Samuel Butler.

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Early 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

"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 reconsidering the notes, destroying those that he
remembered having used in his published books and re-writing the
remainder. The re-writing shortened some but it lengthened others
and suggested so many new ones that the index was soon of little use
and there seemed to be no finality about it ("Making Notes," pp. 100-
1 post). In 1891 he attached 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 made 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 lifetime, 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 variety of thoughts, reflections, conversations,
incidents. There are entries about his early life at Langar, Handel,
school days at Shrewsbury, Cambridge, Christianity, literature, New
Zealand, sheep-farming, philosophy, painting, money, evolution,
morality, Italy, speculation, photography, music, natural history,
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 volumes 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,
between 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 they stand ("Preface to Vol. II," p. 215 post), they were
intended for his own private use as 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" 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
originally intended. And the constant re-writing and re-considering
were useful also by forcing him to settle exactly what he thought 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 post)

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 accountant 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 asked 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
proposal over with Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, Butler's literary executor,
and, having obtained his approval, set to work. From November 1907
to May 1910, inclusive, the New Quarterly published 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 tentatively 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
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 alterations 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 according 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
chameleon changes of significance that came over them as they
harmonised or discorded with their new surroundings. Presently I
caught myself restoring notes to positions they had previously
occupied instead of finding new places for them, and the increasing
frequency with which difficulties were solved by these restorations
at last forced me to the conclusion, which I accepted 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 short and
unrepresentative selection which Mr. Fifield would have refused to
publish. I have tried to make suck a book as I believe would have
pleased Butler. That 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 indulgence upon the many
mistakes which it is now too late to correct, even if 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 l'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 the country 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

"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 irritating, 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 autograph letter from Charles Darwin are mentioned. Since the
note was in type I have received from New Zealand a copy of the
Weekly Press of 19th June, 1912, containing the Dialogue again
reprinted and a facsimile reproduction of Darwin's letter. I thank
Mr. W. H. Triggs, the present editor of the Press, Christchurch, New
Zealand, also Miss Colborne-Veel and the members of the staff for
their industry and perseverance in searching for and identifying
Butler's early contributions to the newspaper.

The other principal items not actually in the Note-Books, the letter
to T. W. G. Butler (pp. 53-5 post), "A Psalm of Montreal" (pp. 388-9
post) and "The Righteous Man" (pp. 390-1 post). I suppose Butler
kept all these out of his notes because he considered that they had
served their purpose; but they have not hitherto appeared in a form
now accessible to the general reader.

All the footnotes are mine and so are all those prefatory notes which
are printed in italics and the explanatory remarks in square brackets
which occur occasionally in the text. I have also preserved, in
square brackets, the date of a note when anything seemed to turn on
it. And I have made the index.

The Biographical Statement is founded on a skeleton Diary which is in
the Note-Books. It is intended to show, among other things, how
intimately the great variety of subjects touched upon in the notes
entered into and formed part of Butler's working life. It does not
stop at the 18th of June, 1902, because, as he says (p. 23 post),
"Death is not more the end of some than it is the beginning of
others"; and, again (p. 13 post), for those who come to the true
birth the life we live beyond the grave is our truest life. The
Biographical Statement has accordingly been carried on to the present
time so as to include the principal events that have occurred during
the opening period of the "good average three-score years and ten of
immortality" which he modestly hoped he might inherit in the life of
the world to come.

Mount Eryx,
Trapani, Sicily,
August, 1912.


1835. Dec. 4. Samuel Butler born at Langar Rectory, Nottingham, son
of the Rev. Thomas Butler, who was the son of Dr. Samuel Butler,
Headmaster of Shrewsbury School from 1798 to 1836, and afterwards
Bishop of Lichfield.

1843-4. Spent the winter in Rome and Naples with his family.

1846. Went to school at Allesley, near Coventry.

1848. Went to school at Shrewsbury under Dr. Kennedy.

Went to Italy for the second time with his family.

First heard the music of Handel.

1854. Entered at St. John's College, Cambridge.

1858. Bracketed 12th in the first class of the Classical Tripos and
took his degree.

Went to London and began to prepare for ordination, living among the
poor and doing parish work: this led to his doubting the efficacy of
infant baptism and hence to his declining to take orders.

1859. Sailed for New Zealand and started sheep-farming in Canterbury
Province: while in the colony he wrote much for the Press of
Christchurch, N.Z.

1862. Dec. 20. "Darwin on The Origin of Species. A Dialogue,"
unsigned but written by Butler, appeared in the Press and was
followed by correspondence to which Butler contributed.

1863. A First Year in Canterbury Settlement: made out of his
letters home to his family together with two articles reprinted from
the Eagle (the magazine of St. John's College, Cambridge): MS. lost.

1863. "Darwin among the Machines," a letter signed "Cellarius"
written by Butler, appeared in the Press.

1864. Sold out his sheep run and returned to England in company with
Charles Paine Pauli, whose acquaintance he had made in the colony.
He brought back enough to enable him to live quietly, settled for
good at 15 Clifford's Inn, London, and began life as a painter,
studying at Cary's, Heatherley's and the South Kensington Art Schools
and exhibiting pictures occasionally at the Royal Academy and other
exhibitions: while studying art he made the acquaintance of, among
others, Charles Gogin, William Ballard and Thomas William Gale

"Family Prayers": a small painting by Butler.

1865. "Lucubratio Ebria," an article, containing variations of the
view in "Darwin among the Machines," sent by Butler from England,
appeared in the Press.

The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as contained in the
Four Evangelists critically examined: a pamphlet of VIII+48 pp.
written in New Zealand: the conclusion arrived at is that the
evidence is insufficient to support the belief that Christ died and
rose from the dead: MS. lost, probably used up in writing The Fair

1869-70. Was in Italy for four months, his health having broken down
in consequence of over-work.

1870 or 1871. First meeting with Miss Eliza Mary Ann Savage, from
whom he drew Alethea in The Way of All Flesh.

1872. Erewhon or Over the Range: a Work of Satire and Imagination:
MS. in the British Museum.

1873. Erewhon translated into Dutch.

The Fair Haven: an ironical work, purporting to be "in defence of
the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth, both as
against rationalistic impugners and certain orthodox defenders,"
written under the pseudonym of John Pickard Owen with a memoir of the
supposed author by his brother William Bickersteth Owen. This book
reproduces - the substance of his pamphlet on the resurrection: MS.
at Christchurch, New Zealand.

1874. "Mr. Heatherley's Holiday," his most important oil painting,
exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition, now in the National
Gallery of British Art.

1876. Having invested his money in various companies that failed,
one of which had its works in Canada, and having spent much time
during the last few years in that country, trying unsuccessfully to
save part of his capital, he now returned to London, and during the
next ten years experienced serious financial difficulties.

First meeting with Henry Festing Jones.

1877. Life and Habit: an Essay after a Completer View of Evolution:
dedicated to Charles Paine Pauli: although dated 1878 the book was
published on Butler's birthday, 4th December, 1877: MS. at the
Schools, Shrewsbury.

1878. "A Psalm of Montreal" in the Spectator: There are probably
many MSS. of this poem in existence given by Butler to friends: one,
which he gave to H. F. Jones, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum,

A Portrait of Butler, painted in this year by himself, now at St.
John's College, Cambridge.

1879. Evolution Old and New: A comparison of the theories of
Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck with that of Charles Darwin:
MS. in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A Clergyman's Doubts and God the Known and God the Unknown appeared
in the Examiner: MS. lost.

Erewhon translated into German.

1880. Unconscious Memory: A comparison between the theory of Dr.
Ewald Hering, Professor of Physiology in the University of Prague,
and the Philosophy of the Unconscious of Dr. Edward von Hartmann,
with translations from both these authors and preliminary chapters
bearing upon Life and Habit, Evolution Old and New, and Charles
Darwin's Edition of Dr. Krause's Erasmus Darwin.

A Portrait of Butler, painted in this year by himself, now at the
Schools, Shrewsbury. A third portrait of Butler, painted by himself
about this time, is at Christchurch, New Zealand.

1881. A property at Shrewsbury, in which under his grandfather's
will he had a reversionary interest contingent on his surviving his
father, was re-settled so as to make his reversion absolute: he
mortgaged this reversion and bought small property near London: this
temporarily alleviated his financial embarrassment but added to his
work, for he spent much time in the management of the houses, learnt
book-keeping by double-entry and kept elaborate accounts.

Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino illustrated by
the author, Charles Gogin and Henry Festing Jones: an account of his
holiday travels with dissertations on most of the subjects that
interested him: MS. with H. F. Jones.

1882. A new edition of Evolution Old and New, with a short preface
alluding to the recent death of Charles Darwin, an appendix and an

1883. Began to compose music as nearly as he could in the style of

1884. Selections from Previous Works with "A Psalm of Montreal" and
"Remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mental Evolution in Animals."

1885. Death of Miss Savage.

Gavottes, Minuets, Fugues and other short pieces for the piano by
Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones: MS. with H. F. Jones.

1886. Holbein's La Danse: a note on a drawing in the Museum at

Stood, unsuccessfully, for the Professorship of Fine Arts in the
University of Cambridge.

Dec. 29. Death of his father and end of his financial

1887. Engaged Alfred Emery Cathie as clerk and general attendant.

Luck or Cunning as the main means of Organic Modification? An
attempt to throw additional light upon Charles Darwin's theory of
Natural Selection.

Was entertained at dinner by the Municipio of Varallo-Sesia on the
Sacro Monte.

1888. Took up photography.

1888. Ex Voto: an account of the Sacro Monte or New Jerusalem at
Varallo-Sesia, with some notice of Tabachetti's remaining work at
Crea and illustrations from photographs by the author: MS. at

Narcissus: a Cantata in the Handelian form, words and music by
Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones: MS. of the piano score in the
British Museum. MS. of the orchestral score with H. F. Jones.

In this and the two following years contributed some articles to the
Universal Review, most of which were republished after his death as
Essays on Life, Art, and Science (1904).

1890. Began to study counterpoint with William Smith Rockstro and
continued to do so until Rockstro's death in 1895.

1892. The Humour of Homer. A Lecture delivered at the Working Men's
College, Great Ormond Street, London, January 30, 1892, reprinted
with preface and additional matter from the Eagle.

Went to Sicily, the first of many visits, to collect evidence in
support of his theory identifying the Scheria and Ithaca of the
Odyssey with Trapani and the neighbouring Mount Eryx.

1893. "L'Origine Siciliana dell' Odissea." Extracted from the
Rassegna della Letteratura Siciliana.

"On the Trapanese Origin of the Odyssey" (Translation).

1894. Ex Voto translated into Italian by Cavaliere Angelo Rizzetti.

"Ancora sull' origine dell' Odissea." Extracted from the Rassegna
della Letteratura Siciliana.

1895. Went to Greece and the Troad to make up his mind about the
topography of the Iliad.

1896. The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler (his grandfather) in
so far as they illustrate the scholastic, religious and social life
of England from 1790-1840: MS. at the Shrewsbury Town Library or

His portrait painted by Charles Gogin, now in the National Portrait

1897. The Authoress of the Odyssey, where and when she wrote, who
she was, the use she made of the Iliad and how the poem grew under
her hands: MS. at Trapani.

1897. Death of Charles Paine Pauli.

1898. The Iliad rendered into English prose: MS. at St. John's
College, Cambridge.

1899. Shakespeare's Sonnets reconsidered and in part rearranged,
with introductory chapters, notes and a reprint of the original 1609
edition: MS. with R. A. Streatfeild.

1900. The Odyssey rendered into English prose: MS. at Aci-Reale,

1901. Erewhon Revisited twenty years later both by the Original
Discoverer of the Country and by his Son: this was a return not only
to Erewhon but also to the subject of the pamphlet on the
resurrection. MS. in the British Museum.

1902. June, 18. Death of Samuel Butler.

1902. "Samuel Butler," an article by Richard Alexander Streatfeild
in the Monthly Review (September).

"Samuel Butler," an obituary notice by Henry Festing Jones in the
Eagle (December).

1903. Samuel Butler Records and Memorials, a collection of obituary
notices with a note by R. A. Streatfeild, his literary executor,
printed for private circulation: with reproduction of a photograph
of Butler taken at Varallo in 1889.

The Way of All Flesh, a novel, written between 1872 and 1885,
published by R. A. Streatfeild: MS. with Mr. R. A. Streatfeild.

1904. Seven Sonnets and A Psalm of Montreal printed for private

Essays on Life, Art and Science, being reprints of his Universal
Review articles, together with two lectures.

Ulysses, an Oratorio: Words and music by Samuel Butler and Henry
Festing Jones: MS. of the piano score in the British Museum, MS. of
the orchestral score with H. F. Jones.

"The Author of Erewhon," an article by Desmond MacCarthy in the

Online LibrarySamuel ButlerThe Note-Books of Samuel Butler → online text (page 1 of 32)