Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Alton Locke in Lord Lynedales Room
By Charles Kingsley (18191875)
From Alton Locke
AT four that afternoon, I knocked, proofs in hand, at the door of Lord Lynedales rooms in the Kings Parade. The door was opened by a little elderly groom, gray-coated, gray-gaitered, gray-haired, gray-visaged. He had the look of a respectable old family retainer, and his exquisitely neat grooms dress gave him a sort of interest in my eyes. Class costumes, relics though they are of feudalism, carry a charm with them. They are symbolic, definitive; they bestow a personality on the wearer, which satisfies the mind, by enabling it instantly to classify him, to connect him with a thousand stories and associations; and to my young mind, the wiry, shrewd, honest, grim old serving man seemed the incarnation of all the wonders of Newmarket and the hunting-kennel and the steeple-chase of which I had read, with alternate admiration and contempt, in the newspapers. He ushered me in with a good breeding which surprised me; without insolence to me or servility to his master, both of which I had been taught to expect.
Lord Lynedale bade me very courteously sit down while he examined the proofs. I looked round the low-wainscoted apartment, with its narrow mullioned windows, in extreme curiosity. What a real noblemans abode could be like, was naturally worth examining, to one who had, all his life, heard of the aristocracy as of some mythic Titanswhether fiends or gods, being yet a doubtful pointaltogether enshrined on cloudy Olympus, invisible to mortal ken. The shelves were gay with morocco, Russia leather, and gildingnot much used, as I thought, till my eye caught one of those gorgeously bound volumes lying on the table in a loose cover of polished leathera refinement of which poor I should never have dreamt. The walls were covered with prints, which soon turned my eyes from everything else, to range delighted over Landseers, Turners, Robertss Eastern sketches, the ancient Italian masters; and I recognised, with a sort of friendly affection, an old print of my favourite St. Sebastian, in the Dulwich Gallery. It brought back to my mind a thousand dreams and a thousand sorrows. Would those dreams be ever realised? Might this new acquaintance possibly open some pathway towards their fulfilment?some vista towards the attainment of a station where they would, at least, be less chimerical? And at that thought my heart beat loud with hope. The room was choked up with chairs and tables, of all sorts of strange shapes and problematical uses. The floor was strewed with skins of bear, deer, and seal. In a corner lay hunting-whips, and fishing-rods, foils, boxing-gloves, and gun-cases; while over the chimney-piece, an array of rich Turkish pipes, all amber and enamel, contrasted curiously with quaint old swords and daggersbronze classic casts, upon Gothic oak brackets, and fantastic scraps of continental carving. On the centre table, too, reigned the same rich profusion, or if you will, confusionMSS., Notes in Egypt, Goethes Walverwandschaften, Murrays Handbooks, and Platos Republic. What was there not there? And I chuckled inwardly, to see how Bells Life in London and the Ecclesiologist had, between them, got down MCulloch on Taxation, and were sitting, arm-in-arm, triumphantly astride of him. Everything in the room, even to the fragrant flowers in a German glass, spoke of a travelled and cultivated luxurymanifold tastes and powers of self-enjoyment and self-improvement, which, Heaven forgive me if I envied, as I looked upon them. If I, now, had had one-twentieth part of those books, prints, that experience of life, not to mention that physical strength and beauty which stood towering there before the fireso simple, so utterly unconscious of the innate nobleness and grace which shone out from every motion of those stately limbs and featuresall the delicacy which blood can give, combined, as one does sometimes see, with the broad strength of the proletarianso different from poor me!and so different, too, as I recollected with perhaps a savage pleasure, from the miserable, stunted specimens of overbred imbecility whom I had often passed in London! A strange question that of birth! and one in which the philosopher, in spite of himself, must come to democratic conclusions. For, after all, the physical and intellectual superiority of the high-born is only preserved, as it was in the old Norman times, by the continual practical abnegation of the very caste lie on which they pride themselvesby continual renovation of their race, by intermarriage with the ranks below them. The blood of Odin flowed in the veins of Norman William; trueand so did the tanners of Falaise.