Returning to Mr Pontifex, whether he liked what he believed to be the masterpieces of Greek and Italian art or no he brought back some copies by Italian artists, which I have no doubt he satisfied himself would bear the strictest examination with the originals. Two of these copies fell to Theobald’s share on the division of his father’s furniture, and I have often seen them at Battersby on my visits to Theobald and his wife. The one was a Madonna by Sassoferrato with a blue hood over her head which threw it half into shadow. The other was a Magdalen by Carlo Dolci with a very fine head of hair and a marble vase in her hands. When I was a young man I used to think these pictures were beautiful, but with each successive visit to Battersby I got to dislike them more and more and to see “George Pontifex” written all over both of them. In the end I ventured after a tentative fashion to blow on them a little, but Theobald and his wife were up in arms at once. They did not like their father and father-in-law, but there could be no question about his power and general ability, nor about his having been a man of consummate taste both in literature and art—indeed the diary he kept during his foreign tour was enough to prove this. With one more short extract I will leave this diary and proceed with my story. During his stay in Florence Mr Pontifex wrote: “I have just seen the Grand Duke and his family pass by in two carriages and six, but little more notice is taken of them than if I, who am utterly unknown here, were to pass by.” I don’t think that he half believed in his being utterly unknown in Florence or anywhere else!
Fortune, we are told, is a blind and fickle foster-mother, who showers her gifts at random upon her nurslings. But we do her a grave injustice if we believe such an accusation. Trace a man’s career from his cradle to his grave and mark how Fortune has treated him. You will find that when he is once dead she can for the most part be vindicated from the charge of any but very superficial fickleness. Her blindness is the merest fable; she can espy her favourites long before they are born. We are as days and have had our parents for our yesterdays, but through all the fair weather of a clear parental sky the eye of Fortune can discern the coming storm, and she laughs as she places her favourites it may be in a London alley or those whom she is resolved to ruin in kings’ palaces. Seldom does she relent towards those whom she has suckled unkindly and seldom does she completely fail a favoured nursling.
Was George Pontifex one of Fortune’s favoured nurslings or not? On the whole I should say that he was not, for he did not consider himself so; he was too religious to consider Fortune a deity at all; he took whatever she gave and never thanked her, being firmly convinced that whatever he got to his own advantage was of his own getting. And so it was, after Fortune had made him able to get it.