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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 6 - Chapter 6. The Retreat Of A Celebrated Man...
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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 6. The Retreat Of A Celebrated Man... Post by :dzone Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1956

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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 6. The Retreat Of A Celebrated Man...


I ARRIVED in town, and drove at once to Gerald's house. It was not difficult to find it, for in my young day it had been the residence of the Duke of------; and wealthy as I knew was the owner of the Devereux lands, I was somewhat startled at the extent and the magnificence of his palace. To my inexpressible disappointment, I found that Gerald had left London a day or two before my arrival on a visit to a nobleman nearly connected with our family, and residing in the same county as that in which Devereux Court was situated. Since the fire, which had destroyed all of the old house but the one tower which I had considered as peculiarly my own, Gerald, I heard, had always, in visiting his estates, taken up his abode at the mansion of one or other of his neighbours; and to Lord ------'s house I now resolved to repair. My journey was delayed for a day or two, by accidentally seeing at the door of the hotel, to which I drove from Gerald's house, the favourite servant of Lord Bolingbroke.

This circumstance revived in me, at once, all my attachment to that personage, and hearing he was at his country house, within a few miles from town, I resolved the next morning to visit him. It was not only that I contemplated with an eager yet a melancholy interest an interview with one whose blazing career I had long watched, and whose letters (for during the years we had been parted he wrote to me often) seemed to testify the same satiety of the triumphs and gauds of ambition which had brought something of wisdom to myself; it was not only that I wished to commune with that Bolingbroke in retirement whom I had known the oracle of statesmen and the pride of courts; nor even that I loved the man, and was eager once more to embrace him. A fiercer and more active motive urged me to visit one whose knowledge of all men and application of their various utilities were so remarkable, and who even in his present peace and retirement would not improbably be acquainted with the abode of that unquiet and plotting ecclesiastic whom I now panted to discover, and whom Bolingbroke had of old often guided or employed.

When my carriage stopped at the statesman's door, I was informed that Lord Bolingbroke was at his farm. Farm! how oddly did that word sound in my ear, coupled as it was with the name of one so brilliant and so restless!

I asked the servant to direct me where I should find him, and, following the directions, I proceeded to the search alone. It was a day towards the close of autumn, bright, soft, clear, and calm as the decline of a vigorous and genial age. I walked slowly through a field robbed of its golden grain, and as I entered another I saw the object of my search. He had seemingly just given orders to a person in a labourer's dress, who was quitting him, and with downcast eyes he was approaching towards me. I noted how slow and even was the pace which, once stately, yet rapid and irregular, had betrayed the haughty but wild character of his mind. He paused often, as if in thought, and I observed that once he stopped longer than usual, and seemed to gaze wistfully on the ground. Afterwards (when I had joined him) we passed that spot, and I remarked, with a secret smile, that it contained one of those little mounds in which that busy and herded tribe of the insect race, which have been held out to man's social state at once as a mockery and a model, held their populous home. There seemed a latent moral in the pause and watch of the disappointed statesman by that mound, which afforded a clew to the nature of his reflections.

He did not see me till I was close before him, and had called him by his name, nor did he at first recognize me, for my garb was foreign, and my upper lip unshaven; and, as I said before, years had strangely altered me; but when he did, he testified all the cordiality I had anticipated. I linked my arm in his, and we walked to and fro for hours, talking of all that had passed since and before our parting, and feeling our hearts warm to each other as we talked.

"The last time I saw you," said he, "how widely did our hopes and objects differ! Yours from my own: you seemingly had the vantage-ground, but it was an artificial eminence, and my level state, though it appeared less tempting, was more secure. I had just been disgraced by a misguided and ungrateful prince. I had already gone into a retirement where my only honours were proportioned to my fortitude in bearing condemnation, and my only flatterer was the hope of finding a companion and a Mentor in myself. You, my friend, parted with life before you; and you only relinquished the pursuit of Fortune at one court, to meet her advances at another. Nearly ten years have flown since that time: my situation is but little changed; I am returned, it is true, to my native soil, but not to a soil more indulgent to ambition and exertion than the scene of my exile. My sphere of action is still shut from me: _my mind is still banished_.* You return young in years, but full of successes. Have they brought you happiness, Devereux? or have you yet a temper to envy my content?"

* I need scarcely remind the reader that Lord Bolingbroke, though he had received a full pardon, was forbidden to resume his seat in the House of Lords.--ED.

"Alas!" said I, "who can bear too close a search beneath the mask and robe? Talk not of me now. It is ungracious for the fortunate to repine; and I reserve whatever may disquiet me within for your future consolation and advice. At present speak to me of yourself: you are happy, then?"

"I am!" said Bolingbroke, emphatically. "Life seems to me to possess two treasures: one glittering and precarious; the other of less rich a show, but of a more solid value. The one is Power, the other Virtue; and there is this main difference between the two,--Power is intrusted to us as a loan ever required again, and with a terrible arrear of interest; Virtue obtained by us as a _boon which we can only lose through our own folly, when once it is acquired. In my youth I was caught by the former; hence my errors and my misfortunes! In my declining years I have sought the latter; hence my palliatives and my consolation. But you have not seen my home, and _all its attractions," added Bolingbroke, with a smile which reminded me of his former self. "I will show them to you." And we turned our steps to the house.

As we walked thither I wondered to find how little melancholy was the change Bolingbroke had undergone. Ten years, which bring man from his prime to his decay, had indeed left their trace upon his stately form, and the still unrivalled beauty of his noble features; but the manner gained all that the form had lost. In his days of more noisy greatness, there had been something artificial and unquiet in the sparkling alternations he had loved to adopt. He had been too fond of changing wisdom by a quick turn into wit,--too fond of the affectation of bordering the serious with the gay, business with pleasure. If this had not taken from the polish of his manner, it had diminished its dignity and given it the air of being assumed and insincere. Now all was quiet, earnest, and impressive; there was tenderness even in what was melancholy: and if there yet lingered the affectation of blending the classic character with his own, the character was more noble and the affectation more unseen. But this manner was only the faint mirror of a mind which, retaining much of its former mould, had been embellished and exalted by adversity, and which if it banished not its former faculties, had acquired a thousand new virtues to redeem them.

"You see," said my companion, pointing to the walls of the hall, which we had now entered, "the subject which at present occupies the greater part of my attention. I am meditating how to make the hall most illustrative of its owner's pursuits. You see the desire of improving, of creating, and of associating the improvement and the creation with ourselves, follows us banished men even to our seclusion. I think of having those walls painted with the implements of husbandry, and through pictures of spades and ploughshares to express my employments and testify my content in them."

"Cincinnatus is a better model than Aristippus: confess it," said I, smiling. "But if the senators come hither to summon you to power, will you resemble the Roman, not only in being found at your plough, but in your reluctance to leave it, and your eagerness to return?"

"What shall I say to you?" replied Bolingbroke. "Will you play the cynic if I answer _no_? We _should not boast of despising power, when of use to others, but of being contented to live without it. This is the end of my philosophy! But let me present you to one whom I value more now than I valued power at any time."

As he said this, Bolingbroke threw open the door of an apartment, and introduced me to a lady with whom he had found that domestic happiness denied him in his first marriage. The niece of Madame de Maintenon, this most charming woman possessed all her aunt's wit, and far more than all her aunt's beauty.* She was in weak health; but her vivacity was extreme, and her conversation just what should be the conversation of a woman who shines without striving for it.

* T am not ashamed to say to you that I admire her more every hour of my life.--Letter from Lord Bolingbroke to Swift.

Bolingbroke loved her to the last; and perhaps it is just to a man so celebrated for his gallantries to add that this beautiful and accomplished woman seems to have admired and esteemed as much as she loved him.--ED.

The business on which I was bound only allowed me to stay two days with Bolingbroke, and this I stated at first, lest he should have dragged me over his farm.

"Well," said my host, after vainly endeavouring to induce me to promise a longer stay, "if you can only give us two days, I must write and excuse myself to a great man with whom I was to dine to-day. Yet, if it were not so inhospitable, I should like much to carry you with me to his house; for I own that I wish you to see my companions, and to learn that if I still consult the oracles, they are less for the predictions of fortune than as the inspirations of the god."

"Ah!" said Lady Bolingbroke, who spoke in French, "I know whom you allude to. Give him my homage, and assure him, when he next visits us, we will appoint six _dames du palais to receive and pet him."

Upon this I insisted upon accompanying Bolingbroke to the house of so fortunate a being, and he consented to my wish with feigned reluctance, but evident pleasure.

"And who," said I to Lady Bolingbroke, "is the happy object of so much respect?"

Lady Bolingbroke answered, laughing, that nothing was so pleasant as suspense, and that it would be cruel in her to deprive me of it; and we conversed with so much zest that it was not till Bolingbroke had left the room for some moments that I observed he was not present. I took the opportunity to remark that I was rejoiced to find him so happy and with such just cause for happiness.

"He is happy, though at times he is restless. How, chained to this oar, can he be otherwise?" answered Lady Bolingbroke, with a sigh; "but his friends," she added, "who most enjoy his retirement, must yet lament it. His genius is not wasted here, it is true: where could it be wasted? But who does not feel that it is employed in too confined a sphere? And yet--" and I saw a tear start to her eye--"I, at least, ought not to repine. I should lose the best part of my happiness if there was nothing I could console him for."

"Believe me," said I, "I have known Bolingbroke in the zenith of his success; but never knew him so worthy of congratulation as now!"

"Is that flattery to him or to me?" said Lady Bolingbroke, smiling archly, for her smiles were quick successors to her tears.

"_Detur digniori_!" answered I; "but you must allow that, though it is a fine thing to have all that the world can give, it is still better to gain something that the world cannot take away?"

"Are you also a philosopher?" cried Lady Bolingbroke, gayly. "Ah, poor me! In my youth, my portion was the cloister;* in my later years I am banished to _the porch_! You have no conception, Monsieur Devereux, what wise faces and profound maxims we have here, especially as all who come to visit my lord think it necessary to quote Tully, and talk of solitude as if it were a heaven! _Les pauvres bons gens_! they seem a little surprised when Henry receives them smilingly, begs them to construe the Latin, gives them good wine, and sends them back to London with faces half the length they were on their arrival. _Mais voici, Monsieur, le fermier philosophe!_"

* She was brought up at St. Cyr.--ED.

And Bolingbroke entering, I took my leave of this lively and interesting lady and entered his carriage.

As soon as we were seated, he pressed me for my reasons for refusing to prolong my visit. As I thought they would be more opportune after the excursion of the day was over, and as, in truth, I was not eager to relate them, I begged to defer the narration till our return to his house at night, and then I directed the conversation into a new channel.

"My chief companion," said Bolingbroke, after describing to me his course of life, "is the man you are about to visit. He has his frailties and infirmities,--and in saying that, I only imply that he is human,--but he is wise, reflective, generous, and affectionate; add these qualities to a dazzling wit, and a genius deep, if not sublime, and what wonder that we forget something of vanity and something of fretfulness,--effects rather of the frame than of the mind. The wonder only is that, with a body the victim to every disease, crippled and imbecile from the cradle, his frailties should not be more numerous, and his care, his thoughts, and attentions not wholly limited to his own complaints. For the sickly are almost of necessity selfish; and that mind must have a vast share of benevolence which can always retain the softness of charity and love for others, when pain and disease constitute the morbid links that perpetually bind it to self. If this great character is my chief companion, my chief correspondent is not less distinguished; in a word, no longer to keep you in suspense, Pope is my companion and Swift my correspondent."

"You are fortunate, but so also are they. Your letter informed me of Swift's honourable exile in Ireland: how does he bear it?"

"Too feelingly: his disappointments turn his blood to acid. He said, characteristically enough, in one of his letters, that in fishing once when he was a little boy, he felt a great fish at the end of his line, which he drew up almost to the ground, but it dropped in, and the disappointment, he adds, vexes him to this day, and he believes it to be the type of all his future disappointments:* it is wonderful how reluctantly a very active mind sinks into rest."

* In this letter Swift adds, "I should be ashamed to say this if you (Lord Bolingbroke) had not a spirit fitter to bear your own misfortunes than I have to think of them;" and this is true. Nothing can be more striking, or more honourable to Lord Bolingbroke, than the contrast between Swift's letters and that nobleman's upon the subject of their mutual disappointments. I especially note the contrast, because it has been so grievously the cant of Lord Bolingbroke's decriers to represent his affection for retirement as hollow, and his resignation in adversity as a boast rather than a fact. Now I will challenge any one _thoroughly and dispassionately to examine what is left to us of the life of this great man, and after having done so, to select from all modern history an example of one who, in the prime of life and height of ambition, ever passed from a very active and exciting career into retirement and disgrace, and bore the change--long, bitter, and permanent as it was--with a greater and more thoroughly sustained magnanimity than did Lord Bolingbroke. He has been reproached for taking part in political contests in the midst of his praises and "affected enjoyment" of retirement; and this, made matter of reproach, is exactly the subject on which he seems to me the _most worthy of praise. For, putting aside all motives for action, on the purity of which men are generally incredulous, as a hatred to ill government (an antipathy wonderfully strong in wise men, and wonderfully weak in fools), the honest impulse of the citizen, and the better and higher sentiment, to which Bolingbroke appeared peculiarly alive, of affection to mankind,--putting these utterly aside,--it must be owned that resignation is the more noble in proportion as it is the less passive; that retirement is only a morbid selfishness if it prohibit exertions for others; that it is only really dignified and noble when it is the shade whence issue the oracles that are to instruct mankind; and that retirement of this nature is the sole seclusion which a good and wise man will covet or commend. The very philosophy which makes such a man seek the _quiet_, makes him eschew the _inutility of the hermitage. Very little praiseworthy to me would have seemed Lord Bolingbroke among his haymakers and ploughmen, if among haymakers and ploughmen he had looked with an indifferent eye upon a profligate Minister and a venal parliament; very little interest in my eyes would have attached itself to his beans and vetches, had beans and vetches caused him to forget that if he was happier in a farm, he could be more useful in a senate, and made him forego, in the sphere of a bailiff, all care for re-entering that of a legislator.--ED.

"Yet why should retirement be rest? Do you recollect in the first conversation we ever had together, we talked of Cowley? Do you recollect how justly, and even sublimely, he has said, 'Cogitation is that which distinguishes the solitude of a God from that of a wild beast'?"

"It is finely said," answered Bolingbroke; "but Swift was born not for cogitation but action; for turbulent times, not for calm. He ceases to be great directly he is still; and his bitterness at every vexation is so great that I have often thought, in listening to him, of the Abbe de Cyran, who, attempting to throw nutshells out of the bars of his window, and constantly failing in the attempt, exclaimed in a paroxysm of rage, 'Thus does Providence delight in frustrating my designs!'"

"But you are fallen from a far greater height of hope than Swift could ever have attained: you bear this change well, but not _I hope without a struggle."

"You are right,--_not without a struggle; while corruption thrives, I will not be silent; while bad men govern, I will not be still."

In conversation of this sort passed the time, till we arrived at Pope's villa.

We found the poet in his study,--indued, as some of his pictures represent him, in a long gown and a velvet cap. He received Bolingbroke with great tenderness, and being, as he said, in robuster health than he had enjoyed for months, he insisted on carrying us to his grotto. I know nothing more common to poets than a pride in what belongs to their houses; and perhaps to a man not ill-natured, there are few things more pleasant than indulging the little weaknesses of those we admire. We sat down in a small temple made entirely of shells; and whether it was that the Creative Genius gave an undue charm to the place, I know not: but as the murmur of a rill, glassy as the Blandusian fountain, was caught, and re-given from side to side by a perpetual echo, and through an arcade of trees, whose leaves, ever and anon, fell startingly to the ground beneath the light touch of the autumn air; as you saw the sails on the river pass and vanish, like the cares which breathe over the smooth glass of wisdom, but may not linger to dim it, it was not difficult to invest the place, humble as it was, with a classic interest, or to recall the loved retreats of the Roman bards, without smiling too fastidiously at the contrast.

"Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen,
Within thy airy shell,
By slow Meander's margin green,
Or by the violet embroidered vale
Where the lovelorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well;
Sweet Echo, dost thou shun those haunts of yore,
And in the dim caves of a northern shore
Delight to dwell!"

"Let the compliment to you, Pope," said Bolingbroke, "atone for the profanation of weaving three wretched lines of mine with those most musical notes of Milton."

"Ah!" said Pope, "would that you could give me a fitting inscription for my fount and grotto! The only one I can remember is hackneyed, and yet it has spoilt me, I fear, for all others.

"'Hujus Nympha loci, sacri custodia fontis
Dormio dum blandae sentio murmur aquae;
Parce meum, quisquis tanges cava marmora, somnum
Rumpere; sive bibas, sive lavere, tace.'"*

* Thus very inadequately translated by Pope (see his Letter to Edward Blount, Esq., descriptive of his grotto):--

"Nymph of the grot, these sacred springs I keep,
And to the murmur of these waters sleep:
Ah, spare my slumbers; gently tread the cave,
And drink in silence, or in silence lave."

It is, however, quite impossible to convey to an unlearned reader the exquisite and spirit-like beauty of the Latin verses.--ED.

"We cannot hope to match it," said Bolingbroke, "though you know I value myself on these things. But tell me your news of Gay: is he growing wiser?"

"Not a whit; he is forever a dupe to the _spes credula_; always talking of buying an annuity, that he may be independent, and always spending as fast as he earns, that he may appear munificent."

"Poor Gay! but he is a common example of the improvidence of his tribe, while you are an exception. Yet mark, Devereux, the inconsistency of Pope's thrift and carelessness: he sends a parcel of fruit to some ladies with this note, 'Take care of the papers that wrap the apples, and return them safely; they are the only copies I have of one part of the Iliad.' Thus, you see, our economist saves his paper, and hazards his epic!"

Pope, who is always flattered by an allusion to his negligence of fame, smiled slightly and answered, "What man, alas, ever profits by the lessons of his friends? How many exact rules has our good Dean of St. Patrick laid down for both of us; how angrily still does he chide us for our want of prudence and our love of good living! I intend, in answer to his charges on the latter score, though I vouch, as I well may, for our temperance, to give him the reply of the sage to the foolish courtier--"

"What was that?" asked Bolingbroke.

"Why, the courtier saw the sage picking out the best dishes at table. 'How,' said he with a sneer, 'are sages such epicures?'--'Do you think, Sir,' replied the wise man, reaching over the table to help himself, 'do you think, Sir, that the Creator made the good things of this world only for fools?'"

"How the Dean will pish and pull his wig when he reads your illustration," said Bolingbroke, laughing. "We shall never agree in our reasonings on that part of philosophy. Swift loves to go out of his way to find privation or distress, and has no notion of Epicurean wisdom; for my part, I think the use of knowledge is to make us happier. I would compare the mind to the beautiful statue of Love by Praxiteles. When its eyes were bandaged the countenance seemed grave and sad, but the moment you removed the bandage the most serene and enchanting smile diffused itself over the whole face."

So passed the morning till the hour of dinner, and this repast was served with an elegance and luxury which the sons of Apollo seldom command.* As the evening closed, our conversation fell upon friendship, and the increasing disposition towards it which comes with increasing years. "Whilst my mind," said Bolingbroke, "shrinks more and more from the world, and feels in its independence less yearning to external objects, the ideas of friendship return oftener,--they busy me, they warm me more. Is it that we grow more tender as the moment of our great separation approaches? or is it that they who are to live together in another state (for friendship exists not but for the good) begin to feel more strongly that divine sympathy which is to be the great bond of their future society?"**

* Pope seems to have been rather capricious in this respect; but in general he must be considered open to the sarcasm of displaying the bounteous host to those who did not want a dinner, and the niggard to those who did.--ED.

** This beautiful sentiment is to be found, with very slight alteration, in a letter from Bolingbroke to Swift.--ED.

While Bolingbroke was thus speaking, and Pope listened with all the love and reverence which he evidently bore to his friend stamped upon his worn but expressive countenance, I inly said, "Surely, the love between minds like these should live and last without the changes that ordinary affections feel! Who would not mourn for the strength of all human ties, if hereafter these are broken, and asperity succeed to friendship, or aversion to esteem? _I_, a wanderer, without heir to my memory and wealth, shall pass away, and my hasty and unmellowed fame will moulder with my clay; but will the names of those whom I now behold ever fall languidly on the ears of a future race, and will there not forever be some sympathy with their friendship, softer and warmer than admiration for their fame?"

We left our celebrated host about two hours before midnight, and returned to Dawley.

On our road thither I questioned Bolingbroke respecting Montreuil, and I found that, as I had surmised, he was able to give me some information of that arch-schemer. Gerald's money and hereditary influence had procured tacit connivance at the Jesuit's residence in England, and Montreuil had for some years led a quiet and unoffending life in close retirement. "Lately, however," said Bolingbroke, "I have learned that the old spirit has revived, and I accidentally heard three days ago, when conversing with one well informed on state matters, that this most pure administration has discovered some plot or plots with which Montreuil is connected; I believe he will be apprehended in a few days."

"And where lurks he?"

"He was, I heard, last seen in the neighbourhood of your brother's property at Devereux Court, and I imagine it probable that he is still in that neighbourhood."

This intelligence made me resolve to leave Dawley even earlier than I had intended, and I signified to Lord Bolingbroke my intention of quitting him by sunrise the next morning. He endeavoured in vain to combat my resolution. I was too fearful lest Montreuil, hearing of his danger from the state, might baffle my vengeance by seeking some impenetrable asylum, to wish to subject my meeting with him and with Gerald, whose co-operation I desired, to any unnecessary delay. I took leave of my host therefore that night, and ordered my carriage to be in readiness by the first dawn of morning.

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