Birds when they leave the nest carry, I presume, their hearts with them; not a few humans leave their hearts behind them--too often, alas! to be sent for afterward. The whole round of the world, many a cloud-rack on the ridge of it, and many a mist on the top of that, rises between them and the eyes and hearts which gave their very life that they might live. Some as they approach middle age, some only when they are old, wake up to understand that they have parents. To some the perception comes with their children; to others with the pang of seeing them walk away light-hearted out into the world, as they themselves turned their backs on their parents: they had been all their own, and now they have done with them! Less or more, have we not all thus taken our journey into a far country? But many a man of sixty is more of a son to the father gone from the earth, than he was while under his roof. What a disintegrated mass were the world, what a lump of half-baked brick, if death were indeed the end of affection! if there were no chance more of setting right what was so wrong in the loveliest relations! How gladly would many a son who once thought it a weariness to serve his parents, minister now to their lightest need! and in the boundless eternity is there no help?
Walter was not a prodigal; he was a well-behaved youth. He was only proud, only thought much of himself; was only pharisaical, not hypocritical; was only neglectful of those nearest him, always polite to those comparatively nothing to him! Compassionate and generous to necessity, he let his father and his sister-cousin starve for the only real food a man can give, that is, himself. As to him who thought his very thoughts into him, he heeded him not at all, or mocked him by merest ceremony. There are who refuse God the draught of water He desires, on the ground that their vessel is not fit for Him to drink
from: Walter thought his too good to fill with the water fit for God to
He had the feeling, far from worded, not even formed, but certainly in him, that he was a superior man to his father. But it is a fundamental necessity of the kingdom of heaven, impossible as it must seem to all outside it, that each shall count other better than himself; it is the natural condition of the man God made, in relation to the other men God has made. Man is made, not to contemplate himself, but to behold in others the beauty of the Father. A man who lives to meditate upon and worship himself, is in the slime of hell. Walter knew his father a reading man, but because he had not been to a university, placed no value on his reading. Yet this father was a man who had intercourse with high countries, intercourse in which his son would not have perceived the presence of an idea.
In like manner, Richard's carriage of mind, and the expression of the same in his modes and behavior, must have been far other than objectionable to the ushers of those high countries; his was a certain quiet, simply, direct way, reminding one of Nathanael, in whom was no guile. In another man Walter would have called it bucolic; in his father he shut his eyes to it as well as he could, and was ashamed of it. He would scarcely, in his circle, be regarded as a gentleman! he would look odd! He therefore had not encouraged the idea of his coming to see him. He was not satisfied with the father by whom the Father of fathers had sent him into the world! But Richard was the truest of gentlemen even in his outward carriage, for he was not only courteous and humble, but that rare thing--natural; and the natural, be it old as the Greek, must be beautiful. The natural dwells deep, and is not the careless, any more than the studied or assumed.
Walter loved his father, but the root of his love did not go deep enough to send aloft a fine flower: deep in is high out. He seldom wrote, and wrote briefly. He did not make a confidant of his father. He did not even tell him what he was doing, or what he hoped to do. He might mention a success, but of hopes, fears, aspirations, or defeats, or thoughts or desires, he said nothing. As to his theories, he never imagined his father entering into such things as occupied his mind! The ordinary young man takes it for granted that he and the world are far ahead of "the governor;" the father may have left behind him, as nebulae sinking below the horizon of youth, questions the world is but just waking to put.
The blame, however, may lie in part at the parent's door. The hearts of the fathers need turning to the children, as much as the hearts of the children need turning to the fathers. Few men open up to their children; and where a man does not, the schism, the separation begins with him, for all his love be deep and true. That it is unmanly to show one's feelings, is a superstition prevalent with all English-speaking people. Now, wherever feeling means weakness, falsehood, or excitement, it ought not merely not be shown, but not to exist; but for a man to hide from his son his loving and his loathing, is to refuse him the divinest fashion of teaching. Richard read the best things, and loved best the best writers: never once had he read a poem with his son, or talked to him about any poet! If Walter had even suspected his father's insight into certain things, he would have loved him more. Closely bound as they were, neither knew the other. Each would have been astonished at what he might have found in the other. The father might have discovered many handles by which to lay hold of his son; the son might have seen the lamp bright in his father's chamber which he was but trimming in his.