« PreviousContinue »
trophe of the old comedy;" but there was a sober, steady, progressive improvement, which, by the time he was three-and-twenty, trebled his original salary. Nor was this because Mr. Howard was liberal. It was because Charles was diligent, to render himself worthy of advancement. Had he been without that stirring quality which will not let its possessor keep the valley, while others tread the heights, his merely faithful services would have reaped the harvest which thinly strews the garners of negative virtue, while bolder, if not always better, husbandry, gathers in its abounding crop. But he had in his composition the first element, the fundamental basis of all prosperity in life, where prosperity waits upon desert-a fixed determination to be master of his situation whatever it might be. Had he been only a shoe-black, he would infallibly have been the best shoe-black of his time or place.
This impulse led him to widen the range of his studies, so as to embrace those comprehensive principles of commerce, which, in their practical application, produce that combination so rare in every country save England, the merchant statesman; who makes knowledge the handmaid of enterprise; and surveys, with a philosophic mind, the rational and artificial wants, the physical resources, the moral characteristics, and the political institutions, of all nations, to render all tributary to the prosperity of his own. Mr. Howard quickly discovered the expanding resources of Charles's mind, and insensibly be gan to treat him with that deference which intellectual superiority, in whatever shape it manifests itself, enforces alike from those who can, and those who cannot, estimate its precise value. Charles was gradually admitted to his confidence, consulted upon specific undertakings, and referred to for facts, connected with complicated questions of foreign or domestic trade. In
no one case did Mr. Howard find this confidence misplaced, or the advice he sought, or the information he required, inapplicable to its purpose.
Thus fortified in his opinions of his eminent qualities, and satisfied, from experience, that his prudence, and his cautious habits, were in no way injuriously affected by the impetuous energy of his general character, he confided to his management an affair of vital importance, as connected with both the honor and the stability of the house. A voyage to India, however, was necessary; and thither Charles went (then only in his five-and-. twentieth year,) entrusted with full power to act upon his sole responsibility, in a matter of such vast magnitude that it might have added furrows to a brow already wrinkled by a long life spent in adjusting similar transactions. But he approached the question undismayed; not from any over-weening reliance upon himself, but because, having deliberately investigated it, he believed he clearly saw where the justice of the case lay, and in that (if he were right) he had determined his strength should lie. He was right: and he stood like a rock. One by one, he obtained, from the adverse parties, the admissions which built up the defence of his own position; and when the whole was complete, they had no alternative but to concede the issue, or deny their previous acquiescence in all the premises upon which it was legitimately established.
At the expiration of three years, Charles returned to England. Mr. Howard received him with warm congratulations, being already apprised, by his letters, of the course and issue of the negociation. The sum which it involved was little less than half a million sterling; and this had not merely been released, but the mode of its release had completely effaced every mark of apparent dishonor, which eager enemies and cold friends hal sough
to fix upon the business.
The Mrs. Saville was accompanied by her niece, who, strange to say, was still Julia Montague, though now bidding adieu to six-and-twenty. Julia, if not absolutely beautiful, was at least something more than interesting in her appearance; and united to elegant manners, an amiable disposition, and a richlycultivated mind. Whether she could have married, but would not; whether she would, but could not; or lastly, whether neither was the case, but that she was single for the same reason that she had auburn hair, are points which it were utterly indefensible to discuss. It is enough that she was single, and that the sterling qualities of her character attracted the notice of Mr. Coventry in the frequent opportunities he now had of observing her. He, too, was beyond that period of life when either the heart or the eye is alone consulted, provided there be a head to lend its assistance. But Julia Montague had attractions for all three. The eye of a husband might dwell with conscious pride upon her personal charms; his heart, with fond devotion, upon her gentle virtues; and his mind, with calm admiration, upon the natural endowments and acquired treasures of hers. There was food for passion, for love, for esteem. When the first decayed, as decay it must, though "to a radiant angel linked," endearing love would fill the void, and sober reason, that knows no change, shed its mild lustre to the last.
It was shortly after this event he saw Mrs. Saville, for the first time since that memorable morning when, friendless, hungry, and destitute, he told his disastrous story to the churlish blacksmith, and attracted, unknowingly, the pitying notice of the fair Julia. He had never forgotten his kind benefactress; on the contrary, it was his delight, at each fresh turn of fortune in his favor, to make her acquainted with it; and she always received the intelligence with unabated interest in his welfare. She had come to town for the benefit of medical advice in that incurable disease, old age, (for all her complaints were but the falling to pieces of an excellent constitution preparatory to the closing scene,) and taken up her abode in Mr. Howard's house, where Charles renewed his personal acquaintance with her. He was shocked to see the dilapidations time had wrought in so short a period; forgetting that, between sixty-five and seventy-five, ten years make sad havoc. Her stature, always diminutive, had assumed the stoop of decrepitude; her flaxen hair was a silver white; her delicately-pale complexion had the wan hue of sickness; and her clear, musical voice had lapsed into a cracked, tremulous tone. But there was the same benignity of countenance; and her carriage, though feeble, retained its impress of courtesy and refinement.
After this preparation, the matter may as well be settled at once, for there can no longer be any secret in the business. Every reader has already anticipated the inevitable union between Charles Coventry and Julia Montague. It took place about six or seven months after her arrival in London, and scarcely as many weeks before the decease of Mrs. Saville, who expired suddenly, while sitting at breakfast on the very morning of the day she had fixed for returning into the country,
under the firm persuasion of signal benefit derived from the skill of her physician. It was a falling asleep, rather than that terrific struggle between soul and body, when they are to separate. She leaned back in her chair-the shadow of death passed for a moment over her countenance-there was one long-drawn sigh-and all was over! Thus mild and peaceful was the departure of Eugenia Saville from a world through which she had passed as mildly, as peacefully,-and most holily! Tears were shed for her, not such as fall upon the grave of all who leave behind kindred or friends to mourn a common loss with common grief; but such as hallow the memory of the good,-tears, whose source was in the heart, and which dropped from eyes where many a time and oft they had been dried by the benign being they now bewailed.
Mr. Howard did not survive his sister more than two years; the exact number by which he was her junior in age, so that their earthly pilgrimage was of the same duration, almost to a day. Having no family, and all his relations being in opulent circumstances, he bequeathed the bulk of his immense property to charitable institutions; and to his partner, Mr. Coventry, the valuable possession of the business of the late firm. To his niece, Julia Coventry, he gave a legacy of five thousand pounds; "being," as he expressed it in his will, "the fifth part of the sum he had intended to leave her, had she not already succeeded to two fortunes-the one that was her aunt's, his dear departed sister, Eugenia Saville; the other, the far better fortune of a good husband."
From this period, the career of Charles Coventry was marked by unexampled prosperity. Wealth flowed in upon him through a thousand channels, with all its concomitants, vast influence, the highest distinction that can surround a commoner, and the ambition to become
the founder of a family. As a first step towards effecting the last, he obtained a seat in Parliament; as a second, a preponderating voice in the nomination to other seats; as a third, he concentrated all the energies of his mind and character to acquire public reputation as an orator and politician. He had the requisites for both; and his political principles were upon record, in a work which had excited an unusual degree of popular notice.
He was soon satisfied he had not placed before his hopes a visionary prize. Scarcely had he taken his seat, and certainly had not addressed the House more than three or four times, when he was singled out for one of those ferocious attacks by the Opposition, which they never make except upon an imbecile Minister, or a formidable adversary who is rising to his proper level. It embodied every mode of parliamentary warfare, from polished sarcasm and eloquent invective, to deep-mouthed reproof, and the light artillery of ridicule. The Whig benches rang with acclamations; the Treasury ones were silent. To have echoed these acclamations, would have been to recognize, as a champion, one who was on his trial to establish whether he had the mettle in him which would proclaim him such, or only the ardor of a well-disposed, but feeble auxiliary. There was not a man in the house who better understood the true nature of his position, or all that hung suspended on the issue, than Mr. Coventry himself. Pride, ambition, glory, conscious strength, contempt of despicable motives, inflamed into resentment at the anticipated possibility of their success, every feeling that could inspire an ardent, generous nature, concurred to animate him. He rose. His exordium was placid, easy, playful even; but there was a collected energy of purpose on his brow; a kindling but smothered fire in his eye; and a dignified repose of manner, which bespoke the secret
knowledge of a reserved strength for the decisive onset.\
There had been the stillness that foretells the hurricane; the rising gusts and furious eddies that are its immediate harbingers; and there was the hurricane itself! The devastation was complete. Not a vestige remained of the mighty fabric which sarcasm and invective, reproof and ridicule, had raised to arrest his progress; and when he sat down, with the emphatic declaration, "that as he hoped he should never invite hostility by presumptuous arrogance, so would he never bend to it, when it wore, in his judgment, the livery of that most degenerate of our vices, or, if they liked it better, meanest of our infirmities," peals of tumultuous cheers bore testimony to the eloquence, manliness, and justice of his defence. The Minister was loud in his encomiums, and personally congratulated him upon the display he had made; while the adherents of government, now that he had shown he was able to assert his own cause, came forward with oppressive alacrity to assert it for him. With modest selfdenial, he belied the swelling exultation which throbbed in every pulse of his excited frame; but he who has fought hard for victory and gained it, with whatever well-beseeming diffidence he may teach his tongue to disclaim the laurel, has that within, even at the moment when he wraps the cloak of humility in its thickest folds about him, which whispers to his proud heart that he is a conqueror. Charles Coventry had feverish dreams that night. Titles, and ribbons, and glittering stars, and bright honors, dazzled his sleeping fancy; and such a glass as Banquo held in his hand, when the weird sisters "grieved the heart" of Macbeth, seemed to show him "gold-bound brows" which he could "smile upon, and point at for his."
At length he found himself with his feet planted on the first step of 66 ambition's ladder." An executive
appointment, with a baronetcy, were offered him in requital of his long, disinterested, and valuable support of government. He accepted them. Then came another night of feverish dreams, as he laid his head upon his pillow, Sir Charles Coventry, a member of the administration. He was now approaching his fiftieth year, and was the father of a numerous family, three of whom were sons. If, therefore, he had touched the boundary of his hopes, he had the satisfaction of knowing that with his wealth, he should transmit a title to his posterity. But the same prudence, talent, and unwearied ardor in the pursuit of whatever he undertook, which had conducted him thus far, opened the path to his further advancement. He distinguished himself greatly by the vigorous and efficient discharge of his official duties; and while he impressed his colleagues and the country with a high opinion of his fitness for more important functions, he silenced the hostility of political adversaries, who, when he accepted office, were not slow to fling upon him their taunts, as an adventurer for place without the requisite qualifications. A few short years saw him raised to the dignity of privy-councillor, and graced with the ribbon of the Bath.
Behold him now ! The Right Honorable Sir Charles Coventry, K.B. giving weight to the measures of Government by his advice, and supporting them afterwards by his eloquence in Parliament, where he was no longer the candidate for distinction, but the possessor of it. He had wholly withdrawn himself from mercantile affairs, partly because their adequate superintendence was incompatible with the other demands upon his time; but more because they might stand in his way, if the occasion presented itself, for grasping at the great object of his ambition. He had realized a princely fortune, which he used with the unostentatious virtue of one who
remembered what he was thirty-five
were enlarged to the full extent of
One of those political emergencies, arising from the jealousies of rival statesmen, which have frequently lifted into power men who had been all their lives vainly striving to bring about such a consummation of their hopes, operated propitiously for Sir Charles Coventry. It is true he had sown the seeds; but it is no less true, that without such a concurrence of circumstances, in all probability he would Sir Charles Coventry exercised never have reaped the harvest, the high function of a Cabinet MiMatured, however, as his experi- nister for eleven years; and during ence now was, and unabated as was the last three, that of Prime Ministhat ardor of character which had ter. But he had now passed his distinguished him from his cradle, a grand climacteric; and though free transient misgiving of himself crept from any of the more enfeebling over his mind when the prize lay symptoms of age, began to feel a fairly within his reach, and he was desire for repose. He had lived invited to stretch forth his hand. long enough for others, and for But the misgiving was only tran- worldly objects. He wished to find sient. A noble enthusiasm succeed- a quiet interval, this side the grave, ed; the more certain to conduct for the peaceful enjoyment of himhim prosperously through his trial, self. Such, however, is the fascibecause it had been ushered in by nation of power, (next to life, the a wise diffidence. He accepted hardest thing, perhaps, to part with the SEALS of office; took his seat voluntarily,) that the desire lanat the council-table as a Cabinet guished two years before he could Minister; and saw himself honored, resolve to intimate it to his Royal in a preeminent degree, by the per- Master. When he did, permission sonal and constitutional confidence was granted, but with many flatterof his sovereign. As on the other ing expressions of regret, and the occasions of his life, he at once filled still more flattering declaration of a the space in which he moved. The wish that the memory of his eminent energies of his nature developed services should be perpetuated by themselves with increased ampli- the honors of the peerage. A few tude; the dimensions of his intellect weeks after, the Minister resigned