He told Mrs Jupp of his intention. Mrs Jupp at first tried to dissuade him, but seeing him resolute, suggested that she should herself see Miss Snow first, so as to prepare her and prevent her from being alarmed by his visit. She was not at home now, but in the course of the next day, it should be arranged. In the meantime he had better try Mr Shaw, the tinker, in the front kitchen. Mrs Baxter had told Ernest that Mr Shaw was from the North Country, and an avowed freethinker; he would probably, she said, rather like a visit, but she did not think Ernest would stand much chance of making a convert of him.
Before going down into the kitchen to convert the tinker Ernest ran hurriedly over his analysis of Paley’s evidences, and put into his pocket a copy of Archbishop Whateley’s “Historic Doubts.” Then he descended the dark rotten old stairs and knocked at the tinker’s door. Mr Shaw was very civil; he said he was rather throng just now, but if Ernest did not mind the sound of hammering he should be very glad of a talk with him. Our hero, assenting to this, ere long led the conversation to Whateley’s “Historic Doubts”—a work which, as the reader may know, pretends to show that there never was any such person as Napoleon Buonaparte, and thus satirises the arguments of those who have attacked the Christian miracles.
Mr Shaw said he knew “Historic Doubts” very well.
“And what you think of it?” said Ernest, who regarded the pamphlet as a masterpiece of wit and cogency.
“If you really want to know,” said Mr Shaw, with a sly twinkle, “I think that he who was so willing and able to prove that what was was not, would be equally able and willing to make a case for thinking that what was not was, if it suited his purpose.” Ernest was very much taken aback. How was it that all the clever people of Cambridge had never put him up to this simple rejoinder? The answer is easy: they did not develop it for the same reason that a hen had never developed webbed feet—that is to say, because they did not want to do so; but this was before the days of Evolution, and Ernest could not as yet know anything of the great principle that underlies it.
“You see,” continued Mr Shaw, “these writers all get their living by writing in a certain way, and the more they write in that way, the more they are likely to get on. You should not call them dishonest for this any more than a judge should call a barrister dishonest for earning his living by defending one in whose innocence he does not seriously believe; but you should hear the barrister on the other side before you decide upon the case.”
This was another facer. Ernest could only stammer that he had endeavoured to examine these questions as carefully as he could.
“You think you have,” said Mr Shaw; “you Oxford and Cambridge gentlemen think you have examined everything. I have examined very little myself except the bottoms of old kettles and saucepans, but if you will answer me a few questions, I will tell you whether or no you have examined much more than I have.”