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The Way of All Flesh

Chapter 6
Mr Pontifex was not the man to trouble himself much about his motives. People were not
so introspective then as we are now; they lived more according to a rule of thumb. Dr
Arnold had not yet sown that crop of earnest thinkers which we are now harvesting, and
men did not see why they should not have their own way if no evil consequences to
themselves seemed likely to follow upon their doing so. Then as now, however, they
sometimes let themselves in for more evil consequences than they had bargained for.
Like other rich men at the beginning of this century he ate and drank a good deal more
than was enough to keep him in health. Even his excellent constitution was not proof
against a prolonged course of overfeeding and what we should now consider
overdrinking. His liver would not unfrequently get out of order, and he would come down
to breakfast looking yellow about the eyes. Then the young people knew that they had
better look out. It is not as a general rule the eating of sour grapes that causes the
children's teeth to be set on edge. Well-to-do parents seldom eat many sour grapes; the
danger to the children lies in the parents eating too many sweet ones.
I grant that at first sight it seems very unjust, that the parents should have the fun and the
children be punished for it, but young people should remember that for many years they
were part and parcel of their parents and therefore had a good deal of the fun in the
person of their parents. If they have forgotten the fun now, that is no more than people do
who have a headache after having been tipsy overnight. The man with a headache does
not pretend to be a different person from the man who got drunk, and claim that it is his
self of the preceding night and not his self of this morning who should be punished; no
more should offspring complain of the headache which it has earned when in the person
of its parents, for the continuation of identity, though not so immediately apparent, is just
as real in one case as in the other. What is really hard is when the parents have the fun
after the children have been born, and the children are punished for this.
On these, his black days, he would take very gloomy views of things and say to himself
that in spite of all his goodness to them his children did not love him. But who can love
any man whose liver is out of order? How base, he would exclaim to himself, was such
ingratitude! How especially hard upon himself, who had been such a model son, and
always honoured and obeyed his parents though they had not spent one hundredth part of
the money upon him which he had lavished upon his own children. "It is always the same
story," he would say to himself, "the more young people have the more they want, and
the less thanks one gets; I have made a great mistake; I have been far too lenient with my
children; never mind, I have done my duty by them, and more; if they fail in theirs to me
it is a matter between God and them. I, at any rate, am guiltless. Why, I might have
married again and become the father of a second and perhaps more affectionate family,
etc., etc." He pitied himself for the expensive education which he was giving his children;
he did not see that the education cost the children far more than it cost him, inasmuch as
it cost them the power of earning their living easily rather than helped them towards it,
and ensured their being at the mercy of their father for years after they had come to an
 
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