When a family is possessed of large
landed property, the individual of that family who
shows least interest in its welfare; who is least fond
of home, least connected by his own sympathies with
his relatives, least ready to learn his duties or
admit his responsibilities, is often that very individual
who is to succeed to the family inheritance the
My brother Ralph was no exception
to this remark. We were educated together.
After our education was completed, I never saw him,
except for short periods. He was almost always
on the continent, for some years after he left college.
And when he returned definitely to England, he did
not return to live under our roof. Both in town
and country he was our visitor, not our inmate.
I recollect him at school stronger,
taller, handsomer than I was; far beyond me in popularity
among the little community we lived with; the first
to lead a daring exploit, the last to abandon it; now
at the bottom of the class, now at the top just
that sort of gay, boisterous, fine-looking, dare-devil
boy, whom old people would instinctively turn round
and smile after, as they passed him by in a morning
Then, at college, he became illustrious
among rowers and cricketers, renowned as a pistol
shot, dreaded as a singlestick player. No wine
parties in the university were such wine parties as
his; tradesmen gave him the first choice of everything
that was new; young ladies in the town fell in love
with him by dozens; young tutors with a tendency to
dandyism, copied the cut of his coat and the tie of
his cravat; even the awful heads of houses looked
leniently on his delinquencies. The gay, hearty,
handsome young English gentleman carried a charm about
him that subdued everybody. Though I was his
favourite butt, both at school and college, I never
quarrelled with him in my life. I always let him
ridicule my dress, manners, and habits in his own reckless,
boisterous way, as if it had been a part of his birthright
privilege to laugh at me as much as he chose.
Thus far, my father had no worse anxieties
about him than those occasioned by his high spirits
and his heavy debts. But when he returned home when
the debts had been paid, and it was next thought necessary
to drill the free, careless energies into something
like useful discipline then my father’s
trials and difficulties began in earnest.
It was impossible to make Ralph comprehend
and appreciate his position, as he was desired to
comprehend and appreciate it. The steward gave
up in despair all attempts to enlighten him about
the extent, value, and management of the estates he
was to inherit. A vigorous effort was made to
inspire him with ambition; to get him to go into parliament.
He laughed at the idea. A commission in the Guards
was next offered to him. He refused it, because
he would never be buttoned up in a red coat; because
he would submit to no restraints, fashionable or military;
because in short, he was determined to be his own master.
My father talked to him by the hour together, about
his duties and his prospects, the cultivation of his
mind, and the example of his ancestors; and talked
in vain. He yawned and fidgetted over the emblazoned
pages of his own family pedigree, whenever they were
opened before him.
In the country, he cared for nothing
but hunting and shooting it was as difficult
to make him go to a grand county dinner-party, as to
make him go to church. In town, he haunted the
theatres, behind the scenes as well as before; entertained
actors and actresses at Richmond; ascended in balloons
at Vauxhall; went about with detective policemen, seeing
life among pickpockets and housebreakers; belonged
to a whist club, a supper club, a catch club, a boxing
club, a picnic club, an amateur theatrical club; and,
in short, lived such a careless, convivial life, that
my father, outraged in every one of his family prejudices
and family refinements, almost ceased to speak to
him, and saw him as rarely as possible. Occasionally,
my sister’s interference reconciled them again
for a short time; her influence, gentle as it was,
was always powerfully felt for good, but she could
not change my brother’s nature. Persuade
and entreat as anxiously as she might, he was always
sure to forfeit the paternal favour again, a few days
after he had been restored to it.
At last, matters were brought to their
climax by an awkward love adventure of Ralph’s
with one of our tenants’ daughters. My father
acted with his usual decision on the occasion.
He determined to apply a desperate remedy: to
let the refractory eldest son run through his career
in freedom, abroad, until he had well wearied himself,
and could return home a sobered man. Accordingly,
he procured for my brother an attache’s
place in a foreign embassy, and insisted on his
leaving England forthwith. For once in a way,
Ralph was docile. He knew and cared nothing about
diplomacy; but he liked the idea of living on the
continent, so he took his leave of home with his best
grace. My father saw him depart, with ill-concealed
agitation and apprehension; although he affected to
feel satisfied that, flighty and idle as Ralph was,
he was incapable of voluntarily dishonouring his family,
even in his most reckless moods.
After this, we heard little from my
brother. His letters were few and short, and
generally ended with petitions for money. The
only important news of him that reached us, reached
us through public channels.
He was making quite a continental
reputation a reputation, the bare mention
of which made my father wince. He had fought a
duel; he had imported a new dance from Hungary; he
had contrived to get the smallest groom that ever
was seen behind a cabriolet; he had carried off the
reigning beauty among the opera-dancers of the day
from all competitors; a great French cook had composed
a great French dish, and christened it by his name;
he was understood to be the “unknown friend,”
to whom a literary Polish countess had dedicated her
“Letters against the restraint of the Marriage
Tie;” a female German metaphysician, sixty years
old, had fallen (Platonically) in love with him, and
had taken to writing erotic romances in her old age.
Such were some of the rumours that reached my father’s
ears on the subject of his son and heir!
After a long absence, he came home
on a visit. How well I remember the astonishment
he produced in the whole household! He had become
a foreigner in manners and appearance. His mustachios
were magnificent; miniature toys in gold and jewellery
hung in clusters from his watch-chain; his shirt-front
was a perfect filigree of lace and cambric. He
brought with him his own boxes of choice liqueurs
and perfumes; his own smart, impudent, French valet;
his own travelling bookcase of French novels, which
he opened with his own golden key. He drank nothing
but chocolate in the morning; he had long interviews
with the cook, and revolutionized our dinner table.
All the French newspapers were sent to him by a London
agent. He altered the arrangements of his bed-room;
no servant but his own valet was permitted to enter
it. Family portraits that hung there, were turned
to the walls, and portraits of French actresses and
Italian singers were stuck to the back of the canvasses.
Then he displaced a beautiful little ebony cabinet
which had been in the family three hundred years;
and set up in its stead a Cyprian temple of his own,
in miniature, with crystal doors, behind which hung
locks of hair, rings, notes written on blush-coloured
paper, and other love-tokens kept as sentimental relics.
His influence became all-pervading among us.
He seemed to communicate to the house the change that
had taken place in himself, from the reckless, racketty
young Englishman to the super-exquisite foreign dandy.
It was as if the fiery, effervescent atmosphere of
the Boulevards of Paris had insolently penetrated
into the old English mansion, and ruffled and infected
its quiet native air, to the remotest corners of the
My father was even more dismayed than
displeased by the alteration in my brother’s
habits and manners the eldest son was now
farther from his ideal of what an eldest son should
be, than ever. As for friends and neighbours,
Ralph was heartily feared and disliked by them, before
he had been in the house a week. He had an ironically
patient way of listening to their conversation; an
ironically respectful manner of demolishing their
old-fashioned opinions, and correcting their slightest
mistakes, which secretly aggravated them beyond endurance.
It was worse still, when my father, in despair, tried
to tempt him into marriage, as the one final chance
of working his reform; and invited half the marriageable
young ladies of our acquaintance to the house, for
his especial benefit.
Ralph had never shown much fondness
at home, for the refinements of good female society.
Abroad, he had lived as exclusively as he possibly
could, among women whose characters ranged downwards
by infinitesimal degrees, from the mysteriously doubtful
to the notoriously bad. The highly-bred, highly-refined,
highly-accomplished young English beauties had no
charm for him. He detected at once the domestic
conspiracy of which he was destined to become the
victim. He often came up-stairs, at night, into
my bed-room; and while he was amusing himself by derisively
kicking about my simple clothes and simple toilette
apparatus; while he was laughing in his old careless
way at my quiet habits and monotonous life, used to
slip in, parenthetically, all sorts of sarcasms about
our young lady guests. To him, their manners
were horribly inanimate; their innocence, hypocrisy
of education. Pure complexions and regular
features were very well, he said, as far as they went;
but when a girl could not walk properly, when she
shook hands with you with cold fingers, when having
good eyes she could not make a stimulating use of them,
then it was time to sentence the regular features
and pure complexions to be taken back forthwith
to the nursery from which they came. For his
part, he missed the conversation of his witty Polish
Countess, and longed for another pancake-supper with
his favourite grisettes.
The failure of my father’s last
experiment with Ralph soon became apparent. Watchful
and experienced mothers began to suspect that my brother’s
method of flirtation was dangerous, and his style of
waltzing improper. One or two ultra-cautious
parents, alarmed by the laxity of his manners and
opinions, removed their daughters out of harm’s
way, by shortening their visits. The rest were
spared any such necessity. My father suddenly
discovered that Ralph was devoting himself rather too
significantly to a young married woman who was staying
in the house. The same day he had a long private
interview with my brother. What passed between
them, I know not; but it must have been something serious.
Ralph came out of my father’s private study,
very pale and very silent; ordered his luggage to
be packed directly; and the next morning departed,
with his French valet, and his multifarious French
goods and chattels, for the continent.
Another interval passed; and then
we had another short visit from him. He was still
unaltered. My father’s temper suffered under
this second disappointment. He became more fretful
and silent; more apt to take offence than had been
his wont. I particularly mention the change thus
produced in his disposition, because that change was
destined, at no very distant period, to act fatally
On this last occasion, also, there
was another serious disagreement between father and
son; and Ralph left England again in much the same
way that he had left it before.
Shortly after that second departure,
we heard that he had altered his manner of life.
He had contracted, what would be termed in the continental
code of morals, a reformatory attachment to a woman
older than himself, who was living separated from
her husband, when he met with her. It was this
lady’s lofty ambition to be Mentor and mistress,
both together! And she soon proved herself to
be well qualified for her courageous undertaking.
To the astonishment of everyone who knew him, Ralph
suddenly turned economical; and, soon afterwards, actually
resigned his post at the embassy, to be out of the
way of temptation! Since that, he has returned
to England; has devoted himself to collecting snuff-boxes
and learning the violin; and is now living quietly
in the suburbs of London, still under the inspection
of the resolute female missionary who first worked
Whether he will ever become the high-minded,
high-principled country gentleman, that my father
has always desired to see him, it is useless for me
to guess. On the domains which he is to inherit,
I shall never perhaps set foot again: in the
halls where he will one day preside as master, I shall
never more be sheltered. Let me now quit the subject
of my elder brother, and turn to a theme which is
nearer to my heart; dear to me as the last remembrance
left that I can love; precious beyond all treasures
in my solitude and my exile from home.
My sister! well may I linger
over your beloved name in such a record as this.
A little farther on, and the darkness of crime and
grief will encompass me; here, my recollections of
you kindle like a pure light before my eyes doubly
pure by contrast with what lies beyond. May your
kind eyes, love, be the first that fall on these pages,
when the writer has parted from them for ever!
May your tender hand be the first that touches these
leaves, when mine is cold! Backward in my narrative,
Clara, wherever I have but casually mentioned my sister,
the pen has trembled and stood still. At this
place, where all my remembrances of you throng upon
me unrestrained, the tears gather fast and thick beyond
control; and for the first time since I began my task,
my courage and my calmness fail me.
It is useless to persevere longer.
My hand trembles; my eyes grow dimmer and dimmer.
I must close my labours for the day, and go forth to
gather strength and resolution for to-morrow on the
hill-tops that overlook the sea.