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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The March of Intellect

By Theodore Hook (1788–1841)

A Prophetic View of Socialism, from ‘John Bull’

IT happened on the 31st of March, 1926, that the then Duke and Duchess of Bedford were sitting in their good but old house, No. 17 Liberality Place (the corner of Riego Street), near to where old Hammersmith stood before the great improvements; and although it was past two o’clock, the breakfast equipage still remained upon the table.

It may be necessary to state that the illustrious family in question, having embraced the Roman Catholic faith (which at that period was the established religion of the country), had been allowed to retain their titles and honorable distinctions; although Woburn Abbey had been long before restored to the Church, and was, at the time of which we treat, occupied by a worshipful community of holy friars. The duke’s family estates in Old London had been, of course, divided by the Equitable Convention amongst the numerous persons whose distressed situation gave them the strongest claims, and his Grace and his family had been for a long time receiving the compensation annuity allotted to his ancestors.

“Where is Lady Elizabeth?” said his Grace to the duchess.

“She is making the beds, duke,” replied her Grace.

“What, again to-day?” said his Grace. “Where are Stubbs, Hogsflesh, and Figgins, the females whom, were it not contrary to law, I should call the housemaids?”

“They are gone,” said her Grace, “on a sketching tour with the manciple, Mr. Nicholson, and his nephew.”

“Why are not these things removed?” said his Grace, eying the breakfast-table, upon which (the piece of furniture being of oak, without covering) stood a huge jar of honey, several saucers of beet-root, a large pot of half-cold decoction of sassafrage, and an urn full of bean-juice; the use of cotton, sugar, tea, and coffee having been utterly abolished by law in the year 1888.

“I have rung several times,” said the duchess, “and sent Lady Maria up-stairs into the assistants’ drawing-room to get some of them to remove the things; but they have kept her, I believe, to sing to them—I know they are very fond of hearing her, and often do so.”

His Grace, whose appetite seemed renewed by the sight of the still lingering viands which graced the board, seemed determined to make the best of a bad bargain, and sat down to commence an attack upon some potted seal and pickled fish from Baffin’s Bay and Behring’s Straits, which some of their friends who had gone over there to pass the summer (as was the fashion of those times) in the East India steamships (which always touched there) had given them; and having consumed a pretty fair portion of the remnants, his favorite daughter, Lady Maria, made her appearance.

“Well, Maria,” said his Grace, “where have you been all this time?”

“Mr. Curry,” said her Ladyship, “the young person who is good enough to look after our horses, had a dispute with the lady who assists Mr. Biggs in dressing the dinner for us, whether it was necessary at chess to say check to the queen when the queen was in danger, or not. I was unable to decide the question, and I assure you I got so terribly laughed at that I ran away as fast as I could.”

“Was Duggins in the assistants’ drawing-room, my love?” said the duke.

“No,” said Lady Maria.

“I wanted him to take a message for me,” said his Grace, in a sort of demi-soliloquy.

“I’m sure he cannot go, then,” said Lady Maria, “because I know he is gone to the House of Parliament” (there was but one at that time); “for he told the other gentleman who cleans the plate that he could not be back to attend at dinner, however consonant with his wishes, because he had promised to wait for the division.”

“Ah,” sighed the duke, “this comes of his having been elected for Westminster.”

At this moment Lord William Cobbett Russell made his appearance, extremely hot and evidently tired, having under his arm a largish parcel.

“What have you there, Willy?” said her Grace.

“My new breeches,” said his lordship. “I have called upon the worthy citizen who made them, over and over again, and never could get them, for of course I could not expect him to send them, and he is always either at the academy or the gymnasium; however, to-day I caught him just as he was in a hot debate with a gentleman who was cleaning his windows, as to whether the solidity of a prism is equal to the product of its base by its altitude. I confess I was pleased to catch him at home; but unluckily the question was referred to me, and not comprehending it I was deucedly glad to get off, which I did as fast as I could, both parties calling after me, ‘There is a lord for you—look at my lord!’ and hooting me in a manner which, however constitutional, I cannot help thinking deucedly disagreeable.”

At this moment (what in former times was called) a footman, named Dowbiggin, made his appearance, who entered the room as the duke hoped, to remove the breakfast things, but it was in fact to ask Lady Maria to sketch in a tree in a landscape which he was in the course of painting.

“Dowbiggin,” said his Grace in despair, “I wish you would take away these breakfast things.”

“Indeed!” said Dowbiggin, looking at the duke with the most ineffable contempt—“you do!—that’s capital—what right have you to ask me to do any such thing?”

“Why, Mr. Dowbiggin,” said the duchess, who was a bit of a tartar in her way, “his Grace pays you, and feeds you, and clothes you, to—”

“Well, duchess,” said Dowbiggin, “and what then? Let his Grace show me his superiority. I am ready to do anything for him: but please to recollect I asked him yesterday, when I did remove the coffee, to tell me what the Altaic chain is called, when, after having united all the rivers which supply the Jenisei, it stretches as far as the Baikal lake—and what did he answer? He made a French pun, and said, ‘Je ne sais pas, Dobiggin.’ Now, if it can be shown by any statute that I, who am perfectly competent to answer any question I propose, am first to be put off with a quibble by way of reply; and secondly, to be required to work for a man who does not know as much as I do myself, merely because he is a duke, why, I’ll do it: but if not, I will resist in a constitutional manner such illiberal oppression and such ridiculous control, even though I am transported to Scotland for it. Now, Lady Maria, go on with the tree.”

“Willy,” said the duke to his son, “when you have put away your small-clothes, go and ask Mr. Martingale if he will be kind enough to let the horses be put to our carriage, since the duchess and I wish to go to mass.”

“You need not send to Martingale,” said Dowbiggin: “he is gone to the Society of Arts to hear a lecture on astronomy.”

“Then, Willy, go and endeavor to harness the horses yourself,” said the duke to his son, who instantly obeyed.

“You had better mind about those horses, sir,” said Dowbiggin, still watching the progress of his tree: “the two German philosophers and Father O’Flynn have been with them to-day, and there appears little doubt that the great system will spread, and that even these animals, which we have been taught to despise, will express their sentiments before long.”

“The sentiments of a coach-horse!” sighed the duchess.

“Thanks, Lady Maria,” said Dowbiggin: “now I’ll go to work merrily; and duke, whenever you can fudge up an answer to my question about the Altaic chain, send one of the girls, and I’ll take away the things.”

Dowbiggin disappeared; and the duke, who was anxious to get the parlor cleared (for the house, except two rooms, was all appropriated to the assistants), resolved to inquire of his priest what the proper answer would be to Dowbiggin’s question which he had tried to evade by the offensive quibble, when Lord William Cobbett Russell reappeared, as white as a sheet.

“My dear father,” cried his Lordship, “it’s all over now. The philosophers have carried the thing too far: the chestnut mare swears she’ll be d—d if she goes out to-day.”

“What,” said the duke, “has their liberality gone to this? Do horses talk? My dear William, you and I know that asses have written before this; but for horses to speak!”

“Perhaps, Willy,” said the duchess, “it is merely yea and nay; or probably only the female horses who talk at all.”

“Yes, mother, yes,” said her son, “both of them spoke; and not only that, but Nap, the dog you were once so fond of, called after me to say that we had no right to keep him tied up in that dismal yard, and that he would appeal to Parliament if we did not let him out.”

“My dear duchess,” said the duke, who was even more alarmed at the spread of intelligence than her Grace, “there is but one thing for us to do: let us pack up all we can, and if we can get a few well-disposed post-horses, before they become too much enlightened, to take us towards the coast, let us be off.”

What happened further, this historical fragment does not explain; but it is believed that the family escaped with their clothes and a few valuables, leaving their property in the possession of their assistants, who by extending with a liberal anxiety (natural in men who have become learned and great by similar means themselves) the benefits of enlightenment, in turn gave way to the superior claims of inferior animals, and were themselves compelled eventually to relinquish happiness, power, and tranquillity in favor of monkeys, horses, jackasses, dogs, and all manner of beasts.