This was the highest moment of my religious life, the apex of my striving after holiness. I waited awhile, watching; and then I felt a faint shame at the theatrical attitude I had adopted, although I was alone. Still I gazed and still I hoped. Then a little breeze sprang up and the branches danced. Sounds began to rise from the road beneath me. Presently the colour deepened, the evening came on. From far below there rose to me the chatter of the boys returning home. The tea-bell rang,—last word of prose to shatter my mystical poetry. ’The Lord has not come, the Lord will never come,’ I muttered, and in my heart the artificial edifice of extravagant faith began to totter and crumble. From that moment forth my Father and I, though the fact was long successfully concealed from him and even from myself, walked in opposite hemispheres of the soul, with ‘the thick o’ the world between us’.
THIS narrative, however, must not be allowed to close with the Son in the foreground of the piece. If it has a value, that value consists in what light it may contrive to throw upon the unique and noble figure of the Father. With the advance of years, the characteristics of this figure became more severely outlined, more rigorously confined within settled limits. In relation to the Son—who presently departed, at a very immature age, for the new life in London—the attitude of the Father continued to be one of extreme solicitude, deepening by degrees into disappointment and disenchantment. He abated no jot or tittle of his demands upon human frailty. He kept the spiritual cord drawn tight; the Biblical bearing-rein was incessantly busy, jerking into position the head of the dejected neophyte. That young soul, removed from the Father’s personal inspection, began to blossom forth crudely and irregularly enough, into new provinces of thought, through fresh layers of experience. To the painful mentor at home in the West, the centre of anxiety was still the meek and docile heart, dedicated to the Lord’s service, which must, at all hazards and with all defiance of the rules of life, be kept unspotted from the world.
The torment of a postal inquisition began directly I was settled in my London lodgings. To my Father—with his ample leisure, his palpitating apprehension, his ready pen—the flow of correspondence offered no trouble at all; it was a grave but gratifying occupation. To me the almost daily letter of exhortation, with its string of questions about conduct, its series of warnings, grew to be a burden which could hardly be borne, particularly because it involved a reply as punctual and if possible as full as itself. At the age of seventeen, the metaphysics of the soul are shadowy, and it is a dreadful thing to be forced to define the exact outline of what is so undulating and so shapeless. To my Father there seemed no reason why I should hesitate to give answers of full metallic ring to his hard and oft-repeated questions; but to me this correspondence was torture. When I feebly expostulated, when I begged to be left a little to myself, these appeals of mine automatically stimulated, and indeed blew up into fierce flames, the ardour of my Father’s alarm.