The Caxtons — Volume 14
70 Pages
English
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The Caxtons — Volume 14

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70 Pages
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The Project Gutenberg EBook The Caxtons, by Bulwer-Lytton, Part 14 #28 in our series by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
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**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts**
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Title: The Caxtons, Part 14
Author: Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Release Date: February 2005 [EBook #7599] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first
posted on January 7, 2003]
Edition: 10
Language: English
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE CAXTONS, BY LYTTON, PART 14 ***
This eBook was produced by Pat Castevens and David Widger PART XIV. CHAPTER I.
There is a beautiful and singular passage in Dante (which has not perhaps attracted the attention it ...

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The Project Gutenberg EBook The Caxtons, byBulwer-Lytton, Part 14 #28 in our series by EdwardBulwer-LyttonCopyright laws are changing all over the world. Besure to check the copyright laws for your countrybefore downloading or redistributing this or anyother Project Gutenberg eBook.This header should be the first thing seen whenviewing this Project Gutenberg file. Please do notremove it. Do not change or edit the headerwithout written permission.Please read the "legal small print," and otherinformation about the eBook and ProjectGutenberg at the bottom of this file. Included isimportant information about your specific rights andrestrictions in how the file may be used. You canalso find out about how to make a donation toProject Gutenberg, and how to get involved.**Welcome To The World of Free Plain VanillaElectronic Texts****EBooks Readable By Both Humans and ByComputers, Since 1971*******These EBooks Were Prepared By Thousandsof Volunteers*****Title: The Caxtons, Part 14
Author: Edward Bulwer-LyttonRelease Date: February 2005 [EBook #7599] [Yes,we are more than one year ahead of schedule][This file was first posted on January 7, 2003]Edition: 10Language: English*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERGEBOOK THE CAXTONS, BY LYTTON, PART 14***This eBook was produced by Pat Castevens andDavid Widger <widger@cecomet.net>PART XIV.
CHAPTER I.There is a beautiful and singular passage in Dante(which has not perhaps attracted the attention itdeserves), wherein the stern Florentine defendsFortune from the popular accusations against her.According to him she is an angelic power appointedby the Supreme Being to direct and order thecourse of human splendors; she obeys the will ofGod; she is blessed; and hearing not those whoblaspheme her, calm and aloft amongst the otherangelic powers, revolves her spheral course andrejoices in her beatitude. (1)This is a conception very different from the popularnotion which Aristophanes, in his true instinct ofthings popular, expresses by the sullen lips of hisPlutus. That deity accounts for his blindness bysaying that "when a boy he had indiscreetlypromised to visit only the good;" and Jupiter wasso envious of the good that be blinded the poormoney-god. Whereon Chremylus asks himwhether, "if he recovered his sight, he wouldfrequent the company of the good." "Certainly,"quoth Plutus; "for I have not seen them ever solong." "Nor I either," rejoins Chremylus, pithily, "forall I can see out of both eyes."But that misanthropical answer of Chremylus isneither here nor there, and only diverts us from thereal question, and that is, "Whether Fortune be aheavenly, Christian angel, or a blind, blundering,
old heathen deity?" For my part, I hold with Dante;for which, if I were so pleased, or if at this period ofmy memoirs I had half a dozen pages to spare, Icould give many good reasons. One thing,however, is quite clear, that whether Fortune bemore like Plutus or an angel, it is no use abusingher,—one may as well throw stones at a star. AndI think, if one looked narrowly at her operations,one might perceive that she gives every man achance at least once in his life if he take and makethe best of it, she will renew her visits; if not, itur adastra! And therewith I am reminded of an incidentquaintly narrated by Mariana in his "History ofSpain," how the army of the Spanish kings got outof a sad hobble among the mountains at the Passof Losa by the help of a shepherd who showedthem the way. "But," saith Mariana, parenthetically,"some do say the shepherd was an angel; for afterhe had shown the way, he was never seen more."That is, the angelic nature of the guide was provedby being only once seen, and after having got thearmy out of the hobble, leaving it to fight or runaway, as it had most mind to. Now, I look uponthat shepherd, or angel, as a very good type of myfortune at least. The apparition showed me my wayin the rocks to the great "Battle of Life;" after that—hold fast and strike hard!Behold me in London with Uncle Roland. My poorparents naturally wished to accompany me, andtake the last glimpse of the adventurer on boardship; but I, knowing that the parting would seemless dreadful to them by the hearthstone, and whilethey could say, "He is with Roland; he is not yet
gone from the land," insisted on their stayingbehind; and thus the farewell was spoken. ButRoland, the old soldier, had so many practicalinstructions to give, could so help me in the choiceof the outfit and the preparations for the voyage,that I could not refuse his companionship to thelast. Guy Bolding, who had gone to take leave ofhis father, was to join me in town, as well as myhumbler Cumberland colleagues.As my uncle and I were both of one mind upon thequestion of economy, we took up our quarters at alodging-house in the City; and there it was that Ifirst made acquaintance with a part of London ofwhich few of my politer readers even pretend to becognizant. I do not mean any sneer at the Cityitself, my dear alderman,—that jest is worn out. Iam not alluding to streets, courts, and lanes; what Imean may be seen at the West-end—not so wellas at the East, but still seen very fairly,—I meanThe House-Tops!(1) Dante here evidently associates Fortune withthe planetary influences of judicial astrology. It isdoubtful whether Schiller ever read Dante; but inone of his most thoughtful poems he undertakesthe same defence of Fortune, making theFortunate a part of the Beautiful.
CHAPTER II.The House-Tops! What a soberizing effect thatprospect produces on the mind. But a great manyrequisites go towards the selection of the rightpoint of survey. It is not enough to secure a lodgingin the attic; you must not be fobbed off with a frontattic that faces the street. First, your attic must beunequivocally a back attic; secondly, the house inwhich it is located must be slightly elevated aboveits neighbors; thirdly, the window must not lie slanton the roof, as is common with attics,—in whichcase you can only catch a peep of that leadencanopy which infatuated Londoners call the sky,—but must be a window perpendicular, and not halfblocked up by the parapets of that fosse called thegutter; and, lastly, the sight must be so humoredthat you cannot catch a glimpse of the pavements:if you once see the world beneath, the wholecharm of that world above is destroyed. Taking itfor granted that you have secured these requisites,open your window, lean your chin on both hands,the elbows propped commodiously on the sill, andcontemplate the extraordinary scene whichspreads before you. You find it difficult to believelife can be so tranquil on high, while it is so noisyand turbulent below. What astonishing stillness!Eliot Warburton (seductive enchanter!)recommends you to sail down the Nile if you wantto lull the vexed spirit. It is easier and cheaper tohire an attic in Holborn! You don't have the
crocodiles, but you have animals no less hallowedin Egypt,—the cats! And how harmoniously thetranquil creatures blend with the prospect; hownoiselessly they glide along at the distance, pause,peer about, and disappear! It is only from the atticthat you can appreciate the picturesque whichbelongs to our domesticated tiger-kin! The goatshould be seen on the Alps, and the cat on thehouse-top.By degrees the curious eye takes the scenery indetail; and first, what fantastic variety in the heightsand shapes of the chimney-pots! Some all level ina row, uniform and respectable, but quiteuninteresting; others, again, rising out of allproportion, and imperatively tasking the reason toconjecture why they are so aspiring. Reasonanswers that it is but a homely expedient to givefreer vent to the smoke; wherewith Imaginationsteps in, and represents to you all the fretting andfuming and worry and care which the owners ofthat chimney, now the tallest of all, endured before,by building it higher, they got rid of the vapors. Yousee the distress of the cook when the sootyinvader rushed down,"like a wolf on the fold," full spring on the Sunday joint. You hear theexclamations of the mistress (perhaps a bride,—house newly furnished) when, with white apron andcap, she ventured into the drawing-room, and wasstraightway saluted by a joyous dance of thosemonads called vulgarly "smuts." You feel manlyindignation at the brute of a bridegroom whorushes out from the door, with the smuts dancingafter him, and swears, "Smoked out again! By the
Arch-smoker himself, I'll go and dine at the club!"All this might well have been, till the chimney-potwas raised a few feet nearer heaven; and nowperhaps that long-suffering family owns thehappiest home in the Row. Such contrivances toget rid of the smoke! It is not every one whomerely heightens his chimney; others clap on thehollow tormentor all sorts of odd head-gear andcowls. Here, patent contrivances act the purposeof weather-cocks, swaying to and fro with the wind;there, others stand as fixed as if, by a sic jubeo,they had settled the business.But of all those houses that in the street onepasses by, unsuspicious of what's the matterwithin, there is not one in a hundred but what therehas been the devil to do to cure the chimneys ofsmoking! At that reflection Philosophy dismissesthe subject, and decides that, whether one lives ina but or a palace, the first thing to do is to look tothe hearth and get rid of the vapors.New beauties demand us. What endlessundulations in the various declivities and ascents,—here a slant, there a zigzag! With what majesticdisdain yon roof rises up to the left! Doubtless apalace of Genii, or Gin (which last is the properArabic word for those builders of halls out ofnothing, employed by Aladdin). Seeing only theroof of that palace boldly breaking the sky-line, howserene your contemplations! Perhaps a startwinkles over it, and you muse on soft eyes faraway; while below at the threshold—No, phantoms!we see you not from our attic. Note, yonder, that
precipitous fall,—how ragged and jagged the roof-scene descends in a gorge! He who would travelon foot through the pass of that defile, of which wesee but the picturesque summits, stops his nose,averts his eyes, guards his pockets, and hurriesalong through the squalor of the grim Londonlazzaroni. But seen above, what a noble break inthe sky-line! It would be sacrilege to exchange thatfine gorge for a dead flat of dull rooftops. Lookhere, how delightful! that desolate house with noroof at all,—gutted and skinned by the last Londonfire! You can see the poor green-and-white paperstill clinging to the walls, and the chasm that oncewas a cupboard, and the shadows gathering blackon the aperture that once was a hearth! Seenbelow, how quickly you would cross over the way!That great crack forebodes an avalanche; you holdyour breath, not to bring it down on your head. Butseen above, what a compassionate, inquisitivecharm in the skeleton ruin! How your fancy runsriot,—re-peopling the chambers, hearing the lastcheerful good- night of that destined Pompeii,creeping on tiptoe with the mother when she givesher farewell look to the baby. Now all is midnightand silence; then the red, crawling serpent comesout. Lo! his breath; hark! his hiss. Now, spire afterspire he winds and he coils; now he soars up erect,crest superb, and forked tongue,the beautifulhorror! Then the start from the sleep, and thedoubtful awaking, and the run here and there, andthe mother's rush to the cradle; the cry from thewindow, and the knock at the door, and the springof those on high towards the stair that leads tosafety below, and the smoke rushing up like the
surge of a hell! And they run back stifled andblinded, and the floor heaves beneath them like abark on the sea. Hark! the grating wheelsthundering low; near and nearer comes the engine.Fix the ladders,—there! there! at the window,where the mother stands with the babe! Splashand hiss comes the water; pales, then flares out,the fire! Foe defies foe; element, element. Howsublime is the war! But the ladder, the ladder,—there, at the window! All else are saved,—the clerkand his books; the lawyer with that tin box of title-deeds; the landlord, with his policy of insurance;the miser, with his bank-notes and gold: all aresaved,—all but the babe and the mother. What acrowd in the streets; how the light crimsons overthe gazers, hundreds on hundreds! All those facesseem as one face, with fear. Not a than mountsthe ladder. Yes, there,—gallant fellow! Godinspires, God shall speed thee! How plainly I seehim! his eyes are closed, his teeth set. The serpentleaps up, the forked tongue darts upon him, andthe reek of the breath wraps him round. The crowdhas ebbed back like a sea, and the smoke rushesover them all. Ha! what dim forms are those on theladder? Near and nearer,—crash come the roof-tiles! Alas and alas! no! a cry of joy,—a "ThankHeaven!" and the women force their way throughthe men to come round the child and the mother.All is gone save that skeleton ruin. But the ruin isseen from above. O Art! study life from the roof-tops!