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Cordelia, The Dutiful Daughter

( Originally Published 1902 )



WHEN Cordelia, the third daughter of King Lear, learned how wicked her sisters had been in driving their gray-headed father away from their homes, and in setting him crazy with their ingratitude, she was filled with indignation, and she determined to go to his rescue, to nurse him and restore him to his kingdom. Having married the king of France, she summoned an army and undertook an expedition for this purpose. She expresses the motive of her undertaking in these words :

" O dear father,
It is thy business, that I go about ;
Therefore great France
My mourning and importunate tears hath pitied.
No blown ambition doth our arms incite,
But love, dear love, and my ag'd father's right :
Soon may I hear and see him !"

Sending a soldier out to search for her father, he found him wandering in the fields, and brought him to the camp. Awaking from a sleep as Cordelia came into his presence, he falls upon his knees, and says:

" Pray, do not mock me,
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward ; and, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you,
Yet I am doubtful; for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is ; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments ; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia."

Being convinced that is was she, he continued :

" If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me ; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong :
You have some cause, they had not.
You must bear with me,
Pray you now, forget and forgive ; I am old and foolish."

His daughter's presence and love had brought his reason back to its throne. But in her attempt to restore her father to his authority, she was defeated by the army of her sisters, was captured, and executed. The father, overcome by the love of Cordelia, whom he at first had mistreated, and by her martyrdom in his behalf, sank down with a broken heart and expired.

From the dark background of the filial ingratitude and injustice of Goneril and Regan, Cordelia appears as the beautiful picture of a daughter's loyalty and love. All the dutiful daughters did not die with Cordelia. We believe that the youngest, rather than the two elder daughters of the king, represents a majority of the sons and daughters of this and other civilized countries, that, as a rule, they are affectionate and true to father and mother. The nation could not live very long if the opposite were the fact. One of the elements of longevity in the Chinese Empire has been the reverence of the people for the aged, literally fulfiling the commandment that long life shall follow the honoring of parents. American home life is full of Cordelias; many a daughter has declined the hand of a suitor, that she might devote her whole time and attention to an invalid father or mother. Many women, who have children of their own, open their arms wider, to include in their loving embrace an aged father or mother, for whose happiness they live. There are sons who have remained single, that they might be left the freer to take care of invalid or aged parents, and where they have married, they have worked the harder to support their parents as well as the wife and little ones given to them. Dutiful children are the eyes and ears, the feet and hands of the aged. I have seen an old father who would die without the presence of the daughter, who has cheerfully given her life as a sacrifice for him, and an aged mother who could not live without the devoted son who had given his life up largely for her comfort. " Mother, take this chair, the one you are in is in a draught, and you will be injured." " Let me put this shawl over your shoulders, it is getting a little cold this evening." " Your hands are cold, I'll have a fire made for you." " Put up your sewing, you have done enough for to-day, those dear old fingers have done enough sewing for a life-time, and you never need take another stitch, unless you de-sire to." " A friend told me this medicine helped her, and I want you to try it for your cough." " Father, you are not eating much breakfast this morning, can you suggest anything you would relish? It will be gotten for you." " We will have a walk this morning." " I will take you riding this afternoon." " Had you not better take a nap? You look tired." " The morning is fair, I think you will be able to go to church to-day." " You will be better in the morning, dear." " Doctor, cannot you do something for him ?" " He is gone ! O, God ! can I live without him ?" These are expressions that are constantly heard in the average home of to-day. We congratulate our age, upon the fact that the Gonerils and Regans are few, and that the Cordelias are many.

It is difficult to tell which is the more beautiful picture, the one at the be-ginning, or the one at the end of life; parents with children in their arms, setting their feet down upon the highway of life, or children, with invalid or aged parents in their arms, kissing their white or wrinkled faces, and bearing them to the angels who are waiting to receive them.



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