Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 16

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Chapter XVI

He does not like this branch of his profession—indeed he hates it—but will not admit it to himself.  The habit of not admitting things to himself has become a confirmed one with him.  Nevertheless there haunts him an ill defined sense that life would be pleasanter if there were no sick sinners, or if they would at any rate face an eternity of torture with more indifference.  He does not feel that he is in his element.  The farmers look as if they were in their element.  They are full-bodied, healthy and contented; but between him and them there is a great gulf fixed.  A hard and drawn look begins to settle about the corners of his mouth, so that even if he were not in a black coat and white tie a child might know him for a parson.

He knows that he is doing his duty.  Every day convinces him of this more firmly; but then there is not much duty for him to do.  He is sadly in want of occupation.  He has no taste for any of those field sports which were not considered unbecoming for a clergyman forty years ago.  He does not ride, nor shoot, nor fish, nor course, nor play cricket.  Study, to do him justice, he had never really liked, and what inducement was there for him to study at Battersby?  He reads neither old books nor new ones.  He does not interest himself in art or science or politics, but he sets his back up with some promptness if any of them show any development unfamiliar to himself.  True, he writes his own sermons, but even his wife considers that his forte lies rather in the example of his life (which is one long act of self-devotion) than in his utterances from the pulpit.  After breakfast he retires to his study; he cuts little bits out of the Bible and gums them with exquisite neatness by the side of other little bits; this he calls making a Harmony of the Old and New Testaments.  Alongside the extracts he copies in the very perfection of hand-writing extracts from Mede (the only man, according to Theobald, who really understood the Book of Revelation), Patrick, and other old divines.  He works steadily at this for half an hour every morning during many years, and the result is doubtless valuable.  After some years have gone by he hears his children their lessons, and the daily oft-repeated screams that issue from the study during the lesson hours tell their own horrible story over the house.  He has also taken to collecting a hortus siccus, and through the interest of his father was once mentioned in the Saturday Magazine as having been the first to find a plant, whose name I have forgotten, in the neighbourhood of Battersby.  This number of the Saturday Magazine has been bound in red morocco, and is kept upon the drawing-room table.  He potters about his garden; if he hears a hen cackling he runs and tells Christina, and straightway goes hunting for the egg.

When the two Miss Allabys came, as they sometimes did, to stay with Christina, they said the life led by their sister and brother-in-law was an idyll.  Happy indeed was Christina in her choice, for that she had had a choice was a fiction which soon took root among them—and happy Theobald in his Christina.  Somehow or other Christina was always a little shy of cards when her sisters were staying with her, though at other times she enjoyed a game of cribbage or a rubber of whist heartily enough, but her sisters knew they would never be asked to Battersby again if they were to refer to that little matter, and on the whole it was worth their while to be asked to Battersby.  If Theobald’s temper was rather irritable he did not vent it upon them.

By nature reserved, if he could have found someone to cook his dinner for him, he would rather have lived in a desert island than not.  In his heart of hearts he held with Pope that “the greatest nuisance to mankind is man” or words to that effect—only that women, with the exception perhaps of Christina, were worse.  Yet for all this when visitors called he put a better face on it than anyone who was behind the scenes would have expected.

He was quick too at introducing the names of any literary celebrities whom he had met at his father’s house, and soon established an all-round reputation which satisfied even Christina herself.