Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 8

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On the receipt of this letter Theobald plucked up his spirits.  “My father,” he said to himself, “tells me I need not be ordained if I do not like.  I do not like, and therefore I will not be ordained.  But what was the meaning of the words ‘pregnant with serious consequences to yourself’?  Did there lurk a threat under these words—though it was impossible to lay hold of it or of them?  Were they not intended to produce all the effect of a threat without being actually threatening?”

Theobald knew his father well enough to be little likely to misapprehend his meaning, but having ventured so far on the path of opposition, and being really anxious to get out of being ordained if he could, he determined to venture farther.  He accordingly wrote the following:

“My dear father,—You tell me—and I heartily thank you—that no one will compel me to be ordained.  I knew you would not press ordination upon me if my conscience was seriously opposed to it; I have therefore resolved on giving up the idea, and believe that if you will continue to allow me what you do at present, until I get my fellowship, which should not be long, I will then cease putting you to further expense.  I will make up my mind as soon as possible what profession I will adopt, and will let you know at once.—Your affectionate son, THEOBALD PONTIFEX.”

The remaining letter, written by return of post, must now be given.  It has the merit of brevity.

“Dear Theobald,—I have received yours.  I am at a loss to conceive its motive, but am very clear as to its effect.  You shall not receive a single sixpence from me till you come to your senses.  Should you persist in your folly and wickedness, I am happy to remember that I have yet other children whose conduct I can depend upon to be a source of credit and happiness to me.—Your affectionate but troubled father, G. PONTIFEX.”

I do not know the immediate sequel to the foregoing correspondence, but it all came perfectly right in the end.  Either Theobald’s heart failed him, or he interpreted the outward shove which his father gave him, as the inward call for which I have no doubt he prayed with great earnestness—for he was a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer.  And so am I under certain circumstances.  Tennyson has said that more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of, but he has wisely refrained from saying whether they are good things or bad things.  It might perhaps be as well if the world were to dream of, or even become wide awake to, some of the things that are being wrought by prayer.  But the question is avowedly difficult.  In the end Theobald got his fellowship by a stroke of luck very soon after taking his degree, and was ordained in the autumn of the same year, 1825.