Part 1 out of 9
Anne Soulard, Tiffany Vergon, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
OR THE NEW GENERATION
EARL OF BEACONSFIELD
As a novelist, Benjamin Disraeli belongs to the early part of the
nineteenth century. "Vivian Grey" (1826-27) and "Sybil" (1845) mark the
beginning and the end of his truly creative period; for the two
productions of his latest years, "Lothair" (1870) and "Endymion" (1880),
add nothing to the characteristics of his earlier volumes except the
changes of feeling and power which accompany old age. His period, thus, is
that of Bulwer, Dickens, and Thackeray, and of the later years of Sir
Walter Scott--a fact which his prominence as a statesman during the last
decade of his life, as well as the vogue of "Lothair" and "Endymion," has
tended to obscure. His style, his material, and his views of English
character and life all date from that earlier time. He was born in 1804
and died in 1881.
"Coningsby; or, The New Generation," published in 1844, is the best of his
novels, not as a story, but as a study of men, manners, and principles.
The plot is slight--little better than a device for stringing together
sketches of character and statements of political and economic opinions;
but these are always interesting and often brilliant. The motive which
underlies the book is political. It is, in brief, an attempt to show that
the political salvation of England was to be sought in its aristocracy,
but that this aristocracy was morally weak and socially ineffective, and
that it must mend its ways before its duty to the state could be
fulfilled. Interest in this aspect of the book has, of course, to a large
extent passed away with the political conditions which it reflected. As a
picture of aristocratic life in England in the first part of the
nineteenth century it has, however, enduring significance and charm.
Disraeli does not rank with the great writers of English realistic
fiction, but in this special field none of them has surpassed him. From
this point of view, accordingly, "Coningsby" is appropriately included in
TO HENRY HOPE
It is not because this work was conceived and partly executed amid the
glades and galleries of the DEEPDENE that I have inscribed it with your
name. Nor merely because I was desirous to avail myself of the most
graceful privilege of an author, and dedicate my work to the friend whose
talents I have always appreciated, and whose virtues I have ever admired.
But because in these pages I have endeavoured to picture something of that
development of the new and, as I believe, better mind of England, that has
often been the subject of our converse and speculation.
In this volume you will find many a thought illustrated and many a
principle attempted to be established that we have often together
partially discussed and canvassed.
Doubtless you may encounter some opinions with which you may not agree,
and some conclusions the accuracy of which you may find cause to question.
But if I have generally succeeded in my object, to scatter some
suggestions that may tend to elevate the tone of public life, ascertain
the true character of political parties, and induce us for the future more
carefully to distinguish between facts and phrases, realities and
phantoms, I believe that I shall gain your sympathy, for I shall find a
reflex to their efforts in your own generous spirit and enlightened mind.
GROSVENOR GATE: May Day 1844.
'CONINGSBY' was published in the year 1844. The main purpose of its writer
was to vindicate the just claims of the Tory party to be the popular
political confederation of the country; a purpose which he had, more or
less, pursued from a very early period of life. The occasion was
favourable to the attempt. The youthful mind of England had just recovered
from the inebriation of the great Conservative triumph of 1841, and was
beginning to inquire what, after all, they had conquered to preserve. It
was opportune, therefore, to show that Toryism was not a phrase, but a
fact; and that our political institutions were the embodiment of our
popular necessities. This the writer endeavoured to do without prejudice,
and to treat of events and characters of which he had some personal
experience, not altogether without the impartiality of the future.
It was not originally the intention of the writer to adopt the form of
fiction as the instrument to scatter his suggestions, but, after
reflection, he resolved to avail himself of a method which, in the temper
of the times, offered the best chance of influencing opinion.
In considering the Tory scheme, the author recognised in the CHURCH the
most powerful agent in the previous development of England, and the most
efficient means of that renovation of the national spirit at which he
aimed. The Church is a sacred corporation for the promulgation and
maintenance in Europe of certain Asian principles, which, although local
in their birth, are of divine origin, and of universal and eternal
In asserting the paramount character of the ecclesiastical polity and the
majesty of the theocratic principle, it became necessary to ascend to the
origin of the Christian Church, and to meet in a spirit worthy of a
critical and comparatively enlightened age, the position of the
descendants of that race who were the founders of Christianity. The modern
Jews had long laboured under the odium and stigma of mediaeval
malevolence. In the dark ages, when history was unknown, the passions of
societies, undisturbed by traditionary experience, were strong, and their
convictions, unmitigated by criticism, were necessarily fanatical. The
Jews were looked upon in the middle ages as an accursed race, the enemies
of God and man, the especial foes of Christianity. No one in those days
paused to reflect that Christianity was founded by the Jews; that its
Divine Author, in his human capacity, was a descendant of King David; that
his doctrines avowedly were the completion, not the change, of Judaism;
that the Apostles and the Evangelists, whose names men daily invoked, and
whose volumes they embraced with reverence, were all Jews; that the
infallible throne of Rome itself was established by a Jew; and that a Jew
was the founder of the Christian Churches of Asia.
The European nations, relatively speaking, were then only recently
converted to a belief in Moses and in Christ; and, as it were, still
ashamed of the wild deities whom they had deserted, they thought they
atoned for their past idolatry by wreaking their vengeance on a race to
whom, and to whom alone, they were indebted for the Gospel they adored.
In vindicating the sovereign right of the Church of Christ to be the
perpetual regenerator of man, the writer thought the time had arrived when
some attempt should be made to do justice to the race which had founded
The writer has developed in another work ('Tancred') the views respecting
the great house of Israel which he first intimated in 'Coningsby.' No one
has attempted to refute them, nor is refutation possible; since all he has
done is to examine certain facts in the truth of which all agree, and to
draw from them irresistible conclusions which prejudice for a moment may
shrink from, but which reason cannot refuse to admit.
GROSVENOR GATE: May 1894.
It was a bright May morning some twelve years ago, when a youth of still
tender age, for he had certainly not entered his teens by more than two
years, was ushered into the waiting-room of a house in the vicinity of St.
James's Square, which, though with the general appearance of a private
residence, and that too of no very ambitious character, exhibited at this
period symptoms of being occupied for some public purpose.
The house-door was constantly open, and frequent guests even at this early
hour crossed the threshold. The hall-table was covered with sealed
letters; and the hall-porter inscribed in a book the name of every
individual who entered.
The young gentleman we have mentioned found himself in a room which
offered few resources for his amusement. A large table amply covered with
writing materials, and a few chairs, were its sole furniture, except the
grey drugget that covered the floor, and a muddy mezzotinto of the Duke of
Wellington that adorned its cold walls. There was not even a newspaper;
and the only books were the Court Guide and the London Directory. For some
time he remained with patient endurance planted against the wall, with his
feet resting on the rail of his chair; but at length in his shifting
posture he gave evidence of his restlessness, rose from his seat, looked
out of the window into a small side court of the house surrounded with
dead walls, paced the room, took up the Court Guide, changed it for the
London Directory, then wrote his name over several sheets of foolscap
paper, drew various landscapes and faces of his friends; and then,
splitting up a pen or two, delivered himself of a yawn which seemed the
climax of his weariness.
And yet the youth's appearance did not betoken a character that, if the
opportunity had offered, could not have found amusement and even
instruction. His countenance, radiant with health and the lustre of
innocence, was at the same time thoughtful and resolute. The expression of
his deep blue eyes was serious. Without extreme regularity of features,
the face was one that would never have passed unobserved. His short upper
lip indicated a good breed; and his chestnut curls clustered over his open
brow, while his shirt-collar thrown over his shoulders was unrestrained by
handkerchief or ribbon. Add to this, a limber and graceful figure, which
the jacket of his boyish dress exhibited to great advantage.
Just as the youth, mounted on a chair, was adjusting the portrait of the
Duke, which he had observed to be awry, the gentleman for whom he had been
all this time waiting entered the room.
'Floreat Etona!' hastily exclaimed the gentleman, in a sharp voice; 'you
are setting the Duke to rights. I have left you a long time a prisoner;
but I found them so busy here, that I made my escape with some
He who uttered these words was a man of middle size and age, originally in
all probability of a spare habit, but now a little inclined to corpulency.
Baldness, perhaps, contributed to the spiritual expression of a brow,
which was, however, essentially intellectual, and gave some character of
openness to a countenance which, though not ill-favoured, was unhappily
stamped by a sinister cast that was not to be mistaken. His manner was
easy, but rather audacious than well-bred. Indeed, while a visage which
might otherwise be described as handsome was spoilt by a dishonest glance,
so a demeanour that was by no means deficient in self-possession and
facility, was tainted by an innate vulgarity, which in the long run,
though seldom, yet surely developed itself.
The youth had jumped off his chair on the entrance of the gentleman, and
then taking up his hat, said:
'Shall we go to grandpapa now, sir?'
'By all means, my dear boy,' said the gentleman, putting his arm within
that of the youth; and they were just on the point of leaving the waiting-
room, when the door was suddenly thrown open, and two individuals, in a
state of great excitement, rushed into the apartment.
'Rigby! Rigby!' they both exclaimed at the same moment. 'By G---- they're
'Who told you?'
'The best authority; one of themselves.'
'Paul Evelyn; I met him as I passed Brookes', and he told me that Lord
Grey had resigned, and the King had accepted his resignation.'
But Mr. Rigby, who, though very fond of news, and much interested in the
present, was extremely jealous of any one giving him information, was
sceptical. He declared that Paul Evelyn was always wrong; that it was
morally impossible that Paul Evelyn ever could be right; that he knew,
from the highest authority, that Lord Grey had been twice yesterday with
the King; that on the last visit nothing was settled; that if he had been
at the palace again to-day, he could not have been there before twelve
o'clock; that it was only now a quarter to one; that Lord Grey would have
called his colleagues together on his return; that at least an hour must
have elapsed before anything could possibly have transpired. Then he
compared and criticised the dates of every rumoured incident of the last
twenty-four hours, and nobody was stronger in dates than Mr. Rigby;
counted even the number of stairs which the minister had to ascend and
descend in his visit to the palace, and the time their mountings and
dismountings must have consumed, detail was Mr. Rigby's forte; and
finally, what with his dates, his private information, his knowledge of
palace localities, his contempt for Paul Evelyn, and his confidence in
himself, he succeeded in persuading his downcast and disheartened friends
that their comfortable intelligence had not the slightest foundation.
They all left the room together; they were in the hall; the gentlemen who
brought the news looked somewhat depressed, but Mr. Rigby gay, even amid
the prostration of his party, from the consciousness that he had most
critically demolished a piece of political gossip and conveyed a certain
degree of mortification to a couple of his companions; when a travelling
carriage and four with a ducal coronet drove up to the house. The door was
thrown open, the steps dashed down, and a youthful noble sprang from his
chariot into the hall.
'Good morning, Rigby,' said the Duke.
'I see your Grace well, I am sure,' said Mr. Rigby, with a softened
'You have heard the news, gentlemen?' the Duke continued.
'What news? Yes; no; that is to say, Mr. Rigby thinks--'
'You know, of course, that Lord Lyndhurst is with the King?'
'It is impossible,' said Mr. Rigby.
'I don't think I can be mistaken,' said the Duke, smiling.
'I will show your Grace that it is impossible,' said Mr. Rigby, 'Lord
Lyndhurst slept at Wimbledon. Lord Grey could not have seen the King until
twelve o'clock; it is now five minutes to one. It is impossible,
therefore, that any message from the King could have reached Lord
Lyndhurst in time for his Lordship to be at the palace at this moment.'
'But my authority is a high one,' said the Duke.
'Authority is a phrase,' said Mr. Rigby; 'we must look to time and place,
dates and localities, to discover the truth.'
'Your Grace was saying that your authority--' ventured to observe Mr.
Tadpole, emboldened by the presence of a duke, his patron, to struggle
against the despotism of a Rigby, his tyrant.
'Was the highest,' rejoined the Duke, smiling, 'for it was Lord Lyndhurst
himself. I came up from Nuneham this morning, passed his Lordship's house
in Hyde Park Place as he was getting into his carriage in full dress,
stopped my own, and learned in a breath that the Whigs were out, and that
the King had sent for the Chief Baron. So I came on here at once.'
'I always thought the country was sound at bottom,' exclaimed Mr. Taper,
who, under the old system, had sneaked into the Treasury Board.
Tadpole and Taper were great friends. Neither of them ever despaired of
the Commonwealth. Even if the Reform Bill were passed, Taper was convinced
that the Whigs would never prove men of business; and when his friends
confessed among themselves that a Tory Government was for the future
impossible, Taper would remark, in a confidential whisper, that for his
part he believed before the year was over the Whigs would be turned out by
'There is no doubt that there is considerable reaction,' said Mr. Tadpole.
The infamous conduct of the Whigs in the Amersham case has opened the
public mind more than anything.'
'Aldborough was worse,' said Mr. Taper.
'Terrible,' said Tadpole. 'They said there was no use discussing the
Reform Bill in our House. I believe Rigby's great speech on Aldborough has
done more towards the reaction than all the violence of the Political
Unions put together.'
'Let us hope for the best,' said the Duke, mildly. ''Tis a bold step on
the part of the Sovereign, and I am free to say I could have wished it
postponed; but we must support the King like men. What say you, Rigby? You
'I am thinking how very unfortunate it was that I did not breakfast with
Lyndhurst this morning, as I was nearly doing, instead of going down to
'To Eton! and why to Eton?'
'For the sake of my young friend here, Lord Monmouth's grandson. By the
bye, you are kinsmen. Let me present to your Grace, MR. CONINGSBY.'
The political agitation which for a year and a half had shaken England to
its centre, received, if possible, an increase to its intensity and
virulence, when it was known, in the early part of the month of May, 1832,
that the Prime Minister had tendered his resignation to the King, which
resignation had been graciously accepted.
The amendment carried by the Opposition in the House of Lords on the
evening of the 7th of May, that the enfranchising clauses of the Reform
Bill should be considered before entering into the question of
disfranchisement, was the immediate cause of this startling event. The
Lords had previously consented to the second reading of the Bill with the
view of preventing that large increase of their numbers with which they
had been long menaced; rather, indeed, by mysterious rumours than by any
official declaration; but, nevertheless, in a manner which had carried
conviction to no inconsiderable portion of the Opposition that the threat
was not without foundation.
During the progress of the Bill through the Lower House, the journals
which were looked upon as the organs of the ministry had announced with
unhesitating confidence, that Lord Grey was armed with what was then
called a 'carte blanche' to create any number of peers necessary to insure
its success. But public journalists who were under the control of the
ministry, and whose statements were never contradicted, were not the sole
authorities for this prevailing belief. Members of the House of Commons,
who were strong supporters of the cabinet, though not connected with it by
any official tie, had unequivocally stated in their places that the
Sovereign had not resisted the advice of his counsellors to create peers,
if such creation were required to carry into effect what was then styled
'the great national measure.' In more than one instance, ministers had
been warned, that if they did not exercise that power with prompt energy,
they might deserve impeachment. And these intimations and announcements
had been made in the presence of leading members of the Government, and
had received from them, at least, the sanction of their silence.
It did not subsequently appear that the Reform ministers had been invested
with any such power; but a conviction of the reverse, fostered by these
circumstances, had successfully acted upon the nervous temperament, or the
statesman-like prudence, of a certain section of the peers, who
consequently hesitated in their course; were known as being no longer
inclined to pursue their policy of the preceding session; had thus
obtained a title at that moment in everybody's mouth, the title of 'THE
Notwithstanding, therefore, the opposition of the Duke of Wellington and
of Lord Lyndhurst, the Waverers carried the second reading of the Reform
Bill; and then, scared at the consequences of their own headstrong
timidity, they went in a fright to the Duke and his able adviser to
extricate them from the inevitable result of their own conduct. The
ultimate device of these distracted counsels, where daring and
poltroonery, principle and expediency, public spirit and private intrigue,
each threw an ingredient into the turbulent spell, was the celebrated and
successful amendment to which we have referred.
But the Whig ministers, who, whatever may have been their faults, were at
least men of intellect and courage, were not to be beaten by 'the
Waverers.' They might have made terms with an audacious foe; they trampled
on a hesitating opponent. Lord Grey hastened to the palace.
Before the result of this appeal to the Sovereign was known, for its
effects were not immediate, on the second morning after the vote in the
House of Lords, Mr. Rigby had made that visit to Eton which had summoned
very unexpectedly the youthful Coningsby to London. He was the orphan
child of the youngest of the two sons of the Marquess of Monmouth. It was
a family famous for its hatreds. The eldest son hated his father; and, it
was said, in spite had married a lady to whom that father was attached,
and with whom Lord Monmouth then meditated a second alliance. This eldest
son lived at Naples, and had several children, but maintained no
connection either with his parent or his native country. On the other
hand, Lord Monmouth hated his younger son, who had married, against his
consent, a woman to whom that son was devoted. A system of domestic
persecution, sustained by the hand of a master, had eventually broken up
the health of its victim, who died of a fever in a foreign country, where
he had sought some refuge from his creditors.
His widow returned to England with her child; and, not having a relation,
and scarcely an acquaintance in the world, made an appeal to her husband's
father, the wealthiest noble in England and a man who was often prodigal,
and occasionally generous. After some time, and more trouble, after urgent
and repeated, and what would have seemed heart-rending, solicitations, the
attorney of Lord Monmouth called upon the widow of his client's son, and
informed her of his Lordship's decision. Provided she gave up her child,
and permanently resided in one of the remotest counties, he was authorised
to make her, in four quarterly payments, the yearly allowance of three
hundred pounds, that being the income that Lord Monmouth, who was the
shrewdest accountant in the country, had calculated a lone woman might
very decently exist upon in a small market town in the county of
Desperate necessity, the sense of her own forlornness, the utter
impossibility to struggle with an omnipotent foe, who, her husband had
taught her, was above all scruples, prejudices, and fears, and who, though
he respected law, despised opinion, made the victim yield. But her
sufferings were not long; the separation from her child, the bleak clime,
the strange faces around her, sharp memory, and the dull routine of an
unimpassioned life, all combined to wear out a constitution originally
frail, and since shattered by many sorrows. Mrs. Coningsby died the same
day that her father-in-law was made a Marquess. He deserved his honours.
The four votes he had inherited in the House of Commons had been
increased, by his intense volition and unsparing means, to ten; and the
very day he was raised to his Marquisate, he commenced sapping fresh
corporations, and was working for the strawberry leaf. His honours were
proclaimed in the London Gazette, and her decease was not even noticed in
the County Chronicle; but the altars of Nemesis are beneath every outraged
roof, and the death of this unhappy lady, apparently without an earthly
friend or an earthly hope, desolate and deserted, and dying in obscure
poverty, was not forgotten.
Coningsby was not more than nine years of age when he lost his last
parent; and he had then been separated from her for nearly three years.
But he remembered the sweetness of his nursery days. His mother, too, had
written to him frequently since he quitted her, and her fond expressions
had cherished the tenderness of his heart. He wept bitterly when his
schoolmaster broke to him the news of his mother's death. True it was they
had been long parted, and their prospect of again meeting was vague and
dim; but his mother seemed to him his only link to human society. It was
something to have a mother, even if he never saw her. Other boys went to
see their mothers! he, at least, could talk of his. Now he was alone. His
grandfather was to him only a name. Lord Monmouth resided almost
constantly abroad, and during his rare visits to England had found no time
or inclination to see the orphan, with whom he felt no sympathy. Even the
death of the boy's mother, and the consequent arrangements, were notified
to his master by a stranger. The letter which brought the sad intelligence
was from Mr. Rigby. It was the first time that name had been known to
Mr. Rigby was member for one of Lord Monmouth's boroughs. He was the
manager of Lord Monmouth's parliamentary influence, and the auditor of his
vast estates. He was more; he was Lord Monmouth's companion when in
England, his correspondent when abroad; hardly his counsellor, for Lord
Monmouth never required advice; but Mr. Rigby could instruct him in
matters of detail, which Mr. Rigby made amusing. Rigby was not a
professional man; indeed, his origin, education, early pursuits, and
studies, were equally obscure; but he had contrived in good time to
squeeze himself into parliament, by means which no one could ever
comprehend, and then set up to be a perfect man of business. The world
took him at his word, for he was bold, acute, and voluble; with no
thought, but a good deal of desultory information; and though destitute of
all imagination and noble sentiment, was blessed with a vigorous,
mendacious fancy, fruitful in small expedients, and never happier than
when devising shifts for great men's scrapes.
They say that all of us have one chance in this life, and so it was with
Rigby. After a struggle of many years, after a long series of the usual
alternatives of small successes and small failures, after a few cleverish
speeches and a good many cleverish pamphlets, with a considerable
reputation, indeed, for pasquinades, most of which he never wrote, and
articles in reviews to which it was whispered he had contributed, Rigby,
who had already intrigued himself into a subordinate office, met with Lord
He was just the animal that Lord Monmouth wanted, for Lord Monmouth always
looked upon human nature with the callous eye of a jockey. He surveyed
Rigby; and he determined to buy him. He bought him; with his clear head,
his indefatigable industry, his audacious tongue, and his ready and
unscrupulous pen; with all his dates, all his lampoons; all his private
memoirs, and all his political intrigues. It was a good purchase. Rigby
became a great personage, and Lord Monmouth's man.
Mr. Rigby, who liked to be doing a great many things at the same time, and
to astonish the Tadpoles and Tapers with his energetic versatility,
determined to superintend the education of Coningsby. It was a relation
which identified him with the noble house of his pupil, or, properly
speaking, his charge: for Mr. Rigby affected rather the graceful dignity
of the governor than the duties of a tutor. The boy was recalled from his
homely, rural school, where he had been well grounded by a hard-working
curate, and affectionately tended by the curate's unsophisticated wife. He
was sent to a fashionable school preparatory to Eton, where he found about
two hundred youths of noble families and connections, lodged in a
magnificent villa, that had once been the retreat of a minister,
superintended by a sycophantic Doctor of Divinity, already well beneficed,
and not despairing of a bishopric by favouring the children of the great
nobles. The doctor's lady, clothed in cashmeres, sometimes inquired after
their health, and occasionally received a report as to their linen.
Mr. Rigby had a classical retreat, not distant from this establishment,
which he esteemed a Tusculum. There, surrounded by his busts and books, he
wrote his lampoons and articles; massacred a she liberal (it was thought
that no one could lash a woman like Rigby), cut up a rising genius whose
politics were different from his own, or scarified some unhappy wretch who
had brought his claims before parliament, proving, by garbled extracts
from official correspondence that no one could refer to, that the
malcontent instead of being a victim, was, on the contrary, a defaulter.
Tadpole and Taper would back Rigby for a 'slashing reply' against the
field. Here, too, at the end of a busy week, he found it occasionally
convenient to entertain a clever friend or two of equivocal reputation,
with whom he had become acquainted in former days of equal brotherhood. No
one was more faithful to his early friends than Mr. Rigby, particularly if
they could write a squib.
It was in this refined retirement that Mr. Rigby found time enough,
snatched from the toils of official life and parliamentary struggles, to
compose a letter on the study of History, addressed to Coningsby. The
style was as much like that of Lord Bolingbroke as if it had been written
by the authors of the 'Rejected Addresses,' and it began, 'My dear young
friend.' This polished composition, so full of good feeling and
comprehensive views, and all in the best taste, was not published. It was
only privately printed, and a few thousand copies were distributed among
select personages as an especial favour and mark of high consideration.
Each copy given away seemed to Rigby like a certificate of character; a
property which, like all men of dubious repute, he thoroughly appreciated.
Rigby intrigued very much that the headmaster of Eton should adopt his
discourse as a class-book. For this purpose he dined with the Doctor, told
him several anecdotes of the King, which intimated personal influence at
Windsor; but the headmaster was inflexible, and so Mr. Rigby was obliged
to be content with having his Letter on History canonized as a classic in
the Preparatory Seminary, where the individual to whom it was addressed
was a scholar.
This change in the life of Coningsby contributed to his happiness. The
various characters which a large school exhibited interested a young mind
whose active energies were beginning to stir. His previous acquirements
made his studies light; and he was fond of sports, in which he was
qualified to excel. He did not particularly like Mr. Rigby. There was
something jarring and grating in that gentleman's voice and modes, from
which the chords of the young heart shrank. He was not tender, though
perhaps he wished to be; scarcely kind: but he was good-natured, at least
to children. However, this connection was, on the whole, an agreeable one
for Coningsby. He seemed suddenly to have friends: he never passed his
holydays again at school. Mr. Rigby was so clever that he contrived always
to quarter Coningsby on the father of one of his school-fellows, for Mr.
Rigby knew all his school-fellows and all their fathers. Mr. Rigby also
called to see him, not unfrequently would give him a dinner at the Star
and Garter, or even have him up to town for a week to Whitehall. Compared
with his former forlorn existence, these were happy days, when he was
placed under the gallery as a member's son, or went to the play with the
When Coningsby had attained his twelfth year, an order was received from
Lord Monmouth, who was at Rome, that he should go at once to Eton. This
was the first great epoch of his life. There never was a youth who entered
into that wonderful little world with more eager zest than Coningsby. Nor
was it marvellous.
That delicious plain, studded with every creation of graceful culture;
hamlet and hall and grange; garden and grove and park; that castle-palace,
grey with glorious ages; those antique spires, hoar with faith and wisdom,
the chapel and the college; that river winding through the shady meads;
the sunny glade and the solemn avenue; the room in the Dame's house where
we first order our own breakfast and first feel we are free; the stirring
multitude, the energetic groups, the individual mind that leads, conquers,
controls; the emulation and the affection; the noble strife and the tender
sentiment; the daring exploit and the dashing scrape; the passion that
pervades our life, and breathes in everything, from the aspiring study to
the inspiring sport: oh! what hereafter can spur the brain and touch the
heart like this; can give us a world so deeply and variously interesting;
a life so full of quick and bright excitement, passed in a scene so fair?
Lord Monmouth, who detested popular tumults as much as he despised public
opinion, had remained during the agitating year of 1831 in his luxurious
retirement in Italy, contenting himself with opposing the Reform Bill by
proxy. But when his correspondent, Mr. Rigby, had informed him, in the
early part of the spring of 1832, of the probability of a change in the
tactics of the Tory party, and that an opinion was becoming prevalent
among their friends, that the great scheme must be defeated in detail
rather than again withstood on principle, his Lordship, who was never
wanting in energy when his own interests were concerned, immediately
crossed the Alps, and travelled rapidly to England. He indulged a hope
that the weight of his presence and the influence of his strong character,
which was at once shrewd and courageous, might induce his friends to
relinquish their half measure, a course to which his nature was repugnant.
At all events, if they persisted in their intention, and the Bill went
into committee, his presence was indispensable, for in that stage of a
parliamentary proceeding proxies become ineffective.
The counsels of Lord Monmouth, though they coincided with those of the
Duke of Wellington, did not prevail with the Waverers. Several of these
high-minded personages had had their windows broken, and they were of
opinion that a man who lived at Naples was not a competent judge of the
state of public feeling in England. Besides, the days are gone by for
senates to have their beards plucked in the forum. We live in an age of
prudence. The leaders of the people, now, generally follow. The truth is,
the peers were in a fright. 'Twas a pity; there is scarcely a less
dignified entity than a patrician in a panic.
Among the most intimate companions of Coningsby at Eton, was Lord Henry
Sydney, his kinsman. Coningsby had frequently passed his holydays of late
at Beaumanoir, the seat of the Duke, Lord Henry's father. The Duke sat
next to Lord Monmouth during the debate on the enfranchising question, and
to while away the time, and from kindness of disposition, spoke, and spoke
with warmth and favour, of his grandson. The polished Lord Monmouth bowed
as if he were much gratified by this notice of one so dear to him. He had
too much tact to admit that he had never yet seen his grandchild; but he
asked some questions as to his progress and pursuits, his tastes and
habits, which intimated the interest of an affectionate relative.
Nothing, however, was ever lost upon Lord Monmouth. No one had a more
retentive memory, or a more observant mind. And the next day, when he
received Mr. Rigby at his morning levee, Lord Monmouth performed this
ceremony in the high style of the old court, and welcomed his visitors in
bed, he said with imperturbable calmness, and as if he had been talking of
trying a new horse, 'Rigby, I should like to see the boy at Eton.'
There might be some objection to grant leave to Coningsby at this moment;
but it was a rule with Mr. Rigby never to make difficulties, or at least
to persuade his patron that he, and he only, could remove them. He
immediately undertook that the boy should be forthcoming, and
notwithstanding the excitement of the moment, he went off next morning to
They arrived in town rather early; and Rigby, wishing to know how affairs
were going on, ordered the servant to drive immediately to the head-
quarters of the party; where a permanent committee watched every phasis of
the impending revolution; and where every member of the Opposition, of
note and trust, was instantly admitted to receive or to impart
It was certainly not without emotion that Coningsby contemplated his first
interview with his grandfather. All his experience of the ties of
relationship, however limited, was full of tenderness and rapture. His
memory often dwelt on his mother's sweet embrace; and ever and anon a
fitful phantom of some past passage of domestic love haunted his gushing
heart. The image of his father was less fresh in his mind; but still it
was associated with a vague sentiment of kindness and joy; and the
allusions to her husband in his mother's letters had cherished these
impressions. To notice lesser sources of influence in his estimate of the
domestic tie, he had witnessed under the roof of Beaumanoir the existence
of a family bound together by the most beautiful affections. He could not
forget how Henry Sydney was embraced by his sisters when he returned home;
what frank and fraternal love existed between his kinsman and his elder
brother; how affectionately the kind Duke had welcomed his son once more
to the house where they had both been born; and the dim eyes, and saddened
brows, and tones of tenderness, which rather looked than said farewell,
when they went back to Eton.
And these rapturous meetings and these mournful adieus were occasioned
only by a separation at the most of a few months, softened by constant
correspondence and the communication of mutual sympathy. But Coningsby was
to meet a relation, his near, almost his only, relation, for the first
time; the relation, too, to whom he owed maintenance, education; it might
be said, existence. It was a great incident for a great drama; something
tragical in the depth and stir of its emotions. Even the imagination of
the boy could not be insensible to its materials; and Coningsby was
picturing to himself a beneficent and venerable gentleman pressing to his
breast an agitated youth, when his reverie was broken by the carriage
stopping before the gates of Monmouth House.
The gates were opened by a gigantic Swiss, and the carriage rolled into a
huge court-yard. At its end Coningsby beheld a Palladian palace, with
wings and colonnades encircling the court.
A double flight of steps led into a circular and marble hall, adorned with
colossal busts of the Caesars; the staircase in fresco by Sir James
Thornhill, breathed with the loves and wars of gods and heroes. It led
into a vestibule, painted in arabesques, hung with Venetian girandoles,
and looking into gardens. Opening a door in this chamber, and proceeding
some little way down a corridor, Mr. Rigby and his companion arrived at
the base of a private staircase. Ascending a few steps, they reached a
landing-place hung with tapestry. Drawing this aside, Mr. Rigby opened a
door, and ushered Coningsby through an ante-chamber into a small saloon,
of beautiful proportions, and furnished in a brilliant and delicate taste.
'You will find more to amuse you here than where you were before,' said
Mr. Rigby, 'and I shall not be nearly so long absent.' So saying, he
entered into an inner apartment.
The walls of the saloon, which were covered with light blue satin, held,
in silver panels, portraits of beautiful women, painted by Boucher.
Couches and easy chairs of every shape invited in every quarter to
luxurious repose; while amusement was afforded by tables covered with
caricatures, French novels, and endless miniatures of foreign dancers,
princesses, and sovereigns.
But Coningsby was so impressed with the impending interview with his
grandfather, that he neither sought nor required diversion. Now that the
crisis was at hand, he felt agitated and nervous, and wished that he was
again at Eton. The suspense was sickening, yet he dreaded still more the
summons. He was not long alone; the door opened; he started, grew pale; he
thought it was his grandfather; it was not even Mr. Rigby. It was Lord
'My name is Coningsby,' said the boy.
'Milor is ready to receive you,' said the valet.
Coningsby sprang forward with that desperation which the scaffold
requires. His face was pale; his hand was moist; his heart beat with
tumult. He had occasionally been summoned by Dr. Keate; that, too, was
awful work, but compared with the present, a morning visit. Music,
artillery, the roar of cannon, and the blare of trumpets, may urge a man
on to a forlorn hope; ambition, one's constituents, the hell of previous
failure, may prevail on us to do a more desperate thing; speak in the
House of Commons; but there are some situations in life, such, for
instance, as entering the room of a dentist, in which the prostration of
the nervous system is absolute.
The moment had at length arrived when the desolate was to find a
benefactor, the forlorn a friend, the orphan a parent; when the youth,
after a childhood of adversity, was to be formally received into the bosom
of the noble house from which he had been so long estranged, and at length
to assume that social position to which his lineage entitled him.
Manliness might support, affection might soothe, the happy anguish of such
a meeting; but it was undoubtedly one of those situations which stir up
the deep fountains of our nature, and before which the conventional
proprieties of our ordinary manners instantaneously vanish.
Coningsby with an uncertain step followed his guide through a bed-chamber,
the sumptuousness of which he could not notice, into the dressing-room of
Lord Monmouth. Mr. Rigby, facing Coningsby as he entered, was leaning over
the back of a large chair, from which as Coningsby was announced by the
valet, the Lord of the house slowly rose, for he was suffering slightly
from the gout, his left hand resting on an ivory stick. Lord Monmouth was
in height above the middle size, but somewhat portly and corpulent. His
countenance was strongly marked; sagacity on the brow, sensuality in the
mouth and jaw. His head was bald, but there were remains of the rich brown
locks on which he once prided himself. His large deep blue eye, madid and
yet piercing, showed that the secretions of his brain were apportioned,
half to voluptuousness, half to common sense. But his general mien was
truly grand; full of a natural nobility, of which no one was more sensible
than himself. Lord Monmouth was not in dishabille; on the contrary, his
costume was exact, and even careful. Rising as we have mentioned when his
grandson entered, and leaning with his left hand on his ivory cane, he
made Coningsby such a bow as Louis Quatorze might have bestowed on the
ambassador of the United Provinces. Then extending his right hand, which
the boy tremblingly touched, Lord Monmouth said:
'How do you like Eton?'
This contrast to the reception which he had imagined, hoped, feared,
paralysed the reviving energies of young Coningsby. He felt stupefied; he
looked almost aghast. In the chaotic tumult of his mind, his memory
suddenly seemed to receive some miraculous inspiration. Mysterious phrases
heard in his earliest boyhood, unnoticed then, long since forgotten, rose
to his ear. Who was this grandfather, seen not before, seen now for the
first time? Where was the intervening link of blood between him and this
superb and icy being? The boy sank into the chair which had been placed
for him, and leaning on the table burst into tears.
Here was a business! If there were one thing which would have made Lord
Monmouth travel from London to Naples at four-and-twenty hours' notice, it
was to avoid a scene. He hated scenes. He hated feelings. He saw instantly
the mistake he had made in sending for his grandchild. He was afraid that
Coningsby was tender-hearted like his father. Another tender-hearted
Coningsby! Unfortunate family! Degenerate race! He decided in his mind
that Coningsby must be provided for in the Church, and looked at Mr.
Rigby, whose principal business it always was to disembarrass his patron
from the disagreeable.
Mr. Rigby instantly came forward and adroitly led the boy into the
adjoining apartment, Lord Monmouth's bedchamber, closing the door of the
dressing-room behind him.
'My dear young friend,' said Mr. Rigby, 'what is all this?'
A sob the only answer.
'What can be the matter?' said Mr. Rigby.
'I was thinking,' said Coningsby, 'of poor mamma!'
'Hush!' said Mr. Rigby; 'Lord Monmouth never likes to hear of people who
are dead; so you must take care never to mention your mother or your
In the meantime Lord Monmouth had decided on the fate of Coningsby. The
Marquis thought he could read characters by a glance, and in general he
was successful, for his natural sagacity had been nurtured by great
experience. His grandson was not to his taste; amiable no doubt, but
We are too apt to believe that the character of a boy is easily read. 'Tis
a mystery the most profound. Mark what blunders parents constantly make as
to the nature of their own offspring, bred, too, under their eyes, and
displaying every hour their characteristics. How often in the nursery does
the genius count as a dunce because he is pensive; while a rattling urchin
is invested with almost supernatural qualities because his animal spirits
make him impudent and flippant! The school-boy, above all others, is not
the simple being the world imagines. In that young bosom are often
stirring passions as strong as our own, desires not less violent, a
volition not less supreme. In that young bosom what burning love, what
intense ambition, what avarice, what lust of power; envy that fiends might
emulate, hate that man might fear!
'Come,' said Mr. Rigby, when Coningsby was somewhat composed, 'come with
me and we will see the house.'
So they descended once more the private staircase, and again entered the
'If you had seen these gardens when they were illuminated for a fete to
George IV.,' said Rigby, as crossing the chamber he ushered his charge
into the state apartments. The splendour and variety of the surrounding
objects soon distracted the attention of the boy, for the first time in
the palace of his fathers. He traversed saloon after saloon hung with rare
tapestry and the gorgeous products of foreign looms; filled with choice
pictures and creations of curious art; cabinets that sovereigns might
envy, and colossal vases of malachite presented by emperors. Coningsby
alternately gazed up to ceilings glowing with color and with gold, and
down upon carpets bright with the fancies and vivid with the tints of
Aubusson and of Axminster.
'This grandfather of mine is a great prince,' thought Coningsby, as musing
he stood before a portrait in which he recognised the features of the
being from whom he had so recently and so strangely parted. There he
stood, Philip Augustus, Marquess of Monmouth, in his robes of state, with
his new coronet on a table near him, a despatch lying at hand that
indicated the special mission of high ceremony of which he had been the
illustrious envoy, and the garter beneath his knee.
'You will have plenty of opportunities to look at the pictures,' said
Rigby, observing that the boy had now quite recovered himself. 'Some
luncheon will do you no harm after our drive;' and he opened the door of
It was a pretty room adorned with a fine picture of the chase; at a round
table in the centre sat two ladies interested in the meal to which Rigby
'Ah, Mr. Rigby!' said the eldest, yet young and beautiful, and speaking,
though with fluency, in a foreign accent, 'come and tell me some news.
Have you seen Milor?' and then she threw a scrutinizing glance from a dark
flashing eye at his companion.
'Let me present to your Highness,' said Rigby, with an air of some
ceremony, 'Mr. Coningsby.'
'My dear young friend,' said the lady, extending her white hand with an
air of joyous welcome, 'this is Lucretia, my daughter. We love you
already. Lord Monmouth will be so charmed to see you. What beautiful eyes
he has, Mr. Rigby. Quite like Milor.'
The young lady, who was really more youthful than Coningsby, but of a form
and stature so developed that she appeared almost a woman, bowed to the
guest with some ceremony, and a faint sullen smile, and then proceeded
with her Perigord pie.
'You must be so hungry after your drive,' said the elder lady, placing
Coningsby at her side, and herself filling his plate.
This was true enough; and while Mr. Rigby and the lady talked an infinite
deal about things which he did not understand, and persons of whom he had
never heard, our little hero made his first meal in his paternal house
with no ordinary zest; and renovated by the pasty and a glass of sherry,
felt altogether a different being from what he was, when he had undergone
the terrible interview in which he began to reflect he had considerably
exposed himself. His courage revived, his senses rallied, he replied to
the interrogations of the lady with calmness, but with promptness and
propriety. It was evident that he had made a favourable impression on her
Highness, for ever and anon she put a truffle or some delicacy in his
plate, and insisted upon his taking some particular confectionery, because
it was a favourite of her own. When she rose, she said,--
'In ten minutes the carriage will be at the door; and if you like, my dear
young friend, you shall be our beau.'
'There is nothing I should like so much,' said Coningsby.
'Ah!' said the lady, with the sweetest smile, 'he is frank.'
The ladies bowed and retired; Mr. Rigby returned to the Marquess, and the
groom of the chambers led Coningsby to his room.
This lady, so courteous to Coningsby, was the Princess Colonna, a Roman
dame, the second wife of Prince Paul Colonna. The prince had first married
when a boy, and into a family not inferior to his own. Of this union, in
every respect unhappy, the Princess Lucretia was the sole offspring. He
was a man dissolute and devoted to play; and cared for nothing much but
his pleasures and billiards, in which latter he was esteemed unrivalled.
According to some, in a freak of passion, according to others, to cancel a
gambling debt, he had united himself to his present wife, whose origin was
obscure; but with whom he contrived to live on terms of apparent
cordiality, for she was much admired, and made the society of her husband
sought by those who contributed to his enjoyment. Among these especially
figured the Marquess of Monmouth, between whom and Prince Colonna the
world recognised as existing the most intimate and entire friendship, so
that his Highness and his family were frequent guests under the roof of
the English nobleman, and now accompanied him on a visit to England.
In the meantime, while ladies are luncheoning on Perigord pie, or coursing
in whirling britskas, performing all the singular ceremonies of a London
morning in the heart of the season; making visits where nobody is seen,
and making purchases which are not wanted; the world is in agitation and
uproar. At present the world and the confusion are limited to St. James's
Street and Pall Mall; but soon the boundaries and the tumult will be
extended to the intended metropolitan boroughs; to-morrow they will spread
over the manufacturing districts. It is perfectly evident, that before
eight-and-forty hours have passed, the country will be in a state of
fearful crisis. And how can it be otherwise? Is it not a truth that the
subtle Chief Baron has been closeted one whole hour with the King; that
shortly after, with thoughtful brow and compressed lip, he was marked in
his daring chariot entering the courtyard of Apsley House? Great was the
panic at Brookes', wild the hopes of Carlton Terrace; all the gentlemen
who expected to have been made peers perceived that the country was going
to be given over to a rapacious oligarchy.
In the meantime Tadpole and Taper, who had never quitted for an instant
the mysterious head-quarters of the late Opposition, were full of hopes
and fears, and asked many questions, which they chiefly answered
'I wonder what Lord Lyndhurst will say to the king,' said Taper.
'He has plenty of pluck,' said Tadpole.
'I almost wish now that Rigby had breakfasted with him this morning,' said
'If the King be firm, and the country sound,' said Tadpole, 'and Lord
Monmouth keep his boroughs, I should not wonder to see Rigby made a privy
'There is no precedent for an under-secretary being a privy councillor,'
'But we live in revolutionary times,' said Tadpole.
'Gentlemen,' said the groom of the chambers, in a loud voice, entering the
room, 'I am desired to state that the Duke of Wellington is with the
'There _is_ a Providence!' exclaimed an agitated gentleman, the patent of
whose intended peerage had not been signed the day that the Duke had
quited office in 1830.
'I always thought the King would be firm,' said Mr. Tadpole.
'I wonder who will have the India Board,' said Taper.
At this moment three or four gentlemen entered the room in a state of
great bustle and excitement; they were immediately surrounded.
'Is it true?' 'Quite true; not the slightest doubt. Saw him myself. Not at
all hissed; certainly not hooted. Perhaps a little hissed. One fellow
really cheered him. Saw him myself. Say what they like, there is
reaction.' 'But Constitution Hill, they say?' 'Well, there was a sort of
inclination to a row on Constitution Hill; but the Duke quite firm;
pistols, and carriage doors bolted.'
Such may give a faint idea of the anxious inquiries and the satisfactory
replies that were occasioned by the entrance of this group.
'Up, guards, and at them!' exclaimed Tadpole, rubbing his hands in a fit
of patriotic enthusiasm.
Later in the afternoon, about five o'clock, the high change of political
gossip, when the room was crowded, and every one had his rumour, Mr. Rigby
looked in again to throw his eye over the evening papers, and catch in
various chit-chat the tone of public or party feeling on the 'crisis.'
Then it was known that the Duke had returned from the King, having
accepted the charge of forming an administration. An administration to do
what? Portentous question! Were concessions to be made? And if so, what?
Was it altogether impossible, and too late, 'stare super vias antiquas?'
Questions altogether above your Tadpoles and your Tapers, whose idea of
the necessities of the age was that they themselves should be in office.
Lord Eskdale came up to Mr. Rigby. This peer was a noble Croesus,
acquainted with all the gradations of life; a voluptuary who could be a
Spartan; clear-sighted, unprejudiced, sagacious; the best judge in the
world of a horse or a man; he was the universal referee; a quarrel about a
bet or a mistress was solved by him in a moment, and in a manner which
satisfied both parties. He patronised and appreciated the fine arts,
though a jockey; respected literary men, though he only read French
novels; and without any affectation of tastes which he did not possess,
was looked upon by every singer and dancer in Europe as their natural
champion. The secret of his strong character and great influence was his
self-composure, which an earthquake or a Reform Bill could not disturb,
and which in him was the result of temperament and experience. He was an
intimate acquaintance of Lord Monmouth, for they had many tastes in
common; were both men of considerable, and in some degree similar
abilities; and were the two greatest proprietors of close boroughs in the
'Do you dine at Monmouth House to-day?' inquired Lord Eskdale of Mr.
'Where I hope to meet your lordship. The Whig papers are very subdued,'
continued Mr. Rigby.
'Ah! they have not the cue yet,' said Lord Eskdale.
'And what do you think of affairs?' inquired his companion.
'I think the hounds are too hot to hark off now,' said Lord Eskdale.
'There is one combination,' said Rigby, who seemed meditating an attack on
Lord Eskdale's button.
'Give it us at dinner,' said Lord Eskdale, who knew his man, and made an
adroit movement forwards, as if he were very anxious to see the _Globe_
In the course of two or three hours these gentlemen met again in the green
drawing-room of Monmouth House. Mr. Rigby was sitting on a sofa by Lord
Monmouth, detailing in whispers all his gossip of the morn: Lord Eskdale
murmuring quaint inquiries into the ear of the Princess Lucretia.
Madame Colonna made remarks alternately to two gentlemen, who paid her
assiduous court. One of these was Mr. Ormsby; the school, the college, and
the club crony of Lord Monmouth, who had been his shadow through life;
travelled with him in early days, won money with him at play, had been his
colleague in the House of Commons; and was still one of his nominees. Mr.
Ormsby was a millionaire, which Lord Monmouth liked. He liked his
companions to be very rich or very poor; be his equals, able to play with
him at high stakes, or join him in a great speculation; or to be his
tools, and to amuse and serve him. There was nothing which he despised and
disliked so much as a moderate fortune.
The other gentleman was of a different class and character. Nature had
intended Lucian Gay for a scholar and a wit; necessity had made him a
scribbler and a buffoon. He had distinguished himself at the University;
but he had no patrimony, nor those powers of perseverance which success in
any learned profession requires. He was good-looking, had great animal
spirits, and a keen sense of enjoyment, and could not drudge. Moreover he
had a fine voice, and sang his own songs with considerable taste;
accomplishments which made his fortune in society and completed his ruin.
In due time he extricated himself from the bench and merged into
journalism, by means of which he chanced to become acquainted with Mr.
Rigby. That worthy individual was not slow in detecting the treasure he
had lighted on; a wit, a ready and happy writer, a joyous and tractable
being, with the education, and still the feelings and manners, of a
gentleman. Frequent were the Sunday dinners which found Gay a guest at Mr.
Rigby's villa; numerous the airy pasquinades which he left behind, and
which made the fortune of his patron. Flattered by the familiar
acquaintance of a man of station, and sanguine that he had found the link
which would sooner or later restore him to the polished world that he had
forfeited, Gay laboured in his vocation with enthusiasm and success.
Willingly would Rigby have kept his treasure to himself; and truly he
hoarded it for a long time, but it oozed out. Rigby loved the reputation
of possessing the complete art of society. His dinners were celebrated at
least for their guests. Great intellectual illustrations were found there
blended with rank and high station. Rigby loved to patronise; to play the
minister unbending and seeking relief from the cares of council in the
society of authors, artists, and men of science. He liked dukes to dine
with him and hear him scatter his audacious criticisms to Sir Thomas or
Sir Humphry. They went away astounded by the powers of their host, who,
had he not fortunately devoted those powers to their party, must
apparently have rivalled Vandyke, or discovered the safety-lamp.
Now in these dinners, Lucian Gay, who had brilliant conversational powers,
and who possessed all the resources of boon companionship, would be an
invaluable ally. He was therefore admitted, and inspired both by the
present enjoyment, and the future to which it might lead, his exertions
were untiring, various, most successful. Rigby's dinners became still,
more celebrated. It, however, necessarily followed that the guests who
were charmed by Gay, wished Gay also to be their guest. Rigby was very
jealous of this, but it was inevitable; still by constant manoeuvre, by
intimations of some exercise, some day or other, of substantial patronage
in his behalf, by a thousand little arts by which he carved out work for
Gay which often prevented him accepting invitations to great houses in the
country, by judicious loans of small sums on Lucian's notes of hand and
other analogous devices, Rigby contrived to keep the wit in a fair state
of bondage and dependence.
One thing Rigby was resolved on: Gay should never get into Monmouth House.
That was an empyrean too high for his wing to soar in. Rigby kept that
social monopoly distinctively to mark the relation that subsisted between
them as patron and client. It was something to swagger about when they
were together after their second bottle of claret. Rigby kept his
resolution for some years, which the frequent and prolonged absence of the
Marquess rendered not very difficult. But we are the creatures of
circumstances; at least the Rigby race particularly. Lord Monmouth
returned to England one year, and wanted to be amused. He wanted a jester:
a man about him who would make him, not laugh, for that was impossible,
but smile more frequently, tell good stories, say good things, and sing
now and then, especially French songs. Early in life Rigby would have
attempted all this, though he had neither fun, voice, nor ear. But his
hold on Lord Monmouth no longer depended on the mere exercise of agreeable
qualities, he had become indispensable to his lordship, by more serious if
not higher considerations. And what with auditing his accounts, guarding
his boroughs, writing him, when absent, gossip by every post and when in
England deciding on every question and arranging every matter which might
otherwise have ruffled the sublime repose of his patron's existence, Rigby
might be excused if he shrank a little from the minor part of table wit,
particularly when we remember all his subterranean journalism, his acid
squibs, and his malicious paragraphs, and, what Tadpole called, his
These 'slashing articles' were, indeed, things which, had they appeared as
anonymous pamphlets, would have obtained the contemptuous reception which
in an intellectual view no compositions more surely deserved; but
whispered as the productions of one behind the scenes, and appearing in
the pages of a party review, they were passed off as genuine coin, and
took in great numbers of the lieges, especially in the country. They were
written in a style apparently modelled on the briefs of those sharp
attorneys who weary advocates with their clever commonplace; teasing with
obvious comment, and torturing with inevitable inference. The affectation
of order in the statement of facts had all the lucid method of an adroit
pettifogger. They dealt much in extracts from newspapers, quotations from
the _Annual Register_, parallel passages in forgotten speeches, arranged
with a formidable array of dates rarely accurate. When the writer was of
opinion he had made a point, you may be sure the hit was in italics, that
last resource of the Forcible Feebles. He handled a particular in
chronology as if he were proving an alibi at the Criminal Court. The
censure was coarse without being strong, and vindictive when it would have
been sarcastic. Now and then there was a passage which aimed at a higher
flight, and nothing can be conceived more unlike genuine feeling, or more
offensive to pure taste. And yet, perhaps, the most ludicrous
characteristic of these facetious gallimaufreys was an occasional
assumption of the high moral and admonitory tone, which when we recurred
to the general spirit of the discourse, and were apt to recall the
character of its writer, irresistibly reminded one of Mrs. Cole and her
To return to Lucian Gay. It was a rule with Rigby that no one, if
possible, should do anything for Lord Monmouth but himself; and as a
jester must be found, he was determined that his Lordship should have the
best in the market, and that he should have the credit of furnishing the
article. As a reward, therefore, for many past services, and a fresh claim
to his future exertions, Rigby one day broke to Gay that the hour had at
length arrived when the highest object of reasonable ambition on his part,
and the fulfilment of one of Rigby's long-cherished and dearest hopes,
were alike to be realised. Gay was to be presented to Lord Monmouth and
dine at Monmouth House.
The acquaintance was a successful one; very agreeable to both parties. Gay
became an habitual guest of Lord Monmouth when his patron was in England;
and in his absence received frequent and substantial marks of his kind
recollection, for Lord Monmouth was generous to those who amused him.
In the meantime the hour of dinner is at hand. Coningsby, who had lost the
key of his carpet-bag, which he finally cut open with a penknife that he
found on his writing-table, and the blade of which he broke in the
operation, only reached the drawing-room as the figure of his grandfather,
leaning on his ivory cane, and following his guests, was just visible in
the distance. He was soon overtaken. Perceiving Coningsby, Lord Monmouth
made him a bow, not so formal a one as in the morning, but still a bow,
and said, 'I hope you liked your drive.'
A little dinner, not more than the Muses, with all the guests clever, and
some pretty, offers human life and human nature under very favourable
circumstances. In the present instance, too, every one was anxious to
please, for the host was entirely well-bred, never selfish in little
things, and always contributed his quota to the general fund of polished
Although there was really only one thought in every male mind present,
still, regard for the ladies, and some little apprehension of the
servants, banished politics from discourse during the greater part of the
dinner, with the occasional exception of some rapid and flying allusion
which the initiated understood, but which remained a mystery to the rest.
Nevertheless an old story now and then well told by Mr. Ormsby, a new joke
now and then well introduced by Mr. Gay, some dashing assertion by Mr.
Rigby, which, though wrong, was startling; this agreeable blending of
anecdote, jest, and paradox, kept everything fluent, and produced that
degree of mild excitation which is desirable. Lord Monmouth sometimes
summed up with an epigrammatic sentence, and turned the conversation by a
question, in case it dwelt too much on the same topic. Lord Eskdale
addressed himself principally to the ladies; inquired after their morning
drive and doings, spoke of new fashions, and quoted a letter from Paris.
Madame Colonna was not witty, but she had that sweet Roman frankness which
is so charming. The presence of a beautiful woman, natural and good-
tempered, even if she be not a L'Espinasse or a De Stael, is animating.
Nevertheless, owing probably to the absorbing powers of the forbidden
subject, there were moments when it seemed that a pause was impending, and
Mr. Ormsby, an old hand, seized one of these critical instants to address
a good-natured question to Coningsby, whose acquaintance he had already
cultivated by taking wine with him.
'And how do you like Eton?' asked Mr. Ormsby.
It was the identical question which had been presented to Coningsby in the
memorable interview of the morning, and which had received no reply; or
rather had produced on his part a sentimental ebullition that had
absolutely destined or doomed him to the Church.
'I should like to see the fellow who did not like Eton,' said Coningsby,
briskly, determined this time to be very brave.
'Gad I must go down and see the old place,' said Mr. Ormsby, touched by a
pensive reminiscence. 'One can get a good bed and bottle of port at the
'You had better come and try, sir,' said Coningsby. 'If you will come some
day and dine with me at the Christopher, I will give you such a bottle of
champagne as you never tasted yet.'
The Marquess looked at him, but said nothing.
'Ah! I liked a dinner at the Christopher,' said Mr. Ormsby; 'after mutton,
mutton, mutton, every day, it was not a bad thing.'
'We had venison for dinner every week last season,' said Coningsby;
'Buckhurst had it sent up from his park. But I don't care for dinner.
Breakfast is my lounge.'
'Ah! those little rolls and pats of butter!' said Mr. Ormsby. 'Short
commons, though. What do you think we did in my time? We used to send over
the way to get a mutton-chop.'
'I wish you could see Buckhurst and me at breakfast,' said Coningsby,
'with a pound of Castle's sausages!'
'What Buckhurst is that, Harry?' inquired Lord Monmouth, in a tone of some
interest, and for the first time calling him by his Christian name.
'Sir Charles Buckhurst, sir, a Berkshire man: Shirley Park is his place.'
'Why, that must be Charley's son, Eskdale,' said Lord Monmouth; 'I had no
idea he could be so young.'
'He married late, you know, and had nothing but daughters for a long
'Well, I hope there will be no Reform Bill for Eton,' said Lord Monmouth,
The servants had now retired.
'I think, Lord Monmouth,' said Mr. Rigby, 'we must ask permission to drink
one toast to-day.'
'Nay, I will myself give it,' he replied. 'Madame Colonna, you will, I am
sure, join us when we drink, THE DUKE!'
'Ah! what a man!' exclaimed the Princess. 'What a pity it is you have a
House of Commons here! England would be the greatest country in the world
if it were not for that House of Commons. It makes so much confusion!'
'Don't abuse our property,' said Lord Eskdale; 'Lord Monmouth and I have
still twenty votes of that same body between us.'
'And there is a combination,' said Rigby, 'by which you may still keep
'Ah! now for Rigby's combination,' said Lord Eskdale.
'The only thing that can save this country,' said Rigby, 'is a coalition
on a sliding scale.'
'You had better buy up the Birmingham Union and the other bodies,' said
Lord Monmouth; 'I believe it might all be done for two or three hundred
thousand pounds; and the newspapers too. Pitt would have settled this
business long ago.'
'Well, at any rate, we are in,' said Rigby, 'and we must do something.'
'I should like to see Grey's list of new peers,' said Lord Eskdale. 'They
say there are several members of our club in it.'
'And the claims to the honour are so opposite,' said Lucian Gay; 'one, on
account of his large estate; another, because he has none; one, because he
has a well-grown family to perpetuate the title; another, because he has
no heir, and no power of ever obtaining one.'
'I wonder how he will form his cabinet,' said Lord Monmouth; 'the old
story won't do.'
'I hear that Baring is to be one of the new cards; they say it will please
the city,' said Lord Eskdale. 'I suppose they will pick out of hedge and
ditch everything that has ever had the semblance of liberalism.'
'Affairs in my time were never so complicated,' said Mr. Ormsby.
'Nay, it appears to me to lie in a nutshell,' said Lucian Gay; 'one party
wishes to keep their old boroughs, and the other to get their new peers.'
The future historian of the country will be perplexed to ascertain what
was the distinct object which the Duke of Wellington proposed to himself
in the political manoeuvres of May, 1832. It was known that the passing of
the Reform Bill was a condition absolute with the King; it was
unquestionable, that the first general election under the new law must
ignominiously expel the Anti-Reform Ministry from power; who would then
resume their seats on the Opposition benches in both Houses with the loss
not only of their boroughs, but of that reputation for political
consistency, which might have been some compensation for the parliamentary
influence of which they had been deprived. It is difficult to recognise in
this premature effort of the Anti-Reform leader to thrust himself again
into the conduct of public affairs, any indications of the prescient
judgment which might have been expected from such a quarter. It savoured
rather of restlessness than of energy; and, while it proved in its
progress not only an ignorance on his part of the public mind, but of the
feelings of his own party, it terminated under circumstances which were
humiliating to the Crown, and painfully significant of the future position
of the House of Lords in the new constitutional scheme.
The Duke of Wellington has ever been the votary of circumstances. He cares
little for causes. He watches events rather than seeks to produce them. It
is a characteristic of the military mind. Rapid combinations, the result
of quick, vigilant, and comprehensive glance, are generally triumphant in
the field: but in civil affairs, where results are not immediate; in
diplomacy and in the management of deliberative assemblies, where there is
much intervening time and many counteracting causes, this velocity of
decision, this fitful and precipitate action, are often productive of
considerable embarrassment, and sometimes of terrible discomfiture. It is
remarkable that men celebrated for military prudence are often found to be
headstrong statesmen. In civil life a great general is frequently and
strangely the creature of impulse; influenced in his political movements
by the last snatch of information; and often the creature of the last
aide-de-camp who has his ear.
We shall endeavour to trace in another chapter the reasons which on this
as on previous and subsequent occasions, induced Sir Robert Peel to stand
aloof, if possible, from official life, and made him reluctant to re-enter
the service of his Sovereign. In the present instance, even temporary
success could only have been secured by the utmost decision, promptness,
and energy. These were all wanting: some were afraid to follow the bold
example of their leader; many were disinclined. In eight-and-forty hours
it was known there was a 'hitch.'
The Reform party, who had been rather stupefied than appalled by the
accepted mission of the Duke of Wellington, collected their scattered
senses, and rallied their forces. The agitators harangued, the mobs
hooted. The City of London, as if the King had again tried to seize the
five members, appointed a permanent committee of the Common Council to
watch the fortunes of the 'great national measure,' and to report daily.
Brookes', which was the only place that at first was really frightened and
talked of compromise, grew valiant again; while young Whig heroes jumped
upon club-room tables, and delivered fiery invectives. Emboldened by these
demonstrations, the House of Commons met in great force, and passed a vote
which struck, without disguise, at all rival powers in the State;
virtually announced its supremacy; revealed the forlorn position of the
House of Lords under the new arrangement; and seemed to lay for ever the
fluttering phantom of regal prerogative.
It was on the 9th of May that Lord Lyndhurst was with the King, and on the
15th all was over. Nothing in parliamentary history so humiliating as the
funeral oration delivered that day by the Duke of Wellington over the old
constitution, that, modelled on the Venetian, had governed England since
the accession of the House of Hanover. He described his Sovereign, when
his Grace first repaired to his Majesty, as in a state of the greatest
'difficulty and distress,' appealing to his never-failing loyalty to
extricate him from his trouble and vexation. The Duke of Wellington,
representing the House of Lords, sympathises with the King, and pledges
his utmost efforts for his Majesty's relief. But after five days'
exertion, this man of indomitable will and invincible fortunes, resigns
the task in discomfiture and despair, and alleges as the only and
sufficient reason for his utter and hopeless defeat, that the House of
Commons had come to a vote which ran counter to the contemplated exercise
of the prerogative.
From that moment power passed from the House of Lords to another assembly.
But if the peers have ceased to be magnificoes, may it not also happen
that the Sovereign may cease to be a Doge? It is not impossible that the
political movements of our time, which seem on the surface to have a
tendency to democracy, may have in reality a monarchical bias.
In less than a fortnight's time the House of Lords, like James II., having
abdicated their functions by absence, the Reform Bill passed; the ardent
monarch, who a few months before had expressed his readiness to go down to
Parliament, in a hackney coach if necessary, to assist its progress, now
declining personally to give his assent to its provisions.
In the protracted discussions to which this celebrated measure gave rise,
nothing is more remarkable than the perplexities into which the speakers
of both sides are thrown, when they touch upon the nature of the
representative principle. On one hand it was maintained, that, under the
old system, the people were virtually represented; while on the other, it
was triumphantly urged, that if the principle be conceded, the people
should not be virtually, but actually, represented. But who are the
people? And where are you to draw a line? And why should there be any? It
was urged that a contribution to the taxes was the constitutional
qualification for the suffrage. But we have established a system of
taxation in this country of so remarkable a nature, that the beggar who
chews his quid as he sweeps a crossing, is contributing to the imposts! Is
he to have a vote? He is one of the people, and he yields his quota to the
Amid these conflicting statements, and these confounding conclusions, it
is singular that no member of either House should have recurred to the
original character of these popular assemblies, which have always
prevailed among the northern nations. We still retain in the antique
phraseology of our statutes the term which might have beneficially guided
a modern Reformer in his reconstructive labours.
When the crowned Northman consulted on the welfare of his kingdom, he
assembled the ESTATES of his realm. Now an estate is a class of the nation
invested with political rights. There appeared the estate of the clergy,
of the barons, of other classes. In the Scandinavian kingdoms to this day,
the estate of the peasants sends its representatives to the Diet. In
England, under the Normans, the Church and the Baronage were convoked,
together with the estate of the Community, a term which then probably
described the inferior holders of land, whose tenure was not immediate of
the Crown. This Third Estate was so numerous, that convenience suggested
its appearance by representation; while the others, more limited,
appeared, and still appear, personally. The Third Estate was reconstructed
as circumstances developed themselves. It was a Reform of Parliament when
the towns were summoned.
In treating the House of the Third Estate as the House of the People, and
not as the House of a privileged class, the Ministry and Parliament of
1831 virtually conceded the principle of Universal Suffrage. In this point
of view the ten-pound franchise was an arbitrary, irrational, and
impolitic qualification. It had, indeed, the merit of simplicity, and so
had the constitutions of Abbe Sieyes. But its immediate and inevitable
result was Chartism.
But if the Ministry and Parliament of 1831 had announced that the time had
arrived when the Third Estate should be enlarged and reconstructed, they
would have occupied an intelligible position; and if, instead of
simplicity of elements in its reconstruction, they had sought, on the
contrary, various and varying materials which would have neutralised the
painful predominance of any particular interest in the new scheme, and
prevented those banded jealousies which have been its consequences, the
nation would have found itself in a secure condition. Another class not
less numerous than the existing one, and invested with privileges not less
important, would have been added to the public estates of the realm; and
the bewildering phrase 'the People' would have remained, what it really
is, a term of natural philosophy, and not of political science.
During this eventful week of May, 1832, when an important revolution was
effected in the most considerable of modern kingdoms, in a manner so
tranquil, that the victims themselves were scarcely conscious at the time
of the catastrophe, Coningsby passed his hours in unaccustomed pleasures,
and in novel excitement. Although he heard daily from the lips of Mr.
Rigby and his friends that England was for ever lost, the assembled guests
still contrived to do justice to his grandfather's excellent dinners; nor
did the impending ruin that awaited them prevent the Princess Colonna from
going to the Opera, whither she very good-naturedly took Coningsby. Madame
Colonna, indeed, gave such gratifying accounts of her dear young friend,
that Coningsby became daily a greater favourite with Lord Monmouth, who
cherished the idea that his grandson had inherited not merely the colour
of his eyes, but something of his shrewd and fearless spirit.
With Lucretia, Coningsby did not much advance. She remained silent and
sullen. She was not beautiful; pallid, with a lowering brow, and an eye
that avoided meeting another's. Madame Colonna, though good-natured, felt
for her something of the affection for which step-mothers are celebrated.
Lucretia, indeed, did not encourage her kindness, which irritated her
step-mother, who seemed seldom to address her but to rate and chide;
Lucretia never replied, but looked dogged. Her father, the Prince, did not
compensate for this treatment. The memory of her mother, whom he had
greatly disliked, did not soften his heart. He was a man still young;
slender, not tall; very handsome, but worn; a haggard Antinous; his
beautiful hair daily thinning; his dress rich and effeminate; many jewels,
much lace. He seldom spoke, but was polished, though moody.
At the end of the week, Coningsby returned to Eton. On the eve of his
departure, Lord Monmouth desired his grandson to meet him in his
apartments on the morrow, before quitting his roof. This farewell visit
was as kind and gracious as the first one had been repulsive. Lord
Monmouth gave Coningsby his blessing and ten pounds; desired that he would
order a dress, anything he liked, for the approaching Montem, which Lord
Monmouth meant to attend; and informed his grandson that he should order
that in future a proper supply of game and venison should be forwarded to
Eton for the use of himself and his friends.
After eight o'clock school, the day following the return of Coningsby,
according to custom, he repaired to Buckhurst's room, where Henry Sydney,
Lord Vere, and our hero held with him their breakfast mess. They were all
in the fifth form, and habitual companions, on the river or on the Fives'
Wall, at cricket or at foot-ball. The return of Coningsby, their leader
alike in sport and study, inspired them to-day with unusual spirits,
which, to say the truth, were never particularly depressed. Where he had
been, what he had seen, what he had done, what sort of fellow his
grandfather was, whether the visit had been a success; here were materials
for almost endless inquiry. And, indeed, to do them justice, the last
question was not the least exciting to them; for the deep and cordial
interest which all felt in Coningsby's welfare far outweighed the
curiosity which, under ordinary circumstances, they would have experienced
on the return of one of their companions from an unusual visit to London.
The report of their friend imparted to them unbounded satisfaction, when
they learned that his relative was a splendid fellow; that he had been
loaded with kindness and favours; that Monmouth House, the wonders of
which he rapidly sketched, was hereafter to be his home; that Lord
Monmouth was coming down to Montem; that Coningsby was to order any dress
he liked, build a new boat if he chose; and, finally, had been pouched in
a manner worthy of a Marquess and a grandfather.
'By the bye,' said Buckhurst, when the hubbub had a little subsided, 'I am
afraid you will not half like it, Coningsby; but, old fellow, I had no
idea you would be back this morning; I have asked Millbank to breakfast
A cloud stole over the clear brow of Coningsby.
'It was my fault,' said the amiable Henry Sydney; 'but I really wanted to
be civil to Millbank, and as you were not here, I put Buckhurst up to ask
'Well,' said Coningsby, as if sullenly resigned, 'never mind; but why
should you ask an infernal manufacturer?'
'Why, the Duke always wished me to pay him some attention,' said Lord
Henry, mildly. 'His family were so civil to us when we were at
'Manchester, indeed!' said Coningsby; 'if you knew what I do about
Manchester! A pretty state we have been in in London this week past with
your Manchesters and Birminghams!'
'Come, come, Coningsby,' said Lord Vere, the son of a Whig minister; 'I am
all for Manchester and Birmingham.'
'It is all up with the country, I can tell you,' said Coningsby, with the
air of one who was in the secret.
'My father says it will all go right now,' rejoined Lord Vere. 'I had a
letter from my sister yesterday.'
'They say we shall all lose our estates, though,' said Buckhurst; 'I know
I shall not give up mine without a fight. Shirley was besieged, you know,
in the civil wars; and the rebels got infernally licked.'
'I think that all the people about Beaumanoir would stand by the Duke,'
said Lord Henry, pensively.
'Well, you may depend upon it you will have it very soon,' said Coningsby.
'I know it from the best authority.'
'It depends on whether my father remains in,' said Lord Vere. 'He is the
only man who can govern the country now. All say that.'
At this moment Millbank entered. He was a good looking boy, somewhat shy,
and yet with a sincere expression in his countenance. He was evidently not
extremely intimate with those who were now his companions. Buckhurst, and
Henry Sydney, and Vere, welcomed him cordially. He looked at Coningsby
with some constraint, and then said:
'You have been in London, Coningsby?'
'Yes, I have been there during all the row.'
'You must have had a rare lark.'
'Yes, if having your windows broken by a mob be a rare lark. They could
not break my grandfather's, though. Monmouth House is in a court-yard. All
noblemen's houses should be in court-yards.'
'I was glad to see it all ended very well,' said Millbank.
'It has not begun yet,' said Coningsby.
'What?' said Millbank.
'Why, the revolution.'
'The Reform Bill will prevent a revolution, my father says,' said
'By Jove! here's the goose,' said Buckhurst.
At this moment there entered the room a little boy, the scion of a noble
house, bearing a roasted goose, which he had carried from the kitchen of
the opposite inn, the Christopher. The lower boy or fag, depositing his
burthen, asked his master whether he had further need of him; and
Buckhurst, after looking round the table, and ascertaining that he had
not, gave him permission to retire; but he had scarcely disappeared, when
his master singing out, 'Lower boy, St. John!' he immediately re-entered,
and demanded his master's pleasure, which was, that he should pour some
water in the teapot. This being accomplished, St. John really made his
escape, and retired to a pupil-room, where the bullying of a tutor,
because he had no derivations, exceeded in all probability the bullying of
his master, had he contrived in his passage from the Christopher to have
upset the goose or dropped the sausages.
In their merry meal, the Reform Bill was forgotten. Their thoughts were
soon concentrated in their little world, though it must be owned that
visions of palaces and beautiful ladies did occasionally flit over the
brain of one of the company. But for him especially there was much of
interest and novelty. So much had happened in his absence! There was a
week's arrears for him of Eton annals. They were recounted in so fresh a
spirit, and in such vivid colours, that Coningsby lost nothing by his
London visit. All the bold feats that had been done, and all the bright
things that had been said; all the triumphs, and all the failures, and all
the scrapes; how popular one master had made himself, and how ridiculous
another; all was detailed with a liveliness, a candour, and a picturesque
ingenuousness, which would have made the fortune of a Herodotus or a
'I'll tell you what,' said Buckhurst, 'I move that after twelve we five go
up to Maidenhead.'
Millbank was the son of one of the wealthiest manufacturers in Lancashire.
His father, whose opinions were of a very democratic bent, sent his son to
Eton, though he disapproved of the system of education pursued there, to
show that he had as much right to do so as any duke in the land. He had,
however, brought up his only boy with a due prejudice against every
sentiment or institution of an aristocratic character, and had especially
impressed upon him in his school career, to avoid the slightest semblance
of courting the affections or society of any member of the falsely-held
The character of the son as much as the influence of the father, tended to
the fulfilment of these injunctions. Oswald Millbank was of a proud and
independent nature; reserved, a little stern. The early and constantly-
reiterated dogma of his father, that he belonged to a class debarred from
its just position in the social system, had aggravated the grave and
somewhat discontented humour of his blood. His talents were considerable,
though invested with no dazzling quality. He had not that quick and
brilliant apprehension, which, combined with a memory of rare
retentiveness, had already advanced Coningsby far beyond his age, and made
him already looked to as the future hero of the school. But Millbank
possessed one of those strong, industrious volitions whose perseverance
amounts almost to genius, and nearly attains its results. Though Coningsby
was by a year his junior, they were rivals. This circumstance had no
tendency to remove the prejudice which Coningsby entertained against him,
but its bias on the part of Millbank had a contrary effect.
The influence of the individual is nowhere so sensible as at school. There
the personal qualities strike without any intervening and counteracting
causes. A gracious presence, noble sentiments, or a happy talent, make
their way there at once, without preliminary inquiries as to what set they
are in, or what family they are of, how much they have a-year, or where
they live. Now, on no spirit had the influence of Coningsby, already the
favourite, and soon probably to become the idol, of the school, fallen
more effectually than on that of Millbank, though it was an influence that
no one could suspect except its votary or its victim.
At school, friendship is a passion. It entrances the being; it tears the
soul. All loves of after-life can never bring its rapture, or its
wretchedness; no bliss so absorbing, no pangs of jealousy or despair so
crushing and so keen! What tenderness and what devotion; what illimitable
confidence; infinite revelations of inmost thoughts; what ecstatic present
and romantic future; what bitter estrangements and what melting
reconciliations; what scenes of wild recrimination, agitating
explanations, passionate correspondence; what insane sensitiveness, and
what frantic sensibility; what earthquakes of the heart and whirlwinds of
the soul are confined in that simple phrase, a schoolboy's friendship!
Tis some indefinite recollection of these mystic passages of their young
emotion that makes grey-haired men mourn over the memory of their
schoolboy days. It is a spell that can soften the acerbity of political
warfare, and with its witchery can call forth a sigh even amid the callous
bustle of fashionable saloons.
The secret of Millbank's life was a passionate admiration and affection
for Coningsby. Pride, his natural reserve, and his father's injunctions,
had, however, hitherto successfully combined to restrain the slightest
demonstration of these sentiments. Indeed, Coningsby and himself were
never companions, except in school, or in some public game. The demeanour
of Coningsby gave no encouragement to intimacy to one, who, under any
circumstances, would have required considerable invitation to open
himself. So Millbank fed in silence on a cherished idea. It was his
happiness to be in the same form, to join in the same sport, with
Coningsby; occasionally to be thrown in unusual contact with him, to
exchange slight and not unkind words. In their division they were rivals;
Millbank sometimes triumphed, but to be vanquished by Coningsby was for
him not without a degree of mild satisfaction. Not a gesture, not a phrase
from Coningsby, that he did not watch and ponder over and treasure up.
Coningsby was his model, alike in studies, in manners, or in pastimes; the
aptest scholar, the gayest wit, the most graceful associate, the most
accomplished playmate: his standard of excellent. Yet Millbank was the
very last boy in the school who would have had credit given him by his
companions for profound and ardent feeling. He was not indeed unpopular.
The favourite of the school like Coningsby, he could, under no
circumstances, ever have become; nor was he qualified to obtain that
general graciousness among the multitude, which the sweet disposition of
Henry Sydney, or the gay profusion of Buckhurst, acquired without any
effort. Millbank was not blessed with the charm of manner. He seemed close
and cold; but he was courageous, just, and inflexible; never bullied, and
to his utmost would prevent tyranny. The little boys looked up to him as a
stern protector; and his word, too, throughout the school was a proverb:
and truth ranks a great quality among boys. In a word, Millbank was
respected by those among whom he lived; and school-boys scan character
more nicely than men suppose.
A brother of Henry Sydney, quartered in Lancashire, had been wounded
recently in a riot, and had received great kindness from the Millbank
family, in whose immediate neighbourhood the disturbance had occurred. The
kind Duke had impressed on Henry Sydney to acknowledge with cordiality to
the younger Millbank at Eton, the sense which his family entertained of
these benefits; but though Henry lost neither time nor opportunity in
obeying an injunction, which was grateful to his own heart, he failed in
cherishing, or indeed creating, any intimacy with the object of his
solicitude. A companionship with one who was Coningsby's relative and most
familiar friend, would at the first glance have appeared, independently of
all other considerations, a most desirable result for Millbank to
accomplish. But, perhaps, this very circumstance afforded additional
reasons for the absence of all encouragement with which he received the
overtures of Lord Henry. Millbank suspected that Coningsby was not
affected in his favour, and his pride recoiled from gaining, by any
indirect means, an intimacy which to have obtained in a plain and express
manner would have deeply gratified him. However, the urgent invitation of
Buckhurst and Henry Sydney, and the fear that a persistence in refusal
might be misinterpreted into churlishness, had at length brought Millbank
to their breakfast-mess, though, when he accepted their invitation, he did
not apprehend that Coningsby would have been present.
It was about an hour before sunset, the day of this very breakfast, and a
good number of boys, in lounging groups, were collected in the Long Walk.
The sports and matches of the day were over. Criticism had succeeded to
action in sculling and in cricket. They talked over the exploits of the
morning; canvassed the merits of the competitors, marked the fellow whose
play or whose stroke was improving; glanced at another, whose promise had
not been fulfilled; discussed the pretensions, and adjudged the palm. Thus
public opinion is formed. Some, too, might be seen with their books and
exercises, intent on the inevitable and impending tasks. Among these, some
unhappy wight in the remove, wandering about with his hat, after parochial
fashion, seeking relief in the shape of a verse. A hard lot this, to know
that you must be delivered of fourteen verses at least in the twenty-four
hours, and to be conscious that you are pregnant of none. The lesser boys,
urchins of tender years, clustered like flies round the baskets of certain
vendors of sugary delicacies that rested on the Long Walk wall. The pallid
countenance, the lacklustre eye, the hoarse voice clogged with accumulated
phlegm, indicated too surely the irreclaimable and hopeless votary of
lollypop, the opium-eater of schoolboys.
'It is settled, the match to-morrow shall be between Aquatics and
Drybobs,' said a senior boy; who was arranging a future match at cricket.
'But what is to be done about Fielding major?' inquired another. 'He has
not paid his boating money, and I say he has no right to play among the
Aquatics before he has paid his money.'
'Oh! but we must have Fielding major, he is such a devil of a swipe.'
'I declare he shall not play among the Aquatics if he does not pay his
boating money. It is an infernal shame.'
'Let us ask Buckhurst. Where is Buckhurst?'
'Have you got any toffy?' inquired a dull looking little boy, in a hoarse
voice, of one of the vendors of scholastic confectionery.
'Tom Trot, sir.'
'No; I want toffy.'
'Very nice Tom Trot, sir.'
'No, I want toffy; I have been eating Tom Trot all day.'
'Where is Buckhurst? We must settle about the Aquatics.'
'Well, I for one will not play if Fielding major plays amongst the
Aquatics. That is settled.'
'Oh! nonsense; he will pay his money if you ask him.'
'I shall not ask him again. The captain duns us every day. It is an
'I say, Burnham, where can one get some toffy? This fellow never has any.'
'I will tell you; at Barnes' on the bridge. The best toffy in the world.'
'I will go at once. I must have some toffy.'
'Just help me with this verse, Collins,' said one boy to another, in an
imploring tone, 'that's a good fellow.'
'Well, give it us: first syllable in _fabri_ is short; three false
quantities in the two first lines! You're a pretty one. There, I have done
it for you.'
'That's a good fellow.'
'Any fellow seen Buckhurst?'
'Gone up the river with Coningsby and Henry Sydney.'
'But he must be back by this time. I want him to make the list for the
match to-morrow. Where the deuce can Buckhurst be?'
And now, as rumours rise in society we know not how, so there was suddenly
a flying report in this multitude, the origin of which no one in his alarm
stopped to ascertain, that a boy was drowned.
Every heart was agitated.
What boy? When, where, how? Who was absent? Who had been on the river to-
day? Buckhurst. The report ran that Buckhurst was drowned. Great were the
trouble and consternation. Buckhurst was ever much liked; and now no one
remembered anything but his good qualities.
'Who heard it was Buckhurst?' said Sedgwick, captain of the school, coming
'I heard Bradford tell Palmer it was Buckhurst,' said a little boy.
'Where is Bradford?'
'What do you know about Buckhurst?'
'Wentworth told me that he was afraid Buckhurst was drowned. He heard it
at the Brocas; a bargeman told him about a quarter of an hour ago.'
'Here is Wentworth! Here is Wentworth!' a hundred voices exclaimed, and
they formed a circle round him.
'Well, what did you hear, Wentworth?' asked Sedgwick.
'I was at the Brocas, and a bargee told me that an Eton fellow had been
drowned above Surley, and the only Eton boat above Surley to-day, as I can
learn, is Buckhurst's four-oar. That is all.'
There was a murmur of hope.
'Oh! come, come,' said Sedgwick, 'there is come chance. Who is with
Buckhurst; who knows?'
'I saw him walk down to the Brocas with Vere,' said a boy.
'I hope it is not Vere,' said a little boy, with a tearful eye; 'he never
lets any fellow bully me.'
'Here is Maltravers,' halloed out a boy; 'he knows something.'
'Well, what do you know, Maltravers?'
'I heard Boots at the Christopher say that an Eton fellow was drowned, and
that he had seen a person who was there.'
'Bring Boots here,' said Sedgwick.
Instantly a band of boys rushed over the way, and in a moment the witness
'What have you heard, Sam, about this accident?' said Sedgwick.
'Well, sir, I heard a young gentleman was drowned above Monkey Island,'
'And no name mentioned?'
'Well, sir, I believe it was Mr. Coningsby.'
A general groan of horror.
'Coningsby, Coningsby! By Heavens I hope not,' said Sedgwick.
'I very much fear so,' said Boots; 'as how the bargeman who told me saw
Mr. Coningsby in the Lock House laid out in flannels.'
'I had sooner any fellow had been drowned than Coningsby,' whispered one
boy to another.
'I liked him, the best fellow at Eton,' responded his companion, in a
'What a clever fellow he was!'
'And so deuced generous!'
'He would have got the medal if he had lived.'
'And how came he to be drowned? for he was such a fine swimmer!'
'I heerd Mr. Coningsby was saving another's life,' continued Boots in his
evidence, 'which makes it in a manner more sorrowful.'
'Poor Coningsby!' exclaimed a boy, bursting into tears: 'I move the whole
school goes into mourning.'
'I wish we could get hold of this bargeman,' said Sedgwick. 'Now stop,
stop, don't all run away in that mad manner; you frighten the people.
Charles Herbert and Palmer, you two go down to the Brocas and inquire.'
But just at this moment, an increased stir and excitement were evident in
the Long Walk; the circle round Sedgwick opened, and there appeared Henry
Sydney and Buckhurst.
There was a dead silence. It was impossible that suspense could be
strained to a higher pitch. The air and countenance of Sydney and
Buckhurst were rather excited than mournful or alarmed. They needed no
inquiries, for before they had penetrated the circle they had become aware
of its cause.
Buckhurst, the most energetic of beings, was of course the first to speak.
Henry Sydney indeed looked pale and nervous; but his companion, flushed
and resolute, knew exactly how to hit a popular assembly, and at once came
to the point.
'It is all a false report, an infernal lie; Coningsby is quite safe, and
nobody is drowned.'
There was a cheer that might have been heard at Windsor Castle. Then,
turning to Sedgwick, in an undertone Buckhurst added,
'It _is_ all right, but, by Jove! we have had a shaver. I will tell you
all in a moment, but we want to keep the thing quiet, and so let the
fellows disperse, and we will talk afterwards.'
In a few moments the Long Walk had resumed its usual character; but
Sedgwick, Herbert, and one or two others turned into the playing fields,
where, undisturbed and unnoticed by the multitude, they listened to the
promised communication of Buckhurst and Henry Sydney.
'You know we went up the river together,' said Buckhurst. 'Myself, Henry
Sydney, Coningsby, Vere, and Millbank. We had breakfasted together, and
after twelve agreed to go up to Maidenhead. Well, we went up much higher
than we had intended. About a quarter of a mile before we had got to the
Lock we pulled up; Coningsby was then steering. Well, we fastened the boat
to, and were all of us stretched out on the meadow, when Millbank and Vere
said they should go and bathe in the Lock Pool. The rest of us were
opposed; but after Millbank and Vere had gone about ten minutes,
Coningsby, who was very fresh, said he had changed his mind and should go
and bathe too. So he left us. He had scarcely got to the pool when he
heard a cry. There was a fellow drowning. He threw off his clothes and was
in in a moment. The fact is this, Millbank had plunged in the pool and
found himself in some eddies, caused by the meeting of two currents. He
called out to Vere not to come, and tried to swim off. But he was beat,
and seeing he was in danger, Vere jumped in. But the stream was so strong,
from the great fall of water from the lasher above, that Vere was
exhausted before he could reach Millbank, and nearly sank himself. Well,
he just saved himself; but Millbank sank as Coningsby jumped in. What do
you think of that?'
'By Jove!' exclaimed Sedgwick, Herbert, and all. The favourite oath of
schoolboys perpetuates the divinity of Olympus.
'And now comes the worst. Coningsby caught Millbank when he rose, but he
found himself in the midst of the same strong current that had before
nearly swamped Vere. What a lucky thing that he had taken into his head
not to pull to-day! Fresher than Vere, he just managed to land Millbank
and himself. The shouts of Vere called us, and we arrived to find the
bodies of Millbank and Coningsby apparently lifeless, for Millbank was
quite gone, and Coningsby had swooned on landing.'
'If Coningsby had been lost,' said Henry Sydney, 'I never would have shown
my face at Eton again.'
'Can you conceive a position more terrible?' said Buckhurst. 'I declare I