The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler

Chapter 54

THIS move on Ernest’s part was variously commented upon by his friends, the general opinion being that it was just like Pontifex, who was sure to do something unusual wherever he went, but that on the whole the idea was commendable. Christina could not restrain herself when on sounding her clerical neighbours she found them inclined to applaud her son for conduct which they idealised into something much more self-denying than it really was. She did not quite like his living in such an unaristocratic neighbourhood; but what he was doing would probably get into the newspapers, and then great people would take notice of him. Besides, it would be very cheap; down among these poor people he could live for next to nothing, and might put by a great deal of his income. As for temptations, there could be few or none in such a place as that. This argument about cheapness was the one with which she most successfully met Theobald, who grumbled more suo that he had no sympathy with his son’s extravagance and conceit. When Christina pointed out to him that it would be cheap he replied that there was something in that.

On Ernest himself the effect was to confirm the good opinion of himself which had been growing upon him ever since he had begun to read for orders, and to make him flatter himself that he was among the few who were ready to give up all for Christ. Ere long he began to conceive of himself as a man with a mission and a great future. His lightest and most hastily formed opinions began to be of momentous importance to him, and he inflicted them, as I have already shown, on his old friends, week by week becoming more and more entete with himself and his own crotchets. I should like well enough to draw a veil over this part of my hero’s career, but cannot do so without marring my story.

In the spring of 1859 I find him writing —

“I cannot call the visible Church Christian till its fruits are Christian, that is until the fruits of the members of the Church of England are in conformity, or something like conformity, with her teaching. I cordially agree with the teaching of the Church of England in most respects, but she says one thing and does another, and until excommunication — yes, and wholesale excommunication — be resorted to, I cannot call her a Christian institution. I should begin with our Rector, and if I found it necessary to follow him up by excommunicating the Bishop, I should not flinch even from this.

“The present London Rectors are hopeless people to deal with. My own is one of the best of them, but the moment Pryer and I show signs of wanting to attack an evil in a way not recognised by routine, or of remedying anything about which no outcry has been made, we are met with, ‘I cannot think what you mean by all this disturbance; nobody else among the clergy sees these things, and I have no wish to be the first to begin turning everything topsy-turvy.’ And then people call him a sensible man. I have no patience with them. However, we know what we want, and, as I wrote to Dawson the other day, have a scheme on foot which will, I think, fairly meet the requirements of the case. But we want more money, and my first move towards getting this has not turned out quite so satisfactorily as Pryer and I had hoped; we shall, however, doubt not, retrieve it shortly.”

When Ernest came to London he intended doing a good deal of house-to-house visiting, but Pryer had talked him out of this even before he settled down in his new and strangely-chosen apartments. The line he now took was that if people wanted Christ, they must prove their want by taking some little trouble, and the trouble required of them was that they should come and seek him, Ernest, out; there he was in the midst of them ready to teach; if people did not choose to come to him it was no fault of his.

“My great business here,” he writes again to Dawson, “is to observe. I am not doing much in parish work beyond my share of the daily services. I have a man’s Bible Class, and a boy’s Bible Class, and a good many young men and boys to whom I give instruction one way or another; then there are the Sunday School children, with whom I fill my room on a Sunday evening as full as it will hold, and let them sing hymns and chants. They like this. I do a great deal of reading — chiefly of books which Pryer and I think most likely to help; we find nothing comparable to the Jesuits. Pryer is a thorough gentleman, and an admirable man of business — no less observant of the things of this world, in fact, than of the things above; by a brilliant coup he has retrieved, or nearly so, a rather serious loss which threatened to delay indefinitely the execution of our great scheme. He and I daily gather fresh principles. I believe great things are before me, and am strong in the hope of being able by-and-by to effect much.

“As for you I bid you Godspeed. Be bold but logical, speculative but cautious, daringly courageous, but properly circumspect withal,” etc., etc.

I think this may do for the present.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/butler/samuel/b98w/chapter54.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31