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Goneril And Regan, Undutiful Daughters

( Originally Published 1902 )

WHEN King Lear divided his kingdom between his two daughters, it was with the express provision that he should make his home with each, by the month, alternately, and that he should be allowed to retain with him a hundred attendants. Accordingly, he went first to live with his eldest daughter, Goneril ; but before the month was out she complained at the number of his servants, and insisted that he should reduce them by one-half. He concluded to leave and go to the house of his second daughter, Regan ; but she felt unwilling to care for more than twenty-five attendants. In desperation he returned to the home of his first daughter, who had said she could accommodate fifty, but she had changed her mind, being unwilling that he should have any, and claiming that she had servants enough of her own to take care of him. The King, overwhelmed by the ingratitude and perfidy of his daughters, went away into the night, and into the storm, and said:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks ! rage ! blow !
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drowned the cocks !
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt couriers of oak-cleaving thunder-bolts,
Singe my white head ! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world !
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man ! Spit, fire ! spout, rain !
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters :
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness,
I never gave you kingdom, call'd you childrenó
You owe me no subscription ; then let fall
Your horrible pleasure ; here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despis'd old man:óBut
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That will with two pernicious daughters join,
Your high-engender'd battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this. O ! O ! 'tis foul!"

Literature furnishes few more graphic descriptions of filial ingratitude and injustice than that of these daughters toward their father. He gave them his kingdom, with its wealth and power and honor, not when it was dropping out of his numb fingers, and he could retain it no longer, but while he was alive; and the only condition he made, they broke before the first month had passed. Is it a wonder, then, that the homeless old man went out into the black night and the howling storm, a raving maniac. These daughters should have been pleased to devote every moment of their time, every ounce of their strength, and, if need be, exhaust the entire resources of their realm, in caring for their father, and in making his declining years happy and comfortable. The quibble about the number of attendants was merely an excuse for evading their moral obligations; the trouble with them being, not the number of servants, but the hollowness of their own hearts.

All the ungrateful children did not die when Goneril and Regan passed away. There are some to-day, who pay very poor returns for a parent's care and love, who treat father and mother not only carelessly, but with positive neglect and contempt. There have been parents who, through overweening affection for their children, have divided up among them their property, and who lived to see these same children grow unkind, unsympathetic and cruel ; betraying in every possible way their utter want of filial reverence, piercing with the thorn of ingratitude their parents' hearts with the pain of a dozen deaths.

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