It has frequently been observed that genius and madness are nearly allied; that very great talents are seldom found unaccompanied by a touch of insanity, and that there are few Bedlamites who will not, upon a close examination, display symptoms of a powerful, though ruined intellect.
According to this hypothesis, the flowers of Parnassus must be blended with the drugs of Anticyra; and the man who feels himself to be in possession of very brilliant wits may conclude that he is within an ace of running out of them. Whether this be true or false, we are not at present disposed to contradict the assertion. What we wish to notice is the pains which many young men take to qualify themselves for Bedlam, by hiding a good, sober, gentlemanlike understanding beneath an assumption of thoughtlessness and whim. It is the received opinion among many that a man’s talents and abilities are to be rated by the quantity of nonsense he utters per diem, and the number of follies he runs into per annum. Against this idea we must enter our protest; if we concede that every real genius is more or less a madman, we must not be supposed to allow that every sham madman is more or less a genius.
In the days of our ancestors, the hot-blooded youth who threw away his fortune at twenty-one, his character at twenty-two, and his life at twenty-three, was termed “a good fellow”, “an honest fellow”, “nobody’s enemy but his own”. In our time the name is altered; and the fashionable who squanders his father’s estate, or murders his best friend—who breaks his wife’s heart at the gaming-table, and his own neck at a steeple-chase—escapes the sentence which morality would pass upon him, by the plea of lunacy. “He was a rascal,” says Common-Sense. “True,” says the World; “but he was mad, you know—quite mad.”
We were lately in company with a knot of young men who were discussing the character and fortunes of one of their own body, who was, it seems, distinguished for his proficiency in the art of madness. “Harry,” said a young sprig of nobility, “have you heard that Charles is in the King’s Bench?” “I heard it this morning,” drawled the Exquisite; “how distressing! I have not been so hurt since poor Angelica (his bay mare) broke down. Poor Charles has been too flighty.” “His wings will be clipped for the future!” observed young Caustic. “He has been very imprudent,” said young Candour.
I inquired of whom they were speaking. “Don’t you know Charles Gally?” said the Exquisite, endeavouring to turn in his collar. “Not know Charles Gally?” he repeated, with an expression of pity. “He is the best fellow breathing; only lives to laugh and make others laugh: drinks his two bottles with any man, and rides the finest mare I ever saw—next to my Angelica. Not know Charles Gally? Why, everybody knows him! He is so amusing! Ha! ha! And tells such admirable stories! Ha! ha! Often have they kept me awake”—a yawn—”when nothing else could.” “Poor fellow!” said his lordship; “I understand he’s done for ten thousand!” “I never believe more than half what the world says,” observed Candour. “He that has not a farthing,” said Caustic, “cares little whether he owes ten thousand or five.” “Thank Heaven!” said Candour, “that will never be the case with Charles: he has a fine estate in Leicestershire.” “Mortgaged for half its value,” said his lordship. “A large personal property!” “All gone in annuity bills,” said the Exquisite. “A rich uncle upwards of fourscore!” “He’ll cut him off with a shilling,” said Caustic.
“Let us hope he may reform,” sighed the Hypocrite; “and sell the pack,” added the Nobleman; “and marry,” continued the Dandy. “Pshaw!” cried the Satirist, “he will never get rid of his habits, his hounds, or his horns.” “But he has an excellent heart,” said Candour. “Excellent,” repeated his lordship unthinkingly. “Excellent,” lisped the Fop effeminately. “Excellent,” exclaimed the Wit ironically. We took this opportunity to ask by what means so excellent a heart and so bright a genius had contrived to plunge him into these disasters. “He was my friend,” replied his lordship, “and a man of large property; but he was mad—quite mad. I remember his leaping a lame pony over a stone wall, simply because Sir Marmaduke bet him a dozen that he broke his neck in the attempt; and sending a bullet through a poor pedlar’s pack because Bob Darrell said the piece wouldn’t carry so far.” “Upon another occasion,” began the Exquisite, in his turn, “he jumped into a horse-pond after dinner, in order to prove it was not six feet deep; and overturned a bottle of eau-de-cologne in Lady Emilia’s face, to convince me that she was not painted. Poor fellow! The first experiment cost him a dress, and the second an heiress.” “I have heard,” resumed the Nobleman, “that he lost his election for —— by lampooning the mayor; and was dismissed from his place in the Treasury for challenging Lord C——.” “The last accounts I heard of him,” said Caustic, “told me that Lady Tarrel had forbid him her house for driving a sucking-pig into her drawing-room; and that young Hawthorn had run him through for boasting of favours from his sister!” “These gentlemen are really too severe,” remarked young Candour to us. “Not a jot,” we said to ourselves.
“This will be a terrible blow for his sister,” said a young man who had been listening in silence. “A fine girl—a very fine girl,” said the Exquisite. “And a fine fortune,” said the Nobleman; “the mines of Peru are nothing to her.” “Nothing at all,” observed the Sneerer; “she has no property there. But I would not have you caught, Harry; her income was good, but is dipped, horribly dipped. Guineas melt very fast when the cards are put by them.” “I was not aware Maria was a gambler,” said the young man, much alarmed. “Her brother is, sir,” replied his informant. The querist looked sorry, but yet relieved. We could see that he was not quite disinterested in his inquiries. “However,” resumed the young Cynic, “his profusion has at least obtained him many noble and wealthy friends.” He glanced at his hearers, and went on: “No one that knew him will hear of his distresses without being forward to relieve them. He will find interest for his money in the hearts of his friends.” Nobility took snuff; Foppery played with his watch-chain; Hypocrisy looked grave. There was long silence. We ventured to regret the misuse of natural talents, which, if properly directed, might have rendered their possessor useful to the interests of society and celebrated in the records of his country. Everyone stared, as if we were talking Hebrew. “Very true,” said his lordship, “he enjoys great talents. No man is a nicer judge of horseflesh. He beats me at billiards, and Harry at picquet; he’s a dead shot at a button, and can drive his curricle-wheels over a brace of sovereigns.” “Radicalism,” says Caustic, looking round for a laugh. “He is a great amateur of pictures,” observed the Exquisite, “and is allowed to be quite a connoisseur in beauty; but there,” simpering, “everyone must claim the privilege of judging for themselves.” “Upon my word,” said Candour, “you allow poor Charles too little. I have no doubt he has great courage—though, to be sure, there was a whisper that young Hawthorn found him rather shy; and I am convinced he is very generous, though I must confess that I have it from good authority that his younger brother was refused the loan of a hundred when Charles had pigeoned that fool of a nabob but the evening before. I would stake my existence that he is a man of unshaken honour—though, when he eased Lieutenant Hardy of his pay, there certainly was an awkward story about the transaction, which was never properly cleared up. I hope that when matters are properly investigated he will be liberated from all his embarrassments; though I am sorry to be compelled to believe that he has been spending double the amount of his income annually. But I trust that all will be adjusted. I have no doubt upon the subject.” “Nor I,” said Caustic. “We shall miss him prodigiously at the Club,” said the Dandy, with a slight shake of the head. “What a bore!” replied the Nobleman, with a long yawn. We could hardly venture to express compassion for a character so despicable. Our auditors, however, entertained very different opinions of right and wrong! “Poor fellow! he was much to be pitied: had done some very foolish things—to say the truth was a sad scoundrel—but then he was always so mad.” And having come unanimously to this decision, the conclave dispersed.
Charles gave an additional proof of his madness within a week after this discussion by swallowing laudanum. The verdict of the coroner’s inquest confirmed the judgment of his four friends. For our own parts we must pause before we give in to so dangerous a doctrine. Here is a man who has outraged the laws of honour, the ties of relationship, and the duties of religion: he appears before us in the triple character of a libertine, a swindler, and a suicide. Yet his follies, his vices, his crimes, are all palliated or even applauded by this specious façon de parler—”He was mad—quite mad!”