Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
Arthur Leland was a young lawyer of some twenty-seven years of age. His office stood a stone's throw from the court-house, in a thriving town in the West. Arthur had taken a full course in a Northern college, both in the collegiate and law department, and with some honor. During his course he had managed to read an amazing amount of English literature, and no man was readier or had a keener taste in such things than he. He had a pleasing personal appearance, a fluent and persuasive manner, an unblemished character.
Every morning he came to his office from one of the most pleasant little cottage homes in the world; and if you had opened the little front gate, and gone up through the shrubbery to the house, you would have seen Mrs. Leland, somewhere in-doors, and she as intelligent and pleasant a lady as you ever saw. You would have seen, moreover, tumbling about the grass, or up to the eyes in some mischief, as noble-looking a little fellow of some three years old, as you could well have wished for your own son.
This all looks well enough — but there is something wrong. Not in the house. No; it is as pleasant a cottage as you could wish — plenty of garden, peas and honeysuckles climbing up everywhere, green grass, white paint, Venetian blinds, comfortable furniture.
Not in Willie, the little scamp. No; rosy, healthy, good head, intelligent eyes — a fine specimen he was of an only son. Full of mischief, of course, he was. Overflowing with uproar and questions and mischief. Mustachios of egg or butter-milk or molasses after each meal, as a matter of course. Cut fingers, bumped forehead, torn clothes, all day long. Yet a more affectionate, easily-managed child, there never was.
The mischief was not in Lucy — the Mrs. Leland. I assure you it was not. Leland knew, to his heart's core, that a lovelier, more prudent, sensible, intelligent wife — it was impossible to exist. Thrifty, loving, lady-like, right and true throughout.
Where was this mischief? Look at Leland. He is in perpetual motion. Reading, writing, walking the streets, he is always fast, in dead earnest. Somewhat 'too' fast. There is a certain slowness about your strong man. You never associate the idea of mental depth and power with your quick-stepping man. You cannot conceive of a Roman emperor or a Daniel Webster as a slight, swift man. The bearing of a man's body — is the outward emblem of the bearing of his soul. Leland is rather slight, rather swift. He meets you in his rapid walk. He stops, grasps your hand, asks cordially after your health. There is an open, warm feeling in the man. No hypocrisy whatever. Yet he talks too fast. He doesn't give you half a chance to answer one of his rapid questions, before he is asking another totally different. He is not at ease. He keeps you from being at ease.
You feel it especially in his house. He is too cordial, too full of effort to make your visit pleasant to you. You like him, yet you don't feel altogether at home with him. You are glad when he leaves you to his more composed wife. You never knew or heard of his saying or doing anything wrong or even unfitting. You look upon him as a peculiar sort of man — well, somehow — but!
He is at the bar defending that woman, who sits by him, dressed in mourning — some chancery case. Or it is a criminal case, and it is the widow's only son that Leland is defending. If you had been in his office for the last week, you would have acknowledged that he has studied the case, has prepared himself on it as thoroughly as a man can. He is an ambitious man. He intensely desires to make for himself a fortune and a position. His address to the judge, or to the jury, as the case may be, is a good one. Yet, somehow, he does not convince. He himself is carried away by his own earnestness — but he does not carry away his hearers with him. His remarks are interesting. People listen to him from first to last closely. Yet his arguing does not, somehow, convince. His pathos does not, somehow, melt. He is the sort of man that people think of for the Legislature. No man ever thinks of him in connection with the Supreme Bench or Senate.
Wherein lies the defect? Arthur Leland is well-read, a gentleman of spotless character, of earnest application, of popular manners. Why is not this man a man of more weight, power, standing? Why, you answer — the man is just what he is. He fills just the position up to which his force of mind raises him. Did he have more talent, he would be more. No, sir. Every acquaintance he has known, he himself knows, that he is capable of being much more than he is — yet somehow, somehow he does not attain to it! It is this singular impression Leland makes upon you. It is this singular, uneasy, unsatisfied feeling which he himself is preyed upon by. "He might be — but he is not," say his neighbors. "I am not, yet I might be," worries him as an incessant and eternal truth.
It broke upon him like a revelation.
He was at work one fine morning in his garden, in a square in which young watermelon plants of a choice kind were just springing. Willie was there with him, just emerged fresh for fun from the waters of sleep. Very anxious to be as near as possible to his father, who was always his only playmate — Willie had strayed from the walk in which his father had seated him, and stood beside his father. With a quick, passionate motion, Leland seized his child, and placed him violently back in the walk, with a harsh threat. The child whimpered for a while, and soon forgetting himself, came to his father again over the tender plants. This time Leland seized him still more violently, seated him roughly in the walk, and, with harsh threats, struck him upon his plump red cheek. Willie burst into tears, and wept in passion.
His father was in a miserable, uneasy frame of mind. He ceased his work, bared his brow to the delicious morning air. He leaned upon his hoe, and gazed upon his child. He felt there was something wrong. He always knew, and acknowledged, that he was of a rash, irritable disposition. He now remembered that ever since his child's birth, he had been exceedingly impatient with it. He remembered how harshly he had spoken to it, how rudely he had tossed it on his knee when it awoke him with its crying at night. He remembered that the little one had been daily with him for now three years, and that not a day had passed in which he had not spoken loudly, fiercely to the child.
Yes, he remembered the heavy blows he had given it in bursts of passion, blows deeply regretted the instant after, yet repeated on the first temptation. He thought of it all; that his boy was but a little child, and that he had spoken to it, and expected from it, as if it were grown. All his passionate, cruel words and blows rushed upon his memory; his rough replies to childish questions; his unmanly anger at childish offences. He thought, too, how the little boy had still followed him, because its father was all on earth to him; how the little thing had said, he "was sorry," and had offered a kiss even after some bitter word or blow altogether undeserved.
Leland remembered, too, as the morning air blew aside his hair, how often he had shown the same miserable, nervous irritability to his dog, his horse, his servants; even the branch of the tree that struck him as he walked; yes, even to his own wife. He remembered how the same black, unhappy feelings had clouded his brow, had burst from his lips at every little domestic annoyance that had happened. He could not but remember how it had only made matters worse — had made himself and his family wretched for the time. He felt how undignified, how unmanly all this was. He pictured himself before his own eyes as a peevish, uneasy, irritable, unhappy man — so weak-minded!
He glanced at the house; he knew his wife was in it, engaged in her morning duties; gentle, lady-like, loving him so dearly. He glanced at his sobbing child, and saw how healthful and intelligent he was. He glanced over his garden, and orchard, and lawn, and saw how pleasant was his home. He thought of his circle of friends, his position in business, his own education and health. He saw how much he had to make him happy — and all jarred and marred, and cursed by his miserable fits of irritation; the plague increasing daily; becoming his nature, breathing the pestilent atmosphere of Hell over himself and all connected with him.
As he thus thought, his little boy again forgot himself, and strayed with heedless feet toward his father. Leland dropped his hoe, reached toward his child. The little fellow threw up his hands, and writhed his body as if expecting a blow.
"Willie," said the father, in a low, gentle voice. Willie looked up with half fright, half amazement. "Willie, boy," said the father in a new tone, which had never passed his lips before, and he felt the deep, calm power of his own words. "Willie, boy, don't walk on pa's plants. Go back, and stay there until pa is done."
The child turned as by the irresistible power of the slow-spoken, gentle words, and walked back and resumed his seat, evidently not intending to transgress again.
As Leland stood with the words dying on his lips, and his hand extended, a sudden and singular idea struck him. He felt that he had just said the most impressive and eloquent thing he had ever said in his life! He felt that there was a power in his tone and manner which he had never used before; a power which would affect a judge or a jury, as it had affected Willie.
It was that hasty, nervous disposition, which gave manner and tone to his very public speaking; which made his arguments unconvincing, his pathos unaffecting. It was just that calm, deep, serene feeling and manner, which was needed at the bar as well as with Willie. Arguing with that feeling and manner, he felt, would convince irresistibly. Pleading with that quiet, gentle spirit, he felt would melt, would affect the hearts as with the very emotion of tears.
Leland was a Christian. All that day he thought upon the whole matter. That night in the privacy of his office he knelt and repeated the whole matter before God. For his boy's sake, for his wife's sake, for his own sake, for his usefulness' sake at the bar — he implored steady aid to overcome his corrupting, besetting sin. He pleaded that, indulging in that disposition, he was alienating from himself his boy and his wife; yes, that he was alienating his own better self from himself, for he was losing his own self-respect. And here his voice sank from a murmur into silence; he remembered that he was thus alienating from his bosom and his side — God!
And then he remembered that just such a daily disposition as he lacked, was exactly that disposition which characterized God when God became man. The excellence of such a disposition rose serenely before him, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ; the young lawyer fell forward on his face and wept in the agony of his desire and his prayer.
From that sweet spring morning, was Arthur Leland another man — a wiser, abler, more successful man in every sense. Not all at once — but steadily, undoubtedly advanced the change. His wife saw and felt, and rejoiced in it. Willie felt it, and the household felt it, as a ship does an even wind; and sailed on over smooth seas constrained by it. You saw the change in the man's very gait and bearing and conversation. Judge and jury felt it. It was the ceasing of a fever in the frame of a strong man; and Leland went about easily, naturally — the strong man he was. The old, uneasy, self-harassing feeling was forgotten — and an ease and grace of tone and manner succeeded. It was a higher development of the father, the husband, the orator, the gentleman, the Christian. Surely love is the fountain of patience and peace.
Men can become very nearly angels or devils — even before they have left the world!