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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGodolphin - Chapter 20. Fanny Millinger Once More...
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Godolphin - Chapter 20. Fanny Millinger Once More... Post by :affiliates9 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1235

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Godolphin - Chapter 20. Fanny Millinger Once More...


Godolphin went to see and converse with Fanny Millinger.

She was still unmarried, and still the fashion. There was a sort of allegory of real life, in the manner in which, at certain epochs, our Idealist was brought into contact with the fair actress of ideal creations. There was, in short, something of a moral in the way these two streams of existence--the one belonging to the Actual, the other to the Imaginary--flowed on, crossing each other at stated times. Which was the more really imaginative--the life of the stage, or that of the world's stage? The gay Fanny was rejoiced to welcome back again her early lover. She ran on, talking of a thousand topics, without remarking the absent mind and musing eye of Godolphin, till he himself stopped her somewhat abruptly:--

"Well, Fanny, well, and what do you know of Saville? You have grown intimate with him, eh? We shall meet at his house this evening."

"Oh, yes, he is a charming person in his little way; and the only man who allows me to be a friend without dreaming of becoming a lover. Now that's what I like. We poor actresses have so much would-be love in the course of our lives, that a little friendship now and then is a novelty which other and soberer people can never appreciate. On reading Gil Blas the other day--I am no great reader, as you may remember--I was struck by that part in which the dear Santillane assures us that there was never any love between him and Laura the actress. I thought it so true to nature, so probable, that they should have formed so strong an intimacy for each other, lived in the same house, had every opportunity for love, yet never loved. And it was exactly because she was an actress, and a light good-for-nothing creature that it so happened; the very multiplicity of lovers prevented her falling in love; the very carelessness of her life, poor girl, rendered a friend so charming to her. It would have spoiled the friend to have made him an adorer; it would have turned the rarity into the every-day character. Now, so it is with me and Saville; I like his wit, he likes my good temper. We see each other as often as if we were in love; and yet I do not believe it even possible that he should ever kiss my hand. After all," continued Fanny, laughing, "love is not so necessary to us women as people think. Fine writers say, 'Oh, men have a thousand objects, women but one!' That's nonsense, dear Percy; women have their thousand objects too. They have not the bar, but they have the milliner's shop; they can't fight, but they can sit by the window and embroider a work-bag; they don't rush into politics, but they plunge their souls into love for a parrot or a lap-dog. Don't let men flatter themselves; Providence has been just as kind in that respect to one sex as to the other; our objects are small, yours great; but a small object may occupy the mind just as much as the loftiest."

"Ours great! pshaw!" said Godolphin, who was rather struck with Fanny's remarks; "there is nothing great in those professions which man is pleased to extol. Is selfishness great? Are the low trickery, the organised lies of the bar, a great calling? Is the mechanical slavery of the soldier--fighting because he is in the way of fighting, without knowing the cause, without an object, save a dim, foolish vanity which he calls glory, and cannot analyse--is that a great aim and vocation? Well: the senate! look at the outcry which wise men make against the loathsome corruption of that arena; then look at the dull hours,--the tedious talk, the empty boasts, the poor and flat rewards, and tell me where is the greatness? No, Fanny! the embroidered work-bag, and the petted parrot, afford just as great--morally great--occupations as those of the bar, the army, the senate. It is only the frivolous who talk of frivolities; there is nothing frivolous; all earthly occupations are on a par--alike important if they alike occupy; for to the wise all are poor and valueless."

"I fancy you are very wrong," said the actress, pressing her pretty fingers to her forehead, as if to understand him; "but I cannot tell you why, and I never argue. I ramble on in my odd way, casting out my shrewd things without defending them if any one chooses to quarrel with them. What I do I let others do. My maxim in talk is my maxim in life. I claim liberty for myself, and give indulgence to others."

"I see," said Godolphin, "that you have plenty of books about you, though you plead not guilty to reading. Do you learn your philosophy from them? for I think you have contracted a vein of reflection since we parted which I scarcely recognise as an old characteristic."

"Why," answered Fanny, "though I don't read, I skim. Sometimes I canter through a dozen novels in a morning. I am disappointed, I confess, in all these works; I want to see more real knowledge of the world than they ever display. They tell us how Lord Arthur looked, and Lady Lucy dressed, and what was the colour of those curtains, and these eyes, and so forth; and then the better sort, perhaps, do also tell us what the heroine felt as well as wore, and try with might and main to pull some string of the internal machine; but still I am not enlightened, not touched. I don't recognise men and women; they are puppets with holiday phrases: and I tell you what, Percy, these novelists make the last mistake you would suppose them guilty of; they have not romance enough in them to paint the truths of society. Old gentlemen say novels are bad teachers of life, because they make it too ideal; quite the reverse: novels are too trite! too superficial! Their very talk about love, and the fuss they make about it, show how shallow real romance is with them; for they say nothing new on it, and real romance is for ever striking out new thoughts. Am I not right, Percy?--No! life, be it worldly as it may, has a vast deal of romance in it. Every one of us (even poor I) have a mine of thoughts, and fancies, and wishes, that books are too dull and commonplace to reach the heart is a romance in itself."

"A philosophical romance, my Fanny; full of mysteries and conceits, and refinements, mixed up with its deeper passages. But how came you so wise?"

"Thank you!" answered Fanny, with a profound curtsey. "The fact is--though you, as in duty bound, don't perceive it--that I am older than I was when we last met. I reflect where I then felt. Besides, the stage fills our heads with a half sort of wisdom, and gives us that strange melange of shrewd experience and romantic notions which is, in fact, the real representation of nine human hearts out of ten. Talking of books, I want some one to write a novel, which shall be a metaphysical Gil Blas; which shall deal more with the mind than Le Sage's book, and less with the actions; which shall make its hero the creature of the world, but a different creation, though equally true; which shall give a faithful picture in the character of one man of the aspect and the effects of our social system; making that man of a better sort of clay than the amusing lacquey was, and the produce of a more artificial grade of society. The book I mean would be a sadder one than Le Sage's but equally faithful to life."

"And it would have more of romance, if I rightly understand what you mean?"

"Precisely: romance of idea as well as incident--natural romance. By the way, how few know what natural romance is: so that you feel the ideas in a book or play are true and faithful to the characters they are ascribed to, why mind whether the incidents are probable? Yet common readers only go by the incidents; as if the incidents in three-fourths of Shakspeare's plays were even ordinarily possible! But people have so little nature in them, that they don't know what is natural!"

Thus Fanny ran on, in no very connected manner; stringing together those remarks which, unless I am mistaken, show how much better an uneducated, clever girl, whose very nature is a quick perception of art, can play the critic, then the pedants who assume the office.

But it was only for the moment that the heavy heart of Godolphin could forget its load. It was in vain that he sought to be amused while yet smarting under the freshness of regret. A great shock had been given to his nature; he had loved against his will; and as we have seen, on his return to the Priory, he had even resolved on curing himself of a passion so unprofitable and unwise. But the jealousy of a night had shivered into dust a prudence which never of right belonged to a very ardent and generous nature: that jealousy was soothed, allayed; but how fierce, how stunning was the blow that succeeded it! Constance had confessed love, and yet had refused him--for ever! Clear and noble as to herself her motives might seem in that refusal, it was impossible that they should appear in the same light to Godolphin. Unable to penetrate into the effect which her father's death-bed and her own oath had produced on the mind of Constance; how indissolubly that remembrance had united itself with all her schemes and prospects for the future; how marvellously, yet how naturally, it had converted worldly ambition into a sacred duty;--unable, I say, to comprehend all these various, and powerful, and governing motives, Godolphin beheld in her refusal only the aversion to share his slender income, and the desire for loftier station. He considered, therefore, that sorrow was a tribute to her unworthy of himself; he deemed it a part of his dignity to strive to forget. That hallowed sentiment which, in some losses of the heart, makes it a duty to remember, and preaches a soothing and soft lesson from the very text of regret, was not for the wrung and stricken soul of Godolphin. He only strove to dissipate his grief, and shut out from his mental sight the charmed vision of the first, the only woman he had deeply loved.

Godolphin felt, too, that the sole impulse which could have united the fast-expiring energy and enterprise of his youth to the ambition of life was for ever gone. With Constance--with the proud thoughts that belonged to her--the aspirings after earthly honours were linked, and with her were broken. He felt his old philosophy--the love of ease, the profound contempt for fame,--close, like the deep waters over those glittering hosts for whose passage they had been severed for a moment--whelming the crested and gorgeous visions for ever beneath the wave! Conscious of his talents--nay, swayed to and fro by the unquiet stirrings of no common genius--Godolphin yet foresaw that he was not henceforth destined to play a shining part in the crowded drama of life. His career was already closed; he might be contented, prosperous, happy, but never great. He had seen enough of authors, and of the thorns that beset the paths of literature, to experience none of those delusions which cheat the blinded aspirer into the wilderness of publication--that mode of obtaining fame and hatred to which those who feel unfitted for more bustling concerns are impelled. Write he might: and he was fond (as disappointment increased his propensities to dreaming) of brightening his solitude with the golden palaces and winged shapes that lie glassed within the fancy--the soul's fairy-land. But the vision with him was only evoked one hour to be destroyed the next. Happy had it been for Godolphin, and not unfortunate perhaps for the world, had he learned at that exact moment the true motive for human action which he afterwards, and too late, discovered. Happy had it been for him to have learned that there is an ambition to do good--an ambition to raise the wretched as well as to rise.

Alas!--either in letters or in politics, how utterly poor, barren, and untempting, is every path that points upward to the mockery of public eminence, when looked upon by a soul that has any real elements of wise or noble; unless we have an impulse within, which mortification chills not--a reward without, which selfish defeat does not destroy.

But, unblest by one friend really wise or good, spoilt by the world, soured by disappointment, Godolphin's very faculties made him inert, and his very wisdom taught him to be useless. Again and again--as the spider in some cell where no winged insect ever wanders, builds and rebuilds his mesh,--the scheming heart of the Idealist was doomed to weave net after net for those visions of the Lovely and the Perfect which can never descend to the gloomy regions wherein mortality is cast. The most common disease to genius is nympholepsy--the saddening for a spirit that the world knows not. Ah! how those outward disappointments which should cure, only feed the disease!

The dinner at Saville's was gay and lively, as such entertainments with such participators usually are. If nothing in the world is more heavy than your formal banquet,--nothing, on the other hand, is more agreeable than those well-chosen laissez aller feasts at which the guests are as happily selected as the wines; where there is no form, no reserve, no effort; and people having met to sit still for a few hours are willing to be as pleasant to each other as if they were never to meet again. Yet the conversation in all companies not literary turns upon persons rather than things; and your wits learn their art only in the School for Scandal.

"Only think, Fanny," said Saville, "of Clavers turning beau in his old age! He commenced with being a jockey; then he became an electioneerer; then a Methodist parson; then a builder of houses; and now he has dashed suddenly up to London, rushed into the clubs, mounted a wig, studied an ogle, and walks about the Opera House swinging a cane, and, at the age of fifty-six, punching young minors in the side, and saying tremulously, '_We young fellows!'"

"He hires pages to come to him in the Park with three-cornered notes," said Fanny, "he opens each with affected nonchalance; looks full at the bearer; and cries aloud-'Tell your mistress I cannot refuse her:'--then canters off, with the air of a man persecuted to death!"

"But did you see what an immense pair of whiskers Chester has mounted?"

"Yes," answered a Mr. De Lacy; "A---- says he has cultivated them in order to 'plant out' his ugliness."

"But vy _you no talk, Monsieur de Dauphin?" said the Linettini gently, turning to Percy; "you ver silent."

"Unhappily, I have been so long out of town that these anecdotes of the day are caviare to me."

"But so," cried Saville, "would a volume of French Memoirs be to any one that took it up for the first time; yet the French Memoirs amuse one exactly as much as if one had lived with the persons written of. Now that ought to be the case with conversations upon persons. I flatter myself, Fanny, that you and I hit off characters so well by a word or two, that no one who hears us wants to know anything more about them."

"I believe you," said Godolphin; "and that is the reason you never talk of yourselves."

"Bah! Apropos of egoism, did you meet Jack Barabel in Rome?"

"Yes, writing his travels. 'Pray,' said he to me (seizing me by the button) in the Coliseum, 'What do you think is the highest order of literary composition?' 'Why, an epic, I fancy,' said I; 'or perhaps a tragedy, or a great history, or a novel like Don Quixote.' 'Pooh!' quoth Barabel, looking important, 'there's nothing so high in literature as a good book of travels;' then sinking his voice into a whisper and laying his finger wisely on his nose, he hissed out, 'I have a quarto, sir, in the press!'"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Stracey, the old wit, picking his teeth, and speaking for the first time; "if you tell Barabel you have seen a handsome woman, he says, mysteriously frowning, 'Handsome, sir! has she travelled?--answer me that!'"

"But have you seen Paulton's new equipage? Brown carriage, brown liveries, brown harness, brown horses, while Paulton and his wife sit within dressed in brown cap-a-pie. The best of it is that Paulton went to his coachmaker, to order his carriage, saying, 'Mr. Houlditch, I am growing old--too old to be eccentric any longer; I must have something remarkably plain;' and to this hour Paulton goes _brown_-ing about the town, crying out to every one, 'Nothing like simplicity, believe me.'"

"He discharged his coachman for wearing white gloves instead of brown," said Stracey. "'What do you mean, sir,' cried he, 'with your d--d showy vulgarities?--don't you see me toiling my soul out to be plain and quiet, and you must spoil all, by not being _brown enough!'"

"Ah, Godolphin, you seem pensive," whispered Fanny; "yet we are tolerably amusing, too."

"My dear Fanny," answered Godolphin, rousing himself, "the dialogue is gay, the actors know their parts, the lights are brilliant; but--the scene--the scene cannot shift for me! Call it what you will, I am not deceived. I see the paint and the canvas, but--and yet, away these thoughts! Shall I fill your glass, Fanny?"

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