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William Makepeace Thackeray - The Virginians (1859)

Although several of the personages of Thackeray's Henry Esmond figure in The Virginians, the later story is not a sequel to the former, since the chief of the dramatis persona are entirely new characters. The scene of this tale is alternately laid in Virginia and in England, and the period of the principal action is the third half of the eighteenth century. George Washington, as a young officer in the colonial army, and General James Wolfe are famous historical characters introduced in the story as secondary personages. For the conception of the story Thackeray is believed to be indebted to his friend, William B. Reed of Philadelphia, and the sight of the crossed swords over the mantel in the Boston residence of the historian Prescott. Thackeray was for a time the guest of the Maryland novelist, John Pendleton Kennedy, and it has been asserted by many Marylanders that Kennedy wrote a portion, if not an entire chapter, of The Virginians. Thackeray's daughter, Mrs. Richmond Ritchie, quotes her father as saying that he wrote that particular chapter over four times, and adds her own conviction that the Maryland novelist's assistance was confined to the supplying of local details of description. This view is held by Kennedy's nephew, who says that his uncle gave Thackeray much information about Virginia and its people, but does not think that the aid extended farther.

AT the close of the reign of Queen Anne Colonel Henry Esmond, who had served in the wars of that reign, found himself compromised in certain attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne and was counseled by his friends to go abroad. This he did, establishing himself in Virginia, where he took possession of a large estate conferred upon his ancestor by King Charles I, which he called Castlewood, after the family home in England. His wife had been the widow of his kinsman, Viscount Castlewood, and in Virginia his daughter and his twin grandsons were born. On the death of his wife Colonel Esmond gave up the management of his affairs to his daughter Rachel, an imperious, self-willed little woman. At an early age she had married George Warrington, the younger son of a Norfolk baronet, but he had soon died and she presently discontinued the name of Warrington and went by the title of Madame Esmond. On the death of her father she proclaimed her eldest son, George, the successor and heir of the estate, and Harry, the younger by half an hour, was enjoined to respect his senior. In disposition the lads were unlike, but in feature they closely resembled each other. Madame Esmond was a great stickler for precedence in colonial society, and in course of time not only fell out with her neighbors and, in her correspondence, with her English relatives, but with her sons as well. By the death of an aunt the lads received several thousand pounds, of which sum their mother was one of the trustees. She could not understand why she was not the proprietor of this money and was furious at the London lawyer, the other trustee, for not sending it to her. Her son George sided with the lawyer and she reproached him for unwillingness to help his brother Harry, for whom she designed the whole sum, saying: "To think of a child of mine being so mean at fourteen!" She now began to save for Harry because George was "a disobedient son and an unkind brother."

Fortunately their mother's unjust behavior made no difference in the lads' love for each other. One winter the boys and their mother spent in Williamsburg, where they heard the famous preacher Whitfield, who promised to send the widow a tutor for her sons. In due time Mr. Ward, the tutor, appeared, a dull fellow and a poor scholar, but a glib preacher who was much to Madame Esmond's taste. The boys soon learned to mimic his pompous remarks and ill manners, and at last, when George had been especially unruly, his mother ordered the tutor to punish him. A painful scene followed, in which George triumphed; and from that day he was master at Castlewood The quarrel between him and the tutor was patched up, but Ward's influence over the widow was gone and he soon departed.

Not long after this George fell ill, and on his recovery the brothers made a ten months' trip to Canada, where they acquired many accomplishments, Harry spending much time in Indian camps, while George, being delicate, remained in town.

Mrs. Mountain, the friend and companion of Madame Esmond, was much inclined to match-making and fancied that every unmarried man who came to Castlewood was in love with its mistress. Young Major George Washington was a friend of the family, and Mrs. Mountain was positive that he wished to marry the fair widow. She imparted her suspicions to George Esmond, who begged her to be silent, but in vain. The lad was naturally of a jealous temperament and Mrs. Mountain's remarks served to make him adopt a frigid courtesy toward his mother's guest. Mrs. Mountain showed him a fragment of a letter in Washington's writing that she had found in the Major's chamber, which suspicion might construe as confirmation of her fancies, and which George did so interpret. Much harm en-sued from this incident. George purposely offended young Washington, lately made a colonel, and a duel was about to follow, when Mrs. Mountain fortunately discovered that the letter related to the Widow Custis, whom Washington was intending to marry. Harry, who greatly admired Washington, effected a reconciliation, and George apologized for his hasty action.

A place on General Braddock's staff having been offered one of the Warringtons, it was accepted by George, as the elder, and he soon marched away into Pennsylvania with Braddock's army, sending frequent letters home filled with accounts of the march. Then came news, but not from George, of the terrible defeat of the British forces and the death of Braddock. Harry at once set out to find his brother; and hearing that one of the General's suite was ill with fever at Dunbar's camp he hastened thither only to find it was Colonel Washington, who could give him no certain intelligence regarding George, although he believed the young man had been slain by the Indians. Grief made Madame Esmond angry and reproachful, and when Harry and Colonel Washington returned to Castlewood she chose to consider that the Colonel had abandoned her son in order to secure his own safety. She persisted in believing that George was alive and would some time return; she reproached Harry for remaining friendly with Washington, whom she illogically regarded as George's murderer; and by her imperious humors destroyed the comfort of all about her.

Harry had more than one attack of fever, and being advised to take a sea-voyage gladly left Castlewood behind him and sailed for Bristol. His mother then removed for a time to her town house in Richmond, where she set up her little throne before which the provincial gentlefolk were welcome to bow.

In the summer of 1756 Harry arrived in England, and with his negro servant, Gumbo, went by post-chaise from Bristol to Castlewood in Hampshire. Leaving his baggage at the village inn he went at once to Castlewood House, but its owners were absent and the servants paid little attention to him. As the family were to arrive that day he left his name and his inn ad-dress on a table in the hall and returned to a solitary dinner at the tavern. Later in the day, as he sat by the bridge and gazed at his ancestral home beyond, a coach and six rolled past, pre-ceded by two gentlemen on horseback who nearly jostled him off the bridge. The inn folk told him that the men were my lord and his brother William, and that in the coach were my lady, her stepdaughter, Lady Maria, and her own daughter, Lady Fanny. Just before dark another coach, containing the Baroness Bern-stein, passed over the bridge.

When the Castlewoods discovered Harry's note in the hall they were of various minds about what should be done, but decided to wait until their aunt, the Baroness, should arrive, and not till after supper did the visitor learn who had called. Full of indignation at the slight thus put upon their Virginian cousin, she declared that she would herself drive to the inn for Harry if neither of her nephews would do so; accordingly, the younger, Mr. William, already drunk with punch, set out to bring his cousin to the Castlewood home.

Harry, in melancholy mood, had gone to bed when he was roused by his drunken visitor. A quarrel ensued. Harry remained at the inn and William was taken home in a wheel-barrow. Early the next morning Harry received a note signed by the Baroness saying that his relatives at Castlewood, among them a dear friend of his grandfather, were anxious that he should come to Colonel Esmond's house in England. Accordingly he went to Castlewood, where his aunt, the Baroness, met him on the terrace and welcomed him warmly. She then presented him to his aunt and the Countess, and to his cousins. He gained her favor at once, and after showing him all over the great house she was pleased to listen to his accounts of his American home, and of his mother and brother. Gumbo had circulated glowing tales of the boundless wealth of his master's family, and the Castlewoods were now most amiably disposed toward him. After pointing out to Harry the portrait of a young lady of Queen Anne's time the Baroness said:

"Did your mother never tell you of another daughter her mother had in England, before she married your grand-father?"

"She never spoke of one."

"Nor your grandfather?"

"Never. But in picture-books for us children he used to draw a head very like that."

"And the picture reminds you of no one, Harry?" "No, indeed."

"Harry, that was my face once, and then I was called Beatrix Esmond. And your mother is my half-sister, child, and she has never even mentioned my name!"

The Baroness did not tell him the reason why the Castle-woods were so civil to him now, and he fancied himself welcome because he was their kinsman. The day after his arrival was Sunday and Harry met the Castlewood chaplain, Parson Sampson, an eloquent preacher and a man of the world familiar with all the scandalous tales current, as well as a great lover of the bottle. At cards Harry soon beat his cousin Will and the Rev. Mr. Sampson, but when he played with Lady Maria he in-variably lost.

Maria claimed to be twenty-seven and was in reality forty, though Harry would not have suspected that she was twice his age. After a week or two the Baroness determined to go to Tunbridge Wells and asked Harry to ride thither with her; the lad stammered out that he would gladly be her escort but could not remain because he had promised to stay longer at Castle-wood. Thereupon the old lady refused his escort and left the room in anger. A chance word of William's subsequently en-lightened the Baroness regarding Maria's intentions, and her wrath was dissipated. Her next move was to invite her niece to stay with her at the Wells, escorted thither by Harry, who could return to Castlewood in a few days. On the journey Maria became ill from the motion of the landau and her position with her back to the horses; but though her face for the most part grew yellow her cheeks bloomed with their wonted crimson. She declined refreshment when they put up for the night at Farnham, and the Baroness, as her nephew sat with her at cards after supper, observed that Maria had a poor constitution, was forty-one years old, and that her upper teeth were false, all of which was a terrible shock to poor Harry.

As they rode on next day Harry's horse threw him over his head, and it was at first supposed that he was killed. He was taken to the house of a Colonel Lambert, whose wife had been a school-friend of Harry's mother at Kensington, and it was then seen that no bones were broken and that in a few days he would be able to go on. All this was presently related by Mrs. Lambert in a letter to Madame Esmond.

The Lamberts had two daughters, Theo and Hester, and though Harry did not fall in love with Theo at an instant, he certainly found her attractive and lingered at the Lamberts some time after he was perfectly well, enjoying their sincerity and their sensible home life, so unlike anything he had yet seen in England. A talk with Madame Beatrix too often left him with a fancy that all the world was bad; but with the Lamberts he felt surrounded by good influences.

Harry now joined his relatives at Tunbridge, but on the way thither, in company with Colonel Lambert, he met Colonel Wolfe, with whom he was destined to become better acquainted. After a fortnight of Tunbridge, Harry had become quite a personage. He knew all the good company in the place. Was it his fault if he became acquainted with the bad likewise? The old aunt for her part only bade him pursue his enjoyments; but the lad had brought with him from his colonial home a stock of modesty along with the honest homespun linen. But however innocent he was the world gave him credit for being as bad as other folks. Scandalous stories about him came to the ears of Colonel Wolfe and the Lamberts and distressed them much, but some of them were quickly disproved. By and by Harry took lodgings in London and led the life of a young man of fashion, gaming much and finally getting arrested for debt. When the Baroness heard of this last incident she was quite ready to aid him, but before this could be done Maria visited him in prison, bringing all the trinkets and jewels he had given her, in order to relieve him if possible. His vanishing trust in humanity was partially restored and be felt bound more than ever to his promise to Maria. When the Baroness's lawyer visited him with offers of freedom if he would give up Maria he declined to be freed on such terms, and the Baroness dined alone that day.

But she ate little, and as she gazed at the vacant chair "Mr. Warrington" was announced. She started up and con-fronted someone who looked like Harry but proved to be his brother George. He explained that he had just arrived in London and was seeking Harry. She begged him to get his brother from prison on any conditions, offering money at the same time, which George refused. Gumbo presently escorted him to the bailiff's, where he found Colonel Lambert and Colonel Wolfe, who intended to give bail for Harry. They were startled at George's likeness to Harry, but gave him a warm welcome. George then paid the necessary sum in his brother's behalf and all went quickly to Harry's quarters, where the long-separated brothers met with tears of thankfulness. Harry had ere this quarreled with Colonel Lambert, but everything was now forgiven and there was much rejoicing in the Lambert household when Harry's freedom and George's return to life became known. George in due time told his friends the thrilling tale of his capture by the French and Indian forces, of his long detention among them, and how by the humanity of one Lieutenant Museau his escape was effected.

Harry was now free from prison but still felt himself bound to his elderly love. His mother, in a letter to the Baroness, declared such a match to be out of the question and George disliked it as heartily, although he would not counsel his brother to break his word. The Baroness assured George that Maria's visit to the prison was a mere trick and that had she not sup-posed him heir to a great estate it never would have been made. George determined to put Maria's affection for Harry to the test, and in the family circle of the Castlewoods he accordingly assumed the rôle of selfish elder brother. He declared that Harry had squandered his patrimony, which was true, and that for the future he must be dependent on the varying humors of their self-willed mother. Much more was said to the same general effect, with the result that Maria presently assured Harry that she thanked him for his fidelity but could not think of holding him to his hasty promise.

Harry was not envious, but he could not help seeing how much court was now paid to George and how little attention he himself received except from his good friends the Lamberts. He was depressed, but did not wish to return home. When he talked with Hester Lambert she tried to rally him into action and spoke of Colonel Wolfe's bravery at Louisburg; in reply he asked how he could buy a commission without a shilling, or ask more from his brother who had already borne so much for him. The result of all this was that Harry went on a naval expedition as a gentleman volunteer. George, meanwhile, resolved to study law, but not so sedulously as to leave no time for other pursuits; and presently he produced a play entitled Carpezan, which Dr. Samuel Johnson was good enough to say had merit. It proved successful on the stage, having a run of forty nights, and its author now set about writing a second tragedy to be called Pocahontas. Ere this he had fallen in love with Theo Lambert and had written his mother of his wishes in this respect. Her reply was not cordial, but she did not oppose, though she said nothing of a marriage settlement. The engagement was now made known to their respective families, the Esmond kinsfolk being more cordial in their reception of the news than those of the Warrington side.

Wolfe was now a general, and at his invitation Harry, as one of his officers, accompanied him in the great expedition against Quebec. About this time Lady Maria married an Irish actor named Hagan, to the great wrath of her family. It was a love-match, however, and did not end unhappily. Hagan had taken the chief rôle in Carpezan and George Warrington visited the pair in their shabby lodgings.

A more important wedding was that of the Earl of Castle-wood and Miss Lydia Van den Busch, an American heiress, whose money restored the fading splendors of Castlewood and who soon proved herself equal to routing any of her noble husband's relatives that attempted to oppose her.


When I, George Warrington, appeared in England before my Aunt Beatrix I was for a time the favorite nephew, while Harry fell out of favor, and when I was about to marry Miss Lambert Harry was again reigning favorite. He was indeed our family hero, and after his share in the battle where Wolfe fell so gloriously his promotion in the army was insured.

The next year Colonel Lambert was appointed Governor-General of Jamaica. He was to have a frigate and take his family with him; whereupon Theo and I were privately married the day after we heard the news, lest we should be separated. I informed my mother of the event, and Mrs. Mountain replied for her for the sake of peace. My Warrington relatives were also angry at my action. As my financial condition after discharging Harry's debts, honoring my mother's drafts from home, and paying my own expenses, was not of the best, I depended on my tragedy of Pocahontas to reinstate me, but it was a failure when placed upon the stage. My mother had written for me to return to Virginia before hearing of my marriage, and this event, as preventing such return, made her doubly angry and averse to aiding us. Harry was now the favored son, and when he visited Virginia after the pacification of Canada he was made much of, though there were some disputes, since Harry persisted in remaining friends with Colonel Washington.

When my Aunt Beatrix died her property, more than four thousand pounds, was left to Harry, and this I forwarded, my mother not having told him that she had ceased to make me any remittances.

My uncle, Sir Miles Warrington, had shown me little real kindness, although after his son I was heir to the Warrington estate; but little Miles was much attached to Harry and me, and his early death was greatly felt by my wife and myself, although it left me next heir and made a vast difference in my worldly prospects. My own son was named for his little kinsman, and my uncle came almost every day to see the child. The next year the poor gentleman died and I became Sir George Warrington. Harry by this time had married Fanny Mountain, the daughter of Mrs. Mountain, to our parent's great indignation.

A few years after Theo and I were installed at Warrington Manor a correspondence began between my wife and my mother, and at length Madame Esmond begged us to visit Virginia. Various matters prevented our complying at once, but when General Lambert returned from Jamaica on the death of his wife we left him in charge at the manor and set sail. Our mother met us at her door and gave us her blessing as we knelt before her. So great was Theo's influence over my mother presently that she persuaded her to receive Harry's wife in her house in Richmond.

Political matters were now exceedingly unquiet in the colonies, and Harry and I often discussed them from different stand-points, he inclining toward the patriot side and my sympathies being with the home government; but this made no lessening of our fraternal regard. Open preparations for war at length began, and I was appointed colonel of forces raised for the defense of the crown. Soon, however, the Governor himself fled and my small force rapidly dwindled away. This did not prevent my seeing service later on the Loyalist side; but a wound received in the battle of Long Island took much time in healing, and at length I decided to return to England, our elder children having been sent home three years before. Under the protection of a flag of truce I met Harry, then serving in the division of General Clinton. We spent a night together, and when my brief stay in the American camp was ended the truest of friends and fondest of brothers accompanied me to the place of parting. He became a general ere the war was over and years later visited us at Warrington in his uniform of blue and yellow. His wife had just died and he was never tired of recounting her virtues, although neither Theo nor I had liked her, and he was always loud in the praises of General Washington. We hoped that he would many Hester, and did indeed persuade him in time to propose to her, but she declined, declaring she would never leave her father.

After my accession to Warrington Manor my intercourse with Lord Castlewood was very slight, but in the course of years he laid claim to our Virginian estates. I then had an interview with him in which he offered to compromise for a sum greater than the actual value of the estate. Meeting Sampson soon afterward, I related the circumstance and learned from him where a copy of the assignment to my grandfather could be seen. Armed with this we confronted my cousin Castlewood in the presence of a nobleman I had served under in America, and he admitted that the property was ours and that he had been mistaken in regard to what his father had told him. From that day I never have entered the halls of my ancestors.

My mother still lives in her house at Richmond, and when Harry was in England we sent her portraits of her sons painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr. Samuel Johnson, peering about the studio and seeing Harry in his uniform, asked who was the person. The famous American General—General Warrington, Sir George's brother. "General Who?" cried the doctor, "General Where? Pooh! 1 don't know such a service!" And he walked out of the premises. My worship is painted in scarlet, and we have replicas of both performances at home. But the picture Captain Miles and the girls declare most like is a family sketch by Mr. Bunbury, who has drawn me and my lady with Monsieur Gumbo following us, and written under the piece are the words: "SIR GEORGE, MY LADY, AND THEIR MASTER."

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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