The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 19
This much, however, we may say in the meantime, that having lived to be nearly seventy-
three years old and died rich he must have been in very fair harmony with his
surroundings. I have heard it said sometimes that such and such a person's life was a lie:
but no man's life can be a very bad lie; as long as it continues at all it is at worst nine-
tenths of it true.
Mr Pontifex's life not only continued a long time, but was prosperous right up to the end.
Is not this enough? Being in this world is it not our most obvious business to make the
most of it--to observe what things do bona fide tend to long life and comfort, and to act
accordingly? All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy
it--and they do enjoy it as much as man and other circumstances will allow. He has spent
his life best who has enjoyed it most; God will take care that we do not enjoy it any more
than is good for us. If Mr Pontifex is to be blamed it is for not having eaten and drunk
less and thus suffered less from his liver, and lived perhaps a year or two longer.
Goodness is naught unless it tends towards old age and sufficiency of means. I speak
broadly and exceptis excipiendis. So the psalmist says, "The righteous shall not lack
anything that is good." Either this is mere poetical license, or it follows that he who lacks
anything that is good is not righteous; there is a presumption also that he who has passed
a long life without lacking anything that is good has himself also been good enough for
practical purposes.
Mr Pontifex never lacked anything he much cared about. True, he might have been
happier than he was if he had cared about things which he did not care for, but the gist of
this lies in the "if he had cared." We have all sinned and come short of the glory of
making ourselves as comfortable as we easily might have done, but in this particular case
Mr Pontifex did not care, and would not have gained much by getting what he did not
There is no casting of swine's meat before men worse than that which would flatter virtue
as though her true origin were not good enough for her, but she must have a lineage,
deduced as it were by spiritual heralds, from some stock with which she has nothing to
do. Virtue's true lineage is older and more respectable than any that can be invented for
her. She springs from man's experience concerning his own well-being--and this, though
not infallible, is still the least fallible thing we have. A system which cannot stand
without a better foundation than this must have something so unstable within itself that it
will topple over on whatever pedestal we place it.
The world has long ago settled that morality and virtue are what bring men peace at the
last. "Be virtuous," says the copy-book, "and you will be happy." Surely if a reputed
virtue fails often in this respect it is only an insidious form of vice, and if a reputed vice
brings no very serious mischief on a man's later years it is not so bad a vice as it is said to
be. Unfortunately though we are all of a mind about the main opinion that virtue is what