Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


With the masters Ernest was ere long in absolute disgrace. He had more liberty now than he had known heretofore. The heavy hand and watchful eye of Theobald were no longer about his path and about his bed and spying out all his ways; and punishment by way of copying out lines of Virgil was a very different thing from the savage beatings of his father. The copying out in fact was often less trouble than the lesson. Latin and Greek had nothing in them which commended them to his instinct as likely to bring him peace even at the last; still less did they hold out any hope of doing so within some more reasonable time. The deadness inherent in these defunct languages themselves had never been artificially counteracted by a system of bona fide rewards for application. There had been any amount of punishments for want of application, but no good comfortable bribes had baited the hook which was to allure him to his good.

Indeed, the more pleasant side of learning to do this or that had always been treated as something with which Ernest had no concern. We had no business with pleasant things at all, at any rate very little business, at any rate not he, Ernest. We were put into this world not for pleasure but duty, and pleasure had in it something more or less sinful in its very essence. If we were doing anything we liked, we, or at any rate he, Ernest, should apologise and think he was being very mercifully dealt with, if not at once told to go and do something else. With what he did not like, however, it was different; the more he disliked a thing the greater the presumption that it was right. It never occurred to him that the presumption was in favour of the rightness of what was most pleasant, and that the onus of proving that it was not right lay with those who disputed its being so. I have said more than once that he believed in his own depravity; never was there a little mortal more ready to accept without cavil whatever he was told by those who were in authority over him: he thought, at least, that he believed it, for as yet he knew nothing of that other Ernest that dwelt within him, and was so much stronger and more real than the Ernest of which he was conscious. The dumb Ernest persuaded with inarticulate feelings too swift and sure to be translated into such debateable things as words, but practically insisted as follows -

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