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you walk in, Sir ?” “ Take in my card, I say.”
The clerk entered and presented a card—“ Lord -; tell his lordship to walk in.”
* Will your Lordship walk in P" said the obsequious clerk, throwing wide open the door of the chamber, bowing very low, and as he did so, placing himself exactly in his Lordship’s way. His Lordship made his way into the room with some difficulty, without falling over my bowing
and I too bowed low in return for the graceful salute of one of the most celebrated men in Europe. When his Lordship, at my request, was seated, he began:-“Mr.
I have taken the liberty to call on you on some very particular business ”–(I bowed)—“ though not strictly professional, and on that account my intruding on you may require some apology.”
# None in the world, my Lord.”
“Well, Sir-hem—the purport of my visit, Mr. —, though not professional, is of an important character." I assumed an attitude of the utmost attention. “In one word, Mr. --, for I hate circumlocution, the object of my visit is to submit to your consideration the following proposal. If we bring you into Parliament, will you, heart and soul,
I see my abruptness has somewhat startled you. But you may take time to consider the matter, and give us your answer in a day or two, or say a week. Of course I speak to a man of honour ?"-I bowed.
"My Lord," I then said, “I confess that the suddenness of your proposal has thrown me into some difficulty. The temptation is certainly great to a young man like myself, as you probably know, without fortune or powerful connexions. At the same time, your Lordship may probably have heard, if any thing connected with a person so obscure and unimportant as I am may have been deemed worthy of a moment of your Lordship's attention, that the principles in politics which I have hitherto professed are not those of your Lordship’s party.”
I have heard as much; but, my dear Sir, you were so young--all young men, Mr. -, of spirit and talent take that side; but they generally—as imagination grows less, and reason more powerful —they generally see reason to change their opinion. Is not that the
? I am confident your candour will allow that I am right. Come, Mr. -, you are no bigot to republicanism, or even to whiggism ?"
“ But, my Lord, I have no fortune to support the rank of a Member of Parliament."
“ Be under no uneasiness on that account, Mr. ; the nation has no right to be served for nothing."
I smiled again, but it was inwardly, and remained silent.
Lord fixed upon me his eagle eye, as if he would read what was passing in my inmost soul. I fancied I could see him watch his time, as the falcon does his to pounce upon his prey; and even when he appeared to act with a generous disinterestedness, he adopted the best means to secure his victim. He saw there was some struggle. There
was ;-and had I been imperatively called upon to return a definitive answer upon the moment, that answer, from the very suddenness of the resolution I was called upon to take, would have been in the negative.
“Well, Mr. ” he said, “ ít would be wrong to ask you to give a definitive answer to a question of such moment, upon the spot. This day week, will you do me the honour to call upon me? Let me seeshall we say about this hour-will that suit you ?”
“ Perfectly, my Lord—that is, if it is perfectly convenient to your Lordship-for my time, you know, is of no importance, compared to yours.” Very well, Mr.
on that day I shall expect to see you.-Good morning.” And so ended an interview that sealed the fortune of my future life.
The temptation was great certainly. It would be such a triumph over those who had set me down as a failure—who considered me as a broken man, to have M. P. placed after my name, and be of importance with a great political party—aye, and that party in power, too. But, then, would not some of my kind friends say, with a commiserating smile, that I had made a shipwreck of my principles-1, who used to be so violent in my liberalism? What?-Has not a man à right to change his opinion, when, for so doing, he sees -a convincing reason ? Not to possess—aye, or not to exercise this right—is always to be a child. What!-always retain the same opinions upon compulsion? The very idea is absurd, and the position not tenable for a moment. My resolution was fixed; and, on the appointed day, and precisely two minutes after the appointed hour had struck on the clock of a neighbouring church, I knocked at Lord --'s door. Well, Mr. -,” said Lord
with a gracious smile, as I was ushered into his presence; “ I hope I may be allowed to regard your punctuality as a favourable augury ?” After we were seated, he appeared to expect me to speak.
My Lord,” said I, coming to the point at once, I have made up my mind to accept your proposal.”
“ I am glad to hear you say so, Mr. ; and I am also glad to see that, like myself, you are no great admirer of circumlocution."
“ I certainly am not,” I replied, “ though there are cases in which I think it may be used, without the charge of imbecility against him who uses it."
He nodded assent; but at the same time gave a smile which I did not exactly understand. However, thought I, it does not matter ; I don't think your Lordship, or any of your friends, will overreach me. I know as well the conditions, I think, of the sale as you do those of the purchase. And if they are infringed—What? We shall see.
The necessary preliminaries were soon arranged ; and in no long time I took the oaths and my seat in the Commons House of Parliament, as representative of the rotten borough of though I did not possess an acre of landed property, that objection was easily eluded. And this, by the by, is one of the most glaring acts of injustice inflicted by the English aristocracy on their fellow-countrymen.
It is a contrivance by which they have now, for about a century, effectually prevented any of the people from coming into parliament, sare and except such as are brought in in the capacity of their tools.
Now commenced my career—alas! not of pleasure and of glory—but of misery and shame. The press opened the attack.
There were no doubt persons connected with it who had known me as a speaker at Oxford; and sketches of my history were given, accompanied by severe and sarcastic remarks. They pretended, however, to treat me rather with contempt than severity, as an object unworthy, from my insignificance, of much consideration.
But I had severer trials than that to endure. I attempted the sort of oratory which had succeeded at Oxford ;-I heaped antithesis upon antithesis, and pun upon pun; I brought out smart sayings by the dozen, and quoted humorous verses in abundance, after my most approved fashion. My puns and verses were treated with neglect—my antitheses with indifference--and my smart sayings against reforming principles produced coughing, and other signs of impatience from the opposite party; while I was not yet of sufficient importance with my own to receive the support and encouragement of their cheers. All this was very discouraging, particularly to a person of my proud and sensitive character; and I confess, as David Hume says, speaking of the ill success of some of his literary productions, I was discouraged.
This, I repeat, was discouraging ; but yet even this was not all. Ove night I had made some pretty sharp, and what I intended to be severe remarks upon a speech of one of the opposite party. When I sat down, my old friend--of whom, by the by, I had seen very little since we had taken opposite sides in politics, and with whom my acquaintance had dwindled into a passing bow-rose up to answer me. He seemed to labour under a degree of excitement which I had never before beheld in him. He began, and he was at first scarcely audible from the violence of his emotions; but by and by he began to recover some degree of selfcommand, and his eloquence burst forth, like the sun from behind a cloud, with a vehemence and a brilliancy that I had never before witnessed in him. All the time, too, he regarded me with a haughty, indignant, yet melancholy glance, that, bringing with it the full recollection of our early friendships, communicated to me a portion of his own agitation, which, however, by a strong effort, I prevented from becoming visible. Although to mention it may seem comparing great things with small, the attack made by Pym upon Strafford on his trial, as described by Baillie and others, involuntarily rushed upon my memory ; it appeared to have occurred to the speaker also. I heard him thunder out the words “ apostate from the principles and affections of his youth,”—“ betrayed and insulted friendship;” and he said that “ if the valour and capacity of Strafford were unable to redeem from imperishable infamy even that great bad man's name and memorywhat must it be with meaner spirits, with less illustrious apostates ?”
I need not say that my seat was not a bed of roses, while my former friend was thundering out his eloquent invectives. I sat it out, however; and one triumph, that would have gladdened the hearts of those who hated me, I deprived them of-I sat it out, I say, with an unblanching cheek, a firm and unquivering lip, and an undaunted brow; and my deadliest enemy dare not affirm that I bore the thunderer's torture with less than a Promethean endurance.
This speech, added to the other sources of annoyance,-some of which I have alluded to,-opened up a fountain of bitterness in my heart, the waters of which were to be my drink for ever after. Aud yet, what
may seem strange, my antipathies did not take the direction that they would have been supposed likely to take. Instead of being violently directed against my ancient friend for his terrible attack upon me, they were directed against those who had tempted me to become an apostate-against Lord and some of his friends. It would seem, in fact, that my nature was too proud, self-willed, and intractable ever, perhaps, to acquire those“ interest-begotten prejudices” that were to be substituted in the place of that earnest and early-imbibed love of freedom and independence that had been the guide, the pole-star of my boyhood and of my youth. The nature, too, of some of the work I was called upon to perform was marvellously little to my taste;—to defend every species of abuse by plausible pretences—to discover good reasons for bad conduct—to keep out of sight the real circumstances of the case- -to misrepresent or gloss over such as could not be kept out of sight. My reward for all this, withal, was somewhat analogous to that of a doer of dirty work. I was evidently considered as a tool—as a tool that was to be ready for constant and indiscriminate use; and as such, of
I to have no will of my own.
Moreover, what, I will confess, galled me sorely, I was evidently considered by the aristocrats around me as a plebeian—though my Norman name was as old in England as the first Plantagenet, and my family had been barons by tenure when the ancestors of most of those high and mighty peers were serfs. Some aristocrat, whose talents and acquirements I held in utter contempt, was constantly kept above me, partly to keep me ever sensible of my subordinate condition, and partly from the ever-waking jealousy entertained by the aristocracy of those whom they consider plebeians. Those very talents, for which they had purchased my services, and the power of which they could not deny, were only respected as far as they were employed in defending bigotry and despotism, folly and vice ; in fostering prejudice and extinguishing the light of reason.
Such among those aristocrats was the insolence of the men; the impertinences of the women, if possible, exceeded it. There is at present in England a dynasty of women of fashion, who make it their proud boast to enact deeds of arrogance, impudence, and folly, such as eye hath not seen, nor imagination conceived. With these Aspasias the patrician political adventurer is all in all; the plebeian is nobody. With them no professional man can be a “gentleman :” scarcely a member of the lower House of Parliament can be such, unless he must necessarily come, in time, to the upper. For example, I once heard Lady say, in reference to Lord -'s removal to the
House on the death of his father, “ There, you know, he will be among gentlemen.” Their idea of “ gentleman » is similar to that which Madame de Genlis, and her class, entertained of “ gentilhomme,” at least before the revolution. And what qualities, think ye, does that idea comprehend ? Does it suppose a man of humane and affable demeanour; of the strictest honour in all his dealings; of firm, yet gentle temper, and enlightened understanding; a man who requires no law but his word to make him fulfil an engagement ? Good God, Sir, do you rave? You are on your death-bed. Are you about to die in a state of delirium? No, Sir. Hear me once more. Their gentleman is an ignorant, idle, dissolute, selfish, unfeeling, remorseless, insolent human brute, got by a patrician sire out of a patrician, equestrian, or semiplebeian dam ; who --I beg Mr. Cobbett's pardon, I should say which-dresses, rides, drives, votes, games, and wenches, after the most approved fashion of the day; and who, when he has defrauded you of your money, your time, and labour, or your good name, will shoot you by way of giving you satisfaction. This he calls the satisfaction of a gentleman." Well, are you not satisfied ? Yes. I have received such satisfaction, and I die “perfectly satisfied.”
Well, Sir; thus was I situated. And did I like my situation ? Like? No, Sir. I felt as if I had sold myself to the devil, and my reward was that vulgarly ascribed to those who thus render themselves the devil's victims. But if I am doomed, said I, to go down to hell, one at least of my betrayers I will drag there with me. A man perhaps of a more tractable spirit might have been able to forget the degradation he had suffered, to overlook the disagreeables of his situation ; but with a temper and a memory like mine this was utterly impossible. They would not suffer delusion to take possession of my soul ;---they would not let me fancy for a moment that my interests and theirs were identical ;-they appeared not to seek to engage my affections on their side ; they deprived me of the aid even of party morality, and in that, my state of degradation, they denied me even the poor boon of oblivion.
I know not how long this state of things might have continued before it became absolutely insupportable, if an accident had not put a termination to it. The Marquis was one of the most aristocratic men even of his most aristocratic set. Though upon the whole considered among that set as a well-bred man, there was, at times, an insolent nonchalance in his manner, that to me was specially offensive. On one occasion it was so bad that my impetuous temper burst forth
“What do you mean, Lord
“ Mean, Sir!" with a look of mingled surprise and haughty nonchalance.
Ay, mean, my Lord ?” “ What do you mean, Sir ?”
I mean, Lord that I hold myself as much a gentleman as any man in the realm; and I will suffer no man on the face of the earth, however high his rank or office, either by deed, word, or look, to treat me otherwise.”
Another stare of astonishment and arrogance.
“Sir,” he said, “you would not have the second minister of the crown go out with an under-secretary ? Sir, you know I cannot meet you as a gentleman.”
The effect produced by his words seemed to dispel even the fashionable apathy of Lord. It was as if all the blood of my fierce ancestor, who, in his wrath, once struck a prince of the house of Plantagenet with his gauntleted hand, were transferred to my body, and as if all that blood rushed to my brow. I made a spring towards him, like that of a tiger; and my hand was within an inch of his throat.
“ Stop, Mr. --,” he exclaimed. “You shall have the satisfaction of a gentleman, since you desire it.”