The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
by Samuel Butler
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Even Euclid cannot lay a demonstrable premise, he requires postulates and axioms which transcend demonstration and without which he can do nothing. His superstructure is demonstration, his ground is faith. And so his ultima ratio is to tell a man that he is a fool by saying "Which is absurd." If his opponent chooses to hold out in spite of this, Euclid can do no more. Faith and authority are as necessary for him as for any one else. True, he does not want us to believe very much; his yoke is tolerably easy, and he will not call a man a fool until he will have public opinion generally on his side; but none the less does he begin with dogmatism and end with persecution.

There is nothing one cannot wrangle about. Sensible people will agree to a middle course founded upon a few general axioms and propositions about which, right or wrong, they will not think it worth while to wrangle for some time, and those who reject these can be put into mad-houses. The middle way may be as full of hidden rocks as the other ways are of manifest ones, but it is the pleasantest while we can keep to it and the dangers, being hidden, are less alarming.

In practice it is seldom very hard to do one's duty when one knows what it is, but it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to find this out. The difficulty is, however, often reducible into that of knowing what gives one pleasure, and this, though difficult, is a safer guide and more easily distinguished. In all cases of doubt, the promptings of a kindly disposition are more trustworthy than the conclusions of logic, and sense is better than science.

Why I should have been at the pains to write such truisms I know not.


God and Life

We regard these as two distinct things and say that the first made the second, much as, till lately, we regarded memory and heredity as two distinct things having less connection than even that supposed to exist between God and life. Now, however, that we know heredity to be only a necessary outcome, development and manifestation of memory- -so that, given such a faculty as memory, the faculty of heredity follows as being inherent therein and bound to issue from it—in like manner presently, instead of seeing life as a thing created by God, we shall see God and life as one thing, there being no life without God nor God without life, where there is life there is God and where there is God there is life.

They say that God is love, but life and love are co-extensive; for hate is but a mode of love, as life and death lurk always in one another; and "God is life" is not far off saying "God is love." Again, they say, "Where there is life there is hope," but hope is of the essence of God, for it is faith and hope that have underlain all evolution.

God and Flesh

The course of true God never did run smooth. God to be of any use must be made manifest, and he can only be made manifest in and through flesh. And flesh to be of any use (except for eating) must be alive, and it can only be alive by being inspired of God. The trouble lies in the getting the flesh and the God together in the right proportions. There is lots of God and lots of flesh, but the flesh has always got too much God or too little, and the God has always too little flesh or too much.

Gods and Prophets

It is the manner of gods and prophets to begin: "Thou shalt have none other God or Prophet but me." If I were to start as a god or a prophet, I think I should take the line:

"Thou shalt not believe in me. Thou shalt not have me for a god. Thou shalt worship any damned thing thou likest except me." This should be my first and great commandment, and my second should be like unto it. {333}

Faith and Reason

The instinct towards brushing faith aside and being strictly reasonable is strong and natural; so also is the instinct towards brushing logic and consistency on one side if they become troublesome, in other words—so is the instinct towards basing action on a faith which is beyond reason. It is because both instincts are so natural that so many accept and so many reject Catholicism. The two go along for some time as very good friends and then fight; sometimes one beats and sometimes the other, but they always make it up again and jog along as before, for they have a great respect for one another.

God and the Devil

God's merits are so transcendent that it is not surprising his faults should be in reasonable proportion. The faults are, indeed, on such a scale that, when looked at without relation to the merits with which they are interwoven, they become so appalling that people shrink from ascribing them to the Deity and have invented the Devil, without seeing that there would be more excuse for God's killing the Devil, and so getting rid of evil, than there can be for his failing to be everything that he would like to be.

For God is not so white as he is painted, and he gets on better with the Devil than people think. The Devil is too useful for him to wish him ill and, in like manner, half the Devil's trade would be at an end should any great mishap bring God well down in the world. For all the mouths they make at one another they play into each other's hands and have got on so well as partners, playing Spenlow and Jorkins to one another, for so many years that there seems no reason why they should cease to do so. The conception of them as the one absolutely void of evil and the other of good is a vulgar notion taken from science whose priests have ever sought to get every idea and every substance pure of all alloy.

God and the Devil are about as four to three. There is enough preponderance of God to make it far safer to be on his side than on the Devil's, but the excess is not so great as his professional claqueurs pretend it is. It is like gambling at Monte Carlo; if you play long enough you are sure to lose, but now and again you may win a great deal of excellent money if you will only cease playing the moment you have won it.



As an instrument of warfare against vice, or as a tool for making virtue, Christianity is a mere flint implement.


Christianity is a woman's religion, invented by women and womanish men for themselves. The Church's one foundation is not Christ, as is commonly said, it is woman; and calling the Madonna the Queen of Heaven is only a poetical way of acknowledging that women are the main support of the priests.


It is not the church in a village that is the source of the mischief, but the rectory. I would not touch a church from one end of England to the other.


Christianity is only seriously pretended by some among the idle, bourgeois middle-classes. The working classes and the most cultured intelligence of the time reach by short cuts what the highways of our schools and universities mislead us from by many a winding bout, if they do not prevent our ever reaching it.


It is not easy to say which is the more obvious, the antecedent improbability of the Christian scheme and miracles, or the breakdown of the evidences on which these are supposed to rest. And yet Christianity has overrun the world.


If there is any moral in Christianity, if there is anything to be learned from it, if the whole story is not profitless from first to last, it comes to this that a man should back his own opinion against the world's—and this is a very risky and immoral thing to do, but the Lord hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.


Christianity is true in so far as it has fostered beauty and false in so far as it has fostered ugliness. It is therefore not a little true and not a little false.


Christ said he came not to destroy but to fulfil—but he destroyed more than he fulfilled. Every system that is to live must both destroy and fulfil.


They do more to unsettle faith in the existing order than to settle it in any other; similarly, missionaries are more valuable as underminers of old faiths than as propagators of new. Miracles are not impossible; nothing is impossible till we have got an incontrovertible first premise. The question is not "Are the Christian miracles possible?" but "Are they convenient? Do they fit comfortably with our other ideas?"

Wants and Creeds

As in the organic world there is no organ, so in the world of thought there is no thought, which may not be called into existence by long persistent effort. If a man wants either to believe or disbelieve the Christian miracles he can do so if he tries hard enough; but if he does not care whether he believes or disbelieves and simply wants to find out which side has the best of it, this he will find a more difficult matter. Nevertheless he will probably be able to do this too if he tries.



The reason why the early Christians held faith in such account was because they felt it to be a feat of such superhuman difficulty.


You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.


We are all agreed that too much faith is as bad as too little, and too little as bad as too much; but we differ as to what is too much and what too little.


It is because both Catholics and myself make faith, not reason, the basis of our system that I am able to be easy in mind about not becoming a Catholic. Not that I ever wanted to become a Catholic, but I mean I believe I can beat them with their own weapons.


A man may have faith as a mountain, but he will not be able to say to a grain of mustard seed: "Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea"—not at least with any effect upon the mustard seed—unless he goes the right way to work by putting the mustard seed into his pocket and taking the train to Brighton.


The just live by faith, but they not infrequently also die by it.

The Cuckoo and the Moon

The difference between the Christian and the Mahomedan is only as the difference between one who will turn his money when he first hears the cuckoo, but thinks it folly to do so on seeing the new moon, and one who will turn it religiously at the new moon, but will scout the notion that he need do so on hearing the cuckoo.


This seems to be a jumble of Christianity and Life and Habit.

Theist and Atheist

The fight between them is as to whether God shall be called God or shall have some other name.

The Peculiar People

The only people in England who really believe in God are the Peculiar People. Perhaps that is why they are called peculiar. See how belief in an anthropomorphic God divides allegiance and disturbs civil order as soon as it becomes vital.


There is an article on him in the Times, April 30, 1883, of the worst Times kind, and that is saying much. It appears he whines about his lost faith and professes to wish that he could believe as he believed when young. No sincere man will regret having attained a truer view concerning anything which he has ever believed. And then he talks about the difficulties of coming to disbelieve the Christian miracles as though it were a great intellectual feat. This is very childish. I hope no one will say I was sorry when I found out that there was no reason for believing in heaven and hell. My contempt for Renan has no limits. (Has he an accent to his name? I despise him too much to find out.)

The Spiritual Treadmill

The Church of England has something in her liturgy of the spiritual treadmill. It is a very nice treadmill no doubt, but Sunday after Sunday we keep step with the same old "We have left undone that which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done" without making any progress. With the Church of Rome, I understand that those whose piety is sufficiently approved are told they may consider themselves as a finished article and that, except on some few rare festivals, they need no longer keep on going to church and confessing. The picture is completed and may be framed, glazed and hung up.

The Dim Religious Light

A light cannot be religious if it is not dim. Religion belongs to the twilight of our thoughts, just as business of all kinds to their full daylight. So a picture which may be impressive while seen in a dark light will not hold its own in a bright one.

The Greeks and Romans did not enquire into the evidences on which their belief that Minerva sprang full-armed from the brain of Jupiter was based. If they had written books of evidences to show how certainly it all happened, &c.—well, I suppose if they had had an endowed Church with some considerable prizes, they would have found means to hoodwink the public.

The Peace that Passeth Understanding

Yes. But as there is a peace more comfortable than any understanding, so also there is an understanding more covetable than any peace.

The New Testament

If it is a testamentary disposition at all, it is so drawn that it has given rise to incessant litigation during the last nearly two thousand years and seems likely to continue doing so for a good many years longer. It ought never to have been admitted to probate. Either the testator drew it himself, in which case we have another example of the folly of trying to make one's own will, or if he left it to the authors of the several books—this is like employing many lawyers to do the work of one.

Christ and the L. & N.W. Railway

Admitting for the moment that Christ can be said to have died for me in any sense, it is only pretended that he did so in the same sort of way as the London and North Western Railway was made for me. Granted that I am very glad the railway was made and use it when I find it convenient, I do not suppose that those who projected and made the line allowed me to enter into their thoughts; the debt of my gratitude is divided among so many that the amount due from each one is practically nil.

The Jumping Cat

God is only a less jumping kind of jumping cat; and those who worship God are still worshippers of the jumping cat all the time. There is no getting away from the jumping cat—if I climb up into heaven, it is there; if I go down to hell, it is there also; if I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there, and so on; it is about my path and about my bed and spieth out all my ways. It is the eternal underlying verity or the eternal underlying lie, as people may choose to call it.

Personified Science

Science is being daily more and more personified and anthropomorphised into a god. By and by they will say that science took our nature upon him, and sent down his only begotten son, Charles Darwin, or Huxley, into the world so that those who believe in him, &c.; and they will burn people for saying that science, after all, is only an expression for our ignorance of our own ignorance.

Science and Theology

We should endow neither; we should treat them as we treat conservatism and liberalism, encouraging both, so that they may keep watch upon one another, and letting them go in and out of power with the popular vote concerning them.

The world is better carried on upon the barrister principle of special pleading upon two sides before an impartial ignorant tribunal, to whom things have got to be explained, than it would be if nobody were to maintain any opinion in which he did not personally believe.

What we want is to reconcile both science and theology with sincerity and good breeding, to make our experts understand that they are nothing if they are not single-minded and urbane. Get them to understand this, and there will be no difficulty about reconciling science and theology.

The Church and the Supernatural

If we saw the Church wishing to back out of the supernatural and anxious to explain it away where possible, we would keep our disbelief in the supernatural in the background, as far as we could, and would explain away our rejection of the miracles, as far as was decent; furthermore we would approximate our language to theirs wherever possible, and insist on the points on which we are all agreed, rather than on points of difference; in fact, we would meet them half way and be only too glad to do it. I maintain that in my books I actually do this as much as is possible, but I shall try and do it still more. As a matter of fact, however, the Church clings to the miraculous element of Christianity more fondly than ever; she parades it more and more, and shows no sign of wishing to give up even the smallest part of it. It is this which makes us despair of being able to do anything with her and feel that either she or we must go.

Gratitude and Revenge

Gratitude is as much an evil to be minimised as revenge is. Justice, our law and our law courts are for the taming and regulating of revenge. Current prices and markets and commercial regulations are for the taming of gratitude and its reduction from a public nuisance to something which shall at least be tolerable. Revenge and gratitude are correlative terms. Our system of commerce is a protest against the unbridled licence of gratitude. Gratitude, in fact, like revenge, is a mistake unless under certain securities.

Cant and Hypocrisy

We should organise a legitimate channel for instincts so profound as these, just as we have found it necessary to do with lust and revenge by the institutions of marriage and the law courts. This is the raison d'etre of the church. You kill a man just as much whether you murder him or hang him after the formalities of a trial. And so with lust and marriage, mutatis mutandis. So again with the professions of religion and medicine. You swindle a man as much when you sell him a drug of whose action you are ignorant, and tell him it will protect him from disease, as when you give him a bit of bread, which you assure him is the body of Jesus Christ, and then send a plate round for a subscription. You swindle him as much by these acts as if you picked his pocket, or obtained money from him under false pretences in any other way; but you swindle him according to the rules and in an authorised way.

Real Blasphemy

On one of our Sunday walks near London we passed a forlorn and dilapidated Primitive Methodist Chapel. The windows were a good deal broken and there was a notice up offering 10/—reward to any one who should give such information as should lead to the, &c. Cut in stone over the door was this inscription, and we thought it as good an example of real blasphemy as we had ever seen:

When God makes up his last account Of holy children in his mount, 'Twill be an honour to appear As one new born and nourished here.

The English Church Abroad

People say you must not try to abolish Christianity until you have something better to put in its place. They might as well say we must not take away turnpikes and corn laws till we have some other hindrances to put in their place. Besides no one wants to abolish Christianity—all we want is not to be snubbed and bullied if we reject the miraculous part of it for ourselves.

At Biella an English clergyman asked if I was a Roman Catholic. I said, quite civilly, that I was not a Catholic.

He replied that he had asked me not if I was a Catholic but if I was a Roman Catholic. What was I? Was I an Anglican Catholic? So, seeing that he meant to argue, I replied:

"I do not know. I am a Londoner and of the same religion as people generally are in London."

This made him angry. He snorted:

"Oh, that's nothing at all;" and almost immediately left the table.

As much as possible I keep away from English-frequented hotels in Italy and Switzerland because I find that if I do not go to service on Sunday I am made uncomfortable. It is this bullying that I want to do away with. As regards Christianity I should hope and think that I am more Christian than not.

People ought to be allowed to leave their cards at church, instead of going inside. I have half a mind to try this next time I am in a foreign hotel among English people.


When we were at Shrewsbury the other day, coming up the Abbey Foregate, we met a funeral and debated whether or not to take our hats off. We always do in Italy, that is to say in the country and in villages and small towns, but we have been told that it is not the custom to do so in large towns and in cities, which raises a question as to the exact figure that should be reached by the population of a place before one need not take off one's hat to a funeral in one of its streets. At Shrewsbury seeing no one doing it we thought it might look singular and kept ours on. My friend Mr. Phillips, the tailor, was in one carriage, I did not see him, but he saw me and afterwards told me he had pointed me out to a clergyman who was in the carriage with him.

"Oh," said the clergyman, "then that's the man who says England owes all her greatness to intoxication."

This is rather a free translation of what I did say; but it only shows how impossible it is to please those who do not wish to be pleased. Tennyson may talk about the slow sad hours that bring us all things ill and all good things from evil, because this is vague and indefinite; but I may not say that, in spite of the terrible consequences of drunkenness, man's intellectual development would not have reached its present stage without the stimulus of alcohol—which I believe to be both perfectly true and pretty generally admitted— because this is definite. I do not think I said more than this and am sure that no one can detest drunkenness more than I do. {343} It seems to me it will be wiser in me not to try to make headway at Shrewsbury.


If Vesuvius does not frighten those who live under it, is it likely that Hell-fire should frighten any reasonable person?

I met a traveller who had returned from Hades where he had conversed with Tantalus and with others of the shades. They all agreed that for the first six, or perhaps twelve, months they disliked their punishment very much; but after that, it was like shelling peas on a hot afternoon in July. They began by discovering (no doubt long after the fact had been apparent enough to every one else) that they had not been noticing what they were doing so much as usual, and that they had been even thinking of something else. From this moment, the automatic stage of action having set in, the progress towards always thinking of something else was rapid and they soon forgot that they were undergoing any punishment.

Tantalus did get a little something not infrequently; water stuck to the hairs of his body and he gathered it up in his hand; he also got many an apple when the wind was napping as it had to do sometimes. Perhaps he could have done with more, but he got enough to keep him going quite comfortably. His sufferings were nothing as compared with those of a needy heir to a fortune whose father, or whoever it may be, catches a dangerous bronchitis every winter but invariably recovers and lives to 91, while the heir survives him a month having been worn out with long expectation.

Sisyphus had never found any pleasure in life comparable to the delight of seeing his stone bound down-hill, and in so timing its rush as to inflict the greatest possible scare on any unwary shade who might be wandering below. He got so great and such varied amusement out of this that his labour had become the automatism of reflex action—which is, I understand, the name applied by men of science to all actions that are done without reflection. He was a pompous, ponderous old gentleman, very irritable and always thinking that the other shades were laughing at him or trying to take advantage of him. There were two, however, whom he hated with a fury that tormented him far more seriously than anything else ever did. The first of these was Archimedes who had instituted a series of experiments in regard to various questions connected with mechanics and had conceived a scheme by which he hoped to utilise the motive power of the stone for the purpose of lighting Hades with electricity. The other was Agamemnon, who took good care to keep out of the stone's way when it was more than a quarter of the distance up the slope, but who delighted in teasing Sisyphus so long as he considered it safe to do so. Many of the other shades took daily pleasure in gathering together about stone-time to enjoy the fun and to bet on how far the stone would roll.

As for Tityus—what is a bird more or less on a body that covers nine acres? He found the vultures a gentle stimulant to the liver without which it would have become congested.

Sir Isaac Newton was intensely interested in the hygrometric and barometric proceedings of the Danaids.

"At any rate," said one of them to my informant, "if we really are being punished, for goodness' sake don't say anything about it or we may be put to other work. You see, we must be doing something, and now we know how to do this, we don't want the bother of learning something new. You may be right, but we have not got to make our living by it, and what in the name of reason can it matter whether the sieves ever get full or not?"

My traveller reported much the same with regard to the eternal happiness on Mount Olympus. Hercules found Hebe a fool and could never get her off his everlasting knee. He would have sold his soul to find another AEgisthus.

So Jove saw all this and it set him thinking.

"It seems to me," said he, "that Olympus and Hades are both failures."

Then he summoned a council and the whole matter was thoroughly discussed. In the end Jove abdicated, and the gods came down from Olympus and assumed mortality. They had some years of very enjoyable Bohemian existence going about as a company of strolling players at French and Belgian town fairs; after which they died in the usual way, having discovered at last that it does not matter how high up or how low down you are, that happiness and misery are not absolute but depend on the direction in which you are tending and consist in a progression towards better or worse, and that pleasure, like pain and like everything that grows, holds in perfection but a little moment.



By religion I mean a living sense that man proposes and God disposes, that we must watch and pray that we enter not into temptation, that he who thinketh he standeth must take heed lest he fall, and the countless other like elementary maxims which a man must hold as he holds life itself if he is to be a man at all.

If religion, then, is to be formulated and made tangible to the people, it can only be by means of symbols, counters and analogies, more or less misleading, for no man professes to have got to the root of the matter and to have seen the eternal underlying verity face to face—and even though he could see it he could not grip it and hold it and convey it to another who has not. Therefore either these feelings must be left altogether unexpressed and, if unexpressed, then soon undeveloped and atrophied, or they must be expressed by the help of images or idols—by the help of something not more actually true than a child's doll is to a child, but yet helpful to our weakness of understanding, as the doll no doubt gratifies and stimulates the motherly instinct in the child.

Therefore we ought not to cavil at the visible superstition and absurdity of much on which religion is made to rest, for the unknown can never be satisfactorily rendered into the known. To get the known from the unknown is to get something out of nothing, a thing which, though it is being done daily in every fraction of every second everywhere, is logically impossible of conception, and we can only think by logic, for what is not in logic is not in thought. So that the attempt to symbolise the unknown is certain to involve inconsistencies and absurdities of all kinds and it is childish to complain of their existence unless one is prepared to advocate the stifling of all religious sentiment, and this is like trying to stifle hunger or thirst. To be at all is to be religious more or less. There never was any man who did not feel that behind this world and above it and about it there is an unseen world greater and more incomprehensible than anything he can conceive, and this feeling, so profound and so universal, needs expression. If expressed it can only be so by the help of inconsistencies and errors. These, then, are not to be ordered impatiently out of court; they have grown up as the best guesses at truth that could be made at any given time, but they must become more or less obsolete as our knowledge of truth is enlarged. Things become known which were formerly unknown and, though this brings us no nearer to ultimate universal truth, yet it shows us that many of our guesses were wrong. Everything that catches on to realism and naturalism as much as Christianity does must be affected by any profound modification in our views of realism and naturalism.

God and Convenience

I do not know or care whether the expression "God" has scientific accuracy or no, nor yet whether it has theological value; I know nothing either of one or the other, beyond looking upon the recognised exponents both of science and theology with equal distrust; but for convenience, I am sure that there is nothing like it—I mean for convenience of getting quickly at the right or wrong of a matter. While you are fumbling away with your political economy or your biblical precepts to know whether you shall let old Mrs. So- and-so have 5/—or no, another, who has just asked himself which would be most well-pleasing in the sight of God, will be told in a moment that he should give her—or not give her—the 5/—. As a general rule she had better have the 5/—at once, but sometimes we must give God to understand that, though we should he very glad to do what he would have of us if we reasonably could, yet the present is one of those occasions on which we must decline to do so.

The World

Even the world, so mondain as it is, still holds instinctively and as a matter of faith unquestionable that those who have died by the altar are worthier than those who have lived by it, when to die was duty.


I begin to understand now what Christ meant when he said that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was unforgiveable, while speaking against the Son of Man might be forgiven. He must have meant that a man may be pardoned for being unable to believe in the Christian mythology, but that if he made light of that spirit which the common conscience of all men, whatever their particular creed, recognises as divine, there was no hope for him. No more there is.

Gaining One's Point

It is not he who gains the exact point in dispute who scores most in controversy, but he who has shown the most forbearance and the better temper.

The Voice of Common Sense

It is this, and not the Voice of the Lord, which maketh men to be of one mind in an house. But then, the Voice of the Lord is the voice of common sense which is shared by all that is.

Amendes Honorables

There is hardly an offence so great but if it be frankly apologised for it is easily both forgiven and forgotten. There is hardly an offence so small but it rankles if he who has committed it does not express proportionate regret. Expressions of regret help genuine regret and induce amendment of life, much as digging a channel helps water to flow, though it does not make the water. If a man refuses to make them and habitually indulges his own selfishness at the expense of what is due to other people, he is no better than a drunkard or a debauchee, and I have no more respect for him than I have for the others.

We all like to forgive, and we all love best not those who offend us least, nor those who have done most for us, but those who make it most easy for us to forgive them.

So a man may lose both his legs and live for years in health if the amputation has been clean and skilful, whereas a pea in his boot may set up irritation which must last as long as the pea is there and may in the end kill him.

Forgiveness and Retribution

It is no part of the bargain that we are never to commit trespasses. The bargain is that if we would be forgiven we must forgive them that trespass against us. Nor again is it part of the bargain that we are to let a man hob-nob with us when we know him to be a thorough blackguard, merely on the plea that unless we do so we shall not be forgiving him his trespasses. No hard and fast rule can be laid down, each case must be settled instinctively as it arises.

As a sinner I am interested in the principle of forgiveness; as sinned against, in that of retribution. I have what is to me a considerable vested interest in both these principles, but I should say I had more in forgiveness than in retribution. And so it probably is with most people or we should have had a clause in the Lord's prayer: "And pay out those who have sinned against us as they whom we have sinned against generally pay us out."


I am not sure that I do not begin to like the correction of a mistake, even when it involves my having shown much ignorance and stupidity, as well as I like hitting on a new idea. It does comfort one so to be able to feel sure that one knows how to tumble and how to retreat promptly and without chagrin. Being bowled over in inaccuracy, when I have tried to verify, makes me careful. But if I have not tried to verify and then turn out wrong, this, if I find it out, upsets me very much and I pray that I may be found out whenever I do it.

Jutland and "Waitee"

I made a mistake in The Authoress of the Odyssey [in a note on p. 31] when I said "Scheria means Jutland—a piece of land jutting out into the sea." Jutland means the Land of the Jutes.

And I made a mistake in Alps and Sanctuaries [Chap. III], speaking of the peasants in the Val Leventina knowing English, when I said "One English word has become universally adopted by the Ticinesi themselves. They say 'Waitee' just as we should say 'Wait' to stop some one from going away. It is abhorrent to them to end a word with a consonant so they have added 'ee,' but there can be no doubt about the origin of the word." The Avvocato Negri of Casale-Monferrato says that they have a word in their dialetto which, if ever written, would appear as "vuaitee," it means "stop" or "look here," and is used to attract attention. This, or something like it, no doubt is what they really say and has no more to do with waiting than Jutland has to do with jutting.

The Parables

The people do not act reasonably in a single instance. The sower was a bad sower; the shepherd who left his ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness was a foolish shepherd; the husbandman who would not have his corn weeded was no farmer—and so on. None of them go nearly on all fours, they halt so much as to have neither literary nor moral value to any but slipshod thinkers.

Granted, but are we not all slipshod thinkers?

The Irreligion of Orthodoxy

We do not fall foul of Christians for their religion, but for what we hold to be their want of religion—for the low views they take of God and of his glory, and for the unworthiness with which they try to serve him.

Society and Christianity

The burden of society is really a very light one. She does not require us to believe the Christian religion, she has very vague ideas as to what the Christian religion is, much less does she require us to practise it. She is quite satisfied if we do not obtrude our disbelief in it in an offensive manner. Surely this is no very grievous burden.

Sanctified by Faith

No matter how great a fraud a thing may have been or be, if it has passed through many minds an aroma of life attaches to it and it must be handled with a certain reverence. A thing or a thought becomes hallowed if it has been long and strongly believed in, for veneration, after a time, seems to get into the thing venerated. Look at Delphi—fraud of frauds, yet sanctified by centuries of hope and fear and faith. If greater knowledge shows Christianity to have been founded upon error, still greater knowledge shows that it was aiming at a truth.

Ourselves and the Clergy

As regards the best of the clergy, whether English or foreign, I feel that they and we mean in substance the same thing, and that the difference is only about the way this thing should be put and the evidence on which it should be considered to rest.

We say that they jeopardise the acceptance of the principles which they and we alike cordially regard as fundamental by basing them on assertions which a little investigation shows to be untenable. They reply that by declaring the assertions to be untenable we jeopardise the principles. We answer that this is not so and that moreover we can find better, safer and more obvious assertions on which to base them.

The Rules of Life

Whether it is right to say that one believes in God and Christianity without intending what one knows the hearer intends one to intend depends on how much or how little the hearer can understand. Life is not an exact science, it is an art. Just as the contention, excellent so far as it goes, that each is to do what is right in his own eyes leads, when ridden to death, to anarchy and chaos, so the contention that every one should be either self-effacing or truthful to the bitter end reduces life to an absurdity. If we seek real rather than technical truth, it is more true to be considerately untruthful within limits than to be inconsiderately truthful without them. What the limits are we generally know but cannot say.

There is an unbridgeable chasm between thought and words that we must jump as best we can, and it is just here that the two hitch on to one another. The higher rules of life transcend the sphere of language; they cannot be gotten by speech, neither shall logic be weighed for the price thereof. They have their being in the fear of the Lord and in the departing from evil without even knowing in words what the Lord is, nor the fear of the Lord, nor yet evil.

Common straightforwardness and kindliness are the highest points that man or woman can reach, but they should no more be made matters of conversation than should the lowest vices. Extremes meet here as elsewhere and the extremes of vice and virtue are alike common and unmentionable.

There is nothing for it but a very humble hope that from the Great Unknown Source our daily insight and daily strength may be given us with our daily bread. And what is this but Christianity, whether we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead or not? So that Christianity is like a man's soul—he who finds may lose it and he who loses may find it.

If, then, a man may be a Christian while believing himself hostile to all that some consider most essential in Christianity, may he not also be a free-thinker (in the common use of the word) while believing himself hostile to free-thought?


Fore-knowledge of Death

No one thinks he will escape death, so there is no disappointment and, as long as we know neither the when nor the how, the mere fact that we shall one day have to go does not much affect us; we do not care, even though we know vaguely that we have not long to live. The serious trouble begins when death becomes definite in time and shape. It is in precise fore-knowledge, rather than in sin, that the sting of death is to be found; and such fore-knowledge is generally withheld; though, strangely enough, many would have it if they could.

Continued Identity

I do not doubt that a person who will grow out of me as I now am, but of whom I know nothing now and in whom therefore I can take none but the vaguest interest, will one day undergo so sudden and complete a change that his friends must notice it and call him dead; but as I have no definite ideas concerning this person, not knowing whether he will be a man of 59 or 79 or any age between these two, so this person will, I am sure, have forgotten the very existence of me as I am at this present moment. If it is said that no matter how wide a difference of condition may exist between myself now and myself at the moment of death, or how complete the forgetfulness of connection on either side may be, yet the fact of the one's having grown out of the other by an infinite series of gradations makes the second personally identical with the first, then I say that the difference between the corpse and the till recently living body is not great enough, either in respect of material change or of want of memory concerning the earlier existence, to bar personal identity and prevent us from seeing the corpse as alive and a continuation of the man from whom it was developed, though having tastes and other characteristics very different from those it had while it was a man.

From this point of view there is no such thing as death—I mean no such thing as the death which we have commonly conceived of hitherto. A man is much more alive when he is what we call alive than when he is what we call dead; but no matter how much he is alive, he is still in part dead, and no matter how much he is dead, he is still in part alive, and his corpse-hood is connected with his living body-hood by gradations which even at the moment of death are ordinarily subtle; and the corpse does not forget the living body more completely than the living body has forgotten a thousand or a hundred thousand of its own previous states; so that we should see the corpse as a person, of greatly and abruptly changed habits it is true, but still of habits of some sort, for hair and nails continue to grow after death, and with an individuality which is as much identical with that of the person from whom it has arisen as this person was with himself as an embryo of a week old, or indeed more so.

If we have identity between the embryo and the octogenarian, we must have it also between the octogenarian and the corpse, and do away with death except as a rather striking change of thought and habit, greater indeed in degree than, but still, in kind, substantially the same as any of the changes which we have experienced from moment to moment throughout that fragment of existence which we commonly call our life; so that in sober seriousness there is no such thing as absolute death, just as there is no such thing as absolute life.

Either this, or we must keep death at the expense of personal identity, and deny identity between any two states which present considerable differences and neither of which has any fore-knowledge of, or recollection of the other. In this case, if there be death at all, it is some one else who dies and not we, because while we are alive we are not dead, and as soon as we are dead we are no longer ourselves.

So that it comes in the end to this, that either there is no such thing as death at all, or else that, if there is, it is some one else who dies and not we. We cannot blow hot and cold with the same breath. If we would retain personal identity at all, we must continue it beyond what we call death, in which case death ceases to be what we have hitherto thought it, that is to say, the end of our being. We cannot have both personal identity and death too.

Complete Death

To die completely, a person must not only forget but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead. This is as old as non omnis moriar and a great deal older, but very few people realise it.

Life and Death

When I was young I used to think the only certain thing about life was that I should one day die. Now I think the only certain thing about life is that there is no such thing as death.

The Defeat of Death

There is nothing which at once affects a man so much and so little as his own death. It is a case in which the going-to-happen-ness of a thing is of greater importance than the actual thing itself which cannot be of importance to the man who dies, for Death cuts his own throat in the matter of hurting people. As a bee that can sting once but in the stinging dies, so Death is dead to him who is dead already. While he is shaking his wings, there is brutum fulmen but the man goes on living, frightened, perhaps, but unhurt; pain and sickness may hurt him but the moment Death strikes him both he and Death are beyond feeling. It is as though Death were born anew with every man; the two protect one another so long as they keep one another at arm's length, but if they once embrace it is all over with both.

The Torture of Death

The fabled pains of Tantalus, Sisyphus and all the rest of them show what an instinctive longing there is in all men both for end and endlessness of both good and ill, but as torture they are the merest mockery when compared with the fruitless chase to which poor Death has been condemned for ever and ever. Does it not seem as though he too must have committed some crime for which his sentence is to be for ever grasping after that which becomes non-existent the moment he grasps it? But then I suppose it would be with him as with the rest of the tortured, he must either die himself, which he has not done, or become used to it and enjoy the frightening as much as the killing. Any pain through which a man can live at all becomes unfelt as soon as it becomes habitual. Pain consists not in that which is now endured but in the strong memory of something better that is still recent. And so, happiness lies in the memory of a recent worse and the expectation of a better that is to come soon.

Ignorance of Death


The fear of death is instinctive because in so many past generations we have feared it. But how did we come to know what death is so that we should fear it? The answer is that we do not know what death is and that this is why we fear it.


If a man know not life which he hath seen how shall he know death which he hath not seen?


If a man has sent his teeth and his hair and perhaps two or three limbs to the grave before him, the presumption should be that, as he knows nothing further of these when they have once left him, so will he know nothing of the rest of him when it too is dead. The whole may surely be argued from the parts.


To write about death is to write about that of which we have had little practical experience. We can write about conscious life, but we have no consciousness of the deaths we daily die. Besides, we cannot eat our cake and have it. We cannot have tabulae rasae and tabulae scriptae at the same time. We cannot be at once dead enough to be reasonably registered as such, and alive enough to be able to tell people all about it.


There will come a supreme moment in which there will be care neither for ourselves nor for others, but a complete abandon, a sans souci of unspeakable indifference, and this moment will never be taken from us; time cannot rob us of it but, as far as we are concerned, it will last for ever and ever without flying. So that, even for the most wretched and most guilty, there is a heaven at last where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal. To himself every one is an immortal: he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.


If life is an illusion, then so is death—the greatest of all illusions. If life must not be taken too seriously—then so neither must death.


The dead are often just as living to us as the living are, only we cannot get them to believe it. They can come to us, but till we die we cannot go to them. To be dead is to be unable to understand that one is alive.


Death is the dissolving of a partnership, the partners to which survive and go elsewhere. It is the corruption or breaking up of that society which we have called Ourself. The corporation is at an end, both its soul and its body cease as a whole, but the immortal constituents do not cease and never will. The souls of some men transmigrate in great part into their children, but there is a large alloy in respect both of body and mind through sexual generation; the souls of other men migrate into books, pictures, music, or what not; and every one's mind migrates somewhere, whether remembered and admired or the reverse. The living souls of Handel, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Giovanni Bellini and the other great ones appear and speak to us in their works with less alloy than they could ever speak through their children; but men's bodies disappear absolutely on death, except they be in some measure preserved in their children and in so far as harmonics of all that has been remain.

On death we do not lose life, we only lose individuality; we live henceforth in others not in ourselves. Our mistake has been in not seeing that death is indeed, like birth, a salient feature in the history of the individual, but one which wants exploding as the end of the individual, no less than birth wanted exploding as his beginning.

Dying is only a mode of forgetting. We shall see this more easily if we consider forgetting to be a mode of dying. So the ancients called their River of Death, Lethe—the River of Forgetfulness. They ought also to have called their River of Life, Mnemosyne—the River of Memory. We should learn to tune death a good deal flatter than according to received notions.

The Dislike of Death

We cannot like both life and death at once; no one can be expected to like two such opposite things at the same time; if we like life we must dislike death, and if we leave off disliking death we shall soon die. Death will always be more avoided than sought; for living involves effort, perceived or unperceived, central or departmental, and this will only be made by those who dislike the consequences of not making it more than the trouble of making it. A race, therefore, which is to exist at all must be a death-disliking race, for it is only at the cost of death that we can rid ourselves of all aversion to the idea of dying, so that the hunt after a philosophy which shall strip death of his terrors is like trying to find the philosopher's stone which cannot be found and which, if found, would defeat its own object.

Moreover, as a discovery which should rid us of the fear of death would be the vainest, so also it would be the most immoral of discoveries, for the very essence of morality is involved in the dislike (within reasonable limits) of death. Morality aims at a maximum of comfortable life and a minimum of death; if then, a minimum of death and a maximum of life were no longer held worth striving for, the whole fabric of morality would collapse, as indeed we have it on record that it is apt to do among classes that from one cause or another have come to live in disregard and expectation of death.

However much we may abuse death for robbing us of our friends—and there is no one who is not sooner or later hit hard in this respect— yet time heals these wounds sooner than we like to own; if the heyday of grief does not shortly kill outright, it passes; and I doubt whether most men, if they were to search their hearts, would not find that, could they command death for some single occasion, they would be more likely to bid him take than restore.

Moreover, death does not blight love as the accidents of time and life do. Even the fondest grow apart if parted; they cannot come together again, not in any closeness or for any long time. Can death do worse than this?

The memory of a love that has been cut short by death remains still fragrant though enfeebled, but no recollection of its past can keep sweet a love that has dried up and withered through accidents of time and life.


Posthumous Life


To try to live in posterity is to be like an actor who leaps over the footlights and talks to the orchestra.


He who wants posthumous fame is as one who would entail land, and tie up his money after his death as tightly and for as long a time as possible. Still we each of us in our own small way try to get what little posthumous fame we can.

The Test of Faith

Why should we be so avid of honourable and affectionate remembrance after death? Why should we hold this the one thing worth living or dying for? Why should all that we can know or feel seem but a very little thing as compared with that which we never either feel or know? What a reversal of all the canons of action which commonly guide mankind is there not here? But however this may be, if we have faith in the life after death we can have little in that which is before it, and if we have faith in this life we can have small faith in any other.

Nevertheless there is a deeply rooted conviction, even in many of those in whom its existence is least apparent, that honourable and affectionate remembrance after death with a full and certain hope that it will be ours is the highest prize to which the highest calling can aspire. Few pass through this world without feeling the vanity of all human ambitions; their faith may fail them here, but it will not fail them—not for a moment, never—if they possess it as regards posthumous respect and affection. The world may prove hollow but a well-earned good fame in death will never do so. And all men feel this whether they admit it to themselves or no.

Faith in this is easy enough. We are born with it. What is less easy is to possess one's soul in peace and not be shaken in faith and broken in spirit on seeing the way in which men crowd themselves, or are crowded, into honourable remembrance when, if the truth concerning them were known, no pit of oblivion should be deep enough for them. See, again, how many who have richly earned esteem never get it either before or after death. It is here that faith comes in. To see that the infinite corruptions of this life penetrate into and infect that which is to come, and yet to hold that even infamy after death, with obscure and penurious life before it, is a prize which will bring a man more peace at the last than all the good things of this life put together and joined with an immortality as lasting as Virgil's, provided the infamy and failure of the one be unmerited, as also the success and immortality of the other. Here is the test of faith—will you do your duty with all your might at any cost of goods or reputation either in this world or beyond the grave? If you will- -well, the chances are 100 to 1 that you will become a faddist, a vegetarian and a teetotaller.

And suppose you escape this pit-fall too. Why should you try to be so much better than your neighbours? Who are you to think you may be worthy of so much good fortune? If you do, you may be sure that you do not deserve it.

And so on ad infinitum. Let us eat and drink neither forgetting nor remembering death unduly. The Lord hath mercy on whom he will have mercy and the less we think about it the better.

Starting again ad Infinitum

A man from the cradle to the grave is but the embryo of a being that may be born into the world of the dead who still live, or that may die so soon after entering it as to be practically still-born. The greater number of the seeds shed, whether by plants or animals, never germinate and of those that grow few reach maturity, so the greater number of those that reach death are still-born as regards the truest life of all—I mean the life that is lived after death in the thoughts and actions of posterity. Moreover of those who are born into and fill great places in this invisible world not one is immortal.

We should look on the body as the manifesto of the mind and on posterity as the manifesto of the dead that live after life. Each is the mechanism whereby the other exists.

Life, then, is not the having been born—it is rather an effort to be born. But why should some succeed in attaining to this future life and others fail? Why should some be born more than others? Why should not some one in a future state taunt Lazarus with having a good time now and tell him it will be the turn of Dives in some other and more remote hereafter? I must have it that neither are the good rewarded nor the bad punished in a future state, but every one must start anew quite irrespective of anything they have done here and must try his luck again and go on trying it again and again ad infinitum. Some of our lives, then, will be lucky and some unlucky and it will resolve itself into one long eternal life during which we shall change so much that we shall not remember our antecedents very far back (any more than we remember having been embryos) nor foresee our future very much, and during which we shall have our ups and downs ad infinitum—effecting a transformation scene at once as soon as circumstances become unbearable.

Nevertheless, some men's work does live longer than others. Some achieve what is very like immortality. Why should they have this piece of good fortune more than others? The answer is that it would be very unjust if they knew anything about it, or could enjoy it in any way, but they know nothing whatever about it, and you, the complainer, do profit by their labour, so that it is really you, the complainer, who get the fun, not they, and this should stop your mouth. The only thing they got was a little hope, which buoyed them up often when there was but little else that could do so.

Preparation for Death

That there is a life after death is as palpable as that there is a life before death—see the influence that the dead have over us—but this life is no more eternal than our present life.

Shakespeare and Homer may live long, but they will die some day, that is to say, they will become unknown as direct and efficient causes. Even so God himself dies, for to die is to change and to change is to die to what has gone before. If the units change the total must do so also.

As no one can say which egg or seed shall come to visible life and in its turn leave issue, so no one can say which of the millions of now visible lives shall enter into the afterlife on death, and which have but so little life as practically not to count. For most seeds end as seeds or as food for some alien being, and so with lives, by far the greater number are sterile, except in so far as they can be devoured as the food of some stronger life. The Handels and Shakespeares are the few seeds that grow—and even these die.

And the same uncertainty attaches to posthumous life as to pre- lethal. As no one can say how long another shall live, so no one can say how long or how short a time a reputation shall live. The most unpromising weakly-looking creatures sometimes live to ninety while strong robust men are carried off in their prime. And no one can say what a man shall enter into life for having done. Roughly, there is a sort of moral government whereby those who have done the best work live most enduringly, but it is subject to such exceptions that no one can say whether or no there shall not be an exception in his own case either in his favour or against him.

In this uncertainty a young writer had better act as though he had a reasonable chance of living, not perhaps very long, but still some little while after his death. Let him leave his notes fairly full and fairly tidy in all respects, without spending too much time about them. If they are wanted, there they are; if not wanted, there is no harm done. He might as well leave them as anything else. But let him write them in copying ink and have the copies kept in different places.

The Vates Sacer

Just as the kingdom of heaven cometh not by observation, so neither do one's own ideas, nor the good things one hears other people say; they fasten on us when we least want or expect them. It is enough if the kingdom of heaven be observed when it does come.

I do not read much; I look, listen, think and write. My most intimate friends are men of more insight, quicker wit, more playful fancy and, in all ways, abler men than I am, but you will find ten of them for one of me. I note what they say, think it over, adapt it and give it permanent form. They throw good things off as sparks; I collect them and turn them into warmth. But I could not do this if I did not sometimes throw out a spark or two myself.

Not only would Agamemnon be nothing without the vates sacer but there are always at least ten good heroes to one good chronicler, just as there are ten good authors to one good publisher. Bravery, wit and poetry abound in every village. Look at Mrs. Boss [the original of Mrs. Jupp in The Way of All Flesh] and at Joanna Mills [Life and Letters of Dr. Butler, I, 93]. There is not a village of 500 inhabitants in England but has its Mrs. Quickly and its Tom Jones. These good people never understand themselves, they go over their own heads, they speak in unknown tongues to those around them and the interpreter is the rarer and more important person. The vates sacer is the middleman of mind.

So rare is he and such spendthrifts are we of good things that people not only will not note what might well be noted but they will not even keep what others have noted, if they are to be at the pains of pigeon-holing it. It is less trouble to throw a brilliant letter into the fire than to put it into such form that it can be safely kept, quickly found and easily read. To this end a letter should be gummed, with the help of the edgings of stamps if necessary, to a strip, say an inch and a quarter wide, of stout hand-made paper. Two or three paper fasteners passed through these strips will bind fifty or sixty letters together, which, arranged in chronological order, can be quickly found and comfortably read. But how few will be at the small weekly trouble of clearing up their correspondence and leaving it in manageable shape! If we keep our letters at all we throw them higgledy-piggledy into a box and have done with them; let some one else arrange them when the owner is dead. The some one else comes and finds the fire an easy method of escaping the onus thrown upon him. So on go letters from Tilbrook, Merian, Marmaduke Lawson {364}—just as we throw our money away if the holding on to it involves even very moderate exertion.

On the other hand, if this instinct towards prodigality were not so great, beauty and wit would be smothered under their own selves. It is through the waste of wit that wit endures, like money, its main preciousness lies in its rarity—the more plentiful it is the cheaper does it become.

The Dictionary of National Biography

When I look at the articles on Handel, on Dr. Arnold, or indeed on almost any one whom I know anything about, I feel that such a work as the Dictionary of National Biography adds more terror to death than death of itself could inspire. That is one reason why I let myself go so unreservedly in these notes. If the colours in which I paint myself fail to please, at any rate I shall have had the laying them on myself.

The World

The world will, in the end, follow only those who have despised as well as served it.

Accumulated Dinners

The world and all that has ever been in it will one day be as much forgotten as what we ate for dinner forty years ago. Very likely, but the fact that we shall not remember much about a dinner forty years hence does not make it less agreeable now, and after all it is only the accumulation of these forgotten dinners that makes the dinner of forty years hence possible.

Judging the Dead

The dead should be judged as we judge criminals, impartially, but they should be allowed the benefit of a doubt. When no doubt exists they should be hanged out of hand for about a hundred years. After that time they may come down and move about under a cloud. After about 2000 years they may do what they like. If Nero murdered his mother—well, he murdered his mother and there's an end. The moral guilt of an action varies inversely as the squares of its distances in time and space, social, psychological, physiological or topographical, from ourselves. Not so its moral merit: this loses no lustre through time and distance.

Good is like gold, it will not rust or tarnish and it is rare, but there is some of it everywhere. Evil is like water, it abounds, is cheap, soon fouls, but runs itself clear of taint.

Myself and My Books

Bodily offspring I do not leave, but mental offspring I do. Well, my books do not have to be sent to school and college and then insist on going into the Church or take to drinking or marry their mother's maid.

My Son

I have often told my son that he must begin by finding me a wife to become his mother who shall satisfy both himself and me. But this is only one of the many rocks on which we have hitherto split. We should never have got on together; I should have had to cut him off with a shilling either for laughing at Homer, or for refusing to laugh at him, or both, or neither, but still cut him off. So I settled the matter long ago by turning a deaf ear to his importunities and sticking to it that I would not get him at all. Yet his thin ghost visits me at times and, though he knows that it is no use pestering me further, he looks at me so wistfully and reproachfully that I am half-inclined to turn tall, take my chance about his mother and ask him to let me get him after all. But I should show a clean pair of heels if he said "Yes."

Besides, he would probably be a girl.


When I am dead, do not let people say of me that I suffered from misrepresentation and neglect. I was neglected and misrepresented; very likely not half as much as I supposed but, nevertheless, to some extent neglected and misrepresented. I growl at this sometimes but, if the question were seriously put to me whether I would go on as I am or become famous in my own lifetime, I have no hesitation about which I should prefer. I will willingly pay the few hundreds of pounds which the neglect of my works costs me in order to be let alone and not plagued by the people who would come round me if I were known. The probability is that I shall remain after my death as obscure as I am now; if this be so, the obscurity will, no doubt, be merited, and if not, my books will work not only as well without my having been known in my lifetime but a great deal better; my follies and blunders will the better escape notice to the enhancing of the value of anything that may be found in my books. The only two things I should greatly care about if I had more money are a few more country outings and a little more varied and better cooked food. [1882.]

P.S.—I have long since obtained everything that a reasonable man can wish for. [1895.]

Posthumous Honours

I see Cecil Rhodes has just been saying that he was a lucky man, inasmuch as such honours as are now being paid him generally come to a man after his death and not before it. This is all very well for a politician whose profession immerses him in public life, but the older I grow the more satisfied I am that there can be no greater misfortune for a man of letters or of contemplation than to be recognised in his own lifetime. Fortunately the greater man he is, and hence the greater the misfortune he would incur, the less likelihood there is that he will incur it. [1897.]

Posthumous Recognition

Shall I be remembered after death? I sometimes think and hope so. But I trust I may not be found out (if I ever am found out, and if I ought to be found out at all) before my death. It would bother me very much and I should be much happier and better as I am. [1880.]

P.S.—This note I leave unaltered. I am glad to see that I had so much sense thirteen years ago. What I thought then, I think now, only with greater confidence and confirmation. [1893.]

Analysis of the Sales of My Books

Copies Cash Cash Total Total Value of Sold Profit Loss Profit loss stock Erewhon 3843 62 10 10 — 69 3 10 — 6 13 0 The Fair 442 — 41 2 2 — 27 18 2 13 4 0 Haven Life and 640 — 4 17 1.5 7 19 1.5 — 12 16 3 Habit Evolution 541 — 103 11 10 — 89 13 10 13 18 0 Old & New Unconscious 272 — 38 13 5 — 38 13 5 - Memory Alps and 332 — 113 6 4 — 110 18 4 22 8 0 Sanctuaries Selections 120 — 51 4 10.5 — 48 10 10.5 2 14 0 from Previous Works Luck or 284 — 41 6 4 — 13 18 10 27 7 6 Cunning? Ex Voto 217 — 147 18 0 — 111 8 0 36 10 0 Life and 201 — 216 18 0 — 193 18 0 23 0 0 Letters of Dr. Butler The 165 — 81 1 3 — 59 10 3 21 11 0 Authoress of the Odyssey The Iliad 157 — 89 4 8 — 77 6 8 11 18 0 in English Prose A Holbein 6 — 8 1 9 — 8 1 9 - Card A Book of 0 — 3 11 9 — — 3 11 9 Essays

Totals: Cash profit: 62 10 10 Cash loss: 960 17 6 Total profit: 77 2 11.5 Total loss: 779 18 1.5 Value of stock: 195 11 6

To this must be added my book on the Sonnets in respect of which I have had no account as yet but am over a hundred pounds out of pocket by it so far—little of which, I fear, is ever likely to come back.

It will be noted that my public appears to be a declining one; I attribute this to the long course of practical boycott to which I have been subjected for so many years, or, if not boycott, of sneer, snarl and misrepresentation. I cannot help it, nor if the truth were known, am I at any pains to try to do so. {369}

Worth Doing

If I deserve to be remembered, it will be not so much for anything I have written, or for any new way of looking at old facts which I may have suggested, as for having shown that a man of no special ability, with no literary connections, not particularly laborious, fairly, but not supremely, accurate as far as he goes, and not travelling far either for his facts or from them, may yet, by being perfectly square, sticking to his point, not letting his temper run away with him, and biding his time, be a match for the most powerful literary and scientific coterie that England has ever known.

I hope it may be said of me that I discomfited an unscrupulous, self- seeking clique, and set a more wholesome example myself. To have done this is the best of all discoveries.

Doubt and Hope

I will not say that the more than coldness with which my books are received does not frighten me and make me distrust myself. It must do so. But every now and then I meet with such support as gives me hope again. Still, I know nothing. [1890.]

Unburying Cities

Of course I am jealous of the eclat that Flinders Petrie, Layard and Schliemann get for having unburied cities, but I do not see why I need be; the great thing is to unbury the city, and I believe I have unburied Scheria as effectually as Schliemann unburied Troy. [The Authoress of the Odyssey.] True, Scheria was above ground all the time and only wanted a little common sense to find it; nevertheless people have had all the facts before them for over 2500 years and have been looking more or less all the time without finding. I do not see why it is more meritorious to uncover physically with a spade than spiritually with a little of the very commonest common sense.



When I am dead I would rather people thought me better than I was instead of worse; but if they think me worse, I cannot help it and, if it matters at all, it will matter more to them than to me. The one reputation I deprecate is that of having been ill-used. I deprecate this because it would tend to depress and discourage others from playing the game that I have played. I will therefore forestall misconception on this head.

As regards general good-fortune, I am nearly fifty-five years old and for the last thirty years have never been laid up with illness nor had any physical pain that I can remember, not even toothache. Except sometimes, when a little over-driven, I have had uninterrupted good health ever since I was about five-and-twenty.

Of mental suffering I have had my share—as who has not?—but most of what I have suffered has been, though I did not think so at the time, either imaginary, or unnecessary and, so far, it has been soon forgotten. It has been much less than it very easily might have been if the luck had not now and again gone with me, and probably I have suffered less than most people, take it all round. Like every one else, however, I have the scars of old wounds; very few of these wounds were caused by anything which was essential in the nature of things; most, if not all of them, have been due to faults of heart and head on my own part and on that of others which, one would have thought, might have been easily avoided if in practice it had not turned out otherwise.

For many years I was in a good deal of money difficulty, but since my father's death I have had no trouble on this score—greatly otherwise. Even when things were at their worst, I never missed my two months' summer Italian trip since 1876, except one year and then I went to Mont St. Michel and enjoyed it very much. It was those Italian trips that enabled me to weather the storm. At other times I am engrossed with work that fascinates me. I am surrounded by people to whom I am attached and who like me in return so far as I can judge. In Alfred [his clerk and attendant] I have the best body- guard and the most engaging of any man in London. I live quietly but happily. And if this is being ill-used I should like to know what being well-used is.

I do not deny, however, that I have been ill-used. I have been used abominably. The positive amount of good or ill fortune, however, is not the test of either the one or the other; the true measure lies in the relative proportion of each and the way in which they have been distributed, and by this I claim, after deducting all bad luck, to be left with a large balance of good.

Some people think I must be depressed and discouraged because my books do not make more noise; but, after all, whether people read my books or no is their affair, not mine. I know by my sales that few read my books. If I write at all, it follows that I want to be read and miss my mark if I am not. So also with Narcissus. Whatever I do falls dead, and I would rather people let me see that they liked it. To this extent I certainly am disappointed. I am sorry not to have wooed the public more successfully. But I have been told that winning and wearing generally take something of the gilt off the wooing, and I am disposed to acquiesce cheerfully in not finding myself so received as that I need woo no longer. If I were to succeed I should be bored to death by my success in a fortnight and so, I am convinced, would my friends. Retirement is to me a condition of being able to work at all. I would rather write more books and music than spend much time over what I have already written; nor do I see how I could get retirement if I were not to a certain extent unpopular.

It is this feeling on my own part—omnipresent with me when I am doing my best to please, that is to say, whenever I write—which is the cause why I do not, as people say, "get on." If I had greatly cared about getting on I think I could have done so. I think I could even now write an anonymous book that would take the public as much as Erewhon did. Perhaps I could not, but I think I could. The reason why I do not try is because I like doing other things better. What I most enjoy is running the view of evolution set forth in Life and Habit and making things less easy for the hacks of literature and science; or perhaps even more I enjoy taking snapshots and writing music, though aware that I had better not enquire whether this last is any good or not. In fact there is nothing I do that I do not enjoy so keenly that I cannot tear myself away from it, and people who thus indulge themselves cannot have things both ways. I am so intent upon pleasing myself that I have no time to cater for the public. Some of them like things in the same way as I do; that class of people I try to please as well as ever I can. With others I have no concern, and they know it so they have no concern with me. I do not believe there is any other explanation of my failure to get on than this, nor do I see that any further explanation is needed. [1890.]


Two or three people have asked me to return to the subject of my supposed failure and explain it more fully from my own point of view. I have had the subject on my notes for some time and it has bored me so much that it has had a good deal to do with my not having kept my Note-Books posted recently.

Briefly, in order to scotch that snake, my failure has not been so great as people say it has. I believe my reputation stands well with the best people. Granted that it makes no noise, but I have not been willing to take the pains necessary to achieve what may be called guinea-pig review success, because, although I have been in financial difficulties, I did not seriously need success from a money point of view, and because I hated the kind of people I should have had to court and kow-tow to if I went in for that sort of thing. I could never have carried it through, even if I had tried, and instinctively declined to try. A man cannot be said to have failed, because he did not get what he did not try for. What I did try for I believe I have got as fully as any reasonable man can expect, and I have every hope that I shall get it still more both so long as I live and after I am dead.

If, however, people mean that I am to explain how it is I have not made more noise in spite of my own indolence in matter, the answer is that those who do not either push the themselves into noise, or give some one else a substantial interest in pushing them, never do get made a noise about. How can they? I was too lazy to go about from publisher to publisher and to decline to publish a book myself if I could not find some one to speculate in it. I could take any amount of trouble about writing a book but, so long as I could lay my hand on the money to bring it out with, I found publishers' antechambers so little to my taste that I soon tired and fell back on the short and easy method of publishing my book myself. Of course, therefore, it failed to sell. I know more about these things now, and will never publish a book at my own risk again, or at any rate I will send somebody else round the antechambers with it for a good while before I pay for publishing it.

I should have liked notoriety and financial success well enough if they could have been had for the asking, but I was not going to take any trouble about them and, as a natural consequence, I did not get them. If I had wanted them with the same passionate longing that has led me to pursue every enquiry that I ever have pursued, I should have got them fast enough. It is very rarely that I have failed to get what I have really tried for and, as a matter of fact, I believe I have been a great deal happier for not trying than I should have been if I had had notoriety thrust upon me.

I confess I should like my books to pay their expenses and put me a little in pocket besides—because I want to do more for Alfred than I see my way to doing. As a natural consequence of beginning to care I have begun to take pains, and am advising with the Society of Authors as to what will be my best course. Very likely they can do nothing for me, but at any rate I shall have tried.

One reason, and that the chief, why I have made no noise, is now explained. It remains to add that from first to last I have been unorthodox and militant in every book that I have written. I made enemies of the parsons once for all with my first two books. [Erewhon and The Fair Haven.] The evolution books made the Darwinians, and through them the scientific world in general, even more angry than The Fair Haven had made the clergy so that I had no friends, for the clerical and scientific people rule the roast between them.

I have chosen the fighting road rather than the hang-on-to-a-great- man road, and what can a man who does this look for except that people should try to silence him in whatever way they think will be most effectual? In my case they have thought it best to pretend that I am non-existent. It is no part of my business to complain of my opponents for choosing their own line; my business is to defeat them as best I can upon their own line, and I imagine I shall do most towards this by not allowing myself to be made unhappy merely because I am not fussed about, and by going on writing more books and adding to my pile.

My Work

Why should I write about this as though any one will wish to read what I write?

People sometimes give me to understand that it is a piece of ridiculous conceit on my part to jot down so many notes about myself, since it implies a confidence that I shall one day be regarded as an interesting person. I answer that neither I nor they can form any idea as to whether I shall be wanted when I am gone or no. The chances are that I shall not. I am quite aware of it. So the chances are that I shall not live to be 85; but I have no right to settle it so. If I do as Captain Don did [Life of Dr. Butler, I, opening of Chapter VIII], and invest every penny I have in an annuity that shall terminate when I am 89, who knows but that I may live on to 96, as he did, and have seven years without any income at all? I prefer the modest insurance of keeping up my notes which others may burn or no as they please.

I am not one of those who have travelled along a set road towards an end that I have foreseen and desired to reach. I have made a succession of jaunts or pleasure trips from meadow to meadow, but no long journey unless life itself be reckoned so. Nevertheless, I have strayed into no field in which I have not found a flower that was worth the finding, I have gone into no public place in which I have not found sovereigns lying about on the ground which people would not notice and be at the trouble of picking up. They have been things which any one else has had—or at any rate a very large number of people have had—as good a chance of picking up as I had. My finds have none of them come as the result of research or severe study, though they have generally given me plenty to do in the way of research and study as soon as I had got hold of them. I take it that these are the most interesting—or whatever the least offensive word may be:

1. The emphasising the analogies between crime and disease. [Erewhon.]

2. The emphasising also the analogies between the development of the organs of our bodies and of those which are not incorporate with our bodies and which we call tools or machines. [Erewhon and Luck or Cunning?]

3. The clearing up the history of the events in connection with the death, or rather crucifixion, of Jesus Christ; and a reasonable explanation, first, of the belief on the part of the founders of Christianity that their master had risen from the dead and, secondly, of what might follow from belief in a single supposed miracle. [The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Fair Haven and Erewhon Revisited.]

4. The perception that personal identity cannot be denied between parents and offspring without at the same time denying it as between the different ages (and hence moments) in the life of the individual and, as a corollary on this, the ascription of the phenomena of heredity to the same source as those of memory. [Life and Habit.]

5. The tidying up the earlier history of the theory of evolution. [Evolution Old and New.]

6. The exposure and discomfiture of Charles Darwin and Wallace and their followers. [Evolution Old and New, Unconscious Memory, Luck or Cunning? and "The Deadlock in Darwinism" in the Universal Review republished in Essays on Life, Art and Science.] {376}

7. The perception of the principle that led organic life to split up into two main divisions, animal and vegetable. [Alps and Sanctuaries, close of Chapter XIII: Luck or Cunning?]

8. The perception that, if the kinetic theory is held good, our thought of a thing, whatever that thing may be, is in reality an exceedingly weak dilution of the actual thing itself. [Stated, but not fully developed, in Luck or Cunning? Chapter XIX, also in some of the foregoing notes.]

9. The restitution to Giovanni and Gentile Bellini of their portraits in the Louvre and the finding of five other portraits of these two painters of whom Crowe and Cavalcaselle and Layard maintain that we have no portrait. [Letters to the Athenaeum, &c.]

10. The restoration to Holbein of the drawing in the Basel Museum called La Danse. [Universal Review, Nov., 1889.]

11. The calling attention to Gaudenzio Ferrari and putting him before the public with something like the emphasis that he deserves. [Ex Voto.]

12. The discovery of a life-sized statue of Leonardo da Vinci by Gaudenzio Ferrari. [Ex Voto.]

13. The unearthing of the Flemish sculptor Jean de Wespin (called Tabachetti in Italy) and of Giovanni Antonio Paracca. [Ex Voto.]

14. The finding out that the Odyssey was written at Trapani, the clearing up of the whole topography of the poem, and the demonstration, as it seems to me, that the poem was written by a woman and not by a man. Indeed, I may almost claim to have discovered the Odyssey, so altered does it become when my views of it are adopted. And robbing Homer of the Odyssey has rendered the Iliad far more intelligible; besides, I have set the example of how he should be approached. [The Authoress of the Odyssey.]

15. The attempt to do justice to my grandfather by writing The Life and Letters of Dr. Butler for which, however, I had special facilities.

16. In Narcissus and Ulysses I made an attempt, the failure of which has yet to be shown, to return to the principles of Handel and take them up where he left off.

17. The elucidation of Shakespeare's Sonnets. [Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered.]

I say nothing here about my novel [The Way of All Flesh] because it cannot be published till after my death; nor about my translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Nevertheless these three books also were a kind of picking up of sovereigns, for the novel contains records of things I saw happening rather than imaginary incidents, and the principles on which the translations are made were obvious to any one willing to take and use them.

The foregoing is the list of my "mares'-nests," and it is, I presume, this list which made Mr. Arthur Platt call me the Galileo of Mares'- Nests in his diatribe on my Odyssey theory in the Classical Review. I am not going to argue here that they are all, as I do not doubt, sound; what I want to say is that they are every one of them things that lay on the surface and open to any one else just as much as to me. Not one of them required any profundity of thought or extensive research; they only required that he who approached the various subjects with which they have to do should keep his eyes open and try to put himself in the position of the various people whom they involve. Above all, it was necessary to approach them without any preconceived theory and to be ready to throw over any conclusion the moment the evidence pointed against it. The reason why I have discarded so few theories that I have put forward—and at this moment I cannot recollect one from which there has been any serious attempt to dislodge me—is because I never allowed myself to form a theory at all till I found myself driven on to it whether I would or no. As long as it was possible to resist I resisted, and only yielded when I could not think that an intelligent jury under capable guidance would go with me if I resisted longer. I never went in search of any one of my theories; I never knew what it was going to be till I had found it; they came and found me, not I them. Such being my own experience, I begin to be pretty certain that other people have had much the same and that the soundest theories have come unsought and without much effort.

The conclusion, then, of the whole matter is that scientific and literary fortunes are, like money fortunes, made more by saving than in any other way—more through the exercise of the common vulgar essentials, such as sobriety and straightforwardness, than by the more showy enterprises that when they happen to succeed are called genius and when they fail, folly. The streets are full of sovereigns crying aloud for some one to come and pick them up, only the thick veil of our own insincerity and conceit hides them from us. He who can most tear this veil from in front of his eyes will be able to see most and to walk off with them.

I should say that the sooner I stop the better. If on my descent to the nether world I were to be met and welcomed by the shades of those to whom I have done a good turn while I was here, I should be received by a fairly illustrious crowd. There would be Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Holbein, Tabachetti, Paracca and D'Enrico; the Authoress of the Odyssey would come and Homer with her; Dr. Butler would bring with him the many forgotten men and women to whom in my memoir I have given fresh life; there would be Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck; Shakespeare also would be there and Handel. I could not wish to find myself in more congenial company and I shall not take it too much to heart if the shade of Charles Darwin glides gloomily away when it sees me coming.


Prefatory Note

i. Translation from an Unpublished Work of Herodotus

ii. The Shield of Achilles, with Variations

iii. The Two Deans

iv. On the Italian Priesthood

Butler wrote these four pieces while he was an undergraduate at St. John's College, Cambridge. He kept no copy of any of them, but his friend the Rev. Canon Joseph McCormick, D.D., Rector of St. James's, Piccadilly, kept copies in a note-book which he lent me. The only one that has appeared in print is "The Shield of Achilles," which Canon McCormick sent to The Eagle, the magazine of St. John's College, Cambridge, and it was printed in the number for December 1902, about six months after Butler's death.

"On the Italian Priesthood" is a rendering of the Italian epigram accompanying it which, with others under the heading "Astuzia, Inganno," is given in Raccolta di Proverbi Toscani di Giuseppe Giusti (Firenze, 1853).

v. A Psalm of Montreal

This was written in Canada in 1875. Butler often recited it and gave copies of it to his friends. Knowing that Mr. Edward Clodd had had something to do with its appearance in the Spectator I wrote asking him to tell me what he remembered about it. He very kindly replied, 29th October, 1905:

The 'Psalm' was recited to me at the Century Club by Butler. He gave me a copy of it which I read to the late Chas. Anderson, Vicar of S. John's, Limehouse, who lent it to Matt. Arnold (when inspecting Anderson's Schools) who lent it to Richd. Holt Hutton who, with Butler's consent, printed it in the Spectator of 18th May, 1878."

The "Psalm of Montreal" was included in Selections from Previous Works (1884) and in Seven Sonnets, etc.

vi. The Righteous Man

Butler wrote this in 1876; it has appeared before only in 1879 in the Examiner, where it formed part of the correspondence "A Clergyman's Doubts" of which the letter signed "Ethics" has already been given in this volume (see p. 304 ante). "The Righteous Man" was signed "X.Y.Z." and, in order to connect it with the discussion, Butler prefaced it with a note comparing it to the last six inches of a line of railway; there is no part of the road so ugly, so little travelled over, or so useless generally, but it is the end, at any rate, of a very long thing.

vii. To Critics and Others.

This was written in 1883 and has not hitherto been published.

viii. For Narcissus

These are printed for the first time. The pianoforte score of Narcissus was published in 1888. The poem (A) was written because there was some discussion then going on in musical circles about additional accompaniments to the Messiah and we did not want any to be written for Narcissus.

The poem (B) shows how Butler originally intended to open Part II with a kind of descriptive programme, but he changed his mind and did it differently.

ix. A Translation Attempted in Consequence of a Challenge

This translation into Homeric verse of a famous passage from Martin Chuzzlewit was a by-product of Butler's work on the Odyssey and the Iliad. It was published in The Eagle in March, 1894, and was included in Seven Sonnets.

I asked Butler who had challenged him to attempt the translation and he replied that he had thought of that and had settled that, if any one else were to ask the question, he should reply that the challenge came from me.

x. In Memoriam H. R. F.

This appears in print now for the first time. Hans Rudolf Faesch, a young Swiss from Basel, came to London in the autumn of 1893. He spent much of his time with us until 14th February, 1895, when he left for Singapore. We saw him off from Holborn Viaduct Station; he was not well and it was a stormy night. The next day Butler wrote this poem and, being persuaded that we should never see Hans Faesch again, called it an In Memoriam. Hans did not die on the journey, he arrived safely in Singapore and settled in the East where he carried on business. We exchanged letters with him frequently; he paid two visits to Europe and we saw him on both occasions. But he did not live long. He died in the autumn of 1903 at Vien Tiane in the Shan States, aged 32, having survived Butler by about a year and a half.

xi. An Academic Exercise

This has never been printed before. It is a Farewell, and that is why I have placed it next after the In Memoriam. The contrast between the two poems illustrates the contrast pointed out at the close of the note on "The Dislike of Death" (ante, p. 359):

"The memory of a love that has been cut short by death remains still fragrant though enfeebled, but no recollection of its past can keep sweet a love that has dried up and withered through accidents of time and life."

In the ordinary course Butler would have talked this Sonnet over with me at the time he wrote it, that is in January, 1902; he may even have done so, but I think not. From 2nd January, 1902, until late in March, when he left London alone for Sicily, I was ill with pneumonia and remember very little of what happened then. Between his return in May and his death in June I am sure he did not mention the subject. Knowing the facts that underlie the preceding poem I can tell why Butler called it an In Memoriam; not knowing the facts that underlie this poem I cannot tell why Butler should have called it an Academic Exercise. It is his last Sonnet and is dated "Sund. Jan. 12th 1902," within six months of his death, at a time when he was depressed physically because his health was failing and mentally because he had been "editing his remains," reading and destroying old letters and brooding over the past. One of the subjects given in the section "Titles and Subjects" (ante) is "The diseases and ordinary causes of mortality among friendships." I suppose that he found among his letters something which awakened memories of a friendship of his earlier life—a friendship that had suffered from a disease, whether it recovered or died would not affect the sincerity of the emotions experienced by Butler at the time he believed the friendship to be virtually dead. I suppose the Sonnet to be an In Memoriam upon the apprehended death of a friendship as the preceding poem is an In Memoriam upon the apprehended death of a friend.

This may be wrong, but something of the kind seems necessary to explain why Butler should have called the Sonnet an Academic Exercise. No one who has read Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered will require to be told that he disagreed contemptuously with those critics who believe that Shakespeare composed his Sonnets as academic exercises. It is certain that he wrote this, as he wrote his other Sonnets, in imitation of Shakespeare, not merely imitating the form but approaching the subject in the spirit in which he believed Shakespeare to have approached his subject. It follows therefore that he did not write this sonnet as an academic exercise, had he done so he would not have been imitating Shakespeare. If we assume that he was presenting his story as he presented the dialogue in "A Psalm of Montreal" in a form "perhaps true, perhaps imaginary, perhaps a little of the one and a little of the other," it would be quite in the manner of the author of The Fair Haven to burlesque the methods of the critics by ignoring the sincerity of the emotions and fixing on the little bit of inaccuracy in the facts. We may suppose him to be saying out loud to the critics: "You think Shakespeare's Sonnets were composed as academic exercises, do you? Very well then, now what do you make of this?" And adding aside to himself: "That will be good enough for them; they'll swallow anything."

xii. A Prayer

Extract from Butler's Note-Books under the date of February or March 1883:

"'Cleanse thou me from my secret sins.' I heard a man moralising on this and shocked him by saying demurely that I did not mind these so much, if I could get rid of those that were obvious to other people."

He wrote the sonnet in 1900 or 1901. In the first quatrain "spoken" does not rhyme with "open"; Butler knew this and would not alter it because there are similar assonances in Shakespeare, e.g. "open" and "broken" in Sonnet LXI.

xiii. Karma

I am responsible for grouping these three sonnets under this heading. The second one beginning "What is't to live" appears in Butler's Note-Book with the remark, "This wants much tinkering, but I cannot tinker it"—meaning that he was too much occupied with other things. He left the second line of the third of these sonnets thus:

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