« EelmineJätka »
in the surrounding country. These seemed to me exceedingly well done and effective, and, of course, my brother praised them, but, as I thought, only moderately, and as
very good work for an amateur." I reproduce his sketch on a reduced scale as showing his delicacy of touch even in hasty out-of-door work, though, owing to the old yellowish paper, the pencil marks come out very faint in the process print.
While travelling by coach or staying at country inns in Shropshire, we used to hear a good deal of talk about Jack Mytton, of Halston, who had died a few years before, and whose wild exploits were notorious all over the West of England. He was a country gentleman of very old family, and had inherited a landed estate bringing in about £10,000 a year, while having been a minor for eighteen years, there was an accumulation of £60,000 when he came of age. In a few years he spent all these savings, and continued to live at such a rate that he had frequently to raise money. All the grand oaks for which his estates were celebrated were cut down, and it is said produced £70,000. About half his property was entailed, but the other half was sold at various times, and must have realized a very large amount; while in the last years of his life, which he spent either in prison for debt or in France, all the fine collection of pictures, many by the old masters, and the whole contents of his family mansion were sold, but did not suffice to pay his debts or prevent his dying in prison. From the account given by his intimate friend and biographer the total amount thus wasted in about fifteen years could not have been much less than half a million, but from the scanty details in his “ Life" it seems clear that he could not really have expended anything like this amount, but that his extreme good nature and utter recklessness as to money led to his being robbed and plundered in various ways by the numerous unscrupulous persons who always congregate about such a character.
For those who have not read the account of his wasted life one or two examples illustrative of his character may be here given. Once, before he was of age, when dining out
in the country, he had driven over in a gig with a pair of horses tandem-his favourite style. On some of the party expressing the opinion that this was a very dangerous mode of driving, Mytton at once offered to bet the whole party £25 each that he would then and there drive his tandem across country to the turnpike road half a mile off, having to cross on the way a sunk fence three yards wide, a broad deep drain, and two stiff quickset hedges with ditches on the further side. All accepted the bet. It was a moonlight night, but twelve men with lanthorns accompanied the party in case of accidents. He got into and out of the sunk fence (I suppose what we call a Ha-ha) in safety, went at the drain at such a pace that both horses and gig cleared it, the jerk throwing Mytton on to the wheeler's back, from which he climbed up to his seat, drove on, and through the next two fences with apparent ease into the turnpike road without serious injury, thus winning this extraordinary wager.
He was as reckless of other person's lives and limbs as he was of his own, upsetting one friend purposely because he had just said that he had never been upset in his life, and jumping the leader over a turnpike gate to see whether he would take "timber," the gig being, of course, smashed, and Mytton with his friend being thrown out, but, strange to say, both uninjured.
He was a man of tremendous physical strength, and with a constitution that appeared able to withstand anything till he ruined it by excessive drinking. He was so devoted to sport of some kind or other that nothing came amiss to him, riding his horse upstairs, riding a bear into his drawing-room, crawling after wild ducks on the snow and ice stripped to his shirt, or shooting rats with a rifle. Several of these stories we heard told by the people we met, but there were many others of a nature which could not be printed, and which referred to the latter part of his life, when his wife had left him, and he had entered on that downhill course of reckless dissipation that culminated in his ruin and death.
Never was there a more glaring example of a man of
exceptional physical and mental qualities being ruined by the inheritance of great wealth and by a life of pleasure and excitement. Brought up from childhood on a great estate which he soon learnt would be his own; surrounded by servants and flatterers, by horses and dogs, and seeing that hunting, racing, and shooting were the chief interests and occupations of those around him; with an intense vitality and superb physique,—who can wonder at his after career ? At school he was allowed £400 a year, and it is said spent £800—alone enough to demoralize any youth of his disposition ; and as a natural sequence he was expelled, first from Westminster and then from Harrow. He was then placed with a private tutor for a year. He entered at both Universities but matriculated at neither; and when nineteen became a cornet in the 7th Hussars, which he joined in France with the army of occupation after Waterloo. He quitted the army when of age, and settled at Halston.
Such having been his early life it would seem almost impossible that he could have profited much by his very fragmentary education ; yet his biographer assures us that he had a fair amount of classical knowledge, and throughout life would quote Greek and Latin authors with surprising readiness, and, moreover, would quote them correctly, and always knew when he made a mistake, repeating the passage again and again till he had it correct. Several examples are given when, in his later years, he quoted passages from Sophocles and Homer to illustrate his own domestic and personal misfortunes. But besides these literary tastes he was a man remarkable for many lovable characteristics and especially for a real sympathy for the feelings of others. After being arrested at Calais on bills he had accepted in favour of a person with whom he had had some dealings, as soon as he was released from prison by his solicitor paying the debt, he called upon his former creditor, not to upbraid him, but to walk with him arm-in-arm through the town, in order that the affair might not injure the creditor's character, he being a professional man. As his biographer says, few finer instances of generosity and good feeling are on record. It was this
aspect of his character that led to his being so universally loved, that three thousand persons attended his funeral, with every mark of respect.
Here was a man whose qualities both of mind and body might have rendered him a good citizen, a happy man, and a cause of happiness to all around him, but whose nature was perverted by bad education and a wholly vicious environment. And such examples come before us continuously, exciting little attention and no serious thought. A few years back we had the champion plunger, who got rid of near a million in a very short time ; and within the last few years we have had in the bankruptcy court a young nobleman of historic lineage and great estates; also a youth just come into a fortune of £12,000, who, while an undergraduate at Oxford, gave £5000 for four race-horses, which he had never seen, on the word of the seller about whom he knew nothing, spent over a thousand in training them, and in another year or two had got rid of the last of his thousands besides incurring a considerable amount of debt. But nobody seems to think that the great number of such cases always occurring, and which are probably increasing with the increasing numbers of great fortunes, really indicates a thoroughly rotten social system.
How often we hear the remark upon such cases, “ He is nobody's enemy but his own.” But this is totally untrue, and every such spendthrift is really a worse enemy of society than the professional burglar, because he lives in the midst of an ever-widening circle of parasites and dependents, whose idleness, vice, and profligacy are the direct creation of his misspent wealth. He is not only vicious himself, but he is a cause of vice in others. Perhaps worse even than the vice is the fact that among his host of dependents are many quite honest people, who live by the salaries they receive from him or the dealings they have with him, and the self-interest of these leads them to look leniently upon the whole system which gives them a livelihood. Innumerable vested interests thus grow up around all such great estates, and the more wastefully the owner spends his income the better it seems to be for all the tradesmen and mechanics in the district. But