Samuel Butler.

Essays on life, art, and science online

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Re-issue of the Works of the late
Samuel Butler

Author of " Erewhon," The Way of All Flesh," etc.



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Shaw, "the greatest English writer of the latter half of the I9th century."
" The Way of All Flesh" and "Erewhon " which have been out of print for
some time are now reprinted, and all the other works with one exception are
now offered at more popular prices.

The Way of All Flesh. A Novel. New Edition. 6s.

Erewhon. i ith, Revised Edition. 3rd Impression, 2s. 6d. nett.

Erewhon Revisited, and Impression, 340 pages. 2s. 6d. nett.

(A few copies of the original edition, gilt top, 6s.)
Essays on Life, Art and Science. 340 pages. zs. 6d. nett.

(A few copies of the original edition, gilt top, 6s.)
The Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the

Canton Ticino. Profusely illustrated by Charles

Gogin, H. F. Jones and the Author. Pott 410,

cloth gilt. I os. 6d.

The Fair Haven. 55. nett.

Life and Habit. An essay after a completer view

of Evolution. 2nd edition. 55. nett.

Evolution Old and New. A comparison of the

theories of Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck,

with that of Charles Darwin. 55. nett.

Luck or Cunning, as the main means of organic

modification. 55. nett.

The Authoress of the Odyssey, who and what

she was, when and where she wrote, etc. 55. nett.

The Iliad of Homer, rendered into English prose. 53. nett.
The Odyssey, rendered into English prose. 5s. nett.

Shakespeare's Sonnets, with notes and original text. 55. nett.

Ex Voto. An account of the Sacro Monte or New

Jerusalem at Varallo-Sesia. 53. nett.

Selections from Butler's Works. 55. nett.

London : A. C. Fifield, 44 Fleet Street, E.G.









Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON <5^ Co
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh.















IT is hardly necessary to apologise for the
miscellaneous character of the following col-
lection 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 dur-
ing 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 5 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 pub-
lished 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 sec-
tion 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 inves-
tigations 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 re-
quired. 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,
" II 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," "Un-
conscious 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 "Dar-
winism " ; 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 Univer-
sity 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 evolu-
tionists 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 varia-
tions 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 oppo-
site view, which is that advocated by Mr.
Wallace in "Darwinism," is that the varia-
tions occur merely as the result of chance.
The former is sometimes called the teleo-
logical view, because it recognises the presence
in organic nature of design, whether it be
called creative power, directive force, direc-
tivity, or vital principle; the latter view, in


which the existence of design is absolutely
negatived, is now usually described as Weis-
mannism, from the name of the writer who
has been its principal advocate in recent

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.




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

1 Published in the Universal Review, July 1888.


Essays on Life

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 can-
not 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

Art and Science

to yield or give ; it must not be too trouble-
some 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 u 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


Essays on Life

the last dozen years or so I have sat ever

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 re-
paired 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

Art and Science

already ; besides, no one ever used it but my-
self. Whether the ghost of the late Mr. Frost
has been so eminently unchristian as to inter-
fere, 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, Blooms-
bury. I admit that I do not see the resem-
blance 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


Essays on Life

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

Art and Science

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 prac-
tically impossible to make an invidious com-
parison. 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 con-
siderable 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

Essays on Life

the writer, if I am not mistaken, says that
"few could know when Lucy ceased to
be." " Ceased to be " is a suspiciously eu-
phemistic expression, and the words "few
could know" are not applicable to the ordi-
nary 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 pos-

Art and Science

sibly 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

We cannot be too guarded in the inter-
pretations 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 belong-
ing 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


Essays on Life

them enough water, or left the door of her
fern-case 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 them-
selves 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 de-
lighted. 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

Art and Science

a tolerable one. 1 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 " Mag-
nalia " 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," Lin-
gard's " Anglo - Saxon Church," and Card-
well's " Documentary Annals," though none
of them as good as Frost, are works of con-
siderable merit ; but on the whole I think
Arvine's " Cyclopedia of Moral and Reli-
gious Anecdote" is perhaps the one book in
the room which comes within measurable

Essays on Life

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

Art and Science

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 pro-
vision for their own old ages, but they cannot
do so for mine, any more than I should suc-
ceed 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,


Essays on Life

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 Master-


Art and Science

ship 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 trouble-
some 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 ex-

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerEssays on life, art, and science → online text (page 1 of 16)