Coningsby; Or, The New Generation

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CHAPTER I.

It was merry Christmas at St. Geneviève. There was a yule log blazing on every hearth in that wide domain, from the hall of the squire to the peasant’s roof. The Buttery Hatch was open for the whole week from noon to sunset; all comers might take their fill, and each carry away as much bold beef, white bread, and jolly ale as a strong man could bear in a basket with one hand. For every woman a red cloak, and a coat of broadcloth for every man. All day long, carts laden with fuel and warm raiment were traversing the various districts, distributing comfort and dispensing cheer. For a Christian gentleman of high degree was Eustace Lyle.

Within his hall, too, he holds his revel, and his beauteous bride welcomes their guests, from her noble parents to the faithful tenants of the house. All classes are mingled in the joyous equality that becomes the season, at once sacred and merry. There are carols for the eventful eve, and mummers for the festive day.

The Duke and Duchess, and every member of the family, had consented this year to keep their Christmas with the newly-married couple. Coningsby, too, was there, and all his friends. The party was numerous, gay, hearty, and happy; for they were all united by sympathy.

They were planning that Henry Sydney should be appointed Lord of Misrule, or ordained Abbot of Unreason at the least, so successful had been his revival of the Mummers, the Hobby-horse not forgotten. Their host had entrusted to Lord Henry the restoration of many old observances; and the joyous feeling which this celebration of Christmas had diffused throughout an extensive district was a fresh argument in favour of Lord Henry’s principle, that a mere mechanical mitigation of the material necessities of the humbler classes, a mitigation which must inevitably be limited, can never alone avail sufficiently to ameliorate their condition; that their condition is not merely ‘a knife and fork question,’ to use the coarse and shallow phrase of the Utilitarian school; that a simple satisfaction of the grosser necessities of our nature will not make a happy people; that you must cultivate the heart as well as seek to content the belly; and that the surest means to elevate the character of the people is to appeal to their affections.

There is nothing more interesting than to trace predisposition. An indefinite, yet strong sympathy with the peasantry of the realm had been one of the characteristic sensibilities of Lord Henry at Eton. Yet a schoolboy, he had busied himself with their pastimes and the details of their cottage economy. As he advanced in life the horizon of his views expanded with his intelligence and his experience; and the son of one of the noblest of our houses, to whom the delights of life are offered with fatal facility, on the very threshold of his career he devoted his time and thought, labour and life, to one vast and noble purpose, the elevation of the condition of the great body of the people.

‘I vote for Buckhurst being Lord of Misrule,’ said Lord Henry: ‘I will be content with being his gentleman usher.’

‘It shall be put to the vote,’ said Lord Vere.

‘No one has a chance against Buckhurst,’ said Coningsby.

‘Now, Sir Charles,’ said Lady Everingham, ‘your absolute sway is about to commence. And what is your will?’

‘The first thing must be my formal installation,’ said Buckhurst. ‘I vote the Boar’s head be carried in procession thrice round the hall, and Beau shall be the champion to challenge all who may question my right. Duke, you shall be my chief butler, the Duchess my herb-woman. She is to walk before me, and scatter rosemary. Coningsby shall carry the Boar’s head; Lady Theresa and Lady Everingham shall sing the canticle; Lord Everingham shall be marshal of the lists, and put all in the stocks who are found sober and decorous; Lyle shall be the palmer from the Holy Land, and Vere shall ride the Hobby-horse. Some must carry cups of Hippocras, some lighted tapers; all must join in chorus.’

He ceased his instructions, and all hurried away to carry them into effect. Some hastily arrayed themselves in fanciful dresses, the ladies in robes of white, with garlands of flowers; some drew pieces of armour from the wall, and decked themselves with helm and hauberk; others waved ancient banners. They brought in the Boar’s head on a large silver dish, and Coningsby raised it aloft. They formed into procession, the Duchess distributing rosemary; Buckhurst swaggering with all the majesty of Tamerlane, his mock court irresistibly humorous with their servility; and the sweet voice of Lady Everingham chanting the first verse of the canticle, followed in the second by the rich tones of Lady Theresa:

     I.           Caput Apri defero           Reddens laudes Domino.      The Boar’s heade in hande bring I,      With garlandes gay and rosemary:      I pray you all singe merrily,           Qui estis in convivio.     II.           Caput Apri defero           Reddens laudes Domino.      The Boar’s heade I understande      Is the chief servyce in this lande      Loke whereever it be fande,           Servite cum cantico.

The procession thrice paraded the hall. Then they stopped; and the Lord of Misrule ascended his throne, and his courtiers formed round him in circle. Behind him they held the ancient banners and waved their glittering arms, and placed on a lofty and illuminated pedestal the Boar’s head covered with garlands. It was a good picture, and the Lord of Misrule sustained his part with untiring energy. He was addressing his court in a pompous rhapsody of merry nonsense, when a servant approached Coningsby, and told him that he was wanted without.

Our hero retired unperceived. A despatch had arrived for him from London. Without any prescience of its purpose, he nevertheless broke the seal with a trembling hand. His presence was immediately desired in town: Lord Monmouth was dead.

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Chicago: "CHAPTER I.," Coningsby; Or, The New Generation Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHVE6DM3GWVV3AZ.

MLA: "CHAPTER I." Coningsby; Or, The New Generation, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHVE6DM3GWVV3AZ.

Harvard: 1844, 'CHAPTER I.' in Coningsby; Or, The New Generation. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHVE6DM3GWVV3AZ.