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During the whole of the night, sleeping or waking, the images of the fair Jewess, of Shylock, and of Mrs. Coates, were continually recurring, and turning into one another in a most provoking manner. At breakfast my mother did not appear; my father said that she had not slept well, and that she would breakfast in her own apartment; this was not unusual; but I was particularly sorry that it happened this morning, because, being left tête-à-tête with my father, and he full of a debate on the malt-tax, which he undertook to read to me from the rival papers, and to make me understand its merits, I was compelled to sit three-quarters of an hour longer after breakfast than I had intended; so that the plan I had formed of waiting upon Mr. Montenero very early, before he could have gone out for the day, was disconcerted. When at last my father had fairly finished, when he had taken his hat and his cane, and departing left me, as I thought, happily at liberty to go in search of my Jewess, another detainer came. At the foot of the stairs my mother's woman appeared, waiting to let me know that her lady begged I would not go out till she had seen me--adding, that she would be with me in less than a quarter of an hour.
I flung down my hat, I believe, with rather too marked an expression of impatience; but five minutes afterwards came a knock at the door. Mr. Montenero was announced, and I blessed my mother, my father, and the malt- tax, for having detained me at home. The first appearance of Mr. Montenero more than answered my expectations. He had that indescribable air, which, independently of the fashion of the day, or the mode of any particular country, distinguishes a gentleman--dignified, courteous, and free from affectation. From his features, he might have been thought a Spaniard--from his complexion, an East Indian; but he had a peculiar cast of countenance, which seemed not to belong to either nation. He had uncommonly black penetrating eyes, with a serious, rather melancholy, but very benevolent expression. He was past the meridian of life. The lines in his face were strongly marked; but they were not the common-place wrinkles of ignoble age, nor the contractions of any of the vulgar passions: they seemed to be the traces of thought and feeling. He entered into conversation directly and easily. I need not say that this conversation was immediately interesting, for he spoke of Berenice. His thanks to me were, I thought, peculiarly gentlemanlike, neither too much nor too little. Of course, I left him at liberty to attribute her indisposition to the heat of the playhouse, and I stood prepared to avoid mentioning Shylock to Jewish ears; but I was both surprised and pleased by the openness and courage with which he spoke on the very subject from which I had fancied he would have shrunk. Instead of looking for any excuse for Miss Montenero's indisposition, he at once named the real cause; she had been, he said, deeply affected by the representation of Shylock; that detestable Jew, whom the genius of the greatest poet that ever wrote, and the talents of one of the greatest actors who had ever appeared, had conspired to render an object of public execration. "But recently arrived in London," continued Mr. Montenero, "I have not had personal opportunity of judging of this actor's talent; but no Englishman can have felt more strongly than I have, the power of your Shakspeare's genius to touch and rend the human heart."
Mr. Montenero spoke English with a foreign accent, and something of a foreign idiom; but his ideas and feelings forced their way regardless of grammatical precision, and I thought his foreign accent agreeable. To an Englishman, what accent that conveys the praise of Shakspeare can fail to be agreeable? The most certain method by which a foreigner an introduce himself at once to the good-will and good opinion of an Englishman, is by thus doing homage to this national object of idolatry. I perceived that Mr. Montenero's was not a mere compliment--he spoke with real feeling. "In this instance," resumed he, "we poor Jews have felt your Shakspeare's power to our cost--too severely, and, considering all the circumstances, rather unjustly, you are aware."
"Considering all the circumstances," I did not precisely understand; but I endeavoured, as well as I could, to make some general apology for Shakspeare's severity, by adverting to the time when he wrote, and the prejudices which then prevailed.
"True," said he; "and as a dramatic poet, it was his business, I acknowledge, to take advantage of the popular prejudice as a power--as a means of dramatic pathos and effect; yet you will acknowledge that we Jews must feel it peculiarly hard, that the truth of the story on which the poet founded his plot should have been completely sacrificed to fiction, so that the characters were not only misrepresented, but reversed."
I did not know to what Mr. Montenero meant to allude: however, I endeavoured to pass it off with a slight bow of general acquiescence, and the hundred-times-quoted remark, that poets always succeed better in fiction than in truth. Mr. Montenero had quick penetration--he saw my evasion, and would not let me off so easily. He explained.
"In the true story, [Footnote: See Stevens' Life of Sixtus V., and Malone's Shakspeare.] from which Shakspeare took the plot of the Merchant of Venice, it was a Christian who acted the part of the Jew, and the Jew that of the Christian; it was a Christian who insisted upon having the pound of flesh from next the Jew's heart. But," as Mr. Montenero repeated, "Shakspeare was right, as a dramatic poet, in reversing the characters."
Seeing me struck, and a little confounded, by this statement, and even by his candour, Mr. Montenero said, that perhaps his was only the Jewish version of the story, and he quickly went on to another subject, one far more agreeable to me--to Berenice. He hoped that I did not suspect her of affectation from any thing that had passed; he was aware, little as he knew of fine ladies, that they sometimes were pleased to make themselves noticed, perhaps rather troublesome, by the display of their sensibility; but he assured me that his Berenice was not of this sort.
Of this I was perfectly convinced. The moment he pronounced the name of Berenice, he paused, and looked as if he were afraid he should say too much of her; and I suppose I looked as I felt--afraid that he would not say enough. He gently bowed his head and went on. "There are reasons why she was peculiarly touched and moved by that exhibition. Till she came to Europe--to England--she was not aware, at least not practically aware, of the strong prepossessions which still prevail against us Jews." He then told me that his daughter had passed her childhood chiefly in America, "in a happy part of that country, where religious distinctions are scarcely known--where characters and talents are all sufficient to attain advancement--where the Jews form a respectable part of the community-- where, in most instances, they are liberally educated, many following the honourable professions of law and physic with credit and ability, and associating with the best society that country affords. Living in a retired village, her father's the only family of Israelites who resided in or near it, all her juvenile friendships and attachments had been formed with those of different persuasions; yet each had looked upon the variations of the other as things of course, or rather as things which do not affect the moral character--differences which take place in every society."--"My daughter was, therefore, ill prepared," said Mr. Montenero, "for European prepossessions; and with her feeling heart and strong affection for those she loves, no wonder that she has often suffered, especially on my account, since we came to England; and she has become, to a fault, tender and susceptible on this point."
I could not admit that there was any fault on her part; but I regretted that England should be numbered among the countries subject to such prejudices. I hoped, I added, that such illiberality was now confined to the vulgar, that is, the ill-educated and the ill-informed.
The well-educated and well-informed, he answered, were, of course, always the most liberal, and were usually the same in all countries. He begged pardon if he had expressed himself too generally with respect to England. It was the common fault of strangers and foreigners to generalize too quickly, and to judge precipitately of the whole of a community from a part. The fact was, that he had, by the business which brought him to London, been unfortunately thrown among some vulgar rich of contracted minds, who, though they were, as he was willing to believe, essentially good and good-natured persons, had made his Berenice suffer, sometimes more than they could imagine, by their want of delicacy, and want of toleration.
As Mr. Montenero spoke these words, the image of vulgar, ordering Mrs. Coates--that image which had persecuted me half the night, by ever obtruding between me and the fair Jewess--rose again full in my view. I settled immediately, that it was she and her tribe of Issys, and Cecys, and Hennys, and Queeneys, were "the vulgar rich" to whom Mr. Montenero alluded. I warmly expressed my indignation against those who could have been so brutal as to make Miss Montenero suffer by their vile prejudices.
"Brutal," Mr. Montenero repeated, smiling at my warmth, "is too strong an expression: there was no brutality in the case. I must have expressed myself ill to give rise to such an idea. There was only a little want of consideration for the feelings of others--a little want of liberality."
Even so I could not bear the thought that Miss Montenero should have been, on her first arrival in England, thrown among persons who might give her quite a false idea of the English, and a dislike to the country.
"There is no danger of that sort," he replied. "Had she been disposed to judge so rashly and uncharitably, the humane and polite attentions she met with last night from a gentleman who was an utter stranger to her, and who could only know that she was a foreigner in want of assistance, must have been to her at once conviction and reproof." (I bowed, delighted with Mr. Montenero and with myself.) "But I hope and believe," continued he, "that my Berenice is not disposed to form uncharitable judgments either of individuals or nations; especially not of the English, of whom she has, from their history and literature, with which we are not wholly unacquainted, conceived the highest ideas." I bowed again, though not quite so much delighted with this general compliment to my nation as by that peculiar to myself. I expressed my hopes that the English would justify this favourable prepossession, and that on farther acquaintance with different societies in London, Mr. and Miss Montenero would find, that among the higher classes in this country there is no want of liberality of opinion, and certainly no want of delicacy of sentiment and manner--no want of attention to the feelings of those who are of a different persuasion from ourselves. Just at this moment my mother entered the room. Advancing towards Mr. Montenero, she said, with a gracious smile, "You need not introduce us to each other, my dear Harrington, for I am sure that I have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Clive, from India."
"Mr. Montenero, from America, ma'am."
"Mr. Montenero! I am happy to have the honour--the pleasure--I am very happy--"
My mother's politeness struggled against truth; but whilst I feared that Mr. Montenero's penetration would discern that there was no pleasure in the honour, a polite inquiry followed concerning Miss Montenero's indisposition. Then, after an ineffectual effort to resume the ease and cordiality of her manner, my mother leaned back languidly on the sofa, and endeavoured to account for the cloud which settled on her brow by adverting to the sleepless night she had passed, and to the fears of an impending headache; assuring Mr. Montenero at the same time that society and conversation were always of service to her. I was particularly anxious to detain, and to draw him out before my mother, because I felt persuaded that his politeness of manner, and his style of conversation, would counteract any presentiment or prejudice she had conceived against him and his race. He seemed to lend himself to my views, and with benevolent politeness exerted himself to entertain my mother. A Don Quixote was on the table, in which there were some good prints, and from these he took occasion to give us many amusing and interesting accounts of Spain, where he had passed the early part of his life. From Don Quixote to Gil Blas--to the Duc de Lerma-- to the tower of Segovia--to the Inquisition--to the Spanish palaces and Moorish antiquities, he let me lead him backwards and forwards as I pleased. My mother was very fond of some of the old Spanish ballads and Moorish romances: I led to the Rio Verde, and the fair Zaida, and the Moor Alcanzor, with whom both in their Moorish and English dress Mr. Montenero was well acquainted, and of whom he was enthusiastically fond.
My mother was fond of painting: I asked some questions concerning the Spanish painters, particularly about Murillo; of one of his pictures we had a copy, and my mother had often wished to see the original. Mr. Montenero said he was happy in having it in his power to gratify her wish; he possessed the original of this picture. But few of Murillo's paintings had at this time found their way out of Spain; national and regal pride had preserved them with jealous care; but Mr. Montenero had inherited some of Murillo's master-pieces. These, and a small but valuable collection of pictures which he had been many years in forming, were now in England: they were not yet arranged as he could wish, but an apartment was preparing for them; and in the mean time, he should be happy to have the honour of showing them to us and to any of our friends. He particularly addressed himself to my mother; she replied in those general terms of acquiescence and gratitude, which are used when there is no real intention to accept an invitation, but yet a wish to avoid such an absolute refusal as should appear ill-bred. I, on the contrary, sincerely eager to accept the offered favour, fixed instantly the time, and the soonest possible. I named the next day at one o'clock. Mr. Montenero then took his leave, and as the door closed after him, I stood before my mother, as if waiting for judgment; she was silent.
"Don't you think him agreeable, ma'am?"
"I knew you would think so, my dear mother; an uncommonly agreeable man."
"But what, ma'am?"
"But so much the worse."
"How so, ma'am? Because he is a Jew, is he forbidden to be agreeable?" said I, smiling.
"Pray be serious, Harrington--I say the more agreeable this man is, the better his manner, the more extensive his information, the higher the abilities he possesses, the greater are his means of doing mischief." "A conclusive argument," said. I, "against the possession of good manners, information, abilities, and every agreeable and useful quality! and an argument equally applicable to Jews and Christians."
"Argument!" repeated my mother: "I know, my dear, I am not capable of arguing with you--indeed I am not fond of arguments, they are so unfeminine: I seldom presume to give even my opinion, except on subjects of sentiment and feeling; there ladies may venture, I suppose, to have a voice as well as gentlemen, perhaps better, sometimes. In the present case, it may be very ridiculous; but I own that, notwithstanding this Mr. Montenero is what you'd call an uncommonly agreeable man, there is a something about him--in short, I feel something like an antipathy to him--and in the whole course of my life I have never been misled by these antipathies. I don't say they are reasonable, I only say that I can't help feeling them; and if they never mislead us, you know they have all the force of instincts, and in some cases instincts are superior even to that reason of which man is so proud."
I did not advert to the if, on which this whole reasoning rested, but I begged my mother would put herself out of the question for one moment, and consider to what injustice and intolerance such antipathies would lead in society.
"Perhaps in general it might be so," she said; "but in this particular instance she was persuaded she was right and correct; and after all, is there a human being living who is not influenced at first sight by countenance! Does not Lavater say that even a cockchafer and a dish of tea have a physiognomy?"
I could not go quite so far as to admit the cockchafer's physiognomy in our judgment of characters. "But then, ma'am," concluded I, "before we can judge, before we can decide, we should see what is called the play of the countenance--we should see the working of the muscles. Now, for instance, when we have seen Mr. Montenero two or three times, when we have studied the muscles of his countenance--"
"I! I study the muscles of the man's countenance!" interrupted my mother, indignantly; "I never desire to see him or his muscles again! Jew, Turk, or Mussulman, let me hear no more about him. Seriously, my dear Harrington, this is the subject on which I wished to speak to you this morning, to warn you from forming this dangerous acquaintance. I dreamed last night--but I know you won't listen to dreams; I have a presentiment--but you have no faith in presentiments: what shall I say to you?--Oh! my dear Harrington, I appeal to your own heart--your own feelings, your own conscience, must tell you all I at this moment foresee and dread. Oh! with your ardent, too ardent imagination--your susceptibility! Surely, surely, there is an absolute fatality in these things! At the very moment I was preparing to warn you, Mr. Montenero appears, and strengthens the dangerous impression. And after all the pains I took to prevent your ever meeting, is it not extraordinary that you should meet his daughter at the playhouse? Promise me, I conjure you," cried she, turning and seizing both my hands, "promise me, my dear son, that you will see no more of this Jew and Jewess."
It was a promise I could not, would not make:--some morning visitors came in and relieved me. My mother's imagination was as vivacious, but not as tenacious as my own. There was in her a feminine mobility, which, to my masculine strength of passion, and consequent tenacity of purpose, appeared often inconceivable, and sometimes provoking. In a few minutes her fancy turned to old china and new lace, and all the fears which had so possessed and agitated her mind subsided.
Among the crowd of morning visitors, Lady Anne Mowbray ran in and ran out; fortunately she could not stay one minute, and still more fortunately my mother did not hear a word she said, or even see her ladyship's exit and entrance, so many ladies had encompassed my mother's sofa, displaying charming bargains of French lace. The subject abstracted their attention, and engrossed all their faculties. Lady Anne had just called to tell me a secret, that her mother had been saying all the morning to every body, how odd it was of Mr. Harrington to take notice whether a Jewess fainted or not. Lady Anne said, for her part, she had taken my part; she did not think it so odd of me, but she thought it odd and ridiculous of the Jewess to faint about Shylock. But the reason she called was, because she was dying with curiosity to know if I had heard any more about the Jewess. Was she an heiress or not? I must find out and tell: she had heard--but she could not stay now--going to ride in the park.
I had often observed that my mother's presentiments varied from day to day, according to the state of her nerves, or of some slight external circumstances. I was extremely anxious to prevail upon her to accompany me to see the Spanish pictures, and I therefore put off my visit for a day, when I found my mother had engaged herself to attend a party of fair encouragers of smugglers to a cheap French lace shop. I wrote an apology to Mr. Montenero, and Heaven knows how much it cost me. But my heroic patience was of no avail; I could not persuade my mother to accompany me. To all her former feelings, the pride of opinion and the jealousy of maternal affection were now added; she was piqued to prove herself in the right, and vexed to see that, right or wrong, I would not yield to her entreaties. I thought I acted solely from the dictates of pure reason and enlightened philanthropy.
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