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 eldest son.
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 walk.
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