Samuel Butler.

Erewhon revisited twenty years later : both by the original discoverer of the country and by his son online

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerErewhon revisited twenty years later : both by the original discoverer of the country and by his son → online text (page 1 of 20)
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'os x' ^Tfpov jxh K€vdri ivl (ppealv, &\\o 8i etTrjj'

Him do I hate even as I hate Hell fire.

Who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.

— I/iad, ix. 312, 313.





Both by the Original Discoverer of
the Country and by his Son




31 West Twenty-Third Street

I 9 I O


/ FORGET when, but not very long after I had published
*' Erewhon" in 1872, it occurred to me to ask my-
self 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 remark-
able 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 per-
manent shape, and in 1892 / was too busy with books
now published to be able to attend to Erewhon. It was
not till the early winter of 1 900, 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 neva



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, strojig in itself and made to seem
still stronger by association with some supposed tran-
scendent 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. IVhat they reject, I reject. No
two people think absolutely alike on any subject, but when
I converse with advanced Broad Churchmen I find my-
self in substantial harmony vnth 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
fones, has kindly supervised the corrections of my book
as it passed through the press.


May I, 1901.




I. Ups and downs of Fortune — My father starts for

Erewhon I

II. To the foot of the pass into Erewhon . . .18

III. My father while camping is accosted by Professors

Hanky and Panky 25

IV. My father overhears more of Hanky and Panky s

conversation 39

V. My father meets a son, of whose existence he was

ignorant, and strikes a bargain with him . . 55
VI. Further conversation between father and son — The

Professor!^ hoard 68

VII. Signs of the new order of things catch my father'' s

eye on every side 77

VIII. Yram, now Mayoress, gives a dinner-party, in the
course of which she is disquieted by what she
learns frotn Professor Hanky : she sends for her
son George and questions him .... 88
IX. Interview between Yram and her son . . .103
X. My father, fearing recognition at Sunch'ston, be-
takes himself to the neighbouring town of Fair-

mead 114

XI. President Gurgoyl^s pamphlet " On the Physics

of Vicarious Existence^^ . . , . .127



XII. George fails to find my father^ whereon Yram

cautions the Professors 141

XIII. A visit to the Provincial Deformatory at Fair-

tnead 153

XIV. My father makes the acquaintance of Mr. Balmy,

and walks with hitn next day to SuncKston . 163
XV. The temple is dedicated to my father^ and certain

extracts are read from his supposed sayings . i8o
XVI. Professor Hanky preaches a sermon, in the course
of which my father declares hitnself to be the

Sunchild 196

XVII. George takes his father to prison^ and there obtains

S07ne useful information 212

XVIII. Yram invites Dr. Downie and Mrs. Humdrum

to luncheon — A passage at arms between her

and Hanky is amicably arranged . . .222

XIX. A council is held at the Mayof^s, in the course

of which George turns the tables on the Pro-

fessors 227

XX. Mrs. Humdrum and Dr. Downie propose a com-
promise, which, after an amendment by George,

is carried nem. con 238

XXI. Yram, on getting rid of her guests, goes to the

prison to see my father 245

XXII, Mainly occupied with a veracious extract from

a SuncKstoniatt. journal 255

XXIII. My father is escorted to the Mayor's house,
and is introduced to a future daughter-in-
law , , 267



XXIV. After dinner^ Dr. Downie and the Professors
•would be glad to know what is to be done

about Sunchildism 275

XXV. George escorts my father to the statues ; the two

then part 285

XXVI. My father reaches home, and dies not long

afterwards 297

XXVII. / meet tny brother George at the statues, on the

top of the pass into Erewhon .... 304

XXVI II. George and I spend a few hours together at the

statues, and then part — / reach ho?ne — Post-
script 320

Erewhon Revisited



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 publi-
cation 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 main-
tain that hold on the public which he had appar-
ently 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 inagniJicOy and during its month of anonymity
the book was a frequent topic of appreciative
comment in good Hterary circles. Almost coin-
cidently with the discovery that he was a mere

nobody, people began to feel that their admiration


Erewhon Revisited

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 ascer-
tain, 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.

Ups and Downs

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 geogra-
phers 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 re-
turned, 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 indepen-
dently of his own book ; and before he had him-
self 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


Erewhon Revisited

the sportsman, there was nothing to induce people
to penetrate into the fastnesses of the great snowy
range. No more, therefore, being heard of Ere-
whon, 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 ungovern-
able 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 fort-
night or three weeks. Those who read the follow-
ing 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


Ups and Downs

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 crea-
ture had ingratiated himself with our leading reli-
gious 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 incapa-
citated 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 false-
hood 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


Erewhon Revisited

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
Sark ingannato, o vorrk 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

Ups and Downs

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 Black-
moor 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 some-
times 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 bene-
factor 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 tee-
totaler ; I never saw any of the fits of nervous


Erewhon Revisited

excitement which in his earher 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 in-
structor, while to my mother he was a model
husband. Whatever others may have said about
him, I can never think of him without very affec-
tionate respect.

Things went on quietly enough, as above indi-
cated, 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 185 1, 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, my-
self, 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 con-

Ups and Downs

sidering my age. The way in which he had taught
me had prevented my feeHng any dishke 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 ner-
vous 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


Erewhon Revisited

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 Hved 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


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 i, 1890, more composed and cheer-
ful than I had seen him for some time past.


Ups and Downs

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 succeed-
ing 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 ap-
preciated 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 know-
ledge. 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


Erewhon Revisited

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 tele-
graphed 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 Novem-
ber 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 in-
tended 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


Ups and Downs

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

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerErewhon revisited twenty years later : both by the original discoverer of the country and by his son → online text (page 1 of 20)