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A Half-Breed

An early deep-seated love to which we become faithless has its unfailing
Nemesis, if only in that division of soul which narrows all newer joys
by the intrusion of regret and the established presentiment of change. I
refer not merely to the love of a person, but to the love of ideas,
practical beliefs, and social habits. And faithlessness here means not a
gradual conversion dependent on enlarged knowledge, but a yielding to
seductive circumstance; not a conviction that the original choice was a
mistake, but a subjection to incidents that flatter a growing desire. In
this sort of love it is the forsaker who has the melancholy lot; for an
abandoned belief may be more effectively vengeful than Dido. The child
of a wandering tribe caught young and trained to polite life, if he
feels an hereditary yearning can run away to the old wilds and get his
nature into tune. But there is no such recovery possible to the man who
remembers what he once believed without being convinced that he was in
error, who feels within him unsatisfied stirrings towards old beloved
habits and intimacies from which he has far receded without conscious
justification or unwavering sense of superior attractiveness in the new.
This involuntary renegade has his character hopelessly jangled and out
of tune. He is like an organ with its stops in the lawless condition of
obtruding themselves without method, so that hearers are amazed by the
most unexpected transitions--the trumpet breaking in on the flute, and
the oböe confounding both.

Hence the lot of Mixtus affects me pathetically, notwithstanding that he
spends his growing wealth with liberality and manifest enjoyment. To
most observers he appears to be simply one of the fortunate and also
sharp commercial men who began with meaning to be rich and have become
what they meant to be: a man never taken to be well-born, but
surprisingly better informed than the well-born usually are, and
distinguished among ordinary commercial magnates by a personal kindness
which prompts him not only to help the suffering in a material way
through his wealth, but also by direct ministration of his own; yet with
all this, diffusing, as it were, the odour of a man delightedly
conscious of his wealth as an equivalent for the other social
distinctions of rank and intellect which he can thus admire without
envying. Hardly one among those superficial observers can suspect that
he aims or has ever aimed at being a writer; still less can they imagine
that his mind is often moved by strong currents of regret and of the
most unworldly sympathies from the memories of a youthful time when his
chosen associates were men and women whose only distinction was a
religious, a philanthropic, or an intellectual enthusiasm, when the lady
on whose words his attention most hung was a writer of minor religious
literature, when he was a visitor and exhorter of the poor in the alleys
of a great provincial town, and when he attended the lectures given
specially to young men by Mr Apollos, the eloquent congregational
preacher, who had studied in Germany and had liberal advanced views then
far beyond the ordinary teaching of his sect. At that time Mixtus
thought himself a young man of socially reforming ideas, of religious
principles and religious yearnings. It was within his prospects also to
be rich, but he looked forward to a use of his riches chiefly for
reforming and religious purposes. His opinions were of a strongly
democratic stamp, except that even then, belonging to the class of
employers, he was opposed to all demands in the employed that would
restrict the expansiveness of trade. He was the most democratic in
relation to the unreasonable privileges of the aristocracy and landed
interest; and he had also a religious sense of brotherhood with the
poor. Altogether, he was a sincerely benevolent young man, interested in
ideas, and renouncing personal ease for the sake of study, religious
communion, and good works. If you had known him then you would have
expected him to marry a highly serious and perhaps literary woman,
sharing his benevolent and religious habits, and likely to encourage
his studies--a woman who along with himself would play a distinguished
part in one of the most enlightened religious circles of a great
provincial capital.

How is it that Mixtus finds himself in a London mansion, and in society
totally unlike that which made the ideal of his younger years? And whom
_did_ he marry?

Why, he married Scintilla, who fascinated him as she had fascinated
others, by her prettiness, her liveliness, and her music. It is a common
enough case, that of a man being suddenly captivated by a woman nearly
the opposite of his ideal; or if not wholly captivated, at least
effectively captured by a combination of circumstances along with an
unwarily manifested inclination which might otherwise have been
transient. Mixtus was captivated and then captured on the worldly side
of his disposition, which had been always growing and flourishing side
by side with his philanthropic and religious tastes. He had ability in
business, and he had early meant to be rich; also, he was getting rich,
and the taste for such success was naturally growing with the pleasure
of rewarded exertion. It was during a business sojourn in London that he
met Scintilla, who, though without fortune, associated with families of
Greek merchants living in a style of splendour, and with artists
patronised by such wealthy entertainers. Mixtus on this occasion became
familiar with a world in which wealth seemed the key to a more brilliant
sort of dominance than that of a religious patron in the provincial
circles of X. Would it not be possible to unite the two kinds of sway? A
man bent on the most useful ends might, _with a fortune large enough_,
make morality magnificent, and recommend religious principle by showing
it in combination with the best kind of house and the most liberal of
tables; also with a wife whose graces, wit, and accomplishments gave a
finish sometimes lacking even to establishments got up with that
unhesitating worldliness to which high cost is a sufficient reason.
Enough.

Mixtus married Scintilla. Now this lively lady knew nothing of
Nonconformists, except that they were unfashionable: she did not
distinguish one conventicle from another, and Mr Apollos with his
enlightened interpretations seemed to her as heavy a bore, if not quite
so ridiculous, as Mr Johns could have been with his solemn twang at the
Baptist chapel in the lowest suburbs, or as a local preacher among the
Methodists. In general, people who appeared seriously to believe in any
sort of doctrine, whether religious, social, or philosophical, seemed
rather absurd to Scintilla. Ten to one these theoretic people pronounced
oddly, had some reason or other for saying that the most agreeable
things were wrong, wore objectionable clothes, and wanted you to
subscribe to something. They were probably ignorant of art and music,
did not understand _badinage_, and, in fact, could talk of nothing
amusing. In Scintilla's eyes the majority of persons were ridiculous and
deplorably wanting in that keen perception of what was good taste, with
which she herself was blest by nature and education; but the people
understood to be religious or otherwise theoretic, were the most
ridiculous of all, without being proportionately amusing and invitable.

Did Mixtus not discover this view of Scintilla's before their marriage?
Or did he allow her to remain in ignorance of habits and opinions which
had made half the occupation of his youth?

When a man is inclined to marry a particular woman, and has made any
committal of himself, this woman's opinions, however different from his
own, are readily regarded as part of her pretty ways, especially if they
are merely negative; as, for example, that she does not insist on the
Trinity or on the rightfulness or expediency of church rates, but simply
regards her lover's troubling himself in disputation on these heads as
stuff and nonsense. The man feels his own superior strength, and is sure
that marriage will make no difference to him on the subjects about which
he is in earnest. And to laugh at men's affairs is a woman's privilege,
tending to enliven the domestic hearth. If Scintilla had no liking for
the best sort of nonconformity, she was without any troublesome bias
towards Episcopacy, Anglicanism, and early sacraments, and was quite
contented not to go to church.

As to Scintilla's acquaintance with her lover's tastes on these
subjects, she was equally convinced on her side that a husband's queer
ways while he was a bachelor would be easily laughed out of him when he
had married an adroit woman. Mixtus, she felt, was an excellent
creature, quite likable, who was getting rich; and Scintilla meant to
have all the advantages of a rich man's wife. She was not in the least a
wicked woman; she was simply a pretty animal of the ape kind, with an
aptitude for certain accomplishments which education had made the most
of.

But we have seen what has been the result to poor Mixtus. He has become
richer even than he dreamed of being, has a little palace in London, and
entertains with splendour the half-aristocratic, professional, and
artistic society which he is proud to think select. This society regards
him as a clever fellow in his particular branch, seeing that he has
become a considerable capitalist, and as a man desirable to have on the
list of one's acquaintance. But from every other point of view Mixtus
finds himself personally submerged: what he happens to think is not felt
by his esteemed guests to be of any consequence, and what he used to
think with the ardour of conviction he now hardly ever expresses. He is
transplanted, and the sap within him has long been diverted into other
than the old lines of vigorous growth. How could he speak to the artist
Crespi or to Sir Hong Kong Bantam about the enlarged doctrine of Mr
Apollos? How could he mention to them his former efforts towards
evangelising the inhabitants of the X. alleys? And his references to his
historical and geographical studies towards a survey of possible markets
for English products are received with an air of ironical suspicion by
many of his political friends, who take his pretension to give advice
concerning the Amazon, the Euphrates, and the Niger as equivalent to the
currier's wide views on the applicability of leather. He can only make a
figure through his genial hospitality. It is in vain that he buys the
best pictures and statues of the best artists. Nobody will call him a
judge in art. If his pictures and statues are well chosen it is
generally thought that Scintilla told him what to buy; and yet Scintilla
in other connections is spoken of as having only a superficial and
often questionable taste. Mixtus, it is decided, is a good fellow, not
ignorant--no, really having a good deal of knowledge as well as sense,
but not easy to classify otherwise than as a rich man. He has
consequently become a little uncertain as to his own point of view, and
in his most unreserved moments of friendly intercourse, even when
speaking to listeners whom he thinks likely to sympathise with the
earlier part of his career, he presents himself in all his various
aspects and feels himself in turn what he has been, what he is, and what
others take him to be (for this last status is what we must all more or
less accept). He will recover with some glow of enthusiasm the vision of
his old associates, the particular limit he was once accustomed to trace
of freedom in religious speculation, and his old ideal of a worthy life;
but he will presently pass to the argument that money is the only means
by which you can get what is best worth having in the world, and will
arrive at the exclamation "Give me money!" with the tone and gesture of
a man who both feels and knows. Then if one of his audience, not having
money, remarks that a man may have made up his mind to do without money
because he prefers something else, Mixtus is with him immediately,
cordially concurring in the supreme value of mind and genius, which
indeed make his own chief delight, in that he is able to entertain the
admirable possessors of these attributes at his own table, though not
himself reckoned among them. Yet, he will proceed to observe, there was
a time when he sacrificed his sleep to study, and even now amid the
press of business he from time to time thinks of taking up the
manuscripts which he hopes some day to complete, and is always
increasing his collection of valuable works bearing on his favourite
topics. And it is true that he has read much in certain directions, and
can remember what he has read; he knows the history and theories of
colonisation and the social condition of countries that do not at
present consume a sufficiently large share of our products and
manufactures. He continues his early habit of regarding the spread of
Christianity as a great result of our commercial intercourse with black,
brown, and yellow populations; but this is an idea not spoken of in the
sort of fashionable society that Scintilla collects round her husband's
table, and Mixtus now philosophically reflects that the cause must come
before the effect, and that the thing to be directly striven for is the
commercial intercourse, not excluding a little war if that also should
prove needful as a pioneer of Christianity. He has long been wont to
feel bashful about his former religion; as if it were an old attachment
having consequences which he did not abandon but kept in decent privacy,
his avowed objects and actual position being incompatible with their
public acknowledgment.

There is the same kind of fluctuation in his aspect towards social
questions and duties. He has not lost the kindness that used to make him
a benefactor and succourer of the needy, and he is still liberal in
helping forward the clever and industrious; but in his active
superintendence of commercial undertakings he has contracted more and
more of the bitterness which capitalists and employers often feel to be
a reasonable mood towards obstructive proletaries. Hence many who this
is an idea not spoken of in the sort of fashionable society that
Scintilla collects round her husband's table, and Mixtus now
philosophically reflects that the cause must come before the effect, and
that the thing to be directly striven for is the commercial intercourse,
not excluding a little war if that also should prove needful as a
pioneer of Christianity. He has long been wont to feel bashful about his
former religion; as if it were an old attachment having consequences
which he did not abandon but kept in decent privacy, his avowed objects
and actual position being incompatible with their public acknowledgment.

There is the same kind of fluctuation in his aspect towards social
questions and duties. He has not lost the kindness that used to make him
a benefactor and succourer of the needy, and he is still liberal in
helping forward the clever and industrious; but in his active
superintendence of commercial undertakings he has contracted more and
more of the bitterness which capitalists and employers often feel to be
a reasonable mood towards obstructive proletaries. Hence many who have
occasionally met him when trade questions were being discussed, conclude
him to be indistinguishable from the ordinary run of moneyed and
money-getting men. Indeed, hardly any of his acquaintances know what
Mixtus really is, considered as a whole--nor does Mixtus himself know
it.


George Eliot