Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
"My Novel" — Volume 01

"My Novel" — Volume 01
Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

«My Novel» — Volume 01

BOOK FIRST

INITIAL CHAPTER

SHOWING HOW MY NOVEL CAME TO BE WRITTEN

Scene, the hall in UNCLE ROLAND'S tower; time, niyht; season, winter

MR. CAXTON is seated before a great geographical globe, which he is turning round leisurely, and "for his own recreation," as, according to Sir Thomas Browne, a philosopher should turn round the orb of which that globe professes to be the representation and effigies. My mother having just adorned a very small frock with a very smart braid, is holding it out at arm's length, the more to admire the effect. Blanche, though leaning both hands on my mother's shoulder, is not regarding the frock, but glances towards PISISTRATUS, who, seated near the fire, leaning back in the chair, and his head bent over his breast, seems in a very bad humour. Uncle Roland, who has become a great novel-reader, is deep in the mysteries of some fascinating Third Volume. Mr. Squills has brought the "Times" in his pocket for his own special profit and delectation, and is now bending his brows over "the state of the money market," in great doubt whether railway shares can possibly fall lower,—for Mr. Squills, happy man! has large savings, and does not know what to do with his money, or, to use his own phrase, "how to buy in at the cheapest in order to sell out at the dearest."

MR. CAXTON (musingly).—"It must have been a monstrous long journey. It would be somewhere hereabouts, I take it, that they would split off."

MY MOTHER (mechanically, and in order to show Austin that she paid him the compliment of attending to his remarks).—"Who split off, my dear?"

"Bless me, Kitty," said my father, in great admiration, "you ask just the question which it is most difficult to answer. An ingenious speculator on races contends that the Danes, whose descendants make the chief part of our northern population (and indeed, if his hypothesis could be correct, we must suppose all the ancient worshippers of Odin), are of the same origin as the Etrurians. And why, Kitty,—I just ask you, why?"

My mother shook her head thoughtfully, and turned the frock to the other side of the light.

"Because, forsooth," cried my father, exploding,—"because the Etrurians called their gods the 'AEsar,' and the Scandinavians called theirs the 'AEsir,' or 'Aser'! And where do you think this adventurous scholar puts their cradle?"

"Cradle!" said my mother, dreamily, "it must be in the nursery."

MR. CAXTON.—"Exactly,—in the nursery of the human race, just here," and my father pointed to the globe; "bounded, you see, by the river Halys, and in that region which, taking its name from Ees, or As (a word designating light or fire), has been immemorially called Asia. Now, Kitty, from Ees, or As, our ethnological speculator would derive not only Asia, the land, but AEsar, or Aser, its primitive inhabitants. Hence he supposes the origin of the Etrurians and the Scandinavians. But if we give him so much, we must give him more, and deduce from the same origin the Es of the Celt and the Ized of the Persian, and—what will be of more use to him, I dare say, poor man, than all the rest put together—the AEs of the Romans,—that is, the God of Copper-money—a very powerful household god he is to this day!"

My mother looked musingly at her frock, as if she were taking my father's proposition into serious consideration.

"So perhaps," resumed my father, "and not unconformably with sacred records, from one great parent horde came all those various tribes, carrying with them the name of their beloved Asia; and whether they wandered north, south, or west, exalting their own emphatic designation of 'Children of the Land of Light' into the title of gods. And to think" (added Mr. Caxton pathetically, gazing upon that speck on the globe on which his forefinger rested),—"to think how little they changed for the better when they got to the Don, or entangled their rafts amidst the icebergs of the Baltic,—so comfortably off as they were here, if they could but have stayed quiet."

"And why the deuce could not they?" asked Mr. Squills. "Pressure of population, and not enough to live upon, I suppose," said my father.

PISISTRATUS (sulkily).—"More probably they did away with the Corn Laws, sir."

"/Papae!/" quoth my father, "that throws a new light on the subject."

PISISTRATUS (full of his grievances, and not caring three straws about the origin of the Scandinavians).—"I know that if we are to lose L500 every year on a farm which we hold rent-free, and which the best judges allow to be a perfect model for the whole country, we had better make haste and turn AEsir, or Aser, or whatever you call them, and fix a settlement on the property of other nations, otherwise, I suspect, our probable settlement will be on the parish."

MR. SQUILLS (who, it must be remembered, is an enthusiastic Free-trader). "You have only got to put more capital on the land."

PISISTRATUS.—"Well, Mr. Squills, as you think so well of that investment, put your capital on it. I promise that you shall have every shilling of profit."

MR. SQUILLS (hastily retreating behind the "Times")- "I don't think the Great Western can fall any lower, though it is hazardous; I can but venture a few hundreds—"

PISISTRATUS.—"On our land, Squills?—-Thank you."

MR. SQUILLS.—"No, no,—anything but that; on the Great Western."

Pisistratus relaxes into gloom. Blanche steals up coaxingly, and gets snubbed for her pains.

A pause.

MR. CAXTON.—"There are two golden rules of life; one relates to the mind, and the other to the pockets. The first is, If our thoughts get into a low, nervous, aguish condition, we should make them change the air; the second is comprised in the proverb, 'It is good to have two strings to one's bow.' Therefore, Pisistratus, I tell you what you must do,—Write a book!"

PISISTRATUS.—"Write a book! Against the abolition of the Corn Laws? Faith, sir, the mischief's done! It takes a much better pen than mine to write down an act of parliament."

MR. CAXTON.—"I only said, 'Write a book.' All the rest is the addition of your own headlong imagination."

PISISTRATUS (with the recollection of The Great Book rising before him).

—"Indeed, sir, I should think that that would just finish us!"

MR. CAXTON (not seeming to heed the interruption).—-"A book that will sell; a book that will prop up the fall of prices; a book that will distract your mind from its dismal apprehensions, and restore your affection to your species and your hopes in the ultimate triumph of sound principles—by the sight of a favourable balance at the end of the yearly accounts. It is astonishing what a difference that little circumstance makes in our views of things in general. I remember when the bank in which Squills had incautiously left L1000 broke, one remarkably healthy year, that he became a great alarmist, and said that the country was on the verge of ruin; whereas you see now, when, thanks to a long succession of sickly seasons, he has a surplus capital to risk in the Great Western, he is firmly persuaded that England was never in so prosperous a condition."

MR. SQUILLS (rather sullenly).—"Pooh, pooh."

MR. CAXTON.—"Write a book, my son,—write a book. Need I tell you that Money or Moneta, according to Hyginus, was the mother of the Muses? Write a book."

BLANCHE and my MOTHER (in full chorus).—"O yes, Sisty, a book! a book! you must write a book."

"I am sure," quoth my Uncle Roland, slamming down the volume he had just concluded, "he could write a devilish deal better book than this; and how I come to read such trash night after night is more than I could possibly explain to the satisfaction of any intelligent jury, if I were put into a witness-box, and examined in the mildest manner by my own counsel."

MR. CAXTON.—"You see that Roland tells us exactly what sort of a book it shall be."

PISISTRATUS.—-"Trash, sir?"

MR. CAXTON.—"No,—that is, not necessarily trash; but a book of that class which, whether trash or not, people can't help reading. Novels have become a necessity of the age. You must write a novel."

PISISTRATUS (flattered, but dubious).-"A novel! But every subject on which novels can be written is preoccupied. There are novels of low life, novels of high life, military novels, naval novels, novels philosophical, novels religious, novels historical, novels descriptive of India, the Colonies, Ancient Rome, and the Egyptian Pyramids. From what bird, wild eagle, or barn-door fowl, can I

"'Pluck one unwearied plume from Fancy's wing?'"

MR. CAXTON (after a little thought).—"You remember the story which Trevanion (I beg his pardon, Lord Ulswater) told us the other night? That gives you something of the romance of real life for your plot, puts you chiefly among scenes with which you are familiar, and furnishes you with characters which have been very sparingly dealt with since the time of Fielding. You can give us the country Squire, as you remember him in your youth; it is a specimen of a race worth preserving, the old idiosyncrasies of which are rapidly dying off, as the railways bring Norfolk and Yorkshire within easy reach of the manners of London. You can give us the old-fashioned Parson, as in all essentials he may yet be found—but before you had to drag him out of the great Tractarian bog; and, for the rest, I really think that while, as I am told, many popular writers are doing their best, especially in France, and perhaps a little in England, to set class against class, and pick up every stone in the kennel to shy at a gentleman with a good coat on his back, something useful might be done by a few good-humoured sketches of those innocent criminals a little better off than their neighbours, whom, however we dislike them, I take it for granted we shall have to endure, in one shape or another, as long as civilization exists; and they seem, on the whole, as good in their present shape as we are likely to get, shake the dice- box of society how we will."

PISISTRATUS.—"Very well said, sir; but this rural country gentleman life is not so new as you think. There's Washington Irving—"

MR. CAXTON.—"Charming; but rather the manners of the last century than this. You may as well cite Addison and Sir Roger de Coverley."

PISISTRATUS.—"'Tremaine' and 'De Vere.'"

MR. CAXTON.—"Nothing can be more graceful, nor more unlike what I mean. The Pales and Terminus I wish you to put up in the fields are familiar images, that you may cut out of an oak tree,—not beautiful marble statues, on porphyry pedestals, twenty feet high."

PISISTRATUS.—"Miss Austen; Mrs. Gore, in her masterpiece of 'Mrs. Armytage;' Mrs. Marsh, too; and then (for Scottish manners) Miss Ferrier!"

MR. CAXTON (growing cross).—"Oh, if you cannot treat on bucolics but what you must hear some Virgil or other cry 'Stop thief,' you deserve to be tossed by one of your own 'short-horns.'" (Still more contemptuously)—"I am sure I don't know why we spend so much money on sending our sons to school to learn Latin, when that Anachronism of yours, Mrs. Caxton, can't even construe a line and a half of Phaedrus,— Phaedrus, Mrs. Caxton, a book which is in Latin what Goody Two-Shoes is in the vernacular!"