A BOOK OF GOSSIP.*
THE reputation for clever and readable gossip which Sir William Fraser established by his books on Wellington and Disraeli will in no way be impaired by the present work. Hie et Ubique is full of good stories and interesting odds-and- ends. A mere collection of bon-mots is the most unutterably dull thing in the whole world; but Sir William Fraser's book escapes being this, from the fact that he has added a good deal of padding such as your born gossip loves to place in his commonplace-book. Next to some good story about Thackeray, or the old Lord Lytton, comes a receipt for curing heartburn by eating slices of juicy pineapple, a reflection upon the genius of Shakespeare, or a disquisition on an epitaph for a head-master of Eton. The " personal equation " in Sir William Fraser's book is also very apparent, and this helps to save it from being nothing but a treasury of anecdotes and smart sayings. To compare small things with great, Sir William Fraser shows us himself all the time that he is writing about other people, just as does Boswell. Indeed, there is a certain mental resemblance between the two men. Both are very proud of their birth, both like to show ns that they belong of right to the ranks of the best people, and yet both have a sort of superstitious worship of genius. Sir William Fraser, it is true, is much more careful than is Boswell not to be carried too far by his admiration of literary men ; but, at the same time, it is clear that he shares his great prototype's intense interest in clever people. Thackeray is the hero of the present book. To show the intense excitement and enthusiasm created in society by the publication of Vanity Fair—the book which made Thackeray famous at one leap— Sir William Fraser makes a very characteristic remark. After expatiating on the delight with which he read Vanity Fair- " nothing I have read since has at all approached the sensa- tion which that glorious work gave me "—he tells us how, while ho was returning from an evening party with his mother, a lady who was with them mentioned that Thackeray had been at the party. " I positively," he goes on, " endeavoured to persuade my mother to go back again : an act never per- petrated in the history of Society." It is all very well to .0 His of Moo. By Sir William Fraser, Baronet. M.A. of ObrietoliralL, Oxford. Loudon ; Sampson Low, Marston, and Co. 1893,
laugh at this, but as an indication of the feeling about Thackeray it is an invaluable fact. When a smart young Guardsman of two-and-twenty could think of perpetrating so terrible a social solecism, what must have been the fascina- tion of Thackeray P Sir William Fraser gives a good story of Thackeray and the Life Guards. When he first met the novelist, Thackeray said to him : " You are in the Life Guards P"—" Yes, in the First."—" Are they clever enough for you ?"—" Yes, quite." A few years later Sir William Fraser asked Thackeray to dine with the mess of his regiment, then quartered in the Regent's Park Barracks :-
" Fortunately there was a small party : and still more for- tunately all who were present wore good specimens of an ex- ceptionally intelligent set of Officers. Both the regimental 64d-officers were happily absent : they would have terribly reduced the average of intellect. Major Biddulph, subsequently Master of the Household' and Privy Purse' to the Queen, was there; and Captain Lord William Beresford; the finest type of man, intellectually and physically, that I have ever met with. The conversation turned upon Ireland: Thackeray gave his views : they were courteously, but most admirably, controverted by Lord William. No Da car knew that Thackeray was coming but myself ; the party was a chance one. Lord William Beresford showed him not only that ho knew more about Ireland than he did, but that Thackeray's own work, The Irish Sketch-Book, was better known to Lord William than to its author. Nothing could be more polite than the way in which the conversation was carried on. I was not surprised at the effect produced upon the great author. When he came up to my room to put on his cloak, he exclaimed I am astonished ! I am bewildered ! I will never write another word against soldiers.' I said, My dear Thackeray, you have described men about whom you know little, or nothing : you have painted the British officer with about as much truth as if you were to paint me, a North Devon M.P., with the features of " Squire Western." Now you see what officers really are.' He bluntly answered, Well, I will never do it again : trust me.'"
Thackeray, as Sir William Fraser notes, seldom said witty things in conversation, but he gives one exceedingly funny impromptu. A party, among whom were Thackeray and Sir William Fraser, came late into a proscenium box—one on the level of the stage—at a theatre where a burlesque was being played. An actress with "a splendid pair of lege, tightly fitted in elastic red silk," was leaning against the proscenium. " Thackeray gazed upon. them ; and said, without pause, ' Surely, surely; is this to hold the mirror up to Nature P to show Virtue her own image, Scorn her own feature? will any gentleman in front oblige me by pinching those legs?" The commentator may compare this with the remark of the gen- tleman in the doorway in " Mrs. Perkins's Ball."
Stories of statesmen are not quite so plentiful in this as in the previous volumes, but there is a characteristic little anecdote of that most witty and good-tempered of men, Lord Melbourne. A Member of his party asked him (2 propos of the distribution of honours whether he considered that, on the whole, mankind was venal P "No ; but damned vain ! " was Lord Melbourne's reply. Another story of Disraeli is added to the already rich collection. Soon after he became Prime Minister, he dined in the City. The Lord Mayor apostrophised Disraeli as follows :—" 'I may say in the words of Macbeth's witches,—' Thou halt it now : King, Cawdor, Gla,mis ; all as the weird women promised.' Disraeli must have felt rather uncomfortable: no doubt he knew, what the orator did not, that the next words run, And I fear thou play'dst most foully for't.' " Perhaps the most curious of the many curious things mentioned by Sir William Fraser is connected with the great Napoleon. According to his state- ment, the Emperor very nearly became an English naval officer :- "When Napoleon was at school at Brienne, the son of an English peer, who himself became Lord Wenlock, was his school- fellow. One day the little Corsican came to young Lawley, and said Look at this : ' he showed him a letter written in remark- ably good English : it was addressed to the British Admiralty ; and requested permission to enter our Navy. The young Buona- parte said, The difficulty I am afraid will be my religion.' Lawley said, You young rascal ; I don't believe that you have any religion at all.' Napoleon replied, 'But my family have : my mother's race, the Ramolini, are very rigid : I should be disin- herited if I showed any signs of becoming a heretic: These facts I had from one who had very good means of knowing : he told me that Buonaparte's letter was sent : and that it still exists in the archives of the Admiralty. I have not searched for it ; for the simple reason that I do not wish so good a story to become pre- maturely public. I hope that someone who has access to the historical documents in that department may take the trouble to find it."
Before we leave Sir William Fraser's very readable little book, we will quote the following ghastly account of the actual manner in which the Duke de Praslin murdered his wife. The dead body of the Duchess of Praslin, it will be remembered, was found on the floor of her room, wounded in several places.
The furniture was covered with blood, and showed signs of a desperate struggle. Suspicion fell upon the Duke, who had lived very unhappily with his wife; but there was not a trace of blood on his clothes nor in his room. He was, however, committed for trial, and while in prison he poisoned himself: " So far the story is well known : what follows is not. I have it on first-rate authority; that of the late Mr. Laurence Peel, the brother of the Premier, who at the time was residing in Paris; and was intimate with the best French society. It was well known to the relations and friends of the Duchess do Praslin that from childhood she had had a constant fear of the Devil ; i.e., the devil incarnate. Her imagination pictured him with the con- ventional horns and hoofs of the Middle Ages : what Cuvier defined him at an interview, gra,minivorous.' A year before her murder she told a few of her most intimate acquaintances, fearing no doubt ridicule, that on the previous night the Devil had ap- peared at her bedside : that he placed his right hand upon her throat. She awoke : screamed violently ; and the fiend disap- peared. This was smiled at by those who heard her story. Some years after her murder, in a secret closet of the liaison Sebastiani was found a complete masquerade-suit of the Devil, having the horns and hoofs and the hairy covering, and drenched in blood. Mr. Peel added that no doubt the Duke de Praslin had contem- plated the murder a year earlier : but was prevented from accomplishing it by the awakening of his wife; and her screams, which drove him from the room."
With this hideous story we must leave Hic et Ubique. We will only add a hope that the beautiful volume of designs by Inigo Jones for fancy dresses for a masque, which Sir William Fraser tells us he saw lying about "utterly neglected" in the central corridor at Chiswick, is now in safe keeping.