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indeed she was—Miss Maria Portman being at that period only two years younger than Pen’s mother, and weighing as much as Pen and Mrs. Pendennis together.
Are these details insipid? Look back, good friend, at your own youth, and ask how was that? I like to think of a wellnurtured boy, brave and gentle, warm-hearted and loving, and looking the world in the face with kind honest eyes. What bright colours it wore then, and how you enjoyed it ! A man has not many years of such time. He does not know them whilst they are with him. It is only when they are passed long away that he remembers how dear and happy they were.
Mr. Smirke, Dr. Portman’s curate, was engaged, at a liberal salary, to walk or ride over from Clavering and pass several hours daily with the young gentleman. Smirke was a man perfectly faultless at a tea-table, wore a curl on his fair forehead, and tied his neckcloth with a melancholy grace. He was a decent scholar and mathematician, and taught Pen as much as the lad was ever disposed to learn, which was not much. For Pen had soon taken the measure of his tutor, who, when he came riding into the courtyard at Fairoaks on his pony, turned out his toes so absurdly, and left such a gap between his knees and the saddle, that it was impossible for any lad endowed with a sense of humour to respect such an equestrian. He nearly killed Smirke with terror by putting him on his mare, and taking him a ride over a common, where the county foxhounds (then hunted by that staunch old sportsman, Mr. Hardhead, of Dumplingbeare) happened to meet. Mr. Smirke, on Pen’s mare, Rebecca (she was named after Pen’s favourite heroine, the daughter of Isaac of York), astounded the hounds as much as he disgusted the huntsman, laming one of the former by persisting in riding amongst the pack, and receiving a speech from the latter, more remarkable for energy of language, than any oration he had ever heard since he left the bargemen on the banks of Isis.
Smirke and his pupil read the ancient poets together, and rattled through them at a pleasant rate, very different from that steady grubbing pace with which the Cistercians used to go over the classic ground, scenting out each word as they went, and digging up every root in the way. Pen never liked to halt, but made his tutor construe when he was at fault, and thus galloped through the Iliad and the Odyssey, the tragic play-writers, and the charming wicked Aristophanes (whom he vowed to be the greatest poet of all). But he went so fast that, though he certainly galloped through a considerable extent of the ancient country, he clean forgot it in after-life, and had only such a vague remembrance of his early classic course as a man has in the House of Commons, let us say, who still keeps up two or three quotations ; or a reviewer who, just for decency’s sake, hints at a little Greek.
Besides the ancient poets, you may be sure Pen read the English with great gusto. Smirke sighed and shook his head sadly both about Byron and Moore. But Pen was a sworn fire-worshipper and 9. Corsair; he had them by heart, and used to take little Laura into the window and say, “ Zuleika, I am not thy brother,” in tones so tragic, that they caused the solemn little maid to open her great eyes still wider. She sat, until the proper hour for retirement, sewing at Mrs. Pendennis’s knee, and listening to Pen reading out to her of nights without comprehending one word of what he read.
He read Shakspeare to his mother (which she said she liked, but didn’t), and Byron, and Pope, and his favourite Lalla Rookh, which pleased her indifierently. But as for Bishop Heber, and Mrs. Hemans above all, this lady used to melt right away, and be absorbed into her pocket-handkerchief, when Pen read those authors to her in his kind boyish voice. The Christian Year was a book which appeared about that time. The son and the mother whispered it to each other with awe—Faint, very faint, and seldom in afterlife Pendennis heard that solemn church-music : but he always loved the remembrance of it, and of the times when it struck on his heart, and he walked over the fields full of hope and void of doubt, as the church-bells rang on Sunday morning.
It was at this period of his existence, that Pen broke out in the Poets’ Corner of the County Chronicle, with some verses with which he was perfectly well satisfied. His are the verses signed “ NER,” addressed “ To a Tear; ” “ On the Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo; ” f‘ To Madame Caradori sing
ing at the Assize Meetings; ” “ 0n Saint Bartholomew’s Day” (a tremendous denunciation of Popery, and a solemn warning to the people of England to rally against emancipating the Roman Catholics), &c., &c.—all which masterpieces poor Mrs. Pendennis kept along with his first socks, the first cutting of his hair, his bottle, and other interesting relics of his infancy. He used to gallop Rebecca over the neighbouring Dumpling Downs, or into the county town, which, if you please, we shall call Chatteris, spouting his own poems, and filled with quite a Byronic afllatus as he thought.
His genius at this time was of a decidedly gloomy cast. He brought his mother a tragedy, at which, though he killed sixteen people before the second act, Helen laughed so, that he thrust the masterpiece into the fire in a pet. He projected an epic poem in blank verse, “ Cortez, or the Conqueror of Mexico, and the Inca’s Daughter.” He wrote part of “ Seneca, or the Fatal Bath,” and “ Ariadne in Naxos; ” classical pieces, with choruses and strophes and antistrophes, which sadly puzzled Mrs. Pendennis ; and began a “ History of the Jesuits,” in which he lashed that Order with tremendous severity. His loyalty did his mother’s heart good to witness. He was a staunch, unflinching Church-and-King man in those days; and at the election, when Sir Giles Beanfield stood on the Blue interest, against Lord Trehawk, Lord Eyrie’s son, a Whig and a friend of Popery, Arthur Pendennis, with an immense bow for himself, which his mother made, and with a blue ribbon for Rebecca, rode alongside of the Reverend Doctor Portman, on his grey mare Dowdy, and at the head of the Clavering voters, whom the Doctor brought up to plump for the Protestant Champion.
On that day Pen made his first speech at the Blue Hotel: and also, it appears, for the first time in his life—took a little more wine than was good for him. Mercy! what a scene it was at Fairoaks, when he rode back at ever so much o’clock at night. What moving about of lanterns in the courtyard and stables, though the moon was shining out; what a gathering of servants, as Pen came home, clattering over the bridge and up the stable-yard, with half-a-score of the Clavering voters yelling after him the Blue song of the election!
VOL. I. n 3
He wanted them all to come in and have some wine—some very good Madeira—some capital Madeira—John, go and get some Madeira,—and there is no knowing what the farmers would have done, had not Madam Pendennis made her appearance in a white wrapper, with a candle—and scared those zealous Blues so by the sight of her pale handsome face, that they touched their hats and rode off.
Besides these amusements and occupations in which Mr. Pen indulged, there was one which forms the main business and pleasure of youth, if the poets tell us aright, whom Pen was always studying; and which, ladies, you have rightly guessed to be that of Love. Pen sighed for it first in secret, and, like the love-sick swain in Ovid, opened his breast and said, “Aura, veni.” What generous youth is there that has not courted some such windy mistress in his time ?
Yes, Pen began to feel the necessity of a first love—of a consuming passion—of an object on which he could concentrate all those vague floating fancies under which he sweetly suffered—of a young lady‘to whom he could really make verses, and whom he could set up and adore, in place of those unsubstantial Ianthes and Zuleikas to whom he addressed the outpourings of his gushing muse. He read his favourite poems over and over again, he called upon Alma Venus, the delight of gods and men, he translated Anacreon’s odes, and picked out passages suitable to his complaint from Waller, Dryden, Prior, and the like. Smirke and he were never
weary, in their interviews, of discoursing about love. The
faithless tutor entertained him with sentimental conversations in place of lectures on algebra and Greek; for Smirke was in love too. Who could help it, being in daily intercourse with such a woman? /Smirke was madly in love (as far as such a mild flame as Mr. Smirke’s may be called madness) with Mrs. Pendennis. That honest lady, sitting down below stairs teaching little Laura to play the piano, or devising flannel petticoats for the poor round about her, or otherwise busied with the calm routine of her modest and spotless Christian life, was little aware what storms were brewing in two bosoms upstairs in the study—in Pen’s as he sate in his shootingjacket, with his elbows on the green study-table, and his hands clutching his curly brown hair, Homer under his nose,—and in worthy Mr. Smirke’s, with whom he was reading. Here they would talk about Helen and Andromache. “Andromache’s like my mother,” Pen used to avouch; “but I say, Smirke, by Jove I’d out OK my nose to see Helen; ” and he would spout certain favourite lines which the reader will find in their proper place in the third book. He drew portraits of herthey are extant still—with straight noses and enormous eyes, and “Arthur Pendennis delineavit et pinxit ” gallantly written underneath.
As for Mr. Smirke, he naturally preferred Andromache. And in consequence he was uncommonly kind to Pen. He gave him his Elzevir Horace, of which the boy was fond, and his little Greek Testament which his own mamma at Clapham had purchased and presented to him. He bought him a silver pencil-case; and in the matter of learning let him do just as much or as little as ever he pleased. He always seemed to be on the point of unbosoming himself to Pen: nay, he confessed to the latter that he had a—an attachment, an ardently cherished attachment, about which Pendennis longed to hear, and said, “ Tell us, old chap, is she handsome ? has she got blue eyes or black ? ” But Doctor Portman’s curate, heaving a gentle sigh, cast up his eyes to the ceiling, and begged Pen faintly to change the conversation. Poor Smirke! He invited Pen to dine at his lodgings over Madame Fribsby’s, the milliner’s, in Clavering, and once when it was raining, and Mrs. Pendennis, who had driven in her pony-chaise into Clavering with respect to some arrangements, about leaving off mourning probably, was prevailed upon to enter the curate’s apartments, he sent for pound-cakes instantly. The sofa on which she sate became sacred to him from that day: and he kept flowers in the glass which she drank from ever after.
As Mrs. Pendennis was never tired of hearing the praises of her son, we may be certain that this rogue of a tutor neglected no opportunity of conversing with her upon the subject. It might be a little tedious to him to hear the stories about Pen’s generosity, about his bravery in fighting the big‘ naughty boy, about his fun and jokes, about his prodigious skill in Latin, music, riding, &c.—but what price would he not pay to