Samuel Butler.

The note-books of Samuel Butler .. online

. (page 1 of 36)
Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe note-books of Samuel Butler .. → online text (page 1 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook







| Book
| Shop
\ Inc.



The Note-Books of Samuel Butler



The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, Author of
"Erewhon." Selections arranged and edited b>
HENRY FESTING JONES. New Edition, with an
Introduction by FRANCIS HACKETT, and a por-

Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton
Ticino. New edition with the author's revisions.
Edited by R. A. STREATFEILD. With 85 draw-
ings chiefly by the author.

Life and Habit.

Unconscious Memory. A new edition with an
Introduction by Prof. MARCUS HARTOG.

The Way of All Flesh. A novel. With an Intro-

Erewhon, or Over the Range. With an Intro-

Erewhon Revisited, Twenty Years Later, both by
the Original Discoverer of the Country and
His Son.

Evolution Old and New.

A First Year in Canterbury Settlement.

The Humor of Homer and Other Essays. Edited
by R. A. STREATFEILD. With a Biographical
Sketch of the author by HENRY FESTING JONES,
and a portrait.

The Fair Haven (as by the late JOHN PICKARD
OWEN). Edited, with an Introduction, by R.





The Note-Books of
Samuel Butler

Author of "Erewhon"

Selections arranged and edited by

Henry Festing Jones

With an Introduction by

Francis Hackett




First Printing March, 1917

Second " March, 1917

Third " August, 1921




In "The Doctor's Dilemma" there is a saucy reference to
an unprofessional heretic who has views on art, science,
morals and religion. Old Sir Patrick Cullen shocks the
heretic's disciple by not even recognizing the name. "Bernard
Shaw ?" he ponders, "I never heard of him. He's a Methodist
preacher, I suppose." Louis is horrified. "No, no. He's
the most advanced man now living: he isn't anything." The
old doctor is not set back an inch. These "advanced" men
who impress the young by employing the accumulations of
genius he knows them. "I assure you, young man," he in-
forms Louis, "my father learnt the doctrine of deliverance
from sin from John Wesley's own lips before you or Mr.
Shaw were born."

It is a pleasant thing to claim that the man you admire is
"advanced" and to believe serenely that you are progressive
along with him. It is also a convenient thing to employ such
question-begging phrases as heterodox, radical, free-thinker,
anarchist. The trouble with such phrases, indicative and ex-
citing ac, they are, is their plain relativity to something repre-
hensible that only you yourself have in mind. The world is
full of moss-grown places called Newtown and Newburg and
Nykobing and Neuville. It is also full of moss-grown writ-
ers who once were advanced and revolutionary. If a writer
is to be paraded as heterodox it has to be shown that he does
something more than take up an agreeable position. It has
to be shown that he has a manner, a method, of dealing with
things that really deserve to be considered advanced.

This is Samuel Butler's claim on posterity. The urgently
intelligent son of a dull English clergyman, he certainly did
not lack incentives to heterodoxy. Besides that he was born
in 1835 and was one of the first of Darwin's admirers, as
later he was one of the first of his critics. But there was
more than reflex action in Samuel Butler's heterodoxy. He


iv Introductory

was never anything so regular as an anarchist. He dis-
trusted authority in religion and art and science without dis-
carding religious, artistic or scientific values. He thought
freely without being a freethinker, and radically without be-
ing a radical. To say he was lawless would entirely misrepre-
sent him, he was not nearly so much a revolutionary as a
conscientious objector on the loose. Here again he fell into
none of the ordinary classifications. He was not a mission-
ary. He had as little ambition to form a new orthodoxy as
to attach himself to an old one. He had a marked propensity,
that of thinking for himself one of those perplexing pro-
pensities that nothing seems to determine, that may occur in
an emperor or his slave and no one know how or why. And
that propensity, the capital distinction of his many-sided life,
gave him emancipation in a way that no one could have pre-
dicted and that was long quite difficult to label.

It was difficult to label mainly because Samuel Butler's in-
tellectual adventure had come to an end before the label was
invented. Samuel Butler was above everything a pragmatist,
one of those forerunners of pragmatism who did not become
conscious of its "universal mission" or its "conquering des-
tiny," who nevertheless employed the method intuitively and
"made momentous contributions to truth by its means." It
is tragic, in many ways, that Butler had not the benefit of the
formulation of pragmatism. Had he possessed it, however,
he could not have been more closely, more consistently, its
exponent. "Pragmatism," said William James in 1907, "rep-
resents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the em-
piricist attitude, but it represents it, as it seems to me, both
in a more radical and in a less objectionable form than it has
ever yet assumed. A pragmatist turns his back resolutely
and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to pro-
fessional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and
insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori rea-
sons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended
absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and
adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power.
That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist
temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possi-
bilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pre-
tence of the finality of truth." This was the attitude Samuel

Introductory v

Butler achieved for himself and the one which these Note-
Books so fully and singularly exemplify.

There is a kind of man whose sensations come at the dou-
ble, who must take them down as they fly by or lose them
eternally. Butler's Note-Books were not kept for such a
purpose. It was not his senses that were imperious for a
scribe : it was his ruminations, his ideas. He was painter and
musician as well as writer, and he was writer in the most
general interpretation, but his chief characteristic was not,
so to speak, sensuous impressionability. It was an incessant
intellectual activity. He had "the principle of stopping every-
where and anywhere to put down his notes, as the true painter
will stop anywhere and everywhere to sketch," but the notes
were not wild or woodland, they were memoranda in his end-
less discovery of wisdom. Occasionally the spectacle of the
world urged him to record emotion, and he observes that from
the age of twelve the music of his well-beloved Handel was
never a day out of his head. But it was the opinions and
ideas he derived from experience that stirred him to write in
his Note-Books. Experience did not so much enamor him as
stimulate his mind.

The vivacity of Samuel Butler's mind is astonishing. He
was not brilliant in the sense that his expression was daz-
zling. Dazzling writers like George Meredith were distaste-
ful to him, and he felt little of their need to give acuity to the
words that were to convey poignant experiences. Neither did
he wish to incite passion or ecstasy. He held everything, even
his God, at arm's length, and the light by which he examined
his world was daylight. Because of his sharp curiosity, how-
ever, his independence and audacity and humorous scepti-
cism, he achieved that kind of penetrativeness which is often
called brilliant. Penetrative he was to an extraordinary de-
gree and over an area that few men of his time even dreamed
of encompassing. He was dry on occasion and on occasion
captious, but he never said a heartless thing or a foolish. And
from the first line he wrote to the last there is not a single
dishonest utterance. Almost every one who writes is tempted
now and then to say something which is not quite authentic,
to use a hackneyed phrase if not a hackneyed thought.
Samuel Butler authenticated everything he uttered. During
his growing years and indeed all through his life he found

vi Introductory

himself brushed aside by the pundits. From pretentiousness
he suffered as only a modest man can suffer, and he abhorred
it. One result of it was to accentuate his own priestlessness
and simplicity. He could easily have got himself up as an
authority. It is a thing that almost any busybody with a
plodding secretary can accomplish. Butler leaned over back-
wards to avoid doing it. He even went so far as to suspect
everything that had the air of being professional, and to take
a perverse pleasure in offering to machine-made scholars his
own hand-made heterodox views. And not only were his
views pragmatically decided, so were the bases on which he
formed them. It is significant that though he was born in
1835 and lived to 1902 he got more out of Handel in music and
Bellini in painting than out of any other masters. Homer
and Shakespeare happened to interest him, but he paid no
attention whatever to those "imaginary obligations" of an
academic or journalistic order which keep most people from
discovering what they really value. Tolstoy and Ibsen, Mor-
ris and Karl Marx, were Butler's contemporaries. They
might as well have lived in Kamchatka for any chance they
had of crossing the threshold of his hospitable but resolutely
unfashionable mind.

Between the cravings of gregariousness and the exactions
of his critical intelligence, then, Butler was never at a loss to
decide. But this severance from the crowd was not without
an emotional result. There can be no doubt that he suffered
some of the penalties of being an intellectual anchorite.
From the egoistic rigidity that may so easily be the outcome
of isolation if not its promoter he was preserved by com-
mon sense. Though he embraced the most difficult of ex-
periments, the experiment of true independence, he kept on
the right side of the thin partition mainly through avoiding
the mistakes of that early ancestor who imagined God as
solemn because "he was impressed with an undue sense of his
own importance and, as a natural consequence, he had no
sense or humor." In spite of extreme common sense and
humor, the price of being heterodox told on Butler. He was
much too spirited to lament his exile, but sometimes he was
cross-grained and spiritually dyspeptic. His dislike of Bee-
thoven, Leonardo and Goethe was not mere buoyant uncon-
ventionality or admirable aesthetic sabotage. It had a slightly

Introductory vii

diseased contrariness. He was wonderfully outspoken about
his own neglect and comparative failure, and exceedingly can-
did about his aspirations for fame, but all this could not pre-
vent his being estranged from certain great men by very rea-
son of their general acceptance. Those who are themselves
frustrated cannot help the impulse to frustrate others, and
the fact that his unaffected opinions were not fairly received
sometimes gave Butler an animus in challenging opinions that

Unsparing pragmatism, however, kept him from being a
crank and made him a priceless critic of what H. G. Wells
calls "first and last things." And the freshest of his dis-
criminations, the most unexpected and the most unqualified,
are to be found in his Note-Books. It is a common thing in
life to hear some one bemoaning a talker whose music died
in him. Here is a wise and humorous and varied man who
preserved his observations as they sprang from him. It is
monologue, it is true, rather deliberate and reasoned mono-
logue editorially cut-and-dried. The fact remains that it is
the essential Samuel Butler in his normal habit of mind.
Under compulsion to think for himself, his Note-Books de-
tect him in the process, and so represent the range and depth
of his genius. That it was genius, though often blue in the
cold of his era, there is no questioning. And it is peculiarly
precious because it is liberating. It cannot but open the doors
for those who have felt orthodoxies stifle them in their own
attempt to think for themselves.


Preface to the Original Edition

ARLY in his life Samuel Butler began to carry a note-
book and to write down in it anything he wanted to
remember; it might be something he heard some one say, more
commonly it was something he said himself. In one of these
notes he gives a reason for making them:

"One's thoughts fly so fast that one must shoot them,; it is
no use trying to put salt on their tails."

So he bagged as many as he could hit and preserved them,
re-written on loose sheets of paper which constituted a sort of
museum stored with the wise, beautiful, and strange creatures
that were continually winging their way across the field of his
vision. As he became a more expert marksman his collection
increased and his museum grew so crowded that he wanted a
catalogue. In 1874 he started an index, and this led to his re-
considering the notes, destroying those that he remembered
having used in his published books and re-writing the remain-
der. The re-writing shortened some but it lengthened others
and suggested so many new ones that the index was soon of lit-
tle use and there seemed to be no finality about it ("Making
Notes," pp. loo-i post) . In 1891 he attacked the problem afresh
and made it a rule to spend an hour every morning re-editing
his notes and keeping his index up to date. At his death, in
1902, he left five bound volumes, with the contents dated and
indexed, about 225 pages of closely written sermon paper to
each volume, and more than enough unbound and unindexed
sheets to make a sixth volume of equal size.

In accordance with his own advice to a young writer (p. 363
post), he wrote the notes in copying ink and kept a pressed
copy with me as a precaution against fire; but during his life-
time, unless he wanted to refer to something while he was in my
chambers, I never looked at them. After his death I took them
down and went through them. I knew in a general way what I
should find, but I was not prepared for such a multitude and

x Preface to the Original Edition

variety of thoughts, reflections, conversations, incidents. There
are entries about his early life at Langar, Handel, school days
at Shrewsbury, Cambridge, Christianity, literature, New Zea-
land, sheep-farming, philosophy, painting, money, evolution,
morality, Italy, speculation, photography, music, natural his-
tory, archaeology, botany, religion, book-keeping, psychology,
metaphysics, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Sicily, architecture, ethics,
the Sonnets of Shakespeare. I thought of publishing the
books just as they stand, but too many of the entries are of no
general interest and too many are of a kind that must wait if
they are ever to be published. In addition to these objections
the confusion is very great. One would look in the earlier vol-
umes for entries about New Zealand and evolution and in the
later ones for entries about the Odyssey and the Sonnets, but
there is no attempt at arrangement and anywhere one may come
upon something about Handel, or a philosophical reflection, be-
tween a note giving the name of the best hotel in an Italian town
and another about Harry Nicholls and Herbert Campbell as the
Babes in the Wood in the pantomime at the Grecian Theatre.
This confusion has a charm, but it is a charm that would not, I
fear, survive in print and, personally, I find that it makes the
books distracting for continuous reading. Moreover they were
not intended to be published as tliey stand ("Preface to Vol.
II," p. 21$ post}, they were intended for his own private use cs
a quarry from which to take material for his writing, and it is
remarkable that in practice he scarcely ever used them in this
way ("These Notes," p. 261 post). When he had written and
re-written a note and spoken it and repeated it in conversation,
it became so much a part of him that, if he wanted to introduce
it in a book, it was less trouble to re-state it again from memory
than to search through his "precious indexes 3 ' for it and copy it
("Gadshill and Trapani," p. 194, "At Piora," p. 272 post). But
he could not have re-stated a note from memory if he had not
learnt it by writing it, so that it may be said that he did use
the notes for his books, though not precisely in the way he orig-
inally intended. And the constant re-writing and re-consider-
ing were useful also by forcing him to settle exactly what he
though t and to state it as clearly and tersely as possible. In this
way the making of the notes must have had an influence on the
formation of his style though here again he had no such idea
in his mind when writing them ("Style," pp. 186-7

Preface to the Original Edition xi

In one of the notes he says:

"A man may make, as it were, cash entries of himself in a
day-book, but the entries in the ledger and the balancing of the
accounts should be done by others."

When I began to write the Memoir of Butler on which I
am still engaged, I marked all the more autobiographical notes
and had them copied; again I was struck by the interest, the
variety, and the confusion of those I left untouched. It seemed
to me that any one who undertook to become Butler's account-
ant and to post his entries upon himself would have to settle
first how many and what accounts to open in the ledger, and this
could not be done until it had been settled which items were to
be selected for posting. It was the difficulty of those who dare
not go into the water until after they have learnt to swim. I
doubt whether I should ever have made the plunge if it had not
been for the interest which Mr. Desmond MacCarthy took in
Butler and his writings. He had occasionally browsed on my
copy of the books, and when he became editor of a review, the
New Quarterly, he a-sked for some of the notes for publication,
thus providing a practical and simple way of entering upon the
business without any very alarming plunge. I talked his pro-
posal over with Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, Butler's literary execu-
tor, and, having obtained his approval, set to work. From No-
vember 1907 to May 1910, inclusive, the New Quarterly pub-
lished six groups of notes and the long note on "Genius" (pp.
174-8 post). The experience gained in selecting, arranging,
and editing these items has been of great use to me and I thank
the proprietor and editor of the New Quarterly for permission
to republish such of the notes as appeared in their review.

In preparing this book I began by going through the notes
again and marking all that seemed to fall within certain groups
roughly indicated by the arrangement in the review. I had
these selected items copied, distributed them among those which
were already in print, shuffled them and turned them over,
meditating on them, familiarising myself with them and tenta-
tively forming new groups. While doing this I was continually
gleaning from the books more notes which I had overlooked,
and making such verbal alterations as seemed necessary to
avoid repetition, to correct obvious errors and to remove causes
of reasonable offence. The ease with which two or more notes
would condense into one was sometimes surprising, but there

xii Preface to the Original Edition

were cases in which the language had to be varied and others in
which a few words had to be added to bridge over a gap; as a
rule, however, the necessary words were lying ready in some
other note. I also reconsidered the titles and provided titles for
many notes which had none. In making these verbal alter-
ations I bore in mind Butler's own views on the subject which
I found in a note about editing letters:

"Granted that an editor, like a translator, should keep as
religiously close to the original text as he reasonably can, and,
in every alteration, should consider what the writer would have
wished and done if he or she could have been consulted, yet,
subject to these limitations, he should be free to alter accord-
ing to his discretion or indiscretion."

My "discretion or indiscretion" was less seriously strained
in making textual changes than in determining how many, and
what, groups to have and which notes, in what order, to include
in each group'. Here is a note Butler made about classification:

''Fighting about words is like fighting about accounts, and all
classification is like accounts. Sometimes it is easy to see which
way the balance of convenience lies, sometimes it is very hard
to know whether an item should be carried to one account or
to another."

Except in the group headed "Higgledy-Piggledy," I have
endeavoured to post each note to a suitable account, but some
of Butler's leading ideas, expressed in different forms, will
be found posted to more than one account, and this kind of
repetition is in accordance with his habit in conversation. It
would probably be correct to say that I have heard him speak
the substance of every note many times in different contexts.
In seeking for the most characteristic context, I have shifted
and shifted the notes and considered and re-considered them
under different aspects, taking hints from the delicate chame-
leon changes of significance that came over them as they har-
monised or discorded with their nevu surroundings. Presently
I caught myself restoring notes to positions they had previously
occupied instead of finding new places for them, and the in-
creasing frequency with which difficulties were solved by these
restorations at last forced me to the conclusion, which I accept-
ed only with very great regret, that my labours were at an end.

I do not expect every one to approve of the result. If I had
been trying to please every one, I should have made only a very

Preface to the Original Edition xiii

short and unrepresentative selection which Mr., Fifield would
have refused to publish. I have tried to make such a book as I
believe would have pleased Butler. Tliat is to say, I have tried
to please one who, by reason of his intimate knowledge of the
subject and of the difficulties, would have looked with indul-
gence upon the many mistakes which it is now too late to cor-
rect, even if I knew how to correct them. Had it been possible
for him to see what I have done, he would have detected all my
sins, both of omission and of commission, and I like to imagine
that he would have used some such consoling words as these:
'Well, never mind; one cannot have everything; and, after all,
'Le mieux est I'ennemi du bien.' "

Here will be found much of what he used to say as he talked
with one or two intimate friends in his own chambers or in
mine at the close of the day, or on a Sunday walk in (he coun-
try round London, or as we wandered together through Italy
and Sicily; and I would it were possible to charge these pages
with some echo of his voice and with some reflection of his
manner. But, again, one cannot have everything.

"Men's work we have," quoth one, "but we want them
Them palpable to touch and clear to view."
Is it so nothing, then, to have the gem
But we must cry to have the setting too?

In the New Quarterly each note was headed with a reference
to its place in the Note-Books. This has not been done here
because, on consideration, it seemed useless, and even irritat-
ing, to keep on putting before the reader references which he
could not verify. I intend to give to the British Museum a copy
of this volume wherein each note will show where the material
of which it is composed can be found; thus, if the original
Note-Books are also some day given to the Museum, any one
sufficiently interested will be able to see exactly what I have
done in selecting, omitting, editing, condensing and classifying.

Some items are included that are not actually in the Note-
Books; the longest of these are the two New Zealand articles
"Darwin among the Machines" and "Lucubratio Ebria" as to
which something is said in the Prefatory Note to "The Germs
of Erewhon and of Life and Habit" (pp. 39-42 post). In that
Prefatory Note a Dialogue on Species by Butler and an auto-
graph letter from Charles Darwin are mentioned. Since the
note was in type I have received from New Zealand a copy of

Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe note-books of Samuel Butler .. → online text (page 1 of 36)