The Way of All Flesh HTML version
The storm which I have described in the previous chapter was a sample of those that
occurred daily for many years. No matter how clear the sky, it was always liable to cloud
over now in one quarter now in another, and the thunder and lightning were upon the
young people before they knew where they were.
"And then, you know," said Ernest to me, when I asked him not long since to give me
more of his childish reminiscences for the benefit of my story, "we used to learn Mrs
Barbauld's hymns; they were in prose, and there was one about the lion which began,
'Come, and I will show you what is strong. The lion is strong; when he raiseth himself
from his lair, when he shaketh his mane, when the voice of his roaring is heard the cattle
of the field fly, and the beasts of the desert hide themselves, for he is very terrible.' I used
to say this to Joey and Charlotte about my father himself when I got a little older, but
they were always didactic, and said it was naughty of me.
"One great reason why clergymen's households are generally unhappy is because the
clergyman is so much at home or close about the house. The doctor is out visiting
patients half his time: the lawyer and the merchant have offices away from home, but the
clergyman has no official place of business which shall ensure his being away from home
for many hours together at stated times. Our great days were when my father went for a
day's shopping to Gildenham. We were some miles from this place, and commissions
used to accumulate on my father's list till he would make a day of it and go and do the lot.
As soon as his back was turned the air felt lighter; as soon as the hall door opened to let
him in again, the law with its all-reaching 'touch not, taste not, handle not' was upon us
again. The worst of it was that I could never trust Joey and Charlotte; they would go a
good way with me and then turn back, or even the whole way and then their consciences
would compel them to tell papa and mamma. They liked running with the hare up to a
certain point, but their instinct was towards the hounds.
"It seems to me," he continued, "that the family is a survival of the principle which is
more logically embodied in the compound animal--and the compound animal is a form of
life which has been found incompatible with high development. I would do with the
family among mankind what nature has done with the compound animal, and confine it
to the lower and less progressive races. Certainly there is no inherent love for the family
system on the part of nature herself. Poll the forms of life and you will find it in a
ridiculously small minority. The fishes know it not, and they get along quite nicely. The
ants and the bees, who far outnumber man, sting their fathers to death as a matter of
course, and are given to the atrocious mutilation of nine-tenths of the offspring
committed to their charge, yet where shall we find communities more universally
respected? Take the cuckoo again--is there any bird which we like better?"
I saw he was running off from his own reminiscences and tried to bring him back to
them, but it was no use.