Jel. (soothingly.) But it's to make you well, you know, my dear Mr Cadaverous. Come, now. (Hands him a pill and some water in a tumbler.)
Cad. The last one is hardly down yet;—I feel it sticking half-way. Ugh! ugh!
Jel. Then wash them both down at once. Come, now, 'tis to make you well, you know.
[Cadaverous takes the pill with a wry face, and coughs it up again.
Cad. Ugh! ugh! There—it's up again. Oh dear! oh dear!
Jel. You must take it, my dear sir. Come, now, try again.
Cad. (coughing.) My cough is so bad. (Takes the pill.) Oh, my poor head! Now I'll lie down again.
Jel. Not yet, my dear Mr Cadaverous. You must take your draught;—it's to make you well, you know.
Cad. What! another draught? I'm sure I must have twenty draughts in my inside, besides two boxes of pills!
Jel. Come, now—it will be down in a minute.
[Cadaverous takes the wine-glass in his hand, and looks at it with abhorrence.
Jel. Come, now.
[Cadaverous swallows the draught, and feels very sick, puts his handkerchief to his mouth, and, after a time, sinks back in the chair quite exhausted, and shuts his eyes.
Jel. (Aside.) I wish the doctor would come. It's high time that he made his will.
Cad. (drawing up his leg.) Oh! oh! oh!
Jel. What's the matter, my dear Mr Cadaverous?
Cad. Oh! such pain!—oh! rub it, Mrs Jellybags.
Jel. What, here, my dear sir? (Rubs his knee.)
Cad. No, no!—not there!—Oh, my hip!
Jel. What, here? (Rubs his hip.)
Cad. No, no!—higher—higher! Oh, my side!
Jel. What, here? (Rubs his side.)
Jel. Here? (Rubbing.)
Cad. No!—higher!—Oh, my chest!—my stomach! Oh dear!—oh dear!
Jel. Are you better now, my dear sir?
Cad. Oh dear! oh! I do believe that I shall die! I've been a very wicked man, I'm afraid.
Jel. Don't say so, Mr Cadaverous. Every one but your nephews and nieces say that you are the best man in the world.
Cad. Do they? I was afraid that I had not been quite so good as they think I am.
Jel. I'd like to hear any one say to the contrary. I'd tear their eyes out,—that I would.
Cad. You are a good woman, Mrs Jellybags; and I shall not forget you in my will.
Jel. Don't mention wills, my dear sir. You make me so miserable. (Puts her handkerchief to her eyes.)
Cad. Don't cry, Mrs Jellybags. I wo'n't talk any more about it. (Sinks back exhausted.)
Jel. (wiping her eyes.) Here comes Doctor Gumarabic.
Gum. Good morning, Mistress Jellybags. Well, how's our patient?—better?—heh? [Mrs Jellybags shakes her head.
Gum. No: well, that's odd. (Goes up to Mr Cadaverous.) Not better, my dear sir?—don't you feel stronger?
Cad. (faintly). Oh, no!
Gum. Not stronger! Let us feel the pulse. [Mrs Jellybags hands a chair, and Gumarabic sits down, pulls out his watch, and counts.] Intermittent—135—well, now—that's very odd! Mrs Jellybags, have you adhered punctually to my prescriptions?
Jel. Oh yes, sir, exactly.
Gum. He has eaten nothing?
Cad. Nothing at all.
Gum. And don't feel stronger? Odd—very odd! Pray, has he had anything in the way of drink? Come, Mrs Jellybags, no disguise,—tell the truth;—no soup—warm jelly—heh?
Jel. No, sir; upon my word, he has had nothing.
Gum. Humph!—and yet feels no stronger? Well, that's odd!—Has he taken the pill every half-hour?
Jel. Yes, sir, regularly.
Gum. And feels no better! Are you sure that he has had his draught with his pill?
Jel. Every time, sir.
Gum. And feels no better! Well, that's odd!—very odd, indeed! (Rises and comes forward with Mrs Jellybags.) We must throw in some more draughts, Mrs Jellybags; there is no time to be lost.
Jel. I'm afraid he's much worse, sir.
Gum. I am not at all afraid of it, Mrs Jellybags,—I am sure of it;—it's very odd,—but the fact is, that all the physic in the world won't save him; but still he must take it,—because—physic was made to be taken.
Jel. Very true, sir. (Whispers to Gumarabic.)
Gum. Ah! yes;—very proper. (Going to Mr Cadaverous.) My dear sir, I have done my best; nevertheless, you are ill,—very ill,—which is odd,—very odd! It is not pleasant,—I may say, very unpleasant,—but if you have any little worldly affairs to settle,—will to make,—or a codicil to add, in favour of your good nurse, your doctor, or so on,—it might be as well to send for your lawyer;—there is no saying, but, during my practice, I have sometimes found that people die. After all the physic you have taken, it certainly is odd—very odd—very odd, indeed;—but you might die to-morrow.
Cad. Oh dear!—I'm very ill.
Jel. (sobbing.) Oh dear! oh dear!—he's very ill.
Gum. (comes forward, shrugging up his shoulders.) Yes; he is ill—very ill;—to-morrow, dead as mutton! At all events he has not died for WANT of physic. We must throw in some more draughts immediately;—no time to be lost. Life is short,—but my bill will be long—very long! [Exit as scene closes.
Act II. Scene I.
Enter Clementina, with a letter in her hand.
Clem. I have just received a letter from my dear Edward: he knows of my uncle's danger, and is anxious to see me. I expect him immediately. I hope he will not be seen by Mrs Jellybags as he comes in, for she would try to make more mischief than she has already. Dear Edward! how he loves me! (Kisses the letter.)
Edw. My lovely, my beautiful, my adored Clementina! I have called upon Mr Gumarabic, who tells me that your uncle cannot live through the twenty-four hours, and I have flown here, my sweetest, dearest, to—to——
Clem. To see me, Edward: surely there needs no excuse for coming?
Edw. To reiterate my ardent, pure, and unchangeable affection, my dearest Clementina; to assure you, that in sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, as they say in the marriage ceremony, I am yours till death us do part.
Clem. I accept the vow, dearest Edward. You know too well my heart for me to say more.
Edw. I do know your heart, Clementina, as it is,—nor do I think it possible that you could change;—still, sometimes—that is for a moment when I call to mind that, by your uncle's death, as his favourite niece, living with him for so many years, you may soon find yourself in the possession of thousands,—and that titled men may lay their coronets at your feet,—then, Clementina——
Clem. Ungenerous and unkind!—Edward, I almost hate you. Is a little money, then, to sway my affections? Shame, Edward, shame on you! Is such your opinion of my constancy? (Weeps.) You must judge me by your own heart.
Edw. Clementina! dearest Clementina!—I did!—but rather—that is,—I was not in earnest;—but when we value any object as I value you,—it may be forgiven, if I feel at times a little jealous;—yes, dearest, jealous!
Clem. 'Twas jealousy then, Edward, which made you so unkind? Well, then, I can forgive that.
Edw. Nothing but jealousy, dearest! I cannot help, at times, representing you surrounded by noble admirers,—all of them suing to you,—not for yourself, but for your money,—tempting you with their rank;—and it makes me jealous, horribly jealous! I cannot compete with lords, Clementina,—a poor barrister without a brief.
Clem. I have loved you for yourself, Edward. I trust you have done the same toward me.
Edw. Yes; upon my soul, my Clementina!
Clem. Then my uncle's disposition of his property will make no difference in me. For your sake, my dear Edward, I hope he will not forget me. What's that? Mrs Jellybags is coming out of the room. Haste, Edward;—you must not be seen here. Away, dearest!—and may God bless you.
Edw. (kisses her hand.) Heaven preserve my adored, my matchless, ever-to-be-loved Clementina. [Exeunt separately.
The sick-room—Mr Cadaverous, lying on a sofa-bed—Mr Seedy, the lawyer, sitting by his side, with papers on the table before him.
Seedy. I believe now, sir, that everything is arranged in your will according to your instructions. Shall I read it over again; for although signed and witnessed, you may make any alteration you please by a codicil.
Cad. No, no. You have read it twice, Mr Seedy, and you may leave me now. I am ill, very ill, and wish to be alone.
Seedy (folds up his papers and rises.) I take my leave, Mr Cadaverous, trusting to be long employed as your solicitor.
Cad. Afraid not, Mr Seedy. Lawyers have no great interest in heaven. Your being my solicitor will not help me there.
Seedy (coming forward as he goes out.) Not a sixpence to his legal adviser! Well, well! I know how to make out a bill for the executors. [Exit Seedy, and enter Mrs Jellybags.
Jel. (with her handkerchief to her eyes.) Oh dear! oh dear! oh, Mr Cadaverous, how can you fatigue and annoy yourself with such things as wills?
Cad. (faintly.) Don't cry, Mrs Jellybags. I've not forgotten you.
Jel. (sobbing.) I can't—help—crying. And there's Miss Clementina,—now that you are dying,—who insists upon coming in to see you.
Cad. Clementina, my niece, let her come in, Mrs Jellybags; I feel I'm going fast,—I may as well take leave of everybody.
Jel. (sobbing.) Oh dear! oh dear! You may come in, Miss.
Clem. My dear uncle, why have you, for so many days, refused me admittance? Every morning have I asked to be allowed to come and nurse you, and for more than three weeks have received a positive refusal.
Cad. Refusal! Why I never had a message from you.
Clem. No message! Every day I have sent, and every day did Mrs Jellybags reply that you would not see me.
Cad. (faintly.) Mrs Jellybags,—Mrs Jellybags——
Clem. Yes, uncle; it is true as I stand here;—and my brother Thomas has called almost every day, and John every Sunday, the only day he can leave the banking house; and cousins William and James have both been here very often.
Cad. Nobody told me! I thought everyone had forgotten me. Why was I not informed, Mrs Jellybags?
Jel. (in a rage.) Why, you little story-telling creature, coming here to impose upon your good uncle! You know that no one has been here—not a soul;—and as for yourself, you have been too busy looking after a certain gentleman ever to think of your poor uncle;—that you have;—taking advantage of his illness to behave in so indecorous a manner. I would have told him everything, but I was afraid of making him worse.
Clem. You are a false, wicked woman!
Jel. Little impudent creature,—trying to make mischief between me and my kind master, but it won't do. (To Clementina aside.) The will is signed, and I'll take care he does not alter it;—so do your worst.
Cad. (faintly.) Give me the mixture, Mrs——
Clem. I will, dear uncle. (Pours out the restorative mixture in a glass.)
Jel. (going back.) You will, Miss!—indeed! but you shan't.
Clem. Be quiet, Mrs Jellybags;—allow me at least to do something for my poor uncle.
Cad. Give me the mix——
Jel. (prevents Clementina from giving it, and tries to take it from her.) You shan't, Miss!—You never shall.
Cad. Give me the——
[Mrs Jellybags and Clementina scuffle, at last Clementina throws the contents of the glass into Mrs Jellybags's face.
Clem. There, then!—since you will have it.
Jel. (in a rage.) You little minx!—I'll be revenged for that. Wait a little till the will is read,—that's all!—See if I don't bundle you out of doors,—that I will.
Clem. As you please, Mrs Jellybags; but pray, give my poor uncle his restorative mixture.
Jel. To please you?—Not I! I'll not give him a drop till I think proper. Little, infamous, good-for-nothing——
Cad. Give me——oh!
Clem. Oh! as for that, Mrs Jellybags, the big sergeant was here last night—I know that. Talk of men, indeed!
Jel. Very well, Miss!—very well! Stop till the breath is out of your uncle's body—and I'll beat you till yours is also.
Clem. My poor uncle! He will have no help till I leave the room—I must go. Infamous Woman! [Exit.
Jel. I'm in such a rage!—I could tear her to pieces!—the little!—the gnat! Oh, I'll be revenged! Stop till the will is read, and then I'll turn her out into the streets to starve. Yes! yes! the will!—the will! (Pauses and pants for breath.) Now, I recollect the old fellow called for his mixture. I must go and get some more. I'll teach her to throw physic in my face.
[Goes out and returns with a phial—pours out a portion and goes up to Mr Cadaverous.
Jel. Here, my dear Mr Cadaverous. Mercy on me!—Mr Cadaverous!—why, he's fainted!—Mr Cadaverous! (Screams) Lord help us!—why he's dead! Well now, this sort of thing does give one a shock, even when one has longed for it. Yes, he's quite dead! (Coming forward.) So, there's an end of all his troubles—and, thank Heaven! of mine also. Now for Sergeant-Major O'Callaghan, and—love! Now for Miss Clementina, and—revenge! But first the will!—the will! [Curtain drops.
Oh dear!—this is a very long morning. I feel such suspense—such anxiety; and poor Sergeant-Major O'Callaghan is quite in a perspiration! He is drinking and smoking down in the kitchen to pass away the time, and if the lawyer don't come soon, the dear man will be quite fuddled. He talks of buying a farm in the country. Well, we shall see; but if the Sergeant thinks that he will make ducks and drakes of my money, he is mistaken. I have not been three times a widow for nothing—I will have it all settled upon myself; that must and shall be, or else—no Sergeant O'Callaghan for me!
So, here you are, Miss. Well, we'll wait till the will is read, and then we shall see who is mistress here.
Clem. I am as anxious as you, Mrs Jellybags. You may have wheedled my poor uncle to make the will in your favour; if so, depend upon it, I shall expect nothing from your hands.
Jel. I should rather think not, Miss. If I recollect right, you threw the carminative mixture in my face.
Clem. And made you blush for the first time in your life.
Jel. I shall not blush to slam the door in your face.
Clem. Rather than be indebted to you, I would beg my bread from door to door.
Jel. I expect that you very soon will.
Edw. My dearest Clementina, I have come to support you on this trying occasion.
Jel. And ascertain how matters stand, before you decide upon marrying, I presume, Mr Edward.
Edw. Madam, I am above all pecuniary considerations.
Jel. So everybody says, when they think themselves sure of money.
Edw. You judge of others by yourself.
Jel. Perhaps I do—I certainly do expect to be rewarded for my long and faithful services.
Clem. Do not waste words upon her, my dear. You have my solemn promise, nothing shall change my feelings towards you.
Jel. That may be; but did it never occur to you, Miss, that the gentleman's feelings might alter?
Edw. Detestable wretch!
[Hands Clementina to a chair on the right, and sits by her.
Enter Nephews John, Thomas, William, and James, all with white pocket-handkerchiefs in their hand—they take their seats two right and two left.
Jel. (Aside.) Here they all come, like crows that smell carrion. How odious is the selfishness of this world! But here is Mr Gumarabic. How do you do, sir? (Curtsies with a grave air.)
Gum. Very well, I thank you, Mrs Jellybags. Can't say the same of all my patients. Just happened to pass by—thought I would step in and hear the will read—odd, that I should pop in at the time—very odd. Pray, may I ask, my dear Mrs Jellybags, were you present at the making of the will?
Jel. No, my dear sir; my nerves would not permit me.
Gum. Nerves!—odd, very odd! Then you don't know how things are settled?
Jel. No more than the man in the moon, my dear sir.
Gum. Man in the moon!—odd comparison that from a woman!—very odd! Hope my chance won't prove all moonshine.
Jel. I should think not, my dear sir; but here comes Mr Seedy, and we shall soon know all about it.
Enter Mr Seedy—Mrs Jellybags, all courtesy, waves her hand to a chair in the centre, with a table before it. Mr Seedy sits down, pulls the will out of his pocket, lays it on the table, takes out his snuff-box, takes a pinch, then his handkerchief, blows his nose, snuffs the candles, takes his spectacles from his waistcoat pocket, puts them on, breaks the seals, and bows to the company; Mrs Jellybags has taken her seat on the left next to him, and Doctor Gumarabic by her side. Mrs Jellybags sobs very loud, with her handkerchief to her face.
Seedy. Silence, if you please.
Mrs Jellybags stops sobbing immediately.
Edw. (putting his arm round Clementina's waist.) My dearest Clementina!
Mr Seedy hems twice, and then reads.
"The Last Will and Testament of Christopher Cadaverous, Gentleman, of Copse Horton, in the county of Cumberland.
"I, Christopher Cadaverous, being at this time in sound mind, do hereby make my last will and testament.
"First, I pray that I may be forgiven all my manifold sins and wickedness, and I do beg forgiveness of all those whom I may have injured unintentionally or otherwise; and at the same time do pardon all those who may have done me wrong, even to John Jones, the turnpike man, who unjustly made me pay the threepenny toll twice over on Easter last, when I went up to receive my dividends.
"My property, personal and real, I devise to my two friends Solomon Lazarus, residing at No. 3 Lower Thames-street, and Hezekiah Flint, residing at No. 16 Lothbury, to have and to hold for the following uses and purposes:—
"First, to my dearly-beloved niece, Clementina Montagu, I leave the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds, 3-1/2 per cent, consols, for her sole use and benefit, to be made over to her, both principal and interest, on the day of her marriage.
[Edwards withdraws his arm from Clementina's waist—turns half round from her, and falls back in his chair with a pish!
"To my nephew, Thomas Montagu, I leave the sum of nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence—having deducted the other sixpence to avoid the legacy duty.
[Thomas turns from the lawyer with his face to the front of the stage, crossing his legs.
"To my nephew, John Montagu, I leave also the sum of nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence.
[John turns away in the same manner.
"To my nephew, once removed, James Stirling, I leave the sum of five pounds to purchase a suit of mourning.
[James turns away as the others.
"To my nephew, once removed, William Stirling, I also leave the sum of five pounds to purchase a suit of mourning. [William turns away as the others.
"To my kind and affectionate housekeeper, Mrs Martha Jellybags——"
[Mrs Jellybags sobs loudly, and cries "Oh dear! Oh dear!"
Mr Seedy. Silence, if your please. [Reads.
"In return for all her attention to me during my illness, and her ten years' service, I leave the whole of my——
[Mr Seedy having come to the bottom of the page lays down the will, takes out his snuff-box, takes a pinch, blows his nose, snuffs the candles, and proceeds.
—"I leave the whole of my wardrobe, for her entire use and disposal; and also my silver watch with my key and seal hanging to it.
"And having thus provided for——"
[Mrs Jellybags, who has been listening attentively, interrupts Mr Seedy in great agitation.
Jel. Will you be pleased to read that part over again?
Seedy. Certainly, ma'am. "I leave the whole of my wardrobe, and also my silver watch, with the key and seal hanging to it.
[Mrs Jellybags screams, and falls back in a swoon on her chair—no one assists her.
"And having thus provided for all my relations, I do hereby devise the rest of my property to the said Solomon Lazarus and Hezekiah Flint, to have and to hold for the building and endowment of an hospital for diseases of the heart, lights, liver, and spleen, as set off by the provisions in the schedule annexed to my will as part and codicil to it."
Seedy. Would the relations like me to read the provisions?
Omnes. No! no! no!
(Mr Seedy is about to fold up the papers.)
Gum. I beg your pardon, sir, but is there no other codicil?
Seedy. I beg your pardon, Mr Gumarabic, I recollect now there is one relative to you.
Gum. (nods his head.) I thought so.
"And whereas I consider that my apothecary, Mr Haustus Gumarabic, hath sent in much unnecessary physic, during my long illness—it is my earnest request that my executors will not fail to tax his bill."
Gum. (rises and comes forward.) Tax my bill!—well that is odd, very odd! I may as well go and look after my patients. [Exit.
(James and William come forward.)
James. I say, Bill, how are you off for a suit of mourning?
Will. Thanky for nothing, Jem. If the old gentleman don't go to heaven until I put it on, he will be in a very bad way. Come along, it's no use staying here.
(John and Thomas come forward.)
John. I say, Tom, how are you off for nineteen pounds nineteen and six? Heh!
Thos. Let's toss and see which shall have both legacies. Here goes—heads or tails?
John. Woman for ever.
Thos. You've won, so there's an end of not only my expectations but realities. Come along, Mrs Jellybags must be anxious to look over her wardrobe.
John. Yes, and also the silver watch and the key and seal hanging to it. Good-bye, Jemmy! Ha! ha!
Clem. For shame, John. (Turns to Edward.) My dear Edward, do not appear so downcast. I acknowledge that I am myself much mortified and disappointed—but we must submit to circumstances. What did I tell you before this will was read?—that nothing could alter my feelings towards you, did I not?
Edw. (with indifference.) Yes.
Clem. Why then annoy yourself, my dear Edward?
Edw. The confounded old junks!
Clem. Nay, Edward, recollect that he is dead—I can forgive him.
Edw. But I won't. Has he not dashed my cup of bliss to the ground? Heavens! what delightful anticipations I had formed of possessing you and competence—all gone!
Clem. All gone, dear Edward?
[Mrs Jellybags, who has been sitting very still, takes her handkerchief from her eyes and listens.
Edw. Yes, gone!—gone for ever! Do you imagine, my ever dear Clementina, that I would be so base, so cruel, so regardless of you and your welfare, to entrap you into marriage with only one hundred and fifty pounds? No, no!—judge me better. I sacrifice myself—my happiness—all for you!—banish myself from your dear presence, and retire to pass the remainder of my existence in misery and regret, maddened with the feeling that some happier mortal will obtain that dear hand, and will rejoice in the possession of those charms which I had too fondly, too credulously, imagined as certain to be mine.
[Takes out his handkerchief, and covers his face; Clementina also puts her handkerchief to her face and weeps. Mrs Jellybags nods her head ironically.
Edw. My dear, dear Clementina!
Clem. You won't have me?
Edw. My honour forbids it. If you knew my feelings—how this poor heart is racked!
Clem. Don't leave me, Edward. Did you not say that for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, you would be mine, till death did us part?
Edw. Did I?
Clem. You know you did, Edward.
Edw. It's astonishing how much nonsense we talk when in love. My dearest Clementina, let us be rational. We are almost without a sixpence. There is an old adage, that when poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window. Shall I then make you miserable! No, no! Hear me, Clementina. I will be generous. I now absolve you from all your vows. You are free. Should the time ever come that prosperity shine upon me, and I find that I have sufficient for both of us of that dross which I despise, then will I return, and, should my Clementina not have entered into any other engagement, throw my fortune and my person at her feet. Till then, dearest Clementina, farewell!
Clem. (sinking into a chair sobbing.) Cruel Edward! Oh, my heart will break!
Edw. I can bear it myself no longer. Farewell! farewell!
Jel. (coming forward.) Well, this is some comfort. (To Clementina.) Did not I tell you, Miss, that if you did not change your mind, others might?
Clem. Leave me, leave me.
Jel. No, I shan't; I have as good a right here as you, at all events. I shall stay, Miss.
Clem. (rising.) Stay then—but I shall not. Oh, Edward! Edward!
Jel. (alone.) Well, I really thought I should have burst—to be forced not to allow people to suppose that I cared, when I should like to tear the old wretch out of his coffin to beat him. His wardrobe! If people knew his wardrobe as well as I do, who have been patching at it these last ten years—not a shirt or a stocking that would fetch sixpence! And as for his other garments, why a Jew would hardly put them into his bag! (Crying.) Oh dear! oh dear! After all, I'm just like Miss Clementina; for Sergeant O'Callaghan, when he knows all this, will as surely walk off without beat of drum, as did Mr Edward—and that too with all the money I have lent him. Oh these men! these men!—whether they are living or dying there is nothing in them but treachery and disappointment! When they pretend to be in love, they only are trying for your money; and e'en when they make their wills, they leave to those behind them nothing but ill-will!
[Exit, crying, off the stage as the curtain falls.
How to write a Fashionable Novel
[Scene.—Chambers in Lincoln's Inn. Arthur Ansard at a briefless table, tete-a-tete with his wig on a block. A. casts a disconsolate look upon his companion, and soliloquises.]
Yes, there you stand, "partner of my toils, my feelings, and my fame." We do not suit, for we never gained a suit together. Well, what with reporting for the bar, writing for the Annuals and the Pocket-books, I shall be able to meet all demands, except those of my tailor; and, as his bill is most characteristically long, I think I shall be able to make it stretch over till next term, by which time I hope to fulfil my engagements with Mr C., who has given me an order for a fashionable novel, written by a "nobleman." But how I, who was never inside of an aristocratical mansion in my life, whose whole idea of Court is comprised in the Court of King's Bench, am to complete my engagement, I know no more than my companion opposite, who looks so placidly stupid under my venerable wig. As far as the street door, the footman and carriage, and the porter, are concerned, I can manage well enough; but as to what occurs within doors, I am quite abroad. I shall never get through the first chapter; yet that tailor's bill must be paid. (Knocking outside.) Come in, I pray.
B. Merry Christmas to you, Arthur.
A. Sit down, my dear fellow; but don't mock me with merry Christmas. He emigrated long ago. Answer me seriously: do you think it possible for a man to describe what he never saw?
B. (putting his stick up to his chin.) Why, 'tis possible; but I would not answer for the description being quite correct.
A. But suppose the parties who read it have never seen the thing described?
B. Why then it won't signify whether the description be correct or not.
A. You have taken a load off my mind; but still I am not quite at ease. I have engaged to furnish C. with a fashionable novel.
B. What do you mean to imply by a fashionable novel?
A. I really can hardly tell. His stipulations were, that it was to be a "fashionable novel in three volumes, each volume not less than three hundred pages."
B. That is to say, that you are to assist him in imposing on the public.
A. Something very like it, I'm afraid; as it is further agreed that it is to be puffed as coming from a highly talented nobleman.
B. You should not do it, Ansard.
A. So conscience tells me, but my tailor's bill says Yes; and that is a thing out of all conscience. Only look here.
[Displays a long bill.
B. Why, I must acknowledge, Ansard, that there is some excuse. One needs must, when the devil drives; but you are capable of better things.
A. I certainly don't feel great capability in this instance. But what can I do? The man will have nothing else—he says the public will read nothing else.
B. That is to say, that because one talented author astonished the public by style and merits peculiarly his own, and established, as it were, a school for neophites, his popularity is to be injured by contemptible imitators. It is sufficient to drive a man mad, to find that the tinsel of others, if to be purchased more cheaply, is to be pawned upon the public instead of his gold; and more annoying still, that the majority of the public cannot appreciate the difference between the metal and the alloy. Do you know, Ansard, that by getting up this work, you really injure the popularity of a man of great talent?
A. Will he pay my tailor's bill?
B. No; I daresay he has enough to do to pay his own. What does your tailor say?
A. He is a staunch reformer, and on March the 1st he declares that he will have the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill—carried to my credit. Mr C., on the 10th of February, also expects the novel, the whole novel, and nothing but the novel, and that must be a fashionable novel. Look here, Barnstaple. (Shows his tailor's bill.)
B. I see how it is. He "pays your poverty, and not your will."
A. And, by your leave, I thus must pay my bill (bowing.)
B. Well, well, I can help you: nothing more difficult than to write a good novel, and nothing more easy than to write a bad one. If I were not above the temptation, I could pen you a dozen of the latter every ordinary year, and thirteen, perhaps, in the bissextile. So banish that Christmas cloud from your brow; leave off nibbling your pen at the wrong end, and clap a fresh nib to the right one. I have an hour to spare.
A. I thank you: that spare hour of yours may save me many a spare day. I'm all attention—proceed.
B. The first point to be considered is the tempus, or time; the next the locus, or place; and lastly, the dramatis personae; and thus, chapter upon chapter, will you build a novel.
B. Yes, build; you have had your dimensions given, the interior is left to your own decoration. First, as to the opening. Suppose we introduce the hero in his dressing-room. We have something of the kind in Pelham; and if we can't copy his merits, we must his peculiarities. Besides, it always is effective: a dressing-room or boudoir of supposed great people, is admitting the vulgar into the arcana, which they delight in.
A. Nothing can be better.
B. Then, as to time; as the hero is still in bed, suppose we say four o'clock in the afternoon?
A. In the morning, you mean.
B. No; the afternoon. I grant you that fashionable young men in real life get up much about the same time as other people; but in a fashionable novel your real exclusive never rises early. The very idea makes the tradesman's wife lift up her eyes. So begin. "It was about thirty-three minutes after four, post meridian——"
A. Minute—to a minute!
B. "That the Honourable Augustus Bouverie's finely chiselled——"
B. Yes; great people are always chiselled; common people are only cast.—"Finely chiselled head was still recumbent upon his silk-encased pillow. His luxuriant and Antinous-like curls were now confined in papillotes of the finest satin paper, and the tout ensemble of his head——"
A. Tout ensemble!
B. Yes; go on.—"Was gently compressed by a caul of the finest net-work, composed of the threads spun from the beauteous production of the Italian worm."
A. Ah! now I perceive—a silk nightcap. But why can't I say at once a silk nightcap?
B. Because you are writing a fashionable novel.—"With the forefinger of his gloved left hand——"
A. But he's not coming in from a walk—he's not yet out of bed.
B. You don't understand it.—"Gloved left hand he applied a gentle friction to the portal of his right eye, which unclosing at the silent summons, enabled him to perceive a repeater studded with brilliants, and ascertain the exact minute of time, which we have already made known to the reader, and at which our history opens."
A. A very grand opening indeed!
B. Not more than it ought to be for a fashionable novel.—"At the sound of a silver clochette, his faithful Swiss valet Coridon, who had for some time been unperceived at the door, waiting for some notice of his master, having thrown off the empire of Somnus, in his light pumps, covered with beaver, moved with noiseless step up to the bedside, like the advance of eve stealing over the face of nature."
A. Rather an incongruous simile.
B. Not for a fashionable novel.—"There he stood, like Taciturnity bowing at the feet of proud Authority."
A. Indeed, Barnstaple, that is too outre.
B. Not a whit: I am in the true "Cambysis' vein."—"Coridon having softly withdrawn the rose-coloured gros de Naples bed-curtains, which by some might have been thought to have been rather too extravagantly fringed with the finest Mechlin lace, exclaimed with a tone of tremulous deference and affection, 'Monsieur a bien dormi?' 'Coridon,' said the Honourable Augustus Bouverie, raising himself on his elbow in that eminently graceful attitude, for which he was so remarkable when reclining on the ottomans at Almack's——"
A. Are you sure they have ottamans there?
B. No; but your readers can't disprove it.—"'Coridon,' said he, surveying his attendant from head to foot, and ultimately assuming a severity of countenance, 'Coridon, you are becoming gross, if not positively what the people call fat.' The Swiss attendant fell back in graceful astonishment three steps, and arching his eyebrows, extending his inverted palms forward, and raising his shoulders above the apex of his head, exclaimed, 'Pardon, mi lor, j'en aurois un horreur parfait.' 'I tell you,' replied our gracefully recumbent hero, 'that it is so, Coridon; and I ascribe it to your partiality for that detestable wine called Port. Confine yourself to Hock and Moselle, sirrah: I fear me, you have a base hankering after mutton and beef. Restrict yourself to salads, and do not sin even with an omelette more than once a week. Coridon must be visionary and diaphanous, or he is no Coridon for me. Remove my night-gloves, and assist me to rise: it is past four o'clock, and the sun must have, by this time, sufficiently aired this terrestrial globe.'"
A. I have it now; I feel I could go on for an hour.
B. Longer than that, before you get him out of his dressing-room. You must make at least five chapters before he is apparelled, or how can you write a fashionable novel, in which you cannot afford more than two incidents in the three volumes? Two are absolutely necessary for the editor of the —— Gazette to extract as specimens, before he winds up an eulogy. Do you think that you can proceed now for a week, without my assistance?
A. I think so, if you will first give me some general ideas. In the first place, am I always to continue in this style?
B. No; I thought you knew better. You must throw in patches of philosophy every now and then.
A. Philosophy in a fashionable novel?
B. Most assuredly, or it would be complained of as trifling; but a piece, now and then, of philosophy, as unintelligible as possible, stamps it with deep thought. In the dressing-room, or boudoir, it must be occasionally Epicurean; elsewhere, especially in the open air, more Stoical.
A. I'm afraid that I shall not manage that without a specimen to copy from. Now I think of it, Eugene Aram says something very beautiful on a starry night.
B. He does: it is one of the most splendid pieces of writing in our language. But I will have no profanation, Arthur;—to your pen again, and write. We'll suppose our hero to have retired from the crowded festivities of a ball-room at some lordly mansion in the country, and to have wandered into a churchyard, damp and dreary with a thick London fog. In the light dress of fashion, he throws himself on a tombstone. "Ye dead!" exclaims the hero, "where are ye? Do your disembodied spirits now float around me, and, shrouded in this horrible veil of nature, glare unseen upon vitality? Float ye upon this intolerable mist, in yourselves still more misty and intolerable? Hold ye high jubilee to-night? or do ye crouch behind these monitorial stones, gibbering and chattering at one who dares thus to invade your precincts? Here may I hold communion with my soul, and, in the invisible presence of those who could, but dare not to reveal. Away! it must not be."
A. What mustn't be?
B. That is the mystery which gives the point to his soliloquy. Leave it to the reader's imagination.
A. I understand. But still the Honourable Augustus cannot lie in bed much longer, and I really shall not be able to get him out without your assistance. I do not comprehend how a man can get out of bed gracefully; he must show his bare legs, and the alteration of position is in itself awkward.
B. Not half so awkward as you are. Do you not feel that he must not be got out of bed at all—that is, by description.
A. How then?
B. By saying nothing about it. Re-commence as follows:—"'I should like the bath at seventy-six and a half, Coridon,' observed the Honourable Augustus Bouverie, as he wrapped his embroidered dressing-gown round his elegant form, and sank into a chaise longue, wheeled by his faithful attendant to the fire." There, you observe, he is out of bed, and nothing said about it.
A. Go on, I pray thee.
B. "'How is the bath perfumed?' 'Eau de mille fleurs.' 'Eau de mille fleurs! Did not I tell you last week that I was tired of that villanous compound? It has been adulterated till nothing remains but its name. Get me another bath immediately au violet; and, Coridon, you may use that other scent, if there is any left, for the poodle; but observe, only when you take him an airing, not when he goes with me.'"
A. Excellent! I now feel the real merits of an exclusive; but you said something about dressing-room, or in-door philosophy.
B. I did; and now is a good opportunity to introduce it. Coridon goes into the ante-chamber to renew the bath, and of course your hero has met with a disappointment in not having the bath to his immediate pleasure. He must press his hands to his forehead. By-the-bye, recollect that his forehead, when you describe it, must be high and white as snow: all aristocratical foreheads are—at least, are in a fashionable novel.
A. What! the women's and all?
B. The heroine's must be; the others you may lower as a contrast. But to resume with the philosophy. He strikes his forehead, lifts his eyes slowly up to the ceiling, and drops his right arm as slowly down by the side of the chaise longue; and then in a voice so low that it might have been considered a whisper, were it not for its clear and brilliant intonation, he exclaims——
A. Exclaims in a whisper!
B. To be sure; you exclaim mentally,—why should you not in a whisper?
A. I perceive—your argument is unanswerable.
B. Stop a moment; it will run better thus:—"The Honourable Augustus Bouverie no sooner perceived himself alone, than he felt the dark shades of melancholy ascending and brooding over his mind, and enveloping his throbbing heart in their—their adamantine chains. Yielding to the overwhelming force, he thus exclaimed, 'Such is life—we require but one flower, and we are offered noisome thousands—refused that we wish, we live in loathing of that not worthy to be received—mourners from our cradle to our grave, we utter the shrill cry at our birth, and we sink in oblivion with the faint wail of terror. Why should we, then, ever commit the folly to be happy?'"
A. Hang me, but that's a poser!
B. Nonsense! hold your tongue; it is only preparatory to the end. "Conviction astonishes and torments—destiny prescribes and falsifies—attraction drives us away—humiliation supports our energies. Thus do we recede into the present, and shudder at the Elysium of posterity."
A. I have written all that down, Barnstaple; but I cannot understand it, upon my soul!
B. If you had understood one particle, that particle I would have erased. This is your true philosophy of a fashionable novel, the extreme interest of which consists in its being unintelligible. People have such an opinion of their own abilities, that if they understood you, they would despise you; but a dose like this strikes them with veneration for your talents.
A. Your argument is unanswerable; but you said that I must describe the dressing-room.
B. Nothing more easy; as a simile, compare it to the shrine of some favoured saint in a richly-endowed Catholic church. Three tables at least, full of materials in methodised confusion—all tending to the beautification of the human form divine. Tinted perfumes in every variety of cut crystal receivers, gold and silver. If at a loss, call at Bayley's and Blew's, or Smith's in Bond Street. Take an accurate survey of all you see, and introduce your whole catalogue. You cannot be too minute. But, Arthur, you must not expect me to write the whole book for you.
A. Indeed I am not so exorbitant in my demands upon your good-nature; but observe, I may get up four or five chapters already with the hints you have given me, but I do not know how to move such a creation of the brain—so ethereal, that I fear he will melt away; and so fragile, that I am in terror lest he fall to pieces. Now only get him into the breakfast-room for me, and then I ask no more for the present. Only dress him, and bring him down stairs.
B. There again you prove your incapability. Bring him down stairs! Your hero of a fashionable novel never ascends to the first floor. Bed-room, dressing-room, breakfast-room, library, and boudoir, all are upon a level. As for his dressing, you must only describe it as perfect when finished; but not enter into a regular detail, except that, in conversation with his valet, he occasionally asks for something unheard-of, or fastidious to a degree. You must not walk him from one chamber to another, but manage it as follows:—"It was not until the beautiful airs of the French clock that decorated the mantel-piece had been thrice played, with all their variations, that the Honourable Augustus Bouverie entered his library, where he found his assiduous Coridon burning an aromatic pastile to disperse the compound of villanous exhalations arising from the condensed metropolitan atmosphere. Once more in a state of repose, to the repeated and almost affecting solicitations of his faithful attendant, who alternately presented to him the hyson of Pekoe, the bohea of Twankay, the fragrant berry from the Asiatic shore, and the frothing and perfumed decoction of the Indian nut, our hero shook his head in denial, until he at last was prevailed upon to sip a small liqueur glass of eau sucree." The fact is, Arthur, he is in love—don't you perceive? Now introduce a friend, who rallies him—then a resolution to think no more of the heroine—a billet on a golden salver—a counter resolution—a debate which equipage to order—a decision at last—hat, gloves, and furred great-coat—and by that time you will have arrived to the middle of the first volume.
A. I perceive; but I shall certainly stick there without your assistance.
B. You shall have it, my dear fellow. In a week I will call again, and see how you get on. Then we'll introduce the heroine; that, I can tell you, requires some tact—au revoir.
A. Thanks, many thanks, my dear Barnstaple. Fare you well.
A. (Looking over his memoranda.)—It will do! (Hopping and dancing about the room.) Hurrah! my tailor's bill will be paid after all!
[Mr Arthur Ansard's Chambers as before. Mr Ansard, with his eyes fixed upon the wig block, gnawing the feather end of his pen. The table, covered with sundry sheets of foolscap, shows strong symptoms of the Novel progressing.]
Where is Barnstaple? If he do not come soon, I shall have finished my novel without a heroine. Well, I'm not the first person who has been foiled by a woman. (Continues to gnaw his pen in a brown study.)
Barnstaple enters unperceived, and slaps Ansard on the shoulder. The latter starts up.
B. So, friend Ansard, making your dinner off your pen: it is not every novel writer who can contrive to do that even in anticipation. Have you profited by my instructions?
A. I wish I had. I assure you that this light diet has not contributed, as might be expected, to assist a heavy head; and one feather is not sufficient to enable my genius to take wing. If the public knew what dull work it is to write a novel, they would not be surprised at finding them dull reading. Ex nihilo nihil fit. Barnstaple, I am at the very bathos of stupidity.
B. You certainly were absorbed when I entered, for I introduced myself.
A. I wish you had introduced another personage with you—you would have been doubly welcome.
B. Who is that?
A. My heroine. I have followed your instructions to the letter. My hero is as listless as I fear my readers will be, and he is not yet in love. In fact, he is only captivated with himself. I have made him dismiss Coridon.
B. Hah! how did you manage that?
A. He was sent to ascertain the arms on the panel of a carriage. In his eagerness to execute his master's wishes, he came home with a considerable degree of perspiration on his brow, for which offence he was immediately put out of doors.
B. Bravo—it was unpardonable—but still——
A. O! I know what you mean—that is all arranged; he has an annuity of one hundred pounds per annum.
B. My dear Ansard, you have exceeded my expectations; but now for the heroine.
A. Yes, indeed; help me—for I have exhausted all my powers.
B. It certainly requires much tact to present your heroine to your readers. We are unfortunately denied what the ancients were so happy to possess—a whole cortege of divinities that might be summoned to help any great personage in, or the author out of, a difficulty; but since we cannot command their assistance, like the man in the play who forgot his part, we will do without it. Now, have you thought of nothing new, for we must not plagiarise even from fashionable novels?
A. I have thought—and thought—and can find nothing new, unless we bring her in in a whirlwind: that has not yet been attempted.
B. A whirlwind! I don't know—that's hazardous. Nevertheless, if she were placed on a beetling cliff, overhanging the tempestuous ocean, lashing the rocks with its wild surge; of a sudden, after she has been permitted to finish her soliloquy, a white cloud rising rapidly and unnoticed—the sudden vacuum—the rush of mighty winds through the majestic and alpine scenery—the vortex gathering round her—first admiring the vast efforts of nature; then astonished; and, lastly, alarmed, as she finds herself compelled to perform involuntary gyrations, till at length she spins round like a well-whipped top, nearing the dangerous edge of the precipice. It is bold, and certainly quite novel—I think it will do. Portray her delicate little feet, peeping out, pointing downwards, the force of the elements raising her on her tip toes, now touching, now disdaining the earth. Her dress expanded wide like that of Herbele in her last and best pirouette—round, round she goes—her white arms are tossed frantically in the air. Corinne never threw herself into more graceful attitudes. Now is seen her diminishing ankle—now the rounded symmetry—mustn't go too high up though—the wind increases—her distance from the edge of the precipice decreases—she has no breath left to shriek—no power to fall—threatened to be ravished by the wild and powerful god of the elements—she is discovered by the Honourable Augustus Bouverie, who has just finished his soliloquy upon another adjacent hill. He delights in her danger—before he rushes to her rescue, makes one pause for the purpose of admiration, and another for the purpose of adjusting his shirt collar.
A. The devil he does!
B. To be sure. The hero of a fashionable novel never loses caste. Whether in a storm, a whirlwind, up to his neck in the foaming ocean, or tumbling down a precipice, he is still the elegant and correct Honourable Augustus Bouverie. To punish you for your interruption, I have a great mind to make him take a pinch of snuff before he starts. Well—he flies to her assistance—is himself caught in the rushing vortex, which prevents him from getting nearer to the lady, and, despite of himself, takes to whirling in the opposite direction. They approach—they recede—she shrieks without being heard—holds out her arms for help—she would drop them in despair, but cannot, for they are twisted over her head by the tremendous force of the element. One moment they are near to each other, and the next they are separated; at one instant they are close to the abyss, and the waters below roar in delight of their anticipated victims, and in the next a favouring change of the vortex increases their distance from the danger—there they spin—and there you may leave them, and commence a new chapter.
A. But is not all this naturally and physically impossible?
B. By no means; there is nothing supernatural in a whirlwind, and the effect of a whirlwind is to twist everything round. Why should the heroine and the Honourable Augustus Bouverie not be submitted to the laws of nature? besides, we are writing a fashionable novel. Wild and improbable as this whirlwind may appear, it is within the range of probability; whereas, that is not at all adhered to in many novels—witness the drinking-scene in ——, and others equally outrees, in which the author, having turned probability out of doors, ends by throwing possibility out of the window—leaving folly and madness to usurp their place—and play a thousand antics for the admiration of the public, who, pleased with novelty, cry out "How fine!"
A. Buy the book, and laud the author.
B. Exactly. Now, having left your hero and heroine in a situation peculiarly interesting, with the greatest nonchalance, pass over to the continent, rave on the summit of Mont Blanc, and descant upon the strata which compose the mountains of the Moon in central Africa. You have been philosophical, now you must be geological. No one can then say that your book is light reading.
A. That can be said of few novels. In most of them even smoke assumes the ponderosity of lead.
B. There is a metal still heavier, which they have the power of creating—gold—to pay a dunning tailor's bill.
A. But after having been philosophical and geological, ought one not to be a little moral?
B. Pshaw! I thought you had more sense. The great art of novel writing is to make the vices glorious, by placing them in close alliance with redeeming qualities. Depend upon it, Ansard, there is a deeper, more heartfelt satisfaction than mere amusement in novel reading; a satisfaction no less real, because we will not own it to ourselves; the satisfaction of seeing all our favourite and selfish ideas dressed up in a garb so becoming, that we persuade ourselves that our false pride is proper dignity, our ferocity courage, our cowardice prudence, our irreligion liberality, and our baser appetites mere gallantry.
A. Very true, Barnstaple; but really I do not like this whirlwind.
B. Well, well, I give it up then; it was your own idea. We'll try again. Cannot you create some difficulty or dilemma, in which to throw her, so that the hero may come to her rescue with eclat?
A. Her grey palfrey takes fright.
B. So will your readers; stale—quite stale!
A. A wild bull has his horns close to her, and is about to toss her.
B. As your book would be—away with contempt. Vapid—quite vapid!
A. A shipwreck—the waves are about to close over her.
B. Your book would be closed at the same moment—worn out—quite worn out.
A. In the dead of the night, a fire breaks out—she is already in the midst of the flames——
B. Where your book would also be, by the disgusted reader—worse and worse.
A. Confound it—you will not allow me to expose her to earth, air, fire or water. I have a great mind to hang her in her garters, and make the hero come and cut her down.
B. You might do worse—and better.
A. What—hang myself?
B. That certainly would put an end to all your difficulties. But, Ansard, I think I can put your heroine in a situation really critical and eminently distressing, and the hero shall come to her relief, like the descent of a god to the rescue of a Greek or Trojan warrior.
A. Or of Bacchus to Ariadne in her distress.
B. Perhaps a better simile. The consequence will be, that eternal gratitude in the bosom of the maiden will prove the parent of eternal love, which eternity of passion will, of course, last until they are married.
A. I'm all attention.
B. Get up a splendid dinner party for their first casual meeting. Place the company at table.
A. Surely you are not going to choke her with the bone of a chicken.
B. You surely are about to murder me, as Samson did the Philistines——
A. With the jaw-bone of a fashionable novel writer, you mean.
B. Exactly. But to proceed:—they are seated at table; can you describe a grand dinner?
A. Certainly, I have partaken of more than one.
A. I once sat down three hundred strong at the Freemasons' Tavern.
B. Pshaw! a mere hog feed.
A. Well, then, I dined with the late lord mayor.
B. Still worse. My dear Ansard, it is however of no consequence. Nothing is more difficult to attain, yet nothing is more easy to describe, than a good dinner. I was once reading a very fashionable novel by a very fashionable bookseller, for the author is a mere nonentity, and was very much surprised at the accuracy with which a good dinner was described. The mystery was explained a short time afterwards, when casually taking up Eustache Eude's book in Sams's library, I found, that the author had copied it out exactly from the injunctions of that celebrated gastronome. You can borrow the book.
A. Well, we will suppose that done; but I am all anxiety to know what is the danger from which the heroine is to be rescued.
B. I will explain. There are two species of existence—that of mere mortal existence, which is of little consequence, provided, like Caesar, the hero and heroine die decently: the other is of much greater consequence, which is fashionable existence. Let them once lose caste in that respect, and they are virtually dead, and one mistake, one oversight, is a death-blow for which there is no remedy, and from which there is no recovery. For instance, we will suppose our heroine to be quite confounded with the appearance of our hero—to have become distraite, reveuse—and, in short, to have lost her recollection and presence of mind. She has been assisted to fillet de soles. Say that the only sauce ever taken with them is au macedoine—this is offered to her, and, at the same time, another, which to eat with the above dish would be unheard of. In her distraction she is about to take the wrong sauce—actually at the point of ruining herself for ever and committing suicide upon her fashionable existence, while the keen grey eyes of Sir Antinous Antibes, the arbiter of fashion, are fixed upon her. At this awful moment, which is for ever to terminate her fashionable existence, the Honourable Augustus Bouverie, who sits next to her, gently touches her seduisante sleeve—blandly smiling, he whispers to her that the other is the sauce macedoine. She perceives her mistake, trembles at her danger, rewards him with a smile, which penetrates into the deepest recesses of his heart, helps herself to the right sauce, darts a look of contemptuous triumph upon Sir Antinous Antibes, and, while she is dipping her sole into the sauce, her soul expands with gratitude and love.
A. I see, I see. Many thanks; my heroine is now a fair counterpart of my hero.
"Ah, sure a pair were never seen, So justly form'd to meet by nature."
B. And now I'll give you another hint, since you appear grateful. It is a species of claptrap in a novel, which always takes—to wit, a rich old uncle or misanthrope, who, at the very time that he is bitterly offended and disgusted with the hero, who is in awkward circumstances, pulls out a pocket-book and counts down, say fifteen or twenty thousand pounds in bank notes, to relieve him from his difficulties. An old coat and monosyllables will increase the interest.
A. True (sighing.) Alas! there are no such uncles in real life; I wish there were.
B. I beg your pardon; I know no time in which my uncle forks out more bank notes than at the present.
A. Yes, but it is for value, or more than value, received.
B. That I grant; but I'm afraid it is the only uncle left now; except in a fashionable novel. But you comprehend the value of this new auxiliary.
A. Nothing can be better. Barnstaple, you are really——, but I say no more. If a truly great man cannot be flattered with delicacy, it must not be attempted at all; silence then becomes the best tribute. Your advice proves you to be truly great. I am silent, therefore you understand the full force of the oratory of my thanks.
B. (bowing.) Well, Ansard, you have found out the cheapest way of paying off your bills of gratitude I ever heard of. "Poor, even in thanks," was well said by Shakespeare; but you, it appears, are rich, in having nothing at all wherewith to pay. If you could transfer the same doctrine to your tradesmen, you need not write novels.
A. Alas! my dear fellow, mine is not yet written. There is one important feature, nay, the most important feature of all—the style of language, the diction—on that, Barnstaple, you have not yet doctrinated.
B. (pompously.) When Demosthenes was asked what were the three principal attributes of eloquence, he answered, that the first was action; on being asked which was the second, he replied, action; and the third, action; and such is the idea of the Irish mimbers in the House of Commons. Now there are three important requisites in the diction of a fashionable novel. The first, my dear fellow, is—flippancy; the second, flippancy; and flippancy is also the third. With the dull it will pass for wit, with some it will pass for scorn, and even the witty will not be enabled to point out the difference, without running the risk of being considered invidious. It will cover every defect with a defect still greater; for who can call small beer tasteless when it is sour, or dull when it is bottled and has a froth upon it?
A. The advice is excellent; but I fear that this flippancy is as difficult to acquire as the tone of true eloquence.
B. Difficult! I defy the writers of the silver-fork school to write out of the style flippant. Read but one volume of ——, and you will be saturated with it; but if you wish to go to the fountain-head, do as have done most of the late fashionable novel writers, repair to their instructors—the lady's-maid, for flippancy in the vein spirituelle; to a London footman for the vein critical; but, if you wish a flippancy of a still higher order, at once more solemn and more empty, which I would call the vein political, read the speeches of some of our members of Parliament. Only read them; I wish no man so ill as to inflict upon him the torture of hearing them—read them, I say, and you will have taken the very highest degree in the order of inane flippancy.
A. I see it at once. Your observations are as true as they are severe. When we would harangue geese, we must condescend to hiss; but still, my dear Barnstaple, though you have fully proved to me that in a fashionable novel all plot is unnecessary, don't you think there ought to be a catastrophe, or sort of a kind of an end to the work, or the reader may be brought up short, or as the sailors say, "all standing," when he comes to the word "Finis," and exclaim with an air of stupefaction,—"And then——"
B. And then, if he did, it would be no more than the fool deserved. I don't know whether it would not be advisable to leave off in the middle of a sentence, of a word, nay of a syllable, if it be possible: I'm sure the winding-up would be better than the lackadaisical running-down of most of the fashionable novels. Snap the main-spring of your watch, and none but an ass can expect you to tell by it what it is o'clock; snap the thread of your narrative in the same way, and he must be an unreasonable being who would expect a reasonable conclusion. Finish thus, in a case of delicate distress; say, "The honourable Mr Augustus Bouverie was struck in a heap with horror. He rushed with a frantic grace, a deliberate haste, and a graceful awkwardness, and whispered in her ear these dread and awful words, 'IT IS TOO LATE!'" Follow up with a —— and Finis.
A. I see; the fair and agitated reader will pass a sleepless night in endeavouring to decipher the mutilated sentence. She will fail, and consequently call the book delightful. But should there not have been a marriage previously to this happy awful climax?
B. Yes; everything is arranged for the nuptials—carriages are sent home, jewellery received but not paid for, dresses all tried on, the party invited—nay, assembled in the blue-and-white drawing-room. The right reverend, my lord bishop, is standing behind the temporary altar—he has wiped his spectacles, and thumbed his prayer-book—all eyes are turned towards the door, which opens not—the bride faints, for the bridegroom cometh not—he's not "i' the vein"—a something, as like nothing as possible, has given him a disgust that is insurmountable—he flings his happiness to the winds, though he never loved with more outrageous intensity than at the moment he discards his mistress; so he fights three duels with the two brothers and father. He wounds one of the young men dangerously, the other slightly; fires his pistol in the air when he meets her father—for how could he take the life of him who gave life to his adored one? Your hero can always hit a man just where he pleases—vide every novel in Mr C.'s collection. The hero becomes misanthropical, the heroine maniacal. The former marries an antiquated and toothless dowager, as an escape from the imaginary disgust he took at a sight of a matchless woman; and the latter marries an old brute, who threatens her life every night, and puts her in bodily fear every morning, as an indemnity in full for the loss of the man of her affections. They are both romantically miserable; and then come on your tantalising scenes of delicate distress, and so the end of your third volume, and then finish without any end at all. Verb. sap. sat. Or, if you like it better, kill the old dowager of a surfeit, and make the old brute who marries the heroine commit suicide; and, after all these unheard-of trials, marry them as fresh and beautiful as ever.
A. A thousand thanks. Your verba are not thrown to a sap. Can I possibly do you any favour for all this kindness?
B. Oh, my dear fellow! the very greatest. As I see yours will be, at all points, a most fashionable novel, do me the inestimable favour not to ask me to read it.
How to write a Book of Travels
Mr Ansard's Chambers.
A. (alone.) Well, I thought it hard enough to write a novel at the dictate of the bibliopolist; but to be condemned to sit down and write my travels—travels that have never extended farther than the Lincoln's Inn Coffee House for my daily food, and a walk to Hampstead on a Sunday. These travels to be swelled into Travels up the Rhine in the year 18—. Why, it's impossible. O that Barnstaple were here, for he has proved my guardian angel! Lazy, clever dog!
B. Pray, my dear Ansard, to whom did you apply that last epithet?
A. My dear Barnstaple, I never was more happy to see you. Sit down, I have much to tell you, all about myself and my difficulties.
B. The conversation promises to be interesting to me, at all events.
A. Everything is interesting to true friendship.
B. Now I perceive that you do want something. Well, before you state your case, tell me, how did the novel go off?
A. Wonderfully well. It was ascribed to Lord G——: the bait took, and 750 went off in a first edition, and the remainder of the copies printed went off in a second.
B. Without being reprinted?
A. Exactly. I was surprised at my success, and told my publisher so; but he answered that he could sell an edition of any trash he pleased.
B. That was not flattering.
A. Not very; but his bill was honoured, and that consoled me. However, to proceed to business—he has given me another order—A Journey up the Rhine, in two vols. large octavo, in the year 18—. Now, Barnstaple, what's to be done?
B. Write it, to be sure.
A. But you well know I have never been out of England in my life.
B. Never mind, write it.
A. Yes, it's very well to say write it; but how the devil am I to write it? Write what I have never seen—detail events which never occurred—describe views of that which I have not even an idea—travel post in my old armchair. It's all very well to say write it, but tell me, how.
B. I say again, write it, and pocket the money. Ansard, allow me to state that you are a greenhorn. I will make this mountain of difficulties vanish and melt away like snow before the powerful rays of the sun. You are told to write what you have never seen; but if you have not, others have, which will serve your purpose just as well. To detail events which have never occurred—invent them, they will be more amusing. Describe views, &c. of which you are ignorant—so are most of your readers; but have we not the art of engraving to assist you? To travel post in your armchair—a very pleasant and a very profitable way of travelling, as you have not to pay for the horses and postilions, and are not knocked to pieces by continental roads. Depend upon it, the best travels are those written at home, by those who have never put their foot into the Calais packet-boat.
A. To me this is all a mystery. I certainly must be a greenhorn, as you observe.
B. Why, Ansard, my dear fellow, with a book of roads and a gazetteer, I would write a more amusing book of travels than one half which are now foisted on the public. All you have to do is to fill up the chinks.
A. All I want to do is to fill up the chinks in my stomach, Barnstaple; for, between you and me, times are rather queer.
B. You shall do it, if you will follow my advice. I taught you how to write a fashionable novel, it will be hard, indeed, if I cannot send you up the Rhine. One little expense must be incurred—you must subscribe a quarter to a circulating library, for I wish that what you do should be well done.
A. Barnstaple, I will subscribe to—anything.
B. Well, then, since you are so reasonable, I will proceed. You must wade through all the various "Journies on the Rhine," "Two Months on the Rhine," "Autumns on the Rhine," &c., which you can collect. This you will find the most tiresome part of your task. Select one as your guide, one who has a reputation; follow his course, not exactly—that I will explain afterwards—and agree with him in everything, generally speaking. Praise his exactitude and fidelity, and occasionally quote him; this is but fair: after you rob a man (and I intend you shall rifle him most completely), it is but decent to give him kind words. All others you must abuse, contradict, and depreciate. Now, there is a great advantage in so doing: in the first place, you make the best writer your friend—he forgets your larcenies in your commendation of him, and in your abuse of others. If his work be correct, so must yours be; he praises it everywhere—perhaps finds you out, and asks you to dine with him.
A. How should I ever look at his injured face?
B. On the contrary, he is the obliged party—your travels are a puff to his own.
A. But, Barnstaple, allowing that I follow this part of your advice, which I grant to be very excellent, how can I contradict others, when they may be, and probably are, perfectly correct in their assertions?
B. If they are so, virtue must be its own reward. It is necessary that you write a book of travels, and all travellers contradict each other—ergo, you must contradict, or nobody will believe that you have travelled. Not only contradict, but sneer at them.
A. Well, now do explain how that is to be done.
B. Nothing more simple: for instance, a man measures a certain remarkable piece of antiquity—its length is 747 feet. You must measure it over again, and declare that he is in error, that it is only 727. To be sure of your being correct, measure it twice over, and then convict him.
A. But surely, Barnstaple, one who has measured it, is more likely to be correct than one who has not.
B. I'll grant you that he is correct to half an inch—that's no matter. The public will, in all probability, believe you, because you are the last writer, and because you have decreased the dimensions. Travellers are notorious for amplification, and if the public do not believe you, let them go and measure it themselves.
A. A third traveller may hereafter measure it, and find that I am in the wrong.
B. Ten to one if you are not both in the wrong; but what matter will that be, your book will have been sold.
A. Most true, O king! I perceive now the general outline, and I feel confident, that with your kind assistance, I may accomplish it. But, Barnstaple, the beginning is everything. If I only had the first chapter as a start, I think I could get on. It is the modus that I want—the style. A first chapter would be a keynote for the remainder of the tune, with all the variations.
B. Well, then, take up your pen. But before I commence, it may be as well to observe, that there is a certain method required, even in writing travels. In every chapter you should have certain landmarks to guide you. For instance, enumerate the following, and select the works from which they may be obtained, so as to mix up the instructive with the amusing. Travelling—remarks on country passed through—anecdote—arrival at a town—churches—population—historical remarks—another anecdote—eating and drinking—natural curiosities—egotism—remarks on the women (never mind the men)—another anecdote—reflections—an adventure—and go to bed. You understand, Ansard, that in these memoranda you have all that is required; the rule is not to be followed absolutely, but generally. As you observed, such is to be the tune, but your variations may be infinite. When at a loss, or you think you are dull, always call in a grisette, and a little mystery; and, above all, never be afraid of talking too much about yourself.
A. Many, many thanks; but now, my dear Barnstaple, for the first chapter.
B. Let your style be flowery—I should say florid—never mind a false epithet or two in a page, they will never be observed. A great deal depends upon the first two pages—you must not limp at starting; we will, therefore, be particular. Take your pen.
[Barnstaple muses for a little while and then continues.
"A severe cough, which refused to yield even to the balmy influence of the genial spring of 18—, and threatened a pulmonary complaint, induced me to yield to the reiterated persuasions of my physicians to try a change of air, as most likely to ward off the threatened danger. Where to direct my steps was the difficult point to ascertain. Brighton, Torquay, Cromer, Ilfracombe, had all been visited and revisited. At either of these fashionable resorts I was certain to fall in with a numerous acquaintance, whose persuasions would have induced me to depart from that regularity of diet and of rest, so imperiously insisted upon by my medical advisers. After much cogitation, I resolved upon a journey up the Rhine, and to escape the ruthless winter of our northern clime in the more genial land of history."
A. Land of history—I presume you mean Italy; but am I to go there?
B. No, you may recover, and come back again to skate upon the Serpentine, if you please. You observe, Ansard, I have not made you a fellow with L50 in his pocket, setting out to turn it into L300 by a book of travels. I have avoided mention of Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, and all common watering-places; I have talked of physicians in the plural; in short, no one who reads that paragraph, but will suppose that you are a young man of rank and fortune, to whom money is no object, and who spends hundreds to cure that which might be effected by a little regularity, and a few doses of ipecacuanha.
A. I wish it were so. Nevertheless, I'll travel en grand seigneur—that's more agreeable even in imagination, than being rumbled in a "diligence."
B. And will produce more respect for your work, I can assure you. But to proceed. Always, when you leave England, talk about hospitality. The English like it. Have you no relations or friends in whose opinion you wish to stand well? Public mention in print does wonders, especially with a copy handsomely bound "from the author."
A. Really, Barnstaple, I do not know any one. My poor mother is in Cumberland, and that is not en route. I have a maternal uncle of the name of Forster, who lives on the road—a rich, old, miserly bachelor; but I can't say much for his hospitality. I have called upon him twice, and he has never even asked me to dinner.
B. Never mind. People like being praised for a virtue which they do not possess—it may prove a legacy. Say, then, that you quitted the hospitable roof of your worthy and excellent-hearted relation, Mr Forster, and felt——
A. Felt how?
B. How—why you felt, as he wrung your hand, that there was a sudden dissolution of the ties of kindred and affection.
A. There always has been in that quarter, so my conscience is so far clear.
B. You arrive at Dovor (mind you spell it Dovor)—go to bed tired and reflective—embark early the next morning—a rough passage——
A. And sea-sick, of course?
B. No, Ansard, there I'll give you a proof of my tact—you sha'n't be sea-sick.
A. But I'm sure I should be.
B. All travellers are, and all fill up a page or two with complaints, ad nauseam—for that reason sick you shall not be. Observe—to your astonishment you are not sea-sick: the other passengers suffer dreadfully; one young dandy puffs furiously at a cigar in bravado, until he sends it over the side, like an arrow from the blow-pipe of a South American Indian. Introduce a husband with a pretty wife—he jealous as a dog, until he is sick as a cat—your attentions—she pillowed on your arms, while he hangs over the lee gunwale—her gratitude—safe arrival at Calais—sweet smiles of the lady—sullen deportment of the gentleman—a few hints—and draw the veil. Do you understand?
A. Perfectly. I can manage all that.
B. Then when you put your foot on shore, you must, for the first time, feel sea-sick.
A. On shore?
B. Yes; reel about, not able to stand—every symptom as if on board. Express your surprise at the strange effect, pretend not to explain it, leave that to medical men, it being sufficient for you to state the fact.
A. The fact! O Barnstaple!
B. That will be a great hit for a first chapter. You reverse the order of things.
A. That I do most certainly. Shall I finish the first chapter with that fact?
B. No. Travellers always go to bed at the end of each chapter. It is a wise plan, and to a certain degree it must be followed. You must have a baggage adventure—be separated from it—some sharp little urchin has seized upon your valise—it is no where to be found—quite in despair—walk to the hotel d'Angleterre, and find that you are met by the landlord and garcons, who inform you that your carriage is in the remise, and your rooms ready—ascend to your bedroom—find that your baggage is not only there, but neatly laid out—your portmanteau unstrapped—your trunk uncorded—and the little rascal of a commissaire standing by with his hat in his hand, and a smile de malice, having installed himself as your domestique de place—take him for his impudence—praise the "Cotelettes and the vin de Beaune"—wish the reader good-night, and go to bed. Thus ends the first chapter.
[Ansard gets up and takes Barnstaple's hand, which he shakes warmly without speaking. Barnstaple smiles and walks out. Ansard is left hard at work at his desk.
Arthur Ansard in his Chambers, solus, with his pen in his hand.
Ans. Capital! that last was a hit. It has all the appearance of reality. To be sure, I borrowed the hint, but that nobody will be able to prove. (Yawns.) Heigho! I have only got half-way on my journey yet, and my ideas are quite exhausted. I am as much worn out and distressed as one of the German post-horses which I described in my last chapter. (Nods, and then falls fast asleep).
Barnstaple taps at the door; receiving no answer, he enters.
B. So—quite fast. What can have put him to sleep? (Reads the manuscript on the table). No wonder, enough to put anybody to sleep apparently. Why, Ansard!
A. (starting up, still half asleep.) Already? Why, I've hardly shut my eyes. Well, I'll be dressed directly; let them get some cafe ready below. Henri, did you order the hind-spring to be repaired? (Nods again with his eyes shut.)
B. Hallo! What now, Ansard, do you really think that you are travelling?
A. (waking up.) Upon my word, Barnstaple, I was so dreaming. I thought I was in my bed at the hotel de Londres, after the fatiguing day's journey I described yesterday. I certainly have written myself into the conviction that I was travelling post.
B. All the better—you have embodied yourself in your own work, which every writer of fiction ought to do; but they can seldom attain to such a desideratum. Now, tell me, how do you get on?
A. Thank you—pretty well. I have been going it with four post-horses these last three weeks.
B. And how far have you got?
A. Half way—that is, into the middle of my second volume. But I'm very glad that you're come to my assistance, Barnstaple; for, to tell you the truth, I was breaking down.
B. Yes, you said something about the hind-spring of your carriage.
A. That I can repair without your assistance; but my spirits are breaking down. I want society. This travelling post is dull work. Now, if I could introduce a companion——
B. So you shall. At the next town that you stop at, buy a Poodle.
A. A Poodle! Barnstaple? How the devil shall I be assisted by a poodle?
B. He will prove a more faithful friend to you in your exigence, and a better companion, than one of your own species. A male companion, after all, is soon expended, and a female, which would be more agreeable, is not admissible. If you admit a young traveller into your carriage—what then? He is handsome, pleasant, romantic, and so forth; but you must not give his opinions in contradiction to your own, and if they coincide, it is superfluous. Now, a poodle is a dog of parts, and it is more likely that you fall in with a sagacious dog than with a sagacious man. The poodle is the thing; you must recount your meeting, his purchase, size, colour, and qualifications, and anecdotes of his sagacity, vouched for by the landlord, and all the garcons of the hotel. As you proceed on your travels, his attachment to you increases, and wind up every third chapter with "your faithful Mouton."
A. Will not all that be considered frivolous?
B. Frivolous! by no means. The frivolous will like it, and those who have more sense, although they may think that Mouton does not at all assist your travelling researches, are too well acquainted with the virtues of the canine race, and the attachment insensibly inbibed for so faithful an attendant, not to forgive your affectionate mention of him. Besides it will go far to assist the versimilitude of your travels. As for your female readers, they will prefer Mouton even to you.
A. All-powerful and mighty magician, whose wand of humbug, like that of Aaron's, swallows up all others, not excepting that of divine Truth, I obey you! Mouton shall be summoned to my aid: he shall flourish, and my pen shall flourish in praise of his endless perfections. But, Barnstaple, what shall I give for him?
B. (thinks awhile.) Not less than forty louis.
A. Forty louis for a poodle!
B. Most certainly; not a sous less. The value of anything in the eyes of the world is exactly what it costs. Mouton, at a five franc piece, would excite no interest; and his value to the reader will increase in proportion to his price, which will be considered an undeniable proof of all his wonderful sagacity, with which you are to amuse the reader.
A. But in what is to consist his sagacity?
B. He must do everything but speak. Indeed, he must so far speak as to howl the first part of "Lieber Augustin."
A. His instinct shall put our boasted reason to the blush. But——I think I had better not bring him home with me.
B. Of course not. In the first place, it's absolutely necessary to kill him, lest his reputation should induce people to seek him out, which they would do, although, in all probability, they never will his master. Lady Cork would certainly invite him to a literary soiree. You must therefore kill him in the most effective way possible, and you will derive the advantage of filling up at least ten pages with his last moments—licking your hand, your own lamentations, violent and inconsolable grief on the part of Henri, and tanning his skin as a memorial.
A. A beautiful episode, for which receive my best thanks. But, Barnstaple, I have very few effective passages as yet. I have remodelled several descriptions of mountains, precipices, waterfalls, and such wonders of the creation—expressed my contempt and surprise at the fear acknowledged by other travellers, in several instances. I have lost my way twice—met three wolves—been four times benighted—and indebted to lights at a distance for a bed at midnight, after the horses have refused to proceed. All is incident, and I am quite hard up for description. Now, I have marked down a fine passage in ——'s work—a beautiful description of a cathedral, with a grand procession. (Reads.) "What with the effect of the sun's brightest beams upon the ancient glass windows—various hues reflected upon the gothic pillars—gorgeousness of the procession—sacerdotal ornaments—tossing of censers—crowds of people—elevation of the host, and sinking down of the populace en masse." It really is a magnificent line of writing, and which my work requires. One or two like that in my book would do well to be quoted by impartial critics, before the public are permitted to read it. But here, you observe, is a difficulty. I dare not borrow the passage.
B. But you shall borrow it—you shall be even finer than he is, and yet he shall not dare to accuse you of plagiarism.
A. How is that possible, my dear Barnstaple? I'm all impatience.
B. His description is at a certain hour of the day. All you have to do is to portray the scene in nearly the same words. You have as much right to visit a cathedral as he has, and as for the rest—here is the secret. You must visit it at night. Instead of "glorious beams," you will talk of "pale melancholy light;" instead of "the stained windows throwing their various hues upon the gothic pile," you must "darken the massive pile, and light up the windows with the silver rays of the moon." The glorious orb of day must give place to thousands of wax tapers—the splendid fretwork of the roof you must regret was not to be clearly distinguished—but you must be in ecstasies with the broad light and shade—the blaze at the altar—solemn hour of night—feelings of awe—half a Catholic—religious reflections, &c. Don't you perceive?
A. I do. Like the rest of my work, it shall be all moonshine. It shall be done, Barnstaple; but have you not another idea or two to help me with?
B. Have you talked about cooks?
A. As yet, not a word.
B. By this time you ought to have some knowledge of gastronomy. Talk seriously about eating.
A. (writes.) I have made a mem.
B. Have you had no affront?
A. Not one.
B. Then be seriously affronted—complain to the burgomaster, or mayor, or commandant, whoever it may be—they attempt to bully—you are resolute and firm as an Englishman—insist upon being righted—they must make you a thousand apologies. This will tickle the national vanity, and be read with interest.
A. (writes.) I have been affronted. Anything else which may proceed from your prolific brain, Barnstaple?
B. Have you had a serious illness?
A. Never complained even of a headache.
B. Then do everything but die—Henri weeping and inconsolable—Mouton howling at the foot of your bed—kick the surgeons out of the room—and cure yourself with three dozen of champagne.
A. (writes.) Very sick—cured with three dozen of champagne—I wish the illness would in reality come on, if I were certain of the cure gratis. Go on, my dear Barnstaple.
B. You may work in an episode here—delirium—lucid intervals—gentle female voice—delicate attentions—mysterious discovery from loquacious landlady—eternal gratitude—but no marriage—an apostrophe—and all the rest left to conjecture.
A. (writes down.) Silent attentions—conjecture—I can manage that, I think.
B. By-the-bye, have you brought in Madame de Stael?
A. No—how the devil am I to bring her in?
B. As most other travellers do, by the head and shoulders. Never mind that, so long as you bring her in.
A. (writes.) Madame de Stael by the shoulders—that's not very polite towards a lady. These hints are invaluable; pray go on.
B. Why, you have already more hints this morning than are sufficient for three volumes. But, however, let me see. (B. thinks a little.) Find yourself short of cash.
A. A sad reality, Barnstaple. I shall write this part well, for truth will guide my pen.
B. All the better. But to continue—no remittances—awkward position—explain your situation—receive credit to any amount—and compliment your countrymen.
A. (writes.) Credit to any amount—pleasing idea? But I don't exactly perceive the value of this last hint, Barnstaple.
B. All judicious travellers make it a point, throughout the whole of their works, to flatter the nation upon its wealth, name, and reputation in foreign countries; by doing so you will be read greedily, and praised in due proportion. If ever I were to write my travels into the interior of Africa, or to the North Pole, I would make it a point to discount a bill at Timbuctoo, or get a cheque cashed by the Esquimaux, without the least hesitation in either case. I think now that what with your invention, your plagiarism, and my hints, you ought to produce a very effective Book of Travels; and with that feeling I shall leave you to pursue your journey, and receive, at its finale, your just reward. When we meet again, I hope to see you advertised.
A. Yes, but not exposed, I trust. I am incog. you know.
B. To be sure, that will impart an additional interest to your narrative. All the world will be guessing who you may be. Adieu, voyageur. [Exit Barnstaple.
A. And heaven forfend that they should find me out. But what can be done? In brief, I cannot get a brief, and thus I exercise my professional acquirements how I can, proving myself as long-winded, as prosy perhaps, and certainly as lying, as the more fortunate of my fraternity.
How to write a Romance
Mr Arthur Ansard, standing at his table, selecting a steel pen from a card on which a dozen are ranged up, like soldiers on parade.
I must find a regular graver to write this chapter of horrors. No goose quill could afford me any assistance. Now then. Let me see——(Reads, and during his reading Barnstaple comes in at the door behind him, unperceived.) "At this most monstrously appalling sight, the hair of Piftlianteriscki raised slowly the velvet cap from off his head, as if it had been perched upon the rustling quills of some exasperated porcupine—(I think that's new)—his nostrils dilated to that extent that you might, with ease, have thrust a musket bullet into each—his mouth was opened so wide, so unnaturally wide, that the corners were rent asunder, and the blood slowly trickled down each side of his bristly chin—while each tooth loosened from its socket with individual fear.—Not a word could he utter, for his tongue, in its fright, clung with terror to his upper jaw, as tight as do the bellies of the fresh and slimy soles, paired together by some fishwoman; but if his tongue was paralysed, his heart was not—it throbbed against his ribs with a violence which threatened their dislocation from the sternum, and with a sound which reverberated through the dark, damp subterrene——." I think that will do. There's force there.
B. There is, with a vengeance. Why, what is all this?
A. My dear Barnstaple, you here? I'm writing a romance for B——. It is to be supposed to be a translation.
B. The Germans will be infinitely obliged to you; but, my dear fellow, you appear to have fallen into the old school—that's no longer in vogue.
A. My orders are for the old school. B—— was most particular on that point. He says that there is a re-action—a great re-action.
B. What, on literature? Well, he knows as well as any man. I only wish to God there was in everything else, and we could see the good old times again.
A. To confess the truth, I did intend to have finished this without saying a word to you. I wished to have surprised you.
B. So you have, my dear fellow, with the few lines I have heard. How the devil are you to get your fellow out of that state of asphyxia?
A. By degrees—slowly—very slowly—as they pretend that we lawyers go to heaven. But I'll tell you what I have done, just to give you an idea of my work. In the first place, I have a castle perched so high up in the air, that the eagles, even in their highest soar, appear but as wrens below.
B. That's all right.
A. And then it has subterraneous passages, to which the sewers of London are a mere song, and they all lead to a small cave at high water mark on the sea-beach, covered with brambles and bushes, and just large enough at its entrance to admit of a man squeezing himself in.
B. That's all right. You cannot be too much underground; in fact, the two first, and the best part of the third volume, should be wholly in the bowels of the earth, and your hero and heroine should never come to light until the last chapter.
A. Then they would never have been born till then, and how could I marry them? But still I have adhered pretty much to your idea; and, Barnstaple, I have such a heroine—such a love—she has never seen her sweetheart, yet she is most devotedly attached, and has suffered more for his sake than any mortal could endure.
B. Most heroines generally do.
A. I have had her into various dungeons for three or four years, on black bread and a broken pitcher of water—she has been starved to death—lain for months and months upon wet straw—had two brain fevers—five times has she risked violation, and always has picked up, or found in the belt of her infamous ravishers, a stiletto, which she has plunged into their hearts, and they have expired with or without a groan.
B. Excellent: and of course comes out of her dungeons each time as fresh, as sweet, as lovely, as pure, as charming, and as constant as ever.
A. Exactly; nothing can equal her infinite variety of adventure, and her imperishable beauty and unadhesive cleanliness of person; and, as for lives, she has more than a thousand cats. After nine months' confinement in a dungeon, four feet square, when it is opened for her release, the air is perfumed with the ambrosia which exhales from her sweet person.
B. Of course it does. The only question is, what ambrosia smells like. But let me know something about your hero.
A. He is a prince and a robber.
B. The two professions are not at all incompatible. Go on.
A. He is the chief of a band of robbers, and is here, there, and everywhere. He fills all Europe with terror, admiration, and love.
B. Very good.
A. His reasons for joining the robbers are, of course, a secret (and upon my word they are equally a secret to myself); but it is wonderful the implicit obedience of his men, and the many acts of generosity of which he is guilty. I make him give away a great deal more money than his whole band ever take, which is so far awkward, that the query may arise in what way he keeps them together, and supplies them with food and necessaries.
B. Of course with I O U's upon his princely domains.
A. I have some very grand scenes, amazingly effective; for instance, what do you think, at the moment after the holy mass has been performed in St Peter's at Rome, just as the pope is about to put the sacred wafer into his mouth and bless the whole world, I make him snatch the wafer out of the pope's hand, and get clear off with it.
B. What for, may I ask?
A. That is a secret which I do not reveal. The whole arrangement of that part of the plot is admirable. The band of robbers are disguised as priests, and officiate, without being found out.