Herbert Fitzgerald was by no means a selfish man. As regarded himself, he could have met ruin in the face with more equanimity than most young men so circumstanced. The gilt of the world had not eaten into his soul; his heart was not as yet wedded to the splendour of pinchbeck.
Byron, then, seems to me a poet distinctly of the second class, and not even of the best kind of second, inasmuch as his greatness is chiefly derived from a sort of parody, a sort of imitation, of the qualities of the first. His verse is to the greatest poetry what melodrama is to tragedy, what plaster is to marble, what pinchbeck is to gold.
It is not a generation since this was the normal attitude of society towards its nouveaux riches and Brummagem jewelry; but time moves fast in these later days, and national sentiments change as quickly as national fashions. We are in the humor to rehabilitate all things, and pinchbeck has now its turn with the rest.
Vanity has a right and a wrong side; the right side is stupid, it is the negro with his glass beads; the wrong side is foolish, it is the philosopher with his rags. I weep over the one and I laugh over the other. What are called honors and dignities, and even dignity and honor, are generally of pinchbeck. Kings make playthings of human pride.
"It looked," he said, "as well as if it were real gold from Ophir." Indeed, it would be odd if it should not, being formed in fact of that very metal; but, to do this honest creature justice, I believe the knowledge of its real value would not enhance his sense of my father's kindness, supposing it, as he does, to be pinchbeck gilded.
The one was a man of about fifty years of age, and in a squalid and wretched garb, which was yet relieved by an affectation of ill-assorted finery. A silk handkerchief, which boasted the ornament of a large brooch of false stones, was twisted jauntily round a muscular but meagre throat; his tattered breeches were also decorated by buckles, one of pinchbeck, and one of steel.
Not only heralds and genealogists, but every one who has the historic sense, must have felt an emotion of regret when the splendid title of twenty-third Baron Dacre was merged by Mr. Speaker Brand in the pinchbeck dignity of first Viscount Hampden. After viscounts, barons.
He had already taken in, from under his hat, the single gas-jet lighting up its collection of pinchbeck jewelry, watches, revolvers, satin shoes, fans, and other belongings of the unfortunate, and after peering up and down the street, he slipped in noiselessly, his countenance wearing that peculiar, shame-faced expression common to gentlemen on similar missions.
This is the cause of all the tags and streamers, the bits of ribbon here and flying ends of laces there, the puffed-out chignons, and the trailing curls cut off some dead girl's head, wherewith the modern Englishwoman delights to make herself hideous. It is pinchbeck throughout.
Mabel had been his ideal of women, his fair and peerless queen, and it pained him as it has pained unsuccessful lovers before to think that she could contentedly accept pinchbeck for gold. It was inconsistent on his part, since he had sacrificed much for the very object of concealing from her the baseness of Mark's metal. He forgot, too, the alchemy of love.