Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 13

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Chapter XIII: The Lost Idol Found

On my return, I found my cousin already at home, in high spirits at having, as he informed me, "bumped the first Trinity." I excused myself for my dripping state, simply by saying that I had slipped into the river. To tell him the whole of the story, while the fancied insult still rankled fresh in me, was really too disagreeable both to my memory and my pride.

Then came the question, "What had brought me to Cambridge?" I told him all, and he seemed honestly to sympathize with my misfortunes.

"Never mind; we'll make it all right somehow. Those poems of yours—you must let me have them and look over them; and I dare say I shall persuade the governor to do something with them. After all, it's no loss for you; you couldn't have got on tailoring—much too sharp a fellow for that;—you ought to be at college, if one could only get you there. These sizarships, now, were meant for—just such cases as yours—clever fellows who could not afford to educate themselves; if we could only help you to one of them, now—

"You forget that in that case," said I, with something like a sigh, "I should have to become a member of the Church of England."

"Why, no; not exactly. Though, of course, if you want to get all out of the university which you ought to get, you must do so at last."

"And pretend to believe what I do not; for the sake of deserting my own class, and pandering to the very aristocrats, whom—"

"Hullo!" and he jumped with a hoarse laugh. "Stop that till I see whether the door is sported. Why, you silly fellow, what harm have the aristocrats, as you call them, ever done you? Are they not doing you good at this moment? Are you not, by virtue of their aristocratic institutions, nearer having your poems published, your genius recognized, etc. etc., than ever you were before?"

"Aristocrats? Then you call yourself one?"

"No, Alton, my boy; not yet," said he quietly and knowingly. "Not yet: but I have chosen the right road, and shall end at the road's end; and I advise you—for really, as my cousin, I wish you all success, even for the mere credit of the family, to choose the same road likewise."

"What road?"

"Come up to Cambridge, by hook or by crook, and then take orders."

I laughed scornfully.

"My good cousin, it is the only method yet discovered for turning a snob (as I am, or was) into a gentleman; except putting him into a heavy cavalry regiment. My brother, who has no brains, preferred the latter method. I, who flatter myself that I have some, have taken the former." The thought was new and astonishing to me, and I looked at him in silence while he ran on—

"If you are once a parson, all is safe. Be you who you may before, from that moment you are a gentleman. No one will offer an insult. You are good enough for any man's society. You can dine at any nobleman's table. You can be friend, confidant, father confessor, if you like, to the highest women in the land; and if you have person, manners, and common sense, marry one of them into the bargain, Alton, my boy."

"And it is for that that you will sell your soul—to become a hanger-on of the upper classes, in sloth and luxury?"