Teeth Set on Edge
— If people universally clung to hereditary beliefs, progress would manifestly be impossible ; yet, accustomed though we are to moral and intellectual differences between parent and child, it gives us a sense of incongruity when a man zealous in one cause has a son equally zealous in the opposite camp. It was long believed, and Schiller has immortalized the legend, that Don Carlos sympathized with the revolt in the Netherlands, so cruelly repressed by his father, Philip II.; but in reality that deformed, gluttonous, half-insane prince, anxious to escape from paternal control, envied Alva the task of dragooning the Flemings into submission. If William the Silent’s elder son, seized as a hostage by the Spaniards, grew up a morose, bigoted Catholic, environment obviously overcame heredity. Still, there are numerous cases in which environment and heredity put together have proved powerless. Richard Cromwell is said to have been a gay young Cavalier, drinking success to Charles I. at the very time when his father was in the field against him. Milton’s brother Christopher did not side with his father and brother, and became at last a judge under Charles II. Christina of Sweden, daughter of the great Protestant hero, Gustavus Adolphus, became a Roman Catholic. Benjamin Franklin’s son was a loyalist. Wilberforce, a Protestant of the Protestants, had four sons, three of whom became Roman Catholics, while the fourth, Bishop of Oxford and Winchester, was so opposed to his father’s school of thought as constantly to be charged with Romish leanings ; that bishop’s only daughter, moreover, joined her uncles. The Coleridges were a thoroughly Protestant family, but one of the poet’s nephews is a Jesuit. The Brights have been Quakers for centuries, but John Bright’s sister, with her Quaker husband, Frederic Lucas, became a Romanist. Dr. Arnold of Rugby was a decided Protestant and Philistine, a matter-of-fact radical ; his son, Matthew Arnold, wrote philippics against Philistinism ; another son was for a time a Roman Catholic, and that son’s daughter is the author of Robert Elsmere. Lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne, famous for the S. G. O. letters in the London Times, thundered against ritualism and Romanism ; his son is a priest at the London Oratory. Prévost-Paradol, the agnostic or theist who fought bravely with the pen for liberty in France, accepted the Washington embassy from the apparently liberalized empire, and committed suicide on discovering that he had been deluded, left two daughters who have both taken the veil. The eldest son of Eugène Bersier, the most popular Protestant pastor of this generation in Paris, first married a Catholic, and then became a Catholic himself. The Rev. Charles Voysey, expelled from the Church of England for heresy, now a free-thought minister in London, has two daughters who have both become nuns. Bradlaugh, who refused to take the Christian oath on entering the House of Commons, had religious parents, and has a brother who is a Scripture reader. The two great English cardinals of this century, Newman and Manning, were sons of stanch evangelicals. It reminds us of Macaulay’s taunt that the Tories could not produce leaders, but from Strafford to Pitt (he would have added Beaconsfield) had to borrow them from the higs. Of Newman s two brothers, Francis first turned to agnosticism, and then swung half back to Unitarianism ; the other was a ne’er-do-weel. The children of English Quakers — most of the Gurneys, for instance — frequently become Episcopalians, and William Howitt’s wife, like Bright’s sister, was a convert to Rome. The Due de Nemours became a legitimist, regarding his father, Louis Philippe, as a usurper. When, however, heirs apparent are in political opposition to their fathers, it is generally from affectation rather than from conviction, George IV., as Prince of Wales, fraternized with the Whigs, and if he had not been in his teens during the American war probably would have professed admiration for Washington, but on becoming regent he retained his father’s Tory advisers.
A great political or religious convulsion necessarily involves a real or an apparent change of creed. Strictly speaking, the first generation of Protestants had all Catholic fathers, and the Americans who fought for independence had all loyalist fathers. When Dr. Johnson told a young lady convert to Quakerism that people should keep to the church in which they had been brought up, she asked whether he would have said this to the first Christians. He was silenced ; but had he been prepared for so prompt a retort, he would doubtless have argued that an individual and isolated conversion is not on the same footing as a great movement, a “ swarmery,” as Carlyle, borrowing a Germanism, styles it. It is one thing to join a new party or church ; it is quite another to adopt an opinion of long standing which is repugnant to your parents or kindred. This latter phenomenon is what I am now discussing, and how is it to be accounted for ? One reason is that the mother may have had latent leanings, or that the mixture of two lines of descent may have exercised a peculiar influence. Atavism may likewise be invoked. Yet probably the chief cause lies elsewhere. Children are keen observers, and if there is any narrowness in the parent’s creed, political or religious, they are sure, sooner or later, to discover it. Children very strictly brought up often go wrong morally ; if they have too much moral fibre for this, they go astray theologically. The fathers have eaten sour grapes, eaten them with a relish, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. The Wilberforces were certainly repelled by the austerity of the so-called Clapham sect. Observing behind the scenes all the pettinesses of one faith, sons perceive only the glittering outside of the other. Occasionally they turn back to the paternal fold; in many cases, we may be sure that even if they remain in their new fold, they end, conscious of not having found perfection there, by mentally rendering justice to the old faith. Now and then they box the religious compass, trying one sect after another, and perhaps eventually becoming their own church.
A narrow patriotism induces the same reaction as a narrow creed. One extreme begets another. Nationality cannot, indeed, be shaken off as easily as church or party, but spread-eagleism and anti-patriotism cross swords ; as in the subjoined faithful report of a French table d’hôte scene, the climax of several days’ disputing over American and European climate, hotels, bread, cheese, oysters, and whiskey : —
A. “I have never been so well treated as in my own country.”
B. “ Well, I have been all over the world, and have never been so swindled anywhere as at New York.”
A. “I hate to hear people run down their own country. You say things yon know are not true.”
B. “ What have I said that is n’t true ? ”
A. “ That you have been cheated at New York more than anywhere else.”
B. “ Well, so I have.”
A. “ It’s downright silly of you.”
B. “ I hate to hear anybody continually growling against the country they are in.”
A, “ You never hear me growling.”
B. “ I see we are getting into deep water.”