7 JULY 1894, Page 23


a recent number of the Pall Mall Gazette there appeared -I- an article upon the subject of "a man's relatives," which, though it expressed them in somewhat fanciful and exaggerated language, contained certain truths deserving 'consideration. The writer seems to take it for granted that the natural attitude of a man towards his relatives, "his cousins, or his cousins' aunts and uncles," is one of veiled 'hostility and distrust ; and that his natural instinct is not to strengthen the bonds of kinship, but to weaken them and be 'quit of his kin as far as possible. That, we think, is putting the matter too strongly. Nevertheless, there is a certain 'measure of truth in this exaggeration, for undoubtedly the tendency of the modern man is rather to turn his back than his face upon the claims of relationship, and to publicly 'criticise the faults rather than to magnify the virtues of his cousins and their nearest kin. The Pall Mall writer illustrates this tendency with much point and humour, -but hardly attempts to account for it save from the one- sided point of view of the man himself,—a point of view 'which does not carry us very far, for though it may some- times explain the particular instance, it leaves the general 'tendency unsolved. It is possible that this tendency may be partly attributable to the decay of the Family idea. old days the Family meant something; to-dap it means 'little or nothing. The ties of an' English family were never so strong as those of a Scottish clan ; still, they were much more fully recognised a century ago than they are to-day, and the members of one family were more careful to preserve an attitude of loyalty towards a quarter from which they might -expect advantage. To be the cousin, even once removed, of a -great man was then to possess a certain claim upon his favour, —a claim which he was not unwilling to recognise in considera- tion of the services which he might possibly command in return. To be the cousin of a Prime Minister to-day is not likely to -afford much material advantage either to oneself or the Prime Minister. One would be loath to contend that material advantage was the real bottom of the family edifice, and that when it was knocked out all the family affections tumbled 'through after it; still, it cannot be denied that it did form one of the foundations, and possibly the most stable founda- tion-of all. To take a single instance of the altered conditions of the family, let us consider the present position of the "poor relation." This unfortunate gentleman has changed 'very much for the worse as far as his material advantage is 'concerned, however much he may have gained in the matter of spiritual emancipation. His family at one time may have treated him with disrespect, even with contumely, but at ^least it used to provide him with the necessaries of life. 'To-day it no longer insults him with begrudged benefactions; it simply ignores his existence. And the poor relation in -consequence is free to assert his independence, and to use his family with the same candid truth that he employs towards strangers,—a truth which is rather wont to err on the side of severity. In speaking thus of the family, we do not, of 'course, mean the inner family of brothers and sisters, but the ' 'wider circle of cousins and cousins' cousins. With these it is really no question of natural affection. Natural affection 'does very often exist between cousins, and of the warmest

character; but there need be no shame where it does not exist at all.

No -one can have failed to remark the different way in which the fact of relationship is regarded by different families. In some families the clannish feeling is still so strong that they will allow nothing that is n6t good to be spoken of their relatives ; even when they fall out with each other, they will not brook the too out-spoken denunciations of their relative and enemy by one who is merely their friend. Others there are who not only abuse their relatives in public, but also openly invite strangers to join with them in evil speaking. The reason of this difference in attitude is altogether obscure ; possibly the regard or the disregard for the ties of blood are inherited instincts. On the other hand, the cause of the extremities to which these instincts may be carried is plain enough : it is simply egotism. Some people seek to magnify their own importance by a jealous regard for the honour of their family ; others, by the contempt with which they can afford to belittle it. Of the two classes, the latter is certainly the less amiable ; indeed, one would always be disposed to distrust a man who openly parades his hatred of his kinsfolk. And that brings us to the question as to why it is that a man, when he does hate his relative, should do so with infinitely more bitterness than he can ever feel towards the stranger. Acerrima proximoruns odia, says Tacitus- though in another context—and it is true that the hatreds of near relations are the most bitter of all. In this connection, the writer in the Pall Mall Gazette makes a very true remark, which goes far to elucidate the mystery. " A man," he says, "loathes what is of himself, would indeed hate himself, but that he translates his characs teristics to compare with his ideals." Happily his blindness is assured ; he can never see himself as others see him. But he can see his relatives, and they are, in some measure, part of himself. To explain more clearly, a man would entertain very different feelings towards a crooked back if it were his own, his cousin's, or a stranger's. His own he would regard with horror, a stranger's with indifference, a cousin's with a feeling as near akin to horror as the owner is to himself in the point of relationship. A friend may change one's liking into dislike by making a ridiculous exhibition of himself ; in the case of a cousin that dislike would be something nearer hatred owing to the admixture of shame that it brings. Protest as we will, blood is thicker than water, and we cannot escape from its intensifying influence upon our emotions, cannot escape from the feeling that we are degraded or exalted with those who are nearest to. us in kin. Whence arises that continual provocation which our kindred afford to our anger. The choleric word of a friend is the cousin's blasphemy ; we see their faults with another eye, weigh them in another balance. And then, too, knowing them to be of the same blood, we are prone to read in them our own limitations. No man is a prophet in his own country ; his cousins cannot prophesy themselves and therefore know him to be no true prophet. However much we may strive to ignore the feeling, it is there all the same, and we cannot help looking at our cousin's face with some mixture of that contemptuous insight with which we regard our own reflection in the looking-glass. Let him be ever so great or so good a personage, to us he is still a poor thing, because he is our own. And if he is in very truth a poor thing, if he possesses only qualities that would he despicable in a stranger, then he is doubly poor and despicable in our estimation, because he has so fallen below our own standard. It is really curious how strong this feeling of responsibility and part-proprietorship still is. We can watch -without wincing while an intimate friend plays the fool, and our resentment is entirely altruistic and on our friend's behalf ; but if the offender be our cousin, our cheeks grow hot at once. Decidedly relationship has its drawbacks besides its advantages. Its advantages are perhaps best understood and appreciated by youths and maidens who are prompted to try their prentice bands at flirtation.

It ought not to be so ; we ought not to feel this shame- faced responsibility for those of our own blood. Our relations are ours by destiny; our friends are ours by choice,—there- fore it follows that the latter are more creatures of our own making than the former. But the feeling is not based on argument or amenable to the laws of logic. One thing is noticeable with regard to it ; our attitude towards our relatives alters considerably with our advance in years. In hot and ambitious youth we are apt to look on them as form- ing a kind of circle out of which it is our ardent wish to escape ; theirs are the most pressing shoulders from which we desire to be free. In old age our wish is to gather the circle closer round us and strengthen the bonds which we would once have broken. That is a change which explains itself. What is less explicable at first sight is the different aspect with which we regard different generations of relatives. Our cousins' children often inspire us with an unalloyed affection which we have never felt for their parents; possibly because they do not challenge the same jealous criticism which We have been wont to bestow on the latter. The fact is, that few people understand the art of being cousins, a relationship which ought to call out our best, and yet seems fated to call out only our worst qualities. Some happy people so under- stand it that they carry its privileges outside the limits of relationship and become, by right of their overflowing kind- ness, cousins of all the world. Theirs is the best of lots.