After the conversation Lord Lipton and Mr. Bennett retired to the sitting room where the two of them, along with Clarissa and Miss Wood, enjoyed tea and various food that was meant to pique their appetite for the dinner that was going to come in a couple of hours or so.
Clarissa and Miss Wood spent a fair bit of time during this meal showing Mr. Bennett what Clarissa was learning and doing and he was proud to see his daughter becoming a more polished girl who would be capable of moving among the circles of the educated and cultured people that Lord Lipton was obviously going to hang around. It did not take Mr. Bennett long to see that he would likely be very well rewarded if he could get a good dowry for Clarissa, even with the disadvantages of birth that she had to face. At any rate, he had no complaints about either Lord Lipton’s hospitality nor the skill with which he ran his household and sought to ensure Clarissa’s well-being. He could not have thought of a better option to ensure his daughter’s well-being.
After Mr. Bennett departed to return to his own place in Cheapside, Lord Lipton pulled out his speech and continued to work on it, knowing that he would soon have occasion to give it.
While Lord Lipton was engaged in such pursuits there were was action going on in the matter of the libels that had been committed against him and others. Agents of the crown found themselves visiting some of the addresses of the presses that had printed various materials and spread it abroad in seeking to smear him. They came persuasive enough to obtain some of the names of the various peers responsible for the efforts, and from their actions a number of people found themselves being thrown into dark cells to reexamine their life choices.
It was one thing, after all, to make fun of an unknown viscount from a peripheral part of the realm and whose conduct had not yet been general known. Had the libelers been content to do this, it is possible they could have continued to avoid justice for months, until a case had been built up to ensnare them in lawsuits and ruinous payments. Yet they were not patient, as their crowd grew bored hearing the same scraps of information being regurgitated and repeated over and over again in the absence of fresh material. It was their search for fresh material that got them in trouble by insulting those who were loyally and ably serving the king. It was said that the king himself had been personally offended that good men he knew–including Lord Lipton–had been smeared by political opponents simply on a cause of their opposition to the slave trade, something that His Majesty was not himself connected to or in approval of, as it happened.
By reaching too high, the libelers, or at least some of them, found themselves inhabiting dark cells. It was here where things get more interesting, as a well-dressed man came to the prison where the libelers were in jail and handed a few well-placed coins to the jailer for him to turn the other way and allow the libelers to follow him to a nearby safe house.
“It took you long enough,” one of them said.
“You didn’t have to spend a night in the hole. I came quickly enough, to be sure.”
“We shouldn’t have had to have been stuck in there at all.”
“You did overreach, as I warned you would happen.”
“What are you talking about? We had to include more people. There wasn’t enough information about the Yorkie to keep the news fresh.”
“You could have investigated matters further, suborned some housemaids or anything like that.”
“We tried. All of them were vehement that Lord Lipton was among the greatest souls who has ever walked the earth. I don’t know how much he is paying his servants, but none of them would whisper that he even committed the solitary vice, much less had been involved in sexual deeds with anyone else.”
“I must say, I am impressed by such loyalty.”
“It makes it hard to come up with fresh information when the last person on your side saw him sitting beside the girl at a public dinner. Even the people at the inns where he stopped along the way had nothing bad about him to say. They said that he rented one room for himself alone and read during the evening and had another room rented for the girl and her governess and that they studied and knitted and talked among themselves.”
“So you got intelligence, it just was not intelligence that made him appear to be a bad person.”
“Right, it’s not like we wanted to print information that would make him seem like a saint or anything. That would not have been worthy of your patronage or that of those you represent.”
“No, it would not have been,” the mysterious benefactor said, thoughtfully.
“I don’t like that look on your face.”
“You mean the thoughtful look that shows I am reflecting on something and pondering a change of tack?”
“Yes, that exactly. Every time I see that face I end up in a heap of trouble.”
“Well, I just sprung you out of jail, where you could have rotted for years for libeling a peer of the realm as well as various servants of the king. If you do not appreciate my desire to change tack, perhaps you would rather spend more time in the hole dying of consumption.”
“No thank you, sir.”
”I figured you would have some sense in you, there.”
There was an awkward silence for a bit as everyone thought about what they could do here.
“Maybe we have been going about this the wrong way,” the benefactor replied. “Perhaps it is not the right time to attempt to discredit Lord Lipton and others through attempting to smear their reputations.”
“If they really are as good as others say, it would not likely work any better the next time we tried.”
“I quite agree with you,” the benefactor said. “As much as it costs me something to say that.”
The rest of the libelers laughed.
“I do not think the slave trade is in any immediate danger of being forbidden, no matter what the position of a few idealistic members of Parliament. The current blackmail and bribery operations we have are more than good enough to keep majorities in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.”
“That is a relief to me, that nothing will be called when it comes to writing pamphlets to praise the slave trade and its benefits for the English people in providing cheap sugar.”
“It can be a bit uncomfortable to spread such economic doctrines that make one feel as if one is soiling one’s soul, that is true But as there is no immediate political need for us to crush Lord Lipton, and no need to make him into a fatal enemy, we can simply lie in wait and collect further information from him as things become available. It may happen that we may be able to take a different tack in the coming months and years that would minimize his influence in the House of Lords. And we do not know how persuasive a man he is yet, so it is not worth showing our hand and making him an enemy before we can determine if he is a major threat to our control of government.”
“From what I understand he is supposed to speak before the House of Lords tomorrow and introduce himself to the peers who do not know him yet. No doubt many will be curious to see the mysterious Lord L speak at last.”
“I must admit to some curiosity in hearing him speak myself. I have heard of what he has said and written second hand, but I have not had the chance to get to know him myself.”
“Do you think you would like to befriend him?”
“I do not think I could suppress my cynicism or worldly wise ways enough to gain the confidence of someone like him. Nor do I think his recent elevation and his rather common background are the sort of thing that I should patronize. With regret I must leave him to the opposition because I really do not want people like him on my side anyway.”
“Well, I suppose we will see how persuasive he appears when he’s speaking in public.”
The conversation flagged as the libels were thoughtful, glad to be out of prison but a bit disappointed that their efforts to smear Lord Lipton had proven to be so ineffectual so far. As any good enemies would do, though, they resolved to be alert and vigilant to any opportunities they would have to make fun of or discredit the Viscount and those who like him believed in taking action that would threaten those who were powerful and wealthy but whose power and wealth depended on injustice.
While this was going on Lord Sydney was himself quietly at home reading one of his favorite essays by Xenophon. It was not the Anabasis, nor was it the one On Horsemanship, but instead it was his often-neglected essay Hellenica. Reading it in the original Greek, Lord Sydney was intrigued when he thought about the rivalry that existed between Sparta and Athens all those centuries ago. Sparta was a status quo power with a complicated constitution, but the status quo depended on an unjust system of exploitation of helots, to say nothing of the moral problems of their behavior in encouraging the Grecian vice among their citizen-soldiers. And Athens, praised as it had been by many educated people, itself had a turbulent democracy that itself also depended on a great deal of slavery and the exile of so many people in their land who were people of genuine distinction because of the envy of others.
Of what relevance was such ancient reading? The past remained worthy of study so long as human nature remained consistent. So long as people sought to preserve the status quo in order to thwart the influence of justice and allowed their rule to be perverted by considerations that led them to take advantage of others, and so long as poisonous envy destroyed the chance for real merit to be of service to society, so long as people sought to be inspired by the brave and virtuous words of philosophers and lyric poets, there would be relevance in what occurred in those small and feuding poleis of Greece, even in an age where Greece was under the Ottoman yoke and the glories of the free Greeks were long replaced by a sullen submission to Oriental autocracy and tyranny.
Lord Sydney laid aside his volume of Xenophon and pondered about what it was like for a land to be like England in having both an aristocratic element that enjoyed participation in government and that sought to preserve a status quo through injustice and oppression as well as a commercial element that chafed at the respect and regard that was due to people of good birth and a looking down on those who obtained their wealth through trade and the acumen of being able to serve others effectively. How long would the liberty that he and others cherished most about England survive when there was so much corruption and so much instability at the heart of society? Was it possible to calm pressures for revolution and allow a slow and patient reform to take place that would allow for justice to prevail without the destabilization that was threatened by those who were rash and impatient and demanded immediate action, no matter the cost? So long as wise and discerning men were at the helm of state it was possible to sail that noble ship through the waters, but would that always be the case? What would happen when it was no longer brave and noble people in charge of government, but people who had neither the support of the people nor the right knowledge to govern well? Could any nation long endure that was governed by the corrupt and blind and self-serving? He hoped it would not come to that, that England would have centuries yet to be free and strong, and a example to help lead the world out of darkness.