ePub 版


APRIL 1861.

The Seven Sons of Mammon.



AX EXCEEDINGLY VULGAR PERSON. . W HAT is a gentleman ? Who is a gentleman ? I pause for a reply.

W Of course there will be at once as many score thousand answers, indignant, sarcastic, explanatory, and argumentative, to my queries as there are readers to this story. But I must repeat them nevertheless. “What is a gentleman ? and who, if you please, has a right to be considered one?” Maginn once, discussing the vexed question, quoted an Irish authority, who laid it down that for duelling purposes any one might be considered a gentleman who wore a clean shirt once a week. The present generation is more fastidious, and would not be satisfied with such a standard of gentility. The Byronic idea of a gentleman we are all familiar with: small hands and feet, a high forehead' (warranted alabaster), curly hair, and a fine taste for hock and soda-water in the morning ; but when we find a being so endowed squabbling with his wife, recommending Mr. Grimaldi the clown to take soy with his apple-tart, and composing a scurril poem under the inspiration of diluted gin and not hock, one begins to doubt somewhat of the correctness of the Byronic theory. It is plain, I am afraid, that manners have little to do with making a gentlemanin the world's sense of the term. The Plantagenets ate their meals with their fingers, slept on straw, and did not use pocket-handkerchiefs; and Charlemagne, not being able to write, was compelled to dip the forefinger of his glove in ink and smear it over the parchment, when it was necessary that the imperial sign-manual should be affixed to an edict. VOL. II.



often been les confessoas a criter

snubited quarter to launching of

Imagine “ Carolus Magnus X his mark”! The best-bred men of modern times have often been of the most plebeian extraction. The French Duke de Noailles-Noailles confessed that the dancing-master Vestris, if his demeanour was to be taken as a criterion, was the most polished gentleman he ever saw; whereas, per contra, read what St. Simon has to say of the bearish and brutish manners of the great Dukes and Peers of his time. Brummell, the pattern of English patricians, was the son of a petty lodging-house keeper, and the grandson of a menial servant;-if he ever had a grandfather at all. Again, as to appearance. Take down your Lavater's Physiognomy, and, placing your hand over the names appended to the portraits, just strive by guess-work to determine who are the nobly-descended and who the base-born in that long panorama of faces. Long odds may be laid that when you come to remove your hand, you will discover that this eagle-nosed, lofty-browed worthy, who by his countenance should be of the bluest blood of Castile, is the son of a cobbler, and that this bull-necked, snub-nosed, thick-lipped, clod-hopping-looking fellow is a grandee of a hundred quarterings, or a prince of an imperial house. Now, do you think I am about to launch into some hotly democratic invective against the folly and fallacy of claims of long descent; that I am about to quote the “grand old gardener and his wife ;” or ask, with Wat Tyler's crew, who was a gentleman when the gardener delved and his wife span; or chuckle over the ambassadorpoet's proposed epitaph:

"Ladies and gentles, by your leave,

Here lies the body of Matthew Prior;
The son of Adam and of Eve:

Can Bourbon or Nassau go higher ?" No:I have not any wish to attempt sarcasm either one way or the othereithera bout “tenth transmitters of foolish faces,” or poor varlets whose blood “has crept through scoundrels ever since the Flood.” Blood, quotha! If I am pricked, will not my veins yield the life current; and if I choose to wear blue spectacles, may I not declare it to be the real tap— the genuine sangre azul? Blood, forsooth! What are your two-pennyhalfpenny Howards and Percys to my ancestry,—to yours, my descendant of five hundred cattle-lifters,—to yours, Fitz Bogie designed of Macgillicuddy; to yours, M. de Sidonia, who carry three trumpets proper in memory of your ancestor who helped to blow the walls of Jericho down? and what are all our boastings of ancient descent compared with those of the Chuggs of Suffolk, who have held the plough and cracked the clods for twice five hundred years. Let us all be proud of our progenitors, and think ourselves each and severally the very finest gentlemen that ever stepped ; and when a rude person says, “Sir, you are no gentleman,” let us answer him, “Sir, you are no judge.”

And yet: Who is a gentleman ? What is a gentleman ? The question is as far from solution as ever. I don't know, for one; but if, as we are generally compelled to do, the general verdict of the world is to be fallen back upon, it is very certain, not only that the Reverend Ruthyn Pendragon was no gentleman, but that he was, on the contrary, an exceedingly vulgar person.

There had been curates and curates at Swordsley. The rector, who was deaf, paralytic, and all but blind, had been taken care of for a long period by his relatives, who found the mild and genial climate of Torquay most suited to his infirm state of health. The large revenues of the incumbency had been carefully paid in to the bankers of the Reverend Mr. Marrowfat—that was the name of the invalid rector; and the successive curates had been as punctually paid their small and not increasing stipends. The evil-tongued, who were neither more nor less numerous at Swordsley than elsewhere, averred that the patroness in ordinary to ecclesiastical preferment under the Rector of Swordsley was a certain Mrs. Gryphon, by the mother's side a Marrowfat, by conjugal relation the widow of a broken shipbroker, and who was good enough to officiate as housekeeper, companion, and general locum tenens to the infirm clerical gentleman. She did every thing for him. She opened his letters, and read those which he received; nay, after the Reverend Mr. Marrowfat's death, human malignity went so far as to say—in the great probate case of Marrowfat and Wife versus Gryphon—that this indefatigable widow-lady made the rector's will for him, and had it all her own way in making it. This, however, is only by the way. I am afraid that she did appoint the curates, and that the advent of the ecclesiastic who stammered, and of the other one who had no H's, must be laid to ber charge. Of the red-headed curate, however, Mrs. Gryphon must be held blameless. He of the scarlet locks was a nominee of the Chucklebuxes, a rival branch of the Marrowfat family, who obtained temporary dominion over the poor old clergyman during an absence of Mrs. Gryphon in London. The widow had a graceless nephew,-a Gryphon, not a Marrowfat,—who, having spent a large legacy, principally in hire of dog carts, and the purchase of cherry-brandy, shirts of extraordinary pattern, and coloured lithographs of eminent dramatic performers, had enlisted in the Hussars, but was speedily bought off from the draff and husks of the depôt at Maidstone by his affectionate aunt. Having unsuccessfully tempted fortune as a commercial traveller for an article in general demand (the celebrated steel-edged wooden razors), as a billiardmarker, and as a frequenter of certain dry skittle-alleys, whither gentlemen of agricultural appearance were brought to play, and where, it is said, they were sometimes drugged and robbed, young Ripton Gryphon again enlisted; this time in her Majesty's infantry of the line. He was again bought off; and after enjoying for a short time an appointment in the metropolitan police force, from which he was dismissed for a fault, harmless in itself, but highly subversive of discipline, being that of offering to fight his inspector for half a crown, this gay youth became an omnibus conductor, a waiter at a tavern where the hours were rather early than late, and an attendant at fictitious auctions, where his business was to bid for gigantic plated cruet-stands, and, with an air of extreme solicitude, to inspect curiously inlaid writing-desks, handed round for that purpose on a japanned tea-tray. In this place of business he was ordinarily known by the familiar sobriquet of “Rip the bonnet.” If I have mentioned the peculiar phases in the career of this sportive young man, it has been merely to mark the strong points of contrast in his character. Ripton Gryphon was exceedingly intelligent. His education had been excellent. He was a good classical scholar, a ready, speaker, and he wrote a beautiful hand. These acquirements did not in the least militate against bis being, root and branch, a hopeless and incurable scamp. With that odd perversity not uncommon to her sex, Mrs. Gryphon positively adored this lamentable scapegrace; and as he happened to be at the same time tall, curly-haired, straight of limb, bright of eye, and generally good-looking, the widow declared that her Ripton was born to be a gentleman; that he would sow his wild oats; that he should go into the Church, and that a country curacy was the very thing to suit him, pending, of course, his elevation to the episcopal bench. To all appearance, it certainly seemed that the soil of Mr. Ripton Gryphon's moral nature had been exhausted by the cultivation of wild oats, and that unless it lay fallow for a time it was not likely to produce any thing but an abundant crop of hemp; but with the energy and audacity characteristic of a lady accustomed to deal only with weak and timid people, and to work her will upon them, Mrs. Gryphon set about converting a young fellow who was bidding fair to graduate at the hulks into a candidate for holy orders. She found out the easy chaplain to an easy bishop, who had already ordained a gentleman not quite right in his head for a living near the Land's End, and another who was not quite right in his morals for a chaplaincy in the West Indies. Mrs. Gryphon learned to know, as some of us know, and as all of us ought to know, that other means exist for wearing a cassock and bands, and tacking reverend' to one's name, besides taking a university degree. The easy chaplain recommended her to a tutor for her Ripton,-a college man, a ripe scholar, who had taken deacon's orders, who was as proud as Lucifer and as poor as Job, and whose name was Ruthyn Pendragon. The graceless nephew was confided to the care of this instructor, and in a quiet retirement at Clapham, supported from the widow-lady's funds, did, for a certain period, make some progress in leaving off sack and living cleanly, like a gentleman. What is a gentleman? It was during the sojourn of Mrs. Gryphon in London, of course in the interests of her protégé, that the Chucklebux faction achieved a momentary triumph; and the reverend gentleman who had no H’s, having married a lady who had two thousand pounds, and so resigned his appointment, brought in the curate with the red head. Mrs. Gryphon returned to Torquay in a rage, and the shock of her temper was almost too much for the poor old rector. She was appeased, however, by abject concessions, and the immediate and ignominious dismissal of the entire Chucklebux faction (the danger was imminent; for there was one Chucklebux who was medical, of the homeopathic persuasion, and who

vhon returnee ch for the poor bediate and ignomont; for there

was also a distinguished amateur will-maker); and she soon resumed her empire over her reverend patient and relative. So hard did this lady work towards the accomplishment of her purpose, so various were her resources, so strong was her will, so feeble were those with whom she had to deal, that I for one should not have been surprised if success had crowned her enterprise, and if Ripton Gryphon had at last crept through the hawse-holes on board the ecclesiastical bark. Stranger things have happened, believe me. I am not writing from imagination, or without book. All the widow's plots and schemes were, alas, foiled by Ripton Gryphon taking it into his head to vindicate his natural character. He ran away from Mr. Pendragon, his tutor, and was not heard of any more. Many a similar scapegrace, whose relatives are vainly inquiring after him, or, through the medium of newspaper advertisements, as vainly entreating him to return, is quietly tried under a false name at some provincial assizes, and quietly transported, without any body save some chance gaoler being the wiser for it. “That's a baronet, sir,” said a convict's-warder to me once on Southsea Common, pointing to a peculiarly villanous-looking individual in cross-barred canvas and an oil-skin hat, who was leisurely tickling the turf with his spade,—“that's a baronet, and kep' his 'osses and his ’ounds. But, Lord love you, sir, he ain't at Portsmouth, leastways as his genteel fam’ly think. Must live abroad for his ’elth, sir. He's at Paw, in the Pyrenees, a living in his own chatow, is that baronet.” But what became of Ripton Gryphion there was no deponent to say. He went away, and didn't come back. He may have subsided into penal servitude, as has already been hinted. He may have turned up swollen, blue, ghastly, and drowned, in the ooze of some riverain creek, and have passed from a parish dead-house to a parish grave. He may have enlisted again, have died on board a transport, and been flung to the fishes. He may have been murdered. Who knows? Men pass and pass in the great glass of Life like the Kings in Macbeth's vision; and there is no remembrance of those that have gone before, and no knowledge of those that are to come afterwards.

Who, for instance, could have foretold that Ruthyn Pendragon, the tutor of the graceless scion of the Gryphons, would have ever become curate of Swordsley! yet it was his kismet, his fate, to occupy that post. By one of those odd coincidences which are perpetually baffling and perplexing us, Pendragon, having passed into priests' orders, was recommended to the new rector of Swordsley,-poor old Mr. Marrowfat having been gathered to his fathers,—and obtained employment from the Reverend Ernest Goldthorpe. It is not fitting to tell how the widow, at once bereaved of her rector and of her nephew, raged and stormed at the course which events had taken. It wasn't Ruthyn Pendragon's fault if Ernest Goldthorpe chose to take him. He wanted a curacy, and Ernest wanted a curate : what was more natural ? Why should Mrs. Gryphon charge him with the blackest ingratitude, and accuse him of being a traitor and an intriguer. He had not solicited the appointment. It had fallen

to so penal servite, ghastly, ma a parish d board a transo knows?

of thpendragon, havin Swordsley, poned employmente widow, at once bee

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