Author: Scargill, William Pitt, 1787-1836
England — Social life and customs — 19th century — Fiction
Penelope: or, Love’s Labour Lost, Vol. 2 (of 3)
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
LOVE’S LABOUR LOST.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
PRINTED FOR HUNT AND CLARKE,
YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
PRINTED BY C. H. REYNELL, BROAD STREET, GOLDEN SQUARE.
LOVE’S LABOUR LOST.
Table of Contents
Lord Spoonbill was not less disappointed than the Countess of Smatterton, to hear that Penelope was in daily expectation of seeing her father. Hereditary legislators are sometimes perplexed, and in the present case the son of the Earl of Smatterton was in a state of grievous doubt and agitation.
His object in the first instance had been to take Penelope under his protection, and he supposed that if the correspondence between her and Robert Darnley could be broken off, there would be very little difficulty in inducing her to comply with his proposals. For it was his intention to make a most liberal settlement and to place her in a very handsome establishment. Living as he had always in splendour, and enjoying the luxuries and ostentation of wealth, though accustomed to them from his birth, he thought, that to one educated in such humble obscurity as Penelope had been, these fascinations would be irresistible. During the short time that he had been under the same roof with her, he had seen and observed more of the character of her mind, and he felt that it was not personal beauty alone that she possessed, but that her disposition was kind and her temper beautiful; and therefore he loved her with a much purer regard than ever he had before entertained for any one of the sex. He loved her so much, in fact, that he absolutely regretted that her rank in life was not nearer to his own.
It now also occurred to him, from what he had heard in the autumn, that it was very probable that Robert Darnley might be in England, and that through the intervention of Mr Primrose some explanation might bring the parties together again, and thus his lordship’s hopes would be disappointed and his schemes frustrated. Then there came into his lordship’s mind the thought of the intercepted letters, and with that thought the fear that a discovery might be made as to the manner in which, and the person by whom, they had been intercepted. But that fear was transient, for his lordship confidently said to himself, “It is absolutely impossible that Nick Muggins should betray me.” What could his lordship be thinking about when he uttered this soliloquy? Did the Right Honorable Lord Spoonbill think that the principle of honor was stronger in the mind of Nick Muggins, the Smatterton post-boy, than it was in his own Right Honorable self? Wherein, did his lordship imagine, consisted the essential superiority of the high born above the sons of the peasantry? Did his lordship imagine that the only difference was in titles and soft white hands? It is not for us to know what lords may think, it is enough for us to gaze with wonderment on what they do.
Present circumstances and present feelings compelled Lord Spoonbill to enter into serious deliberation with himself as to what step he should pursue. He could not for a moment admit the possibility of making an honorable offer of his hand to the young lady; such a proposal would have been the death of the Earl of Smatterton. That offer, which his lordship gravely called the other proposal, required a little more circumlocution and management; for his lordship was not quite so simple as not to be aware that, if making the first proposal was condescension on his part, accepting the latter would be condescension on the part of the lady. There was required for this purpose a tolerably strong attachment to his lordship, which might not yet exist in the lady’s mind. And though Lord Spoonbill was not by any means a man of great understanding or extraordinary penetration, yet in those matters in which he was most conversant he was not altogether unskilful. In pursuits of a similar nature to the present, his lordship was by no means inexpert; but, in the present instance, he knew that the person in question was gifted with mental powers superior to those which had belonged to his previous victims, and his own regard for her was somewhat more tender and respectful.
These considerations on the one hand told his lordship that success would be endangered by precipitancy, while the fact that Mr Primrose, in the course of a day or two, would make his appearance, rendered it necessary that some immediate steps should be taken. It is a great pity that hereditary legislators, who are born to govern a nation, should in any case be incapable of legislating for themselves. Such a case now occurred. Lord Spoonbill thought of calling to his aid the counsel of a friend. For this purpose he forthwith ordered his horse for a morning ride; and, after an unmercifully rapid gallop of ten miles, he dismounted at the door of one of the prettiest little cottages within twenty miles of London.
This cottage was almost secluded from the sight of the world, but was yet within reach of life’s gaieties and luxuries. Its secludedness was owing partly to the immensely thick plantations by which it was hidden from the road, and partly to the narrow and almost imperceptible lane which led to it. The external appearance of the plantation was rugged and uncultivated and neglected; and this appearance was, on the part of the owner and occupier of the place, cunningly intentional. He was a man who loved seclusion, but who loved the world; but the world which he loved was not the miscellaneous world of promiscuous humanity; it was only the world of select and superfastidious fashion, of graceful gaiety and refined voluptuousness. He loved society not as society, but as the means of more intense and effective sensual gratification. Our readers, we trust, will excuse and accompany us if we describe with very particular minuteness this very singular character. He belonged not to any class, or tribe, or general description of men; for if he had, a few words of outline would suffice to state the class to which he belonged, and imagination or observation might supply the rest. But he was a perfect unique.
His personal appearance was striking, though not marked by any decided or obvious singularity. He was tall and well formed, finely proportioned and of graceful carriage. The top of his head was entirely and shiningly bald; his complexion was fair, and there was for the most part a look of good humour and easy gaiety in his countenance; but an attentive observer might occasionally perceive a transient cloudiness that looked like disappointment, and there were also visible traces of slight asperity and symptoms of sneer and contemptuousness. In his dress he was fastidiously accurate and expensively splendid. He regarded fashion no farther than as it gave him an opportunity of exhibiting himself to the greatest possible advantage.
Of the qualities of his mind it is difficult to speak intelligibly. He was intellectual, though sensual; his reading was remarkably limited, and his knowledge as remarkably extensive. He had received the rudiments of his education at Westminster, and had finished his studies at Cambridge, at which place he had become acquainted with Lord Spoonbill. But, notwithstanding all the opportunities which had been afforded him, he had not made what is called progress in literature. He was perfect in no species of knowledge or science which is derivable from books. He had learned Greek, Latin, French, Italian and German, but he was familiar with none of them. He had slightly attended to the exact sciences, but he had forgotten of them everything but their existence. He had read ancient and modern history; his recollection of them was little, but clear, and when he had any occasion to speak of any of their facts or their philosophies, he generally spoke with accuracy, and thereby acquired a reputation, which he had no wish or ambition to acquire, of being a well read man. Few people speak Greek or Latin, and therefore our gentleman, not being examined, passed for a scholar. Everybody who pretends to any degree of refinement or fashion, interslops his own native language with an ungrammatical nasal blattering, called quoting French; and our gentleman had picked up enough of that affected trumpery to pass well in the society which he occasionally frequented. With how small a portion of real literature and actual knowledge a man may pass muster in society, is only known to those who love the reputation of scholarship better than its toils.
The gentleman of whom we are speaking was too politic to trouble himself about politics. His politics, if the theory of such an indolent one may be called by that name, were Ascendancy politics. Those are the best subjects who never trouble their heads about politics: if we were king we should always encourage and patronize such people. The tame negroes in the West India islands do not trouble their heads about politics, nor do the subjects of the Emperor of Morocco, or the King of Persia, for if they did, their heads would soon cease to trouble them. The people of the United States do trouble their heads, but the time may come when there may be in that part of the world a great multitude who will not trouble their heads about politics; it will then be a much pleasanter thing to be king of America than it would now. But while we say that our gentleman was indifferent to politics, and therefore a good subject, we by no means wish it to be understood that he was a Tory, for Tories do trouble their heads about politics, and trouble other people’s heads too.
This person eschewed partisanship, because it would give him trouble to belong to a party. His principle was to possess and enjoy animally every luxury within his reach; but at the same time to avoid those excesses which are palpably and obviously ruinous to the constitution. He had made the experiment for very few years, but he began to find thus early that the experiment was not likely to succeed. For want of exertion and activity the keenness of his relish had already begun to abate; and by carefully extracting the bitter ingredients from life’s cup and casting them away, he found that its sweets were sickening and saturating. Whatever was annoying to mind or body, he endeavoured, and in most cases successfully, to avoid. But there was gradually and surely coming upon him the bitterest of all annoyances; that kind of mental suffering which is only describable in the language of paradox, and which we will set down for the purpose of giving the purblind puppies of criticism something to yelp at. He was then beginning to feel the bitterness of sweetness, the darkness of light, the discord of harmony, the solitude of society, the weariness of rest, the deformity of beauty; but he knew not how and from whence this annoyance was coming upon him. He had felt that sensibility was painful, and he had suppressed or neutralized it; he avoided the sight or thought of suffering, for he felt that sympathy with pain was painful. He had not exercised the powers of his mind, lest that exercise should interfere with that system of luxurious enjoyment which he had adopted. He had despised and derided the moral feeling, and had studiously guarded himself against all reproofs which conscience might administer to him. But with all this care he experienced feelings far more oppressive than those against which he guarded.
Now the Right Honorable Lord Spoonbill was also a man of no mental exertion, but he was a man of no mental power; he also was sensual, but his was not a deliberate and studied sensuality, it was purely animal and instinctive. He was an Epicurean, but not an Epicurean philosopher. At Cambridge he had been acquainted with this Mr Erpingham, and he had admired the dextrous sophistry by which this gentleman had proved the worse to be the better cause. Mr Erpingham had also been proud of the acquaintance with nobility, though Lord Spoonbill was a younger man than he. And they had become the confidents and companions of each others profligacies.
In a difficulty therefore of that kind to which we have above alluded, it is not to be wondered at that his lordship should enter into consultation, or at least into conversation, concerning the subject with his good friend Erpingham.
We would not, however, have our readers imagine that Lord Spoonbill was quite such a ninny as to make it the subject of deliberate consultation and express enquiry, to learn what he ought to do on the present occasion; he merely meant to make a call upon his friend, and he was prompted to make that call by the circumstances in which he was then placed with regard to Penelope Primrose. His object was to talk the matter over, and he certainly could not have selected a properer person to take part in such conversation.
The two friends had not met for some time; the interview was agreeable therefore to both parties; for they had a great mutual respect for each other: Lord Spoonbill admired Mr Erpingham’s talents, and Mr Erpingham had a high respect for Lord Spoonbill’s title and high connexions.
Lord Spoonbill was ushered into an apartment, the air of which was warm and fragrant: the warmth came from Newcastle, and the fragrancy from Bond street. At first entering the room his lordship saw not any one to whom his name could have been announced. The servant who had opened the door for him closed it immediately behind him, and he seemed to be in an empty apartment. By an instinct natural to an Englishman he advanced towards the fire-place, and there he presently saw on a sofa, the back of which was towards the door, his friend Erpingham reclining at full length, and having before him an open volume placed on a low table, which had been constructed and adapted for reading on a sofa. This was what Erpingham called “reading made easy.”
His lordship expressed by his looks some surprise that his friend should not rise from the sofa, and said, “Erpingham! are you unwell?”
“Ah! Spoonbill, is it you? Excuse my not rising to receive you; but the fact is, I have been trying for the last hour and a half to get into an easy position, and I have but just accomplished it, and if I move now I shall not be able to recover the position, and you know how wretched that sensation is. Well, how are the old materials?”
This last question referred to the health of the Earl and Countess of Smatterton; and it was a phrase which Erpingham had learned from Lord Spoonbill himself.
To this question Lord Spoonbill made the regular response, and continued, “How is it, Erpingham, that I never have the pleasure of seeing you unless I ride over to you?”
“Can’t say,” was the careless reply: “but,” continued the Epicurean, “I am not partial to mixed company. Now your house in town is too multitudinous for me.—But my Clarissa tells me that the Countess of Smatterton is going to astonish the whole world by introducing a new first-rate voice.”
For explanation, it may be enough to inform the reader that Clarissa held the same place in Mr Erpingham’s establishment as Lord Spoonbill wished Penelope to hold in his. His lordship therefore was not sorry that the subject should be thus introduced, and he replied:
“Exactly so. But we have our doubts whether the lady will, under present circumstances, assent to the arrangement: for when she came to London, it was as an orphan, but now her father has returned from India after a long, and, I suppose, a profitable absence. Mr Primrose, the father, is now on his way from Smatterton, and he has said in his letter to his daughter, that he is about to place her in a home of his own. So I fear we shall lose this star.”
Mr Erpingham did not lay anything very much to heart, and therefore he did not express any serious lamentation on this probable loss. He directed his remarks to other matters; and among other questions which he asked of Lord Spoonbill, alluding to the circumstances and events of his lordship’s life, he enquired: “And have you got rid of your dear little Ellen at last? You had a great deal of trouble with her, I think you told me some time ago.”
Lord Spoonbill was quite as profligate as his elegant friend, but he had not so successfully and completely neutralized all his feelings. Though his profligacy therefore was coarser than that of Erpingham, and though his lordship was not over gifted with sensibility, yet he was not so entirely and systematically heartless. To this question concerning poor Ellen he shook his head, and said:
“Why, yes; I was sorry for the poor thing too: she was very much in love with me at one time, I really believe.”
“Ay,” replied Erpingham, “that was bad. It is quite annoying to have a woman in love with one. I could not endure it. I make it a rule never to encourage anything of the kind. You were too much addicted to sentimentality when you were at Cambridge. I suspect now that you are more than half in love with this Miss Primrose. Is she pretty and silly?”
Lord Spoonbill frowned at the question, and did not answer it.
“Oh, well,” replied his friend, “I have no wish to be in your confidence. Pray don’t tell me any more of your secrets than you wish me to know. And if you are going to talk as much nonsense to me about Miss Primrose as you did two years ago about your ‘dear little Ellen,’ I must beg to be excused. Positively, Spoonbill, I have grown quite nervous of late.”
“I think,” replied his lordship, “you have grown quite provoking. I have no intention of boring your ears with any sentimentality, as you are pleased to call it.”
This being uttered in a petulant tone, and Erpingham not liking to take the trouble of replying in the same tone, contented himself with indolently saying:
“Well, well, don’t be angry. Say what you please. I will bear it very patiently.”
Lord Spoonbill having but little time to spare, and being very desirous of unburthening his mind to his friend, suffered this kind of careless half-apology to extract from him the secret of his attachment to Penelope. Erpingham listened as attentively as he could to the story, and when it was finished he yawned out, “Ah! sure! But what assistance can I give you?”
It was not very easy to answer that question. His lordship was more disposed indeed to ask questions than answer them, and therefore, instead of replying to the question of his friend, he said: “Now what would you advise me to do?”
“Make her an offer of a handsome establishment. I suppose she is violently in love with you.”
“I cannot be quite sure of that,” replied his lordship; “but I believe I am not quite disagreeable to her.”
“There is something in that,” replied Erpingham; “but not much. According to your account of this Miss Primrose, it should seem that she is of a good family, and perhaps the arrangement that you contemplate would not be acceded to.”
“That,” answered his lordship, “is what I most fear; and I will acknowledge