Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


The foregoing letter shows how much greater was Christina's anxiety for the eternal than for the temporal welfare of her sons. One would have thought she had sowed enough of such religious wild oats by this time, but she had plenty still to sow. To me it seems that those who are happy in this world are better and more lovable people than those who are not, and that thus in the event of a Resurrection and Day of Judgement, they will be the most likely to be deemed worthy of a heavenly mansion. Perhaps a dim unconscious perception of this was the reason why Christina was so anxious for Theobald's earthly happiness, or was it merely due to a conviction that his eternal welfare was so much a matter of course, that it only remained to secure his earthly happiness? He was to "find his sons obedient, affectionate, attentive to his wishes, self-denying and diligent," a goodly string forsooth of all the virtues most convenient to parents; he was never to have to blush for the follies of those "who owed him such a debt of gratitude," and "whose first duty it was to study his happiness." How like maternal solicitude is this! Solicitude for the most part lest the offspring should come to have wishes and feelings of its own, which may occasion many difficulties, fancied or real. It is this that is at the bottom of the whole mischief; but whether this last proposition is granted or no, at any rate we observe that Christina had a sufficiently keen appreciation of the duties of children towards their parents, and felt the task of fulfilling them adequately to be so difficult that she was very doubtful how far Ernest and Joey would succeed in mastering it. It is plain in fact that her supposed parting glance upon them was one of suspicion. But there was no suspicion of Theobald; that he should have devoted his life to his children--why this was such a mere platitude, as almost to go without saying.

How, let me ask, was it possible that a child only a little past five years old, trained in such an atmosphere of prayers and hymns and sums and happy Sunday evenings--to say nothing of daily repeated beatings over the said prayers and hymns, etc., about which our authoress is silent--how was it possible that a lad so trained should grow up in any healthy or vigorous development, even though in her own way his mother was undoubtedly very fond of him, and sometimes told him stories? Can the eye of any reader fail to detect the coming wrath of God as about to descend upon the head of him who should be nurtured under the shadow of such a letter as the foregoing?

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