Snippets 191. The following quote is taken from Notes of a Nomad, by Canadian author Lady Harriet Julia Jephson, published just over a hundred years ago in 1918. For the most part it is a journal of her travels, but it starts in autobiographical fashion, and here we find some interesting snippets of social history, particularly her childhood in 19th Century Canada. It was by and large a happy childhood, but the following incident, though insignificant in the grand scheme of things, illustrates how a small unjustice can leave a lasting impression on the mind of a child.
But my precocity and thirst for knowledge was once a source of pride to my mother and ultimate sorrow to me. I was staying with her in Montreal, and we went to see an old cousin, who, being a man of most cultivated taste and also of means, continually bought works of art, either in London or in New York. He had lately acquired a bronze statuette which represented a strong youth carrying on his back an old man. There were several ladies vaguely looking at this when we appeared, and none hazarded a guess as to its meaning. Our old cousin turned to me, patting my cheek, and said, “You, my dear, don’t know what this bronze represents, do you?” “Oh, yes!” I said. “It is Aeneas bearing the aged Anchises on his shoulders.” “Quite right!” said our astonished old cousin. “Now, as you are such a well-informed little girl, I shall give you as a reward a gold dollar to buy what you like with, and here it is.”
My mother was very pleased and proud of her infant prodigy, and I was simply overwhelmed with the prospect of such riches. To me they seemed boundless. I clasped the wonderful little coin and tried to make up my mind what I should buy with it. For nights I could scarcely sleep, the burden of wealth was so great. Should I invest in a pony, or a new sleigh, a toboggan or a library of books? I could not decide, so I kept my little gold dollar, taking it out at intervals to look at the Queen’s head and admire it.
One day a clergyman called to see my mother. He was on begging intent, and explained that he was building a church. “Every shilling you give,” said he, “provides a brick towards its construction.” My mother looked at me with an interrogative eye. “My child, don’t you want to give five bricks to Mr. Jones’s church?” I was inarticulate from horror, feeling that danger menaced my beloved little gold dollar. “My small daughter,” said mamma, “will be delighted to give you a dollar she has towards it.” Nearly heart-broken, I parted with the adored little coin which meant so much to me and so little to the parson. I don’t think I have ever much liked clergymen since.
Was the mother teaching an important lesson in charity, or taking things too far by donating the child’s gold coin? Let me know what you think in the comments section!
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