Mrs. General Talboys
Mrs. General Talboys
Why Mrs. General Talboys first made up her mind to pass the winter of 1859 at Rome I
never clearly understood. To myself she explained her purposes, soon after her arrival at
the Eternal City, by declaring, in her own enthusiastic manner, that she was inspired by a
burning desire to drink fresh at the still living fountains of classical poetry and sentiment.
But I always thought that there was something more than this in it. Classical poetry and
sentiment were doubtless very dear to her; but so also, I imagine, were the substantial
comforts of Hardover Lodge, the General's house in Berkshire; and I do not think that she
would have emigrated for the winter had there not been some slight domestic
misunderstanding. Let this, however, be fully made clear,--that such misunderstanding, if
it existed, must have been simply an affair of temper. No impropriety of conduct has, I
am very sure, ever been imputed to the lady. The General, as all the world knows, is hot;
and Mrs. Talboys, when the sweet rivers of her enthusiasm are unfed by congenial
waters, can, I believe, make herself disagreeable.
But be this as it may, in November, 1859, Mrs. Talboys came among us English at Rome,
and soon succeeded in obtaining for herself a comfortable footing in our society. We all
thought her more remarkable for her mental attributes than for physical perfection; but,
nevertheless, she was, in her own way, a sightly woman. She had no special brilliance,
either of eye or complexion, such as would produce sudden flames in susceptible hearts;
nor did she seem to demand instant homage by the form and step of a goddess; but we
found her to be a good-looking woman of some thirty or thirty-three years of age, with
soft, peach-like cheeks,--rather too like those of a cherub, with sparkling eyes which were
hardly large enough, with good teeth, a white forehead, a dimpled chin and a full bust.
Such, outwardly, was Mrs. General Talboys. The description of the inward woman is the
purport to which these few pages will be devoted.
There are two qualities to which the best of mankind are much subject, which are nearly
related to each other, and as to which the world has not yet decided whether they are to
be classed among the good or evil attributes of our nature. Men and women are under the
influence of them both, but men oftenest undergo the former, and women the latter. They
are ambition and enthusiasm. Now Mrs. Talboys was an enthusiastic woman.
As to ambition, generally as the world agrees with Mark Antony in stigmatising it as a
grievous fault, I am myself clear that it is a virtue; but with ambition at present we have
no concern. Enthusiasm also, as I think, leans to virtue's side; or, at least, if it be a fault,
of all faults it is the prettiest. But then, to partake at all of virtue, or even to be in any
degree pretty, the enthusiasm must be true.
Bad coin is known from good by the ring of it; and so is bad enthusiasm. Let the coiner
be ever so clever at his art, in the coining of enthusiasm the sound of true gold can never
be imparted to the false metal. And I doubt whether the cleverest she in the world can