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The Last Man, Edited by Steven E. Jones

[published in the Keepsake for 1830 (1829)]

A DIALOGUE FOR THE YEAR 2130,

EXTRACTED FROM THE ALBUM OF A MODERN SIBYL.

BY THE AUTHOR OF GRANBY.


Scene. --Kensington-square, London.

Enter LORD A---- and SIR JAMES B----, meeting MR. C----.

Lord A. AH! C.! I am delighted to meet you. You are an unexpected novelty--I thought you were in Africa.

Mr. C. I have been there; but I left it a month ago--every body was leaving it when I came away. I am just arrived from out of Scotland; breakfasted this morning at Edinburgh; and have not been in town above a couple of hours. The roads are dreadfully heavy now. Conceive my having been seven hours and a half coming from Edinburgh to London!

Sir James B. An active snail would have beaten you. But what have you been doing in the north?

Mr. C. I spent a few days at the Duke of Birmingham's. He had a shooting party, chiefly foreigners: there was a Chinese (a pleasant man), two South Americans, the Duke of Paramatta, the Australian ambassador, and a New Zealand man.

Sir J. B. Had you good sport?

Mr. C. Tolerable. On the last day we killed between four and five thousand head; but we might have done more, for we all shot ill.

Lord A. Yourself excepted.

Mr. C. No: I won't except myself; for I missed two shots out of the first hundred. I had a match with Paramatta, which I ought to have won; but he had greatly the advantage in point of equipment. His guns would give twenty-seven discharges in a minute, and mine would give only twenty-five. I must really change my maker. Have you seen the last new invention, the hydro-potassian lock?

Lord A. Not yet. Is it good?

Mr. C. Yes; ingenious--certainly ingenious. The priming is ignited by a drop of water. But I am afraid it won't succeed. It is found to be dangerous in rain, and apt to go off then of its own accord.

Sir J. B. What did you do at Birmingham's besides shooting?

Mr. C. We hunted one day: they turned out a horse, and we had a pretty good run. I wish I had had my own best hunting machine; I flatter myself I could have led the field; but I was badly mounted: they gave me a very ordinary thing, a regular screw, built only to clear fences eight feet high, and, in fact, not safe for more than six; so what could I do against Birmingham and Paramatta, with their crack machines, that would fly like balloons over a ten foot wall.

Sir J. B. Of course you could not pretend to ride against them.

Mr. C. Oh! no; quite impossible. Another day I fished in the lake; but the turbot would not run, and the mullet would not rise, and I caught only a few whiting and soles. We found a curious fish, now almost extinct, one of the old fresh water fish: they called it a carp. It really was not bad. I believe there was a time when the fish we now have in our lakes and rivers were thought to be capable of living only in the sea.

Sir J. B. Very true; and, by-the-by, talking of the sea, I believe you are a member of the Circumnavigation Club. I wish you would attend and vote for my friend S. He is to be balloted for to-morrow. He has been round the world four times in his yacht, and is a very good fellow into the bargain; and it will be hard if they don't elect him.

Mr. C. Oh! I will attend with a great deal of pleasure. I met him on his last voyage, as I was making the circuit the other way. Adieu, for the present. I want to call upon the D.'s, and I shall just have time before it is dark. Lord A. I see you are not one of those who think it a point of bad taste to make a morning call by daylight. I will go with you. B., are you coming?

Sir J. B. I believe you must excuse me. I have another engagement; and I shall dine with the D.'s to-night.

Lord A. So do I: their hour, I believe, is twelve.

Sir J. B. I suppose so: it is the hour of all the world. Adieu! till midnight.

[Exit SIR J. B.]

Lord A. The D.'s live on the other side of the square. We shall have to cross; and it is abominably dirty. These stuccoed streets are insufferable in rainy weather. Hallo! sweeper. Hold! you have splashed me.

Sweeper. Och! sure I'd be afther suspinding my operations afore your lordship's lordship should recaeve any ditriment.

Lord A. But I have received detriment already.

Sweeper. Why, then, by the power of gravitation, and as I hope to be embalmed, I've perfarmed the operation of abstarsion in the public ways of this little nate parallilogram, man and boy, above twinty years, and niver offinded the fore or since, at-all at-all, plase your lordship's honour, in that rispict, nor in any other. Sure your lordship's habiliment desarves to be as immaculate as your lordship's character. But step on wid yees now, and ye'll be splashed no more--"C'est le premier pas qui coute."

Lord A. You are an Irishman, I believe, my friend?

Sweeper. Bred and born, your lordship. Let alone that I niver was out of the Mithropolis of London.

Lord A. Ha! ha! well, there's sixpence for you.

Sweeper. I'm mightily indibted for the loan of your lordship's honour's charitable rimuneration.

[Exit Sweeper, pocketing the sixpence.]

Mr. C. Let me see. Lady D.'s house is somewhere on this side of the "parallelogram," as the fellow calls it. I wonder if the common people were as scientific in their language formerly. Oh! we shall have some more fine phraseology. There is a beggar at our elbow.

Beggar. Permit me, gentlemen, to trespass upon your bountiful benevolence--a contribution--

Lord A. I have nothing for you.

Beggar. A contribution of the most inconsiderable description would elevate me from my present abyss of misery to the highest pinnacle of human felicity.

Mr. C. I have nothing for you.

Beggar. "Necessitas," gentlemen, "necessitas non habet legem"--and necessity, in spite of my reluctance, has compelled me to embrace the profession of an operative mendicant.

Lord A. I tell you, my good man, I have nothing for you.

Beggar. Then may the maledictions of a wounded spirit fall upon your devoted heads! May your bosoms be lacerated by the hydras of discord! May a corroding colony of carking cares be ever ready to pullulate afresh out of the secret springs of your anticipated comforts! and may the purgatorial pitch of the Slough of Despond envelope you eternally like flies in amber!

[Exit Beggar uttering maledictions.]

Mr. C. What an abusive scoundrel!

Lord A. Oh, he is like all his tribe. But here we are at D.'s. (Touches a spring on the door. A self-acting knocker gives a treble knock--door is opened by a Steam Porter dressed in the D. livery.)

Lord A. Is Lady D. at home?

[Figure nods its head. LORD A. and MR. C. enter, repeat their names through the Announcement Tube, are conducted by the Porter to the Introduction Chair, in which they place themselves. The Chair mounts with them through the ceiling; and they find themselves in the presence of LADY D.]

Lady D. Ah! Lord A.! Mr. C.! most unexpected persons both! I heard only yesterday that one of you was in Greenland and the other in Africa. What false reports they circulate!

Lord A. The reports were true not long ago, and I believe we returned about the same time. You, Lady D., have also been travelling, I believe.

Lady D. Yes, we were out of England in the winter. Our physician recommended a warmer climate for Lord D., so we took a villa on the Niger, and afterwards spent a short time at Sackatoo.

Mr. C. I suppose you found it full of English?

Lady D. Oh, quite full--and such a set! We knew hardly any of them. In fact, we did not go there for society. We met a few pleasant people, Australians; the Abershaws, the Hardy Vauxes, and Sir William and Lady Soames.

Mr. C. Did you go by the new Tangier and Timbuctoo road?

Lady D. Yes, we did, and we found it excellent. By the by, Lord A., to digress to a different latitude, how did you succeed in your last excursion to the North Pole?

Lord A. To tell you the truth, extremely ill; we had most improvidently taken with us scarcely enough of the solvent to work our way through the ice, and our concentrated essence of caloric was found to be of a very inferior quality.

Lady D. Ah! then, I am afraid you did not get it at the right place.

Lord A. But I am about to build a new iron yacht, and I shall try again next summer.

Lady D. I believe we shall go to Spitzbergen ourselves.

Mr. C. (aside to Lord A.) A hint for you to offer to take them.

Lord A. (aside.) I know it, but it won't succeed. (Aloud) I am happy to think that in that case I may perhaps have the pleasure of meeting you there on my return. I must go to the Pole by the way of North Georgia:--I am engaged to visit an Eskimaux friend. (Aside.) Well parried, was it not?

Lady D. (aside.) What a bear! (Aloud.) I wonder you can like that North-West Passage. Mrs. Winterblossom and I have vowed we will never go that way again. Poor Mrs. Winterblossom! I have been talking to her this afternoon through the telescope till my fingers ache.

Mr. C. Where was she?

Lady D. About two miles out, at her house in Hamilton place.

Mr. C. What! is she still there? I thought she meant to change her residence. I am surprised at her living so far out of the way.

Lady D. Yes; it is certainly very strange. But I have been visiting this morning in a still more antiquated quarter of the world--Grosvenor-square of all places! hope you won't inform against me.

Mr. C. I think you almost deserve that I should. But whom can you know in Grosvenor-square?

Lady D. To tell you the truth, it was a visit rather of business than of pleasure. I wished to speak to one of the members of the managing committee of the new "Callisthenic academy for the children of pauper operatives." They have appointed me one of the patronesses. Lady B. is another. Have you seen Sir James lately?

Lord A. He quitted us only a few minutes before we had the pleasure of finding you here.

Lady D. I wish you would scold him for me. I sent him an invitation for yesterday to dine, and he never came.

Mr. C. I think I heard him say that he was invited for to-night.

Lady D. Ah! then I understand the reason. The fault is not his. The fact is, that my automaton note-writer does make such dreadful mistakes that I must really have him taken to pieces. Do you know what he did the other day. He sent a note of condolence instead of congratulation! and it was on the event of old Lord Battersea's marriage with that little flirt Miss Pipkinson. Nothing could have been more unfortunate. I dare say I am suspected of having done it on purpose. Mr. C., have you heard the new opera?

Mr. C. Do you mean "Annibale?" Yes: I have heard it.

Lady D. Is not it charming? How fine that "passage of the Alps is! How well the music represents all that one can suppose to have been going on--the trampling and bellowing of the elephants--the thundering of the avalanches--the repeated blows of the hammers and mattocks --then how magnificent is that chorus, when they pour the vinegar down the rocks!

Mr. C. Yes; very fine certainly; but somehow it sets my teeth on edge.

Lady D. That is what it ought to do. Lord A. I believe you are fond of paintings?--Have you been at the institution?

Lord A. Not yet: I am waiting for a cloudy day. The glare is so oppressive, that my eyes will hardly bear it.

Lady D. Then let me advise you to go in crape spectacles. It is what I always do myself. Our modern painters certainly are magnificent colourists; but, after all, I think I prefer the old masters.

Lord A. So do I: and not only in painting, but in literature also. I must confess that our poets of the age of George the Tenth seem very inferior to those of George the Third and Fourth. Indeed, the public appear to be convinced of it and we are now recurring to Byron, Scott, Moore, Southey, Wordsworth, Campbell, Coleridge, and others of that period, as the poetical taste of their times was renovated by looking back to the great masters of the Elizabethan age and those who immediately succeeded them.

Lady D. You mentioned Scott:--do you mean the author of Waverley?

Lord A. Yes: well known both as the poet and the novellist; but best, perhaps, in the latter capacity.

Lady D. Were any other novels written in his time?

Lord A. Yes; many. There were several in the historical style (imitations of the Waverley novels), a few of which were good;--some clever descriptions of eastern manners, and a great many which represented English life and the manners of the day.

Mr. C. It is amusing to look at the descriptions of manners as they existed in those times. Human nature certainly appears to have been the same; but the modes of life seem strangely ridiculous and obsolete. What should we think now of a dinner at eight before the opera? of going to a party as early as midnight? of a fashionable house in St. James's-square? or a fashionabie shop in Regent-street or Bond-street? Conceive the barbarism of men sitting together after dinner when the ladies had retired, as they are made to do in the old novels! Lady D. have you ever read any of those antiquated descriptions of society?

Lady D. I have looked at one or two; but I did not much like them, there were so many allusions that I did not understand. I remember frequently to have met with the word "Almacks." Mr. C. what was Almacks?

Mr. C. Almacks.--Almacks.--Oh, I believe it was a club where Swift and Johnson used to meet; but I don't profess to be an antiquarian. Lord A. will correct me, if I am wrong.

Lord A. Well then, if you will excuse my saying so, your description is not perfectly accurate. No; Almacks was a house somewhere in the city, where a Mrs. Cornelys gave masquerades during the reign of George the Third.

Lady D. Did not they dance in those days?

Lord A. From what I have read, it appears that they did.

Lady D. It must have been very fatiguing! I am glad the custom is abolished. Lord A. you know more than any body about the history and customs of those old times.

Lord A. Oh! no.

Lady D. Yes, you do, indeed. I want to ask your opinion of this new historical novel, "Fitzmontreville." It relates to the events of the year 1830.

Lord A. I have not read it.

Lady D. Oh! then, do read it. It is very interesting. But what I want to ask is this--Is there not an incorrectness in making Napoleon alive and in England in the year 1830?

Lord A. Why--a--yes; I believe there is. If I remember rightly--(I was dipping lately into Scott's Napoleon; an old life, but the best we have)--if I remember rightly, Napoleon died eight or nine years before that time. But it is a very trifling anachronism.--How is he introduced?

Lady D. He and the Emperor Alexander of Russia are introduced dining with the king at Brighton. Napoleon quarrels with the two sovereigns, and challenges them both to a personal encounter. Each claims the right of fighting by deputy. The King of England appoints his prime minister, the Duke of Wellington. The Emperor Alexander appoints Prince Kutusofle. The Duke of Wellington is to go out first and is to meet Napoleon at Battersea Fields. There were open fields at Battersea then; only think! Open fields! I don't know how the duel ends--I am just in the midst of it--It is so interesting!

Mr. C. It must be very interesting, but it sounds unnatural. Such things could not happen now.

Lady D. No; but this was a long time ago as much as 300 years. Oh! and there are such minute descriptions of the dress of the people in those times! Do let me read you this little passage--it describes the appearance of Fitzmontreville, the hero. (Reads.) "He was habited in a chocolate-brown double-breasted frock-coat with a velvet collar, a sprigged marcella waistcoat, which opening at the breast disclosed a plaited shirt of snowy whiteness fastened by three small and elegantly wrought gold buttons. His trowsers were of slate-coloured Merino, rather tight at the knee and expanding gracefully downwards till they almost touched the ground; and from beneath them emerged the glossy boot armed at the heel with a long black spur. In his hand he bore a small and very flexible riding-whip; a rose was in his button-hole, a cigar was in his mouth."

Mr. C. Excellent! One sees the man!

Lady D. (reads) "A small Geneva watch, attached to a chain which he wore round his neck, was carried in his left coat-pocket."

Lord A. Coat-pocket?

Lady D. Yes; coat-pocket.

Lord A. Ah! indeed! then that is a mistake. A most decided inaccuracy, and a serious one too. In the early part of the l9th century, watches were carried in the pocket of the waistcoat and not of the coat.

Mr. C. Were they not sometimes carried in a receptacle called a fob?

Lord A. So it appears: they were sometimes carried in the fob. Many authors mention the fob. But I must maintain that they were never carried in the pocket of the coat.

Mr. C. I have no doubt the author is wrong, but I don't think the mistake is one of much importance.

Lord A. Nay, pardon me, I consider such an error to be fatal to the character of an historical novel. Nothing can excuse the want of attention to costume. What is this? (takes up a book) "Love and Algebra."

Lady D. Oh! don't look at it: it was brought by mistake. I am ashamed of the book--one of the common scientific novels that are thumbed by coal-heavers and orange-women--the mere trash of a low circulating library.

Mr. C. Well, I will plead guilty of having read it, and I really found it better than I expected. I rather liked a passage in it where the hero proposes to his mistress, through the medium of a simple equation, he making himself the unknown quantity x. Then there is a pretty good scene in which they investigate the binomial theorem, and reduce a rival to the value of nothing.

Lady D. Ay, that does very well for the common people. Every thing is taught them now by means of scientific novels; such as "Geological Atoms, or the Adventures of a Dustman," and a hundred other books of that description. How learned the people are now! Were they as learned formerly?

Lord A. By no means: there was a time when not all of them could even read.

Lady D. Is it possible! And were those bad times for the common people? was there often a scarcity of food then? and were they reduced to live upon pheasants and potatos?

Lord A. They were sometimes reduced to live upon little, but not upon pheasants and potatos. Potatos were then eaten chiefly by the Irish; and pheasants were not so common any where. They had, however, more corn then.

Lady D. I heard Lord D. say, that corn is rising in price: what is the reason?

Lord A. The harvest has failed in Tartary, and you know that the state of foreign harvests affects our prices much more than that of our own.

Lady D. I wonder we don't grow corn in England enough to feed our own population.

Mr. C. Enough to feed our population! My dear Lady D.! we have hardly enough to feed our game. Indeed, it is very much doubted whether English wheat is fit for any thing but the brute creation.

Lady D. But I suppose the people used it formerly?

Mr. C. Yes; but that was in dark times.

Lady D. And what do you call dark times?

Mr. C. Oh, the l9th century.

Lord A. Ay, it was about that period they held such long discussions on the subject of admitting Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament. It was then thought to be dangerous.

Mr. C. Dangerous! ha! ha! ha! How many Catholics are there in the two houses at this moment?

Lord A. To the best of my belief, not one. Pray have you read the President's speech at the opening of the parliament at Madrid? It is in a spirit more favourable to the Catholics than his last. The debates in the last bore a remarkable resemblance to some of those which took place in this country on a similar question during the reign of George the Fourth.

Mr. C. Yes; I have heard it remarked, their speakers seem to have been all plagiaries. But where did you see the President's speech?

Lord A. In a six-hourly paper that was published about two hours ago.

Mr. C. Ah! you have the advantage. My paper is a half-daily one. I believe I must leave it off. One never knows any news till it is old.

Lord A. Very true; a half-daily paper leaves one several hours in arrear. But after all, nothing that appears in print can deserve the name of news. The only satisfactory intelligence is that which one receives by letter.

Mr. C. Certainly; I agree with you, and apropos (as the hackney coachmen say) apropos of letters.--I received one this morning from a friend at MOSCOW. It was written the day before yesterday, and contains a piece of information that is not generally known at present. My friend says, they had received intelligence of an insurrection having broken out in Turkey.

Lady D. Turkey! where is that?

Mr. C. It is one of the southern provinces of Russia. The insurrection is supposed to have originated among the remnant of an ancient sect called Mahometans, and to have been secretly fomented by those seditious levellers, the Austrians. Those restless mortals are like the old French Jacobins: not content with revolutionizing themselves, they wish to carry their pernicious doctrines into every other country.

Lady D. Really, I wish they would imitate the steady monarchical governments of America. Talking of America reminds me of a letter I lately received from my friend the Duke of Massachussetts. He gives a curious account of the visit which the King of Canada paid to his Majesty Jonathan the Third, at Washington. War is expected between these two powers and the King of Carolina. They can never remain at peace long. There is perpetual jealousy among those North American kingdoms.

Mr. C. War is also expected in the East. The Emperor of India, the Burmese Republic, and the kings of Borneo and Sumatra, have entered into an alliance to resist the aggressions of Australia. As neither New Zealand nor Tasmania are very friendly to the Australians, it is thought that the latter must come to terms. It will be singular if war should break out at the same time in two opposite quarters of the globe among a set of nations all of which speak English.

Lord A. True; but you must remember, that with the exception of a few countries in our little Europe which retain their original languages, almost all the greatest nations do speak English. It is the lauguage of three-fourths of Asia, nine-tenths of North America, half Africa, and all the insular states in thc South seas.

Mr. C. And this little kingdom, with a population of not more than forty millions, has had the honour of colonizing half the globe!

Lord A. True, and at a time when our population was not much more than half what it is now.

Mr. C. It is a gratifying reflection.

Lady D. Might not one say a "mortifying one?" These countries are our colonies no longer. How powerful we should have been, if we had retained them.

Lord A. Perhaps, Lady D., not much more powerful than we are at present. I might almost say, perhaps, not so powerfuL If we look into history we find that when the United States of America (as they were formerly called), when Canada, India, Australia, successively fell from our grasp, at each time the most ruinous consequences were anticipated, and at each time the fancied disaster was found to be the forerunner of increased prosperity. There seem to be certain limits beyond which no nation can extend itself without incurring the danger of disunion and decay. We have lost many dependencies which, perhaps, after all, were more expensive than beneficial; but we can never lose the glory of having been the mother-country of almost half the civilized globe, and of having conveyed all that is most valuable to human nature into regions which before our coming were the seats either of tyrannical despotism or savage ignorance. Let us only look at the number of mighty nations that were first nursed into civilization under our sway; and then, should any one ask what country since the world began has done the greatest portion of substantial good, I think we may fearlessly tell them, England.

Published @ RC

October 1997

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