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Lady Davenant was at the far end of the room engrossed, Churchill feared, by the newspaper; as he approached she laid it down, and said,—
"How scandalous some of these papers have become, but it is the fault of the taste of the age. 'Those who live to please, must please to live.'"
Horace was not sure whether he was cut or not, but he had the presence of mind not to look hurt. He drew nearer to Lady Davenant, seated himself, and taking up a book as if he was tired of folly, to which he had merely condescended, he sat and read, and then sat and thought, the book hanging from his hand.
The result of these profound thoughts he gave to the public, not to the aide-de-camp; no more of the little pop-gun pellets of wits—but now was brought out reason and philosophy. In a higher tone he now reviewed the literary, philosophical, and political world, with touches of La Bruyere and Rochefoucault in the characters he drew and in the reflections he made; with an air, too, of sentimental contrition for his own penetration and fine moral sense, which compelled him to see and to be annoyed by the faults of such superior men.
The analysis he made of every mind was really perfect—in one respect, not a grain of bad but was separated from the good, and held up clean and clear to public view. And as an anatomist he showed such knowledge both of the brain and of the heart, such an admirable acquaintance with all their diseases and handled the probe and the scalpel so well, with such a practised hand!
"Well, really this is comfortable," said Lord Davenant, throwing himself back in his arm-chair—"True English comfort, to sit at ease and see all one's friends so well dissected! Happy to feel that it is our duty to our neighbour to see him well cut up—ably anatomised for the good of society; and when I depart—when my time comes—as come it must, nobody is to touch me but Professor Churchill. It will be a satisfaction to know that I shall be carved as a dish fit for gods, not hewed as a carcase for hounds. So now remember, Cecilia, I call on you to witness—I hereby, being of sound mind and body, leave and bequeath my character, with all my defects and deficiencies whatsoever, and all and any singular curious diseases of the mind, of which I may die possessed, wishing the same many for his sake,—to my good friend Doctor Horace Churchill, professor of moral, philosophic, and scandalous anatomy, to be by him dissected at his good pleasure for the benefit of society."
"Many thanks, my good lord; and I accept your legacy for the honour—not the value of the gift, which every body must be sensible is nothing," said Churchill, with a polite bow—"absolutely nothing. I shall never he able to make anything of it."
"Try—try, my dear friend," answered Lord Davenant. "Try, don't be modest."
"That would be difficult when so distinguished," said Beauclerc, with an admirable look of proud humility.
"Distinguished Mr. Horace Churchill assuredly is," said Lady Davenant, looking at him from behind her newspaper. "Distinguished above all his many competitors in this age of scandal; he has really raised the art to the dignity of a science. Satire, scandal, and gossip, now hand-in-hand—the three new graces: all on the same elevated rank—three, formerly considered as so different, and the last left to our inferior sex, but now, surely, to be a male gossip is no reproach."
"O, Lady Davenant!—male gossip—what an expression!"
"What a reality!"
"Male gossip!—'Tombe sur moi le ciel!'" cried Churchill.
"'Pourvu que je me venge,' always understood," pursued Lady Davenant; "but why be so afraid of the imputation of gossiping, Mr. Churchill? It is quite fashionable, and if so, quite respectable, you know, and in your style quite grand.
"And gossiping wonders at being so fine—
"Malice, to be hated, needs but to be seen, but now when it is elegantly dressed we look upon it without shame or consciousness of evil; we grow to doat upon it—so entertaining, so graceful, so refined. When vice loses half its grossness, it loses all its deformity. Humanity used to be talked of when our friends were torn to pieces, but now there is such a philosophical perfume thrown over the whole operation, that we are irresistibly attracted. How much we owe to such men as Mr. Churchill, who make us feel detraction virtue!"
He bowed low as Lady Davenant, summoned by her lord, left the room, and there he stood as one condemned but not penitent.
"If I have not been well sentenced," said he, as the door closed, "and made 'to feel detraction virtue!'—But since Lady Cecilia cannot help smiling at that, I am acquitted, and encouraged to sin again the first opportunity. But Lady Davenant shall not be by, nor Lord Davenant either."
Lady Cecilia sat down to write a note, and Mr. Churchill walked round the room in a course of critical observation on the pictures, of which, as of every thing else, he was a supreme judge. At last he put his eye and his glass down to something which singularly attracted his attention on one of the marble tables.
"Pretty!" said Lady Cecilia, "pretty are not they?—though one's so tired of them every where now—those doves!"
"Doves!" said Churchill, "what I am admiring are gloves, are not they, Miss Stanley?" said he, pointing to an old pair of gloves, which, much wrinkled and squeezed together, lay on the beautiful marble in rather an unsightly lump.
"Poor Doctor V———," cried Helen to Cecilia; "that poor Doctor V———-is as absent as ever! he is gone, and has forgotten his gloves!"
"Absent! oh, as ever!" said Lady Cecilia, going on with her note, "the most absent man alive."
"Too much of that sort of thing I think there is in Doctor V———-," pursued Churchill: "a touch of absence of mind, giving the idea of high abstraction, becomes a learned man well enough; but then it should only be slight, as a soupçon of rouge, which may become a pretty woman; all depends on the measure, the taste, with which these things are managed— put on."
"There is nothing managed, nothing put on in Doctor V———," cried Helen, eagerly, her colour rising; "it is all perfectly sincere, true in him, whatever it be."
Beauclerc put down his hook.
"All perfectly true! You really think so, Miss Stanley?" said Churchill, smiling, and looking superior down.
"I do, indeed," cried Helen.
"Charming—so young! How I do love that freshness of mind!"
"Impertinent fellow! I could knock him down, felt Beauclerc.
"And you think all Doctor V———'s humility true?" said Churchill. "Yes, perfectly!" said Helen; "but I do not wonder you are surprised at it, Mr. Churchill."
She meant no malice, though for a moment he thought she did; and he winced under Beauclerc's smile.
"I do not wonder that any one who does not know Doctor V———should he surprised by his great humility," added Helen.
"You are sure that it is not pride that apes humility?" asked Churchill.
"Yes, quite sure!"
"Yet—" said Churchill (putting his malicious finger through a great hole in the thumb of the doctor's glove) "I should have fancied that I saw vanity through the holes in these gloves, as through the philosopher's cloak of old."
"Horace is a famous fellow for picking holes and making much of them, Miss Stanley, you see," said the aide-de-camp.
"Vanity! Doctor V——has no vanity!" said Helen, "if you knew him."
"No vanity! Whom does Miss Stanley mean?" cried the aide-de-camp. "No vanity? that's good. Who? Horace?"
"Mauvais plaisant!" Horace put him by, and, happily not easily put out of countenance, he continued to Helen,—
"You give the good doctor credit, too, for all his naïveté?" said Churchill.
"He does not want credit for it," said Helen, "he really has it."
"I wish I could see things as you do, Miss Stanley."
"Show him that, Helen," cried Lady Cecilia, looking at a table beside them, on which lay one of those dioramic prints which appear all a confusion of lines till you look at them in their right point of view. "Show him that—it all depends, and so does seeing characters, on getting the right point of view."
"Ingenious!" said Churchill, trying to catch the right position; "but I can't, I own—" then abruptly resuming, "Navïeté charms me at fifteen," and his eye glanced at Helen, then was retracted, then returning to his point of view, "at eighteen perhaps may do," and his eyes again turned to Helen, "at eighteen—it captivates me quite," and his eye dwelt. "But naïveté at past fifty, verging to sixty, is quite another thing, really rather too much for me. I like all things in season, and above all, simplicity will not bear long keeping. I have the greatest respect possible for our learned and excellent friend, but I wish this could be any way suggested to him, and that he would lay aside this out-of-season simplicity."
"He cannot lay aside his nature," said Helen, "and I am glad of it, it is such a good nature."
"Kind-hearted creature he is, I never heard him say a severe word of any one," said Lady Cecilia.
"What a sweet man he must he!" said Horace, making a face at which none present, not even Helen, could forbear to smile. "His heart, I am sure, is in the right place always. I only wish one could say the same of his wig. And would it be amiss if he sometimes (I would not be too hard upon him, Miss Stanley), once a fortnight, suppose—brushed, or caused to be brushed, that coat of his?"
"You have dusted his jacket for him famously, Horace, I think," said the aide-de-camp.
At this instant the door opened, and in came the doctor himself.
Lady Cecilia's hand was outstretched with her note, thinking, as the door opened, that she should see the servant come in, for whom she had rung.
"What surprises you all so, my good friends," said the doctor, stopping and looking round in all his native simplicity.
"My dear doctor" said Lady Cecilia, "only we all thought you were gone—that's all."
"And I am not gone, that's all. I stayed to write a letter, and am come here to look for—but I cannot find-my—"
"Your gloves, perhaps, doctor, you are looking for," said Churchill, going forward, and with an air of the greatest respect and consideration, both for the gloves and for their owner, he presented them; then shook the doctor by the hand, with a cordiality which the good soul thought truly English, and, bowing him out, added, "How proud he had been to make his acquaintance,—au revoir, he hoped, in Park Lane."
"Oh you treacherous—!" cried Lady Cecilia, turning to Horace, as soon as the unsuspecting philosopher was fairly gone. "Too bad really! If he were not the most simple-minded creature extant, he must have seen, suspected, something from your look; and what would have become of you if the doctor had come in one moment sooner, and had heard you—I was really frightened."
"Frightened! so was I, almost out of my wits," said Churchill. "Les revenans always frighten one; and they never hear any good of themselves, for which reason I make it a principle, when once I have left a room, full of friends especially, never—never to go back. My gloves, my hat, my coat, I'd leave, sooner than lose my friends. Once I heard it said, by one who knew the world and human nature better than any of us—once I heard it said in jest, but in sober earnest I say, that I would not for more than I am worth be placed, without his knowing it, within earshot of my best friend."
"What sort of a best friend can yours he?" cried Beauclerc.
"Much like other people's, I suppose," replied Horace, speaking with perfect nonchalance—"much like other people's best friends. Whosoever expects to find better, I guess, will find worse, if he live in the world we live in."
"May I go out of the world before I believe or suspect any such thing?" cried Beauclerc. "Rather than have the Roman curse light upon me, 'May you survive all your friends and relations!' may I die a thousand times!"
"Who talks of dying, in a voice so sweet—a voice so loud?" said provoking Horace, in his calm, well-bred tone; "for my part, I who have the honour of speaking to you, can boast, that never since I was of years of discretion (counting new style, beginning at thirteen, of course)—never have I lost a friend, a sincere friend—never, for this irrefragable reason—since that nonage, never was I such a neophyte as to fancy I had found that lusus natures, a friend perfectly sincere."
"How I pity you!" cried Beauclerc, "if you are in earnest; but in earnest you can't be."
"Pardon me, I can, and I am. And in earnest you will oblige me, Mr. Beauclerc, if you will spare me your pity: for, all things in this world considered," said Horace Churchill, drawing himself up, "I do not conceive that I am much an object of pity." Then, turning upon his heel, he walked away, conscious, however, half an instant afterwards, that he had drawn himself up too high, and that for a moment his temper had spoiled his tone, and betrayed him into a look and manner too boastful, bordering on the ridiculous. He was in haste to repair the error.
Not Garrick, in the height of his celebrity and of his susceptibility, was ever more anxious than Horace Churchill to avert the stroke of ridicule—to guard against the dreaded smile. As he walked away, he felt behind his back that those he left were smiling in silence.
Lady Cecilia had thrown herself on a sofa, resting, after the labour of l'éloquence de billet. He stopped, and, leaning over the back of the sofa on which she reclined, repeated an Italian line in which was the word "pavoneggiarsi."
"My dear Lady Cecilia, you, who understand and feel Italian so well, how expressive are some of their words! Pavoneggiarsi!—untranslatable. One cannot say well in English, to peacock oneself. To make oneself like unto a peacock is flat; but pavoneggiarsi—action, passion, picture, all in one! To plume oneself comes nearest to it; but the word cannot be given, even by equivalents, in English; nor can it be naturalised, because, in fact, we have not the feeling. An Englishman is too proud to boast—too bashful to strut; if ever he peacocks himself, it is in a moment of anger, not in display. The language of every country," continued he, raising his voice, in order to reach Lady Davenant, who just then returned to the room, as he did not wish to waste a philosophical observation on Lady Cecilia,—"the language of every country is, to a certain degree, evidence, record, history of its character and manners." Then, lowering his voice almost to a whisper, but very distinct, turning while he spoke so as to make sure that Miss Stanley heard—"Your young friend this morning quite captivated me by her nature—nature, the thing that now is most uncommon, a real natural woman; and when in a beauty, how charming! How delicious when one meets with effusion de coeur: a young lady, too, who speaks pure English, not a leash of languages at once; and cultivated, too, your friend is, for one does not like ignorance, if one could have knowledge without pretension—so hard to find the golden mean!—and if one could find it, one might not be nearer to——"
Lady Cecilia listened for the finishing word, but none came. It all ended in a sigh, to be interpreted as she pleased. A look towards the ottoman, where Beauclerc had now taken his seat beside Miss Stanley, seemed to point the meaning out: but Lady Cecilia knew her man too well to understand him.
Beauclerc, seated on the ottoman, was showing to Helen some passages in the book he was reading; she read with attention, and from time to time looked up with a smile of intelligence and approbation. What either said Horace could not hear, and he was the more curious, and when the book was put down, after carelessly opening others he took it up. Very much surprised was he to find it neither novel nor poem: many passages were marked with pencil notes of approbation, he took it for granted these were Bleauclerc's; there he was mistaken, they were Lady Davenant's. She was at her work-table. Horace, book in hand, approached; the book was not in his line, it was more scientific than literary—it was for posterity more than for the day; he had only turned it over as literary men turn over scientific books, to seize what may serve for a new simile or a good allusion; besides, among his philosophical friends, the book being talked of, it was well to know enough of it to have something to say, and he had said well, very judiciously he had praised it among the elect; but now it was his fancy to depreciate it with all his might; not that he disliked the author or the work now more than he had done before, but he was in the humour to take the opposite side from Beauclerc, so he threw the book from him contemptuously "Rather a slight hasty thing, in my opinion," said he. Beauclerc's eyes took fire as he exclaimed, "Slight! hasty! this most noble, most solid work!"
"Solid in your opinion," said Churchill, with a smile deferential, slightly sneering.
"Our own opinion is all that either of us can give," said Beauclerc; "in my opinion it is the finest view of the progress of natural philosophy, the most enlarged, the most just in its judgments of the past, and in its prescience of the future; in the richness of experimental knowledge, in its theoretic invention, the greatest work by any one individual since the time of Bacon."
"And Bacon is under your protection, too?"
"Protection! my protection?" said Beauclerc.
"Pardon me, I simply meant to ask if you are one of those who swear by Lord Verulam."
"I swear by no man, I do not swear at all, not on philosophical subjects especially; swearing adds nothing to faith," said Beauclerc.
"I stand corrected," said Churchill, "and I would go further, and add that in argument enthusiasm adds nothing to reason—much as I admire, as we all admire," glancing at Miss Stanley, "that enthusiasm with which this favoured work has been advocated!"
"I could not help speaking warmly," cried Beauclerc; "it is a book to inspire enthusiasm; there is such a noble spirit all through it, so pure from petty passions, from all vulgar jealousies, all low concerns! Judge of a book, somebody says, by the impression it leaves on your mind when you lay it down; this book stands that test, at least with me, I lay it down with such a wish to follow—with steps ever so unequal still to follow, where it points the way."
"Bravo! bravissimo! hear him, hear him! print him, print him! hot-press from the author to the author, hot-press!" cried Churchill, and he laughed.
Like one suddenly awakened from the trance of enthusiasm by the cold touch of ridicule, stood Beauclerc, brought down from heaven to earth, and by that horrid little laugh, not the heart's laugh.
"But my being ridiculous does not make my cause so, and that is a comfort." "And another comfort you may have, my dear Granville," said Lady Davenant, "that ridicule is not the test of truth; truth should be the test of ridicule."
"But where is the book?" continued Beauclerc.
Helen gave it to him.
"Now, Mr. Churchill," said Beauclerc; "I am really anxious, I know you are such a good critic, will you show me these faults? blame as well as praise must always he valuable from those who themselves excel."
"You are too good," said Churchill.
"Will you then be good enough to point out the errors for me?"
"Oh, by no means," cried Churchill, "don't note me, do not quote me, I am nobody, and I cannot give up my authorities."
"But the truth is all I want to get at," said Beauclerc.
"Let her rest, my dear sir, at the bottom of her well; there she is, and there she will be for ever and ever, and depend upon it none of our windlassing will ever bring her up."
"Such an author as this," continued Beauclerc, "would have been so glad to have corrected any error."
"So every author tells you, but I never saw one of them who did not look blank at a list of errata—if you knew how little one is thanked for them!"
"But you would be thanked now," said Beauclerc:—"the faults in style, at least."
"Nay, I am no critic," said Churchill, confident in his habits of literary detection; "but if you ask me," said he, as he disdainfully flirted the leaves back and forward with a "There now!" and a "Here now!" "We should not call that good writing—you could not think this correct? I may be wrong, but I should not use this phrase. Hardly English that—colloquial, I think; and this awkward ablative absolute—never admitted now."
"Thank you," said Beauclerc, "these faults are easily mended."
"Easily mended, say you? I say, better make a new one."
"WHO COULD?" said Beauclerc.
"How many faults you see," said Helen, "which I should never have perceived unless you had pointed them out, and I am sorry to know them now." Smiling at Helen's look of sincere mortification, in contrast at this moment with Mr. Churchill's air of satisfied critical pride, Lady Davenant said,—
"Why sorry, my dear Helen? No human work can be perfect; Mr. Churchill may be proud of that strength of eye which in such a powerful light can count the spots. But whether it be the best use to make of his eyes, or the best use that can be made of the light, remains to be considered."
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