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کتاب The Virginians

کتاب The Virginians

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درباره کتاب The Virginians

Sequel to The History of Henry Esmond.

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The Virginians

William Makepeace Thackeray


Published: 1859
Categorie(s): Fiction, Historical

About Thackeray

Thackeray, an only child, was born in Calcutta, India, where his father, Richmond Thackeray (1 September 1781 – 13 September 1815), held the high rank of secretary to the board of revenue in the British East India Company. His mother, Anne Becher (1792–1864; second daughter of John Harman Becher, a writer for the East India Company, and his wife Harriet), married Richmond Thackeray on 13 October 1810 after being sent to India in 1809. She was sent abroad after being told that the man she loved, Henry Carmichael-Smyth, had died. This was not true, but her family wanted a better marriage for her than with Carmichael-Smyth, a military man. The truth was unexpectedly revealed in 1812, when Richmond Thackeray unwittingly invited to dinner the supposedly dead Carmichael-Smyth. Richmond Thackeray, born at South Mimms, went to India at the age of sixteen to assume his duties as writer. By 1804 he had fathered a daughter by a native mistress, the mother and daughter being named in his will. Such liaisons being common among gentlemen of the East India Company, it formed no bar to his courting and marrying Anne Becher. After Richmond's death, Henry Carmichael-Smyth married Anne in 1818 and they returned to England the next year. William had been sent to England earlier, at the age of five, with a short stopover at St. Helena where the imprisoned Napoleon was pointed out to him. He was educated at schools in Southampton and Chiswick and then at Charterhouse School, where he was a close friend of John Leech. He disliked Charterhouse, parodying it in his later fiction as "Slaughterhouse." Illness in his last year there (during which he reportedly grew to his full height of 6'3") postponed his matriculation at Trinity College, Cambridge, until February 1829. Never too keen on academic studies, he left the University in 1830. He travelled for some time on the continent, visiting Paris and Weimar, where he met Goethe. He returned to England and began to study law at the Middle Temple, but soon gave that up. On reaching twenty-one, he came into his inheritance, but he squandered much of it on gambling and by funding two unsuccessful newspapers, The National Standard and The Constitutional, which he had hoped to write for. He also lost a good part of his fortune in the collapse of two Indian banks. Forced to consider a profession to support himself, he turned first to art, which he studied in Paris, but he did not pursue it, except in later years as the illustrator of some of his own novels and other writings. Thackeray's years of semi-idleness ended after he met and, on 20 August 1836, married Isabella Gethin Shawe (1816-1893), second daughter of Matthew Shawe, a colonel, who had died after extraordinary service, primarily in India, and his wife, Isabella Creagh. The marriage appears to have been a very happy one, though beset by problems (an overbearing mother-in-law and sickness). Their three daughters were Anne Isabella (1837-1919), Jane (1837; died at 8 months) and Harriet Marian (1840-1875). He now began "writing for his life," as he put it, turning to journalism in an effort to support his young family. He primarily worked for Fraser's Magazine, a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued conservative publication, for which he produced art criticism, short fictional sketches, and two longer fictional works, Catherine and The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Later, through his connection to the illustrator John Leech, he began writing for the newly created Punch magazine, where he published The Snob Papers, later collected as The Book of Snobs. This work popularized the modern meaning of the word "snob." Meanwhile tragedy struck in his personal life as his wife succumbed to depression after the birth of their third child. Finding he could get no work done at home, he spent more and more time away, until September 1840, when he noticed how grave her condition was and, struck by guilt, he took his ailing wife to Ireland. During the crossing she threw herself from a water-closet into the sea (from which she was rescued). They fled back home after a four-week domestic battle with her mother. From November 1840 to February 1842 she was in and out of professional care, her condition waxing and waning. In the long run she deteriorated into a permanent state of detachment from reality, unaware of the world around her. Thackeray desperately sought cures for her, but nothing worked, and she ended up confined in a home near Paris, where she remained until 1893, outliving her husband by thirty years. After his wife's illness, Thackeray became a de facto widower, never establishing another permanent relationship. He did pursue other women, in particular Mrs. Jane Brookfield and Sally Baxter. In 1851 Mr. Brookfield barred Thackeray from further visits to or correspondence with Jane, while Baxter, an American twenty years his junior whom he met in New York City in 1852, married another man in 1855. In the early 1840s, Thackeray had some success with two travel books, The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book. Later in the decade, he achieved some notoriety with his Snob Papers, but the work that really established his fame was the novel Vanity Fair, which first appeared in serialized installments beginning in January 1847. Even before Vanity Fair completed its serial run, Thackeray had become a celebrity, sought after by the very lords and ladies he satirized and hailed as the equal of Dickens. He remained "at the top of the tree," as he put it, for the remaining decade and a half of his life, producing several large novels, notably Pendennis, The Newcomes, and The History of Henry Esmond, despite various illnesses, including a near fatal one that struck him in 1849 in the middle of writing Pendennis. He twice visited the United States on lecture tours during this period, and there fell in love with a young American girl, Sally Baxter. Thackeray also gave lectures in London, on the English humourists of the eighteenth century, and on the first four Hanoverian monarchs, the latter series being published in book form as The Four Georges. In Oxford, he stood unsuccessfully as an independent for Parliament. He was narrowly beaten by Cardwell (1070 votes, against 1005 for Thackeray). In 1860, Thackeray became editor of the newly established Cornhill Magazine, but was never comfortable as an editor, preferring to contribute to the magazine as a columnist, producing his Roundabout Papers for it. His health worsened during the 1850s and he was plagued by the recurring stricture of the urethra that laid him up for days at a time. He also felt he had lost much of his creative impetus. He worsened matters by over-eating and drinking and avoiding exercise, though he enjoyed horseback riding and kept a horse. On 23 December 1863, after returning from dining out and before dressing for bed, Thackeray suffered a stroke and was found dead on his bed in the morning. His death at the age of fifty-three was entirely unexpected by his family, friends, and reading public. An estimated 7000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens. He was buried on 29 December at Kensal Green Cemetery, and a memorial bust sculpted by Marochetti can be found in Westminster Abbey. Source: Wikipedia

Chapter 1 In which one of the Virginians visits home

On the library wall of one of the most famous writers of America, there hang two crossed swords, which his relatives wore in the great War of Independence. The one sword was gallantly drawn in the service of the king, the other was the weapon of a brave and honoured republican soldier. The possessor of the harmless trophy has earned for himself a name alike honoured in his ancestors' country and his own, where genius such as his has always a peaceful welcome.

The ensuing history reminds me of yonder swords in the historian's study at Boston. In the Revolutionary War, the subjects of this story, natives of America, and children of the Old Dominion, found themselves engaged on different sides in the quarrel, coming together peaceably at its conclusion, as brethren should, their love ever having materially diminished, however angrily the contest divided them. The colonel in scarlet, and the general in blue and buff, hang side by side in the wainscoted parlour of the Warringtons, in England, where a descendant of one of the brothers has shown their portraits to me, with many of the letters which they wrote, and the books and papers which belonged to them. In the Warrington family, and to distinguish them from other personages of that respectable race, these effigies have always gone by the name of "The Virginians"; by which name their memoirs are christened.

They both of them passed much time in Europe. They lived just on the verge of that Old World from which we are drifting away so swiftly. They were familiar with many varieties of men and fortune. Their lot brought them into contact with personages of whom we read only in books, who seem alive, as I read in the Virginians' letters regarding them, whose voices I almost fancy I hear, as I read the yellow pages written scores of years since, blotted with the boyish tears of disappointed passion, dutifully despatched after famous balls and ceremonies of the grand Old World, scribbled by camp-fires, or out of prison; nay, there is one that has a bullet through it, and of which a greater portion of the text is blotted out with the blood of the bearer.

These letters had probably never been preserved, but for the affectionate thrift of one person, to whom they never failed in their dutiful correspondence. Their mother kept all her sons' letters, from the very first, in which Henry, the younger of the twins, sends his love to his brother, then ill of a sprain at his grandfather's house of Castlewood, in Virginia, and thanks his grandpapa for a horse which he rides with his tutor, down to the last, "from my beloved son," which reached her but a few hours before her death. The venerable lady never visited Europe, save once with her parents in the reign of George the Second; took refuge in Richmond when the house of Castlewood was burned down during the war; and was called Madam Esmond ever after that event; never caring much for the name or family of Warrington, which she held in very slight estimation as compared to her own.

The letters of the Virginians, as the reader will presently see, from specimens to be shown to him, are by no means full. They are hints rather than descriptions—indications and outlines chiefly: it may be, that the present writer has mistaken the forms, and filled in the colour wrongly: but, poring over the documents, I have tried to imagine the situation of the writer, where he was, and by what persons surrounded. I have drawn the figures as I fancied they were; set down conversations as I think I might have heard them; and so, to the best of my ability, endeavoured to revivify the bygone times and people. With what success the task has been accomplished, with what profit or amusement to himself, the kind reader will please to determine.

One summer morning in the year 1756, and in the reign of his Majesty King George the Second, the Young Rachel, Virginian ship, Edward Franks master, came up the Avon river on her happy return from her annual voyage to the Potomac. She proceeded to Bristol with the tide, and moored in the stream as near as possible to Trail's wharf, to which she was consigned. Mr. Trail, her part owner, who could survey his ship from his counting-house windows, straightway took boat and came up her side. The owner of the Young Rachel, a large grave man in his own hair, and of a demure aspect, gave the hand of welcome to Captain Franks, who stood on his deck, and congratulated the captain upon the speedy and fortunate voyage which he had made. And, remarking that we ought to be thankful to Heaven for its mercies, he proceeded presently to business by asking particulars relative to cargo and passengers.

Franks was a pleasant man, who loved a joke. "We have," says he, "but yonder ugly negro boy, who is fetching the trunks, and a passenger who has the state cabin to himself."

Mr. Trail looked as if he would have preferred more mercies from Heaven. "Confound you, Franks, and your luck! The Duke William, which came in last week, brought fourteen, and she is not half of our tonnage."

"And this passenger, who has the whole cabin, don't pay nothin'," continued the Captain. "Swear now, it will do you good, Mr. Trail, indeed it will. I have tried the medicine."

"A passenger take the whole cabin and not pay? Gracious mercy, are you a fool, Captain Franks?"

"Ask the passenger himself, for here he comes." And, as the master spoke, a young man of some nineteen years of age came up the hatchway. He had a cloak and a sword under his arm, and was dressed in deep mourning, and called out, "Gumbo, you idiot, why don't you fetch the baggage out of the cabin? Well, shipmate, our journey is ended. You will see all the little folks to-night whom you have been talking about. Give my love to Polly, and Betty, and Little Tommy; not forgetting my duty to Mrs. Franks. I thought, yesterday, the voyage would never be done, and now I am almost sorry it is over. That little berth in my cabin looks very comfortable now I am going to leave it."

Mr. Trail scowled at the young passenger who had paid no money for his passage. He scarcely nodded his head to the stranger, when Captain Franks said, "This here gentleman is Mr. Trail, sir, whose name you have a-heerd of."

"It's pretty well known in Bristol, sir," says Mr. Trail, majestically.

"And this is Mr. Warrington, Madam Esmond Warrington's son, of Castlewood," continued the Captain.

The British merchant's hat was instantly off his head, and the owner of the beaver was making a prodigious number of bows as if a crown prince were before him.

"Gracious powers, Mr. Warrington! This is a delight, indeed! What a crowning mercy that your voyage should have been so prosperous! You must have my boat to go on shore. Let me cordially and respectfully welcome you to England: let me shake your hand as the son of my benefactress and patroness, Mrs. Esmond Warrington, whose name is known and honoured on Bristol 'Change, I warrant you. Isn't it, Franks?"

"There's no sweeter tobacco comes from Virginia, and no better brand than the Three Castles," says Mr. Franks, drawing a great brass tobacco-box from his pocket, and thrusting a quid into his jolly mouth. "You don't know what a comfort it is, sir! you'll take to it, bless you, as you grow older. Won't he, Mr. Trail? I wish you had ten shiploads of it instead of one. You might have ten shiploads: I've told Madam Esmond so; I've rode over her plantation; she treats me like a lord when I go to the house; she don't grudge me the best of wine, or keep me cooling my heels in the counting-room as some folks does" (with a look at Mr. Trail). "She is a real born lady, she is; and might have a thousand hogsheads as easy as her hundreds, if there were but hands enough."

"I have lately engaged in the Guinea trade, and could supply her ladyship with any number of healthy young negroes before next fall," said Mr. Trail, obsequiously.

"We are averse to the purchase of negroes from Africa," said the young gentleman, coldly. "My grandfather and my mother have always objected to it, and I do not like to think of selling or buying the poor wretches."

"It is for their good, my dear young sir! for their temporal and their spiritual good!" cried Mr. Trail. "And we purchase the poor creatures only for their benefit; let me talk this matter over with you at my own house. I can introduce you to a happy home, a Christian family, and a British merchant's honest fare. Can't I, Captain Franks?"

"Can't say," growled the Captain. "Never asked me to take bite or sup at your table. Asked me to psalm-singing once, and to hear Mr. Ward preach: don't care for them sort of entertainments."

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