EARL OF BEACONSFIELD K.G.
First Published 1880
It was a rich warm night at the beginning of August when a
gentleman enveloped in a cloak for he was in evening dress emerged
from a club-house at the top of St. James' Street and descended that
celebrated eminence. He had not proceeded more than half way down the
street when encountering a friend he stopped with some abruptness.
"I have been looking for you everywhere" he said.
"What is it?"
"We can hardly talk about it here."
"Shall we go to White's?"
"I have just left it and between ourselves I would rather we should
be more alone. 'Tis as warm as noon. Let us cross the street and get
into St. James' Place. That is always my idea of solitude."
So they crossed the street and at the corner of St. James' Place
met several gentlemen who had just come out of Brookes' Club-house.
These saluted the companions as they passed and said "Capital
account from Chiswick--Lord Howard says the chief will be in Downing
Street on Monday."
"It is of Chiswick that I am going to speak to you" said the
gentleman in the cloak putting his arm in that of his companion as
they walked on. "What I am about to tell you is known only to three
persons and is the most sacred of secrets. Nothing but our friendship
could authorise me to impart it to you."
"I hope it is something to your advantage" said his companion.
"Nothing of that sort; it is of yourself that I am thinking. Since our
political estrangement I have never had a contented moment. From
Christ Church until that unhappy paralytic stroke which broke up a
government that had lasted fifteen years and might have continued
fifteen more we seemed always to have been working together. That we
should again unite is my dearest wish. A crisis is at hand. I want you
to use it to your advantage. Know then that what they were just
saying about Chiswick is moonshine. His case is hopeless and it has
been communicated to the King."
"Rely upon it; it came direct from the Cottage to my friend."
"I thought he had a mission?" said his companion with emotion; "and
men with missions do not disappear till they have fulfilled them."
"But why did you think so? How often have I asked you for your grounds
for such a conviction! There are none. The man of the age is clearly
the Duke the saviour of Europe in the perfection of manhood and
with an iron constitution."
"The salvation of Europe is the affair of a past generation" said his
companion. "We want something else now. The salvation of England
should be the subject rather of our present thoughts."
"England! why when were things more sound? Except the split among our
own men which will be now cured there is not a cause of
"I have much" said his friend.
"You never used to have any Sidney. What extraordinary revelations
can have been made to you during three months of office under a semi-
"Your taunt is fair though it pains me. And I confess to you that
when I resolved to follow Canning and join his new allies I had many
a twinge. I was bred in the Tory camp; the Tories put me in Parliament
and gave me office; I lived with them and liked them; we dined and
voted together and together pasquinaded our opponents. And yet after
Castlereagh's death to whom like yourself I was much attached I had
great misgivings as to the position of our party and the future of
the country. I tried to drive them from my mind and at last took
refuge in Canning who seemed just the man appointed for an age of
"But a transition to what?"
"Well his foreign policy was Liberal."
"The same as the Duke's; the same as poor dear Castlereagh's. Nothing
more unjust than the affected belief that there was any difference
between them--a ruse of the Whigs to foster discord in our ranks. And
as for domestic affairs no one is stouter against Parliamentary
Reform while he is for the Church and no surrender though he may
make a harmless speech now and then as many of us do in favour of
the Catholic claims."
"Well we will not now pursue this old controversy my dear Ferrars
particularly if it be true as you say that Mr. Canning now lies upon
"If! I tell you at this very moment it may be all over."
"I am shaken to my very centre."
"It is doubtless a great blow to you" rejoined Mr. Ferrars "and I
wish to alleviate it. That is why I was looking for you. The King
will of course send for the Duke but I can tell you there will be a
disposition to draw back our friends that left us at least the
younger ones of promise. If you are awake there is no reason why you
should not retain your office."
"I am not so sure the King will send for the Duke."
"It is certain."
"Well" said his companion musingly "it may be fancy but I cannot
resist the feeling that this country and the world generally are on
the eve of a great change--and I do not think the Duke is the man for
"I see no reason why there should be any great change; certainly not
in this country" said Mr. Ferrars. "Here we have changed everything
that was required. Peel has settled the criminal law and Huskisson
the currency and though I am prepared myself still further to reduce
the duties on foreign imports no one can deny that on this subject
the Government is in advance of public opinion."
"The whole affair rests on too contracted a basis" said his
companion. "We are habituated to its exclusiveness and no doubt
custom in England is a power; but let some event suddenly occur which
makes a nation feel or think and the whole thing might vanish like a
"What can happen? Such affairs as the Luddites do not occur twice in a
century and as for Spafields riots they are impossible now with
Peel's new police. The country is employed and prosperous and were it
not so the landed interest would always keep things straight."
"It is powerful and has been powerful for a long time; but there are
other interests besides the landed interest now."
"Well there is the colonial interest and the shipping interest"
said Mr. Ferrars "and both of them thoroughly with us."
"I was not thinking of them" said his companion. "It is the increase
of population and of a population not employed in the cultivation of
the soil and all the consequences of such circumstances that were
passing over my mind."
"Don't you be too doctrinaire my dear Sidney; you and I are practical
men. We must deal with the existing the urgent; and there is nothing
more pressing at this moment than the formation of a new government.
What I want is to see you as a member of it."
"Ah!" said his companion with a sigh "do you really think it so near
"Why what have we been talking of all this time my dear Sidney?
Clear your head of all doubt and if possible of all regrets; we
must deal with the facts and we must deal with them to-morrow."
"I still think he had a mission" said Sidney with a sigh "if it were
only to bring hope to a people."
"Well I do not see he could have done anything more" said Mr.
Ferrars "nor do I believe his government would have lasted during the
session. However I must now say good-night for I must look in at the
Square. Think well of what I have said and let me hear from you as
soon as you can."
Zenobia was the queen of London of fashion and of the Tory party.
When she was not holding high festivals or attending them she was
always at home to her intimates and as she deigned but rarely to
honour the assemblies of others with her presence she was generally
at her evening post to receive the initiated. To be her invited guest
under such circumstances proved at once that you had entered the
highest circle of the social Paradise.
Zenobia was leaning back on a brilliant sofa supported by many
cushions and a great personage grey-headed and blue-ribboned who
was permitted to share the honours of the high place was hanging on
her animated and inspiring accents. An ambassador in an armed chair
which he had placed somewhat before her while he listened with
apparent devotion to the oracle now and then interposed a remark
polished and occasionally cynical. More remote some dames of high
degree were surrounded by a chosen band of rank and fashion and
celebrity; and now and then was heard a silver laugh and now and then
was breathed a gentle sigh. Servants glided about the suite of summer
chambers occasionally with sherbets and ices and sometimes a lady
entered and saluted Zenobia and then retreated to the general group
and sometimes a gentleman entered and pressed the hand of Zenobia to
his lips and then vanished into air.
"What I want you to see" said Zenobia "is that reaction is the law
of life and that we are on the eve of a great reaction. Since Lord
Castlereagh's death we have had five years of revolution--nothing but
change and every change has been disastrous. Abroad we are in league
with all the conspirators of the Continent and if there were a
general war we should not have an ally; at home our trade I am told
is quite ruined and we are deluged with foreign articles; while
thanks to Mr. Huskisson the country banks which enabled Mr. Pitt to
carry on the war and saved England are all broken. There was one
thing of which I thought we should always be proud and that was our
laws and their administration; but now our most sacred enactments are
questioned and people are told to call out for the reform of our
courts of judicature which used to be the glory of the land. This
cannot last. I see indeed many signs of national disgust; people
would have borne a great deal from poor Lord Liverpool--for they knew
he was a good man though I always thought a weak one; but when it was
found that his boasted Liberalism only meant letting the Whigs into
office--who if they had always been in office would have made us the
slaves of Bonaparte--their eyes were opened. Depend upon it the
reaction has commenced."
"We shall have some trouble with France" said the ambassador "unless
there is a change here."
"The Church is weary of the present men" said the great personage.
"No one really knows what they are after."
"And how can the country be governed without the Church?" exclaimed
Zenobia. "If the country once thinks the Church is in danger the
affair will soon be finished. The King ought to be told what is going
"Nothing is going on" said the ambassador; "but everybody is afraid
"The King's friends should impress upon him never to lose sight of the
landed interest" said the great personage.
"How can any government go on without the support of the Church and
the land?" exclaimed Zenobia. "It is quite unnatural."
"That is the mystery" remarked the ambassador. "Here is a government
supported by none of the influences hitherto deemed indispensable and
yet it exists."
"The newspapers support it" said the great personage "and the
Dissenters who are trying to bring themselves into notice and who
are said to have some influence in the northern counties and the
Whigs who are in a hole are willing to seize the hand of the
ministry to help them out of it; and then there is always a number of
people who will support any government--and so the thing works."
"They have got a new name for this hybrid sentiment" said the
ambassador. "They call it public opinion."
"How very absurd!" said Zenobia; "a mere nickname. As if there could
be any opinion but that of the Sovereign and the two Houses of
"They are trying to introduce here the continental Liberalism" said
the great personage. "Now we know what Liberalism means on the
continent. It means the abolition of property and religion. Those
ideas would not suit this country; and I often puzzle myself to
foresee how they will attempt to apply Liberal opinions here."
"I shall always think" said Zenobia "that Lord Liverpool went much
too far though I never said so in his time; for I always uphold my
"Well we shall see what Canning will do about the Test and
Corporation Acts" said the great personage. "I understand they mean
to push him."
"By the by how is he really?" said the ambassador. "What are the
accounts this afternoon?"
"Here is a gentleman who will tell us" said Zenobia as Mr. Ferrars
entered and saluted her.
"And what is your news from Chiswick?" she inquired.
"They say at Brookes' that he will be at Downing Street on Monday."
"I doubt it" said Zenobia but with an expression of disappointment.
Zenobia invited Mr. Ferrars to join her immediate circle. The great
personage and the ambassador were confidentially affable to one whom
Zenobia so distinguished. Their conversation was in hushed tones as
become the initiated. Even Zenobia seemed subdued and listened; and
to listen among her many talents was perhaps her rarest. Mr. Ferrars
was one of her favourites and Zenobia liked young men who she thought
would become Ministers of State.
An Hungarian Princess who had quitted the opera early that she might
look in at Zenobia's was now announced. The arrival of this great lady
made a stir. Zenobia embraced her and the great personage with
affectionate homage yielded to her instantly the place of honour and
then soon retreated to the laughing voices in the distance that had
already more than once attracted and charmed his ear.
"Mind; I see you to-morrow" said Zenobia to Mr. Ferrars as he also
withdrew. "I shall have something to tell you."
The father of Mr. Ferrars had the reputation of being the son of a
once somewhat celebrated statesman but the only patrimony he
inherited from his presumed parent was a clerkship in the Treasury
where he found himself drudging at an early age. Nature had endowed
him with considerable abilities and peculiarly adapted to the scene
of their display. It was difficult to decide which was most
remarkable his shrewdness or his capacity of labour. His quickness of
perception and mastery of details made him in a few years an authority
in the office and a Secretary of the Treasury who was quite ignorant
of details but who was a good judge of human character had the sense
to appoint Ferrars his private secretary. This happy preferment in
time opened the whole official world to one not only singularly
qualified for that kind of life but who possessed the peculiar gifts
that were then commencing to be much in demand in those circles. We
were then entering that era of commercial and financial reform which
had been if not absolutely occasioned certainly precipitated by the
revolt of our colonies. Knowledge of finance and acquaintance with
tariffs were then rare gifts and before five years of his private
secretaryship had expired Ferrars was mentioned to Mr. Pitt as the
man at the Treasury who could do something that the great minister
required. This decided his lot. Mr. Pitt found in Ferrars the
instrument he wanted and appreciating all his qualities placed him in
a position which afforded them full play. The minister returned
Ferrars to Parliament for the Treasury then had boroughs of its own
and the new member was preferred to an important and laborious post.
So long as Pitt and Grenville were in the ascendant Mr. Ferrars
toiled and flourished. He was exactly the man they liked; unwearied
vigilant clear and cold; with a dash of natural sarcasm developed by
a sharp and varied experience. He disappeared from the active world in
the latter years of the Liverpool reign when a newer generation and
more bustling ideas successfully asserted their claims; but he retired
with the solace of a sinecure a pension and a privy-councillorship.
The Cabinet he had never entered nor dared to hope to enter. It was
the privilege of an inner circle even in our then contracted public
life. It was the dream of Ferrars to revenge in this respect his fate
in the person of his son and only child. He was resolved that his
offspring should enjoy all those advantages of education and breeding
and society of which he himself had been deprived. For him was to be
reserved a full initiation in those costly ceremonies which under the
names of Eton and Christ Church in his time fascinated and dazzled
mankind. His son William Pitt Ferrars realised even more than his
father's hopes. Extremely good-looking he was gifted with a precocity
of talent. He was the marvel of Eton and the hope of Oxford. As a boy
his Latin verses threw enraptured tutors into paroxysms of praise
while debating societies hailed with acclamation clearly another
heaven-born minister. He went up to Oxford about the time that the
examinations were reformed and rendered really efficient. This only
increased his renown for the name of Ferrars figured among the
earliest double-firsts. Those were days when a crack university
reputation often opened the doors of the House of Commons to a young
aspirant; at least after a season. But Ferrars had not to wait. His
father who watched his career with the passionate interest with which
a Newmarket man watches the development of some gifted yearling took
care that all the odds should be in his favour in the race of life. An
old colleague of the elder Mr. Ferrars a worthy peer with many
boroughs placed a seat at the disposal of the youthful hero the
moment he was prepared to accept it and he might be said to have left
the University only to enter the House of Commons.
There if his career had not yet realised the dreams of his youthful
admirers it had at least been one of progress and unbroken
prosperity. His first speech was successful though florid but it was
on foreign affairs which permit rhetoric and in those days demanded
at least one Virgilian quotation. In this latter branch of oratorical
adornment Ferrars was never deficient. No young man of that time and
scarcely any old one ventured to address Mr. Speaker without being
equipped with a Latin passage. Ferrars in this respect was triply
armed. Indeed when he entered public life full of hope and promise
though disciplined to a certain extent by his mathematical training
he had read very little more than some Latin writers some Greek
plays and some treatises of Aristotle. These with a due course of
Bampton Lectures and some dipping into the "Quarterly Review" then in
its prime qualified a man in those days not only for being a member
of Parliament but becoming a candidate for the responsibility of
statesmanship. Ferrars made his way; for two years he was occasionally
asked by the minister to speak and then Lord Castlereagh who liked
young men made him a Lord of the Treasury. He was Under-Secretary of
State and "very rising" when the death of Lord Liverpool brought
about the severance of the Tory party and Mr. Ferrars mainly under
the advice of zealots resigned his office when Mr. Canning was
appointed Minister and cast in his lot with the great destiny of the
Duke of Wellington.
The elder Ferrars had the reputation of being wealthy. It was supposed
that he had enjoyed opportunities of making money and had availed
himself of them but this was not true. Though a cynic and with
little respect for his fellow-creatures Ferrars had a pride in
official purity and when the Government was charged with venality and
corruption he would observe with a dry chuckle that he had seen a
great deal of life and that for his part he would not much trust any
man out of Downing Street. He had been unable to resist the temptation
of connecting his life with that of an individual of birth and rank;
and in a weak moment perhaps his only one he had given his son a
stepmother in a still good-looking and very expensive Viscountess-
Mr. Ferrars was anxious that his son should make a great alliance but
he was so distracted between prudential considerations and his desire
that in the veins of his grand-children there should flow blood of
undoubted nobility that he could never bring to his purpose that
clear and concentrated will which was one of the causes of his success
in life; and in the midst of his perplexities his son unexpectedly
settled the question himself. Though naturally cold and calculating
William Ferrars like most of us had a vein of romance in his being
and it asserted itself. There was a Miss Carey who suddenly became
the beauty of the season. She was an orphan and reputed to be no
inconsiderable heiress and was introduced to the world by an aunt who
was a duchess and who meant that her niece should be the same.
Everybody talked about them and they went everywhere--among other
places to the House of Commons where Miss Carey spying the senators
from the old ventilator in the ceiling of St. Stephen's Chapel
dropped in her excitement her opera-glass which fell at the feet of
Mr. Under-Secretary Ferrars. He hastened to restore it to its
beautiful owner whom he found accompanied by several of his friends
and he was not only thanked but invited to remain with them; and the
next day he called and he called very often afterwards and many
other things happened and at the end of July the beauty of the season
was married not to a Duke but to a rising man who Zenobia who at
first disapproved of the match--for Zenobia never liked her male
friends to marry--was sure would one day be Prime Minister of England.
Mrs. Ferrars was of the same opinion as Zenobia for she was
ambitious and the dream was captivating. And Mrs. Ferrars soon gained
Zenobia's good graces for she had many charms and though haughty to
the multitude was a first-rate flatterer. Zenobia liked flattery and
always said she did. Mr. Under-Secretary Ferrars took a mansion in
Hill Street and furnished it with befitting splendour. His dinners
were celebrated and Mrs. Ferrars gave suppers after the opera. The
equipages of Mrs. Ferrars were distinguished and they had a large
retinue of servants. They had only two children and they were twins
a brother and a sister who were brought up like the children of
princes. Partly for them and partly because a minister should have a