I do so wish to go back to 19th century England, a simpler time, when we all could believe in Progress and the Wisdom of the Queen. We would all shout “God save the Queen!” and not be some drug addled lead-singer of a punk band; or some smart-ass, ironic, atheist Cambridge wag doped up on laudanum, taking the piss.
I would have been a minor nobility, no serious responsibility, no five hundred year reputation to uphold, thank you very much; kindly and eccentric; handsome but not too dashing; prone to fits of melancholy that would only ingratiate me further to the young daughters of brutish, ignorant, peasant fathers.
More specifically, I want to live in George Eliot’s world. I want her to be my Goddess, to be constantly looked upon by a wise, benevolent, authorial presence that would indulge my waywardness and hypocrisy just long enough for me to be redeemed from my debauched but charming faults by a beautiful young Quaker.
I had originally planned to be one of the Russian gentry, a “Superfluous Man of Extraordinary Uselessness” (Title of my Autobiography?). Or perhaps one who retires to drink, defeated and demoralized by a useless civil service post, becoming so drunk one night that I fall upstairs to my death.
I would occasionally, but not too often, be romantically tormented by the apparent death of God — the receding faith and ebb of the Divine Creator:
“So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night” — Matthew Arnold.
Before being quickly and smugly comforted by my unconscious belief in a personal, benign deity (See George Eliot paragraph above).
I must retain a parson: a brash, energetic youngster fresh out of Cambridge, his head filled with all kinds of interesting nonsense such as the “Historical Jesus” and the theories of that impudent Darwin. I would be intelligent and forward thinking enough to agree with the upstart Darwin: yet blessedly too stupid to fully recognize the implications of his work.
I would be a shameless dilettante, an unrepentant generalist: political journalist/theologian/poet/astronomer/naturalist/gardener and bee-keeper with a penchant for fossil-hunting, orchid-growing, rabbit-breeding, butterfly hunting and a peculiar genius for whist. And of course a fox-hunter who would be enlightened enough not to kill them. I would only dart them with a sleeping potion brought to me from a friend and fellow nobleman who picked it up while traveling amongst the Awá people in the jungles of Brazil.
How could I live without a Victorian version of Jeeves? Valet, footman, accountant, cook, nutritionist, enabler, pianist (pimp?). A devilishly smart chap who would extricate me from all sorts of scrapes, mostly of a romantic, matrimonial (and occasionally existential) nature. I certainly would be progressive enough to be somewhat guilty about having more than one servant. Of course there would some young women in the house, maids and such - a few (several, many)? Young, beautiful, illiterate refugees from some barbaric, war torn, misogynist country that I would treat with the utmost respect, even tutoring them in reading and writing. Every afternoon would be devoted to tea, scones, and firm yet liberal pedagogy. There would never be anything physical of course (that would wait for Covent Garden, or my adventures at the Hellfire Club).
I would live in the country, yet have an apartment in London. I could smoke cigars and chat about at the Athenaeum club. Perhaps I would meet a young Sherlock, and we could go slumming together in opium dens. I could be his facilitator and muse during his depressive, drug abusing phases. His manic, crime solving phases I would leave to Watson: I feel they would be much too exhausting.
There I am now, strolling about Covent Garden; A diamond studded cane enhancing my Byronic limp (a result of my bout with dysentery in the jungles of central Africa); My slightly frostbitten hair (a result of my ill prepared, disastrous expedition to Antarctica); My fevered, brilliant, yet tortured and diseased mind — plus burning urination (a result of my too many visits to Madame Lavoisier’s “House of the Seven Veils”).
I would never be seen in London without my two greyhounds: “Disraeli” and “Gladstone”. Perhaps I would be one of the few Englishmen to love both of my hound’s namesakes, the two most brilliant Prime Ministers to ever grace the Isle. I love the conservative Disraeli for his elegance, caustic wit, his literary bent, his alleged ambiguous sexuality (ambiguity, the next best thing to hypocrisy)! And the liberal Gladstone for his rhetorical skill, budgetary acumen, his care of wayward women.
Ah Gladstone! Walking the streets of London, rescuing and rehabilitating London prostitutes, encouraging wayward women to change their ways. Much to the chagrin of his peers, he continued this practice decades later, even after he was elected Prime Minister. I would follow his example scrupulously. Yet some of my more scurrilous critics would allege that much of my behavior toward fallen women would create a bit of a revolving door.
I would age gracefully, but not too gracefully. Men would speak of me as Lord Byron once spoke of the Roman ruins of the Coliseum: “A noble wreck, magnificent in its ruin.”
Children? Of course, I love children! My illegitimate flock would be scattered throughout the Empire. I certainly do not want to be branded an imperialist: on being an Imperialist of Love, I am guilty as charged! The Sun would never set upon my tousled hair rascals. Each one would become a beacon of light in a savage, barbaric world, a newly established colony that would thrive with my nurture, to carry on the traditions of Empire.
In short, to completely savor the greatest British virtue of the 19th century: complete and unexcelled hypocrisy!