Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


The winter had been a trying one. Ernest had only paid his way by selling his piano. With this he seemed to cut away the last link that connected him with his earlier life, and to sink once for all into the small shop-keeper. It seemed to him that however low he might sink his pain could not last much longer, for he should simply die if it did.

He hated Ellen now, and the pair lived in open want of harmony with each other. If it had not been for his children, he would have left her and gone to America, but he could not leave the children with Ellen, and as for taking them with him he did not know how to do it, nor what to do with them when he had got them to America. If he had not lost energy he would probably in the end have taken the children and gone off, but his nerve was shaken, so day after day went by and nothing was done.

He had only got a few shillings in the world now, except the value of his stock, which was very little; he could get perhaps 3 pounds or 4 pounds by selling his music and what few pictures and pieces of furniture still belonged to him. He thought of trying to live by his pen, but his writing had dropped off long ago; he no longer had an idea in his head. Look which way he would he saw no hope; the end, if it had not actually come, was within easy distance and he was almost face to face with actual want. When he saw people going about poorly clad, or even without shoes and stockings, he wondered whether within a few months' time he too should not have to go about in this way. The remorseless, resistless hand of fate had caught him in its grip and was dragging him down, down, down. Still he staggered on, going his daily rounds, buying second-hand clothes, and spending his evenings in cleaning and mending them.

One morning, as he was returning from a house at the West End where he had bought some clothes from one of the servants, he was struck by a small crowd which had gathered round a space that had been railed off on the grass near one of the paths in the Green Park.

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