Daniel Deronda HTML version

Chapter 17
"This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things."
--TENNYSON: Locksley Hall.
On a fine evening near the end of July, Deronda was rowing himself on the
Thames. It was already a year or more since he had come back to England, with
the understanding that his education was finished, and that he was somehow to
take his place in English society; but though, in deference to Sir Hugo's wish, and
to fence off idleness, he had began to read law, this apparent decision had been
without other result than to deepen the roots of indecision. His old love of boating
had revived with the more force now that he was in town with the Mallingers,
because he could nowhere else get the same still seclusion which the river gave
him. He had a boat of his own at Putney, and whenever Sir Hugo did not want
him, it was his chief holiday to row till past sunset and come in again with the
stars. Not that he was in a sentimental stage; but he was in another sort of
contemplative mood perhaps more common in the young men of our day--that of
questioning whether it were worth while to take part in the battle of the world: I
mean, of course, the young men in whom the unproductive labor of questioning
is sustained by three or five per cent, on capital which somebody else has battled
for. It puzzled Sir Hugo that one who made a splendid contrast with all that was
sickly and puling should be hampered with ideas which, since they left an
accomplished Whig like himself unobstructed, could be no better than spectral
illusions; especially as Deronda set himself against authorship--a vocation which
is understood to turn foolish thinking into funds.
Rowing in his dark-blue shirt and skull-cap, his curls closely clipped, his mouth
beset with abundant soft waves of beard, he bore only disguised traces of the
seraphic boy "trailing clouds of glory." Still, even one who had never seen him
since his boyhood might have looked at him with slow recognition, due perhaps
to the peculiarity of the gaze which Gwendolen chose to call "dreadful," though it
had really a very mild sort of scrutiny. The voice, sometimes audible in subdued
snatches of song, had turned out merely a high baritone; indeed, only to look at
his lithe, powerful frame and the firm gravity of his face would have been enough
for an experienced guess that he had no rare and ravishing tenor such as nature
reluctantly makes at some sacrifice. Look at his hands: they are not small and
dimpled, with tapering fingers that seem to have only a deprecating touch: they
are long, flexible, firmly-grasping hands, such as Titian has painted in a picture
where he wanted to show the combination of refinement with force. And there is
something of a likeness, too, between the faces belonging to the hands--in both
the uniform pale-brown skin, the perpendicular brow, the calmly penetrating
eyes. Not seraphic any longer: thoroughly terrestrial and manly; but still of a kind
to raise belief in a human dignity which can afford to recognize poor relations.