The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
by Samuel Butler
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Transcribed from the 1912 A. C. Fifield edition by David Price, email



Early in his life Samuel Butler began to carry a note-book and to write down in it anything he wanted to remember; it might be something he heard some one say, more commonly it was something he said himself. In one of these notes he gives a reason for making them:

"One's thoughts fly so fast that one must shoot them; it is no use trying to put salt on their tails."

So he bagged as many as he could hit and preserved them, re-written on loose sheets of paper which constituted a sort of museum stored with the wise, beautiful, and strange creatures that were continually winging their way across the field of his vision. As he became a more expert marksman his collection increased and his museum grew so crowded that he wanted a catalogue. In 1874 he started an index, and this led to his reconsidering the notes, destroying those that he remembered having used in his published books and re-writing the remainder. The re-writing shortened some but it lengthened others and suggested so many new ones that the index was soon of little use and there seemed to be no finality about it ("Making Notes," pp. 100- 1 post). In 1891 he attached the problem afresh and made it a rule to spend an hour every morning re-editing his notes and keeping his index up to date. At his death, in 1902, he left five bound volumes, with the contents dated and indexed, about 225 pages of closely written sermon paper to each volume, and more than enough unbound and unindexed sheets to made a sixth volume of equal size.

In accordance with his own advice to a young writer (p. 363 post), he wrote the notes in copying ink and kept a pressed copy with me as a precaution against fire; but during his lifetime, unless he wanted to refer to something while he was in my chambers, I never looked at them. After his death I took them down and went through them. I knew in a general way what I should find, but I was not prepared for such a multitude and variety of thoughts, reflections, conversations, incidents. There are entries about his early life at Langar, Handel, school days at Shrewsbury, Cambridge, Christianity, literature, New Zealand, sheep-farming, philosophy, painting, money, evolution, morality, Italy, speculation, photography, music, natural history, archaeology, botany, religion, book-keeping, psychology, metaphysics, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Sicily, architecture, ethics, the Sonnets of Shakespeare. I thought of publishing the books just as they stand, but too many of the entries are of no general interest and too many are of a kind that must wait if they are ever to be published. In addition to these objections the confusion is very great. One would look in the earlier volumes for entries about New Zealand and evolution and in the later ones for entries about the Odyssey and the Sonnets, but there is no attempt at arrangement and anywhere one may come upon something about Handel, or a philosophical reflection, between a note giving the name of the best hotel in an Italian town and another about Harry Nicholls and Herbert Campbell as the Babes in the Wood in the pantomime at the Grecian Theatre. This confusion has a charm, but it is a charm that would not, I fear, survive in print and, personally, I find that it makes the books distracting for continuous reading. Moreover they were not intended to be published as they stand ("Preface to Vol. II," p. 215 post), they were intended for his own private use as a quarry from which to take material for his writing, and it is remarkable that in practice he scarcely ever used them in this way ("These Notes," p. 261 post). When he had written and re-written a note and spoken it and repeated it in conversation, it became so much a part of him that, if he wanted to introduce it in a book, it was less trouble to re-state it again from memory than to search through his "precious indexes" for it and copy it ("Gadshill and Trapani," p. 194, "At Piora," p. 272 post). But he could not have re-stated a note from memory if he had not learnt it by writing it, so that it may be said that he did use the notes for his books, though not precisely in the way he originally intended. And the constant re-writing and re-considering were useful also by forcing him to settle exactly what he thought and to state it as clearly and tersely as possible. In this way the making of the notes must have had an influence on the formation of his style—though here again he had no such idea in his mind when writing them ("Style," pp. 186-7 post)

In one of the notes he says:

"A man may make, as it were, cash entries of himself in a day-book, but the entries in the ledger and the balancing of the accounts should be done by others."

When I began to write the Memoir of Butler on which I am still engaged, I marked all the more autobiographical notes and had them copied; again I was struck by the interest, the variety, and the confusion of those I left untouched. It seemed to me that any one who undertook to become Butler's accountant and to post his entries upon himself would have to settle first how many and what accounts to open in the ledger, and this could not be done until it had been settled which items were to be selected for posting. It was the difficulty of those who dare not go into the water until after they have learnt to swim. I doubt whether I should ever have made the plunge if it had not been for the interest which Mr. Desmond MacCarthy took in Butler and his writings. He had occasionally browsed on my copy of the books, and when he became editor of a review, the New Quarterly, he asked for some of the notes for publication, thus providing a practical and simple way of entering upon the business without any very alarming plunge. I talked his proposal over with Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, Butler's literary executor, and, having obtained his approval, set to work. From November 1907 to May 1910, inclusive, the New Quarterly published six groups of notes and the long note on "Genius" (pp. 174-8 post). The experience gained in selecting, arranging, and editing these items has been of great use to me and I thank the proprietor and editor of the New Quarterly for permission to republish such of the notes as appeared in their review.

In preparing this book I began by going through the notes again and marking all that seemed to fall within certain groups roughly indicated by the arrangement in the review. I had these selected items copied, distributed them among those which were already in print, shuffled them and turned them over, meditating on them, familiarising myself with them and tentatively forming new groups. While doing this I was continually gleaning from the books more notes which I had overlooked, and making such verbal alterations as seemed necessary to avoid repetition, to correct obvious errors and to remove causes of reasonable offence. The ease with which two or more notes would condense into one was sometimes surprising, but there were cases in which the language had to be varied and others in which a few words had to be added to bridge over a gap; as a rule, however, the necessary words were lying ready in some other note. I also reconsidered the titles and provided titles for many notes which had none. In making these verbal alterations I bore in mind Butler's own views on the subject which I found in a note about editing letters:

"Granted that an editor, like a translator, should keep as religiously close to the original text as he reasonably can, and, in every alteration, should consider what the writer would have wished and done if he or she could have been consulted, yet, subject to these limitations, he should be free to alter according to his discretion or indiscretion."

My "discretion or indiscretion" was less seriously strained in making textual changes than in determining how many, and what, groups to have and which notes, in what order, to include in each group. Here is a note Butler made about classification:

"Fighting about words is like fighting about accounts, and all classification is like accounts. Sometimes it is easy to see which way the balance of convenience lies, sometimes it is very hard to know whether an item should be carried to one account or to another."

Except in the group headed "Higgledy-Piggledy," I have endeavoured to post each note to a suitable account, but some of Butler's leading ideas, expressed in different forms, will be found posted to more than one account, and this kind of repetition is in accordance with his habit in conversation. It would probably be correct to say that I have heard him speak the substance of every note many times in different contexts. In seeking for the most characteristic context, I have shifted and shifted the notes and considered and re-considered them under different aspects, taking hints from the delicate chameleon changes of significance that came over them as they harmonised or discorded with their new surroundings. Presently I caught myself restoring notes to positions they had previously occupied instead of finding new places for them, and the increasing frequency with which difficulties were solved by these restorations at last forced me to the conclusion, which I accepted only with very great regret, that my labours were at an end.

I do not expect every one to approve of the result. If I had been trying to please every one, I should have made only a very short and unrepresentative selection which Mr. Fifield would have refused to publish. I have tried to make suck a book as I believe would have pleased Butler. That is to say, I have tried to please one who, by reason of his intimate knowledge of the subject and of the difficulties, would have looked with indulgence upon the many mistakes which it is now too late to correct, even if knew how to correct them. Had it been possible for him to see what I have done, he would have detected all my sins, both of omission and of commission, and I like to imagine that he would have used some such consoling words as these: "Well, never mind; one cannot have everything; and, after all, 'Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.'"

Here will be found much of what he used to say as he talked with one or two intimate friends in his own chambers or in mine at the close of the day, or on a Sunday walk in the country round London, or as we wandered together through Italy and Sicily; and I would it were possible to charge these pages with some echo of his voice and with some reflection of his manner. But, again; one cannot have everything.

"Men's work we have," quoth one, "but we want them - Them palpable to touch and clear to view." Is it so nothing, then, to have the gem But we must cry to have the setting too?

In the New Quarterly each note was headed with a reference to its place in the Note-Books. This has not been done here because, on consideration, it seemed useless, and even irritating, to keep on putting before the reader references which he could not verify. I intend to give to the British Museum a copy of this volume wherein each note will show where the material of which it is composed can be found; thus, if the original Note-Books are also some day given to the Museum, any one sufficiently interested will be able to see exactly what I have done in selecting, omitting, editing, condensing and classifying.

Some items are included that are not actually in the Note-Books; the longest of these are the two New Zealand articles "Darwin among the Machines" and "Lucubratio Ebria" as to which something is said in the Prefatory Note to "The Germs of Erewhon and of Life and Habit" (pp. 39-42 post). In that Prefatory Note a Dialogue on Species by Butler and an autograph letter from Charles Darwin are mentioned. Since the note was in type I have received from New Zealand a copy of the Weekly Press of 19th June, 1912, containing the Dialogue again reprinted and a facsimile reproduction of Darwin's letter. I thank Mr. W. H. Triggs, the present editor of the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, also Miss Colborne-Veel and the members of the staff for their industry and perseverance in searching for and identifying Butler's early contributions to the newspaper.

The other principal items not actually in the Note-Books, the letter to T. W. G. Butler (pp. 53-5 post), "A Psalm of Montreal" (pp. 388-9 post) and "The Righteous Man" (pp. 390-1 post). I suppose Butler kept all these out of his notes because he considered that they had served their purpose; but they have not hitherto appeared in a form now accessible to the general reader.

All the footnotes are mine and so are all those prefatory notes which are printed in italics and the explanatory remarks in square brackets which occur occasionally in the text. I have also preserved, in square brackets, the date of a note when anything seemed to turn on it. And I have made the index.

The Biographical Statement is founded on a skeleton Diary which is in the Note-Books. It is intended to show, among other things, how intimately the great variety of subjects touched upon in the notes entered into and formed part of Butler's working life. It does not stop at the 18th of June, 1902, because, as he says (p. 23 post), "Death is not more the end of some than it is the beginning of others"; and, again (p. 13 post), for those who come to the true birth the life we live beyond the grave is our truest life. The Biographical Statement has accordingly been carried on to the present time so as to include the principal events that have occurred during the opening period of the "good average three-score years and ten of immortality" which he modestly hoped he might inherit in the life of the world to come.

HENRY FESTING JONES. Mount Eryx, Trapani, Sicily, August, 1912.


1835. Dec. 4. Samuel Butler born at Langar Rectory, Nottingham, son of the Rev. Thomas Butler, who was the son of Dr. Samuel Butler, Headmaster of Shrewsbury School from 1798 to 1836, and afterwards Bishop of Lichfield.

1843-4. Spent the winter in Rome and Naples with his family.

1846. Went to school at Allesley, near Coventry.

1848. Went to school at Shrewsbury under Dr. Kennedy.

Went to Italy for the second time with his family.

First heard the music of Handel.

1854. Entered at St. John's College, Cambridge.

1858. Bracketed 12th in the first class of the Classical Tripos and took his degree.

Went to London and began to prepare for ordination, living among the poor and doing parish work: this led to his doubting the efficacy of infant baptism and hence to his declining to take orders.

1859. Sailed for New Zealand and started sheep-farming in Canterbury Province: while in the colony he wrote much for the Press of Christchurch, N.Z.

1862. Dec. 20. "Darwin on The Origin of Species. A Dialogue," unsigned but written by Butler, appeared in the Press and was followed by correspondence to which Butler contributed.

1863. A First Year in Canterbury Settlement: made out of his letters home to his family together with two articles reprinted from the Eagle (the magazine of St. John's College, Cambridge): MS. lost.

1863. "Darwin among the Machines," a letter signed "Cellarius" written by Butler, appeared in the Press.

1864. Sold out his sheep run and returned to England in company with Charles Paine Pauli, whose acquaintance he had made in the colony. He brought back enough to enable him to live quietly, settled for good at 15 Clifford's Inn, London, and began life as a painter, studying at Cary's, Heatherley's and the South Kensington Art Schools and exhibiting pictures occasionally at the Royal Academy and other exhibitions: while studying art he made the acquaintance of, among others, Charles Gogin, William Ballard and Thomas William Gale Butler.

"Family Prayers": a small painting by Butler.

1865. "Lucubratio Ebria," an article, containing variations of the view in "Darwin among the Machines," sent by Butler from England, appeared in the Press.

The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as contained in the Four Evangelists critically examined: a pamphlet of VIII+48 pp. written in New Zealand: the conclusion arrived at is that the evidence is insufficient to support the belief that Christ died and rose from the dead: MS. lost, probably used up in writing The Fair Haven.

1869-70. Was in Italy for four months, his health having broken down in consequence of over-work.

1870 or 1871. First meeting with Miss Eliza Mary Ann Savage, from whom he drew Alethea in The Way of All Flesh.

1872. Erewhon or Over the Range: a Work of Satire and Imagination: MS. in the British Museum.

1873. Erewhon translated into Dutch.

The Fair Haven: an ironical work, purporting to be "in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain orthodox defenders," written under the pseudonym of John Pickard Owen with a memoir of the supposed author by his brother William Bickersteth Owen. This book reproduces—the substance of his pamphlet on the resurrection: MS. at Christchurch, New Zealand.

1874. "Mr. Heatherley's Holiday," his most important oil painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition, now in the National Gallery of British Art.

1876. Having invested his money in various companies that failed, one of which had its works in Canada, and having spent much time during the last few years in that country, trying unsuccessfully to save part of his capital, he now returned to London, and during the next ten years experienced serious financial difficulties.

First meeting with Henry Festing Jones.

1877. Life and Habit: an Essay after a Completer View of Evolution: dedicated to Charles Paine Pauli: although dated 1878 the book was published on Butler's birthday, 4th December, 1877: MS. at the Schools, Shrewsbury.

1878. "A Psalm of Montreal" in the Spectator: There are probably many MSS. of this poem in existence given by Butler to friends: one, which he gave to H. F. Jones, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A Portrait of Butler, painted in this year by himself, now at St. John's College, Cambridge.

1879. Evolution Old and New: A comparison of the theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck with that of Charles Darwin: MS. in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A Clergyman's Doubts and God the Known and God the Unknown appeared in the Examiner: MS. lost.

Erewhon translated into German.

1880. Unconscious Memory: A comparison between the theory of Dr. Ewald Hering, Professor of Physiology in the University of Prague, and the Philosophy of the Unconscious of Dr. Edward von Hartmann, with translations from both these authors and preliminary chapters bearing upon Life and Habit, Evolution Old and New, and Charles Darwin's Edition of Dr. Krause's Erasmus Darwin.

A Portrait of Butler, painted in this year by himself, now at the Schools, Shrewsbury. A third portrait of Butler, painted by himself about this time, is at Christchurch, New Zealand.

1881. A property at Shrewsbury, in which under his grandfather's will he had a reversionary interest contingent on his surviving his father, was re-settled so as to make his reversion absolute: he mortgaged this reversion and bought small property near London: this temporarily alleviated his financial embarrassment but added to his work, for he spent much time in the management of the houses, learnt book-keeping by double-entry and kept elaborate accounts.

Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino illustrated by the author, Charles Gogin and Henry Festing Jones: an account of his holiday travels with dissertations on most of the subjects that interested him: MS. with H. F. Jones.

1882. A new edition of Evolution Old and New, with a short preface alluding to the recent death of Charles Darwin, an appendix and an index.

1883. Began to compose music as nearly as he could in the style of Handel.

1884. Selections from Previous Works with "A Psalm of Montreal" and "Remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mental Evolution in Animals."

1885. Death of Miss Savage.

Gavottes, Minuets, Fugues and other short pieces for the piano by Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones: MS. with H. F. Jones.

1886. Holbein's La Danse: a note on a drawing in the Museum at Basel.

Stood, unsuccessfully, for the Professorship of Fine Arts in the University of Cambridge.

Dec. 29. Death of his father and end of his financial embarrassments.

1887. Engaged Alfred Emery Cathie as clerk and general attendant.

Luck or Cunning as the main means of Organic Modification? An attempt to throw additional light upon Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection.

Was entertained at dinner by the Municipio of Varallo-Sesia on the Sacro Monte.

1888. Took up photography.

1888. Ex Voto: an account of the Sacro Monte or New Jerusalem at Varallo-Sesia, with some notice of Tabachetti's remaining work at Crea and illustrations from photographs by the author: MS. at Varallo-Sesia.

Narcissus: a Cantata in the Handelian form, words and music by Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones: MS. of the piano score in the British Museum. MS. of the orchestral score with H. F. Jones.

In this and the two following years contributed some articles to the Universal Review, most of which were republished after his death as Essays on Life, Art, and Science (1904).

1890. Began to study counterpoint with William Smith Rockstro and continued to do so until Rockstro's death in 1895.

1892. The Humour of Homer. A Lecture delivered at the Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, London, January 30, 1892, reprinted with preface and additional matter from the Eagle.

Went to Sicily, the first of many visits, to collect evidence in support of his theory identifying the Scheria and Ithaca of the Odyssey with Trapani and the neighbouring Mount Eryx.

1893. "L'Origine Siciliana dell' Odissea." Extracted from the Rassegna della Letteratura Siciliana.

"On the Trapanese Origin of the Odyssey" (Translation).

1894. Ex Voto translated into Italian by Cavaliere Angelo Rizzetti.

"Ancora sull' origine dell' Odissea." Extracted from the Rassegna della Letteratura Siciliana.

1895. Went to Greece and the Troad to make up his mind about the topography of the Iliad.

1896. The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler (his grandfather) in so far as they illustrate the scholastic, religious and social life of England from 1790-1840: MS. at the Shrewsbury Town Library or Museum.

His portrait painted by Charles Gogin, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

1897. The Authoress of the Odyssey, where and when she wrote, who she was, the use she made of the Iliad and how the poem grew under her hands: MS. at Trapani.

1897. Death of Charles Paine Pauli.

1898. The Iliad rendered into English prose: MS. at St. John's College, Cambridge.

1899. Shakespeare's Sonnets reconsidered and in part rearranged, with introductory chapters, notes and a reprint of the original 1609 edition: MS. with R. A. Streatfeild.

1900. The Odyssey rendered into English prose: MS. at Aci-Reale, Sicily.

1901. Erewhon Revisited twenty years later both by the Original Discoverer of the Country and by his Son: this was a return not only to Erewhon but also to the subject of the pamphlet on the resurrection. MS. in the British Museum.

1902. June, 18. Death of Samuel Butler.

1902. "Samuel Butler," an article by Richard Alexander Streatfeild in the Monthly Review (September).

"Samuel Butler," an obituary notice by Henry Festing Jones in the Eagle (December).

1903. Samuel Butler Records and Memorials, a collection of obituary notices with a note by R. A. Streatfeild, his literary executor, printed for private circulation: with reproduction of a photograph of Butler taken at Varallo in 1889.

The Way of All Flesh, a novel, written between 1872 and 1885, published by R. A. Streatfeild: MS. with Mr. R. A. Streatfeild.

1904. Seven Sonnets and A Psalm of Montreal printed for private circulation.

Essays on Life, Art and Science, being reprints of his Universal Review articles, together with two lectures.

Ulysses, an Oratorio: Words and music by Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones: MS. of the piano score in the British Museum, MS. of the orchestral score with H. F. Jones.

"The Author of Erewhon," an article by Desmond MacCarthy in the Independent Review (September).

1904. Diary of a Journey through North Italy to Sicily (in the spring of 1903, undertaken for the purpose of leaving the MSS. of three books by Samuel Butler at Varallo-Sesia, Aci-Reale and Trapani) by Henry Festing Jones, with reproduction of Gogin's portrait of Butler. Printed for private circulation.

1907. Nov. Between this date and May, 1910, some Extracts from The Note-Books of Samuel Butler appeared in the New Quarterly Review under the editorship of Desmond MacCarthy.

1908. July 16. The first Erewhon dinner at Pagani's Restaurant, Great Portland Street; 32 persons present: the day was fixed by Professor Marcus Hartog.

Second Edition of The Way of All Flesh.

1909. God the Known and God the Unknown republished in book form from the Examiner (1879) by A. C. Fifield, with prefatory note by R. A. Streatfeild.

July 15. The second Erewhon dinner at Pagani's; 53 present: the day was fixed by Mr. George Bernard Shaw.

1910. Feb. 10. Samuel Butler Author of Erewhon, a Paper read before the British Association of Homoeopathy at 43 Russell Square, W.C., by Henry Festing Jones. Some of Butler's music was performed by Miss Grainger Kerr, Mr. R. A. Streatfeild, Mr. J. A. Fuller Maitland and Mr. H. J. T. Wood, the Secretary of the Association.

June. Unconscious Memory, a new edition entirely reset with a note by R. A. Streatfeild and an introduction by Professor Marcus Hartog, M.A., D.Sc., F.L.S., F.R. H.S., Professor of Zoology in University College, Cork.

July 14. The third Erewhon dinner at Pagani's Restaurant; 58 present: the day was fixed by the Right Honourable Augustine Birrell, K.C., M.P.

Nov. 16. Samuel Butler Author of Erewhon. A paper read before the Historical Society of St. John's College, Cambridge, in the Combination-room of the college, by Henry Festing Jones. The Master (Mr. R. F. Scott), who was also Vice-Chancellor of the University, was in the chair and a Vote of Thanks was proposed by Professor Bateson, F.R.S.

1910. Nov. 28. Life and Habit, a new edition with a preface by R. A. Streatfeild and author's addenda, being three pages containing passages which Butler had cut out of the original book or had intended to insert in a future edition.

1911. May 25. The jubilee number of the Press, New Zealand, contained an account of Butler's connection with the newspaper and reprinted "Darwin among the Machines" and "Lucubratio Ebria."

July 15. The fourth Erewhon dinner at Pagani's Restaurant; 75 present: the day was fixed by Sir William Phipson Beale, Bart., K.C., M.P.

Nov. Charles Darwin and Samuel Butler: A Step towards Reconciliation, by Henry Festing Jones. A pamphlet giving the substance of a correspondence between Mr. Francis Darwin and the author and reproducing letters by Charles Darwin about the quarrel between himself and Butler referred to in Chapter IV of Unconscious Memory.

Evolution Old and New, a reprint of the second edition (1882) with prefatory note by R. A. Streatfeild.

1912. June 1. Letter from Henry Festing Jones in the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, about Butler's Dialogue, which had appeared originally in the Press December 20, 1862, and could not be found.

June 8. "Darwin on the Origin of Species. A Dialogue "discovered in consequence of the foregoing letter and reprinted in the Press.

June 15. The Press reprinted some of the correspondence, etc. which followed on the original appearance of the Dialogue.

Some of Butler's water-colour drawings having been given to the British Museum, two were included in an exhibition held there during the summer.

July 12. The Fifth Erewhon Dinner at Pagani's Restaurant; 90 present; the day was fixed by Mr. Edmund Gosse, C.B., LL.D.




We are like billiard balls in a game played by unskilful players, continually being nearly sent into a pocket, but hardly ever getting right into one, except by a fluke.


We are like thistle-down blown about by the wind—up and down, here and there—but not one in a thousand ever getting beyond seed-hood.


A man is a passing mood coming and going in the mind of his country; he is the twitching of a nerve, a smile, a frown, a thought of shame or honour, as it may happen.


How loosely our thoughts must hang together when the whiff of a smell, a band playing in the street, a face seen in the fire, or on the gnarled stem of a tree, will lead them into such vagaries at a moment's warning.


When I was a boy at school at Shrewsbury, old Mrs. Brown used to keep a tray of spoiled tarts which she sold cheaper. They most of them looked pretty right till you handled them. We are all spoiled tarts.


He is a poor creature who does not believe himself to be better than the whole world else. No matter how ill we may be, or how low we may have fallen, we would not change identity with any other person. Hence our self-conceit sustains and always must sustain us till death takes us and our conceit together so that we need no more sustaining.


Man must always be a consuming fire or be consumed. As for hell, we are in a burning fiery furnace all our lives—for what is life but a process of combustion?



We have got into life by stealth and petitio principii, by the free use of that contradiction in terms which we declare to be the most outrageous violation of our reason. We have wriggled into it by holding that everything is both one and many, both infinite in time and space and yet finite, both like and unlike to the same thing, both itself and not itself, both free and yet inexorably fettered, both every adjective in the dictionary and at the same time the flat contradiction of every one of them.


The beginning of life is the beginning of an illusion to the effect that there is such a thing as free will and that there is such another thing as necessity—the recognition of the fact that there is an "I can" and an "I cannot," an "I may" and an "I must."


Life is not so much a riddle to be read as a Gordian knot that will get cut sooner or later.


Life is the distribution of an error—or errors.


Murray (the publisher) said that my Life of Dr. Butler was an omnium gatherum. Yes, but life is an omnium gatherum.


Life is a superstition. But superstitions are not without their value. The snail's shell is a superstition, slugs have no shells and thrive just as well. But a snail without a shell would not be a slug unless it had also the slug's indifference to a shell.


Life is one long process of getting tired.


My days run through me as water through a sieve.


Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.


Life is eight parts cards and two parts play, the unseen world is made manifest to us in the play.


Lizards generally seem to have lost their tails by the time they reach middle life. So have most men.


A sense of humour keen enough to show a man his own absurdities, as well as those of other people, will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing.


Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule. Nevertheless one had better know the rules, for they sometimes guide in doubtful cases—though not often.


There are two great rules of life, the one general and the other particular. The first is that every one can, in the end, get what he wants if he only tries. This is the general rule. The particular rule is that every individual is, more or less, an exception to the general rule.


Nature is essentially mean, mediocre. You can have schemes for raising the level of this mean, but not for making every one two inches taller than his neighbour, and this is what people really care about.


All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.

The World


The world is a gambling-table so arranged that all who enter the casino must play and all must lose more or less heavily in the long run, though they win occasionally by the way.


We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one.


The world may not be particularly wise—still, we know of nothing wiser.


The world will always be governed by self-interest. We should not try to stop this, we should try to make the self-interest of cads a little more coincident with that of decent people.

The Individual and the World

There is an eternal antagonism of interest between the individual and the world at large. The individual will not so much care how much he may suffer in this world provided he can live in men's good thoughts long after he has left it. The world at large does not so much care how much suffering the individual may either endure or cause in this life, provided he will take himself clean away out of men's thoughts, whether for good or ill, when he has left it.

My Life


I imagine that life can give nothing much better or much worse than what I have myself experienced. I should say I had proved pretty well the extremes of mental pleasure and pain; and so I believe each in his own way does, almost every man.


I have squandered my life as a schoolboy squanders a tip. But then half, or more than half the fun a schoolboy gets out of a tip consists in the mere fact of having something to squander. Squandering is in itself delightful, and so I found it with my life in my younger days. I do not squander it now, but I am not sorry that I have squandered a good deal of it. What a heap of rubbish there would have been if I had not! Had I not better set about squandering what is left of it?

The Life we Live in Others

A man should spend his life or, rather, does spend his life in being born. His life is his birth throes. But most men miscarry and never come to the true birth at all and some live but a very short time in a very little world and none are eternal. Still, the life we live beyond the grave is our truest life, and our happiest, for we pass it in the profoundest sleep as though we were children in our cradles. If we are wronged it hurts us not; if we wrong others, we do not suffer for it; and when we die, as even the Handels and Bellinis and Shakespeares sooner or later do, we die easily, know neither fear nor pain and live anew in the lives of those who have been begotten of our work and who have for the time come up in our room.

An immortal like Shakespeare knows nothing of his own immortality about which we are so keenly conscious. As he knows nothing of it when it is in its highest vitality, centuries, it may be, after his apparent death, so it is best and happiest if during his bodily life he should think little or nothing about it and perhaps hardly suspect that he will live after his death at all.

And yet I do not know—I could not keep myself going at all if I did not believe that I was likely to inherit a good average three-score years and ten of immortality. There are very few workers who are not sustained by this belief, or at least hope, but it may well be doubted whether this is not a sign that they are not going to be immortal—and I am content (or try to be) to fare as my neighbours.

The World Made to Enjoy

When we grumble about the vanity of all human things, inasmuch as even the noblest works are not eternal but must become sooner or later as though they had never been, we should remember that the world, so far as we can see, was made to enjoy rather than to last. Come-and-go pervades everything of which we have knowledge, and though great things go more slowly, they are built up of small ones and must fare as that which makes them.

Are we to have our enjoyment of Handel and Shakespeare weakened because a day will come when there will be no more of either Handel or Shakespeare nor yet of ears to hear them? Is it not enough that they should stir such countless multitudes so profoundly and kindle such intense and affectionate admiration for so many ages as they have done and probably will continue to do? The life of a great thing may be so long as practically to come to immortality even now, but that is not the point. The point is that if anything was aimed at at all when things began to shape or to be shaped, it seems to have been a short life and a merry one, with an extension of time in certain favoured cases, rather than a permanency even of the very best and noblest. And, when one comes to think of it, death and birth are so closely correlated that one could not destroy either without destroying the other at the same time. It is extinction that makes creation possible.

If, however, any work is to have long life it is not enough that it should be good of its kind. Many ephemeral things are perfect in their way. It must be of a durable kind as well.

Living in Others

We had better live in others as much as we can if only because we thus live more in the race, which God really does seem to care about a good deal, and less in the individual, to whom, so far as I can see, he is indifferent. After we are dead it matters not to the life we have led in ourselves what people may say of us, but it matters much to the life we lead in others and this should be our true life.


When I am inclined to complain about having worked so many years and taken nothing but debt, though I feel the want of money so continually (much more, doubtless, than I ought to feel it), let me remember that I come in free, gratis, to the work of hundreds and thousands of better men than myself who often were much worse paid than I have been. If a man's true self is his karma—the life which his work lives but which he knows very little about and by which he takes nothing—let him remember at least that he can enjoy the karma of others, and this about squares the account—or rather far more than squares it. [1883.]

Birth and Death


They are functions one of the other and if you get rid of one you must get rid of the other also. There is birth in death and death in birth. We are always dying and being born again.


Life is the gathering of waves to a head, at death they break into a million fragments each one of which, however, is absorbed at once into the sea of life and helps to form a later generation which comes rolling on till it too breaks.


What happens to you when you die? But what happens to you when you are born? In the one case we are born and in the other we die, but it is not possible to get much further.


We commonly know that we are going to die though we do not know that we are going to be born. But are we sure this is so? We may have had the most gloomy forebodings on this head and forgotten all about them. At any rate we know no more about the very end of our lives than about the very beginning. We come up unconsciously, and go down unconsciously; and we rarely see either birth or death. We see people, as consciousness, between the two extremes.


Its base must be looked for not in the desire of the parents to reproduce but in the discontent of the germs with their surroundings inside those parents, and a desire on their part to have a separate maintenance. {16} [1880.]

Thinking almost Identically

The ova, spermatozoa and embryos not only of all human races but of all things that live, whether animal or vegetable, think little, but that little almost identically on every subject. That "almost" is the little rift within the lute which by and by will give such different character to the music. [1889.]

Is Life Worth Living?

This is a question for an embryo, not for a man. [1883.]


There is a resemblance, greater or less, between the pleasure we derive from all the evacuations. I believe that in all cases the pleasure arises from rest—rest, that is to say, from the considerable, though in most cases unconscious labour of retaining that which it is a relief to us to be rid of.

In ordinary cases the effort whereby we retain those things that we would get rid of is unperceived by the central government, being, I suppose, departmentally made; we—as distinguished from the subordinate personalities of which we are composed—know nothing about it, though the subordinates in question doubtless do. But when the desirability of removing is abnormally great, we know about the effort of retaining perfectly well, and the gradual increase in our perception of the effort suggests strongly that there has been effort all the time, descending to conscious and great through unconscious and normal from unconscious and hardly any at all. The relaxation of this effort is what causes the sense of refreshment that follows all healthy discharges.

All our limbs and sensual organs, in fact our whole body and life, are but an accretion round and a fostering of the spermatozoa. They are the real "He." A man's eyes, ears, tongue, nose, legs and arms are but so many organs and tools that minister to the protection, education, increased intelligence and multiplication of the spermatozoa; so that our whole life is in reality a series of complex efforts in respect of these, conscious or unconscious according to their comparative commonness. They are the central fact in our existence, the point towards which all effort is directed. Relaxation of effort here, therefore, is the most complete and comprehensive of all relaxations and, as such, the supreme gratification—the most complete rest we can have, short of sleep and death.

Man and His Organism


Man is but a perambulating tool-box and workshop, or office, fashioned for itself by a piece of very clever slime, as the result of long experience; and truth is but its own most enlarged, general and enduring sense of the coming togetherness or convenience of the various conventional arrangements which, for some reason or other, it has been led to sanction. Hence we speak of man's body as his "trunk."


The body is but a pair of pincers set over a bellows and a stewpan and the whole fixed upon stilts.


A man should see himself as a kind of tool-box; this is simple enough; the difficulty is that it is the tools themselves that make and work the tools. The skill which now guides our organs and us in arts and inventions was at one time exercised upon the invention of these very organs themselves. Tentative bankruptcy acts afford good illustrations of the manner in which organisms have been developed. The ligaments which bind the tendons of our feet or the valves of our blood vessels are the ingenious enterprises of individual cells who saw a want, felt that they could supply it, and have thus won themselves a position among the old aristocracy of the body politic.

The most incorporate tool—as an eye or a tooth or the fist, when a blow is struck with it—has still something of the non-ego about it; and in like manner such a tool as a locomotive engine, apparently entirely separated from the body, must still from time to time, as it were, kiss the soil of the human body and be handled, and thus become incorporate with man, if it is to remain in working order.


A tool is anything whatsoever which is used by an intelligent being for realising its object. The idea of a desired end is inseparable from a tool. The very essence of a tool is the being an instrument for the achievement of a purpose. We say that a man is the tool of another, meaning that he is being used for the furtherance of that other's ends, and this constitutes him a machine in use. Therefore the word "tool" implies also the existence of a living, intelligent being capable of desiring the end for which the tool is used, for this is involved in the idea of a desired end. And as few tools grow naturally fit for use (for even a stick or a fuller's teasel must be cut from their places and modified to some extent before they can be called tools), the word "tool" implies not only a purpose and a purposer, but a purposer who can see in what manner his purpose can be achieved, and who can contrive (or find ready-made and fetch and employ) the tool which shall achieve it.

Strictly speaking, nothing is a tool unless during actual use. Nevertheless, if a thing has been made for the express purpose of being used as a tool it is commonly called a tool, whether it is in actual use or no. Thus hammers, chisels, etc., are called tools, though lying idle in a tool-box. What is meant is that, though not actually being used as instruments at the present moment, they bear the impress of their object, and are so often in use that we may speak of them as though they always were so. Strictly, a thing is a tool or not a tool just as it may happen to be in use or not. Thus a stone may be picked up and used to hammer a nail with, but the stone is not a tool until picked up with an eye to use; it is a tool as soon as this happens, and, if thrown away immediately the nail has been driven home, the stone is a tool no longer. We see, therefore, matter alternating between a toolish or organic state and an untoolish or inorganic. Where there is intention it is organic, where there is no intention it is inorganic. Perhaps, however, the word "tool" should cover also the remains of a tool so long as there are manifest signs that the object was a tool once.

The simplest tool I can think of is a piece of gravel used for making a road. Nothing is done to it, it owes its being a tool simply to the fact that it subserves a purpose. A broken piece of granite used for macadamising a road is a more complex instrument, about the toolishness of which no doubt can be entertained. It will, however, I think, be held that even a piece of gravel found in situ and left there untouched, provided it is so left because it was deemed suitable for a road which was designed to pass over the spot, would become a tool in virtue of the recognition of its utility, while a similar piece of gravel a yard off on either side the proposed road would not be a tool.

The essence of a tool, therefore, lies in something outside the tool itself. It is not in the head of the hammer, nor in the handle, nor in the combination of the two that the essence of mechanical characteristics exists, but in the recognition of its utility and in the forces directed through it in virtue of this recognition. This appears more plainly when we reflect that a very complex machine, if intended for use by children whose aim is not serious, ceases to rank in our minds as a tool, and becomes a toy. It is seriousness of aim and recognition of suitability for the achievement of that aim, and not anything in the tool itself, that makes the tool.

The goodness or badness, again, of a tool depends not upon anything within the tool as regarded without relation to the user, but upon the ease or difficulty experienced by the person using it in comparison with what he or others of average capacity would experience if they had used a tool of a different kind. Thus the same tool may be good for one man and bad for another.

It seems to me that all tools resolve themselves into the hammer and the lever, and that the lever is only an inverted hammer, or the hammer only an inverted lever, whichever one wills; so that all the problems of mechanics are present to us in the simple stone which may be used as a hammer, or in the stick that may be used as a lever, as much as in the most complicated machine. These are the primordial cells of mechanics. And an organ is only another name for a tool.

Organs and Makeshifts

I have gone out sketching and forgotten my water-dipper; among my traps I always find something that will do, for example, the top of my tin case (for holding pencils). This is how organs come to change their uses and hence their forms, or at any rate partly how.

Joining and Disjoining

These are the essence of change.

One of the earliest notes I made, when I began to make notes at all, I found not long ago in an old book, since destroyed, which I had in New Zealand. It was to the effect that all things are either of the nature of a piece of string or a knife. That is, they are either for bringing and keeping things together, or for sending and keeping them apart. Nevertheless each kind contains a little of its opposite and some, as the railway train and the hedge, combine many examples of both. Thus the train, on the whole, is used for bringing things together, but it is also used for sending them apart, and its divisions into classes are alike for separating and keeping together. The hedge is also both for joining things (as a flock of sheep) and for disjoining (as for keeping the sheep from getting into corn). These are the more immediate ends. The ulterior ends, both of train and hedge, so far as we are concerned, and so far as anything can have an end, are the bringing or helping to bring meat or dairy produce into contact with man's inside, or wool on to his back, or that he may go in comfort somewhere to converse with people and join his soul on to theirs, or please himself by getting something to come within the range of his senses or imagination.

A piece of string is a thing that, in the main, makes for togetheriness; whereas a knife is, in the main, a thing that makes for splitty-uppiness; still, there is an odour of togetheriness hanging about a knife also, for it tends to bring potatoes into a man's stomach.

In high philosophy one should never look at a knife without considering it also as a piece of string, nor at a piece of string without considering it also as a knife.

Cotton Factories

Surely the work done by the body is, in one way, more its true life than its limbs and organisation are. Which is the more true life of a great cotton factory—the bales of goods which it turns out for the world's wearing or the machinery whereby its ends are achieved? The manufacture is only possible by reason of the machinery; it is produced by this. The machinery only exists in virtue of its being capable of producing the manufacture; it is produced for this. The machinery represents the work done by the factory that turned it out.

Somehow or other when we think of a factory we think rather of the fabric and mechanism than of the work, and so we think of a man's life and living body as constituting himself rather than of the work that the life and living body turn out. The instinct being as strong as it is, I suppose it sound, but it seems as though the life should be held to be quite as much in the work itself as in the tools that produce it—and perhaps more.

Our Trivial Bodies


Though we think so much of our body, it is in reality a small part of us. Before birth we get together our tools, in life we use them, and thus fashion our true life which consists not in our tools and tool- box but in the work we have done with our tools. It is Handel's work, not the body with which he did the work, that pulls us half over London. There is not an action of a muscle in a horse's leg upon a winter's night as it drags a carriage to the Albert Hall but is in connection with, and part outcome of, the force generated when Handel sat in his room at Gopsall and wrote the Messiah. Think of all the forces which that force has controlled, and think, also, how small was the amount of molecular disturbance from which it proceeded. It is as though we saw a conflagration which a spark had kindled. This is the true Handel, who is a more living power among us one hundred and twenty-two years after his death than during the time he was amongst us in the body.


The whole life of some people is a kind of partial death—a long, lingering death-bed, so to speak, of stagnation and nonentity on which death is but the seal, or solemn signing, as the abnegation of all further act and deed on the part of the signer. Death robs these people of even that little strength which they appeared to have and gives them nothing but repose.

On others, again, death confers a more living kind of life than they can ever possibly have enjoyed while to those about them they seemed to be alive. Look at Shakespeare; can he be properly said to have lived in anything like his real life till a hundred years or so after his death? His physical life was but as a dawn preceding the sunrise of that life of the world to come which he was to enjoy hereafter. True, there was a little stir—a little abiding of shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night—a little buzzing in knots of men waiting to be hired before the daybreak—a little stealthy movement as of a burglar or two here and there—an inchoation of life. But the true life of the man was after death and not before it.

Death is not more the end of some than it is the beginning of others. So he that loses his soul may find it, and he that finds may lose it.


The Foundations of Morality


These are like all other foundations; if you dig too much about them the superstructure will come tumbling down.


The foundations which we would dig about and find are within us, like the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than without.


To attempt to get at the foundations is to try to recover consciousness about things that have passed into the unconscious stage; it is pretty sure to disturb and derange those who try it on too much.

Counsels of Imperfection

It is all very well for mischievous writers to maintain that we cannot serve God and Mammon. Granted that it is not easy, but nothing that is worth doing ever is easy. Easy or difficult, possible or impossible, not only has the thing got to be done, but it is exactly in doing it that the whole duty of man consists. And when the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness that he hath committed and doeth that which is neither quite lawful nor quite right, he will generally be found to have gained in amiability what he has lost in holiness.

If there are two worlds at all (and that there are I have no doubt) it stands to reason that we ought to make the best of both of them, and more particularly of the one with which we are most immediately concerned. It is as immoral to be too good as to be too anything else. The Christian morality is just as immoral as any other. It is at once very moral and very immoral. How often do we not see children ruined through the virtues, real or supposed, of their parents? Truly he visiteth the virtues of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. The most that can be said for virtue is that there is a considerable balance in its favour, and that it is a good deal better to be for it than against it; but it lets people in very badly sometimes.

If you wish to understand virtue you must be sub-vicious; for the really virtuous man, who is fully under grace, will be virtuous unconsciously and will know nothing about it. Unless a man is out- and-out virtuous he is sub-vicious.

Virtue is, as it were, the repose of sleep or death. Vice is the awakening to the knowledge of good and evil—without which there is no life worthy of the name. Sleep is, in a way, a happier, more peaceful state than waking and, in a way, death may be said to be better than life, but it is in a very small way. We feel such talk to be blasphemy against good life and, whatever we may say in death's favour, so long as we do not blow our brains out we show that we do not mean to be taken seriously. To know good, other than as a heavy sleeper, we must know vice also. There cannot, as Bacon said, be a "Hold fast that which is good" without a "Prove all things" going before it. There is no knowledge of good without a knowledge of evil also, and this is why all nations have devils as well as gods, and regard them with sneaking kindness. God without the devil is dead, being alone.


We call him at once the Angel of Light and the Angel of Darkness: is this because we instinctively feel that no one can know much till he has sinned much—or because we feel that extremes meet, or how?

The Oracle in Erewhon

The answer given by the oracle was originally written concerning any vice—say drunkenness, but it applies to many another—and I wrote not "sins" but "knows": {26}

He who knows aught Knows more than he ought; But he who knows nought Has much to be taught.

God's Laws

The true laws of God are the laws of our own well-being.

Physical Excellence

The question whether such and such a course of conduct does or does not do physical harm is the safest test by which to try the question whether it is moral or no. If it does no harm to the body we ought to be very chary of calling it immoral, while if it tends towards physical excellence there should be no hesitation in calling it moral. In the case of those who are not forced to over-work themselves—and there are many who work themselves to death from mere inability to restrain the passion for work, which masters them as the craving for drink masters a drunkard—over-work in these cases is as immoral as over-eating or drinking. This, so far as the individual is concerned. With regard to the body politic as a whole, it is, no doubt, well that there should be some men and women so built that they cannot be stopped from working themselves to death, just as it is unquestionably well that there should be some who cannot be stopped from drinking themselves to death, if only that they may keep the horror of the habit well in evidence.

Intellectual Self-Indulgence

Intellectual over-indulgence is the most gratuitous and disgraceful form which excess can take, nor is there any the consequences of which are more disastrous.

Dodging Fatigue

When fatigued, I find it rests me to write very slowly with attention to the formation of each letter. I am often thus able to go on when I could not otherwise do so.

Vice and Virtue


Virtue is something which it would be impossible to over-rate if it had not been over-rated. The world can ill spare any vice which has obtained long and largely among civilised people. Such a vice must have some good along with its deformities. The question "How, if every one were to do so and so?" may be met with another "How, if no one were to do it?" We are a body corporate as well as a collection of individuals.

As a matter of private policy I doubt whether the moderately vicious are more unhappy than the moderately virtuous; "Very vicious" is certainly less happy than "Tolerably virtuous," but this is about all. What pass muster as the extremes of virtue probably make people quite as unhappy as extremes of vice do.

The truest virtue has ever inclined toward excess rather than asceticism; that she should do this is reasonable as well as observable, for virtue should be as nice a calculator of chances as other people and will make due allowance for the chance of not being found out. Virtue knows that it is impossible to get on without compromise, and tunes herself, as it were, a trifle sharp to allow for an inevitable fall in playing. So the Psalmist says, "If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss: O Lord who may abide it?" and by this he admits that the highest conceivable form of virtue still leaves room for some compromise with vice. So again Shakespeare writes, "They say, best men are moulded out of faults; And, for the most, become much more the better For being a little bad."


The extremes of vice and virtue are alike detestable; absolute virtue is as sure to kill a man as absolute vice is, let alone the dullnesses of it and the pomposities of it.


God does not intend people, and does not like people, to be too good. He likes them neither too good nor too bad, but a little too bad is more venial with him than a little too good.


As there is less difference than we generally think between the happiness of men who seem to differ widely in fortune, so is there also less between their moral natures; the best are not so much better than the worst, nor the worst so much below the best as we suppose; and the bad are just as important an element in the general progress as the good, or perhaps more so. It is in strife that life lies, and were there no opposing forces there would be neither moral nor immoral, neither victory nor defeat.


If virtue had everything her own way she would be as insufferable as dominant factions generally are. It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable bounds.


Virtue has never yet been adequately represented by any who have had any claim to be considered virtuous. It is the sub-vicious who best understand virtue. Let the virtuous people stick to describing vice- -which they can do well enough.

My Virtuous Life

I have led a more virtuous life than I intended, or thought I was leading. When I was young I thought I was vicious: now I know that I was not and that my unconscious knowledge was sounder than my conscious. I regret some things that I have done, but not many. I regret that so many should think I did much which I never did, and should know of what I did in so garbled and distorted a fashion as to have done me much mischief. But if things were known as they actually happened, I believe I should have less to be ashamed of than a good many of my neighbours—and less also to be proud of.


Sin is like a mountain with two aspects according to whether it is viewed before or after it has been reached: yet both aspects are real.


turns on whether the pleasure precedes or follows the pain. Thus, it is immoral to get drunk because the headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first, and the drunkenness afterwards, it would be moral to get drunk.

Change and Immorality

Every discovery and, indeed, every change of any sort is immoral, as tending to unsettle men's minds, and hence their custom and hence their morals, which are the net residuum of their "mores" or customs. Wherefrom it should follow that there is nothing so absolutely moral as stagnation, except for this that, if perfect, it would destroy all mores whatever. So there must always be an immorality in morality and, in like manner, a morality in immorality. For there will be an element of habitual and legitimate custom even in the most unhabitual and detestable things that can be done at all.


Morality is the custom of one's country and the current feeling of one's peers. Cannibalism is moral in a cannibal country.

Abnormal Developments

If a man can get no other food it is more natural for him to kill another man and eat him than to starve. Our horror is rather at the circumstances that make it natural for the man to do this than at the man himself. So with other things the desire for which is inherited through countless ancestors, it is more natural for men to obtain the nearest thing they can to these, even by the most abnormal means if the ordinary channels are closed, than to forego them altogether. The abnormal growth should be regarded as disease but, nevertheless, as showing more health and vigour than no growth at all would do. I said this in Life and Habit (ch. iii. p. 52) when I wrote "it is more righteous in a man that he should eat strange food and that his cheek so much as lank not, than that he should starve if the strange food be at his command." {30}

Young People

With regard to sexual matters, the best opinion of our best medical men, the practice of those nations which have proved most vigorous and comely, the evils that have followed this or that, the good that has attended upon the other should be ascertained by men who, being neither moral nor immoral and not caring two straws what the conclusion arrived at might be, should desire only to get hold of the best available information. The result should be written down with some fulness and put before the young of both sexes as soon as they are old enough to understand such matters at all. There should be no mystery or reserve. None but the corrupt will wish to corrupt facts; honest people will accept them eagerly, whatever they may prove to be, and will convey them to others as accurately as they can. On what pretext therefore can it be well that knowledge should be withheld from the universal gaze upon a matter of such universal interest? It cannot be pretended that there is nothing to be known on these matters beyond what unaided boys and girls can be left without risk to find out for themselves. Not one in a hundred who remembers his own boyhood will say this. How, then, are they excusable who have the care of young people and yet leave a matter of such vital importance so almost absolutely to take care of itself, although they well know how common error is, how easy to fall into and how disastrous in its effects both upon the individual and the race?

Next to sexual matters there are none upon which there is such complete reserve between parents and children as on those connected with money. The father keeps his affairs as closely as he can to himself and is most jealous of letting his children into a knowledge of how he manages his money. His children are like monks in a monastery as regards money and he calls this training them up with the strictest regard to principle. Nevertheless he thinks himself ill-used if his son, on entering life, falls a victim to designing persons whose knowledge of how money is made and lost is greater than his own.

The Family


I believe that more unhappiness comes from this source than from any other—I mean from the attempt to prolong family connection unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so. The mischief among the lower classes is not so great, but among the middle and upper classes it is killing a large number daily. And the old people do not really like it much better than the young.


On my way down to Shrewsbury some time since I read the Bishop of Carlisle's Walks in the Regions of Science and Faith, {31} then just published, and found the following on p. 129 in the essay which is entitled "Man's Place in Nature." After saying that young sparrows or robins soon lose sight of their fellow-nestlings and leave off caring for them, the bishop continues:-

"Whereas 'children of one family' are constantly found joined together by a love which only grows with years, and they part for their posts of duty in the world with the hope of having joyful meetings from time to time, and of meeting in a higher world when their life on earth is finished."

I am sure my great-grandfather did not look forward to meeting his father in heaven—his father had cut him out of his will; nor can I credit my grandfather with any great longing to rejoin my great- grandfather—a worthy man enough, but one with whom nothing ever prospered. I am certain my father, after he was 40, did not wish to see my grandfather any more—indeed, long before reaching that age he had decided that Dr. Butler's life should not be written, though R. W. Evans would have been only too glad to write it. Speaking for myself, I have no wish to see my father again, and I think it likely that the Bishop of Carlisle would not be more eager to see his than I mine.

Unconscious Humour

"Writing to the Hon. Mrs. Watson in 1856, Charles Dickens says: 'I have always observed within my experience that THE MEN WHO HAVE LEFT HOME VERY YOUNG have, MANY LONG YEARS AFTERWARDS, had the tenderest regard for it. That's a pleasant thing to think of as one of the wise adjustments of this life of ours.'" {32a}

Homer's Odyssey

From the description of the meeting between Ulysses and Telemachus it is plain that Homer considered it quite as dreadful for relations who had long been separated to come together again as for them to separate in the first instance. And this is about true. {32b}


He was a really happy man. He was without father, without mother and without descent. He was an incarnate bachelor. He was a born orphan.

Bacon for Breakfast

Now [1893] when I am abroad, being older and taking less exercise, I do not want any breakfast beyond coffee and bread and butter, but when this note was written [1880] I liked a modest rasher of bacon in addition, and used to notice the jealous indignation with which heads of families who enjoyed the privilege of Cephas and the brethren of our Lord regarded it. There were they with three or four elderly unmarried daughters as well as old mamma—how could they afford bacon? And there was I, a selfish bachelor—. The appetising, savoury smell of my rasher seemed to drive them mad. I used to feel very uncomfortable, very small and quite aware how low it was of me to have bacon for breakfast and no daughters instead of daughters and no bacon. But when I consulted the oracles of heaven about it, I was always told to stick to my bacon and not to make a fool of myself. I despised myself but have not withered under my own contempt so completely as I ought to have done.

God and Man

To love God is to have good health, good looks, good sense, experience, a kindly nature and a fair balance of cash in hand. "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God." To be loved by God is the same as to love Him. We love Him because He first loved us.

The Homeric Deity and the Pall Mall Gazette

A writer in the Pall Mall Gazette (I think in 1874 or 1875, and in the autumn months, but I cannot now remember) summed up Homer's conception of a god as that of a "superlatively strong, amorous, beautiful, brave and cunning man." This is pretty much what a good working god ought to be, but he should also be kind and have a strong sense of humour, together with a contempt for the vices of meanness and for the meannesses of virtue. After saying what I have quoted above the writer in the Pall Mall Gazette goes on, "An impartial critic can judge for himself how far, if at all, this is elevated above the level of mere fetish worship." Perhaps it is that I am not an impartial critic, but, if I am allowed to be so, I should say that the elevation above mere fetish worship was very considerable.

Good Breeding the Summum Bonum

When people ask what faith we would substitute for that which we would destroy, we answer that we destroy no faith and need substitute none. We hold the glory of God to be the summum bonum, and so do Christians generally. It is on the question of what is the glory of God that we join issue. We say it varies with the varying phases of God as made manifest in his works, but that, so far as we are ourselves concerned, the glory of God is best advanced by advancing that of man. If asked what is the glory of man we answer "Good breeding"—using the words in their double sense and meaning both the continuance of the race and that grace of manner which the words are more commonly taken to signify. The double sense of the words is all the more significant for the unconsciousness with which it is passed over.

Advice to the Young

You will sometimes find your elders laying their heads together and saying what a bad thing it is for young men to come into a little money—that those always do best who have no expectancy, and the like. They will then quote some drivel from one of the Kingsleys about the deadening effect an income of 300 pounds a year will have upon a man. Avoid any one whom you may hear talk in this way. The fault lies not with the legacy (which would certainly be better if there were more of it) but with those who have so mismanaged our education that we go in even greater danger of losing the money than other people are.


Is there any religion whose followers can be pointed to as distinctly more amiable and trustworthy than those of any other? If so, this should be enough. I find the nicest and best people generally profess no religion at all, but are ready to like the best men of all religions.

Heaven and Hell

Heaven is the work of the best and kindest men and women. Hell is the work of prigs, pedants and professional truth-tellers. The world is an attempt to make the best of both.


The essence of priggishness is setting up to be better than one's neighbour. Better may mean more virtuous, more clever, more agreeable or what not. The worst of it is that one cannot do anything outside eating one's dinner or taking a walk without setting up to know more than one's neighbours. It was this that made me say in Life and Habit [close of ch. ii.] that I was among the damned in that I wrote at all. So I am; and I am often very sorry that I was never able to reach those more saintly classes who do not set up as instructors of other people. But one must take one's lot.


He was a prig. In the bedroom scene with Elsa he should have said that her question put him rather up a tree but that, as she wanted to know who he was, he would tell her and would let the Holy Grail slide.


People ask complainingly what swells have done, or do, for society that they should be able to live without working. The good swell is the creature towards which all nature has been groaning and travailing together until now. He is an ideal. He shows what may be done in the way of good breeding, health, looks, temper and fortune. He realises men's dreams of themselves, at any rate vicariously. He preaches the gospel of grace. The world is like a spoilt child, it has this good thing given it at great expense and then says it is useless!

Science and Religion

These are reconciled in amiable and sensible people but nowhere else.


If we are asked what is the most essential characteristic that underlies this word, the word itself will guide us to gentleness, to absence of such things as brow-beating, overbearing manners and fuss, and generally to consideration for other people.

The Finest Men

I suppose an Italian peasant or a Breton, Norman or English fisherman, is about the best thing nature does in the way of men—the richer and the poorer being alike mistakes.

On being a Swell all Round

I have never in my life succeeded in being this. Sometimes I get a new suit and am tidy for a while in part, meanwhile the hat, tie, boots, gloves and underclothing all clamour for attention and, before I have got them well in hand, the new suit has lost its freshness. Still, if ever I do get any money, I will try and make myself really spruce all round till I find out, as I probably shall in about a week, that if I give my clothes an inch they will take an ell. [1880.]


is the last enemy that shall never be subdued. While there is flesh there is money—or the want of money; but money is always on the brain so long as there is a brain in reasonable order.

A Luxurious Death

Death in anything like luxury is one of the most expensive things a man can indulge himself in. It costs a lot of money to die comfortably, unless one goes off pretty quickly.

Money, Health and Reputation

Money, if it live at all, that is to say if it be reproductive and put out at any interest, however low, is mortal and doomed to be lost one day, though it may go on living through many generations of one single family if it be taken care of. No man is absolutely safe. It may be said to any man, "Thou fool, this night thy money shall be required of thee." And reputation is like money: it may be required of us without warning. The little unsuspected evil on which we trip may swell up in a moment and prove to be the huge, Janus-like mountain of unpardonable sin. And his health may be required of any fool, any night or any day.

A man will feel loss of money more keenly than loss of bodily health, so long as he can keep his money. Take his money away and deprive him of the means of earning any more, and his health will soon break up; but leave him his money and, even though his health breaks up and he dies, he does not mind it so much as we think. Money losses are the worst, loss of health is next worst and loss of reputation comes in a bad third. All other things are amusements provided money, health and good name are untouched.


A man must not think he can save himself the trouble of being a sensible man and a gentleman by going to his solicitor, any more than he can get himself a sound constitution by going to his doctor; but a solicitor can do more to keep a tolerably well-meaning fool straight than a doctor can do for an invalid. Money is to the solicitor what souls are to the parson or life to the physician. He is our money- doctor.


Going to your doctor is having such a row with your cells that you refer them to your solicitor. Sometimes you, as it were, strike against them and stop their food, when they go on strike against yourself. Sometimes you file a bill in Chancery against them and go to bed.


We may find an argument in favour of priests if we consider whether man is capable of doing for himself in respect of his moral and spiritual welfare (than which nothing can be more difficult and intricate) what it is so clearly better for him to leave to professional advisers in the case of his money and his body which are comparatively simple and unimportant.


Prefatory Note

The Origin of Species was published in the autumn of 1859, and Butler arrived in New Zealand about the same time and read the book soon afterwards. In 1880 he wrote in Unconscious Memory (close of Chapter 1): "As a member of the general public, at that time residing eighteen miles from the nearest human habitation, and three days' journey on horseback from a bookseller's shop, I became one of Mr. Darwin's many enthusiastic admirers, and wrote a philosophic dialogue (the most offensive form, except poetry and books of travel into supposed unknown countries, that even literature can assume) upon the Origin of Species. This production appeared in the Press, Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1861 or 1862, but I have long lost the only copy I had."

The Press was founded by James Edward FitzGerald, the first Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury. Butler was an intimate friend of FitzGerald, was closely associated with the newspaper and frequently wrote for it. The first number appeared 25th May, 1861, and on 25th May, 1911, the Press celebrated its jubilee with a number which contained particulars of its early life, of its editors, and of Butler; it also contained reprints of two of Butler's contributions, viz. Darwin among the Machines, which originally appeared in its columns 13 June, 1863, and Lucubratio Ebria, which originally appeared 29 July, 1865. The Dialogue was not reprinted because, although the editor knew of its existence and searched for it, he could not find it. At my request, after the appearance of the jubilee number, a further search was made, but the Dialogue was not found and I gave it up for lost.

In March, 1912, Mr. R. A. Streatfeild pointed out to me that Mr. Tregaskis, in Holborn, was advertising for sale an autograph letter by Charles Darwin sending to an unknown editor a Dialogue on Species from a New Zealand newspaper, described in the letter as being "remarkable from its spirit and from giving so clear and accurate a view of Mr. D.'s theory." Having no doubt that this referred to Butler's lost contribution to the Press, I bought the autograph letter and sent it to New Zealand, where it now is in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. With it I sent a letter to the editor of the Press, giving all further information in my possession about the Dialogue. This letter, which appeared 1 June, 1912, together with the presentation of Darwin's autograph, stimulated further search, and in the issue for 20th December, 1862, the Dialogue was found by Miss Colborne-Veel, whose father was editor of the paper at the time Butler was writing for it. The Press reprinted the Dialogue 8th June, 1912.

When the Dialogue first appeared it excited a great deal of discussion in the colony and, to quote Butler's words in a letter to Darwin (1865), "called forth a contemptuous rejoinder from (I believe) the Bishop of Wellington." This rejoinder was an article headed "Barrel-Organs," the idea being that there was nothing new in Darwin's book, it was only a grinding out of old tunes with which we were all familiar. Butler alludes to this controversy in a note made on a letter from Darwin which he gave to the British Museum. "I remember answering an attack (in the Press, New Zealand) on me by Bishop Abraham, of Wellington, as though I were someone else, and, to keep up the deception, attacking myself also. But it was all very young and silly." The bishop's article and Butler's reply, which was a letter signed A. M. and some of the resulting correspondence were reprinted in the Press, 15th June, 1912.

At first I thought of including here the Dialogue, and perhaps the letter signed A. M. They are interesting as showing that Butler was among the earliest to study closely the Origin of Species, and also as showing the state of his mind before he began to think for himself, before he wrote Darwin among the Machines from which so much followed; but they can hardly be properly considered as germs of Erewhon and Life and Habit. They rather show the preparation of the soil in which those germs sprouted and grew; and, remembering his last remark on the subject that "it was all very young and silly," I decided to omit them. The Dialogue is no longer lost, and the numbers of the Press containing it and the correspondence that ensued can be seen in the British Museum.

Butler's other two contributions to the Press mentioned above do contain the germs of the machine chapters in Erewhon, and led him to the theory put forward in Life and Habit. In 1901 he wrote in the preface to the new and revised edition of Erewhon: "The first part of Erewhon written was an article headed Darwin among the Machines and signed 'Cellarius.' It was written in the Upper Rangitata district of Canterbury Province (as it then was) of New Zealand, and appeared at Christchurch in the Press newspaper, June 13, 1863. A copy of this article is indexed under my books in the British Museum catalogue."

The article is in the form of a letter, and the copy spoken of by Butler, as indexed under his name in the British Museum, being defective, the reprint which appeared in the jubilee number of the Press has been used in completing the version which follows.

Further on in the preface to the 1901 edition of Erewhon he writes: "A second article on the same subject as the one just referred to appeared in the Press shortly after the first, but I have no copy. It treated machines from a different point of view and was the basis of pp. 270-274 of the present edition of Erewhon. This view ultimately led me to the theory I put forward in Life and Habit, published in November, 1877. {41} I have put a bare outline of this theory (which I believe to be quite sound) into the mouth of an Erewhonian professor in Chapter XXVII of this book."

This second article was Lucubratio Ebria, and was sent by Butler from England to the editor of the Press in 1865, with a letter from which this is an extract:

"I send you an article which you can give to FitzGerald or not, just as you think it most expedient—for him. Is not the subject worked out, and are not the Canterbury people tired of Darwinism? For me— is it an article to my credit? I do not send it to FitzGerald because I am sure he would put it into the paper. . . . I know the undue lenience which he lends to my performances, and believe you to be the sterner critic of the two. That there are some good things in it you will, I think, feel; but I am almost sure that considering usque ad nauseam etc., you will think it had better not appear. . . . I think you and he will like that sentence: 'There was a moral government of the world before man came into it.' There is hardly a sentence in it written without deliberation; but I need hardly say that it was done upon tea, not upon whiskey . . .

"P.S. If you are in any doubt about the expediency of the article take it to M.

"P.P.S. Perhaps better take it to him anyhow."

The preface to the 1901 edition of Erewhon contains some further particulars of the genesis of that work, and there are still further particulars in Unconscious Memory, Chapter II, "How I wrote Life and Habit."

The first tentative sketch of the Life and Habit theory occurs in the letter to Thomas William Gale Butler which is given post. This T. W. G. Butler was not related to Butler, they met first as art-students at Heatherley's, and Butler used to speak of him as the most brilliant man he had ever known. He died many years ago. He was the writer of the "letter from a friend now in New Zealand," from which a quotation is given in Life and Habit, Chapter V (pp. 83, 84). Butler kept a copy of his letter to T. W. G. Butler, but it was imperfectly pressed; he afterwards supplied some of the missing words from memory, and gave it to the British Museum.

Darwin among the Machines

[To the Editor of the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand—13 June, 1863.]

Sir—There are few things of which the present generation is more justly proud than of the wonderful improvements which are daily taking place in all sorts of mechanical appliances. And indeed it is matter for great congratulation on many grounds. It is unnecessary to mention these here, for they are sufficiently obvious; our present business lies with considerations which may somewhat tend to humble our pride and to make us think seriously of the future prospects of the human race. If we revert to the earliest primordial types of mechanical life, to the lever, the wedge, the inclined plane, the screw and the pulley, or (for analogy would lead us one step further) to that one primordial type from which all the mechanical kingdom has been developed, we mean to the lever itself, and if we then examine the machinery of the Great Eastern, we find ourselves almost awestruck at the vast development of the mechanical world, at the gigantic strides with which it has advanced in comparison with the slow progress of the animal and vegetable kingdom. We shall find it impossible to refrain from asking ourselves what the end of this mighty movement is to be. In what direction is it tending? What will be its upshot? To give a few imperfect hints towards a solution of these questions is the object of the present letter.

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