Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Samuel Butler (1835–1902)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Jefferson Butler Fletcher (1865–1946)
“IF I die prematurely, at any rate I shall be saved from being bored by my own success.” Perhaps death at sixty-seven years of age can hardly be called premature; but Samuel Butler died none too soon. In the decade and a half since his death, the success denied him—or spared him—has been piling up. His ideas, which shocked his own generation, are no longer shocking. They seem even tame as compared with the audacities of his own disciple, Mr. Bernard Shaw, with whom, by the way, he may be said to compare as light with its own reflection in polished brass.  1
  Butler liked to regard himself as an amateur in whatever he did. He did for a while try to paint for a living, but good-humoredly admitted failure. But to be an amateur did not mean for him to be irresponsible. On the contrary, “there is no excuse,” he said, “for amateur work being bad.” The professional works under compulsions, the amateur at his own sweet will. More than all but a very few writers, Butler throughout his life worked at his own sweet will. “Butler used to declare,” notes his friend Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, “that he wrote his books so that he might have something to read in his old age, knowing what he liked better than anyone else could do.”  2
  Butler believed not only in the amateur spirit, but also in a reticence that refuses to break silence except under inner compulsion. He says in a note on his books:
          “I never make them: they grow; they come to me and insist on being written, and on being such and such. I did not want to write ‘Erewhon,’ I wanted to go on painting and found it an abominable nuisance being dragged willy-nilly into writing it. So with all my books—the subjects were never of my own choosing; they pressed themselves upon me with more force than I could resist. If I had not liked the subjects I should have kicked, and nothing would have got me to do them at all. As I did like the subjects and the books came and said they were to be written, I grumbled a little and wrote them.”
This may be playfully put, but it is not pose. Butler meant to say that live ideas strive to get themselves expressed very much as live germs strive to get themselves born. As he put it, “a hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” And again he writes that the “base” of reproduction “must be looked for not in the desire of the parents to reproduce but in the discontent of the germs with their surroundings inside their parents, and a desire on their part to have a separate existence.”
  As Butler’s ideas pre-eminently germinated spontaneously out of his experience, it is more than usually necessary to know his life and personality if we are to understand his books.  4
  Samuel Butler was born December 4th, 1835, at Langar Rectory, Nottingham. His father, the Rev. Thomas Butler, was the son of Dr. Samuel Butler, Headmaster of Shrewsbury School from 1798 to 1836, and afterwards Bishop of Lichfield. It was to Shrewsbury School that the younger Samuel went at thirteen. The Headmaster at that time was the grammarian Benjamin Hall Kennedy, who was the original of Dr. Skinner in ‘The Way of All Flesh.’ It is only fair to add, however, that Butler’s references to Dr. Kennedy in his memoir of his grandfather would suggest a far less repellent personage, and that Butler’s own school days were by no means unhappy. In 1854 he went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where, beginning with a mathematical course, he later changed to the classics, and graduated creditably enough, but not brilliantly.  5
  While still at college, he already showed his satiric bent. There has been recovered a skit in verse at the expense of the Deans of St. John’s which is already in Butler’s characteristic manner. The two Deans are on their way to morning chapel.

  “Junior Dean:  Brother, I am much pleased with Samuel Butler,
I have observed him mightily of late;
Methinks that in his melancholy walk
And air subdued when’er he meeteth me
Lurks something more than in most other men.
“Senior Dean:  It is a good young man. I do bethink me
That once I walked behind him in the cloister,
He saw me not, but whispered to his fellow:
‘Of all men who do dwell beneath the moon
I love and reverence most the senior Dean.’”

It is unnecessary to quote the ironic catastrophe. The tone is set; the satiric point made. He also parodied the tracts of the Simeonites, evangelical agitators, who nevertheless powerfully moved him for a time even like his ectype Ernest Pontifex in ‘The Way of All Flesh.’
  After graduation Butler prepared for ordination in a poor London parish. He was rather expected, than called, to enter the ministry. It was the family tradition. The particular doubt that deterred him may well have been therefore but the last straw. He says, however, that it occurred to him that the unbaptized boys in his night-school were on the whole as well disposed as those that had been sacramentally purified in infancy. His faith too much shaken for further thought of taking orders, Butler desired to become an artist, but as his family would not hear of that, he compromised on sheep-farming in New Zealand.  7
  For five years, 1859–64, he led a healthy outdoor life among downright and virile pioneer folk. The impressions gained powerfully affected him, especially on his return to the over-sophisticated and conventional life of Victorian London. Meanwhile, in New Zealand itself he had far from rusticated mentally. Especially, the just published ‘Origin of Species’ gripped his imagination, and gave a new turn to his thinking. He laid aside a pamphlet he had begun on “the evidence for the Resurrection,” and wrote the brilliant skit entitled ‘Darwin Among the Machines.’ This was published in the Press of Christchurch, 1863. The idea is the gradual evolution of super-machines that with ever-increasing complexity of organism have, like the higher animals, developed a consciousness, and with their irresistible might dominate their creator man. The biological analogies are ingeniously worked out. Besides the cleverness of the skit, it can also be taken as a sermon on the industrial age when men and women are literally slaves of the machine.  8
  On his return to England in 1864 with the proceeds of his sheep run in his pocket, Butler settled himself in modest quarters at 15 Clifford’s Inn, London. Apart from vacation-journeys to Italy, he stayed in Clifford’s Inn the rest of his life. At first he seems not to have taken up writing in any serious way. “My study is art,” he wrote Darwin, “and anything else I may indulge in is only by-play.” In fact, however, until the death of his father in 1886, his financial support came from the profits of his sheep and a small reversionary bequest from his grandfather.  9
  In spite of himself, however, he could not, as he says, help writing. In 1865 he contributed, again to the Christchurch Press, a pendant and corrective of ‘Darwin Among the Machines’ entitled ‘Lucubratio Ebria.’ Machines are now considered as “extra-corporaneous limbs” and so “extensions of the personality of him who uses them,” and who may thus be said to have “become not only a vertebrate mammal, but a vertebrate machinate mammal into the bargain.” Machines are not enemies of mankind, but “are to be regarded as the mode of development by which the human organism is most especially advancing, and every fresh invention is to be considered as an additional member of the resources of the human body.” These new “machinate” extensions of personality are likely to be costly; accordingly, the right differentiation of civilized man is not by race but by purse. Mankind has two essential categories—the rich and the poor. “He who can tack a portion of one of the P. and O. boats on to his identity is a much more highly organized being than one who cannot.”  10
  These two essays, half playful, half serious, but shrewdly reasoned, were, as Butler himself declared, the germs of ‘Erewhon,’ his first, and in the opinion of his contemporaries, his only important book. In the Erewhonians Butler discovered a people wise enough to realize the peril latent in machines, and so to make the possession of even an innocent watch a criminal offense. On the other hand, the Erewhonians frankly admitted the real superiority conferred by the possession of the greatest of tools—wealth. They exempted from taxation anyone with an income of over £20,000 a year.  11
  ‘Erewhon, or Over the Range’ (1872) is partly, but only partly, a Utopia in More’s sense. The title implies the same idea: Utopia means nowhere, and ‘Erewhon’ is “nowhere” written backwards. But Utopia for More meant very nearly an ideal commonwealth,—a place in which “there are many things that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed out in our governments.” ‘Erewhon’ is a far more subtle conception. Butler approved the Erewhonian manners and customs in a sense, but only in a sense, and not always. Often his sympathy is ironical. He might himself at times have been puzzled to say whether he approved or not. He probably would have said it did not very much matter. He thought it “a bad sign for a man’s peace in his own convictions when he cannot stand turning the canvas of his life occasionally upside down, or reversing it in a mirror, as painters do with their pictures that they may judge the better concerning them.” Such “spiritual outings” give relish to one’s “normal opinions.” It is the same notion as that which William James was to express later in his “moral holidays.” All of Butler’s works are full of “spiritual outings,” and he never tells us when they are going to happen. His mood is protean, and his reader must be at once sympathetic and quick-witted to keep up with its changes. So anyone who ventures to expound his views must beware of too downright statements. He must be ready to point out that the opposite opinion has weight with Butler also. For perhaps the most nearly positive of Butler’s opinions may be expressed in the word moderation, the gospel of the mean. He abhorred the zealot, and one of his principal counts against his countrymen was their excess of zeal. “God,” he said, “does not intend people, and does not like people, to be too good. He likes them neither too good nor too bad, but a little too bad is more venial with him than a little too good.” And so it is, Butler thought, with truth. “Whenever we push truth hard, she runs to earth in contradiction in terms, that is to say, in falsehood.”  12
  This moderation in conduct and belief the Erewhonians certainly showed. In practical terms moderation comes close to the spirit of compromise. The Erewhonians unashamedly preached and practised compromise. “A man must be a mere tyro in the arts of Erewhonian polite society, unless he instinctively suspects a hidden ‘yea’ in every ‘nay’ that meets him.” The obvious business of any society is to “get on” with itself. Conformity, conventionality, respectability—all within reason—are principles in accord with which sensible people find they “get on” best. So the most substantial citizens of “Erewhon” were worshipers—more or less on the side—of the goddess Ydgrun. And although Butler is here of course hitting at British deference to Mrs. Grundy, he was himself not altogether averse to her limited sovereignty. For after all, her court is very largely made up of “nice people,” and Butler believed in “nice people,”—people, that is, with “good health, good looks, good sense, experience, a kindly nature, and a fair balance of cash in hand.” Yram in ‘Erewhon Revisited’ was that kind of person, and every reader will agree that she was thoroughly nice. We are reminded of Rabelais’s recipe of “Pantagruelisme”: “c’est à dire vivre en paix, joye, santé, faisants tousjours grand chere.”  13
  The Erewhonians set particular store by physical well-being—“good health, good looks.” They regarded sickness as a crime against society, and punished it as such. One of their judges, in summing up the case in a trial of a man for pulmonary consumption, says:
          “You may say that it is not your fault. The answer is ready enough to hand, and it amounts to this—that if you had been born of healthy and well-to-do parents, and been well taken care of when you were a child, you would never have offended against the laws of your country, nor found yourself in your present disgraceful position. If you tell me that you had no hand in your parentage and education, and that it is therefore unjust to lay these things to your charge, I answer that whether your being in a consumption is your fault or no, it is a fault in you, and it is my duty to see that against such faults as this the commonwealth shall be protected. You may say that it is your misfortune to be criminal; I answer that it is your crime to be unfortunate.”
  If Butler may not intend this decision with absolute literalness, yet he would certainly assert that there was something in that point of view. A poisonous snake might urge that it could not help being poisonous, but we kill it nevertheless—for being a snake.  15
  What is usually called crime, on the other hand,—the deliberate breaking of laws made for the general good,—is so atrocious a proceeding that it can only be explained as a kind of mental obliquity, an astigmatism of the mind’s eye. And that is a case calling not for punishment but correction. For criminals, accordingly, the Erewhonians provide “moral straighteners,” whose procedure is substantially like that of our physicians.  16
  The social importance of individual health is recognized by the Erewhonians especially from a eugenic point of view. They hold to a kind of mythology of birth, according to which the Unborn, already existing in an organized and conscious world of their own, get themselves born out of a certain unrest and curiosity about the temporal world. They are indeed told of the risks they run,—how it is a matter of lot what dispositions, parents, prospects may be assigned to them. Furthermore, each must sign an affidavit assuming entire responsibility. Naturally, only the more foolish insist. These then become a kind of blind impulse harassing two married people until they get themselves born. Apparently, indeed, they sometimes harass even unmarried people. Thus Butler has a note on the importunities of his unborn son.
          “I have often told my son that he must begin by finding me a wife to become his mother who shall satisfy both himself and me. But this is only one of the many rocks on which we have hitherto split. We should never have got on together; I should have had to cut him off with a shilling either for laughing at Homer, or for refusing to laugh at him, or both, or neither, but still cut him off. So I settled the matter long ago by turning a deaf ear to his importunities and sticking to it that I would not get him at all. Yet his thin ghost visits me at times, and, though he knows that it is no use pestering me further, he looks at me so wistfully and reproachfully that I am half-inclined to turn tail, take my chance about his mother and ask him to let me get him after all. But I should show a clean pair of heels if he said ‘Yes.’—Besides, he would probably be a girl.”
  (This is certainly a fit scherzo to go with the andante of Elia’s ‘Dream-Children.’) In truth, children are bound to be more or less a nuisance to their parents, as parents to their children, but either less so in proportion if they are well and strong. And this is another reason for the Erewhonian insistence on physical well-being.  18
  It was ideas like these, maybe quizzically phrased but at bottom serious, that “got themselves born” in ‘Erewhon.’ The romantic setting and action were mostly afterthought, imperfectly worked out. Indeed, when George Meredith reported to the publishers, Chapman and Hall, that ‘Erewhon,’ was overphilosophical and unlikely to interest the public, he was wrong only in the second clause. The first half of the book, in which is told how Higgs got “over the range” and what happened to him in ‘Erewhon,’ is a narrative as stirring and graphic and real as Defoe could have written. But later the story grows perfunctory; long essays are patched in, interesting in themselves, but artistically quite out of scale. In this respect, ‘Erewhon Revisited,’ the sequel appearing thirty years later, is far more of an artistic piece, if it lacks in variety and audacity compared with the original.  19
  ‘Erewhon’ succeeded. A year after publication, it was translated into Dutch; in 1879 into German. The British public clamored for more—of the same kind. Butler characteristically balked. Another idea in his brain was pestering him for expression, and prevailed. This idea, which had to do with the evidence for the Resurrection, he had already begun to treat in New Zealand, but had laid aside the unfinished essay. He now took up the matter afresh, and produced ‘The Fair Haven’ (1873) anonymously.  20
  If ‘Erewhon’ had puzzled, ‘The Fair Haven’ bewildered and angered. If the ideas in ‘Erewhon’ sometimes seemed unorthodox, even revolutionary, they might be excused as witty fooling. But ‘The Fair Haven’ trifled with sacred subjects. Moreover irony is more offensive to most people than a direct attack. Ostensibly the book was a serious defense for the Resurrection, but in making that defense covertly absurd Butler, in the eyes of pious people, showed himself not merely a sceptic, but worse—a blasphemer. For he revealed his authorship in a second edition.  21
  Indeed, there was still another count against the book. To give verisimilitude to the ironically conceived defense of the faith, Butler created for its author a certain John Pickard Owen, a literal-minded evangelical religionist, whose life and character are discussed in a prefatory memoir by his brother, William Bickersteth Owen. From a disinterested point of view of art the full-length portrait of an authentic prig is delightful. The brother William is hardly less real, if intensely disagreeable. But to the pious it was all an outrageous parody of piety. Almost the only exceptions to the chorus of disapproval were the act of a prominent clergyman, who sent the book to a friend whom he wished to convert, and the reviews of several evangelical journals that mistook ‘The Fair Haven’ for a genuine piece of Christian apologetics, and were greatly impressed by the edifying life of the supposed author. Naturally, when these people discovered their mistake, they more than most held the name of Butler in anathema.  22
  Having so arraigned the clergy against him, Butler now proceeded to invite the hostility of the British scientific world by attacking its idol, Charles Darwin. Such an attack by an amateur was audacious but not necessarily impious, until unfortunately Butler injected personal charges into it. He accused Darwin not only of bad science but also of dishonorable conduct in failing to give due recognition of precursors, including his own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. The quarrel was never made up, but Darwin’s son, Sir Francis, has taken the opportunity to express before the British Association generous recognition of Butler’s important contributions to the theory of Evolution.  23
  Certainly, recognition was conspicuous by its absence during his lifetime. Professional men of science refused to take seriously this amateur who made biological heresy amusing. His first foray was in the work called ‘Life and Habit’ (1877). This was followed up by ‘Evolution Old and New’ (1879; second edition, 1882); ‘Unconscious Memory’ (1880), and ‘Luck or Cunning’ (1887).  24
  The essence of Butler’s amendment to Darwin’s theory is implied in the last named title. Luck? or Cunning?—Is development, as Darwin thought, by the perpetuation of “small fortuitous variations,” and so at bottom blindly mechanical? Or is there foresight in development? Are changes brought about by response to need? Butler vehemently urged the latter, vitalistic, conception as against Darwin’s mechanistic. Successful organs, effective habits, produced in response to need, are propagated by what he called “unconscious memory,” that is, the impulse of an organism, which is substantially a prolongation in life of its ancestors, to react as they reacted to similar conditions.  25
  The germ of this view in Butler’s mind was the fanciful ‘Elucubratio Ebria’ and its echo in ‘Erewhon.’ “I proposed, to myself,” wrote Butler, “to see not only machines as limbs, but also limbs as machines.” A machine is a contrivance consciously contrived to meet a need: why may not a limb be? No reason, replied Butler; and science to-day appears to be making the same reply.  26
  Butler was continually revolving, recombining, rephrasing his notions. That is one reason why it is never safe to dismiss as mere fantasy his most fancifully expressed ideas. Thus the mythology of the Unborn in ‘Erewhon,’ which reads like a Swiftian satirical allegory, really hangs together in principle with the sober biological theories of ‘Life and Habit’ and ‘Unconscious Memory.’ Butler, like Weissmann, held to the view that the germ has an existence independent of the organism in which it inheres and continuous from generation to generation. The organism, then, is the germ’s means of subsistence, and of getting itself propagated.  27
  In close analogy with the same biological tenet is Butler’s notion of “vicarious immortality,” a very precious notion with him. He elaborated it fully in chapter eleven of ‘Erewhon Revisited,’ but also epitomized it in many notes and some poems.  28
  Life does not consist in the mere possession of organs or tools, but in the use of them. The more tools or organs we have the more complex and extended is our personality. But the more we master our tools the more our use of them is spontaneous or “unconscious.” The fingers of a master-pianist play for him, leaving his mind free to meditate the effects produced by them. The healthy stomach digests for its owner without his being aware of what is going on. Similarly, other people work for us, carry out the ideas they have got from us, even in our absence, even—if we have made our lives count—after we are dead. So far as we live by a great man’s ideas, he may be said to live in us. Butler’s most perfect expressions of this noble, if not wholly satisfying, conception are in the epitaph to the nameless old lady in ‘Erewhon Revisited’ and in the sonnet [Greek]. They may be quoted as good specimens of Butler’s graver manner and mood.

      “I fall asleep in the full and certain hope
      That my slumber shall not be broken;
    And that though I be all-forgetting,
      Yet shall I not be all-forgotten,
  But continue that life in the thoughts and deeds
                Of those I loved,
Into which, while the power to strive was yet vouchsafed me,
          I fondly strove to enter.”

  “Not on sad Stygian shore, nor in clear sheen
Of far Elysian plain, shall we meet those
Among the dead whose pupils we have been,
Nor those great shades whom we have held as foes;
No meadow of asphodel our feet shall tread,
Nor shall we look each other in the face
To love or hate each other being dead,
Hoping some praise, or fearing some disgrace.
We shall not argue saying ‘’Twas thus’ or ‘Thus,’
Our argument’s whole drift we shall forget;
Who’s right, who’s wrong, ’twill be all one to us;
We shall not even know that we have met.
  Yet meet we shall, and part, and meet again,
  Where dead men meet, on lips of living men.”

A further extension of the idea leads Butler to his conception of God. As others may function for us, entering thus into our personality, as it were, to constitute it in its fullness, so we and they and all living things function together to form a total personality that may be called God. This conception Butler developed in an essay for the Examiner (1879) entitled ‘God the Known and God the Unknown.’
  In 1881 appeared ‘Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino,’ quizzically labeled on the title-page ‘Op. 6.’ This was an account of Butler’s holidays in Italy with digressive meditations on many things. The volume was illustrated by himself, with some collaboration by his friends, Charles Gogin and H. F. Jones.  30
  It is a fascinating book for anyone who already cares for Samuel Butler. He is in it at his kindliest. His humor is, for the most part, without its usual mordant edge. In his beloved “second country,” in the Italy not of art and antiquity but of homely hamlet and rugged alp, out of sight of “the science-ridden, art-ridden, culture-ridden, afternoon-tea-ridden cliffs of old England,” his mood was holiday. Indeed his Italians were to him altogether a holiday people. He saw them as gracious children, without consciousness or priggishness,—perhaps “sometimes one comes upon a young Italian who wants to learn German, but not often.” They seemed to him to be forever clapping their hands, and crying out “Oh bel!” The genius of their language even confirmed the Erewhonian association of ill-being with guilt. Italians say of a person who has met with an accident or a misfortune, “è stato disgraziato.” Take it all in all, Italians realized for Butler more nearly than any other people his own gracious gospel of grace, true spirit and reward of human redemption, although not as Paul understood grace. Butler defines this gospel of grace in ‘Life and Habit,’ and with a lyric fervor unusual for his habitually rather plain style:
          “And grace is best, for where grace is, love is not distant. Grace! the old Pagan ideal whose charm even unlovely Paul could not withstand, but, as the legend tells us, his soul fainted within him, his heart misgave him, and, standing alone on the seashore at dusk, he ‘troubled deaf heaven with his bootless cries,’ his thin voice pleading for grace after the flesh. The waves came in one after another, the sea-gulls cried together after their kind, the wind rustled among the dried canes upon the sandbanks, and there came a voice from heaven saying, ‘Let My grace be sufficient for thee.’ Whereon, failing of the thing itself, he stole the word and strove to crush its meaning to the measure of his own limitations. But the true grace, with her groves and high places, and troops of young men and maidens crowned with flowers, and singing of love and youth and wine—the true grace he drove out into the wilderness—high up, it may be, into Piora, and into such-like places.”
Piora is an Italian alpine hamlet described in ‘Alps and Sanctuaries.’
  ‘Alps and Sanctuaries’ is a “sentimental journey” by a philosophic traveler as sensitively responsive as Sterne, and more clean-minded. But there was no hope for it, or for any book by Butler, in England in the last two decades of the century. “The clerical and scientific people rule the roost between them,” he said; and he was anathema to both. “What is the good,” he wrote in 1883, “of addressing people who will not listen? I have addressed the next generation and have therefore said many things which want time before they become palatable.” Such a declaration on the part of an unsuccessful author is rather commonly an expression of hurt pride, and means little. In Butler’s case, it was apparently quite sincere, and certainly “the next generation” is justifying him to an extraordinary extent. But even this admiring “next generation” boggles at Butler’s next pronouncement. In 1897 appeared ‘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.’ The clairvoyant promise is fully redeemed. We learn with stupefaction that young Nausicaa really wrote the great epic,—Nausicaa, the sweet and sportive maiden who was so discreetly hospitable to the shipwrecked Ulysses. And we learn also precisely where she lived and wrote, to wit, at Trapani on the Sicilian coast. It is a charming fancy but too strong for even the generation of Shaw and Chesterton. At the same time, if Butler’s discovery seems as fabulous as that other “fountain of youth,” at least he, like Ponce de Leon, opens up new prospects almost as valuable. He reintroduces us to the Iliad and the Odyssey almost as if they were published yesterday. He does this both by keen and humor-full criticism and by racy colloquial translation. For as by-work, he translated both poems. Peihaps at times he leans too far away from the stilted solemnity of such translations as Butcher and Lang’s, as when he makes Nausicaa say: “Papa, dear,” said she, “could you manage to let me have a good big wagon? I want to take all our dirty clothes to the river and wash them. You are the chief man here, so it is only proper that you should have a clean shirt when you attend meetings of the council.” But this is an extreme instance. In general, Butler’s versions are at least prophylactic to the sense of frigid remoteness given by most renderings of established classics.  32
  As fanciful as the feminine authorship of the Odyssey was the identification of “W. H.” which Butler proposed in ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets reconsidered and in part rearranged’ (1899). “W. H.” is found to be a certain William Hughes, who, being in want of money, sold the sonnets addressed to him to a bookseller. The idea has not so far been taken seriously. Butler himself at any rate took his investigation seriously enough to learn the sonnets by heart in the process.  33
  In 1901, a year before his death, he published ‘Erewhon Revisited.’ As has been said, the sequel is, in point of artistic unity, an advance on the original. Its plot is interesting and well-handled; its characters are clearcut and original; it has striking situations; it contains piquant ideas; yet it lacks somehow the vision, the surprise, of ‘Erewhon.’ Possibly, Butler for once was pushing his idea, instead of his idea pushing him. In any case, ‘Erewhon Revisited’ is to some slight degree what Butler calls an “academy piece.”  34
  Its plot ingeniously hinges on to that of ‘Erewhon.’ At the end of ‘Erewhon’ Higgs, the intruder, had escaped with an Erewhonian maiden in an improvised balloon. At the beginning of ‘Erewhon Revisited’ we find him in England in possession of a large inheritance. Arowhena is dead; their son is a young man. Possessed with a desire to revisit Erewhon, he returns there. But it is no longer the same, and he himself is responsible for the change. His ascent in the balloon had been taken as an ascension into heaven, and himself deified. A religious cult had developed around his legendary person as the Sunchild, and most of the old institutions had been superseded—for the worse. Higgs’s brain reels under the shock. Aided by Yram, his former love in ‘Erewhon,’ and their son, he escapes a second time, but only to die presently of softening of the brain.  35
  The characters in ‘Erewhon Revisited’ are interesting, but the highest triumph of Butler in pure art are the characters in his posthumous novel, ‘The Way of All Flesh’ (1903). In a way they are Dickens-like, yet, though satirically emphasized, not so much caricatured out of reality. Their creator had lived with them a long time—from early in the seventies, when he conceived also John Pickard Owen. Indeed, Butler may be said to have lived with most of them longer still, for these are drawn from his own family and youthful acquaintance. ‘The Way of All Flesh’ is largely autobiographical, though its author breaks away from fact when and as much as he likes.  36
  The commandment “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother” ranked in Victorian England high among the established respectabilities. But the family tie, institutionalized, proved, Butler thought, a source often of the most refined tyranny and cruelty. And this might be, even when all parties concerned are actuated, like Christina in ‘The Way of All Flesh,’ by high and unselfish motives. Christina is a spiritual vampire with her little son, even while she is striving devotedly towards sainthood, and is really good-hearted. The Rev. Theobald is a moral clam, to be sure, always, but he becomes still worse trying to live up to what he conceives to be the duties of a father. Butler would indict the institution, not the individual. “I believe,” he writes in a Note, “that more unhappiness comes from this source [the Family] than from any other—I mean from the attempt to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so. The mischief among the lower classes is not so great, but among the middle and upper classes it is killing a large number daily. And the old people do not really like it much better than the young.” The youth of Ernest Pontifex is an elaborated illustration of this reflection.  37
  On the other hand, Butler fully accepted the saying that “blood is thicker than water.” In so far, ‘The Way of All Flesh’ itself is an illustration of this. Ernest does not merely take after his ancestors, he is literally a prolongation of them, as Butler had explained in ‘Life and Habit.’ That is why the novel begins with the fourth generation back. Old John Pontifex, the village carpenter who married a “Gothic woman” and built himself an organ, as passed through traveled and worldly George and parochial and hypocritical Theobald, with suitable modifications from their women, is Ernest. Ernest is purged of the vices of the stock only by moral overthrow, by enforced revolt against all the sanctities of his house. Incidentally, he is aided by his Aunt Alethea, arch-enemy of all humbug and provider of his necessary financial independence.  38
  What escaped the blighting institution of the Victorian pious family in Ernest was nearly spoiled by those other institutions of school, of university, of church. Roughborough is no hall of physical torture like Dotheboys Hall. Its rack was subtle and spiritual. Dr. Skinner, the headmaster, was not a bad man. He was merely an institutionalized egotist. His manner of accepting a summons to supper reveals him—and Butler’s art. The great man is playing chess with Overton, the supposed narrator of the story, and Ernest’s later guardian.

  “The game had been a long one, and at half-past nine, when supper came in, we had each of us a few pieces remaining. ‘What will you take for supper, Dr. Skinner?’ said Mrs. Skinner in a silvery voice.
  “He made no answer for some time, but at last in a tone of almost superhuman solemnity, he said, first, ‘Nothing,’ and then, ‘Nothing whatever.’
  “By and by, however, I had a sense come over me as though I were nearer the consummation of all things than I had ever yet been. The room seemed to grow dark, as an expression came over Dr. Skinner’s face, which showed that he was about to speak. The expression gathered force, the room grew darker and darker. ‘Stay,’ he at length added, and I felt that here at any rate was an end to a suspense which was rapidly becoming unbearable. ‘Stay—I may presently take a glass of cold water—and a small piece of bread and butter.’
  “As he said the word ‘butter’ his voice sank to a hardly audible whisper; then there was a sigh as though of relief when the sentence was concluded, and the universe this time was safe.
  “Another ten minutes of solemn silence finished the game. The Doctor rose briskly from his seat and placed himself at the supper-table. ‘Mrs. Skinner,’ he exclaimed jauntily, ‘what are those mysterious-looking objects surrounded by potatoes?’
  “‘Those are oysters, Dr. Skinner.’
  “‘Give me some, and give Overton some.’
  “And so on till he had eaten a good plate of oysters, a scallop shell of minced veal nicely browned, some apple tart, and a hunk of bread and cheese. This was the small piece of bread and butter.
  “The cloth was now removed and tumblers with teaspoons in them, a lemon or two, and a jug of boiling water were placed upon the table. Then the great man unbent. His face beamed.
  “‘And what shall it be to drink?’ he exclaimed persuasively. ‘Shall it be brandy and water? No. It shall be gin and water. Gin is the more wholesome liquor.’
  “So gin it was, hot and stiff too.”
  Influences at Cambridge are shown as rather lateral than vertical. We see Ernest molded less by tutors and professors than by associates. Full-drawn are Gideon Hawke, the Simeonite, and the machiavellian Pryer, and the “nice chap” Towneley. For Ernest, however, foreordained by father and mother to ordination, not academicism but clericism is the bogey. Of what gradually overthrew that bogey, of his extraordinary “break” with Miss Maitland and the disgrace which followed, of his still more extraordinary evangelical marriage with the drunken prostitute Ellen, of his awakening sense of fact, of Aunt Alethea’s timely bequest, of his triumphant home-coming, well-dressed, calm, and prosperous,—a prodigal against all precedent and to the secret scandal of his family,—of these climactic steps in the story I have not space to speak in detail. The very last of the novel is somewhat doctrinaire rather than dramatic.  40
  ‘The Way of All Flesh’ is an interesting story about interesting people, though hardly for the most part people one would care to meet; it is a masterly arraignment of the defects of the Victorian qualities, and a mordant commentary on the perennial frailties of human nature; but, as usual with Butler’s work, far from perfect as a work of art. It goes on after it is properly ended; it is too often disquisitional; it has an annoying way of continuing to lead up to the point for some time after the reader has arrived there. Although it is the one of Butler’s writings that has since his death been most talked of, and is no doubt the weightiest, there may be question whether his quality is not more transparently discernible in ‘Erewhon,’ ‘Alps and Sanctuaries,’ and the ‘Notebooks’ taken collectively. Christina, Dr. Skinner, Mrs. Jupp, even disagreeable Theobald are real additions to the world of the best fictitious characters, but in general the lasting things about Butler are his flashes of intellectual wit and quizzical humor. And most of all the authentic Butlerian—for there is a growing tribe of such—will turn to the ‘Notebooks,’ as published in selection by the author’s friend, Henry Festing Jones (1912). Here Butler does not betray his imperfect powers of construction. His genius is happiest in the “happy thought,” the pithy epigram, that paradox that is not merely paradoxical, the graphic thumbnail sketch, sudden illuminations of dark places in men and things. It is a book for the understanding, but only the understanding, to live by.  41
  This is a sketch of Samuel Butler’s literary work. He was also painter and composer. And doubtless a more thorough analysis might reveal important interaction between his several arts. But he himself has said the best things about himself,—for instance, this: “I had to steal my own birthright. I stole and was bitterly punished. But I saved my soul alive.”  42

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