‘Reasoning is worse than scolding’

david copperfield housekeeping

I have been listening to an audiobook of David Copperfield, and one scene reminded me of the moral laxism promoted by certain contemporary ecclesiastics. In the scene David is trying to persuade Dora to be stricter with the servant, but she will have none of it:

‘No, no! please!’ cried Dora, with a kiss, ‘don’t be a naughty Blue Beard! Don’t be serious!’

‘My precious wife,’ said I, ‘we must be serious sometimes. Come! Sit down on this chair, close beside me! Give me the pencil! There! Now let us talk sensibly. You know, dear’; what a little hand it was to hold, and what a tiny wedding-ring it was to see! ‘You know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one’s dinner. Now, is it?’

‘N-n-no!’ replied Dora, faintly.

‘My love, how you tremble!’

‘Because I KNOW you’re going to scold me,’ exclaimed Dora, in a piteous voice.

‘My sweet, I am only going to reason.’

‘Oh, but reasoning is worse than scolding!’ exclaimed Dora, in despair. ‘I didn’t marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!’

Dora’s opposition to reason with its apparently harsh demands is clearly infantile. She doesn’t want to have any unpleasantness, but the unpleasantness that follows from her indulgence toward servants, and her refusal to be reasoned with on the subject, ends up being much greater than any unpleasantness that might have followed from being a little stricter to the servants. Later in the novel her indulgence leads to a servant being transported to Australia for stealing her watch. This leads David to the following reflection:

‘My darling girl,’ I retorted, ‘I really must entreat you to be reasonable, and listen to what I did say, and do say. My dear Dora, unless we learn to do our duty to those whom we employ, they will never learn to do their duty to us. I am afraid we present opportunities to people to do wrong, that never ought to be presented. Even if we were as lax as we are, in all our arrangements, by choice—which we are not—even if we liked it, and found it agreeable to be so—which we don’t—I am persuaded we should have no right to go on in this way. We are positively corrupting people. We are bound to think of that. I can’t help thinking of it, Dora. It is a reflection I am unable to dismiss, and it sometimes makes me very uneasy. There, dear, that’s all. Come now. Don’t be foolish!’

As Fr Hunwicke recently remarked, “Anti-intellectualism is a stance people very often adopt when they propose to do something irrational,” and it is even more the stance that people adopt one when they do not want to have the unpleasantness of being rationally strict with others. But in the long run such a stance always leads to misery. Happiness can only come from conforming human life to right reason, and a cowardly and infantile refusal of the demands of reason leads to misery in this life, and eternal punishment in the next.

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