Friday, October 28, 2011


The Bertrams

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams (1859).

Chapter I:
But in the inner feelings of men to men, and of one man's mind to another man's mind, is it not an age of extremest cruelty?

There is sympathy for the hungry man; but there is no sympathy for the unsuccessful man who is not hungry. If a fellow mortal be ragged, humanity will subscribe to mend his clothes; but humanity will subscribe nothing to mend his ragged hopes so long as his outside coat shall be whole and decent.

To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. This is the special text that we delight to follow, and success is the god that we delight to worship. 'Ah! pity me. I have struggled and fallen—struggled so manfully, yet fallen so utterly—help me up this time that I may yet push forward once again!' Who listens to such a plea as this ?' Fallen! do you want bread?' 'Not bread, but a kind heart and a kind hand.' 'My friend, I cannot stay by you; I myself am in a hurry; there is that fiend of a rival there even now gaining a step on me. I beg your pardon; but I will put my foot on your shoulder—only for one moment. Occupet extremum scabies.

Yes. Let the devil take the hindmost; the three or four hindmost if you will; nay, all but those strong-running horses who can force themselves into noticeable places under the judge's eye. This is the noble shibboleth with which the English youth are now spurred on to deeds of—what shall we say?—money-making activity.
Chapter II (Henry Harcourt speaking):
'Nine-tenths of the men in the world neither swim nor sink; they just go along with their bows above the wave, but dreadfully waterlogged, barely able to carry the burdens thrown on them ; but yet not absolutely sinking; fighting a hard fight for little more than mere bread, and forgetting all other desires in their great desire to get that.'
Chapter II:
And it is so hard for a youth to know, to make even a fair guess, as to what his own capacities are! The right man is wanted in the right place; but how is a lad of two and twenty to surmise what place will be right for him? And yet, if he surmises wrong, he fails in taking his tide at its single flood. How many lawyers are there who should have been soldiers! how many clergymen who should have been lawyers! how many unsuccessful doctors who might have done well on 'Change, or in Capel Court!
Chapter VI (Mr. Cruse speaking):
'What, no potatoes! there were potatoes yesterday. Waiter, waiter; who ever heard of setting people down to dinner without potatoes?'
Chapter VIII:
In Sir Lionel's view of the matter, a profession was—a profession. The word was understood well enough throughout the known world. It signified a calling by which a gentleman, not born to the inheritance of a gentleman's allowance of good things, might ingeniously obtain the same by some exercise of his abilities. The more of these good things that might be obtained, the better the profession; the easier the labour also, the better the profession; the less restriction that might be laid on a man in his pleasurable enjoyment of the world, the better the profession.
Chapter IX (cf. Mark Twain on this politically incorrect subject, as well as Chapter XXXIX below):
The female followers of the Prophet had, as they always have, some pretence of a veil for their face. In the present instance, they held in their teeth a dirty blue calico rag, which passed over their heads, acting also as a shawl. By this contrivance, intended only to last while the Christians were there, they concealed one side of the face and the chin. No one could behold them without wishing that the eclipse had been total.
Chapter XVIII:
She, according to her own lights, would have placed freethinkers in the same category with murderers, regicides, and horrid mysterious sinners who commit crimes too dreadful for women to think of.
Chapter XVIII:
Heaven defend me from angry letters! They should never be written, unless to schoolboys and men at college; and not often to them if they be any way tender-hearted. This, at least, should be a rule through the letter-writing world: that no angry letter be posted till four-and-twenty hours shall have elapsed since it was written. We all know how absurd is that other rule, that of saying the alphabet when you are angry. Trash! Sit down and write your letter; write it with all the venom in your power; spit out your spleen at the fullest; 'twill do you good; you think you have been injured; say all that you can say with all your poisoned eloquence, and gratify yourself by reading it while your temper is still hot. Then put it in your desk; and, as a matter of course, burn it before breakfast the following morning. Believe me that you will then have a double gratification.

A pleasant letter I hold to be the pleasantest thing that this world has to give. It should be good-humored; witty it may be, but with a gentle diluted wit. Concocted brilliancy will spoil it altogether. Not long, so that it be tedious in the reading; nor brief, so that the delight suffice not to make itself felt. It should be written specially for the reader, and should apply altogether to him, and not altogether to any other. It should never flatter. Flattery is always odious. But underneath the visible stream of pungent water there may be the slightest under-current of eulogy, so that it be not seen, but only understood. Censure it may contain freely, but censure which in arraigning the conduct implies no doubt as to the intellect. It should be legibly written, so that it may be read with comfort; but no more than that. Calligraphy betokens caution, and if it be not light in hand it is nothing. That it be fairly grammatical and not ill spelled the writer owes to his schoolmaster; but this should come of habit, not of care. Then let its page be soiled by no business; one touch of utility will destroy it all.
Chapter XVIII:
Each was too proud to make the first concession to the other, and therefore no concession was made by either.
Chapter XX (when I asked, my daughter confirmed that this is true):
Ladies have little ways of talking to each other, with nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles, which are quite beyond the reach of men...
Chapter XX (Sir Lionel Bertram speaking):
'But, speaking for myself, I have not many wants now'—nor had he, pleasant old man that he was; only three or four comfortable rooms for himself and his servant; a phaeton and a pair of horses; and another smaller establishment in a secluded quiet street; nothing more than that, including, of course, all that was excellent in the eating and drinking line—'speaking for myself, I have not many wants now.'
Chapter XXII (the funniest chapter in the book, especially the quarrel between Lady Ruth and Miss Ruff):
'I fear you do not approve of cards?' said Miss Todd.

'Approve! oh no, how can I approve of them, Miss Todd?'

'Well, I do, with all my heart. What are old women like us to do? We haven't eyes to read at night, even if we had minds fit for it. We can't always be saying our prayers. We have nothing to talk about except scandal. It's better than drinking; and we should come to that if we hadn't cards.'

'Oh, Miss Todd!'

'You see you have your excitement in preaching, Mr. O'Callaghan. These card-tables are our pulpits; we have got none other. We haven't children, and we haven't husbands—that is, the most of us; and we should be in a lunatic asylum in six weeks if you took away our cards.'
Chapter XXVI:
And then he tried to pray. But praying is by no means the easiest work to which a man can set himself. Kneeling is easy; the repetition of the well-known word is easy; the putting on of some solemnity of mind is perhaps not difficult. But to remember what you are asking, why you are asking, of whom you are asking; to feel sure that you want what you do ask, and that this asking is the best way to get it;—that on the whole is not easy.
Chapter XXVI (George Bertram speaking):
'I can not believe that man placed here by God shall receive or not receive future happiness as he may chance to agree or not to agree with certain doctors who, somewhere about the fourth century, or perhaps later, had themselves so much difficulty in coming to any agreement on the disputed subject.'
Chapter XXXV:
Ah! how much joy is there in this mortal, moribund world, if one will but open one's arms to take it!
Chapter XXXIX (see above, Chapter IX):
Bertram was sufficiently weary of living in a country in which the women go about with their faces hidden by long dirty stripes of calico, which they call veils, and in which that little which is seen of the ladies by no means creates a wish to see more.
Chapter XLI (George Bertram senior and George Bertram junior speaking):
'Well, you're just in time to be in at the last gasp—that's all, my boy.'

'I hope it has not come to that yet, sir.'

'Ah, but it has. How long a time did that man give me, Mary—he that got the twenty pounds? They gave a fellow twenty pounds to come and tell me that I was dying! as if I didn't know that without him.'

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