CH. V. -- The private conversation of Gil Blas with Navarro, and his first employment in the service of the Count d'Olivarez.
As soon as I got to the ear of Joseph, I told him with much trepidation of spirits what a world of topics I had to deposit in his private ear, He took me where we might be alone, when I asked him, after having communicated a key to the whole transaction up to the present time, what he thought of the business as it stood. I think, answered he, that you are in a fair way to make an enormous fortune. Everything turns out according to your wishes: you have made yourself acceptable to the prime minister; and what must be taken for some thing in the account, I can render you the same service as my uncle Melchior de la Ronda, when you attached yourself to the archiepiscopal establishment of Grenada. He spared you the trouble of finding out the weak side of that prelate and his principal officers, by discovering their different characters to you; and it is my purpose, after his example, to bring you perfectly acquainted with the count, his lady countess, and their only daughter, Donna Maria de Guzman.
The minister's parts are quick, his judgment penetrating, and his talents altogether calculated for the formation of extensive projects. He affects the credit of universal genius, on the strength of a showy smattering in general science; so that there is no subject, in his own opinion, too difficult to be decided on his mere authority. He sets himself up for a practical lawyer, a complete general, and a politician of thorough-paced sagacity. Add to all this, that he is so obstinately wedded to his own opinions, as unchangeably to persevere in the path of his own chalking out, to the absolute contempt of better advice, for fear of seeming to be influenced by any good sense or intelligence, but what he would be thought to engross in the resources of his own mind. Between ourselves, this blot in his character may produce strange consequences, which it may be well for the monarchy should indulgent heaven for the defect of human means avert! As for his talents in council, he shines in debate by the force of natural eloquence; and would write as well as he speaks, if he did not injudiciously affect a certain dignity of style, which degenerates into affectation, quaintness, and obscurity. His modes of thinking are peculiar to himself; he is capricious in conduct, and visionary in design. Here you have the picture of his mind, the light and shade of his intellectual merits: the qualities of his heart and disposition remain to be delineated. He is generous and warm in his friendships. It is said that he is revengeful; but would he be a Spaniard if he were otherwise? In addition to this, he has been accused of ingratitude, for having driven the Duke of Uzeda and Friar Lewis Aliaga into banishment, though he owed them, according to common report, obligations of the most binding nature; and yet even this must not be looked into so narrowly under his circumstances: there are few breasts capacious enough to afford house-room for two such opposite inmates as political ambition and gratitude.
Donna Agnes de Zuniga é Velasco, Countess of Olivarez, continued Joseph, is a lady to whom it is impossible to impute more than one fault, but that is a huge one; for it consists in making a market, and a market the most exorbitant in its terms, of her natural influence over the mind of her husband. As for Donna Maria de Guzman, who beyond all dispute is at this moment the very first match in Spain, she is a lady of first-rate accomplishments, and absolutely idolized by her father. Regulate your conduct upon these hints: make your court with art and plausibility to these two ladies, and let it appear as if you were more devoted to the Count of Olivarez than ever you were to the Duke of Lerma before your forced excursion to Segovia; you will become a leading and powerful member of the administration.
I should advise you, moreover, added he, to see my master, Don Balthasar, from time to time; for though you have no longer any occasion for his interest to push you forward, it will not be amiss to waste a little incense upon him. You stand very high in his good opinion; preserve your footing there, and cultivate his friendship; it may stand you in some stead on any emergency. I could not help observing, that as the uncle and nephew were in a certain sort partners in the government of the state, there might possibly be some little symptom of jealousy between brothers near the throne. On the contrary, answered he, they are united by the most confidential ties. Had it not been for Don Balthasar, the Count of Olivarez might probably never have been prime minister; for you are to know, that after Philip the Third had paid the debt of nature, all the adherents and partisans belonging to the house of Sandoval made a great stir, some in favour of the cardinal, and others on his son's behalf; but my master, a greater adept in court intrigue than any of them, and the count, who is nearly as great an adept as himself disconcerted all their measures, and took their own so judiciously for the purpose of stepping into the vacant place, that their rivals had no chance against them. The Count of Olivarez, being appointed prime minister, divided the duties with his uncle, Don Balthasar; leaving foreign affairs to him, and taking the home department to himself; the consequence is, that the bonds of family friendship are drawn closer between these two noblemen, than if political influence had no share in their mutual interests: they are perfectly independent in their respective lines of business, and live together on terms of good understanding which no intrigue can possibly affect or alter.
Such was the substance of my conversation with Joseph, and the advantage to be derived from it was my own to make the most of: at all events, it was my duty to thank Signor de Zuniga for all the influence he had the goodness to exert in my favour. He assured me with infinite good-breeding that he should avail himself of every opportunity as it arose to promote my wishes, and that he was very glad his nephew had behaved so as to meet my ideas, because he meant to refresh his memory in my behalf, being determined, as he was pleased to say, to place it beyond all manner of doubt how far he himself participated in all my views, and to make it evident that, instead of one fast friend, I had two. In terms like these did Don Balthasar, through mere friendship for Navarro, take the moulding of my fortunes on himself.
On that same evening did I leave my paltry lodging to take up my abode at the prime minister's, where I sat down to supper with Scipio in my own suite of apartments. There were we both waited on by the servants belonging to the household, who as they stood behind our chairs, while we were affecting the pomp and circumstance of political elevation, were more likely than not to be laughing in their sleeves at the pantomime they had been ordered by their manager to play in our presence. When they had taken away and left us to ourselves, my secretary being no longer under restraint, gave vent to a thousand wild imaginations which his sprightly temper and inventive hopes engendered in his fancy. On my part, though by no means cold or insensible to the brilliant prospects which were opening on my view, I did not as yet yield in the least degree to the weakness of being thrust aside from the right line of my
philosophy by temporal allurements. So much otherwise, that on going to bed I fell into a sound sleep, without being haunted in my dreams by those phantoms of flattering delusion which might have gained admittance with no severe question from a corruptible door-keeper. The ambitious Scipio, on the contrary, tossed and tumbled all night in the agitation of restless contrivance. Whenever he dozed a little imp took possession of his brain, with a pen behind its ear, working out by all the rules of arithmetic the bulky sum total of his daughter Seraphina's marriage portion.
No sooner had I got my clothes on the next morning, than a message came from his lordship. I flew like lightning at the summons, when his excellency said: Now then, Santillane, suppose you give us a specimen of your talents for business. You say that the Duke of Lerma used to give you state papers to bring into official form; and I have one, by way of experiment, on which you shall try your skill. The subject you will easily comprehend: it turns upon an exposition of public affairs, such as to throw an artificial light on the first appearance of the new ministry, and to prejudice the public in its favour. I have already whispered it about by my emissaries, that every department of the state was completely disorganized, that the talents which preceded us were no talents at all; and the object at present is to impress both court and city by a formal declaration with the idea, that our aid is absolutely necessary to save the monarchy itself from sinking. On this theme you may expatiate till the populace become lock-jawed with astonishment, and the sober part of the public are gravely argued out of all prepossession in favour of the discarded party. By way of contrast, you will talk of the dignus vindice nodus, taking care to translate it into Spanish; and boast of the measures adopted under the new order of things, to secure the permanent glory of the king's reign, to give perpetual prosperity to his dominions, and to confer perfect, unchangeable happiness on his good people.
His lordship, having given out the general subject of my thesis, left me with a paper containing the heads of charges, whether just or unjust, against the late administration: and I remember perfectly well, that there were ten articles, whose lightest word, even of the lightest article, would harrow up the soul of a true Spaniard, and make his knotted and combined locks to part. That the current of my fancy might experience no interruption, he shut me into a little closet near his own, where the spirit of poetry might possess me in all its freedom and in dependence. My best faculties were called forth, to compose a statement of affairs commensurate with my own concern in the sweeping of the new brooms. My first object was to lay open the nakedness and abandonment of the kingdom: the finances in a state of bankruptcy, the civil list and immediate resources of the crown pawned fifty times over, the navy unpaid, dismantled, and in mutiny. All this hideous delineation was referred for its justice and accuracy to the wrong-headedness and stupidity of government at the close of the last reign, and the doctrine most strongly enforced, that unexampled wisdom and patriotism only could ward off the fatal consequences. In short, the monarchy could only be sustained on the shoulders of our political sufficiency and reforming prudence. The ex-ministry were so cruelly belaboured, that the Duke of Lerma's ruin, according to the terms of my syllogism, was the salvation of Spain. To own the truth, though my professions were in the spirit of Christian charity towards that nobleman, I was not sorry to give him a sly rub in the exercise of my function. Oh man! man! what a compound of candour-breathing satire and splenetic impartiality art thou!
Towards the conclusion, having finished my frightful portraiture of overhanging evils, I endeavoured to allay the storm my art had raised by making futurity as bright as the past had been gloomy. The Count of Olivarez was
brought in at the close, like the tutelary deity of an ancient commonwealth in the crisis of its fate. I promised more than paganism ever feigned or chivalry fancied in the wildest of its crusading projects. In a word, I so exactly executed what the new minister meant, that he seemed not to know his own hints again, when drawn out in my emphatic and appropriate language. Santillane, said he, do you know that this is more like the composition one might expect from a secretary of state, than like that of a private secretary? I can no longer be surprised that the Duke of Lerma was fond of calling your talents into action. Your style is concise, and by no means inelegant; but it creeps rather too much in the level paths of nature. At the same time, pointing out the passages which did not hit his fancy, he corrected them; and I gathered from the touches he threw in, that Navarro was right in saying he affected sententious wit, but mistook for it quaint and stale conceits. Nevertheless, though he preferred the stately, or rather the grotesque in writing, he suffered two thirds of my performance to stand without alteration; and by way of proving how entirely he was satisfied, sent me three hundred pistoles by Don Raymond after dinner.