Memoirs Of Barry Lyndon (1844)
This story appeared first in Fraser's Magazine during 1844, and purported to be by "Fitz-Boodle," who had previously contributed his Confessions and Professions. It was written in ironical vein, with the intention to burlesque Bulwer-Lytton's novel, Pelham. The composition of Barry Lyndon seems to have given Thackeray not a little trouble. In August, 1844, he writes that the story "is lying like a nightmare on my mind"; and again at Malta, November 3d, he says: "Finished `Barry' after great throes late at night." His daughter, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, indicates the author's misgivings concerning this work, and the general opinion of it, in the following excerpt from the Biographical Edition: "My father once said to me: `You needn't read Barry Lyndon, you won't like it.' Indeed it is scarcely a book to like, but one to admire and to wonder at for its consummate power and mastery."
PRESUME that there is no gentleman in Europe who has not heard of the house of Barry, of Barryogue, in the kingdom of Ireland; and though I laugh to scorn the pretensions of many of my countrymen, who are all for descending from the ancient kings, truth compels me to assert that my family was the noblest of the island, and, perhaps, of the universal world. But we are princes of the land no longer, our unhappy race having lost its vast possessions through treachery, war, and adhesion to the old faith and the old monarch.
My father, known among the highest circles as Roaring Harry Barry, was a second son, but came naturally into my grandfather's property in this manner. His elder brother (the Chevalier Borgne) took the field with the Catholic Pretender in 1745, and my father, being happily converted, lodged the necessary information against the Chevalier, and the law gave him possession of the paternal estate. Soon after this he married handsome Bell Brady, of Castle Brady, County of Kerry, and went to live in London. There he supported the family name with such magnificence that when he died suddenly at the Chester races my mother had great difficulty in eluding rapacious creditors and getting to Ireland with the family plate.
I was then only an infant, and as my mother spent every guinea she had in paying part of the expenses of my father's splendid funeral, we took up our residence in Ireland under conditions that would have discouraged any other woman. But she was a woman of such spirit and fashion that when her brother, impressed by the grandeur of my father's funeral, invited her to visit him, she went to Castle Brady in a gilt coach, with enormous armorial bearings, and was taken by her sister-in-law and the rest of the county for a person of property and distinction.
My mother gave the law at Castle Brady until Mrs. Brady, scenting the truth of her condition, requested her to leave, and in about two years she complied, having saved during this time all her income of fifty pounds a year. This income was all that remained of my father's property, and on this we managed to live comfortably enough, in a house near by, which my mother had. furnished economically but with perfect good taste. For all her poverty, she never abated one jot of the dignity that became a lady who had frequented the most fashionable society. She wore the largest of hoops and the handsomest of furbelows; and on Sundays I was dressed in velvet and ruffles, with a little silver-hilted sword at my side, as fine as any lord in the land.
I attained early that distinction of manner natural to gentility, and, developing a very handsome person as I grew up, was always a favorite among the girls of Castle Brady, where I frequently visited. By the time I was sixteen I had acquired many accomplishments from the gay company that assembled there, and excelled in fencing, dancing, and shooting. As for polite learning, I think to this day that one may derive sufficient from novels and plays, and that grammar and such dull stuff should be left to pedants and low scribblers.
At this period I fell desperately in love with Honoria Brady, who was seven years older than myself. She professed to re-turn my regard, and I believed her until one day I came on a certain Captain Quinn making love to her in the garden. In spite of the uproar made against it by the family, who wished to secure Quinn's fifteen hundred a year, I insisted on his meeting me and succeeded in shooting him through the neck.
As the seconds assured me he was dead it became necessary for me to go into hiding fora time. Hastening to my mother, who received me with pride and exultation, I accepted her little store of twenty guineas and packing my clothes was soon riding along the road to Dublin.
I confess that I thought more of the world before me than of the kind mother left alone; and, being armed with pistols and my father's silver-hilted sword, felt that fortune could close no career to a gentleman as accomplished and well appointed as myself.
Not far from Dublin I met with an adventure. Coming up to a carriage, whose occupant, a Mrs. Fitzsimons, had been robbed by highwaymen, I proffered my assistance, which was graciously accepted. On hearing the story I had invented—that I was one of the Redmonds, of Waterford, and was traveling to Dublin to complete my education—she told me of her own distinguished family and insisted that I make the acquaintance of her husband.
This gentleman, Captain Fitzsimons, received me with open arms when informed of my gallantry toward his lady, and I consented to remain for a time at their house. Though I discovered that they lived in something resembling squalor, and that the Captain borrowed a tenpenny-piece wherewith to purchase supper, I was edified by their conversation. In every sentence they brought up some lord or other person of quality with whom they were on intimate terms; and, not to be behind-hand with them, I spoke of my own estates and told all the stories of the nobility I ever had heard.
I made so favorable an impression that the Captain introduced me to a number of his friends; also to his tailor and jeweler, whom I patronized liberally—on credit. A number of friends assembled at his house for play every evening, and, as I soon found that the currency exchanged during the game consisted principally of notes of hand, I played on my own without stint. These were accepted willingly, as I was supposed to be a young gentleman of large fortune; but my cash was soon exhausted in other fashionable diversions, and I was obliged to resort to a pawn-shop with the articles obtained on credit from the tailor: and jeweler.
What does the scoundrelly pawnbroker do but carry word of this business transaction to Fitzsimons, whom, with his wife, I one day caught in the act of rifling my valise. Therein were papers that had revealed my identity, and the worthy pair, after reproaching me bitterly with deceiving them, attempted to make off with my belongings. By this time I was pretty well convinced that I had fallen into the hands of sharpers, and, after rescuing my property from the Captain at the point of the sword, I left them in just indignation. As the liveryman held my horse in captivity for a miserable debt of eighteen pounds, I now found myself without resources of any kind and resolved to enlist, as the only way out of my difficulties.
A few days later I was sent on board a transport bound for Germany, where the great Frederick was then waging the Seven Years' War against Austria and her allies. As I never had a taste for any but genteel society, and hate even descriptions of low life, I shall pass over briefly my experience in the company of common soldiers. It is sufficient to say that by resenting every familiarity with a blow, and by defeating the greatest bully of the regiment in a desperate fight with cudgels, I taught them the difference between us. However, life would have been in-tolerable had not Captain Fagan, who had acted as second in my duel, come aboard and taken me into his company.
I was now informed by my friend that the duel had been merely farcical, the pistols having been loaded with pieces of tow, and that my rival had lived to marry Honoria after all. My disgust at this announcement was short-lived, as I had ceased to care for the faithless Honoria and more immediate troubles were occupying my mind.
We debarked at Cuxhaven, where I was transformed into a tall and proper soldier, though my dream of glorious war was soon dispelled. My pride revolted at being obliged to smear my hair with tallow instead of pomatum, and I was threatened with a caning by Ensign Fakenham, whom I intended to kill, as I would any other man should he strike me. My friend Fagan fell in the very first battle after we united with the Prussian forces, and as he alone had protected me from some of the officers, whom I had addressed insolently, I was now exposed to their vengeance. They made life such a torment to me that I determined to desert, and fortune abetted me in the following manner:
The low-bred ensign who would have caned a Barry, the descendant of kings, was happily shot down in action, and I was one of the men detailed to carry him from the field. We re-moved him to a house near by, where I dismissed my companions and remained to minister to the wounded man. The next day I put on his uniform, the pockets of which incidentally contained his papers and purse; and, purchasing a horse, I escaped beyond the boundaries of the territory occupied by our army.
Thus was I well rid of that detestable service, and for a few days I was happy in the ignorance that I was about to enter a worse one. For near Düsseldorf I fell in with a sharp old Prussian, who, suspecting that I was not what I pretended to be, decoyed me into a room full of soldiers and in spite of my desperate resistance succeeded finally in recruiting me for the army of his Majesty of Prussia.
With many other victims of these dealers in human flesh, I was placed in the town prison and in a few days was drafted into a regiment quartered at Berlin. Though the English discipline is rigorous, the monstrous tyranny of the Prussian service is inconceivable, and only men of iron can endure it.
For a time I was content to endure with the rest; but after I had proven myself a brave and dexterous soldier, I took means to prevent any further degradation by suspending a bullet around my neck and announcing that it should kill the next man or officer who should cause me to be chastised. I did my duty as well as another, and by the time I was twenty there was not a braver, handsomer soldier in the Prussian army. I was wicked enough, too, and being swarthy of complexion will admit that I well de-served the sobriquet of "the black devil" bestowed on me by my comrades.
The war came to an end, and I had been in this service about six years when my Captain, with whom I was now quite a favorite, gave me a mission connected with the police. This was to ascertain the business in Berlin of a Chevalier Balibari, who was suspected of being an agent of Austria. To my joy and amazement I discovered this gentleman to be my uncle, Barry of Ballybarry, who had lost his estate to my father in consequence of his adherence to the cause of the Pretender. He was then about sixty years old, superbly dressed, with enormous diamond rings and shoe-buckles, and wearing the ribbon of the order of the Spur across his breast. I learned that his chief conspiracy was a faro-bank, and as he took me immediately into his service I soon acquired the subtle accomplishments of his profession.
For a time we prepared together my amusing reports to the police, but as their surveillance became annoying to my uncle he determined to leave Berlin and planned my own escape so cleverly that I soon joined him beyond the Prussian border.
Now that I was a free man once more I made up my mind to be a gentleman, thenceforth and forever; and let no prudish person affect indignation when they learn that we immediately opened a game in Dresden, acting, of course, as confederates. We played as gentlemen, grandly, honorably, with not only the natural advantage that Heaven sent us in the way of skill, but with signals that all partners prearrange between them. It is only the vulgar fool who cheats with cogged dice and cut cards, and while my advice is, of course, to follow him while he plays, a gallant gentleman never must have anything to do with him.
As my uncle was in good odor at the court, I was speedily in the best society of the Saxon capital; and with a good run of luck we were enabled to make no ungenteel figure. Being descended from the ancient kings, we had our arms surmounted with the Irish crown; but as this excited ridicule among some English gentlemen in Dresden I put an end to their amusement by calling one of them out and shooting him in the leg.
The life we now lived was delightful, and we passed from one city to another, everywhere received as noblemen of distinction, and enjoying an uninterrupted run of fortune. Shortly after being requested to leave Holland, by the police of the stingy Dutch, we invaded the Duchy of X , where we were soon counted among the most notable personages of its aristocratic capital.
The old reigning Duke was a man devoted to pleasure, and the Princess Olivia, wife of his son, Duke Victor, set an admirable example to the ladies of the court by her contempt of conventionality and boldness in play. Experience having dispelled all my romantic notions regarding love, I had for some time deter-mined to consolidate my fortunes by marriage; and in the train of the Princess Olivia I discovered a young countess whose wealth sufficed for my ambition.
The Princess detested me for some reason, but the profound counsel of my uncle guided me in obtaining her consent to my plan. The foolish young Countess whom I have mentioned had fallen in love with a beggarly ensign, but the latter had been dismissed by the Duke, who designed to marry her to the Chevalier de Magny. My uncle had observed that the Princess Olivia was deeply in love with De Magny, so I encouraged this young gentleman to play until his fortune was quite exhausted. He then pawned to me a great emerald which I knew the Princess had given him from the crown jewels.
By threatening to expose them I induced De Magny to relinquish his claim to the Countess's hand and obtained the Princess Olivia's influence to advance my own suit.
The affair was in a most promising way when an enemy to the Princess learned of the affair of the emerald and repeated his information to the Princess's husband. The infuriated Duke Victor immediately imprisoned the wretched De Magny, who was poisoned in his cell, and Olivia was placed under guard in her apartments. I heard afterward that she was murdered by her husband. Perhaps in some measure they deserved their fate, but the guiltless also suffered, and my uncle and I were told to quit the duchy immediately.
However, our phenomenal luck held good in every other court of the Continent, and the young Chevalier Balibari was celebrated among the brave, the high-born, and the beautiful, when at Spa I made the fatal acquaintance of the Countess of Lyndon. Though of the highest lineage, the Countess was a simpering, unprepossessing creature, and only her vast wealth and the low state of her husband's health induced me to notice her at all.
Under these conditions, however, I made her acquaintance, and with the aid of Mr. Runt, governor to her little son, the Viscount Bullingdon, entered into correspondence with her. One cannot express much passion in a scholastic correspondence, still we soon became "Callista" and "Eugenio" to each other, after her romantic habit, and my ladyship's letters fell into a tone which perhaps she never intended to adopt.
I vowed my respectful attachment on her departure from Spa, and a year later, learning of her husband's death at Castle Lyndon, in Ireland, I immediately returned to my native country, after an absence of eleven years.
It is needless to say that there I exhibited my usual splendor and generosity, and, making my uncle's order of the Spur hereditary, presented a dazzling figure among the impoverished Irish nobility. When my fashionable engagements permitted I called upon my mother, to whom I had written twice during my absence; and though I was received with coolness the good soul was too proud of my state and attainments to withhold her blessing very long.
My object in going to Ireland was to lay siege to Lady Lyn-don, and I lost no time in resuming our correspondence, which, I confess, was rather one-sided at first. Then, learning that her cousin, Lord George Poynings, was paying court to her ladyship, I made a polite quarrel with him and ran him through the body. This brought Lady Lyndon to Dublin, where Lord George lay wounded; but this gentleman, having seen incidentally one of the early letters she had written to me, refused to receive her. When she returned to her carriage from this call I was waiting for her and spoke to her endearingly. When she arrived at her house I was there to receive her, and in spite of her frightened command to leave her I made then and there a solemn oath never to do so.
In some agitation she permitted me to lead her to the drawing-room, and there I honorably opened my mind. I reproached her for cruelty in not answering my recent letters, when her former correspondence had encouraged me. With a terrible eloquence that astonished myself, I eulogized her charms, vowed my unconquerable passion for her, and declared that my wrath, like a stroke from God, should visit any mortal who stood between us.
She shrank from me trembling, and, letting my eye rest on her a moment like a ray of flame, I left her. In spite of the impression I was convinced I had made I was refused admittance to the house when I called again, but by bribing her servants I obtained and opened every letter she wrote. They were soon filled with wondering allusions to me, for, thus learning before-hand of many places to which she intended to go, I invariably appeared there beside her. I bribed a fortune-teller to describe me as her future husband, and at last, as a convincing proof of my power and determination, I carried off her ward and married her to my cousin Ulick Brady.
When Lady Lyndon fled to London I followed in relentless pursuit; and, in brief, there I overcame her assumed aversion and married her in spite of the clamorous objections of her relatives. Before we quitted London, to visit our estates, I obtained his Majesty's permission to add the name of my lovely lady to my own, and thenceforth assumed the style and title of Barry Lyndon.
Hackton Castle, where we took up our residence, soon proved too gloomy for my taste, and I cleared the great hall of its old armor and the staterooms of their Venetian glasses and queer decorations to make room for china monsters, broken antique statuary, and modern furniture. I also built a kennel and stables that cost thirty thousand pounds, and took the field in season with four packs of hounds.
The changes I made required no small outlay; but I have little of the base spirit of economy; the money was easily pro-cured by mortgages, and besides I had only a life interest in the Lyndon property.
At the end of a year Lady Lyndon presented me with a son, whom I named Bryan, in compliment of his great ancester, Bryan Boru. Alas! I had nothing to leave him but a noble name, for the whole estate was entailed upon Lord Bullingdon. Nevertheless I was determined to endow little Bryan, so I cut down twelve thousand pounds' worth of timber on the estates, despising the protest of Bull ingdon's guardian. With this sum I commissioned my mother to repurchase our ancient lands of Ballybarry, which she did, and lived there, too, relieving me of the embarrassment of a visit.
In London I soon acquired renown at the clubs, where I passed most of my time; her ladyship and I usually living separate when in town. She had grown very fat, was careless about her dress, and her conversations with me were characterized by a stupid despair or a blundering attempt at forced cheerfulness. So my temptations to take her into the gay world were exceedingly small, and, selecting three or four discreet persons as companions, I encouraged her to remain at home with them. Luckily, she was fond of our son, and when she refused to sign such papers as I thought necessary I had him carried off and secreted until she would agree to anything.
I gave orders to the servants about her except to one, a hand-some, red-cheeked jade, who I admit made a great fool of me. Her infernal temper and my wife's despondency drove me a good deal abroad, and I took up play again as a pastime; but my skill seemed to leave me when deprived of a confederate, and in two seasons I lost so great an amount of môney that I was obliged to borrow on my wife's annuities.
In fact, luck turned against me in everything. My losses on the turf were enormous; my agents robbed me; my business speculations were most surprisingly disastrous; and the great campaign which carried me to Parliament finally left my finances in such confusion that thenceforward I could make nothing of them.
Lord Bullingdon gave me much trouble about this time, bearing himself with such defiance that I was obliged to chastise him repeatedly. As he grew to young manhood he hated me with an intensity that was quite wicked; and I was much relieved when he ran away and enlisted in the American war. He left a mad letter, in which he referred to me as "the insolent Irish upstart," spoke of my abuse of Lady Lyndon, of my in-fidelity, and of the shameless robbery of his estates. I have no doubt he originated the slander—which was everywhere current—that I wished to murder him; and even the King, at the time I was endeavoring to obtain entrance into the peerage, asked me pointedly when I had heard of Lord Bullingdon.
Indignant at his ingratitude, for I had equipped a regiment for him for the American war out of my own purse, I removed my establishment to Paris, where I met my uncle for the last time. The old Chevalier had been ruined by a French actress, but was now sincerely repentant and desired me to pay a hand-some fee to a monastery he proposed to enter. Of course my religious scruples obliged me to refuse, and we parted rather coolly in consequence.
On my return I was defeated for Parliament, being libeled as an Irish Bluebeard by Lady Lyndon's relatives; and then, to escape the inextricable toils of bills and mortgages, I passed over to my estates in Ireland. There we received word of Lord Bullingdon's death, which made my son heir to an English earldom; and my mother, whom I placed in charge at Castle Lyndon, went almost mad with joy.
But stern fate had ordained that I should leave none of my race behind me. My darling boy lost his life by being thrown from a horse. With his dying breath he besought his father and mother to love each other better, and I only wish that Lady Lyndon had enabled me to keep his counsel. But not long after I discovered that she was engaged in secret correspondence with her relatives, whom she urged to assist her in escaping from her "tyrant." I repel with scorn the imputation that I imprisoned her, though her insane whims compelled my mother and me to keep a close watch on her; and besides had she given me the slip I should have been a ruined man the next day.
Now the ungrateful friends who had gorged at my table fell away from me, influenced no doubt by rumors inspired by Lady Lyndon's relatives. According to them, I had plundered her estates, had caused Lord Bullingdon to be murdered in America, and was torturing my wife to death to obtain her insurance.
By this time I could hardly get money enough to pay my wine bills, and peremptorily demanded of my agent in London that he secure a loan on certain property of my wife's that was still pretty free from encumbrance. He answered that he could do so if Lady Lyndon would come to London to sign the necessary papers.
My lady had been so affectionate of late, in her poor, silly fashion, that I thought I could trust her; and against the ad-monitions of my mother I took her to London. There, in the office of my trusted agent, I walked into the very trap my mother had warned me against. Lady Lyndon was received into the arms of numerous relatives and I was immediately surrounded by bailiffs !
Though I stormed and threatened, it was in vain; the powers arrayed against me were too strong to be alarmed or overthrown, and I was compelled to accept their terms of a paltry three hundred a year and immunity from arrest until I could leave the country.
Of my years of lonely exile that followed Lady Lyndon's treachery I shall say nothing. Fortune avoided me, and of all the friends of my great days none remained but my mother, who, now a very old woman, sits beside me in the Fleet Prison as I write the last line of my Memoirs.
As Mr. Barry Lyndon's personal narrative finishes here, the following may be read in explanation of his presence in the Fleet Prison, where he remained nineteen years, attended by his old mother, dying at last of delirium tremens. Returning secretly to England, and failing in an attempt to blackmail Lord George Poynings, he had almost persuaded his wife, who never was really out of love with him, to live with him again. This was prevented by the reappearance of Viscount Bullingdon, long supposed dead, who administered a tremendous castigation to his stepfather. Lady Lyndon was furious when she heard of the rencounter; she declined to see her son and was for rushing at once into the arms of her adored Barry. But that gentleman had been lodged in prison meanwhile, and the Countess never saw him again, though she paid his annuity. as long as she lived.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Newton Booth Tarkington - The Gentleman From Indiana (1899)
Bayard Taylor - John Godfrey's Fortunes (1864)
Anne Isabella Thackeray - The Village On The Cliff (1865)
William Makepeace Thackeray - Catherine: A Story (1840)
Memoirs Of Barry Lyndon (1844)
William Makepeace Thackeray - Pendennis (1848)
William Makepeace Thackeray - Vanity Fair (1848)
William Makepeace Thackeray - The History Of Henry Esmond (1852)
William Makepeace Thackeray - The Newcomes (1855)
William Makepeace Thackeray - A Shabby–genteel Story (1857)
Read More Articles About: Authors Digest