My Novel Page 01
SHOWING HOW MY NOVEL CAME TO BE WRITTEN.
Scene, the hall in UNCLE ROLAND'S tower; time, niyht; season, winter.
MR. CAXTON is seated before a great geographical globe, which he is turning round leisurely, and "for his own recreation," as, according to Sir Thomas Browne, a philosopher should turn round the orb of which that globe professes to be the representation and effigies. My mother having just adorned a very small frock with a very smart braid, is holding it out at arm's length, the more to admire the effect. Blanche, though leaning both hands on my mother's shoulder, is not regarding the frock, but glances towards PISISTRATUS, who, seated near the fire, leaning back in the chair, and his head bent over his breast, seems in a very bad humour. Uncle Roland, who has become a great novel-reader, is deep in the mysteries of some fascinating Third Volume. Mr. Squills has brought the "Times" in his pocket for his own special profit and delectation, and is now bending his brows over "the state of the money market," in great doubt whether railway shares can possibly fall lower,--for Mr. Squills, happy man! has large savings, and does not know what to do with his money, or, to use his own phrase, "how to buy in at the cheapest in order to sell out at the dearest."
MR. CAXTON (musingly).--"It must have been a monstrous long journey. It would be somewhere hereabouts, I take it, that they would split off."
MY MOTHER (mechanically, and in order to show Austin that she paid him the compliment of attending to his remarks).--"Who split off, my dear?"
"Bless me, Kitty," said my father, in great admiration, "you ask just the question which it is most difficult to answer. An ingenious speculator on races contends that the Danes, whose descendants make the chief part of our northern population (and indeed, if his hypothesis could be correct, we must suppose all the ancient worshippers of Odin), are of the same origin as the Etrurians. And why, Kitty,--I just ask you, why?"
My mother shook her head thoughtfully, and turned the frock to the other side of the light.
"Because, forsooth," cried my father, exploding,--"because the Etrurians called their gods the 'AEsar,' and the Scandinavians called theirs the 'AEsir,' or 'Aser'! And where do you think this adventurous scholar puts their cradle?"
"Cradle!" said my mother, dreamily, "it must be in the nursery."
MR. CAXTON.--"Exactly,--in the nursery of the human race, just here," and my father pointed to the globe; "bounded, you see, by the river Halys, and in that region which, taking its name from Ees, or As (a word designating light or fire), has been immemorially called Asia. Now, Kitty, from Ees, or As, our ethnological speculator would derive not only Asia, the land, but AEsar, or Aser, its primitive inhabitants. Hence he supposes the origin of the Etrurians and the Scandinavians. But if we give him so much, we must give him more, and deduce from the same origin the Es of the Celt and the Ized of the Persian, and--what will be of more use to him, I dare say, poor man, than all the rest put together--the AEs of the Romans,--that is, the God of Copper-money--a very powerful household god he is to this day!"
My mother looked musingly at her frock, as if she were taking my father's proposition into serious consideration.
"So perhaps," resumed my father, "and not unconformably with sacred records, from one great parent horde came all those various tribes, carrying with them the name of their beloved Asia; and whether they wandered north, south, or west, exalting their own emphatic designation of 'Children of the Land of Light' into the title of gods. And to think" (added Mr. Caxton pathetically, gazing upon that speck on the globe on which his forefinger rested),--"to think how little they changed for the better when they got to the Don, or entangled their rafts amidst the icebergs of the Baltic,--so comfortably off as they were here, if they could but have stayed quiet."
"And why the deuce could not they?" asked Mr. Squills. "Pressure of population, and not enough to live upon, I suppose," said my father.
PISISTRATUS (sulkily).--"More probably they did away with the Corn Laws, sir."
"/Papae!/" quoth my father, "that throws a new light on the subject."
PISISTRATUS (full of his grievances, and not caring three straws about the origin of the Scandinavians).--"I know that if we are to lose L500 every year on a farm which we hold rent-free, and which the best judges allow to be a perfect model for the whole country, we had better make haste and turn AEsir, or Aser, or whatever you call them, and fix a settlement on the property of other nations, otherwise, I suspect, our probable settlement will be on the parish."
MR. SQUILLS (who, it must be remembered, is an enthusiastic Free-trader). "You have only got to put more capital on the land."
PISISTRATUS.--"Well, Mr. Squills, as you think so well of that investment, put your capital on it.