Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 9

[+] | [-] | reset

Chapter IX

Mr Allaby was rector of Crampsford, a village a few miles from Cambridge.  He, too, had taken a good degree, had got a fellowship, and in the course of time had accepted a college living of about £400 a year and a house.  His private income did not exceed £200 a year.  On resigning his fellowship he married a woman a good deal younger than himself who bore him eleven children, nine of whom—two sons and seven daughters—were living.  The two eldest daughters had married fairly well, but at the time of which I am now writing there were still five unmarried, of ages varying between thirty and twenty-two—and the sons were neither of them yet off their father’s hands.  It was plain that if anything were to happen to Mr Allaby the family would be left poorly off, and this made both Mr and Mrs Allaby as unhappy as it ought to have made them.

Reader, did you ever have an income at best none too large, which died with you all except £200 a year?  Did you ever at the same time have two sons who must be started in life somehow, and five daughters still unmarried for whom you would only be too thankful to find husbands—if you knew how to find them?  If morality is that which, on the whole, brings a man peace in his declining years—if, that is to say, it is not an utter swindle, can you under these circumstances flatter yourself that you have led a moral life?

And this, even though your wife has been so good a woman that you have not grown tired of her, and has not fallen into such ill-health as lowers your own health in sympathy; and though your family has grown up vigorous, amiable, and blessed with common sense.  I know many old men and women who are reputed moral, but who are living with partners whom they have long ceased to love, or who have ugly disagreeable maiden daughters for whom they have never been able to find husbands—daughters whom they loathe and by whom they are loathed in secret, or sons whose folly or extravagance is a perpetual wear and worry to them.  Is it moral for a man to have brought such things upon himself?  Someone should do for morals what that old Pecksniff Bacon has obtained the credit of having done for science.

But to return to Mr and Mrs Allaby.  Mrs Allaby talked about having married two of her daughters as though it had been the easiest thing in the world.  She talked in this way because she heard other mothers do so, but in her heart of hearts she did not know how she had done it, nor indeed, if it had been her doing at all.  First there had been a young man in connection with whom she had tried to practise certain manoeuvres which she had rehearsed in imagination over and over again, but which she found impossible to apply in practice.  Then there had been weeks of a wurra wurra of hopes and fears and little stratagems which as often as not proved injudicious, and then somehow or other in the end, there lay the young man bound and with an arrow through his heart at her daughter’s feet.  It seemed to her to be all a fluke which she could have little or no hope of repeating.  She had indeed repeated it once, and might perhaps with good luck repeat it yet once again—but five times over!  It was awful: why she would rather have three confinements than go through the wear and tear of marrying a single daughter.