Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


This much, however, we may say in the meantime, that having lived to be nearly seventy-three years old and died rich he must have been in very fair harmony with his surroundings. I have heard it said sometimes that such and such a person's life was a lie: but no man's life can be a very bad lie; as long as it continues at all it is at worst nine-tenths of it true.

Mr Pontifex's life not only continued a long time, but was prosperous right up to the end. Is not this enough? Being in this world is it not our most obvious business to make the most of it--to observe what things do bona fide tend to long life and comfort, and to act accordingly? All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it--and they do enjoy it as much as man and other circumstances will allow. He has spent his life best who has enjoyed it most; God will take care that we do not enjoy it any more than is good for us. If Mr Pontifex is to be blamed it is for not having eaten and drunk less and thus suffered less from his liver, and lived perhaps a year or two longer.

Goodness is naught unless it tends towards old age and sufficiency of means. I speak broadly and exceptis excipiendis. So the psalmist says, "The righteous shall not lack anything that is good." Either this is mere poetical license, or it follows that he who lacks anything that is good is not righteous; there is a presumption also that he who has passed a long life without lacking anything that is good has himself also been good enough for practical purposes.

Mr Pontifex never lacked anything he much cared about. True, he might have been happier than he was if he had cared about things which he did not care for, but the gist of this lies in the "if he had cared." We have all sinned and come short of the glory of making ourselves as comfortable as we easily might have done, but in this particular case Mr Pontifex did not care, and would not have gained much by getting what he did not want.

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