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THE CHIMNEY CORNER.

THE DISRUPTION: A TALE OF TRYING TIMES. CHAPTER Xll.— continued. The leading idea of the work, as far as could be gathered from what he read and said of it, was simply that nothing was ever done by anybody to whom, in general estimation, the credit was due. As an example. Mr. Bacon condescended on the battle of Waterloo, “ Most people,” said he, <c talk of Wellington as the victor. Never was there a greater mistake. Wellington, my dear sir, neither gained that nor any other battle in his life. A mere puppet, I assure you ; a kind of ostensible com-mander-in-chief, while the real generalship was always performed by people who were never talked of or known At Waterloo, for instance, Old Nosey was at his wit’s end; did not know what to do or how to move. Napoleon had all the game chalked out and was sure to ‘win. Not Napolean himself, to be sure, but somebody I will tell you of again. The affair was in fact settled before a blow was stuck. Had Wellington been left to himself, the British had nothing for it but to stand and allow themselves to be cut to pieces; but just in the nick of time some clever fellow gave the Duke a hint what to do. I can point pretty confidently to the person who did so; a civilian, you may be sure. No soldier that ever I knew of had originality enough to win a battle. It is well known that several British gentlemen, not of the military profession, accompanied the army from Brussels to the field, and one of them, a man of immense sagacity, was within touch of Wellington all the time. That was the lucky chance for us, sir. Otherwise, there would have been no alternative but a retreat to Brussels, and .a re-embarkment at Ostend.”

“ I have heard,” said Mr. Duncanson, “that the Prussians claim the honor of having decided the day.” “ The Prussians, my dear sir, had no share in it. They merely marched into the field and fired a few rounds of artillery into the French lines after the affair was settled. No, no; the day was gained by a gentleman in plain clothes, whose name the world has never heard ; and Wellington would go down to posterity with borrowed —stolen —plumes, were I not prepared to strip him bare. It is just the same with every battle that ever was fought. The glory is always wrongly bestowed. Rodney’s victory is another case in point. The enemy’s line was then first broken at sea. But who invented the manoeuvre? Not Rodney, to be sure. He sat on an arm-chair on deck, ill with the gout, and so far from directing the battle, would not hear of any attempt to break De Grasse’s line, when it was done by Captain Douglas of the flagship. But Douglas merely acted on a plan suggested by Mr. John Clerk of this city, father of the late Lord Eldin; and I have a strong suspicion that if all the truth were known, the honour of the invention would not rest with Mr. Clerk any more than with Captain Douglas or Lord Rodney. I may perhaps be able yet to prove that some very shrewdminded person, altogether unknown to fame, gave Mr. Clerk the hint which he published. I always find matters turn out so when they are fairly probed to the bottom. In proof, too, .of the correctness of my theory, recollect, sir, that it was a poor country weaver who showed General Mackay how to beat Montrose at Philiphaugh; and that a farmer’s son in East Lothian, a young fellow named Anderson, who had never carried arms, or seen an army before in his life, led the rebels to victory at Prestonpans. Yes, I say led them; for the Prince himself and all his generals were puzzled, and could decide on no plan of attack till Anderson instructed them.”

“ Then he must have been a remarkably clever fellow.”

“I am not sure that he was. In fact, I think it very possible that he himself was tutored by some one else —an experienced old man for instance, or, perhaps, some thoughtful, observant boy. You see, sir, you must comprehend the general scope of my ideas—the style of my philosophy, in a word—or you never can make yourself useful as my secretary. And the principles of which I have given you a sketch are not confined in their application to military tactics. Not at all. They pervade every branch of art and science, and all the modes in which mind is developed. In literature, music, and painting just the same. Take poetry —nothing can be more grossly erroneous than the prevailing notions on this subject. Why, there was a ploughman from Ayrshire, named Burns, who, about half a century ago, set all the world a-talking about his great abilities, his genius, and so forth ; and yet I feel bound to say he was no poet after all. He might perhaps be the author of some of the doggrel verses which bear his name. -I don’t dispute that—at present at least—though he had some rhyming acquaintances, such as Sillers and Lapraik, who, perhaps, wrote even these. But that Robert Burns wrote such poems as '* The Gottar’s Saturday night,’ or ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ —the idea is absurd, especially when his intimacy with some of the most gifted men of his day is considered. It is as plain to me as daylightthat the exquisite poetry which is usually inscribed to Burns must have been the work of such men as Dugwald Stewart, Tytler of Woodhouselee, and Professor Blair. These men might naturally wish to pass off their productions on homely subjects under his name; though, possibly enough, he might furnish them with material, in a rough state, for he had some ability; that may safely be conceded. But to suppose that he possessed the bright wit, elevated sentiment, the varied knowledge displayed in these poems, is ridiculous and preposterous credulity. Then, again, let us turn to his precursor, Allan Ramsay —another impostor. Allan also had a circle of poetical acquaintances— Hamilton of Gilbertfield, and others, and either of himself or through their help, he managed to produce a quantity of metrical trash in the shape of songs, epistles, and other short pieces. Well, on the strength of a reputation so acquired, he had the hardihood to claim the authorship of the ‘Gentle Shepherd ’ the finest pastoral, beyond

all comparison, in this or any other language.”

“ And you really think that Ramsay did not write the ‘ Gentle Shepherd ’?” “ Most undoubtedly I do. How could he, an illiterate barber? The thing is utterly improbable. Some people have thought they could trace the hand of Thompson, the reputed author of the ‘ Seasons,” in it. And so should I, were I satisfied that he really did write the ‘ Seasons.’ But 1 have grave doubts on that point. There must have been some vastly cleverer fellow than soft Jamie Thompson at the writing both of the ‘ Gentle Shepherd ’ and the ‘ Seasons,’ or my penetration is at fault. I have a strong belief, sir, that our greatest men have never been heard of; and this work of mine on the subject may even not be attributed to me, but to some one who may get into ray confidence and rob me of my right of posthumous reputation. It is this danger that makes me cautious whom I employ as my secretary ; but I have a prepossession in your favor, and hope I may depend on your honesty." “Well, I hope so. In literary matters I have no temptation to resist, for I am not ambitious of fame.”

“ Sorry for that, though. Ambition is a noble passion, and I honour all whom it inspires, when they can be content with what is their due. But I can overlook your want of it, and in fact have no objection to you in any respect I can at present judge of, except as regards your mode of dressing.” “My mode of dressing ! ” exclaimed Mr. Duncanson in surprise.

“ Yes, sir,” replied Mr. Bacon, “ your mode of dressing does not altogether please me. It is not student-like, but much too finical to my taste. But I object to it less for itself, than as an indication that you are woman-bred.”

Mr. Duncanson smiled at the objection, and remarked that he did not see how it was possible for any man to be otherwise.

“ True, true,” replied Mr. Bacon. “ In one sense what you say is perfectly true. There is no getting into the world without the aid of women. But my principle is, that the less we have to do with them after childhood the better. Why, sir, their society is the very bane of learning and science. They tease and torment a man with so many trifling matters that there is no living in comfort with them. They fritter away time with so many interruptions of meal-hours and observances of one kind and another, that life is of little value under their influence. They are restless, revolutionary creatures, continually turning a household upside down, and disturbing all settled arrangements and steady pursuits. They have no proper sense of order; no power of classification, either chronological, alphabetical, or homogenious. No; every arrangement must bend to paltry notions of compactness and neatness wherever a woman, under any pretence or capacity, is allowed to manage domestic affairs. Here I live a life of peace and comfort, just by keeping my door shut against all female intrusion. The only constant inmate I have is the boy who admitted you. He cooks and does everything required on ordinary occasions; and when we have a washing which is not very often, I get a porter to help him, and in this way we manage things famously. Never a book, a sheet of paper, or so much as a pen is stirred, except by myself or by my orders. This could not be the case if any female, young or old, were in the house. But I am • not a hater of women. Not I. I only dislike to be plagued with them. I know they have their use in the world, like every other kind of creatures ; and when they are kept in their prpper place—that is to say, kept apart from intelligent men as much as possible—they may be harmless enough. And don’t suppose I avoid them on account of any disappointment I have received. No, sir, I never was such a fool as to be in love, though many a one of the sex has been in love with me. The fact is, I have been persecuted with their attempts to entangle me. I can’t stir abroad without being leered at and ogled by fifty of them, all fluttering in their frippery, and quite bent on forcing themselves on my notice. Then the number of love-letters I receive would surprise you. Why, about St. Valentine’s day I have seen me have that coal-scuttle full of painted, gilt and scented billets ; and assignations are proposed to me almost daily. But I hold out firmly. I am neither to be taken by storm nor stratagem. I know that all my chances of future distinction in science or literature, as well as my present comfort, depend on my keeping free from female influence. Few of our great men ever married, and those who did had good cause to repent it. Newton, Locke, Pope, Goldsmith, Gray, Gay, Cowper, Thompson, Hume, Adam Smith, and Bentham, were all bachelors ; Shakespeare could not live with his wife, neither could Sterne, nor Byron; and Milton led a cat and dog life with three of them in succession. But few, even of those who avoided marrying, acted from principle as I do. They' kept fluttering occasionally round the candle of female attractions till they singed their glorious wings, and were unfit for high flights. But I neither flutter about the sex, nor allow them to flutter about me ; and thus I am free to soar to the highest peaks, and to breathe the purest air of intellectual life.”

Here Mr. Bacon made a pause, and filled all the room with the stifling smoke of tobacco. He resumed—“ A man who would direct or enlighten society must not be a part of it. He must stand aloof on elevated ground and let common men of confined notions, grovelling instinct, and petty minds, be the companions of women and the fathers of families. Those who aspire to greatness must live by themselves and keep the sex at arm’s length, not only as regards matrimony but domestic mangement. This is the grand principle I hold by; for when there is any deviation from it, when women are allowed to approach a man at all, they contrive to bring him down in some measure to their own level. If they don’t get him hooked into family cares and responsibilities, they at least manage to involve him in a net of petty coventionalities and annoying frivolities, which they call the decencies of life —things fitted to muddle away precious time unprofit-

ably, and render the brightest abilities as a sword that is never unsheathed. You see now, I hope, the reasonableness of my philosophy, and the judiciousness of my mode of life. O yes, I daresay you fully comprehend me: but pray take a cigar.” “ I thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke.”

“ Oh, indeed ! I don’t like that so well. Just another symptom that you have been too much subject to female influence. But I daresay you’ll get over that. And now we must to business. You have your own time all at your own disposal ?” i • “ Completely at present.” ‘• Very well, sir, that’s just the thing. Then I shall be very liberal with you. I did not intend to offer above fifteen shillings a-week for the services I require, but I shall go even the length of a pound, if I find you fit as well as I expect.” “ How much of my time daily will you require for that sum, Mr. Bacon ? ”

“ Why I should say there need be no precise limitation. You may come here generally about mid-day ; I am seldom up before then, and you can remain long or short just according as may be necessary ■ on : each occasion. That is the right way to get on with work.”

“ I should very much prefer to have my hours fixed.” “ Now, that is just another proof that your habits have been spoiled by female training. Nothing is so absurd as a mechanical division of time, and slavish observance of set hours. You may be quite sure I shall not exact too much from you; but don’t try to tie me down' to • conditions,' or we shall never agree. Just come to-morrow shortly after noon, and let us try how we can get on together; and if we can’t, there will be no harm done. Freedom is my motto, and I wish not only to be free myself, but to have every one about me free.” It was with considerable disappointment that Mr. Duncanson heard the low terms and the loose unpromising conditions proposed by Mr. Bacon. Indeed, the undefined and anomalous nature of the duties he was expected to perform, independent of other considerations, made him reluctant to enter on the service; but his necessitous condition made him glad to waive all scruples, and agree to the proposal of the great man. As soon as this was settled, Mr. Bacon pressed the_ student to remain and take tea with him. He then lifted a small hammer from the table, and knocked with it on the partition wall behind him, as a signal to Neddie, his serving boy of all work, to appear. The hammer had to serve in place of a bell, for all the bell-wires were out of order, and not a bell in the house would ring. _ There was this trifling disadvantage in the use of the hammer —it had broken the plaster, and left the brick wall at the spot completely bare. But that did not seem to trouble Mr. Bacon in the least.

It was only after repeated knockings that Neddie appeared, and then he seemed just aroused from sleep. He was a chubby, ill-clad, dirty, and in-dolent-looking boy, seemingly about to enter his teens, but not in a hurry even to do that. When he was ordered to get tea ready, he replied —“ Please, sir, the fire’s out.”

“ Well, it doesn’t signify,” said his master, “bring the kettle here, and I’ll boil it myself with the gas.” And this was no joke; for he had the gas burning, though the bright glare of a summer evening sun was making the room as light as it could ever be while the windows remained so coated with dust. The gas he seemed always to keep lighted for his convenience in smoking, and he soon showed that the operation of boiling his kettle in this way was not new to him; for he at once removed the jet burner and replaced it with a rose one perforated with a multitude of small holes, and hung the kettle over it on a hook which had evidently been placed there for the purpose. He ordered Neddie to fetch a loaf and some fresh butter, and (pray, ladies, don’t turn up your eyes) a bunch of Aberdeen baddies. He produced the sugar and cream from his escritoire — the former, in a wide-mouthed pickle bottle, and the latter in a strong ale glass, remarking at the time that these were almost the only articles with which he could not trust the boy. Mr. Bacon had no teapot. He infused the tea separately into each cup, which, he said, was the Chinese method, and infinitely preferable to the practice common here. “ But,” said he, “ let any man try to get a woman to do that ! No, the poorest drudge you will hire of the female sex will never yield such a point. They can’t be taught, sir; they can’t be taught.” {To be continued —commenced on July 26. )

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18800826.2.22

Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 144, 26 August 1880

Word Count
3,043

THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 144, 26 August 1880

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