Chapter XVII: I Appear as an Ornament of English Society
All the journey down to Hackton Castle, the largest and most ancient of our ancestral seats in Devonshire, was performed with the slow and sober state becoming people of the first quality in the realm. An outrider in my livery went on before us, and bespoke our lodging from town to town; and thus we lay in state at Andover, Ilminster, and Exeter; and the fourth evening arrived in time for supper before the antique baronial mansion, of which the gate was in an odious Gothic taste that would have set Mr. Walpole wild with pleasure.
The first days of a marriage are commonly very trying; and I have known couples, who lived together like turtle-doves for the rest of their lives, peck each other’s eyes out almost during the honeymoon. I did not escape the common lot; in our journey westward my Lady Lyndon chose to quarrel with me because I pulled out a pipe of tobacco (the habit of smoking which I had acquired in Germany when a soldier in Billow’s, and could never give it over), and smoked it in the carriage; and also her Ladyship chose to take umbrage both at Ilminster and Andover, because in the evenings when we lay there I chose to invite the landlords of the ‘Bell’ and the ‘Lion’ to crack a bottle with me. Lady Lyndon was a haughty woman, and I hate pride; and I promise you that in both instances I overcame this vice in her. On the third day of our journey I had her to light my pipematch with her own hands, and made her deliver it to me with tears in her eyes; and at the ‘Swan Inn’ at Exeter I had so completely subdued her, that she asked me humbly whether I would not wish the landlady as well as the host to step up to dinner with us. To this I should have had no objection, for, indeed, Mrs. Bonnyface was a very good-looking woman; but we expected a visit from my Lord Bishop, a kinsman of Lady Lyndon, and the BIENSEANCES did not permit the indulgence of my wife’s request. I appeared with her at evening service, to compliment our right reverend cousin, and put her name down for twenty-five guineas, and my own for one hundred, to the famous new organ which was then being built for the cathedral. This conduct, at the very outset of my career in the county, made me not a little popular; and the residentiary canon, who did me the favour to sup with me at the inn, went away after the sixth bottle, hiccuping the most solemn vows for the welfare of such a p-p-pious gentleman.
Before we reached Hackton Castle, we had to drive through ten miles of the Lyndon estates, where the people were out to visit us, the church bells set a-ringing, the parson and the farmers assembled in their best by the roadside, and the school children and the labouring people were loud in their hurrahs for her Ladyship. I flung money among these worthy characters, stopped to bow and chat with his reverence and the farmers, and if I found that the Devonshire girls were among the handsomest in the kingdom is it my fault? These remarks my Lady Lyndon especially would take in great dudgeon; and I do believe she was made more angry by my admiration of the red cheeks of Miss Betsy Quarringdon of Clumpton, than by any previous speech or act of mine in the journey. ‘Ah, ah, my fine madam, you are jealous, are you?’ thought I, and reflected, not without deep sorrow, how lightly she herself had acted in her husband’s lifetime, and that those are most jealous who themselves give most cause for jealousy.
Round Hackton village the scene of welcome was particularly gay: a band of music had been brought from Plymouth, and arches and flags had been raised, especially before the attorney’s and the doctor’s houses, who were both in the employ of the family. There were many hundreds of stout people at the great lodge, which, with the park-wall, bounds one side of Hackton Green, and from which, for three miles, goes (or rather went) an avenue of noble elms up to the towers of the old castle. I wished they had been oak when I cut the trees down in ‘79, for they would have fetched three times the money: I know nothing more culpable than the carelessness of ancestors in planting their grounds with timber of small value, when they might just as easily raise oak. Thus I have always said that the Roundhead Lyndon of Hackton, who planted these elms in Charles II.‘s time, cheated me of ten thousand pounds.
For the first few days after our arrival, my time was agreeably spent in receiving the visits of the nobility and gentry who came to pay their respects to the noble new-married couple, and, like Bluebeard’s wife in the fairy tale, in inspecting the treasures, the furniture, and the numerous chambers of the castle. It is a huge old place, built as far back as Henry V.‘s time, besieged and battered by the Cromwellians in the Revolution, and altered and patched up, in an odious old-fashioned taste, by the Roundhead Lyndon, who succeeded to the property at the death of a brother whose principles were excellent and of the true Cavalier sort, but who ruined himself chiefly by drinking, dicing, and a dissolute life, and a little by supporting the King. The castle stands in a fine chase, which was prettily speckled over with deer; and I can’t but own that my pleasure was considerable at first, as I sat in the oak parlour of summer evenings, with the windows open, the gold and silver plate shining in a hundred dazzling colours on the side-boards, a dozen jolly companions round the table, and could look out over the wide green park and the waving woods, and see the sun setting on the lake, and hear the deer calling to one another.
The exterior was, when I first arrived, a quaint composition of all sorts of architecture; of feudal towers, and gable-ends in Queen Bess’s style, and rough-patched walls built up to repair the ravages of the Roundhead cannon: but I need not speak of this at large, having had the place new-faced at a vast expense, under a fashionable architect, and the facade laid out in the latest French-Greek and most classical style. There had been moats, and drawbridges, and outer walls; these I had shaved away into elegant terraces, and handsomely laid out in parterres according to the plans of Monsieur Cornichon, the great Parisian architect, who visited England for the purpose.
After ascending the outer steps, you entered an antique hall of vast dimensions, wainscoted with black carved oak, and ornamented with portraits of our ancestors: from the square beard of Brook Lyndon, the great lawyer in Queen Bess’s time, to the loose stomacher and ringlets of Lady Saccharissa Lyndon, whom Vandyck painted when she was a maid of honour to Queen Henrietta Maria, and down to Sir Charles Lyndon, with his riband as a knight of the Bath; and my Lady, painted by Hudson, in a white satin sack and the family diamonds, as she was presented to the old King George II. These diamonds were very fine: I first had them reset by Boehmer when we appeared before their French Majesties at Versailles; and finally raised L18,000 upon them, after that infernal run of ill luck at ‘Goosetree’s,’ when Jemmy Twitcher (as we called my Lord Sandwich), Carlisle, Charley Fox, and I played hombre for four-and-forty hours SANS DESEMPARER. Bows and pikes, huge stag-heads and hunting implements, and rusty old suits of armour, that may have been worn in the days of Gog and Magog for what I know, formed the other old ornaments of this huge apartment; and were ranged round a fireplace where you might have turned a coach-and-six. This I kept pretty much in its antique condition, but had the old armour eventually turned out and consigned to the lumber-rooms upstairs; replacing it with china monsters, gilded settees from France, and elegant marbles, of which the broken noses and limbs, and ugliness, undeniably proved their antiquity: and which an agent purchased for me at Rome. But such was the taste of the times (and, perhaps, the rascality of my agent), that thirty thousand pounds’ worth of these gems of art only went for three hundred guineas at a subsequent period, when I found it necessary to raise money on my collections.
From this main hall branched off on either side the long series of state-rooms, poorly furnished with high-backed chairs and long queer Venice glasses, when first I came to the property; but afterwards rendered so splendid by me, with the gold damasks of Lyons and the magnificent Gobelin tapestries I won from Richelieu at play. There were thirty-six bedrooms DE MAITRE, of which I only kept three in their antique condition,—the haunted room as it was called, where the murder was done in James II.‘s time, the bed where William slept after landing at Torbay, and Queen Elizabeth’s state-room. All the rest were redecorated by Cornichon in the most elegant taste; not a little to the scandal of some of the steady old country dowagers; for I had pictures of Boucher and Vanloo to decorate the principal apartments, in which the Cupids and Venuses were painted in a manner so natural, that I recollect the old wizened Countess of Frumpington pinning over the curtains of her bed, and sending her daughter, Lady Blanche Whalebone, to sleep with her waiting-woman, rather than allow her to lie in a chamber hung all over with looking-glasses, after the exact fashion of the Queen’s closet at Versailles.
For many of these ornaments I was not so much answerable as Cornichon, whom Lauraguais lent me, and who was the intendant of my buildings during my absence abroad. I had given the man CARTE BLANCHE, and when he fell down and broke his leg, as he was decorating a theatre in the room which had been the old chapel of the castle, the people of the country thought it was a judgment of Heaven upon him. In his rage for improvement the fellow dared anything. Without my orders he cut down an old rookery which was sacred in the country, and had a prophecy regarding it, stating, ‘When the rook-wood shall fall, down goes Hackton Hall.’ The rooks went over and colonised Tiptoff Woods, which lay near us (and be hanged to them!), and Cornichon built a temple to Venus and two lovely fountains on their site. Venuses and Cupids were the rascal’s adoration: he wanted to take down the Gothic screen and place Cupids in our pew there; but old Doctor Huff the rector came out with a large oak stick, and addressed the unlucky architect in Latin, of which he did not comprehend a word, yet made him understand that he would break his bones if he laid a single finger upon the sacred edifice. Cornichon made complaints about the ‘Abbe Huff,’ as he called him. (‘Et quel abbe, grand Dieu!’ added he, quite bewildered, ‘un abbe avec douze enfans’); but I encouraged the Church in this respect, and bade Cornichon exert his talents only in the castle.
There was a magnificent collection of ancient plate, to which I added much of the most splendid modern kind; a cellar which, however well furnished, required continual replenishing, and a kitchen which I reformed altogether. My friend, Jack Wilkes, sent me down a cook from the Mansion House, for the English cookery,—the turtle and venison department: I had a CHEF (who called out the Englishman, by the way, and complained sadly of the GROS COCHON who wanted to meet him with COUPS DE POING) and a couple of AIDES from Paris, and an Italian confectioner, as my OFFICIERS DE BOUCHE. All which natural appendages to a man of fashion, the odious, stingy old Tiptoff, my kinsman and neighbour, affected to view with horror; and he spread through the country a report that I had my victuals cooked by Papists, lived upon frogs, and, he verily believed, fricasseed little children.
But the squires ate my dinners very readily for all that, and old Doctor Huff himself was compelled to allow that my venison and turtle were most orthodox. The former gentry I knew how to conciliate, too, in other ways. There had been only a subscription pack of fox-hounds in the county and a few beggarly couples of mangy beagles, with which old Tiptoff pattered about his grounds; I built a kennel and stables, which cost L30,000, and stocked them in a manner which was worthy of my ancestors, the Irish kings. I had two packs of hounds, and took the field in the season four times a week, with three gentlemen in my hunt-uniform to follow me, and open house at Hackton for all who belonged to the hunt.
These changes and this train de vivre required, as may be supposed, no small outlay; and I confess that I have little of that base spirit of economy in my composition which some people practise and admire. For instance, old Tiptoff was hoarding up his money to repair his father’s extravagance and disencumber his estates; a good deal of the money with which he paid off his mortgages my agent procured upon mine. And, besides, it must be remembered I had only a life-interest upon the Lyndon property, was always of an easy temper in dealing with the money-brokers, and had to pay heavily for insuring her Ladyship’s life.
At the end of a year Lady Lyndon presented me with a son—Bryan Lyndon I called him, in compliment to my royal ancestry: but what more had I to leave him than a noble name? Was not the estate of his mother entailed upon the odious little Turk, Lord Bullingdon? and whom, by the way, I have not mentioned as yet, though he was living at Hackton, consigned to a new governor. The insubordination of that boy was dreadful. He used to quote passages of ‘Hamlet’ to his mother, which made her very angry. Once when I took a horsewhip to chastise him, he drew a knife, and would have stabbed me: and, ‘faith, I recollected my own youth, which was pretty similar; and, holding out my hand, burst out laughing, and proposed to him to be friends. We were reconciled for that time, and the next, and the next; but there was no love lost between us, and his hatred for me seemed to grow as he grew, which was apace.
I determined to endow my darling boy Bryan with a property, and to this end cut down twelve thousand pounds’ worth of timber on Lady Lyndon’s Yorkshire and Irish estates: at which proceeding Bullingdon’s guardian, Tiptoff, cried out, as usual, and swore I had no right to touch a stick of the trees; but down they went; and I commissioned my mother to repurchase the ancient lands of Ballybarry and Barryogue, which had once formed part of the immense possessions of my house. These she bought back with excellent prudence and extreme joy; for her heart was gladdened at the idea that a son was born to my name, and with the notion of my magnificent fortunes.
To say truth, I was rather afraid, now that I lived in a very different sphere from that in which she was accustomed to move, lest she should come to pay me a visit, and astonish my English friends by her bragging and her brogue, her rouge and her old hoops and furbelows of the time of George II.: in which she had figured advantageously in her youth, and which she still fondly thought to be at the height of the fashion. So I wrote to her, putting off her visit; begging her to visit us when the left wing of the castle was finished, or the stables built, and so forth. There was no need of such precaution. ‘A hint’s enough for me, Redmond,’ the old lady would reply. ‘I am not coming to disturb you among your great English friends with my old-fashioned Irish ways. It’s a blessing to me to think that my darling boy has attained the position which I always knew was his due, and for which I pinched myself to educate him. You must bring me the little Bryan, that his grandmother may kiss him, one day. Present my respectful blessing to her Ladyship his mamma. Tell her she has got a treasure in her husband, which she couldn’t have had had she taken a duke to marry her; and that the Barrys and the Bradys, though without titles, have the best of blood in their veins. I shall never rest until I see you Earl of Ballybarry, and my grandson Lord Viscount Barryogue.’
How singular it was that the very same ideas should be passing in my mother’s mind and my own! The very title she had pitched upon had also been selected (naturally enough) by me; and I don’t mind confessing that I had filled a dozen sheets of paper with my signature, under the names of Ballybarry and Barryogue, and had determined with my usual impetuosity to carry my point. My mother went and established herself at Ballybarry, living with the priest there until a tenement could be erected, and dating from ‘Ballybarry Castle;’ which, you may be sure, I gave out to be a place of no small importance. I had a plan of the estate in my study, both at Hackton and in Berkeley Square, and the plans of the elevation of Ballybarry Castle, the ancestral residence of Barry Lyndon, Esq., with the projected improvements, in which the castle was represented as about the size of Windsor, with more ornaments to the architecture; and eight hundred acres of bog falling in handy, I purchased them at three pounds an acre, so that my estate upon the map looked to be no insignificant one. [Footnote: On the strength of this estate, and pledging his honour that it was not mortgaged, Mr. Barry Lyndon borrowed L17,000 in the year 1786, from young Captain Pigeon, the city merchant’s son, who had just come in for his property. At for the Polwellan estate and mines, ‘the cause of endless litigation,’ it must be owned that our hero purchased them; but he never paid more than the first L5000 of the purchase-money. Hence the litigation of which he complains, and the famous Chancery suit of ‘Trecothick v. Lyndon,’ in which Mr. John Scott greatly distinguished himself.-ED.]
I also in this year made arrangements for purchasing the Polwellan estate and mines in Cornwall from Sir John Trecothick, for L70,000—an imprudent bargain, which was afterwards the cause to me of much dispute and litigation. The troubles of property, the rascality of agents, the quibbles of lawyers, are endless. Humble people envy us great men, and fancy that our lives are all pleasure. Many a time in the course of my prosperity I have sighed for the days of my meanest fortune, and envied the boon companions at my table, with no clothes to their backs but such as my credit supplied them, without a guinea but what came from my pocket; but without one of the harassing cares and responsibilities which are the dismal adjuncts of great rank and property.
I did little more than make my appearance, and assume the command of my estates, in the kingdom of Ireland; rewarding generously those persons who had been kind to me in my former adversities, and taking my fitting place among the aristocracy of the land. But, in truth, I had small inducements to remain in it after having tasted of the genteeler and more complete pleasures of English and Continental life; and we passed our summers at Buxton, Bath, and Harrogate, while Hackton Castle was being beautified in the elegant manner already described by me, and the season at our mansion in Berkeley Square.
It is wonderful how the possession of wealth brings out the virtues of a man; or, at any rate, acts as a varnish or lustre to them, and brings out their brilliancy and colour in a manner never known when the individual stood in the cold grey atmosphere of poverty. I assure you it was a very short time before I was a pretty fellow of the first class; made no small sensation at the coffee-houses in Pall Mall and afterwards at the most famous clubs. My style, equipages, and elegant entertainments were in everybody’s mouth, and were described in all the morning prints. The needier part of Lady Lyndon’s relatives, and such as had been offended by the intolerable pomposity of old Tiptoff, began to appear at our routs and assemblies; and as for relations of my own, I found in London and Ireland more than I had ever dreamed of, of cousins who claimed affinity with me. There were, of course, natives of my own country (of which I was not particularly proud), and I received visits from three or four swaggering shabby Temple bucks, with tarnished lace and Tipperary brogue, who were eating their way to the bar in London; from several gambling adventurers at the watering-places, whom I soon speedily let to know their place; and from others of more reputable condition. Among them I may mention my cousin the Lord Kilbarry, who, on the score of his relationship, borrowed thirty pieces from me to pay his landlady in Swallow Street; and whom, for my own reasons, I allowed to maintain and credit a connection for which the Heralds’ College gave no authority whatsoever. Kilbarry had a cover at my table; punted at play, and paid when he liked, which was seldom; had an intimacy with, and was under considerable obligations to, my tailor; and always boasted of his cousin the great Barry Lyndon of the West country.
Her Ladyship and I lived, after a while, pretty separate when in London. She preferred quiet: or to say the truth, I preferred it; being a great friend to a modest tranquil behaviour in woman, and a taste for the domestic pleasures. Hence I encouraged her to dine at home with her ladies, her chaplain, and a few of her friends; admitted three or four proper and discreet persons to accompany her to her box at the opera or play on proper occasions; and indeed declined for her the too frequent visits of her friends and family, preferring to receive them only twice or thrice in a season on our grand reception days. Besides, she was a mother, and had great comfort in the dressing, educating, and dandling our little Bryan, for whose sake it was fit that she should give up the pleasures and frivolities of the world; so she left THAT part of the duty of every family of distinction to be performed by me. To say the truth, Lady Lyndon’s figure and appearance were not at this time such as to make for their owner any very brilliant appearance in the fashionable world. She had grown very fat, was short-sighted, pale in complexion, careless about her dress, dull in demeanour; her conversations with me characterised by a stupid despair, or a silly blundering attempt at forced cheerfulness still more disagreeable: hence our intercourse was but trifling, and my temptations to carry her into the world, or to remain in her society, of necessity exceedingly small. She would try my temper at home, too, in a thousand ways. When requested by me (often, I own, rather roughly) to entertain the company with conversation, wit, and learning, of which she was a mistress: or music, of which she was an accomplished performer, she would as often as not begin to cry, and leave the room. My company from this, of course, fancied I was a tyrant over her; whereas I was only a severe and careful guardian over a silly, bad-tempered, and weak-minded lady.
She was luckily very fond of her youngest son, and through him I had a wholesome and effectual hold of her; for if in any of her tantrums or fits of haughtiness—(this woman was intolerably proud; and repeatedly, at first, in our quarrels, dared to twit me with my own original poverty and low birth),—if, I say, in our disputes she pretended to have the upper hand, to assert her authority against mine, to refuse to sign such papers as I might think necessary for the distribution of our large and complicated property, I would have Master Bryan carried off to Chiswick for a couple of days; and I warrant me his lady-mother could hold out no longer, and would agree to anything I chose to propose. The servants about her I took care should be in my pay, not hers: especially the child’s head nurse was under MY orders, not those of my lady; and a very handsome, red-cheeked, impudent jade she was; and a great fool she made me make of myself. This woman was more mistress of the house than the poor-spirited lady who owned it. She gave the law to the servants; and if I showed any particular attention to any of the ladies who visited us, the slut would not scruple to show her jealousy, and to find means to send them packing. The fact is, a generous man is always made a fool of by some woman or other, and this one had such an influence over me that she could turn me round her finger. [Footnote: From these curious confessions, it would appear that Mr. Lyndon maltreated his lady in every possible way; that he denied her society, bullied her into signing away her property, spent it in gambling and taverns, was openly unfaithful to her; and, when she complained, threatened to remove her children from her. Nor, indeed, is he the only husband who has done the like, and has passed for ‘nobody’s enemy but his own:’ a jovial good-natured fellow. The world contains scores of such amiable people; and, indeed, it is because justice has not been done them that we have edited this autobiography. Had it been that of a mere hero of romance—one of those heroic youths who figure in the novels of Scott and James—there would have been no call to introduce the reader to a personage already so often and so charmingly depicted. Mr. Barry Lyndon is not, we repeat, a hero of the common pattern; but let the reader look round, and ask himself, Do not as many rogues succeed in life as honest men? more fools than men of talent? And is it not just that the lives of this class should be described by the student of human nature as well as the actions of those fairy-tale princes, those perfect impossible heroes, whom our writers love to describe? There is something naive and simple in that time-honoured style of novel-writing by which Prince Prettyman, at the end of his adventures, is put in possession of every worldly prosperity, as he has been endowed with every mental and bodily excellence previously. The novelist thinks that he can do no more for his darling hero than make him a lord. Is it not a poor standard that, of the summum bonum? The greatest good in life is not to be a lord; perhaps not even to be happy. Poverty, illness, a humpback, may be rewards and conditions of good, as well as that bodily prosperity which all of us unconsciously set up for worship. But this is a subject for an essay, not a note; and it is best to allow Mr. Lyndon to resume the candid and ingenious narrative of his virtues and defects.]
Her infernal temper (Mrs. Stammer was the jade’s name) and my wife’s moody despondency, made my house and home not over-pleasant: hence I was driven a good deal abroad, where, as play was the fashion at every club, tavern, and assembly, I, of course, was obliged to resume my old habit, and to commence as an amateur those games at which I was once unrivalled in Europe. But whether a man’s temper changes with prosperity, or his skill leaves him when, deprived of a confederate, and pursuing the game no longer professionally, he joins in it, like the rest of the world, for pastime, I know not; but certain it is, that in the seasons of 1774-75 I lost much money at ‘White’s’ and the ‘Cocoa-Tree,’ and was compelled to meet my losses by borrowing largely upon my wife’s annuities, insuring her Ladyship’s life, and so forth. The terms at which I raised these necessary sums and the outlays requisite for my improvements were, of course, very onerous, and clipped the property considerably; and it was some of these papers which my Lady Lyndon (who was of a narrow, timid, and stingy turn) occasionally refused to sign: until I PERSUADED her, as I have before shown.
My dealings on the turf ought to be mentioned, as forming part of my history at this time; but, in truth, I have no particular pleasure in recalling my Newmarket doings. I was infernally bit and bubbled in almost every one of my transactions there; and though I could ride a horse as well as any man in England, was no match with the English noblemen at backing him. Fifteen years after my horse, Bay Bulow, by Sophy Hardcastle, out of Eclipse, lost the Newmarket stakes, for which he was the first favourite, I found that a noble earl, who shall be nameless, had got into his stable the morning before he ran; and the consequence was that an outside horse won, and your humble servant was out to the amount of fifteen thousand pounds. Strangers had no chance in those days on the heath: and, though dazzled by the splendour and fashion assembled there, and surrounded by the greatest persons of the land,—the royal dukes, with their wives and splendid equipages; old Grafton, with his queer bevy of company, and such men as Ancaster, Sandwich, Lorn,—a man might have considered himself certain of fair play and have been not a little proud of the society he kept; yet, I promise you, that, exalted as it was, there was no set of men in Europe who knew how to rob more genteelly, to bubble a stranger, to bribe a jockey, to doctor a horse, or to arrange a betting-book. Even I couldn’t stand against these accomplished gamesters of the highest families in Europe. Was it my own want of style, or my want of fortune? I know not. But now I was arrived at the height of my ambition, both my skill and my luck seemed to be deserting me. Everything I touched crumbled in my hand; every speculation I had failed, every agent I trusted deceived me. I am, indeed, one of those born to make, and not to keep fortunes; for the qualities and energy which lead a man to effect the first are often the very causes of his ruin in the latter case: indeed, I know of no other reason for the misfortunes which finally befell me. [Footnote: The Memoirs seem to have been written about the year 1814, in that calm retreat which Fortune had selected for the author at the close of his life.]
I had always a taste for men of letters, and perhaps, if the truth must be told, have no objection to playing the fine gentleman and patron among the wits. Such people are usually needy, and of low birth, and have an instinctive awe and love of a gentleman and a laced coat; as all must have remarked who have frequented their society. Mr. Reynolds, who was afterwards knighted, and certainly the most elegant painter of his day, was a pretty dexterous courtier of the wit tribe; and it was through this gentleman, who painted a piece of me, Lady Lyndon, and our little Bryan, which was greatly admired at the Exhibition (I was represented as quitting my wife, in the costume of the Tippleton Yeomanry, of which I was major; the child starting back from my helmet like what-d’ye-call’im—Hector’s son, as described by Mr. Pope in his ‘Iliad’); it was through Mr. Reynolds that I was introduced to a score of these gentlemen, and their great chief, Mr. Johnson. I always thought their great chief a great bear. He drank tea twice or thrice at my house, misbehaving himself most grossly; treating my opinions with no more respect than those of a schoolboy, and telling me to mind my horses and tailors, and not trouble myself about letters. His Scotch bear-leader, Mr. Boswell, was a butt of the first quality. I never saw such a figure as the fellow cut in what he called a Corsican habit, at one of Mrs. Cornely’s balls, at Carlisle House, Soho. But that the stories connected with that same establishment are not the most profitable tales in the world, I could tell tales of scores of queer doings there. All the high and low demireps of the town gathered there, from his Grace of Ancaster down to my countryman, poor Mr. Oliver Goldsmith the poet, and from the Duchess of Kingston down to the Bird of Paradise, or Kitty Fisher. Here I have met very queer characters, who came to queer ends too: poor Hackman, that afterwards was hanged for killing Miss Reay, and (on the sly) his Reverence Doctor Simony, whom my friend Sam Foote, of the ‘Little Theatre,’ bade to live even after forgery and the rope cut short the unlucky parson’s career.
It was a merry place, London, in those days, and that’s the truth. I’m writing now in my gouty old age, and people have grown vastly more moral and matter-of-fact than they were at the close of the last century, when the world was young with me. There was a difference between a gentleman and a common fellow in those times. We wore silk and embroidery then. Now every man has the same coachmanlike look in his belcher and caped coat, and there is no outward difference between my Lord and his groom. Then it took a man of fashion a couple of hours to make his toilette, and he could show some taste and genius in the selecting it. What a blaze of splendour was a drawing-room, or an opera, of a gala night! What sums of money were lost and won at the delicious faro-table! My gilt curricle and out-riders, blazing in green and gold, were very different objects from the equipages you see nowadays in the ring, with the stunted grooms behind them. A man could drink four times as much as the milksops nowadays can swallow; but ‘tis useless expatiating on this theme. Gentlemen are dead and gone. The fashion has now turned upon your soldiers and sailors, and I grow quite moody and sad when I think of thirty years ago.
This is a chapter devoted to reminiscences of what was a very happy and splendid time with me, but presenting little of mark in the way of adventure; as is generally the case when times are happy and easy. It would seem idle to fill pages with accounts of the every-day occupations of a man of fashion,—the fair ladies who smiled upon him, the dresses he wore, the matches he played, and won or lost. At this period of time, when youngsters are employed cutting the Frenchmen’s throats in Spain and France, lying out in bivouacs, and feeding off commissariat beef and biscuit, they would not understand what a life their ancestors led; and so I shall leave further discourse upon the pleasures of the times when even the Prince was a lad in leading-strings, when Charles Fox had not subsided into a mere statesman, and Buonaparte was a beggarly brat in his native island.
Whilst these improvements were going on in my estates,—my house, from an antique Norman castle, being changed to an elegant Greek temple, or palace—my gardens and woods losing their rustic appearance to be adapted to the most genteel French style—my child growing up at his mother’s knees, and my influence in the country increasing,—it must not be imagined that I stayed in Devonshire all this while, and that I neglected to make visits to London, and my various estates in England and Ireland.
I went to reside at the Trecothick estate and the Polwellan Wheal, where I found, instead of profit, every kind of pettifogging chicanery; I passed over in state to our territories in Ireland, where I entertained the gentry in a style the Lord Lieutenant himself could not equal; gave the fashion to Dublin (to be sure it was a beggarly savage city in those days; and, since the time there has been a pother about the Union, and the misfortunes attending it, I have been at a loss to account for the mad praises of the old order of things, which the fond Irish patriots have invented); I say I set the fashion to Dublin; and small praise to me, for a poor place it was in those times, whatever the Irish party may say.
In a former chapter I have given you a description of it. It was the Warsaw of our part of the world: there was a splendid, ruined, half-civilised nobility, ruling over a half-savage population. I say half-savage advisedly. The commonalty in the streets were wild, unshorn, and in rags. The most public places were not safe after nightfall. The College, the public buildings, and the great gentry’s houses were splendid (the latter unfinished for the most part); but the people were in a state more wretched than any vulgar I have ever known: the exercise of their religion was only half allowed to them; their clergy were forced to be educated out of the country; their aristocracy was quite distinct from them; there was a Protestant nobility, and in the towns, poor insolent Protestant corporations, with a bankrupt retinue of mayors, aldermen, and municipal officers—all of whom figured in addresses and had the public voice in the country; but there was no sympathy and connection between the upper and the lower people of the Irish. To one who had been bred so much abroad as myself, this difference between Catholic and Protestant was doubly striking; and though as firm as a rock in my own faith, yet I could not help remembering my grandfather held a different one, and wondering that there should be such a political difference between the two. I passed among my neighbours for a dangerous leveller, for entertaining and expressing such opinions, and especially for asking the priest of the parish to my table at Castle Lyndon. He was a gentleman, educated at Salamanca, and, to my mind, a far better bred and more agreeable companion than his comrade the rector, who had but a dozen Protestants for his congregation; who was a lord’s son, to be sure, but he could hardly spell, and the great field of his labours was in the kennel and cockpit.
I did not extend and beautify the house of Castle Lyndon as I had done our other estates, but contented myself with paying an occasional visit there; exercising an almost royal hospitality, and keeping open house during my stay. When absent, I gave to my aunt, the widow Brady, and her six unmarried daughters (although they always detested me), permission to inhabit the place; my mother preferring my new mansion of Barryogue.
And as my Lord Bullingdon was by this time grown excessively tall and troublesome, I determined to leave him under the care of a proper governor in Ireland, with Mrs. Brady and her six daughters to take care of him; and he was welcome to fall in love with all the old ladies if he were so minded, and thereby imitate his stepfather’s example. When tired of Castle Lyndon, his Lordship was at liberty to go and reside at my house with my mamma; but there was no love lost between him and her, and, on account of my son Bryan, I think she hated him as cordially as ever I myself could possibly do.
The county of Devon is not so lucky as the neighbouring county of Cornwall, and has not the share of representatives which the latter possesses; where I have known a moderate country gentleman, with a few score of hundreds per annum from his estate, treble his income by returning three or four Members to Parliament, and by the influence with Ministers which these seats gave him. The parliamentary interest of the house of Lyndon had been grossly neglected during my wife’s minority, and the incapacity of the Earl her father; or, to speak more correctly, it had been smuggled away from the Lyndon family altogether by the adroit old hypocrite of Tiptoff Castle, who acted as most kinsmen and guardians do by their wards and relatives, and robbed them. The Marquess of Tiptoff returned four Members to Parliament: two for the borough of Tippleton, which, as all the world knows, lies at the foot of our estate of Hackton, bounded on the other side by Tiptoff Park. For time out of mind we had sent Members for that borough, until Tiptoff, taking advantage of the late lord’s imbecility, put in his own nominees. When his eldest son became of age, of course my Lord was to take his seat for Tippleton; when Rigby (Nabob Rigby, who made his fortune under Clive in India) died, the Marquess thought fit to bring down his second son, my Lord George Poynings, to whom I have introduced the reader in a former chapter, and determined, in his high mightiness, that he too should go in and swell the ranks of the Opposition—the big old Whigs, with whom the Marquess acted.
Rigby had been for some time in an ailing condition previous to his demise, and you may be sure that the circumstance of his failing health had not been passed over by the gentry of the county, who were staunch Government men for the most part, and hated my Lord Tiptoff’s principles as dangerous and ruinous, ‘We have been looking out for a man to fight against him,’ said the squires to me; ‘we can only match Tiptoff out of Hackton Castle. You, Mr. Lyndon, are our man, and at the next county election we will swear to bring you in.’
I hated the Tiptoffs so, that I would have fought them at any election. They not only would not visit at Hackton, but declined to receive those who visited us; they kept the women of the county from receiving my wife: they invented half the wild stories of my profligacy and extravagance with which the neighbourhood was entertained; they said I had frightened my wife into marriage, and that she was a lost woman; they hinted that Bullingdon’s life was not secure under my roof, that his treatment was odious, and that I wanted to put him out of the way to make place for Bryan my son. I could scarce have a friend to Hackton, but they counted the bottles drunk at my table. They ferreted out my dealings with my lawyers and agents. If a creditor was unpaid, every item of his bill was known at Tiptoff Hall; if I looked at a farmer’s daughter, it was said I had ruined her. My faults are many, I confess, and as a domestic character, I can’t boast of any particular regularity or temper; but Lady Lyndon and I did not quarrel more than fashionable people do, and, at first, we always used to make it up pretty well. I am a man full of errors, certainly, but not the devil that these odious backbiters at Tiptoff represented me to be. For the first three years I never struck my wife but when I was in liquor. When I flung the carving-knife at Bullingdon I was drunk, as everybody present can testify; but as for having any systematic scheme against the poor lad, I can declare solemnly that, beyond merely hating him (and one’s inclinations are not in one’s power), I am guilty of no evil towards him.
I had sufficient motives, then, for enmity against the Tiptoffs, and am not a man to let a feeling of that kind lie inactive. Though a Whig, or, perhaps, because a Whig, the Marquess was one of the haughtiest men breathing, and treated commoners as his idol the great Earl used to treat them—after he came to a coronet himself—as so many low vassals, who might be proud to lick his shoe-buckle. When the Tippleton mayor and corporation waited upon him, he received them covered, never offered Mr. Mayor a chair, but retired when the refreshments were brought, or had them served to the worshipful aldermen in the steward’s room. These honest Britons never rebelled against such treatment, until instructed to do so by my patriotism. No, the dogs liked to be bullied; and, in the course of a long experience, I have met with but very few Englishmen who are not of their way of thinking.
It was not until I opened their eyes that they knew their degradation. I invited the Mayor to Hackton, and Mrs. Mayoress (a very buxom pretty groceress she was, by the way) I made sit by my wife, and drove them both out to the races in my curricle. Lady Lyndon fought very hard against this condescension; but I had a way with her, as the saying is, and though she had a temper, yet I had a better one. A temper, psha! A wild-cat has a temper, but a keeper can get the better of it; and I know very few women in the world whom I could not master.
Well, I made much of the mayor and corporation; sent them bucks for their dinners, or asked them to mine; made a point of attending their assemblies, dancing with their wives and daughters, going through, in short, all the acts of politeness which are necessary on such occasions: and though old Tiptoff must have seen my goings on, yet his head was so much in the clouds, that he never once condescended to imagine his dynasty could be overthrown in his own town of Tippleton, and issued his mandates as securely as if he had been the Grand Turk, and the Tippletonians no better than so many slaves of his will.
Every post which brought us any account of Rigby’s increasing illness, was the sure occasion of a dinner from me; so much so, that my friends of the hunt used to laugh and say, ‘Rigby’s worse; there’s a corporation dinner at Hackton.’
It was in 1776, when the American war broke out, that I came into Parliament. My Lord Chatham, whose wisdom his party in those days used to call superhuman, raised his oracular voice in the House of Peers against the American contest; and my countryman, Mr. Burke—a great philosopher, but a plaguy long-winded orator—was the champion of the rebels in the Commons—where, however, thanks to British patriotism, he could get very few to back him. Old Tiptoff would have sworn black was white if the great Earl had bidden him; and he made his son give up his commission in the Guards, in imitation of my Lord Pitt, who resigned his ensigncy rather than fight against what he called his American brethren.
But this was a height of patriotism extremely little relished in England, where, ever since the breaking out of hostilities, our people hated the Americans heartily; and where, when we heard of the fight of Lexington, and the glorious victory of Bunker’s Hill (as we used to call it in those days), the nation flushed out in its usual hot-headed anger. The talk was all against the philosophers after that, and the people were most indomitably loyal. It was not until the land-tax was increased, that the gentry began to grumble a little; but still my party in the West was very strong against the Tiptoffs, and I determined to take the field and win as usual.
The old Marquess neglected every one of the decent precautions which are requisite in a parliamentary campaign. He signified to the corporation and freeholders his intention of presenting his son, Lord George, and his desire that the latter should be elected their burgess; but he scarcely gave so much as a glass of beer to whet the devotedness of his adherents: and I, as I need not say, engaged every tavern in Tippleton in my behalf.
There is no need to go over the twenty-times-told tale of an election. I rescued the borough of Tippleton from the hands of Lord Tiptoff and his son, Lord George. I had a savage sort of satisfaction, too, in forcing my wife (who had been at one time exceedingly smitten by her kinsman, as I have already related) to take part against him, and to wear and distribute my colours when the day of election came. And when we spoke at one another, I told the crowd that I had beaten Lord George in love, that I had beaten him in war, and that I would now beat him in Parliament; and so I did, as the event proved: for, to the inexpressible anger of the old Marquess, Barry Lyndon, Esquire, was returned member of Parliament for Tippleton, in place of John Rigby, Esquire, deceased; and I threatened him at the next election to turn him out of BOTH his seats, and went to attend my duties in Parliament.
It was then I seriously determined on achieving for myself the Irish peerage, to be enjoyed after me by my beloved son and heir.