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SECRETS OF THE BLUE CHAMBER.
BY ALEANY POYNTZ.
The public is beginning, I trust, to recognize in me one of those modern philosophers who, instead of placing in their microscope the wing of a sphinx, or in their retort a crystal of succinamide, delight in the anatomization of insects of a larger growth, and the analysis of the newly-discovered products of the mind; a human naturalist, intent upon pushing his discoveries into the idiosyncrasy of man, through the symptomatic indications of manners.
Those who had the luck to visit Paris some five-and-twenty years ago, may recall to mind a sapient humorist, known by the name of L'Hermite de la Chaussée d'Antin, who, from his secluded hermitage in the heart of that gay metropolis, exercised a most singular inquisition into the peculiarities of his contemporaries. To this day, it is admitted that the domestic life of the times of Napoleon is nowhere so accurately portrayed as in the lucubrations of the Hermit.
Much such a commentator am I.-In the upper story of a commodious mansion of the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, is my study, familiarly known by privileged visitors as the Blue Chamber; wherein I pass my merry life in laughing over the antics of the fashionable world below. In the days of Molière, by the way, there was also a famous Blue Chamber,—La Chambre Bleu of the Hôtel de Rambouillet,-in which used to assemble the celebrated coterie satirized by the dramatic philosopher, under the name of Les Précieuses Ridicules. People are apt to suppose that the designation “Blue,' applied to such of the gentler sex as dabble in literature, originated in the epoch of Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Montague. Not a bit !It is as old as those of Menage and Madame de Sevigné,--two of the habitual frequenters of the Marchioness de Rambouillet's Blue Chamber! Blue has consequently been for the last two centuries the emblematical colour of the lettered tribe. Blue devils had probably the same origin. The spirits that minister to my Blue Chamber, however, are couleur de rose ; and the feathers I pluck from their wings to depict the manners of the day, though many-hued as the plumage of a humming-bird, rarely include the cerulean tinge of the pedant among their evanescent tints.
To paint with discretion the lighter follies of the times, the artist must be a man of the world, yet, dolphin-like, show above the element he moves in.' Inquire of the sun, which receives my morning salutation full five minutes before its rays gild the adjoining balconies of Berkeley Square, whether I rise not considerably above and before my fashionable neighbours. The first object I generally salute after the sun, on summer mornings, is my next door neighbour, Lord John Devereux, lounging home from Crockey's, with the pallid face of a waxwork figure that has weathered the vicissitudes of a show-life for the last thirty years; and from his manner of proceeding along the street,—whether tickling the flank of a fine cab-horse in his days of prosperity, or tapping the area-rail as he saunters along, with a jewel-headed cane, nearly as valuable as the cab-horse, I can infer within a hundred guineas the amount of his winnings or losings. Lord John is one of my weather-guages of the morals of the day. I love the lad almost as much as though he were a grandson of my own. I can comprehend, from the nature and number of the knocks at his door, the chief incidents of his daily life. The single knocks perpetrated by wretches in brown brass-buttoned coats and corduroys, or shabby-genteel nondescripts in seedy surtouts, whereof the sidepockets seem framed to contain compendious morocco pocket-books, have begun to fill my mind with anxiety in behalf of my young neighbour, since I discovered that these worthies are apt to emerge from his abode with faces the complexion of a gathering thunder-storm, and execrations
not loud but deep,—and occasionally loud also :-just such, in short, as are necessarily engendered between a visit to Crockey's overnight, and a visit with a single knock in the morning.
I can fully enter into the state of the case. Lord John is the third son of the Duke of Crawley, whose rent-roll of seventy thousand a-year was charged by his marriage-settlements with a provision of fifty thousand pounds for younger children. It was thought handsome sum at the time; for the young Duchess, whose jointure those settlements purported to affix, had no dowry but her beauty; and there was a ferocious Duchessdowager still extant, extracting eight thousand a-year from the estate. Who was to guess, moreover, that so silly a measure as a love-match on the part of one of the wealthiest peers of the realm, would create ten junior branches for the subdivision of the allotted sum into small packets of poison, amounting to five thousand pounds a-piece ?
Lord John and his five luckless younger brothers, accordingly, were reared in purple and fine linen, on venison and providence-pine, without the slightest reason to infer that the future provision of each would not amount to the salary of their father's French cook. They rode their Shetland ponies, and figured in fine oil paintings in the Exhibition, arrayed in velvet and point-lace, in all the thoughtless vanity of childhood. Grooms, keepers, pages, tutors, and other menial servants, waited upon their beck; and they progressed in due season to Eton and the University, without having received an admonitory hint from their parents that it was their vital interest to attain there the means of their future advancement in life. The Duke was too busy with his whist, and the Duchess with her toilet, to do more than hurry through an affectionate good-b'ye to them when they quitted the castle. Lord Edward, indeed, the one intended for a bishop, was occasionally reminded that he was tabooed for the Church, and must be more guarded than his brothers; but the rest of them, like other ill weeds, grew apace, and did little or nothing beside.
No one cared enough for the Duke of Crawley to remonstrate with him seriously concerning the destinies of his boys, for he was known to be averse to serious talking; and, though a kind-hearted man, lived on from day to day, through a life of pleasure, without ever bringing it to mind that at his death his son the Marquis would succeed to Belmont Castle, and the rest of his handsome boys to comparative beggary ! • Ned is to be a parson; Willie is to study the law, and represent the Crawley borough. "Jack, Harry, and Orlando must go into the army, or do something or other, and we will see and push them on,' was his usual reply when his old tutor, the Irish Dean, or some inquisitive country neighbour, presumed to question him respecting the training of his olive branches. His Grace trusted, in short, as men of less con
sequence too often trust, to the chapter of accidents, to provide for those who owed it to him that they were thrust into this world of debits and credits, to struggle and buffet with its necessities; and was consequently more at liberty to enjoy his hunting half the year, and his rubber the oth
The annual cost of his kennel, had it been laid by for William, Jack, Harry, and Orlando, would of course have placed their future fortunes beyond all solicitude. But it is a hard thing for a Duke with so fine a rentroll to deny himself the innocent recreation of a pack of hounds, or the ruinous hospitalities which form an inevitable appendix to the onerous item of aristocratic life ; and thus, when his Grace descended in his Spanish mahogany shell and crimson velvet coffin to the society of his ancestors, the wide world became encumbered with a Lord William, a Lord Henry, a Lord Orlando, and a Lord John, of no mortal use to the community, or credit to their order.
The Reform Bill, meanwhile, had provided for the Crawley borough, which was to have provided for Lord William ; Lord Henry was in a hussar regiment, the inevitable expenses of which exactly doubled his income; Lord Orlando was in the guards, on the quick march for the Bench; and Lord John, my neighbour, (who had been sent into the navy with his milk-of-roses habits so strong upon him, that it was next to impossible he should cling to it as a profession,) was what is called on the pavé.
Impossible to see a finer young man ;-tall, active, intelligent, yet refined and gentle in his manners, unless when roused by altercations with single knocks. Having quitted Eton for the Mediterranean at thirteen, he had more pretext than his brothers for deficiency of scholarship; and, in lieu of Latin and Greek, had at least picked up enough French, Italian, and Spanish, to make him talk the abominable English in vogue amongst the gabblers of the day. He was an accomplished musician too, -as the sound of a guitar and rich tenor, which reached me on summer mornings from his open windows, sufficed to attest ; and, if I might trust to the record of his partnership accounts in the Morning Post, Almacks did not boast of more favoured waltzer than Lord John Devereux.
Here was a pretty fellow to attain at twenty-one, the absolute command of five thousand pounds, and not a grain of discretion to turn it to account !—He regarded it as a year's income -Compared with the measure of his enjoyments at Belmont Castle, it was scarcely so much. However, he was good enough to content himself with it; and as Lord John had nearly attained his twenty-second year when he first attracted my notice, he was at that time hardly worth five hundred pounds in the world. Fortune sometimes favours the reckless; and the chances of Crockford's are said to have quadrupled that modest modicum before the close of the season. Though what is popularly called “done up,' and melodramatically called "undone,' he was able to keep up the ball a little longer. He lived at free quarters the autumn and winter months, with his brother the Duke's hunters and hounds, at Belmont Castle ; and early in the spring I had the delight of welcoming him back to his old lodgings, rejuvenized by country sports, and almost as brilliant as ever.
My heart was glad within me. My interest in him was as warm as it was unjustifiable; and heartily did I long to whisper in his ear with the still small voice of experience, “Be warned !-be wise -beware! Take
your hands the light burthen of your fortunes, and weigh them warily, ere again you risk them against the bitterness of penury,--the shame
of obligation. Youth, with health and a hundred a-year, may appear despicable in your eyes; but youth without them is a far more sorry heritage. Take courage. Fail back upon your profession. The party in which your family is enrolled may resume its authority. Government patronage, if it find you in the path of honour, might do much for you; but if it must seek you out sinking under a load of debt and obloquy, not even the strongest prop it has to offer can restore to strength and comeliness the deformity of a broken character.'
But how from the aërial eminence of my Blue Chamber was I to whisper this into the ear of the joyous young man ?-I soon saw how matters were going with him !-Every day, knowing cabs called to take him out to dinner; and anything but knowing family coaches stopped at his door four hours afterwards, for the same purpose, on their way to different balls. Next morning, footmen with letters, and pages with notes, before he had been more than three hours in bed ; while tailors and jewellers, hatters and bootmakers, bowed at his levee with a degree of assiduity that sufficed to prove the punctuality of his payments during the year for which his fortune had served as income. Everybody was not so well versed as I in the amount of his mother's marriage settlements and his own fortune. The tailors and jewellers knew nothing of the sum total of his losses at play, or the diminution of his property ; the fair proprietors of the footmen and pages had no reason to imagine that their little perfumed billets were addressed to a ruined man; and as to the family coaches, they would not have stopped within three streets of his lodgings, had they entertained the most distant suspicion of the real state of the
It could not be expected that, when the truth began to be surmised, tailors, jewellers, and family coaches should be sufficiently philosophical to compassionate Lord John as the victim of an erroneous system, — a martyr to the grim ghost of extinct feodality, which, so far from contemplating the greatest happiness of the greatest number, seems bent upon making fools of the elder-born of the aristocracy, and knaves of the rest.
I had noticed so many traits of humanity and courtesy in this fine young man, that I shuddered at finding him about to be included in this grievous majority. I noticed his popularity among his young acquaintances, both lords and commons; nay, I have seen the sweeper of an adjacent crossing stand and look after him with a benediction as long as he remained in sight; while the blind beggar stationed on a neighbouring door-step, abstained from striking up her monotonous plaint whenever his well-known step approached, as she did for less familiar passengers; for of his liberality she was pre-assured. Other excellences had reached my knowledge connected with the three-cornered billets and their pages (I mean the pages in dark green liveries), which, combined with the almost poetical grace of his manners and appearance, excited my sym. pathy to the utmost. If I had not known myself to be such a wretched old quiz, I swear I would have got put up at Crockford's, for the sole purpose of watching over the proceedings of Lord John.
It almost enraged me to think that his four sisters were married to wealthy peers, hereditary lawgivers, supporters of Church and State, and men of weight and consequence in the country; and that not one of them was at the trouble of extending an arm to preserve this luck
less boy from destruction. There was his brother, Lord Edward, with three thousand a-year Church preferment and high ecclesiastical honours; but he had a wife and children, and therefore he could not come to the succour of the falling man. Lord Orlando was with his regiment in India; Lord William making his court to a city widow; and Lord Henry compromising with his creditors. Not a soul among them with a thought or a guinea to waste upon their frail brother! I had even thoughts of inditing a private word or two to the proprietresses of the pages, to implore their intervention. But by rash interference I might embroil the affairs of my young neighbour a million fold.
So passed the second year; and, now that we are entering the third, the result of my evil prognostications is fatally corroborative of their wisdom. The morning single knocks are now repeated with damnable iteration. Not a family coach for the last eight months; the cabs of opulent friends or kinsmen few and far between ;—but, as infallible as the rising of the sun, the return of the prodigal at daylight, with sallow cheeks and seared eyes,-a gambler,-a losing gambler,-a gambler playing on parole, and knowing that his word of honour was once sacred!
I see how it is—I see plainly how it is.-I shall lose him.—The lad will come to a bad end. While his brother the Duke is paying thousands per annum to keep up his hunting establishment, and hundreds to his chaplain and maître d'hôtel, besides devoting a prodigious waste of prose to the harassment of government and its administrators; while Lord Edward is keeping residence at his deanery, and his noble brothers-in-law preaching in Parliament, not a word either of exhortation or reproval is addressed to the goodly creature thus gratuitously wrecked among the rocks and shoals of fashion, by a bad education, bad example, and the bad influences of conventional life.
There is a pretty little damsel leaning at this moment against the French windows of an opposite drawing-room, and apt to be on the watch there at this hour of the day,- actuated, I suspect, by the same anxieties as my. self. It is Dora Colvile, only daughter of the stiff-necked, pig-tailed old General to whom the house belongs. Sir Felix is a widower, and on the committee of the United Service Club; for were there a Lady Colvile in the case, she would instruct poor Dora that it is an unbecoming thing for a pretty little face to be seen so often at the window, especially when living opposite to a handsome young man who, to speak it kindly, is a bit of a roué. But Dora would perhaps answer that she did not care. Dora is getting reckless on more subjects than one. In reply to such expostulations, she is apt to exclaim, with such an air of pettishness, 'Do let me have one agreeable moment in the course of the day!!—that it is plain she takes little pleasure in the company of young Rodenton (the only son of one of the richest landed proprietors of Yorkshire), whom Sir Felix picks up in St. James's Street, and brings home with him, at least three days in the week. Two years ago, she bore patiently enough with Rodenton and his paltry self-conceit; but Dora is now eighteen instead of . sixteen; and has acquired such mighty knowledge of the world as to be aware that a Duke's younger son, if unportioned, is worse off than a commoner's younger son, from having a social position to maintain ; and that her father has an especial motive for inviting Jemmy Rodenton so often to his house. For the estates of Sir Felix are entailed; the rest of his in