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Mothers Of Great Lawyers And Statesmen

( Originally Published 1884 )

Curran and Adams.—The Wesleys.—Mothers of Poets.—Arp Scheffer's Mother.—Michelet's Tribute to his Mother.—Lord Byron.—The Footes. —Lamartine.

" In the course of a conversation with Madame Campan, Napoleon Bona-parte remarked: 'The old systems of instruction seem to be worth nothing; what is yet wanting in order that the people should be properly educated ? ' MOTHERS,' replied Madame Campan. The reply struck the Emperor. ' Yes,' said he, 'here is a system of education in one word. Be it your care, then, to train up mothers who shall know how to educate their children.'


AMONG statesmen, lawyers and divines, we find marked mention made of the mothers of Lord Chancellors Bacon, Erskine, and Brougham all women of great ability, and, in the case of the first, of great learning; as well as of the mothers of Canning, Curran and President Adams of Herbert, Paley and Wesley. Lord Brougham speaks in terms almost approaching reverence of his grandmother, the sister of Professor Robertson, as having been mainly instrumental in instilling into his mind a strong desire for information, and the first principles of that persevering energy in the pursuit of every kind of knowledge which formed his prominent characteristic throughout life.

Canning's mother was an Irishwoman of great natural ability, for whom her gifted son entertained the greatest love and respect to the close of his career. She was a woman of no ordinary intellectual power. " Indeed," says Canning's biographer, " were we not otherwise assured of the fact from direct sources, it would be impossible to contemplate his profound and touching devotion to her, without being led to conclude that the object of such unchanging attachment must have been possessed of rare and commanding qualities. She was esteemed by the circle in which she lived as a woman of great mental energy. Her conversation was animated and vigorous, and marked by a distinct originality of manner, and a choice of topics fresh and striking, and out of the commonplace routine. To persons who were but slightly acquainted with her, the energy of her manner had even something of the air of eccentricity."

Curran speaks with great affection of his mother, as a woman of strong original understanding, to whose wise counsel, consistent piety, and lessons of honorable ambition, which she diligently enforced on the minds of her children, he himself principally attributed his success in life. " The only inheritance," he used to say, that I could boast of from my poor father was the very scanty one of an unattractive face and person, like his own; and if the world has ever attributed to me something more valuable than face or person, or than earthly wealth, it was that another and a clearer parent gave her child a portion from the treasure of her mind."

When ex-President Adams was present at the examination of a girl's school at Boston, he was presented by the pupils with an address which deeply affected him; and in acknowledging it, he took the opportunity of referring to the lasting influence which womanly training and association had excercised upon his own life and character. " As a child," he said, " I enjoyed perhaps the greatest of blessings that can be bestowed on man that of a mother who was anxious and capable to form the characters of her children rightly. From her I derived whatever instruction (religious especially, and moral) has pervaded a long life I will not say perfectly, or as it ought to be; but I will say, because it is only justice to the memory of her I revere, that in the course of that life, whatever imperfection there has been, or deviation from what she taught me, the fault is mine, and not hers."

The Wesleys were peculiarily linked to their parents by natural piety, though the mother, rather than the father, influenced their minds and developed their characters. The father was a man of strong will, but occasionally harsh and tyrannical in his dealings with his family; while the mother, with much strength of understanding and ardent love of truth, was' gentle, per-suasive, affectionate, and simple. She was the teacher and cheerful companion of her children, who gradually became moulded by her example. It was through the bias given by her to her sons' minds in religious matters that they acquired the tendency which, even in early years, drew to them the name of Methodists. In a letter to her son, Samuel Wesley, when a scholar at Westminster, in 1709, she said: " I would advise you as much as possible to throw your business into a certain method, by which means you will learn to improve every precious moment, and find an unspeakable facility in the performance of your respective duties." This " method," she went on to describe, exhorting her son "in all things to act upon principle;" and the society which the brothers John and Charles afterwards founded at Oxford is supposed to have been in a great measure the result of her exhortations.

In the case of poets, literary men, and artists, the influence of the mother's feeling and taste has doubtless had great effect in directing the genius of their sons; and we find this especially illustrated in the lives of Gray, Thomson, Scott, Southey, Bulwer, Schiller, and 'Goethe. Gray, inherited almost complete, his kind and loving nature from his mother, while his father was harsh and unamiable. Gray was, in fact, a feminine man shy reserved and wanting in energy but thoroughly irreproachable in life and character. The poet's mother maintained the family after her unworthy husband deserted her; and, at her death, Gray placed on her grave, in Stoke Pogis, an epitaph describing her as " the careful, tender mother of many children, one of whom alone, had the misfortune to survive her."

The poet himself was, at his own desire, interred beside her worshipped grave.

Goethe, like Schiller, owed the bias of his mind and character to his mother, who was a woman of extraordinary gifts. She was full of joyous, flowing mother-wit, and possessed in a high degree the art of stimulating young and active minds, instructing them in the science of life out of the treasures of her abundant experience. After a lengthened interview with her, an enthusiastic traveler said: " Now do I understand how Goethe has become the man he is." Goethe himself affectionately cherished her memory. " She was worthy of life!" he once said of her; and when he visited Frankfort he sought out every individual who had been kind to his mother and thanked them all.

It was Ary Scheffer's mother whose beautiful features the painter so loved to reproduce in his pictures of Beatrice, St. Monica and others of his works that encouraged his study of art, and by great self-denial provided him with the means of pursuing it. While living at Dordrecht, in Holland, she first sent him to Lille to study, and afterwards to Paris; and her letters to him, while absent, were always full of sound motherly advice, and affectionate womanly sympathy. " If you could but see me," she wrote on one occasion,, " kissing your picture, then, after a while taking it up again, and, with a tear in my eye, calling you ' my beloved son,' you would comprehend what it costs me to use sometimes the stern language of authority, and to occasion to you moments of pain Work diligently be, above all, modest and humble; and when you find yourself excelling others, then compare what you have done with Nature itself, or with the 'ideal' of your own mind, and you will be secured, by the contrast which will be apparent, against the effects of pride and presumption."

Long years after, when Ary Scheffer was himself a grandfather, he remembered with affection the advice of his mother and repeated it to his children. And thus the vital power of good example lives on from generation to generation, keeping the world ever fresh and young. Writing to his daughter, Madame Marjolin, in 1846, his departed mother's advice recurred to him, and he said : " The word must fix it well in your memmory, dear child; you grandmother seldom had it out of hers. The truth is, that through our lives nothing brings any good fruits except what is earned by either the work of the hands or by the exertion of one's self-denial. Sacrifices must, in short, be ever going on if we would obtain any comfort or happiness. Now that I am no longer young, I declare that few passages in my life afford me so much satisfaction as those in which I made sacrifices or denied, myself enjoyments. 'Das Entsagen' (the forbidden) is the motto of the wise man. Self-denial is the quality of which Jesus Christ set us the example."

The French historian Michelet makes the following touching reference to his mother in the Preface to one of his most popular books, the subject of much imbittered controversy at the time at which it appeared:

" While writing all this I have had in my mind a woman whose strong and serious mind would not have failed to support me in these contentions. I lost her thirty years ago (I was a child then) nevertheless, ever living in my memory she follows me from age to age.

" She suffered with me in my poverty and was not allowed to share my better fortune. When young, I made her sad, and now I cannot console her. I know not even where her bones are: I was too poor then to buy earth to bury her!

" And yet I owe her much. I feel deeply that I am the son of woman. Every instant, in my ideas and words (not to mention my features and gestures), I find again my mother in myself. It is my mother's blood which gives me the sympathy I feel for by-gone ages, and the tender remembrance of all those who are now no more.

" What return, then, could I, who am myself advancing towards old age, make her for the many things I owe her? One, for which she would have thanked me —this protest in favor of women and mothers."

But while a mother may greatly influence the poetic or artistic mind of her son for good, she may also influence it for evil. Thus the characteristics of Lord Byron the waywardness of his impulses, his defiance of restraint, the bitterness of his hate, and the precipitancy of his resentments were traceable in no small degree to the adverse influences exercised upon his mind from his birth by his capricious, violent and headstrong mother. She even taunted her son with his personal deformity; and it was no unfrequent occurrence, in the violent quarrels which occurred between them; for her to take up the poker or tongs and hurl them after him as he fled from her presence. It was this unnatural treatment that gave a morbid turn to Byron's after-life; and care-worn, unhappy, great, and yet weak, as he was, he carried about with him the mother's poison which he had sucked in his infancy. Hence he exclaims, in his " Childe Harold."

"Yet must I think less wildly;
I have thought Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
In its own eddy boiling and o'erwrought,
A whirling gulf of phantasy and flame;
And thus, untaught in youth my heart to tame,
My springs of life were poisoned."

In like manner, though in a different way the character of Mrs. Foote, the actor's mother, was curiously repeated in the life of her joyous, jovial-hearted son. Though she had been heiress to a large fortune, she soon spent it all, and was at length imprisoned for debt. In this condition she wrote to Sam, who had been allowing her a hundred a year out of the proceeds of his acting: " Dear Sam, I am in prison for debt; come and assist your loving mother, E. Foote." To which her son characteristically replied—" Dear mother, so am I; which prevents his duty being paid to his loving mother by her affectionate son, Sam Foote."

A foolish mother may also spoil a gifted son by imbuing his mind with unsound sentiments. Thus Lamar tine's mother is said to have trained him in altogether erroneous ideas of life, in the school of Rosseau and Bernardin de St. Pierre, by which his sentimentalism, sufficiently strong by nature, was exaggerated instead of repressed; and he became the victim of tears, affectation, and improvidence all his life long. It almost savors of the ridiculous to find Lamartine, in his " Confidences" representing himself as a " statue of Adolescence raised as a model for young men." As he was his mother's spoilt child, so he was the spoilt child of his country to the end which was bitter and sad. Sainte-Beuve says of him : " He was the continual object of the richest gifts, which he had not the power of managing, scattering and wasting them--all excepting the gift of words, which seemed inexhaustible, and on which he continued to play to the end as on an enchanted flute."

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