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dream? Dream, forsooth! The life and death of John Law, and the national bankruptcy of France, the result of his daring and splendid imposture, are as real as the life of George Hudson, and the history of railway speculation in England.
And not only are both histories true, but to the observant and inquiring mind both present points of resemblance in their details very remarkable and in the highest degree instructive. Mr. Hudson, like Mr. Law, emerged from obscurity to dazzle a whole kingdom with his amazing refulgence. He also filled the coffers of men with fictitious wealth, and brought high and low, rich and poor, cringing to his feet. He gambled, too, venturing his credit and good name in a desperate game with fortune; he, too, counted his magnificent estates, and reckoned amongst his common associates the most renowned and the most illustrious of their kind. He, too, had his altar, upon which wealth-worshippers flung their daily incense, and offered up the sacrifice of their mercenary souls; and he awoke from a dream of bliss to a day of reckoning, to find himself hooted by throats already hoarse in singing his praise, smitten by hands erewhile too much honoured in receiving the bare droppings of his disgraceful gains.
A century and a half have carried us high up into the realms of civilisation. During the interval, what has science not accomplished for the comfort of man —what have the spread of intelligence, the labour of missionaries-sacred and profane—the intercommunication of thought, the better understanding of nations and classes—not wrought for his happiness ? To dwell upon human progress during the last hundred
HIS HISTORY REPEATED IN 1848.
and fifty years is to behold at a glance the spoils of as noble a victory as ever rewarded patient endurance, unflinching energy, and heroic devotion. Yet in some respects we are precisely as we were. In the days of John Law a duchess was required to accompany one of the Royal family to Genoa. "Oh, if you want a duchess," said a courtier, “send to Madame Law's; you can have a choice of them; they are all assembled there." Had a lady of fashion been suddenly demanded at court whilst Mrs. Hudson the other day was receiving "friends,” the lord in waiting might have addressed his messenger in language similar to that of his French brother. The bait that enticed the whole world to the saloons of Madame Law in 1720, took the whole world again to the saloons of Mrs. Hudson in 1848. Generations had passed away, but the lure remained. In Law's time a vast deal of business was done in la rue Quincampoix-in which stood his bank—upon the hump of a poor deformed fellow, who let out his hunch as a writingdesk at so much the day or hour. Morally speaking, who lives without a hump? Lords and ladies, fashioned like the rest of us, for a consideration let out their's at Albert-gate.
It was a pity. We are an imitative species, and are prone
the manners of our betters. When Mr. Law's coachman found his master growing rich by the sale of waste paper, he entered into the same profitable business, and gave his master warning,-it must be admitted like a gentleman. He presented two candidates for the office about to be vacated. “ Take your choice, sir," said the coachman, "you have the refusal ; one is for you, the other for
myself.” How many flunkies in England, four years ago, spurred by the example of their patrons, neglected honest employment in order to strut in fine clothes and to eat the bread of vicious laziness! We say it is a pity to reveal the potter's clay so admirably concealed beneath velvet and ermine, under stars, ribbons, and coronets that seem actual regal crowns. It is well that we should look up to the nobly born from our social valleys and be awe-struck by the mighty interval between us. It is a mournful lesson that we learn when we see a clodhopper filling his capacious pockets with fine dust, and by the very act reducing all men to his level, and below it, precisely as a birdcatcher, filling his fist with crumbs, calls down the sweetest singers of the grove almost from the skies to his feet.
But let it not be imagined that money worship is peculiar to the aristocracy of this or any other country. Marchionesses, it is true, have forgotten their dignity in pursuit of their idol; but the ignorant, the poor, and the ungovernable have waded through blood and unnatural murder in order to reach it. Crime had never gained a higher pitch or assumed a more melancholy aspect than when the speculative spirit created by Mr. Law filled Paris with luxuries, and with enormous wealth to purchase and enjoy them. Household murder for the sake of burial fees would seem to have flourished in England in the days that gave us railway speculation for a creed and Hudson for the chief priest of the mysteries; and between the two extremes—between the elegant dilettante desire for gold and the bloody thirst for it that allows no obstacle to stand between it and its draught—what
THE PURSE-PRIDE OF ENGLAND.
confronts us but another form of the same eternally recurring passion ? Heaven knows we are a charitable people. It is a miracle how so much is spared from the requirements of life, to be applied to the wants of the starving, to the healing of the wounds of the sick and the sorrows of the bereaved. The law compels charity, but our newspapers daily testify that there is a higher law of love abidingly at work at the heart of man, teaching him humanity towards his brother man, and the most practical mode of evincing his tenderness. M. Guizot, who has studied the English character with a philosophical and searching spirit, declares that there is nothing in the land that so fills the mind of the stranger at once with amazement at our resources and admiration of our use of them, as the noble free-gift monuments raised on every side for the relief of multiform suffering. The historian might have spoken more boldly, and added that nothing surpasses the Englishmau's lavish distribution of his substance save his greedy acquisition of it; and that whilst it is his great virtue to be purse-liberal, it is also his curse to be purse-proud.
There are a hundred anomalies in our social system impossible to account for if we do not admit the fact. You enter a crowded chapel on a Sunday; you listen to eloquence that weekly fills to inconvenience the seats on which you find no resting-place. The preacher who holds forth is very popular. He receives at least a thousand
a-year from the owner of the chapel in payment of the power that crams the edifice even to the roof. His name is without reproach. His congregation revere him even whilst he lashes them, and beyond the parish in which he lives, amongst
deans and bishops, his usefulness is confessed if not patronised. His standard of doctrine and life is very high. He tells you that to be covetous is to ensure your own certain ruin; he warns you that to desire wealth and the good things of this life, to strive for riches, to be discontented with the competence you have, is to forego your rich inheritance; he cites authority for his denunciations; he submits chapter and verse, and after he has convinced you by his references, he strikes home the pregnant truths by a force of oratory that melt and win you to his argument. You go home, resolved to be a wiser and a better man upon the Monday; but on the Monday you take up a newspaper-a golden lectureship is vacantfour-hundred a-year, and a sermon once a-week; one or two poor curates with eighty pounds per annum would give their ears for it; but there are many applicants for the prize, and before them all, stands the name of your popular instructor, notwithstanding his creed, his thousand a-year, and the sermon upon self-denial that almost drew you from the error of your ways.
You are, perhaps, a lord. Parliament being up, you go into the country. Your friend, Lord Birmingham, is “entertaining a select circle of the aristocracy” at his noble country seat. You are asked to join the favoured few. You reach the house just at luncheon time. The guests are all assembled. There is a duke, a marquis, an earl, a viscount, and a baron; you are yourself a younger son, and are not surprised to find the baron toadying the duke—as though he were a tailor waiting upon a city knight. Let that pass. There are two other guests (if we