Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


Some people say that their school days were the happiest of their lives. They may be right, but I always look with suspicion upon those whom I hear saying this. It is hard enough to know whether one is happy or unhappy now, and still harder to compare the relative happiness or unhappiness of different times of one's life; the utmost that can be said is that we are fairly happy so long as we are not distinctly aware of being miserable. As I was talking with Ernest one day not so long since about this, he said he was so happy now that he was sure he had never been happier, and did not wish to be so, but that Cambridge was the first place where he had ever been consciously and continuously happy.

How can any boy fail to feel an ecstasy of pleasure on first finding himself in rooms which he knows for the next few years are to be his castle? Here he will not be compelled to turn out of the most comfortable place as soon as he has ensconced himself in it because papa or mamma happens to come into the room, and he should give it up to them. The most cosy chair here is for himself, there is no one even to share the room with him, or to interfere with his doing as he likes in it--smoking included. Why, if such a room looked out both back and front on to a blank dead wall it would still be a paradise, how much more then when the view is of some quiet grassy court or cloister or garden, as from the windows of the greater number of rooms at Oxford and Cambridge.

Theobald, as an old fellow and tutor of Emmanuel--at which college he had entered Ernest--was able to obtain from the present tutor a certain preference in the choice of rooms; Ernest's, therefore, were very pleasant ones, looking out upon the grassy court that is bounded by the Fellows' gardens.

Theobald accompanied him to Cambridge, and was at his best while doing so. He liked the jaunt, and even he was not without a certain feeling of pride in having a full-blown son at the University. Some of the reflected rays of this splendour were allowed to fall upon Ernest himself. Theobald said he was "willing to hope"--this was one of his tags--that his son would turn over a new leaf now that he had left school, and for his own part he was "only too ready"--this was another tag--to let bygones be bygones.

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