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A Noble And Ignoble Courtship

( Originally Published 1902 )



THE constrast between the dutiful and undutiful daughter in King Lear is not more marked than that between the true and false lovers of Cordelia. She had been disinherited by her father, the king, and he was in the act of giving her in marriage to one of two suitors—the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. He turns to the first and says:

" My lord of Burgundy,
We first address toward you, who with this king,
Hath rivall'd for our daughter : what, in the least,
Will you require in present dower with her,
Or cease your quest of love? Sir, there she stands;
If aught within that little seeming substance,
Or all of it with our displeasure pieced,
And nothing more, may fitly like your grace,
She's there, and she is yours."

As the duke hesitates and does not answer, Lear continues:

" Will you, with those infirmities she owes,
Unfriended, new-adopted to our hate,
Dower'd with our curse and stranger'd with our oath,
Take her or leave her?"

The suitor then declines, and the father says :

" Then leave her, sir ; for by the power that made me,
I tell you all her wealth."

Turning to the King of France, he poured a torrent of abuse upon his daughter, telling him she was unworthy of him and expecting that, like the Duke of Burgundy, he would reject her. The king asked the enraged father what crime the daughter had committed to thus excite his anger, and when he learned that her sole offense had been a modest, instead of a profusive, expression of the love she bore him, he said:

" Fairest Cordelia, thou art most rich, being poor;
Most ,choice, forsaken ; and most lov'd, despised !
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon :
Be it lawful, I take up what's cast away.
Gods ! Gods ! 'tis strange that from their cold'st neglect
My love should kindle to inflam'd respect.
Thy dowerless daughter, king, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France :
Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy
Can buy this unpriz'd precious maid of me.
Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind;
Thou losest here, a better where to find."

The King of France loved her when she was rich and one of the heirs of the throne, and when her wealth and position and power were lost he loved her still. The Duke of Burgundy loved her when she was the favorite daughter of the king, but when she was disinherited and penniless his affection for her vanished. The king loved her for what she was, the duke for what she had. How many have been the mistakes and miseries of those who have contracted matrimonial alliances upon an estimate of cash, instead of character, in the search of means instead of manhood, for wealth instead of womanhood! Wealth, properly employed, may give greater opportunity for reading, study, travel and the practices of the finer arts, or, if improperly employed, it may result in indolence, effeminacy, or vice. Poverty may depress or degrade, or encourage self-dependence and supremacy. Hence it is unsafe to pay much attention to the accidents and incidents of life in the selection of a husband or wife. Whether there be wealth or poverty, exalted position or humble station, it is manhood and womanhood which tell. What miseries and disasters have followed in the footsteps of the royal personages who have imitated the Duke of Burgundy in wedding wealth, rank and power, in the place of manhood and womanhood ! The Dukes of Burgundy have found their way to our shores in pretty good numbers ; there is now and then a King of France who weds an American beauty for love, but there seems to be a greater number of noble-men who are in search of the daughters of American millionaries for the money which they have. And some of the daughters of the rich are beguiled into marrying a title with the shell of a man thrown in, and the money-bags and titles are fastened together, with no hearts between them. The man has gotten the gold, the woman the coat of arms ; but love, manhood and womanhood have been left out of the question.

While here are some sordid characters who imitate the duke, we believe the majorly of the people of this country have the spirit of the king, in putting a just estimate on ability and character and in making their life plans accordingly; in considering wealth, station and all the other accidents of life as of secondary—as of trifling importance when compared with real manhood and womanhood. No earthly circumstance, however favorable, can add to the value of their Cordelia; no misfortune, however great, can take away from her any of her charms.



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