Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 7

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Before he was well out of his frocks it was settled that he was to be a clergyman.  It was seemly that Mr Pontifex, the well-known publisher of religious books, should devote at least one of his sons to the Church; this might tend to bring business, or at any rate to keep it in the firm; besides, Mr Pontifex had more or less interest with bishops and Church dignitaries and might hope that some preferment would be offered to his son through his influence.  The boy’s future destiny was kept well before his eyes from his earliest childhood and was treated as a matter which he had already virtually settled by his acquiescence.  Nevertheless a certain show of freedom was allowed him.  Mr Pontifex would say it was only right to give a boy his option, and was much too equitable to grudge his son whatever benefit he could derive from this.  He had the greatest horror, he would exclaim, of driving any young man into a profession which he did not like.  Far be it from him to put pressure upon a son of his as regards any profession and much less when so sacred a calling as the ministry was concerned.  He would talk in this way when there were visitors in the house and when his son was in the room.  He spoke so wisely and so well that his listening guests considered him a paragon of right-mindedness.  He spoke, too, with such emphasis and his rosy gills and bald head looked so benevolent that it was difficult not to be carried away by his discourse.  I believe two or three heads of families in the neighbourhood gave their sons absolute liberty of choice in the matter of their professions—and am not sure that they had not afterwards considerable cause to regret having done so.  The visitors, seeing Theobald look shy and wholly unmoved by the exhibition of so much consideration for his wishes, would remark to themselves that the boy seemed hardly likely to be equal to his father and would set him down as an unenthusiastic youth, who ought to have more life in him and be more sensible of his advantages than he appeared to be.

No one believed in the righteousness of the whole transaction more firmly than the boy himself; a sense of being ill at ease kept him silent, but it was too profound and too much without break for him to become fully alive to it, and come to an understanding with himself.  He feared the dark scowl which would come over his father’s face upon the slightest opposition.  His father’s violent threats, or coarse sneers, would not have been taken au sérieux by a stronger boy, but Theobald was not a strong boy, and rightly or wrongly, gave his father credit for being quite ready to carry his threats into execution.  Opposition had never got him anything he wanted yet, nor indeed had yielding, for the matter of that, unless he happened to want exactly what his father wanted for him.  If he had ever entertained thoughts of resistance, he had none now, and the power to oppose was so completely lost for want of exercise that hardly did the wish remain; there was nothing left save dull acquiescence as of an ass crouched between two burdens.  He may have had an ill-defined sense of ideals that were not his actuals; he might occasionally dream of himself as a soldier or a sailor far away in foreign lands, or even as a farmer’s boy upon the wolds, but there was not enough in him for there to be any chance of his turning his dreams into realities, and he drifted on with his stream, which was a slow, and, I am afraid, a muddy one.

I think the Church Catechism has a good deal to do with the unhappy relations which commonly even now exist between parents and children.  That work was written too exclusively from the parental point of view; the person who composed it did not get a few children to come in and help him; he was clearly not young himself, nor should I say it was the work of one who liked children—in spite of the words “my good child” which, if I remember rightly, are once put into the mouth of the catechist and, after all, carry a harsh sound with them.  The general impression it leaves upon the mind of the young is that their wickedness at birth was but very imperfectly wiped out at baptism, and that the mere fact of being young at all has something with it that savours more or less distinctly of the nature of sin.

If a new edition of the work is ever required I should like to introduce a few words insisting on the duty of seeking all reasonable pleasure and avoiding all pain that can be honourably avoided.  I should like to see children taught that they should not say they like things which they do not like, merely because certain other people say they like them, and how foolish it is to say they believe this or that when they understand nothing about it.  If it be urged that these additions would make the Catechism too long I would curtail the remarks upon our duty towards our neighbour and upon the sacraments.  In the place of the paragraph beginning “I desire my Lord God our Heavenly Father” I would—but perhaps I had better return to Theobald, and leave the recasting of the Catechism to abler hands.