Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


Ernest had been ordained to a curacy in one of the central parts of London. He hardly knew anything of London yet, but his instincts drew him thither. The day after he was ordained he entered upon his duties--feeling much as his father had done when he found himself boxed up in the carriage with Christina on the morning of his marriage. Before the first three days were over, he became aware that the light of the happiness which he had known during his four years at Cambridge had been extinguished, and he was appalled by the irrevocable nature of the step which he now felt that he had taken much too hurriedly.

The most charitable excuse that I can make for the vagaries which it will now be my duty to chronicle is that the shock of change consequent upon his becoming suddenly religious, being ordained and leaving Cambridge, had been too much for my hero, and had for the time thrown him off an equilibrium which was yet little supported by experience, and therefore as a matter of course unstable.

Everyone has a mass of bad work in him which he will have to work off and get rid of before he can do better--and indeed, the more lasting a man's ultimate good work is, the more sure he is to pass through a time, and perhaps a very long one, in which there seems very little hope for him at all. We must all sow our spiritual wild oats. The fault I feel personally disposed to find with my godson is not that he had wild oats to sow, but that they were such an exceedingly tame and uninteresting crop. The sense of humour and tendency to think for himself, of which till a few months previously he had been showing fair promise, were nipped as though by a late frost, while his earlier habit of taking on trust everything that was told him by those in authority, and following everything out to the bitter end, no matter how preposterous, returned with redoubled strength. I suppose this was what might have been expected from anyone placed as Ernest now was, especially when his antecedents are remembered, but it surprised and disappointed some of his cooler-headed Cambridge friends who had begun to think well of his ability. To himself it seemed that religion was incompatible with half measures, or even with compromise. Circumstances had led to his being ordained; for the moment he was sorry they had, but he had done it and must go through with it. He therefore set himself to find out what was expected of him, and to act accordingly.

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