Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 48

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Chapter XLVIII

Once, recently, when he was down at home after taking his degree, his mother had had a short conversation with him about his becoming a clergyman, set on thereto by Theobald, who shrank from the subject himself.  This time it was during a turn taken in the garden, and not on the sofa—which was reserved for supreme occasions.

“You know, my dearest boy,” she said to him, “that papa” (she always called Theobald “papa” when talking to Ernest) “is so anxious you should not go into the Church blindly, and without fully realising the difficulties of a clergyman’s position.  He has considered all of them himself, and has been shown how small they are, when they are faced boldly, but he wishes you, too, to feel them as strongly and completely as possible before committing yourself to irrevocable vows, so that you may never, never have to regret the step you will have taken.”

This was the first time Ernest had heard that there were any difficulties, and he not unnaturally enquired in a vague way after their nature.

“That, my dear boy,” rejoined Christina, “is a question which I am not fitted to enter upon either by nature or education.  I might easily unsettle your mind without being able to settle it again.  Oh, no!  Such questions are far better avoided by women, and, I should have thought, by men, but papa wished me to speak to you upon the subject, so that there might be no mistake hereafter, and I have done so.  Now, therefore, you know all.”

The conversation ended here, so far as this subject was concerned, and Ernest thought he did know all.  His mother would not have told him he knew all—not about a matter of that sort—unless he actually did know it; well, it did not come to very much; he supposed there were some difficulties, but his father, who at any rate was an excellent scholar and a learned man, was probably quite right here, and he need not trouble himself more about them.  So little impression did the conversation make on him, that it was not till long afterwards that, happening to remember it, he saw what a piece of sleight of hand had been practised upon him.  Theobald and Christina, however, were satisfied that they had done their duty by opening their son’s eyes to the difficulties of assenting to all a clergyman must assent to.  This was enough; it was a matter for rejoicing that, though they had been put so fully and candidly before him, he did not find them serious.  It was not in vain that they had prayed for so many years to be made “truly honest and conscientious.”

“And now, my dear,” resumed Christina, after having disposed of all the difficulties that might stand in the way of Ernest’s becoming a clergyman, “there is another matter on which I should like to have a talk with you.  It is about your sister Charlotte.  You know how clever she is, and what a dear, kind sister she has been and always will be to yourself and Joey.  I wish, my dearest Ernest, that I saw more chance of her finding a suitable husband than I do at Battersby, and I sometimes think you might do more than you do to help her.”

Ernest began to chafe at this, for he had heard it so often, but he said nothing.

“You know, my dear, a brother can do so much for his sister if he lays himself out to do it.  A mother can do very little—indeed, it is hardly a mother’s place to seek out young men; it is a brother’s place to find a suitable partner for his sister; all that I can do is to try to make Battersby as attractive as possible to any of your friends whom you may invite.  And in that,” she added, with a little toss of her head, “I do not think I have been deficient hitherto.”