Samuel Butler: A Sketch
Henry Festing Jones

This etext was prepared from the 1921 Jonathan Cape edition by
David Price, email


by Henry Festing Jones

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,

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 1 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 carnage 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." {1}

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. {2} 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 homoepathic
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 Hicks
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, {3} 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-

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 to the river-bed we lit a fire and did
the same on leaving it; our tracks would guide anyone over the
intervening ground.

Besides his occupation with the sheep, he found time to play the
piano, to read and to write. In the library of St. John's College,
Cambridge, are two copies of the Greek Testament, very fully
annotated by him at the University and in the colony. He also read
the 'Origin of Species', which, as everyone knows, was published in
1859. He became "one of Mr. Darwin's many enthusiastic admirers, and
wrote a philosophic dialogue (the most offensive form, except poetry
and books of travel into supposed unknown countries, that even
literature can assume) upon the 'Origin of Species'" ('Unconscious
Memory', close of Chapter I). This dialogue, unsigned, was printed
in the 'Press', Canterbury, New Zealand, on 20th December, 1862. A
copy of the paper was sent to Charles Darwin, who forwarded it to a,
presumably, English editor with a letter, now in the Canterbury
Museum, New Zealand, speaking of the dialogue as "remarkable from its
spirit and from giving so clear and accurate an account of Mr. D's
theory." It is possible that Butler himself sent the newspaper
containing his dialogue to Mr. Darwin; if so he did not disclose his
name, for Darwin says in his letter that he does not know who the
author was. Butler was closely connected with the 'Press', which was
founded by James Edward FitzGerald, the first Superintendent of the
Province, in May, 1861; he frequently contributed to its pages, and
once, during FitzGerald's absence, had charge of it for a short time,
though he was never its actual editor. The 'Press' reprinted the
dialogue and the correspondence which followed its original
appearance on 8th June, 1912.

On 13th June, 1863, the 'Press' printed a letter by Butler signed
"Cellarius" and headed "Darwin among the Machines," reprinted in 'The
Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912). The letter begins:

"Sir: There are few things of which the present generation is more
justly proud than of the wonderful improvements which are daily
taking place in all sorts of mechanical appliances"; and goes on to
say that, as the vegetable kingdom was developed from the mineral,
and as the animal kingdom supervened upon the vegetable, "so now, in
the last few ages, an entirely new kingdom has sprung up of which we
as yet have only seen what will one day be considered the
antediluvian types of the race." He then speaks of the minute
members which compose the beautiful and intelligent little animal
which we call the watch, and of how it has gradually been evolved
from the clumsy brass clocks of the thirteenth century. Then comes
the question: Who will be man's successor? To which the answer is:
We are ourselves creating our own successors. Man will become to the
machine what the horse and the dog are to man; the conclusion being
that machines are, or are becoming, animate.

In 1863 Butler's family published in his name 'A First Year in
Canterbury Settlement', which, as the preface states, was compiled
from his letters home, his journal and extracts from two papers
contributed to the 'Eagle'. These two papers had appeared in the
'Eagle' as three articles entitled "Our Emigrant" and signed
"Cellarius." The proof-sheets of the book went out to New Zealand
for correction and were sent back in the Colombo, which was as
unfortunate as the 'Burmah', for she was wrecked. The proofs,
however, were fished up, though so nearly washed out as to be almost
undecipherable. Butler would have been just as well pleased if they
had remained at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, for he never liked
the book and always spoke of it as being full of youthful
priggishness; but I think he was a little hard upon it. Years
afterwards, in one of his later books, after quoting two passages
from Mr. Grant Allen and pointing out why he considered the second to
be a recantation of the first, he wrote: "When Mr. Allen does make
stepping-stones of his dead selves he jumps upon them to some tune."
And he was perhaps a little inclined to treat his own dead self too
much in the same spirit.

Butler did very well with the sheep, sold out in 1864, and returned
via Callao to England. He travelled with three friends whose
acquaintance he had made in the colony; one was Charles Paine Pauli,
to whom he dedicated 'Life and Habit'. He arrived in August, 1864,
in London, where he took chambers consisting of a sitting-room, a
bedroom, a painting-room and a pantry, at 15, Clifford's Inn, second
floor (north). The net financial result of the sheep-farming and the
selling out was that he practically doubled his capital, that is to
say he had about 8,000 pounds. This he left in New Zealand, invested
on mortgage at 10 per cent., the then current rate in the colony; it
produced more than enough for him to live upon in the very simple way
that suited him best, and life in the Inns of Court resembles life at
Cambridge in that it reduces the cares of housekeeping to a minimum;
it suited him so well that he never changed his rooms, remaining
there thirty-eight years till his death.

He was now his own master and able at last to turn to painting. He
studied at the art school in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury, which had
formerly been managed by Henry Sass, but, in Butler's time, was being
carried on by Francis Stephen Cary, son of the Rev. Henry Francis
Cary, who had been a school-fellow of Dr. Butler at Rugby, and is
well known as the translator of Dante and the friend of Charles Lamb.
Among his fellow-students was Mr. H. R. Robertson, who told me that
the young artists got hold of the legend, which is in some of the
books about Lamb, that when Francis Stephen Cary was a boy and there
was a talk at his father's house as to what profession he should take
up, Lamb, who was present, said:

"I should make him an apo-po-pothe-Cary."

They used to repeat this story freely among themselves, being, no
doubt, amused by the Lamb-like pun, but also enjoying the malicious
pleasure of hinting that it might have been as well for their art
education if the advice of the gentle humorist had been followed.
Anyone who wants to know what kind of an artist F. S. Cary was can
see his picture of Charles and Mary Lamb in the National Portrait

In 1865 Butler sent from London to New Zealand an article entitled
"Lucubratio Ebria," which was published in the 'Press' of 29th July,
1865. It treated machines from a point of view different from that
adopted in "Darwin among the Machines," and was one of the steps that
led to 'Erewhon' and ultimately to 'Life and Habit'. The article is
reproduced in 'The Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912).

Butler also studied art at South Kensington, but by 1867 he had begun
to go to Heatherley's School of Art in Newman Street, where he
continued going for many years. He made a number of friends at
Heatherley's, and among them Miss Eliza Mary Anne Savage. There also
he first met Charles Gogin, who, in 1896, painted the portrait of
Butler which is now in the National Portrait Gallery. He described
himself as an artist in the Post Office Directory, and between 1868
and 1876 exhibited at the Royal Academy about a dozen pictures, of
which the most important was "Mr. Heatherley's Holiday," hung on the
line in 1874. He left it by his will to his college friend Jason
Smith, whose representatives, after his death, in 1910, gave it to
the nation, and it is now in the National Gallery of British Art.
Mr. Heatherley never went away for a holiday; he once had to go out
of town on business and did not return till the next day; one of the
students asked him how he had got on, saying no doubt he had enjoyed
the change and that he must have found it refreshing to sleep for
once out of London.

"No," said Heatherley, "I did not like it. Country air has no body."

The consequence was that, whenever there was a holiday and the school
was shut, Heatherley employed the time in mending the skeleton;
Butler's picture represents him so engaged in a corner of the studio.
In this way he got his model for nothing. Sometimes he hung up a
looking-glass near one of his windows and painted his own portrait.
Many of these he painted out, but after his death we found a little
store of them in his rooms, some of the early ones very curious. Of
the best of them one is now at Canterbury, New Zealand, one at St.
John's College, Cambridge, and one at the Schools, Shrewsbury.

This is Butler's own account of himself, taken from a letter to Sir
Julius von Haast; although written in 1865 it is true of his mode of
life for many years:

I have been taking lessons in painting ever since I arrived. I was
always very fond of it and mean to stick to it; it suits me and I am
not without hopes that I shall do well at it. I live almost the life
of a recluse, seeing very few people and going nowhere that I can
help--I mean in the way of parties and so forth; if my friends had
their way they would fritter away my time without any remorse; but I
made a regular stand against it from the beginning and so, having my
time pretty much in my own hands, work hard; I find, as I am sure you
must find, that it is next to impossible to combine what is commonly
called society and work.

But the time saved from society was not all devoted to painting. He
modified his letter to the 'Press' about "Darwin among the Machines"
and, so modified, it appeared in 1865 as "The Mechanical Creation" in
the 'Reasoner', a paper then published in London by Mr. G. J.
Holyoake. And his mind returned to the considerations which had
determined him to decline to be ordained. In 1865 he printed
anonymously a pamphlet which he had begun in New Zealand, the result
of his study of the Greek Testament, entitled 'The Evidence for the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ as given by the Four Evangelists
critically examined'. After weighing this evidence and comparing one
account with another, he came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ did
not die upon the cross. It is improbable that a man officially
executed should escape death, but the alternative, that a man
actually dead should return to life, seemed to Butler more improbable
still and unsupported by such evidence as he found in the gospels.
From this evidence he concluded that Christ swooned and recovered
consciousness after his body had passed into the keeping of Joseph of
Arimathaea. He did not suppose fraud on the part of the first
preachers of Christianity; they sincerely believed that Christ died
and rose again. Joseph and Nicodemus probably knew the truth but
kept silence. The idea of what might follow from belief in one
single supposed miracle was never hereafter absent from Butler's

In 1869, having been working too hard, he went abroad for a long
change. On his way back, at the Albergo La Luna, in Venice, he met
an elderly Russian lady in whose company he spent most of his time
there. She was no doubt impressed by his versatility and charmed, as
everyone always was, by his conversation and original views on the
many subjects that interested him. We may be sure he told her all
about himself and what he had done and was intending to do. At the
end of his stay, when he was taking leave of her, she said:

"Et maintenant, Monsieur, vous allez creer," meaning, as he
understood her, that he had been looking long enough at the work of
others and should now do something of his own.

This sank into him and pained him. He was nearly thirty-five, and
hitherto all had been admiration, vague aspiration and despair; he
had produced in painting nothing but a few sketches and studies, and
in literature only a few ephemeral articles, a collection of youthful
letters and a pamphlet on the Resurrection; moreover, to none of his
work had anyone paid the slightest attention. This was a poor return
for all the money which had been spent upon his education, as
Theobald would have said in 'The Way of All Flesh'. He returned home
dejected, but resolved that things should be different in the future.
While in this frame of mind he received a visit from one of his New
Zealand friends, the late Sir F. Napier Broome, afterwards Governor
of Western Australia, who incidentally suggested his rewriting his
New Zealand articles. The idea pleased him; it might not be
creating, but at least it would be doing something. So he set to
work on Sundays and in the evenings, as relaxation from his
profession of painting, and, taking his New Zealand article, "Darwin
among the Machines," and another, "The World of the Unborn," as a
starting-point and helping himself with a few sentences from 'A First
Year in Canterbury Settlement', he gradually formed 'Erewhon'. He
sent the MS. bit by bit, as it was written, to Miss Savage for her
criticism and approval. He had the usual difficulty about finding a
publisher. Chapman and Hall refused the book on the advice of George
Meredith, who was then their reader, and in the end he published it
at his own expense through Messrs. Trubner.

Mr. Sydney C. Cockerell told me that in 1912 Mr. Bertram Dobell,
second-hand bookseller of Charing Cross Road, offered a copy of
'Erewhon' for 1 pound 10s.; it was thus described in his catalogue:
"Unique copy with the following note in the author's handwriting on
the half-title: 'To Miss E. M. A. Savage this first copy of
'Erewhon' with the author's best thanks for many invaluable
suggestions and corrections.'" When Mr. Cockerell inquired for the
book it was sold. After Miss Savage's death in 1885 all Butler's
letters to her were returned to him, including the letter he wrote
when he sent her this copy of 'Erewhon'. He gave her the first copy
issued of all his books that were published in her lifetime, and, no
doubt, wrote an inscription in each. If the present possessors of
any of them should happen to read this sketch I hope they will
communicate with me, as I should like to see these books. I should
also like to see some numbers of the 'Drawing-Room Gazette', which
about this time belonged to or was edited by a Mrs. Briggs. Miss
Savage wrote a review of 'Erewhon', which appeared in the number for
8th June, 1872, and Butler quoted a sentence from her review among
the press notices in the second edition. She persuaded him to write
for Mrs. Briggs notices of concerts at which Handel's music was
performed. In 1901 he made a note on one of his letters that he was
thankful there were no copies of the 'Drawing-Room Gazette' in the
British Museum, meaning that he did not want people to read his
musical criticisms; nevertheless, I hope some day to come across back
numbers containing his articles.

The opening of 'Erewhon' is based upon Butler's colonial experiences;
some of the descriptions remind one of passages in 'A First Year in
Canterbury Settlement', where he speaks of the excursions he made
with Doctor when looking for sheep-country. The walk over the range
as far as the statues is taken from the Upper Rangitata district,
with some alterations; but the walk down from the statues into
Erewhon is reminiscent of the Leventina Valley in the Canton Ticino.
The great chords, which are like the music moaned by the statues are
from the prelude to the first of Handel's 'Trois Lecons'; he used to

"One feels them in the diaphragm--they are, as it were, the groaning
and labouring of all creation travailing together until now."

There is a place in New Zealand named Erewhon, after the book; it is
marked on the large maps, a township about fifty miles west of Napier
in the Hawke Bay Province (North Island). I am told that people in
New Zealand sometimes call their houses Erewhon and occasionally
spell the word Erehwon which Butler did not intend; he treated wh as
a single letter, as one would treat th. Among other traces of
Erewhon now existing in real life are Butler's Stones on the Hokitika
Pass, so called because of a legend that they were in his mind when
he described the statues.

The book was translated into Dutch in 1873 and into German in 1897.

Butler wrote to Charles Darwin to explain what he meant by the "Book
of the Machines": "I am sincerely sorry that some of the critics
should have thought I was laughing at your theory, a thing which I
never meant to do and should be shocked at having done." Soon after
this Butler was invited to Down and paid two visits to Mr. Darwin
there; he thus became acquainted with all the family and for some
years was on intimate terms with Mr. (now Sir) Francis Darwin.

It is easy to see by the light of subsequent events that we should
probably have had something not unlike 'Erewhon' sooner or later,
even without the Russian lady and Sir F. N. Broome, to whose
promptings, owing to a certain diffidence which never left him, he
was perhaps inclined to attribute too much importance. But he would
not have agreed with this view at the time; he looked upon himself as
a painter and upon 'Erewhon' as an interruption. It had come, like
one of those creatures from the Land of the Unborn, pestering him and
refusing to leave him at peace until he consented to give it bodily
shape. It was only a little one, and he saw no likelihood of its
having any successors. So he satisfied its demands and then,
supposing that he had written himself out, looked forward to a future
in which nothing should interfere with the painting. Nevertheless,
when another of the unborn came teasing him he yielded to its
importunities and allowed himself to become the author of 'The Fair
Haven', which is his pamphlet on the Resurrection, enlarged and
preceded by a realistic memoir of the pseudonymous author, John
Pickard Owen. In the library of St. John's College, Cambridge, are
two copies of the pamphlet with pages cut out; he used these pages in
forming the MS. of 'The Fair Haven'. To have published this book as
by the author of 'Erewhon' would have been to give away the irony and
satire. And he had another reason for not disclosing his name; he
remembered that as soon as curiosity about the authorship of
'Erewhon' was satisfied, the weekly sales fell from fifty down to
only two or three. But, as he always talked openly of whatever was
in his mind, he soon let out the secret of the authorship of 'The
Fair Haven', and it became advisable to put his name to a second

One result of his submitting the MS. of 'Erewhon' to Miss Savage was
that she thought he ought to write a novel, and urged him to do so.
I have no doubt that he wrote the memoir of John Pickard Owen with
the idea of quieting Miss Savage and also as an experiment to
ascertain whether he was likely to succeed with a novel. The result
seems to have satisfied him, for, not long after 'The Fair Haven', he
began 'The Way of All Flesh', sending the MS. to Miss Savage, as he
did everything he wrote, for her approval and putting her into the
book as Ernest's Aunt Alethea. He continued writing it in the
intervals of other work until her death in February, 1885, after
which he did not touch it. It was published in 1903 by Mr. R. A.
Streatfeild, his literary executor.

Soon after 'The Fair Haven' Butler began to be aware that his letter
in the 'Press', "Darwin among the Machines," was descending with
further modifications and developing in his mind into a theory about
evolution which took shape as 'Life and Habit'; but the writing of
this very remarkable and suggestive book was delayed and the painting
interrupted by absence from England on business in Canada. He had
been persuaded by a college friend, a member of one of the great
banking families, to call in his colonial mortgages and to put the
money into several new companies. He was going to make thirty or
forty per cent, instead of only ten. One of these companies was a
Canadian undertaking, of which he became a director; it was necessary
for someone to go to headquarters and investigate its affairs; he
went, and was much occupied by the business for two or three years.
By the beginning of 1876 he had returned finally to London, but most
of his money was lost and his financial position for the next ten
years caused him very serious anxiety. His personal expenditure was
already so low that it was hardly possible to reduce it, and he set
to work at his profession more industriously than ever, hoping to
paint something that he could sell, his spare time being occupied
with 'Life and Habit', which was the subject that really interested
him more deeply than any other.

Following his letter in the 'Press', wherein he had seen machines as
in process of becoming animate, he went on to regard them as living
organs and limbs which we had made outside ourselves. What would
follow if we reversed this and regarded our limbs and organs as
machines which we had manufactured as parts of our bodies? In the
first place, how did we come to make them without knowing anything
about it? But then, how comes anybody to do anything unconsciously?
The answer usually would be: By habit. But can a man be said to do
a thing by habit when he has never done it before? His ancestors
have done it, but not he. Can the habit have been acquired by them
for his benefit? Not unless he and his ancestors are the same
person. Perhaps, then, they are the same person.

In February, 1876, partly to clear his mind and partly to tell
someone, he wrote down his thoughts in a letter to his namesake,
Thomas William Gale Butler, a fellow art-student who was then in New
Zealand; so much of the letter as concerns the growth of his theory
is given in 'The Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912).

In September, 1877, when 'Life and Habit' was on the eve of
publication, Mr. Francis Darwin came to lunch with him in Clifford's
Inn and, in course of conversation, told him that Professor Ray
Lankester had written something in 'Nature' about a lecture by Dr.
Ewald Hering of Prague, delivered so long ago as 1870, "On Memory as
a Universal Function of Organized Matter." This rather alarmed
Butler, but he deferred looking up the reference until after
December, 1877, when his book was out, and then, to his relief, he
found that Hering's theory was very similar to his own, so that,
instead of having something sprung upon him which would have caused
him to want to alter his book, he was supported. He at once wrote to
the 'Athenaeum', calling attention to Hering's lecture, and then
pursued his studies in evolution.

'Life and Habit' was followed in 1879 by 'Evolution Old and New',
wherein he compared the teleological or purposive view of evolution
taken by Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck with the view taken
by Charles Darwin, and came to the conclusion that the old was
better. But while agreeing with the earlier writers in thinking that
the variations whose accumulation results in species were originally
due to intelligence, he could not take the view that the intelligence
resided in an external personal God. He had done with all that when
he gave up the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He
proposed to place the intelligence inside the creature ("The Deadlock
in Darwinism," post).

In 1880 he continued the subject by publishing 'Unconscious Memory'.
Chapter IV of this book is concerned with a personal quarrel between
himself and Charles Darwin which arose out of the publication by
Charles Darwin of Dr. Krause's 'Life of Erasmus Darwin'. We need not
enter into particulars here, the matter is fully dealt with in a
pamphlet, 'Charles Darwin and Samuel Butler: A Step towards
Reconciliation', which I wrote in 1911, the result of a
correspondence between Mr. Francis Darwin and myself. Before this
correspondence took place Mr. Francis Darwin had made several public
allusions to 'Life and Habit'; and in September, 1908, in his
inaugural address to the British Association at Dublin, he did Butler
the posthumous honour of quoting from his translation of Hering's
lecture "On Memory," which is in 'Unconscious Memory', and of
mentioning Butler as having enunciated the theory contained in 'Life
and Habit'.

In 1886 Butler published his last book on evolution, 'Luck or Cunning
as the Main Means of Organic Modification'? His other contributions
to the subject are some essays, written for the 'Examiner' in 1879,
"God the Known and God the Unknown," which were republished by Mr.
Fifield in 1909, and the articles "The Deadlock in Darwinism" which
appeared in the 'Universal Review' in 1890 and some further notes on
evolution will be found in 'The Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912).

It was while he was writing 'Life and Habit' that I first met him.
For several years he had been in the habit of spending six or eight
weeks of the summer in Italy and the Canton Ticino, generally making
Faido his headquarters. Many a page of his books was written while
resting by the fountain of some subalpine village or waiting in the
shade of the chestnuts till the light came so that he could continue
a sketch. Every year he returned home by a different route, and thus
gradually became acquainted with every part of the Canton and North
Italy. There is scarcely a town or village, a point of view, a
building, statue or picture in all this country with which he was not
familiar. In 1878 he happened to be on the Sacro Monte above Varese
at the time I took my holiday; there I joined him, and nearly every
year afterwards we were in Italy together.

He was always a delightful companion, and perhaps at his gayest on
these occasions. "A man's holiday," he would say, "is his garden,"
and he set out to enjoy himself and to make everyone about him enjoy
themselves too. I told him the old schoolboy muddle about Sir Walter
Raleigh introducing tobacco and saying: "We shall this day light up
such a fire in England as I trust shall never be put out." He had
not heard it before and, though amused, appeared preoccupied, and
perhaps a little jealous, during the rest of the evening. Next
morning, while he was pouring out his coffee, his eyes twinkled and
he said, with assumed carelessness:

"By the by, do you remember?--wasn't it Columbus who bashed the egg
down on the table and said 'Eppur non si muove'?"

He was welcome wherever he went, full of fun and ready to play while
doing the honours of the country. Many of the peasants were old
friends, and every day we were sure to meet someone who remembered
him. Perhaps it would be an old woman labouring along under a
burden; she would smile and stop, take his hand and tell him how
happy she was to meet him again and repeat her thanks for the empty
wine bottle he had given her after an out-of-door luncheon in her
neighbourhood four or five years before. There was another who had
rowed him many times across the Lago di Orta and had never been in a
train but once in her life, when she went to Novara to her son's
wedding. He always remembered all about these people and asked how
the potatoes were doing this year and whether the grandchildren were
growing up into fine boys and girls, and he never forgot to inquire
after the son who had gone to be a waiter in New York. At Civiasco
there is a restaurant which used to be kept by a jolly old lady,
known for miles round as La Martina; we always lunched with her on
our way over the Colma to and from Varallo-Sesia. On one occasion we
were accompanied by two English ladies and, one being a teetotaller,
Butler maliciously instructed La Martina to make the sabbaglione so
that it should be forte and abbondante, and to say that the Marsala,
with which it was more than flavoured, was nothing but vinegar. La
Martina never forgot that when she looked in to see how things were
going, he was pretending to lick the dish clean. These journeys
provided the material for a book which he thought of calling "Verdi
Prati," after one of Handel's most beautiful songs; but he changed
his mind, and it appeared at the end of 1881 as 'Alps and Sanctuaries
of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino' with more than eighty
illustrations, nearly all by Butler. Charles Gogin made an etching
for the frontispiece, drew some of the pictures, and put figures into
others; half a dozen are mine. They were all redrawn in ink from
sketches made on the spot, in oil, water-colour, and pencil. There
were also many illustrations of another kind--extracts from Handel's
music, each chosen because Butler thought it suitable to the spirit
of the scene he wished to bring before the reader. The introduction
concludes with these words: "I have chosen Italy as my second
country, and would dedicate this book to her as a thank-offering for
the happiness she has afforded me."

In the spring of 1883 he began to compose music, and in 1885 we
published together an album of minuets, gavottes, and fugues. This
led to our writing 'Narcissus', which is an Oratorio Buffo in the
Handelian manner--that is as nearly so as we could make it. It is a
mistake to suppose that all Handel's oratorios are upon sacred
subjects; some of them are secular. And not only so, but, whatever
the subject, Handel was never at a loss in treating anything that
came into his words by way of allusion or illustration. As Butler
puts it in one of his sonnets:

He who gave eyes to ears and showed in sound
All thoughts and things in earth or heaven above -
From fire and hailstones running along the ground
To Galatea grieving for her love -
He who could show to all unseeing eyes
Glad shepherds watching o'er their flocks by night,
Or Iphis angel-wafted to the skies,
Or Jordan standing as an heap upright -

And so on. But there is one subject which Handel never treated--I
mean the Money Market. Perhaps he avoided it intentionally; he was
twice bankrupt, and Mr. R. A. Streatfeild tells me that the British
Museum possesses a MS. letter from him giving instructions as to the
payment of the dividends on 500 pounds South Sea Stock. Let us hope
he sold out before the bubble burst; if so, he was more fortunate
than Butler, who was at this time of his life in great anxiety about
his own financial affairs. It seemed a pity that Dr. Morell had
never offered Handel some such words as these:

The steadfast funds maintain their wonted state
While all the other markets fluctuate.

Butler wondered whether Handel would have sent the steadfast funds up
above par and maintained them on an inverted pedal with all the other
markets fluctuating iniquitously round them like the sheep that turn
every one to his own way in the 'Messiah'. He thought something of
the kind ought to have been done, and in the absence of Handel and
Dr. Morell we determined to write an oratorio that should attempt to
supply the want. In order to make our libretto as plausible as
possible, we adopted the dictum of Monsieur Jourdain's Maitre a
danser: "Lorsqu'on a des personnes a faire parler en musique, il
faut bien que, pour la vraisemblance, on donne dans la bergerie."
Narcissus is accordingly a shepherd in love with Amaryllis; they come
to London with other shepherds and lose their money in imprudent
speculations on the Stock Exchange. In the second part the aunt and
godmother of Narcissus, having died at an advanced age worth one
hundred thousand pounds, all of which she has bequeathed to her
nephew and godson, the obstacle to his union with Amaryllis is
removed. The money is invested in consols and all ends happily.

In December, 1886, Butler's father died, and his financial
difficulties ceased. He engaged Alfred Emery Cathie as clerk, but
made no other change, except that he bought a pair of new hair
brushes and a larger wash-hand basin. Any change in his mode of life
was an event. When in London he got up at 6.30 in the summer and
7.30 in the winter, went into his sitting-room, lighted the fire, put
the kettle on and returned to bed. In half an hour he got up again,
fetched the kettle of hot water, emptied it into the cold water that
was already in his bath, refilled the kettle and put it back on the
fire. After dressing, he came into his sitting-room, made tea and
cooked, in his Dutch oven, something he had bought the day before.
His laundress was an elderly woman, and he could not trouble her to
come to his rooms so early in the morning; on the other hand, he
could not stay in bed until he thought it right for her to go out; so
it ended in his doing a great deal for himself. He then got his
breakfast and read the Times. At 9.30 Alfred came, with whom he
discussed anything requiring attention, and soon afterwards his
laundress arrived. Then he started to walk to the British Museum,
where he arrived about 10.30, every alternate morning calling at the
butcher's in Fetter Lane to order his meat. In the Reading Room at
the Museum he sat at Block B ("B for Butler") and spent an hour
"posting his notes"--that is reconsidering, rewriting, amplifying,
shortening, and indexing the contents of the little note-book he
always carried in his pocket. After the notes he went on till 1.30
with whatever book he happened to be writing.

On three days of the week he dined in a restaurant on his way home,
and on the other days he dined in his chambers where his laundress
had cooked his dinner. At two o'clock Alfred returned (having been
home to dinner with his wife and children) and got tea ready for him.
He then wrote letters and attended to his accounts till 3.45, when he
smoked his first cigarette. He used to smoke a great deal, but,
believing it to be bad for him, took to cigarettes instead of pipes,
and gradually smoked less and less, making it a rule not to begin
till some particular hour, and pushing this hour later and later in
the day, till it settled itself at 3.45. There was no water laid on
in his rooms, and every day he fetched one can full from the tap in
the court, Alfred fetching the rest. When anyone expostulated with
him about cooking his own breakfast and fetching his own water, he
replied that it was good for him to have a change of occupation.
This was partly the fact, but the real reason, which he could not
tell everyone, was that he shrank from inconveniencing anybody; he
always paid more than was necessary when anything was done for him,
and was not happy then unless he did some of the work himself.

At 5.30 he got his evening meal, he called it his tea, and it was
little more than a facsimile of breakfast. Alfred left in time to
post the letters before six. Butler then wrote music till about 8,
when he came to see me in Staple Inn, returning to Clifford's Inn by
about 10. After a light supper, latterly not more than a piece of
toast and a glass of milk, he played one game of his own particular
kind of Patience, prepared his breakfast things and fire ready for
the next morning, smoked his seventh and last cigarette, and went to
bed at eleven o'clock.

He was fond of the theatre, but avoided serious pieces. He preferred
to take his Shakespeare from the book, finding that the spirit of the
plays rather evaporated under modern theatrical treatment. In one of
his books he brightens up the old illustration of 'Hamlet' without
the Prince of Denmark by putting it thus: "If the character of
Hamlet be entirely omitted, the play must suffer, even though Henry
Irving himself be cast for the title-role." Anyone going to the
theatre in this spirit would be likely to be less disappointed by
performances that were comic or even frankly farcical. Latterly,
when he grew slightly deaf, listening to any kind of piece became too
much of an effort; nevertheless, he continued to the last the habit
of going to one pantomime every winter.

There were about twenty houses where he visited, but he seldom
accepted an invitation to dinner--it upset the regularity of his
life; besides, he belonged to no club and had no means of returning
hospitality. When two colonial friends called unexpectedly about
noon one day, soon after he settled in London, he went to the nearest
cook-shop in Fetter Lane and returned carrying a dish of hot roast
pork and greens. This was all very well once in a way, but not the
sort of thing to be repeated indefinitely.

On Thursdays, instead of going to the Museum, he often took a day
off, going into the country sketching or walking, and on Sundays,
whatever the weather, he nearly always went into the country walking;
his map of the district for thirty miles round London is covered all
over with red lines showing where he had been. He sometimes went out
of town from Saturday to Monday, and for over twenty years spent
Christmas at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

There is a Sacro Monte at Varallo-Sesia with many chapels, each
containing life-sized statues and frescoes illustrating the life of
Christ. Butler had visited this sanctuary repeatedly, and was a
great favourite with the townspeople, who knew that he was studying
the statues and frescoes in the chapels, and who remembered that in
the preface to 'Alps and Sanctuaries' he had declared his intention
of writing about them. In August, 1887, the Varallesi brought
matters to a head by giving him a civic dinner on the Mountain.
Everyone was present, there were several speeches and, when we were
coming down the slippery mountain path after it was all over, he said
to me:

"You know, there's nothing for it now but to write that book about
the Sacro Monte at once. It must be the next thing I do."

Accordingly, on returning home, he took up photography and,
immediately after Christmas, went back to Varallo to photograph the
statues and collect material. Much research was necessary and many
visits to out-of-the-way sanctuaries which might have contained work
by the sculptor Tabachetti, whom he was rescuing from oblivion and
identifying with the Flemish Jean de Wespin. One of these visits,
made after his book was published, forms the subject of "The
Sanctuary of Montrigone." 'Ex Voto', the book about Varallo,
appeared in 1888, and an Italian translation by Cavaliere Angelo
Rizzetti was published at Novara in 1894.

"Quis Desiderio . . . ?" ('The Humour of Homer and Other Essays')
was developed in 1888 from something in a letter from Miss Savage
nearly ten years earlier. On the 15th of December, 1878, in
acknowledging this letter, Butler wrote:

I am sure that any tree or flower nursed by Miss Cobbe would be the
VERY first to fade away and that her gazelles would die long before
they ever came to know her WELL. The sight of the brass buttons on
her pea-jacket would settle them out of hand.

There was an enclosure in Miss Savage's letter, but it is
unfortunately lost; I suppose it must have been a newspaper cutting
with an allusion to Moore's poem and perhaps a portrait of Miss
Frances Power Cobbe--pea-jacket, brass buttons, and all.

On the 10th November, 1879, Miss Savage, having been ill, wrote to

I have been dipping into the books of Moses, being sometimes at a
loss for something to read while shut up in my apartment. You know
that I have never read the Bible much, consequently there is
generally something of a novelty that I hit on. As you do know your
Bible well, perhaps you can tell me what became of Aaron. The
account given of his end in Numbers xx. is extremely ambiguous and
unsatisfactory. Evidently he did not come by his death fairly, but
whether he was murdered secretly for the furtherance of some private
ends, or publicly in a State sacrifice, I can't make out. I myself
rather incline to the former opinion, but I should like to know what
the experts say about it. A very nice, exciting little tale might be
made out of it in the style of the police stories in 'All the rear
Round' called "The Mystery of Mount Hor or What became of Aaron?"
Don't forget to write to me.

Butler's people had been suggesting that he should try to earn money
by writing in magazines, and Miss Savage was falling in with the idea
and offering a practical suggestion. I do not find that he had
anything to tell her about the death of Aaron. On 23rd March, 1880,
she wrote:

Dear Mr. Butler: Read the subjoined poem of Wordsworth and let me
know what you understand its meaning to be. Of course I have my
opinion, which I think of communicating to the Wordsworth Society.
You can belong to that Society for the small sum of 2/6 per annum. I
think of joining because it is cheap.

"The subjoined poem" was the one beginning: "She dwelt among the
untrodden ways," and Butler made this note on the letter:

To the foregoing letter I answered that I concluded Miss Savage meant
to imply that Wordsworth had murdered Lucy in order to escape a
prosecution for breach of promise.

Miss Savage to Butler.

2nd April, 1880: My dear Mr. Butler: I don't think you see all that
I do in the poem, and I am afraid that the suggestion of a DARK
SECRET in the poet's life is not so very obvious after all. I was
hoping you would propose to devote yourself for a few months to
reading the 'Excursion', his letters, &c., with a view to following
up the clue, and I am disappointed though, to say the truth, the idea
of a CRIME had not flashed upon me when I wrote to you. How well the
works of GREAT men repay attention and study! But you, who know your
Bible so well, how was it that you did not detect the plagiarism in
the last verse? Just refer to the account of the disappearance of
Aaron (I have not a Bible at hand, we want one sadly in the club) but
I am sure that the words are identical [I cannot see what Miss Savage
meant. 1901. S. B.] 'Cassell's Magazine' have offered a prize for
setting the poem to music, and I fell to thinking how it could be
treated musically, and so came to a right comprehension of it.

Although Butler, when editing Miss Savage's letters in 1901, could
not see the resemblance between Wordsworth's poem and Numbers xx., he
at once saw a strong likeness between Lucy and Moore's heroine whom
he had been keeping in an accessible pigeon-hole of his memory ever
since his letter about Miss Frances Power Cobbe. He now sent Lucy to
keep her company and often spoke of the pair of them as probably the
two most disagreeable young women in English literature--an opinion
which he must have expressed to Miss Savage and with which I have no
doubt she agreed.

In the spring of 1888, on his return from photographing the statues
at Varallo, he found, to his disgust, that the authorities of the
British Museum had removed Frost's 'Lives of Eminent Christians' from
its accustomed shelf in the Reading Room. Soon afterwards Harry
Quilter asked him to write for the 'Universal Review' and he
responded with "Quis Desiderio . . . ?" In this essay he compares
himself to Wordsworth and dwells on the points of resemblance between
Lucy and the book of whose assistance he had now been deprived in a
passage which echoes the opening of Chapter V of 'Ex Voto', where he
points out the resemblances between Varallo and Jerusalem.

Early in 1888 the leading members of the Shrewsbury Archaeological
Society asked Butler to write a memoir of his grandfather and of his
father for their Quarterly Journal. This he undertook to do when he
should have finished 'Ex Voto'. In December, 1888, his sisters, with
the idea of helping him to write the memoir, gave him his
grandfather's correspondence, which extended from 1790 to 1839. On
looking over these very voluminous papers he became penetrated with
an almost Chinese reverence for his ancestor and, after getting the
Archaeological Society to absolve him from his promise to write the
memoir, set about a full life of Dr. Butler, which was not published
till 1896. The delay was caused partly by the immense quantity of
documents he had to sift and digest, the number of people he had to
consult, and the many letters he had to write, and partly by
something that arose out of 'Narcissus', which we published in June,

Butler was not satisfied with having written only half of this work;
he wanted it to have a successor, so that by adding his two halves
together, he could say he had written a whole Handelian oratorio.
While staying with his sisters at Shrewsbury with this idea in his
mind, he casually took up a book by Alfred Ainger about Charles Lamb
and therein stumbled upon something about the 'Odyssey'. It was
years since he had looked at the poem, but, from what he remembered,
he thought it might provide a suitable subject for musical treatment.
He did not, however, want to put Dr. Butler aside, so I undertook to
investigate. It is stated on the title-page of both 'Narcissus' and
'Ulysses' that the words were written and the music composed by both
of us. As to the music, each piece bears the initials of the one who
actually composed it. As to the words, it was necessary first to
settle some general scheme and this, in the case of 'Narcissus', grew
in the course of conversation. The scheme of 'Ulysses' was
constructed in a more formal way and Butler had perhaps rather less
to do with it. We were bound by the 'Odyssey', which is, of course,
too long to be treated fully, and I selected incidents that attracted
me and settled the order of the songs and choruses. For this
purpose, as I out-Shakespeare Shakespeare in the smallness of my
Greek, I used 'The Adventures of Ulysses' by Charles Lamb, which we
should have known nothing about but for Ainger's book. Butler
acquiesced in my proposals, but, when it came to the words
themselves, he wrote practically all the libretto, as he had done in
the case of 'Narcissus'; I did no more than suggest a few phrases and
a few lines here and there.

We had sent 'Narcissus' for review to the papers, and, as a
consequence, about this time, made the acquaintance of Mr. J. A.
Fuller Maitland, then musical critic of the 'Times'; he introduced us
to that learned musician William Smith Rockstro, under whom we
studied medieval counterpoint while composing 'Ulysses'. We had
already made some progress with it when it occurred to Butler that it
would not take long and might, perhaps, be safer if he were to look
at the original poem, just to make sure that Lamb had not misled me.
Not having forgotten all his Greek, he bought a copy of the 'Odyssey'
and was so fascinated by it that he could not put it down. When he
came to the Phoeacian episode of Ulysses at Scheria he felt he must
be reading the description of a real place and that something in the
personality of the author was eluding him. For months he was
puzzled, and, to help in clearing up the mystery, set about
translating the poem. In August, 1891, he had preceded me to
Chiavenna, and on a letter I wrote him, telling him when to expect
me, he made this note:

It was during the few days that I was at Chiavenna (at the Hotel
Grotta Crimee) that I hit upon the feminine authorship of the
'Odyssey'. I did not find out its having been written at Trapani
till January, 1892.

He suspected that the authoress in describing both Scheria and Ithaca
was drawing from her native country and searched on the Admiralty
charts for the features enumerated in the poem; this led him to the
conclusion that the country could only be Trapani, Mount Eryx, and
the AEgadean Islands. As soon as he could after this discovery he
went to Sicily to study the locality and found it in all respects
suitable for his theory; indeed, it was astonishing how things kept
turning up to support his view. It is all in his book 'The Authoress
of the Odyssey', published in 1897 and dedicated to his friend
Cavaliere Biagio Ingroja of Calatafimi.

His first visit to Sicily was in 1892, in August--a hot time of the
year, but it was his custom to go abroad in the autumn. He returned
to Sicily every year (except one), but latterly went in the spring.
He made many friends all over the island, and after his death the
people of Calatafimi called a street by his name, the Via Samuel
Butler, "thus," as Ingroja wrote when he announced the event to me,
"honouring a great man's memory, handing down his name to posterity,
and doing homage to the friendly English nation." Besides showing
that the 'Odyssey' was written by a woman in Sicily and translating
the poem into English prose, he also translated the 'Iliad', and, in
March, 1895, went to Greece and the Troad to see the country therein
described, where he found nothing to cause him to disagree with the
received theories.

It has been said of him in a general way that the fact of an opinion
being commonly held was enough to make him profess the opposite. It
was enough to make him examine the opinion for himself, when it
affected any of the many subjects which interested him, and if, after
giving it his best attention, he found it did not hold water, then no
weight of authority could make him say that it did. This matter of
the geography of the 'Iliad' is only one among many commonly received
opinions which he examined for himself and found no reason to
dispute; on these he considered it unnecessary to write.

It is characteristic of his passion for doing things thoroughly that
he learnt nearly the whole of the 'Odyssey' and the 'Iliad' by heart.
He had a Pickering copy of each poem, which he carried in his pocket
and referred to in railway trains, both in England and Italy, when
saying the poems over to himself. These two little books are now in
the library of St. John's College, Cambridge. He was, however,
disappointed to find that he could not retain more than a book or two
at a time and that, on learning more, he forgot what he had learnt
first; but he was about sixty at the time. Shakespeare's Sonnets, on
which he published a book in 1899, gave him less trouble in this
respect; he knew them all by heart, and also their order, and one
consequence of this was that he wrote some sonnets in the
Shakespearian form. He found this intimate knowledge of the poet's
work more useful for his purpose than reading commentaries by those
who are less familiar with it. "A commentary on a poem," he would
say, "may be useful as material on which to form an estimate of the
commentator, but the poem itself is the most important document you
can consult, and it is impossible to know it too intimately if you
want to form an opinion about it and its author."

It was always the author, the work of God, that interested him more
than the book--the work of man; the painter more than the picture;
the composer more than the music. "If a writer, a painter, or a
musician makes me feel that he held those things to be lovable which
I myself hold to be lovable I am satisfied; art is only interesting
in so far as it reveals the personality of the artist." Handel was,
of course, "the greatest of all musicians." Among the painters he
chiefly loved Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio, Gaudenzio Ferrari,
Rembrandt, Holbein, Velasquez, and De Hooghe; in poetry Shakespeare,
Homer, and the Authoress of the 'Odyssey'; and in architecture the
man, whoever he was, who designed the Temple of Neptune at Paestum.
Life being short, he did not see why he should waste any of it in the
company of inferior people when he had these. And he treated those
he met in daily life in the same spirit: it was what he found them
to be that attracted or repelled him; what others thought about them
was of little or no consequence.

And now, at the end of his life, his thoughts reverted to the two
subjects which had occupied him more than thirty years previously--
namely, 'Erewhon' and the evidence for the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ. The idea of what might follow from belief in one
single supposed miracle had been slumbering during all those years
and at last rose again in the form of a sequel to 'Erewhon'. In
'Erewhon Revisited' Mr. Higgs returns to find that the Erewhonians
now believe in him as a god in consequence of the supposed miracle of
his going up in a balloon to induce his heavenly father to send the
rain. Mr. Higgs and the reader know that there was no miracle in the
case, but Butler wanted to show that whether it was a miracle or not
did not signify provided that the people believed it be one. And so
Mr. Higgs is present in the temple which is being dedicated to him
and his worship.

The existence of his son George was an afterthought and gave occasion
for the second leading idea of the book--the story of a father trying
to win the love of a hitherto unknown son by risking his life in
order to show himself worthy of it--and succeeding.

Butler's health had already begun to fail, and when he started for
Sicily on Good Friday, 1902, it was for the last time: he knew he
was unfit to travel, but was determined to go, and was looking
forward to meeting Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Fuller Maitland, whom he was to
accompany over the Odyssean scenes at Trapani and Mount Eryx. But he
did not get beyond Palermo; there he was so much worse that he could
not leave his room. In a few weeks he was well enough to be removed
to Naples, and Alfred went out and brought him home to London. He
was taken to a nursing home in St. John's Wood where he lay for a
month, attended by his old friend Dr. Dudgeon, and where he died on
the 18th June, 1902.

There was a great deal he still wanted to do. He had intended to
revise 'The Way of All Flesh', to write a book about Tabachetti, and
to publish a new edition of 'Ex Voto' with the mistakes corrected.
Also he wished to reconsider the articles reprinted in 'The Humour of
Homer', and was looking forward to painting more sketches and
composing more music. While lying ill and very feeble within a few
days of the end, and not knowing whether it was to be the end or not,
he said to me:

"I am much better to-day. I don't feel at all as though I were going
to die. Of course, it will be all wrong if I do get well, for there
is my literary position to be considered. First I write 'Erewhon'--
that is my opening subject; then, after modulating freely through all
my other books and the music and so on, I return gracefully to my
original key and write 'Erewhon Revisited'. Obviously, now is the
proper moment to come to a full close, make my bow and retire; but I
believe I am getting well, after all. It's very inartistic, but I
cannot help it."

Some of his readers complain that they often do not know whether he
is serious or jesting. He wrote of Lord Beaconsfield: "Earnestness
was his greatest danger, but if he did not quite overcome it (as
indeed who can? it is the last enemy that shall be subdued), he
managed to veil it with a fair amount of success." To veil his own
earnestness he turned most naturally to humour, employing it in a
spirit of reverence, as all the great humorists have done, to express
his deepest and most serious convictions. He was aware that he ran
the risk of being misunderstood by some, but he also knew that it is
useless to try to please all, and, like Mozart, he wrote to please
himself and a few intimate friends.

I cannot speak at length of his kindness, consideration, and
sympathy; nor of his generosity, the extent of which was very great
and can never be known--it was sometimes exercised in unexpected
ways, as when he gave my laundress a shilling because it was "such a
beastly foggy morning"; nor of his slightly archaic courtliness--
unless among people he knew well he usually left the room backwards,
bowing to the company; nor of his punctiliousness, industry, and
painstaking attention to detail--he kept accurate accounts not only
of all his property by double entry but also of his daily
expenditure, which he balanced to a halfpenny every evening, and his
handwriting, always beautiful and legible, was more so at sixty-six
than at twenty-six; nor of his patience and cheerfulness during years
of anxiety when he had few to sympathize with him; nor of the strange
mixture of simplicity and shrewdness that caused one who knew him
well to say: "Il sait tout; il ne sait rien; il est poete."

Epitaphs always fascinated him, and formerly he used to say he should
like to be buried at Langar and to have on his tombstone the subject
of the last of Handel's 'Six Great Fugues'. He called this "The Old
Man Fugue," and said it was like an epitaph composed for himself by
one who was very old and tired and sorry for things; and he made
young Ernest Pontifex in 'The Way of All Flesh' offer it to Edward
Overton as an epitaph for his Aunt Alethea. Butler, however, left
off wanting any tombstone long before he died. In accordance with
his wish his body was cremated, and a week later Alfred and I
returned to Woking and buried his ashes under the shrubs in the
garden of the crematorium, with nothing to mark the spot.


{1} 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 contributions to the 'Eagle'.

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

{3} The late Sir Julius von Haast, K.C.M.G., appointed Provincial
Geologist in 1860, was ennobled by the Austrian Government and
knighted by the British. He died in 1887.


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