Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 5

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What a stride is made in the foregoing towards the modern standard, and what intelligence is involved in the perception of the unseemliness of the old style, when others did not perceive it!

Where then was the weak place in George Pontifex’s armour?  I suppose in the fact that he had risen too rapidly.  It would almost seem as if a transmitted education of some generations is necessary for the due enjoyment of great wealth.  Adversity, if a man is set down to it by degrees, is more supportable with equanimity by most people than any great prosperity arrived at in a single lifetime.  Nevertheless a certain kind of good fortune generally attends self-made men to the last.  It is their children of the first, or first and second, generation who are in greater danger, for the race can no more repeat its most successful performances suddenly and without its ebbings and flowings of success than the individual can do so, and the more brilliant the success in any one generation, the greater as a general rule the subsequent exhaustion until time has been allowed for recovery.  Hence it oftens happens that the grandson of a successful man will be more successful than the son—the spirit that actuated the grandfather having lain fallow in the son and being refreshed by repose so as to be ready for fresh exertion in the grandson.  A very successful man, moreover, has something of the hybrid in him; he is a new animal, arising from the coming together of many unfamiliar elements and it is well known that the reproduction of abnormal growths, whether animal or vegetable, is irregular and not to be depended upon, even when they are not absolutely sterile.

And certainly Mr Pontifex’s success was exceedingly rapid.  Only a few years after he had become a partner his uncle and aunt both died within a few months of one another.  It was then found that they had made him their heir.  He was thus not only sole partner in the business but found himself with a fortune of some £30,000 into the bargain, and this was a large sum in those days.  Money came pouring in upon him, and the faster it came the fonder he became of it, though, as he frequently said, he valued it not for its own sake, but only as a means of providing for his dear children.

Yet when a man is very fond of his money it is not easy for him at all times to be very fond of his children also.  The two are like God and Mammon.  Lord Macaulay has a passage in which he contrasts the pleasures which a man may derive from books with the inconveniences to which he may be put by his acquaintances.  “Plato,” he says, “is never sullen.  Cervantes is never petulant.  Demosthenes never comes unseasonably.  Dante never stays too long.  No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero.  No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet.”  I dare say I might differ from Lord Macaulay in my estimate of some of the writers he has named, but there can be no disputing his main proposition, namely, that we need have no more trouble from any of them than we have a mind to, whereas our friends are not always so easily disposed of.  George Pontifex felt this as regards his children and his money.  His money was never naughty; his money never made noise or litter, and did not spill things on the tablecloth at meal times, or leave the door open when it went out.  His dividends did not quarrel among themselves, nor was he under any uneasiness lest his mortgages should become extravagant on reaching manhood and run him up debts which sooner or later he should have to pay.  There were tendencies in John which made him very uneasy, and Theobald, his second son, was idle and at times far from truthful.  His children might, perhaps, have answered, had they known what was in their father’s mind, that he did not knock his money about as he not infrequently knocked his children.  He never dealt hastily or pettishly with his money, and that was perhaps why he and it got on so well together.