Severus And His Two Bad Sons
( Originally Published 1902 )
TRAVELERS in the north of England, here and there come upon stones which are the ruins of the wall Severus, the Emperor of Rome, built. The wall was twelve feet high and eight feet wide, and stretched from the German Ocean on the east, to the Solway Firth on the west. The motive that led Severus to Britain to undertake the conquest of the Northern tribes, was the fact that he had two exceedingly wicked sons, who hated each other and were disloyal to their father ; and he thought an expedition to Britain might wake them up to a sense of their manhood, and prepare them for the responsibilities awaiting them. He left one of his sons with a portion of the army in the southern part of the island, and took the other son, with the rest of his command, upon an expedition against the Picts and Scots in the north. But his son, Bassianus, who accompanied him, was just as depraved as ever; breeding sedition in the camp and plotting the overthrow of his father's authority. His plan to murder his father being discovered, the father summoned his profligate son to his presence and bitterly rebuked him, then, laying down a keen, unsheathed sword, he said, " If you wish to kill me, do it now. Here I stand, old, infirm, and helpless ; you are young and strong, and can do it easily. I am ready. Strike the blow." The vagabond son did not strike his father with the sword of steel, but continued to stab him with the knife of his ingratitude, and the father, discouraged by his sons' wickedness and worthlessness, succeeded only partially in conquering the tribes of the North, contenting himself with the construction of a huge wall across the island.
Taking into account their abilities and opportunities, history furnishes us with few blacker instances of filial disloyalty than that shown by the sons of Severus. Supported and educated by their father, they did not realize that they were under any obligation to him, or that they owed any duty to themselves ; but, perhaps because they were rich and belonged to the royal family, they gave themselves up to all kinds of folly, dissipation, shame and crime ; dishonoring their father's administration and making wretched his life. He made the administration of the greatest empire in the world tributary to a last desperate attempt to save, and make something out of his bad boys. He pressed the army and navy and treasury of the Roman Empire into service, to make them help him reform his wicked sons, but they were so besotted with vice that they were insensible to their father's love and indifferent to their own opportunities.
The sons of Severus have had their imitators through all ages to the present, and the world is full of them today. It does seem as though the sons of the rich and famed are subject to greater temptations and surrender to them more readily than others. But bad boys are not confined to any class ; they can be found in great numbers among the poor as well as the rich. There are no cities or towns that are not cursed with some of them. Some are ruined for want of parental restraint, and others go to the bad, in these days of terrible temptation, in spite of the most careful home training. In fact, it often seems that when the parents are most tender and affectionate and self-sacrificing, the children appear more heartless and cruel in their ingratitude, and more reckless in their habits. As far as the agony is concerned, the sharp sword with which Severus bade his son strike him, is merciful in comparison to the daily, hourly stabs that profligate sons inflict upon their parents. So many gray hairs are brought in sorrow to the grave by these modern sons of Severus ! Young men who forget home, and the love and sacrifices of parents, who are blind to their own opportunities and privileges, and surrender to base passion and give themselves over to lives of evil habit, will have a hard time in this life and a harder one in the life which is to come.