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Denham had accused Katharine Hilbery of belonging to one of the most
distinguished families in England, and if any one will take the trouble to consult
Mr. Galton's "Hereditary Genius," he will find that this assertion is not far from the
truth. The Alardyces, the Hilberys, the Millingtons, and the Otways seem to prove
that intellect is a possession which can be tossed from one member of a certain
group to another almost indefinitely, and with apparent certainty that the brilliant
gift will be safely caught and held by nine out of ten of the privileged race. They
had been conspicuous judges and admirals, lawyers and servants of the State
for some years before the richness of the soil culminated in the rarest flower that
any family can boast, a great writer, a poet eminent among the poets of England,
a Richard Alardyce; and having produced him, they proved once more the
amazing virtues of their race by proceeding unconcernedly again with their usual
task of breeding distinguished men. They had sailed with Sir John Franklin to the
North Pole, and ridden with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow, and when they
were not lighthouses firmly based on rock for the guidance of their generation,
they were steady, serviceable candles, illuminating the ordinary chambers of
daily life. Whatever profession you looked at, there was a Warburton or an
Alardyce, a Millington or a Hilbery somewhere in authority and prominence.
It may be said, indeed, that English society being what it is, no very great merit is
required, once you bear a well-known name, to put you into a position where it is
easier on the whole to be eminent than obscure. And if this is true of the sons,
even the daughters, even in the nineteenth century, are apt to become people of
importance-- philanthropists and educationalists if they are spinsters, and the
wives of distinguished men if they marry. It is true that there were several
lamentable exceptions to this rule in the Alardyce group, which seems to indicate
that the cadets of such houses go more rapidly to the bad than the children of
ordinary fathers and mothers, as if it were somehow a relief to them. But, on the
whole, in these first years of the twentieth century, the Alardyces and their
relations were keeping their heads well above water. One finds them at the tops
of professions, with letters after their names; they sit in luxurious public offices,
with private secretaries attached to them; they write solid books in dark covers,
issued by the presses of the two great universities, and when one of them dies
the chances are that another of them writes his biography.
Now the source of this nobility was, of course, the poet, and his immediate
descendants, therefore, were invested with greater luster than the collateral
branches. Mrs. Hilbery, in virtue of her position as the only child of the poet, was
spiritually the head of the family, and Katharine, her daughter, had some superior
rank among all the cousins and connections, the more so because she was an
only child. The Alardyces had married and intermarried, and their offspring were
generally profuse, and had a way of meeting regularly in each other's houses for
meals and family celebrations which had acquired a semi- sacred character, and
were as regularly observed as days of feasting and fasting in the Church.