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Transcribed from the 1916 A. C. Fifield edition by David Price, email
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EREWHON REVISITED
TWENTY YEARS LATER
Both by the Original Discoverer of the Country and by his Son


I forget when, but not very long after I had published "Erewhon" in 1872,
it occurred to me to ask myself what course events in Erewhon would
probably take after Mr. Higgs, as I suppose I may now call him, had made
his escape in the balloon with Arowhena. Given a people in the
conditions supposed to exist in Erewhon, and given the apparently
miraculous ascent of a remarkable stranger into the heavens with an
earthly bride - what would be the effect on the people generally?

There was no use in trying to solve this problem before, say, twenty
years should have given time for Erewhonian developments to assume
something like permanent shape, and in 1892 I was too busy with books now
published to be able to attend to Erewhon. It was not till the early
winter of 1900, i.e. as nearly as may be thirty years after the date of
Higgs's escape, that I found time to deal with the question above stated,
and to answer it, according to my lights, in the book which I now lay
before the public.

I have concluded, I believe rightly, that the events described in Chapter
XXIV. of "Erewhon" would give rise to such a cataclysmic change in the
old Erewhonian opinions as would result in the development of a new
religion. Now the development of all new religions follows much the same
general course. In all cases the times are more or less out of
joint - older faiths are losing their hold upon the masses. At such
times, let a personality appear, strong in itself, and made to seem still
stronger by association with some supposed transcendent miracle, and it
will be easy to raise a Lo here! that will attract many followers. If
there be a single great, and apparently well-authenticated, miracle,
others will accrete round it; then, in all religions that have so
originated, there will follow temples, priests, rites, sincere believers,
and unscrupulous exploiters of public credulity. To chronicle the events
that followed Higgs's balloon ascent without shewing that they were much
as they have been under like conditions in other places, would be to hold
the mirror up to something very wide of nature.

Analogy, however, between courses of events is one thing - historic
parallelisms abound; analogy between the main actors in events is a very
different one, and one, moreover, of which few examples can be found. The
development of the new ideas in Erewhon is a familiar one, but there is
no more likeness between Higgs and the founder of any other religion,
than there is between Jesus Christ and Mahomet. He is a typical middle-
class Englishman, deeply tainted with priggishness in his earlier years,
but in great part freed from it by the sweet uses of adversity.

If I may be allowed for a moment to speak about myself, I would say that
I have never ceased to profess myself a member of the more advanced wing
of the English Broad Church. What those who belong to this wing believe,
I believe. What they reject, I reject. No two people think absolutely
alike on any subject, but when I converse with advanced Broad Churchmen I
find myself in substantial harmony with them. I believe - and should be
very sorry if I did not believe - that, mutatis mutandis, such men will
find the advice given on pp. 277-281 and 287-291 of this book much what,
under the supposed circumstances, they would themselves give.

Lastly, I should express my great obligations to Mr. R. A. Streatfeild of
the British Museum, who, in the absence from England of my friend Mr. H.
Festing Jones, has kindly supervised the corrections of my book as it
passed through the press.

SAMUEL BUTLER.
May 1, 1901.




CHAPTER I: UPS AND DOWNS OF FORTUNE - MY FATHER STARTS FOR EREWHON


Before telling the story of my father's second visit to the remarkable
country which he discovered now some thirty years since, I should perhaps
say a few words about his career between the publication of his book in
1872, and his death in the early summer of 1891. I shall thus touch
briefly on the causes that occasioned his failure to maintain that hold
on the public which he had apparently secured at first.

His book, as the reader may perhaps know, was published anonymously, and
my poor father used to ascribe the acclamation with which it was
received, to the fact that no one knew who it might not have been written
by. _Omne ignotum pro magnifico_, and during its month of anonymity the
book was a frequent topic of appreciative comment in good literary
circles. Almost coincidently with the discovery that he was a mere
nobody, people began to feel that their admiration had been too hastily
bestowed, and before long opinion turned all the more seriously against
him for this very reason. The subscription, to which the Lord Mayor had
at first given his cordial support, was curtly announced as closed before
it had been opened a week; it had met with so little success that I will
not specify the amount eventually handed over, not without protest, to my
father; small, however, as it was, he narrowly escaped being prosecuted
for trying to obtain money under false pretences.

The Geographical Society, which had for a few days received him with open
arms, was among the first to turn upon him - not, so far as I can
ascertain, on account of the mystery in which he had enshrouded the exact
whereabouts of Erewhon, nor yet by reason of its being persistently
alleged that he was subject to frequent attacks of alcoholic
poisoning - but through his own want of tact, and a highly-strung nervous
state, which led him to attach too much importance to his own
discoveries, and not enough to those of other people. This, at least,
was my father's version of the matter, as I heard it from his own lips in
the later years of his life.

"I was still very young," he said to me, "and my mind was more or less
unhinged by the strangeness and peril of my adventures." Be this as it
may, I fear there is no doubt that he was injudicious; and an ounce of
judgement is worth a pound of discovery.

Hence, in a surprisingly short time, he found himself dropped even by
those who had taken him up most warmly, and had done most to find him
that employment as a writer of religious tracts on which his livelihood
was then dependent. The discredit, however, into which my father fell,
had the effect of deterring any considerable number of people from trying
to rediscover Erewhon, and thus caused it to remain as unknown to
geographers in general as though it had never been found. A few
shepherds and cadets at up-country stations had, indeed, tried to follow
in my father's footsteps, during the time when his book was still being
taken seriously; but they had most of them returned, unable to face the
difficulties that had opposed them. Some few, however, had not returned,
and though search was made for them, their bodies had not been found.
When he reached Erewhon on his second visit, my father learned that
others had attempted to visit the country more recently - probably quite
independently of his own book; and before he had himself been in it many
hours he gathered what the fate of these poor fellows doubtless was.

Another reason that made it more easy for Erewhon to remain unknown, was
the fact that the more mountainous districts, though repeatedly
prospected for gold, had been pronounced non-auriferous, and as there was
no sheep or cattle country, save a few river-bed flats above the upper
gorges of any of the rivers, and no game to tempt the sportsman, there
was nothing to induce people to penetrate into the fastnesses of the
great snowy range. No more, therefore, being heard of Erewhon, my
father's book came to be regarded as a mere work of fiction, and I have
heard quite recently of its having been seen on a second-hand bookstall,
marked "6d. very readable."

Though there was no truth in the stories about my father's being subject
to attacks of alcoholic poisoning, yet, during the first few years after
his return to England, his occasional fits of ungovernable excitement
gave some colour to the opinion that much of what he said he had seen and
done might be only subjectively true. I refer more particularly to his
interview with Chowbok in the wool-shed, and his highly coloured
description of the statues on the top of the pass leading into Erewhon.
These were soon set down as forgeries of delirium, and it was maliciously
urged, that though in his book he had only admitted having taken "two or
three bottles of brandy" with him, he had probably taken at least a
dozen; and that if on the night before he reached the statues he had
"only four ounces of brandy" left, he must have been drinking heavily for
the preceding fortnight or three weeks. Those who read the following
pages will, I think, reject all idea that my father was in a state of
delirium, not without surprise that any one should have ever entertained
it.

It was Chowbok who, if he did not originate these calumnies, did much to
disseminate and gain credence for them. He remained in England for some
years, and never tired of doing what he could to disparage my father. The
cunning creature had ingratiated himself with our leading religious
societies, especially with the more evangelical among them. Whatever
doubt there might be about his sincerity, there was none about his
colour, and a coloured convert in those days was more than Exeter Hall
could resist. Chowbok saw that there was no room for him and for my
father, and declared my poor father's story to be almost wholly false. It
was true, he said, that he and my father had explored the head-waters of
the river described in his book, but he denied that my father had gone on
without him, and he named the river as one distant by many thousands of
miles from the one it really was. He said that after about a fortnight
he had returned in company with my father, who by that time had become
incapacitated for further travel. At this point he would shrug his
shoulders, look mysterious, and thus say "alcoholic poisoning" even more
effectively than if he had uttered the words themselves. For a man's
tongue lies often in his shoulders.

Readers of my father's book will remember that Chowbok had given a very
different version when he had returned to his employer's station; but
Time and Distance afford cover under which falsehood can often do truth
to death securely.

I never understood why my father did not bring my mother forward to
confirm his story. He may have done so while I was too young to know
anything about it. But when people have made up their minds, they are
impatient of further evidence; my mother, moreover, was of a very
retiring disposition. The Italians say:-

"Chi lontano va ammogliare
Sara ingannato, o vorra ingannare."

"If a man goes far afield for a wife, he will be deceived - or means
deceiving." The proverb is as true for women as for men, and my mother
was never quite happy in her new surroundings. Wilfully deceived she
assuredly was not, but she could not accustom herself to English modes of
thought; indeed she never even nearly mastered our language; my father
always talked with her in Erewhonian, and so did I, for as a child she
had taught me to do so, and I was as fluent with her language as with my
father's. In this respect she often told me I could pass myself off
anywhere in Erewhon as a native; I shared also her personal appearance,
for though not wholly unlike my father, I had taken more closely after my
mother. In mind, if I may venture to say so, I believe I was more like
my father.

I may as well here inform the reader that I was born at the end of
September 1871, and was christened John, after my grandfather. From what
I have said above he will readily believe that my earliest experiences
were somewhat squalid. Memories of childhood rush vividly upon me when I
pass through a low London alley, and catch the faint sickly smell that
pervades it - half paraffin, half black-currants, but wholly something
very different. I have a fancy that we lived in Blackmoor Street, off
Drury Lane. My father, when first I knew of his doing anything at all,
supported my mother and myself by drawing pictures with coloured chalks
upon the pavement; I used sometimes to watch him, and marvel at the skill
with which he represented fogs, floods, and fires. These three "f's," he
would say, were his three best friends, for they were easy to do and
brought in halfpence freely. The return of the dove to the ark was his
favourite subject. Such a little ark, on such a hazy morning, and such a
little pigeon - the rest of the picture being cheap sky, and still cheaper
sea; nothing, I have often heard him say, was more popular than this with
his clients. He held it to be his masterpiece, but would add with some
naivete that he considered himself a public benefactor for carrying it
out in such perishable fashion. "At any rate," he would say, "no one can
bequeath one of my many replicas to the nation."

I never learned how much my father earned by his profession, but it must
have been something considerable, for we always had enough to eat and
drink; I imagine that he did better than many a struggling artist with
more ambitious aims. He was strictly temperate during all the time that
I knew anything about him, but he was not a teetotaler; I never saw any
of the fits of nervous excitement which in his earlier years had done so
much to wreck him. In the evenings, and on days when the state of the
pavement did not permit him to work, he took great pains with my
education, which he could very well do, for as a boy he had been in the
sixth form of one of our foremost public schools. I found him a patient,
kindly instructor, while to my mother he was a model husband. Whatever
others may have said about him, I can never think of him without very
affectionate respect.

Things went on quietly enough, as above indicated, till I was about
fourteen, when by a freak of fortune my father became suddenly affluent.
A brother of his father's had emigrated to Australia in 1851, and had
amassed great wealth. We knew of his existence, but there had been no
intercourse between him and my father, and we did not even know that he
was rich and unmarried. He died intestate towards the end of 1885, and
my father was the only relative he had, except, of course, myself, for
both my father's sisters had died young, and without leaving children.

The solicitor through whom the news reached us was, happily, a man of the
highest integrity, and also very sensible and kind. He was a Mr. Alfred
Emery Cathie, of 15 Clifford's Inn, E.C., and my father placed himself
unreservedly in his hands. I was at once sent to a first-rate school,
and such pains had my father taken with me that I was placed in a higher
form than might have been expected considering my age. The way in which
he had taught me had prevented my feeling any dislike for study; I
therefore stuck fairly well to my books, while not neglecting the games
which are so important a part of healthy education. Everything went well
with me, both as regards masters and school-fellows; nevertheless, I was
declared to be of a highly nervous and imaginative temperament, and the
school doctor more than once urged our headmaster not to push me forward
too rapidly - for which I have ever since held myself his debtor.

Early in 1890, I being then home from Oxford (where I had been entered in
the preceding year), my mother died; not so much from active illness, as
from what was in reality a kind of _maladie du pays_. All along she had
felt herself an exile, and though she had borne up wonderfully during my
father's long struggle with adversity, she began to break as soon as
prosperity had removed the necessity for exertion on her own part.

My father could never divest himself of the feeling that he had wrecked
her life by inducing her to share her lot with his own; to say that he
was stricken with remorse on losing her is not enough; he had been so
stricken almost from the first year of his marriage; on her death he was
haunted by the wrong he accused himself - as it seems to me very
unjustly - of having done her, for it was neither his fault nor hers - it
was Ate.

His unrest soon assumed the form of a burning desire to revisit the
country in which he and my mother had been happier together than perhaps
they ever again were. I had often heard him betray a hankering after a
return to Erewhon, disguised so that no one should recognise him; but as
long as my mother lived he would not leave her. When death had taken her
from him, he so evidently stood in need of a complete change of scene,
that even those friends who had most strongly dissuaded him from what
they deemed a madcap enterprise, thought it better to leave him to
himself. It would have mattered little how much they tried to dissuade
him, for before long his passionate longing for the journey became so
overmastering that nothing short of restraint in prison or a madhouse
could have stayed his going; but we were not easy about him. "He had
better go," said Mr. Cathie to me, when I was at home for the Easter
vacation, "and get it over. He is not well, but he is still in the prime
of life; doubtless he will come back with renewed health and will settle
down to a quiet home life again."

This, however, was not said till it had become plain that in a few days
my father would be on his way. He had made a new will, and left an ample
power of attorney with Mr. Cathie - or, as we always called him,
Alfred - who was to supply me with whatever money I wanted; he had put all
other matters in order in case anything should happen to prevent his ever
returning, and he set out on October 1, 1890, more composed and cheerful
than I had seen him for some time past.

I had not realised how serious the danger to my father would be if he
were recognised while he was in Erewhon, for I am ashamed to say that I
had not yet read his book. I had heard over and over again of his flight
with my mother in the balloon, and had long since read his few opening
chapters, but I had found, as a boy naturally would, that the succeeding
pages were a little dull, and soon put the book aside. My father,
indeed, repeatedly urged me not to read it, for he said there was much in
it - more especially in the earlier chapters, which I had alone found
interesting - that he would gladly cancel if he could. "But there!" he
had said with a laugh, "what does it matter?"

He had hardly left, before I read his book from end to end, and, on
having done so, not only appreciated the risks that he would have to run,
but was struck with the wide difference between his character as he had
himself portrayed it, and the estimate I had formed of it from personal
knowledge. When, on his return, he detailed to me his adventures, the
account he gave of what he had said and done corresponded with my own
ideas concerning him; but I doubt not the reader will see that the twenty
years between his first and second visit had modified him even more than
so long an interval might be expected to do.

I heard from him repeatedly during the first two months of his absence,
and was surprised to find that he had stayed for a week or ten days at
more than one place of call on his outward journey. On November 26 he
wrote from the port whence he was to start for Erewhon, seemingly in good
health and spirits; and on December 27, 1891, he telegraphed for a
hundred pounds to be wired out to him at this same port. This puzzled
both Mr. Cathie and myself, for the interval between November 26 and
December 27 seemed too short to admit of his having paid his visit to
Erewhon and returned; as, moreover, he had added the words, "Coming
home," we rather hoped that he had abandoned his intention of going
there.

We were also surprised at his wanting so much money, for he had taken a
hundred pounds in gold, which from some fancy, he had stowed in a small
silver jewel-box that he had given my mother not long before she died. He
had also taken a hundred pounds worth of gold nuggets, which he had
intended to sell in Erewhon so as to provide himself with money when he
got there.

I should explain that these nuggets would be worth in Erewhon fully ten
times as much as they would in Europe, owing to the great scarcity of
gold in that country. The Erewhonian coinage is entirely silver - which
is abundant, and worth much what it is in England - or copper, which is
also plentiful; but what we should call five pounds' worth of silver
money would not buy more than one of our half-sovereigns in gold.

He had put his nuggets into ten brown holland bags, and he had had secret
pockets made for the old Erewhonian dress which he had worn when he
escaped, so that he need never have more than one bag of nuggets
accessible at a time. He was not likely, therefore, to have been robbed.
His passage to the port above referred to had been paid before he
started, and it seemed impossible that a man of his very inexpensive
habits should have spent two hundred pounds in a single month - for the
nuggets would be immediately convertible in an English colony. There was
nothing, however, to be done but to cable out the money and wait my
father's arrival.

Returning for a moment to my father's old Erewhonian dress, I should say
that he had preserved it simply as a memento and without any idea that he
should again want it. It was not the court dress that had been provided
for him on the occasion of his visit to the king and queen, but the
everyday clothing that he had been ordered to wear when he was put in
prison, though his English coat, waistcoat, and trousers had been allowed
to remain in his own possession. These, I had seen from his book, had
been presented by him to the queen (with the exception of two buttons,
which he had given to Yram as a keepsake), and had been preserved by her
displayed upon a wooden dummy. The dress in which he escaped had been
soiled during the hours that he and my mother had been in the sea, and
had also suffered from neglect during the years of his poverty; but he
wished to pass himself off as a common peasant or working-man, so he
preferred to have it set in order as might best be done, rather than
copied.

So cautious was he in the matter of dress that he took with him the boots
he had worn on leaving Erewhon, lest the foreign make of his English
boots should arouse suspicion. They were nearly new, and when he had had
them softened and well greased, he found he could still wear them quite
comfortably.

But to return. He reached home late at night one day at the beginning of
February, and a glance was enough to show that he was an altered man.
"What is the matter?" said I, shocked at his appearance. "Did you go to
Erewhon, and were you ill-treated there?"

"I went to Erewhon," he said, "and I was not ill-treated there, but I
have been so shaken that I fear I shall quite lose my reason. Do not ask
me more now. I will tell you about it all to-morrow. Let me have
something to eat, and go to bed."

When we met at breakfast next morning, he greeted me with all his usual
warmth of affection, but he was still taciturn. "I will begin to tell
you about it," he said, "after breakfast. Where is your dear mother? How
was it that I have . . . "

Then of a sudden his memory returned, and he burst into tears.

I now saw, to my horror, that his mind was gone. When he recovered, he
said: "It has all come back again, but at times now I am a blank, and
every week am more and more so. I daresay I shall be sensible now for
several hours. We will go into the study after breakfast, and I will
talk to you as long as I can do so."

Let the reader spare me, and let me spare the reader any description of
what we both of us felt.

When we were in the study, my father said, "My dearest boy, get pen and
paper and take notes of what I tell you. It will be all disjointed; one
day I shall remember this, and another that, but there will not be many
more days on which I shall remember anything at all. I cannot write a
coherent page. You, when I am gone, can piece what I tell you together,
and tell it as I should have told it if I had been still sound. But do
not publish it yet; it might do harm to those dear good people. Take the
notes now, and arrange them the sooner the better, for you may want to
ask me questions, and I shall not be here much longer. Let publishing


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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerErewhon Revisited → online text (page 1 of 19)