The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
by Samuel Butler
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I saw the world a great orchestra filled with angels whose instruments were of gold. And I saw the organ on the top of the axis round which all should turn, but nothing turned and nothing moved and the angels stirred not and all was as still as a stone, and I was myself also, like the rest, as still as a stone.

Then I saw some huge, cloud-like forms nearing, and behold! it was the Lord bringing two of his children by the hand.

"O Papa!" said one, "isn't it pretty?"

"Yes, my dear," said the Lord, "and if you drop a penny into the box the figures will work."

Then I saw that what I had taken for the keyboard of the organ was no keyboard but only a slit, and one of the little Lords dropped a plaque of metal into it. And then the angels played and the world turned round and the organ made a noise and the people began killing one another and the two little Lords clapped their hands and were delighted.

Handel and Dickens

They buried Dickens in the very next grave, cheek by jowl with Handel. It does not matter, but it pained me to think that people who could do this could become Deans of Westminster.


The Old Masters and Their Pupils

The old masters taught, not because they liked teaching, nor yet from any idea of serving the cause of art, nor yet because they were paid to teach by the parents of their pupils. The parents probably paid no money at first. The masters took pupils and taught them because they had more work to do than they could get through and wanted some one to help them. They sold the pupil's work as their own, just as people do now who take apprentices. When people can sell a pupil's work, they will teach the pupil all they know and will see he learns it. This is the secret of the whole matter.

The modern schoolmaster does not aim at learning from his pupils, he hardly can, but the old masters did. See how Giovanni Bellini learned from Titian and Giorgione who both came to him in the same year, as boys, when Bellini was 63 years old. What a day for painting was that! All Bellini's best work was done thenceforward. I know nothing in the history of art so touching as this. [1883.]

P.S. I have changed my mind about Titian. I don't like him. [1897.]

The Academic System and Repentance

The academic system goes almost on the principle of offering places for repentance, and letting people fall soft, by assuming that they should be taught how to do things before they do them, and not by the doing of them. Good economy requires that there should be little place for repentance, and that when people fall they should fall hard enough to remember it.

The Jubilee Sixpence

We have spent hundreds of thousands, or more probably of millions, on national art collections, schools of art, preliminary training and academicism, without wanting anything in particular, but when the nation did at last try all it knew to design a sixpence, it failed. {136} The other coins are all very well in their way, and so are the stamps—the letters get carried, and the money passes; but both stamps and coins would have been just as good, and very likely better, if there had not been an art-school in the country. [1888.]

Studying from Nature

When is a man studying from nature, and when is he only flattering himself that he is doing so because he is painting with a model or lay-figure before him? A man may be working his eight or nine hours a day from the model and yet not be studying from nature. He is painting but not studying. He is like the man in the Bible who looks at himself in a glass and goeth away forgetting what manner of man he was. He will know no more about nature at the end of twenty years than a priest who has been reading his breviary day after day without committing it to memory will know of its contents. Unless he gets what he has seen well into his memory, so as to have it at his fingers' ends as familiarly as the characters with which he writes a letter, he can be no more held to be familiar with, and to have command over, nature than a man who only copies his signature from a copy kept in his pocket, as I have known French Canadians do, can be said to be able to write. It is painting without nature that will give a man this, and not painting directly from her. He must do both the one and the other, and the one as much as the other.

The Model and the Lay-Figure

It may be doubted whether they have not done more harm than good. They are an attempt to get a bit of stuffed nature and to study from that instead of studying from the thing itself. Indeed, the man who never has a model but studies the faces of people as they sit opposite him in an omnibus, and goes straight home and puts down what little he can of what he has seen, dragging it out piecemeal from his memory, and going into another omnibus to look again for what he has forgotten as near as he can find it—that man is studying from nature as much as he who has a model four or five hours daily—and probably more. For you may be painting from nature as much without nature actually before you as with; and you may have nature before you all the while you are painting and yet not be painting from her.

Sketching from Nature

Is very like trying to put a pinch of salt on her tail. And yet many manage to do it very nicely.

Great Art and Sham Art

Art has no end in view save the emphasising and recording in the most effective way some strongly felt interest or affection. Where there is neither interest nor desire to record with good effect, there is but sham art, or none at all: where both these are fully present, no matter how rudely and inarticulately, there is great art. Art is at best a dress, important, yet still nothing in comparison with the wearer, and, as a general rule, the less it attracts attention the better.

Inarticulate Touches

An artist's touches are sometimes no more articulate than the barking of a dog who would call attention to something without exactly knowing what. This is as it should be, and he is a great artist who can be depended on not to bark at nothing.


One reason why it is as well not to give very much detail is that, no matter how much is given, the eye will always want more; it will know very well that it is not being paid in full. On the other hand, no matter how little one gives, the eye will generally compromise by wanting only a little more. In either case the eye will want more, so one may as well stop sooner or later. Sensible painting, like sensible law, sensible writing, or sensible anything else, consists as much in knowing what to omit as what to insist upon. It consists in the tact that tells the painter where to stop.

Painting and Association

Painting is only possible by reason of association's not sticking to the letter of its bond, so that we jump to conclusions.

The Credulous Eye

Painters should remember that the eye, as a general rule, is a good, simple, credulous organ—very ready to take things on trust if it be told them with any confidence of assertion.

Truths from Nature

We must take as many as we can, but the difficulty is that it is often so hard to know what the truths of nature are.


After having spent years striving to be accurate, we must spend as many more in discovering when and how to be inaccurate.

Herbert Spencer

He is like nature to Fuseli—he puts me out.

Shade Colour and Reputation

When a thing is near and in light, colour and form are important; when far and in shadow, they are unimportant. Form and colour are like reputations which when they become shady are much of a muchness.

Money and Technique

Money is very like technique (or vice versa). We see that both musicians or painters with great command of technique seldom know what to do with it, while those who have little often know how to use what they have.

Action and Study

These things are antagonistic. The composer is seldom a great theorist; the theorist is never a great composer. Each is equally fatal to and essential in the other.

Sacred and Profane Statues

I have never seen statues of Jove, Neptune, Apollo or any of the pagan gods that are not as great failures as the statues of Christ and the Apostles.


If a man has not studied painting, or at any rate black and white drawing, his eyes are wild; learning to draw tames them. The first step towards taming the eyes is to teach them not to see too much.

Quickness in seeing as in everything else comes from long sustained effort after rightness and comes unsought. It never comes from effort after quickness.

Improvement in Art

Painting depends upon seeing; seeing depends upon looking for this or that, at least in great part it does so.

Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it you are lost.

Any man, as old Heatherley used to say, will go on improving as long as he is bona fide dissatisfied with his work.

Improvement in one's painting depends upon how we look at our work. If we look at it to see where it is wrong, we shall see this and make it righter. If we look at it to see where it is right, we shall see this and shall not make it righter. We cannot see it both wrong and right at the same time.

Light and Shade

Tell the young artist that he wants a black piece here or there, when he sees no such black piece in nature, and that he must continue this or that shadow thus, and break this light into this or that other, when in nature he sees none of these things, and you will puzzle him very much. He is trying to put down what he sees; he does not care two straws about composition or light and shade; if he sees two tones of such and such relative intensity in nature, he will give them as near as he can the same relative intensity in his picture, and to tell him that he is perhaps exactly to reverse the natural order in deference to some canon of the academicians, and that at the same time he is drawing from nature, is what he cannot understand.

I am very doubtful how far people do not arrange their light and shade too much with the result with which we are familiar in drawing- masters' copies; it may be right or it may not, I don't know—I am afraid I ought to know, but I don't; but I do know that those pictures please me best which were painted without the slightest regard to any of these rules.

I suppose the justification of those who talk as above lies in the fact that, as we cannot give all nature, we lie by suppressio veri whether we like it or no, and that you sometimes lie less by putting in something which does not exist at the moment, but which easily might exist and which gives a lot of facts which you otherwise could not give at all, than by giving so much as you can alone give if you adhere rigidly to the facts. If this is so the young painter would understand the matter, if it were thus explained to him, better than he is likely to do if he is merely given it as a canon.

At the same time, I admit it to be true that one never sees light but it has got dark in it, nor vice versa, and that this comes to saying that if you are to be true to nature you must break your lights into your shadows and vice versa; and so usual is this that, if there happens here or there to be an exception, the painter had better say nothing about it, for it is more true to nature's general practice not to have it so than to have it.

Certainly as regards colour, I never remember to have seen a piece of one colour without finding a bit of a very similar colour not far off, but having no connection with it. This holds good in such an extraordinary way that if it happens to fail the matter should be passed over in silence.


The expression "seeing colour" used to puzzle me. I was aware that some painters made their pictures more pleasing in colour than others and more like the colour of the actual thing as a whole, still there were any number of bits of brilliant colour in their work which for the life of me I could not see in nature. I used to hear people say of a man who got pleasing and natural colour, "Does he not see colour well?" and I used to say he did, but, as far as I was concerned, it would have been more true to say that he put down colour which he did not see well, or at any rate that he put down colour which I could not see myself.

In course of time I got to understand that seeing colour does not mean inventing colour, or exaggerating it, but being on the look out for it, thus seeing it where another will not see it, and giving it the preference as among things to be preserved and rendered amid the wholesale slaughter of innocents which is inevitable in any painting. Painting is only possible as a quasi-hieroglyphic epitomising of nature; this means that the half goes for the whole, whereon the question arises which half is to be taken and which made to go? The colourist will insist by preference on the coloured half, the man who has no liking for colour, however much else he may sacrifice, will not be careful to preserve this and, as a natural consequence, he will not preserve it.

Good, that is to say, pleasing, beautiful, or even pretty colour cannot be got by putting patches of pleasing, beautiful or pretty colour upon one's canvas and, which is a harder matter, leaving them when they have been put. It is said of money that it is more easily made than kept and this is true of many things, such as friendship; and even life itself is more easily got than kept. The same holds good of colour. It is also true that, as with money, more is made by saving than in any other way, and the surest way to lose colour is to play with it inconsiderately, not knowing how to leave well alone. A touch of pleasing colour should on no account be stirred without consideration.

That we can see in a natural object more colour than strikes us at a glance, if we look for it attentively, will not be denied by any who have tried to look for it. Thus, take a dull, dead, level, grimy old London wall: at a first glance we can see no colour in it, nothing but a more or less purplish mass, got, perhaps as nearly as in any other way, by a tint mixed with black, Indian red and white. If, however, we look for colour in this, we shall find here and there a broken brick with a small surface of brilliant crimson, hard by there will be another with a warm orange hue perceivable through the grime by one who is on the look out for it, but by no one else. Then there may be bits of old advertisement of which here and there a gaily coloured fragment may remain, or a rusty iron hook or a bit of bright green moss; few indeed are the old walls, even in the grimiest parts of London, on which no redeeming bits of colour can be found by those who are practised in looking for them. To like colour, to wish to find it, and thus to have got naturally into a habit of looking for it, this alone will enable a man to see colour and to make a note of it when he has seen it, and this alone will lead him towards a pleasing and natural scheme of colour in his work.

Good colour can never be got by putting down colour which is not seen; at any rate only a master who has long served accuracy can venture on occasional inaccuracy—telling a lie, knowing it to be a lie, and as, se non vera, ben trovata. The grown man in his art may do this, and indeed is not a man at all unless he knows how to do it daily and hourly without departure from the truth even in his boldest lie; but the child in art must stick to what he sees. If he looks harder he will see more, and may put more, but till he sees it without being in any doubt about it, he must not put it. There is no such sure way of corrupting one's colour sense as the habitual practice of putting down colour which one does not see; this and the neglecting to look for it are equal faults. The first error leads to melodramatic vulgarity, the other to torpid dullness, and it is hard to say which is worse.

It may be said that the preservation of all the little episodes of colour which can be discovered in an object whose general effect is dingy and the suppression of nothing but the uninteresting colourless details amount to what is really a forcing and exaggeration of nature, differing but little from downright fraud, so far as its effect goes, since it gives an undue preference to the colour side of the matter. In equity, if the exigencies of the convention under which we are working require a sacrifice of a hundred details, the majority of which are uncoloured, while in the minority colour can be found if looked for, the sacrifice should be made pro rata from coloured and uncoloured alike. If the facts of nature are a hundred, of which ninety are dull in colour and ten interesting, and the painter can only give ten, he must not give the ten interesting bits of colour and neglect the ninety soberly coloured details. Strictly, he should sacrifice eighty-one sober details and nine coloured ones; he will thus at any rate preserve the balance and relation which obtain in nature between coloured and uncoloured.

This, no doubt, is what he ought to do if he leaves the creative, poetic and more properly artistic aspect of his own function out of the question; if he is making himself a mere transcriber, holding the mirror up to nature with such entire forgetfulness of self as to be rather looking-glass than man, this is what he must do. But the moment he approaches nature in this spirit he ceases to be an artist, and the better he succeeds as painter of something that might pass for a coloured photograph, the more inevitably must he fail to satisfy, or indeed to appeal to us at all as poet—as one whose sympathies with nature extend beyond her superficial aspect, or as one who is so much at home with her as to be able readily to dissociate the permanent and essential from the accidental which may be here to-day and gone to-morrow. If he is to come before us as an artist, he must do so as a poet or creator of that which is not, as well as a mirror of that which is. True, experience in all kinds of poetical work shows that the less a man creates the better, that the more, in fact, he makes, the less is he of a maker; but experience also shows that the course of true nature, like that of true love, never does run smooth, and that occasional, judicious, slight departures from the actual facts, by one who knows the value of a lie too well to waste it, bring nature more vividly and admirably before us than any amount of adherence to the letter of strict accuracy. It is the old story, the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.

With colour, then, he who does not look for it will begin by not seeing it unless it is so obtrusive that there is no escaping it; he will therefore, in his rendering of the hundred facts of nature above referred to, not see the ten coloured bits at all, supposing them to be, even at their brightest, somewhat sober, and his work will be colourless or disagreeable in colour. The faithful copyist, who is still a mere copyist, will give nine details of dull uninteresting colour and one of interesting. The artist or poet will find some reason for slightly emphasising the coloured details and will scatter here and there a few slight, hardly perceptible, allusions to more coloured details than come within the letter of his bond, but will be careful not to overdo it. The vulgar sensational painter will force in his colour everywhere, and of all colourists he must be pronounced the worst.

Briefly then, to see colour is simply to have got into a habit of not overlooking the patches of colour which are seldom far to seek or hard to see by those who look for them. It is not the making one's self believe that one sees all manner of colours which are not there, it is only the getting oneself into a mental habit of looking out for episodes of colour, and of giving them a somewhat undue preference in the struggle for rendering, wherever anything like a reasonable pretext can be found for doing so. For if a picture is to be pleasing in colour, pleasing colours must be put upon the canvas, and reasons have got to be found for putting them there. [1886.]

P.S.—The foregoing note wants a great deal of reconsideration for which I cannot find time just now. Jan. 31, 1898.

Words and Colour

A man cannot be a great colourist unless he is a great deal more. A great colourist is no better than a great wordist unless the colour is well applied to a subject which at any rate is not repellent.

Amateurs and Professionals

There is no excuse for amateur work being bad. Amateurs often excuse their shortcomings on the ground that they are not professionals, the professional could plead with greater justice that he is not an amateur. The professional has not, he might well say, the leisure and freedom from money anxieties which will let him devote himself to his art in singleness of heart, telling of things as he sees them without fear of what man shall say unto him; he must think not of what appears to him right and loveable but of what his patrons will think and of what the critics will tell his patrons to say they think; he has got to square everyone all round and will assuredly fail to make his way unless he does this; if, then, he betrays his trust he does so under temptation. Whereas the amateur who works with no higher aim than that of immediate recognition betrays it from the vanity and wantonness of his spirit. The one is naughty because he is needy, the other from natural depravity. Besides, the amateur can keep his work to himself, whereas the professional man must exhibit or starve.

The question is what is the amateur an amateur of? What is he really in love with? Is he in love with other people, thinking he sees something which he would like to show them, which he feels sure they would enjoy if they could only see it as he does, which he is therefore trying as best he can to put before the few nice people whom he knows? If this is his position he can do no wrong, the spirit in which he works will ensure that his defects will be only as bad spelling or bad grammar in some pretty saying of a child. If, on the other hand, he is playing for social success and to get a reputation for being clever, then no matter how dexterous his work may be, it is but another mode of the speaking with the tongues of men and angels without charity; it is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The Ansidei Raffaelle

This picture is inspired by no deeper feeling than a determination to adhere to the conventions of the time. These conventions ensure an effect of more or less devotional character, and this, coupled with our reverence for the name of Raffaelle, the sentiments arising from antiquity and foreignness, and the inability of most people to judge of the work on technical grounds, because they can neither paint nor draw, prevents us from seeing what a mere business picture it is and how poor the painting is throughout. A master in any art should be first man, then poet, then craftsman; this picture must have been painted by one who was first worldling, then religious-property- manufacturer, then painter with brains not more than average and no heart.

The Madonna's head has indeed a certain prettiness of a not very uncommon kind; the paint has been sweetened with a soft brush and licked smooth till all texture as of flesh is gone and the head is wooden and tight; I can see no expression in it; the hand upon the open book is as badly drawn as the hand of S. Catharine (also by Raffaelle) in our gallery, or even worse; so is the part of the other hand which can be seen; they are better drawn than the hands in the Ecce homo of Correggio in our gallery, for the fingers appear to have the right number of joints, which none of those in the Correggio have, but this is as much as can be said.

The dress is poorly painted, the gold thread work being of the cheapest, commonest kind, both as regards pattern and the quantity allowed; especially note the meagre allowance and poor pattern of the embroidery on the virgin's bosom; it is done as by one who knew she ought to have, and must have, a little gold work, but was determined she should have no more than he could help. This is so wherever there is gold thread work in the picture. It is so on S. Nicholas's cloak where a larger space is covered, but the pattern is dull and the smallest quantity of gold is made to go the longest way. The gold cording which binds this is more particularly badly done. Compare the embroidery and gold thread work in "The Virgin adoring the Infant Christ," ascribed to Andrea Verrocchio, No. 296, Room V; "The Annunciation" by Carlo Crivelli, No. 739, Room VIII; in "The Angel Raphael accompanies Tobias on his Journey into Media" attributed to Botticini, No. 781, Room V; in "Portrait of a Lady," school of Pollaiuolo, No. 585, Room V; in "A Canon of the Church with his Patron Saints" by Gheeraert David, No. 1045, Room XI; or indeed the general run of the gold embroidery of the period as shown in our gallery. {147}

So with the jewels; there are examples of jewels in most of the pictures named above, none of them, perhaps, very first-rate, but all of them painted with more care and serious aim than the eighteen- penny trinket which serves S. Nicholas for a brooch. The jewels in the mitre are rather better than this, but much depends upon the kind of day on which the picture is seen; on a clear bright day they, and indeed every part of the picture, look much worse than on a dull one because the badness can be more clearly seen. As for the mitre itself, it is made of the same hard unyielding material as the portico behind the saint, whatever this may be, presumably wood.

Observe also the crozier which S. Nicholas is holding; observe the cheap streak of high light exactly the same thickness all the way and only broken in one place; so with the folds in the draperies; all is monotonous, unobservant, unimaginative—the work of a feeble man whose pains will never extend much beyond those necessary to make him pass as stronger than he is; especially the folds in the white linen over S. Nicholas's throat, and about his girdle—weaker drapery can hardly be than this, unless, perhaps, that from under which S. Nicholas's hands come. There is not only no art here to conceal, but there is not even pains to conceal the want of art. As for the hands themselves, and indeed all the hands and feet throughout the picture, there is not one which is even tolerably drawn if judged by the standard which Royal Academicians apply to Royal Academy students now.

Granted that this is an early work, nevertheless I submit that the drawing here is not that of one who is going to do better by and by, it is that of one who is essentially insincere and who will never aim higher than immediate success. Those who grow to the best work almost always begin by laying great stress on details which are all they as yet have strength for; they cannot do much, but the little they can do they do and never tire of doing; they grow by getting juster notions of proportion and subordination of parts to the whole rather than by any greater amount of care and patience bestowed upon details. Here there are no bits of detail worked out as by one who was interested in them and enjoyed them. Wherever a thing can be scamped it is scamped. As the whole is, so are the details, and as the details are, so is the whole; all is tainted with eye-service and with a vulgarity not the less profound for being veiled by a due observance of conventionality.

I shall be told that Raffaelle did come to draw and paint much better than he has done here. I demur to this. He did a little better; he just took so much pains as to prevent him from going down-hill headlong, and, with practice, he gained facility, but he was never very good, either as a draughtsman or as a painter. His reputation, indeed, rests mainly on his supposed exquisitely pure and tender feeling. His colour is admittedly inferior, his handling is not highly praised by any one, his drawing has been much praised, but it is of a penmanship freehand kind which is particularly apt to take people in. Of course he could draw in some ways, no one giving all his time to art and living in Raffaelle's surroundings could, with even ordinary pains, help becoming a facile draughtsman, but it is the expression and sentiment of his pictures which are supposed to be so ineffable and to make him the prince of painters.

I do not think this reputation will be maintained much longer. I can see no ineffable expression in the Ansidei Madonna's head, nor yet in that of the Garvagh Madonna in our gallery, nor in the S. Catharine. He has the saint-touch, as some painters have the tree-touch and others the water-touch. I remember the time when I used to think I saw religious feeling in these last two pictures, but each time I see them I wonder more and more how I can have been taken in by them. I hear people admire the head of S. Nicholas in the Ansidei picture. I can see nothing in it beyond the power of a very ordinary painter, and nothing that a painter of more than very ordinary power would be satisfied with. When I look at the head of Bellini's Doge, Loredano Loredani, I can see defects, as every one can see defects in every picture, but the more I see it the more I marvel at it, and the more profoundly I respect the painter. With Raffaelle I find exactly the reverse; I am carried away at first, as I was when a young man by Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, only to be very angry with myself presently on finding that I could have believed even for a short time in something that has no real hold upon me. I know the S. Catharine in our gallery has been said by some not to be by Raffaelle. No one will doubt its genuineness who compares the drawing, painting and feeling of S. Catharine's eyes and nose with those of the S. John in the Ansidei picture. The doubts have only been raised owing to the fact that the picture, being hung on a level with the eye, is so easily seen to be bad that people think Raffaelle cannot have painted it.

Returning to the S. Nicholas; apart from the expression, or as it seems to me want of expression, the modelling of the head is not only poor but very poor. The forehead is formless and boneless, the nose is entirely wanting in that play of line and surface which an old man's nose affords; no one ever yet drew or painted a nose absolutely as nature has made it, but he who compares carefully drawn noses, as that in Rembrandt's younger portrait of himself, in his old woman, in the three Van Eycks, in the Andrea Solario, in the Loredano Loredani by Bellini, all in our gallery, with the nose of Raffaelle's S. Nicholas will not be long in finding out how slovenly Raffaelle's treatment in reality is. Eyes, eyebrows, mouth, cheeks and chin are treated with the same weakness, and this not the weakness of a child who is taking much pains to do something beyond his strength, and whose intention can be felt through and above the imperfections of his performance (as in the case of the two Apostles' heads by Giotto in our gallery), but of one who is not even conscious of weakness save by way of impatience that his work should cost him time and trouble at all, and who is satisfied if he can turn it out well enough to take in patrons who have themselves never either drawn or painted.

Finally, let the spectator turn to the sky and landscape. It is the cheapest kind of sky with no clouds and going down as low as possible, so as to save doing more country details than could be helped. As for the little landscape there is, let the reader compare it with any of the examples by Bellini, Basaiti, or even Cima da Conegliano, which may be found in the same or the adjoining rooms.

How, then, did Raffaelle get his reputation? It may be answered, How did Virgil get his? or Dante? or Bacon? or Plato? or Mendelssohn? or a score of others who not only get the public ear but keep it sometimes for centuries? How did Guido, Guercino and Domenichino get their reputations? A hundred years ago these men were held as hardly inferior to Raffaelle himself. They had a couple of hundred years or so of triumph—why so much? And if so much, why not more? If we begin asking questions, we may ask why anything at all? Populus vult decipi is the only answer, and nine men out of ten will follow on with et decipiatur. The immediate question, however, is not how Raffaelle came by his reputation but whether, having got it, he will continue to hold it now that we have a fair amount of his work at the National Gallery.

I grant that the general effect of the picture if looked at as a mere piece of decoration is agreeable, but I have seen many a picture which though not bearing consideration as a serious work yet looked well from a purely decorative standpoint. I believe, however, that at least half of those who sit gazing before this Ansidei Raffaelle by the half-hour at a time do so rather that they may be seen than see; half, again, of the remaining half come because they are made to do so, the rest see rather what they bring with them and put into the picture than what the picture puts into them.

And then there is the charm of mere age. Any Italian picture of the early part of the sixteenth century, even though by a worse painter than Raffaelle, can hardly fail to call up in us a solemn, old-world feeling, as though we had stumbled unexpectedly on some holy, peaceful survivors of an age long gone by, when the struggle was not so fierce and the world was a sweeter, happier place than we now find it, when men and women were comelier, and we should like to have lived among them, to have been golden-hued as they, to have done as they did; we dream of what might have been if our lines had been cast in more pleasant places—and so on, all of it rubbish, but still not wholly unpleasant rubbish so long as it is not dwelt upon.

Bearing in mind the natural tendency to accept anything which gives us a peep as it were into a golden age, real or imaginary, bearing in mind also the way in which this particular picture has been written up by critics, and the prestige of Raffaelle's name, the wonder is not that so many let themselves be taken in and carried away with it but that there should not be a greater gathering before it than there generally is.

Buying a Rembrandt

As an example of the evenness of the balance of advantages between the principles of staying still and taking what comes, and going about to look for things, {151} I might mention my small Rembrandt, "The Robing of Joseph before Pharaoh." I have wanted a Rembrandt all my life, and I have wanted not to give more than a few shillings for it. I might have travelled all Europe over for no one can say how many years, looking for a good, well-preserved, forty-shilling Rembrandt (and this was what I wanted), but on two occasions of my life cheap Rembrandts have run right up against me. The first was a head cut out of a ruined picture that had only in part escaped destruction when Belvoir Castle was burned down at the beginning of this century. I did not see the head but have little doubt it was genuine. It was offered me for a pound; I was not equal to the occasion and did not at once go to see it as I ought, and when I attended to it some months later the thing had gone. My only excuse must be that I was very young.

I never got another chance till a few weeks ago when I saw what I took, and take, to be an early, but very interesting, work by Rembrandt in the window of a pawnbroker opposite St. Clement Danes Church in the Strand. I very nearly let this slip too. I saw it and was very much struck with it, but, knowing that I am a little apt to be too sanguine, distrusted my judgment; in the evening I mentioned the picture to Gogin who went and looked at it; finding him not less impressed than I had been with the idea that the work was an early one by Rembrandt, I bought it, and the more I look at it the more satisfied I am that we are right.

People talk as though the making the best of what comes was such an easy matter, whereas nothing in reality requires more experience and good sense. It is only those who know how not to let the luck that runs against them slip, who will be able to find things, no matter how long and how far they go in search of them. [1887.]

Trying to Buy a Bellini

Flushed with triumph in the matter of Rembrandt, a fortnight or so afterwards I was at Christie's and saw two pictures that fired me. One was a Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini, I do not doubt genuine, not in a very good state, but still not repainted. The Madonna was lovely, the Child very good, the landscape sweet and Belliniesque. I was much smitten and determined to bid up to a hundred pounds; I knew this would be dirt cheap and was not going to buy at all unless I could get good value. I bid up to a hundred guineas, but there was someone else bent on having it and when he bid 105 guineas I let him have it, not without regret. I saw in the Times that the purchaser's name was Lesser.

The other picture I tried to get at the same sale (this day week); it was a small sketch numbered 72 (I think) and purporting to be by Giorgione but, I fully believe, by Titian. I bid up to 10 pounds and then let it go. It went for 28 pounds, and I should say would have been well bought at 40 pounds. [1887.]


I was telling Gogin how I had seen at Christie's some pictures by Watts and how much I had disliked them. He said some of them had been exhibited in Paris a few years ago and a friend of his led him up to one of them and said in a serious, puzzled, injured tone:

"Mon cher ami, racontez-moi donc ceci, s'il vous plait," as though their appearance in such a place at all were something that must have an explanation not obvious upon the face of it.

Lombard Portals

The crouching beasts, on whose backs the pillars stand, generally have a little one beneath them or some animal which they have killed, or something, in fact, to give them occupation; it was felt that, though an animal by itself was well, an animal doing something was much better. The mere fact of companionship and silent sympathy is enough to interest, but without this, sculptured animals are stupid, as our lions in Trafalgar Square—which, among other faults, have that of being much too well done.

So Jones's cat, Prince, picked up a little waif in the court and brought it home, and the two lay together and were much lovelier than Prince was by himself. {153}

Holbein at Basle

How well he has done Night in his "Crucifixion"! Also he has tried to do the Alps, putting them as background to the city, but he has not done them as we should do them now. I think the tower on the hill behind the city is the tower which we see on leaving Basle on the road for Lucerne, I mean I think Holbein had this tower in his head.

Van Eyck

Van Eyck is delightful rather in spite of his high finish than because of it. De Hooghe finishes as highly as any one need do. Van Eyck's finish is saved because up to the last he is essentially impressionist, that is, he keeps a just account of relative importances and keeps them in their true subordination one to another. The only difference between him and Rembrandt or Velasquez is that these, as a general rule, stay their hand at an earlier stage of impressionism.


There are few modern painters who are not greater technically than Giotto, but I cannot call to mind a single one whose work impresses me as profoundly as his does. How is it that our so greatly better should be so greatly worse—that the farther we go beyond him the higher he stands above us? Time no doubt has much to do with it, for, great as Giotto was, there are painters of to-day not less so, if they only dared express themselves as frankly and unaffectedly as he did.

Early Art

The youth of an art is, like the youth of anything else, its most interesting period. When it has come to the knowledge of good and evil it is stronger, but we care less about it.


It is not enough that the painter should make the spectator feel what he meant him to feel; he must also make him feel that this feeling was shared by the painter himself bona fide and without affectation. Of all the lies a painter can tell the worst is saying that he likes what he does not like. But the poor wretch seldom knows himself; for the art of knowing what gives him pleasure has been so neglected that it has been lost to all but a very few. The old Italians knew well enough what they liked and were as children in saying it.


Trubner and Myself

When I went back to Trubner, after Bogue had failed, I had a talk with him and his partner. I could see they had lost all faith in my literary prospects. Trubner told me I was a homo unius libri, meaning Erewhon. He said I was in a very solitary position. I replied that I knew I was, but it suited me. I said:

"I pay my way; when I was with you before, I never owed you money; you find me now not owing my publisher money, but my publisher in debt to me; I never owe so much as a tailor's bill; beyond secured debts, I do not owe 5 pounds in the world and never have" (which is quite true). "I get my summer's holiday in Italy every year; I live very quietly and cheaply, but it suits my health and tastes, and I have no acquaintances but those I value. My friends stick by me. If I was to get in with these literary and scientific people I should hate them and they me. I should fritter away my time and my freedom without getting a quid pro quo: as it is, I am free and I give the swells every now and then such a facer as they get from no one else. Of course I don't expect to get on in a commercial sense at present, I do not go the right way to work for this; but I am going the right way to secure a lasting reputation and this is what I do care for. A man cannot have both, he must make up his mind which he means going in for. I have gone in for posthumous fame and I see no step in my literary career which I do not think calculated to promote my being held in esteem when the heat of passion has subsided."

Trubner shrugged his shoulders. He plainly does not believe that I shall succeed in getting a hearing; he thinks the combination of the religious and cultured world too strong for me to stand against.

If he means that the reviewers will burke me as far as they can, no doubt he is right; but when I am dead there will be other reviewers and I have already done enough to secure that they shall from time to time look me up. They won't bore me then but they will be just like the present ones. [1882.]

Capping a Success

When I had written Erewhon people wanted me at once to set to work and write another book like it. How could I? I cannot think how I escaped plunging into writing some laboured stupid book. I am very glad I did escape. Nothing is so cruel as to try and force a man beyond his natural pace. If he has got more stuff in him it will come out in its own time and its own way: if he has not—let the poor wretch alone; to have done one decent book should be enough; the very worst way to get another out of him is to press him. The more promise a young writer has given, the more his friends should urge him not to over-tax himself.

A Lady Critic

A lady, whom I meet frequently in the British Museum reading-room and elsewhere, said to me the other day:

"Why don't you write another Erewhon?"

"Why, my dear lady," I replied, "Life and Habit was another Erewhon."

They say these things to me continually to plague me and make out that I could do one good book but never any more. She is the sort of person who if she had known Shakespeare would have said to him, when he wrote Henry the IVth:

"Ah, Mr. Shakespeare, why don't you write us another Titus Andronicus? Now that was a sweet play, that was."

And when he had done Antony and Cleopatra she would have told him that her favourite plays were the three parts of King Henry VI.


If I die prematurely, at any rate I shall be saved from being bored by my own success.

Hudibras and Erewhon

I was completing the purchase of some small houses at Lewisham and had to sign my name. The vendor, merely seeing the name and knowing none of my books, said to me, rather rudely, but without meaning any mischief:

"Have you written any books like Hudibras?"

I said promptly: "Certainly; Erewhon is quite as good a book as Hudibras."

This was coming it too strong for him, so he thought I had not heard and repeated his question. I said again as before, and he shut up. I sent him a copy of Erewhon immediately after we had completed. It was rather tall talk on my part, I admit, but he should not have challenged me unprovoked.

Life and Habit and Myself

At the Century Club I was talking with a man who asked me why I did not publish the substance of what I had been saying. I believed he knew me and said:

"Well, you know, there's Life and Habit."

He did not seem to rise at all, so I asked him if he had seen the book.

"Seen it?" he answered. "Why, I should think every one has seen Life and Habit: but what's that got to do with it?"

I said it had taken me so much time lately that I had had none to spare for anything else. Again he did not seem to see the force of the remark and a friend, who was close by, said:

"You know, Butler wrote Life and Habit."

He would not believe it, and it was only after repeated assurance that he accepted it. It was plain he thought a great deal of Life and Habit and had idealised its author, whom he was disappointed to find so very commonplace a person. Exactly the same thing happened to me with Erewhon. I was glad to find that Life and Habit had made so deep an impression at any rate upon one person.

A Disappointing Person

I suspect I am rather a disappointing person, for every now and then there is a fuss and I am to meet some one who would very much like to make my acquaintance, or some one writes me a letter and says he has long admired my books, and may he, etc.? Of course I say "Yes," but experience has taught me that it always ends in turning some one who was more or less inclined to run me into one who considers he has a grievance against me for not being a very different kind of person from what I am. These people however (and this happens on an average once or twice a year) do not come solely to see me, they generally tell me all about themselves and the impression is left upon me that they have really come in order to be praised. I am as civil to them as I know how to be but enthusiastic I never am, for they have never any of them been nice people, and it is my want of enthusiasm for themselves as much as anything else which disappoints them. They seldom come again. Mr. Alfred Tylor was the only acquaintance I have ever made through being sent for to be looked at, or letting some one come to look at me, who turned out a valuable ally; but then he sent for me through mutual friends in the usual way.

Entertaining Angels

I doubt whether any angel would find me very entertaining. As for myself, if ever I do entertain one it will have to be unawares. When people entertain others without an introduction they generally turn out more like devils than angels.

Myself and My Books

The balance against them is now over 350 pounds. How completely they must have been squashed unless I had had a little money of my own. Is it not likely that many a better writer than I am is squashed through want of money? Whatever I do I must not die poor; these examples of ill-requited labour are immoral, they discourage the effort of those who could and would do good things if they did not know that it would ruin themselves and their families; moreover, they set people on to pamper a dozen fools for each neglected man of merit, out of compunction. Genius, they say, always wears an invisible cloak; these men wear invisible cloaks—therefore they are geniuses; and it flatters them to think that they can see more than their neighbours. The neglect of one such man as the author of Hudibras is compensated for by the petting of a dozen others who would be the first to jump upon the author of Hudibras if he were to come back to life.

Heaven forbid that I should compare myself to the author of Hudibras, but still, if my books succeed after my death—which they may or may not, I know nothing about it—any way, if they do succeed, let it be understood that they failed during my life for a few very obvious reasons of which I was quite aware, for the effect of which I was prepared before I wrote my books, and which on consideration I found insufficient to deter me. I attacked people who were at once unscrupulous and powerful, and I made no alliances. I did this because I did not want to be bored and have my time wasted and my pleasures curtailed. I had money enough to live on, and preferred addressing myself to posterity rather than to any except a very few of my own contemporaries. Those few I have always kept well in mind. I think of them continually when in doubt about any passage, but beyond those few I will not go. Posterity will give a man a fair hearing; his own times will not do so if he is attacking vested interests, and I have attacked two powerful sets of vested interests at once. [The Church and Science.] What is the good of addressing people who will not listen? I have addressed the next generation and have therefore said many things which want time before they become palatable. Any man who wishes his work to stand will sacrifice a good deal of his immediate audience for the sake of being attractive to a much larger number of people later on. He cannot gain this later audience unless he has been fearless and thorough-going, and if he is this he is sure to have to tread on the corns of a great many of those who live at the same time with him, however little he may wish to do so. He must not expect these people to help him on, nor wonder if, for a time, they succeed in snuffing him out. It is part of the swim that it should be so. Only, as one who believes himself to have practised what he preaches, let me assure any one who has money of his own that to write fearlessly for posterity and not get paid for it is much better fun than I can imagine its being to write like, we will say, George Eliot and make a lot of money by it. [1883.]


People say that there are neither dragons to be killed nor distressed maidens to be rescued nowadays. I do not know, but I think I have dropped across one or two, nor do I feel sure whether the most mortal wounds have been inflicted by the dragons or by myself.

Trying to Know

There are some things which it is madness not to try to know but which it is almost as much madness to try to know. Sometimes publishers, hoping to buy the Holy Ghost with a price, fee a man to read for them and advise them. This is but as the vain tossing of insomnia. God will not have any human being know what will sell, nor when any one is going to die, nor anything about the ultimate, or even the deeper, springs of growth and action, nor yet such a little thing as whether it is going to rain to-morrow. I do not say that the impossibility of being certain about these and similar matters was designed, but it is as complete as though it had been not only designed but designed exceedingly well.

Squaring Accounts

We owe past generations not only for the master discoveries of music, science, literature and art—few of which brought profit to those to whom they were revealed—but also for our organism itself which is an inheritance gathered and garnered by those who have gone before us. What money have we paid not for Handel and Shakespeare only but for our eyes and ears?

And so with regard to our contemporaries. A man is sometimes tempted to exclaim that he does not fare well at the hands of his own generation; that, although he may play pretty assiduously, he is received with more hisses than applause; that the public is hard to please, slow to praise, and bent on driving as hard a bargain as it can. This, however, is only what he should expect. No sensible man will suppose himself to be of so much importance that his contemporaries should be at much pains to get at the truth concerning him. As for my own position, if I say the things I want to say without troubling myself about the public, why should I grumble at the public for not troubling about me? Besides, not being paid myself, I can in better conscience use the works of others, as I daily do, without paying for them and without being at the trouble of praising or thanking them more than I have a mind to. And, after all, how can I say I am not paid? In addition to all that I inherit from past generations I receive from my own everything that makes life worth living—London, with its infinite sources of pleasure and amusement, good theatres, concerts, picture galleries, the British Museum Reading-Room, newspapers, a comfortable dwelling, railways and, above all, the society of the friends I value.

Charles Darwin on what Sells a Book

I remember when I was at Down we were talking of what it is that sells a book. Mr. Darwin said he did not believe it was reviews or advertisements, but simply "being talked about" that sold a book.

I believe he is quite right here, but surely a good flaming review helps to get a book talked about. I have often inquired at my publishers' after a review and I never found one that made any perceptible increase or decrease of sale, and the same with advertisements. I think, however, that the review of Erewhon in the Spectator did sell a few copies of Erewhon, but then it was such a very strong one and the anonymousness of the book stimulated curiosity. A perception of the value of a review, whether friendly or hostile, is as old as St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians. {162}

Hoodwinking the Public

Sincerity or honesty is a low and very rudimentary form of virtue that is only to be found to any considerable extent among the protozoa. Compare, for example, the integrity, sincerity and absolute refusal either to deceive or be deceived that exists in the germ-cells of any individual, with the instinctive aptitude for lying that is to be observed in the full-grown man. The full-grown man is compacted of lies and shams which are to him as the breath of his nostrils. Whereas the germ-cells will not be humbugged; they will tell the truth as near as they can. They know their ancestors meant well and will tend to become even more sincere themselves.

Thus, if a painter has not tried hard to paint well and has tried hard to hoodwink the public, his offspring is not likely to show hereditary aptitude for painting, but is likely to have an improved power of hoodwinking the public. So it is with music, literature, science or anything else. The only thing the public can do against this is to try hard to develop a hereditary power of not being hoodwinked. From the small success it has met with hitherto we may think that the effort on its part can have been neither severe nor long sustained. Indeed, all ages seem to have held that "the pleasure is as great of being cheated as to cheat."

The Public Ear

Those who have squatted upon it may be trusted to keep off other squatters if they can. The public ear is like the land which looks infinite but is all parcelled out into fields and private ownerships- -barring, of course, highways and commons. So the universe, which looks so big, may be supposed as really all parcelled out among the stars that stud it.

Or the public ear is like a common; there is not much to be got off it, but that little is for the most part grazed down by geese and donkeys.

Those who wish to gain the public ear should bear in mind that people do not generally want to be made less foolish or less wicked. What they want is to be told that they are not foolish and not wicked. Now it is only a fool or a liar or both who can tell them this; the masses therefore cannot be expected to like any but fools or liars or both. So when a lady gets photographed, what she wants is not to be made beautiful but to be told that she is beautiful.

Secular Thinking

The ages do their thinking much as the individual does. When considering a difficult question, we think alternately for several seconds together of details, even the minutest seeming important, and then of broad general principles, whereupon even large details become unimportant; again we have bouts during which rules, logic and technicalities engross us, followed by others in which the unwritten and unwritable common sense of grace defies and over-rides the law. That is to say, we have our inductive fits and our deductive fits, our arrangements according to the letter and according to the spirit, our conclusions drawn from logic secundum artem and from absurdity and the character of the arguer. This heterogeneous mass of considerations forms the mental pabulum with which we feed our minds. How that pabulum becomes amalgamated, reduced to uniformity and turned into the growth of complete opinion we can no more tell than we can say when, how and where food becomes flesh and blood. All we can say is that the miracle, stupendous as it is and involving the stultification of every intelligible principle on which thought and action are based, is nevertheless worked a thousand times an hour by every one of us.

The formation of public opinion is as mysterious as that of individual, but, so far as we can form any opinion about that which forms our opinions in such large measure, the processes appear to resemble one another much as rain drops resemble one another. There is essential agreement in spite of essential difference. So that here, as everywhere else, we no sooner scratch the soil than we come upon the granite of contradiction in terms and can scratch no further.

As for ourselves, we are passing through an inductive, technical, speculative period and have gone such lengths in this direction that a reaction, during which we shall pass to the other extreme, may be confidently predicted.

The Art of Propagating Opinion

He who would propagate an opinion must begin by making sure of his ground and holding it firmly. There is as little use in trying to breed from weak opinion as from other weak stock, animal or vegetable.

The more securely a man holds an opinion, the more temperate he can afford to be, and the more temperate he is, the more weight he will carry with those who are in the long run weightiest. Ideas and opinions, like living organisms, have a normal rate of growth which cannot be either checked or forced beyond a certain point. They can be held in check more safely than they can be hurried. They can also be killed; and one of the surest ways to kill them is to try to hurry them.

The more unpopular an opinion is, the more necessary is it that the holder should be somewhat punctilious in his observance of conventionalities generally, and that, if possible, he should get the reputation of being well-to-do in the world.

Arguments are not so good as assertion. Arguments are like fire-arms which a man may keep at home but should not carry about with him. Indirect assertion, leaving the hearer to point the inference, is, as a rule, to be preferred. The one great argument with most people is that another should think this or that. The reasons of the belief are details and, in nine cases out of ten, best omitted as confusing and weakening the general impression.

Many, if not most, good ideas die young—mainly from neglect on the part of the parents, but sometimes from over-fondness. Once well started, an opinion had better be left to shift for itself.

Insist as far as possible on the insignificance of the points of difference as compared with the resemblances to opinions generally accepted.

Gladstone as a Financier

I said to my tobacconist that Gladstone was not a financier because he bought a lot of china at high prices and it fetched very little when it was sold at Christie's.

"Did he give high prices?" said the tobacconist.

"Enormous prices," said I emphatically.

Now, to tell the truth, I did not know whether Mr. Gladstone had ever bought the china at all, much less what he gave for it, if he did; he may have had it all left him for aught I knew. But I was going to appeal to my tobacconist by arguments that he could understand, and I could see he was much impressed.


Argument is generally waste of time and trouble. It is better to present one's opinion and leave it to stick or no as it may happen. If sound, it will probably in the end stick, and the sticking is the main thing.


What a frightful thing it would be if true humour were more common or, rather, more easy to see, for it is more common than those are who can see it. It would block the way of everything. Perhaps this is what people rather feel. It would be like Music in the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, it would "untune the sky."

I do not know quite what is meant by untuning the sky and, if I did, I cannot think that there is anything to be particularly gained by having the sky untuned; still, if it has got to be untuned at all, I am sure music is the only thing that can untune it. Rapson, however, whom I used to see in the coin room at the British Museum, told me it should be "entune the sky" and it sounds as though he were right.

Myself and "Unconscious Humour"

The phrase "unconscious humour" is the one contribution I have made to the current literature of the day. I am continually seeing unconscious humour (without quotation marks) alluded to in Times articles and other like places, but I never remember to have come across it as a synonym for dullness till I wrote Life and Habit.

My Humour

The thing to say about me just now is that my humour is forced. This began to reach me in connection with my article "Quis Desiderio . . .?" [Universal Review, 1888] and is now, [1889] I understand, pretty generally perceived even by those who had not found it out for themselves.

I am not aware of forcing myself to say anything which has not amused me, which is not apposite and which I do not believe will amuse a neutral reader, but I may very well do so without knowing it. As for my humour, I am like my father and grandfather, both of whom liked a good thing heartily enough if it was told them, but I do not often say a good thing myself. Very likely my humour, what little there is of it, is forced enough. I do not care so long as it amuses me and, such as it is, I shall vent it in my own way and at my own time.

Myself and My Publishers

I see my publishers are bringing out a new magazine with all the usual contributors. Of course they don't ask me to write and this shows that they do not think my name would help their magazine. This, I imagine, means that Andrew Lang has told them that my humour is forced. I should not myself say that Andrew Lang's humour would lose by a little forcing.

I have seen enough of my publishers to know that they have no ideas of their own about literature save what they can clutch at as believing it to be a straight tip from a business point of view. Heaven forbid that I should blame them for doing exactly what I should do myself in their place, but, things being as they are, they are no use to me. They have no confidence in me and they must have this or they will do nothing for me beyond keeping my books on their shelves.

Perhaps it is better that I should not have a chance of becoming a hack-writer, for I should grasp it at once if it were offered me.


The Unseen World

I believe there is an unseen world about which we know nothing as firmly as any one can believe it. I see things coming up from it into the visible world and going down again from the seen world to the unseen. But my unseen world is to be bona fide unseen and, in so far as I say I know anything about it, I stultify myself. It should no more be described than God should be represented in painting or sculpture. It is as the other side of the moon; we know it must be there but we know also that, in the nature of things, we can never see it. Sometimes, some trifle of it may sway into sight and out again, but it is so little that it is not worth counting as having been seen.

The Kingdom of Heaven

The world admits that there is another world, that there is a kingdom, veritable and worth having, which, nevertheless, is invisible and has nothing to do with any kingdom such as we now see. It agrees that the wisdom of this other kingdom is foolishness here on earth, while the wisdom of the world is foolishness in the Kingdom of Heaven. In our hearts we know that the Kingdom of Heaven is the higher of the two and the better worth living and dying for, and that, if it is to be won, it must be sought steadfastly and in singleness of heart by those who put all else on one side and, shrinking from no sacrifice, are ready to face shame, poverty and torture here rather than abandon the hope of the prize of their high calling. Nobody who doubts any of this is worth talking with.

The question is, where is this Heavenly Kingdom, and what way are we to take to find it? Happily the answer is easy, for we are not likely to go wrong if in all simplicity, humility and good faith we heartily desire to find it and follow the dictates of ordinary common-sense.

The Philosopher

He should have made many mistakes and been saved often by the skin of his teeth, for the skin of one's teeth is the most teaching thing about one. He should have been, or at any rate believed himself, a great fool and a great criminal. He should have cut himself adrift from society, and yet not be without society. He should have given up all, even Christ himself, for Christ's sake. He should be above fear or love or hate, and yet know them extremely well. He should have lost all save a small competence and know what a vantage ground it is to be an outcast. Destruction and Death say they have heard the fame of Wisdom with their ears, and the philosopher must have been close up to these if he too would hear it.

The Artist and the Shopkeeper

Most artists, whether in religion, music, literature, painting, or what not, are shopkeepers in disguise. They hide their shop as much as they can, and keep pretending that it does not exist, but they are essentially shopkeepers and nothing else. Why do I try to sell my books and feel regret at never seeing them pay their expenses if I am not a shopkeeper? Of course I am, only I keep a bad shop—a shop that does not pay.

In like manner, the professed shopkeeper has generally a taint of the artist somewhere about him which he tries to conceal as much as the professed artist tries to conceal his shopkeeping.

The business man and the artist are like matter and mind. We can never get either pure and without some alloy of the other.

Art and Trade

People confound literature and article-dealing because the plant in both cases is similar, but no two things can be more distinct. Neither the question of money nor that of friend or foe can enter into literature proper. Here, right feeling—or good taste, if this expression be preferred—is alone considered. If a bona fide writer thinks a thing wants saying, he will say it as tersely, clearly and elegantly as he can. The question whether it will do him personally good or harm, or how it will affect this or that friend, never enters his head, or, if it does, it is instantly ordered out again. The only personal gratifications allowed him (apart, of course, from such as are conceded to every one, writer or no) are those of keeping his good name spotless among those whose opinion is alone worth having and of maintaining the highest traditions of a noble calling. If a man lives in fear and trembling lest he should fail in these respects, if he finds these considerations alone weigh with him, if he never writes without thinking how he shall best serve good causes and damage bad ones, then he is a genuine man of letters. If in addition to this he succeeds in making his manner attractive, he will become a classic. He knows this. He knows, although the Greeks in their mythology forgot to say so, that Conceit was saved to mankind as well as Hope when Pandora clapped the lid on to her box.

With the article-dealer, on the other hand, money is, and ought to be, the first consideration. Literature is an art; article-writing, when a man is paid for it, is a trade and none the worse for that; but pot-boilers are one thing and genuine pictures are another. People have indeed been paid for some of the most genuine pictures ever painted, and so with music, and so with literature itself—hard- and-fast lines ever cut the fingers of those who draw them—but, as a general rule, most lasting art has been poorly paid, so far as money goes, till the artist was near the end of his time, and, whether money passed or no, we may be sure that it was not thought of. Such work is done as a bird sings—for the love of the thing; it is persevered in as long as body and soul can be kept together, whether there be pay or no, and perhaps better if there be no pay.

Nevertheless, though art disregards money and trade disregards art, the artist may stand not a little trade-alloy and be even toughened by it, and the tradesmen may be more than half an artist. Art is in the world but not of it; it lives in a kingdom of its own, governed by laws that none but artists can understand. This, at least, is the ideal towards which an artist tends, though we all very well know we none of us reach it. With the trade it is exactly the reverse; this world is, and ought to be, everything, and the invisible world is as little to the trade as this visible world is to the artist.

When I say the artist tends towards such a world, I mean not that he tends consciously and reasoningly but that his instinct to take this direction will be too strong to let him take any other. He is incapable of reasoning on the subject; if he could reason he would be lost qua artist; for, by every test that reason can apply, those who sell themselves for a price are in the right. The artist is guided by a faith that for him transcends all reason. Granted that this faith has been in great measure founded on reason, that it has grown up along with reason, that if it lose touch with reason it is no longer faith but madness; granted, again, that reason is in great measure founded on faith, that it has grown up along with faith, that if it lose touch with faith it is no longer reason but mechanism; granted, therefore, that faith grows with reason as will with power, as demand with supply, as mind with body, each stimulating and augmenting the other until an invisible, minute nucleus attains colossal growth—nevertheless the difference between the man of the world and the man who lives by faith is that the first is drawn towards the one and the second towards the other of two principles which, so far as we can see, are co-extensive and co-equal in importance.


It is curious that money, which is the most valuable thing in life, exceptis excipiendis, should be the most fatal corrupter of music, literature, painting and all the arts. As soon as any art is pursued with a view to money, then farewell, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, all hope of genuine good work. If a man has money at his back, he may touch these things and do something which will live a long while, and he may be very happy in doing it; if he has no money, he may do good work, but the chances are he will be killed in doing it and for having done it; or he may make himself happy by doing bad work and getting money out of it, and there is no great harm in this, provided he knows his work is done in this spirit and rates it for its commercial value only. Still, as a rule, a man should not touch any of the arts as a creator unless be has a discreta posizionina behind him.

Modern Simony

It is not the dealing in livings but the thinking they can buy the Holy Ghost for money which vulgar rich people indulge in when they dabble in literature, music and painting.

Nevertheless, on reflection it must be admitted that the Holy Ghost is very hard to come by without money. For the Holy Ghost is only another term for the Fear of the Lord, which is Wisdom. And though Wisdom cannot be gotten for gold, still less can it be gotten without it. Gold, or the value that is equivalent to gold, lies at the root of Wisdom, and enters so largely into the very essence of the Holy Ghost that "No gold, no Holy Ghost" may pass as an axiom. This is perhaps why it is not easy to buy Wisdom by whatever name it be called—I mean, because it is almost impossible to sell it. It is a very unmarketable commodity, as those who have received it truly know to their own great bane and boon.

My Grandfather and Myself

My grandfather worked very hard all his life, and was making money all the time until he became a bishop. I have worked very hard all my life, but have never been able to earn money. As usefulness is generally counted, no one can be more useless. This I believe to be largely due to the public-school and university teaching through which my grandfather made his money. Yes, but then if he is largely responsible for that which has made me useless, has he not also left me the hardly-won money which makes my uselessness sufficiently agreeable to myself? And would not the poor old gentleman gladly change lots with me, if he could?

I do not know; but I should be sorry to change lots with him or with any one else, so I need not grumble. I said in Luck or Cunning? that the only way (at least I think I said so) in which a teacher can thoroughly imbue an unwilling learner with his own opinions is for the teacher to eat the pupil up and thus assimilate him—if he can, for it is possible that the pupil may continue to disagree with the teacher. And as a matter of fact, school-masters do live upon their pupils, and I, as my grandfather's grandson, continue to batten upon old pupil.

Art and Usefulness

Tedder, the Librarian of the Athenaeum, said to me when I told him (I have only seen him twice) what poor success my books had met with:

"Yes, but you have made the great mistake of being useful."

This, for the moment, displeased me, for I know that I have always tried to make my work useful and should not care about doing it at all unless I believed it to subserve use more or less directly. Yet when I look at those works which we all hold to be the crowning glories of the world as, for example, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Hamlet, the Messiah, Rembrandt's portraits, or Holbein's, or Giovanni Bellini's, the connection between them and use is, to say the least of it, far from obvious. Music, indeed, can hardly be tortured into being useful at all, unless to drown the cries of the wounded in battle, or to enable people to talk more freely at evening parties. The uses, again, of painting in its highest forms are very doubtful— I mean in any material sense; in its lower forms, when it becomes more diagrammatic, it is materially useful. Literature may be useful from its lowest forms to nearly its highest, but the highest cannot be put in harness to any but spiritual uses; and the fact remains that the "Hallelujah Chorus," the speech of Hamlet to the players, Bellini's "Doge" have their only uses in a spiritual world whereto the word "uses" is as alien as bodily flesh is to a choir of angels. As it is fatal to the highest art that it should have been done for money, so it seems hardly less fatal that it should be done with a view to those uses that tend towards money.

And yet, was not the Iliad written mainly with a view to money? Did not Shakespeare make money by his plays, Handel by his music, and the noblest painters by their art? True; but in all these cases, I take it, love of fame and that most potent and, at the same time, unpractical form of it, the lust after fame beyond the grave, was the mainspring of the action, the money being but a concomitant accident. Money is like the wind that bloweth whithersoever it listeth, sometimes it chooses to attach itself to high feats of literature and art and music, but more commonly it prefers lower company . . .

I can continue this note no further, for there is no end to it. Briefly, the world resolves itself into two great classes—those who hold that honour after death is better worth having than any honour a man can get and know anything about, and those who doubt this; to my mind, those who hold it, and hold it firmly, are the only people worth thinking about. They will also hold that, important as the physical world obviously is, the spiritual world, of which we know little beyond its bare existence, is more important still.



Genius is akin both to madness and inspiration and, as every one is both more or less inspired and more or less mad, every one has more or less genius. When, therefore, we speak of genius we do not mean an absolute thing which some men have and others have not, but a small scale-turning overweight of a something which we all have but which we cannot either define or apprehend—the quantum which we all have being allowed to go without saying.

This small excess weight has been defined as a supreme capacity for taking trouble, but he who thus defined it can hardly claim genius in respect of his own definition—his capacity for taking trouble does not seem to have been abnormal. It might be more fitly described as a supreme capacity for getting its possessors into trouble of all kinds and keeping them therein so long as the genius remains. People who are credited with genius have, indeed, been sometimes very painstaking, but they would often show more signs of genius if they had taken less. "You have taken too much trouble with your opera," said Handel to Gluck. It is not likely that the "Hailstone Chorus" or Mrs. Quickly cost their creators much pains, indeed, we commonly feel the ease with which a difficult feat has been performed to be a more distinctive mark of genius than the fact that the performer took great pains before he could achieve it. Pains can serve genius, or even mar it, but they cannot make it.

We can rarely, however, say what pains have or have not been taken in any particular case, for, over and above the spent pains of a man's early efforts, the force of which may carry him far beyond all trace of themselves, there are the still more remote and invisible ancestral pains, repeated we know not how often or in what fortunate correlation with pains taken in some other and unseen direction. This points to the conclusion that, though it is wrong to suppose the essence of genius to lie in a capacity for taking pains, it is right to hold that it must have been rooted in pains and that it cannot have grown up without them.

Genius, again, might, perhaps almost as well, be defined as a supreme capacity for saving other people from having to take pains, if the highest flights of genius did not seem to know nothing about pains one way or the other. What trouble can Hamlet or the Iliad save to any one? Genius can, and does, save it sometimes; the genius of Newton may have saved a good deal of trouble one way or another, but it has probably engendered as much new as it has saved old.

This, however, is all a matter of chance, for genius never seems to care whether it makes the burden or bears it. The only certain thing is that there will be a burden, for the Holy Ghost has ever tended towards a breach of the peace, and the New Jerusalem, when it comes, will probably be found so far to resemble the old as to stone its prophets freely. The world thy world is a jealous world, and thou shalt have none other worlds but it. Genius points to change, and change is a hankering after another world, so the old world suspects it. Genius disturbs order, it unsettles mores and hence it is immoral. On a small scale it is intolerable, but genius will have no small scales; it is even more immoral for a man to be too far in front than to lag too far behind. The only absolute morality is absolute stagnation, but this is unpractical, so a peck of change is permitted to every one, but it must be a peck only, whereas genius would have ever so many sacks full. There is a myth among some Eastern nation that at the birth of Genius an unkind fairy marred all the good gifts of the other fairies by depriving it of the power of knowing where to stop.

Nor does genius care more about money than about trouble. It is no respecter of time, trouble, money or persons, the four things round which human affairs turn most persistently. It will not go a hair's breadth from its way either to embrace fortune or to avoid her. It is, like Love, "too young to know the worth of gold." {176} It knows, indeed, both love and hate, but not as we know them, for it will fly for help to its bitterest foe, or attack its dearest friend in the interests of the art it serves.

Yet this genius, which so despises the world, is the only thing of which the world is permanently enamoured, and the more it flouts the world, the more the world worships it, when it has once well killed it in the flesh. Who can understand this eternal crossing in love and contradiction in terms which warps the woof of actions and things from the atom to the universe? The more a man despises time, trouble, money, persons, place and everything on which the world insists as most essential to salvation, the more pious will this same world hold him to have been. What a fund of universal unconscious scepticism must underlie the world's opinions! For we are all alike in our worship of genius that has passed through the fire. Nor can this universal instinctive consent be explained otherwise than as the welling up of a spring whose sources lie deep in the conviction that great as this world is, it masks a greater wherein its wisdom is folly and which we know as blind men know where the sun is shining, certainly, but not distinctly.

This should in itself be enough to prove that such a world exists, but there is still another proof in the fact that so many come among us showing instinctive and ineradicable familiarity with a state of things which has no counterpart here, and cannot, therefore, have been acquired here. From such a world we come, every one of us, but some seem to have a more living recollection of it than others. Perfect recollection of it no man can have, for to put on flesh is to have all one's other memories jarred beyond power of conscious recognition. And genius must put on flesh, for it is only by the hook and crook of taint and flesh that tainted beings like ourselves can apprehend it, only in and through flesh can it be made manifest to us at all. The flesh and the shop will return no matter with how many pitchforks we expel them, for we cannot conceivably expel them thoroughly; therefore it is better not to be too hard upon them. And yet this same flesh cloaks genius at the very time that it reveals it. It seems as though the flesh must have been on and must have gone clean off before genius can be discerned, and also that we must stand a long way from it, for the world grows more and more myopic as it grows older. And this brings another trouble, for by the time the flesh has gone off it enough, and it is far enough away for us to see it without glasses, the chances are we shall have forgotten its very existence and lose the wish to see at the very moment of becoming able to do so. Hence there appears to be no remedy for the oft- repeated complaint that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. How can it be expected to do so? And how can its greatest men be expected to know more than a very little of the world? At any rate, they seldom do, and it is just because they cannot and do not that, if they ever happen to be found out at all, they are recognised as the greatest and the world weeps and wrings its hands that it cannot know more about them.

Lastly, if genius cannot be bought with money, still less can it sell what it produces. The only price that can be paid for genius is suffering, and this is the only wages it can receive. The only work that has any considerable permanence is written, more or less consciously, in the blood of the writer, or in that of his or her forefathers. Genius is like money, or, again, like crime, every one has a little, if it be only a half-penny, and he can beg or steal this much if he has not got it; but those who have little are rarely very fond of millionaires. People generally like and understand best those who are of much about the same social standing and money status as their own; and so it is for the most part as between those who have only the average amount of genius and the Homers, Shakespeares and Handels of the race.

And yet, so paradoxical is everything connected with genius, that it almost seems as though the nearer people stood to one another in respect either of money or genius, the more jealous they become of one another. I have read somewhere that Thackeray was one day flattening his nose against a grocer's window and saw two bags of sugar, one marked tenpence halfpenny and the other elevenpence (for sugar has come down since Thackeray's time). As he left the window he was heard to say, "How they must hate one another!" So it is in the animal and vegetable worlds. The war of extermination is generally fiercest between the most nearly allied species, for these stand most in one another's light. So here again the same old paradox and contradiction in terms meets us, like a stone wall, in the fact that we love best those who are in the main like ourselves, but when they get too like, we hate them, and, at the same time, we hate most those who are unlike ourselves, but if they become unlike enough, we may often be very fond of them.

Genius must make those that have it think apart, and to think apart is to take one's view of things instead of being, like Poins, a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks. A man who thinks for himself knows what others do not, but does not know what others know. Hence the belli causa, for he cannot serve two masters, the God of his own inward light and the Mammon of common sense, at one and the same time. How can a man think apart and not apart? But if he is a genius this is the riddle he must solve. The uncommon sense of genius and the common sense of the rest of the world are thus as husband and wife to one another; they are always quarrelling, and common sense, who must be taken to be the husband, always fancies himself the master—nevertheless genius is generally admitted to be the better half.

He who would know more of genius must turn to what he can find in the poets, or to whatever other sources he may discover, for I can help him no further.


The destruction of great works of literature and art is as necessary for the continued development of either one or the other as death is for that of organic life. We fight against it as long as we can, and often stave it off successfully both for ourselves and others, but there is nothing so great—not Homer, Shakespeare, Handel, Rembrandt, Giovanni Bellini, De Hooghe, Velasquez and the goodly company of other great men for whose lives we would gladly give our own—but it has got to go sooner or later and leave no visible traces, though the invisible ones endure from everlasting to everlasting. It is idle to regret this for ourselves or others, our effort should tend towards enjoying and being enjoyed as highly and for as long time as we can, and then chancing the rest.


Inspiration is never genuine if it is known as inspiration at the time. True inspiration always steals on a person; its importance not being fully recognised for some time. So men of genius always escape their own immediate belongings, and indeed generally their own age.


Dullness is so much stronger than genius because there is so much more of it, and it is better organised and more naturally cohesive inter se. So the arctic volcano can do no thing against arctic ice.


America will have her geniuses, as every other country has, in fact she has already had one in Walt Whitman, but I do not think America is a good place in which to be a genius. A genius can never expect to have a good time anywhere, if he is a genuine article, but America is about the last place in which life will be endurable at all for an inspired writer of any kind.

Great Things

All men can do great things, if they know what great things are. So hard is this last that even where it exists the knowledge is as much unknown as known to them that have it and is more a leaning upon the Lord than a willing of one that willeth. And yet all the leaning on the Lord in Christendom fails if there be not a will of him that willeth to back it up. God and the man are powerless without one another.

Genius and Providence

Among all the evidences for the existence of an overruling Providence that I can discover, I see none more convincing than the elaborate and for the most part effectual provision that has been made for the suppression of genius. The more I see of the world, the more necessary I see it to be that by far the greater part of what is written or done should be of so fleeting a character as to take itself away quickly. That is the advantage in the fact that so much of our literature is journalism.

Schools and colleges are not intended to foster genius and to bring it out. Genius is a nuisance, and it is the duty of schools and colleges to abate it by setting genius-traps in its way. They are as the artificial obstructions in a hurdle race—tests of skill and endurance, but in themselves useless. Still, so necessary is it that genius and originality should be abated that, did not academies exist, we should have had to invent them.

The Art of Covery

This is as important and interesting as Dis-covery. Surely the glory of finally getting rid of and burying a long and troublesome matter should be as great as that of making an important discovery. The trouble is that the coverer is like Samson who perished in the wreck of what he had destroyed; if he gets rid of a thing effectually he gets rid of himself too.


We want a Society for the Suppression of Erudite Research and the Decent Burial of the Past. The ghosts of the dead past want quite as much laying as raising.

Ephemeral and Permanent Success

The supposition that the world is ever in league to put a man down is childish. Hardly less childish is it for an author to lay the blame on reviewers. A good sturdy author is a match for a hundred reviewers. He, I grant, knows nothing of either literature or science who does not know that a mot d'ordre given by a few wire- pullers can, for a time, make or mar any man's success. People neither know what it is they like nor do they want to find out, all they care about is the being supposed to derive their likings from the best West-end magazines, so they look to the shop with the largest plate-glass windows and take what the shop-man gives them. But no amount of plate-glass can carry off more than a certain amount of false pretences, and there is no mot d'ordre that can keep a man permanently down if he is as intent on winning lasting good name as I have been. If I had played for immediate popularity I think I could have won it. Having played for lasting credit I doubt not that it will in the end be given me. A man should not be held to be ill-used for not getting what he has not played for. I am not saying that it is better or more honourable to play for lasting than for immediate success. I know which I myself find pleasanter, but that has nothing to do with it.

It is a nice question whether the light or the heavy armed soldier of literature and art is the more useful. I joined the plodders and have aimed at permanent good name rather than brilliancy. I have no doubt I did this because instinct told me (for I never thought about it) that this would be the easier and less thorny path. I have more of perseverance than of those, perhaps, even more valuable gifts— facility and readiness of resource. I hate being hurried. Moreover I am too fond of independence to get on with the leaders of literature and science. Independence is essential for permanent but fatal to immediate success. Besides, luck enters much more into ephemeral than into permanent success and I have always distrusted luck. Those who play a waiting game have matters more in their own hands, time gives them double chances; whereas if success does not come at once to the ephemerid he misses it altogether.

I know that the ordinary reviewer who either snarls at my work or misrepresents it or ignores it or, again, who pats it sub- contemptuously on the back is as honourably and usefully employed as I am. In the kingdom of literature (as I have just been saying in the Universal Review about Science) there are many mansions and what is intolerable in one is common form in another. It is a case of the division of labour and a man will gravitate towards one class of workers or another according as he is built. There is neither higher nor lower about it.

I should like to put it on record that I understand it and am not inclined to regret the arrangements that have made me possible.

My Birthright

I had to steal my own birthright. I stole it and was bitterly punished. But I saved my soul alive.



I am the enfant terrible of literature and science. If I cannot, and I know I cannot, get the literary and scientific big-wigs to give me a shilling, I can, and I know I can, heave bricks into the middle of them.

Blake, Dante, Virgil and Tennyson

Talking it over, we agreed that Blake was no good because he learnt Italian at 60 in order to study Dante, and we knew Dante was no good because he was so fond of Virgil, and Virgil was no good because Tennyson ran him, and as for Tennyson—well, Tennyson goes without saying.

My Father and Shakespeare

My father is one of the few men I know who say they do not like Shakespeare. I could forgive my father for not liking Shakespeare if it was only because Shakespeare wrote poetry; but this is not the reason. He dislikes Shakespeare because he finds him so very coarse. He also says he likes Tennyson and this seriously aggravates his offence.


We were saying what a delightful dispensation of providence it was that prosperous people will write their memoirs. We hoped Tennyson was writing his. [1890.]

P.S.—We think his son has done nearly as well. [1898.]

Walter Pater and Matthew Arnold

Mr. Walter Pater's style is, to me, like the face of some old woman who has been to Madame Rachel and had herself enamelled. The bloom is nothing but powder and paint and the odour is cherry-blossom. Mr. Matthew Arnold's odour is as the faint sickliness of hawthorn.

My Random Passages

At the Century Club a friend very kindly and hesitatingly ventured to suggest to me that I should get some one to go over my MS. before printing; a judicious editor, he said, would have prevented me from printing many a bit which, it seemed to him, was written too recklessly and offhand. The fact is that the more reckless and random a passage appears to be, the more carefully it has been submitted to friends and considered and re-considered; without the support of friends I should never have dared to print one half of what I have printed.

I am not one of those who can repeat the General Confession unreservedly. I should say rather:

"I have left unsaid much that I am sorry I did not say, but I have said little that I am sorry for having said, and I am pretty well on the whole, thank you."

Moral Try-Your-Strengths

There are people who, if they only had a slot, might turn a pretty penny as moral try-your-strengths, like those we see in railway- stations for telling people their physical strength when they have dropped a penny in the slot. In a way they have a slot, which is their mouths, and people drop pennies in by asking them to dinner, and then they try their strength against them and get snubbed; but this way is roundabout and expensive. We want a good automatic asinometer by which we can tell at a moderate cost how great or how little of a fool we are.

Populus Vult

If people like being deceived—and this can hardly be doubted—there can rarely have been a time during which they can have had more of the wish than now. The literary, scientific and religious worlds vie with one another in trying to gratify the public.

Men and Monkeys

In his latest article (Feb. 1892) Prof. Garner says that the chatter of monkeys is not meaningless, but that they are conveying ideas to one another. This seems to me hazardous. The monkeys might with equal justice conclude that in our magazine articles, or literary and artistic criticisms, we are not chattering idly but are conveying ideas to one another.

"One Touch of Nature"

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." Should it not be "marks," not "makes"? There is one touch of nature, or natural feature, which marks all mankind as of one family.

P.S.—Surely it should be "of ill-nature." "One touch of ill-nature marks—or several touches of ill-nature mark the whole world kin."

Genuine Feeling

In the Times of to-day, June 4, 1887, there is an obituary notice of a Rev. Mr. Knight who wrote about 200 songs, among others "She wore a wreath of roses." The Times says that, though these songs have no artistic merit, they are full of genuine feeling, or words to this effect; as though a song which was full of genuine feeling could by any possibility be without artistic merit.

George Meredith

The Times in a leading article says (Jany. 3, 1899) "a talker," as Mr. George Meredith has somewhere said, "involves the existence of a talkee," or words to this effect.

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