Read CHAPTER XXIX - THE EPISTLE OF DR. SHRAPNEL TO COMMANDER BEAUCHAMP of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on

Before we give ear to the recital of Dr. Shrapnel’s letter to his pupil in politics by the mouth of Captain Baskelett, it is necessary to defend this gentleman, as he would handsomely have defended himself, from the charge that he entertained ultimate designs in regard to the really abominable scrawl, which was like a child’s drawing of ocean with here and there a sail capsized, and excited his disgust almost as much as did the contents his great indignation.  He was prepared to read it, and stood blown out for the task, but it was temporarily too much for him.  ‘My dear Colonel, look at it, I entreat you,’ he said, handing the letter for exhibition, after fixing his eye-glass, and dropping it in repulsion.  The common sentiment of mankind is offended by heterodoxy in mean attire; for there we see the self-convicted villain ­the criminal caught in the act; we try it and convict it by instinct without the ceremony of a jury; and so thoroughly aware of our promptitude in this respect has our arch-enemy become since his mediaeval disgraces that his particular advice to his followers is now to scrupulously copy the world in externals; never to appear poorly clothed, nor to impart deceptive communications in bad handwriting.  We can tell black from white, and our sagacity has taught him a lesson.

Colonel Halkett glanced at the detestable penmanship.  Lord Palmet did the same, and cried, ‘Why, it’s worse than mine!’

Cecilia had protested against the reading of the letter, and she declined to look at the writing.  She was entreated, adjured to look, in Captain Baskelett’s peculiarly pursuing fashion; a ‘nay, but you shall,’ that she had been subjected to previously, and would have consented to run like a schoolgirl to escape from.

To resume the defence of him:  he was a man incapable of forming plots, because his head would not hold them.  He was an impulsive man, who could impale a character of either sex by narrating fables touching persons of whom he thought lightly, and that being done he was devoid of malice, unless by chance his feelings or his interests were so aggrieved that his original haphazard impulse was bent to embrace new circumstances and be the parent of a line of successive impulses, in the main resembling an extremely far-sighted plot, whereat he gazed back with fondness, all the while protesting sincerely his perfect innocence of anything of the kind.  Circumstances will often interwind with the moods of simply irritated men.  In the present instance he could just perceive what might immediately come of his reading out of this atrocious epistle wherein Nevil Beauchamp was displayed the dangling puppet of a mountebank wire-pulley, infidel, agitator, leveller, and scoundrel.  Cognizant of Mr. Romfrey’s overtures to Colonel Halkett, he traced them to that scheming woman in the house at Steynham, and he was of opinion that it was a friendly and good thing to do to let the old colonel and Cissy Halkett know Mr. Nevil through a bit of his correspondence.  This, then, was a matter of business and duty that furnished an excuse for his going out of his, way to call at Mount Laurels on the old familiar footing, so as not to alarm the heiress.

A warrior accustomed to wear the burnished breastplates between London and Windsor has, we know, more need to withstand than to discharge the shafts of amorous passion; he is indeed, as an object of beauty, notoriously compelled to be of the fair sex in his tactics, and must practise the arts and whims of nymphs to preserve himself:  and no doubt it was the case with the famous Captain Baskelett, in whose mind sweet ladies held the place that the pensive politician gives to the masses, dreadful in their hatred, almost as dreadful in their affection.  But an heiress is a distinct species among women; he hungered for the heiress; his elevation to Parliament made him regard her as both the ornament and the prop of his position; and it should be added that his pride, all the habits of thought of a conqueror of women, had been shocked by that stupefying rejection of him, which Cecilia had intimated to her father with the mere lowering of her eyelids.  Conceive the highest bidder at an auction hearing the article announce that it will not have him!  Captain Baskelett talked of it everywhere for a month or so: ­the girl could not know her own mind, for she suited him exactly! and he requested the world to partake of his astonishment.  Chronicles of the season in London informed him that he was not the only fellow to whom the gates were shut.  She could hardly be thinking of Nevil?  However, let the epistle be read.  ‘Now for the Shrapnel shot,’ he nodded finally to Colonel Halkett, expanded his bosom, or natural cuirass, as before-mentioned, and was vocable above the common pitch: ­

’"My brave Beauchamp, ­On with your mission, and never a summing of results in hand, nor thirst for prospects, nor counting upon harvests; for seed sown in faith day by day is the nightly harvest of the soul, and with the soul we work.  With the soul we see."’

Captain Baskelett intervened:  ’Ahem!  I beg to observe that this delectable rubbish is underlined by old Nevil’s pencil.’  He promised to do a little roaring whenever it occurred, and continued with ghastly false accentuation, an intermittent sprightliness and depression of tone in the wrong places.

’"The soul,” et caetera.  Here we are!

   “Desires to realize our gains are akin to the passion of usury;
   these are tricks of the usurer to grasp his gold in act and
   imagination.  Have none of them.  Work at the people!”
­At them, remark !

   “Moveless do they seem to you?  Why, so is the earth to the sowing
   husbandman, and though we cannot forecast a reaping season, we have
   in history durable testification that our seasons come in the souls
   of men, yea, as a planet that we have set in motion, and faster and
   faster are we spinning it, and firmer and firmer shall we set it to
   regularity of revolution.  That means life!”
­Shrapnel roars:  you will have Nevil in a minute.

“Recognize that now we have bare life; at best for the bulk of men the Saurian lizard’s broad back soaking and roasting in primeval slime; or say, in the so-called teachers of men, as much of life as pricks the frog in March to stir and yawn, and up on a flaccid leap that rolls him over some three inches nearer to the ditchwater besought by his instinct.”

‘I ask you, did you ever hear?  The flaccid frog!  But on we go.’

’"Professors, prophets, masters, each hitherto has had his creed and system to offer, good mayhap for the term; and each has put it forth for the truth everlasting, to drive the dagger to the heart of time, and put the axe to human growth! ­that one circle of wisdom issuing of the experience and needs of their day, should act the despot over all other circles for ever! ­so where at first light shone to light the yawning frog to his wet ditch, there, with the necessitated revolution of men’s minds in the course of ages, darkness radiates.”

’That’s old Nevil.  Upon my honour, I haven’t a notion of what it all means, and I don’t believe the old rascal Shrapnel has himself.  And pray be patient, my dear colonel.  You will find him practical presently.  I’ll skip, if you tell me to.  Darkness radiates, does it!

’"The creed that rose in heaven sets below; and where we had an angel we have claw-feet and fangs.  Ask how that is!  The creed is much what it was when the followers diverged it from the Founder.  But humanity is not where it was when that creed was food and guidance.  Creeds will not die not fighting.  We cannot root them up out of us without blood.”

‘He threatens blood! ­’

’"Ours, my Beauchamp, is the belief that humanity advances beyond the limits of creeds, is to be tied to none.  We reverence the Master in his teachings; we behold the limits of him in his creed ­ and that is not his work.  We truly are his disciples, who see how far it was in him to do service; not they that made of his creed a strait-jacket for humanity.  So, in our prayers we dedicate the world to God, not calling him great for a title, no ­showing him we know him great in a limitless world, lord of a truth we tend to, have not grasped.  I say Prayer is good.  I counsel it to you again and again:  in joy, in sickness of heart.  The infidel will not pray; the creed-slave prays to the image in his box."’

‘I’ve had enough!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated.

‘"We,"’ Captain Baskelett put out his hand for silence with an ineffable look of entreaty, for here was Shrapnel’s hypocrisy in full bloom: 

’"We make prayer a part of us, praying for no gifts, no interventions; through the faith in prayer opening the soul to the undiscerned.  And take this, my Beauchamp, for the good in prayer, that it makes us repose on the unknown with confidence, makes us flexible to change, makes us ready for revolution ­for life, then!  He who has the fountain of prayer in him will not complain of hazards.  Prayer is the recognition of laws; the soul’s exercise and source of strength; its thread of conjunction with them.  Prayer for an object is the cajolery of an idol; the resource of superstition.  There you misread it, Beauchamp.  We that fight the living world must have the universal for succour of the truth in it.  Cast forth the soul in prayer, you meet the effluence of the outer truth, you join with the creative elements giving breath to you; and that crust of habit which is the soul’s tomb; and custom, the soul’s tyrant; and pride, our volcano-peak that sinks us in a crater; and fear, which plucks the feathers from the wings of the soul and sits it naked and shivering in a vault, where the passing of a common hodman’s foot above sounds like the king of terrors coming, ­you are free of them, you live in the day and for the future, by this exercise and discipline of the soul’s faith.  Me it keeps young everlastingly, like the fountain of..."’

‘I say I cannot sit and hear any more of it!’ exclaimed the colonel, chafing out of patience.

Lord Palmet said to Miss Halkett:  ’Isn’t it like what we used to remember of a sermon?’

Cecilia waited for her father to break away, but Captain Baskelett had undertaken to skip, and was murmuring in sing-song some of the phrases that warned him off: 

’"History ­Bible of Humanity;...  Permanency ­enthusiast’s dream ­despot’s aim ­clutch of dead men’s fingers in live flesh...  Man animal; man angel; man rooted; man winged":...  Really, all this is too bad.  Ah! here we are:  “At them with outspeaking, Beauchamp!” Here we are, colonel, and you will tell me whether you think it treasonable or not.  “At them,” et caetera:  “We have signed no convention to respect their” ­he speaks of Englishmen, Colonel Halkett ­“their passive idolâtries; a people with whom a mute conformity is as good as worship, but a word of dissent holds you up to execration; and only for the freedom won in foregone days their hate would be active.  As we have them in their present stage,” ­old Nevil’s mark ­“We are not parties to the tacit agreement to fill our mouths and shut our eyes.  We speak because it is better they be roused to lapidate us than soused in their sty, with none to let them hear they live like swine, craving only not to be disturbed at the trough.  The religion of this vast English middle-class ruling the land is Comfort.  It is their central thought; their idea of necessity; their sole aim.  Whatsoever ministers to Comfort, seems to belong to it, pretends to support it, they yield their passive worship to.  Whatsoever alarms it they join to crush.  There you get at their point of unity.  They will pay for the security of Comfort, calling it national worship, or national defence, if too much money is not subtracted from the means of individual comfort:  if too much foresight is not demanded for the comfort of their brains.  Have at them there.  Speak.  Moveless as you find them, they are not yet all gross clay, and I say again, the true word spoken has its chance of somewhere alighting and striking root.  Look not to that.  Seeds perish in nature; good men fail.  Look to the truth in you, and deliver it, with no afterthought of hope, for hope is dogged by dread; we give our courage as hostage for the fulfilment of what we hope.  Meditate on that transaction.  Hope is for boys and girls, to whom nature is kind.  For men to hope is to tremble.  Let prayer ­the soul’s overflow, the heart’s resignation ­supplant it...”

’Pardon, colonel; I forgot to roar, but old Nevil marks all down that page for encomium,’ said Captain Baskelett.  ’Oh! here we are.  English loyalty is the subject.  Now, pray attend to this, colonel.  Shrapnel communicates to Beauchamp that if ten Beauchamps were spouting over the country without intermission he might condescend to hope.  So on ­to British loyalty.  We are, so long as our sovereigns are well-conducted persons, and we cannot unseat them ­observe; he is eminently explicit, the old traitor! ­we are to submit to the outward forms of respect, but we are frankly to say we are Republicans; he has the impudence to swear that England is a Republican country, and calls our thoroughgoing loyalty ­yours and mine, colonel ­disloyalty.  Hark:  “Where kings lead, it is to be supposed they are wanted.  Service is the noble office on earth, and where kings do service let them take the first honours of the State:  but” ­hark at this ­“the English middle-class, which has absorbed the upper, and despises, when it is not quaking before it, the lower, will have nothing above it but a ricketty ornament like that you see on a confectioner’s twelfth-cake."’

‘The man deserves hanging!’ said Colonel Halkett.

’Further, my dear colonel, and Nevil marks it pretty much throughout:  “This loyalty smacks of a terrible perfidy.  Pass the lords and squires; they are old trees, old foundations, or joined to them, whether old or new; they naturally apprehend dislocation when a wind blows, a river rises, or a man speaks; ­that comes of age or aping age:  their hearts are in their holdings!  For the loyalty of the rest of the land, it is the shopkeeper’s loyalty, which is to be computed by the exact annual sum of his net profits.  It is now at high tide.  It will last with the prosperity of our commerce.” ­The insolent old vagabond! ­“Let commercial disasters come on us, and what of the loyalty now paying its hundreds of thousands, and howling down questioners!  In a day of bankruptcies, how much would you bid for the loyalty of a class shivering under deprivation of luxuries, with its God Comfort beggared?  Ay, my Beauchamp,” ­the most offensive thing to me is that “my Beauchamp,” but old Nevil has evidently given himself up hand and foot to this ruffian ­“ay, when you reflect that fear of the so-called rabble, i.e. the people, the unmoneyed class, which knows not Comfort, tastes not of luxuries, is the main component of their noisy frigid loyalty, and that the people are not with them but against, and yet that the people might be won by visible forthright kingly service to a loyalty outdoing theirs as the sun the moon; ay, that the people verily thirst to love and reverence; and that their love is the only love worth having, because it is disinterested love, and endures, and takes heat in adversity, ­reflect on it and wonder at the inversion of things!  So with a Church.  It lives if it is at home with the poor.  In the arms of enriched shopkeepers it rots, goes to decay in vestments ­vestments! flakes of mummy-wraps for it! or else they use it for one of their political truncheons ­to awe the ignorant masses:  I quote them.  So.  Not much ahead of ancient Egyptians in spirituality or in priestcraft!  They call it statesmanship.  O for a word for it!  Let Palsy and Cunning go to form a word.  Deadmanship, I call it.” ­To quote my uncle the baron, this is lunatic dribble! ­“Parsons and princes are happy with the homage of this huge passive fleshpot class.  It is enough for them.  Why not?  The taxes are paid and the tithes.  Whilst commercial prosperity lasts!"’

Colonel Halkett threw his arms aloft.

’"Meanwhile, note this:  the people are the Power to come.  Oppressed, unprotected, abandoned; left to the ebb and flow of the tides of the market, now taken on to work, now cast off to starve, committed to the shifting laws of demand and supply, slaves of Capital-the whited name for old accursed.  Mammon:  and of all the ranked and black-uniformed host no pastor to come out of the association of shepherds, and proclaim before heaven and man the primary claim of their cause; they are, I say, the power, worth the seduction of by another Power not mighty in England now:  and likely in time to set up yet another Power not existing in England now.  What if a passive comfortable clergy hand them over to men on the models of Irish pastors, who will succour, console, enfold, champion them? what if, when they have learnt to use their majority, sick of deceptions and the endless pulling of interests, they raise one representative to force the current of action with an authority as little fictitious as their preponderance of numbers?  The despot and the priest!  There I see our danger, Beauchamp.  You and I and some dozen labour to tie and knot them to manliness.  We are few; they are many and weak.  Rome offers them real comfort in return for their mites in coin, and ­poor souls! mites in conscience, many of them.  A Tyrant offers them to be directly their friend.  Ask, Beauchamp, why they should not have comfort for pay as well as the big round ­“’

Captain Baskelett stopped and laid the letter out for Colonel Halkett to read an unmentionable word, shamelessly marked by Nevil’s pencil: 

   “ ­belly-class!” Ask, too, whether the comfort they wish for is not
   approaching divine compared with the stagnant fleshliness of that
   fat shopkeeper’s Comfort.

’"Warn the people of this.  Ay, warn the clergy.  It is not only the poor that are caught by ranters.  Endeavour to make those accommodating shepherds understand that they stand a chance of losing rich as well as poor!  It should awaken them.  The helpless poor and the uneasy rich are alike open to the seductions of Romish priests and intoxicated ranters.  I say so it will be if that band of forty thousand go on slumbering and nodding.  They walk in a dream.  The flesh is a dream.  The soul only is life.”

’Now for you, colonel.

’"No extension of the army ­no!  A thousand times no.  Let India go, then!  Good for India that we hold India?  Ay, good:  but not at such a cost as an extra tax, or compulsory service of our working man.  If India is to be held for the good of India, throw open India to the civilized nations, that they help us in a task that overstrains us.  At present India means utter perversion of the policy of England.  Adrift India! rather than England red-coated.  We dissent, Beauchamp!  For by-and-by.”

‘That is,’ Captain Baskelett explained, ’by-and-by Shrapnel will have old Nevil fast enough.’

‘Is there more of it?’ said Colonel Halkett, flapping his forehead for coolness.

’The impudence of this dog in presuming to talk about India! ­eh, colonel?  Only a paragraph or two more:  I skip a lot....  Ah! here we are.’  Captain Baskelett read to himself and laughed in derision:  ’He calls our Constitution a compact unsigned by the larger number involved in it.  What’s this?  “A band of dealers in fleshpottery.”  Do you detect a gleam of sense?  He underscores it.  Then he comes to this’:  Captain Baskelett requested Colonel Halkett to read for himself:  ’The stench of the trail of Ego in our History.’

The colonel perused it with an unsavoury expression of his features, and jumped up.

‘Oddly, Mr. Romfrey thought this rather clever,’ said Captain Baskelett, and read rapidly: 

’"Trace the course of Ego for them:  first the king who conquers and can govern.  In his egoism he dubs him holy; his family is of a selected blood; he makes the crown hereditary ­Ego.  Son by son the shame of egoism increases; valour abates; hereditary Crown, no hereditary qualities.  The Barons rise.  They in turn hold sway, and for their order ­Ego.  The traders overturn them:  each class rides the classes under it while it can.  It is ego ­ego, the fountain cry, origin, sole source of war!  Then death to ego, I say!  If those traders had ruled for other than ego, power might have rested with them on broad basis enough to carry us forward for centuries.  The workmen have ever been too anxious to be ruled.  Now comes on the workman’s era.  Numbers win in the end:  proof of small wisdom in the world.  Anyhow, with numbers there is rough nature’s wisdom and justice.  With numbers ego is inter-dependent and dispersed; it is universalized.  Yet these may require correctives.  If so, they will have it in a series of despots and revolutions that toss, mix, and bind the classes together:  despots, revolutions; panting alternations of the quickened heart of humanity.”

‘Marked by our friend Nevil in notes of admiration.’

‘Mad as the writer,’ groaned Colonel Halkett.  ’Never in my life have I heard such stuff.’

‘Stay, colonel; here’s Shrapnel defending Morality and Society,’ said Captain Baskelett.

Colonel Halkett vowed he was under no penal law to listen, and would not; but Captain Baskelett persuaded him:  ’Yes, here it is:  I give you my word.  Apparently old Nevil has been standing up for every man’s right to run away with...  Yes, really!  I give you my word; and here we have Shrapnel insisting on respect for the marriage laws.  Do hear this; here it is in black and white: ­

“Society is our one tangible gain, our one roofing and flooring in a world of most uncertain structures built on morasses.  Toward the laws that support it men hopeful of progress give their adhesion.  If it is martyrdom, what then?  Let the martyrdom be.  Contumacy is animalism.  And attend to me,” says Shrapnel, “the truer the love the readier for sacrifice!  A thousand times yes.  Rebellion against Society, and advocacy of Humanity, run counter.  Tell me Society is the whited sepulchre, that it is blotched, hideous, hollow:  and I say, add not another disfigurement to it; add to the purification of it.  And you, if you answer, what can only one?  I say that is the animal’s answer, and applies also to politics, where the question, what can one? put in the relapsing tone, shows the country decaying in the individual.  Society is the protection of the weaker, therefore a shield of women, who are our temple of civilization, to be kept sacred; and he that loves a woman will assuredly esteem and pity her sex, and not drag her down for another example of their frailty.  Fight this out within you !”

But you are right, colonel; we have had sufficient.  I shall be getting a democratic orator’s twang, or a crazy parson’s, if I go on much further.  He covers thirty-two pages of letter-paper.  The conclusion is: ­“Jenny sends you her compliments, respects, and best wishes, and hopes she may see you before she goes to her friend Clara Sherwin and the General."’

‘Sherwin?  Why, General Sherwin’s a perfect gentleman,’ Colonel Halkett interjected; and Lord Palmet caught the other name:  ’Jenny?  That’s Miss Denham, Jenny Denham; an amazingly pretty girl:  beautiful thick brown hair, real hazel eyes, and walks like a yacht before the wind.’

‘Perhaps, colonel, Jenny accounts for the defence of society,’ said Captain Baskelett.  ’I have no doubt Shrapnel has a scheme for Jenny.  The old communist and socialist!’ He folded up the letter:  ’A curious composition, is it not, Miss Halkett?’

Cecilia was thinking that he tempted her to be the apologist of even such a letter.

‘One likes to know the worst, and what’s possible,’ said the colonel.

After Captain Baskelett had gone, Colonel Halkett persisted in talking of the letter, and would have impressed on his daughter that the person to whom the letter was addressed must be partly responsible for the contents of it.  Cecilia put on the argumentative air of a Court of Equity to discuss the point with him.

‘Then you defend that letter?’ he cried.

Oh, no:  she did not defend the letter; she thought it wicked and senseless.  ‘But,’ said she, ’the superior strength of men to women seems to me to come from their examining all subjects, shrinking from none.  At least, I should not condemn Nevil on account of his correspondence.’

‘We shall see,’ said her father, sighing rather heavily.  ’I must have a talk with Mr. Romfrey about that letter.’