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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Our Cousin the Curate
By George William Curtis (1824–1892)
From ‘Prue and I’

WHEN Prue and I are most cheerful, and the world looks fair—we talk of our cousin the curate. When the world seems a little cloudy, and we remember that though we have lived and loved together we may not die together—we talk of our cousin the curate. When we plan little plans for the boys and dream dreams for the girls—we talk of our cousin the curate. When I tell Prue of Aurelia, whose character is every day lovelier—we talk of our cousin the curate. There is no subject which does not seem to lead naturally to our cousin the curate. As the soft air steals in and envelops everything in the world, so that the trees, and the hills, and the rivers, the cities, the crops, and the sea, are made remote and delicate and beautiful by its pure baptism, so over all the events of our little lives—comforting, refining, and elevating—falls like a benediction the remembrance of our cousin the curate.  1
  He was my only early companion. He had no brother, I had none; and we became brothers to each other. He was always beautiful. His face was symmetrical and delicate; his figure was slight and graceful. He looked as the sons of kings ought to look; as I am sure Philip Sidney looked when he was a boy. His eyes were blue, and as you looked at them they seemed to let your gaze out into a June heaven. The blood ran close to the skin, and his complexion had the rich transparency of light. There was nothing gross or heavy in his expression or texture; his soul seemed to have mastered his body. But he had strong passions, for his delicacy was positive, not negative; it was not weakness, but intensity.  2
  There was a patch of ground about the house which we tilled as a garden. I was proud of my morning-glories and sweet-peas; my cousin cultivated roses. One day—and we could scarcely have been more than six years old—we were digging merrily and talking. Suddenly there was some kind of difference; I taunted him, and raising his spade he struck me upon the leg. The blow was heavy for a boy, and the blood trickled from the wound. I burst into indignant tears, and limped toward the house. My cousin turned pale and said nothing; but just as I opened the door he darted by me, and before I could interrupt him he had confessed his crime and asked for punishment.  3
  From that day he conquered himself. He devoted a kind of ascetic energy to subduing his own will, and I remember no other outbreak. But the penalty he paid for conquering his will was a loss of the gushing expression of feeling. My cousin became perfectly gentle in his manner; but there was a want of that pungent excess which is the finest flavor of character. His views were moderate and calm. He was swept away by no boyish extravagance; and even while I wished he would sin only a very little, I still adored him as a saint. The truth is, as I tell Prue, I am so very bad because I have to sin for two—for myself and our cousin the curate. Often, when I returned panting and restless from some frolic which had wasted almost all the night, I was rebuked as I entered the room in which he lay peacefully sleeping. There was something holy in the profound repose of his beauty; and as I stood looking at him, how many a time the tears have dropped from my hot eyes upon his face while I vowed to make myself worthy of such a companion,—for I felt my heart owning its allegiance to that strong and imperial nature.  4
  My cousin was loved by the boys, but the girls worshiped him. His mind, large in grasp and subtle in perception, naturally commanded his companions, while the lustre of his character allured those who could not understand him. The asceticism occasionally showed itself in a vein of hardness, or rather of severity, in his treatment of others. He did what he thought it his duty to do; but he forgot that few could see the right so clearly as he, and very few of those few could so calmly obey the least command of conscience. I confess I was a little afraid of him, for I think I never could be severe.  5
  In the long winter evenings I often read to Prue the story of some old father of the church, or some quaint poem of George Herbert’s; and every Christmas Eve I read to her Milton’s ‘Hymn of the Nativity.’ Yet when the saint seems to us most saintly, or the poem most pathetic or sublime, we find ourselves talking of our cousin the curate. I have not seen him for many years; but when we parted, his head had the intellectual symmetry of Milton’s, without the Puritanic stoop, and with the stately grace of a Cavalier.  6

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