Deep emotion kept the old man silent. It was a mixed feeling,— first, intense pride and pleasure, and then a pang of disappointment. Had he not been the first to see genius in the child? Had he not built upon him one more ambition for himself,— the ambition of training the future great man? And now another had taken his office.
“You look disappointed,” said the artist.
“It is the vile selfishness in me, sir. I had hoped the boy’s gifts would have been what I could have trained at my own hearth. It is only one more wilful fancy, once more thwarted.”
“Selfish I am sure it is not!” said the painter, hotly; “and as to such benevolence being thwarted as a sort of punishment for I don’t know what, I believe nothing of the kind.”
“You don’t know, sir,” said the old man, firmly. “Not that I’m speaking of the Lord’s general dealings. There are tender, gentle souls, I know well, who seem only to grow the purer and better for having the desire of their eyes granted to them; but there are others whom, for their own good, the Father of all sees needful to chasten to the end.”
“My experience lies in another direction,” said the painter, impetuously. “With what awe do you suppose indolent men, whose easy years of self-indulgent life have been broken by no real calamity, look upon others on whose heads blow falls after blow, though their existence is an hourly struggle towards perfection? There are some stagnant pools whose peace the Angel never disturbs. Does god, who takes pleasure in perfecting the saint and pardoning the sinner, forget some of us because we are not worth remembering?”
“He forgets none of us, my dear sir,” said the schoolmaster, “and He draws us to Himself at different times, and by different roads. I wanted to be the child’s teacher, but He has chosen you, and will bless ye in the work.”
The painter drove his hands through his bushy hair, and spoke more vehemently than before.
“I his teacher, and not you? My good friend, I at least am the better judge of what makes a painter’s education. Is the man who shows a Giotto how to use this brush, or mix that paint, to be called his teacher? No, not for teaching him, forsooth, what he would have learned of anybody, everybody, nobody, somehow, anyhow, or done just as well without. But the man who taught him to work as a matter of principle, and apart from inclination (a lesson which not all geniuses learn); the man who fostered the love of Nature in him, and the spirit of poetry,—qualities without which draughtsmanship and painting had better not be; the man who by example and precept led him to find satisfaction in duty done, and happiness in simple pleasures and domestic affections; the man who so fixed these high and pure lessons in his mind, at its most susceptible age, that the foulest dens of London could not corrupt him; the man whose beloved and reverenced face would rise up in judgment against him if he could ever hereafter degrade his art to be a pander of vice, or a mere trick of the workshop;—this man, Master Swift, has been the painter’s schoolmaster!”