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20.What They Mean By It
I have given the above mythology at some length, but it is only a small part of what they
have upon the subject. My first feeling on reading it was that any amount of folly on the
part of the unborn in coming here was justified by a desire to escape from such
intolerable prosing. The mythology is obviously an unfair and exaggerated representation
of life and things; and had its authors been so minded they could have easily drawn a
picture which would err as much on the bright side as this does on the dark. No
Erewhonian believes that the world is as black as it has been here painted, but it is one of
their peculiarities that they very often do not believe or mean things which they profess to
regard as indisputable.
In the present instance their professed views concerning the unborn have arisen from
their desire to prove that people have been presented with the gloomiest possible picture
of their own prospects before they came here; otherwise, they could hardly say to one
whom they are going to punish for an affection of the heart or brain that it is all his own
doing. In practice they modify their theory to a considerable extent, and seldom refer to
the birth formula except in extreme cases; for the force of habit, or what not, gives many
of them a kindly interest even in creatures who have so much wronged them as the
unborn have done; and though a man generally hates the unwelcome little stranger for the
first twelve months, he is apt to mollify (according to his lights) as time goes on, and
sometimes he will become inordinately attached to the beings whom he is pleased to call
his children.
Of course, according to Erewhonian premises, it would serve people right to be punished
and scouted for moral and intellectual diseases as much as for physical, and I cannot to
this day understand why they should have stopped short half way. Neither, again, can I
understand why their having done so should have been, as it certainly was, a matter of so
much concern to myself. What could it matter to me how many absurdities the
Erewhonians might adopt? Nevertheless I longed to make them think as I did, for the
wish to spread those opinions that we hold conducive to our own welfare is so deeply
rooted in the English character that few of us can escape its influence. But let this pass.
In spite of not a few modifications in practice of a theory which is itself revolting, the
relations between children and parents in that country are less happy than in Europe. It
was rarely that I saw cases of real hearty and intense affection between the old people and
the young ones. Here and there I did so, and was quite sure that the children, even at the
age of twenty, were fonder of their parents than they were of any one else; and that of
their own inclination, being free to choose what company they would, they would often
choose that of their father and mother. The straightener's carriage was rarely seen at the
door of those houses. I saw two or three such cases during the time that I remained in the
country, and cannot express the pleasure which I derived from a sight suggestive of so
much goodness and wisdom and forbearance, so richly rewarded; yet I firmly believe that
the same thing would happen in nine families out of ten if the parents were merely to
remember how they felt when they were young, and actually to behave towards their