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2009.04.20 =>

More from Samuel Butler

Best bit of narrative prose I’ve run into recently:

It was all very well to have made the discovery that he didn’t very much like poor people, but he had got to put up with them, for it was among them that his work must lie. Such men as Towneley were very kind and considerate, but he knew well enough it was only on condition that he did not preach to them. He could manage the poor better, and, let Pryer sneer as he liked, he was resolved to go more among them, and try the effect of bringing Christ to them if they would not come and seek Christ of themselves. He would begin with his own house.

Who then should he take first? Surely he could not do better than begin with the tailor who lived immediately over his head. This would be desirable, not only because he was the one who seemed to stand most in need of conversion, but also because, if he were once converted, he would no longer beat his wife at two o’clock in the morning, and the house would be much pleasanter in consequence. He would therefore go upstairs at once, and have a quiet talk with this man.

Before doing so, he thought it would be well if he were to draw up something like a plan of a campaign; he therefore reflected over some pretty conversations which would do very nicely if Mr Holt would be kind enough to make the answers proposed for him in their proper places. But the man was a great hulking fellow, of a savage temper, and Ernest was forced to admit that unforeseen developments might arise to disconcert him. They say it takes nine tailors to make a man, but Ernest felt that it would take at least nine Ernests to make a Mr Holt. How if, as soon as Ernest came in, the tailor were to become violent and abusive? What could he do? Mr Holt was in his own lodgings, and had a right to be undisturbed. A legal right, yes, but had he a moral right? Ernest thought not, considering his mode of life. But put this on one side; if the man were to be violent, what should he do? Paul had fought with wild beasts at Ephesus—that must indeed have been awful—but perhaps they were not very wild wild beasts; a rabbit and a canary are wild beasts; but, formidable or not as wild beasts go, they would, nevertheless stand no chance against St Paul, for he was inspired; the miracle would have been if the wild beasts escaped, not that St Paul should have done so; but, however all this might be, Ernest felt that he dared not begin to convert Mr Holt by fighting him. Why, when he had heard Mrs Holt screaming “murder,” he had cowered under the bed clothes and waited, expecting to hear the blood dripping through the ceiling on to his own floor. His imagination translated every sound into a pat, pat, pat, and once or twice he thought he had felt it dropping on to his counterpane, but he had never gone upstairs to try and rescue poor Mrs Holt. Happily it had proved next morning that Mrs Holt was in her usual health.

 

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The Warm South
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