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Erewhon (Revised Edition) by Samuel Butler

Part 3 out of 5

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all in their right places, and doubt impossible--they would
consider themselves very seriously and justly outraged, and accuse
the speaker of being unwell.

I never could understand (neither can I quite do so now, though I
begin to see better what they mean) why a single currency should
not suffice them; it would seem to me as though all their dealings
would have been thus greatly simplified; but I was met with a look
of horror if ever I dared to hint at it. Even those who to my
certain knowledge kept only just enough money at the Musical Banks
to swear by, would call the other banks (where their securities
really lay) cold, deadening, paralysing, and the like.

I noticed another thing, moreover, which struck me greatly. I was
taken to the opening of one of these banks in a neighbouring town,
and saw a large assemblage of cashiers and managers. I sat
opposite them and scanned their faces attentively. They did not
please me; they lacked, with few exceptions, the true Erewhonian
frankness; and an equal number from any other class would have
looked happier and better men. When I met them in the streets they
did not seem like other people, but had, as a general rule, a
cramped expression upon their faces which pained and depressed me.

Those who came from the country were better; they seemed to have
lived less as a separate class, and to be freer and healthier; but
in spite of my seeing not a few whose looks were benign and noble,
I could not help asking myself concerning the greater number of
those whom I met, whether Erewhon would be a better country if
their expression were to be transferred to the people in general.
I answered myself emphatically, no. The expression on the faces of
the high Ydgrunites was that which one would wish to diffuse, and
not that of the cashiers.

A man's expression is his sacrament; it is the outward and visible
sign of his inward and spiritual grace, or want of grace; and as I
looked at the a majority of these men, I could not help feeling
that there must be a something in their lives which had stunted
their natural development, and that they would have been more
healthily minded in any other profession. I was always sorry for
them, for in nine cases out of ten they were well-meaning persons;
they were in the main very poorly paid; their constitutions were as
a rule above suspicion; and there were recorded numberless
instances of their self-sacrifice and generosity; but they had had
the misfortune to have been betrayed into a false position at an
age for the most part when their judgement was not matured, and
after having been kept in studied ignorance of the real
difficulties of the system. But this did not make their position
the less a false one, and its bad effects upon themselves were

Few people would speak quite openly and freely before them, which
struck me as a very bad sign. When they were in the room every one
would talk as though all currency save that of the Musical Banks
should be abolished; and yet they knew perfectly well that even the
cashiers themselves hardly used the Musical Bank money more than
other people. It was expected of them that they should appear to
do so, but this was all. The less thoughtful of them did not seem
particularly unhappy, but many were plainly sick at heart, though
perhaps they hardly knew it, and would not have owned to being so.
Some few were opponents of the whole system; but these were liable
to be dismissed from their employment at any moment, and this
rendered them very careful, for a man who had once been cashier at
a Musical Bank was out of the field for other employment, and was
generally unfitted for it by reason of that course of treatment
which was commonly called his education. In fact it was a career
from which retreat was virtually impossible, and into which young
men were generally induced to enter before they could be reasonably
expected, considering their training, to have formed any opinions
of their own. Not unfrequently, indeed, they were induced, by what
we in England should call undue influence, concealment, and fraud.
Few indeed were those who had the courage to insist on seeing both
sides of the question before they committed themselves to what was
practically a leap in the dark. One would have thought that
caution in this respect was an elementary principle,--one of the
first things that an honourable man would teach his boy to
understand; but in practice it was not so.

I even saw cases in which parents bought the right of presenting to
the office of cashier at one of these banks, with the fixed
determination that some one of their sons (perhaps a mere child)
should fill it. There was the lad himself--growing up with every
promise of becoming a good and honourable man--but utterly without
warning concerning the iron shoe which his natural protector was
providing for him. Who could say that the whole thing would not
end in a life-long lie, and vain chafing to escape? I confess that
there were few things in Erewhon which shocked me more than this.

Yet we do something not so very different from this even in
England, and as regards the dual commercial system, all countries
have, and have had, a law of the land, and also another law, which,
though professedly more sacred, has far less effect on their daily
life and actions. It seems as though the need for some law over
and above, and sometimes even conflicting with, the law of the
land, must spring from something that lies deep down in man's
nature; indeed, it is hard to think that man could ever have become
man at all, but for the gradual evolution of a perception that
though this world looms so large when we are in it, it may seem a
little thing when we have got away from it.

When man had grown to the perception that in the everlasting Is-
and-Is-Not of nature, the world and all that it contains, including
man, is at the same time both seen and unseen, he felt the need of
two rules of life, one for the seen, and the other for the unseen
side of things. For the laws affecting the seen world he claimed
the sanction of seen powers; for the unseen (of which he knows
nothing save that it exists and is powerful) he appealed to the
unseen power (of which, again, he knows nothing save that it exists
and is powerful) to which he gives the name of God.

Some Erewhonian opinions concerning the intelligence of the unborn
embryo, that I regret my space will not permit me to lay before the
reader, have led me to conclude that the Erewhonian Musical Banks,
and perhaps the religious systems of all countries, are now more or
less of an attempt to uphold the unfathomable and unconscious
instinctive wisdom of millions of past generations, against the
comparatively shallow, consciously reasoning, and ephemeral
conclusions drawn from that of the last thirty or forty.

The saving feature of the Erewhonian Musical Bank system (as
distinct from the quasi-idolatrous views which coexist with it, and
on which I will touch later) was that while it bore witness to the
existence of a kingdom that is not of this world, it made no
attempt to pierce the veil that hides it from human eyes. It is
here that almost all religions go wrong. Their priests try to make
us believe that they know more about the unseen world than those
whose eyes are still blinded by the seen, can ever know--forgetting
that while to deny the existence of an unseen kingdom is bad, to
pretend that we know more about it than its bare existence is no

This chapter is already longer than I intended, but I should like
to say that in spite of the saving feature of which I have just
spoken, I cannot help thinking that the Erewhonians are on the eve
of some great change in their religious opinions, or at any rate in
that part of them which finds expression through their Musical
Banks. So far as I could see, fully ninety per cent. of the
population of the metropolis looked upon these banks with something
not far removed from contempt. If this is so, any such startling
event as is sure to arise sooner or later, may serve as nucleus to
a new order of things that will be more in harmony with both the
heads and hearts of the people.


The reader will perhaps have learned by this time a thing which I
had myself suspected before I had been twenty-four hours in Mr.
Nosnibor's house--I mean, that though the Nosnibors showed me every
attention, I could not cordially like them, with the exception of
Arowhena who was quite different from the rest. They were not fair
samples of Erewhonians. I saw many families with whom they were on
visiting terms, whose manners charmed me more than I know how to
say, but I never could get over my original prejudice against Mr.
Nosnibor for having embezzled the money. Mrs. Nosnibor, too, was a
very worldly woman, yet to hear her talk one would have thought
that she was singularly the reverse; neither could I endure Zulora;
Arowhena however was perfection.

She it was who ran all the little errands for her mother and Mr.
Nosnibor and Zulora, and gave those thousand proofs of sweetness
and unselfishness which some one member of a family is generally
required to give. All day long it was Arowhena this, and Arowhena
that; but she never seemed to know that she was being put upon, and
was always bright and willing from morning till evening. Zulora
certainly was very handsome, but Arowhena was infinitely the more
graceful of the two and was the very ne plus ultra of youth and
beauty. I will not attempt to describe her, for anything that I
could say would fall so far short of the reality as only to mislead
the reader. Let him think of the very loveliest that he can
imagine, and he will still be below the truth. Having said this
much, I need hardly say that I had fallen in love with her.

She must have seen what I felt for her, but I tried my hardest not
to let it appear even by the slightest sign. I had many reasons
for this. I had no idea what Mr. and Mrs. Nosnibor would say to
it; and I knew that Arowhena would not look at me (at any rate not
yet) if her father and mother disapproved, which they probably
would, considering that I had nothing except the pension of about a
pound a day of our money which the King had granted me. I did not
yet know of a more serious obstacle.

In the meantime, I may say that I had been presented at court, and
was told that my reception had been considered as singularly
gracious; indeed, I had several interviews both with the King and
Queen, at which from time to time the Queen got everything from me
that I had in the world, clothes and all, except the two buttons I
had given to Yram, the loss of which seemed to annoy her a good
deal. I was presented with a court suit, and her Majesty had my
old clothes put upon a wooden dummy, on which they probably remain,
unless they have been removed in consequence of my subsequent
downfall. His Majesty's manners were those of a cultivated English
gentleman. He was much pleased at hearing that our government was
monarchical, and that the mass of the people were resolute that it
should not be changed; indeed, I was so much encouraged by the
evident pleasure with which he heard me, that I ventured to quote
to him those beautiful lines of Shakespeare's -

"There's a divinity doth hedge a king,
Rough hew him how we may;"

but I was sorry I had done so afterwards, for I do not think his
Majesty admired the lines as much as I could have wished.

There is no occasion for me to dwell further upon my experience of
the court, but I ought perhaps to allude to one of my conversations
with the King, inasmuch as it was pregnant with the most important

He had been asking me about my watch, and enquiring whether such
dangerous inventions were tolerated in the country from which I
came. I owned with some confusion that watches were not uncommon;
but observing the gravity which came over his Majesty's face I
presumed to say that they were fast dying out, and that we had few
if any other mechanical contrivances of which he was likely to
disapprove. Upon his asking me to name some of our most advanced
machines, I did not dare to tell him of our steam-engines and
railroads and electric telegraphs, and was puzzling my brains to
think what I could say, when, of all things in the world, balloons
suggested themselves, and I gave him an account of a very
remarkable ascent which was made some years ago. The King was too
polite to contradict, but I felt sure that he did not believe me,
and from that day forward though he always showed me the attention
which was due to my genius (for in this light was my complexion
regarded), he never questioned me about the manners and customs of
my country.

To return, however, to Arowhena. I soon gathered that neither Mr.
nor Mrs. Nosnibor would have any objection to my marrying into the
family; a physical excellence is considered in Erewhon as a set off
against almost any other disqualification, and my light hair was
sufficient to make me an eligible match. But along with this
welcome fact I gathered another which filled me with dismay: I was
expected to marry Zulora, for whom I had already conceived a great
aversion. At first I hardly noticed the little hints and the
artifices which were resorted to in order to bring us together, but
after a time they became too plain. Zulora, whether she was in
love with me or not, was bent on marrying me, and I gathered in
talking with a young gentleman of my acquaintance who frequently
visited the house and whom I greatly disliked, that it was
considered a sacred and inviolable rule that whoever married into a
family must marry the eldest daughter at that time unmarried. The
young gentleman urged this upon me so frequently that I at last saw
he was in love with Arowhena himself, and wanted me to get Zulora
out of the way; but others told me the same story as to the custom
of the country, and I saw there was a serious difficulty. My only
comfort was that Arowhena snubbed my rival and would not look at
him. Neither would she look at me; nevertheless there was a
difference in the manner of her disregard; this was all I could get
from her.

Not that she avoided me; on the contrary I had many a tete-a-tete
with her, for her mother and sister were anxious for me to deposit
some part of my pension in the Musical Banks, this being in
accordance with the dictates of their goddess Ydgrun, of whom both
Mrs. Nosnibor and Zulora were great devotees. I was not sure
whether I had kept my secret from being perceived by Arowhena
herself, but none of the others suspected me, so she was set upon
me to get me to open an account, at any rate pro forma, with the
Musical Banks; and I need hardly say that she succeeded. But I did
not yield at once; I enjoyed the process of being argued with too
keenly to lose it by a prompt concession; besides, a little
hesitation rendered the concession itself more valuable. It was in
the course of conversations on this subject that I learned the more
defined religious opinions of the Erewhonians, that coexist with
the Musical Bank system, but are not recognised by those curious
institutions. I will describe them as briefly as possible in the
following chapters before I return to the personal adventures of
Arowhena and myself.

They were idolaters, though of a comparatively enlightened kind;
but here, as in other things, there was a discrepancy between their
professed and actual belief, for they had a genuine and potent
faith which existed without recognition alongside of their idol

The gods whom they worship openly are personifications of human
qualities, as justice, strength, hope, fear, love, &c., &c. The
people think that prototypes of these have a real objective
existence in a region far beyond the clouds, holding, as did the
ancients, that they are like men and women both in body and
passion, except that they are even comelier and more powerful, and
also that they can render themselves invisible to human eyesight.
They are capable of being propitiated by mankind and of coming to
the assistance of those who ask their aid. Their interest in human
affairs is keen, and on the whole beneficent; but they become very
angry if neglected, and punish rather the first they come upon,
than the actual person who has offended them; their fury being
blind when it is raised, though never raised without reason. They
will not punish with any less severity when people sin against them
from ignorance, and without the chance of having had knowledge;
they will take no excuses of this kind, but are even as the English
law, which assumes itself to be known to every one.

Thus they have a law that two pieces of matter may not occupy the
same space at the same moment, which law is presided over and
administered by the gods of time and space jointly, so that if a
flying stone and a man's head attempt to outrage these gods, by
"arrogating a right which they do not possess" (for so it is
written in one of their books), and to occupy the same space
simultaneously, a severe punishment, sometimes even death itself,
is sure to follow, without any regard to whether the stone knew
that the man's head was there, or the head the stone; this at least
is their view of the common accidents of life. Moreover, they hold
their deities to be quite regardless of motives. With them it is
the thing done which is everything, and the motive goes for

Thus they hold it strictly forbidden for a man to go without common
air in his lungs for more than a very few minutes; and if by any
chance he gets into the water, the air-god is very angry, and will
not suffer it; no matter whether the man got into the water by
accident or on purpose, whether through the attempt to save a child
or through presumptuous contempt of the air-god, the air-god will
kill him, unless he keeps his head high enough out of the water,
and thus gives the air-god his due.

This with regard to the deities who manage physical affairs. Over
and above these they personify hope, fear, love, and so forth,
giving them temples and priests, and carving likenesses of them in
stone, which they verily believe to be faithful representations of
living beings who are only not human in being more than human. If
any one denies the objective existence of these divinities, and
says that there is really no such being as a beautiful woman called
Justice, with her eyes blinded and a pair of scales, positively
living and moving in a remote and ethereal region, but that justice
is only the personified expression of certain modes of human
thought and action--they say that he denies the existence of
justice in denying her personality, and that he is a wanton
disturber of men's religious convictions. They detest nothing so
much as any attempt to lead them to higher spiritual conceptions of
the deities whom they profess to worship. Arowhena and I had a
pitched battle on this point, and should have had many more but for
my prudence in allowing her to get the better of me.

I am sure that in her heart she was suspicious of her own position
for she returned more than once to the subject. "Can you not see,"
I had exclaimed, "that the fact of justice being admirable will not
be affected by the absence of a belief in her being also a living
agent? Can you really think that men will be one whit less
hopeful, because they no longer believe that hope is an actual
person?" She shook her head, and said that with men's belief in
the personality all incentive to the reverence of the thing itself,
as justice or hope, would cease; men from that hour would never be
either just or hopeful again.

I could not move her, nor, indeed, did I seriously wish to do so.
She deferred to me in most things, but she never shrank from
maintaining her opinions if they were put in question; nor does she
to this day abate one jot of her belief in the religion of her
childhood, though in compliance with my repeated entreaties she has
allowed herself to be baptized into the English Church. She has,
however, made a gloss upon her original faith to the effect that
her baby and I are the only human beings exempt from the vengeance
of the deities for not believing in their personality. She is
quite clear that we are exempted. She should never have so strong
a conviction of it otherwise. How it has come about she does not
know, neither does she wish to know; there are things which it is
better not to know and this is one of them; but when I tell her
that I believe in her deities as much as she does--and that it is a
difference about words, not things, she becomes silent with a
slight emphasis.

I own that she very nearly conquered me once; for she asked me what
I should think if she were to tell me that my God, whose nature and
attributes I had been explaining to her, was but the expression for
man's highest conception of goodness, wisdom, and power; that in
order to generate a more vivid conception of so great and glorious
a thought, man had personified it and called it by a name; that it
was an unworthy conception of the Deity to hold Him personal,
inasmuch as escape from human contingencies became thus impossible;
that the real thing men should worship was the Divine,
whereinsoever they could find it; that "God" was but man's way of
expressing his sense of the Divine; that as justice, hope, wisdom,
&c., were all parts of goodness, so God was the expression which
embraced all goodness and all good power; that people would no more
cease to love God on ceasing to believe in His objective
personality, than they had ceased to love justice on discovering
that she was not really personal; nay, that they would never truly
love Him till they saw Him thus.

She said all this in her artless way, and with none of the
coherence with which I have here written it; her face kindled, and
she felt sure that she had convinced me that I was wrong, and that
justice was a living person. Indeed I did wince a little; but I
recovered myself immediately, and pointed out to her that we had
books whose genuineness was beyond all possibility of doubt, as
they were certainly none of them less than 1800 years old; that in
these there were the most authentic accounts of men who had been
spoken to by the Deity Himself, and of one prophet who had been
allowed to see the back parts of God through the hand that was laid
over his face.

This was conclusive; and I spoke with such solemnity that she was a
little frightened, and only answered that they too had their books,
in which their ancestors had seen the gods; on which I saw that
further argument was not at all likely to convince her; and fearing
that she might tell her mother what I had been saying, and that I
might lose the hold upon her affections which I was beginning to
feel pretty sure that I was obtaining, I began to let her have her
own way, and to convince me; neither till after we were safely
married did I show the cloven hoof again.

Nevertheless, her remarks have haunted me, and I have since met
with many very godly people who have had a great knowledge of
divinity, but no sense of the divine: and again, I have seen a
radiance upon the face of those who were worshipping the divine
either in art or nature--in picture or statue--in field or cloud or
sea--in man, woman, or child--which I have never seen kindled by
any talking about the nature and attributes of God. Mention but
the word divinity, and our sense of the divine is clouded.


In spite of all the to-do they make about their idols, and the
temples they build, and the priests and priestesses whom they
support, I could never think that their professed religion was more
than skin-deep; but they had another which they carried with them
into all their actions; and although no one from the outside of
things would suspect it to have any existence at all, it was in
reality their great guide, the mariner's compass of their lives; so
that there were very few things which they ever either did, or
refrained from doing, without reference to its precepts.

Now I suspected that their professed faith had no great hold upon
them--firstly, because I often heard the priests complain of the
prevailing indifference, and they would hardly have done so without
reason; secondly, because of the show which was made, for there was
none of this about the worship of the goddess Ydgrun, in whom they
really did believe; thirdly, because though the priests were
constantly abusing Ydgrun as being the great enemy of the gods, it
was well known that she had no more devoted worshippers in the
whole country than these very persons, who were often priests of
Ydgrun rather than of their own deities. Neither am I by any means
sure that these were not the best of the priests.

Ydgrun certainly occupied a very anomalous position; she was held
to be both omnipresent and omnipotent, but she was not an elevated
conception, and was sometimes both cruel and absurd. Even her most
devoted worshippers were a little ashamed of her, and served her
more with heart and in deed than with their tongues. Theirs was no
lip service; on the contrary, even when worshipping her most
devoutly, they would often deny her. Take her all in all, however,
she was a beneficent and useful deity, who did not care how much
she was denied so long as she was obeyed and feared, and who kept
hundreds of thousands in those paths which make life tolerably
happy, who would never have been kept there otherwise, and over
whom a higher and more spiritual ideal would have had no power.

I greatly doubt whether the Erewhonians are yet prepared for any
better religion, and though (considering my gradually strengthened
conviction that they were the representatives of the lost tribes of
Israel) I would have set about converting them at all hazards had I
seen the remotest prospect of success, I could hardly contemplate
the displacement of Ydgrun as the great central object of their
regard without admitting that it would be attended with frightful
consequences; in fact were I a mere philosopher, I should say that
the gradual raising of the popular conception of Ydgrun would be
the greatest spiritual boon which could be conferred upon them, and
that nothing could effect this except example. I generally found
that those who complained most loudly that Ydgrun was not high
enough for them had hardly as yet come up to the Ydgrun standard,
and I often met with a class of men whom I called to myself "high
Ydgrunites" (the rest being Ydgrunites, and low Ydgrunites), who,
in the matter of human conduct and the affairs of life, appeared to
me to have got about as far as it is in the right nature of man to

They were gentlemen in the full sense of the word; and what has one
not said in saying this? They seldom spoke of Ydgrun, or even
alluded to her, but would never run counter to her dictates without
ample reason for doing so: in such cases they would override her
with due self-reliance, and the goddess seldom punished them; for
they are brave, and Ydgrun is not. They had most of them a
smattering of the hypothetical language, and some few more than
this, but only a few. I do not think that this language has had
much hand in making them what they are; but rather that the fact of
their being generally possessed of its rudiments was one great
reason for the reverence paid to the hypothetical language itself.

Being inured from youth to exercises and athletics of all sorts,
and living fearlessly under the eye of their peers, among whom
there exists a high standard of courage, generosity, honour, and
every good and manly quality--what wonder that they should have
become, so to speak, a law unto themselves; and, while taking an
elevated view of the goddess Ydgrun, they should have gradually
lost all faith in the recognised deities of the country? These
they do not openly disregard, for conformity until absolutely
intolerable is a law of Ydgrun, yet they have no real belief in the
objective existence of beings which so readily explain themselves
as abstractions, and whose personality demands a quasi-materialism
which it baffles the imagination to realise. They keep their
opinions, however, greatly to themselves, inasmuch as most of their
countrymen feel strongly about the gods, and they hold it wrong to
give pain, unless for some greater good than seems likely to arise
from their plain speaking.

On the other hand, surely those whose own minds are clear about any
given matter (even though it be only that there is little
certainty) should go so far towards imparting that clearness to
others, as to say openly what they think and why they think it,
whenever they can properly do so; for they may be sure that they
owe their own clearness almost entirely to the fact that others
have done this by them: after all, they may be mistaken, and if
so, it is for their own and the general well-being that they should
let their error be seen as distinctly as possible, so that it may
be more easily refuted. I own, therefore, that on this one point I
disapproved of the practice even of the highest Ydgrunites, and
objected to it all the more because I knew that I should find my
own future task more easy if the high Ydgrunites had already
undermined the belief which is supposed to prevail at present.

In other respects they were more like the best class of Englishmen
than any whom I have seen in other countries. I should have liked
to have persuaded half-a-dozen of them to come over to England and
go upon the stage, for they had most of them a keen sense of humour
and a taste for acting: they would be of great use to us. The
example of a real gentleman is, if I may say so without profanity,
the best of all gospels; such a man upon the stage becomes a potent
humanising influence, an Ideal which all may look upon for a

I always liked and admired these men, and although I could not help
deeply regretting their certain ultimate perdition (for they had no
sense of a hereafter, and their only religion was that of self-
respect and consideration for other people), I never dared to take
so great a liberty with them as to attempt to put them in
possession of my own religious convictions, in spite of my knowing
that they were the only ones which could make them really good and
happy, either here or hereafter. I did try sometimes, being
impelled to do so by a strong sense of duty, and by my deep regret
that so much that was admirable should be doomed to ages if not
eternity of torture; but the words stuck in my throat as soon as I

Whether a professional missionary might have a better chance I know
not; such persons must doubtless know more about the science of
conversion: for myself, I could only be thankful that I was in the
right path, and was obliged to let others take their chance as yet.
If the plan fails by which I propose to convert them myself, I
would gladly contribute my mite towards the sending two or three
trained missionaries, who have been known as successful converters
of Jews and Mahometans; but such have seldom much to glory in the
flesh, and when I think of the high Ydgrunites, and of the figure
which a missionary would probably cut among them, I cannot feel
sanguine that much good would be arrived at. Still the attempt is
worth making, and the worst danger to the missionaries themselves
would be that of being sent to the hospital where Chowbok would
have been sent had he come with me into Erewhon.

Taking then their religious opinions as a whole, I must own that
the Erewhonians are superstitious, on account of the views which
they hold of their professed gods, and their entirely anomalous and
inexplicable worship of Ydgrun, a worship at once the most
powerful, yet most devoid of formalism, that I ever met with; but
in practice things worked better than might have been expected, and
the conflicting claims of Ydgrun and the gods were arranged by
unwritten compromises (for the most part in Ydgrun's favour), which
in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred were very well understood.

I could not conceive why they should not openly acknowledge high
Ydgrunism, and discard the objective personality of hope, justice,
&c.; but whenever I so much as hinted at this, I found that I was
on dangerous ground. They would never have it; returning
constantly to the assertion that ages ago the divinities were
frequently seen, and that the moment their personality was
disbelieved in, men would leave off practising even those ordinary
virtues which the common experience of mankind has agreed on as
being the greatest secret of happiness. "Who ever heard," they
asked, indignantly, "of such things as kindly training, a good
example, and an enlightened regard to one's own welfare, being able
to keep men straight?" In my hurry, forgetting things which I
ought to have remembered, I answered that if a person could not be
kept straight by these things, there was nothing that could
straighten him, and that if he were not ruled by the love and fear
of men whom he had seen, neither would he be so by that of the gods
whom he had not seen.

At one time indeed I came upon a small but growing sect who
believed, after a fashion, in the immortality of the soul and the
resurrection from the dead; they taught that those who had been
born with feeble and diseased bodies and had passed their lives in
ailing, would be tortured eternally hereafter; but that those who
had been born strong and healthy and handsome would be rewarded for
ever and ever. Of moral qualities or conduct they made no mention.

Bad as this was, it was a step in advance, inasmuch as they did
hold out a future state of some sort, and I was shocked to find
that for the most part they met with opposition, on the score that
their doctrine was based upon no sort of foundation, also that it
was immoral in its tendency, and not to be desired by any
reasonable beings.

When I asked how it could be immoral, I was answered, that if
firmly held, it would lead people to cheapen this present life,
making it appear to be an affair of only secondary importance; that
it would thus distract men's minds from the perfecting of this
world's economy, and was an impatient cutting, so to speak, of the
Gordian knot of life's problems, whereby some people might gain
present satisfaction to themselves at the cost of infinite damage
to others; that the doctrine tended to encourage the poor in their
improvidence, and in a debasing acquiescence in ills which they
might well remedy; that the rewards were illusory and the result,
after all, of luck, whose empire should be bounded by the grave;
that its terrors were enervating and unjust; and that even the most
blessed rising would be but the disturbing of a still more blessed

To all which I could only say that the thing had been actually
known to happen, and that there were several well-authenticated
instances of people having died and come to life again--instances
which no man in his senses could doubt.

"If this be so," said my opponent, "we must bear it as best we

I then translated for him, as well as I could, the noble speech of
Hamlet in which he says that it is the fear lest worse evils may
befall us after death which alone prevents us from rushing into
death's arms.

"Nonsense," he answered, "no man was ever yet stopped from cutting
his throat by any such fears as your poet ascribes to him--and your
poet probably knew this perfectly well. If a man cuts his throat
he is at bay, and thinks of nothing but escape, no matter whither,
provided he can shuffle off his present. No. Men are kept at
their posts, not by the fear that if they quit them they may quit a
frying-pan for a fire, but by the hope that if they hold on, the
fire may burn less fiercely. 'The respect,' to quote your poet,
'that makes calamity of so long a life,' is the consideration that
though calamity may live long, the sufferer may live longer still."

On this, seeing that there was little probability of our coming to
an agreement, I let the argument drop, and my opponent presently
left me with as much disapprobation as he could show without being
overtly rude.


I heard what follows not from Arowhena, but from Mr. Nosnibor and
some of the gentlemen who occasionally dined at the house: they
told me that the Erewhonians believe in pre-existence; and not only
this (of which I will write more fully in the next chapter), but
they believe that it is of their own free act and deed in a
previous state that they come to be born into this world at all.
They hold that the unborn are perpetually plaguing and tormenting
the married of both sexes, fluttering about them incessantly, and
giving them no peace either of mind or body until they have
consented to take them under their protection. If this were not so
(this at least is what they urge), it would be a monstrous freedom
for one man to take with another, to say that he should undergo the
chances and changes of this mortal life without any option in the
matter. No man would have any right to get married at all,
inasmuch as he can never tell what frightful misery his doing so
may entail forcibly upon a being who cannot be unhappy as long as
he does not exist. They feel this so strongly that they are
resolved to shift the blame on to other shoulders; and have
fashioned a long mythology as to the world in which the unborn
people live, and what they do, and the arts and machinations to
which they have recourse in order to get themselves into our own
world. But of this more anon: what I would relate here is their
manner of dealing with those who do come.

It is a distinguishing peculiarity of the Erewhonians that when
they profess themselves to be quite certain about any matter, and
avow it as a base on which they are to build a system of practice,
they seldom quite believe in it. If they smell a rat about the
precincts of a cherished institution, they will always stop their
noses to it if they can.

This is what most of them did in this matter of the unborn, for I
cannot (and never could) think that they seriously believed in
their mythology concerning pre-existence: they did and they did
not; they did not know themselves what they believed; all they did
know was that it was a disease not to believe as they did. The
only thing of which they were quite sure was that it was the
pestering of the unborn which caused them to be brought into this
world, and that they would not have been here if they would have
only let peaceable people alone.

It would be hard to disprove this position, and they might have a
good case if they would only leave it as it stands. But this they
will not do; they must have assurance doubly sure; they must have
the written word of the child itself as soon as it is born, giving
the parents indemnity from all responsibility on the score of its
birth, and asserting its own pre-existence. They have therefore
devised something which they call a birth formula--a document which
varies in words according to the caution of parents, but is much
the same practically in all cases; for it has been the business of
the Erewhonian lawyers during many ages to exercise their skill in
perfecting it and providing for every contingency.

These formulae are printed on common paper at a moderate cost for
the poor; but the rich have them written on parchment and
handsomely bound, so that the getting up of a person's birth
formula is a test of his social position. They commence by setting
forth, That whereas A. B. was a member of the kingdom of the
unborn, where he was well provided for in every way, and had no
cause of discontent, &c., &c., he did of his own wanton depravity
and restlessness conceive a desire to enter into this present
world; that thereon having taken the necessary steps as set forth
in laws of the unborn kingdom, he did with malice aforethought set
himself to plague and pester two unfortunate people who had never
wronged him, and who were quite contented and happy until he
conceived this base design against their peace; for which wrong he
now humbly entreats their pardon.

He acknowledges that he is responsible for all physical blemishes
and deficiencies which may render him answerable to the laws of his
country; that his parents have nothing whatever to do with any of
these things; and that they have a right to kill him at once if
they be so minded, though he entreats them to show their marvellous
goodness and clemency by sparing his life. If they will do this,
he promises to be their most obedient and abject creature during
his earlier years, and indeed all his life, unless they should see
fit in their abundant generosity to remit some portion of his
service hereafter. And so the formula continues, going sometimes
into very minute details, according to the fancies of family
lawyers, who will not make it any shorter than they can help.

The deed being thus prepared, on the third or fourth day after the
birth of the child, or as they call it, the "final importunity,"
the friends gather together, and there is a feast held, where they
are all very melancholy--as a general rule, I believe, quite truly
so--and make presents to the father and mother of the child in
order to console them for the injury which has just been done them
by the unborn.

By-and-by the child himself is brought down by his nurse, and the
company begin to rail upon him, upbraiding him for his
impertinence, and asking him what amends he proposes to make for
the wrong that he has committed, and how he can look for care and
nourishment from those who have perhaps already been injured by the
unborn on some ten or twelve occasions; for they say of people with
large families, that they have suffered terrible injuries from the
unborn; till at last, when this has been carried far enough, some
one suggests the formula, which is brought out and solemnly read to
the child by the family straightener. This gentleman is always
invited on these occasions, for the very fact of intrusion into a
peaceful family shows a depravity on the part of the child which
requires his professional services.

On being teased by the reading and tweaked by the nurse, the child
will commonly begin to cry, which is reckoned a good sign, as
showing a consciousness of guilt. He is thereon asked, Does he
assent to the formula? on which, as he still continues crying and
can obviously make no answer, some one of the friends comes forward
and undertakes to sign the document on his behalf, feeling sure (so
he says) that the child would do it if he only knew how, and that
he will release the present signer from his engagement on arriving
at maturity. The friend then inscribes the signature of the child
at the foot of the parchment, which is held to bind the child as
much as though he had signed it himself.

Even this, however, does not fully content them, for they feel a
little uneasy until they have got the child's own signature after
all. So when he is about fourteen, these good people partly bribe
him by promises of greater liberty and good things, and partly
intimidate him through their great power of making themselves
actively unpleasant to him, so that though there is a show of
freedom made, there is really none; they also use the offices of
the teachers in the Colleges of Unreason, till at last, in one way
or another, they take very good care that he shall sign the paper
by which he professes to have been a free agent in coming into the
world, and to take all the responsibility of having done so on to
his own shoulders. And yet, though this document is obviously the
most important which any one can sign in his whole life, they will
have him do so at an age when neither they nor the law will for
many a year allow any one else to bind him to the smallest
obligation, no matter how righteously he may owe it, because they
hold him too young to know what he is about, and do not consider it
fair that he should commit himself to anything that may prejudice
him in after years.

I own that all this seemed rather hard, and not of a piece with the
many admirable institutions existing among them. I once ventured
to say a part of what I thought about it to one of the Professors
of Unreason. I did it very tenderly, but his justification of the
system was quite out of my comprehension. I remember asking him
whether he did not think it would do harm to a lad's principles, by
weakening his sense of the sanctity of his word and of truth
generally, that he should be led into entering upon a solemn
declaration as to the truth of things about which all that he can
certainly know is that he knows nothing--whether, in fact, the
teachers who so led him, or who taught anything as a certainty of
which they were themselves uncertain, were not earning their living
by impairing the truth-sense of their pupils (a delicate
organisation mostly), and by vitiating one of their most sacred

The Professor, who was a delightful person, seemed greatly
surprised at the view which I took, but it had no influence with
him whatsoever. No one, he answered, expected that the boy either
would or could know all that he said he knew; but the world was
full of compromises; and there was hardly any affirmation which
would bear being interpreted literally. Human language was too
gross a vehicle of thought--thought being incapable of absolute
translation. He added, that as there can be no translation from
one language into another which shall not scant the meaning
somewhat, or enlarge upon it, so there is no language which can
render thought without a jarring and a harshness somewhere--and so
forth; all of which seemed to come to this in the end, that it was
the custom of the country, and that the Erewhonians were a
conservative people; that the boy would have to begin compromising
sooner or later, and this was part of his education in the art. It
was perhaps to be regretted that compromise should be as necessary
as it was; still it was necessary, and the sooner the boy got to
understand it the better for himself. But they never tell this to
the boy.

From the book of their mythology about the unborn I made the
extracts which will form the following chapter.


The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or
again, that we go onwards into the future as into a dark corridor.
Time walks beside us and flings back shutters as we advance; but
the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the darkness
which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that
little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next;
ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the
gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is
before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are
behind, and stumble on as we may till the trap-door opens beneath
us and we are gone.

They say at other times that the future and the past are as a
panorama upon two rollers; that which is on the roller of the
future unwraps itself on to the roller of the past; we cannot
hasten it, and we may not stay it; we must see all that is unfolded
to us whether it be good or ill; and what we have seen once we may
see again no more. It is ever unwinding and being wound; we catch
it in transition for a moment, and call it present; our flustered
senses gather what impression they can, and we guess at what is
coming by the tenor of that which we have seen. The same hand has
painted the whole picture, and the incidents vary little--rivers,
woods, plains, mountains, towns and peoples, love, sorrow, and
death: yet the interest never flags, and we look hopefully for
some good fortune, or fearfully lest our own faces be shown us as
figuring in something terrible. When the scene is past we think we
know it, though there is so much to see, and so little time to see
it, that our conceit of knowledge as regards the past is for the
most part poorly founded; neither do we care about it greatly, save
in so far as it may affect the future, wherein our interest mainly

The Erewhonians say it was by chance only that the earth and stars
and all the heavenly worlds began to roll from east to west, and
not from west to east, and in like manner they say it is by chance
that man is drawn through life with his face to the past instead of
to the future. For the future is there as much as the past, only
that we may not see it. Is it not in the loins of the past, and
must not the past alter before the future can do so?

Sometimes, again, they say that there was a race of men tried upon
the earth once, who knew the future better than the past, but that
they died in a twelvemonth from the misery which their knowledge
caused them; and if any were to be born too prescient now, he would
be culled out by natural selection, before he had time to transmit
so peace-destroying a faculty to his descendants.

Strange fate for man! He must perish if he get that, which he must
perish if he strive not after. If he strive not after it he is no
better than the brutes, if he get it he is more miserable than the

Having waded through many chapters like the above, I came at last
to the unborn themselves, and found that they were held to be souls
pure and simple, having no actual bodies, but living in a sort of
gaseous yet more or less anthropomorphic existence, like that of a
ghost; they have thus neither flesh nor blood nor warmth.
Nevertheless they are supposed to have local habitations and cities
wherein they dwell, though these are as unsubstantial as their
inhabitants; they are even thought to eat and drink some thin
ambrosial sustenance, and generally to be capable of doing whatever
mankind can do, only after a visionary ghostly fashion as in a
dream. On the other hand, as long as they remain where they are
they never die--the only form of death in the unborn world being
the leaving it for our own. They are believed to be extremely
numerous, far more so than mankind. They arrive from unknown
planets, full grown, in large batches at a time; but they can only
leave the unborn world by taking the steps necessary for their
arrival here--which is, in fact, by suicide.

They ought to be an exceedingly happy people, for they have no
extremes of good or ill fortune; never marrying, but living in a
state much like that fabled by the poets as the primitive condition
of mankind. In spite of this, however, they are incessantly
complaining; they know that we in this world have bodies, and
indeed they know everything else about us, for they move among us
whithersoever they will, and can read our thoughts, as well as
survey our actions at pleasure. One would think that this should
be enough for them; and most of them are indeed alive to the
desperate risk which they will run by indulging themselves in that
body with "sensible warm motion" which they so much desire;
nevertheless, there are some to whom the ennui of a disembodied
existence is so intolerable that they will venture anything for a
change; so they resolve to quit. The conditions which they must
accept are so uncertain, that none but the most foolish of the
unborn will consent to them; and it is from these, and these only,
that our own ranks are recruited.

When they have finally made up their minds to leave, they must go
before the magistrate of the nearest town, and sign an affidavit of
their desire to quit their then existence. On their having done
this, the magistrate reads them the conditions which they must
accept, and which are so long that I can only extract some of the
principal points, which are mainly the following:-

First, they must take a potion which will destroy their memory and
sense of identity; they must go into the world helpless, and
without a will of their own; they must draw lots for their
dispositions before they go, and take them, such as they are, for
better or worse--neither are they to be allowed any choice in the
matter of the body which they so much desire; they are simply
allotted by chance, and without appeal, to two people whom it is
their business to find and pester until they adopt them. Who these
are to be, whether rich or poor, kind or unkind, healthy or
diseased, there is no knowing; they have, in fact, to entrust
themselves for many years to the care of those for whose good
constitution and good sense they have no sort of guarantee.

It is curious to read the lectures which the wiser heads give to
those who are meditating a change. They talk with them as we talk
with a spendthrift, and with about as much success.

"To be born," they say, "is a felony--it is a capital crime, for
which sentence may be executed at any moment after the commission
of the offence. You may perhaps happen to live for some seventy or
eighty years, but what is that, compared with the eternity you now
enjoy? And even though the sentence were commuted, and you were
allowed to live on for ever, you would in time become so terribly
weary of life that execution would be the greatest mercy to you.

"Consider the infinite risk; to be born of wicked parents and
trained in vice! to be born of silly parents, and trained to
unrealities! of parents who regard you as a sort of chattel or
property, belonging more to them than to yourself! Again, you may
draw utterly unsympathetic parents, who will never be able to
understand you, and who will do their best to thwart you (as a hen
when she has hatched a duckling), and then call you ungrateful
because you do not love them; or, again, you may draw parents who
look upon you as a thing to be cowed while it is still young, lest
it should give them trouble hereafter by having wishes and feelings
of its own.

"In later life, when you have been finally allowed to pass muster
as a full member of the world, you will yourself become liable to
the pesterings of the unborn--and a very happy life you may be led
in consequence! For we solicit so strongly that a few only--nor
these the best--can refuse us; and yet not to refuse is much the
same as going into partnership with half-a-dozen different people
about whom one can know absolutely nothing beforehand--not even
whether one is going into partnership with men or women, nor with
how many of either. Delude not yourself with thinking that you
will be wiser than your parents. You may be an age in advance of
those whom you have pestered, but unless you are one of the great
ones you will still be an age behind those who will in their turn
pester you.

"Imagine what it must be to have an unborn quartered upon you, who
is of an entirely different temperament and disposition to your
own; nay, half-a-dozen such, who will not love you though you have
stinted yourself in a thousand ways to provide for their comfort
and well-being,--who will forget all your self-sacrifice, and of
whom you may never be sure that they are not bearing a grudge
against you for errors of judgement into which you may have fallen,
though you had hoped that such had been long since atoned for.
Ingratitude such as this is not uncommon, yet fancy what it must be
to bear! It is hard upon the duckling to have been hatched by a
hen, but is it not also hard upon the hen to have hatched the

"Consider it again, we pray you, not for our sake but for your own.
Your initial character you must draw by lot; but whatever it is, it
can only come to a tolerably successful development after long
training; remember that over that training you will have no
control. It is possible, and even probable, that whatever you may
get in after life which is of real pleasure and service to you,
will have to be won in spite of, rather than by the help of, those
whom you are now about to pester, and that you will only win your
freedom after years of a painful struggle in which it will be hard
to say whether you have suffered most injury, or inflicted it.

"Remember also, that if you go into the world you will have free
will; that you will be obliged to have it; that there is no
escaping it; that you will be fettered to it during your whole
life, and must on every occasion do that which on the whole seems
best to you at any given time, no matter whether you are right or
wrong in choosing it. Your mind will be a balance for
considerations, and your action will go with the heavier scale.
How it shall fall will depend upon the kind of scales which you may
have drawn at birth, the bias which they will have obtained by use,
and the weight of the immediate considerations. If the scales were
good to start with, and if they have not been outrageously tampered
with in childhood, and if the combinations into which you enter are
average ones, you may come off well; but there are too many 'ifs'
in this, and with the failure of any one of them your misery is
assured. Reflect on this, and remember that should the ill come
upon you, you will have yourself to thank, for it is your own
choice to be born, and there is no compulsion in the matter.

"Not that we deny the existence of pleasures among mankind; there
is a certain show of sundry phases of contentment which may even
amount to very considerable happiness; but mark how they are
distributed over a man's life, belonging, all the keenest of them,
to the fore part, and few indeed to the after. Can there be any
pleasure worth purchasing with the miseries of a decrepit age? If
you are good, strong, and handsome, you have a fine fortune indeed
at twenty, but how much of it will be left at sixty? For you must
live on your capital; there is no investing your powers so that you
may get a small annuity of life for ever: you must eat up your
principal bit by bit, and be tortured by seeing it grow continually
smaller and smaller, even though you happen to escape being rudely
robbed of it by crime or casualty.

"Remember, too, that there never yet was a man of forty who would
not come back into the world of the unborn if he could do so with
decency and honour. Being in the world he will as a general rule
stay till he is forced to go; but do you think that he would
consent to be born again, and re-live his life, if he had the offer
of doing so? Do not think it. If he could so alter the past as
that he should never have come into being at all, do you not think
that he would do it very gladly?

"What was it that one of their own poets meant, if it was not this,
when he cried out upon the day in which he was born, and the night
in which it was said there is a man child conceived? 'For now,' he
says, 'I should have lain still and been quiet, I should have
slept; then had I been at rest with kings and counsellors of the
earth, which built desolate places for themselves; or with princes
that had gold, who filled their houses with silver; or as an hidden
untimely birth, I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
There the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.'
Be very sure that the guilt of being born carries this punishment
at times to all men; but how can they ask for pity, or complain of
any mischief that may befall them, having entered open-eyed into
the snare?

"One word more and we have done. If any faint remembrance, as of a
dream, flit in some puzzled moment across your brain, and you shall
feel that the potion which is to be given you shall not have done
its work, and the memory of this existence which you are leaving
endeavours vainly to return; we say in such a moment, when you
clutch at the dream but it eludes your grasp, and you watch it, as
Orpheus watched Eurydice, gliding back again into the twilight
kingdom, fly--fly--if you can remember the advice--to the haven of
your present and immediate duty, taking shelter incessantly in the
work which you have in hand. This much you may perhaps recall; and
this, if you will imprint it deeply upon your every faculty, will
be most likely to bring you safely and honourably home through the
trials that are before you." {3}

This is the fashion in which they reason with those who would be
for leaving them, but it is seldom that they do much good, for none
but the unquiet and unreasonable ever think of being born, and
those who are foolish enough to think of it are generally foolish
enough to do it. Finding, therefore, that they can do no more, the
friends follow weeping to the courthouse of the chief magistrate,
where the one who wishes to be born declares solemnly and openly
that he accepts the conditions attached to his decision. On this
he is presented with a potion, which immediately destroys his
memory and sense of identity, and dissipates the thin gaseous
tenement which he has inhabited: he becomes a bare vital
principle, not to be perceived by human senses, nor to be by any
chemical test appreciated. He has but one instinct, which is that
he is to go to such and such a place, where he will find two
persons whom he is to importune till they consent to undertake him;
but whether he is to find these persons among the race of Chowbok
or the Erewhonians themselves is not for him to choose.


I have given the above mythology at some length, but it is only a
small part of what they have upon the subject. My first feeling on
reading it was that any amount of folly on the part of the unborn
in coming here was justified by a desire to escape from such
intolerable prosing. The mythology is obviously an unfair and
exaggerated representation of life and things; and had its authors
been so minded they could have easily drawn a picture which would
err as much on the bright side as this does on the dark. No
Erewhonian believes that the world is as black as it has been here
painted, but it is one of their peculiarities that they very often
do not believe or mean things which they profess to regard as

In the present instance their professed views concerning the unborn
have arisen from their desire to prove that people have been
presented with the gloomiest possible picture of their own
prospects before they came here; otherwise, they could hardly say
to one whom they are going to punish for an affection of the heart
or brain that it is all his own doing. In practice they modify
their theory to a considerable extent, and seldom refer to the
birth formula except in extreme cases; for the force of habit, or
what not, gives many of them a kindly interest even in creatures
who have so much wronged them as the unborn have done; and though a
man generally hates the unwelcome little stranger for the first
twelve months, he is apt to mollify (according to his lights) as
time goes on, and sometimes he will become inordinately attached to
the beings whom he is pleased to call his children.

Of course, according to Erewhonian premises, it would serve people
right to be punished and scouted for moral and intellectual
diseases as much as for physical, and I cannot to this day
understand why they should have stopped short half way. Neither,
again, can I understand why their having done so should have been,
as it certainly was, a matter of so much concern to myself. What
could it matter to me how many absurdities the Erewhonians might
adopt? Nevertheless I longed to make them think as I did, for the
wish to spread those opinions that we hold conducive to our own
welfare is so deeply rooted in the English character that few of us
can escape its influence. But let this pass.

In spite of not a few modifications in practice of a theory which
is itself revolting, the relations between children and parents in
that country are less happy than in Europe. It was rarely that I
saw cases of real hearty and intense affection between the old
people and the young ones. Here and there I did so, and was quite
sure that the children, even at the age of twenty, were fonder of
their parents than they were of any one else; and that of their own
inclination, being free to choose what company they would, they
would often choose that of their father and mother. The
straightener's carriage was rarely seen at the door of those
houses. I saw two or three such cases during the time that I
remained in the country, and cannot express the pleasure which I
derived from a sight suggestive of so much goodness and wisdom and
forbearance, so richly rewarded; yet I firmly believe that the same
thing would happen in nine families out of ten if the parents were
merely to remember how they felt when they were young, and actually
to behave towards their children as they would have had their own
parents behave towards themselves. But this, which would appear to
be so simple and obvious, seems also to be a thing which not one in
a hundred thousand is able to put in practice. It is only the very
great and good who have any living faith in the simplest axioms;
and there are few who are so holy as to feel that 19 and 13 make 32
as certainly as 2 and 2 make 4.

I am quite sure that if this narrative should ever fall into
Erewhonian hands, it will be said that what I have written about
the relations between parents and children being seldom
satisfactory is an infamous perversion of facts, and that in truth
there are few young people who do not feel happier in the society
of their nearest relations {4} than in any other. Mr. Nosnibor
would be sure to say this. Yet I cannot refrain from expressing an
opinion that he would be a good deal embarrassed if his deceased
parents were to reappear and propose to pay him a six months'
visit. I doubt whether there are many things which he would regard
as a greater infliction. They had died at a ripe old age some
twenty years before I came to know him, so the case is an extreme
one; but surely if they had treated him with what in his youth he
had felt to be true unselfishness, his face would brighten when he
thought of them to the end of his life.

In the one or two cases of true family affection which I met with,
I am sure that the young people who were so genuinely fond of their
fathers and mothers at eighteen, would at sixty be perfectly
delighted were they to get the chance of welcoming them as their
guests. There is nothing which could please them better, except
perhaps to watch the happiness of their own children and

This is how things should be. It is not an impossible ideal; it is
one which actually does exist in some few cases, and might exist in
almost all, with a little more patience and forbearance upon the
parents' part; but it is rare at present--so rare that they have a
proverb which I can only translate in a very roundabout way, but
which says that the great happiness of some people in a future
state will consist in watching the distress of their parents on
returning to eternal companionship with their grandfathers and
grandmothers; whilst "compulsory affection" is the idea which lies
at the root of their word for the deepest anguish.

There is no talisman in the word "parent" which can generate
miracles of affection, and I can well believe that my own child
might find it less of a calamity to lose both Arowhena and myself
when he is six years old, than to find us again when he is sixty--a
sentence which I would not pen did I not feel that by doing so I
was giving him something like a hostage, or at any rate putting a
weapon into his hands against me, should my selfishness exceed
reasonable limits.

Money is at the bottom of all this to a great extent. If the
parents would put their children in the way of earning a competence
earlier than they do, the children would soon become self-
supporting and independent. As it is, under the present system,
the young ones get old enough to have all manner of legitimate
wants (that is, if they have any "go" about them) before they have
learnt the means of earning money to pay for them; hence they must
either do without them, or take more money than the parents can be
expected to spare. This is due chiefly to the schools of Unreason,
where a boy is taught upon hypothetical principles, as I will
explain hereafter; spending years in being incapacitated for doing
this, that, or the other (he hardly knows what), during all which
time he ought to have been actually doing the thing itself,
beginning at the lowest grades, picking it up through actual
practice, and rising according to the energy which is in him.

These schools of Unreason surprised me much. It would be easy to
fall into pseudo-utilitarianism, and I would fain believe that the
system may be good for the children of very rich parents, or for
those who show a natural instinct to acquire hypothetical lore; but
the misery was that their Ydgrun-worship required all people with
any pretence to respectability to send their children to some one
or other of these schools, mulcting them of years of money. It
astonished me to see what sacrifices the parents would make in
order to render their children as nearly useless as possible; and
it was hard to say whether the old suffered most from the expense
which they were thus put to, or the young from being deliberately
swindled in some of the most important branches of human inquiry,
and directed into false channels or left to drift in the great
majority of cases.

I cannot think I am mistaken in believing that the growing tendency
to limit families by infanticide--an evil which was causing general
alarm throughout the country--was almost entirely due to the way in
which education had become a fetish from one end of Erewhon to the
other. Granted that provision should be made whereby every child
should be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but here
compulsory state-aided education should end, and the child should
begin (with all due precautions to ensure that he is not
overworked) to acquire the rudiments of that art whereby he is to
earn his living.

He cannot acquire these in what we in England call schools of
technical education; such schools are cloister life as against the
rough and tumble of the world; they unfit, rather than fit for work
in the open. An art can only be learned in the workshop of those
who are winning their bread by it.

Boys, as a rule, hate the artificial, and delight in the actual;
give them the chance of earning, and they will soon earn. When
parents find that their children, instead of being made
artificially burdensome, will early begin to contribute to the
well-being of the family, they will soon leave off killing them,
and will seek to have that plenitude of offspring which they now
avoid. As things are, the state lays greater burdens on parents
than flesh and blood can bear, and then wrings its hands over an
evil for which it is itself mainly responsible.

With the less well-dressed classes the harm was not so great; for
among these, at about ten years old, the child has to begin doing
something: if he is capable he makes his way up; if he is not, he
is at any rate not made more incapable by what his friends are
pleased to call his education. People find their level as a rule;
and though they unfortunately sometimes miss it, it is in the main
true that those who have valuable qualities are perceived to have
them and can sell them. I think that the Erewhonians are beginning
to become aware of these things, for there was much talk about
putting a tax upon all parents whose children were not earning a
competence according to their degrees by the time they were twenty
years old. I am sure that if they will have the courage to carry
it through they will never regret it; for the parents will take
care that the children shall begin earning money (which means
"doing good" to society) at an early age; then the children will be
independent early, and they will not press on the parents, nor the
parents on them, and they will like each other better than they do

This is the true philanthropy. He who makes a colossal fortune in
the hosiery trade, and by his energy has succeeded in reducing the
price of woollen goods by the thousandth part of a penny in the
pound--this man is worth ten professional philanthropists. So
strongly are the Erewhonians impressed with this, that if a man has
made a fortune of over 20,000 pounds a year they exempt him from
all taxation, considering him as a work of art, and too precious to
be meddled with; they say, "How very much he must have done for
society before society could have been prevailed upon to give him
so much money;" so magnificent an organisation overawes them; they
regard it as a thing dropped from heaven.

"Money," they say, "is the symbol of duty, it is the sacrament of
having done for mankind that which mankind wanted. Mankind may not
be a very good judge, but there is no better." This used to shock
me at first, when I remembered that it had been said on high
authority that they who have riches shall enter hardly into the
kingdom of heaven; but the influence of Erewhon had made me begin
to see things in a new light, and I could not help thinking that
they who have not riches shall enter more hardly still.

People oppose money to culture, and imply that if a man has spent
his time in making money he will not be cultivated--fallacy of
fallacies! As though there could be a greater aid to culture than
the having earned an honourable independence, and as though any
amount of culture will do much for the man who is penniless, except
make him feel his position more deeply. The young man who was told
to sell all his goods and give to the poor, must have been an
entirely exceptional person if the advice was given wisely, either
for him or for the poor; how much more often does it happen that we
perceive a man to have all sorts of good qualities except money,
and feel that his real duty lies in getting every half-penny that
he can persuade others to pay him for his services, and becoming
rich. It has been said that the love of money is the root of all
evil. The want of money is so quite as truly.

The above may sound irreverent, but it is conceived in a spirit of
the most utter reverence for those things which do alone deserve
it--that is, for the things which are, which mould us and fashion
us, be they what they may; for the things that have power to punish
us, and which will punish us if we do not heed them; for our
masters therefore. But I am drifting away from my story.

They have another plan about which they are making a great noise
and fuss, much as some are doing with women's rights in England. A
party of extreme radicals have professed themselves unable to
decide upon the superiority of age or youth. At present all goes
on the supposition that it is desirable to make the young old as
soon as possible. Some would have it that this is wrong, and that
the object of education should be to keep the old young as long as
possible. They say that each age should take it turn in turn
about, week by week, one week the old to be topsawyers, and the
other the young, drawing the line at thirty-five years of age; but
they insist that the young should be allowed to inflict corporal
chastisement on the old, without which the old would be quite
incorrigible. In any European country this would be out of the
question; but it is not so there, for the straighteners are
constantly ordering people to be flogged, so that they are familiar
with the notion. I do not suppose that the idea will be ever acted
upon; but its having been even mooted is enough to show the utter
perversion of the Erewhonian mind.


I had now been a visitor with the Nosnibors for some five or six
months, and though I had frequently proposed to leave them and take
apartments of my own, they would not hear of my doing so. I
suppose they thought I should be more likely to fall in love with
Zulora if I remained, but it was my affection for Arowhena that
kept me.

During all this time both Arowhena and myself had been dreaming,
and drifting towards an avowed attachment, but had not dared to
face the real difficulties of the position. Gradually, however,
matters came to a crisis in spite of ourselves, and we got to see
the true state of the case, all too clearly.

One evening we were sitting in the garden, and I had been trying in
every stupid roundabout way to get her to say that she should be at
any rate sorry for a man, if he really loved a woman who would not
marry him. I had been stammering and blushing, and been as silly
as any one could be, and I suppose had pained her by fishing for
pity for myself in such a transparent way, and saying nothing about
her own need of it; at any rate, she turned all upon me with a
sweet sad smile and said, "Sorry? I am sorry for myself; I am
sorry for you; and I am sorry for every one." The words had no
sooner crossed her lips than she bowed her head, gave me a look as
though I were to make no answer, and left me.

The words were few and simple, but the manner with which they were
uttered was ineffable: the scales fell from my eyes, and I felt
that I had no right to try and induce her to infringe one of the
most inviolable customs of her country, as she needs must do if she
were to marry me. I sat for a long while thinking, and when I
remembered the sin and shame and misery which an unrighteous
marriage--for as such it would be held in Erewhon--would entail, I
became thoroughly ashamed of myself for having been so long self-
blinded. I write coldly now, but I suffered keenly at the time,
and should probably retain a much more vivid recollection of what I
felt, had not all ended so happily.

As for giving up the idea of marrying Arowhena, it never so much as
entered my head to do so: the solution must be found in some other
direction than this. The idea of waiting till somebody married
Zulora was to be no less summarily dismissed. To marry Arowhena at
once in Erewhon--this had already been abandoned: there remained
therefore but one alternative, and that was to run away with her,
and get her with me to Europe, where there would be no bar to our
union save my own impecuniosity, a matter which gave me no

To this obvious and simple plan I could see but two objections that
deserved the name,--the first, that perhaps Arowhena would not
come; the second, that it was almost impossible for me to escape
even alone, for the king had himself told me that I was to consider
myself a prisoner on parole, and that the first sign of my
endeavouring to escape would cause me to be sent to one of the
hospitals for incurables. Besides, I did not know the geography of
the country, and even were I to try and find my way back, I should
be discovered long before I had reached the pass over which I had
come. How then could I hope to be able to take Arowhena with me?
For days and days I turned these difficulties over in my mind, and
at last hit upon as wild a plan as was ever suggested by extremity.
This was to meet the second difficulty: the first gave me less
uneasiness, for when Arowhena and I next met after our interview in
the garden I could see that she had suffered not less acutely than

I resolved that I would have another interview with her--the last
for the present--that I would then leave her, and set to work upon
maturing my plan as fast as possible. We got a chance of being
alone together, and then I gave myself the loose rein, and told her
how passionately and devotedly I loved her. She said little in
return, but her tears (which I could not refrain from answering
with my own) and the little she did say were quite enough to show
me that I should meet with no obstacle from her. Then I asked her
whether she would run a terrible risk which we should share in
common, if, in case of success, I could take her to my own people,
to the home of my mother and sisters, who would welcome her very
gladly. At the same time I pointed out that the chances of failure
were far greater than those of success, and that the probability
was that even though I could get so far as to carry my design into
execution, it would end in death to us both.

I was not mistaken in her; she said that she believed I loved her
as much as she loved me, and that she would brave anything if I
could only assure her that what I proposed would not be thought
dishonourable in England; she could not live without me, and would
rather die with me than alone; that death was perhaps the best for
us both; that I must plan, and that when the hour came I was to
send for her, and trust her not to fail me; and so after many tears
and embraces, we tore ourselves away.

I then left the Nosnibors, took a lodging in the town, and became
melancholy to my heart's content. Arowhena and I used to see each
other sometimes, for I had taken to going regularly to the Musical
Banks, but Mrs. Nosnibor and Zulora both treated me with
considerable coldness. I felt sure that they suspected me.
Arowhena looked miserable, and I saw that her purse was now always
as full as she could fill it with the Musical Bank money--much
fuller than of old. Then the horrible thought occurred to me that
her health might break down, and that she might be subjected to a
criminal prosecution. Oh! how I hated Erewhon at that time.

I was still received at court, but my good looks were beginning to
fail me, and I was not such an adept at concealing the effects of
pain as the Erewhonians are. I could see that my friends began to
look concerned about me, and was obliged to take a leaf out of
Mahaina's book, and pretend to have developed a taste for drinking.
I even consulted a straightener as though this were so, and
submitted to much discomfort. This made matters better for a time,
but I could see that my friends thought less highly of my
constitution as my flesh began to fall away.

I was told that the poor made an outcry about my pension, and I saw
a stinging article in an anti-ministerial paper, in which the
writer went so far as to say that my having light hair reflected
little credit upon me, inasmuch as I had been reported to have said
that it was a common thing in the country from which I came. I
have reason to believe that Mr. Nosnibor himself inspired this
article. Presently it came round to me that the king had begun to
dwell upon my having been possessed of a watch, and to say that I
ought to be treated medicinally for having told him a lie about the
balloons. I saw misfortune gathering round me in every direction,
and felt that I should have need of all my wits and a good many
more, if I was to steer myself and Arowhena to a good conclusion.

There were some who continued to show me kindness, and strange to
say, I received the most from the very persons from whom I should
have least expected it--I mean from the cashiers of the Musical
Banks. I had made the acquaintance of several of these persons,
and now that I frequented their bank, they were inclined to make a
good deal of me. One of them, seeing that I was thoroughly out of
health, though of course he pretended not to notice it, suggested
that I should take a little change of air and go down with him to
one of the principal towns, which was some two or three days'
journey from the metropolis, and the chief seat of the Colleges of
Unreason; he assured me that I should be delighted with what I saw,
and that I should receive a most hospitable welcome. I determined
therefore to accept the invitation.

We started two or three days later, and after a night on the road,
we arrived at our destination towards evening. It was now full
spring, and as nearly as might be ten months since I had started
with Chowbok on my expedition, but it seemed more like ten years.
The trees were in their freshest beauty, and the air had become
warm without being oppressively hot. After having lived so many
months in the metropolis, the sight of the country, and the country
villages through which we passed refreshed me greatly, but I could
not forget my troubles. The last five miles or so were the most
beautiful part of the journey, for the country became more
undulating, and the woods were more extensive; but the first sight
of the city of the colleges itself was the most delightful of all.
I cannot imagine that there can be any fairer in the whole world,
and I expressed my pleasure to my companion, and thanked him for
having brought me.

We drove to an inn in the middle of the town, and then, while it
was still light, my friend the cashier, whose name was Thims, took
me for a stroll in the streets and in the court-yards of the
principal colleges. Their beauty and interest were extreme; it was
impossible to see them without being attracted towards them; and I
thought to myself that he must be indeed an ill-grained and
ungrateful person who can have been a member of one of these
colleges without retaining an affectionate feeling towards it for
the rest of his life. All my misgivings gave way at once when I
saw the beauty and venerable appearance of this delightful city.
For half-an-hour I forgot both myself and Arowhena.

After supper Mr. Thims told me a good deal about the system of
education which is here practised. I already knew a part of what I
heard, but much was new to me, and I obtained a better idea of the
Erewhonian position than I had done hitherto: nevertheless there
were parts of the scheme of which I could not comprehend the
fitness, although I fully admit that this inability was probably
the result of my having been trained so very differently, and to my
being then much out of sorts.

The main feature in their system is the prominence which they give
to a study which I can only translate by the word "hypothetics."
They argue thus--that to teach a boy merely the nature of the
things which exist in the world around him, and about which he will
have to be conversant during his whole life, would be giving him
but a narrow and shallow conception of the universe, which it is
urged might contain all manner of things which are not now to be
found therein. To open his eyes to these possibilities, and so to
prepare him for all sorts of emergencies, is the object of this
system of hypothetics. To imagine a set of utterly strange and
impossible contingencies, and require the youths to give
intelligent answers to the questions that arise therefrom, is
reckoned the fittest conceivable way of preparing them for the
actual conduct of their affairs in after life.

Thus they are taught what is called the hypothetical language for
many of their best years--a language which was originally composed
at a time when the country was in a very different state of
civilisation to what it is at present, a state which has long since
disappeared and been superseded. Many valuable maxims and noble
thoughts which were at one time concealed in it have become current
in their modern literature, and have been translated over and over
again into the language now spoken. Surely then it would seem
enough that the study of the original language should be confined
to the few whose instincts led them naturally to pursue it.

But the Erewhonians think differently; the store they set by this
hypothetical language can hardly be believed; they will even give
any one a maintenance for life if he attains a considerable
proficiency in the study of it; nay, they will spend years in
learning to translate some of their own good poetry into the
hypothetical language--to do so with fluency being reckoned a
distinguishing mark of a scholar and a gentleman. Heaven forbid
that I should be flippant, but it appeared to me to be a wanton
waste of good human energy that men should spend years and years in
the perfection of so barren an exercise, when their own
civilisation presented problems by the hundred which cried aloud
for solution and would have paid the solver handsomely; but people
know their own affairs best. If the youths chose it for themselves
I should have wondered less; but they do not choose it; they have
it thrust upon them, and for the most part are disinclined towards
it. I can only say that all I heard in defence of the system was
insufficient to make me think very highly of its advantages.

The arguments in favour of the deliberate development of the
unreasoning faculties were much more cogent. But here they depart
from the principles on which they justify their study of
hypothetics; for they base the importance which they assign to
hypothetics upon the fact of their being a preparation for the
extraordinary, while their study of Unreason rests upon its
developing those faculties which are required for the daily conduct
of affairs. Hence their professorships of Inconsistency and
Evasion, in both of which studies the youths are examined before
being allowed to proceed to their degree in hypothetics. The more
earnest and conscientious students attain to a proficiency in these
subjects which is quite surprising; there is hardly any
inconsistency so glaring but they soon learn to defend it, or
injunction so clear that they cannot find some pretext for
disregarding it.

Life, they urge, would be intolerable if men were to be guided in
all they did by reason and reason only. Reason betrays men into
the drawing of hard and fast lines, and to the defining by
language--language being like the sun, which rears and then
scorches. Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd;
the mean is illogical, but an illogical mean is better than the
sheer absurdity of an extreme. There are no follies and no
unreasonablenesses so great as those which can apparently be
irrefragably defended by reason itself, and there is hardly an
error into which men may not easily be led if they base their
conduct upon reason only.

Reason might very possibly abolish the double currency; it might
even attack the personality of Hope and Justice. Besides, people
have such a strong natural bias towards it that they will seek it
for themselves and act upon it quite as much as or more than is
good for them: there is no need of encouraging reason. With
unreason the case is different. She is the natural complement of
reason, without whose existence reason itself were non-existent.

If, then, reason would be non-existent were there no such thing as
unreason, surely it follows that the more unreason there is, the
more reason there must be also? Hence the necessity for the
development of unreason, even in the interests of reason herself.
The Professors of Unreason deny that they undervalue reason: none
can be more convinced than they are, that if the double currency
cannot be rigorously deduced as a necessary consequence of human
reason, the double currency should cease forthwith; but they say
that it must be deduced from no narrow and exclusive view of reason
which should deprive that admirable faculty of the one-half of its
own existence. Unreason is a part of reason; it must therefore be
allowed its full share in stating the initial conditions.


Of genius they make no account, for they say that every one is a
genius, more or less. No one is so physically sound that no part
of him will be even a little unsound, and no one is so diseased but
that some part of him will be healthy--so no man is so mentally and
morally sound, but that he will be in part both mad and wicked; and
no man is so mad and wicked but he will be sensible and honourable
in part. In like manner there is no genius who is not also a fool,
and no fool who is not also a genius.

When I talked about originality and genius to some gentlemen whom I
met at a supper party given by Mr. Thims in my honour, and said
that original thought ought to be encouraged, I had to eat my words
at once. Their view evidently was that genius was like offences--
needs must that it come, but woe unto that man through whom it
comes. A man's business, they hold, is to think as his neighbours
do, for Heaven help him if he thinks good what they count bad. And
really it is hard to see how the Erewhonian theory differs from our
own, for the word "idiot" only means a person who forms his
opinions for himself.

The venerable Professor of Worldly Wisdom, a man verging on eighty
but still hale, spoke to me very seriously on this subject in
consequence of the few words that I had imprudently let fall in
defence of genius. He was one of those who carried most weight in
the university, and had the reputation of having done more perhaps
than any other living man to suppress any kind of originality.

"It is not our business," he said, "to help students to think for
themselves. Surely this is the very last thing which one who
wishes them well should encourage them to do. Our duty is to
ensure that they shall think as we do, or at any rate, as we hold
it expedient to say we do." In some respects, however, he was
thought to hold somewhat radical opinions, for he was President of
the Society for the Suppression of Useless Knowledge, and for the
Completer Obliteration of the Past.

As regards the tests that a youth must pass before he can get a
degree, I found that they have no class lists, and discourage
anything like competition among the students; this, indeed, they
regard as self-seeking and unneighbourly. The examinations are
conducted by way of papers written by the candidate on set
subjects, some of which are known to him beforehand, while others
are devised with a view of testing his general capacity and savoir

My friend the Professor of Worldly Wisdom was the terror of the
greater number of students; and, so far as I could judge, he very
well might be, for he had taken his Professorship more seriously
than any of the other Professors had done. I heard of his having
plucked one poor fellow for want of sufficient vagueness in his
saving clauses paper. Another was sent down for having written an
article on a scientific subject without having made free enough use
of the words "carefully," "patiently," and "earnestly." One man
was refused a degree for being too often and too seriously in the
right, while a few days before I came a whole batch had been
plucked for insufficient distrust of printed matter.

About this there was just then rather a ferment, for it seems that
the Professor had written an article in the leading university
magazine, which was well known to be by him, and which abounded in
all sorts of plausible blunders. He then set a paper which
afforded the examinees an opportunity of repeating these blunders--
which, believing the article to be by their own examiner, they of
course did. The Professor plucked every single one of them, but
his action was considered to have been not quite handsome.

I told them of Homer's noble line to the effect that a man should
strive ever to be foremost and in all things to outvie his peers;
but they said that no wonder the countries in which such a
detestable maxim was held in admiration were always flying at one
another's throats.

"Why," asked one Professor, "should a man want to be better than
his neighbours? Let him be thankful if he is no worse."

I ventured feebly to say that I did not see how progress could be
made in any art or science, or indeed in anything at all, without
more or less self-seeking, and hence unamiability.

"Of course it cannot," said the Professor, "and therefore we object
to progress."

After which there was no more to be said. Later on, however, a
young Professor took me aside and said he did not think I quite
understood their views about progress.

"We like progress," he said, "but it must commend itself to the
common sense of the people. If a man gets to know more than his
neighbours he should keep his knowledge to himself till he has
sounded them, and seen whether they agree, or are likely to agree
with him. He said it was as immoral to be too far in front of
one's own age, as to lag too far behind it. If a man can carry his
neighbours with him, he may say what he likes; but if not, what
insult can be more gratuitous than the telling them what they do
not want to know? A man should remember that intellectual over-
indulgence is one of the most insidious and disgraceful forms that
excess can take. Granted that every one should exceed more or
less, inasmuch as absolutely perfect sanity would drive any man mad
the moment he reached it, but . . . "

He was now warming to his subject and I was beginning to wonder how
I should get rid of him, when the party broke up, and though I
promised to call on him before I left, I was unfortunately
prevented from doing so.

I have now said enough to give English readers some idea of the
strange views which the Erewhonians hold concerning unreason,
hypothetics, and education generally. In many respects they were
sensible enough, but I could not get over the hypothetics,
especially the turning their own good poetry into the hypothetical
language. In the course of my stay I met one youth who told me
that for fourteen years the hypothetical language had been almost
the only thing that he had been taught, although he had never (to
his credit, as it seemed to me) shown the slightest proclivity
towards it, while he had been endowed with not inconsiderable
ability for several other branches of human learning. He assured
me that he would never open another hypothetical book after he had
taken his degree, but would follow out the bent of his own
inclinations. This was well enough, but who could give him his
fourteen years back again?

I sometimes wondered how it was that the mischief done was not more
clearly perceptible, and that the young men and women grew up as
sensible and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost
deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless
received damage, from which they suffered to their life's end; but
many seemed little or none the worse, and some, almost the better.
The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads
in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that
do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious
heed to it. The consequence was that the boys only lost their
time, and not so much of this as might have been expected, for in
their hours of leisure they were actively engaged in exercises and
sports which developed their physical nature, and made them at any
rate strong and healthy.

Moreover those who had any special tastes could not be restrained
from developing them: they would learn what they wanted to learn
and liked, in spite of obstacles which seemed rather to urge them
on than to discourage them, while for those who had no special
capacity, the loss of time was of comparatively little moment; but
in spite of these alleviations of the mischief, I am sure that much
harm was done to the children of the sub-wealthy classes, by the
system which passes current among the Erewhonians as education.
The poorest children suffered least--if destruction and death have
heard the sound of wisdom, to a certain extent poverty has done so

And yet perhaps, after all, it is better for a country that its
seats of learning should do more to suppress mental growth than to
encourage it. Were it not for a certain priggishness which these
places infuse into so great a number of their alumni, genuine work
would become dangerously common. It is essential that by far the
greater part of what is said or done in the world should be so
ephemeral as to take itself away quickly; it should keep good for
twenty-four hours, or even twice as long, but it should not be good
enough a week hence to prevent people from going on to something
else. No doubt the marvellous development of journalism in
England, as also the fact that our seats of learning aim rather at
fostering mediocrity than anything higher, is due to our
subconscious recognition of the fact that it is even more necessary
to check exuberance of mental development than to encourage it.
There can be no doubt that this is what our academic bodies do, and
they do it the more effectually because they do it only
subconsciously. They think they are advancing healthy mental
assimilation and digestion, whereas in reality they are little
better than cancer in the stomach.

Let me return, however, to the Erewhonians. Nothing surprised me
more than to see the occasional flashes of common sense with which
one branch of study or another was lit up, while not a single ray
fell upon so many others. I was particularly struck with this on
strolling into the Art School of the University. Here I found that
the course of study was divided into two branches--the practical
and the commercial--no student being permitted to continue his
studies in the actual practice of the art he had taken up, unless
he made equal progress in its commercial history.

Thus those who were studying painting were examined at frequent
intervals in the prices which all the leading pictures of the last
fifty or a hundred years had realised, and in the fluctuations in
their values when (as often happened) they had been sold and resold
three or four times. The artist, they contend, is a dealer in
pictures, and it is as important for him to learn how to adapt his
wares to the market, and to know approximately what kind of a
picture will fetch how much, as it is for him to be able to paint
the picture. This, I suppose, is what the French mean by laying so
much stress upon "values."

As regards the city itself, the more I saw the more enchanted I
became. I dare not trust myself with any description of the
exquisite beauty of the different colleges, and their walks and
gardens. Truly in these things alone there must be a hallowing and
refining influence which is in itself half an education, and which
no amount of error can wholly spoil. I was introduced to many of
the Professors, who showed me every hospitality and kindness;
nevertheless I could hardly avoid a sort of suspicion that some of
those whom I was taken to see had been so long engrossed in their
own study of hypothetics that they had become the exact antitheses
of the Athenians in the days of St. Paul; for whereas the Athenians
spent their lives in nothing save to see and to hear some new
thing, there were some here who seemed to devote themselves to the
avoidance of every opinion with which they were not perfectly
familiar, and regarded their own brains as a sort of sanctuary, to
which if an opinion had once resorted, none other was to attack it.

I should warn the reader, however, that I was rarely sure what the
men whom I met while staying with Mr. Thims really meant; for there
was no getting anything out of them if they scented even a
suspicion that they might be what they call "giving themselves
away." As there is hardly any subject on which this suspicion
cannot arise, I found it difficult to get definite opinions from
any of them, except on such subjects as the weather, eating and
drinking, holiday excursions, or games of skill.

If they cannot wriggle out of expressing an opinion of some sort,
they will commonly retail those of some one who has already written
upon the subject, and conclude by saying that though they quite
admit that there is an element of truth in what the writer has
said, there are many points on which they are unable to agree with
him. Which these points were, I invariably found myself unable to
determine; indeed, it seemed to be counted the perfection of
scholarship and good breeding among them not to have--much less to
express--an opinion on any subject on which it might prove later
that they had been mistaken. The art of sitting gracefully on a
fence has never, I should think, been brought to greater perfection
than at the Erewhonian Colleges of Unreason.

Even when, wriggle as they may, they find themselves pinned down to
some expression of definite opinion, as often as not they will
argue in support of what they perfectly well know to be untrue. I
repeatedly met with reviews and articles even in their best
journals, between the lines of which I had little difficulty in
detecting a sense exactly contrary to the one ostensibly put
forward. So well is this understood, that a man must be a mere
tyro in the arts of Erewhonian polite society, unless he
instinctively suspects a hidden "yea" in every "nay" that meets
him. Granted that it comes to much the same in the end, for it
does not matter whether "yea" is called "yea" or "nay," so long as
it is understood which it is to be; but our own more direct way of
calling a spade a spade, rather than a rake, with the intention
that every one should understand it as a spade, seems more
satisfactory. On the other hand, the Erewhonian system lends
itself better to the suppression of that downrightness which it
seems the express aim of Erewhonian philosophy to discountenance.

However this may be, the fear-of-giving-themselves-away disease was
fatal to the intelligence of those infected by it, and almost every
one at the Colleges of Unreason had caught it to a greater or less
degree. After a few years atrophy of the opinions invariably
supervened, and the sufferer became stone dead to everything except
the more superficial aspects of those material objects with which
he came most in contact. The expression on the faces of these
people was repellent; they did not, however, seem particularly
unhappy, for they none of them had the faintest idea that they were
in reality more dead than alive. No cure for this disgusting fear-
of-giving-themselves-away disease has yet been discovered.

* * *

It was during my stay in City of the Colleges of Unreason--a city
whose Erewhonian name is so cacophonous that I refrain from giving
it--that I learned the particulars of the revolution which had
ended in the destruction of so many of the mechanical inventions
which were formerly in common use.

Mr. Thims took me to the rooms of a gentleman who had a great
reputation for learning, but who was also, so Mr. Thims told me,
rather a dangerous person, inasmuch as he had attempted to
introduce an adverb into the hypothetical language. He had heard
of my watch and been exceedingly anxious to see me, for he was
accounted the most learned antiquary in Erewhon on the subject of
mechanical lore. We fell to talking upon the subject, and when I
left he gave me a reprinted copy of the work which brought the
revolution about.

It had taken place some five hundred years before my arrival:
people had long become thoroughly used to the change, although at
the time that it was made the country was plunged into the deepest
misery, and a reaction which followed had very nearly proved
successful. Civil war raged for many years, and is said to have
reduced the number of the inhabitants by one-half. The parties
were styled the machinists and the anti-machinists, and in the end,
as I have said already, the latter got the victory, treating their
opponents with such unparalleled severity that they extirpated
every trace of opposition.

The wonder was that they allowed any mechanical appliances to
remain in the kingdom, neither do I believe that they would have
done so, had not the Professors of Inconsistency and Evasion made a
stand against the carrying of the new principles to their
legitimate conclusions. These Professors, moreover, insisted that
during the struggle the anti-machinists should use every known
improvement in the art of war, and several new weapons, offensive
and defensive, were invented, while it was in progress. I was
surprised at there remaining so many mechanical specimens as are
seen in the museums, and at students having rediscovered their past
uses so completely; for at the time of the revolution the victors
wrecked all the more complicated machines, and burned all treatises
on mechanics, and all engineers' workshops--thus, so they thought,
cutting the mischief out root and branch, at an incalculable cost
of blood and treasure.

Certainly they had not spared their labour, but work of this
description can never be perfectly achieved, and when, some two
hundred years before my arrival, all passion upon the subject had
cooled down, and no one save a lunatic would have dreamed of
reintroducing forbidden inventions, the subject came to be regarded
as a curious antiquarian study, like that of some long-forgotten
religious practices among ourselves. Then came the careful search
for whatever fragments could be found, and for any machines that
might have been hidden away, and also numberless treatises were
written, showing what the functions of each rediscovered machine
had been; all being done with no idea of using such machinery
again, but with the feelings of an English antiquarian concerning
Druidical monuments or flint arrow heads.

On my return to the metropolis, during the remaining weeks or
rather days of my sojourn in Erewhon I made a resume in English of
the work which brought about the already mentioned revolution. My
ignorance of technical terms has led me doubtless into many errors,
and I have occasionally, where I found translation impossible,
substituted purely English names and ideas for the original
Erewhonian ones, but the reader may rely on my general accuracy. I
have thought it best to insert my translation here.


The writer commences:- "There was a time, when the earth was to all
appearance utterly destitute both of animal and vegetable life, and
when according to the opinion of our best philosophers it was
simply a hot round ball with a crust gradually cooling. Now if a
human being had existed while the earth was in this state and had
been allowed to see it as though it were some other world with
which he had no concern, and if at the same time he were entirely
ignorant of all physical science, would he not have pronounced it
impossible that creatures possessed of anything like consciousness
should be evolved from the seeming cinder which he was beholding?
Would he not have denied that it contained any potentiality of
consciousness? Yet in the course of time consciousness came. Is
it not possible then that there may be even yet new channels dug
out for consciousness, though we can detect no signs of them at

"Again. Consciousness, in anything like the present acceptation of
the term, having been once a new thing--a thing, as far as we can
see, subsequent even to an individual centre of action and to a
reproductive system (which we see existing in plants without
apparent consciousness)--why may not there arise some new phase of
mind which shall be as different from all present known phases, as
the mind of animals is from that of vegetables?

"It would be absurd to attempt to define such a mental state (or
whatever it may be called), inasmuch as it must be something so
foreign to man that his experience can give him no help towards
conceiving its nature; but surely when we reflect upon the manifold
phases of life and consciousness which have been evolved already,
it would be rash to say that no others can be developed, and that
animal life is the end of all things. There was a time when fire
was the end of all things: another when rocks and water were so."

The writer, after enlarging on the above for several pages,
proceeded to inquire whether traces of the approach of such a new
phase of life could be perceived at present; whether we could see
any tenements preparing which might in a remote futurity be adapted
for it; whether, in fact, the primordial cell of such a kind of
life could be now detected upon earth. In the course of his work
he answered this question in the affirmative and pointed to the
higher machines.

"There is no security"--to quote his own words--"against the
ultimate development of mechanical consciousness, in the fact of
machines possessing little consciousness now. A mollusc has not
much consciousness. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which
machines have made during the last few hundred years, and note how
slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing. The more

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