Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 6

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Mr Pontifex would have the boys into the dining-room.  “My dear John, my dear Theobald,” he would say, “look at me.  I began life with nothing but the clothes with which my father and mother sent me up to London.  My father gave me ten shillings and my mother five for pocket money and I thought them munificent.  I never asked my father for a shilling in the whole course of my life, nor took aught from him beyond the small sum he used to allow me monthly till I was in receipt of a salary.  I made my own way and I shall expect my sons to do the same.  Pray don’t take it into your heads that I am going to wear my life out making money that my sons may spend it for me.  If you want money you must make it for yourselves as I did, for I give you my word I will not leave a penny to either of you unless you show that you deserve it.  Young people seem nowadays to expect all kinds of luxuries and indulgences which were never heard of when I was a boy.  Why, my father was a common carpenter, and here you are both of you at public schools, costing me ever so many hundreds a year, while I at your age was plodding away behind a desk in my Uncle Fairlie’s counting house.  What should I not have done if I had had one half of your advantages?  You should become dukes or found new empires in undiscovered countries, and even then I doubt whether you would have done proportionately so much as I have done.  No, no, I shall see you through school and college and then, if you please, you will make your own way in the world.”

In this manner he would work himself up into such a state of virtuous indignation that he would sometimes thrash the boys then and there upon some pretext invented at the moment.

And yet, as children went, the young Pontifexes were fortunate; there would be ten families of young people worse off for one better; they ate and drank good wholesome food, slept in comfortable beds, had the best doctors to attend them when they were ill and the best education that could be had for money.  The want of fresh air does not seem much to affect the happiness of children in a London alley: the greater part of them sing and play as though they were on a moor in Scotland.  So the absence of a genial mental atmosphere is not commonly recognised by children who have never known it.  Young people have a marvellous faculty of either dying or adapting themselves to circumstances.  Even if they are unhappy—very unhappy—it is astonishing how easily they can be prevented from finding it out, or at any rate from attributing it to any other cause than their own sinfulness.

To parents who wish to lead a quiet life I would say: Tell your children that they are very naughty—much naughtier than most children.  Point to the young people of some acquaintances as models of perfection and impress your own children with a deep sense of their own inferiority.  You carry so many more guns than they do that they cannot fight you.  This is called moral influence, and it will enable you to bounce them as much as you please.  They think you know and they will not have yet caught you lying often enough to suspect that you are not the unworldly and scrupulously truthful person which you represent yourself to be; nor yet will they know how great a coward you are, nor how soon you will run away, if they fight you with persistency and judgement.  You keep the dice and throw them both for your children and yourself.  Load them then, for you can easily manage to stop your children from examining them.  Tell them how singularly indulgent you are; insist on the incalculable benefit you conferred upon them, firstly in bringing them into the world at all, but more particularly in bringing them into it as your own children rather than anyone else’s.  Say that you have their highest interests at stake whenever you are out of temper and wish to make yourself unpleasant by way of balm to your soul.  Harp much upon these highest interests.  Feed them spiritually upon such brimstone and treacle as the late Bishop of Winchester’s Sunday stories.  You hold all the trump cards, or if you do not you can filch them; if you play them with anything like judgement you will find yourselves heads of happy, united, God-fearing families, even as did my old friend Mr Pontifex.  True, your children will probably find out all about it some day, but not until too late to be of much service to them or inconvenience to yourself.

Some satirists have complained of life inasmuch as all the pleasures belong to the fore part of it and we must see them dwindle till we are left, it may be, with the miseries of a decrepit old age.

To me it seems that youth is like spring, an overpraised season—delightful if it happen to be a favoured one, but in practice very rarely favoured and more remarkable, as a general rule, for biting east winds than genial breezes.  Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.  Fontenelle at the age of ninety, being asked what was the happiest time of his life, said he did not know that he had ever been much happier than he then was, but that perhaps his best years had been those when he was between fifty-five and seventy-five, and Dr Johnson placed the pleasures of old age far higher than those of youth.  True, in old age we live under the shadow of Death, which, like a sword of Damocles, may descend at any moment, but we have so long found life to be an affair of being rather frightened than hurt that we have become like the people who live under Vesuvius, and chance it without much misgiving.