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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLucretia - Part 2 - Chapter 3. Early Training For An Upright Gentleman
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Lucretia - Part 2 - Chapter 3. Early Training For An Upright Gentleman Post by :azaus Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3372

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Lucretia - Part 2 - Chapter 3. Early Training For An Upright Gentleman


Percival St. John had been brought up at home under the eye of his mother and the care of an excellent man who had been tutor to himself and his brothers. The tutor was not much of a classical scholar, for in great measure he had educated himself; and he who does so, usually lacks the polish and brilliancy of one whose footsteps have been led early to the Temple of the Muses. In fact, Captain Greville was a gallant soldier, with whom Vernon St. John had been acquainted in his own brief military career, and whom circumstances had so reduced in life as to compel him to sell his commission and live as he could. He had always been known in his regiment as a reading man, and his authority looked up to in all the disputes as to history and dates, and literary anecdotes, which might occur at the mess-table. Vernon considered him the most learned man of his acquaintance; and when, accidentally meeting him in London, he learned his fallen fortunes, he congratulated himself on a very brilliant idea when he suggested that Captain Greville should assist him in the education of his boys and the management of his estate. At first, all that Greville modestly undertook, with respect to the former, and, indeed, was expected to do, was to prepare the young gentlemen for Eton, to which Vernon, with the natural predilection of an Eton man, destined his sons. But the sickly constitutions of the two elder justified Lady Mary in her opposition to a public school; and Percival conceived early so strong an affection for a sailor's life that the father's intentions were frustrated. The two elder continued their education at home, and Percival, at an earlier age than usual, went to sea. The last was fortunate enough to have for his captain one of that new race of naval officers who, well educated and accomplished, form a notable contrast to the old heroes of Smollett. Percival, however, had not been long in the service before the deaths of his two elder brothers, preceded by that of his father, made him the head of his ancient house, and the sole prop of his mother's earthly hopes. He conquered with a generous effort the passion for his noble profession, which service had but confirmed, and returned home with his fresh, childlike nature uncorrupted, his constitution strengthened, his lively and impressionable mind braced by the experience of danger and the habits of duty, and quietly resumed his reading under Captain Greville, who moved from the Hall to a small house in the village.

Now, the education he had received, from first to last, was less adapted prematurely to quicken his intellect and excite his imagination than to warm his heart and elevate, while it chastened, his moral qualities; for in Lady Mary there was, amidst singular sweetness of temper, a high cast of character and thought. She was not what is commonly called clever, and her experience of the world was limited, compared to that of most women of similar rank who pass their lives in the vast theatre of London. But she became superior by a certain single-heartedness which made truth so habitual to her that the light in which she lived rendered all objects around her clear. One who is always true in the great duties of life is nearly always wise. And Vernon, when he had fairly buried his faults, had felt a noble shame for the excesses into which they had led him. Gradually more and more wedded to his home, he dropped his old companions. He set grave guard on his talk (his habits now required no guard), lest any of the ancient levity should taint the ears of his children. Nothing is more common in parents than their desire that their children should escape their faults. We scarcely know ourselves till we have children; and then, if we love them duly, we look narrowly into failings that become vices, when they serve as examples to the young.

The inborn gentleman, with the native courage and spirit and horror of trick and falsehood which belong to that chivalrous abstraction, survived almost alone in Vernon St. John; and his boys sprang up in the atmosphere of generous sentiments and transparent truth. The tutor was in harmony with the parents,--a soldier every inch of him; not a mere disciplinarian, yet with a profound sense of duty, and a knowledge that duty is to be found in attention to details. In inculcating the habit of subordination, so graceful to the young, he knew how to make himself beloved, and what is harder still, to be understood. The soul of this poor soldier was white and unstained, as the arms of a maiden knight; it was full of suppressed but lofty enthusiasm. He had been ill used, whether by Fate or the Horse Guards; his career had been a failure; but he was as loyal as if his hand held the field-marshal's truncheon, and the garter bound his knee. He was above all querulous discontent. From him, no less than from his parents, Percival caught, not only a spirit of honour worthy the antiqua fides of the poets, but that peculiar cleanliness of thought, if the expression may be used, which belongs to the ideal of youthful chivalry. In mere booklearning, Percival, as may be supposed, was not very extensively read; but his mind, if not largely stored, had a certain unity of culture, which gave it stability and individualized its operations. Travels, voyages, narratives of heroic adventure, biographies of great men, had made the favourite pasture of his enthusiasm. To this was added the more stirring, and, perhaps, the more genuine order of poets who make you feel and glow, rather than doubt and ponder. He knew at least enough of Greek to enjoy old Homer; and if he could have come but ill through a college examination into Aeschylus and Sophocles, he had dwelt with fresh delight on the rushing storm of spears in the "Seven before Thebes," and wept over the heroic calamities of Antigone. In science, he was no adept; but his clear good sense and quick appreciation of positive truths had led him easily through the elementary mathematics, and his somewhat martial spirit had made him delight in the old captain's lectures on military tactics. Had he remained in the navy, Percival St. John would doubtless have been distinguished. His talents fitted him for straightforward, manly action; and he had a generous desire of distinction, vague, perhaps, the moment he was taken from his profession, and curbed by his diffidence in himself and his sense of deficiencies in the ordinary routine of purely classical education. Still, he had in him all the elements of a true man,--a man to go through life with a firm step and a clear conscience and a gallant hope. Such a man may not win fame,--that is an accident; but he must occupy no despicable place in the movement of the world.

It was at first intended to send Percival to Oxford; but for some reason or other that design was abandoned. Perhaps Lady Mary, over cautious, as mothers left alone sometimes are, feared the contagion to which a young man of brilliant expectations and no studious turn is necessarily exposed in all places of miscellaneous resort. So Percival was sent abroad for two years, under the guardianship of Captain Greville. On his return, at the age of nineteen, the great world lay before him, and he longed ardently to enter. For a year Lady Mary's fears and fond anxieties detained him at Laughton; but though his great tenderness for his mother withheld Percival from opposing her wishes by his own, this interval of inaction affected visibly his health and spirits. Captain Greville, a man of the world, saw the cause sooner than Lady Mary, and one morning, earlier than usual, he walked up to the Hall.

The captain, with all his deference to the sex, was a plain man enough when business was to be done. Like his great commander, he came to the point in a few words.

"My dear Lady Mary, our boy must go to London,--we are killing him here."

"Mr. Greville!" cried Lady Mary, turning pale and putting aside her embroidery,--"killing him?"

"Killing the man in him. I don't mean to alarm you; I dare say his lungs are sound enough, and that his heart would bear the stethoscope to the satisfaction of the College of Surgeons. But, my dear ma'am, Percival is to be a man; it is the man you are killing by keeping him tied to your apron-string."

"Oh, Mr. Greville, I am sure you don't wish to wound me, but--"

"I beg ten thousand pardons. I am rough, but truth is rough sometimes."

"It is not for my sake," said the mother, warmly, and with tears in her eyes, "that I have wished him to be here. If he is dull, can we not fill the house for him?"

"Fill a thimble, my dear Lady Mary. Percival should have a plunge in the ocean."

"But he is so young yet,--that horrid London; such temptations,--fatherless, too!"

"I have no fear of the result if Percival goes now, while his principles are strong and his imagination is not inflamed; but if we keep him here much longer against his bent, he will learn to brood and to muse, write bad poetry perhaps, and think the world withheld from him a thousand times more delightful than it is. This very dread of temptation will provoke his curiosity, irritate his fancy, make him imagine the temptation must be a very delightful thing. For the first time in my life, ma'am, I have caught him sighing over fashionable novels, and subscribing to the Southampton Circulating Library. Take my word for it, it is time that Percival should begin life, and swim without corks."

Lady Mary had a profound confidence in Greville's judgment and affection for Percival, and, like a sensible woman, she was aware of her own weakness. She remained silent for a few moments, and then said, with an effort,--

"You know how hateful London is to me now,--how unfit I am to return to the hollow forms of its society; still, if you think it right, I will take a house for the season, and Percival can still be under our eye."

"No, ma'am,--pardon me,--that will be the surest way to make him either discontented or hypocritical. A young man of his prospects and temper can hardly be expected to chime in with all our sober, old-fashioned habits. You will impose on him--if he is to conform to our hours and notions and quiet set--a thousand irksome restraints; and what will be the consequence? In a year he will be of age, and can throw us off altogether, if he pleases. I know the boy; don't seem to distrust him,--he may be trusted. You place the true restraint on temptation when you say to him: 'We confide to you our dearest treasure,--your honour, your morals, your conscience, yourself!'"

"But at least you will go with him, if it must be so," said Lady Mary, after a few timid arguments, from which, one by one, she was driven.

"I! What for? To be a jest of the young puppies he must know; to make him ashamed of himself and me,--himself as a milksop, and me as a dry nurse?"

"But this was not so abroad."

"Abroad, ma'am, I gave him full swing I promise you; and when we went abroad he was two years younger."

"But he is a mere child still."

"Child, Lady Mary! At his age I had gone through two sieges. There are younger faces than his at a mess-room. Come, come! I know what you fear,--he may commit some follies; very likely. He may be taken in, and lose some money,--he can afford it, and he will get experience in return. Vices he has none. I have seen him,--ay, with the vicious. Send him out against the world like a saint of old, with his Bible in his hand, and no spot on his robe. Let him see fairly what is, not stay here to dream of what is not. And when he's of age, ma'am, we must get him an object, a pursuit; start him for the county, and make him serve the State. He will understand that business pretty well. Tush! tush! what is there to cry at?"

The captain prevailed. We don't say that his advice would have been equally judicious for all youths of Percival's age; but he knew well the nature to which he confided; he knew well how strong was that young heart in its healthful simplicity and instinctive rectitude; and he appreciated his manliness not too highly when he felt that all evident props and aids would be but irritating tokens of distrust.

And thus, armed only with letters of introduction, his mother's tearful admonitions, and Greville's experienced warnings, Percival St. John was launched into London life. After the first month or so, Greville came up to visit him, do him sundry kind, invisible offices amongst his old friends, help him to equip his apartments, and mount his stud; and wholly satisfied with the result of his experiment, returned in high spirits, with flattering reports, to the anxious mother.

But, indeed, the tone of Percival's letters would have been sufficient to allay even maternal anxiety. He did not write, as sons are apt to do, short excuses for not writing more at length, unsatisfactory compressions of details (exciting worlds of conjecture) into a hurried sentence. Frank and overflowing, those delightful epistles gave accounts fresh from the first impressions of all he saw and did. There was a racy, wholesome gusto in his enjoyment of novelty and independence. His balls and his dinners and his cricket at Lord's, his partners and his companions, his general gayety, his occasional ennui, furnished ample materials to one who felt he was corresponding with another heart, and had nothing to fear or to conceal.

But about two months before this portion of our narrative opens with the coronation, Lady Mary's favourite sister, who had never married, and who, by the death of her parents, was left alone in the worse than widowhood of an old maid, had been ordered to Pisa for a complaint that betrayed pulmonary symptoms; and Lady Mary, with her usual unselfishness, conquered both her aversion to movement and her wish to be in reach of her son, to accompany abroad this beloved and solitary relative. Captain Greville was pressed into service as their joint cavalier. And thus Percival's habitual intercourse with his two principal correspondents received a temporary check.

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