Essays on Life, Art and Science
by Samuel Butler
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Transcribed from the 1908 A. C. Fifield edition by David Price, email






Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh.


Introduction Quis Desiderio? Ramblings in Cheapside The Aunt, The Nieces, and the Dog How to make the best of life The Sanctuary of Montrigone A Medieval Girl School Art in the Valley of Saas Thought and Language The Deadlock in Darwinism


It is hardly necessary to apologise for the miscellaneous character of the following collection of essays. Samuel Butler was a man of such unusual versatility, and his interests were so many and so various that his literary remains were bound to cover a wide field. Nevertheless it will be found that several of the subjects to which he devoted much time and labour are not represented in these pages. I have not thought it necessary to reprint any of the numerous pamphlets and articles which he wrote upon the Iliad and Odyssey, since these were all merged in "The Authoress of the Odyssey," which gives his matured views upon everything relating to the Homeric poems. For a similar reason I have not included an essay on the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which he printed in 1865 for private circulation, since he subsequently made extensive use of it in "The Fair Haven."

Two of the essays in this collection were originally delivered as lectures; the remainder were published in The Universal Review during 1888, 1889, and 1890.

I should perhaps explain why two other essays of his, which also appeared in The Universal Review, have been omitted.

The first of these, entitled "L'Affaire Holbein-Rippel," relates to a drawing of Holbein's "Danse des Paysans," in the Basle Museum, which is usually described as a copy, but which Butler believed to be the work of Holbein himself. This essay requires to be illustrated in so elaborate a manner that it was impossible to include it in a book of this size.

The second essay, which is a sketch of the career of the sculptor Tabachetti, was published as the first section of an article entitled "A Sculptor and a Shrine," of which the second section is here given under the title, "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." The section devoted to the sculptor represents all that Butler then knew about Tabachetti, but since it was written various documents have come to light, principally owing to the investigations of Cavaliere Francesco Negri, of Casale Monferrato, which negative some of Butler's most cherished conclusions. Had Butler lived he would either have rewritten his essay in accordance with Cavaliere Negri's discoveries, of which he fully recognised the value, or incorporated them into the revised edition of "Ex Voto," which he intended to publish. As it stands, the essay requires so much revision that I have decided to omit it altogether, and to postpone giving English readers a full account of Tabachetti's career until a second edition of "Ex Voto" is required. Meanwhile I have given a brief summary of the main facts of Tabachetti's life in a note (page 154) to the essay on "Art in the Valley of Saas." Any one who wishes for further details of the sculptor and his work will find them in Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet, "Il Santuario di Crea" (Alessandria, 1902).

The three essays grouped together under the title of "The Deadlock in Darwinism" may be regarded as a postscript to Butler's four books on evolution, viz., "Life and Habit," "Evolution, Old and New," "Unconscious Memory" and "Luck or Cunning." An occasion for the publication of these essays seemed to be afforded by the appearance in 1889 of Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace's "Darwinism"; and although nearly fourteen years have elapsed since they were published in the Universal Review, I have no fear that they will be found to be out of date. How far, indeed, the problem embodied in the deadlock of which Butler speaks is from solution was conclusively shown by the correspondence which appeared in the Times in May 1903, occasioned by some remarks made at University College by Lord Kelvin in moving a vote of thanks to Professor Henslow after his lecture on "Present Day Rationalism." Lord Kelvin's claim for a recognition of the fact that in organic nature scientific thought is compelled to accept the idea of some kind of directive power, and his statement that biologists are coming once more to a firm acceptance of a vital principle, drew from several distinguished men of science retorts heated enough to prove beyond a doubt that the gulf between the two main divisions of evolutionists is as wide to-day as it was when Butler wrote. It will be well, perhaps, for the benefit of readers who have not followed the history of the theory of evolution during its later developments, to state in a few words what these two main divisions are. All evolutionists agree that the differences between species are caused by the accumulation and transmission of variations, but they do not agree as to the causes to which the variations are due. The view held by the older evolutionists, Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, who have been followed by many modern thinkers, including Herbert Spencer and Butler, is that the variations occur mainly as the result of effort and design; the opposite view, which is that advocated by Mr. Wallace in "Darwinism," is that the variations occur merely as the result of chance. The former is sometimes called the theological view, because it recognises the presence in organic nature of design, whether it be called creative power, directive force, directivity, or vital principle; the latter view, in which the existence of design is absolutely negatived, is now usually described as Weismannism, from the name of the writer who has been its principal advocate in recent years.

In conclusion, I must thank my friend Mr. Henry Festing Jones most warmly for the invaluable assistance which he has given me in preparing these essays for publication, in correcting the proofs, and in compiling the introduction and notes.


QUIS DESIDERIO . . . ? {1}

Like Mr. Wilkie Collins, I, too, have been asked to lay some of my literary experiences before the readers of the Universal Review. It occurred to me that the Review must be indeed universal before it could open its pages to one so obscure as myself; but, nothing daunted by the distinguished company among which I was for the first time asked to move, I resolved to do as I was told, and went to the British Museum to see what books I had written. Having refreshed my memory by a glance at the catalogue, I was about to try and diminish the large and ever-increasing circle of my non-readers when I became aware of a calamity that brought me to a standstill, and indeed bids fair, so far as I can see at present, to put an end to my literary existence altogether.

I should explain that I cannot write unless I have a sloping desk, and the reading-room of the British Museum, where alone I can compose freely, is unprovided with sloping desks. Like every other organism, if I cannot get exactly what I want I make shift with the next thing to it; true, there are no desks in the reading-room, but, as I once heard a visitor from the country say, "it contains a large number of very interesting works." I know it was not right, and hope the Museum authorities will not be severe upon me if any of them reads this confession; but I wanted a desk, and set myself to consider which of the many very interesting works which a grateful nation places at the disposal of its would-be authors was best suited for my purpose.

For mere reading I suppose one book is pretty much as good as another; but the choice of a desk-book is a more serious matter. It must be neither too thick nor too thin; it must be large enough to make a substantial support; it must be strongly bound so as not to yield or give; it must not be too troublesome to carry backwards and forwards; and it must live on shelf C, D, or E, so that there need be no stooping or reaching too high. These are the conditions which a really good book must fulfil; simple, however, as they are, it is surprising how few volumes comply with them satisfactorily; moreover, being perhaps too sensitively conscientious, I allowed another consideration to influence me, and was sincerely anxious not to take a book which would be in constant use for reference by readers, more especially as, if I did this, I might find myself disturbed by the officials.

For weeks I made experiments upon sundry poetical and philosophical works, whose names I have forgotten, but could not succeed in finding my ideal desk, until at length, more by luck than cunning, I happened to light upon Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians," which I had no sooner tried than I discovered it to be the very perfection and ne plus ultra of everything that a book should be. It lived in Case No. 2008, and I accordingly took at once to sitting in Row B, where for the last dozen years or so I have sat ever since.

The first thing I have done whenever I went to the Museum has been to take down Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" and carry it to my seat. It is not the custom of modern writers to refer to the works to which they are most deeply indebted, and I have never, that I remember, mentioned it by name before; but it is to this book alone that I have looked for support during many years of literary labour, and it is round this to me invaluable volume that all my own have page by page grown up. There is none in the Museum to which I have been under anything like such constant obligation, none which I can so ill spare, and none which I would choose so readily if I were allowed to select one single volume and keep it for my own.

On finding myself asked for a contribution to the Universal Review, I went, as I have explained, to the Museum, and presently repaired to bookcase No. 2008 to get my favourite volume. Alas! it was in the room no longer. It was not in use, for its place was filled up already; besides, no one ever used it but myself. Whether the ghost of the late Mr. Frost has been so eminently unchristian as to interfere, or whether the authorities have removed the book in ignorance of the steady demand which there has been for it on the part of at least one reader, are points I cannot determine. All I know is that the book is gone, and I feel as Wordsworth is generally supposed to have felt when he became aware that Lucy was in her grave, and exclaimed so emphatically that this would make a considerable difference to him, or words to that effect.

Now I think of it, Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" was very like Lucy. The one resided at Dovedale in Derbyshire, the other in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. I admit that I do not see the resemblance here at this moment, but if I try to develop my perception I shall doubtless ere long find a marvellously striking one. In other respects, however, than mere local habitat the likeness is obvious. Lucy was not particularly attractive either inside or out—no more was Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians"; there were few to praise her, and of those few still fewer could bring themselves to like her; indeed, Wordsworth himself seems to have been the only person who thought much about her one way or the other. In like manner, I believe I was the only reader who thought much one way or the other about Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians," but this in itself was one of the attractions of the book; and as for the grief we respectively felt and feel, I believe my own to be as deep as Wordsworth's, if not more so.

I said above, "as Wordsworth is generally supposed to have felt"; for any one imbued with the spirit of modern science will read Wordsworth's poem with different eyes from those of a mere literary critic. He will note that Wordsworth is most careful not to explain the nature of the difference which the death of Lucy will occasion to him. He tells us that there will be a difference; but there the matter ends. The superficial reader takes it that he was very sorry she was dead; it is, of course, possible that he may have actually been so, but he has not said this. On the contrary, he has hinted plainly that she was ugly, and generally disliked; she was only like a violet when she was half-hidden from the view, and only fair as a star when there were so few stars out that it was practically impossible to make an invidious comparison. If there were as many as even two stars the likeness was felt to be at an end. If Wordsworth had imprudently promised to marry this young person during a time when he had been unusually long in keeping to good resolutions, and had afterwards seen some one whom he liked better, then Lucy's death would undoubtedly have made a considerable difference to him, and this is all that he has ever said that it would do. What right have we to put glosses upon the masterly reticence of a poet, and credit him with feelings possibly the very reverse of those he actually entertained?

Sometimes, indeed, I have been inclined to think that a mystery is being hinted at more dark than any critic has suspected. I do not happen to possess a copy of the poem, but the writer, if I am not mistaken, says that "few could know when Lucy ceased to be." "Ceased to be" is a suspiciously euphemistic expression, and the words "few could know" are not applicable to the ordinary peaceful death of a domestic servant such as Lucy appears to have been. No matter how obscure the deceased, any number of people commonly can know the day and hour of his or her demise, whereas in this case we are expressly told it would be impossible for them to do so. Wordsworth was nothing if not accurate, and would not have said that few could know, but that few actually did know, unless he was aware of circumstances that precluded all but those implicated in the crime of her death from knowing the precise moment of its occurrence. If Lucy was the kind of person not obscurely pourtrayed in the poem; if Wordsworth had murdered her, either by cutting her throat or smothering her, in concert, perhaps, with his friends Southey and Coleridge; and if he had thus found himself released from an engagement which had become irksome to him, or possibly from the threat of an action for breach of promise, then there is not a syllable in the poem with which he crowns his crime that is not alive with meaning. On any other supposition to the general reader it is unintelligible.

We cannot be too guarded in the interpretations we put upon the words of great poets. Take the young lady who never loved the dear gazelle—and I don't believe she did; we are apt to think that Moore intended us to see in this creation of his fancy a sweet, amiable, but most unfortunate young woman, whereas all he has told us about her points to an exactly opposite conclusion. In reality, he wished us to see a young lady who had been an habitual complainer from her earliest childhood; whose plants had always died as soon as she bought them, while those belonging to her neighbours had flourished. The inference is obvious, nor can we reasonably doubt that Moore intended us to draw it; if her plants were the very first to fade away, she was evidently the very first to neglect or otherwise maltreat them. She did not give them enough water, or left the door of her fern-ease open when she was cooking her dinner at the gas stove, or kept them too near the paraffin oil, or other like folly; and as for her temper, see what the gazelles did; as long as they did not know her "well," they could just manage to exist, but when they got to understand her real character, one after another felt that death was the only course open to it, and accordingly died rather than live with such a mistress. True, the young lady herself said the gazelles loved her; but disagreeable people are apt to think themselves amiable, and in view of the course invariably taken by the gazelles themselves any one accustomed to weigh evidence will hold that she was probably mistaken.

I must, however, return to Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians." I will leave none of the ambiguity about my words in which Moore and Wordsworth seem to have delighted. I am very sorry the book is gone, and know not where to turn for its successor. Till I have found a substitute I can write no more, and I do not know how to find even a tolerable one. I should try a volume of Migne's "Complete Course of Patrology," but I do not like books in more than one volume, for the volumes vary in thickness, and one never can remember which one took; the four volumes, however, of Bede in Giles's "Anglican Fathers" are not open to this objection, and I have reserved them for favourable consideration. Mather's "Magnalia" might do, but the binding does not please me; Cureton's "Corpus Ignatianum" might also do if it were not too thin. I do not like taking Norton's "Genuineness of the Gospels," as it is just possible some one may be wanting to know whether the Gospels are genuine or not, and be unable to find out because I have got Mr. Norton's book. Baxter's "Church History of England," Lingard's "Anglo-Saxon Church," and Cardwell's "Documentary Annals," though none of them as good as Frost, are works of considerable merit; but on the whole I think Arvine's "Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious Anecdote" is perhaps the one book in the room which comes within measurable distance of Frost. I should probably try this book first, but it has a fatal objection in its too seductive title. "I am not curious," as Miss Lottie Venne says in one of her parts, "but I like to know," and I might be tempted to pervert the book from its natural uses and open it, so as to find out what kind of a thing a moral and religious anecdote is. I know, of course, that there are a great many anecdotes in the Bible, but no one thinks of calling them either moral or religious, though some of them certainly seem as if they might fairly find a place in Mr. Arvine's work. There are some things, however, which it is better not to know, and take it all round I do not think I should be wise in putting myself in the way of temptation, and adopting Arvine as the successor to my beloved and lamented Frost.

Some successor I must find, or I must give up writing altogether, and this I should be sorry to do. I have only as yet written about a third, or from that—counting works written but not published—to a half, of the books which I have set myself to write. It would not so much matter if old age was not staring me in the face. Dr. Parr said it was "a beastly shame for an old man not to have laid down a good cellar of port in his youth"; I, like the greater number, I suppose, of those who write books at all, write in order that I may have something to read in my old age when I can write no longer. I know what I shall like better than any one can tell me, and write accordingly; if my career is nipped in the bud, as seems only too likely, I really do not know where else I can turn for present agreeable occupation, nor yet how to make suitable provision for my later years. Other writers can, of course, make excellent provision for their own old ages, but they cannot do so for mine, any more than I should succeed if I were to try to cater for theirs. It is one of those cases in which no man can make agreement for his brother.

I have no heart for continuing this article, and if I had, I have nothing of interest to say. No one's literary career can have been smoother or more unchequered than mine. I have published all my books at my own expense, and paid for them in due course. What can be conceivably more unromantic? For some years I had a little literary grievance against the authorities of the British Museum because they would insist on saying in their catalogue that I had published three sermons on Infidelity in the year 1820. I thought I had not, and got them out to see. They were rather funny, but they were not mine. Now, however, this grievance has been removed. I had another little quarrel with them because they would describe me as "of St. John's College, Cambridge," an establishment for which I have the most profound veneration, but with which I have not had the honour to be connected for some quarter of a century. At last they said they would change this description if I would only tell them what I was, for, though they had done their best to find out, they had themselves failed. I replied with modest pride that I was a Bachelor of Arts. I keep all my other letters inside my name, not outside. They mused and said it was unfortunate that I was not a Master of Arts. Could I not get myself made a Master? I said I understood that a Mastership was an article the University could not do under about five pounds, and that I was not disposed to go sixpence higher than three ten. They again said it was a pity, for it would be very inconvenient to them if I did not keep to something between a bishop and a poet. I might be anything I liked in reason, provided I showed proper respect for the alphabet; but they had got me between "Samuel Butler, bishop," and "Samuel Butler, poet." It would be very troublesome to shift me, and bachelor came before bishop. This was reasonable, so I replied that, under those circumstances, if they pleased, I thought I would like to be a philosophical writer. They embraced the solution, and, no matter what I write now, I must remain a philosophical writer as long as I live, for the alphabet will hardly be altered in my time, and I must be something between "Bis" and "Poe." If I could get a volume of my excellent namesake's "Hudibras" out of the list of my works, I should be robbed of my last shred of literary grievance, so I say nothing about this, but keep it secret, lest some worse thing should happen to me. Besides, I have a great respect for my namesake, and always say that if "Erewhon" had been a racehorse it would have been got by "Hudibras" out of "Analogy." Some one said this to me many years ago, and I felt so much flattered that I have been repeating the remark as my own ever since.

But how small are these grievances as compared with those endured without a murmur by hundreds of writers far more deserving than myself. When I see the scores and hundreds of workers in the reading-room who have done so much more than I have, but whose work is absolutely fruitless to themselves, and when I think of the prompt recognition obtained by my own work, I ask myself what I have done to be thus rewarded. On the other hand, the feeling that I have succeeded far beyond my deserts hitherto, makes it all the harder for me to acquiesce without complaint in the extinction of a career which I honestly believe to be a promising one; and once more I repeat that, unless the Museum authorities give me back my Frost, or put a locked clasp on Arvine, my career must be extinguished. Give me back Frost, and, if life and health are spared, I will write another dozen of volumes yet before I hang up my fiddle—if so serious a confusion of metaphors may be pardoned. I know from long experience how kind and considerate both the late and present superintendents of the reading-room were and are, but I doubt how far either of them would be disposed to help me on this occasion; continue, however, to rob me of my Frost, and, whatever else I may do, I will write no more books.

Note by Dr. Garnett, British Museum.—The frost has broken up. Mr. Butler is restored to literature. Mr. Mudie may make himself easy. England will still boast a humourist; and the late Mr. Darwin (to whose posthumous machinations the removal of the book was owing) will continue to be confounded.—R. GANNETT.


Walking the other day in Cheapside I saw some turtles in Mr. Sweeting's window, and was tempted to stay and look at them. As I did so I was struck not more by the defences with which they were hedged about, than by the fatuousness of trying to hedge that in at all which, if hedged thoroughly, must die of its own defencefulness. The holes for the head and feet through which the turtle leaks out, as it were, on to the exterior world, and through which it again absorbs the exterior world into itself—"catching on" through them to things that are thus both turtle and not turtle at one and the same time—these holes stultify the armour, and show it to have been designed by a creature with more of faithfulness to a fixed idea, and hence one-sidedness, than of that quick sense of relative importances and their changes, which is the main factor of good living.

The turtle obviously had no sense of proportion; it differed so widely from myself that I could not comprehend it; and as this word occurred to me, it occurred also that until my body comprehended its body in a physical material sense, neither would my mind be able to comprehend its mind with any thoroughness. For unity of mind can only be consummated by unity of body; everything, therefore, must be in some respects both knave and fool to all that which has not eaten it, or by which it has not been eaten. As long as the turtle was in the window and I in the street outside, there was no chance of our comprehending one another.

Nevertheless I knew that I could get it to agree with me if I could so effectually button-hole and fasten on to it as to eat it. Most men have an easy method with turtle soup, and I had no misgiving but that if I could bring my first premise to bear I should prove the better reasoner. My difficulty lay in this initial process, for I had not with me the argument that would alone compel Mr. Sweeting think that I ought to be allowed to convert the turtles—I mean I had no money in my pocket. No missionary enterprise can be carried on without any money at all, but even so small a sum as half-a-crown would, I suppose, have enabled me to bring the turtle partly round, and with many half-crowns I could in time no doubt convert the lot, for the turtle needs must go where the money drives. If, as is alleged, the world stands on a turtle, the turtle stands on money. No money no turtle. As for money, that stands on opinion, credit, trust, faith—things that, though highly material in connection with money, are still of immaterial essence.

The steps are perfectly plain. The men who caught the turtles brought a fairly strong and definite opinion to bear upon them, that passed into action, and later on into money. They thought the turtles would come that way, and verified their opinion; on this, will and action were generated, with the result that the men turned the turtles on their backs and carried them off. Mr. Sweeting touched these men with money, which is the outward and visible sign of verified opinion. The customer touches Mr. Sweeting with money, Mr. Sweeting touches the waiter and the cook with money. They touch the turtle with skill and verified opinion. Finally, the customer applies the clinching argument that brushes all sophisms aside, and bids the turtle stand protoplasm to protoplasm with himself, to know even as it is known.

But it must be all touch, touch, touch; skill, opinion, power, and money, passing in and out with one another in any order we like, but still link to link and touch to touch. If there is failure anywhere in respect of opinion, skill, power, or money, either as regards quantity or quality, the chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, and the turtle and the clinching argument will fly asunder. Of course, if there is an initial failure in connection, through defect in any member of the chain, or of connection between the links, it will no more be attempted to bring the turtle and the clinching argument together, than it will to chain up a dog with two pieces of broken chain that are disconnected. The contact throughout must be conceived as absolute; and yet perfect contact is inconceivable by us, for on becoming perfect it ceases to be contact, and becomes essential, once for all inseverable, identity. The most absolute contact short of this is still contact by courtesy only. So here, as everywhere else, Eurydice glides off as we are about to grasp her. We can see nothing face to face; our utmost seeing is but a fumbling of blind finger-ends in an overcrowded pocket.

Presently my own blind finger-ends fished up the conclusion, that as I had neither time nor money to spend on perfecting the chain that would put me in full spiritual contact with Mr. Sweeting's turtles, I had better leave them to complete their education at some one else's expense rather than mine, so I walked on towards the Bank. As I did so it struck me how continually we are met by this melting of one existence into another. The limits of the body seem well defined enough as definitions go, but definitions seldom go far. What, for example, can seem more distinct from a man than his banker or his solicitor? Yet these are commonly so much parts of him that he can no more cut them off and grow new ones, than he can grow new legs or arms; neither must he wound his solicitor; a wound in the solicitor is a very serious thing. As for his bank—failure of his bank's action may be as fatal to a man as failure of his heart. I have said nothing about the medical or spiritual adviser, but most men grow into the society that surrounds them by the help of these four main tap-roots, and not only into the world of humanity, but into the universe at large. We can, indeed, grow butchers, bakers, and greengrocers, almost ad libitum, but these are low developments, and correspond to skin, hair, or finger-nails. Those of us again who are not highly enough organised to have grown a solicitor or banker can generally repair the loss of whatever social organisation they may possess as freely as lizards are said to grow new tails; but this with the higher social, as well as organic, developments is only possible to a very limited extent.

The doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls—a doctrine to which the foregoing considerations are for the most part easy corollaries—crops up no matter in what direction we allow our thoughts to wander. And we meet instances of transmigration of body as well as of soul. I do not mean that both body and soul have transmigrated together, far from it; but that, as we can often recognise a transmigrated mind in an alien body, so we not less often see a body that is clearly only a transmigration, linked on to some one else's new and alien soul. We meet people every day whose bodies are evidently those of men and women long dead, but whose appearance we know through their portraits. We see them going about in omnibuses, railway carriages, and in all public places. The cards have been shuffled, and they have drawn fresh lots in life and nationalities, but any one fairly well up in mediaeval and last century portraiture knows them at a glance.

Going down once towards Italy I saw a young man in the train whom I recognised, only he seemed to have got younger. He was with a friend, and his face was in continual play, but for some little time I puzzled in vain to recollect where it was that I had seen him before. All of a sudden I remembered he was King Francis I. of France. I had hitherto thought the face of this king impossible, but when I saw it in play I understood it. His great contemporary Henry VIII. keeps a restaurant in Oxford Street. Falstaff drove one of the St. Gothard diligences for many years, and only retired when the railway was opened. Titian once made me a pair of boots at Vicenza, and not very good ones. At Modena I had my hair cut by a young man whom I perceived to be Raffaelle. The model who sat to him for his celebrated Madonnas is first lady in a confectionery establishment at Montreal. She has a little motherly pimple on the left side of her nose that is misleading at first, but on examination she is readily recognised; probably Raffaelle's model had the pimple too, but Raffaelle left it out—as he would.

Handel, of course, is Madame Patey. Give Madame Patey Handel's wig and clothes, and there would be no telling her from Handel. It is not only that the features and the shape of the head are the same, but there is a certain imperiousness of expression and attitude about Handel which he hardly attempts to conceal in Madame Patey. It is a curious coincidence that he should continue to be such an incomparable renderer of his own music. Pope Julius II. was the late Mr. Darwin. Rameses II. is a blind woman now, and stands in Holborn, holding a tin mug. I never could understand why I always found myself humming "They oppressed them with burthens" when I passed her, till one day I was looking in Mr. Spooner's window in the Strand, and saw a photograph of Rameses II. Mary Queen of Scots wears surgical boots and is subject to fits, near the Horse Shoe in Tottenham Court Road.

Michael Angelo is a commissionaire; I saw him on board the Glen Rosa, which used to run every day from London to Clacton-on-Sea and back. It gave me quite a turn when I saw him coming down the stairs from the upper deck, with his bronzed face, flattened nose, and with the familiar bar upon his forehead. I never liked Michael Angelo, and never shall, but I am afraid of him, and was near trying to hide when I saw him coming towards me. He had not got his commissionaire's uniform on, and I did not know he was one till I met him a month or so later in the Strand. When we got to Blackwall the music struck up and people began to dance. I never saw a man dance so much in my life. He did not miss a dance all the way to Clacton, nor all the way back again, and when not dancing he was flirting and cracking jokes. I could hardly believe my eyes when I reflected that this man had painted the famous "Last Judgment," and had made all those statues.

Dante is, or was a year or two ago, a waiter at Brissago on the Lago Maggiore, only he is better-tempered-looking, and has a more intellectual expression. He gave me his ideas upon beauty: "Tutto ch' e vero e bello," he exclaimed, with all his old self-confidence. I am not afraid of Dante. I know people by their friends, and he went about with Virgil, so I said with some severity, "No, Dante, il naso della Signora Robinson e vero, ma non e bello"; and he admitted I was right. Beatrice's name is Towler; she is waitress at a small inn in German Switzerland. I used to sit at my window and hear people call "Towler, Towler, Towler," fifty times in a forenoon. She was the exact antithesis to Abra; Abra, if I remember, used to come before they called her name, but no matter how often they called Towler, every one came before she did. I suppose they spelt her name Taula, but to me it sounded Towler; I never, however, met any one else with this name. She was a sweet, artless little hussy, who made me play the piano to her, and she said it was lovely. Of course I only played my own compositions; so I believed her, and it all went off very nicely. I thought it might save trouble if I did not tell her who she really was, so I said nothing about it.

I met Socrates once. He was my muleteer on an excursion which I will not name, for fear it should identify the man. The moment I saw my guide I knew he was somebody, but for the life of me I could not remember who. All of a sudden it flashed across me that he was Socrates. He talked enough for six, but it was all in dialetto, so I could not understand him, nor, when I had discovered who he was, did I much try to do so. He was a good creature, a trifle given to stealing fruit and vegetables, but an amiable man enough. He had had a long day with his mule and me, and he only asked me five francs. I gave him ten, for I pitied his poor old patched boots, and there was a meekness about him that touched me. "And now, Socrates," said I at parting, "we go on our several ways, you to steal tomatoes, I to filch ideas from other people; for the rest—which of these two roads will be the better going, our father which is in heaven knows, but we know not."

I have never seen Mendelssohn, but there is a fresco of him on the terrace, or open-air dining-room, of an inn at Chiavenna. He is not called Mendelssohn, but I knew him by his legs. He is in the costume of a dandy of some five-and-forty years ago, is smoking a cigar, and appears to be making an offer of marriage to his cook. Beethoven both my friend Mr. H. Festing Jones and I have had the good fortune to meet; he is an engineer now, and does not know one note from another; he has quite lost his deafness, is married, and is, of course, a little squat man with the same refractory hair that he always had. It was very interesting to watch him, and Jones remarked that before the end of dinner he had become positively posthumous. One morning I was told the Beethovens were going away, and before long I met their two heavy boxes being carried down the stairs. The boxes were so squab and like their owners, that I half thought for a moment that they were inside, and should hardly have been surprised to see them spring up like a couple of Jacks-in-the-box. "Sono indentro?" said I, with a frown of wonder, pointing to the boxes. The porters knew what I meant, and laughed. But there is no end to the list of people whom I have been able to recognise, and before I had got through it myself, I found I had walked some distance, and had involuntarily paused in front of a second-hand bookstall.

I do not like books. I believe I have the smallest library of any literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it. I keep my books at the British Museum and at Mudie's, and it makes me very angry if any one gives me one for my private library. I once heard two ladies disputing in a railway carriage as to whether one of them had or had not been wasting money. "I spent it in books," said the accused, "and it's not wasting money to buy books." "Indeed, my dear, I think it is," was the rejoinder, and in practice I agree with it. Webster's Dictionary, Whitaker's Almanack, and Bradshaw's Railway Guide should be sufficient for any ordinary library; it will be time enough to go beyond these when the mass of useful and entertaining matter which they provide has been mastered. Nevertheless, I admit that sometimes, if not particularly busy, I stop at a second-hand bookstall and turn over a book or two from mere force of habit.

I know not what made me pick up a copy of AEschylus—of course in an English version—or rather I know not what made AEschylus take up with me, for he took me rather than I him; but no sooner had he got me than he began puzzling me, as he has done any time this forty years, to know wherein his transcendent merit can be supposed to lie. To me he is, like the greater number of classics in all ages and countries, a literary Struldbrug, rather than a true ambrosia-fed immortal. There are true immortals, but they are few and far between; most classics are as great impostors dead as they were when living, and while posing as gods are, five-sevenths of them, only Struldbrugs. It comforts me to remember that Aristophanes liked AEschylus no better than I do. True, he praises him by comparison with Sophocles and Euripides, but he only does so that he may run down these last more effectively. Aristophanes is a safe man to follow, nor do I see why it should not be as correct to laugh with him as to pull a long face with the Greek Professors; but this is neither here nor there, for no one really cares about AEschylus; the more interesting question is how he contrived to make so many people for so many years pretend to care about him.

Perhaps he married somebody's daughter. If a man would get hold of the public ear, he must pay, marry, or fight. I have never understood that AEschylus was a man of means, and the fighters do not write poetry, so I suppose he must have married a theatrical manager's daughter, and got his plays brought out that way. The ear of any age or country is like its land, air, and water; it seems limitless but is really limited, and is already in the keeping of those who naturally enough will have no squatting on such valuable property. It is written and talked up to as closely as the means of subsistence are bred up to by a teeming population. There is not a square inch of it but is in private hands, and he who would freehold any part of it must do so by purchase, marriage, or fighting, in the usual way—and fighting gives the longest, safest tenure. The public itself has hardly more voice in the question who shall have its ear, than the land has in choosing its owners. It is farmed as those who own it think most profitable to themselves, and small blame to them; nevertheless, it has a residuum of mulishness which the land has not, and does sometimes dispossess its tenants. It is in this residuum that those who fight place their hope and trust.

Or perhaps AEschylus squared the leading critics of his time. When one comes to think of it, he must have done so, for how is it conceivable that such plays should have had such runs if he had not? I met a lady one year in Switzerland who had some parrots that always travelled with her and were the idols of her life. These parrots would not let any one read aloud in their presence, unless they heard their own names introduced from time to time. If these were freely interpolated into the text they would remain as still as stones, for they thought the reading was about themselves. If it was not about them it could not be allowed. The leaders of literature are like these parrots; they do not look at what a man writes, nor if they did would they understand it much better than the parrots do; but they like the sound of their own names, and if these are freely interpolated in a tone they take as friendly, they may even give ear to an outsider. Otherwise they will scream him off if they can.

I should not advise any one with ordinary independence of mind to attempt the public ear unless he is confident that he can out-lung and out-last his own generation; for if he has any force, people will and ought to be on their guard against him, inasmuch as there is no knowing where he may not take them. Besides, they have staked their money on the wrong men so often without suspecting it, that when there comes one whom they do suspect it would be madness not to bet against him. True, he may die before he has out-screamed his opponents, but that has nothing to do with it. If his scream was well pitched it will sound clearer when he is dead. We do not know what death is. If we know so little about life which we have experienced, how shall we know about death which we have not—and in the nature of things never can? Every one, as I said years ago in "Alps and Sanctuaries," is an immortal to himself, for he cannot know that he is dead until he is dead, and when dead how can he know anything about anything? All we know is, that even the humblest dead may live long after all trace of the body has disappeared; we see them doing it in the bodies and memories of those that come after them; and not a few live so much longer and more effectually than is desirable, that it has been necessary to get rid of them by Act of Parliament. It is love that alone gives life, and the truest life is that which we live not in ourselves but vicariously in others, and with which we have no concern. Our concern is so to order ourselves that we may be of the number of them that enter into life—although we know it not.

AEschylus did so order himself; but his life is not of that inspiriting kind that can be won through fighting the good fight only—or being believed to have fought it. His voice is the echo of a drone, drone-begotten and drone-sustained. It is not a tone that a man must utter or die—nay, even though he die; and likely enough half the allusions and hard passages in AEschylus of which we can make neither head nor tail are in reality only puffs of some of the literary leaders of his time.

The lady above referred to told me more about her parrots. She was like a Nasmyth's hammer going slow—very gentle, but irresistible. She always read the newspaper to them. What was the use of having a newspaper if one did not read it to one's parrots?

"And have you divined," I asked, "to which side they incline in politics?"

"They do not like Mr. Gladstone," was the somewhat freezing answer; "this is the only point on which we disagree, for I adore him. Don't ask more about this, it is a great grief to me. I tell them everything," she continued, "and hide no secret from them."

"But can any parrot be trusted to keep a secret?"

"Mine can."

"And on Sundays do you give them the same course of reading as on a week- day, or do you make a difference?"

"On Sundays I always read them a genealogical chapter from the Old or New Testament, for I can thus introduce their names without profanity. I always keep tea by me in case they should ask for it in the night, and I have an Etna to warm it for them; they take milk and sugar. The old white-headed clergyman came to see them last night; it was very painful, for Jocko reminded him so strongly of his late . . . "

I thought she was going to say "wife," but it proved to have been only of a parrot that he had once known and loved.

One evening she was in difficulties about the quarantine, which was enforced that year on the Italian frontier. The local doctor had gone down that morning to see the Italian doctor and arrange some details. "Then, perhaps, my dear," she said to her husband, "he is the quarantine." "No, my love," replied her husband. "The quarantine is not a person, it is a place where they put people"; but she would not be comforted, and suspected the quarantine as an enemy that might at any moment pounce out upon her and her parrots. So a lady told me once that she had been in like trouble about the anthem. She read in her prayer- book that in choirs and places where they sing "here followeth the anthem," yet the person with this most mysteriously sounding name never did follow. They had a choir, and no one could say the church was not a place where they sang, for they did sing—both chants and hymns. Why, then, this persistent slackness on the part of the anthem, who at this juncture should follow her papa, the rector, into the reading-desk? No doubt he would come some day, and then what would he be like? Fair or dark? Tall or short? Would he be bald and wear spectacles like papa, or would he be young and good-looking? Anyhow, there was something wrong, for it was announced that he would follow, and he never did follow; therefore there was no knowing what he might not do next.

I heard of the parrots a year or two later as giving lessons in Italian to an English maid. I do not know what their terms were. Alas! since then both they and their mistress have joined the majority. When the poor lady felt her end was near she desired (and the responsibility for this must rest with her, not me) that the birds might be destroyed, as fearing that they might come to be neglected, and knowing that they could never be loved again as she had loved them. On being told that all was over, she said, "Thank you," and immediately expired.

Reflecting in such random fashion, and strolling with no greater method, I worked my way back through Cheapside and found myself once more in front of Sweeting's window. Again the turtles attracted me. They were alive, and so far at any rate they agreed with me. Nay, they had eyes, mouths, legs, if not arms, and feet, so there was much in which we were both of a mind, but surely they must be mistaken in arming themselves so very heavily. Any creature on getting what the turtle aimed at would overreach itself and be landed not in safety but annihilation. It should have no communion with the outside world at all, for death could creep in wherever the creature could creep out; and it must creep out somewhere if it was to hook on to outside things. What death can be more absolute than such absolute isolation? Perfect death, indeed, if it were attainable (which it is not), is as near perfect security as we can reach, but it is not the kind of security aimed at by any animal that is at the pains of defending itself. For such want to have things both ways, desiring the livingness of life without its perils, and the safety of death without its deadness, and some of us do actually get this for a considerable time, but we do not get it by plating ourselves with armour as the turtle does. We tried this in the Middle Ages, and no longer mock ourselves with the weight of armour that our forefathers carried in battle. Indeed the more deadly the weapons of attack become the more we go into the fight slug-wise.

Slugs have ridden their contempt for defensive armour as much to death as the turtles their pursuit of it. They have hardly more than skin enough to hold themselves together; they court death every time they cross the road. Yet death comes not to them more than to the turtle, whose defences are so great that there is little left inside to be defended. Moreover, the slugs fare best in the long run, for turtles are dying out, while slugs are not, and there must be millions of slugs all the world over for every single turtle. Of the two vanities, therefore, that of the slug seems most substantial.

In either case the creature thinks itself safe, but is sure to be found out sooner or later; nor is it easy to explain this mockery save by reflecting that everything must have its meat in due season, and that meat can only be found for such a multitude of mouths by giving everything as meat in due season to something else. This is like the Kilkenny cats, or robbing Peter to pay Paul; but it is the way of the world, and as every animal must contribute in kind to the picnic of the universe, one does not see what better arrangement could be made than the providing each race with a hereditary fallacy, which shall in the end get it into a scrape, but which shall generally stand the wear and tear of life for some time. "Do ut des" is the writing on all flesh to him that eats it; and no creature is dearer to itself than it is to some other that would devour it.

Nor is there any statement or proposition more invulnerable than living forms are. Propositions prey upon and are grounded upon one another just like living forms. They support one another as plants and animals do; they are based ultimately on credit, or faith, rather than the cash of irrefragable conviction. The whole universe is carried on on the credit system, and if the mutual confidence on which it is based were to collapse, it must itself collapse immediately. Just or unjust, it lives by faith; it is based on vague and impalpable opinion that by some inscrutable process passes into will and action, and is made manifest in matter and in flesh: it is meteoric—suspended in midair; it is the baseless fabric of a vision so vast, so vivid, and so gorgeous that no base can seem more broad than such stupendous baselessness, and yet any man can bring it about his ears by being over-curious; when faith fails a system based on faith fails also.

Whether the universe is really a paying concern, or whether it is an inflated bubble that must burst sooner or later, this is another matter. If people were to demand cash payment in irrefragable certainty for everything that they have taken hitherto as paper money on the credit of the bank of public opinion, is there money enough behind it all to stand so great a drain even on so great a reserve? Probably there is not, but happily there can be no such panic, for even though the cultured classes may do so, the uncultured are too dull to have brains enough to commit such stupendous folly. It takes a long course of academic training to educate a man up to the standard which he must reach before he can entertain such questions seriously, and by a merciful dispensation of Providence, university training is almost as costly as it is unprofitable. The majority will thus be always unable to afford it, and will base their opinions on mother wit and current opinion rather than on demonstration.

So I turned my steps homewards; I saw a good many more things on my way home, but I was told that I was not to see more this time than I could get into twelve pages of the Universal Review; I must therefore reserve any remark which I think might perhaps entertain the reader for another occasion.


When a thing is old, broken, and useless we throw it on the dust-heap, but when it is sufficiently old, sufficiently broken, and sufficiently useless we give money for it, put it into a museum, and read papers over it which people come long distances to hear. By-and-by, when the whirligig of time has brought on another revenge, the museum itself becomes a dust-heap, and remains so till after long ages it is re-discovered, and valued as belonging to a neo-rubbish age—containing, perhaps, traces of a still older paleo-rubbish civilisation. So when people are old, indigent, and in all respects incapable, we hold them in greater and greater contempt as their poverty and impotence increase, till they reach the pitch when they are actually at the point to die, whereon they become sublime. Then we place every resource our hospitals can command at their disposal, and show no stint in our consideration for them.

It is the same with all our interests. We care most about extremes of importance and of unimportance; but extremes of importance are tainted with fear, and a very imperfect fear casteth out love. Extremes of unimportance cannot hurt us, therefore we are well disposed towards them; the means may come to do so, therefore we do not love them. Hence we pick a fly out of a milk-jug and watch with pleasure over its recovery, for we are confident that under no conceivable circumstances will it want to borrow money from us; but we feel less sure about a mouse, so we show it no quarter. The compilers of our almanacs well know this tendency of our natures, so they tell us, not when Noah went into the ark, nor when the temple of Jerusalem was dedicated, but that Lindley Murray, grammarian, died January 16, 1826. This is not because they could not find so many as three hundred and sixty-five events of considerable interest since the creation of the world, but because they well know we would rather hear of something less interesting. We care most about what concerns us either very closely, or so little that practically we have nothing whatever to do with it.

I once asked a young Italian, who professed to have a considerable knowledge of English literature, which of all our poems pleased him best. He replied without a moment's hesitation:—

"Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon."

He said this was better than anything in Italian. They had Dante and Tasso, and ever so many more great poets, but they had nothing comparable to "Hey diddle diddle," nor had he been able to conceive how any one could have written it. Did I know the author's name, and had we given him a statue? On this I told him of the young lady of Harrow who would go to church in a barrow, and plied him with whatever rhyming nonsense I could call to mind, but it was no use; all of these things had an element of reality that robbed them of half their charm, whereas "Hey diddle diddle" had nothing in it that could conceivably concern him.

So again it is with the things that gall us most. What is it that rises up against us at odd times and smites us in the face again and again for years after it has happened? That we spent all the best years of our life in learning what we have found to be a swindle, and to have been known to be a swindle by those who took money for misleading us? That those on whom we most leaned most betrayed us? That we have only come to feel our strength when there is little strength left of any kind to feel? These things will hardly much disturb a man of ordinary good temper. But that he should have said this or that little unkind and wanton saying; that he should have gone away from this or that hotel and given a shilling too little to the waiter; that his clothes were shabby at such or such a garden-party—these things gall us as a corn will sometimes do, though the loss of a limb way not be seriously felt.

I have been reminded lately of these considerations with more than common force by reading the very voluminous correspondence left by my grandfather, Dr. Butler, of Shrewsbury, whose memoirs I am engaged in writing. I have found a large number of interesting letters on subjects of serious import, but must confess that it is to the hardly less numerous lighter letters that I have been most attracted, nor do I feel sure that my eminent namesake did not share my predilection. Among other letters in my possession I have one bundle that has been kept apart, and has evidently no connection with Dr. Butler's own life. I cannot use these letters, therefore, for my book, but over and above the charm of their inspired spelling, I find them of such an extremely trivial nature that I incline to hope the reader may derive as much amusement from them as I have done myself, and venture to give them the publicity here which I must refuse them in my book. The dates and signatures have, with the exception of Mrs. Newton's, been carefully erased, but I have collected that they were written by the two servants of a single lady who resided at no great distance from London, to two nieces of the said lady who lived in London itself. The aunt never writes, but always gets one of the servants to do so for her. She appears either as "your aunt" or as "She"; her name is not given, but she is evidently looked upon with a good deal of awe by all who had to do with her.

The letters almost all of them relate to visits either of the aunt to London, or of the nieces to the aunt's home, which, from occasional allusions to hopping, I gather to have been in Kent, Sussex, or Surrey. I have arranged them to the best of my power, and take the following to be the earliest. It has no signature, but is not in the handwriting of the servant who styles herself Elizabeth, or Mrs. Newton. It runs:—

"MADAM,—Your Aunt Wishes me to inform you she will be glad if you will let hir know if you think of coming To hir House thiss month or Next as she cannot have you in September on a kount of the Hoping If you ar coming she thinkes she had batter Go to London on the Day you com to hir House the says you shall have everry Thing raddy for you at hir House and Mrs. Newton to meet you and stay with you till She returnes a gann.

"if you arnot Coming thiss Summer She will be in London before thiss Month is out and will Sleep on the Sofy As She willnot be in London more thann two nits. and She Says she willnot truble you on anny a kount as She Will returne the Same Day before She will plage you anny more. but She thanks you for asking hir to London. but She says She cannot leve the house at prassant She sayhir Survants ar to do for you as she cannot lodge yours nor she willnot have thim in at the house anny more to brake and destroy hir thinks and beslive hir and make up Lies by hir and Skandel as your too did She says she mens to pay fore 2 Nits and one day, She says the Pepelwill let hir have it if you ask thim to let hir: you Will be so good as to let hir know sun: wish She is to do, as She says She dos not care anny thing a bout it. which way tiss she is batter than She was and desirs hir Love to bouth bouth.

"Your aunt wises to know how the silk Clocks ar madup [how the silk cloaks are made up] with a Cape or a wood as she is a goin to have one madeup to rideout in in hir littel shas [chaise].

"Charles is a butty and so good.

"Mr & Mrs Newton ar quite wall & desires to be remembered to you."

I can throw no light on the meaning of the verb to "beslive." Each letter in the MS. is so admirably formed that there can be no question about the word being as I have given it. Nor have I been able to discover what is referred to by the words "Charles is a butty and so good." We shall presently meet with a Charles who "flies in the Fier," but that Charles appears to have been in London, whereas this one is evidently in Kent, or wherever the aunt lived.

The next letter is from Mrs. Newton

"DER MISS —-, I Receve your Letter your Aunt is vary Ill and Lowspireted I Donte think your Aunt wood Git up all Day if My Sister Wasnot to Persage her We all Think hir lif is two monopolous. you Wish to know Who Was Liveing With your Aunt. that is My Sister and Willian—and Cariline—as Cock and Old Poll Pepper is Come to Stay With her a Littel Wile and I hoped [hopped] for Your Aunt, and Harry has Worked for your Aunt all the Summer. Your Aunt and Harry Whent to the Wells Races and Spent a very Pleasant Day your Aunt has Lost Old Fanney Sow She Died about a Week a Go Harry he Wanted your Aunt to have her killed and send her to London and Shee Wold Fech her 11 pounds the Farmers have Lost a Greet Deal of Cattel such as Hogs and Cows What theay call the Plage I Whent to your Aunt as you Wish Mee to Do But She Told Mee She Did not wont aney Boddy She Told Mee She Should Like to Come up to see you But She Cant Come know for she is Boddyley ill and Harry Donte Work there know But he Go up there Once in Two or Three Day Harry Offered is self to Go up to Live With your Aunt But She Made him know Ancer. I hay Been up to your Aunt at Work for 5 Weeks Hopping and Ragluting Your Aunt Donte Eat nor Drink But vary Littel indeed.

"I am Happy to Say We are Both Quite Well and I am Glad no hear you are Both Quite Well


This seems to have made the nieces propose to pay a visit to their aunt, perhaps to try and relieve the monopoly of her existence and cheer her up a little. In their letter, doubtless, the dog motive is introduced that is so finely developed presently by Mrs. Newton. I should like to have been able to give the theme as enounced by the nieces themselves, but their letters are not before me. Mrs. Newton writes:—

"MY DEAR GIRLS,—Your Aunt receiv your Letter your Aunt will Be vary glad to see you as it quite a greeable if it tis to you and Shee is Quite Willing to Eair the beds and the Rooms if you Like to Trust to hir and the Servantes; if not I may Go up there as you Wish. My Sister Sleeps in the Best Room as she allways Did and the Coock in the garret and you Can have the Rooms the same as you allways Did as your Aunt Donte set in the Parlour She Continlery Sets in the Ciching. your Aunt says she Cannot Part from the dog know hows and She Says he will not hurt you for he is Like a Child and I can safeley say My Self he wonte hurt you as She Cannot Sleep in the Room With out him as he allWay Sleep in the Same Room as She Dose. your Aunt is agreeable to Git in What Coles and Wood you Wish for I am know happy to say your Aunt is in as Good health as ever She Was and She is happy to hear you are Both Well your Aunt Wishes for Ancer By Return of Post."

The nieces replied that their aunt must choose between the dog and them, and Mrs. Newton sends a second letter which brings her development to a climax. It runs:—

"DEAR MISS —-, I have Receve your Letter and i Whent up to your Aunt as you Wish me and i Try to Perveal With her about the Dog But she Wold not Put the Dog away nor it alow him to Be Tied up But She Still Wishes you to Come as Shee says the Dog Shall not interrup you for She Donte alow the Dog nor it the Cats to Go in the Parlour never sence She has had it Donup ferfere of Spoiling the Paint your Aunt think it vary Strange you Should Be so vary Much afraid of a Dog and She says you Cant Go out in London But What you are up a gance one and She says She Wonte Trust the Dog in know one hands But her Owne for She is afraid theay Will not fill is Belley as he Lives upon Rost Beeff and Rost and Boil Moutten Wich he Eats More then the Servantes in the House there is not aney One Wold Beable to Give Sattefacktion upon that account Harry offerd to Take the Dog But She Wood not Trust him in our hands so I Cold not Do aney thing With her your Aunt youse to Tell Me When we was at your House in London She Did not know how to make you amens and i Told her know it was the Time to Do it But i Considder She sets the Dog Before you your Aunt keep know Beer know Sprits know Wines in the House of aney Sort Oneley a Little Barl of Wine I made her in the Summer the Workmen and servantes are a Blige to Drink wauter Morning Noon and Night your Aunt the Same She Donte Low her Self aney Tee nor Coffee But is Loocking Wonderful Well

"I Still Remane your Humble Servant Mrs Newton

"I am vary sorry to think the Dog Perventes your Comeing

"I am Glad to hear you are Both Well and we are the same."

The nieces remained firm, and from the following letter it is plain the aunt gave way. The dog motive is repeated pianissimo, and is not returned to—not at least by Mrs. Newton.

"DEAR MISS —-, I Receve your Letter on Thursday i Whent to your Aunt and i see her and She is a Greable to everry thing i asked her and seme so vary Much Please to see you Both Next Tuseday and she has sent for the Faggots to Day and she Will Send for the Coles to Morrow and i will Go up there to Morrow Morning and Make the Fiers and Tend to the Beds and sleep in it Till you Come Down your Aunt sends her Love to you Both and she is Quite well your Aunt Wishes you wold Write againe Before you Come as she ma Expeckye and the Dog is not to Gointo the Parlor a Tall

"your Aunt kind Love to you Both & hopes you Wonte Fail in Coming according to Prommis


From a later letter it appears that the nieces did not pay their visit after all, and what is worse a letter had miscarried, and the aunt sat up expecting them from seven till twelve at night, and Harry had paid for "Faggots and Coles quarter of Hund. Faggots Half tun of Coles 1l. 1s. 3d." Shortly afterwards, however, "She" again talks of coming up to London herself and writes through her servant—

"My Dear girls i Receve your kind letter & I am happy to hear you ar both Well and I Was in hopes of seeing of you Both Down at My House this spring to stay a Wile I am Quite well my self in Helth But vary Low Spireted I am vary sorry to hear the Misforting of Poor charles & how he cum to flie in the Fier I cannot think. I should like to know if he is dead or a Live, and I shall come to London in August & stay three or four daies if it is agreable to you. Mrs. Newton has lost her mother in Law 4 day March & I hope you send me word Wather charles is Dead or a Live as soon as possible, and will you send me word what Little Betty is for I cannot make her out."

The next letter is a new handwriting, and tells the nieces of their aunt's death in the the following terms:—

"DEAR MISS —-, It is my most painful duty to inform you that your dear aunt expired this morning comparatively easy as Hannah informs me and in so doing restored her soul to the custody of him whom she considered to be alone worthy of its care.

"The doctor had visited her about five minutes previously and had applied a blister.

"You and your sister will I am sure excuse further details at present and believe me with kindest remembrances to remain

"Yours truly, &c."

After a few days a lawyer's letter informs the nieces that their aunt had left them the bulk of her not very considerable property, but had charged them with an annuity of 1 pound a week to be paid to Harry and Mrs. Newton so long as the dog lived.

The only other letters by Mrs. Newton are written on paper of a different and more modern size; they leave an impression of having been written a good many years later. I take them as they come. The first is very short:—

"DEAR MISS —-, i write to say i cannot possiblely come on Wednesday as we have killed a pig. your's truely,


The second runs:—

"DEAR MISS —-, i hope you are both quite well in health & your Leg much better i am happy to say i am getting quite well again i hope Amandy has reached you safe by this time i sent a small parcle by Amandy, there was half a dozen Pats of butter & the Cakes was very homely and not so light as i could wish i hope by this time Sarah Ann has promised she will stay untill next monday as i think a few daies longer will not make much diferance and as her young man has been very considerate to wait so long as he has i think he would for a few days Longer dear Miss —- I wash for William and i have not got his clothes yet as it has been delayed by the carrier & i cannot possiblely get it done before Sunday and i do not Like traviling on a Sunday but to oblige you i would come but to come sooner i cannot possiblely but i hope Sarah Ann will be prevailed on once more as She has so many times i feel sure if she tells her young man he will have patient for he is a very kind young man

"i remain your sincerely "ELIZABETH NEWTON."

The last letter in my collection seems written almost within measurable distance of the Christmas-card era. The sheet is headed by a beautifully embossed device of some holly in red and green, wishing the recipient of the letter a merry Xmas and a happy new year, while the border is crimped and edged with blue. I know not what it is, but there is something in the writer's highly finished style that reminds me of Mendelssohn. It would almost do for the words of one of his celebrated "Lieder ohne Worte":

"DEAR MISS MARIA,—I hasten to acknowledge the receipt of your kind note with the inclosure for which I return my best thanks. I need scarcely say how glad I was to know that the volumes secured your approval, and that the announcement of the improvement in the condition of your Sister's legs afforded me infinite pleasure. The gratifying news encouraged me in the hope that now the nature of the disorder is comprehended her legs will—notwithstanding the process may be gradual—ultimately get quite well. The pretty Robin Redbreast which lay ensconced in your epistle, conveyed to me, in terms more eloquent than words, how much you desired me those Compliments which the little missive he bore in his bill expressed; the emblem is sweetly pretty, and now that we are again allowed to felicitate each other on another recurrence of the season of the Christian's rejoicing, permit me to tender to yourself, and by you to your Sister, mine and my Wife's heartfelt congratulations and warmest wishes with respect to the coming year. It is a common belief that if we take a retrospective view of each departing year, as it behoves us annually to do, we shall find the blessings which we have received to immeasurably outnumber our causes of sorrow. Speaking for myself I can fully subscribe to that sentiment, and doubtless neither Miss —- nor yourself are exceptions. Miss —-'s illness and consequent confinement to the house has been a severe trial, but in that trouble an opportunity was afforded you to prove a Sister's devotion and she has been enabled to realise a larger (if possible) display of sisterly affection.

"A happy Christmas to you both, and may the new year prove a Cornucopia from which still greater blessings than even those we have hitherto received, shall issue, to benefit us all by contributing to our temporal happiness and, what is of higher importance, conducing to our felicity hereafter.

"I was sorry to hear that you were so annoyed with mice and rats, and if I should have an opportunity to obtain a nice cat I will do so and send my boy to your house with it.

"I remain, "Yours truly."

How little what is commonly called education can do after all towards the formation of a good style, and what a delightful volume might not be entitled "Half Hours with the Worst Authors." Why, the finest word I know of in the English language was coined, not by my poor old grandfather, whose education had left little to desire, nor by any of the admirable scholars whom he in his turn educated, but by an old matron who presided over one of the halls, or houses of his school.

This good lady, whose name by the way was Bromfield, had a fine high temper of her own, or thought it politic to affect one. One night when the boys were particularly noisy she burst like a hurricane into the hall, collared a youngster, and told him he was "the ramp-ingest-scampingest-rackety-tackety-tow-row-roaringest boy in the whole school." Would Mrs. Newton have been able to set the aunt and the dog before us so vividly if she had been more highly educated? Would Mrs. Bromfield have been able to forge and hurl her thunderbolt of a word if she had been taught how to do so, or indeed been at much pains to create it at all? It came. It was her [Greek text]. She did not probably know that she had done what the greatest scholar would have had to rack his brains over for many an hour before he could even approach. Tradition says that having brought down her boy she looked round the hall in triumph, and then after a moment's lull said, "Young gentlemen, prayers are excused," and left them.

I have sometimes thought that, after all, the main use of a classical education consists in the check it gives to originality, and the way in which it prevents an inconvenient number of people from using their own eyes. That we will not be at the trouble of looking at things for ourselves if we can get any one to tell us what we ought to see goes without saying, and it is the business of schools and universities to assist us in this respect. The theory of evolution teaches that any power not worked at pretty high pressure will deteriorate: originality and freedom from affectation are all very well in their way, but we can easily have too much of them, and it is better that none should be either original or free from cant but those who insist on being so, no matter what hindrances obstruct, nor what incentives are offered them to see things through the regulation medium.

To insist on seeing things for oneself is to be in [Greek text], or in plain English, an idiot; nor do I see any safer check against general vigour and clearness of thought, with consequent terseness of expression, than that provided by the curricula of our universities and schools of public instruction. If a young man, in spite of every effort to fit him with blinkers, will insist on getting rid of them, he must do so at his own risk. He will not be long in finding out his mistake. Our public schools and universities play the beneficent part in our social scheme that cattle do in forests: they browse the seedlings down and prevent the growth of all but the luckiest and sturdiest. Of course, if there are too many either cattle or schools, they browse so effectually that they find no more food, and starve till equilibrium is restored; but it seems to be a provision of nature that there should always be these alternate periods, during which either the cattle or the trees are getting the best of it; and, indeed, without such provision we should have neither the one nor the other. At this moment the cattle, doubtless, are in the ascendant, and if university extension proceeds much farther, we shall assuredly have no more Mrs. Newtons and Mrs. Bromfields; but whatever is is best, and, on the whole, I should propose to let things find pretty much their own level.

However this may be, who can question that the treasures hidden in many a country house contain sleeping beauties even fairer than those that I have endeavoured to waken from long sleep in the foregoing article? How many Mrs. Quicklys are there not living in London at this present moment? For that Mrs. Quickly was an invention of Shakespeare's I will not believe. The old woman from whom he drew said every word that he put into Mrs. Quickly's mouth, and a great deal more which he did not and perhaps could not make use of. This question, however, would again lead me far from my subject, which I should mar were I to dwell upon it longer, and therefore leave with the hope that it may give my readers absolutely no food whatever for reflection.


I have been asked to speak on the question how to make the best of life, but may as well confess at once that I know nothing about it. I cannot think that I have made the best of my own life, nor is it likely that I shall make much better of what may or may not remain to me. I do not even know how to make the best of the twenty minutes that your committee has placed at my disposal, and as for life as a whole, who ever yet made the best of such a colossal opportunity by conscious effort and deliberation? In little things no doubt deliberate and conscious effort will help us, but we are speaking of large issues, and such kingdoms of heaven as the making the best of these come not by observation.

The question, therefore, on which I have undertaken to address you is, as you must all know, fatuous, if it be faced seriously. Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on. One cannot make the best of such impossibilities, and the question is doubly fatuous until we are told which of our two lives—the conscious or the unconscious—is held by the asker to be the truer life. Which does the question contemplate—the life we know, or the life which others may know, but which we know not?

Death gives a life to some men and women compared with which their so- called existence here is as nothing. Which is the truer life of Shakespeare, Handel, that divine woman who wrote the "Odyssey," and of Jane Austen—the life which palpitated with sensible warm motion within their own bodies, or that in virtue of which they are still palpitating in ours? In whose consciousness does their truest life consist—their own, or ours? Can Shakespeare be said to have begun his true life till a hundred years or so after he was dead and buried? His physical life was but as an embryonic stage, a coming up out of darkness, a twilight and dawn before the sunrise of that life of the world to come which he was to enjoy hereafter. We all live for a while after we are gone hence, but we are for the most part stillborn, or at any rate die in infancy, as regards that life which every age and country has recognised as higher and truer than the one of which we are now sentient. As the life of the race is larger, longer, and in all respects more to be considered than that of the individual, so is the life we live in others larger and more important than the one we live in ourselves. This appears nowhere perhaps more plainly than in the case of great teachers, who often in the lives of their pupils produce an effect that reaches far beyond anything produced while their single lives were yet unsupplemented by those other lives into which they infused their own.

Death to such people is the ending of a short life, but it does not touch the life they are already living in those whom they have taught; and happily, as none can know when he shall die, so none can make sure that he too shall not live long beyond the grave; for the life after death is like money before it—no one can be sure that it may not fall to him or her even at the eleventh hour. Money and immortality come in such odd unaccountable ways that no one is cut off from hope. We may not have made either of them for ourselves, but yet another may give them to us in virtue of his or her love, which shall illumine us for ever, and establish us in some heavenly mansion whereof we neither dreamed nor shall ever dream. Look at the Doge Loredano Loredani, the old man's smile upon whose face has been reproduced so faithfully in so many lands that it can never henceforth be forgotten—would he have had one hundredth part of the life he now lives had he not been linked awhile with one of those heaven-sent men who know che cosa e amor? Look at Rembrandt's old woman in our National Gallery; had she died before she was eighty-three years old she would not have been living now. Then, when she was eighty-three, immortality perched upon her as a bird on a withered bough.

I seem to hear some one say that this is a mockery, a piece of special pleading, a giving of stones to those that ask for bread. Life is not life unless we can feel it, and a life limited to a knowledge of such fraction of our work as may happen to survive us is no true life in other people; salve it as we may, death is not life any more than black is white.

The objection is not so true as it sounds. I do not deny that we had rather not die, nor do I pretend that much even in the case of the most favoured few can survive them beyond the grave. It is only because this is so that our own life is possible; others have made room for us, and we should make room for others in our turn without undue repining. What I maintain is that a not inconsiderable number of people do actually attain to a life beyond the grave which we can all feel forcibly enough, whether they can do so or not—that this life tends with increasing civilisation to become more and more potent, and that it is better worth considering, in spite of its being unfelt by ourselves, than any which we have felt or can ever feel in our own persons.

Take an extreme case. A group of people are photographed by Edison's new process—say Titiens, Trebelli, and Jenny Lind, with any two of the finest men singers the age has known—let them be photographed incessantly for half an hour while they perform a scene in "Lohengrin"; let all be done stereoscopically. Let them be phonographed at the same time so that their minutest shades of intonation are preserved, let the slides be coloured by a competent artist, and then let the scene be called suddenly into sight and sound, say a hundred years hence. Are those people dead or alive? Dead to themselves they are, but while they live so powerfully and so livingly in us, which is the greater paradox—to say that they are alive or that they are dead? To myself it seems that their life in others would be more truly life than their death to themselves is death. Granted that they do not present all the phenomena of life—who ever does so even when he is held to be alive? We are held to be alive because we present a sufficient number of living phenomena to let the others go without saying; those who see us take the part for the whole here as in everything else, and surely, in the case supposed above, the phenomena of life predominate so powerfully over those of death, that the people themselves must be held to be more alive than dead. Our living personality is, as the word implies, only our mask, and those who still own such a mask as I have supposed have a living personality. Granted again that the case just put is an extreme one; still many a man and many a woman has so stamped him or herself on his work that, though we would gladly have the aid of such accessories as we doubtless presently shall have to the livingness of our great dead, we can see them very sufficiently through the master pieces they have left us.

As for their own unconsciousness I do not deny it. The life of the embryo was unconscious before birth, and so is the life—I am speaking only of the life revealed to us by natural religion—after death. But as the embryonic and infant life of which we were unconscious was the most potent factor in our after life of consciousness, so the effect which we may unconsciously produce in others after death, and it may be even before it on those who have never seen us, is in all sober seriousness our truer and more abiding life, and the one which those who would make the best of their sojourn here will take most into their consideration.

Unconsciousness is no bar to livingness. Our conscious actions are a drop in the sea as compared with our unconscious ones. Could we know all the life that is in us by way of circulation, nutrition, breathing, waste and repair, we should learn what an infinitesimally small part consciousness plays in our present existence; yet our unconscious life is as truly life as our conscious life, and though it is unconscious to itself it emerges into an indirect and vicarious consciousness in our other and conscious self, which exists but in virtue of our unconscious self. So we have also a vicarious consciousness in others. The unconscious life of those that have gone before us has in great part moulded us into such men and women as we are, and our own unconscious lives will in like manner have a vicarious consciousness in others, though we be dead enough to it in ourselves.

If it is again urged that it matters not to us how much we may be alive in others, if we are to know nothing about it, I reply that the common instinct of all who are worth considering gives the lie to such cynicism. I see here present some who have achieved, and others who no doubt will achieve, success in literature. Will one of them hesitate to admit that it is a lively pleasure to her to feel that on the other side of the world some one may be smiling happily over her work, and that she is thus living in that person though she knows nothing about it? Here it seems to me that true faith comes in. Faith does not consist, as the Sunday School pupil said, "in the power of believing that which we know to be untrue." It consists in holding fast that which the healthiest and most kindly instincts of the best and most sensible men and women are intuitively possessed of, without caring to require much evidence further than the fact that such people are so convinced; and for my own part I find the best men and women I know unanimous in feeling that life in others, even though we know nothing about it, is nevertheless a thing to be desired and gratefully accepted if we can get it either before death or after. I observe also that a large number of men and women do actually attain to such life, and in some cases continue so to live, if not for ever, yet to what is practically much the same thing. Our life then in this world is, to natural religion as much as to revealed, a period of probation. The use we make of it is to settle how far we are to enter into another, and whether that other is to be a heaven of just affection or a hell of righteous condemnation.

Who, then, are the most likely so to run that they may obtain this veritable prize of our high calling? Setting aside such lucky numbers drawn as it were in the lottery of immortality, which I have referred to casually above, and setting aside also the chances and changes from which even immortality is not exempt, who on the whole are most likely to live anew in the affectionate thoughts of those who never so much as saw them in the flesh, and know not even their names? There is a nisus, a straining in the dull dumb economy of things, in virtue of which some, whether they will it and know it or no, are more likely to live after death than others, and who are these? Those who aimed at it as by some great thing that they would do to make them famous? Those who have lived most in themselves and for themselves, or those who have been most ensouled consciously, but perhaps better unconsciously, directly but more often indirectly, by the most living souls past and present that have flitted near them? Can we think of a man or woman who grips us firmly, at the thought of whom we kindle when we are alone in our honest daw's plumes, with none to admire or shrug his shoulders, can we think of one such, the secret of whose power does not lie in the charm of his or her personality—that is to say, in the wideness of his or her sympathy with, and therefore life in and communion with other people? In the wreckage that comes ashore from the sea of time there is much tinsel stuff that we must preserve and study if we would know our own times and people; granted that many a dead charlatan lives long and enters largely and necessarily into our own lives; we use them and throw them away when we have done with them. I do not speak of these, I do not speak of the Virgils and Alexander Popes, and who can say how many more whose names I dare not mention for fear of offending. They are as stuffed birds or beasts in a Museum, serviceable no doubt from a scientific standpoint, but with no vivid or vivifying hold upon us. They seem to be alive, but are not. I am speaking of those who do actually live in us, and move us to higher achievements though they be long dead, whose life thrusts out our own and overrides it. I speak of those who draw us ever more towards them from youth to age, and to think of whom is to feel at once that we are in the hands of those we love, and whom we would most wish to resemble. What is the secret of the hold that these people have upon us? Is it not that while, conventionally speaking, alive, they most merged their lives in, and were in fullest communion with those among whom they lived? They found their lives in losing them. We never love the memory of any one unless we feel that he or she was himself or herself a lover.

I have seen it urged, again, in querulous accents, that the so-called immortality even of the most immortal is not for ever. I see a passage to this effect in a book that is making a stir as I write. I will quote it. The writer says:—

"So, it seems to me, is the immortality we so glibly predicate of departed artists. If they survive at all, it is but a shadowy life they live, moving on through the gradations of slow decay to distant but inevitable death. They can no longer, as heretofore, speak directly to the hearts of their fellow-men, evoking their tears or laughter, and all the pleasures, be they sad or merry, of which imagination holds the secret. Driven from the marketplace they become first the companions of the student, then the victims of the specialist. He who would still hold familiar intercourse with them must train himself to penetrate the veil which in ever-thickening folds conceals them from the ordinary gaze; he must catch the tone of a vanished society, he must move in a circle of alien associations, he must think in a language not his own." {5}

This is crying for the moon, or rather pretending to cry for it, for the writer is obviously insincere. I see the Saturday Review says the passage I have just quoted "reaches almost to poetry," and indeed I find many blank verses in it, some of them very aggressive. No prose is free from an occasional blank verse, and a good writer will not go hunting over his work to rout them out, but nine or ten in little more than as many lines is indeed reaching too near to poetry for good prose. This, however, is a trifle, and might pass if the tone of the writer was not so obviously that of cheap pessimism. I know not which is cheapest, pessimism or optimism. One forces lights, the other darks; both are equally untrue to good art, and equally sure of their effect with the groundlings. The one extenuates, the other sets down in malice. The first is the more amiable lie, but both are lies, and are known to be so by those who utter them. Talk about catching the tone of a vanished society to understand Rembrandt or Giovanni Bellini! It's nonsense—the folds do not thicken in front of these men; we understand them as well as those among whom they went about in the flesh, and perhaps better. Homer and Shakespeare speak to us probably far more effectually than they did to the men of their own time, and most likely we have them at their best. I cannot think that Shakespeare talked better than we hear him now in "Hamlet" or "Henry the Fourth"; like enough he would have been found a very disappointing person in a drawing-room. People stamp themselves on their work; if they have not done so they are naught; if they have we have them; and for the most part they stamp themselves deeper in their work than on their talk. No doubt Shakespeare and Handel will be one day clean forgotten, as though they had never been born. The world will in the end die; mortality therefore itself is not immortal, and when death dies the life of these men will die with it—but not sooner. It is enough that they should live within us and move us for many ages as they have and will. Such immortality, therefore, as some men and women are born to, achieve, or have thrust upon them, is a practical if not a technical immortality, and he who would have more let him have nothing.

I see I have drifted into speaking rather of how to make the best of death than of life, but who can speak of life without his thoughts turning instantly to that which is beyond it? He or she who has made the best of the life after death has made the best of the life before it; who cares one straw for any such chances and changes as will commonly befall him here if he is upheld by the full and certain hope of everlasting life in the affections of those that shall come after? If the life after death is happy in the hearts of others, it matters little how unhappy was the life before it.

And now I leave my subject, not without misgiving that I shall have disappointed you. But for the great attention which is being paid to the work from which I have quoted above, I should not have thought it well to insist on points with which you are, I doubt not, as fully impressed as I am: but that book weakens the sanctions of natural religion, and minimises the comfort which it affords us, while it does more to undermine than to support the foundations of what is commonly called belief. Therefore I was glad to embrace this opportunity of protesting. Otherwise I should not have been so serious on a matter that transcends all seriousness. Lord Beaconsfield cut it shorter with more effect. When asked to give a rule of life for the son of a friend he said, "Do not let him try and find out who wrote the letters of Junius." Pressed for further counsel he added, "Nor yet who was the man in the iron mask"—and he would say no more. Don't bore people. And yet I am by no means sure that a good many people do not think themselves ill-used unless he who addresses them has thoroughly well bored them—especially if they have paid any money for hearing him. My great namesake said, "Surely the pleasure is as great of being cheated as to cheat," and great as the pleasure both of cheating and boring undoubtedly is, I believe he was right. So I remember a poem which came out some thirty years ago in Punch, about a young lady who went forth in quest to "Some burden make or burden bear, but which she did not greatly care, oh Miserie." So, again, all the holy men and women who in the Middle Ages professed to have discovered how to make the best of life took care that being bored, if not cheated, should have a large place in their programme. Still there are limits, and I close not without fear that I may have exceeded them.


The only place in the Valsesia, except Varallo, where I at present suspect the presence of Tabachetti {7} is at Montrigone, a little-known sanctuary dedicated to St. Anne, about three-quarters of a mile south of Borgo-Sesia station. The situation is, of course, lovely, but the sanctuary does not offer any features of architectural interest. The sacristan told me it was founded in 1631; and in 1644 Giovanni d'Enrico, while engaged in superintending and completing the work undertaken here by himself and Giacomo Ferro, fell ill and died. I do not know whether or no there was an earlier sanctuary on the same site, but was told it was built on the demolition of a stronghold belonging to the Counts of Biandrate.

The incidents which it illustrates are treated with even more than the homeliness usual in works of this description when not dealing with such solemn events as the death and passion of Christ. Except when these subjects were being represented, something of the latitude, and even humour, allowed in the old mystery plays was permitted, doubtless from a desire to render the work more attractive to the peasants, who were the most numerous and most important pilgrims. It is not until faith begins to be weak that it fears an occasionally lighter treatment of semi-sacred subjects, and it is impossible to convey an accurate idea of the spirit prevailing at this hamlet of sanctuary without attuning oneself somewhat to the more pagan character of the place. Of irreverence, in the sense of a desire to laugh at things that are of high and serious import, there is not a trace, but at the same time there is a certain unbending of the bow at Montrigone which is not perceivable at Varallo.

The first chapel to the left on entering the church is that of the Birth of the Virgin. St. Anne is sitting up in bed. She is not at all ill—in fact, considering that the Virgin has only been born about five minutes, she is wonderful; still the doctors think it may be perhaps better that she should keep her room for half an hour longer, so the bed has been festooned with red and white paper roses, and the counterpane is covered with bouquets in baskets and in vases of glass and china. These cannot have been there during the actual birth of the Virgin, so I suppose they had been in readiness, and were brought in from an adjoining room as soon as the baby had been born. A lady on her left is bringing in some more flowers, which St. Anne is receiving with a smile and most gracious gesture of the hands. The first thing she asked for, when the birth was over, was for her three silver hearts. These were immediately brought to her, and she has got them all on, tied round her neck with a piece of blue silk ribbon.

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