The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
by Samuel Butler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

I said what comes to the same thing as this in Life and Habit in 1877, and I repeated it in the preface to my translation of the Iliad in 1898. I do not believe George Meredith has said anything to the same effect, but I have read so very little of that writer, and have so utterly rejected what I did read, that he may well have done so without my knowing it. He damned Erewhon, as Chapman and Hall's reader, in 1871, and, as I am still raw about this after 28 years, (I am afraid unless I say something more I shall be taken as writing these words seriously) I prefer to assert that the Times writer was quoting from my preface to the Iliad, published a few weeks earlier, and fathering the remark on George Meredith. By the way the Times did not give so much as a line to my translation in its "Books of the Week," though it was duly sent to them.

Froude and Freeman

I think it was last Saturday (Ap. 9) (at any rate it was a day just thereabouts) the Times had a leader on Froude's appointment as Reg. Prof. of Mod. Hist. at Oxford. It said Froude was perhaps our greatest living master of style, or words to that effect, only that, like Freeman, he was too long: i.e. only he is an habitual offender against the most fundamental principles of his art. If then Froude is our greatest master of style, what are the rest of us?

There was a much better article yesterday on Marbot, on which my namesake A. J. Butler got a dressing for talking rubbish about style. [1892.]


In this day's Sunday Times there is an article on Mrs. Browning's letters which begins with some remarks about style. "It is recorded," says the writer, "of Plato, that in a rough draft of one of his Dialogues, found after his death, the first paragraph was written in seventy different forms. Wordsworth spared no pains to sharpen and polish to the utmost the gifts with which nature had endowed him; and Cardinal Newman, one of the greatest masters of English style, has related in an amusing essay the pains he took to acquire his style."

I never knew a writer yet who took the smallest pains with his style and was at the same time readable. Plato's having had seventy shies at one sentence is quite enough to explain to me why I dislike him. A man may, and ought to take a great deal of pains to write clearly, tersely and euphemistically: he will write many a sentence three or four times over—to do much more than this is worse than not rewriting at all: he will be at great pains to see that he does not repeat himself, to arrange his matter in the way that shall best enable the reader to master it, to cut out superfluous words and, even more, to eschew irrelevant matter: but in each case he will be thinking not of his own style but of his reader's convenience.

Men like Newman and R. L. Stevenson seem to have taken pains to acquire what they called a style as a preliminary measure—as something that they had to form before their writings could be of any value. I should like to put it on record that I never took the smallest pains with my style, have never thought about it, and do not know or want to know whether it is a style at all or whether it is not, as I believe and hope, just common, simple straightforwardness. I cannot conceive how any man can take thought for his style without loss to himself and his readers.

I have, however, taken all the pains that I had patience to endure in the improvement of my handwriting (which, by the way, has a constant tendency to resume feral characteristics) and also with my MS. generally to keep it clean and legible. I am having a great tidying just now, in the course of which the MS. of Erewhon turned up, and I was struck with the great difference between it and the MS. of The Authoress of the Odyssey. I have also taken great pains, with what success I know not, to correct impatience, irritability and other like faults in my own character—and this not because I care two straws about my own character, but because I find the correction of such faults as I have been able to correct makes life easier and saves me from getting into scrapes, and attaches nice people to me more readily. But I suppose this really is attending to style after all. [1897.]

Diderot on Criticism

"Il est si difficile de produire une chose meme mediocre; il est si facile de sentir la mediocrite."

I have lately seen this quoted as having been said by Diderot. It is easy to say we feel the mediocrity when we have heard a good many people say that the work is mediocre, but, unless in matters about which he has been long conversant, no man can easily form an independent judgment as to whether or not a work is mediocre. I know that in the matter of books, painting and music I constantly find myself unable to form a settled opinion till I have heard what many men of varied tastes have to say, and have also made myself acquainted with details about a man's antecedents and ways of life which are generally held to be irrelevant.

Often, of course, this is unnecessary; a man's character, if he has left much work behind him, or if he is not coming before us for the first time, is generally easily discovered without extraneous aid. We want no one to give us any clues to the nature of such men as Giovanni Bellini, or De Hooghe. Hogarth's character is written upon his work so plainly that he who runs may read it, so is Handel's upon his, so is Purcell's, so is Corelli's, so, indeed, are the characters of most men; but often where only little work has been left, or where a work is by a new hand, it is exceedingly difficult "sentir la mediocrite" and, it might be added, "ou meme sentir du tout."

How many years, I wonder, was it before I learned to dislike Thackeray and Tennyson as cordially as I now do? For how many years did I not almost worship them?

Bunyan and Others

I have been reading The Pilgrim's Progress again—the third part and all—and wish that some one would tell one what to think about it.

The English is racy, vigorous and often very beautiful; but the language of any book is nothing except in so far as it reveals the writer. The words in which a man clothes his thoughts are like all other clothes—the cut raises presumptions about his thoughts, and these generally turn out to be just, but the words are no more the thoughts than a man's coat is himself. I am not sure, however, that in Bunyan's case the dress in which he has clothed his ideas does not reveal him more justly than the ideas do.

The Pilgrim's Progress consists mainly of a series of infamous libels upon life and things; it is a blasphemy against certain fundamental ideas of right and wrong which our consciences most instinctively approve; its notion of heaven is hardly higher than a transformation scene at Drury Lane; it is essentially infidel. "Hold out to me the chance of a golden crown and harp with freedom from all further worries, give me angels to flatter me and fetch and carry for me, and I shall think the game worth playing, notwithstanding the great and horrible risk of failure; but no crown, no cross for me. Pay me well and I will wait for payment, but if I have to give credit I shall expect to be paid better in the end."

There is no conception of the faith that a man should do his duty cheerfully with all his might though, as far as he can see, he will never be paid directly or indirectly either here or hereafter. Still less is there any conception that unless a man has this faith he is not worth thinking about. There is no sense that as we have received freely so we should give freely and be only too thankful that we have anything to give at all. Furthermore there does not appear to be even the remotest conception that this honourable, comfortable and sustaining faith is, like all other high faiths, to be brushed aside very peremptorily at the bidding of common-sense.

What a pity it is that Christian never met Mr. Common-Sense with his daughter, Good-Humour, and her affianced husband, Mr. Hate-Cant; but if he ever saw them in the distance he steered clear of them, probably as feeling that they would be more dangerous than Giant Despair, Vanity Fair and Apollyon all together—for they would have stuck to him if he had let them get in with him. Among other things they would have told him that, if there was any truth in his opinions, neither man nor woman ought to become a father or mother at all, inasmuch as their doing so would probably entail eternity of torture on the wretched creature whom they were launching into the world. Life in this world is risk enough to inflict on another person who has not been consulted in the matter, but death will give quittance in full. To weaken our faith in this sure and certain hope of peace eternal (except so far as we have so lived as to win life in others after we are gone) would be a cruel thing, even though the evidence against it were overwhelming, but to rob us of it on no evidence worth a moment's consideration and, apparently, from no other motive than the pecuniary advantage of the robbers themselves is infamy. For the Churches are but institutions for the saving of men's souls from hell.

This is true enough. Nevertheless it is untrue that in practice any Christian minister, knowing what he preaches to be both very false and very cruel, yet insists on it because it is to the advantage of his own order. In a way the preachers believe what they preach, but it is as men who have taken a bad 10 pounds note and refuse to look at the evidence that makes for its badness, though, if the note were not theirs, they would see at a glance that it was not a good one. For the man in the street it is enough that what the priests teach in respect of a future state is palpably both cruel and absurd while, at the same time, they make their living by teaching it and thus prey upon other men's fears of the unknown. If the Churches do not wish to be misunderstood they should not allow themselves to remain in such an equivocal position.

But let this pass. Bunyan, we may be sure, took all that he preached in its most literal interpretation; he could never have made his book so interesting had he not done so. The interest of it depends almost entirely on the unquestionable good faith of the writer and the strength of the impulse that compelled him to speak that which was within him. He was not writing a book which he might sell, he was speaking what was borne in upon him from heaven. The message he uttered was, to my thinking, both low and false, but it was truth of truths to Bunyan.

No. This will not do. The Epistles of St. Paul were truth of truths to Paul, but they do not attract us to the man who wrote them, and, except here and there, they are very uninteresting. Mere strength of conviction on a writer's part is not enough to make his work take permanent rank. Yet I know that I could read the whole of The Pilgrim's Progress (except occasional episodical sermons) without being at all bored by it, whereas, having spent a penny upon Mr. Stead's abridgement of Joseph Andrews, I had to give it up as putting me out of all patience. I then spent another penny on an abridgement of Gulliver's Travels, and was enchanted by it. What is it that makes one book so readable and another so unreadable? Swift, from all I can make out, was a far more human and genuine person than he is generally represented, but I do not think I should have liked him, whereas Fielding, I am sure, must have been delightful. Why do the faults of his work overweigh its many great excellences, while the less great excellences of the Voyage to Lilliput outweigh its more serious defects?

I suppose it is the prolixity of Fielding that fatigues me. Swift is terse, he gets through what he has to say on any matter as quickly as he can and takes the reader on to the next, whereas Fielding is not only long, but his length is made still longer by the disconnectedness of the episodes that appear to have been padded into the books—episodes that do not help one forward, and are generally so exaggerated, and often so full of horse-play as to put one out of conceit with the parts that are really excellent.

Whatever else Bunyan is he is never long; he takes you quickly on from incident to incident and, however little his incidents may appeal to us, we feel that he is never giving us one that is not bona fide so far as he is concerned. His episodes and incidents are introduced not because he wants to make his book longer but because he cannot be satisfied without these particular ones, even though he may feel that his book is getting longer than he likes.

. . .

And here I must break away from this problem, leaving it unsolved. [1897.]

Bunyan and the Odyssey

Anything worse than The Pilgrim's Progress in the matter of defiance of literary canons can hardly be conceived. The allegory halts continually; it professes to be spiritual, but nothing can be more carnal than the golden splendour of the eternal city; the view of life and the world generally is flat blasphemy against the order of things with which we are surrounded. Yet, like the Odyssey, which flatly defies sense and criticism (no, it doesn't; still, it defies them a good deal), no one can doubt that it must rank among the very greatest books that have ever been written. How Odyssean it is in its sincerity and downrightness, as well as in the marvellous beauty of its language, its freedom from all taint of the schools and, not least, in complete victory of genuine internal zeal over a scheme initially so faulty as to appear hopeless.

I read that part where Christian passes the lions which he thought were free but which were really chained and it occurred to me that all lions are chained until they actually eat us and that, the moment they do this, they chain themselves up again automatically, as far as we are concerned. If one dissects this passage it fares as many a passage in the Odyssey does when we dissect it. Christian did not, after all, venture to pass the lions till he was assured that they were chained. And really it is more excusable to refuse point-blank to pass a couple of lions till one knows whether they are chained or not—and the poor wicked people seem to have done nothing more than this,—than it would be to pass them. Besides, by being told, Christian fights, as it were, with loaded dice.


The greatest poets never write poetry. The Homers and Shakespeares are not the greatest—they are only the greatest that we can know. And so with Handel among musicians. For the highest poetry, whether in music or literature, is ineffable—it must be felt from one person to another, it cannot be articulated.


Versifying is the lowest form of poetry; and the last thing a great poet will do in these days is to write verses.

I have been trying to read Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece but cannot get on with them. They teem with fine things, but they are got-up fine things. I do not know whether this is quite what I mean but, come what may, I find the poems bore me. Were I a schoolmaster I should think I was setting a boy a very severe punishment if I told him to read Venus and Adonis through in three sittings. If, then, the magic of Shakespeare's name, let alone the great beauty of occasional passages, cannot reconcile us (for I find most people of the same mind) to verse, and especially rhymed verse as a medium of sustained expression, what chance has any one else? It seems to me that a sonnet is the utmost length to which a rhymed poem should extend.

Verse, Poetry and Prose

The preface to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is verse, but it is not poetry. The body of the work is poetry, but it is not verse.

Ancient Work

If a person would understand either the Odyssey or any other ancient work, he must never look at the dead without seeing the living in them, nor at the living without thinking of the dead. We are too fond of seeing the ancients as one thing and the moderns as another.

Nausicaa and Myself

I am elderly, grey-bearded and, according to my clerk, Alfred, disgustingly fat; I wear spectacles and get more and more bronchitic as I grow older. Still no young prince in a fairy story ever found an invisible princess more effectually hidden behind a hedge of dullness or more fast asleep than Nausicaa was when I woke her and hailed her as Authoress of the Odyssey. And there was no difficulty about it either—all one had to do was to go up to the front door and ring the bell.

Telemachus and Nicholas Nickleby

The virtuous young man defending a virtuous mother against a number of powerful enemies is one of the ignes fatui of literature. The scheme ought to be very interesting, and often is so, but it always fails as regards the hero who, from Telemachus to Nicholas Nickleby, is always too much of the good young man to please.

Gadshill and Trapani

While getting our lunch one Sunday at the east end of the long room in the Sir John Falstaff Inn, Gadshill, we overheard some waterside- looking dwellers in the neighbourhood talking among themselves. I wrote down the following:-

Bill: Oh, yes. I've got a mate that works in my shop; he's chucked the Dining Room because they give him too much to eat. He found another place where they gave him four pennyworth of meat and two vegetables and it was quite as much as he could put up with.

George: You can't kid me, Bill, that they give you too much to eat, but I'll believe it to oblige you, Bill. Shall I see you to-night?

Bill: No, I must go to church.

George: Well, so must I; I've got to go.

So at Trapani, I heard two small boys one night on the quay (I am sure I have written this down somewhere, but it is less trouble to write it again than to hunt for it) singing with all their might, with their arms round one another's necks. I should say they were about ten years old, not more.

I asked Ignazio Giacalone: "What are they singing?"

He replied that it was a favourite song among the popolino of Trapani about a girl who did not want to be seen going about with a man. "The people in this place," says the song, "are very ill-natured, and if they see you and me together, they will talk," &c.

I do not say that there was any descent here from Nausicaa's speech to Ulysses, but I felt as though that speech was still in the air. [Od. VI. 273.]

I reckon Gadshill and Trapani as perhaps the two most classic grounds that I frequent familiarly, and at each I have seemed to hear echoes of the scenes that have made them famous. Not that what I heard at Gadshill is like any particular passage in Shakespeare.

Waiting to be Hired

At Castelvetrano (about thirty miles from Trapani) I had to start the next morning at 4 a.m. to see the ruins of Selinunte, and slept lightly with my window open. About two o'clock I began to hear a buzz of conversation in the piazza outside and it kept me awake, so I got up to shut the window and see what it was. I found it came from a long knot of men standing about, two deep, but not strictly marshalled. When I got up at half-past three, it was still dark and the men were still there, though perhaps not so many. I enquired and found they were standing to be hired for the day, any one wanting labourers would come there, engage as many as he wanted and go off with them, others would come up, and so on till about four o'clock, after which no one would hire, the day being regarded as short in weight after that hour. Being so collected the men gossip over their own and other people's affairs—wonder who was that fine-looking stranger going about yesterday with Nausicaa, and so on. [Od. VI. 273.] This, in fact, is their club and the place where the public opinion of the district is formed.

Ilium and Padua

The story of the Trojan horse is more nearly within possibility than we should readily suppose. In 1848, during the rebellion of the North Italians against the Austrians, eight or nine young men, for whom the authorities were hunting, hid themselves inside Donatello's wooden horse in the Salone at Padua and lay there for five days, being fed through the trap door on the back of the horse with the connivance of the custode of the Salone. No doubt they were let out for a time at night. When pursuit had become less hot, their friends smuggled them away. One of those who had been shut up was still living in 1898 and, on the occasion of the jubilee festivities, was carried round the town in triumph.

Eumaeus and Lord Burleigh

The inference which Arthur Platt (Journal of Philology, Vol. 24, No. 47) wishes to draw from Eumaeus being told to bring Ulysses' bow [Greek text] (Od. XXI. 234) suggests to met to me the difference which some people in future ages may wish to draw between the character of Lord Burleigh's steps in Tennyson's poem, according as he was walking up or pacing down. Wherefrom also the critic will argue that the scene of Lord Burleigh's weeping MUST have been on an inclined plane.

Weeping, weeping late and early, Walking up and pacing down, Deeply mourned the Lord of Burleigh, Burleigh-house by Stamford-town.

My Reviewers' Sense of Need

My reviewers felt no sense of need to understand me—if they had they would have developed the mental organism which would have enabled them to do so. When the time comes that they want to do so they will throw out a little mental pseudopodium without much difficulty. They threw it out when they wanted to misunderstand me—with a good deal of the pseudo in it, too.

The Authoress of the Odyssey

The amount of pains which my reviewers have taken to understand this book is not so great as to encourage the belief that they would understand the Odyssey, however much they studied it. Again, the people who could read the Odyssey without coming to much the same conclusions as mine are not likely to admit that they ought to have done so.

If a man tells me that a house in which I have long lived is inconvenient, not to say unwholesome, and that I have been very stupid in not finding this out for myself, I should be apt in the first instance to tell him that he knew nothing about it, and that I was quite comfortable; by and by, I should begin to be aware that I was not so comfortable as I thought I was, and in the end I should probably make the suggested alterations in my house if, on reflection, I found them sensibly conceived. But I should kick hard at first.

Homer and his Commentators

Homeric commentators have been blind so long that nothing will do for them but Homer must be blind too. They have transferred their own blindness to the poet.

The Iliad

In the Iliad, civilisation bursts upon us as a strong stream out of a rock. We know that the water has gathered from many a distant vein underground, but we do not see these. Or it is like the drawing up the curtain on the opening of a play—the scene is then first revealed.

Glacial Periods of Folly

The moraines left by secular glacial periods of folly stretch out over many a plain of our civilisation. So in the Odyssey, especially in the second twelve books, whenever any one eats meat it is called "sacrificing" it, as though we were descended from a race that did not eat meat. Then it was said that meat might be eaten if one did not eat the life. What was the life? Clearly the blood, for when you stick a pig it lives till the blood is gone. You must sacrifice the blood, therefore, to the gods, but so long as you abstain from things strangled and from blood, and so long as you call it sacrificing, you may eat as much meat as you please.

What a mountain of lies—what a huge geological formation of falsehood, with displacement of all kinds, and strata twisted every conceivable way, must have accreted before the Odyssey was possible!

Translations from Verse into Prose

Whenever this is attempted, great licence must be allowed to the translator in getting rid of all those poetical common forms which are foreign to the genius of prose. If the work is to be translated into prose, let it be into such prose as we write and speak among ourselves. A volume of poetical prose, i.e. affected prose, had better be in verse outright at once. Poetical prose is never tolerable for more than a very short bit at a time. And it may be questioned whether poetry itself is not better kept short in ninety- nine cases out of a hundred.

Translating the Odyssey

If you wish to preserve the spirit of a dead author, you must not skin him, stuff him, and set him up in a case. You must eat him, digest him and let him live in you, with such life as you have, for better or worse. The difference between the Andrew Lang manner of translating the Odyssey and mine is that between making a mummy and a baby. He tries to preserve a corpse (for the Odyssey is a corpse to all who need Lang's translation), whereas I try to originate a new life and one that is instinct (as far as I can effect this) with the spirit though not the form of the original.

They say no woman could possibly have written the Odyssey. To me, on the other hand, it seems even less possible that a man could have done so. As for its being by a practised and elderly writer, nothing but youth and inexperience could produce anything so naive and so lovely. That is where the work will suffer by my translation. I am male, practised and elderly, and the trail of sex, age and experience is certain to be over my translation. If the poem is ever to be well translated, it must be by some high-spirited English girl who has been brought up at Athens and who, therefore, has not been jaded by academic study of the language.

A translation is at best a dislocation, a translation from verse to prose is a double dislocation and corresponding further dislocations are necessary if an effect of deformity is to be avoided.

The people who, when they read "Athene" translated by "Minerva," cannot bear in mind that every Athene varies more or less with, and takes colour from, the country and temperament of the writer who is being translated, will not be greatly helped by translating "Athene" and not "Minerva." Besides many readers would pronounce the word as a dissyllable or an anapaest.

The Odyssey and a Tomb at Carcassonne

There is a tomb at some place in France, I think at Carcassonne, on which there is some sculpture representing the friends and relations of the deceased in paroxysms of grief with their cheeks all cracked, and crying like Gaudenzio's angels on the Sacro Monte at Varallo- Sesia. Round the corner, however, just out of sight till one searches, there is a man holding both his sides and splitting with laughter. In some parts of the Odyssey, especially about Ulysses and Penelope, I fancy that laughing man as being round the corner. [Oct. 1891.]

Getting it Wrong

Zeffirino Carestia, a sculptor, told me we had a great sculptor in England named Simpson. I demurred, and asked about his work. It seemed he had made a monument to Nelson in Westminster Abbey. Of course I saw he meant Stevens, who had made a monument to Wellington in St. Paul's. I cross-questioned him and found I was right.

Suppose that in some ancient writer I had come upon a similar error about which I felt no less certain than I did here, ought I to be debarred from my conclusion merely by the accident that I have not the wretched muddler at my elbow and cannot ask him personally? People are always getting things wrong. It is the critic's business to know how and when to believe on insufficient evidence and to know how far to go in the matter of setting people right without going too far; the question of what is too far and what is sufficient evidence can only be settled by the higgling and haggling of the literary market.

So I justify my emendation of the "grotta del toro" at Trapani. [The Authoress of the Odyssey, Chap. VIII.] "Il toro macigna un tesoro di oro." [The bull is grinding a treasure of gold] in the grotto in which (for other reasons) I am convinced Ulysses hid the gifts the Phoeacians had given him. And so the grotto is called "La grotta del toro" [The grotto of the bull]. I make no doubt it was originally called "La grotta del tesoro" [The grotto of the treasure], but children got it wrong, and corrupted "tesoro" into "toro"; then, it being known that the "tesoro" was in it somehow, the "toro" was made to grind the "tesoro."



According to Mr. Matthew Arnold, as we find the highest traditions of grace, beauty and the heroic virtues among the Greeks and Romans, so we derive our highest ideal of righteousness from Jewish sources. Righteousness was to the Jew what strength and beauty were to the Greek or fortitude to the Roman.

This sounds well, but can we think that the Jews taken as a nation were really more righteous than the Greeks and Romans? Could they indeed be so if they were less strong, graceful and enduring? In some respects they may have been—every nation has its strong points- -but surely there has been a nearly unanimous verdict for many generations that the typical Greek or Roman is a higher, nobler person than the typical Jew—and this referring not to the modern Jew, who may perhaps he held to have been injured by centuries of oppression, but to the Hebrew of the time of the old prophets and of the most prosperous eras in the history of the nation. If three men could be set before us as the most perfect Greek, Roman and Jew respectively, and if we could choose which we would have our only son most resemble, is it not likely we should find ourselves preferring the Greek or Roman to the Jew? And does not this involve that we hold the two former to be the more righteous in a broad sense of the word?

I dare not say that we owe no benefits to the Jewish nation, I do not feel sure whether we do or do not, but I can see no good thing that I can point to as a notoriously Hebrew contribution to our moral and intellectual well-being as I can point to our law and say that it is Roman, or to our fine arts and say that they are based on what the Greeks and Italians taught us. On the contrary, if asked what feature of post-Christian life we had derived most distinctly from Hebrew sources I should say at once "intolerance"—the desire to dogmatise about matters whereon the Greek and Roman held certainty to be at once unimportant and unattainable. This, with all its train of bloodshed and family disunion, is chargeable to the Jewish rather than to any other account.

There is yet another vice which occurs readily to any one who reckons up the characteristics which we derive mainly from the Jews; it is one that we call, after a Jewish sect, "Pharisaism." I do not mean to say that no Greek or Roman was ever a sanctimonious hypocrite, still, sanctimoniousness does not readily enter into our notions of Greeks and Romans and it does so enter into our notions of the old Hebrews. Of course, we are all of us sanctimonious sometimes; Horace himself is so when he talks about aurum irrepertum et sic melius situm, and as for Virgil he was a prig, pure and simple; still, on the whole, sanctimoniousness was not a Greek and Roman vice and it was a Hebrew one. True, they stoned their prophets freely; but these are not the Hebrews to whom Mr. Arnold is referring, they are the ones whom it is the custom to leave out of sight and out of mind as far as possible, so that they should hardly count as Hebrews at all, and none of our characteristics should be ascribed to them.

Taking their literature I cannot see that it deserves the praises that have been lavished upon it. The Song of Solomon and the book of Esther are the most interesting in the Old Testament, but these are the very ones that make the smallest pretensions to holiness, and even these are neither of them of very transcendent merit. They would stand no chance of being accepted by Messrs. Cassell and Co. or by any biblical publisher of the present day. Chatto and Windus might take the Song of Solomon, but, with this exception, I doubt if there is a publisher in London who would give a guinea for the pair. Ecclesiastes contains some fine things but is strongly tinged with pessimism, cynicism and affectation. Some of the Proverbs are good, but not many of them are in common use. Job contains some fine passages, and so do some of the Psalms; but the Psalms generally are poor and, for the most part, querulous, spiteful and introspective into the bargain. Mudie would not take thirteen copies of the lot if they were to appear now for the first time—unless indeed their royal authorship were to arouse an adventitious interest in them, or unless the author were a rich man who played his cards judiciously with the reviewers. As for the prophets—we know what appears to have been the opinion formed concerning them by those who should have been best acquainted with them; I am no judge as to the merits of the controversy between them and their fellow-countrymen, but I have read their works and am of opinion that they will not hold their own against such masterpieces of modern literature as, we will say, The Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels or Tom Jones. "Whether there be prophecies," exclaims the Apostle, "they shall fail." On the whole I should say that Isaiah and Jeremiah must be held to have failed.

I would join issue with Mr. Matthew Arnold on yet another point. I understand him to imply that righteousness should be a man's highest aim in life. I do not like setting up righteousness, nor yet anything else, as the highest aim in life; a man should have any number of little aims about which he should be conscious and for which he should have names, but he should have neither name for, nor consciousness concerning the main aim of his life. Whatever we do we must try and do it rightly—this is obvious—but righteousness implies something much more than this: it conveys to our minds not only the desire to get whatever we have taken in hand as nearly right as possible, but also the general reference of our lives to the supposed will of an unseen but supreme power. Granted that there is such a power, and granted that we should obey its will, we are the more likely to do this the less we concern ourselves about the matter and the more we confine our attention to the things immediately round about us which seem, so to speak, entrusted to us as the natural and legitimate sphere of our activity. I believe a man will get the most useful information on these matters from modern European sources; next to these he will get most from Athens and ancient Rome. Mr. Matthew Arnold notwithstanding, I do not think he will get anything from Jerusalem which he will not find better and more easily elsewhere. [1883.]


But where shall wisdom be found? (Job xxviii. 12).

If the writer of these words meant exactly what he said, he had so little wisdom that he might well seek more. He should have known that wisdom spends most of her time crying in the streets and public- houses, and he should have gone thither to look for her. It is written:

"Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:

"She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words" (Prov. i. 20, 21.)

If however he meant rather "Where shall wisdom be regarded?" this, again, is not a very sensible question. People have had wisdom before them for some time, and they may be presumed to be the best judges of their own affairs, yet they do not generally show much regard for wisdom. We may conclude, therefore, that they have found her less profitable than by her own estimate she would appear to be. This indeed is what one of the wisest men who ever lived—the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes—definitely concludes to be the case, when he tells his readers that they had better not overdo either their virtue or their wisdom. They must not, on the other hand, overdo their wickedness nor, presumably, their ignorance, still the writer evidently thinks that error is safer on the side of too little than of too much. {203}

Reflection will show that this must always have been true, and must always remain so, for this is the side on which error is both least disastrous and offers most place for repentance. He who finds himself inconvenienced by knowing too little can go to the British Museum, or to the Working Men's College, and learn more; but when a thing is once well learnt it is even harder to unlearn it than it was to learn it. Would it be possible to unlearn the art of speech or the arts of reading and writing even if we wished to do so? Wisdom and knowledge are, like a bad reputation, more easily won than lost; we got on fairly well without knowing that the earth went round the sun; we thought the sun went round the earth until we found it made us uncomfortable to think so any longer, then we altered our opinion; it was not very easy to alter it, but it was easier than it would be to alter it back again. Vestigia nulla retrorsum; the earth itself does not pursue its course more steadily than mind does when it has once committed itself, and if we could see the movements of the stars in slow time we should probably find that there was much more throb and tremor in detail than we can take note of.

How, I wonder, will it be if in our pursuit of knowledge we stumble upon some awkward fact as disturbing for the human race as an enquiry into the state of his own finances may sometimes prove to the individual? The pursuit of knowledge can never be anything but a leap in the dark, and a leap in the dark is a very uncomfortable thing. I have sometimes thought that if the human race ever loses its ascendancy it will not be through plague, famine or cataclysm, but by getting to know some little microbe, as it were, of knowledge which shall get into its system and breed there till it makes an end of us. {204} It is well, therefore, that there should be a substratum of mankind who cannot by any inducement be persuaded to know anything whatever at all, and who are resolutely determined to know nothing among us but what the parson tells them, and not to be too sure even about that.

Whence then cometh wisdom and where is the place of understanding? How does Job solve his problem?

"Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom: and to depart from evil is understanding."

The answer is all very well as far as it goes, but it only amounts to saying that wisdom is wisdom. We know no better what the fear of the Lord is than what wisdom is, and we often do not depart from evil simply because we do not know that what we are cleaving to is evil.

Loving and Hating

I have often said that there is no true love short of eating and consequent assimilation; the embryonic processes are but a long course of eating and assimilation—the sperm and germ cells, or the two elements that go to form the new animal, whatever they should be called, eat one another up, and then the mother assimilates them, more or less, through mutual inter-feeding and inter-breeding between her and them. But the curious point is that the more profound our love is the less we are conscious of it as love. True, a nurse tells her child that she would like to eat it, but this is only an expression that shows an instinctive recognition of the fact that eating is a mode of, or rather the acme of, love—no nurse loves her child half well enough to want really to eat it; put to such proof as this the love of which she is so profoundly, as she imagines, sentient proves to be but skin deep. So with our horses and dogs: we think we dote upon them, but we do not really love them.

What, on the other hand, can awaken less consciousness of warm affection than an oyster? Who would press an oyster to his heart, or pat it and want to kiss it? Yet nothing short of its complete absorption into our own being can in the least satisfy us. No merely superficial temporary contact of exterior form to exterior form will serve us. The embrace must be consummate, not achieved by a mocking environment of draped and muffled arms that leaves no lasting trace on organisation or consciousness, but by an enfolding within the bare and warm bosom of an open mouth—a grinding out of all differences of opinion by the sweet persuasion of the jaws, and the eloquence of a tongue that now convinces all the more powerfully because it is inarticulate and deals but with the one universal language of agglutination. Then we become made one with what we love—not heart to heart, but protoplasm to protoplasm, and this is far more to the purpose.

The proof of love, then, like that of any other pleasant pudding, is in the eating, and tested by this proof we see that consciousness of love, like all other consciousness vanishes on becoming intense. While we are yet fully aware of it, we do not love as well as we think we do. When we really mean business and are hungry with affection, we do not know that we are in love, but simply go into the love-shop—for so any eating-house should be more fitly called—ask the price, pay our money down, and love till we can either love or pay no longer.

And so with hate. When we really hate a thing it makes us sick, and we use this expression to symbolise the utmost hatred of which our nature is capable; but when we know we hate, our hatred is in reality mild and inoffensive. I, for example, think I hate all those people whose photographs I see in the shop windows, but I am so conscious of this that I am convinced, in reality, nothing would please me better than to be in the shop windows too. So when I see the universities conferring degrees on any one, or the learned societies moulting the yearly medals as peacocks moult their tails, I am so conscious of disapproval as to feel sure I should like a degree or a medal too if they would only give me one, and hence I conclude that my disapproval is grounded in nothing more serious than a superficial, transient jealousy.

The Roman Empire

Nothing will ever die so long as it knows what to do under the circumstances, in other words so long as it knows its business. The Roman Empire must have died of inexperience of some kind, I should think most likely it was puzzled to death by the Christian religion. But the question is not so much how the Roman Empire or any other great thing came to an end—everything must come to an end some time, it is only scientists who wonder that a state should die—the interesting question is how did the Romans become so great, under what circumstances were they born and bred? We should watch childhood and schooldays rather than old age and death-beds.

As I sit writing on the top of a wild-beast pen of the amphitheatre of Aosta I may note, for one thing, that the Romans were not squeamish, they had no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Again, their ladies did not write in the newspapers. Fancy Miss Cato reviewing Horace! They had no Frances Power Cobbes, no . . . s, no . . . s; yet they seem to have got along quite nicely without these powerful moral engines. The comeliest and most enjoyable races that we know of were the ancient Greeks, the Italians and the South Sea Islanders, and they have none of them been purists.

Italians and Englishmen

Italians, and perhaps Frenchmen, consider first whether they like or want to do a thing and then whether, on the whole, it will do them any harm. Englishmen, and perhaps Germans, consider first whether they ought to like a thing and often never reach the questions whether they do like it and whether it will hurt. There is much to be said for both systems, but I suppose it is best to combine them as far as possible.

On Knowing what Gives us Pleasure


One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and the most neglected of all arts and branches of education. Indeed, if we could solve the difficulty of knowing what gives us pleasure, if we could find its springs, its inception and earliest modus operandi, we should have discovered the secret of life and development, for the same difficulty has attended the development of every sense from touch onwards, and no new sense was ever developed without pains. A man had better stick to known and proved pleasures, but, if he will venture in quest of new ones, he should not do so with a light heart.

One reason why we find it so hard to know our own likings is because we are so little accustomed to try; we have our likings found for us in respect of by far the greater number of the matters that concern us; thus we have grown all our limbs on the strength of the likings of our ancestors and adopt these without question.

Another reason is that, except in mere matters of eating and drinking, people do not realise the importance of finding out what it is that gives them pleasure if, that is to say, they would make themselves as comfortable here as they reasonably can. Very few, however, seem to care greatly whether they are comfortable or no. There are some men so ignorant and careless of what gives them pleasure that they cannot be said ever to have been really born as living beings at all. They present some of the phenomena of having been born—they reproduce, in fact, so many of the ideas which we associate with having been born that it is hard not to think of them as living beings—but in spite of all appearances the central idea is wanting. At least one half of the misery which meets us daily might be removed or, at any rate, greatly alleviated, if those who suffer by it would think it worth their while to be at any pains to get rid of it. That they do not so think is proof that they neither know, nor care to know, more than in a very languid way, what it is that will relieve them most effectually or, in other words, that the shoe does not really pinch them so hard as we think it does. For when it really pinches, as when a man is being flogged, he will seek relief by any means in his power. So my great namesake said, "Surely the pleasure is as great Of being cheated as to cheat"; and so, again, I remember to have seen a poem many years ago in Punch according to which a certain young lady, being discontented at home, went out into the world in quest to "Some burden make or burden bear, But which she did not greatly care—Oh Miseree!" So long as there was discomfort somewhere it was all right.

To those, however, who are desirous of knowing what gives them pleasure but do not quite know how to set about it I have no better advice to give than that they must take the same pains about acquiring this difficult art as about any other, and must acquire it in the same way—that is by attending to one thing at a time and not being in too great a hurry. Proficiency is not to be attained here, any more than elsewhere, by short cuts or by getting other people to do work that no other than oneself can do. Above all things it is necessary here, as in all other branches of study, not to think we know a thing before we do know it—to make sure of our ground and be quite certain that we really do like a thing before we say we do. When you cannot decide whether you like a thing or not, nothing is easier than to say so and to hang it up among the uncertainties. Or when you know you do not know and are in such doubt as to see no chance of deciding, then you may take one side or the other provisionally and throw yourself into it. This will sometimes make you uncomfortable, and you will feel you have taken the wrong side and thus learn that the other was the right one. Sometimes you will feel you have done right. Any way ere long you will know more about it. But there must have been a secret treaty with yourself to the effect that the decision was provisional only. For, after all, the most important first principle in this matter is the not lightly thinking you know what you like till you have made sure of your ground. I was nearly forty before I felt how stupid it was to pretend to know things that I did not know and I still often catch myself doing so. Not one of my school-masters taught me this, but altogether otherwise.


I should like to like Schumann's music better than I do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying at all.


To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pear's soap at the end of the programme.

De Minimis non Curat Lex


Yes, but what is a minimum? Sometimes a maximum is a minimum, and sometimes the other way about. If you know you know, and if you don't you don't.


Yes, but what is a minimum? So increased material weight involves increased moral weight, but where does there begin to be any weight at all? There is a miracle somewhere. At the point where two very large nothings have united to form a very little something.


There is no such complete assimilation as assimilation of rhythm. In fact it is in assimilation of rhythm that what we see as assimilation consists.

When two liquid bodies come together with nearly the same rhythms, as, say, two tumblers of water, differing but very slightly, the two assimilate rapidly—becoming homogeneous throughout. So with wine and water which assimilate, or at any rate form a new homogeneous substance, very rapidly. Not so with oil and water. Still, I should like to know whether it would not be possible to have so much water and so little oil that the water would in time absorb the oil.

I have not thought about it, but it seems as though the maxim de minimis non curat lex—the fact that a wrong, a contradiction in terms, a violation of all our ordinary canons does not matter and should be brushed aside—it seems as though this maxim went very low down in the scale of nature, as though it were the one principle rendering combination (integration) and, I suppose, dissolution (disintegration) also, possible. For combination of any kind involves contradiction in terms; it involves a self-stultification on the part of one or more things, more or less complete in both of them. For one or both cease to be, and to cease to be is to contradict all one's fundamental axioms or terms.

And this is always going on in the mental world as much as in the material; everything is always changing and stultifying itself more or less completely. There is no permanence of identity so absolute, either in the physical world, or in our conception of the word "identity," that it is not crossed with the notion of perpetual change which, pro tanto, destroys identity. Perfect, absolute identity is like perfect, absolute anything—as near an approach to nothing, or nonsense, as our minds can grasp. It is, then, in the essence of our conception of identity that nothing should maintain a perfect identity; there is an element of disintegration in the only conception of integration that we can form.

What is it, then, that makes this conflict not only possible and bearable but even pleasant? What is it that so oils the machinery of our thoughts that things which would otherwise cause intolerable friction and heat produce no jar?

Surely it is the principle that a very overwhelming majority rides rough-shod with impunity over a very small minority; that a drop of brandy in a gallon of water is practically no brandy; that a dozen maniacs among a hundred thousand people produce no unsettling effect upon our minds; that a well-written i will go as an i even though the dot be omitted—it seems to me that it is this principle, which is embodied in de minimis non curat lex, that makes it possible that there should be majora and a lex to care about them. This is saying in another form that association does not stick to the letter of its bond.


Saints are always grumbling because the world will not take them at their own estimate; so they cry out upon this place and upon that, saying it does not know the things belonging to its peace and that it will be too late soon and that people will be very sorry then that they did not make more of the grumbler, whoever he may be, inasmuch as he will make it hot for them and pay them out generally.

All this means: "Put me in a better social and financial position than I now occupy; give me more of the good things of this life, if not actual money yet authority (which is better loved by most men than even money itself), to reward me because I am to have such an extraordinary good fortune and high position in the world which is to come."

When their contemporaries do not see this and tell them that they cannot expect to have it both ways, they lose their tempers, shake the dust from their feet and go sulking off into the wilderness.

This is as regards themselves; to their followers they say: "You must not expect to be able to make the best of both worlds. The thing is absurd; it cannot be done. You must choose which you prefer, go in for it and leave the other, for you cannot have both."

When a saint complains that people do not know the things belonging to their peace, what he really means is that they do not sufficiently care about the things belonging to his own peace.



Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days: that I may be certified how long I have to live (Ps. xxxix. 5).

Of all prayers this is the insanest. That the one who uttered it should have made and retained a reputation is a strong argument in favour of his having been surrounded with courtiers. "Lord, let me not know mine end" would be better, only it would be praying for what God has already granted us. "Lord, let me know A.B.'s end" would be bad enough. Even though A.B. were Mr. Gladstone—we might hear he was not to die yet. "Lord, stop A.B. from knowing my end" would be reasonable, if there were any use in praying that A.B. might not be able to do what he never can do. Or can the prayer refer to the other end of life? "Lord, let me know my beginning." This again would not be always prudent.

The prayer is a silly piece of petulance and it would have served the maker of it right to have had it granted. "A painful and lingering disease followed by death" or "Ninety, a burden to yourself and every one else"—there is not so much to pick and choose between them. Surely, "I thank thee, O Lord, that thou hast hidden mine end from me" would be better. The sting of death is in foreknowledge of the when and the how.

If again he had prayed that he might be able to make his psalms a little more lively, and be saved from becoming the bore which he has been to so many generations of sick persons and young children—or that he might find a publisher for them with greater facility—but there is no end to it. The prayer he did pray was about the worst he could have prayed and the psalmist, being the psalmist, naturally prayed it—unless I have misquoted him.


Prayers are to men as dolls are to children. They are not without use and comfort, but it is not easy to take them very seriously. I dropped saying mine suddenly once for all without malice prepense, on the night of the 29th of September, 1859, when I went on board the Roman Emperor to sail for New Zealand. I had said them the night before and doubted not that I was always going to say them as I always had done hitherto. That night, I suppose, the sense of change was so great that it shook them quietly off. I was not then a sceptic; I had got as far as disbelief in infant baptism but no further. I felt no compunction of conscience, however, about leaving off my morning and evening prayers—simply I could no longer say them.


Lead us not into temptation (Matt. vi. 13).

For example; I am crossing from Calais to Dover and there is a well- known popular preacher on board, say Archdeacon Farrar.

I have my camera in my hand and though the sea is rough the sun is brilliant. I see the archdeacon come on board at Calais and seat himself upon the upper deck, looking as though he had just stepped out of a band-box. Can I be expected to resist the temptation of snapping him? Suppose that in the train for an hour before reaching Calais I had said any number of times, "Lead us not into temptation," is it likely that the archdeacon would have been made to take some other boat or to stay in Calais, or that I myself, by being delayed on my homeward journey, should have been led into some other temptation, though perhaps smaller? Had I not better snap him and have done with it? Is there enough chance of good result to make it worth while to try the experiment? The general consensus of opinion is that there is not.

And as for praying for strength to resist temptation—granted that if, when I saw the archdeacon in the band-box stage, I had immediately prayed for strength I might have been enabled to put the evil thing from me for a time, how long would this have been likely to last when I saw his face grow saintlier and saintlier? I am an excellent sailor myself, but he is not, and when I see him there, his eyes closed and his head thrown back, like a sleeping St. Joseph in a shovel hat, with a basin beside him, can I expect to be saved from snapping him by such a formula as "Deliver us from evil"?

Is it in photographer's nature to do so? When David found himself in the cave with Saul he cut off one of Saul's coattails; if he had had a camera and there had been enough light he would have photographed him; but would it have been in flesh and blood for him neither to cut off his coat-tail nor to snap him?

There is a photographer in every bush, going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.


Teach me to live that I may dread The grave as little as my bed.

This is from the evening hymn which all respectable children are taught. It sounds well, but it is immoral.

Our own death is a premium which we must pay for the far greater benefit we have derived from the fact that so many people have not only lived but also died before us. For if the old ones had not in course of time gone there would have been no progress; all our civilisation is due to the arrangement whereby no man shall live for ever, and to this huge mass of advantage we must each contribute our mite; that is to say, when our turn comes we too must die. The hardship is that interested persons should be able to scare us into thinking the change we call death to be the desperate business which they make it out to be. There is no hardship in having to suffer that change.

Bishop Ken, however, goes too far. Undesirable, of course, death must always be to those who are fairly well off, but it is undesirable that any living being should live in habitual indifference to death. The indifference should be kept for worthy occasions, and even then, though death be gladly faced, it is not healthy that it should be faced as though it were a mere undressing and going to bed.


Preface to Vol. II

On indexing this volume, as with Vols. I and IV which are already indexed and as, no doubt, will be the case with any that I may live to index later, I am alarmed at the triviality of many of these notes, the ineptitude of many and the obvious untenableness of many that I should have done much better to destroy.

Elmsley, in one of his letters to Dr. Butler, says that an author is the worst person to put one of his own works through the press (Life of Dr. Butler, I, 88). It seems to me that he is the worst person also to make selections from his own notes or indeed even, in my case, to write them. I cannot help it. They grew as, with little disturbance, they now stand; they are not meant for publication; the bad ones serve as bread for the jam of the good ones; it was less trouble to let them go than to think whether they ought not to be destroyed. The retort, however, is obvious; no thinking should have been required in respect of many—a glance should have consigned them to the waste-paper basket. I know it and I know that many a one of those who look over these books—for that they will be looked over by not a few I doubt not—will think me to have been a greater fool than I probably was. I cannot help it. I have at any rate the consolation of also knowing that, however much I may have irritated, displeased or disappointed them, they will not be able to tell me so; and I think that, to some, such a record of passing moods and thoughts good, bad and indifferent will be more valuable as throwing light upon the period to which it relates than it would have been if it had been edited with greater judgment.

Besides, Vols. I and IV being already bound, I should not have enough to form Vols. II and III if I cut out all those that ought to be cut out. [June, 1898.]

P.S.—If I had re-read my preface to Vol. IV, I need not have written the above.

Waste-Paper Baskets

Every one should keep a mental waste-paper basket and the older he grows the more things he will consign to it—torn up to irrecoverable tatters.

Flies in the Milk-Jug

Saving scraps is like picking flies out of the milk-jug. We do not mind doing this, I suppose, because we feel sure the flies will never want to borrow money off us. We do not feel so sure about anything much bigger than a fly. If it were a mouse that had got into the milk-jug, we should call the cat at once.

My Thoughts

They are like persons met upon a journey; I think them very agreeable at first but soon find, as a rule, that I am tired of them.

Our Ideas

They are for the most part like bad sixpences and we spend our lives in trying to pass them on one another.

Cat-Ideas and Mouse-Ideas

We can never get rid of mouse-ideas completely, they keep turning up again and again, and nibble, nibble—no matter how often we drive them off. The best way to keep them down is to have a few good strong cat-ideas which will embrace them and ensure their not reappearing till they do so in another shape.

Incoherency of New Ideas

An idea must not be condemned for being a little shy and incoherent; all new ideas are shy when introduced first among our old ones. We should have patience and see whether the incoherency is likely to wear off or to wear on, in which latter case the sooner we get rid of them the better.

An Apology for the Devil

It must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.


When we exclaim so triumphantly "Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" we only mean that we think no small beer of ourselves, that our God is a much greater God than any one else's God, that he was our father's God before us, and that it is all right, respectable and as it should be.


It does not matter much what a man hates provided he hates something.

Hamlet, Don Quixote, Mr. Pickwick and others

The great characters of fiction live as truly as the memories of dead men. For the life after death it is not necessary that a man or woman should have lived.


The evil that men do lives after them. Yes, and a good deal of the evil that they never did as well.

Science and Business

The best class of scientific mind is the same as the best class of business mind. The great desideratum in either case is to know how much evidence is enough to warrant action. It is as unbusiness-like to want too much evidence before buying or selling as to be content with too little. The same kind of qualities are wanted in either case. The difference is that if the business man makes a mistake, he commonly has to suffer for it, whereas it is rarely that scientific blundering, so long as it is confined to theory, entails loss on the blunderer. On the contrary it very often brings him fame, money and a pension. Hence the business man, if he is a good one, will take greater care not to overdo or underdo things than the scientific man can reasonably be expected to take.


There are two classes, those who want to know and do not care whether others think they know or not, and those who do not much care about knowing but care very greatly about being reputed as knowing.

Scientific Terminology

This is the Scylla's cave which men of science are preparing for themselves to be able to pounce out upon us from it, and into which we cannot penetrate.

Scientists and Drapers

Why should the botanist, geologist or other-ist give himself such airs over the draper's assistant? Is it because he names his plants or specimens with Latin names and divides them into genera and species, whereas the draper does not formulate his classifications, or at any rate only uses his mother tongue when he does? Yet how like the sub-divisions of textile life are to those of the animal and vegetable kingdoms! A few great families—cotton, linen, hempen, woollen, silk, mohair, alpaca—into what an infinite variety of genera and species do not these great families subdivide themselves? And does it take less labour, with less intelligence, to master all these and to acquire familiarity with their various habits, habitats and prices than it does to master the details of any other great branch of science? I do not know. But when I think of Shoolbred's on the one hand and, say, the ornithological collections of the British Museum upon the other, I feel as though it would take me less trouble to master the second than the first.

Men of Science

If they are worthy of the name they are indeed about God's path and about his bed and spying out all his ways.


Everything matters more than we think it does, and, at the same time, nothing matters so much as we think it does. The merest spark may set all Europe in a blaze, but though all Europe be set in a blaze twenty times over, the world will wag itself right again.


I regard them with suspicion as academic.


Time is the only true purgatory.


He is greatest who is most often in men's good thoughts.

The Vanity of Human Wishes

There is only one thing vainer and that is the having no wishes.

Jones's Conscience

He said he had not much conscience, and what little he had was guilty.


The Nihilists do not believe in nothing; they only believe in nothing that does not commend itself to themselves; that is, they will not allow that anything may be beyond their comprehension. As their comprehension is not great their creed is, after all, very nearly nihil.

On Breaking Habits

To begin knocking off the habit in the evening, then the afternoon as well and, finally, the morning too is better than to begin cutting it off in the morning and then go on to the afternoon and evening. I speak from experience as regards smoking and can say that when one comes to within an hour or two of smoke-time one begins to be impatient for it, whereas there will be no impatience after the time for knocking off has been confirmed as a habit.


The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.

Future and Past

The Will-be and the Has-been touch us more nearly than the Is. So we are more tender towards children and old people than to those who are in the prime of life.


As the word is now commonly used it excludes nature's most interesting productions—the works of man. Nature is usually taken to mean mountains, rivers, clouds and undomesticated animals and plants. I am not indifferent to this half of nature, but it interests me much less than the other half.

Lucky and Unlucky

People are lucky and unlucky not according to what they get absolutely, but according to the ratio between what they get and what they have been led to expect.



As, no matter what cunning system of checks we devise, we must in the end trust some one whom we do not check, but to whom we give unreserved confidence, so there is a point at which the understanding and mental processes must be taken as understood without further question or definition in words. And I should say that this point should be fixed pretty early in the discussion.


There is one class of mind that loves to lean on rules and definitions, and another that discards them as far as possible. A faddist will generally ask for a definition of faddism, and one who is not a faddist will be impatient of being asked to give one.


A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words.


Definitions are a kind of scratching and generally leave a sore place more sore than it was before.


As Love is too young to know what conscience is, so Truth and Genius are too old to know what definition is.


It has such an inherent power to run itself clear of taint that human ingenuity cannot devise the means of making it work permanent mischief, any more than means can be found of torturing people beyond what they can bear. Even if a man founds a College of Technical Instruction, the chances are ten to one that no one will be taught anything and that it will have been practically left to a number of excellent professors who will know very well what to do with it.


There is no Professor of Wit at either University. Surely they might as reasonably have a professor of wit as of poetry.

Oxford and Cambridge

The dons are too busy educating the young men to be able to teach them anything.


There is a higher average of good cooking at Oxford and Cambridge than elsewhere. The cooking is better than the curriculum. But there is no Chair of Cookery, it is taught by apprenticeship in the kitchens.

Perseus and St. George

These dragon-slayers did not take lessons in dragon-slaying, nor do leaders of forlorn hopes generally rehearse their parts beforehand. Small things may be rehearsed, but the greatest are always do-or-die, neck-or-nothing matters.

Specialism and Generalism

Woe to the specialist who is not a pretty fair generalist, and woe to the generalist who is not also a bit of a specialist.

Silence and Tact

Silence is not always tact and it is tact that is golden, not silence.


Professional truth-tellers may be trusted to profess that they are telling the truth.

Street Preachers

These are the costermongers and barrow men of the religious world.

Providence and Othello

Providence, in making the rain fall also upon the sea, was like the man who, when he was to play Othello, must needs black himself all over.

Providence and Improvidence


We should no longer say: Put your trust in Providence, but in Improvidence, for this is what we mean.


To put one's trust in God is only a longer way of saying that one will chance it.


There is nothing so imprudent or so improvident as over-prudence or over-providence.


If Providence could be seen at all, he would probably turn out to be a very disappointing person—a little wizened old gentleman with a cold in his head, a red nose and a comforter round his neck, whistling o'er the furrow'd land or crooning to himself as he goes aimlessly along the streets, poking his way about and loitering continually at shop-windows and second-hand book-stalls.


Like Wisdom, Fortune crieth in the streets, and no man regardeth. There is not an advertisement supplement to the Times—nay, hardly a half sheet of newspaper that comes into a house wrapping up this or that, but it gives information which would make a man's fortune, if he could only spot it and detect the one paragraph that would do this among the 99 which would wreck him if he had anything to do with them.


Gold is not found in quartz alone; its richest lodes are in the eyes and ears of the public, but these are harder to work and to prospect than any quartz vein.

Things and Purses

Everything is like a purse—there may be money in it, and we can generally say by the feel of it whether there is or is not. Sometimes, however, we must turn it inside out before we can be quite sure whether there is anything in it or no. When I have turned a proposition inside out, put it to stand on its head, and shaken it, I have often been surprised to find how much came out of it.

Solomon in all his Glory

But, in the first place, the lilies do toil and spin after their own fashion, and, in the next, it was not desirable that Solomon should be dressed like a lily of the valley.

David's Teachers

David said he had more understanding than his teachers. If his teachers were anything like mine this need not imply much understanding on David's part. And if his teachers did not know more than the Psalms—it is absurd. It is merely swagger, like the German Emperor. [1897.]

S. Michael

He contended with the devil about the body of Moses. Now, I do not believe that any reasonable person would contend about the body of Moses with the devil or with any one else.

One Form of Failure

From a worldly point of view there is no mistake so great as that of being always right.


The dragon was never in better health and spirits than on the morning when Perseus came down upon him. It is said that Andromeda told Perseus she had been thinking how remarkably well he was looking. He had got up quite in his usual health—and so on.

When I said this to Ballard [a fellow art-student at Heatherley's] and that other thing which I said about Andromeda in Life and Habit, {225} he remarked that he wished it had been so in the poets.

I looked at him. "Ballard," I said, "I also am 'the poets.'"


Nothing is ever any good unless it is thwarted with self-distrust though in the main self-confident.


When the inclination is not obvious, the mind meanders, or maunders, as a stream in a flat meadow.


I shun it because I have found it so apt to become contagious; but I fancy my constitution is more seasoned against it now than formerly. I hope that what I have gone through may have made me immune.

Pedals or Drones

The discords of every age are rendered possible by being taken on a drone or pedal of cant, common form and conventionality. This drone is, as it were, the flour and suet of a plum pudding.

Evasive Nature

She is one long This-way-and-it-isness and, at the same time, That- way-and-it-isn'tness. She flies so like a snipe that she is hard to hit.


Fashion is like God, man cannot see it in its holy of holies and live. And it is, like God, increate, springing out of nothing, yet the maker of all things—ever changing yet the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.

Doctors and Clergymen

A physician's physiology has much the same relation to his power of healing as a cleric's divinity has to his power of influencing conduct.

God is Love

I dare say. But what a mischievous devil Love is!

Common Chords

If Man is the tonic and God the dominant, the Devil is certainly the sub-dominant and Woman is the relative minor.

God and the Devil

God and the Devil are an effort after specialisation and division of labour.


The sexes are the first—or are among the first great experiments in the social subdivision of labour.


If you choose to insist on the analogies and points of resemblance between men and women, they are so great that the differences seem indeed small. If, on the other hand, you are in a mood for emphasising the points of difference, you can show that men and women have hardly anything in common. And so with anything: if a man wants to make a case he can generally find a way of doing so.

Offers of Marriage

Women sometimes say that they have had no offers, and only wish that some one had ever proposed to them. This is not the right way to put it. What they should say is that though, like all women, they have been proposing to men all their lives, yet they grieve to remember that they have been invariably refused.



The question of marriage or non-marriage is only the question of whether it is better to be spoiled one way or another.


In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved.


Inoculation, or a hair of the dog that is going to bite you—this principle should be introduced in respect of marriage and speculation.

Life and Love

To live is like to love—all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.

The Basis of Life

We may say what we will, but Life is, au fond, sensual.

Woman Suffrage

I will vote for it when women have left off making a noise in the reading-room of the British Museum, when they leave off wearing high head-dresses in the pit of a theatre and when I have seen as many as twelve women in all catch hold of the strap or bar on getting into an omnibus.

Manners Makyth Man

Yes, but they make woman still more.

Women and Religion

It has been said that all sensible men are of the same religion and that no sensible man ever says what that religion is. So all sensible men are of the same opinion about women and no sensible man ever says what that opinion is.


Behold and see if there be any happiness like unto the happiness of the devils when they found themselves cast out of Mary Magdalene.

Sorrow within Sorrow

He was in reality damned glad; he told people he was sorry he was not more sorry, and here began the first genuine sorrow, for he was really sorry that people would not believe he was sorry that he was not more sorry.

Going Away

I can generally bear the separation, but I don't like the leave- taking.



A good title should aim at making what follows as far as possible superfluous to those who know anything of the subject.

"The Ancient Mariner"

This poem would not have taken so well if it had been called "The Old Sailor," so that Wardour Street has its uses.

For Unwritten Articles, Essays, Stories

The Art of Quarrelling.

Christian Death-beds.

The Book of Babes and Sucklings.

Literary Struldbrugs.

The Life of the World to Come.

The Limits of Good Faith.

Art, Money and Religion.

The Third Class Excursion Train, or Steam-boat, as the Church of the Future.

The Utter Speculation involved in much of the good advice that is commonly given—as never to sell a reversion, etc.

Tracts for Children, warning them against the virtues of their elders.

Making Ready for Death as a Means of Prolonging Life. An Essay concerning Human Misunderstanding. So McCulloch [a fellow art- student at Heatherley's, a very fine draughtsman] used to say that he drew a great many lines and saved the best of them. Illusion, mistake, action taken in the dark—these are among the main sources of our progress.

The Elements of Immorality for the Use of Earnest Schoolmasters.

Family Prayers: A series of perfectly plain and sensible ones asking for what people really do want without any kind of humbug.

A Penitential Psalm as David would have written it if he had been reading Herbert Spencer.

A Few Little Crows which I have to pick with various people.

The Scylla of Atheism and the Charybdis of Christianity.

The Battle of the Prigs and Blackguards.

That Good may Come.

The Marriage of Inconvenience.

The Judicious Separation.

Fooling Around.


The Diseases and Ordinary Causes of Mortality among Friendships.

The finding a lot of old photographs at Herculaneum or Thebes; and they should turn out to be of no interest.

On the points of resemblance and difference between the dropping off of leaves from a tree and the dropping off of guests from a dinner or a concert.

The Sense of Touch: An essay showing that all the senses resolve themselves ultimately into a sense of touch, and that eating is touch carried to the bitter end. So there is but one sense—touch—and the amoeba has it. When I look upon the foraminifera I look upon myself.

The China Shepherdess with Lamb on public-house chimney-pieces in England as against the Virgin with Child in Italy.

For a Medical pamphlet: Cant as a means of Prolonging Life.

For an Art book: The Complete Pot-boiler; or what to paint and how to paint it, with illustrations reproduced from contemporary exhibitions and explanatory notes.

For a Picture: St. Francis preaching to Silenus. Fra Angelico and Rubens might collaborate to produce this picture.

The Happy Mistress. Fifteen mistresses apply for three cooks and the mistress who thought herself nobody is chosen by the beautiful and accomplished cook.

The Complete Drunkard. He would not give money to sober people, he said they would only eat it and send their children to school with it.

The Contented Porpoise. It knew it was to be stuffed and set up in a glass case after death, and looked forward to this as to a life of endless happiness.

The Flying Balance. The ghost of an old cashier haunts a ledger, so that the books always refuse to balance by the sum of, say, 1 pounds .15.11. No matter how many accountants are called in, year after year the same error always turns up; sometimes they think they have it right and it turns out there was a mistake, so the old error reappears. At last a son and heir is born, and at some festivities the old cashier's name is mentioned with honour. This lays his ghost. Next morning the books are found correct and remain so.

A Dialogue between Isaac and Ishmael on the night that Isaac came down from the mountain with his father. The rebellious Ishmael tries to stir up Isaac, and that good young man explains the righteousness of the transaction—without much effect.

Bad Habits: on the dropping them gradually, as one leaves off requiring them, on the evolution principle.

A Story about a Freethinking Father who has an illegitimate son which he considers the proper thing; he finds this son taking to immoral ways, e.g. he turns Christian, becomes a clergyman and insists on marrying.

For a Ballad: Two sets of rooms in some alms-houses at Cobham near Gravesend have an inscription stating that they belong to "the Hundred of Hoo in the Isle of Grain." These words would make a lovely refrain for a ballad.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse