Samuel Butler.

The fair haven : a work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain orthodox defenders online

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe fair haven : a work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain orthodox defenders → online text (page 1 of 20)
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[AH rights reserved.]




THE occasion of a Second Edition of "THE FAIR
HAVEN" enables me to thank the public and my
critics for the favourable reception which has been
accorded to the First Edition. I had feared that the
freedom with which I had exposed certain untenable
positions taken by Defenders of Christianity might
have given offence to some reviewers, but no com-
plaint has reached me from any quarter on the score
of my not having put the best possible case for the
evidence in favour of the miraculous element in
Christ's teaching, nor can I believe that I should
have failed to hear of it, if my book had been open
to exception on this ground.

An apology is perhaps due for the adoption of a
pseudonym, and even more so for the creation of two
such characters as JOHN PICKAED OWEN and his
brother. Why could I not, it may be asked, have
said all that I had to say in my own proper person ?

Are there not real ills of life enough already ? Is


there not a " lo here !" from this school with its gushing
" earnestness," its distinctions without differences, its
gnat strainings and camel swallowings, its pretence
of grappling with a question while resolutely bent
upon shirking it, its dust throwing and mystification,
its concealment of its own ineffable insincerity under
an air of ineffable candour ? Is there not a " lo there !"
from that other school with its bituminous atmo-
sphere of exclusiveness and self laudatory dilettan-
teism ? Is there not enough actual exposition of
boredom come over us from many quarters without
drawing for new bores upon the imagination ? It
is true I gave a single drop of comfort. JOHN
PICKARD OWEN was dead. But his having ceased to
exist (to use the impious phraseology of the present
day) did not cancel the fact of his having once
existed. That he should have ever been born gave
proof of potentialities in Nature which could not be
regarded lightly. What hybrids might not be in
store for us next ? Moreover, though JOHN PICKARD
was dead, WILLIAM BICKERSTETH was still living, and
might at any moment rekindle his burning and
shining lamp of persistent self satisfaction. Even
though the OWENS had actually existed, should not
their existence have been ignored as a disgrace to


Nature ? Who then could be justified in creating
them when they did not exist ?

I am afraid I must offer an apology rather than an
excuse. The fact is that I was in a very awkward
position. My previous work, Erewhon, had failed to
give satisfaction to certain ultra-orthodox Christians,
who imagined that they could detect an analogy
between the English Church and the Erewhonian
Musical Banks. It is inconceivable how they can have
got hold of this idea ; but I was given to understand
that I should find it far from easy to dispossess
them of the notion that something in the way of
satire had been intended. There were other parts of
the book which had also been excepted to, and
altogether I had reason to believe that if I defended
Christianity in my own name I should not find
Erewhon any addition to the weight which my remarks
might otherwise carry. If I had been suspected of
satire once, I might be suspected again with no
greater reason. Instead of calmly reviewing the
arguments which I adduced, The Rock might have
raised a cry of non tali auxilio. It must always be
remembered that besides the legitimate investors in
Christian stocks, if so homely a metaphor may be
pardoned, there are unscrupulous persons whose


profession it is to be bulls, bears, stags, and I know
not what other creatures of the various Christian
markets. It is all nonsense about hawks not picking
out each other's eyes there is nothing they like
better. I feared The Guardian, The Record, The
John Bull, <fcc., lest they should suggest that from a
bear I now turned bull with a view to an eventual
bishopric. Such insinuations would have impaired
the value of The Fair Haven as an anchorage for
well meaning people. I therefore resolved to obey
the injunction of the Gentile Apostle and avoid all
appearance of evil, by dissociating myself from the
author of Erewhon as completely as possible. At the
moment of my resolution JOHN PICKARD OWEN came
to my assistance ; I felt that he was the sort of man
I wanted, but that he was hardly sufficient in himself.
I therefore summoned his brother. The pair have
served their purpose ; a year nowadays produces
great changes in men's thoughts concerning Chris-
tianity, and the little matter of Erewhon having quite
blown over I feel that I may safely appear in my
true colours as the champion of orthodoxy, discard
the OWENS as other than mouthpieces, and relieve the
public from uneasiness as to any further writings
from the pen of the surviving brother.


Nevertheless I am bound to own that, in spite of
a generally favourable opinion, my critics have not
been unanimous in their interpretation of The Fair
Haven. Thus, The Rock (April 25, 1873, and May 9,
1873,) says that the work is " an extraordinary one,
whether regarded as a biographical record or a theo-
logical treatise. Indeed the importance of the volume
compels us to depart from our custom of reviewing
with brevity works entrusted to us, and we shall, in
two consecutive numbers of The Rock lay before its
readers what appear to us to be the merits and

demerits of this posthumous production."


" His exhibition of the certain proofs furnished of
the Resurrection of our Lord is certainly masterly

and convincing."


" To the sincerely inquiring doubter, the striking
way in which the truth of the Resurrection is exhi-
bited must be most beneficial, but such a character
we are compelled to believe is rare among those of

the schools of neology."


" Mr. OWEN'S exposition and refutation of the hal-
lucination and mythical theories of Strauss and his


followers is most admirable, and all should read it
who desire to know exactly what excuses men make
for their incredulity. The work also contains many
beautiful passages on the discomfort of unbelief, and
the holy pleasure of a settled faith, which cannot fail
to benefit the reader."

On the other hand in spite of all my precautions,
the same misfortune which overtook Erewhon has
also come upon The Fair Haven. It has been suspected
of a satirical purpose. The author of a pamphlet
entitled Jesus versus Christianity says :

" The Fair Haven is an ironical defence of ortho-
doxy at the expense of the whole mass of Church
tenet and dogma, the character of Christ only
excepted. Such at least is our reading of it, though
critics of the Rock and Record order have accepted-
the book as a serious defence of Christianity, and
proclaimed it as a most valuable contribution in aid
of the faith. Affecting an orthodox standpoint it
most bitterly reproaches all previous apologists for
the lack of candour with which they have ignored or
explained away insuperable difficulties, and attached
undue value to coincidences real or imagined. One
and all they have, the author declares, been at best,
but zealous 'liars for God,' or what to them was


more than God, their own religious system. This
must go on no longer. We, as Christians having a
sound cause, need not fear to let the truth be known.
He proceeds accordingly to set forth the truth as he
finds it in the New Testament ; and in a masterly
analysis of the account of the Resurrection, which
he selects as the principal crucial miracle, involving
all other miracles, he shows how slender is the
foundation on which the whole fabric of supernatural

theology has been reared."

* * * *

"As told by our author the whole affords an
exquisite example of the natural growth of a


* * *

" If the reader can once fully grasp the intention
of the style, and its affectation of the tone of indig-
nant orthodoxy, and perceive also how utterly
destructive are its ' candid admissions' to the whole
fabric of supernaturalism, he will enjoy a rare treat.
It is not however for the purpose of recommending
what we at least regard as a piece of exquisite
humour, that we call attention to The Fair Haven,
but &c. <fcc."


Thia is very dreadful ; but what can one do ?

Again, The Scotsman speaks of the writer as being
" throughout in downright almost pathetic earnest-
ness." While The National Reformer seems to be in
doubt whether the book is a covert attack upon
Christianity or a serious defence of it, but declares
that both orthodox and unorthodox will find matter
requiring thought and answer.

I am not responsible for the interpretations of my
readers. It is only natural that the same work should
present a very different aspect according as it is
approached from one side or the other. There is only
one way out of it that the reader should kindly
interpret according to his own fancies. If he will do
this the book is sure to please him. I have done the
best I can for all parties, and feel justified in appeal-
ing to the existence of the widely conflicting opinions
which I have quoted, as a proof that the balance has
been evenly held, and that I was justified in calling
the book a defence both as against impugners and


Oct. 8, 1873.





IVHE subject of this Memoir, and Author of the
work which follows it, was born in Goodge
Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, on the 5th
of February, 1832. He was my elder brother by
about eighteen months. Our father and mother
had once been rich, but through a succession of un-
avoidable misfortunes they were left with but a
very moderate income when my brother and myself
were about three and four years old. My father
died some five or six years afterwards, and we only
recollected him as a singularly gentle and humorous
playmate who doted upon us both and never spoke
unkindly. The charm of such a recollection can
never be dispelled ; both my brother and myself
returned his love with interest, and cherished his
memory with the most affectionate regret, from the
day on which he left us till the time came that the

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one of us was again to see him face to face. So
sweet and winning was his nature that his slightest
wish was our law and whenever we pleased him,
no matter how little, he never failed to thank us as
though we had done him a service which we should
have had a perfect right to withhold. How proud
were we upon any of these occasions, and how we
courted the opportunity of being thanked ! He did
indeed well know the art of becoming idolised by
his children, and dearly did he prize the results of
his own proficiency ; yet truly there was no art
about it; all arose spontaneously from the well-
spring of a sympathetic nature which knew how to
feel as others felt, whether old or young, rich or
poor, wise or foolish. On one point alone did he
neglect us I refer to our religious education. On
all other matters he was the kindest and most care-
ful teacher in the world. Love and gratitude be to
his memory !

My mother loved us no less ardently than my
father, but she was of a quicker temper, and less
adept at conciliating affection. She must have been
exceedingly handsome when she was young, and
was still comely when we first remembered her ; she
was also highly accomplished, but she felt my
father's loss of fortune more keenly than my father
himself, and it preyed upon her mind, though
rather for our sake than for her own. Had we
not known my father we should have loved her
better than any one in the world, but affection goes


by comparison, and my father spoiled us for any
one but himself ; indeed, in after life, I remember
my mother's telling me, with many tears, how
jealous she had often been of the love we bore
him, and how mean she had thought it of him
to entrust all scolding or repression to her, so that
he might have more than his due share of our
affection. Not that I believe my father did this
consciously ; still, he so greatly hated scolding that
I dare say we might often have got off scot free
when we really deserved reproof had not my mother
undertaken the onus of scolding us herself. We
therefore naturally feared her more than my father,
and fearing more we loved less. For as love casteth
out fear, so fear love.

This must have been hard to bear, and my mother
scarcely knew the way to bear it. She tried to
upbraid us, in little ways, into loving her as much
as my father ; the more she tried this, the less we
could succeed in doing it ; and so on and so on in a
fashion which need not be detailed. Not but what
we really loved her deeply, while her affection for us
was insurpassable ; still, we loved her less than we
loved my father, and this was the grievance.

My father entrusted our religious education en-
tirely to my mother. He was himself, I am assured,
of a deeply religious turn of mind, and a thoroughly
consistent member of the Church of England ; but
he conceived, and perhaps rightly, that it is the
mother who should first teach her children to lift



their hands in prayer, and impart to them a know-
ledge of the One in whom we live and move and
have our being. My mother accepted the task
gladly, for in spite of a certain narrowness of view
the natural but deplorable result of her earlier sur-
roundings she was one of the most truly pious
women whom I have ever known ; unfortunately for
herself and us she had been trained in the lowest
school of Evangelical literalism a school which in
after life both my brother and myself came to regard
as the main obstacle to the complete overthrow of
unbelief; we therefore looked upon it with some-
thing stronger than aversion, and for my own
part I still deem it perhaps the most insidious
enemy which the cause of Christ has ever encoun-
tered. But of this more hereafter.

My mother, as I said, threw her whole soul into
the work of our religious education. Whatever she
believed she believed literally, and, if T may say so,
with a harshness of realisation which left very little
scope for imagination or mystery. Her plans of
Heaven and solutions of life's enigma were direct
and forcible, but they could only be reconciled with
certain obvious facts such as the omnipotence and
all-goodness of God by leaving many things abso-
lutely out of sight. And this my mother succeeded
effectually in doing. She never doubted that her
opinions comprised the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth ; she therefore made haste to
sow the good seed in our tender minds, and so far


succeeded that when my brother was four years old
he could repeat the Apostles Creed, the general con-
fession, and the Lord's Prayer without a blunder.
My mother made herself believe that he delighted
in them ; but, alas ! it was far otherwise ; for strange
as it may appear concerning one whose later life was
a continual prayer, in childhood he detested nothing
so much as being made to pray, and to learn his
catechism. In this I am sorry to say we were both
heartily of a mind. As for Sunday, the less said the

I have already hinted (but as a warning to other
parents had better, perhaps, express myself more
plainly), that this aversion was probably the result of
iny mother's undue eagerness to reap an artificial
fruit of lip service, which could have little meaning
to the heart of one so young. I believe that the
severe check which the natural growth of faith
experienced in my brother's case was due almost
entirely to this cause, and to the school of literalism
in which he had been trained, but, however this may
be, we both of us hated being made to say our
prayers morning and evening it was our one bug-
bear, and we would avoid it, as indeed children
generally will, by every artifice which we could em-
ploy. Thus Ave were in the habit of feigning to be
asleep shortly before prayer time, and would grate-
fully hear my father tell my mother that it was a
shame to wake us ; whereon he would carry us up
tp bed in a state apparently of the profoundest


slumber when we were really wide awake and in
great fear of detection. For we knew how to pretend
to be asleep, but we did not know how we ought to
wake again ; there was nothing for it therefore
when we were once committed, but to go on sleeping
till we were fairly undressed and put to bed, and
could wake up safely in the dark. But deceit is
never long successful, and we were at last ignonrin-
iously exposed.

It happened one evening that my mother suspected
my brother John, and tried to open his little hands
which were lying clasped in front of him. Now my
brother was as yet very crude and inconsistent in
his theories concerning sleep, and had no conception
of what a real sleeper would do under these cir-
cumstances. Fear deprived him of his powers of
reflection, and he thus unfortunately concluded that
because sleepers, so far as he had observed them,
were always motionless, therefore, they must be
quite rigid and incapable of motion, and indeed that
any movement, under any circumstances (for from
his earliest childhood he liked to carry his theories to
their legitimate conclusion), would be physically im-
possible for one who was really sleeping ; forgetful,
oh ! unhappy one, of the flexibility of his own body
on being carried up stairs, and, more unhappy
still, ignorant of the art of waking. He, therefore,
clenched his fingers harder and harder as he felt my
mother trying to unfold them, while his head hung
listless, and his eyes were closed as though he were


sleeping sweetly. It is needless to detail the agony
of shame that followed. My mother begged my
father to box his ears, which my father flatly refused
to do. Then she boxed them herself, and there fol-
lowed a scene, and a day or two of disgrace for both
of us.

Shortly after this there happened another misad-
venture. A lady came to stay with my mother, and
was to sleep in a bed that had been brought into our
nursery, for my father's fortunes had already failed,
and we were living in a humble way. We were still
but four and five years old, so the arrangement was
not unnatural, and it was assumed that we should be
asleep before the lady went to bed, and be down
stairs before she would get up in the morning. But
the arrival of this lady and her being put to sleep
in the nursery were great events to us in those days,
and being particularly wanted to go to sleep we of
course sat up in bed talking and keeping ourselves
awake till she should come up stairs. Perhaps we
had fancied that she would give us something, but if
so we were entirely disappointed. However, whether
this was the case or not, we were wide awake when
our visitor came to bed, and having no particular
object to gain, we made no pretence of sleeping.
The lady kissed us both, told us to lie still and go to
sleep like good children, and then began doing her

I remember that this was the occasion on which
my brother discovered a good many things in con-


nection with the fair sex which had hitherto been
beyond his ken ; more especially that the mass of
petticoats and clothes which envelop the female
form were not, as he expressed it to me, " all solid
woman" but that women were not in reality more
substantially built than men, and had legs as much
as he had, a fact which he had never yet realised.
On this he for a long time considered them as
impostors, who had wronged him by leading him to
suppose that they had far more " body in them" (so
he said), than he now found they had. This was a
sort of thing which he regarded with stern moral
reprobation. If he had been old enough to have a
solicitor I believe he would have put the matter into
his hands, as well as certain other things which had
lately troubled him. For but recently my mother
had bought a fowl, and he had seen it plucked, and
the inside taken out ; his irritation had been extreme
on discovering that fowls were not all solid flesh, but
that their insides and these formed, as it appeared
to him, an enormous percentage of the bird were
perfectly useless. He was now beginning to under-
stand that sheep and cows were also hollow as far
as good meat was concerned ; the flesh they had
was only a mouthful in comparison with what they
ought to have considering their apparent bulk ; in-
significant, mere skin and bone covering a cavern.
What right had they, or anything else, to assert
themselves as so big, and prove so empty ? And
now this discovery of woman's falsehood was quite


too much for him. The world itself was hollow,
made up of shams and delusions, full of sound and
fury signifying nothing.

Truly a prosaic young gentleman enough. Every-
thing with him was to be exactly in all its parts
what it appeared on the face of \t, and everything
was to go on doing exactly what it had been doing
hitherto. If a thing looked solid, it was to be very
solid ; if hollow, very hollow ; nothing was to be
half and half, and nothing was to change unless he
had himself already become accustomed to its times
and manners of changing ; there were to be no ex-
ceptions and no contradictions ; all things were to
be perfectly consistent, and all premises to be carried
with extremest rigour to their legitimate conclusions.
Heaven was to be very neat (for he was always tidy
himself), and free from sudden shocks to the nervous
system, such as those caused by dogs barking at him,
or cows driven in the streets. God was to resemble
my father, and the Holy Spirit to bear some sort of
indistinct analogy to my mother.

Such were the ideal theories of his childhood
unconsciously formed, but very firmly believed in.
As he grew up he made such modifications as were
forced upon him by enlarged perceptions, but every
modification was an effort to him, in spite of a con-
tinual and successful resistance to what he recognised
as his initial mental defect.

I may perhaps be allowed to say here, in reference
to a remark in the proceeding paragraph, that both


my brother and myself used to notice it as an almost
invariable rule that children's earliest ideas of God
are modelled upon the character of their father if
they have one. Should the father be kind, consid-
erate, full of the warmest love, fond of showing it,
and reserved onl^j about his displeasure, the child,
having learned to look upon God as his Heavenly
Father through the Lord's Prayer and our Church
Services, will feel towards God as he does towards
his own father ; this conception will stick to a
man for years and years after he has attained
manhood probably it will never leave him. For
all children love their fathers and mothers, if
these last will only let them ; it is not a little
unkindness that will kill so hardy a plant as the love
of a child for its parents. Nature has allowed ample
margin for many blunders, provided there be a
genuine desire on the parent's part to make the
child feel that he is loved, and that his natural feel-
ings are respected. This is all the religious edu-
cation which a child should have. As he grows
older he will then turn naturally to the waters of
life, and thirst after them of his own accord by reason
of the spiritual refreshment which they, and they
only, can afford. Otherwise he will shrink from
them, on account of his recollection of the way in
which he was led down to drink against his will, and

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe fair haven : a work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain orthodox defenders → online text (page 1 of 20)