Readings — From the October 2013 issue
- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
By Charlotte Brontë, from an essay written while she was a twenty-six-year-old student at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels. The essay, dated August 5, 1842, was discovered last year in a private library. Translated from the French by Sue Lonoff.
It is written “Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land,” and this is the first commandment that is accompanied by a promise. Is it then a difficult thing for a child to love his parents? Nowhere does one find a commandment that says to the mother: “Love thy child.” Must one then avow that maternal love is an instinct whereas filial love is only a duty? Yes, it is a duty, but a duty so imperative that God proclaims the punishment of death against the one who neglects it; so sweet that the heart, instead of fleeing from it, seeks it ardently; so holy that it forms the basis of all the virtues.
It is imperative because the child owes his life to his parents; because they have protected the child in his weakness; because they have patiently borne the petulance of his youth. It is sweet because if there is any earthly sentiment that shares in the pure felicity of heaven, it is that which we feel in loving those who love us, in helping those who have helped us; and the child can love his mother without fear of loving too much; no doubt torments that kind of affection; it is pure, and therefore it is tranquil.
It is holy because Jesus Christ himself has given us the example; in dying he thought of his mother, in his mortal agony he commended her to the protection of the disciple whom he loved. And he who does not love that mother so tender, that father so good, so helpful; he who raises the ax against the roots of the tree that has sheltered him from the storms of life; he who leaves to languish in an abandoned and solitary old age those who spent the noblest days of their youth in working for him — what fate awaits him? What destiny has he deserved?
The Justice of God will make him drink from the same bitter cup as the others: his own children, the inheritors of their father’s vices, will make him expiate his crime. In the eyes of God he is a murderer and after his death (if he does not repent) the murderer’s fate will be his.
More from Charlotte Brontë: