he very greatness of Mr. Melmotte's popularity, the extent of the admiration which was accorded by the public at large to his commercial enterprise and financial sagacity, created a peculiar bitterness in the opposition that was organised against him at Westminster. As the high mountains are intersected by deep valleys, as puritanism in one age begets infidelity in the next, as in many countries the thickness of the winter's ice will be in proportion to the number of the summer musquitoes, so was the keenness of the hostility displayed on this occasion in proportion to the warmth of the support which was manifested. As the great man was praised, so also was he abused. As he was a demi-god to some, so was he a fiend to others. And indeed there was hardly any other way in which it was possible to carry on the contest against him. From the moment in which Mr. Melmotte had declared his purpose of standing for Westminster in the Conservative interest, an attempt was made to drive him down the throats of the electors by clamorous assertions of his unprecedented commercial greatness. It seemed that there was but one virtue in the world, commercial enterprise,—and that Melmotte was its prophet. It seemed, too, that the orators and writers of the day intended all Westminster to believe that Melmotte treated his great affairs in a spirit very different from that which animates the bosoms of merchants in general. He had risen above any feeling of personal profit. His wealth was so immense that there was no longer place for anxiety on that score. He already possessed,—so it was said,—enough to found a dozen families, and he had but one daughter! But by carrying on the enormous affairs which he held in his hands, he would be able to open up new worlds, to afford relief to the oppressed nationalities of the over-populated old countries. He had seen how small was the good done by the Peabodys and the Bairds, and, resolving to lend no ear to charities and religions, was intent on projects for enabling young nations to earn plentiful bread by the moderate sweat of their brows. He was the head and front of the railway which was to regenerate Mexico. It was presumed that the contemplated line from ocean to ocean across British America would become a fact in his hands. It was he who was to enter into terms with the Emperor of China for farming the tea-fields of that vast country. He was already in treaty with Russia for a railway from Moscow to Khiva. He had a fleet,—or soon would have a fleet of emigrant ships,—ready to carry every discontented Irishman out of Ireland to whatever quarter of the globe the Milesian might choose for the exercise of his political principles. It was known that he had already floated a company for laying down a submarine wire from Penzance to Point de Galle, round the Cape of Good Hope,—so that, in the event of general wars, England need be dependent on no other country for its communications with India. And then there was the philanthropic scheme for buying the liberty of the Arabian fellahs from the Khedive of Egypt for thirty millions sterling,—the compensation to consist of the concession of a territory about four times as big as Great Britain in the lately annexed country on the great African lakes. It may have been the case that some of these things were as yet only matters of conversation,—speculations as to which Mr. Melmotte's mind and imagination had been at work, rather than his pocket or even his credit; but they were all sufficiently matured to find their way into the public press, and to be used as strong arguments why Melmotte should become member of Parliament for Westminster.
All this praise was of course gall to those who found themselves called upon by the demands of their political position to oppose Mr. Melmotte. You can run down a demi-god only by making him out to be a demi-devil. These very persons, the leading Liberals of the leading borough in England as they called themselves, would perhaps have cared little about Melmotte's antecedents had it not become their duty to fight him as a Conservative. Had the great man found at the last moment that his own British politics had been liberal in their nature, these very enemies would have been on his committee. It was their business to secure the seat. And as Melmotte's supporters began the battle with an attempt at what the Liberals called "bounce,"—to carry the borough with a rush by an overwhelming assertion of their candidate's virtues,—the other party was driven to make some enquiries as to that candidate's antecedents. They quickly warmed to the work, and were not less loud in exposing the Satan of speculation, than had been the Conservatives in declaring the commercial Jove. Emissaries were sent to Paris and Francfort, and the wires were used to Vienna and New York. It was not difficult to collect stories,—true or false; and some quiet men, who merely looked on at the game, expressed an opinion that Melmotte might have wisely abstained from the glories of Parliament.
Nevertheless there was at first some difficulty in finding a proper Liberal candidate to run against him. The nobleman who had been elevated out of his seat by the death of his father had been a great Whig magnate, whose family was possessed of immense wealth and of popularity equal to its possessions. One of that family might have contested the borough at a much less expense than any other person,—and to them the expense would have mattered but little. But there was no such member of it forthcoming. Lord This and Lord That,—and the Honourable This and the Honourable That, sons of other cognate Lords,—already had seats which they were unwilling to vacate in the present state of affairs. There was but one other session for the existing Parliament; and the odds were held to be very greatly in Melmotte's favour. Many an outsider was tried, but the outsiders were either afraid of Melmotte's purse or his influence. Lord Buntingford was asked, and he and his family were good old Whigs. But he was nephew to Lord Alfred Grendall, first cousin to Miles Grendall, and abstained on behalf of his relatives. An overture was made to Sir Damask Monogram, who certainly could afford the contest. But Sir Damask did not see his way. Melmotte was a working bee, while he was a drone,—and he did not wish to have the difference pointed out by Mr. Melmotte's supporters. Moreover, he preferred his yacht and his four-in-hand.
At last a candidate was selected, whose nomination and whose consent to occupy the position created very great surprise in the London world. The press had of course taken up the matter very strongly. The "Morning Breakfast Table" supported Mr. Melmotte with all its weight. There were people who said that this support was given by Mr. Broune under the influence of Lady Carbury, and that Lady Carbury in this way endeavoured to reconcile the great man to a marriage between his daughter and Sir Felix. But it is more probable that Mr. Broune saw,—or thought that he saw,—which way the wind sat, and that he supported the commercial hero because he felt that the hero would be supported by the country at large. In praising a book, or putting foremost the merits of some official or military claimant, or writing up a charity,—in some small matter of merely personal interest,—the Editor of the "Morning Breakfast Table" might perhaps allow himself to listen to a lady whom he loved. But he knew his work too well to jeopardize his paper by such influences in any matter which might probably become interesting to the world of his readers. There was a strong belief in Melmotte. The clubs thought that he would be returned for Westminster. The dukes and duchesses fêted him. The city,—even the city was showing a wavering disposition to come round. Bishops begged for his name on the list of promoters of their pet schemes. Royalty without stint was to dine at his table. Melmotte himself was to sit at the right hand of the brother of the Sun and of the uncle of the Moon, and British Royalty was to be arranged opposite, so that every one might seem to have the place of most honour. How could a conscientious Editor of a "Morning Breakfast Table," seeing how things were going, do other than support Mr. Melmotte? In fair justice it may be well doubted whether Lady Carbury had exercised any influence in the matter.
But the "Evening Pulpit" took the other side. Now this was the more remarkable, the more sure to attract attention, inasmuch as the "Evening Pulpit" had never supported the Liberal interest. As was said in the first chapter of this work, the motto of that newspaper implied that it was to be conducted on principles of absolute independence. Had the "Evening Pulpit," like some of its contemporaries, lived by declaring from day to day that all Liberal elements were godlike, and all their opposites satanic, as a matter of course the same line of argument would have prevailed as to the Westminster election. But as it had not been so, the vigour of the "Evening Pulpit" on this occasion was the more alarming and the more noticeable,—so that the short articles which appeared almost daily in reference to Mr. Melmotte were read by everybody. Now they who are concerned in the manufacture of newspapers are well aware that censure is infinitely more attractive than eulogy,—but they are quite as well aware that it is more dangerous. No proprietor or editor was ever brought before the courts at the cost of ever so many hundred pounds,—which if things go badly may rise to thousands,—because he had attributed all but divinity to some very poor specimen of mortality. No man was ever called upon for damages because he had attributed grand motives. It might be well for politics and literature and art,—and for truth in general, if it was possible to do so. But a new law of libel must be enacted before such salutary proceedings can take place. Censure on the other hand is open to very grave perils. Let the Editor have been ever so conscientious, ever so beneficent,—even ever so true,—let it be ever so clear that what he has written has been written on behalf of virtue, and that he has misstated no fact, exaggerated no fault, never for a moment been allured from public to private matters,—and he may still be in danger of ruin. A very long purse, or else a very high courage is needed for the exposure of such conduct as the "Evening Pulpit" attributed to Mr. Melmotte. The paper took up this line suddenly. After the second article Mr. Alf sent back to Mr. Miles Grendall, who in the matter was acting as Mr. Melmotte's secretary, the ticket of invitation for the dinner, with a note from Mr. Alf stating that circumstances connected with the forthcoming election for Westminster could not permit him to have the great honour of dining at Mr. Melmotte's table in the presence of the Emperor of China. Miles Grendall showed the note to the dinner committee, and, without consultation with Mr. Melmotte, it was decided that the ticket should be sent to the Editor of a thorough-going Conservative journal. This conduct on the part of the "Evening Pulpit" astonished the world considerably; but the world was more astonished when it was declared that Mr. Ferdinand Alf himself was going to stand for Westminster on the Liberal interest.
Various suggestions were made. Some said that as Mr. Alf had a large share in the newspaper, and as its success was now an established fact, he himself intended to retire from the laborious position which he filled, and was therefore free to go into Parliament. Others were of opinion that this was the beginning of a new era in literature, of a new order of things, and that from this time forward editors would frequently be found in Parliament, if editors were employed of sufficient influence in the world to find constituencies. Mr. Broune whispered confidentially to Lady Carbury that the man was a fool for his pains, and that he was carried away by pride. "Very clever,—and dashing," said Mr. Broune, "but he never had ballast." Lady Carbury shook her head. She did not want to give up Mr. Alf if she could help it. He had never said a civil word of her in his paper;—but still she had an idea that it was well to be on good terms with so great a power. She entertained a mysterious awe for Mr. Alf,—much in excess of any similar feeling excited by Mr. Broune, in regard to whom her awe had been much diminished since he had made her an offer of marriage. Her sympathies as to the election of course were with Mr. Melmotte. She believed in him thoroughly. She still thought that his nod might be the means of making Felix,—or if not his nod, then his money without the nod.
"I suppose he is very rich," she said, speaking to Mr. Broune respecting Mr. Alf.
"I dare say he has put by something. But this election will cost him £10,000;—and if he goes on as he is doing now, he had better allow another £10,000 for action for libel. They've already declared that they will indict the paper."
"Do you believe about the Austrian Insurance Company?" This was a matter as to which Mr. Melmotte was supposed to have retired from Paris not with clean hands.
"I don't believe the 'Evening Pulpit' can prove it,—and I'm sure that they can't attempt to prove it without an expense of three or four thousand pounds. That's a game in which nobody wins but the lawyers. I wonder at Alf. I should have thought that he would have known how to get all said that he wanted to have said without running with his head into the lion's mouth. He has been so clever up to this! God knows he has been bitter enough, but he has always sailed within the wind."
Mr. Alf had a powerful committee. By this time an animus in regard to the election had been created strong enough to bring out the men on both sides, and to produce heat, when otherwise there might only have been a warmth or possibly frigidity. The Whig Marquises and the Whig Barons came forward, and with them the liberal professional men, and the tradesmen who had found that party to answer best, and the democratical mechanics. If Melmotte's money did not, at last, utterly demoralise the lower class of voters, there would still be a good fight. And there was a strong hope that, under the ballot, Melmotte's money might be taken without a corresponding effect upon the voting. It was found upon trial that Mr. Alf was a good speaker. And though he still conducted the "Evening Pulpit," he made time for addressing meetings of the constituency almost daily. And in his speeches he never spared Melmotte. No one, he said, had a greater reverence for mercantile grandeur than himself. But let them take care that the grandeur was grand. How great would be the disgrace to such a borough as that of Westminster if it should find that it had been taken in by a false spirit of speculation and that it had surrendered itself to gambling when it had thought to do honour to honest commerce. This, connected as of course it was, with the articles in the paper, was regarded as very open speaking. And it had its effect. Some men began to say that Melmotte had not been known long enough to deserve confidence in his riches, and the Lord Mayor was already beginning to think that it might be wise to escape the dinner by some excuse.
Melmotte's committee was also very grand. If Alf was supported by Marquises and Barons, he was supported by Dukes and Earls. But his speaking in public did not of itself inspire much confidence. He had very little to say when he attempted to explain the political principles on which he intended to act. After a little he confined himself to remarks on the personal attacks made on him by the other side, and even in doing that was reiterative rather than diffusive. Let them prove it. He defied them to prove it. Englishmen were too great, too generous, too honest, too noble,—the men of Westminster especially were a great deal too high-minded to pay any attention to such charges as these till they were proved. Then he began again. Let them prove it. Such accusations as these were mere lies till they were proved. He did not say much himself in public as to actions for libel,—but assurances were made on his behalf to the electors, especially by Lord Alfred Grendall and his son, that as soon as the election was over all speakers and writers would be indicted for libel, who should be declared by proper legal advice to have made themselves liable to such action. The "Evening Pulpit" and Mr. Alf would of course be the first victims.
The dinner was fixed for Monday, July the 8th. The election for the borough was to be held on Tuesday the 9th. It was generally thought that the proximity of the two days had been arranged with the view of enhancing Melmotte's expected triumph. But such in truth was not the case. It had been an accident, and an accident that was distressing to some of the Melmottites. There was much to be done about the dinner,—which could not be omitted; and much also as to the election,—which was imperative. The two Grendalls, father and son, found themselves to be so driven that the world seemed for them to be turned topsey-turvey. The elder had in old days been accustomed to electioneering in the interest of his own family, and had declared himself willing to make himself useful on behalf of Mr. Melmotte. But he found Westminster to be almost too much for him. He was called here and sent there, till he was very near rebellion. "If this goes on much longer I shall cut it," he said to his son.
"Think of me, governor," said the son. "I have to be in the city four or five times a week."
"You've a regular salary."
"Come, governor; you've done pretty well for that. What's my salary to the shares you've had? The thing is;—will it last?"
"There are a good many who say that Melmotte will burst up."
"I don't believe it," said Lord Alfred. "They don't know what they're talking about. There are too many in the same boat to let him burst up. It would be the bursting up of half London. But I shall tell him after this that he must make it easier. He wants to know who's to have every ticket for the dinner, and there's nobody to tell him except me. And I've got to arrange all the places, and nobody to help me except that fellow from the Herald's office. I don't know about people's rank. Which ought to come first: a director of the bank or a fellow who writes books?" Miles suggested that the fellow from the Herald's office would know all about that, and that his father need not trouble himself with petty details.
"And you shall come to us for three days,—after it's over," said Lady Monogram to Miss Longestaffe; a proposition to which Miss Longestaffe acceded, willingly indeed, but not by any means as though a favour had been conferred upon her. Now the reason why Lady Monogram had changed her mind as to inviting her old friend, and thus threw open her hospitality for three whole days to the poor young lady who had disgraced herself by staying with the Melmottes, was as follows. Miss Longestaffe had the disposal of two evening tickets for Madame Melmotte's grand reception; and so greatly had the Melmottes risen in general appreciation, that Lady Monogram had found that she was bound, on behalf of her own position in society, to be present on that occasion. It would not do that her name should not be in the printed list of the guests. Therefore she had made a serviceable bargain with her old friend Miss Longestaffe. She was to have her two tickets for the reception, and Miss Longestaffe was to be received for three days as a guest by Lady Monogram. It had also been conceded that at any rate on one of these nights Lady Monogram should take Miss Longestaffe out with her, and that she should herself receive company on another. There was perhaps something slightly painful at the commencement of the negotiation; but such feelings soon fade away, and Lady Monogram was quite a woman of the world.
Last modified 23 September 2014