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The Reformer. By the Author of Massenburg. 3 vols. 12mo. London : Effingham
To paint the Aristocracy en beau, the Reformers en noir, is the design of this book. The author seeing no speck or blemish in the objects of his worship, presents their worst habits, without any consciousness that they are other than admirable. He is like the partisan of Wilkes, who held that his idol did not squint more than a gentleman ought to squint. For a right noble personage, this servile describes an unprincipled spendthrift and bigoted persecutor. On the other hand, he makes the reformers crazy enthusiasts, fools, or ruffians. Nothing can be easier than this sort of work to any dauber who holds the pencil : the disfigurement is level to the meanest capacity; the adorning is more difficult. Any one with skill enough for horns, hoof, and tail, can paint a devil; but an angel, which shall seem fit for a sphere higher than a signpost, is not struck off with the same facility. But our artist's model of perfection is not a work of the fancy: it is a copy from an original, and what Sheridan calls “a very formidable likeness” of a very ill-favoured character. The book is trumpery; but it is curious and amusing to mark the naïveté, with which a certain degree of ugly truth is admitted. The hero, the noble patrician, is presented in the opening, plunged in debt and dissipation; the essentials, doubtless, according to the author's admiring observation, of the aristocratic character.
“ To use dramatic terms, scene opens, and discovers Lord Haverfield at breakfast in his dressing-room.
“ Lord Haverfield was seated in his dressing-gown, his feet thrust into a pair of quilted satin slippers, and his hair deranged, as from his pillow ; 'hose ungartered, bonnet anbanded, sleeve unbuttoned, shoes untied, and every thing about him demonstrating a careless desolation. But these were not the symptoms of a man in love, but of one who had been up the better part of the night, instead of courting tired nature's soft restorer,' and who was suffering the penalty of dissipation in the shape of headach and lassitude. And in addition to these bodily misunderstandings, some mental vexations were evidently weighing upon his mind, and destroying his good humour.
“ His servant, Matherson, was in waiting; and it was evident he was aware of the state of his lord's morning temperament, for he cast, at intervals, glances of anxious observation, and went through the duties of the hour with cautious silence.
6. I wish, Matherson,' said my lord, after slightly tasting his coffee, and setting it down as if with nausea, ' I wish you would teach Mrs. Chambers to make coffee.'
« « Certainly, my lord.'
"I have tasted none in England at all endurable. No Englishwoman knows how to make coffee, nor Englishman either, except, as in your case, he has learned on the Continent. Do give Mrs. Chambers a lesson, and in the morning let me have hot cream and sugar candy. Remove.'
“ It must be remembered, that this was towards the close of the last century, when the world was not quite so much enlightened in the science of coffee-making as at present.
“ Matherson removed the almost untasted breakfast, and my lord turned to a pile of suspicious-looking papers on his left hand. They were bills, and Lord Haverfield felt he had as little appetite for the study of arithmetic. However, opening the first that presented itself, he read« Lord Haverfield,
« « To Messrs. Slip and Slash, “Six superfine dress coats, gold buttons.
plain buttons. 66 « One dozen pair royal pantaloons. "One dozen Florentine waistcoats.'
“ Lord Haverfield glanced his eye down the columns of Coat, Waistcoat, Inerpressibles, Item, Item, Item, succeeded again by Coat, Waistcoat, and Inexpressi
u • Ditto,
NO, IX, -- VOL. II,
bles, followed up again by Item, Item, Item, like the song of the spring cuckoo, till arriving at the total - Two thousand three hundred and ninety-four pounds and sixteen shillings.' Subjoined to which :
“ Messrs. Slip and Slash take the liberty of requesting Lord Haverfield's imme. diate attention to the settlement of their account.'
“ It is, however, to be understood, that Messrs. Slip and Slash had not taken the “ liberty of requesting Lord Haverfield's immediate attention,' until many repeated and neglected applications had been previously made.
“ The next of these mementos, which accident placed in Lord Haverfield's hand was of rather more moderate amonnt. It was the claim of his hosier for silk stockings and gloves, and amounted to no more than three hundred and seventy-six pounds thirteen and sixpence.
“ The succeeding one was from his jeweller, and presented a more serious aspect. The next from his perfumer; but it were wholly vain to attend Lord Haverfield through the deep pile, which, with a desperate resolution, he continued to investigate, if that could be called investigation, which amounted to no more than the entry of a name on one side of a sheet of paper, and a few momentous figures on the other; for as to items, it was beyond Lord Haverfield's courage to wade through them, the total being to him the alpha and omega of the business.
“ In this manner Lord Haverfield had contrived to accumulate a tolerable variety of names; and, by the help of a simple sum in addition, he found himself indebted a good round sum in pounds, shillings, and pence, to their different proprietors."
Mr. Caswell, his man of business, enters; the lord desires him to exercise his ingenuity in resources; the man of expedients says there is but one left, the sale of the family mansion ; upon which, let us see how this pattern nobleman exhibits the elevation of his sentiments.
" "Mr. Caswell, is your head so full of business, that it cannot admit a feeling into your heart ? Is it impossible for you to conceive, that, though Falkinor Court is altogether useless, though I have not seen its old walls since my boy hood, and though I am pressed and annoyed for money more than I can endure, yet I cannot degrade myself, by bartering away the home of my ancestors ?'
"• But, my lord, when a matter of feeling is opposed to a matter of necessity, what is the result to be?
« Lord Haverfield was stung to the qnick. He frowned, bit his lip, rose, and with a backward motion of his silk-slippered foot, overturned the light couch on which he had been reclining, walked to the window, and looked out, as if he there expected to find some means of escape from the difficulties which surrounded him.
“ All, however, that lie saw there, was the splendid equipage of his friend, Lord George Syndford, dashing round the corner of the square, with his fine greys in their glittering harness, and his servants in their gay livery of tawny and blue. It was, however, relief for the present, for it served as a pretext for breaking up the conference; and, in another half hour, through the extraordinary exertions of Matherson, Lord Haverfield was seated by his side, dashing headlong down Oxford Street, all life, mirth, and gaiety, as if care had never entered his heart, or cast its shadow over his brow.”
This is to the life. The spendthrift, who has possessed himself of tradesmen's goods, prefers remaining in debt, and keeping his unfortunate creditors out of their money, to the degradation, forsooth, of selling the home of his ancestors! He sees no degradation in his train of duns ; no degradation in withholding the just demands of people, though their ruin should be a consequence ; or if he sees these things, what is dishonesty to degradation !-his dishonesty only hurts others; for it does not exclude him from any aristocratic society or enjoyment, but the degra. dation of parting with a family mansion would hurt his own pride ; hence the preference. The creditors may despair, go into the gazette, starve, rot; the ord “dashes headlong down Oxford Street, all life, mirth, gaiety.” Is he not a pretty knave? Swindler once removed ; cheat proper ; take away his privileges of caste, and leave his appetites, which he will gratify, whether he can defray the cost or not, and he becomes a subject for the hulks.
His difficulties, however, are not removed by the gay drive dowu
Oxford Street, or sweetened by the consolations of his pride; and he goes down to Falkinor Court, to decide there, on a view of the premises, whether he shall be too much degraded by selling it to pay his debts. When he sees the house he begins to repent of his extravagances, not because they have caused him to distress or injure others, by keeping them out of their money, but because they may compel the sale of a fine place. Personating his own agent, he is refused admittance by the ser. vants in occupation of the house, and he goes to a neighbouring village inn. Here a justice meeting having just broken up, he overhears some chaffering about the sale of a horse. The dealer insists on fifty guineas more than the bidder will give. The lord, deep in debt, and who cannot endure the degradation of paying by the sale of his family mansion, instantly bids for the horse at the full price asked, and pays the money down! The author has no notion that he is drawing a knave, because there are many noble examples of this sort of practice. The Duke of York built a palace while his creditors were clamouring for their money, or ruined for want of it.
We now pass for a moment from the immoralities to the improbabilities of the story. A Mr. Avebury, a wealthy squire, without knowing the name, real or assumed, of the lord, or having an idea who or what he is, forms an acquaintance with him, and they visit and ride together. It is, indeed, quite a late thought of this worthy, after intimacy has been established, to ask the name of his new friend. Now, it is pretty notorious, that of all pride there is no pride like the pride of our country gentlemen ; and they look upon every stranger whom they chance to meet as if he were a pickpocket, till his title to recognition is clearly made out. This Mr. Avebury introduces the lord in the character he has assumed of his own agent to the lady of his love, Miss Renchor, the daughter of a pompous purse-proud upstart, cleverly drawn, (indeed, the only successful character in the book.) Previous to the introduction, it is necessary to have the name of the acquaintance picked up at the inn; and, on a servant's asking whom he should announce, aristocracy thus blazes out. The inquiry for the name
" Was one that had never suggested itself to the squire. Lord Haverfield had sat at his board a nameless guest.
“ There is a something gratifying and ennobling in the power to reply to this question, more especially when put with impertinence or familiarity, by returning a name of sufficient weight to crush that impertinence, or check that familiarity. The consciousness of birth, the knowledge of superiority, is elating and inspiriting; and as the question was now put with ease, and repeated without much respect, after a moment's pause, the proud blood rose to his cheek, his increasing hauteur seemed likewise to increase his stature, and the words, Lord Haverfield,' floated on his lips.
“ But they were suppressed ; less for the sake of policy, for he was too angry to be prudent, than because he felt rather ashamed of his present situation, and knew it to be unworthy of himself.
“ So, sliding down a little from the height of his lordliness, he replied to the question with equivocation, though not with direct falsehood, and gave his baptismal name, ‘Curzon.'”
Imagine a booby lord, swelling and towering in stature, and flushing in the face, because a lackey asks him for his name! Having given a false one, he is introduced to Miss Renchor. The lord begins by prompt.. ing his friend with compliments to his mistress, and repartees, (intended to be witty,) in what he is deficient, and ends, before long, in supplanting his introducer. This absurdly conceived scene is a fair specimen of the author's insipid attempts at smartness, and outrages against vraisem. blance.
" Miss Renchor was the first to break the ensuing silence. “Pray do not be silent on my account! I am desirous of finishing my letter, but that need not interrupt conversation. I am something like Julius Cæsar, if I may mention a comparison between one so high and one so low, for I can both talk and write: so pray talk ; I like of all things to be talked to, when I am writing ; so say something, if nothing better than a compliment.'
« « What shall I say whispered Mr. Avebury in the ear of his ally.
" "Julius Cæsar commanded no such willing subjects as obey your behests. He could only subjugate the body; your empire is over the mind.'
" Mr. Avebury repeated this sentence with tolerable precision.
“Ah, well,' returned the lady with a slight laugh, so slight as to be but just audible; well, I believe we sometimes ask for a thing, because we do not expect it can be granted ; and are disappointed when our request is complied with. But really, you are quite luminous this evening.'
“You have cast some of your radiance upon me.'
« « If you continue in this strain 1 shall begin to doubt your identity. Is it really Squire Avebury of Avebury Hill?'
" "Yes, I believe I am myself, and nobody else.'
6 "Yes, now again I believe so too. But you have been using such unaccustomed language, that I really did not recognise you under the disguise.'
« « The language of the same feeling, when springing from the same source, must always be essentially the same. Many lips speak to you as my heart speaks to-night. I do not address you in an unknown tongue.'
“ Miss Renchor threw down her pen, and turned full towards him. “Yes, indeed, you do! I should as soon expect to hear Greek from my lapdog, or Chaldaic from my parrot, as this language from Mr. Avebury. Pardon my astonishment, but how_by what magic is our Cymon thus inspired ?'
« « My Iphigenia's charms,' lowly murmured the prompter, and repeated aloud the squire.
“My good Mr. Avebury,' said the lady, "I see clearly that the familiar at your elbow is busy working mischief to your intellects. Tell your beads, my good friend, for you put me in mind of some of the ancient saints, tempted to great folly.' 66 What! does she take you for the
that is too bad!' in his own natural manner, exclaimed Mr. Avebury, turning to Lord Haverfield.
“Ah, now I see you again, free from the strange witchery which possessed you.'
“ Again his instigator whispered, “There is no witchery more than you have cast upon me.'
« Miss Renchor applied her hand to the bell, and her summons was instantly obeyed.
« « Lights, and quickly, quickly! Let me see whom we really entertain.""
There may be people who believe in griffins and dragons, and there may be people who believe in a society where such a conversation as the above (carried on through a prompter) could pass, but the number of those, so profoundly ignorant of the langnage and style of the world, must be small. On the modern comic stage we sometimes hear such talk, and see such contrivance; but the modern comic stage has about as much likeness to society as the business of a pantomime has to the course of nature.
Another specimen of the fadaise in continuation. The lord does everything but propose to his friend's mistress, within ten minutes' acquaintance.
“And so,' said Lord Haverfield, supposing such a case, only supposing such a case, you would not; you actually would not ?'
" " I would not. I actually would not !'
«. That is exactly a lady's way of saying yes, when she is rather ashamed of say. ing it, and a pretty ingenious way it is. You know, that, according to all the rules of arithmetic, two negatives make an affirmative.'
«• Then I would learn to be sparing of words, and utter one positive and tremen. dous nay.'
“ And were it myself you so replied to, looking as you look now, I would wish for no kinder answer.
• A gentle nay
Is not this a pretty guile? 666 It seems, then, that no language, of which I am mistress, could enable me to convey so simple a meaning. Now, this little, important, bustling, significant no, is a character which I am familiar with; how is it that you have contrived to keep strangers so long ?'
« • Because it carries so repulsive an aspect, and is altogether such an impertinent, disagreeable pretender, that I never yet would receive its visits, nor acknowledge the acquaintance when we happened to meet. From men I ask nothing likely to provoke a no. From women I always translate it into yes. And thus I have hitherto contrived to evade the acqaintance on easy terms. I beseech you, be not you my introducer to the unaccommodating, contradictory little disturber.'
" " I am not likely to do so, unless at your own request.'
“Ah! do you threaten me? Are my requests likely to meet a repulse from this dwarf champion of yours? Remember, however, that I shall receive your no only as your yes in disguise. If you were to write the little luckless word to me I should read it like Hebrew characters, backward way, and then you know it would be on.'
“" I think your armour of vanity is proof,' said Miss Renchor, with a smile. And that smile had in it an air of triumph that at once arrested Lord Haverfield's attention, and fixed it on the light badinage he had been uttering. Really, thought he, this is admirable coquetry! Here have I been led to anticipate the fate of requests I never intended to make. It is well that matrimony is not easily committed.”
Lord Haverfield, instead of selling Falkinor Court, occupies it; and his sister, and a female friend, Clara, who enacts the part of an enthusiast for political reformation, are brought on the scene. The creditors are of course left to shift for themselves. This Clara, who is supposed to be a Jacobin of the French school, is coolly asked, by a rude old baronet, whether she is not “ignobly born,” because he fancies her neglected by her noble entertainers. Upon the utterance of this conjecture the disciple of liberty and equality thus characteristically acquits herself :-
“ Clara's eyes instantly dried, while her cheek burned with intense heat. She drew herself proudly up, and haughtily replied, “You conjecture wrong, Sir Basil. You are speaking to the daughter of a gentleman.'”
The father of this lady, so tenacious of her birth, is a Jacobin, and a popular pamphleteer; a writer of phrases about liberty and equality, and vague declamations on the rights of man. Let us see how the lord, who is himself only protected from a gaol by his privilege, behaves towards the poor pamphleteer and the father of the ily favourite, Clara.
“ The public mind was in a ferment. Certain mercenary or misguided spirits had been strewing the brands of discord through the land. The strong feelings of suppressed dissatisfaction burst out anew, and, at intervals, the effervescences of party, and the spirit of faction, were making daily advance throughout the ranks of the people. The land was tainted.
“ Much of this bitter aggravation of real or imaginary grievances was to be attributed to certain invidious publications in the shape of pamphlets, that had obtained a wide circulation ; written in a high tone of declamation, they infused and aggravated a bitterness of reproach against the rulers of the land, that threatened to blaze even into rebellion.
« The attention of ministers was on these pamphlets. Though wild and incoherent, both in matter and manner, their vehemence and boldness of assertion were felt to be powerful incentives to the people to throw off their obedience to the existing laws.
“ It has been already seen, that Clara Keith's mind had not escaped the contagion: she continued at intervals to rail and declaim against ministers and taxes with a hearty violence. But these were only occasional ebullitions, and might be traced to some philip of her conscience, when she felt herself too readily gliding into aristocracy.