patience and fortitude under poverty and distress; humility and beneficence amidst grandeur and wealth, and, in counteraction to that egotism which all superiority, mental or worldly, is apt to inspire, Justice, the father of all the more solid virtues, softened by Charity, which is their loving mother. Thus accompanied, knowledge indeed becomes the magnificent crown of humanity,—not the imperious despot, but the checked and tempered sovereign of the soul."
The parson paused, and Leonard, coming near him, timidly took his hand, with a child's affectionate and grateful impulse.
RICCAROCCA.—"And if, Leonard, you are not satisfied with our parson's excellent definitions, you have only to read what Lord Bacon himself has said upon the true ends of knowledge to comprehend at once how angry the poor great man, whom Mr. Dale treats so harshly, would have been with those who have stinted his elaborate distinctions and provident cautions into that coxcombical little aphorism, and then misconstrued all he designed to prove in favour of the commandment, and authority of learning. For," added the sage, looking up as a man does when he is tasking his memory, "I think it is thus that after saying the greatest error of all is the mistaking or misplacing the end of knowledge, and denouncing the various objects for which it is vulgarly sought,—I think it is thus that Lord Bacon proceeds: 'Knowledge is not a shop for profit or sale, but a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator, and the relief of men's estate.'"
["But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge: for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession"—[that is, for most of those objects which are meant by the ordinary titers of the saying, "Knowledge is power"]—"and seldom sincerely to give a true account of these gifts of reason to the benefit and use of men, as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down, with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale,—and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator, and the relief of men's estate."—Advancement of Learning, Book I.]
PARSON (remorsefully).—"Are those Lord Bacon's words? I am very sorry I spoke so uncharitably of his life. I must examine it again. I may find excuses for it now that I could not when I first formed my judgment. I was then a raw lad at Oxford. But I see, Leonard, there is still something on your mind."
LEONARD.—"It is true, sir: I would but ask whether it is not by knowledge that we arrive at the qualities and virtues you so well describe, but which you seem to consider as coming to us through channels apart from knowledge?"
PARSON.—"If you mean by the word 'knowledge' something very different from what you express in your Essay—and which those contending for mental instruction, irrespective of religion and ethics, appear also to convey by the word—you are right; but, remember, we have already agreed that by the word' knowledge' we mean culture purely intellectual."
LEONARD.—"That is true,—we so understood it."
PARSON.—"Thus, when this great Lord Bacon erred, you may say that he erred from want of knowledge,—the knowledge which moralists and preachers would convey. But Lord Bacon had read all that moralists and preachers could say on such matters; and he certainly did not err from want of intellectual cultivation. Let me here, my child, invite you to observe, that He who knew most of our human hearts and our immortal destinies did not insist on this intellectual culture as essential to the virtues that form our well-being here, and conduce to our salvation hereafter. Had it been essential, the All-wise One would not have selected humble fishermen for the teachers of His doctrine, instead of culling His disciples from Roman portico or Athenian academe. And this, which distinguishes so remarkably the Gospel from the ethics of heathen philosophy, wherein knowledge is declared to be necessary to virtue, is a proof how slight was the heathen sage's insight into the nature of mankind, when compared with the Saviour's; for hard indeed would it be to men, whether high or low, rich or poor, if science and learning, or contemplative philosophy, were the sole avenues to peace and redemption; since, in this state of ordeal requiring active duties, very few in any age, whether they be high or low, rich or poor, ever are or can be devoted to pursuits merely mental. Christ does not represent Heaven as a college for the learned. Therefore the rules of the Celestial Legislator are rendered clear to the simplest understanding as to the deepest."
RICCABOCCA.—"And that which Plato and Zeno, Pythagoras and Socrates could not do, was done by men whose ignorance would have been a by-word in the schools of the Greek. The gods of the vulgar were dethroned; the face of the world was changed! This thought may make us allow, indeed, that there are agencies more powerful than mere knowledge, and ask, after all, what is the mission which knowledge should achieve?"
PARSON.—"The Sacred Book tells us even that; for after establishing the truth that, for the multitude, knowledge is not essential to happiness and good, it accords still to knowledge its sublime part in the revelation prepared and announced. When an instrument of more than ordinary intelligence was required for a purpose divine; when the Gospel, recorded by the simple, was to be explained by the acute, enforced by the energetic, carried home to the doubts of the Gentile, the Supreme Will joined to the zeal of the earlier apostles the learning and genius of Saint Paul,—not holier than the others, calling himself the least, yet labouring more abundantly than they all, making himself all things unto all men, so that some might be saved. The ignorant may be saved no less surely than the wise; but here comes the wise man who helps to save. And how the fulness and animation of this grand Presence, of this indomitable Energy, seem to vivify the toil, and to speed the work! 'In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils amongst false brethren.' Behold, my son! does not Heaven here seem to reveal the true type of Knowledge,—a sleepless activity, a pervading agency, a dauntless heroism, an all-supporting faith?—a power, a power indeed; a power apart from the aggrandizement of self; a power that brings to him who owns and transmits it but 'weariness and painfulness; in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,'—but a power distinct from the mere circumstance of the man, rushing from him as rays from the sun; borne through the air, and clothing it with light, piercing under earth, and calling forth the harvest. Worship not knowledge, worship not the sun, O my child! Let the sun but proclaim the Creator; let the knowledge but illumine the worship!"
The good man, overcome by his own earnestness, paused; his head drooped on the young student's breast, and all three were long silent.
Whatever ridicule may be thrown upon Mr. Dale's dissertations by the wit of the enlightened, they had a considerable, and I think a beneficial, effect upon Leonard Fairfield,—an effect which may perhaps create less surprise, when the reader remembers that Leonard was unaccustomed to argument, and still retained many of the prejudices natural to his rustic breeding. Nay, he actually thought it possible that, as both Riccabocca and Mr. Dale were more than double his age, and had had opportunities not only of reading twice as many books, but of gathering up experience in wider ranges of life,—he actually, I say, thought it possible that they might be better acquainted with the properties and distinctions of knowledge than himself. At all events, the parson's words were so far well-timed, that they produced in Leonard very much of that state of mind which Mr. Dale desired to effect, before communicating to him the startling intelligence that he was to visit relations whom he had never seen, of whom he had heard but little, and that it was at least possible that the result of that visit might be to open to him greater facilities for instruction, and a higher degree in life.
Without some such preparation, I fear that Leonard would have gone forth into the world with an exaggerated notion of his own acquirements, and with a notion yet more exaggerated as to the kind of power that such knowledge as he possessed would obtain for itself. As it was, when Mr. Dale broke to him the news of the experimental journey before him, cautioning him against being over sanguine, Leonard received the intelligence with a serious meekness, and thoughts that were nobly solemn.
When the door closed on his visitors, he remained for some moments motionless, and in deep meditation; then he unclosed the door and stole forth. The night was already far advanced, the heavens were luminous with all the host of stars. "I think," said the student, referring, in later life, to that crisis in his destiny,—"I think it was then, as I stood alone, yet surrounded by worlds so numberless, that I first felt the distinction between mind and soul."
"Tell me," said Riccabocca, as he parted company with Mr. Dale, "whether you would have given to Frank Hazeldean, on entering life, the same lecture on the limits and ends of knowledge which you have bestowed on Leonard Fairfield?"
"My friend," quoth the parson, with a touch of human conceit, "I have ridden on horseback, and I know that some horses should be guided by the bridle, and some should be urged by the spur."
"Cospetto!" said Riccabocca, "you contrive to put every experience of yours to some use,—even your journey on Mr. Hazeldean's pad. And I now see why, in this little world of a village, you have picked up so general an acquaintance with life."
"Did you ever read White's' Natural History of Selborne'?"
"Do so, and you will find that you need not go far to learn the habits of birds, and know the difference between a swallow and a swift. Learn the difference in a village, and you know the difference wherever swallows and swifts skim the air."
"Swallows and swifts!—true; but men—"
"Are with us all the year round,—which is more than we can say of swallows and swifts."
"Mr. Dale," said Riccabocca, taking off his hat with great formality, "if ever again I find myself in a dilemma, I will come to you instead of to Machiavelli."
"Ah!" cried the parson, "if I could but have a calm hour's talk with you on the errors of the Papal relig—"
Riccabocca was off like a shot.
The next day Mr. Dale had a long conversation with Mrs. Fairfield. At first he found some difficulty in getting over her pride, and inducing her to accept overtures from parents who had so long slighted both Leonard and herself. And it would have been in vain to have put before the good woman the worldly advantages which such overtures implied. But when Mr. Dale said, almost sternly, "Your parents are old, your father infirm; their least wish should be as binding to you as their command," the widow bowed her head, and said,—
"God bless them, sir, I was very sinful 'Honour your father and mother.' I'm no schollard, but I know the Commandments. Let Lenny go. But he'll soon forget me, and mayhap he'll learn to be ashamed of me."
"There I will trust him," said the parson; and he contrived easily to reassure and soothe her.
It was not till all this was settled that Mr. Dale drew forth an unsealed letter, which Mr. Richard Avenel, taking his hint, had given to him, as from Leonard's grandparents, and said, "This is for you, and it contains an inclosure of some value."
"Will you read it, sir? As I said before, I'm no schollard."
"But Leonard is, and he will read it to you."
When Leonard returned home that evening, Mrs. Fairfield showed him the letter. It ran thus:—
DEAR JANE,—Mr. Dale will tell you that we wish Leonard to come to us. We are glad to hear you are well. We forward, by Mr. Dale, a bank-note for L50, which comes from Richard, your brother. So no more at present from your affectionate parents,
JOHN AND MARGARET AVENEL.
The letter was in a stiff female scrawl, and Leonard observed that two or three mistakes in spelling had been corrected, either in another pen or in a different hand.
"Dear brother Dick, how good in him!" cried the widow. "When I saw there was money, I thought it must be him. How I should like to see Dick again! But I s'pose he's still in Amerikay. Well, well, this will buy clothes for you."
"No; you must keep it all, Mother, and put it in the Savings Bank."
"I 'm not quite so silly as that," cried Mrs. Fairfield, with contempt; and she put the L50 into a cracked teapot.
"It must not stay there when I 'm gone. You may be robbed, Mother."
"Dear me, dear me, that's true. What shall I do with it? What do I want with it, too? Dear me! I wish they hadn't sent it. I sha' n't sleep in peace. You must e'en put it in your own pouch, and button it up tight, boy."
Lenny smiled, and took the note; but he took it to Mr. Dale, and begged him to put it into the Savings Bank for his mother.
The day following he went to take leave of his master, of Jackeymo, of the fountain, the garden. But after he had gone through the first of these adieus with Jackeymo—who, poor man, indulged in all the lively gesticulations of grief which make half the eloquence of his countrymen, and then, absolutely blubbering, hurried away—Leonard himself was so affected that he could not proceed at once to the house, but stood beside the fountain, trying hard to keep back his tears.
"You, Leonard—and you are going!" said a soft voice; and the tears fell faster than ever, for he recognized the voice of Violante.
"Do not cry," continued the child, with a kind of tender gravity. "You are going, but Papa says it would be selfish in us to grieve, for it is for your good; and we should be glad. But I am selfish, Leonard, and I do grieve. I shall miss you sadly."
"You, young lady,—you miss me?"
"Yes; but I do not cry, Leonard, for I envy you, and I wish I were a boy: I wish I could do as you."
The girl clasped her hands, and reared her slight form, with a kind of passionate dignity.
"Do as me, and part from all those you love!"
"But to serve those you love. One day you will come back to your mother's cottage, and say, 'I have conquered fortune.' Oh that I could go forth and return, as you will! But my father has no country, and his only child is a useless girl."
As Violante spoke, Leonard had dried his tears: her emotion distracted him from his own.
"Oh," continued Violante, again raising her head loftily, "what it is to be a man! A woman sighs, 'I wish,' but a man should say, 'I will.'"
Occasionally before Leonard had noted fitful flashes of a nature grand and heroic in the Italian child, especially of late,—flashes the more remarkable from the contrast to a form most exquisitely feminine, and to a sweetness of temper which made even her pride gentle. But now it seemed as if the child spoke with the command of a queen,—almost with the inspiration of a Muse. A strange and new sense of courage entered within him.
"May I remember these words!" he murmured, half audibly.
The girl turned and surveyed him with eyes brighter for their moisture. She then extended her hand to him, with a quick movement, and as he bent over it, with a grace taught to him by genuine emotion, she said, "And if you do, then, girl and child as I am, I shall think I have aided a brave heart in the great strife for honour!"
She lingered a moment, smiled as if to herself, and then, gliding away, was lost amongst the trees.
After a long pause, in which Leonard recovered slowly from the surprise and agitation into which Violante had thrown his spirits—previously excited as they were—he went, murmuring to himself, towards the house. But Riccabocca was from home. Leonard turned mechanically to the terrace, and busied himself with the flowers; but the dark eyes of Violante shone on his thoughts, and her voice rang in his ear.
At length Riccabocca appeared on the road, attended by a labourer, who carried something indistinct under his arm. The Italian beckoned to Leonard to follow him into the parlour, and after conversing with him kindly, and at some length, and packing up, as it were, a considerable provision of wisdom in the portable shape of aphorisms and proverbs, the sage left him alone for a few moments. Riccabocca then returned with his wife, and bearing a small knapsack:—
"It is not much we can do for you, Leonard, and money is the worst gift in the world for a keepsake; but my wife and I have put our heads together to furnish you with a little outfit. Giacomo, who was in our secret, assures us that the clothes will fit; and stole, I fancy, a coat of yours, to have the right measure. Put them on when you go to your relations: it is astonishing what a difference it makes in the ideas people form of us, according as our coats are cut one way or another. I should not be presentable in London thus; and nothing is more true than that a tailor is often the making of a man."
"The shirts, too, are very good holland," said Mrs. Riccabocca, about to open the knapsack.
"Never mind details, my dear," cried the wise man; "shirts are comprehended in the general principle of clothes. And, Leonard, as a remembrance somewhat more personal, accept this, which I have worn many a year when time was a thing of importance to me, and nobler fates than mine hung on a moment. We missed the moment, or abused it; and here I am a waif on a foreign shore. Methinks I have done with Time."
The exile, as he thus spoke, placed in Leonard's reluctant hands a watch that would have delighted an antiquary, and shocked a dandy. It was exceedingly thick, having an outer case of enamel and an inner one of gold. The hands and the figures of the hours had originally been formed of brilliants; but the brilliants had long since vanished. Still, even thus bereft, the watch was much more in character with the giver than the receiver, and was as little suited to Leonard as would have been the red silk umbrella.
"It is old-fashioned," said Mrs. Riccabocca; "but it goes better than any clock in the county. I really think it will last to the end of the world."
"Carissima mia!" cried the doctor, "I thought I had convinced you that the world is by no means come to its last legs."
"Oh, I did not mean anything, Alphonso," said Mrs. Riccabocca, colouring.
"And that is all we do mean when we talk about that of which we can know nothing," said the doctor, less gallantly than usual, for he resented that epithet of "old-fashioned," as applied to the watch.
Leonard, we see, had been silent all this time; he could not speak,—literally and truly, he could not speak. How he got out of his embarrassment and how he got out of the room, he never explained to my satisfaction. But a few minutes afterwards, he was seen hurrying down the road very briskly.
Riccabocca and his wife stood at the window gazing after him.
"There is a depth in that boy's heart," said the sage, "which might float an argosy."
"Poor dear boy! I think we have put everything into the knapsack that he can possibly want," said good Mrs. Riccabocca, musingly.
THE DOCTOR (continuing his soliloquy).—"They are strong, but they are not immediately apparent."
MRS. RICCABOCCA (resuming hers).—"They are at the bottom of the knapsack."
THE DOCTOR.—"They will stand long wear and tear."
MRS. RICCABOCCA.—"A year, at least, with proper care at the wash."
THE DOCTOR (startled).—"Care at the wash! What on earth are you talking of, ma'am?"
MRS. RICCABOCCA (mildly).—"The shirts, to be sure, my love! And you?"
THE DOCTOR (with a heavy sigh).—"The feelings, ma'am!" Then, after a pause, taking his wife's hand affectionately, "But you did quite right to think of the shirts: Mr. Dale said very truly—"
THE DOCTOR.—"That there was a great deal in common between us—even when I think of feelings, and you but of—shirts!"