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Transcribed by David Price, email [email protected]

The Humour of Homer and Other Essays

By R. A. Streatfeild

The nucleus of this book is the collection of essays by Samuel
Butler, which was originally published by Mr. Grant Richards in 1904
under the title Essays on Life, Art and Science, and reissued by Mr.
Fifield in 1908. To these are now added another essay, entitled
"The Humour of Homer," a biographical sketch of the author kindly
contributed by Mr. Henry Festing Jones, which will add materially to
the value of the edition, and a portrait in photogravure from a
photograph taken in 1889 - the period of the essays.

[Photograph of Samuel Butler. Caption reads: From a photograph
made by Pizzetta in Varallo in 1889. Emery Walker Ltd., ph. sc.

"The Humour of Homer" was originally delivered as a lecture at the
Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street on the 30th January,
1892, the day on which Butler first promulgated his theory of the
Trapanese origin of the Odyssey in a letter to the Athenaeum. Later
in the same year it was published with some additional matter by
Messrs. Metcalfe and Co. of Cambridge. For the next five years
Butler was engaged upon researches into the origin and authorship of
the Odyssey, the results of which are embodied in his book The
Authoress of the "Odyssey," originally published by Messrs. Longman
in 1897. Butler incorporated a good deal of "The Humour of Homer"
into The Authoress of the "Odyssey," but the section relating to the
Iliad naturally found no place in the later work. For the sake of
this alone "The Humour of Homer" deserves to be better known.
Written as it was for an artisan audience and professing to deal
only with one side of Homer's genius, "The Humour of Homer" must
not, of course, be taken as an exhaustive statement of Butler's
views upon Homeric questions. It touches but lightly on important
points, particularly regarding the origin and authorship of the
Odyssey, which are treated at much greater length in The Authoress
of the "Odyssey."

Nevertheless, "The Humour of Homer" appears to me to have a special
value as a kind of general introduction to Butler's more detailed
study of the Odyssey. His attitude towards the Homeric poems is
here expressed with extraordinary freshness and force. What that
attitude was is best explained by his own words: "If a person would
understand either the Odyssey or any other ancient work, he must
never look at the dead without seeing the living in them, nor at the
living without thinking of the dead. We are too fond of seeing the
ancients as one thing and the moderns as another." Butler did not
undervalue the philological and archaeological importance of the
Iliad and the Odyssey, but it was mainly as human documents that
they appealed to him. This, I am inclined to suspect, was the root
of the objection of academic critics to him and his theories. They
did not so much resent the suggestion that the author of the Odyssey
was a woman; they could not endure that he should be treated as a
human being.

Of the remaining essays two were originally delivered as lectures;
the others appeared first in The Universal Review in 1888, 1889 and
1890. I should perhaps explain why two other essays which also
appeared in The Universal Review are not included in this
collection. 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 part is here given under the
title "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." The section devoted to the
sculptor contains all that Butler then knew about Tabachetti, but
since it was written various documents have come to light,
principally through the investigations of Cavaliere Francesco Negri,
of Casale Monferrato, which negative some of Butler's conclusions.
Had Butler lived, I do not doubt that he would have revised his
essay in the light of Cavaliere Negri's discoveries, the value of
which he fully recognized. 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 Butler's "Ex Voto," in which Tabachetti's work is
discussed in detail, is required. Meanwhile I have given a brief
summary of the main facts of Tabachetti's life in a note (p. 195) to
the essay on "Art in the Valley of Saas." Anyone who desires
further details concerning the sculptor and his work will find them
in Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet "Il Santuario di Crea" (Alessandria,

The three essays grouped together under the title 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? When these essays were first published
in book form in 1904, I ventured to give a brief summary of Butler's
position with regard to the main problem of evolution. I need now
only refer readers to Mr. Festing Jones's biographical sketch and,
for fuller details, to the masterly introduction contributed by
Professor Marcus Hartog to the new edition of Unconscious Memory (A.
C. Fifield, 1910), and recently reprinted in his Problems of Life
and Reproduction (John Murray, 1913), in which Butler's work in the
field of biology and his share in the various controversies
connected with the study of evolution are discussed with the
authority of a specialist.

R. A. STREATFEILD. July, 1913.

Sketch of the Life of Samuel Butler
Author of Erewhon
by Henry Festing Jones


This sketch of Butler's life, together with the portrait which forms
the frontispiece to this volume, first appeared in December, 1902,
in The Eagle, the magazine of St. John's College, Cambridge. I
revised the sketch and read it before the British Homoeopathic
Association at 43 Russell Square, London, W.C., on the 9th February,
1910; some of Butler's music was performed by Miss Grainger Kerr,
Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, Mr. J. A. Fuller Maitland, and Mr. H. J. T.
Wood, the secretary of the Association. I again revised it and read
it before the Historical Society of St. John's College, Cambridge,
in the combination room of the college on the 16th November, 1910;
the Master (Mr. R. F. Scott), who was also Vice-Chancellor of the
University, was in the chair, and a vote of thanks was proposed by
Professor William Bateson, F.R.S.

As the full Memoir of Butler on which I am engaged is not yet ready
for publication, I have again revised the sketch, and it is here
published in response to many demands for some account of his life.

H. F. J.
August, 1913.

Sketch of the Life of Samuel Butler
Author of Erewhon (1835-1902)

Samuel Butler was born on the 4th December, 1835, at the Rectory,
Langar, near Bingham, in Nottinghamshire. His father was the Rev.
Thomas Butler, then Rector of Langar, afterwards one of the canons
of Lincoln Cathedral, and his mother was Fanny Worsley, daughter of
John Philip Worsley of Arno's Vale, Bristol, sugar-refiner. His
grandfather was Dr. Samuel Butler, the famous headmaster of
Shrewsbury School, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield. The Butlers are
not related either to the author of Hudibras, or to the author of
the Analogy, or to the present Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Butler's father, after being at school at Shrewsbury under Dr.
Butler, went up to St. John's College, Cambridge; he took his degree
in 1829, being seventh classic and twentieth senior optime; he was
ordained and returned to Shrewsbury, where he was for some time
assistant master at the school under Dr. Butler. He married in 1832
and left Shrewsbury for Langar. He was a learned botanist, and made
a collection of dried plants which he gave to the Town Museum of

Butler's childhood and early life were spent at Langar among the
surroundings of an English country rectory, and his education was
begun by his father. In 1843, when he was only eight years old, the
first great event in his life occurred; the family, consisting of
his father and mother, his two sisters, his brother and himself,
went to Italy. The South-Eastern Railway stopped at Ashford, whence
they travelled to Dover in their own carriage; the carriage was put
on board the steamboat, they crossed the Channel, and proceeded to
Cologne, up the Rhine to Basle and on through Switzerland into
Italy, through Parma, where Napoleon's widow was still reigning,
Modena, Bologna, Florence, and so to Rome. They had to drive where
there was no railway, and there was then none in all Italy except
between Naples and Castellamare. They seemed to pass a fresh
custom-house every day, but, by tipping the searchers, generally got
through without inconvenience. The bread was sour and the Italian
butter rank and cheesy - often uneatable. Beggars ran after the
carriage all day long and when they got nothing jeered at the
travellers and called them heretics. They spent half the winter in
Rome, and the children were taken up to the top of St. Peter's as a
treat to celebrate their father's birthday. In the Sistine Chapel
they saw the cardinals kiss the toe of Pope Gregory XVI, and in the
Corso, in broad daylight, they saw a monk come rolling down a
staircase like a sack of potatoes, bundled into the street by a man
and his wife. The second half of the winter was spent in Naples.
This early introduction to the land which he always thought of and
often referred to as his second country made an ineffaceable
impression upon him.

In January, 1846, he went to school at Allesley, near Coventry,
under the Rev. E. Gibson. He seldom referred to his life there,
though sometimes he would say something that showed he had not
forgotten all about it. For instance, in 1900 Mr. Sydney C.
Cockerell, now the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,
showed him a medieval missal, laboriously illuminated. He found
that it fatigued him to look at it, and said that such books ought
never to be made. Cockerell replied that such books relieved the
tedium of divine service, on which Butler made a note ending thus:

Give me rather a robin or a peripatetic cat like the one whose
loss the parishioners of St. Clement Danes are still deploring.
When I was at school at Allesley the boy who knelt opposite me at
morning prayers, with his face not more than a yard away from
mine, used to blow pretty little bubbles with his saliva which he
would send sailing off the tip of his tongue like miniature soap
bubbles; they very soon broke, but they had a career of a foot or
two. I never saw anyone else able to get saliva bubbles right
away from him and, though I have endeavoured for some fifty years
and more to acquire the art, I never yet could start the bubble
off my tongue without its bursting. Now things like this really
do relieve the tedium of church, but no missal that I have ever
seen will do anything except increase it.

In 1848 he left Allesley and went to Shrewsbury under the Rev. B. H.
Kennedy. Many of the recollections of his school life at Shrewsbury
are reproduced for the school life of Ernest Pontifex at
Roughborough in The Way of All Flesh, Dr. Skinner being Dr. Kennedy.

During these years he first heard the music of Handel; it went
straight to his heart and satisfied a longing which the music of
other composers had only awakened and intensified. He became as one
of the listening brethren who stood around "when Jubal struck the
chorded shell" in the Song for Saint Cecilia's Day:

Less than a god, they thought, there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.

This was the second great event in his life, and henceforward Italy
and Handel were always present at the bottom of his mind as a kind
of double pedal to every thought, word, and deed. Almost the last
thing he ever asked me to do for him, within a few days of his
death, was to bring Solomon that he might refresh his memory as to
the harmonies of "With thee th' unsheltered moor I'd trace." He
often tried to like the music of Bach and Beethoven, but found
himself compelled to give them up - they bored him too much. Nor was
he more successful with the other great composers; Haydn, for
instance, was a sort of Horace, an agreeable, facile man of the
world, while Mozart, who must have loved Handel, for he wrote
additional accompaniments to the Messiah, failed to move him. It
was not that he disputed the greatness of these composers, but he
was out of sympathy with them, and never could forgive the last two
for having led music astray from the Handel tradition and paved the
road from Bach to Beethoven. Everything connected with Handel
interested him. He remembered old Mr. Brooke, Rector of Gamston,
North Notts, who had been present at the Handel Commemoration in
1784, and his great-aunt, Miss Susannah Apthorp, of Cambridge, had
known a lady who had sat upon Handel's knee. He often regretted
that these were his only links with "the greatest of all composers."

Besides his love for Handel he had a strong liking for drawing, and,
during the winter of 1853-4, his family again took him to Italy,
where, being now eighteen, he looked on the works of the old masters
with intelligence.

In October, 1854, he went into residence at St. John's College,
Cambridge. He showed no aptitude for any particular branch of
academic study, nevertheless he impressed his friends as being
likely to make his mark. Just as he used reminiscences of his own
schooldays at Shrewsbury for Ernest's life at Roughborough, so he
used reminiscences of his own Cambridge days for those of Ernest.
When the Simeonites, in The Way of All Flesh, "distributed tracts,
dropping them at night in good men's letter boxes while they slept,
their tracts got burnt or met with even worse contumely." Ernest
Pontifex went so far as to parody one of these tracts and to get a
copy of the parody "dropped into each of the Simeonites' boxes."
Ernest did this in the novel because Butler had done it in real
life. Mr. A. T. Bartholomew, of the University Library, has found,
among the Cambridge papers of the late J. Willis Clark's collection,
three printed pieces belonging to the year 1855 bearing on the
subject. He speaks of them in an article headed "Samuel Butler and
the Simeonites," and signed A. T. B. in the Cambridge Magazine, 1st
March, 1913; the first is "a genuine Simeonite tract; the other two
are parodies. All three are anonymous. At the top of the second
parody is written 'By S. Butler, March 31.'" The article gives
extracts from the genuine tract and the whole of Butler's parody.

Besides parodying Simeonite tracts, Butler wrote various other
papers during his undergraduate days, some of which, preserved by
one of his contemporaries, who remained a lifelong friend, the Rev.
Canon Joseph M'Cormick, now Rector of St. James's, Piccadilly, are
reproduced in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912).

He also steered the Lady Margaret first boat, and Canon M'Cormick
told me of a mishap that occurred on the last night of the races in
1857. Lady Margaret had been head of the river since 1854, Canon
M'Cormick was rowing 5, Philip Pennant Pearson (afterwards P.
Pennant) was 7, Canon Kynaston, of Durham (whose name formerly was
Snow), was stroke, and Butler was cox. When the cox let go of the
bung at starting, the rope caught in his rudder lines, and Lady
Margaret was nearly bumped by Second Trinity. They escaped,
however, and their pursuers were so much exhausted by their efforts
to catch them that they were themselves bumped by First Trinity at
the next corner. Butler wrote home about it:

11 March, 1857. Dear Mamma: My foreboding about steering was on
the last day nearly verified by an accident which was more
deplorable than culpable the effects of which would have been
ruinous had not the presence of mind of No. 7 in the boat rescued
us from the very jaws of defeat. The scene is one which never
can fade from my remembrance and will be connected always with
the gentlemanly conduct of the crew in neither using opprobrious
language nor gesture towards your unfortunate son but treating
him with the most graceful forbearance; for in most cases when an
accident happens which in itself is but slight, but is visited
with serious consequences, most people get carried away with the
impression created by the last so as to entirely forget the
accidental nature of the cause and if we had been quite bumped I
should have been ruined, as it is I get praise for coolness and
good steering as much as and more than blame for my accident and
the crew are so delighted at having rowed a race such as never
was seen before that they are satisfied completely. All the
spectators saw the race and were delighted; another inch and I
should never have held up my head again. One thing is safe, it
will never happen again.

The Eagle, "a magazine supported by members of St. John's College,"
issued its first number in the Lent term of 1858; it contains an
article by Butler "On English Composition and Other Matters," signed

Most readers will have anticipated me in admitting that a man
should be clear of his meaning before he endeavours to give it
any kind of utterance, and that, having made up his mind what to
say, the less thought he takes how to say it, more than briefly,
pointedly and plainly, the better.

From this it appears that, when only just over twenty-two, Butler
had already discovered and adopted those principles of writing from
which he never departed.

In the fifth number of the Eagle is an article, "Our Tour," also
signed "Cellarius"; it is an account of a tour made in June, 1857,
with a friend whose name he Italianized into Giuseppe Verdi, through
France into North Italy, and was written, so he says, to show how
they got so much into three weeks and spent only 25 pounds; they did
not, however, spend quite so much, for the article goes on, after
bringing them back to England, "Next day came safely home to dear
old St. John's, cash in hand 7d." {19}

Butler worked hard with Shilleto, an old pupil of his grandfather,
and was bracketed 12th in the Classical Tripos of 1858. Canon
M'Cormick told me that he would no doubt have been higher but for
the fact that he at first intended to go out in mathematics; it was
only during the last year of his time that he returned to the
classics, and his being so high as he was spoke well for the
classical education of Shrewsbury.

It had always been an understood thing that he was to follow in the
footsteps of his father and grandfather and become a clergyman;
accordingly, after taking his degree, he went to London and began to
prepare for ordination, living and working among the poor as lay
assistant under the Rev. Philip Perring, Curate of St. James's,
Piccadilly, an old pupil of Dr. Butler at Shrewsbury. {20} Placed
among such surroundings, he felt bound to think out for himself many
theological questions which at this time were first presented to
him, and, the conclusion being forced upon him that he could not
believe in the efficacy of infant baptism, he declined to be

It was now his desire to become an artist; this, however, did not
meet with the approval of his family, and he returned to Cambridge
to try for pupils and, if possible, to get a fellowship. He liked
being at Cambridge, but there were few pupils and, as there seemed
to be little chance of a fellowship, his father wished him to come
down and adopt some profession. A long correspondence took place in
the course of which many alternatives were considered. There are
letters about his becoming a farmer in England, a tutor, a
homoeopathic doctor, an artist, or a publisher, and the
possibilities of the army, the bar, and diplomacy. Finally it was
decided that he should emigrate to New Zealand. His passage was
paid, and he was to sail in the Burmah, but a cousin of his received
information about this vessel which caused him, much against his
will, to get back his passage money and take a berth in the Roman
Emperor, which sailed from Gravesend on one of the last days of
September, 1859. On that night, for the first time in his life, he
did not say his prayers. "I suppose the sense of change was so
great that it shook them quietly off. I was not then a sceptic; I
had got as far as disbelief in infant baptism, but no further. I
felt no compunction of conscience, however, about leaving off my
morning and evening prayers - simply I could no longer say them."

The Roman Emperor, after a voyage every incident of which interested
him deeply, arrived outside Port Lyttelton. The captain shouted to
the pilot who came to take them in:

"Has the Robert Small arrived?"

"No," replied the pilot, "nor yet the Burmah."

And Butler, writing home to his people, adds the comment: "You may
imagine what I felt."

The Burmah was never heard of again.

He spent some time looking round, considering what to do and how to
employ the money with which his father was ready to supply him, and
determined upon sheep-farming. He made several excursions looking
for country, and ultimately took up a run which is still called
Mesopotamia, the name he gave it because it is situated among the
head-waters of the Rangitata.

It was necessary to have a horse, and he bought one for 55 pounds,
which was not considered dear. He wrote home that the horse's name
was "Doctor": "I hope he is a Homoeopathist." From this, and from
the fact that he had already contemplated becoming a homoeopathic
doctor himself, I conclude that he had made the acquaintance of Dr.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon, the eminent homoeopathist, while he was doing
parish work in London. After his return to England Dr. Dudgeon was
his medical adviser, and remained one of his most intimate friends
until the end of his life. Doctor, the horse, is introduced into
Erewhon Revisited; the shepherd in Chapter XXVI tells John Higgs
that Doctor "would pick fords better than that gentleman could, I
know, and if the gentleman fell off him he would just stay stock

Butler carried on his run for about four and a half years, and the
open-air life agreed with him; he ascribed to this the good health
he afterwards enjoyed. The following, taken from a notebook he kept
in the colony and destroyed, gives a glimpse of one side of his life
there; he preserved the note because it recalled New Zealand so

April, 1861. It is Sunday. We rose later than usual. There are
five of us sleeping in the hut. I sleep in a bunk on one side of
the fire; Mr. Haast, {22} a German who is making a geological
survey of the province, sleeps upon the opposite one; my bullock-
driver and hut-keeper have two bunks at the far end of the hut,
along the wall, while my shepherd lies in the loft among the tea
and sugar and flour. It was a fine morning, and we turned out
about seven o'clock.

The usual mutton and bread for breakfast with a pudding made of
flour and water baked in the camp oven after a joint of meat -
Yorkshire pudding, but without eggs. While we were at breakfast
a robin perched on the table and sat there a good while pecking
at the sugar. We went on breakfasting with little heed to the
robin, and the robin went on pecking with little heed to us.
After breakfast Pey, my bullock-driver, went to fetch the horses
up from a spot about two miles down the river, where they often
run; we wanted to go pig-hunting.

I go into the garden and gather a few peascods for seed till the
horses should come up. Then Cook, the shepherd, says that a fire
has sprung up on the other side of the river. Who could have lit
it? Probably someone who had intended coming to my place on the
preceding evening and has missed his way, for there is no track
of any sort between here and Phillips's. In a quarter of an hour
he lit another fire lower down, and by that time, the horses
having come up, Haast and myself - remembering how Dr. Sinclair
had just been drowned so near the same spot - think it safer to
ride over to him and put him across the river. The river was
very low and so clear that we could see every stone. On getting

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