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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 3 - Chapter 10
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What Will He Do With It - Book 3 - Chapter 10 Post by :dave91111 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2303

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What Will He Do With It - Book 3 - Chapter 10


Showing with what success Gentleman Waife assumes the pleasing part of friend to the enlightenment of the age and the progress of the people.

On the landing-place, Waife encountered the Irish porter, who, having left the bundle in the drawing-room, was waiting patiently to be paid for his trouble.

The Comedian surveyed the good-humoured shrewd face, on every line of which was writ the golden maxim, "Take things asy." "I beg your pardon, my friend; I had almost forgotten you. Have you been long in this town?"

"Four years, and long life to your honour!"

"Do you know Mr. Hartopp, the Mayor?"

"Is it his worship the Mayor? Sure and it is the Mayor as has made a man o' Mike Callaghan."

The Comedian evinced urbane curiosity to learn the history of that process, and drew forth a grateful tale. Four summers ago Mike had resigned the "first gem of the sea" in order to assist in making hay for a Saxon taskmaster.

Mr. Hartopp, who farmed largely, had employed him in that rural occupation. Seized by a malignant fever, Mr. Hartopp had helped him through it, and naturally conceived a liking for the man he helped. Thus, as Mike became convalescent, instead of passing the poor man back to his own country, which at that time gave little employment to the surplus of its agrarian population beyond an occasional shot at a parson,--an employment, though animated, not lucrative, he exercised Mike's returning strength upon a few light jobs in his warehouse; and finally, Mike marrying imprudently the daughter of a Gatesboro' operative, Mr. Hartopp set him up in life as a professional messenger and porter, patronized by the Corporation. The narrative made it evident that Mr. Hartopp was a kind and worthy man, and the Comedian's heart warmed towards him.

"An honour to our species, this Mr. Hartopp!" said Waife, striking his staff upon the floor; "I covet his acquaintance. Would he see you if you called at his counting-house?"

Mike replied in the affirmative with eager pride. "Mr. Hartopp would see him at once. Sure, did not the Mayor know that time was money? Mr. Hartopp was not a man to keep the poor waiting."

"Go down and stay outside the hall door; you shall take a note for me to the Mayor."

Waife then passed into the bar, and begged the favour of a sheet of note-paper. The landlady seated him at her own desk, and thus wrote the Comedian:

"Mr. Chapman presents his compliments to the Mayor of Gatesboro', and requests the Honour of a very short interview. Mr. Chapman's deep interest in the permanent success of those literary institutes which are so distinguished a feature of this enlightened age, and Mr. Mayor's well-known zeal in the promotion of those invaluable societies, must be Mr. Chapman's excuse for the liberty he ventures to take in this request. Mr. C. may add that of late he has earnestly directed his attention to the best means of extracting new uses from those noble but undeveloped institutions.

"Saracens Head, &c."

This epistle, duly sealed and addressed, Waife delivered to the care of Mike Callaghan; and simultaneously he astounded that functionary with no less a gratuity than half a crown. Cutting short the fervent blessings which this generous donation naturally called forth, the Comedian said, with his happiest combination of suavity and loftiness, "And should the Mayor ask you what sort of person I am,--for I have not the honour to be known to him, and there are so many adventurers about, that he might reasonably expect me to be one, perhaps you can say that I don't look like a person he need be afraid to admit. You know a gentleman by sight! Bring back an answer as soon as may be; perhaps I sha'n't stay long in the town. You will find me in the High Street, looking at the shops."

The porter took to his legs, impatient to vent his overflowing heart upon the praises of this munificent stranger. A gentleman, indeed! Mike should think so! If Mike's good word with the Mayor was worth money, Gentleman Waife had put his half-crown out upon famous interest.

The Comedian strolled along the High Street, and stopped before a stationer's shop, at the window of which was displayed a bill, entitled,



Author of "Researches into the Natural
History of Limpets."

Waife entered the shop, and lifted his hat,--"Permit me, sir, to look at that hand-bill."

"Certainly, sir; but the lecture is over; you can see by the date: it came off last week. We allow the bills of previous proceedings at our Athenaeum to be exposed at the window till the new bills are prepared,--keeps the whole thing alive, sir."

"Conchology," said the Comedian, "is a subject which requires deep research, and on which a learned man may say much without fear of contradiction. But how far is Gatesboro' from the British Ocean?"

"I don't know exactly, sir,--a long way."

"Then, as shells are not familiar to the youthful remembrances of your fellow-townsmen, possibly the lecturer may have found an audience rather select than numerous."

"It was a very attentive audience, sir, and highly respectable: Miss Grieve's young ladies' (the genteelest seminary in the town) attended."

WAIFE.--"Highly creditable to the young ladies. But, pardon me, is your Athenaeum a Mechanics' institute?"

SHOPMAN.--"It was so called at first. But, somehow or other, the mere operatives fell off, and it was thought advisable to change the word 'Mechanics' into the word 'Literary.' Gatesboro' is not a manufacturing town, and the mechanics here do not realize the expectations of that taste for abstract science on which the originators of these societies founded their--"

WAIFE (insinuatingly interrupting).--"Their calculations of intellectual progress and their tables of pecuniary return. Few of these societies, I am told, are really self-supporting: I suppose Professor Long is!--and if he resides in Gatesboro', and writes on limpets, he is probably a man of independent fortune."

SHOPMAN.--"Why, sir, the professor was engaged from London,--five guineas and his travelling expenses. The funds of the society could ill afford such outlay; but we have a most worthy mayor, who, assisted by his foreman, Mr. Williams, our treasurer, is, I may say, the life and soul of the institute."

"A literary man himself, your mayor?"

The shopman smiled. "Not much in that way, sir; but anything to enlighten the working classes. This is Professor Long's great work upon limpets, two vols. post octavo. The Mayor has just presented it to the library of the institute. I was cutting the leaves when you came in."

"Very prudent in you, sir. If limpets were but able to read printed character in the English tongue, this work would have more interest for them than the ablest investigations upon the political and social history of man. But," added the Comedian, shaking his head mournfully, "the human species is not testaceous; and what the history of man might be to a limpet, the history of limpets is to a man." So saying, Mr. Waife bought a sheet of cardboard and some gilt foil, relifted his hat, and walked out.

The shopman scratched his head thoughtfully; he glanced from his window at the form of the receding stranger, and mechanically resumed the task of cutting those leaves, which, had the volumes reached the shelves of the library uncut, would have so remained to the crack of doom.

Mike Callaghan now came in sight, striding fast; "Mr. Mayor sends his love--bother-o'-me--his respex; and will be happy to see your honour."

In three minutes more the Comedian was seated in a little parlour that adjoined Mr. Hartopp's counting-house,--Mr. Hartopp seated also, vis-a-vis. The Mayor had one of those countenances upon which good-nature throws a sunshine softer than Claude ever shed upon canvas. Josiah Hartopp had risen in life by little other art than that of quiet kindliness. As a boy at school, he had been ever ready to do a good turn to his school-fellows; and his school-fellows at last formed themselves into a kind of police, for the purpose of protecting Jos. Hartopp's pence and person from the fists and fingers of each other. He was evidently so anxious to please his master, not from fear of the rod, but the desire to spare that worthy man the pain of inflicting it, that he had more trouble taken with his education than was bestowed on the brightest intellect that school ever reared; and where other boys were roughly flogged, Jos. Hartopp was soothingly patted on the head, and told not to be cast down, but try again. The same even-handed justice returned the sugared chalice to his lips in his apprenticeship to an austere leather-seller, who, not bearing the thought to lose sight of so mild a face, raised him into partnership, and ultimately made him his son-in-law and residuary legatee. Then Mr. Hartopp yielded to the advice of friends who desired his exaltation, and from a leather-seller became a tanner. Hides themselves softened their asperity to that gentle dealer, and melted into golden fleeces. He became rich enough to hire a farm for health and recreation. He knew little of husbandry, but he won the heart of a bailiff who might have reared a turnip from a deal table. Gradually the farm became his fee-simple, and the farmhouse expanded into a villa. Wealth and honours flowed in from a brimmed horn. The surliest man in the town would have been ashamed of saying a rude thing to Jos. Hartopp. If he spoke in public, though he hummed and hawed lamentably, no one was so respectfully listened to. As for the parliamentary representation of the town, he could have returned himself for one seat and Mike Callaghan for the other, had he been so disposed. But he was too full of the milk of humanity to admit into his veins a drop from the gall of party. He suffered others to legislate for his native land, and (except on one occasion when he had been persuaded to assist in canvassing, not indeed the electors of Gatesboro', but those of a distant town in which he possessed some influence, on behalf of a certain eminent orator) Jos. Hartopp was only visible in politics whenever Parliament was to be petitioned in favour of some humane measure, or against a tax that would have harassed the poor.

If anything went wrong with him in his business, the whole town combined to set it right for him. Was a child born to him, Gatesboro' rejoiced as a mother. Did measles or scarlatina afflict his neighbourhood, the first anxiety of Gatesboro' was for Mr. Hartopp's nursery. No one would have said Mrs. Hartopp's nursery; and when in such a department the man's name supersedes the woman's, can more be said in proof of the tenderness he excites? In short, Jos. Hartopp was a notable instance of a truth not commonly recognized; namely, that affection is power, and that, if you do make it thoroughly and unequivocally clear that you love your neighbours, though it may not be quite so well as you love yourself,--still, cordially and disinterestedly, you will find your neighbours much better fellows than Mrs. Grundy gives them credit for,--but always provided that your talents be not such as to excite their envy, nor your opinions such as to offend their prejudices.

MR. HARTOPP.--"You take an interest, you say, in literary institutes, and have studied the subject?"

THE COMEDIAN.--"Of late, those institutes have occupied my thoughts as representing the readiest means of collecting liberal ideas into a profitable focus."

MR. HARTOPP.--"Certainly it is a great thing to bring classes together in friendly union."

THE COMEDIAN.--"For laudable objects."

MR. HARTOPP.--"To cultivate their understandings."

THE COMEDIAN.--"To warm their hearts."

MR. HARTOPP.--"To give them useful knowledge."

THE COMEDIAN.--"And pleasurable sensations."

MR. HARTOPP.--"In a word, to instruct them."

THE COMEDIAN.--"And to amuse."

"Eh!" said the Mayor,--"amuse!"

Now, every one about the person of this amiable man was on the constant guard to save him from the injurious effects of his own benevolence; and accordingly his foreman, hearing that he was closeted with a stranger, took alarm, and entered on pretence of asking instructions about an order for hides, in reality, to glower upon the intruder, and keep his master's hands out of imprudent pockets.

Mr. Hartopp, who, though not brilliant, did not want for sense, and was a keener observer than was generally supposed, divined the kindly intentions of his assistant. "A gentleman interested in the Gatesboro' Athenaeum. My foreman, sir,--Mr. Williams, the treasurer of our institute. Take a chair, Williams."

"You said to amuse, Mr. Chapman, but--"

"You did not find Professor Long on conchology amusing."

"Why," said the Mayor, smiling blandly, "I myself am not a man of science, and therefore his lecture, though profound, was a little dry to me."

"Must it not have been still more dry to your workmen, Mr. Mayor?"

"They did not attend," said Williams. "Up-hill task we have to secure the Gatesboro' mechanics, when anything really solid is to be addressed to their understandings."

"Poor things, they are so tired at night," said the Mayor, compassionately; "but they wish to improve themselves, and they take books from the library."

"Novels," quoth the stern Williams: "it will be long before they take out that valuable 'History of Limpets."

"If a lecture were as amusing as a novel, would not they attend it?" asked the Comedian.

"I suppose they would," returned Mr. Williams. "But our object is to instruct; and instruction, sir--"

"Could be made amusing. If, for instance, the lecturer could produce a live shell-fish, and, by showing what kindness can do towards developing intellect and affection in beings without soul,--make man himself more kind to his fellow-man?"

Mr. Williams laughed grimly. "Well, sir!"

"This is what I should propose to do."

"With a shell-fish!" cried the Mayor.

"No, sir; with a creature of nobler attributes,--A DOG!"

The listeners stared at each other like dumb animals as Waife continued,--"By winning interest for the individuality of a gifted quadruped, I should gradually create interest in the natural history of its species. I should lead the audience on to listen to comparisons with other members of the great family which once associated with Adam. I should lay the foundation for an instructive course of natural history, and from vertebrated mammifers who knows but we might gradually arrive at the nervous system of the molluscous division, and produce a sensation by the production of a limpet?"

"Theoretical," said Mr. Williams.

"Practical, sir; since I take it for granted that the Athenaeum, at present, is rather a tax upon the richer subscribers, including Mr. Mayor."

"Nothing to speak of," said the mild Hartopp. Williams looked towards his master with unspeakable love, and groaned. "Nothing indeed--oh!"

"These societies should be wholly self-supporting," said the Comedian, "and inflict no pecuniary loss upon Mr. Mayor."

"Certainly," said Williams, "that is the right principle. Mr. Mayor should be protected."

"And if I show you how to make these societies self-supporting--"

"We should be very much obliged to you."

"I propose, then, to give an exhibition at your rooms." Mr. Williams nudged the Mayor, and coughed, the Comedian not appearing to remark cough nor nudge.

"Of course gratuitously. I am not a professional lecturer, gentlemen."

Mr. Williams looked charmed to hear it.

"And when I have made my first effort successful, as I feel sure it will be, I will leave it to you, gentlemen, to continue my undertaking. But I cannot stay long here. If the day after to-morrow--"

"That is our ordinary soiree night," said the Mayor. "But you said a dog, sir,--dogs not admitted,-eh, Williams?"

MR. WILLIAMS.--"A mere by-law, which the subcommittee can suspend if necessary. But would not the introduction of a live animal be less dignified than--"

"A dead failure," put in the Comedian, gravely. The Mayor would have smiled, but he was afraid of doing so lest he might hurt the feelings of Mr. Williams, who did not seem to take the joke.

"We are a purely intellectual body," said the latter gentleman, "and a dog--"

"A learned dog, I presume," observed the Mayor.

MR. WILLIAMS (nodding).--"Might form a dangerous precedent for the introduction of other quadrupeds. We might thus descend even to the level of a learned pig. We are not a menagerie, Mr.--Mr.--"

"Chapman," said the Mayor, urbanely.

"Enough," said the Comedian, rising with his grand air; "if I considered myself at liberty, gentlemen, to say who and what I am, you would be sure that I am not trifling with what I consider a very grave and important subject. As to suggesting anything derogatory to the dignity of science, and the eminent repute of the Gatesboro' Athenaeum, it would be idle to vindicate myself. These gray hairs are--"

He did not conclude that sentence, save by a slight wave of the hand. The two burgesses bowed reverentially, and the Comedian went on,--

"But when you speak of precedent, Mr. Williams, allow me to refer you to precedents in point. Aristotle wrote to Alexander the Great for animals to exhibit to the Literary Institute of Athens. At the colleges in Egypt lectures were delivered on a dog called Anubis, as inferior, I boldly assert, to that dog which I have referred to, as an Egyptian College to a British Institute. The ancient Etrurians, as is shown by the erudite Schweighduser in that passage--you understand Greek, I presume, Mr. Williams?"

Mr. Williams could not say he did.

THE COMEDIAN.--"Then I will not quote that passage in Schweighauser upon the Molossian dogs in general, and the dog of Alcibiades in particular. But it proves beyond a doubt, that, in every ancient literary institute, learned dogs were highly estimated; and there was even a philosophical Academy called the Cynic,--that is, Doggish, or Dog-school, of which Diogenes was the most eminent professor. He, you know, went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, and could not find one! Why? Because the Society of Dogs had raised his standard of human honesty to an impracticable height. But I weary you; otherwise I could lecture on in this way for the hour together, if you think the Gatesboro' operatives prefer erudition to amusement."

"A great scholar," whispered Mr. Williams.--Aloud: "and I've nothing to say against your precedents, sir. I think you have made out that part of the case. But, after all, a learned dog is not so very uncommon as to be in itself the striking attraction which you appear to suppose."

"It is not the mere learning of my dog of which I boast," replied the Comedian. "Dogs may be learned, and men too; but it is the way that learning is imparted, whether by dog or man, for the edification of the masses, in order, as Pope expresses himself, 'to raise the genius and to mend the heart' that alone adorns the possessor, exalts the species, interests the public, and commands the respect of such judges as I see before me." The grand bow.

"Ah!" said Mr. Williams, hesitatingly, "sentiments that do honour to your head and heart; and if we could, in the first instance, just see the dog privately."

"'Nothing easier!" said the Comedian. "Will you do me the honour to meet him at tea this evening?"

"Rather will you not come and take tea at my house?" said the Mayor, with a shy glance towards Mr. Williams.

THE COMEDIAN.--"You are very kind; but my time is so occupied that I have long since made it a rule to decline all private invitations out of my own home. At my years, Mr. Mayor, one may be excused for taking leave of society and its forms; but you are comparatively young men. I presume on the authority of these gray hairs, and I shall expect you this evening,--say at nine o'clock." The Actor waved his hand graciously and withdrew.

"A scholar AND a gentleman," said Williams, emphatically. And the Mayor, thus authorized to allow vent to his kindly heart, added, "A humourist, and a pleasant one. Perhaps he is right, and our poor operatives would thank us more for a little innocent amusement than for those lectures, which they may be excused for thinking rather dull, since even you fell asleep when Professor Long got into the multilocular shell of the very first class of cephalous mollusca; and it is my belief that harmless laughter has a good moral effect upon the working class,--only don't spread it about that I said so, for we know excellent persons of a serious turn of mind whose opinions that sentiment might shock."

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