The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 1
When I was a small boy at the beginning of the century I remember an old man who wore
knee-breeches and worsted stockings, and who used to hobble about the street of our
village with the help of a stick. He must have been getting on for eighty in the year 1807,
earlier than which date I suppose I can hardly remember him, for I was born in 1802. A
few white locks hung about his ears, his shoulders were bent and his knees feeble, but he
was still hale, and was much respected in our little world of Paleham. His name was
His wife was said to be his master; I have been told she brought him a little money, but it
cannot have been much. She was a tall, square-shouldered person (I have heard my father
call her a Gothic woman) who had insisted on being married to Mr Pontifex when he was
young and too good-natured to say nay to any woman who wooed him. The pair had
lived not unhappily together, for Mr Pontifex's temper was easy and he soon learned to
bow before his wife's more stormy moods.
Mr Pontifex was a carpenter by trade; he was also at one time parish clerk; when I
remember him, however, he had so far risen in life as to be no longer compelled to work
with his own hands. In his earlier days he had taught himself to draw. I do not say he
drew well, but it was surprising he should draw as well as he did. My father, who took
the living of Paleham about the year 1797, became possessed of a good many of old Mr
Pontifex's drawings, which were always of local subjects, and so unaffectedly painstaking
that they might have passed for the work of some good early master. I remember them as
hanging up framed and glazed in the study at the Rectory, and tinted, as all else in the
room was tinted, with the green reflected from the fringe of ivy leaves that grew around
the windows. I wonder how they will actually cease and come to an end as drawings, and
into what new phases of being they will then enter.
Not content with being an artist, Mr Pontifex must needs also be a musician. He built the
organ in the church with his own hands, and made a smaller one which he kept in his own
house. He could play as much as he could draw, not very well according to professional
standards, but much better than could have been expected. I myself showed a taste for
music at an early age, and old Mr Pontifex on finding it out, as he soon did, became
partial to me in consequence.
It may be thought that with so many irons in the fire he could hardly be a very thriving
man, but this was not the case. His father had been a day labourer, and he had himself
begun life with no other capital than his good sense and good constitution; now, however,
there was a goodly show of timber about his yard, and a look of solid comfort over his
whole establishment. Towards the close of the eighteenth century and not long before my
father came to Paleham, he had taken a farm of about ninety acres, thus making a
considerable rise in life. Along with the farm there went an old- fashioned but
comfortable house with a charming garden and an orchard. The carpenter's business was