Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


So he fell away from all old friends except myself and three or four old intimates of my own, who were as sure to take to him as he to them, and who like myself enjoyed getting hold of a young fresh mind. Ernest attended to the keeping of my account books whenever there was anything which could possibly be attended to, which there seldom was, and spent the greater part of the rest of his time in adding to the many notes and tentative essays which had already accumulated in his portfolios. Anyone who was used to writing could see at a glance that literature was his natural development, and I was pleased at seeing him settle down to it so spontaneously. I was less pleased, however, to observe that he would still occupy himself with none but the most serious, I had almost said solemn, subjects, just as he never cared about any but the most serious kind of music.

I said to him one day that the very slender reward which God had attached to the pursuit of serious inquiry was a sufficient proof that He disapproved of it, or at any rate that He did not set much store by it nor wish to encourage it.

He said: "Oh, don't talk about rewards. Look at Milton, who only got 5 pounds for 'Paradise Lost.'"

"And a great deal too much," I rejoined promptly. "I would have given him twice as much myself not to have written it at all."

Ernest was a little shocked. "At any rate," he said laughingly, "I don't write poetry."

This was a cut at me, for my burlesques were, of course, written in rhyme. So I dropped the matter.

After a time he took it into his head to re-open the question of his getting 300 pounds a year for doing, as he said, absolutely nothing, and said he would try to find some employment which should bring him in enough to live upon.

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