Samuel Butler.

Selections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal online

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerSelections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal → online text (page 1 of 23)
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Transcribed from the 1884 Trubner & Co. edition by David Price, email
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"The course of true science, like that of true love, never did run
PROFESSOR TYNDALL, _Pall Mall Gazette_, Oct 30, 1883.

(OP. 7)

[_All rights reserved_]

Ballantyne Press


I delayed these pages some weeks in order to give Mr. Romanes an
opportunity of explaining his statement that Canon Kingsley wrote about
instinct and inherited memory in _Nature_, Jan. 18, 1867. {iii} I wrote
to the _Athenaeum_ (Jan. 26, 1884) and pointed out that _Nature_ did not
begin to appear till nearly three years after the date given by Mr.
Romanes, and that there was nothing from Canon Kingsley on the subject of
instinct and inherited memory in any number of _Nature_ up to the date of
Canon Kingsley's death. I also asked for the correct reference.

This Mr. Romanes has not thought it incumbent upon him to give. I am
told I ought not to have expected him to give it, inasmuch as it is no
longer usual for men of any but the lowest scientific standing to correct
their misstatements when they are brought to book. Science is made for
Fellows of the Royal Society, and for no one else, not Fellows of the
Royal Society for science; and if the having achieved a certain position
should still involve being obliged to be as scrupulous and accurate as
other people, what is the good of the position? This view of the matter
is practical, but I regret that Mr. Romanes should have taken it, for his
having done so has prevented my being able to tell the reader what Canon
Kingsley said about memory and instinct, and this he might have been glad
to know.

I suspect, however, that what Canon Kingsley said was after all not very
important. If it had been, Mr. Romanes would have probably told us what
it was in his own book. I should think it possible that Mr. Romanes - not
finding Canon Kingsley's words important enough to be quoted, or even
referred to correctly, or never having seen them himself and not knowing
exactly what they were, yet being anxious to give every one, and more
particularly Canon Kingsley, his due - felt that this was an occasion on
which he might fairly take advantage of his position and say at large
whatever he was in the humour for saying at the moment.

I should not have thought this possible if I had not ere now had reason
to set Mr. Romanes down as one who was not likely to be squeamish about
trifles. Nevertheless, on this present occasion I certainly did think
that he had only made a slip such as we all make sometimes, and such as
he would gladly take the earliest opportunity to correct. As it is, I do
not know what to think, except that D.C.L.'s and F.R.S.'s seem to be made
of much the same frail materials as we ordinary mortals are.

As regards the extracts from my previous books given in this volume, I
should say that I have revised and corrected the original text
throughout, and introduced a sentence or two here and there, but have
nowhere made any important alteration. I regret greatly that want of
space has prevented me from being able to give the chapters from Life and
Habit on "The Abeyance of Memory," and "What we should expect to find if
Differentiations of Structure and Instinct are mainly due to Memory;" it
is in these chapters that an explanation of many phenomena is given, of
which, so far as I know, no explanation of any kind had been previously
attempted, and in which phenomena having apparently so little connection
as the sterility of hybrids, the principle underlying longevity, the
resumption of feral characteristics, the sterility of many animals under
confinement, are not only made intelligible but are shown to be all part
and parcel of the same story - all being explicable as soon as Memory is
made the main factor of heredity.

_Feb._ 16, 1884.



This is what I gathered. That in that country if a man falls into ill
health, or catches any disorder, or fails bodily in any way before he is
seventy years old, he is tried before a jury of his countrymen, and if
convicted is held up to public scorn and sentenced more or less severely
as the case may be. There are subdivisions of illnesses into crimes and
misdemeanours as with offences amongst ourselves - a man being punished
very heavily for serious illness, while failure of eyes or hearing in one
over sixty-five who has had good health hitherto is dealt with by fine
only, or imprisonment in default of payment.

But if a man forges a cheque, sets his house on fire, robs with violence
from the person, or does any other such things as are criminal in our own
country, he is either taken to a hospital and most carefully tended at
the public expense, or if he is in good circumstances, he lets it be
known to all his friends that he is suffering from a severe fit of
immorality, just as we do when we are ill, and they come and visit him
with great solicitude, and inquire with interest how it all came about,
what symptoms first showed themselves, and so forth, - questions which he
will answer with perfect unreserve; for bad conduct, though considered no
less deplorable than illness with ourselves, and as unquestionably
indicating something wrong with the individual who misbehaves, is
nevertheless held to be the result of either pre-natal or post-natal
misfortune. I should add that under certain circumstances poverty and
ill luck are also considered criminal.

Accordingly, there exists a class of men trained in soul-craft, whom they
call straighteners, as nearly as I can translate a word which literally
means "one who bendeth back the crooked." These men practise much as
medical men in England, and receive a quasi-surreptitious fee on every
visit. They are treated with the same unreserve and obeyed just as
readily as our own doctors - that is to say, on the whole
sufficiently - because people know that it is their interest to get well
as soon as they can, and that they will not be scouted as they would be
if their bodies were out of order, even though they may have to undergo a
very painful course of treatment.

When I say that they will not be scouted, I do not mean that an
Erewhonian offender will suffer no social inconvenience. Friends will
fall away from him because of his being less pleasant company, just as we
ourselves are disclined to make companions of those who are either poor
or poorly. No one with a due sense of self-respect will place himself on
an equality in the matter of affection with those who are less lucky than
himself in birth, health, money, good looks, capacity, or anything else.
Indeed, that dislike and even disgust should be felt by the fortunate for
the unfortunate, or at any rate for those who have been discovered to
have met with any of the more serious and less familiar misfortunes, is
not only natural, but desirable for any society, whether of man or brute;
what progress either of body or soul had been otherwise possible? The
fact therefore that the Erewhonians attach none of that guilt to crime
which they do to physical ailments, does not prevent the more selfish
among them from neglecting a friend who has robbed a bank, for instance,
till he has fully recovered; but it does prevent them from even thinking
of treating criminals with that contemptuous tone which would seem to
say, "I, if I were you, should be a better man than you are," a tone
which is held quite reasonable in regard to physical ailment.

Hence, though they conceal ill health by every kind of cunning, they are
quite open about even the most flagrant mental diseases, should they
happen to exist, which to do the people justice is not often. Indeed,
there are some who, so to speak, are spiritual valetudinarians, and who
make themselves exceedingly ridiculous by their nervous supposition that
they are wicked, while they are very tolerable people all the time. This
however is exceptional; and on the whole they use much the same reserve
or unreserve about the state of their moral welfare as we do about our

It has followed that all the ordinary greetings among ourselves, such as,
How do you do? and the like, are considered signs of gross ill-breeding;
nor do the politer classes tolerate even such a common complimentary
remark as telling a man that he was looking well. They salute each other
with, "I hope you are good this morning;" or "I hope you have recovered
from the snappishness from which you were suffering when I last saw you;"
and if the person saluted has not been good, or is still snappish, he
says so, and is condoled with accordingly. Nay, the straighteners have
gone so far as to give names from the hypothetical language (as taught at
the Colleges of Unreason) to all known forms of mental indisposition, and
have classified them according to a system of their own, which, though I
could not understand it, seemed to work well in practice, for they are
always able to tell a man what is the matter with him as soon as they
have heard his story, and their familiarity with the long names assures
him that they thoroughly understand his case.

* * * * *

We in England rarely shrink from telling our doctor what is the matter
with us merely through the fear that he will hurt us. We let him do his
worst upon us, and stand it without a murmur, because we are not scouted
for being ill, and because we know the doctor is doing his best to cure
us, and can judge of our case better than we can; but we should conceal
all illness if we were treated as the Erewhonians are when they have
anything the matter with them; we should do as we do with our moral and
intellectual diseases, - we should feign health with the most consummate
art, till we were found out, and should hate a single flogging given by
way of mere punishment more than the amputation of a limb, if it were
kindly and courteously performed from a wish to help us out of our
difficulty, and with the full consciousness on the part of the doctor
that it was only by an accident of constitution that he was not in the
like plight himself. So the Erewhonians take a flogging once a week, and
a diet of bread and water for two or three months together, whenever
their straightener recommends it.

I do not suppose that even my host, on having swindled a confiding widow
out of the whole of her property, was put to more actual suffering than a
man will readily undergo at the hands of an English doctor. And yet he
must have had a very bad time of it. The sounds I heard were sufficient
to show that his pain was exquisite, but he never shrank from undergoing
it. He was quite sure that it did him good; and I think he was right. I
cannot believe that that man will ever embezzle money again. He may - but
it will be a long time before he does so.

During my confinement in prison, and on my journey, I had discovered much
of the above; but it still seemed new and strange, and I was in constant
fear of committing some rudeness from my inability to look at things from
the same stand-point as my neighbours; but after a few weeks' stay with
the Nosnibors I got to understand things better, especially on having
heard all about my host's illness, of which he told me fully and

It seemed he had been on the Stock Exchange of the city for many years
and had amassed enormous wealth, without exceeding the limits of what was
generally considered justifiable or at any rate permissible dealing; but
at length on several occasions he had become aware of a desire to make
money by fraudulent representations, and had actually dealt with two or
three sums in a way which had made him rather uncomfortable. He had
unfortunately made light of it and pooh-poohed the ailment, until
circumstances eventually presented themselves which enabled him to cheat
upon a very considerable scale; - he told me what they were, and they were
about as bad as anything could be, but I need not detail them; - he seized
the opportunity, and became aware when it was too late that he must be
seriously out of order. He had neglected himself too long.

He drove home at once, broke the news to his wife and daughters as gently
as he could, and sent off for one of the most celebrated straighteners of
the kingdom to a consultation with the family practitioner, for the case
was plainly serious. On the arrival of the straightener he told his
story, and expressed his fear that his morals must be permanently

The eminent man reassured him with a few cheering words, and then
proceeded to make a more careful diagnosis of the case. He inquired
concerning Mr. Nosnibor's parents - had their moral health been good? He
was answered that there had not been anything seriously amiss with them,
but that his maternal grandfather, whom he was supposed to resemble
somewhat in person, had been a consummate scoundrel and had ended his
days in a hospital, - while a brother of his father's, after having led a
most flagitious life for many years, had been at last cured by a
philosopher of a new school, which as far as I could understand it bore
much the same relation to the old as homoeopathy to allopathy. The
straightener shook his head at this, and laughingly replied that the cure
must have been due to nature. After a few more questions he wrote a
prescription and departed.

I saw the prescription. It ordered a fine to the State of double the
money embezzled; no food but bread and milk for six months, and a severe
flogging once a month for twelve. He had received his eleventh flogging
on the day of my arrival. I saw him later on the same afternoon, and he
was still twinged; but even though he had been minded to do so (which he
showed no sign of being), there would have been no escape from following
out the straightener's prescription, for the so-called sanitary laws of
Erewhon are very rigorous, and unless the straightener was satisfied that
his orders had been obeyed, the patient would have been taken to a
hospital (as the poor are), and would have been much worse off. Such at
least is the law, but it is never necessary to enforce it.

On a subsequent occasion I was present at an interview between Mr.
Nosnibor and the family straightener, who was considered competent to
watch the completion of the cure. I was struck with the delicacy with
which he avoided even the remotest semblance of inquiry after the
physical well-being of his patient, though there was a certain yellowness
about my host's eyes which argued a bilious habit of body. To have taken
notice of this would have been a gross breach of professional etiquette.
I am told that a straightener sometimes thinks it right to glance at the
possibility of some slight physical disorder if he finds it important in
order to assist him in his diagnosis; but the answers which he gets are
generally untrue or evasive, and he forms his own conclusions upon the
matter as well as he can.

Sensible men have been known to say that the straightener should in
strict confidence be told of every physical ailment that is likely to
bear upon the case; but people are naturally shy of doing this, for they
do not like lowering themselves in the opinion of the straightener, and
his ignorance of medical science is supreme. I heard of one lady however
who had the hardihood to confess that a furious outbreak of ill-humour
and extravagant fancies for which she was seeking advice was possibly the
result of indisposition. "You should resist that," said the
straightener, in a kind, but grave voice; "we can do nothing for the
bodies of our patients; such matters are beyond our province, and I
desire that I may hear no further particulars." The lady burst into
tears, promised faithfully that she would never be unwell again, and kept
her word.

To return however to Mr. Nosnibor. As the afternoon wore on many
carriages drove up with callers to inquire how he had stood his flogging.
It had been very severe, but the kind inquiries upon every side gave him
great pleasure, and he assured me that he felt almost tempted to do wrong
again by the solicitude with which his friends had treated him during his
recovery: in this I need hardly say that he was not serious.

During the remainder of my stay in the country Mr. Nosnibor was
constantly attentive to his business, and largely increased his already
great possessions; but I never heard a whisper to the effect of his
having been indisposed a second time, or made money by other than the
most strictly honourable means. I did hear afterwards in confidence that
there had been reason to believe that his health had been not a little
affected by the straightener's treatment, but his friends did not choose
to be over curious upon the subject, and on his return to his affairs it
was by common consent passed over as hardly criminal in one who was
otherwise so much afflicted. For they regard bodily ailments as the more
venial in proportion as they have been produced by causes independent of
the constitution. Thus if a person ruin his health by excessive
indulgence at the table, or by drinking, they count it to be almost a
part of the mental disease which brought it about and so it goes for
little, but they have no mercy on such illnesses as fevers or catarrhs or
lung diseases, which to us appear to be beyond the control of the
individual. They are only more lenient towards the diseases of the
young - such as measles, which they think to be like sowing one's wild
oats - and look over them as pardonable indiscretions if they have not
been too serious, and if they are atoned for by complete subsequent


I shall best convey to the reader an idea of the entire perversion of
thought which exists among this extraordinary people, by describing the
public trial of a man who was accused of pulmonary consumption - an
offence which was punished with death until quite recently. The trial
did not take place till I had been some months in the country, and I am
deviating from chronological order in giving an account of it here; but I
had perhaps better do so in order to exhaust this subject before
proceeding with others.

The prisoner was placed in the dock, and the jury were sworn much as in
Europe; almost all our own modes of procedure were reproduced, even to
the requiring the prisoner to plead guilty or not guilty. He pleaded not
guilty and the case proceeded. The evidence for the prosecution was very
strong, but I must do the court the justice to observe that the trial was
absolutely impartial. Counsel for the prisoner was allowed to urge
everything that could be said in his defence.

The line taken was that the prisoner was simulating consumption in order
to defraud an insurance company, from which he was about to buy an
annuity, and that he hoped thus to obtain it on more advantageous terms.
If this could have been shown to be the case he would have escaped
criminal prosecution, and been sent to a hospital as for moral ailment.
The view however was one which could not be reasonably sustained, in
spite of all the ingenuity and eloquence of one of the most celebrated
advocates of the country. The case was only too clear, for the prisoner
was almost at the point of death, and it was astonishing that he had not
been tried and convicted long previously. His coughing was incessant
during the whole trial, and it was all that the two jailers in charge of
him could do to keep him on his legs until it was over.

The summing up of the judge was admirable. He dwelt upon every point
that could be construed in favour of the prisoner, but as he proceeded it
became clear that the evidence was too convincing to admit of doubt, and
there was but one opinion in the court as to the impending verdict when
the jury retired from the box. They were absent for about ten minutes,
and on their return the foreman pronounced the prisoner guilty. There
was a faint murmur of applause but it was instantly repressed. The judge
then proceeded to pronounce sentence in words which I can never forget,
and which I copied out into a note-book next day from the report that was
published in the leading newspaper. I must condense it somewhat, and
nothing which I could say would give more than a faint idea of the
solemn, not to say majestic, severity with which it was delivered. The
sentence was as follows: -

"Prisoner at the bar, you have been accused of the great crime of
labouring under pulmonary consumption, and after an impartial trial
before a jury of your countrymen, you have been found guilty. Against
the justice of the verdict I can say nothing: the evidence against you
was conclusive, and it only remains for me to pass such a sentence upon
you, as shall satisfy the ends of the law. That sentence must be a very
severe one. It pains me much to see one who is yet so young, and whose
prospects in life were otherwise so excellent, brought to this
distressing condition by a constitution which I can only regard as
radically vicious; but yours is no case for compassion: this is not your
first offence: you have led a career of crime, and have only profited by
the leniency shown you upon past occasions, to offend yet more seriously
against the laws and institutions of your country. You were convicted of
aggravated bronchitis last year: and I find that though you are now only
twenty-three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less than fourteen
occasions for illnesses of a more or less hateful character; in fact, it
is not too much to say that you have spent the greater part of your life
in a jail.

"It is all very well for you to say that you came of unhealthy parents,
and had a severe accident in your childhood which permanently undermined
your constitution; excuses such as these are the ordinary refuge of the
criminal; but they cannot for one moment be listened to by the ear of
justice. I am not here to enter upon curious metaphysical questions as
to the origin of this or that - questions to which there would be no end
were their introduction once tolerated, and which would result in
throwing the only guilt on the primordial cell, or perhaps even on the
elementary gases. There is no question of how you came to be wicked, but
only this - namely, are you wicked or not? This has been decided in the
affirmative, neither can I hesitate for a single moment to say that it
has been decided justly. You are a bad and dangerous person, and stand
branded in the eyes of your fellow-countrymen with one of the most
heinous known offences.

"It is not my business to justify the law: the law may in some cases have
its inevitable hardships, and I may feel regret at times that I have not
the option of passing a less severe sentence than I am compelled to do.
But yours is no such case; on the contrary, had not the capital
punishment for consumption been abolished, I should certainly inflict it

"It is intolerable that an example of such terrible enormity should be
allowed to go at large unpunished. Your presence in the society of
respectable people would lead the less able-bodied to think more lightly
of all forms of illness; neither can it be permitted that you should have
the chance of corrupting unborn beings who might hereafter pester you.
The unborn must not be allowed to come near you: and this not so much for
their protection (for they are our natural enemies), as for our own; for
since they will not be utterly gainsaid, it must be seen to that they
shall be quartered upon those who are least likely to corrupt them.

"But independently of this consideration, and independently of the
physical guilt which attaches itself to a crime so great as yours, there
is yet another reason why we should be unable to show you mercy, even if
we are inclined to do so. I refer to the existence of a class of men who
lie hidden among us, and who are called physicians. Were the severity of
the law or the current feeling of the country to be relaxed never so
slightly, these abandoned persons, who are now compelled to practise
secretly, and who can be consulted only at the greatest risk, would
become frequent visitors in every household; their organisation and their
intimate acquaintance with all family secrets would give them a power,
both social and political, which nothing could resist. The head of the

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerSelections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal → online text (page 1 of 23)