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Anecdotes Of The Fairfax Family
by [?]

Will a mind of great capacity be reduced to mediocrity by the ill choice of a profession?

Parents are interested in the metaphysical discussion, whether there really exists an inherent quality in the human intellect which imparts to the individual an aptitude for one pursuit more than for another. What Lord Shaftesbury calls not innate, but connatural qualities of the human character, were, during the latter part of the last century, entirely rejected; but of late there appears a tendency to return to the notion which is consecrated by antiquity. Experience will often correct modern hypothesis. The term “predisposition” may be objectionable, as are all terms which pretend to describe the occult operations of Nature–and at present we have no other.

Our children pass through the same public education, while they are receiving little or none for their individual dispositions, should they have sufficient strength of character to indicate any. The great secret of education is to develope the faculties of the individual; for it may happen that his real talent may lie hidden and buried under his education. A profession is usually adventitious, made by chance views, or by family arrangements. Should a choice be submitted to the youth himself, he will often mistake slight and transient tastes for permanent dispositions. A decided character, however, we may often observe, is repugnant to a particular pursuit, delighting in another; talents, languid and vacillating in one profession, we might find vigorous and settled in another; an indifferent lawyer might become an admirable architect! At present all our human bullion is sent to be melted down in an university, to come out, as if thrown into a burning mould, a bright physician, a bright lawyer, a bright divine–in other words, to adapt themselves for a profession preconcerted by their parents. By this means we may secure a titular profession for our son, but the true genius of the avocation in the bent of the mind, as a man of great original powers called it, is too often absent! Instead of finding fit offices for fit men, we are perpetually discovering, on the stage of society, actors out of character! Our most popular writer has happily described this error.

“A laughing philosopher, the Democritus of our day, once compared human life to a table pierced with a number of holes, each of which has a pin made exactly to fit it, but which pins being stuck in hastily, and without selection, chance leads inevitably to the most awkward mistakes. For how often do we see,” the orator pathetically concluded,–“how often, I say, do we see the round man stuck into the three-cornered hole!”

In looking over a manuscript life of Tobie Matthews, Archbishop of York in James the First’s reign, I found a curious anecdote of his grace’s disappointment in the dispositions of his sons. The cause, indeed, is not uncommon, as was confirmed by another great man, to whom the archbishop confessed it. The old Lord Thomas Fairfax one day finding the archbishop very melancholy, inquired the reason of his grace’s pensiveness: “My lord,” said the archbishop, “I have great reason of sorrow with respect of my sons; one of whom has wit and no grace, another grace but no wit, and the third neither grace nor wit.” “Your case,” replied Lord Fairfax, “is not singular. I am also sadly disappointed in my sons: one I sent into the Netherlands to train him up a soldier, and he makes a tolerable country justice, but a mere coward at fighting; my next I sent to Cambridge, and he proves a good lawyer, but a mere dunce at divinity; and my youngest I sent to the inns of court, and he is good at divinity, but nobody at the law.” The relater of this anecdote adds, “This I have often heard from the descendant of that honourable family, who yet seems to mince the matter, because so immediately related.” The eldest son was the Lord Ferdinando Fairfax–and the gunsmith to Thomas Lord Fairfax, the son of this Lord Ferdinando, heard the old Lord Thomas call aloud to his grandson, “Tom! Tom! mind thou the battle! Thy father’s a good man, but a mere coward! All the good I expect is from thee!” It is evident that the old Lord Thomas Fairfax was a military character, and in his earnest desire of continuing a line of heroes, had preconcerted to make his eldest son a military man, who we discover turned out to be admirably fitted for a worshipful justice of the quorum. This is a lesson for the parent who consults his own inclinations and not those of natural disposition. In the present case the same lord, though disappointed, appears still to have persisted in the same wish of having a great military character in his family: having missed one in his elder son, and settled his other sons in different avocations, the grandfather persevered, and fixed his hopes, and bestowed his encouragements, on his grandson, Sir Thomas Fairfax, who makes so distinguished a figure in the civil wars.