The Fortunes of NigelТекст

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INTRODUCTION

 
  But why should lordlings all our praise engross?
  Rise, honest man, and sing the Man of Ross.
 
Pope

Having, in the tale of the Heart of Mid-Lothian, succeeded in some degree in awakening an interest in behalf of one devoid of those accomplishments which belong to a heroine almost by right, I was next tempted to choose a hero upon the same unpromising plan; and as worth of character, goodness of heart, and rectitude of principle, were necessary to one who laid no claim to high birth, romantic sensibility, or any of the usual accomplishments of those who strut through the pages of this sort of composition, I made free with the name of a person who has left the most magnificent proofs of his benevolence and charity that the capital of Scotland has to display.

To the Scottish reader little more need be said than that the man alluded to is George Heriot. But for those south of the Tweed, it may be necessary to add, that the person so named was a wealthy citizen of Edinburgh, and the King’s goldsmith, who followed James to the English capital, and was so successful in his profession, as to die, in 1624, extremely wealthy for that period. He had no children; and after making a full provision for such relations as might have claims upon him, he left the residue of his fortune to establish an hospital, in which the sons of Edinburgh freemen are gratuitously brought up and educated for the station to which their talents may recommend them, and are finally enabled to enter life under respectable auspices. The hospital in which this charity is maintained is a noble quadrangle of the Gothic order, and as ornamental to the city as a building, as the manner in which the youths are provided for and educated, renders it useful to the community as an institution. To the honour of those who have the management, (the Magistrates and Clergy of Edinburgh), the funds of the Hospital have increased so much under their care, that it now supports and educates one hundred and thirty youths annually, many of whom have done honour to their country in different situations.

The founder of such a charity as this may be reasonably supposed to have walked through life with a steady pace, and an observant eye, neglecting no opportunity of assisting those who were not possessed of the experience necessary for their own guidance. In supposing his efforts directed to the benefit of a young nobleman, misguided by the aristocratic haughtiness of his own time, and the prevailing tone of selfish luxury which seems more peculiar to ours, as well as the seductions of pleasure which are predominant in all, some amusement, or even some advantage, might, I thought, be derived from the manner in which I might bring the exertions of this civic Mentor to bear in his pupil’s behalf. I am, I own, no great believer in the moral utility to be derived from fictitious compositions; yet, if in any case a word spoken in season may be of advantage to a young person, it must surely be when it calls upon him to attend to the voice of principle and self-denial, instead of that of precipitate passion. I could not, indeed, hope or expect to represent my prudent and benevolent citizen in a point of view so interesting as that of the peasant girl, who nobly sacrificed her family affections to the integrity of her moral character. Still however, something I hoped might be done not altogether unworthy the fame which George Heriot has secured by the lasting benefits he has bestowed on his country.

It appeared likely, that out of this simple plot I might weave something attractive; because the reign of James I., in which George Heriot flourished, gave unbounded scope to invention in the fable, while at the same time it afforded greater variety and discrimination of character than could, with historical consistency, have been introduced, if the scene had been laid a century earlier. Lady Mary Wortley Montague has said, with equal truth and taste, that the most romantic region of every country is that where the mountains unite themselves with the plains or lowlands. For similiar reasons, it may be in like manner said, that the most picturesque period of history is that when the ancient rough and wild manners of a barbarous age are just becoming innovated upon, and contrasted, by the illumination of increased or revived learning, and the instructions of renewed or reformed religion. The strong contrast produced by the opposition of ancient manners to those which are gradually subduing them, affords the lights and shadows necessary to give effect to a fictitious narrative; and while such a period entitles the author to introduce incidents of a marvellous and improbable character, as arising out of the turbulent independence and ferocity, belonging to old habits of violence, still influencing the manners of a people who had been so lately in a barbarous state; yet, on the other hand, the characters and sentiments of many of the actors may, with the utmost probability, be described with great variety of shading and delineation, which belongs to the newer and more improved period, of which the world has but lately received the light.

The reign of James I. of England possessed this advantage in a peculiar degree. Some beams of chivalry, although its planet had been for some time set, continued to animate and gild the horizon, and although probably no one acted precisely on its Quixotic dictates, men and women still talked the chivalrous language of Sir Philip Sydney’s Arcadia; and the ceremonial of the tilt-yard was yet exhibited, though it now only flourished as a Place de Carrousel. Here and there a high-spirited Knight of the Bath, witness the too scrupulous Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was found devoted enough to the vows he had taken, to imagine himself obliged to compel, by the sword’s-point, a fellow-knight or squire to restore the top-knot of ribbon which he had stolen from a fair damsel;[Footnote: See Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Memoirs.] but yet, while men were taking each other’s lives on such punctilios of honour, the hour was already arrived when Bacon was about to teach the world that they were no longer to reason from authority to fact, but to establish truth by advancing from fact to fact, till they fixed an indisputable authority, not from hypothesis, but from experiment.

The state of society in the reign of James I. was also strangely disturbed, and the license of a part of the community was perpetually giving rise to acts of blood and violence. The bravo of the Queen’s day, of whom Shakspeare has given us so many varieties, as Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Peto, and the other companions of Falstaff, men who had their humours, or their particular turn of extravaganza, had, since the commencement of the Low Country wars, given way to a race of sworders, who used the rapier and dagger, instead of the far less dangerous sword and buckler; so that a historian says on this subject, “that private quarrels were nourished, but especially between the Scots and English; and duels in every street maintained; divers sects and peculiar titles passed unpunished and unregarded, as the sect of the Roaring Boys, Bonaventors, Bravadors, Quarterors, and such like, being persons prodigal, and of great expense, who, having run themselves into debt, were constrained to run next into factions, to defend themselves from danger of the law. These received countenance from divers of the nobility; and the citizens, through lasciviousness consuming their estates, it was like that the number [of these desperadoes] would rather increase than diminish; and under these pretences they entered into many desperate enterprizes, and scarce any durst walk in the street after nine at night."[Footnote: history of the First Fourteen Years of King James’s Reign. See Somers’s Tracts, edited by Scott, vol. ii. p.266.]

The same authority assures us farther, that “ancient gentlemen, who had left their inheritance whole and well furnished with goods and chattels (having thereupon kept good houses) unto their sons, lived to see part consumed in riot and excess, and the rest in possibility to be utterly lost; the holy state of matrimony made but a May-game, by which divers families had been subverted; brothel houses much frequented, and even great persons, prostituting their bodies to the intent to satisfy their lusts, consumed their substance in lascivious appetites. And of all sorts, such knights and gentlemen, as either through pride or prodigality – had consumed their substance, repairing to the city, and to the intent to consume their virtue also, lived dissolute lives; many of their ladies and daughters, to the intent to maintain themselves according to their dignity, prostituting their bodies in shameful manner. Ale-houses, dicing-houses, taverns, and places of iniquity, beyond manner abounding in most places.”

Nor is it only in the pages of a puritanical, perhaps a satirical writer, that we find so shocking and disgusting a picture of the coarseness of the beginning of the seventeenth century. On the contrary, in all the comedies of the age, the principal character for gaiety and wit is a young heir, who has totally altered the establishment of the father to whom he has succeeded, and, to use the old simile, who resembles a fountain, which plays off in idleness and extravagance the wealth which its careful parents painfully had assembled in hidden reservoirs.

And yet, while that spirit of general extravagance seemed at work over a whole kingdom, another and very different sort of men were gradually forming the staid and resolved characters, which afterwards displayed themselves during the civil wars, and powerfully regulated and affected the character of the whole English nation, until, rushing from one extreme to another, they sunk in a gloomy fanaticism the splendid traces of the reviving fine arts.

 

From the quotations which I have produced, the selfish and disgusting conduct of Lord Dalgarno will not perhaps appear overstrained; nor will the scenes in Whitefriars and places of similar resort seem too highly coloured. This indeed is far from being the case. It was in James I.‘s reign that vice first appeared affecting the better classes in its gross and undisguised depravity. The entertainments and amusements of Elizabeth’s time had an air of that decent restraint which became the court of a maiden sovereign; and, in that earlier period, to use the words of Burke, vice lost half its evil by being deprived of all its grossness. In James’s reign, on the contrary, the coarsest pleasures were publicly and unlimitedly indulged, since, according to Sir John Harrington, the men wallowed in beastly delights; and even ladies abandoned their delicacy and rolled about in intoxication. After a ludicrous account of a mask, in which the actors had got drunk, and behaved themselves accordingly, he adds, “I have much marvelled at these strange pageantries, and they do bring to my recollection what passed of this sort in our Queen’s days, in which I was sometimes an assistant and partaker: but never did I see such lack of good order and sobriety as I have now done. The gunpowder fright is got out of all our heads, and we are going on hereabout as if the devil was contriving every man should blow up himself by wild riot, excess, and devastation of time and temperance. The great ladies do go well masqued; and indeed, it be the only show of their modesty to conceal their countenance, but alack, they meet with such countenance to uphold their strange doings, that I marvel not at aught that happens."[Footnote: Harrington’s Nugae Antique, vol. ii. p. 352. For the gross debauchery of the period, too much encouraged by the example of the monarch, who was, in other respects, neither without talent nor a good-natured disposition, see Winwood’s Memorials, Howell’s Letters, and other Memorials of the time; but particularly, consult the Private Letters and Correspondence of Steenie, alias Buckingham, with his reverend Dad and Gossip, King James, which abound with the grossest as well as the most childish language. The learned Mr. D’Israeli, in an attempt to vindicate the character of James, has only succeeded in obtaining for himself the character of a skilful and ingenious advocate, without much advantage to his royal client]

Such being the state of the court, coarse sensuality brought along with it its ordinary companion, a brutal degree of undisguised selfishness, destructive alike of philanthropy and good breeding; both of which, in their several spheres, depend upon the regard paid by each individual to the interest as well as the feelings of others. It is in such a time that the heartless and shameless man of wealth and power may, like the supposed Lord Dalgarno, brazen out the shame of his villainies, and affect to triumph in their consequences, so long as they were personally advantageous to his own pleasures or profit.

Alsatia is elsewhere explained as a cant name for Whitefriars, which, possessing certain privileges of sanctuary, became for that reason a nest of those mischievous characters who were generally obnoxious to the law. These privileges were derived from its having been an establishment of the Carmelites, or White Friars, founded says Stow, in his Survey of London, by Sir Patrick Grey, in 1241. Edward I. gave them a plot of ground in Fleet Street, to build their church upon. The edifice then erected was rebuilt by Courtney, Earl of Devonshire, in the reign of Edward. In the time of the Reformation the place retained its immunities as a sanctuary, and James I. confirmed and added to them by a charter in 1608. Shadwell was the first author who made some literary use of Whitefriars, in his play of the Squire of Alsatia, which turns upon the plot of the Adelphi of Terence.

In this old play, two men of fortune, brothers, educate two young men, (sons to the one and nephews to the other,) each under his own separate system of rigour and indulgence. The elder of the subjects of this experiment, who has been very rigidly brought up, falls at once into all the vices of the town, is debauched by the cheats and bullies of Whitefriars, and, in a word, becomes the Squire of Alsatia. The poet gives, as the natural and congenial inhabitants of the place, such characters as the reader will find in the note. [Footnote: “Cheatly, a rascal, who by reason of debts dares not stir out of Whitefriars, but there inveigles young heirs of entail, and helps them to goods and money upon great disadvantages, is bound for them, and shares with them till he undoes them. A lewd, impudent, debauched fellow, very expert in the cant about town.

“Shamwell, cousin to the Belfords, who, being ruined by Cheatly, is made a decoy-duck for others, not daring to stir out of Alsatia, where he lives. Is bound with Cheatly for heirs, and lives upon them a dissolute debauched life.

“Captain Hackum, a blockheaded bully of Alsatia, a cowardly, impudent, blustering fellow, formerly a sergeant in Flanders, who has run from his colours, and retreated into Whitefriars for a very small debt, where by the Alsatians he is dubb’d a captain, marries one that lets lodgings, sells cherry-brandy, and is a bawd.

“Scrapeall a hypocritical, repeating, praying, psalm-singing, precise fellow, pretending to great piety; a godly knave, who joins with Cheatly, and supplies young heirs with goods, and money.” – Dramatis Personae to the Squire of Alsatia, SHADWELL’S Works, vol. iv.] The play, as we learn from the dedication to the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, was successful above the author’s expectations, “no comedy these many years having filled the theatre so long together. And I had the great honour,” continues Shadwell, “to find so many friends, that the house was never so full since it was built as upon the third day of this play, and vast numbers went away that could not be admitted.” [Footnote: Dedication to the Squire of Alsatia, Shadwell’s Works, vol. iv.] From the Squire of Alsatia the author derived some few hints, and learned the footing on which the bullies and thieves of the Sanctuary stood with their neighbours, the fiery young students of the Temple, of which some intimation is given in the dramatic piece.

Such are the materials to which the author stands indebted for the composition of the Fortunes of Nigel, a novel, which may be perhaps one of those that are more amusing on a second perusal, than when read a first time for the sake of the story, the incidents of which are few and meagre.

The Introductory Epistle is written, in Lucio’s phrase, “according to the trick,” and would never have appeared had the writer meditated making his avowal of the work. As it is the privilege of a masque or incognito to speak in a feigned voice and assumed character, the author attempted, while in disguise, some liberties of the same sort; and while he continues to plead upon the various excuses which the introduction contains, the present acknowledgment must serve as an apology for a species of “hoity toity, whisky frisky” pertness of manner, which, in his avowed character, the author should have considered as a departure from the rules of civility and good taste.

ABBOTSFORD.

1st July, 1831.

INTRODUCTORY EPISTLE

CAPTAIN CLUTTERBUCK TO THE REVEREND DR. DRYASDUST

DEAR SIR,

I readily accept of, and reply to the civilities with which you have been pleased to honour me in your obliging letter, and entirely agree with your quotation, of “Quam bonum et quam jucundum!” We may indeed esteem ourselves as come of the same family, or, according to our country proverb, as being all one man’s bairns; and there needed no apology on your part, reverend and dear sir, for demanding of me any information which I may be able to supply respecting the subject of your curiosity. The interview which you allude to took place in the course of last winter, and is so deeply imprinted on my recollection, that it requires no effort to collect all its most minute details.

You are aware that the share which I had in introducing the Romance, called THE MONASTERY, to public notice, has given me a sort of character in the literature of our Scottish metropolis. I no longer stand in the outer shop of our bibliopolists, bargaining for the objects of my curiosity with an unrespective shop-lad, hustled among boys who come to buy Corderies and copy-books, and servant girls cheapening a pennyworth of paper, but am cordially welcomed by the bibliopolist himself, with, “Pray, walk into the back-shop, Captain. Boy, get a chair for Captain Clutterbuck. There is the newspaper, Captain – to-day’s paper;” or, “Here is the last new work – there is a folder, make free with the leaves;” or, “Put it in your pocket and carry it home;” or, “We will make a bookseller of you, sir, and you shall have it at trade price.” Or, perhaps if it is the worthy trader’s own publication, his liberality may even extend itself to – “Never mind booking such a trifle to you, sir – it is an over-copy. Pray, mention the work to your reading friends.” I say nothing of the snug well-selected literary party arranged round a turbot, leg of five-year-old mutton, or some such gear, or of the circulation of a quiet bottle of Robert Cockburn’s choicest black – nay, perhaps, of his new ones. All these are comforts reserved to such as are freemen of the corporation of letters, and I have the advantage of enjoying them in perfection. But all things change under the sun; and it is with no ordinary feelings of regret, that, in my annual visits to the metropolis, I now miss the social and warm-hearted welcome of the quick-witted and kindly friend who first introduced me to the public; who had more original wit than would have set up a dozen of professed sayers of good things, and more racy humour than would have made the fortune of as many more. To this great deprivation has been added, I trust for a time only, the loss of another bibliopolical friend, whose vigorous intellect, and liberal ideas, have not only rendered his native country the mart of her own literature, but established there a Court of Letters, which must command respect, even from those most inclined to dissent from many of its canons. The effect of these changes, operated in a great measure by the strong sense and sagacious calculations of an individual, who knew how to avail himself, to an unhoped-for extent, of the various kinds of talent which his country produced, will probably appear more clearly to the generation which shall follow the present.

I entered the shop at the Cross, to enquire after the health of my worthy friend, and learned with satisfaction, that his residence in the south had abated the rigour of the symptoms of his disorder. Availing myself, then, of the privileges to which I have alluded, I strolled onward in that labyrinth of small dark rooms, or crypts, to speak our own antiquarian language, which form the extensive back-settlements of that celebrated publishing-house. Yet, as I proceeded from one obscure recess to another, filled, some of them with old volumes, some with such as, from the equality of their rank on the shelves, I suspected to be the less saleable modern books of the concern, I could not help feeling a holy horror creep upon me, when I thought of the risk of intruding on some ecstatic bard giving vent to his poetical fury; or it might be, on the yet more formidable privacy of a band of critics, in the act of worrying the game which they had just run down. In such a supposed case, I felt by anticipation the horrors of the Highland seers, whom their gift of deuteroscopy compels to witness things unmeet for mortal eye; and who, to use the expression of Collins,

 
     – “heartless, oft, like moody madness, stare,
     To see the phantom train their secret work prepare.”
 

Still, however, the irresistible impulse of an undefined curiosity drove me on through this succession of darksome chambers, till, like the jeweller of Delhi in the house of the magician Bennaskar, I at length reached a vaulted room, dedicated to secrecy and silence, and beheld, seated by a lamp, and employed in reading a. blotted revise, [Footnote: The uninitiated must be informed, that a second proof-sheet is so called.] the person, or perhaps I should rather say the Eidolon, or representative Vision of the AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY! You will not be surprised at the filial instinct which enabled me at once to acknowledge the features borne by this venerable apparition, and that I at once bended the knee, with the classical salutation of, Salve, magne parens! The vision, however, cut me short, by pointing to a seat, intimating at the same time, that my presence was not expected, and that he had something to say to me.

 

I sat down with humble obedience, and endeavoured to note the features of him with whom I now found myself so unexpectedly in society. But on this point I can give your reverence no satisfaction; for, besides the obscurity of the apartment, and the fluttered state of my own nerves, I seemed to myself overwhelmed by a sense of filial awe, which prevented my noting and recording what it is probable the personage before me might most desire to have concealed. Indeed, his figure was so closely veiled and wimpled, either with a mantle, morning-gown, or some such loose garb, that the verses of Spenser might well have been applied —

 
    “Yet, certes, by her face and physnomy,
     Whether she man or woman only were,
     That could not any creature well descry.”
 

I must, however, go on as I have begun, to apply the masculine gender; for, notwithstanding very ingenious reasons, and indeed something like positive evidence, have been offered to prove the Author of Waverley to be two ladies of talent, I must abide by the general opinion, that he is of the rougher sex. There are in his writings too many things

 
    “Quae maribus sola tribuuntur,”
 

to permit me to entertain any doubt on that subject. I will proceed, in the manner of dialogue, to repeat as nearly as I can what passed betwixt us, only observing, that in the course of the conversation, my timidity imperceptibly gave way under the familiarity of his address; and that, in the concluding part of our dialogue, I perhaps argued with fully as much confidence as was beseeming.

Author of Waverley. I was willing to see you, Captain Clutterbuck, being the person of my family whom I have most regard for, since the death of Jedediah Cleishbotham; and I am afraid I may have done you some wrong, in assigning to you The Monastery as a portion of my effects. I have some thoughts of making it up to you, by naming you godfather to this yet unborn babe – (he indicated the proof-sheet with his finger) – But first, touching The Monastery – How says the world – you are abroad and can learn?

Captain Clutterbuck. Hem! hem! – The enquiry is delicate – I have not heard any complaints from the Publishers.

Author. That is the principal matter; but yet an indifferent work is sometimes towed on by those which have left harbour before it, with the breeze in their poop. – What say the Critics?

Captain. There is a general – feeling – that the White Lady is no favourite.

Author. I think she is a failure myself; but rather in execution than conception. Could I have evoked an esprit follet, at the same time fantastic and interesting, capricious and kind; a sort of wildfire of the elements, bound by no fixed laws, or motives of action; faithful and fond, yet teazing and uncertain —

Captain. If you will pardon the interruption, sir, I think you are describing a pretty woman.

Author. On my word, I believe I am. I must invest my elementary spirits with a little human flesh and blood – they are too fine-drawn for the present taste of the public.

Captain. They object, too, that the object of your Nixie ought to have been more uniformly noble – Her ducking the priest was no Naiad-like amusement.

Author. Ah! they ought to allow for the capriccios of what is, after all, but a better sort of goblin. The bath into which Ariel, the most delicate creation of Shakspeare’s imagination, seduces our jolly friend Trinculo, was not of amber or rose-water. But no one shall find me rowing against the stream. I care not who knows it – I write for general amusement; and, though I never will aim at popularity by what I think unworthy means, I will not, on the other hand, be pertinacious in the defence of my own errors against the voice of the public.

Captain. You abandon, then, in the present work – (looking, in my turn, towards the proof-sheet) – the mystic, and the magical, and the whole system of signs, wonders, and omens? There are no dreams, or presages, or obscure allusions to future events?

Author. Not a Cock-lane scratch, my son – not one bounce on the drum of Tedworth – not so much as the poor tick of a solitary death-watch in the wainscot. All is clear and above board – a Scots metaphysician might believe every word of it.

Captain. And the story is, I hope, natural and probable; commencing strikingly, proceeding naturally, ending happily – like the course of a famed river, which gushes from the mouth of some obscure and romantic grotto – then gliding on, never pausing, never precipitating its course, visiting, as it were, by natural instinct, whatever worthy subjects of interest are presented by the country through which it passes – widening and deepening in interest as it flows on; and at length arriving at the final catastrophe as at some mighty haven, where ships of all kinds strike sail and yard?

Author. Hey! hey! what the deuce is all this? Why, ‘tis Ercles’ vein, and it would require some one much more like Hercules than I, to produce a story which should gush, and glide, and never pause, and visit, and widen, and deepen, and all the rest on’t. I should be chin-deep in the grave, man, before I had done with my task; and, in the meanwhile, all the quirks and quiddities which I might have devised for my reader’s amusement, would lie rotting in my gizzard, like Sancho’s suppressed witticisms, when he was under his master’s displeasure. – There never was a novel written on this plan while the world stood.

Captain. Pardon me – Tom Jones.

Author. True, and perhaps Amelia also. Fielding had high notions of the dignity of an art which he may be considered as having founded. He challenges a comparison between the Novel and the Epic. Smollett, Le Sage, and others, emancipating themselves from the strictness of the rules he has laid down, have written rather a history of the miscellaneous adventures which befall an individual in the course of life, than the plot of a regular and connected epopeia, where every step brings us a point nearer to the final catastrophe. These great masters have been satisfied if they amused the reader upon the road; though the conclusion only arrived because the tale must have an end – just as the traveller alights at the inn, because it is evening.

Captain. A very commodious mode of travelling, for the author at least. In short, sir, you are of opinion with Bayes – “What the devil does the plot signify, except to bring in fine things?”

Author. Grant that I were so, and that I should write with sense and spirit a few scenes unlaboured and loosely put together, but which had sufficient interest in them to amuse in one corner the pain of body; in another, to relieve anxiety of mind; in a third place, to unwrinkle a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil; in another, to fill the place of bad thoughts, or to suggest better; in yet another, to induce an idler to study the history of his country; in all, save where the perusal interrupted the discharge of serious duties, to furnish harmless amusement, – might not the author of such a work, however inartificially executed, plead for his errors and negligences the excuse of the slave, who, about to be punished for having spread the false report of a victory, saved himself by exclaiming – “Am I to blame, O Athenians, who have given you one happy day?”

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