CH. VI. The application of the three hundred pistoles, and Scipio's commission connected with them. Success of the state paper mentioned in the last chapter.

 

THIS handsome present of the minister furnished Scipio with a new subject of congratulation, by reason of our second appearance at court. You may remark, said he, that fortune is preparing a load of aggrandizement to lay on your lordship's shoulders. Are you still sorry for having turned your back on solitude? May the Count of Olivarez live for ever! he is a very different sort of a master from his predecessor. The Duke of Lerma, with all your devotion to his service, left you to live upon suction for months without a pistole to bless yourself with; and the count has already made you a present which you could have had no reason to expect but after a course of long service.

I should very much like, added he, that the lords of Leyva should be witnesses of your great success, or at least that they should be informed of it. It is high time indeed, answered I, and I meant to speak with you on that subject. They must doubtless be impatient to hear of my proceedings, but I waited till my fate was fixed, and till I could decide for certain whether I should stay at court or not. Now that I am sure of my destination, you have only to set out for Valencia whenever you please, and to acquaint those noblemen with my present situation, which I consider as their doing, since it is evident that, but for them, I should never have resolved on my journey to Madrid. My dear master, cried the son of Bohemian accident, what joy shall I communicate by relating what has happened to you! Why am I not already at the gates of Valencia? But I shall be there forthwith. Don Alphonso's two horses are ready in the stable. I shall take one of my lord's livery servants with me. Besides that company is pleasant on the road, you know very well the effect of official parade, in making impression on the natives of a provincial town.

I could not help laughing at my secretary's foolish vanity; and yet, with vanity perhaps more than equal to his own, I left him to do as he pleased. Go about your business, said I, and make the best of your way back; for I have an other commission to give you. I mean to send you to the Asturias with some money for my mother. Through neglect I have suffered the time to elapse when I promised to remit her a hundred pistoles, and pledged you to make the payment in person. Such engagements ought to be held sacred by a son; and I reproach myself with inaccuracy in the observance of mine. Sir, answered Scipio, within six weeks I shall bring you an account of both your commissions; having opened my budget to the lords of Leyva, looked in at your country-house, and taken a peep at the town of Oviedo, the recollection of which I cannot admit into my mind, without turning over three-fourths of the inhabitants, and one-half of the remaining quarter, to the corrective discipline of that infernal executioner, who is supposed to be kept on foot for the purpose of castigating sinners. I then counted down one hundred pistoles to that same son of a wandering mother for my honoured parents' annuity, and another hundred for himself; meaning that he should perform his long journey without grumbling on my account by the way.

Some days after his departure his lordship sent our memorial to press; and it was no sooner published than it became the topic of conversation in every circle throughout Madrid. The people, enamoured of novelty, took up this well written statement of their own wretchedness with fond partiality; the derangement and exhaustion of the finances, painted with a mixture of truth and poetry, excited a strong feeling of popular indignation against the Duke of Lerma; and if these paper bullets of the brain, cast in the political armoury of a rival, failed to carry victory with them in the opinions of all mankind, they were at all events hailed with triumph by the most clamorous of our own partisans. As for the magnificent promises which the Count of Olivarez threw in, and among others that of keeping the machine of state in motion, by a system of economy, without adding to the public burdens, they were caught at with avidity by the citizens at large, and considered as pledges of an enlightened and patriotic policy, so that the whole city resounded with the acclamation of panegyric and congratulation on the opening of new prospects.

The minister, delighted to have gained his end so easily, which in that publication had only been to draw popularity upon himself; was now determined to seize the substance as well as catch at the shadow, by an act of unquestionable credit with the subject, and high utility to the king's service. For that purpose, he had recourse to the emperor Galba's contrivance, consisting in a forced regurgitation of ill-gotten spoils from individuals who had made large fortunes, hell and their own consciences knew best how, in the superintendence of the royal expenditure. When he had squeezed these spunges till they were dry again, and had filled the king's coffers with the drainings, he undertook to render the reform permanent by abolishing all pensions, not excepting his own, and curtailing the gratuities too frequently bestowed on favourites out of the prince's privy purse. To succeed in this design, which he could not carry into effect without changing the face of the government, he charged me with the composition of a new state paper, furnishing the substance and the form from his own idea. He then advised me to raise my style as much as possible above the level of my ordinary simplicity, and to give an air of more eloquence to my phraseology. A hint is sufficient, my lord, said I; your excellency wishes to unite sublimity with illumination, and it shall be so I shut myself up in the same closet where I had already worked so successfully, and sat down stiffly to my task, first calling to my aid the lofty and clear perceptions, the noble and sonorous expressions, of my old instructor, the archbishop of Grenada.

I began by laying it down as a first maxim of political philosophy, that the vital functions, the respiration as it were of all monarchy, depended on the strict administration of the finances; that in our particular case that duty became imperiously urgent, irresistibly impressing on our consciences; and that the revenue should be considered as the nerves and sinews of Spain, to hold her rivals in check and keep her enemies in awe. After this general declamation, I pointed out to the sovereign, for to him the memorial was addressed, that by cutting down all pensions and perquisites dependent on the ordinary income, he would not thereby deprive himself of that truly royal pleasure, a princely munificence towards those of his subjects who had established a fair claim to his favours; because without drawing upon his treasury, he had the means of distributing more acceptable rewards; that for one branch of service, there were viceroyalties, lieutenancies, orders of merit, and all sorts of military commissions: for another, high judicial situations with salaries annexed, civil offices of magistracy with sounding titles to give them consequence; and though last, not least, all the temporal possessions of the church to animate the piety of its spiritual pastors.

This memorial, which was much longer than the first, occupied me nearly three days; but as luck would have it, my performance was exactly to my master's mind, who finding it written with sententious cogency, and bristled up with metaphors in the declamatory parts, complimented me in the highest terms That is vastly well expressed indeed! said he, laying his finger on a passage here and there, and picking out all the most inflated sentences he could find that language bears the stamp of fine composition, and might pass for the production of a classic. Courage, my friend! I foresee that your services will be worth their weight in gold. And yet, notwithstanding the applauses he lavished on my classical composition, a few of his own heightening touches, he thought, would make it read still better. He put a good deal of his own stuff into it, and the medley was manufactured into a piece of eloquence which was considered as unanswerable by the king and all the court. The whole city joined in opinion with the higher orders, deriving the most flattering hopes of the future from these grand promises, and concluding that the monarchy must re cover its pristine splendour during the ministry of so illustrious a character. His excellency, finding that my sermon on economy was fraught with practical inferences of utility to him, was kind enough to wish that I should profit by the exercise of my own talents. In conformity therefore with his new system of patronage, he gave me an annuity of five hundred crowns on the commandery of Castile; and the acceptance of it was so much the more palatable, as no dirty work had been done for it, but it was honestly, though cheaply, earned.

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