3320944Eugene Aram — Book 2, Chapter II.Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer



"Titinius Capito is to rehearse. He is a man of an excellent disposition, and to be numbered among the chief ornaments of his age. He cultivates literature—he loves men of learning," &c.

About this time the Earl of * * * * *, the great nobleman of the district, and whose residence was within four miles of Grassdale, came down to pay his wonted yearly visit to his country domains. He was a man well known in the history of the times; though, for various reasons, I conceal his name. He was a courtier;—deep—wily—accomplished; but capable of generous sentiments and enlarged views. Though, from regard to his interests, he seized and lived as it were upon the fleeting spirit of the day—the penetration of his intellect went far beyond its reach. He claims the merit of having been the one of all his co-temporaries (Lord Chesterfield alone excepted), who most clearly saw, and most distinctly prophesied, the dark and fearful storm that at the close of the century burst over the vices, in order to sweep away the miseries, of France—a terrible avenger—a salutary purifier.

From the small circle of sounding trifles, in which the dwellers of a court are condemned to live, and which he brightened by his abilities and graced by his accomplishments, the sagacious and far-sighted mind of Lord ***** comprehended the vast field without, usually invisible to those of his habits and profession. Men who the best know the little nucleus which is called the world, are often the most ignorant of mankind; but it was the peculiar attribute of this nobleman, that he could not only analyse the external customs of his species, but also penetrate their deeper and more hidden interests.

The works, and correspondence he has left behind him, though far from voluminous, testify a consummate knowledge of the varieties of human nature. The refinement of his taste appears less remarkable than the vigour of his understanding. It might be that he knew the vices of men better than their virtues; yet he was no shallow disbeliever in the latter: he read the heart too accurately not to know that it is guided as often by its affections as its interests. In his early life he had incurred, not without truth, the charge of licentiousness; but even in pursuit of pleasure, he had been neither weak on the one hand, nor gross on the other;—neither the headlong dupe, nor the callous sensualist: but his graces, his rank, his wealth, had made his conquests a matter of too easy purchase; and hence, like all voluptuaries, the part of his worldly knowledge, which was the most fallible, was that which related to the sex. He judged of women by a standard too distinct from that by which he judged of men, and considered those foibles peculiar to the sex, which in reality are incident to human nature.

His natural disposition was grave and reflective; and though he was not without wit, it was rarely used. He lived, necessarily, with the frivolous and the ostentatious, yet ostentation and frivolity were charges never brought against himself. As a diplomatist and a statesman, he was of the old and erroneous school of intriguers; but his favourite policy was the science of conciliation. He was one who would so far have suited the present age, that no man could better have steered a nation from the chances of war; James the First could not have been inspired with a greater affection for peace; but the Peer's dexterity would have made that peace as honourable as the King's weakness could have made it degraded. Ambitious to a certain extent, but neither grasping nor mean, he never obtained for his genius the full and extensive field it probably deserved. He loved a happy life above all things; and he knew that while activity is the spirit, fatigue is the bane, of happiness.

In his day he enjoyed a large share of that public attention which generally bequeaths fame; yet from several causes (of which his own moderation is not the least) his present reputation is infinitely less great than the opinions of his most distinguished cotemporaries foreboded.

It is a more difficult matter for men of high rank to become illustrious to posterity, than for persons in a sterner and more wholesome walk of life. Even the greatest among the distinguished men of the patrician order, suffer in the eyes of the after-age for the very qualities, mostly dazzling defects, or brilliant eccentricities, which made them most popularly remarkable in their day. Men forgive Burns his amours and his revellings with greater ease than they will forgive Bolingbroke and Byron for the same offences.

Our Earl was fond of the society of literary men; he himself was well, perhaps even deeply, read. Certainly his intellectual acquisitions were more profound than they have been generally esteemed, though with the common subtlety of a ready genius, he could make the quick adaptation of a timely fact, acquired for the occasion, appear the rich overflowing of a copious erudition. He was a man who instantly perceived, and liberally acknowledged, the merits of others. No connoisseur had a more felicitous knowledge of the arts, or was more just in the general objects of his patronage. In short, what with all his advantages, he was one whom an aristocracy may boast of, though a people may forget; and if not a great man, was at least a most remarkable lord.

The Earl of *****, in his last visit to his estates, had not forgotten to seek out the eminent scholar who shed an honour upon his neighbourhood; he had been greatly struck with the bearing and conversation of Aram, and with the usual felicity with which the accomplished Earl adapted his nature to those with whom he was thrown, he had succeeded in ingratiating himself with Aram in return. He could not indeed persuade the haughty and solitary Student to visit him at the castle; but the Earl did not disdain to seek any one from whom he could obtain instruction, and he had twice or thrice voluntarily encountered Aram, and effectually drawn him from his reserve. The Earl now heard with some pleasure, and more surprise, that the austere Recluse was about to be married to the beauty of the county, and he resolved to seize the first occasion to call at the manor-house to offer his compliments and congratulations to its inmates.

Sensible men of rank, who, having enjoyed their dignity from their birth, may reasonably be expected to grow occasionally tired of it; often like mixing with those the most who are the least dazzled by the condescension; I do not mean to say, with the vulgar parvenus who mistake rudeness for independence;—no man forgets respect to another who knows the value of respect to himself; but the respect should be paid easily; it is not every Grand Seigneur, who like Louis XIVth., is only pleased when he puts those he addresses out of countenance.

There was, therefore, much in the simplicity of Lester's manners, and those of his nieces, which rendered the family at the manor-house, especial favourites with Lord *****; and the wealthier but less honoured squirearchs of the county, stiff in awkward pride, and bustling with yet more awkward veneration, heard with astonishment and anger of the numerous visits which his Lordship, in his brief sojourn at the castle, always contrived to pay to the Lesters, and the constant invitations, which they received to his most familiar festivities.

Lord ***** was no sportsman, and one morning, when all his guests were engaged among the stubbles of September, he mounted his quiet palfrey, and gladly took his way to the Manor-house.

It was towards the latter end of the month, and one of the earliest of the autumnal fogs hung thinly over the landscape. As the Earl wound along the sides of the hill on which his castle was built, the scene on which he gazed below received from the grey mists capriciously hovering over it, a dim and melancholy wildness. A broader and whiter vapour, that streaked the lower part of the valley, betrayed the course of the rivulet; and beyond, to the left, rose wan and spectral, the spire of the little church adjoining Lester's abode. As the horseman's eye wandered to this spot, the sun suddenly broke forth, and lit up as by enchantment, the quiet and lovely hamlet embedded, as it were, beneath,—the cottages, with their gay gardens and jasmined porches, the streamlet half in mist, half in light, while here and there columns of vapour rose above its surface like the chariots of the water genii, and broke into a thousand hues beneath the smiles of the unexpected sun: But far to the right, the mists around it yet unbroken, and the outline of its form only visible, rose the lone house of the Student, as if there the sadder spirits of the air yet rallied their broken armament of mist and shadow.

The Earl was not a man peculiarly alive to scenery, but he now involuntarily checked his horse, and gazed for a few moments on the beautiful and singular aspect which the landscape had so suddenly assumed. As he so gazed, he observed in a field at some little distance, three or four persons gathered around a bank, and among them he thought he recognised the comely form of Rowland Lester. A second inspection convinced him that he was right in his conjecture, and, turning from the road through a gap in the hedge, he made towards the group in question. He had not proceeded far, before he saw, that the remainder of the party was composed of Lester's daughters, the lover of the elder, and a fourth, whom he recognised as a celebrated French botanist who had lately arrived in England, and who was now making an amateur excursion throughout the more attractive districts of the island.

The Earl guessed rightly, that Monsieur de N—— had not neglected to apply to Aram for assistance in a pursuit which the latter was known to have cultivated with such success, and that he had been conducted hither, as a place affording some specimen or another not unworthy of research. He now, giving his horse to his groom, joined the group.