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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 1
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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 1 Post by :dant245 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2025

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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 1

BOOK VIII CHAPTER I

"A LITTLE FIRE BURNS UP A GREAT DEAL OF CORN."--OLD PROVERB.

Guy Darrell resumed the thread of solitary life at Fawley with a calm which was deeper in its gloom than it had been before. The experiment of return to the social world had failed. The resolutions which had induced the experiment were finally renounced. Five years nearer to death, and the last hope that had flitted across the narrowing passage to the grave, fallen like a faithless torch from his own hand, and trodden out by his own foot.

It was peculiarly in the nature of Darrell to connect his objects with posterity--to regard eminence in the Present but as a beacon-height from which to pass on to the Future the name he had taken from the Past. All his early ambition, sacrificing pleasure to toil, had placed its goal at a distance, remote from the huzzas of bystanders; and Ambition halted now, baffled and despairing. Childless, his line would perish with himself--himself, who had so vaunted its restoration in the land! His genius was childless also--it would leave behind it no offspring of the brain. By toil he had amassed ample wealth; by talent he had achieved a splendid reputation. But the reputation was as perishable as the wealth. Let a half-century pass over his tomb, and nothing would be left to speak of the successful lawyer the applauded orator, save traditional anecdotes, a laudatory notice in contemporaneous memoirs--perhaps, at most, quotations of eloquent sentences lavished on forgotten cases and obsolete debates--shreds and fragments of a great intellect, which another half-century would sink without a bubble into the depths of Time. He had enacted no laws--he had administered no state--he had composed no books. Like the figure on a clock, which adorns the case and has no connection with the movement, he, so prominent an ornament to time, had no part in its works. Removed, the eye would miss him for a while; but a nation's literature or history was the same, whether with him or without. Some with a tithe of his abilities have the luck to fasten their names to things that endure; they have been responsible for measures they did not not invent, and which, for good or evil, influence long generations. They have written volumes out of which a couplet of verse, a period in prose, may cling to the rock of ages, as a shell that survives a deluge. But the orator, whose effects are immediate--who enthralls his audience in proportion as he nicks the hour--who, were he speaking like Burke what, apart from the subject-matter, closet students would praise, must, like Burke, thin his audience, and exchange present oratorical success for ultimate intellectual renown--a man, in short, whose oratory is emphatically that of the DEBATER is, like an actor, rewarded with a loud applause and a complete oblivion. Waife on the village stage might win applause no less loud, followed by oblivion not more complete.

Darrell was not blind to the brevity of his fame. In his previous seclusion he had been resigned to that conviction--now it saddened him. Then, unconfessed by himself, the idea that he might yet reappear in active life, and do something which the world would not willingly let die, had softened the face of that tranquil Nature from which he must soon now pass out of reach and sight. On the tree of Time he was a leaf already sear upon the bough--not an inscription graven into the rind.

Ever slow to yield to weak regrets--ever seeking to combat his own enemies within--Darrell said to himself one night, while Fairthorn's flute was breathing an air of romance through the melancholy walls: "Is it too late yet to employ this still busy brain upon works that will live when I am dust, and make Posterity supply the heir that fails to my house?"

He shut himself up with immortal authors--he meditated on the choice of a theme; his knowledge was wide, his taste refined;--words!--he could not want words! Why should he not write? Alas; why indeed?--He who has never been a writer in his youth, can no more be a writer in his age than he can be a painter--a musician. What! not write a book! Oh, yes--as he may paint a picture or set a song. But a writer, in the emphatic sense of the word--a writer as Darrell was an orator--oh, no! And, least of all, will he be a writer if he has been an orator by impulse and habit--an orator too happily gifted to require, and too laboriously occupied to resort to, the tedious aids of written preparation--an orator as modern life forms orators--not, of course, an orator like those of the classic world, who elaborated sentences before delivery, and who, after delivery, polished each extemporaneous interlude into rhetorical exactitude and musical perfection. And how narrow the range of compositions to a man burdened already by a grave reputation! He cannot have the self-abandonment--he cannot venture the headlong charge--with which Youth flings the reins to genius, and dashes into the ranks of Fame. Few and austere his themes--fastidious and hesitating his taste. Restricted are the movements of him who walks for the first time into the Forum of Letters with the purple hem on his senatorial toga. Guy Darrell, at his age, entering among authors as a novice!--he, the great lawyer, to whom attorneys would have sent no briefs had he been suspected of coquetting with a muse,--he, the great orator who had electrified audiences in proportion to the sudden effects which distinguish oral inspiration from written eloquence--he achieve now, in an art which his whole life had neglected, any success commensurate to his contemporaneous repute;--how unlikely! But a success which should outlive that repute, win the "everlasting inheritance" which could alone have nerved him to adequate effort--how impossible! He could not himself comprehend why, never at a loss for language felicitously opposite or richly ornate when it had but to flow from his thought to his tongue, nor wanting ease, even eloquence, in epistolary correspondence confidentially familiar--he should find words fail ideas, and ideas fail words, the moment his pen became a wand that conjured up the Ghost of the dread Public! The more copious his thoughts, the more embarrassing their selection; the more exquisite his perception of excellence in others, the more timidly frigid his efforts at faultless style. It would be the same with the most skilful author, if the Ghost of the Public had not long since ceased to haunt him. While he writes, the true author's solitude is absolute or peopled at his will. But take an audience from an orator, what is he? He commands the living public--the Ghost of the Public awes himself.

"Surely once," sighed Darrell, as he gave his blurred pages to the flames--"surely once I had some pittance of the author's talent, and have spent it upon lawsuits!"

The author's talent, no doubt, Guy Darrell once had--the author's temperament never. What is the author's temperament? Too long a task to define. But without it a man may write a clever book, a useful book, a book that may live a year, ten years, fifty years. He will not stand out to distant ages a representative of the age that rather lived in him than he in it. The author's temperament is that which makes him an integral, earnest, original unity, distinct from all before and all that may succeed him. And as a Father of the Church has said that the consciousness of individual being is the sign of immortality, not granted to the inferior creatures--so it is in this individual temperament one and indivisible, and in the intense conviction of it, more than in all the works it may throw off, that the author becomes immortal. Nay, his works may perish like those of Orpheus or Pythagoras; but he himself, in his name, in the footprint of his being, remains, like Orpheus or Pythagoras, undestroyed, indestructible.

Resigning literature, the Solitary returned to Science. There he was more at home. He had cultivated science, in his dazzling academical career, with ardour and success; he had renewed the study, on his first retirement to Fawley, as a distraction from tormenting memories or unextin guished passions. He now for the first time regarded the absorbing abstruse occupation as a possible source of fame. To be one in the starry procession of those sons of light who have solved a new law in the statute-book of heaven! Surely a grand ambition, not unbecoming to his years and station, and pleasant in its labours to a man who loved Nature's outward scenery with poetic passion, and had studied her inward mysteries with a sage's minute research. Science needs not the author's art--she rejects its gracess--he recoils with a shudder from its fancies. But Science requires in the mind of the discoverer a limpid calm. The lightnings that reveal Diespiter must flash in serene skies. No clouds store that thunder


"Quo bruta tellus, et vaga flumina,
Quo Styx, et invisi horrida Taenari
Sedes, Atlanteusque finis
Concutitur!"


So long as you take science only as a distraction, science will not lead you to discovery. And from some cause or other, Guy Darrell was more unquiet and perturbed in his present than in his past seclusion. Science this time failed even to distract. In the midst of august meditations--of close experiment--some haunting angry thought from the far world passed with rude shadow between Intellect and Truth--the heart eclipsed the mind. The fact is, that Darrell's genius was essentially formed for Action. His was the true orator's temperament, with the qualities that belong to it--the grasp of affairs--the comprehension of men and states--the constructive, administrative faculties. In such career, and in such career alone, could he have developed all his powers, and achieved an imperishable name. Gradually as science lost its interest, he retreated from all his former occupations, and would wander for long hours over the wild unpopulated landscapes round him. As if it were his object to fatigue the body, and in that fatigue tire out the restless brain, he would make his gun the excuse for rambles from sunrise to twilight over the manors he had purchased years ago, lying many miles off from Fawley. There are times when a man who has passed his life in cultivating his mind finds that the more he can make the physical existence predominate, the more he can lower himself to the rude vigour of the gamekeeper, or his day-labourer--why, the more he can harden his nerves to support the weight of his reflections.

In these rambles he was not always alone. Fairthorn contrived to insinuate himself much more than formerly into his master's habitual companionship. The faithful fellow had missed Darrell so sorely in that long unbroken absence of five years, that on recovering him, Fairthorn seemed resolved to make up for lost time. Departing from his own habits, he would, therefore, lie in wait for Guy Darrell--creeping out of a bramble or bush, like a familiar sprite; and was no longer to be awed away by a curt syllable or a contracted brow. And Darrell, at first submitting reluctantly, and out of compassionate kindness to the flute-player's obtrusive society, became by degrees to welcome and relax in it. Fairthorn knew the great secrets of his life. To Fairthorn alone on all earth could he speak with out reserve of one name and of one sorrow. Speaking to Fairthorn was like talking to himself, or to his pointers, or to his favourite doe, upon which last he bestowed a new collar, with an inscription that implied more of the true cause that had driven him a second time to the shades of Fawley than he would have let out to Alban Morley or even to Lionel Haughton. Alban was too old for that confidence--Lionel much too young. But the Musician, like Art itself, was of no age; and if ever the gloomy master unbent his outward moodiness and secret spleen in any approach to gaiety, it was in a sort of saturnine playfulness to this grotesque, grown-up infant. They cheered each other, and they teased each other. Stalking side by side over the ridged fallows, Darrell would sometimes pour forth his whole soul, as a poet does to his muse; and at Fairthorn's abrupt interruption or rejoinder, turn round on him with fierce objurgation or withering sarcasm, or what the flute-player abhorred more than all else, a truculent quotation from Horace, which drove Fairthorn away into some vanishing covert or hollow, out of which Darrell had to entice him, sure that, in return, Fairthorn would take a sly occasion to send into his side a vindictive prickle. But as the two came home in the starlight, the dogs dead beat and poor Fairthorn too,--ten to one but what the musician was leaning all his weight on his master's nervous arm, and Darrell was looking with tender kindness in the face of the SOMEONE left to lean upon him still.

One evening, as they were sitting together in the library, the two hermits, each in his corner, and after a long silence, the flute-player said abruptly

"I have been thinking--"

"Thinking!" quoth Darrell, with his mechanical irony; "I am sorry for you. Try not to do so again."

FAIRTHORN.--"Your poor dear father--"

DARRELL (wincing, startled, and expectant of a prickle).--"Eh? my father--"

FAIRTHORN.--"Was a great antiquary. How it would have pleased him could he have left a fine collection of antiquities as an heirloom to the nation!--his name thus preserved for ages, and connected with the studies of his life. There are the Elgin Marbles. The parson was talking to me yesterday of a new Vernon Gallery; why not in the British Museum an everlasting Darrell room? Plenty to stock it mouldering yonder in the chambers which you will never finish."

"My dear Dick," Said Darrell, starting up, "give me your hand. What a brilliant thought! I could do nothing else to preserve my dear father's name. Eureka! You are right. Set the carpenters at work to-morrow. Remove the boards; open the chambers; we will inspect their stores, and select what would worthily furnish 'A Darrell Room.' Perish Guy Darrell the lawyer! Philip Darrell the antiquary at least shall live!"

It is marvellous with what charm Fairthorn's lucky idea seized upon Darrell's mind. The whole of the next day he spent in the forlorn skeleton of the unfinished mansion slowly decaying beside his small and homely dwelling. The pictures, many of which were the rarest originals in early Flemish and Italian art, were dusted with tender care, and hung from hasty nails upon the bare ghastly walls. Delicate ivory carvings, wrought by the matchless hand of Cellini-early Florentine bronzes, priceless specimens of Raffaele ware and Venetian glass--the precious trifles, in short, which the collector of mediaeval curiosities amasses for his heirs to disperse amongst the palaces of kings and the cabinets of nations--were dragged again to unfamiliar light. The invaded sepulchral building seemed a very Pompeii of the _Cinque Cento_. To examine, arrange, methodise, select for national purposes, such miscellaneous treasures would be the work of weeks. For easier access, Darrell caused a slight hasty passage to be thrown over the gap between the two edifices. It ran from the room nicked into the gables of the old house, which, originally fitted up for scientific studies, now became his habitual apartment, into the largest of the uncompleted chambers which had been designed for the grand reception-gallery of the new building. Into the pompous gallery thus made contiguous to his monk-like cell, he gradually gathered the choicest specimens of his collection. The damps were expelled by fires on grateless hearthstones; sunshine admitted from windows now for the first time exchanging boards for glass; rough iron sconces, made at the nearest forge, were thrust into the walls, and sometimes lighted at night-Darrell and Fairthorn walking arm-in-arm along the unpolished floors, in company with Holbein's Nobles, Perugino's Virgins. Some of that highbred company displaced and banished the next day, as repeated inspection made the taste more rigidly exclusive. Darrell had found object, amusement, occupation--frivolous if Compared with those lenses, and glasses, and algebraical scrawls which had once whiled lonely hours in the attic-room hard by; but not frivolous even to the judgment of the austerest sage, if that sage had not reasoned away his heart. For here it was not Darrell's taste that was delighted; it was Darrell's heart that, ever hungry, had found food. His heart was connecting those long-neglected memorials of an ambition baffled and relinquished--here with a nation, there with his father's grave! How his eyes sparkled! how his lip smiled! Nobody would have guessed it--none of us know each other; least of all do we know the interior being of those whom we estimate by public repute;--but what a world of simple, fond affection lay coiled and wasted in that proud man's solitary breast!

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