SOMETIMES Americans attribute to an aristocracy both merits and graces that are not often centred in
an individual ; nevertheless, there are members of the class whose nobleness is innate, and the memory of whose acquaintance it is a delight to recall. The picture of one, especially, will linger long with me.
He was both an Irish and an English peer; of illustrious lineage and almost the highest rank; middle-aged and unmarried when I first met him; of enormous fortune and, of course, with troops of friends. His manner was the perfection of simplicity ; as natural as that of a peasant, as refined as that of a prince ought to be. It made me think of the exquisite clearness of water or of a diamond. There was no suggestion of manner at all. You saw straight through it to the man.
The most definite consciousness of rank I ever discovered in him was his humility that he should be an hereditary peer. He often said to me he was a sorry legislator. He believed, indeed, that the peerage was doomed, and, though he never admitted so much, I think he believed it had no right to exist, that it ought to be swept away. But he was in no haste to bring out the broom, and very well content that the institution should last his time. Still, he voted with the Liberals on nearly every occasion that is, when he voted at all, for he was often out of England years at a time. He was a picked man of countries; had seen Japan and the United States, as well as every European court.
In his youth, he visited with his tutor one of the little German principalities, where the British envoy at once offered to present the social magnate at the petty court. The peer was willing, but he was very fond of his tutor, a man only a few years older than himself, and a person of great refinement. So the nobleman asked the minister to present his friend at the same time; but this the punctilious representative declared to be impossible; a tutor could not possibly go to court; he would not even submit so preposterous a proposition to the palace functionaries. The young aristocrat, however, refused to be presented without his friend, and, though his name had been sent in, it was withdrawn, and the British Jonathan proceeded with his David to another dukedom where the chamberlains and the diplomatists did not disturb them.
He perceived, nevertheless, the advantages of his nobility. We were together once, for a day or two, in Italy, and I recollect his telling me that he had just left the party of a kinsman, a man of enormous wealth and great position, who had twice refused a peerage; but the peer declared he had himself received far more consideration in travelling than his relation who was not noble. The title counted with the couriers and Swiss innkeepers. He chuckled a little at the sycophancy, but it was in scorn.
He had the softest, blandest manner, the gentlest smile I have ever seen in a man, combined with perfect self-possession and dignity of bearing. His courtesy was unfailing, and not confined to deportment; it was carried into deeds. He was incessantly doing something to add to the comfort or happiness of others. I can recall a score of instances in which he considered mine; and I cannot flatter myself that I was exceptional in his regard. Once he breakfasted with me to meet an American of good position, but who was often boorish in his behavior. On this occasion the republican complained of the churlishness of the English, who, he said, never invited Americans to their clubs. He had been in London for a month and met a number of prominent Englishmen, no one. of whom had shown him this civility. I blushed for the taste of my compatriot, but before the party separated the Englishman inquired of me the American's address, and the same day sent him an invitation to the most exclusive club in London.
This liberal patrician was connected with half the nobility, and at one or two houses where I was fortunate enough to be on intimate terras I sometimes met him when there were no other guests. He was then perfectly delightful. We spent hours together. He told me stories of all the great English people, initiated me into the secrets of family histories, sparing neither national foibles nor individual peculiarities ; for he was not insipid ; he was a shrewd observer, and not averse to satire, for all his amiability. He knew, or had known, every one worth knowing in the highest English society. He had never known any other, and, if there was a narrowness at all about him, it came from this restriction of his English field of vision. He could describe the career and the character of every Prime Minister and ambassador for the last forty years. If he spoke of any people I had not met who he thought would interest me, he would either give me letters to them or more often write direct to them and ask them to invite me. Many a tour of visits he thus arranged, passing me on from one delightful house to another.
I was always charmed to see him when I entered a strange house to dinner, or to sit near him, whether the hosts were old or new acquaintances. He looked out for my precedence ; always had me put up as high as he could, and near agreeable people; asked me whom I wished to know, and presented me with the most favorable introductions, though his endorsement was itself sufficient in any circle in England.
His heart was warm as well as his urbanity delightful. When the great fire in Chicago occurred he sent me a letter enclosing his check for a hundred pounds, which he begged me to forward for the benefit of the sufferers; and shortly afterward enclosed a second check for fifty more, regretting that the Irish troubles had so reduced his income that he was unable to contribute as freely as he desired. He said he had received too many kindnesses from Americans not to wish to do something when Americans were in distress.
Pie had apparently no aptitude or ambition for public life, and had never been in politics. He hardly possessed first-rate ability, yet his ideas were often original, and his penetration was keen. He was well read and spoke several languages; his taste in art and his appreciation of nature were alike refined. His opportunities, of course, had been the best, and as far as storing his mind and cultivating his taste, he had made the best use of them; but he had not turned his faculties to any graver account. He was a good master, a loyal friend, a refined and amiable associate ; but he made no effort to be or to do more. Perhaps he knew his own limitations, and at least he did no positive harm to any one. His life was spent in elegant ease and unobtrusive charities. Whether this was all that he should have achieved in so splendid a position his own conscience best could declare. Since he is not living, I may say that he always impressed me as feeling that he had not made sufficient use of his advantages. He seemed aware that, with such gifts of fortune and station, he ought to have accomplished something more for his country or the world. But of how few cannot this be said in any country or in any class.
When I first met this choice specimen of the manhood of any nation, aristocratic or republican, he had an income of sixty thousand pounds, and I was told by those who knew him well that his kindnesses and charities on his own estates had made him the idol of his tenants ; but the crash in Irish fortunes came, and he suffered with the rest. His steward was shot, his own life was not safe on his own property, and he was an exile from the lands his fathers had held for generations. His income fell, I was told, to six or seven hundred pounds. And then his nobility became conspicuous, for it was an attribute, not an appanage. When the drapery fell off the figure was seen to advantage. He made no complaint of the injustice of treating him as if he had been a harsh landlord and cruel master; he did not intermit his efforts to do them good at whose hand he suffered. And this was not from pusillanimity. It was not weakness of opinion or consciousness of wrongdoing. His judgment was opposed to the course of the Irish party and to the policy of Mr. Gladstone at that epoch. He may have been warped by his interest or blinded by his partiality, but he took a more decided stand in politics than ever before ; he went to the House of Lords to vote in accordance with his convictions and against those with whom he had formerly acted; but neither his misfortunes nor his opinions induced him to swerve in his treatment of his tenants, or affected his feeling for them. J^o unkind word for them escaped his lips when he discussed the situation, which for him was so calamitous. On the contrary, I heard him excuse, if not defend them. The magnanimity of this forgiveness of injuries, which he at least had not provoked, was almost Christ-like.
The moment of his disaster was most inopportune. He had married not long before a lady of lineage equal to his own, but the wealth he had offered her disappeared, and the coronet seemed a mockery without its appendages of state and fortune. One of their relatives told me they were living in lodgings in an unfashionable part of London, and kept no carriage; and you know what that means," said the high-born dame. " A doctor or a lawyer may set up a carriage or put it down, according as he prospers for the time; but for one of us " and she could not complete the sentence. Her noble kinsman did not take his reverses so to heart. He offered his paternal acres and the mansion stocked with statuary for Bale, and while waiting for the result took a modest little box near London, where he was good enough to ask me to be his guest. I was charmed to go, and of all the aristocratic residences I visited in England none so impressed me with the nobility of its master. I was received with the same courtly grace as if the mansion had been a ducal one. There was no retinue of followers, no great service of plate; a single man to wait, a table ungarnished with costly wines but no excuses were made; there was no allusion to the change of circumstances or the lack of state. The ceremony was as punctilious, the conversation as brilliant and unconstrained, the grand air as apparent as ever. I was taken in a fly to visit earls, who evidently thought no less of their peer because of the diminution of his income; and, democrat as I was, I could not but think that if birth and rank produced such results as this unconscious dignity and enchanting grace with which misfortune was not borne, but ignored not every consequence of aristocracy could be condemned. Only I insist that this I wish I might call him friend would have been just as much of a nobleman if he had been born an American and a democrat. He was one of nature's aristocrats. [As Written]
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON