Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 45

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Having less to attend to in the matter of growing, and having got his head more free, he took to reading fairly well—not because he liked it, but because he was told he ought to do so, and his natural instinct, like that of all very young men who are good for anything, was to do as those in authority told him.  The intention at Battersby was (for Dr Skinner had said that Ernest could never get a fellowship) that he should take a sufficiently good degree to be able to get a tutorship or mastership in some school preparatory to taking orders.  When he was twenty-one years old his money was to come into his own hands, and the best thing he could do with it would be to buy the next presentation to a living, the rector of which was now old, and live on his mastership or tutorship till the living fell in.  He could buy a very good living for the sum which his grandfather’s legacy now amounted to, for Theobald had never had any serious intention of making deductions for his son’s maintenance and education, and the money had accumulated till it was now about five thousand pounds; he had only talked about making deductions in order to stimulate the boy to exertion as far as possible, by making him think that this was his only chance of escaping starvation—or perhaps from pure love of teasing.

When Ernest had a living of £600 or £700 a year with a house, and not too many parishioners—why, he might add to his income by taking pupils, or even keeping a school, and then, say at thirty, he might marry.  It was not easy for Theobald to hit on any much more sensible plan.  He could not get Ernest into business, for he had no business connections—besides he did not know what business meant; he had no interest, again, at the Bar; medicine was a profession which subjected its students to ordeals and temptations which these fond parents shrank from on behalf of their boy; he would be thrown among companions and familiarised with details which might sully him, and though he might stand, it was “only too possible” that he would fall.  Besides, ordination was the road which Theobald knew and understood, and indeed the only road about which he knew anything at all, so not unnaturally it was the one he chose for Ernest.

The foregoing had been instilled into my hero from earliest boyhood, much as it had been instilled into Theobald himself, and with the same result—the conviction, namely, that he was certainly to be a clergyman, but that it was a long way off yet, and he supposed it was all right.  As for the duty of reading hard, and taking as good a degree as he could, this was plain enough, so he set himself to work, as I have said, steadily, and to the surprise of everyone as well as himself got a college scholarship, of no great value, but still a scholarship, in his freshman’s term.  It is hardly necessary to say that Theobald stuck to the whole of this money, believing the pocket-money he allowed Ernest to be sufficient for him, and knowing how dangerous it was for young men to have money at command.  I do not suppose it even occurred to him to try and remember what he had felt when his father took a like course in regard to himself.

Ernest’s position in this respect was much what it had been at school except that things were on a larger scale.  His tutor’s and cook’s bills were paid for him; his father sent him his wine; over and above this he had £50 a year with which to keep himself in clothes and all other expenses; this was about the usual thing at Emmanuel in Ernest’s day, though many had much less than this.  Ernest did as he had done at school—he spent what he could, soon after he received his money; he then incurred a few modest liabilities, and then lived penuriously till next term, when he would immediately pay his debts, and start new ones to much the same extent as those which he had just got rid of.  When he came into his £5000 and became independent of his father, £15 or £20 served to cover the whole of his unauthorised expenditure.

He joined the boat club, and was constant in his attendance at the boats.  He still smoked, but never took more wine or beer than was good for him, except perhaps on the occasion of a boating supper, but even then he found the consequences unpleasant, and soon learned how to keep within safe limits.  He attended chapel as often as he was compelled to do so; he communicated two or three times a year, because his tutor told him he ought to; in fact he set himself to live soberly and cleanly, as I imagine all his instincts prompted him to do, and when he fell—as who that is born of woman can help sometimes doing?—it was not till after a sharp tussle with a temptation that was more than his flesh and blood could stand; then he was very penitent and would go a fairly long while without sinning again; and this was how it had always been with him since he had arrived at years of indiscretion.

Even to the end of his career at Cambridge he was not aware that he had it in him to do anything, but others had begun to see that he was not wanting in ability and sometimes told him so.  He did not believe it; indeed he knew very well that if they thought him clever they were being taken in, but it pleased him to have been able to take them in, and he tried to do so still further; he was therefore a good deal on the look-out for cants that he could catch and apply in season, and might have done himself some mischief thus if he had not been ready to throw over any cant as soon as he had come across another more nearly to his fancy; his friends used to say that when he rose he flew like a snipe, darting several times in various directions before he settled down to a steady straight flight, but when he had once got into this he would keep to it.