‘Please tell us about him, father,’ said Effie, with interest, ’did he study so much to make him selfish and wicked?’
‘I will tell you the story, and then you must be the judge,’ returned Mr Maurice. ’I believe, however, that in this case selfishness was more out of the question than usual; he had too much zeal, “a zeal not according to knowledge.” Lewis Varden was the son of a poor widow, who contrived to support a large family in comfort and to give them a good education. He was the youngest son, and perhaps from the circumstance of being too tenderly nurtured, and perhaps from some constitutional defect, was never so strong and muscular as his brothers, and so his mother determined that he should study a profession.
’Lewis was particularly pleased with the arrangement, as he had a natural fondness for sedentary employments, and at sixteen had become so extensive a reader, as to be a kind of family encyclopedia. The question, however, remained to be decided whether he should study law or medicine, the only professions which among us are at all lucrative.
’While he was yet wavering between the two, he lost his mother, and suddenly the whole object of his life, even his own character, became changed. Mrs Varden was what is usually called a good woman, that is, with a sharp eye upon her worldly interests, she maintained her standing in the church, and bore a fair reputation; but she was a worldly-minded Christian, and as such had not sufficiently encouraged in her children any peculiar love for holiness. She was, however, a devoted, self-sacrificing mother, as far as their worldly interests were concerned: and never was a lost parent more sincerely mourned.
’From that time forth, Lewis seemed to lose all connection with the business part of the world, and he devoted himself more closely than ever to his books.
’Yet among these books, the Bible now found a place, and occupied a large share of his attention. From reading it, because it suited his now serious thoughts, he began to love its contents, and finally he made them the guide of his life. He became a member of the church in the little village where he resided, and was soon regarded as a very promising young man.
’His new friends were exceedingly anxious that he should study for the ministry, and he entered with alacrity upon his new duties. But not content with what he considered the circuitous way to usefulness usually taken, he determined by industry to cut it short, and so the noonday sun and midnight lamp found him at the same task. When worn out by his incessant mental labours, he would throw himself down and sleep for a little time; but his dreams were only a continuation of his waking thoughts, so that even in sleep he was studying still.
’When his fellow-students expostulated, he laughed at the idea of his health being injured by incessant application, and seemed to be afraid that variety of employment would distract his attention. So he went on from week to week, and month to month, preparing his mind for usefulness, but his body for the grave. His pale brow grew yet paler, his cheek hollow, and his hand thin and colourless, but still he declared himself to be in perfect health, and no one knew his danger.