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Basil

Chapter I.3
I always considered my father--I speak of him in the past tense, because we are
now separated for ever; because he is henceforth as dead to me as if the grave
had closed over him--I always considered my father to be the proudest man I
ever knew; the proudest man I ever heard of. His was not that conventional pride,
which the popular notions are fond of characterising by a stiff, stately carriage; by
a rigid expression of features; by a hard, severe intonation of voice; by set
speeches of contempt for poverty and rags, and rhapsodical braggadocio about
rank and breeding. My father's pride had nothing of this about it. It was that quiet,
negative, courteous, inbred pride, which only the closest observation could
detect; which no ordinary observers ever detected at all.
Who that observed him in communication with any of the farmers on any of his
estates--who that saw the manner in which he lifted his hat, when he accidentally
met any of those farmers' wives--who that noticed his hearty welcome to the man
of the people, when that man happened to be a man of genius--would have
thought him proud? On such occasions as these, if he had any pride, it was
impossible to detect it. But seeing him when, for instance, an author and a new-
made peer of no ancestry entered his house together--observing merely the
entirely different manner in which he shook hands with each--remarking that the
polite cordiality was all for the man of letters, who did not contest his family rank
with him, and the polite formality all for the man of title, who did--you discovered
where and how he was proud in an instant. Here lay his fretful point. The
aristocracy of rank, as separate from the aristocracy of ancestry, was no
aristocracy for him. He was jealous of it; he hated it. Commoner though he was,
he considered himself the social superior of any man, from a baronet up to a
duke, whose family was less ancient than his own.
Among a host of instances of this peculiar pride of his which I could cite, I
remember one, characteristic enough to be taken as a sample of all the rest. It
happened when I was quite a child, and was told me by one of my uncles now
dead--who witnessed the circumstance himself, and always made a good story of
it to the end of his life.
A merchant of enormous wealth, who had recently been raised to the peerage,
was staying at one of our country houses. His daughter, my uncle, and an Italian
Abbe were the only guests besides. The merchant was a portly, purple-faced
man, who bore his new honours with a curious mixture of assumed pomposity
and natural good-humour The Abbe was dwarfish and deformed, lean, sallow,
sharp-featured, with bright bird-like eyes, and a low, liquid voice. He was a
political refugee, dependent for the bread he ate, on the money he received for
teaching languages. He might have been a beggar from the streets; and still my
father would have treated him as the principal guest in the house, for this all-
sufficient reason--he was a direct descendant of one of the oldest of those
famous Roman families whose names are part of the history of the Civil Wars in
Italy.
 
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