Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 7

In a commercial country like England, every half century developes some new and vast source of public wealth, which brings into national notice a new and powerful class. A couple of centuries ago, a Turkey merchant was the great creator of wealth; the West Indian Planter followed him. In the middle of the last century appeared the Nabob. These characters in their zenith in turn merged in the land, and became English aristocrats; while the Levant decaying, the West Indies exhausted, and Hindostan plundered, the breeds died away, and now exist only in our English comedies from Wycherly and Congreve to Cumberland and Morton. The expenditure of the revolutionary war produced the Loanmonger, who succeeded the Nabob; and the application of science to industry developed the Manufacturer, who in turn aspires to be "large-acred," and always will, as long as we have a territorial constitution; a better security for the preponderance of the landed interest than any corn law, fixed or fluctuating.

Of all these characters, the one that on the whole made the largest fortunes in the most rapid manner,—and we do not forget the marvels of the Waterloo loan, or the miracles of Manchester during the continental blockade—was the Anglo-East Indian about the time that Hastings was first appointed to the great viceroyalty. It was not unusual for men in positions so obscure that their names had never reached the public in this country, and who yet had not been absent from their native land for a longer period than the siege of Troy, to return with their million.

One of the most fortunate of this class of obscure adventurers was a certain John Warren. A very few years before the breaking out of the American war, he was a waiter at a celebrated club in St James's Street: a quick yet steady young fellow; assiduous, discreet, and very civil. In this capacity, he pleased a gentleman who was just appointed to the government of Madras, and who wanted a valet. Warren, though prudent, was adventurous; and accepted the opening which he believed fortune offered him. He was prescient. The voyage in those days was an affair of six months. During this period, Warren still more ingratiated himself with his master. He wrote a good hand, and his master a very bad one. He had a natural talent for accounts; a kind of information which was useful to his employer. He arrived at Madras, no longer a valet, but a private secretary.

His master went out to make a fortune; but he was indolent, and had indeed none of the qualities for success, except his great position. Warren had every quality but that. The basis of the confederacy therefore was intelligible; it was founded on mutual interests and cemented by reciprocal assistance. The governor granted monopolies to the secretary, who apportioned a due share to his sleeping partner. There appeared one of those dearths not unusual in Hindostan; the population of the famished province cried out for rice; the stores of which, diminished by nature, had for months mysteriously disappeared. A provident administration it seems had invested the public revenue in its benevolent purchase; the misery was so excessive that even pestilence was anticipated, when the great forestallers came to the rescue of the people over whose destinies they presided; and at the same time fed and pocketed millions.

This was the great stroke of the financial genius of Warren. He was satisfied. He longed once more to see St James's Street, and to become a member of the club, where he had once been a waiter. But he was the spoiled child of fortune, who would not so easily spare him. The governor died, and had appointed his secretary his sole executor. Not that his excellency particularly trusted his agent, but he dared not confide the knowledge of his affairs to any other individual. The estate was so complicated, that Warren offered the heirs a good round sum for his quittance, and to take the settlement upon himself. India so distant, and Chancery so near—the heirs accepted the proposition. Winding up this estate, Warren avenged the cause of plundered provinces; and the House of Commons itself, with Burke and Francis at its head, could scarcely have mulcted the late governor more severely.

A Mr Warren, of whom no one had ever heard except that he was a nabob, had recently returned from India and purchased a large estate in the north of England, was returned to Parliament one of the representatives of a close borough which he had purchased: a quiet, gentlemanlike, middle-aged man, with no decided political opinions; and, as parties were then getting very equal, of course very much courted. The throes of Lord North's administration were commencing. The minister asked the new member to dine with him, and found the new member singularly free from all party prejudices. Mr Warren was one of those members who announced their determination to listen to the debates and to be governed by the arguments. All complimented him, all spoke to him. Mr Fox declared that he was a most superior man; Mr Burke said that these were the men who could alone save the country. Mrs Crewe asked him to supper; he was caressed by the most brilliant of duchesses.

At length there arrived one of those fierce trials of strength, which precede the fall of a minister, but which sometimes from peculiar circumstances, as in the instances of Walpole and Lord North, are not immediate in their results. How would Warren vote? was the great question. He would listen to the arguments. Burke was full of confidence that he should catch Warren. The day before the debate there was a levee, which Mr Warren attended. The sovereign stopped him, spoke to him, smiled on him, asked him many questions: about himself, the House of Commons, how he liked it, how he liked England. There was a flutter in the circle; a new favourite at court.

The debate came off, the division took place. Mr Warren voted for the minister. Burke denounced him; the king made him a baronet.

Sir John Warren made a great alliance, at least for him; he married the daughter of an Irish earl; became one of the king's friends; supported Lord Shelburne, threw over Lord Shelburne, had the tact early to discover that Mr Pitt was the man to stick to, stuck to him. Sir John Warren bought another estate, and picked up another borough. He was fast becoming a personage. Throughout the Indian debates he kept himself extremely quiet; once indeed in vindication of Mr Hastings, whom he greatly admired, he ventured to correct Mr Francis on a point of fact with which he was personally acquainted. He thought that it was safe, but he never spoke again. He knew not the resources of vindictive genius or the powers of a malignant imagination. Burke owed the Nabob a turn for the vote which had gained him a baronetcy. The orator seized the opportunity and alarmed the secret conscience of the Indian adventurer by his dark allusions, and his fatal familiarity with the subject.

Another estate however and another borough were some consolation for this little misadventure; and in time the French Revolution, to Sir John's great relief, turned the public attention for ever from Indian affairs. The Nabob from the faithful adherent of Mr Pitt had become even his personal friend. The wits indeed had discovered that he had been a waiter; and endless were the epigrams of Fitzpatrick and the jokes of Hare; but Mr Pitt cared nothing about the origin of his supporters. On the contrary, Sir John was exactly the individual from whom the minister meant to carve out his plebeian aristocracy; and using his friend as a feeler before he ventured on his greater operations, the Nabob one morning was transformed into an Irish baron.

The new Baron figured in his patent as Lord Fitz-Warene, his Norman origin and descent from the old barons of this name having been discovered at Herald's college. This was a rich harvest for Fitzpatrick and Hare; but the public gets accustomed to everything, and has an easy habit of faith. The new Baron cared nothing for ridicule, for he was working for posterity. He was compensated for every annoyance by the remembrance that the St James's Street waiter was ennobled, and by his determination that his children should rank still higher in the proud peerage of his country. So he obtained the royal permission to resume the surname and arms of his ancestors, as well as their title.

There was an ill-natured story set afloat, that Sir John owed this promotion to having lent money to the minister; but this was a calumny. Mr Pitt never borrowed money of his friends. Once indeed, to save his library, he took a thousand pounds from an individual on whom he had conferred high rank and immense promotion: and this individual, who had the minister's bond when Mr Pitt died, insisted on his right, and actually extracted the 1,000 l. from the insolvent estate of his magnificent patron. But Mr Pitt always preferred an usurer to a friend; and to the last day of his life borrowed money at fifty per cent.

The Nabob departed this life before the Minister, but he lived long enough to realize his most aspiring dream. Two years before his death the Irish baron was quietly converted into an English peer; and without exciting any attention, all the squibs of Fitzpatrick, all the jokes of Hare, quite forgotten, the waiter of the St James's Street club took his seat in the most natural manner possible in the House of Lords.

The great estate of the late Lord Fitz-Warene was situated at Mowbray, a village which principally belonged to him, and near which he had raised a gothic castle, worthy of his Norman name and ancestry. Mowbray was one of those places which during the long war had expanded from an almost unknown village to a large and flourishing manufacturing town; a circumstance, which, as Lady Marney observed, might have somewhat deteriorated the atmosphere of the splendid castle, but which had nevertheless doubled the vast rental of its lord. He who had succeeded to his father was Altamont Belvidere (named after his mother's family) Fitz-Warene, Lord Fitz-Warene. He was not deficient in abilities, though he had not his father's talents, but he was over-educated for his intellect; a common misfortune. The new Lord Fitz-Warene was the most aristocratic of breathing beings. He most fully, entirely, and absolutely believed in his pedigree; his coat of arms was emblazoned on every window, embroidered on every chair, carved in every corner. Shortly after his father's death he was united to the daughter of a ducal house, by whom he had a son and two daughters, chrisened by names which the ancient records of the Fitz-Warenes authorised. His son, who gave promise of abilities which might have rendered the family really distinguished, was Valence; his daughters, Joan and Maud. All that seemed wanting to the glory of the house was a great distinction of which a rich peer, with six seats in the House of Commons, could not ultimately despair. Lord Fitz-Warene aspired to rank among the earls of England. But the successors of Mr Pitt were strong; they thought the Fitz-Warenes had already been too rapidly advanced; it was whispered that the king did not like the new man; that his majesty thought him pompous, full of pretence, in short, a fool. But though the successors of Mr Pitt managed to govern the country for twenty years and were generally very strong, in such an interval of time however good their management or great their luck, there were inevitably occasions when they found themselves in difficulties, when it was necessary to conciliate the lukewarm or to reward the devoted. Lord Fitz-Warene well understood how to avail himself of these occasions; it was astonishing how conscientious and scrupulous he became during Walcheren expeditions, Manchester massacres, Queen's trials. Every scrape of the government was a step in the ladder to the great borough-monger. The old king too had disappeared from the stage; and the tawdry grandeur of the great Norman peer rather suited George the Fourth. He was rather a favourite at the Cottage; they wanted his six votes for Canning; he made his terms; and one of the means by which we got a man of genius for a minister, was elevating Lord Fitz-Warene in the peerage, by the style and title of Earl de Mowbray of Mowbray Castle.

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