Pleasure, after all, is a safer guide than either right or duty. For hard as it is to know what gives us pleasure, right and duty are often still harder to distinguish and, if we go wrong with them, will lead us into just as sorry a plight as a mistaken opinion concerning pleasure. When men burn their fingers through following after pleasure they find out their mistake and get to see where they have gone wrong more easily than when they have burnt them through following after a fancied duty, or a fancied idea concerning right virtue. The devil, in fact, when he dresses himself in angel’s clothes, can only be detected by experts of exceptional skill, and so often does he adopt this disguise that it is hardly safe to be seen talking to an angel at all, and prudent people will follow after pleasure as a more homely but more respectable and on the whole much more trustworthy guide.
Returning to Mr Pontifex, over and above his having lived long and prosperously, he left numerous offspring, to all of whom he communicated not only his physical and mental characteristics, with no more than the usual amount of modification, but also no small share of characteristics which are less easily transmitted—I mean his pecuniary characteristics. It may be said that he acquired these by sitting still and letting money run, as it were, right up against him, but against how many does not money run who do not take it when it does, or who, even if they hold it for a little while, cannot so incorporate it with themselves that it shall descend through them to their offspring? Mr Pontifex did this. He kept what he may be said to have made, and money is like a reputation for ability—more easily made than kept.
Take him, then, for all in all, I am not inclined to be so severe upon him as my father was. Judge him according to any very lofty standard, and he is nowhere. Judge him according to a fair average standard, and there is not much fault to be found with him. I have said what I have said in the foregoing chapter once for all, and shall not break my thread to repeat it. It should go without saying in modification of the verdict which the reader may be inclined to pass too hastily, not only upon Mr George Pontifex, but also upon Theobald and Christina. And now I will continue my story.
The birth of his son opened Theobald’s eyes to a good deal which he had but faintly realised hitherto. He had had no idea how great a nuisance a baby was. Babies come into the world so suddenly at the end, and upset everything so terribly when they do come: why cannot they steal in upon us with less of a shock to the domestic system? His wife, too, did not recover rapidly from her confinement; she remained an invalid for months; here was another nuisance and an expensive one, which interfered with the amount which Theobald liked to put by out of his income against,