[Moral Tales] “Self-Denial, or, The Two Cousins,” by A Lady (from The Youth’s Companion, January 7, 1847; pp. 141-142)
“Pray, dear cousin, give up your evening amusement, and come with me to my room—I’ve young Haydon and Sinclair with me, besides one or two others, who would all, I know, be glad of your company; so I excused myself and came off to beg you to be one of our number. This is our debating evening, and Moral Philosophy is the subject, we are now investigating. Lest, however, that should be too dry for you, I will promise to show you some beautiful Latin verses, composed by Haydon in honor of his mistress, as he terms Science. Come on, then, and let us hear your criticism.”
Thus spoke Charles Herbert to his cousin, William Eldon, both students at the same college, and brought up in the closest intimacy, yet differing entirely in their tasts and habits. One was devoted to study, and his morals, irreproachable; the other was idle and extravagant—carried away by the caprice of the moment—at the mercy of every evil passion.
Charles Herbert lost his father while yet an infant, and was consequently thrown under the sole guardianship and tuition of his remaining parent—a mother as competent to fulfil the arduous task of moulding the young mind into perfect moral beauty, as she was devoted in heart and soul to her only child. Her pecuniary resources were limited—barely sufficient to educate her son, and supply her with those comforts, to which she had ever been accustomed; but to herself and son, it seemed no hardship that the golden gifts had been denied. He looked up with implicit and ardent devotion to his mother; and she, like the Roman Cornelia, could point to her son and say, there is my jewel and my treasure.
From his earliest infancy, Mrs. Herbert had taught her son not only by precept, but by example, steady adherence to the right. With unwearied diligence, she impressed correct principles on his mind, and then her counsel through all difficulties, was to act them out. His pure, [un]sullied brow never knew the stain of falsehood. Early was he taught to control his passion, ever to yield his own pleasure to that of his playmates. “Those alone, my son,” would Mrs. Herbert say, “are truly polite, who with cheerfulness and pleasure give up their own enjoyments to secure that of their friends; and what is such a trifling self-denial when compared with the affections of your companions?” Charles’ bright face would grow still brighter as he replied—“Nothing, dear mother—my own gratification is best secured by the good opinion of my friends, and the approbation of my mother.”
William Eldon was likewise an only son, of wealthy parents; but the instant indulgence of every wish as soon as formed, had aided, or perhaps laid the foundation of the character he now bore—while the moral faculties of the one had been diligently cultivated, every excrescence pruned, and every beauty strengthened and developed—that most important part of education on the other, had been wholly neglected—the moral feelings were suffered to lie waste, while the selfish propensities of his nature were fostered and indulged.
Charles Herbert’s father was the brother of Mrs. Eldon, and the two cousins had been much together,a nd were now sent to the same college to complete their education. Charles was an acknowledged favorite with both students and preceptors. He was younger than his cousin, yet notwithstanding his youth, many much older were forced to yield to his mental and moral superiority. He possessed a gentle and modest dignity, accompanied with unyielding firmness that repelled even the advances of the vicious. William Eldon was a young man of great quickness and facility of acquiring knowledge, which, with a sprightly conversational talent, gave him the reputation of a wit; but he was indolent and self-conceited.
On the evening referred to in the beginning of our little chronicle, he, and a few kindred spirits, were determined on what they called “a little fun,” such as breaking out window glass and getting up a row in the streets. Charles had often dissuaded his cousin from this course, but the influence of a new set of friends proved too powerful for his arguments.
“Will you not consent, William, only this once,” pleaded Charles; “I am sure you will not regret it.”
“No, indeed,” said William, laughingly; “you and your hum drum friends may enjoy yourselves, if you please, with Locke and Paley; I want something more to my taste. So Haydon has written an ode to Mistress Science! Well, when I write verses, they shall be to another kind of Mistress than her sour Ladyship, I assure you;” and he turned away.
“But only think,” persisted Charles, “how much more improving it will be to you to spend the evening in any kind of literary pursuit than with those idle young men; now would you not prefer your father should see you enjoying our hum drum society, as you call it, to spending your time and money with the most restless spirits here? Dear cousin, do you never reflect that this course is not likely to make you happy, or render your kind parents so? My dear mother has often told me, that when a young man ceases to regard the opinions of his friends, the last barrier of vice has been removed. Be persuaded then, to abandon this drinking, noisy set, with which you seem to have connected yourself, and unite yourself with our little club; try it but for one week, and then if you find yourself less happy than at present, I will cease my persecutions, for such I know you think them. It is not agreeable to me to disturb you in what you consider your amusements, William; but I must ever prefer the good of my friend to my own pleasure. I will deny myself”—
“I am exercising,” interrupted William, “your favorite virtue, SELF-DENIAL, to a much greater degree than I am accustomed to do while I listen to your wise admonition, sage monitor; as my fellow students are not quite ready for our enterprise, I will listen to you a little longer. In the meantime (suiting the action to the word, and taking out his pocket book and pencil,) I will take a few notes from your homily and send them as precious morceaux to our chaplain, wherewith to embellish his next discourse.”
“Well, William, notwithstanding your ridicule,” said Charles, “I will speak again, again will I implore you to break these ties you have formed, although it may cost you some effort. My mother has too often repeated for me ever to forget it, that self-denial is the basis of all the virtues, at least their practice.”
“Really,” said Eldon, with a scornful laugh, “I think you had better be at your mother’s apron strings, as you seem to think she possesses the wisdom of Solomon, at least.”
“Yes! William,” replied his cousin, “I do sometimes think her knowledge of human nature wonderful, when I remember her retired life. The more I see of the world, the more cause have I to venerate and treasure up the lessons of my mother. Oh! that you too would recollect them. Do you mean to accede to my proposition, or not? I feel an undefined dread of something horrible, when I know you are engaged in drinking wine, as you so often are, with your boon companions.”
“Well, then, sir,” answered Eldon, “I tell you again that I have often told you before, that you are wasting your rhetoric, for I never mean to deny myself any gratification that is in my power to enjoy. You made some allusion to my drinking; I mean to drink one bottle of good wine at least, this evening. It is a pleasure to me to drink, and the exhilerating effects are still more delightful; therefore, I say again, I mean not to deny myself in
that or any other pleasure. Let Science be your mistress, my wise cousin; allow me to choose Pleasure for mine;” thus saying, with a light laugh, he joined his companions who were calling him, and went shouting with them down the street to the public house.
Charles Herbert folded his arms and walked slowly back to his lodgings. Truly, thought he, has Lord Bacon said, that more men are ruined by wanting resolution to say no, than from any other cause. Eldon knows as well as I, that this course will undo him, but he wants the energy to deny himself these paltry pleasures. And Charles was pained at the thought; he felt disturbed; he could not enjoy with his accustomed relish, the innocent jest, the keen encounter of wit. Alas! he had too much cause.
Charles Herbert’s friends remained with him at his room, during the evening. Newton, Bacon, Locke and Abercrombie, had been sufficiently descanted upon and admired, and the friends had just entered into an animated discussion on the theory of Gall and Spurzheim, when they were interrupted by the increasing noise from the street. At first they did not regard it, but shrieks and notes of lamentation seemed mingled with the uproar, and they hastened out in the direction of the sounds.
Upon reaching the spot, they witnessed a scene which almost baffles description. On a small spot of grass, befor[e] his own door, lay the body of one of the most talented and beloved professors of the institution. A bullet had passed through his body, from which the crimson current of life was fast ebbing. By his side stood William Eldon; need I say he was the guilty assassin? Yes, he was the murder of one, who was striving to save him from his own folly.
When Charles Herbert approached the spot, he comprehended the matter at a glance. Horror thrilled his frame, and he was forced to lean upon the nearest object for support. While standing in a reclining attitude, his countance pale as death, his eyes filled with tears, Eldon raised his head and caught hte eye of his cousin. Eldon had been intoxicated, but the shock of being seized as a murderer, and the sight of the unfortunate victim of his reckless daring, lying weltering in his own blood, had sobered him almost instantaneously. When he met Herbert’s eye from whom he had parted so short a time before, the conversation held between them recurred with powerful force upon his mind—the pent up feelings of his soul found vent.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, passionately, “were you indeed endowed with the gift of prophecy to foretell my doom? Oh! had I but listened to your warning voice this night, and denied myself that maddening cup, I should not now be a midnight murderer.[”] Eldon was carried off in a raving delirium—and Charles Herbert was likewise assisted home, for his tottering limbs refused their office.
Herbert passed a sleepless night, a night of reflection and sorrow, for the fault not of his own, but of another; although by many he was already considered faultless, yet Herbert arose the next morning, a wiser and a better man. The sobered experience of advanced age seemed added to the graces of early youth; all his passions were sobered, all sudden impulses seemed to be reduced to that calm and reflecting state, attained in advanced life; he appeared in one night to have realized the lapse of years. As he bowed in the deepest humility before that Almighty being he had ever been tuaght to adore, he prayed in the fervor of his heart that self-denial might more than ever be attained by him. His feelings soared above the rancorous passions, the selfish and sordid of earth, and he communed in purity of heart with that Being who has said, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” In after life, Charles Herbert was ever a pattern, not only of a highly cultivated intellect, but of beautiful moral deportment. He ever continued to deny himself daily all ungodliness, and lived soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; and still further to quote the language of Scripture, “he did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.” Well did he prove to the end of his life, the truth of the remark made by an eminent divine, that “a Christian is the highest style of a gentleman.” With reference to his unfortunate cousin, we will draw a veil over his fate, as we cannot attempt to picture his remorse.
We will conclude our simple story by urging upon all our readers, the constant practice of self-denial, particularly the young. Ever let the still small voice of conscience be heard, and not only know and approve, but practice the right. Remember the words of the good mother I have end[e]avored to depict, and say with Mrs. Herbert “self-denial is the basis of every practical virtue.”