Samuel Butler.

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Transcribed from the 1908 A. C. Fifield edition by David Price, email
[email protected]





ESSAYS ON LIFE
ART AND SCIENCE


BY
SAMUEL BUTLER

AUTHOR OF "EREWHON," "EREWHON RE-VISITED,"
"THE WAY OF ALL FLESH," ETC.

EDITED BY
R. A. STREATFEILD

LONDON
A. C. FIFIELD
1908

Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh.

Contents:

Introduction
Quis Desiderio?
Ramblings in Cheapside
The Aunt, The Nieces, and the Dog
How to make the best of life
The Sanctuary of Montrigone
A Medieval Girl School
Art in the Valley of Saas
Thought and Language
The Deadlock in Darwinism




INTRODUCTION


It is hardly necessary to apologise for the miscellaneous character of
the following collection of essays. Samuel Butler was a man of such
unusual versatility, and his interests were so many and so various that
his literary remains were bound to cover a wide field. Nevertheless it
will be found that several of the subjects to which he devoted much time
and labour are not represented in these pages. I have not thought it
necessary to reprint any of the numerous pamphlets and articles which he
wrote upon the Iliad and Odyssey, since these were all merged in "The
Authoress of the Odyssey," which gives his matured views upon everything
relating to the Homeric poems. For a similar reason I have not included
an essay on the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which he
printed in 1865 for private circulation, since he subsequently made
extensive use of it in "The Fair Haven."

Two of the essays in this collection were originally delivered as
lectures; the remainder were published in _The Universal Review_ during
1888, 1889, and 1890.

I should perhaps explain why two other essays of his, which also appeared
in _The Universal Review_, have been omitted.

The first of these, entitled "L'Affaire Holbein-Rippel," relates to a
drawing of Holbein's "Danse des Paysans," in the Basle Museum, which is
usually described as a copy, but which Butler believed to be the work of
Holbein himself. This essay requires to be illustrated in so elaborate a
manner that it was impossible to include it in a book of this size.

The second essay, which is a sketch of the career of the sculptor
Tabachetti, was published as the first section of an article entitled "A
Sculptor and a Shrine," of which the second section is here given under
the title, "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." The section devoted to the
sculptor represents all that Butler then knew about Tabachetti, but since
it was written various documents have come to light, principally owing to
the investigations of Cavaliere Francesco Negri, of Casale Monferrato,
which negative some of Butler's most cherished conclusions. Had Butler
lived he would either have rewritten his essay in accordance with
Cavaliere Negri's discoveries, of which he fully recognised the value, or
incorporated them into the revised edition of "Ex Voto," which he
intended to publish. As it stands, the essay requires so much revision
that I have decided to omit it altogether, and to postpone giving English
readers a full account of Tabachetti's career until a second edition of
"Ex Voto" is required. Meanwhile I have given a brief summary of the
main facts of Tabachetti's life in a note (page 154) to the essay on "Art
in the Valley of Saas." Any one who wishes for further details of the
sculptor and his work will find them in Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet, "Il
Santuario di Crea" (Alessandria, 1902).

The three essays grouped together under the title of "The Deadlock in
Darwinism" may be regarded as a postscript to Butler's four books on
evolution, viz., "Life and Habit," "Evolution, Old and New," "Unconscious
Memory" and "Luck or Cunning." An occasion for the publication of these
essays seemed to be afforded by the appearance in 1889 of Mr. Alfred
Russel Wallace's "Darwinism"; and although nearly fourteen years have
elapsed since they were published in the _Universal Review_, I have no
fear that they will be found to be out of date. How far, indeed, the
problem embodied in the deadlock of which Butler speaks is from solution
was conclusively shown by the correspondence which appeared in the
_Times_ in May 1903, occasioned by some remarks made at University
College by Lord Kelvin in moving a vote of thanks to Professor Henslow
after his lecture on "Present Day Rationalism." Lord Kelvin's claim for
a recognition of the fact that in organic nature scientific thought is
compelled to accept the idea of some kind of directive power, and his
statement that biologists are coming once more to a firm acceptance of a
vital principle, drew from several distinguished men of science retorts
heated enough to prove beyond a doubt that the gulf between the two main
divisions of evolutionists is as wide to-day as it was when Butler wrote.
It will be well, perhaps, for the benefit of readers who have not
followed the history of the theory of evolution during its later
developments, to state in a few words what these two main divisions are.
All evolutionists agree that the differences between species are caused
by the accumulation and transmission of variations, but they do not agree
as to the causes to which the variations are due. The view held by the
older evolutionists, Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, who have been
followed by many modern thinkers, including Herbert Spencer and Butler,
is that the variations occur mainly as the result of effort and design;
the opposite view, which is that advocated by Mr. Wallace in "Darwinism,"
is that the variations occur merely as the result of chance. The former
is sometimes called the theological view, because it recognises the
presence in organic nature of design, whether it be called creative
power, directive force, directivity, or vital principle; the latter view,
in which the existence of design is absolutely negatived, is now usually
described as Weismannism, from the name of the writer who has been its
principal advocate in recent years.

In conclusion, I must thank my friend Mr. Henry Festing Jones most warmly
for the invaluable assistance which he has given me in preparing these
essays for publication, in correcting the proofs, and in compiling the
introduction and notes.

R. A. STREATFEILD.




QUIS DESIDERIO . . . ? {1}


Like Mr. Wilkie Collins, I, too, have been asked to lay some of my
literary experiences before the readers of the _Universal Review_. It
occurred to me that the _Review_ must be indeed universal before it could
open its pages to one so obscure as myself; but, nothing daunted by the
distinguished company among which I was for the first time asked to move,
I resolved to do as I was told, and went to the British Museum to see
what books I had written. Having refreshed my memory by a glance at the
catalogue, I was about to try and diminish the large and ever-increasing
circle of my non-readers when I became aware of a calamity that brought
me to a standstill, and indeed bids fair, so far as I can see at present,
to put an end to my literary existence altogether.

I should explain that I cannot write unless I have a sloping desk, and
the reading-room of the British Museum, where alone I can compose freely,
is unprovided with sloping desks. Like every other organism, if I cannot
get exactly what I want I make shift with the next thing to it; true,
there are no desks in the reading-room, but, as I once heard a visitor
from the country say, "it contains a large number of very interesting
works." I know it was not right, and hope the Museum authorities will
not be severe upon me if any of them reads this confession; but I wanted
a desk, and set myself to consider which of the many very interesting
works which a grateful nation places at the disposal of its would-be
authors was best suited for my purpose.

For mere reading I suppose one book is pretty much as good as another;
but the choice of a desk-book is a more serious matter. It must be
neither too thick nor too thin; it must be large enough to make a
substantial support; it must be strongly bound so as not to yield or
give; it must not be too troublesome to carry backwards and forwards; and
it must live on shelf C, D, or E, so that there need be no stooping or
reaching too high. These are the conditions which a really good book
must fulfil; simple, however, as they are, it is surprising how few
volumes comply with them satisfactorily; moreover, being perhaps too
sensitively conscientious, I allowed another consideration to influence
me, and was sincerely anxious not to take a book which would be in
constant use for reference by readers, more especially as, if I did this,
I might find myself disturbed by the officials.

For weeks I made experiments upon sundry poetical and philosophical
works, whose names I have forgotten, but could not succeed in finding my
ideal desk, until at length, more by luck than cunning, I happened to
light upon Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians," which I had no sooner
tried than I discovered it to be the very perfection and _ne plus ultra_
of everything that a book should be. It lived in Case No. 2008, and I
accordingly took at once to sitting in Row B, where for the last dozen
years or so I have sat ever since.

The first thing I have done whenever I went to the Museum has been to
take down Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" and carry it to my seat.
It is not the custom of modern writers to refer to the works to which
they are most deeply indebted, and I have never, that I remember,
mentioned it by name before; but it is to this book alone that I have
looked for support during many years of literary labour, and it is round
this to me invaluable volume that all my own have page by page grown up.
There is none in the Museum to which I have been under anything like such
constant obligation, none which I can so ill spare, and none which I
would choose so readily if I were allowed to select one single volume and
keep it for my own.

On finding myself asked for a contribution to the _Universal Review_, I
went, as I have explained, to the Museum, and presently repaired to
bookcase No. 2008 to get my favourite volume. Alas! it was in the room
no longer. It was not in use, for its place was filled up already;
besides, no one ever used it but myself. Whether the ghost of the late
Mr. Frost has been so eminently unchristian as to interfere, or whether
the authorities have removed the book in ignorance of the steady demand
which there has been for it on the part of at least one reader, are
points I cannot determine. All I know is that the book is gone, and I
feel as Wordsworth is generally supposed to have felt when he became
aware that Lucy was in her grave, and exclaimed so emphatically that this
would make a considerable difference to him, or words to that effect.

Now I think of it, Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" was very like
Lucy. The one resided at Dovedale in Derbyshire, the other in Great
Russell Street, Bloomsbury. I admit that I do not see the resemblance
here at this moment, but if I try to develop my perception I shall
doubtless ere long find a marvellously striking one. In other respects,
however, than mere local habitat the likeness is obvious. Lucy was not
particularly attractive either inside or out - no more was Frost's "Lives
of Eminent Christians"; there were few to praise her, and of those few
still fewer could bring themselves to like her; indeed, Wordsworth
himself seems to have been the only person who thought much about her one
way or the other. In like manner, I believe I was the only reader who
thought much one way or the other about Frost's "Lives of Eminent
Christians," but this in itself was one of the attractions of the book;
and as for the grief we respectively felt and feel, I believe my own to
be as deep as Wordsworth's, if not more so.

I said above, "as Wordsworth is generally supposed to have felt"; for any
one imbued with the spirit of modern science will read Wordsworth's poem
with different eyes from those of a mere literary critic. He will note
that Wordsworth is most careful not to explain the nature of the
difference which the death of Lucy will occasion to him. He tells us
that there will be a difference; but there the matter ends. The
superficial reader takes it that he was very sorry she was dead; it is,
of course, possible that he may have actually been so, but he has not
said this. On the contrary, he has hinted plainly that she was ugly, and
generally disliked; she was only like a violet when she was half-hidden
from the view, and only fair as a star when there were so few stars out
that it was practically impossible to make an invidious comparison. If
there were as many as even two stars the likeness was felt to be at an
end. If Wordsworth had imprudently promised to marry this young person
during a time when he had been unusually long in keeping to good
resolutions, and had afterwards seen some one whom he liked better, then
Lucy's death would undoubtedly have made a considerable difference to
him, and this is all that he has ever said that it would do. What right
have we to put glosses upon the masterly reticence of a poet, and credit
him with feelings possibly the very reverse of those he actually
entertained?

Sometimes, indeed, I have been inclined to think that a mystery is being
hinted at more dark than any critic has suspected. I do not happen to
possess a copy of the poem, but the writer, if I am not mistaken, says
that "few could know when Lucy ceased to be." "Ceased to be" is a
suspiciously euphemistic expression, and the words "few could know" are
not applicable to the ordinary peaceful death of a domestic servant such
as Lucy appears to have been. No matter how obscure the deceased, any
number of people commonly can know the day and hour of his or her demise,
whereas in this case we are expressly told it would be impossible for
them to do so. Wordsworth was nothing if not accurate, and would not
have said that few could know, but that few actually did know, unless he
was aware of circumstances that precluded all but those implicated in the
crime of her death from knowing the precise moment of its occurrence. If
Lucy was the kind of person not obscurely pourtrayed in the poem; if
Wordsworth had murdered her, either by cutting her throat or smothering
her, in concert, perhaps, with his friends Southey and Coleridge; and if
he had thus found himself released from an engagement which had become
irksome to him, or possibly from the threat of an action for breach of
promise, then there is not a syllable in the poem with which he crowns
his crime that is not alive with meaning. On any other supposition to
the general reader it is unintelligible.

We cannot be too guarded in the interpretations we put upon the words of
great poets. Take the young lady who never loved the dear gazelle - and I
don't believe she did; we are apt to think that Moore intended us to see
in this creation of his fancy a sweet, amiable, but most unfortunate
young woman, whereas all he has told us about her points to an exactly
opposite conclusion. In reality, he wished us to see a young lady who
had been an habitual complainer from her earliest childhood; whose plants
had always died as soon as she bought them, while those belonging to her
neighbours had flourished. The inference is obvious, nor can we
reasonably doubt that Moore intended us to draw it; if her plants were
the very first to fade away, she was evidently the very first to neglect
or otherwise maltreat them. She did not give them enough water, or left
the door of her fern-ease open when she was cooking her dinner at the gas
stove, or kept them too near the paraffin oil, or other like folly; and
as for her temper, see what the gazelles did; as long as they did not
know her "well," they could just manage to exist, but when they got to
understand her real character, one after another felt that death was the
only course open to it, and accordingly died rather than live with such a
mistress. True, the young lady herself said the gazelles loved her; but
disagreeable people are apt to think themselves amiable, and in view of
the course invariably taken by the gazelles themselves any one accustomed
to weigh evidence will hold that she was probably mistaken.

I must, however, return to Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians." I will
leave none of the ambiguity about my words in which Moore and Wordsworth
seem to have delighted. I am very sorry the book is gone, and know not
where to turn for its successor. Till I have found a substitute I can
write no more, and I do not know how to find even a tolerable one. I
should try a volume of Migne's "Complete Course of Patrology," but I do
not like books in more than one volume, for the volumes vary in
thickness, and one never can remember which one took; the four volumes,
however, of Bede in Giles's "Anglican Fathers" are not open to this
objection, and I have reserved them for favourable consideration.
Mather's "Magnalia" might do, but the binding does not please me;
Cureton's "Corpus Ignatianum" might also do if it were not too thin. I
do not like taking Norton's "Genuineness of the Gospels," as it is just
possible some one may be wanting to know whether the Gospels are genuine
or not, and be unable to find out because I have got Mr. Norton's book.
Baxter's "Church History of England," Lingard's "Anglo-Saxon Church," and
Cardwell's "Documentary Annals," though none of them as good as Frost,
are works of considerable merit; but on the whole I think Arvine's
"Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious Anecdote" is perhaps the one book in
the room which comes within measurable distance of Frost. I should
probably try this book first, but it has a fatal objection in its too
seductive title. "I am not curious," as Miss Lottie Venne says in one of
her parts, "but I like to know," and I might be tempted to pervert the
book from its natural uses and open it, so as to find out what kind of a
thing a moral and religious anecdote is. I know, of course, that there
are a great many anecdotes in the Bible, but no one thinks of calling
them either moral or religious, though some of them certainly seem as if
they might fairly find a place in Mr. Arvine's work. There are some
things, however, which it is better not to know, and take it all round I
do not think I should be wise in putting myself in the way of temptation,
and adopting Arvine as the successor to my beloved and lamented Frost.

Some successor I must find, or I must give up writing altogether, and
this I should be sorry to do. I have only as yet written about a third,
or from that - counting works written but not published - to a half, of the
books which I have set myself to write. It would not so much matter if
old age was not staring me in the face. Dr. Parr said it was "a beastly
shame for an old man not to have laid down a good cellar of port in his
youth"; I, like the greater number, I suppose, of those who write books
at all, write in order that I may have something to read in my old age
when I can write no longer. I know what I shall like better than any one
can tell me, and write accordingly; if my career is nipped in the bud, as
seems only too likely, I really do not know where else I can turn for
present agreeable occupation, nor yet how to make suitable provision for
my later years. Other writers can, of course, make excellent provision
for their own old ages, but they cannot do so for mine, any more than I
should succeed if I were to try to cater for theirs. It is one of those
cases in which no man can make agreement for his brother.

I have no heart for continuing this article, and if I had, I have nothing
of interest to say. No one's literary career can have been smoother or
more unchequered than mine. I have published all my books at my own
expense, and paid for them in due course. What can be conceivably more
unromantic? For some years I had a little literary grievance against the
authorities of the British Museum because they would insist on saying in
their catalogue that I had published three sermons on Infidelity in the
year 1820. I thought I had not, and got them out to see. They were
rather funny, but they were not mine. Now, however, this grievance has
been removed. I had another little quarrel with them because they would
describe me as "of St. John's College, Cambridge," an establishment for
which I have the most profound veneration, but with which I have not had
the honour to be connected for some quarter of a century. At last they
said they would change this description if I would only tell them what I
was, for, though they had done their best to find out, they had
themselves failed. I replied with modest pride that I was a Bachelor of
Arts. I keep all my other letters inside my name, not outside. They
mused and said it was unfortunate that I was not a Master of Arts. Could
I not get myself made a Master? I said I understood that a Mastership
was an article the University could not do under about five pounds, and
that I was not disposed to go sixpence higher than three ten. They again
said it was a pity, for it would be very inconvenient to them if I did
not keep to something between a bishop and a poet. I might be anything I
liked in reason, provided I showed proper respect for the alphabet; but
they had got me between "Samuel Butler, bishop," and "Samuel Butler,
poet." It would be very troublesome to shift me, and bachelor came
before bishop. This was reasonable, so I replied that, under those
circumstances, if they pleased, I thought I would like to be a
philosophical writer. They embraced the solution, and, no matter what I
write now, I must remain a philosophical writer as long as I live, for
the alphabet will hardly be altered in my time, and I must be something
between "Bis" and "Poe." If I could get a volume of my excellent
namesake's "Hudibras" out of the list of my works, I should be robbed of
my last shred of literary grievance, so I say nothing about this, but
keep it secret, lest some worse thing should happen to me. Besides, I
have a great respect for my namesake, and always say that if "Erewhon"
had been a racehorse it would have been got by "Hudibras" out of
"Analogy." Some one said this to me many years ago, and I felt so much
flattered that I have been repeating the remark as my own ever since.

But how small are these grievances as compared with those endured without
a murmur by hundreds of writers far more deserving than myself. When I
see the scores and hundreds of workers in the reading-room who have done
so much more than I have, but whose work is absolutely fruitless to
themselves, and when I think of the prompt recognition obtained by my own
work, I ask myself what I have done to be thus rewarded. On the other
hand, the feeling that I have succeeded far beyond my deserts hitherto,
makes it all the harder for me to acquiesce without complaint in the
extinction of a career which I honestly believe to be a promising one;
and once more I repeat that, unless the Museum authorities give me back
my Frost, or put a locked clasp on Arvine, my career must be
extinguished. Give me back Frost, and, if life and health are spared, I
will write another dozen of volumes yet before I hang up my fiddle - if so
serious a confusion of metaphors may be pardoned. I know from long
experience how kind and considerate both the late and present
superintendents of the reading-room were and are, but I doubt how far
either of them would be disposed to help me on this occasion; continue,
however, to rob me of my Frost, and, whatever else I may do, I will write
no more books.

_Note by Dr. Garnett_, _British Museum_. - The frost has broken up. Mr.
Butler is restored to literature. Mr. Mudie may make himself easy.
England will still boast a humourist; and the late Mr. Darwin (to whose
posthumous machinations the removal of the book was owing) will continue
to be confounded. - R. GANNETT.




RAMBLINGS IN CHEAPSIDE {2}


Walking the other day in Cheapside I saw some turtles in Mr. Sweeting's
window, and was tempted to stay and look at them. As I did so I was
struck not more by the defences with which they were hedged about, than
by the fatuousness of trying to hedge that in at all which, if hedged
thoroughly, must die of its own defencefulness. The holes for the head
and feet through which the turtle leaks out, as it were, on to the
exterior world, and through which it again absorbs the exterior world
into itself - "catching on" through them to things that are thus both


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