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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Dr. Morgan's Tale


Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 38


                              The infinitude
Of passions, loves, and hates man pampers till his mood
Becomes himself; and, all the more intense,
So much the more grotesque.--Browning.

"Come down and dine with me, and let us talk this out."

The two, who stepped into the brougham of the elder man, were eminent surgeons, men of the world, familiar with life and death under many conditions. Both were evidently under a cloud, and they drove through the London streets without exchanging a word.

They had been engaged in a post-mortem examination of an unusually painful character. An overdose of laudanum, presumably taken with intent to kill--sad enough, and common enough, that; and each of these men knew of many poor souls who had chosen thus "to leave the warm precincts of the cheerful day."

"Well, but, why in the world did he do it? It's uncomfortable. You feel as if you were walking on egg shells. Why did the man do it, I want to know?"

"Did you know much of poor Bulmer?"

"Know him? Well, yes, and no. I've dined at his house and that sort of thing: pleasant fellow I always thought him--cultivated, with the manners of a gentleman; resources in himself, too; scientific and literary tastes, and leisure and means to gratify them; and then, what a sweet woman poor Mrs. Bulmer is! and those lovely children! What in the world could the poor fellow want more? You seem to have known him intimately; tell me what you may, for this has come home to me in an odd way!"

Dr. Morgan glanced uneasily at his companion, whose troubled eyes and slightly twitching mouth bore out his words.

"You know I began life as an army surgeon, and a capital training it was! Nothing like it for cultivating resource. I was appointed to the 9th--, Major Bulmer's regiment--captain, he was then. Every mess has its Bayard, and Bulmer was ours. Why, to talk with him was an education in itself. Not that he played the oracle; far from it. We did our best to make a fool of the man, but I doubt if our devoirs were even perceived. There were days when he would come in and go out in scornful silence; but we forgave his uncertain temper for the sake of his gracious days; then, each had his turn in the talk, and Bulmer spoke and listened with deference and modesty, laying his pearls before us as if they were of no more account than pebbles. And we felt we had an intellectual giant amongst us, a man of great nature, too, hiding away at our obscure mess, all unbeknownst to the world! All unknown to himself, too! And that was the beauty of it. You might defy any man to flatter him; he simply didn't take it in. He had his faults, plain enough to be seen, but for a' that and a' that, I never knew a finer fellow than 'Bulmer of ours!'

" 'How did he bear himself in action?' That's one secret of the infatuation of both officers and men. You know there's not much opening in modern warfare for the chivalrous kind of thing. But the man makes the situation, and Bulmer did things that would read like bits of old romance. I can't but think the enormous proportion of officers who fell in that bad 'little war' in--is a score to be laid partly to his account; recklessness is catching. It was then I took in for the first time that he was an unhappy man, trying to throw away his life.

"He was terribly slashed up in--, and it fell to me to look after him. 'Love and a fire cannot be hid,' so the poor fellow found out in his sickness that I cared for him. You should have seen how surprised and how humble he was about it! What could any one see in him? He harped on this string until it became painful. The modesty of it was delightful at first; but, by and bye, one wondered, Why in the world won't the dear fellow take things for granted and let himself alone! Now, a new phase developed itself; from wanting nothing of any of us, he came to want everything of me. Of course I felt promoted, but it grew tiresome. I had heavy work on hand, as you will imagine, and he could hardly bear me to be out of his sight. Worse, he sulked! turned his face to the wall like that old king in the Bible, and wouldn't speak to me for a day. This was wrong, and that wasn't right, and I might have had an exacting woman on my hands instead of a brave soldier. 'A sick man's humours?' Well, so I thought, and put up with his whims until it occurred to me I was not acting the part of a friend in letting him lose self control in this way. Besides, occurrences of the past came back. The moods of magnificent melancholy, which had rather taken us all, began, one after another, to associate themselves with some absurd affront, if affront could be where intention there was none. Are you thinking, 'No man is a hero to his own valet?' Bah! How I hate all the pack of worldly-wise moralities! I found him more worshipful than ever; but, as a friend, I had responsibilities that did not belong to the outsider, and I had pledged myself to find out what was the matter, and to help him if I could.

"Now the puzzling thing was, there was nothing the matter! His home relations were perfect--his parents simple, fine, large-minded people that it was an honour to belong to; his one brother and one sister writing by every mail to cheer the 'dear old-fellow'; his past, of which he babbled a great deal, both in delirium and out of it, pure and sweet as a girl's. I never met a man with less on his conscience. 'Crossed in love?' you say. No; I tried that tack, too, but only to unlock his treasure chamber. He was engaged; was to be married as soon as we got home; he showed me a photograph, read me bits of letters tender and beautiful enough to make a saint of any man. You know Mrs. Bulmer!

"But now I began to find myself taken up with an odd study. Bulmer did not mend so fast as he should, and the reason was that, every few days, he was seized with an attack of gloomy depression, which might hang about him a day, or a week. To-day, full of the childishly gay spirits of the convalescent; to-morrow, his looks would curdle new milk; and there was no rousing him--no getting beyond 'yes,' 'no,' and 'thanks,' until the cloud was about to burst, and then, out came the trouble: 'Mary--been to a tennis tournament!' or, 'The Parents--busy about their improvements!' I would affect to take these as bits of pleasant news, but he'd turn on me with, 'It's all very well, old-fellow!' Even you are getting tired of it, though you won't own up! Now, who could expect them to care for an owl of a man like me? They are quite right to go about their concerns as if there were no such fellow in existence, and I'm a brute not to be glad they should forget me!' Now, what's to be said to a man in this 'contrariwise and nohow' case? Laugh him out of it? Reason him out of it? You have my leave to try both; though, alas! not on Bulmer, poor fellow!'

"I'll tell you what I did: I made up my mind to give him a downright wigging--to hold up the looking-glass to his inner man. Don't abuse me! It's easy enough to let things be, but I'm not sure it's always right. 'Look here, Bulmer,' said I; 'do you know it strikes me you are playing pitch and toss with such chances of happiness as come to few men, and if you don't mend your ways you'll call "heads!" and "tails" will turn up. Let's reckon you up, old man! Somebody makes his moan that he was not consulted in the choice of his parents, and suppose you had been, you'd have gone further from a modest sense that your own are a deal to good for you. Position, connexions, property--what better would you have? As for your career, look at you!--everything before you, and the idol of your company! Yes, I won't draw it back, the idol! And you! why you're not gracious enough to make a lap to hold the benefits pouring upon you; and I don't mention half the best of them. Ingrate! there, my best friend as you are, that's my first charge against you. A man is inexcusable who turns sour looks on such a lapful of mercies! Don't interrupt; I haven't half done. I have been making a study of you, and you're a sort of metaphysical compound fracture, that's what you are! First of all, the dear fellow is so mighty modest, he is worth nobody's regard; does not expect that anybody should turn round to look at him; in fact, he'd rather they did not, because, dear souls, what a pity they should make a mistake, and then find out what a poor thing he is! That's what he says to himself, and all the time--would you believe it?--there's a towering giant at the bottom of him that cries "Trash!" on the rest of us.

"'Well, take him at his own estimate, and what's the next turn of the grindstone? Why, if you please, first, he says to himself: this one and that slights him because he deserves it; and now, he turns round and resents the fancied slight. Resentment is an ugly word, but I stick to it! It's nothing else than the dull fire of resentment that is burning in his breast on all the silent, sullen days, as one to five his whole life! The next turn works a marvel, and the last state of that man is worse than the beginning! He is deeper in the slough than ever! He resents no more, for why? Because all his scorn is for himself; he invites contumely, courts contempt! And this is the history of his days; idiot! when there's hardly another human being fit to hold a candle to him.'

"And having worked myself up to this tirade, I just leant my head on my arms and cried like a girl. Well, well, I was young then.

"'How did he take it?' You should have seen to know how the sweet candour and frankness of the man disarmed us all. He just behaved and quieted himself like a weaned child. I can't talk about it to this day. Only if I loved him before -- There, we'll go on.

"After a bit, 'You're right, Morgan. Every word you say is true. I've been turning over my life, and there's hardly a page without the blots you've put your finger on. I have only one word to say in self-defense: I do believe, in all candour, I was the ugly duckling of the family. Of course a child can't think more of himself than others think of him, and I believe I got to form too low an estimate of myself. It's a conceited thing to say, but I don't mean it in that way; you must think fairly well of yourself for other people's comfort. For your other heavy charge--resentment--I have nothing to say, but--would God you could kill either it or me. It maddens me! You have no notion what it is! I have known myself boil for hours because a man offered me a cigar. It has gone on all my life--in the nursery, in school, in camp, in solitude, in society, and' (here, leaning almost out of bed, he gripped my arm), 'do you know, John, you're the first who has twigged! How have I hid the demon in me all my life, and how have you unearthed him? Heaven send you may run him down! As for your third count, why, that goes without saying. How can a man who has been thinking murderous thoughts--no, no, don't mistake me, I mean bitter, blameful thoughts--how can such a man, I say, be anywhere but in the slough when he comes to himself?' And he lay back on his pillows, faint after this tumult of feeling, but with eyes, greedy in their gaze, still fixed on my face.

"By and bye, it was, 'Well, what are you going to do? Can't you help me? If not, how dare you put me to this shameful exposure?' His quickened pulse alarmed my professional soul, and I tried to reassure him. 'Yes, Bulmer, I do believe I can do something. At any rate, heaven helping me, I will try!' I gave him a draught, and had the satisfaction of seeing him drop off into a quiet sleep.

"I had hardly got over the first flush of my studies in Germany, and was brimful of a new gospel--a gospel, mind you, which I still hold--revealed by science, it is true, but none the less revealed by God. I am far from thinking we have worked out the lode; but there is a 'science of the proportion of things,' as some one calls it; and there are other facts of life and a higher gospel, to fit in with this--of the wonderful educational help to be got from the little we already know of the relations betwixt mind and matter.

"Thus far, I thought I saw my way: that character is the real aim of education; that temper is two-fifths of character; that temper, sullen or genial, is born with us, no doubt; but may be, not only modified, but, entirely changed by education; the sullen child may be so trained as to grow into a genial man. 'Very well,' thought I, 'if his parents can do this for the child, who makes hardly an effort on his own account, how much more can a noble-minded man like Bulmer, a man who knows, too, where to get the best help, do the thing for himself?'

"Well, I needn't enter into all that. I undertook--'fools rush in'--to educate Bulmer as if he were a child. Who but I should make him meek as a sucking dove? The notion fired us both. I needn't tell you how we set about the cure. Everybody knows nowadays the principle on which the thing may be done, and the principle worked; we did effect something. Bulmer put his shoulder to the wheel in an heroic way, and he got his reward. There's no doubt that for fifteen years or more, he was as cheerful, happy-hearted a fellow as you would meet in a day's march. Indeed, when I was staying with them one time (he did marry when we got home), he said to me, 'Morgan, you've saved me; I've almost forgotten the old misery, and I don't think my wife would believe a word of it if you told her the tale. I never have, just to give myself a chance, you know. She worships me, dear woman! and how can I scorn the man she thinks so much of? And that's how I keep out of the slough.'

"Of course, I was glad; but, seeing that Bulmer spoke under constraint, I changed the subject, and never alluded to it again. Alas, that it should be so! but the habits of later life are never so much part and parcel of you as the habits you have grown up with--and that for physical reasons. This sort of thing, to be done effectually, with hardly the possibility of relapse, should be done in childhood. Bulmer had a bad attack of lung trouble. He was thrown off his guard. You see it all; first the little leak and then the sunk ship! His gruel too cold or too hot; his wife too calm or too fussy--anything does. The old demon returned with seven stronger than himself. But, depend upon it, the dear fellow was generous to the last, and it's my belief that the final coup was the notion that his saintly wife was pining in the shadow of his gloom, and his last act was a sacrifice in her behalf.

'Temporary insanity,' no doubt! But 'Died of defective education' is the true verdict, if the public had the wit to see it!

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

"To return to what we were talking of before dinner: you said Bulmer died of 'defective education.' I don't follow. The plain truth is, the poor fellow committed suicide while in a state of temporary insanity."

"Granted."

"And what's more--as for all you've been saying about 'resentment,' why, don't you see, it's all morbid! No sane man would make such a fool of himself. Another thing, I wonder the man didn't shoot you! It's--it's--it ought to be made a capital offence to play the judge to one's fellowman that way. The thing's intolerable. And you did lose your friend by it, you know you did; he'd had enough. There, I feel better!"

"Yes, I lost my friend by it. No worse than I deserved, I suppose. Yet I thought I was doing the right thing. Any way, it wasn't pleasant. But don't forget that it answered; horrid as my share of the business was, there's still the comfort that Bulmer had fifteen happy years."

"Nonsense, man! You don't think that was your doing? Don't you see? He owed that to his wife, who believed in him. So far I am with you. I dare say the lack of ordinary self-esteem does induce morbid conditions; but let us keep to the general. We are getting dangerously near technical questions."

"On the contrary, it's in the interest of 'the general.' But I want to have this question threshed out."

"I don't like what you said of our poor friend. Speak no ill of --, you know. If it were as you say, incipient madness was the cause, that's all. Resentment is odious. Bulmer could not have cherished such a vice."

"There, now! That's what I wish the world, parents at any rate, would see. Resentment is no more a vice than is a neck or a nose. It's bound up part and parcel in the queer bundle of human nature. It is one of the springs of action which move us all. Eliminate resentment, and we're badly off. There's not much stuff left for the making of heroes, anyhow."

"Eliminate resentment and you do away with the nasty tempers that spoil two homes out of ten. Somebody says, 'For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, temper stands alone.'* I have a bad memory, but these words stick. And what's the source of it all but resentment? Who'd put himself into a rage if he didn't think some one had done him an ill turn."

"So you don't think, after all, that ill-humour, and the resentment that gives rise to it, are exceptional? The grace of God can cure it, does cure it daily; but this 'vice of the virtuous' dies hard, hard as drunkenness. It should never be allowed to take root. I am convinced that we parents are to blame for half the misery caused by 'temper.' We have no right to turn loose on the world men and women who will infallibly make themselves and their belongings wretched!"

"You just now said that resentment was a universal spring of action."

"So I did, and so it is; and the poor children who come of cranky parents have more than their share to manage. But this is just one of the cases where education is all but omnipotent--not as acting without God, mind you; but, by the grace of God, and as working out His laws."

"How do you mean?"

"Why, suppose Tommy is a quick-tempered little chap; twenty times a day some small affront produces flashing eye, flushed brow, stiffened little figure, if no more. His parents note these signs; they see there is a force in the boy that requires an outlet; see, too, that the current must be diverted, for the outlets it makes for itself are of a devastating kind. They don't call Tommy 'naughty,' or 'cross,' or 'ugly.' They recognize in their son a Don Quixote waiting for the windmills. What do they do? Why, they lead Tommy about where the windmills be. They tell him tales of the

'Wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.'

The child's heart burns with righteous anger; great resolves form, and Tommy lives to be one of those saviours of society who are springing up pretty freely among us in these evil days. 'You do well to be angry!' they say to their boy--and the flow of righteous anger relieves the burning breast. But, another day, Tommy is angry on his own small account, and before the evil temper has full dominion, 'What!' they say, 'angry for yourself, when--!' And the child learns to think shame of being angry about his own things. 'But, I can't help it, father,' cries the poor little soul, overtaken by his fault, in spite of himself. And here is one of those golden opportunities for the highest teaching for which the watchful parent is on the look out. But I am boring you, and it is getting late!"

Depend upon it, with this sort of training Tommy will not fall into a 'morbid state' whatever his forbears may have been.



Typed by Amanda, August 2015