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several obscure streets, which were quiet, decent, and monotonous. He stopped at a small house in a long row, where the houses were so similar in form, size, colour, and general character, that, but for the number, one might easily knock at the urong door.”
But as for grand ceremonies, O Editor! thy contributor out-herods Herod, and beggars all previous description of haut ton. The Court Neusman grows pale with envy; Jenkyns of the Morning Plush is awed. Thy hebdomadal competitors do reverence to their peerless rival. Ho! there, a flourish! Bray forth trumpets, and heralds advance your haughty blazonry! Make way, ye fellows in fustian ! Stand back, I charge ye !
[4 march! “Royalty, followed by the imperial presence of ambassadors, and
escorted by a group of dazzling duchesses and paladins of high degree, was ushered with courteous pomp by the host and hostess into a choice saloon, hung with rose-coloured tapestry and illumined by chandeliers of crystal, where they were served from gold plate.”
[Curtain falls, amidst catharine wheels, red and blue
fire, electric light, &c., &c., &c.
Shade of the late George Robins of the Hammer, greatest of auctioneers, here is a greater than thou in unctuous description of all kinds of upholstery! Greatest of all Editors of Trans-atlantic newspapers, here is taller talk than in the wildest of thy dreams, which is to thy best vein as is thy own Niagara to a gutter, or thy Wellingtonia gigantea to a gooseberry bush! O tallest of talkers ! canst thou match“ buncombe” like that? O most superb of auctioneers, didst thou ever appraise and bring to the hammer (without any reserve) the entire British Aristocracy, rose-coloured tapestry, gold plate, and all—nay, the Majestic Theme itself, it would seemas Lot 1 ?
As we have said, we do not for a moment pretend that jargon of this kind really comes from Mr. Disraeli. He is a man of genius, a master of language, and has passed his life in refined society. He is incapable of inditing this stuff. Of course, all sorts of rumours are afloat; but we rather gather the truth to be this—Mr. Disraeli, a busy statesman, employed assistance; that assistance he would naturally find in his “people” in attendance. The ideas, the wit, the picture of society are his own, but we strongly suspect that the actual wording not seldom is that of his valet.
What we imagine to have taken place—we speak with no authority—is something of this kind :—The great orator returns, say, from a debate in which he has exterminated the Liberal party for the twenty-seventh time, and given new hope to his country and his Sovereign. He has an hour of relaxation. Robed, doubtless, in some cashmere dressing-gown which had once graced the throne of the Great Mogul, shod with the jewelled slippers that had haply been worked for him by the daughter of the Emperor of Morocco (an unhappy attachment, it is whispered), and smoking his hookah, with its bowl of solid topaz, and its mouthpiece a single diamond (a trifle from the Sublime Porte), the wondrous orator throws off the dazzling fancies of “Lothair.” Thoughts crowd so fast on that fervid soul, that three stenographers can but imperfectly record them as he speaks. And the valet, or one should say, the first gentleman of the dressingroom, takes forth the burning fragments on golden salvers to cast them into readable volumes for Messrs. Longman, who are waiting in an ante-room. Thus it is that we get the ideas of a true wit and the experience of a profound observer in the language of the servants' hall, and her ladyship’s first gentlewoman.
Now without intruding on private affairs—the frank Lothair is free from modesty of that kind—we strongly suspect this first gentleman of the dressing-room to be a person of foreign birth. We know not how else to account for the use of crude Gallicisms, such as no Englishman could pen. A perplexing use of the word “but;" a lady's portrait “making a fury;" things “being on the carpet;" and a reckless use of the word “distinguished " for fine; phrases like “an alliance of the highest,” “high ceremony of manner,” “his affairs were great” for his trade, betray the foreign hand. We have no doubt this great creature, the first gentleman in question, is a perfect treasure. But if he continue to be employed as secretary, the ex-Premier should present him with Lindley Murray —of course bound in jewelled vellum, with gilt edges.
But the misplaced confidence which the right honourable gentleman appears to have reposed'in his first gentleman,” has led to some more serious errors in taste. We make nothing of a few slips. “ Lancres” is not the right mode of spelling the painter's name, nor is " monsignores” a correct form. And the Pope's guard is the guardia (not guarda) nobile. Perhaps these little blunders in foreign languages are a compliment to the order “which knows no language but its own.” We do not like to hear of “costly bindings" in a library. There was an honest man once who cared nord for the inside of books than their “costly” backs. But in the midst of the praises which we wish to give to this amusing romance of real life, there is one serious fault which we condemn.
It seems to us that, elegant as the company are, they are painted as if the real object of their respect, their social standard in fact, were, in plain words, Money. Every one in the book is enormously rich, and no one beside, appears to count as a member of society at all. The society is a mere Apotheosis of rich men—the Reign
of the Financial Saints—a perfect Millionairium! One would think the author were Poet-Laureate to Baron Rothschild. The very attorney is a Six-and-eightpenny Sidonia !
Nowhere perhaps is this so marked as when the Duke himself tells us that he has known Americans who were very good sort of people, and had no end of money (sic); that he looks upon one who has large estates in the South as a real aristocrat, and should always treat him with respect—more especially if, like the colonel, his territory is immense, and he has always lived in the highest style (sic). This may be satire, or it may be fact, but we venture to think it both gross and untrue. Peers may sometimes be foolish, and possibly proud; but they are usually English gentlemen, and we doubt if they talk with the purse-proud insolence of Tittlebat Titmouse. But a man who has made Dukes ought to know best.
But all this time we are sadly forgetting what our grave Editor calls the “social and political significance” of “Lothair,” and are thinking too much of the many merits and occasional slips of its literary work. As a novel it may be called good, and that is the principal point. The story, if improbable and rambling, is tolerably amusing and not outrageously absurd. The characters, though not creations, are keen sketches of social types. And the raving about Semitism, Popery, and the Brotherhoods is but a tithe of what one endured in “Tancred” and the “Wondrous Tale.” Indeed, one has heard wilder stuff from the author's lips in grave political speeches at times of excitement. Even the bombast hardly equals that immortal bit about “the elephants of Asia carrying the artillery of Europe over the mountains of Africa through passes which might appal the trapper of the Rocky Mountains.” Nor do we compare the plot for sensational power with those of that gorgeous Titan Eugène Sue; nor the mise-en-scène for profusion with that of the inexhaustible wizard of “Monte Christo." Still, the novel, as novels go, is a good one.
But as to the substance of the book, for the Editor grows impatient, it is strange how much opinions differ. There are not wanting some who speak harshly—the men no doubt “who have failed.” We believe them to be really unjust. But their reasons are worth considering. “How gross it is,” said to us a serious friend of advanced views, a Republican, when we asked his opinion of “the novel," “If snobbishness be,” he went on, “as Thackeray defines it, the mean admiration of mean things, was ever book so unutterably snobbish? Was ever the fatuous pomp of grandees, the accident not even of ancient traditions, but of mere conventional rank; were ever the coarsest show of money and what money can buy, the selfish vagaries of a besotted caste, more stupidly and fawningly belauded? Where find such noisy grovelling before wealth and state ? Is not a taste for liveried footmen in themselves, and costly
bindings in themselves, essentially a mean taste ? Is not the truckling to a rich idiotic boy, and the wanton fooleries of idle wealth, a mean thing? Can these mean things be more meanly admired than in a book every line of which is rank with fulsome grandiloquence?”
“Bah, friend,” said we to the serious man, "you take all this in your fierce way, au grand sérieux. The object of a novel is to amuse. The artist passes no judgments; his business is to paint persons and scenes. Here we have a picture of a state of society, more or less true to life; there is much that is very diverting, and presents us with human nature. The public likes to hear of the great. No doubt you were interested yourself.”
“No,” said our serious friend, almost bitterly, and wholly unconscious of our little rap; “I do not judge the book by the standard of the trash in green covers, or of the boyish freaks of a Vivian Gray.. It comes from one who has led the governing classes, and ruled this country for years, at the close of a long political career. “Noblesse oblige,' they say. “Esprit oblige,' I say. And if this be the picture of that order, which a man of genius, who has made it his tool, can sit down in his old age to give to his countrymen—if this be the sum of a life of successful ambition and public honour—then, for myself, I should say, society is not likely to hold together long, for the people will not suffer mere selfishness in power, so soon as they know it to be hollow and weak.” And he wanted to turn the conversation on the crisis in France.
“Nay! one moment, son of Danton by Charlotte Corday," we said, with a smile. “What, on earth, is the situation in France to us? We have no Empire here, and no revolutionists but you! But, as to “Lothair,” do you not see refinement in the life depicted ? They are people of taste, there is plenty of wit, a turn for art; in a word, what is happily connoted by Culture!” We knew he would not like the word, but we wanted to “ draw" him, as the young bloods do the President of the Board of Trade.
“ Culture !” said our friend, quickly. “Not in any sense of the word that I know. It is true the external forms of life and the habits of the lounging class are not described with quite the vulgar ignorance of fashionable novelists. There is certainly much social grace, some cultivation of mind, and plenty of wit in the society described. But so there has been in almost every order on the eve of its extinction. All the belles marquises and the fascinating chevaliers of Eil-de-Bæuf did not prevent the Court of the Louis from being utterly rotten and mean. And this is rotten and mean. Is the mind in it cultivated to any intelligible end? Is not the mere external parade of wealth dwelt on till one nauseates? Does not the book reek with the stilling fumes of gold, as when the idiot puts rails of solid gold round the tomb which covers his useless old bones ? Is not the
life vapid, aimless, arrogant, as if the world and the human race existed only to gratify its selfish whims? I do not say that its whims are gross; but that they are fatuously selfish.”
“Come, come, good fellow, you are losing your sense of a jest," said we. “Much radicalism doth make thee dull. Why! do you suppose now that Lothair is as serious and earnest as yourself ? One would fancy all radicals had a ballot-box in place of a skull. Go, and have an operation (under chloroform), and get the joke inserted into your head! Have you never enjoyed a satire or a farce at the play? Do you really think a man of genius, who has fooled British society to the top of its bent, is going down on his knees to his own puppet, in his old age? Forbid it, human genius and successful ambition! Can you not see the exquisite fooling of the characters in the comedy ? Was ever such fatuous and yet genial self-importance as the Duke's—and from life they say—so racy when you know the facts! And did you miss that touch of the neighbouring gentry and yeomanry escorting the young goose home-goose, who is absolutely nothing but fabulously rich ; so artfully prepared, you know, when you have been just shown the very inside of the amiable young jackanapes. Five hundred of the gentry on horseback, many of them “gentlemen of high degree,' the county squirearchy! And all the high jinks of the county when the lad comes of age, as droll as the kowtowing to the emperor at Pekin. Is there a story about the Mikado of Japan as good as the games at Muriel ? And the croquet match absorbing statesmen, and played exclusively by Dukes and Duchesses, with gold and ivory mallets! And the gold plate at Crecy House; and the reverences of the haughty Catholics to the Cardinal--Cardinal, too, life to the very fringe of his hat strings, a photograph, too absurd! and the pigeon which was proud of being shot by a Duke! and the lad who throws a sovereign to the cabman ! and the marshalled retainers and obsequious lackeys moving ever noiselessly but actively in the background! O! friend of the people, or friend of man, if that was lost on you, we must be sorry for you. You are like a deaf man at the Opera. Why, it is like a scene in Japan! Turn it all into Japanese, say “the Mikado' for Majestic Theme;' say “Daimios' for dukes, put two-sworded retainers' for footmen in plush, and lots of male and female Japanese kissing the dust when Satsuma rides forth, and if you like a hari-kari instead of a London ball, and you have Lothair in Japan, and British society, and its mighty aristocracy, and the whole brother-to-the-Sun-andMoon business under the grotesque etiquette of those absurd Tartars. And do you not see how artfully the fulsome and false style is contrived to heighten the illusion of the whole preposterous system? Why, there is nothing better in Voltaire or Montesquieu. Do you take Candide and the Lettres Persanes au pied de la lettre too, most literal of mankind ? What of Beaumarchais and the immortal