Open main menu

CHAPTER XI.


GWYNPLAINE THINKS JUSTICE, AND URSUS SPEAKS TRUTH.


A PHILOSOPHER is a spy; so it was only natural that Ursus should watch his pupil closely. Our soliloquies leave on our brows a faint reflection, distinguishable to the eye of a physiognomist. Hence, the ideas that occurred to Gwynplaine did not escape Ursus. One day as Gwynplaine was meditating, Ursus took him by the jacket, and exclaimed,—

"You strike me as being a close observer! You fool! Take care. It is no business of yours. You have only one thing to do,—to love Dea. You have two great causes for thankfulness,—the first is, that the crowd sees your face; the second is, that Dea does not. You have no right to the happiness you possess, for no woman who saw your mouth would ever consent to your kiss; and the mouth which has made your fortune, and the face which has given you riches, are not your own. You were not born with that countenance. It was borrowed from the grimace which lurks in the depths of perdition. You have stolen your mask from the devil. You are hideous; be satisfied with having drawn that prize in the lottery of life. There are in this world (and a very good thing it is too) the happy by right, and the happy by luck. You are happy by luck. You are in a cave wherein a star is enclosed. The poor star belongs to you. Do not seek to leave the cave; and guard your star, spider! You have Venus in your web. Do me the favour to be satisfied. I see your dreams are troubled. It is idiotic of you. Listen, I am going to speak to you in the language of true poetry. Let Dea eat beefsteaks and mutton-chops, and in six months she will be as strong as a Turk; marry her immediately, give her a child, two children, three children, a long string of children. That is what I call philosophy. Moreover, it is happiness, which is no folly. To have children is a glimpse of heaven. Have brats: blow their noses, spank them, wash them, and put them to bed. Let them swarm about you. If they laugh, it is well; if they howl, it is better,—crying is healthy. Watch them suck at six months, crawl at a year, walk at two, grow tall at fifteen, fall in love at twenty. He who has these joys has everything. For myself, I lacked the privilege, and that is the reason why I am such a brute. God, a composer of beautiful poems and the first of men of letters, said to his fellow-workman, Moses, 'Increase and multiply.' Such is the text. So multiply, you beast! As for the world, it is as it is; you cannot make nor mar it. Do not trouble yourself about it. Pay no attention to what goes on outside. A comedian is made to be looked at, not to look. Do you know what there is outside? The happy, by right. You, I repeat, are one of the happy by chance. You are the pickpocket of the happiness of which they are the rightful proprietors. They are the legitimate possessors; you are an interloper. You live in concubinage with luck. What do you want that you have not already? Shibboleth help me! This fellow is a rascal. Such happiness is a swindle. Those who possess happiness by right do not like folks below them to have so much enjoyment. If they ask you what right you have to be happy, you will not know what to answer. You have no patent, and they have. Jupiter, Allah, Vishnou, Sabaoth, it matters not who, has given them the passport to happiness. Beware of them. Do not meddle with them, lest they should meddle with you. Wretch! do you know what the man is who is happy by right? He is a terrible being. He is a lord. A lord! He must have intrigued pretty well in the devil's unknown country before he was born, to enter life by the door he did. How difficult it must have been to him to be born! It is the only trouble he has given himself; but, just Heaven! what a one!—to bribe destiny, that egregious blockhead, to mark him in his cradle a master of men; to bribe the box-keeper to give him the best place at the show. Read the memoranda in the old van which I have placed on the half-pay list. Read that breviary of wisdom, and you will see what it is to be a lord. A lord is one who has all, and is all. A lord is one who lives far above his own nature. A lord is one who has when young the rights of an old man; when old, the success in intrigue of a young one; if vicious, the homage of respectable people; if a coward, the command of brave men; if a do-nothing, the fruits of labour; if ignorant, the diploma of Cambridge or Oxford; if a fool, the admiration of poets; if ugly, the smiles of women; if a Thersites, the helm of Achilles; if a hare, the skin of a lion. Do not misunderstand my words. I do not say that a lord must necessarily be ignorant, or a coward, or ugly, or stupid, or old. I only mean that he may be all those things without any detriment to himself. On the contrary. Lords are princes. The King of England is only a lord, the first peer of the peerage ; that is all, but it is much. Kings were formerly called lords,—the Lord of Denmark, the Lord of Ireland, the Lord of the Isles. The Lord of Norway was first called king three hundred years ago. Lucius, the most ancient king in England, was addressed by Saint Telesphorus as my Lord Lucius. The lords are peers—that is to say, equals—of whom? Of the king. I do not make the mistake of confounding the lords with parliament. The assembly of the people which the Saxons before the Conquest called wittenagemote, the Normans, after the Conquest, entitled parliamentum. By degrees the people were turned out. The king's letters convoking the Commons, addressed formerly ad concilium impendendum, are now addressed ad consentiendum. They have the privilege of saying "Yes." But the peers have the right to say "No;" and the proof is that they have said it. The peers can cut off the king's head. The people cannot. The stroke of the hatchet which decapitated Charles I. is an encroachment, not on the king, but on the peers; and it was well to place on the gibbet the carcass of Cromwell. The lords have power. Why? Because they have the property. Glance over the leaves of the Doomsday-book. That is proof that the lords own England. It is the registry of the estates of subjects, compiled under William the Conqueror; and it is in the charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To copy anything in it, you have to pay twopence a line. It is a fine book! Do you know that I was once physician to a lord who was called Marmaduke, and who had thirty-six thousand a year? Think of that, you hideous idiot! Do you know that, with rabbits from the warrens of Earl Lindsay only, they could feed all the riff-raff of the Cinque Ports? And the good order kept! Every poacher is hung. For two long, furry ears sticking out of a game-bag, I saw the father of six children hanging on the gibbet. Such is the peerage. The rabbit of a great lord is of more importance than God's image in a man. Lords exist, you see, you rascal! and we must think it well that they do. Even if we do not, what harm will it do them? The people object, indeed! Why? Plautus himself would never have entertained such an absurd idea. A philosopher would be thought jesting if he advised a poor devil of the masses to cry out against the size and weight of the lords. As well might the gnat dispute with the foot of an elephant. One day I saw a hippopotamus tread upon a mole-hill; he crushed it utterly. He was innocent. The great soft-headed fool of a mastodon was not even aware of the mole's existence. My son, the down-trodden moles are the human race. To crush is the universal law. And do you think that the mole himself crushes nothing? Why, he is the mastodon of the flesh-worm, who in turn is the mastodon of the globe-worm.

"But let us cease arguing. My boy, there are coaches in the world; my lord is inside, the people under the wheels; the philosopher gets out of the way. Stand aside, and let them pass. As for me, I love lords, and yet shun them. I lived with one; the charm of the recollection suffices me. I remember his country house; it would be impossible to conceive of anything more grand and beautiful than Marmaduke Lodge and its surroundings. The houses, country seats, and palaces of the lords form a collection of all that is greatest and most magnificent in this flourishing kingdom. I love our lords. I am grateful to them for being opulent, powerful, and prosperous. I myself am clothed in shadow, so I look with interest upon the shred of heavenly blue which is called a lord. You enter Marmaduke Lodge by an exceedingly spacious courtyard, which forms an oblong square, divided into eight spaces, each surrounded by a balustrade; on each side is a wide approach, and a superb hexagonal fountain plays in the midst; this fountain is formed of two basins, which are surmounted by a dome of exquisite open-work, elevated on six columns. It was there that I knew a learned Frenchman, Monsieur l'Abbé du Cros, who belonged to the Jacobin monastery in the Rue Saint Jacques. Half the library of Erpenius is at Marmaduke Lodge, the other half is in the theological schools at Cambridge. I used to read the books, seated under the richly ornamented portal. These things are only shown to a select number of curious travellers. Do you know, you ridiculous boy, that William North, who is Lord Grey of Rolleston, and sits fourteenth on the bench of Barons, has more forest trees on his mountains than you have hairs on your horrible noddle? Do you know that Lord Norreys of Rycote, who is Earl of Abingdon, has a square keep a hundred feet high, having this device: Virtus ariete fortior; which you would think meant that virtue is stronger than a ram, but which really means, you idiot, that courage is stronger than a battering-machine. Yes, I honour, accept, respect, and revere our lords. It is the lords who, with her royal Majesty, labour to ensure and preserve the welfare of the nation. Their consummate wisdom shines in critical junctures. Their precedence over others I wish they had not; but they have it. What is called principality in Germany and grandeeship in Spain, is called peerage in England and France. There being a fair show of reason for considering the world a wretched place. Heaven felt where the burden was most galling, and to prove that it knew how to make happy people, created lords for the satisfaction of philosophers. This acts as a set-off, and gets Heaven out of the scrape, affording it a decent escape from a false position. The great are great. A peer, speaking of himself, says "We." A peer is a plural. The king calls the peer consanguinei nostri. The peers have made a multitude of wise laws; among others, one which condemns to death any one who cuts down a three-year-old poplar tree. Their supremacy is such that they have a language of their own. In heraldic style, black, which is called sable for gentry, is called saturne for princes, and diamond for peers. Diamond powder! a night thick with stars, such is the night of the happy! Even among themselves these high and mighty lords have their distinctions. A baron cannot bathe with a viscount without his permission. These are indeed excellent safeguards for the nation. What a fine thing it is for the people to have twenty-five dukes, five marquises, seventy-six earls, nine viscounts, and sixty-one barons; making altogether a hundred and seventy-six peers, some of whom are "your grace," and some "my lord." What matter a few rags here and there; everybody cannot be dressed in cloth of gold. Let the rags be. Can you not gaze on the purple? One counterbalances the other. Of course, there are the poor; what of them? They are made to add to the comfort of the opulent. Devil take it! our lords are our glory! The pack of hounds belonging to Charles, Baron Mohun, costs him as much as the hospital for lepers in Moorgate, and Christ's Hospital, founded for children, in 1558, by Edward VI. Thomas Osborne, Duke of Leeds, spends yearly on his liveries five thousand golden guineas. The Spanish grandees have a guardian appointed by law to prevent them from ruining themselves. That is cowardly. Our lords are extravagant and magnificent. I honour them for it. Let us not abuse them like envious folks. I feel happy when a beautiful vision passes. I do not possess the light myself, but I have the reflection. A reflect on thrown on my ulcer, you will say. Go to the devil! I am a Job, happy in the contemplation of Trimalcion. Oh, that beautiful and radiant planet up there! But the moonlight is something! To suppress the lords was an idea which Orestes, mad as he was, would not have dared to entertain. To say that the lords are mischievous or useless, is to say that the State should be revolutionized, and that men are not made to live like cattle, browsing the grass and bitten by the dog. The field is shorn by the sheep, the sheep by the shepherd. It is all one to me. I am a philosopher, and I attach just about as much importance to life as a fly. Life is only a lodging-house. When I think that Henry Bowes Howard, Earl of Berkshire, has in his stable twenty-four state carriages, of which one is mounted in silver, and another in gold,—good heavens! I know that every one does not possess twenty-four state carriages; but there is no need to complain for all that. Because you were cold one night, what was that to him? It concerns you only. Others besides you suffer from cold and hunger. Don't you know that but for the cold Dea would not have been blind; and if Dea were not blind, she would not love you? Think of that, you fool! Besides, if all the people who are unhappy were to complain, there would be a pretty tumult! Silence is the rule. I have no doubt that Heaven imposes silence on the damned, otherwise Heaven itself would be spoiled by their everlasting wailing. The happiness of Olympus is ensured by the silence of Cocytus. Then, good people, be silent! I do better myself; I approve and admire.

"Just now I was enumerating the lords, and I ought to add to the list two archbishops and twenty-four bishops. Truly, I am quite affected when I think of it! I remember to have seen at the tithe-gathering of the Rev. Dean of Raphoe, who combined the peerage with the church, a great tithe of beautiful wheat taken from the peasants in the neighbourhood, and which the dean had not been at the trouble of growing. This left him time to say his prayers. Do you know that Lord Marmaduke, my master, was Lord Grand Treasurer of Ireland, and High Seneschal of the sovereignty of Knaresborough in the county of York? Do you know that the Lord High Chamberlain, which is an hereditary office in the family of the Dukes of Lancaster, dresses the king for his coronation, and receives for his trouble forty yards of crimson velvet, besides the bed on which the king has slept; and that the Usher of the Black Rod is his deputy? I should like to see you deny this, that the senior viscount of England is Robert Brent, created a viscount by Henry V. The lords' titles imply sovereignty over land, except that of Earl Rivers, who takes his title from his family name. How admirable is the right which they have to tax others, and to levy, for instance, four shillings on the pound sterling income-tax, which has just been continued for another year. And all the fine taxes on distilled spirits, on the excise of wine and beer, on tonnage and poundage, on cider, on mum, malt, and prepared barley, on coals, and on a hundred things besides. Let us respect the powers that be. The clergy themselves are dependent on the lords. The Bishop of Man is subject to the Earl of Derby. The lords have wild beasts of their own, which they place in their armorial bearings. God not having made animals enough, they have invented others. They have created the heraldic wild boar, who is as much above the wild boar as a wild boar is above the common pig, and a lord is above a priest. They have created the griffin, which is an eagle to lions, and a lion to eagles, terrifying lions by his wings, and eagles by his mane. They have the guivre, the unicorn, the serpent, the salamander, the tarask, the dree, the dragon, and the hippogriff. All these things, terrible to us, are to them but an ornament and an embellishment. They have a menagerie which they call the blazon, in which these unknown beasts roar. The prodigies of the forest are nothing compared to the inventions of their pride. Their vanity is full of phantoms which move as in a sublime night, armed with helm and cuirass, spurs on their heels and sceptres in their hands, saying in a grave voice, 'We are the ancestors!' Canker-worms eat the roots, and panoplies eat the people. Why not? Can we expect to change the laws? The peerage is part of the order of society. Do you know that there is a duke in Scotland who can ride ninety miles without leaving his own estate? Do you know that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a revenue of £40,000 a year? Do you know that her Majesty has £700,000 sterling from the civil list, besides castles, forests, domains, fiefs, tenancies, freeholds, prebendaries, tithes, rent, confiscations, and fines, which bring in over a million sterling? Those who are not satisfied are hard to please."

"Yes," murmured Gwynplaine, sadly; "the paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor."