Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 5

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Chapter V

Fortune, we are told, is a blind and fickle foster-mother, who showers her gifts at random upon her nurslings.  But we do her a grave injustice if we believe such an accusation.  Trace a man’s career from his cradle to his grave and mark how Fortune has treated him.  You will find that when he is once dead she can for the most part be vindicated from the charge of any but very superficial fickleness.  Her blindness is the merest fable; she can espy her favourites long before they are born.  We are as days and have had our parents for our yesterdays, but through all the fair weather of a clear parental sky the eye of Fortune can discern the coming storm, and she laughs as she places her favourites it may be in a London alley or those whom she is resolved to ruin in kings’ palaces.  Seldom does she relent towards those whom she has suckled unkindly and seldom does she completely fail a favoured nursling.

Was George Pontifex one of Fortune’s favoured nurslings or not?  On the whole I should say that he was not, for he did not consider himself so; he was too religious to consider Fortune a deity at all; he took whatever she gave and never thanked her, being firmly convinced that whatever he got to his own advantage was of his own getting.  And so it was, after Fortune had made him able to get it.

“Nos te, nos facimus, Fortuna, deam,” exclaimed the poet.  “It is we who make thee, Fortune, a goddess”; and so it is, after Fortune has made us able to make her.  The poet says nothing as to the making of the “nos.”  Perhaps some men are independent of antecedents and surroundings and have an initial force within themselves which is in no way due to causation; but this is supposed to be a difficult question and it may be as well to avoid it.  Let it suffice that George Pontifex did not consider himself fortunate, and he who does not consider himself fortunate is unfortunate.

True, he was rich, universally respected and of an excellent natural constitution.  If he had eaten and drunk less he would never have known a day’s indisposition.  Perhaps his main strength lay in the fact that though his capacity was a little above the average, it was not too much so.  It is on this rock that so many clever people split.  The successful man will see just so much more than his neighbours as they will be able to see too when it is shown them, but not enough to puzzle them.  It is far safer to know too little than too much.  People will condemn the one, though they will resent being called upon to exert themselves to follow the other.

The best example of Mr Pontifex’s good sense in matters connected with his business which I can think of at this moment is the revolution which he effected in the style of advertising works published by the firm.  When he first became a partner one of the firm’s advertisements ran thus:—

“Books proper to be given away at this Season.—

“The Pious Country Parishioner, being directions how a Christian may manage every day in the course of his whole life with safety and success; how to spend the Sabbath Day; what books of the Holy Scripture ought to be read first; the whole method of education; collects for the most important virtues that adorn the soul; a discourse on the Lord’s Supper; rules to set the soul right in sickness; so that in this treatise are contained all the rules requisite for salvation.  The 8th edition with additions.  Price 10d.

*** An allowance will be made to those who give them away.”

Before he had been many years a partner the advertisement stood as follows:—

“The Pious Country Parishioner.  A complete manual of Christian Devotion.  Price 10d.

A reduction will be made to purchasers for gratuitous distribution.”