Samuel Butler.

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•-V. fi^V ?■

The Humour of Homer
and Other Essays

Re-issue of the Works of the late
Samuel Butler

Author of "Ercwhon," "The Way of All Flesh," etc.
Mr. Fifield has pleasure in announcing he has taken over the publication
of the entire works of the late Samuel Butler, novelist, philosopher, scientist,
satirist, and classicist ; " in his ovin department," says Mr. Bernard Shaw, " the
greatest English writer of the latter half of the 19th century." "The Way
of All Flesh," " Erewhon," " Unconscious Memory," *' Alps and Sanctuaries,"
and " The Fair Haven," which had been out of print for $ome time, are now
reprinted, and these and all the other works are now offered at more popular

The Humour of Homer, and other Essays on Life
Art and Science. With a portrait, and a sketch of the
Hfe of Samuel Butler by H. F. .Tones,

The Fair Haven. New Edition, re-set.

Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton
Ticino. Illustrated by the Author, Charles Gogin
and H. F. Jones. Large Crown 8vo, cloth gilt.
New and enlarged Edition, re-set, with index.

The Note-Books of Samuel Butler. W ith Portrait
and Poems. Edited by H. F. Jones. 2nd Impression.

The Way of All Flesh. A novel. Fifth Impres-
sion of Second Edition.

God the Known and God the Unknown.

Erewhon. 7th Impression of loth Edition.

Erewhon Revisited. 5th Impression, 340 pages, zs. 6d. net

Unconscious Memory. New Edition, re-set. 5s. net

Life and Habit. An essay after a completer view

of Evolution. New Edition with Addenda. 5 s. net

Evolution Old and New. A comparison of the
theories of Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, with
that of Charles Darwin. New Revised Edition. 5s. net

Luck, or Cunning, as the main means of organic

modification ? 5 s. net

The Authoress of the Odyssey, who and what she

was, when and where she wrote. 5s. net

The Iliad of Homer, rendered into English prose. 5s. net

The Odyssey, rendered into English prose. 5s. net

Shakespeare's Sonnets, with notes and original text. 5s. net

Ex Voto. An account of the Sacro Monte or New

Jerusalem at Varallo-Sesia, Fully illustrated. 5s. net

London : A. C. Fifield, 13 Clifford's Inn, E.G.
















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The Humour of Homer
and Other Essays


Samuel Butler

Author of " Erewhon," " Erewhon Revisited,
" The Way of all Flesh," etc.

Edited ty

R. A. Streatfeild

With a biographical sketch of the author by Henry

Festing Jones, and a portrait in photogravure from

a photograph taken in 1889

A. C. Fifield, 13 ClifFord's Inn, E.G.




Frontispiece — Samuel Butler in i88g

Introduction by R. A. Streatfeild . . . . vii

Biographical Sketch by H. F. Jones


The Humour of Homer


Quis Desiderio . . . ?


Ramblings in Cheapside


The Aunt, the Nieces, and the Dog


How to Make the Best of Life


The Sanctuary of Montrigone


A Medieval Girl School


Art in the Valley of Saas


Thought and Language

. 209

The Deadlock in Darwinism. Part I

. 245

do. Part II

. 271

do. Part 1





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.

" 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
Athenceum. 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
hookThe Authoress of the "Odyssey, "onginsWy 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


viii Introduction

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 state-
ment 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
liim 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


Introduction ix

explain why two other essays which also appeared in
The Universal Review are not included in this collec-
tion. 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 con-
clusions. 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 recog-
nized. 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 " II Santuario di Crea " (Alessan-
dria, 1902).

X Introduction

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, 1 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 intro-
duction contributed by Professor Marcus Hartog to
the new edition of Unconscious Memory (A. C. Fifield,
igio), 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

July, 191 3.

Sketch of the Life


Samuel Butler

Author of Ereivhon


Henry Festing Jones


V ^HIS 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. fohn's
College, Cambridge. I revised the sketch and read it before
the British Homceopathic Association at 43 Russell Square,
London, W.C., on the gth 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 V ice-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.

Augusty 1913.

Sketch of the Life of
Samuel Butler

Author of Erewhon

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 Phihp 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
Hudihras, 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, Cam-
bridge ; 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


14 Sketch of the Life


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, consist-
ing 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 Napo-
leon'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 with-
out 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 day-
light, 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.

of Samuel Butler 15

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. Cocke rell,
now the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cam-
bridge, 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 madeT)
Ceckerell 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 perigatetic^cat Hke 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 saihng
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 Hke 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 recollec-
tions 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.

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

1 6 Sketch of the Life

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 hence-
forward 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' un-
sheltered 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."

of Samuel Butler 17

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, ist 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,

1 8 Sketch of the Life

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'Cor-
mick was rowing 5, Phihp 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 :

II March, 1857. ^^^^ 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

of Samuel Butler 19

before that they are satisfied completely. All the spectators
saw the race and were dehghted ; 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
" Cellarius " :

Most readers will have anticipated me in admitting
that a man should be clear of his meaning before he en-
deavours 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

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

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 ;
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 yd,"'^

Butler worked hard with Shilleto, an old pupil of

^ I am indebted to one of Butler's contemporaries at Cambridge, the
Rev. Dr. T. G. Bonney, F.R.S., and also to Mr. John F. Harris, both of
St. John's College, for help in finding and dating Butler's youthful contri-
butions to the Eagle.

20 Sketch of the Life

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.^ 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 ordained.

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 dip-

^ This gentleman, on the death of his father in 1866, became the Rev.
Sir Philip Perring, Bart.

of Samuel Butler 2i

lomacy. 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

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe humour of Homer, and other essays → online text (page 1 of 22)