“Towneley is a good fellow,” said I, gravely, “and you should not have cut him.”
“Towneley,” he answered, “is not only a good fellow, but he is without exception the very best man I ever saw in my life—except,” he paid me the compliment of saying, “yourself; Towneley is my notion of everything which I should most like to be—but there is no real solidarity between us. I should be in perpetual fear of losing his good opinion if I said things he did not like, and I mean to say a great many things,” he continued more merrily, “which Towneley will not like.”
A man, as I have said already, can give up father and mother for Christ’s sake tolerably easily for the most part, but it is not so easy to give up people like Towneley.
So he fell away from all old friends except myself and three or four old intimates of my own, who were as sure to take to him as he to them, and who like myself enjoyed getting hold of a young fresh mind. Ernest attended to the keeping of my account books whenever there was anything which could possibly be attended to, which there seldom was, and spent the greater part of the rest of his time in adding to the many notes and tentative essays which had already accumulated in his portfolios. Anyone who was used to writing could see at a glance that literature was his natural development, and I was pleased at seeing him settle down to it so spontaneously. I was less pleased, however, to observe that he would still occupy himself with none but the most serious, I had almost said solemn, subjects, just as he never cared about any but the most serious kind of music.
I said to him one day that the very slender reward which God had attached to the pursuit of serious inquiry was a sufficient proof that He disapproved of it, or at any rate that He did not set much store by it nor wish to encourage it.
He said: “Oh, don’t talk about rewards. Look at Milton, who only got 5 pounds for ‘Paradise Lost.’”
“And a great deal too much,” I rejoined promptly. “I would have given him twice as much myself not to have written it at all.”
Ernest was a little shocked. “At any rate,” he said laughingly, “I don’t write poetry.”
This was a cut at me, for my burlesques were, of course, written in rhyme. So I dropped the matter.
After a time he took it into his head to reopen the question of his getting 300 pounds a year for doing, as he said, absolutely nothing, and said he would try to find some employment which should bring him in enough to live upon.
I laughed at this but let him alone. He tried and tried very hard for a long while, but I need hardly say was unsuccessful. The older I grow, the more convinced I become of the folly and credulity of the public; but at the same time the harder do I see it is to impose oneself upon that folly and credulity.