Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

69. CHAPTER LXIX (continued)

The morning was grey, and the first signs of winter fog were beginning to show themselves, for it was now the 30th of September. Ernest wore the clothes in which he had entered prison, and was therefore dressed as a clergyman. No one who looked at him would have seen any difference between his present appearance and his appearance six months previously; indeed, as he walked slowly through the dingy crowded lane called Eyre Street Hill (which he well knew, for he had clerical friends in that neighbourhood), the months he had passed in prison seemed to drop out of his life, and so powerfully did association carry him away that, finding himself in his old dress and in his old surroundings, he felt dragged back into his old self--as though his six months of prison life had been a dream from which he was now waking to take things up as he had left them. This was the effect of unchanged surroundings upon the unchanged part of him. But there was a changed part, and the effect of unchanged surroundings upon this was to make everything seem almost as strange as though he had never had any life but his prison one, and was now born into a new world.

All our lives long, every day and every hour, we are engaged in the process of accommodating our changed and unchanged selves to changed and unchanged surroundings; living, in fact, in nothing else than this process of accommodation; when we fail in it a little we are stupid, when we fail flagrantly we are mad, when we suspend it temporarily we sleep, when we give up the attempt altogether we die. In quiet, uneventful lives the changes internal and external are so small that there is little or no strain in the process of fusion and accommodation; in other lives there is great strain, but there is also great fusing and accommodating power; in others great strain with little accommodating power. A life will be successful or not according as the power of accommodation is equal to or unequal to the strain of fusing and adjusting internal and external changes.

The trouble is that in the end we shall be driven to admit the unity of the universe so completely as to be compelled to deny that there is either an external or an internal, but must see everything both as external and internal at one and the same time, subject and object--external and internal--being unified as much as everything else. This will knock our whole system over, but then every system has got to be knocked over by something.

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