« ForrigeFortsæt »
This being premised, and that every one of the audience, though pretending to no Greek, yet, from his school-boy remembrances, was as well acquainted with these formula as with the scriptural formula of Verily, verily, I say unto you, &c., Sheridan, without needing to break its force by explanations, solemnly opened thus:
"Ton d'apameibomenos prosephe Sheridanios heros."
Simply to have commenced his answer in Greek would have sufficiently met the comic expectation then thrilling the house; but, when it happened that this Greek (so suitable to the occasion) was lso the one sole morsel of Greek that everybody in that assembly understood, the effect, as may be supposed, was overwhelming, and wrapt the whole house in what might be called a fiery explosion of laughter.
Meantime, as prizes in the matrimonial lottery, and prizes in all senses, both young ladies were soon carried off. Miss Smith, whose expectations I never happened to hear estimated, married a great West India proprietor; and Miss Watson, who (according to the popular report) would succeed to six thousand a year on her twenty-first birthday, married Lord Carbery. Miss Watson inherited also from her father something which would not generally be rated very highly, namely, a chancery lawsuit, with the East India Company for defendant. However, if the company is a potent antagonist, thus far it is an eligible one, that, in the event of losing the suit, the honorable company is solvent; and such an event, after some nine or ten years' delay, did really befall the company. The question at issue respected some
docks which Colonel Watson had built for the company in some Indian port. And in the end this lawsuit, though so many years doubtful in its issue, proved very valuable to Miss Watson; I have heard (but cannot vouch for it) not less valuable than that large part of her property which had been paid. over without demur upon her twenty-first birth-day. Both young ladies married happily; but in marriage they found their separation, and in that separation a shock to their daily comfort which was never replaced to either. As to Miss Smith's husband, I did not know him; but Lord Carbery was every way an estimable man; in some things worthy of admiration; and his wife never ceased to esteem and admire him. But she yearned for the society of her early friend; and this being placed out of her reach by the accidents of life, she fell early into a sort of disgust with her own advantages of wealth and station, which, promising so much, were found able to perform nothing at all in this first and last desire of her heart. A portrait of her friend hung in the drawing-room; but Lady Carbery did not willingly answer the questions that were sometimes prompted by its extraordinary loveliness. There are women to whom a female friendship is indispensable, and cannot be supplied by any companion of the other sex. That blessing, therefore, of her golden youth, turned eventually into a curse for her after-life; for I believe that, through one accident or another, they never met again after they became married women. To me, as one of those who had known and loved Miss Smith, Lady Carbery always turned the more sunny side of her nature; but to the world generally
she presented a chilling and somewhat severe aspect
as to a vast illusion that rested upon pillars of mockery and frauds. Honors, beauty of the first order, wealth, and the power which follows wealth. as its shadow-what could these do? what had they done? In proportion as they had settled heavily upon herself, she had found them to entail a load of responsibility; and those claims upon her she had labored to fulfil conscientiously; but else they had only precipitated the rupture of such ties as had given sweetness to her life.
From the first, therefore, I had been aware, on this visit to Laxton, that Lady Carbery had changed, and was changing. She had become religious; so much I knew from my sister's letters. And, in fact, this change had been due to her intercourse with my mother. But, in reality, her premature disgust with the world would, at any rate, have made her such; and, had any mode of monastic life existed for Protestants, I believe that she would before this have entered it, supposing Lord Carbery to have consented. People generally would have stated the case most erroneously; they would have said that she was sinking into gloom under religious influences; whereas the very contrary was the truth; namely, that, having sunk into gloomy discontent with life, and its miserable performances as contrasted with its promises, she sought relief and support to her wounded feelings from religion.
But the change brought with it a difficult trial to myself. She recoiled, by natural temperament and by refinement of taste, from all modes of religious enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a large word, and in
many cases I could not go along with her; but canting of all descriptions was odious to both of us alike. To cultivate religious knowledge in an intellectual way, she very well understood that she must study divinity. And she relied upon me for assisting her. Not that she made the mistake of ascribing to me any knowledge on that subject; but I could learn; and, whatsoever I had learned, she knew, by experience, that I could make abundantly plain to her understanding. Wherever I did not understand, I was far too sincere to dissemble that fact. Where I did understand, I could enable her to understand.
On the subject of theology, it was not easy indeed for anybody, man or boy, to be more ignorant than myself. My studies in that field had been none at all. Nor was this any subject for wonder, or (considering my age) for blame. In reality, to make theology into a captivating study for the young, it must be translated into controversial theology. And in what way could such a polemic interest be evoked except through political partisanship? But such partisanship connects itself naturally with the irritability of sectarianism, and but little with the majestic repose of a church such as the Romish or the Anglican, founded upon the broad basis of national majorities, and sheltered from danger, or the sense of danger, by state protection. Dissenters stand upon another footing. The Dissenter from the national church, whether in England or in France, is reminded by his own distinguishing religious opinions of the historic struggles through which those opinions have travelled. The doctrines which give
to his own sect a peculiar denomination are also those which record its honorable political conflicts; so that his own connection, through his religious brotherhood, with the civil history of his country, furnishes a standing motive of pride for some acquaintance more or less with divinity; since it is by deviating painfully, conscientiously, and at some periods dangerously, from the established divinity, that his fathers have achieved their station in the great drama of the national evolution.
But, whilst I was ignorant of theology, as a direct and separate branch of study, the points are so many at which theology iposculates with philosophy, and with endless casual and random suggestions of the self-prompted reason, that inevitably from that same moment in which I began to find a motive for directing my thoughts to this new subject, I wanted not something to say that might have perplexed an antagonist, or (in default of such a vicious associate) that might have amused a friend, more especially a friend so predisposed to a high estimate of myself as Lady Carbery. Sometimes I did more than amuse her; I startled her, and I even startled myself, with distinctions that to this hour strike me as profoundly just, and as undeniably novel. Two out of many I will here repeat; and with the more confidence, that in these two I can be sure of repeating the exact thoughts; whereas, in very many other cases, it would not be so certain that they might not have been insensibly modified by cross-lights or disturbing shadows from intervening speculations.
1. Lady Carbery one day told me that she could not see any reasonable ground for what is said of