Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 37

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There was one place only where he was happy, and that was in the old church of St Michael, when his friend the organist was practising.  About this time cheap editions of the great oratorios began to appear, and Ernest got them all as soon as they were published; he would sometimes sell a school-book to a second-hand dealer, and buy a number or two of the “Messiah,” or the “Creation,” or “Elijah,” with the proceeds.  This was simply cheating his papa and mamma, but Ernest was falling low again—or thought he was—and he wanted the music much, and the Sallust, or whatever it was, little.  Sometimes the organist would go home, leaving his keys with Ernest, so that he could play by himself and lock up the organ and the church in time to get back for calling over.  At other times, while his friend was playing, he would wander round the church, looking at the monuments and the old stained glass windows, enchanted as regards both ears and eyes, at once.  Once the old rector got hold of him as he was watching a new window being put in, which the rector had bought in Germany—the work, it was supposed, of Albert Dürer.  He questioned Ernest, and finding that he was fond of music, he said in his old trembling voice (for he was over eighty), “Then you should have known Dr Burney who wrote the history of music.  I knew him exceedingly well when I was a young man.”  That made Ernest’s heart beat, for he knew that Dr Burney, when a boy at school at Chester, used to break bounds that he might watch Handel smoking his pipe in the Exchange coffee house—and now he was in the presence of one who, if he had not seen Handel himself, had at least seen those who had seen him.

These were oases in his desert, but, as a general rule, the boy looked thin and pale, and as though he had a secret which depressed him, which no doubt he had, but for which I cannot blame him.  He rose, in spite of himself, higher in the school, but fell ever into deeper and deeper disgrace with the masters, and did not gain in the opinion of those boys about whom he was persuaded that they could assuredly never know what it was to have a secret weighing upon their minds.  This was what Ernest felt so keenly; he did not much care about the boys who liked him, and idolised some who kept him as far as possible at a distance, but this is pretty much the case with all boys everywhere.

At last things reached a crisis, below which they could not very well go, for at the end of the half year but one after his aunt’s death, Ernest brought back a document in his portmanteau, which Theobald stigmatised as “infamous and outrageous.”  I need hardly say I am alluding to his school bill.

This document was always a source of anxiety to Ernest, for it was gone into with scrupulous care, and he was a good deal cross-examined about it.  He would sometimes “write in” for articles necessary for his education, such as a portfolio, or a dictionary, and sell the same, as I have explained, in order to eke out his pocket money, probably to buy either music or tobacco.  These frauds were sometimes, as Ernest thought, in imminent danger of being discovered, and it was a load off his breast when the cross-examination was safely over.  This time Theobald had made a great fuss about the extras, but had grudgingly passed them; it was another matter, however, with the character and the moral statistics, with which the bill concluded.

The page on which these details were to be found was as follows:


Classics—Idle, listless and unimproving.
Mathematics " " "
Divinity " " "
Conduct in house.—Orderly.
General Conduct—Not satisfactory, on account of his great unpunctuality and inattention to duties.
Monthly merit money 1s. 6d. 6d. 0d. 6d.  Total 2s. 6d.
Number of merit marks 2 0 1 1 0 Total 4
Number of penal marks 26 20 25 30 25 Total 126
Number of extra penals 9 6 10 12 11 Total 48
I recommend that his pocket money be made to depend upon his merit money.
S. SKINNER, Head-master.