Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

22. CHAPTER XXII (continued)

They told me a good deal which I am afraid I ought not to have listened to. They said that if grandpapa had lived longer he would most likely have been made a Lord, and that then papa would have been the Honourable and Reverend, but that grandpapa was now in heaven singing beautiful hymns with grandmamma Allaby to Jesus Christ, who was very fond of them; and that when Ernest was ill, his mamma had told him he need not be afraid of dying for he would go straight to heaven, if he would only be sorry for having done his lessons so badly and vexed his dear papa, and if he would promise never, never to vex him any more; and that when he got to heaven grandpapa and grandmamma Allaby would meet him, and he would be always with them, and they would be very good to him and teach him to sing ever such beautiful hymns, more beautiful by far than those which he was now so fond of, etc., etc.; but he did not wish to die, and was glad when he got better, for there were no kittens in heaven, and he did not think there were cowslips to make cowslip tea with.

Their mother was plainly disappointed in them. "My children are none of them geniuses, Mr Overton," she said to me at breakfast one morning. "They have fair abilities, and, thanks to Theobald's tuition, they are forward for their years, but they have nothing like genius: genius is a thing apart from this, is it not?"

Of course I said it was "a thing quite apart from this," but if my thoughts had been laid bare, they would have appeared as "Give me my coffee immediately, ma'am, and don't talk nonsense." I have no idea what genius is, but so far as I can form any conception about it, I should say it was a stupid word which cannot be too soon abandoned to scientific and literary claqueurs.

I do not know exactly what Christina expected, but I should imagine it was something like this: "My children ought to be all geniuses, because they are mine and Theobald's, and it is naughty of them not to be; but, of course, they cannot be so good and clever as Theobald and I were, and if they show signs of being so it will be naughty of them. Happily, however, they are not this, and yet it is very dreadful that they are not. As for genius--hoity-toity, indeed-- why, a genius should turn intellectual summersaults as soon as it is born, and none of my children have yet been able to get into the newspapers. I will not have children of mine give themselves airs-- it is enough for them that Theobald and I should do so."

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