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My Novel - Book 7 - Initial Chapter Post by :ortaz Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2866

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My Novel - Book 7 - Initial Chapter

Book Seventh
Initial Chapter


"What is courage?" said my uncle Roland, rousing himself from a revery into which he had fallen, after the Sixth Book in this history had been read to our family circle.

"What is courage?" he repeated more earnestly. "Is it insensibility to fear? That may be the mere accident of constitution; and if so, there is no more merit in being courageous than in being this table."

"I am very glad to hear you speak thus," observed Mr. Caxton, "for I should not like to consider myself a coward; yet I am very sensible to fear in all dangers, bodily and moral."

"La, Austin, how can you say so?" cried my mother, firing up; "was it not only last week that you faced the great bull that was rushing after Blanche and the children?"

Blanche at that recollection stole to my father's chair, and, hanging over his shoulder, kissed his forehead.

MR. CAXTON (sublimely unmoved by these flatteries).--"I don't deny that I faced the bull, but I assert that I was horribly frightened."

ROLAND.--"The sense of honour which conquers fear is the true courage of chivalry: you could not run away when others were looking on,--no gentleman could."

MR. CAXTON.--"Fiddledee! It was not on my gentility that I stood, Captain. I should have run fast enough, if it had done any good. I stood upon my understanding. As the bull could run faster than I could, the only chance of escape was to make the brute as frightened as myself."

BLANCHE.--"Ah, you did not think of that; your only thought was to save me and the children."

MR. CAXTON.--"Possibly, my dear, very possibly, I might have been afraid for you too; but I was very much afraid for myself. However, luckily I had the umbrella, and I sprang it up and spread it forth in the animal's stupid eyes, hurling at him simultaneously the biggest lines I could think of in the First Chorus of the 'Seven against Thebes.' I began with ELEDEMNAS PEDIOPLOKTUPOS; and when I came to the grand howl of (A line in Greek), the beast stood appalled as at the roar of a lion. I shall never forget his amazed snort at the Greek. Then he kicked up his hind legs, and went bolt through the gap in the hedge. Thus, armed with AEschylus and the umbrella, I remained master of the field; but" (continued Mr. Caxton ingenuously) "I should not like to go through that half-minute again."

"No man would," said the captain, kindly. "I should be very sorry to face a bull myself, even with a bigger umbrella than yours, and even though I had AEschylus, and Homer to boot, at my fingers' ends."

MR. CAXTON.--"You would not have minded if it had been a Frenchman with a sword in his hand?"

CAPTAIN.--"Of course not. Rather liked it than otherwise," he added grimly.

MR. CAXTON.--"Yet many a Spanish matador, who does n't care a button for a bull, would take to his heels at the first lunge en carte from a Frenchman. Therefore, in fact, if courage be a matter of constitution, it is also a matter of custom. We face calmly the dangers we are habituated to, and recoil from those of which we have no familiar experience. I doubt if Marshal Turenue himself would have been quite at his ease on the tight-rope; and a rope-dancer, who seems disposed to scale the heavens with Titanic temerity, might possibly object to charge on a cannon."

CAPTAIN ROLAND.--"Still, either this is not the courage I mean, or it is another kind of it. I mean by courage that which is the especial force and dignity of the human character, without which there is no reliance on principle, no constancy in virtue,--a something," continued my uncle, gallantly, and with a half bow towards my mother, "which your sex shares with our own. When the lover, for instance, clasps the hand of his betrothed, and says, 'Wilt thou be true to me, in spite of absence and time, in spite of hazard and fortune, though my foes malign me, though thy friends may dissuade thee, and our lot in life may be rough and rude?' and when the betrothed answers, 'I will be true,' does not the lover trust to her courage as well as her love?"

"Admirably put, Roland," said my father. "But a propos of what do you puzzle us with these queries on courage?"

CAPTAIN ROLAND (with a slight blush).--"I was led to the inquiry (though perhaps it may be frivolous to take so much thought of what, no doubt, costs Pisistratus so little) by the last chapters in my nephew's story. I see this poor boy Leonard, alone with his fallen hopes (though very irrational they were) and his sense of shame. And I read his heart, I dare say, better than Pisistratus does, for I could feel like that boy if I had been in the same position; and conjecturing what he and thousands like him must go through, I asked myself, 'What can save him and them?' I answered, as a soldier would answer, 'Courage.' Very well. But pray; Austin, what is courage?"

MR. CAXTON (prudently backing out of a reply).--"Papae!' Brother, since you have just complimented the ladies on that quality, you had better address your question to them."

Blanche here leaned both hands on my father's chair, and said, looking down at first bashfully, but afterwards warming with the subject, "Do you not think, sir, that little Helen has already suggested, if not what is courage, what at least is the real essence of all courage that endures and conquers, that ennobles and hallows and redeems? Is it not PATIENCE, Father? And that is why we women have a courage of our own. Patience does not affect to be superior to fear, but at least it never admits despair."

PISISTRATUS.--"Kiss me, my Blanche, for you have come near to the truth which perplexed the soldier and puzzled the sage."

MR. CAXTON (tartly).--"If you mean me by the sage, I was not puzzled at all. Heaven knows you do right to inculcate patience,--it is a virtue very much required--in your readers. Nevertheless," added my father, softening with the enjoyment of his joke,--"nevertheless Blanche and Helen are quite right. Patience is the courage of the conqueror; it is the virtue, par excellence, of Man against Destiny,--of the One against the World, and of the Soul against Matter. Therefore this is the courage of the Gospel; and its importance in a social view--its importance to races and institutions--cannot be too earnestly inculcated. What is it that distinguishes the Anglo-Saxon from all other branches of the human family,--peoples deserts with his children and consigns to them the heritage of rising worlds? What but his faculty to brave, to suffer, to endure,--the patience that resists firmly and innovates slowly? Compare him with the Frenchman. The Frenchman has plenty of valour,--that there is no denying; but as for fortitude, he has not enough to cover the point of a pin. He is ready to rush out of the world if he is bitten by a flea."

CAPTAIN ROLAND.--"There was a case in the papers the other day, Austin, of a Frenchman who actually did destroy himself because he was so teased by the little creatures you speak of. He left a paper on his table, saying that 'life was not worth having at the price of such torments.'"

MR. CAXTON (solemnly).--"Sir, their whole political history, since the great meeting of the Tiers Etat, has been the history of men who would rather go to the devil than be bitten by a flea. It is the record of human impatience that seeks to force time, and expects to grow forests from the spawn of a mushroom. Wherefore, running through all extremes of constitutional experiment, when they are nearest to democracy they are next door to a despot; and all they have really done is to destroy whatever constitutes the foundation of every tolerable government. A constitutional monarchy cannot exist without aristocracy, nor a healthful republic endure with corruption of manners. The cry of equality is incompatible with civilization, which, of necessity, contrasts poverty with wealth; and, in short, whether it be an emperor or a mob I that is to rule, Force is the sole hope of order, and the government is but an army."

(Published more than a year before the date of the French empire under Louis Napoleon.)

"Impress, O Pisistratus! impress the value of patience as regards man and men. You touch there on the kernel of the social system,--the secret that fortifies the individual and disciplines the million. I care not, for my part, if you are tedious so long as you are earnest. Be minute and detailed. Let the real Human Life, in its war with Circumstance, stand out. Never mind if one can read you but slowly,--better chance of being less quickly forgotten. Patience, patience! By the soul of Epictetus, your readers shall set you an example."

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