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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 237

CHAPTER VII.

VARIOUS legacies have been left me in my life—pictures, trinkets, ornaments and money. Only one has been paid over to me. This was the legacy left me by one who had been the very heart of kindness—the truest of all true friends to those who trusted him; and it came through the hands of her who is the soul of honour, as loyal as he had been faithful and with generosity and sympathy to match his. Now, however, I received a legacy which was duly paid over and delivered, no one disputing the claim. This was a young girl of eighteen, left to my charge by her page: 238 father, my brother-in-law, who thought I would do well for my dead sister's only child, and that I would supply his place, at least so far as tenderness and paternal consideration went. Thus my niece, Claudia Hamilton, came to me to be my daughter, and the order of my life was changed to receive her.

I do not want to be hyperbolic, but I do not know the words which would be too highly coloured to express this sweet child's charm. Throughout my long life I have never seen anyone more thoroughly and essentially courteous in mind than she. I cannot express it differently. Obedient, gentle, steadfast, unselfish, Claudia was a typical woman of the best kind—thinking of others more than of herself, and in honour preferring one another to the letter. But she had nothing of the oppressiveness belonging to conscious unselfishness offering itself for admiration. She did not make you page: 239 feel, as some do, that she was making this sacrifice for your sake, foregoing this personal pleasure, undertaking this burdensome office, all for your gain and delight; but she did everything with that unconscious sincerity which gives additional value to an unselfish action—she radiated thought and consideration, love and attention, as the sun radiates heat or the earth sends up the dew. I do not know the moral faults she had. She must have had some; but either they were so superficial they got brushed away in a passing breath, or so deeply buried underneath her virtues they never came to the surface at all.

Graceful and artistic, she was by no means markedly intellectual. She had excellent taste and as excellent judgment. But she had a certain slowness of thought which grew to be one of her charms to me. It was so pretty to see her soft face full of perplexity and doubt, and to hear her beg for a little time of delay, wherein she might page: 240 think over a thing and make up her mind about matters which most people would have settled off-hand and decided on the instant—that I preferred this brooding, slow-paced reflectiveness to its antithetical sharpness. More especially as, when she had thought over a choice, a situation, and finally made up her mental packet, she almost always came to a just conclusion and showed a rather rare amount of reasonableness and balance. But she was undeniably slow in the process. Where Kate Pender had been like the sharpened point of a needle, Claudia Hamilton was as a smooth and rounded pearl. And after the needle-point, that smooth, fair pearl was decidedly a relief.

She was pretty too; and that went for something. She had hair and eyes which would have been a fair stock-in-trade for a professional beauty. The sun had entangled itself in the one; the others were soft as velvet—like great brown moths, sleepy, tender, page: 241 almost pathetic in their patient quietness. Her hands and arms were absolutely perfect; and her figure was slight and singularly graceful in its lines. So pretty, so well-bred, so charming in her character, so sweet in her temper—she was a prize; and when I had fully learned the true nature of my latest legacy, I was well content with the bequest.

This child gave me back my home. I took a pleasant house, and engaged as her chaperon a well-mannered, well-educated lady, as frigid as an iceberg so far as men were concerned, but sympathetic and maternal enough to girls. As I was married, she could not have any designs on me; and even if I had been a bachelor, she would have had none. So we made a delightful home of it—we three units coming together in this casual way and soon welding into a compact and harmonious whole. And for four years all went merry as a wedding-bell. There was page: 242 not a hitch anywhere; not a cross no heavier than a shred of pith; not a stumbling-block no bigger than a straw. We got on together in the perfect accord proper to people whose intimacy never degenerated into familiarity, and who respected themselves too much not to respect one another.

Those four years were the happiest of my life—the only perfect years when I was free from clouds or storms. I had as my daily companion this dear child whom I loved like my daughter; and her chaperon, Mrs. Olly, was all that she should have been—quiet, unobtrusive, well-bred, high-principled, and of good influence in things purely feminine over Claudia. Our joint moneys—for my niece had her own fortune—made a home of sufficient luxury for all moderate wishes; and I was both happy and proud when I introduced my pretty girl to my friends as some one claiming all men's admiration. For her sake I once page: 243 more took up the lapsed habits of society, and went out into the world I had so long abandoned. I liked to see how much she was admired, and how prettily she bore herself among the youths and men who fluttered round her, and singed their wings to no purpose save their own pain. She was fond of admiration to a certain extent, just as she was coquettish in her dress to a certain extent; and I was content that it should be so. I would not have wished her other than she was—of her age, and perfect in that; but not unnatural either in self-abnegation or asceticism. We went a great deal abroad, where she was besieged with offers of marriage from men who were in love with her beauty truly, but to whom her fortune—magnified by report—had also something to say in the matter. But no one would do—no one exactly fitted; and she kept her heart whole and her fancy free and did not wish for a change. She was so happy as page: 244 she was, she used to say with her sweet half-tremulous smile, she did not wish to turn down the present page. And sometimes she added that she did not think any one would care for her so much as I did. She was about right there. For, my love had idealized her, and I saw in her only her angel—her highest, best and flawless self; and even affectionate husbands do not often do this with their wives. It takes the distance which lies between a parent and a child to give this power; standing close, shoulder to shoulder and on an equal height, makes it almost impossible. And so far the old saying holds true: ‘It is better to be an old man's darling than a young man's slave.’

In an evil hour—wretch that I am to say so!—there was brought to our house a young barrister, Launcelot Haseltine, already beginning to be favourably known in his profession. And with his advent the web of peace which my sweet Lady of Shalott page: 245 had been hitherto content to weave floated wide—the mirror through which she had seen the world of love at second-hand cracked—and she found her fate and sealed my sorrow.

I had nothing to say against the marriage. It was all lucent and lustrous; and if Claudia wished it, what was I that I should object? The end of all things dear and pleasant to me had to come. The enchanted castle of my content had to fall; and I had once more before me the loneliness which this quasi-daughterhood had dispelled.

Mr. Haseltine received a good appointment in India, and I looked into my Claudia's pale face for the last time on board the steamer which in her bore away all my joy.

I tried hard to be grateful for what had been, and not to sour the past by lamentations in the present; to be cheerful and to take an active interest in things and page: 246 people as I had done when my heart was at rest and I was happy in my home. But human nature was too strong for me; and I had again the old conflict to go through—again to fight with my wild-beasts of sorrow and disappointment and loss, till I had conquered them—unless I would be conquered by them.

The time was very dreary, very sad. I thought that all love had died out for the rest of the years I had to live. I promised myself I would have no more enthusiasms, make no more close friendships, open my inner heart to no ideal for the future;—never again—never again! Love had ever brought me pain in excess of joy; and henceforward I would live on the broad commonland of friendships that were kindly, refreshing, sustaining, but not exclusive to me; friendships where I was one among others, and where I made numbers stand in stead of specialities. I would have no more private gardens cultivated with my heart's page: 247 blood, to see them laid waste by disappointment, separation, death.

What supreme folly it was to put one's happiness into the power of others—to hang one's peace like a jewel round another's neck! The wise man keeps his own possessions sure. It is only lunatics who scatter their treasures far and wide among those who, by the law of their own life, cannot guard them. And what was I but a lunatic, with this insatiable need of loving—this inexhaustible power of giving? Why had I ever let this dear child creep so far into my heart, so that when the appointed end of a girl such as she came, as come it must, I should suffer as I did? For indeed her loss was quite as severe a trial to me as the break-up of my married life had been, when I had had to begin again the struggle proper to youth, without the hope, the energy, the unworn nerves of youth, and further handicapped by the sense of disappointment and illusion. Truly I was page: 248 an unlucky investor of affection!—but the strange law of loss—the strange ruling of fate that I should not root—had never pressed so hardly on me as now. For long months I was spiritually sick, so that sometimes I despaired of my own recovery.

By degrees, however, the old recuperative force made itself felt, and my vigorous vitality reasserted itself. I recovered my moral tone. My power of hope and love came back to me; and life was not over for me. Struck down again and again as I had been, I was not conquered; and I should continue the fight till yet later in the evening. The sun was westering rapidly, but daylight still remained. The present had its flowers, the future might bear its fruits; and neither I nor nature was exhausted. My wounds healed as they had healed before, and I seemed to wake as from sleep and to bestir myself after. It was impossible for me to live this self-centred kind of existence— page: 249 this retracted, mutilated moral life, and not put out my feelers for that touch of my kind which is to my soul what breath is to my body.

The first person who roused me out of the emotional lethargy into which I had fallen was a mere boy—the youngest of all who had ever interested me. When I first saw him, he was only seventeen. When I came to know him well, and love him, he was just two years older.

I suppose my love for my step-children had roused into full activity that parental instinct which most men have in a greater or less degree. For since the break-up of my home, all my lovers—if the word may be allowed me—had been young creatures who had been to me like my sons or my daughters. My interest in them had been of a more tender, less exacting and less reciprocal kind than for men and women of my own standing. That is, it had been purely a paternal interest, such as is proper page: 250 to a man of my age when selfhood has contracted to a mere speck in one's horizon, and the future of the son has taken all the space which one's own possibilities and desires once filled.

It did not need an abnormal amount of the paternal instinct to be interested in Arthur Ronalds. The difficulty would have been to have passed him by as one just of the ordinary kind—no more beautiful and no less faulty than the rest of the world. Far from being thus just of the ordinary kind, the boy stood out as something unapproachable. His intellect was of the finest quality. His head and face were curiously like the bust of the young Augustus. His character combined the strength of a man with the purity of a woman. He was essentially a measure of the highest standard to which humanity can attain under its present conditions. Quick to learn; accurate in memory; with a critical faculty not often found in an intelligence even more mature than his, nor with page: 251 an experience far wider; full of poetic fancies and at the same time philosophic and constructive to a remarkable degree; innocent of evil in his own person, but already a rationalist in the calm way in which he could look on human life as it is—analyze passions and accept results—examine motives, detect error, and assign beliefs and practices to their causes;—his youth, full of charm as it was, seemed to promise a manhood of surpassing brilliancy and power. In him I saw one of the world's future leaders of thought and epoch-makers in the history of mental evolution. His name would be immortal, for his work would be eternal; and in the long vista of ages yet to come I saw the light of his mind as an illuminating power equal to that of Aristotle and Plato, of Shakespeare and Newton, of Galileo and Darwin.

We soon became great friends; and I had but one regret, that I had not been his father—but one fear, the delicacy page: 252 of his health. His brain had developed at the expense of his physique; and the consequence was a certain constitutional delicacy which gave those who loved him cause to doubt and dread. At nineteen, to possess the learning and the critical acumen of a man of twice that age means corresponding loss somewhere. The law of compensation is inexorable, like all the other laws of nature, and a weighted balance necessitates a kicked beam. Meanwhile, Arthur enjoyed life in his own way, though that way was not according to the robust athleticism dear to the average youth. And he, too, had his romances, his dreams, his unacted poems, like any other.

His great dream of all was the kind of life that he would make for himself, and the good that he would do, when he should come of age and be in all things his own master. He was heir to ten thousand a year; and ten thousand a year seems like ten millions to the young—more especially page: 253 when they spend nine thousand five hundred in projects, and content themselves with the remainder for their own modest share. Arthur did not often speak of his future wealth. When he did, it was for the foundation of Chairs and Professorships, for the advancement of science and philosophy, for the endowment of research, which he sketched out as his intended contribution to the great sum of the general good. To this he added the maintenance of those families of scientific men which had been left in poverty by the premature death of the breadwinner.

He was a nineteenth-century St. Paul, substituting philosophy for theology, and the love of humanity for faith in Christ. A grand and noble life lay like a pathway of light before him. In him I saw that ideal self which lives in each of us—a man purged of all my special faults, superior to all my weaknesses, and strong enough to consolidate the hopes and aspirations which had helped me to live but which I had page: 254 done so little to realize. An epitome of all humanity as is each individual, potentialities for good are as real as those for evil; and the master in our own special line of thought or being is our translated self, perfected and endowed.

This is especially true of the young when judged by the old. We have reached our limit and fallen short of our aim. But they are as yet unexhausted. Who knows what hidden wealth lies within the years? Who can measure the possibilities of the future? Torch-bearers as they are, we see them seize the light which we have done our best to carry so far—but they will bear it farther. They will go beyond our halting-place—and here again we shall be the dead selves from which they will rise to higher things. This, after all, is the great link and continuity of human society—the essential meaning of paternity, which in its turn is self-renovation—personal resuscitation.

There was no point of speculative opinion page: 255 on which Arthur and I differed, save that he was perhaps more a necessitarian than I, and less tender to the faith which he had not been taught to accept. He had none of the old memories, the sympathetic sentiment of childhood, to blunt the keen edge of criticism. And, never having believed, for his own part, either in the divinity of Christ or the inspiration of the Bible, he was unable to put himself in the position of those who had believed, or did yet believe. Save for such portions of the philosophy as seemed to him more beautiful, more true, the whole scheme of Christianity ranked no higher with him than that of Hindùism or the Greek Pantheon; and it fell below the dignity of Buddhism and the strength of Mohammedanism.

The one wonder of his intercourse with me was that there should have ever been the time when I had believed in the creation of the world in six days, in the Incarnation, the Atonement, the miracles, page: 256 and the devil; or that I should have hesitated as to my choice when I came to the age of reason. How could anyone with a robust intellect, he used to say, consent to be bound by these cobwebs which one vigorous effort of the reasoning faculty could brush away for ever? How could such a man as I have believed that once upon a time, just as in the fairy-tales, humanity was different from what it is now, save as a matter of relative development? or that things took place eighteen hundred years ago which would be absolutely impossible to-day? Of all follies, this belief in the solution of continuity seemed to him the most foolish; and he did not understand how, at seventeen—his own age when I first knew him—I had ever troubled myself twice about it.

If this absolute negation ab initio so far narrowed his intellectual sympathies, it cleared the groundwork of his thoughts, and saved him from that exhaustion which page: 257 both accompanies and follows our struggles to break loose from educational trammels. I could appreciate by my own mental history the value of this stored and conserved energy, and by my own loss, judge of the greater length of the stride it allowed and the time it saved. And if I sometimes wished that Arthur had at one time realized the wonderful feeling of pity for the human sufferings of the man Christ Jesus, reverence for His teaching, adoration of Him as God eternal, and trust in Him as the Saviour of mankind, which makes the poetry of Christianity and is a perpetual possession of memory, I balanced the gain against the loss, and felt that it was better as it was for him and for the world he was to influence.

After I had known Arthur Ronalds for some time, I became acquainted with his aunt, Mrs. Barry. She was the elder sister of his mother, and worthy to have in her veins some of the same blood as ran in his. page: 258 At that time I could say nothing more honourable of her. Before I knew her as she was—before she became absolute in my own life—she was relatively of interest and importance because of her relationship with Arthur. And I carried to her both praise and glory as the reflection of my love for him. She was very fond of her marvellous young nephew—considerably fonder indeed, than was his own mother, who would have been better content with a more ordinary son. Having no children of her own and being essentially maternal in her nature—being besides, broad in her philosophy and of an intellectual development capable of understanding his—this boy had taken with Mrs. Barry the place of an adopted son; and she was really more to him of a mother than was anyone else. She had been abroad when I had first known Arthur; which was the reason why I had not seen her until I had become the lad's nearest male friend. But I had heard of her from him, and I was page: 259 prepared to find her the more than admirable—the more than lovable—person she was.

I did not much care for his mother, Mrs. Ronalds. She was a slight and flimsy kind of fashionable butterfly who put her salvation in material things, and cared for brains only when they gave artistic results which made her appear more profound than she was. To her way of thinking, Arthur was a ‘sport’ more curious than beautiful, and she used often to wonder how she had borne a child so unlike herself in all things. His father had been dead for many years; and what the boy was, was due partly to himself and partly to his tutor, a man of greater breadth of thought and deeper scientific attainments than Mrs. Ronalds knew, or could have understood had she known. However, here he was—in his mother's eyes a strange production of nature, an ugly duckling of no special value in the farm-yard nor drawing- page: 260 room. That he was a wild and noble swan, who would one day soar up to the skies, she did not believe. He was only ‘odd’ and ‘unlike other boys’ to her; and she knew no better commentary than: ‘It is a pity he is so extraordinary!’

She was, however, both good-natured and indifferent, so that she did not worry herself nor others. As Arthur was too delicate to go to school, he must be kept at home. Wherefore she gave him this tutor who had been recommended by his guardian; and when she had done this, and furnished and arranged his special set of rooms according to her own ideas, she troubled herself no more about things she could neither alter nor control. For how could she, a mere woman, dive into the mysteries of Latin or Greek, mathematics, logic, philosophy, history, to verify what she did not understand, and make sure that Mr. Satterthwaite was teaching what she would approve? It was either trust or intelligent page: 261 interference; and as she could not give the latter, she had sense enough to accord the former, and to abandon the appearance of command with the reality of responsibility. In this way, then, it came about that young Arthur had been moulded into such a widely different form from that which he had inherited. His exceptional powers had received exceptional treatment; and the result was, a lad who, it was no exaggeration to say, promised to be one of the kings of men in the world of thought, when his adolescence should be passed and his maturity fairly reached.

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