Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

59. CHAPTER LIX (continued)

In like manner, though he had received a shock by reason of his conversation with Mr Shaw, and by looking at the "Vestiges," he was as yet too much stunned to realise the change which was coming over him. In each case the momentum of old habits carried him forward in the old direction. He therefore called on Pryer, and spent an hour and more with him.

He did not say that he had been visiting among his neighbours; this to Pryer would have been like a red rag to a bull. He only talked in much his usual vein about the proposed College, the lamentable want of interest in spiritual things which was characteristic of modern society, and other kindred matters; he concluded by saying that for the present he feared Pryer was indeed right, and that nothing could be done.

"As regards the laity," said Pryer, "nothing; not until we have a discipline which we can enforce with pains and penalties. How can a sheep dog work a flock of sheep unless he can bite occasionally as well as bark? But as regards ourselves we can do much."

Pryer's manner was strange throughout the conversation, as though he were thinking all the time of something else. His eyes wandered curiously over Ernest, as Ernest had often noticed them wander before: the words were about Church discipline, but somehow or other the discipline part of the story had a knack of dropping out after having been again and again emphatically declared to apply to the laity and not to the clergy: once indeed Pryer had pettishly exclaimed: "Oh, bother the College of Spiritual Pathology." As regards the clergy, glimpses of a pretty large cloven hoof kept peeping out from under the saintly robe of Pryer's conversation, to the effect, that so long as they were theoretically perfect, practical peccadilloes--or even peccadaccios, if there is such a word, were of less importance. He was restless, as though wanting to approach a subject which he did not quite venture to touch upon, and kept harping (he did this about every third day) on the wretched lack of definition concerning the limits of vice and virtue, and the way in which half the vices wanted regulating rather than prohibiting. He dwelt also on the advantages of complete unreserve, and hinted that there were mysteries into which Ernest had not yet been initiated, but which would enlighten him when he got to know them, as he would be allowed to do when his friends saw that he was strong enough.

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