The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 8
Mr Pontifex had set his heart on his son's becoming a fellow of a college before he
became a clergyman. This would provide for him at once and would ensure his getting a
living if none of his father's ecclesiastical friends gave him one. The boy had done just
well enough at school to render this possible, so he was sent to one of the smaller
colleges at Cambridge and was at once set to read with the best private tutors that could
be found. A system of examination had been adopted a year or so before Theobald took
his degree which had improved his chances of a fellowship, for whatever ability he had
was classical rather than mathematical, and this system gave more encouragement to
classical studies than had been given hitherto.
Theobald had the sense to see that he had a chance of independence if he worked hard,
and he liked the notion of becoming a fellow. He therefore applied himself, and in the
end took a degree which made his getting a fellowship in all probability a mere question
of time. For a while Mr Pontifex senior was really pleased, and told his son he would
present him with the works of any standard writer whom he might select. The young man
chose the works of Bacon, and Bacon accordingly made his appearance in ten nicely
bound volumes. A little inspection, however, showed that the copy was a second hand
Now that he had taken his degree the next thing to look forward to was ordination--about
which Theobald had thought little hitherto beyond acquiescing in it as something that
would come as a matter of course some day. Now, however, it had actually come and was
asserting itself as a thing which should be only a few months off, and this rather
frightened him inasmuch as there would be no way out of it when he was once in it. He
did not like the near view of ordination as well as the distant one, and even made some
feeble efforts to escape, as may be perceived by the following correspondence which his
son Ernest found among his father's papers written on gilt-edged paper, in faded ink and
tied neatly round with a piece of tape, but without any note or comment. I have altered
nothing. The letters are as follows:-
"My dear Father,--I do not like opening up a question which has been considered settled,
but as the time approaches I begin to be very doubtful how far I am fitted to be a
clergyman. Not, I am thankful to say, that I have the faintest doubts about the Church of
England, and I could subscribe cordially to every one of the thirty-nine articles which do
indeed appear to me to be the ne plus ultra of human wisdom, and Paley, too, leaves no
loop-hole for an opponent; but I am sure I should be running counter to your wishes if I
were to conceal from you that I do not feel the inward call to be a minister of the gospel
that I shall have to say I have felt when the Bishop ordains me. I try to get this feeling, I
pray for it earnestly, and sometimes half think that I have got it, but in a little time it
wears off, and though I have no absolute repugnance to being a clergyman and trust that
if I am one I shall endeavour to live to the Glory of God and to advance His interests
upon earth, yet I feel that something more than this is wanted before I am fully justified
in going into the Church. I am aware that I have been a great expense to you in spite of