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Essays on Life, Art and Science by Samuel Butler

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This etext was produced by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1908 A. C. Fifield edition.


by Samuel Butler


Quis Desiderio?
Ramblings in Cheapside
The Aunt, The Nieces, and the Dog
How to make the best of life
The Sanctuary of Montrigone
A Medieval Girl School
Art in the Valley of Saas
Thought and Language
The Deadlock in Darwinism


It is hardly necessary to apologise for the miscellaneous character
of the following collection of essays. Samuel Butler was a man of
such unusual versatility, and his interests were so many and so
various that his literary remains were bound to cover a wide field.
Nevertheless it will be found that several of the subjects to which
he devoted much time and labour are not represented in these pages.
I have not thought it necessary to reprint any of the numerous
pamphlets and articles which he wrote upon the Iliad and Odyssey,
since these were all merged in "The Authoress of the Odyssey," which
gives his matured views upon everything relating to the Homeric
poems. For a similar reason I have not included an essay on the
evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which he printed in
1865 for private circulation, since he subsequently made extensive
use of it in "The Fair Haven."

Two of the essays in this collection were originally delivered as
lectures; the remainder were published in The Universal Review
during 1888, 1889, and 1890.

I should perhaps explain why two other essays of his, which also
appeared in The Universal Review, have been omitted.

The first of these, entitled "L'Affaire Holbein-Rippel," relates to
a drawing of Holbein's "Danse des Paysans," in the Basle Museum,
which is usually described as a copy, but which Butler believed to
be the work of Holbein himself. This essay requires to be
illustrated in so elaborate a manner that it was impossible to
include it in a book of this size.

The second essay, which is a sketch of the career of the sculptor
Tabachetti, was published as the first section of an article
entitled "A Sculptor and a Shrine," of which the second section is
here given under the title, "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." The
section devoted to the sculptor represents all that Butler then knew
about Tabachetti, but since it was written various documents have
come to light, principally owing to the investigations of Cavaliere
Francesco Negri, of Casale Monferrato, which negative some of
Butler's most cherished conclusions. Had Butler lived he would
either have rewritten his essay in accordance with Cavaliere Negri's
discoveries, of which he fully recognised the value, or incorporated
them into the revised edition of "Ex Voto," which he intended to
publish. As it stands, the essay requires so much revision that I
have decided to omit it altogether, and to postpone giving English
readers a full account of Tabachetti's career until a second edition
of "Ex Voto" is required. Meanwhile I have given a brief summary of
the main facts of Tabachetti's life in a note (page 154) to the
essay on "Art in the Valley of Saas." Any one who wishes for
further details of the sculptor and his work will find them in
Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet, "Il Santuario di Crea" (Alessandria,

The three essays grouped together under the title of "The Deadlock
in Darwinism" may be regarded as a postscript to Butler's four books
on evolution, viz., "Life and Habit," "Evolution, Old and New,"
"Unconscious Memory" and "Luck or Cunning." An occasion for the
publication of these essays seemed to be afforded by the appearance
in 1889 of Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace's "Darwinism"; and although
nearly fourteen years have elapsed since they were published in the
Universal Review, I have no fear that they will be found to be out
of date. How far, indeed, the problem embodied in the deadlock of
which Butler speaks is from solution was conclusively shown by the
correspondence which appeared in the Times in May 1903, occasioned
by some remarks made at University College by Lord Kelvin in moving
a vote of thanks to Professor Henslow after his lecture on "Present
Day Rationalism." Lord Kelvin's claim for a recognition of the fact
that in organic nature scientific thought is compelled to accept the
idea of some kind of directive power, and his statement that
biologists are coming once more to a firm acceptance of a vital
principle, drew from several distinguished men of science retorts
heated enough to prove beyond a doubt that the gulf between the two
main divisions of evolutionists is as wide to-day as it was when
Butler wrote. It will be well, perhaps, for the benefit of readers
who have not followed the history of the theory of evolution during
its later developments, to state in a few words what these two main
divisions are. All evolutionists agree that the differences between
species are caused by the accumulation and transmission of
variations, but they do not agree as to the causes to which the
variations are due. The view held by the older evolutionists,
Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, who have been followed by many
modern thinkers, including Herbert Spencer and Butler, is that the
variations occur mainly as the result of effort and design; the
opposite view, which is that advocated by Mr. Wallace in
"Darwinism," is that the variations occur merely as the result of
chance. The former is sometimes called the theological view,
because it recognises the presence in organic nature of design,
whether it be called creative power, directive force, directivity,
or vital principle; the latter view, in which the existence of
design is absolutely negatived, is now usually described as
Weismannism, from the name of the writer who has been its principal
advocate in recent years.

In conclusion, I must thank my friend Mr. Henry Festing Jones most
warmly for the invaluable assistance which he has given me in
preparing these essays for publication, in correcting the proofs,
and in compiling the introduction and notes.


QUIS DESIDERIO . . . ? {1}

Like Mr. Wilkie Collins, I, too, have been asked to lay some of my
literary experiences before the readers of the Universal Review. It
occurred to me that the Review must be indeed universal before it
could open its pages to one so obscure as myself; but, nothing
daunted by the distinguished company among which I was for the first
time asked to move, I resolved to do as I was told, and went to the
British Museum to see what books I had written. Having refreshed my
memory by a glance at the catalogue, I was about to try and diminish
the large and ever-increasing circle of my non-readers when I became
aware of a calamity that brought me to a standstill, and indeed bids
fair, so far as I can see at present, to put an end to my literary
existence altogether.

I should explain that I cannot write unless I have a sloping desk,
and the reading-room of the British Museum, where alone I can
compose freely, is unprovided with sloping desks. Like every other
organism, if I cannot get exactly what I want I make shift with the
next thing to it; true, there are no desks in the reading-room, but,
as I once heard a visitor from the country say, "it contains a large
number of very interesting works." I know it was not right, and
hope the Museum authorities will not be severe upon me if any of
them reads this confession; but I wanted a desk, and set myself to
consider which of the many very interesting works which a grateful
nation places at the disposal of its would-be authors was best
suited for my purpose.

For mere reading I suppose one book is pretty much as good as
another; but the choice of a desk-book is a more serious matter. It
must be neither too thick nor too thin; it must be large enough to
make a substantial support; it must be strongly bound so as not to
yield or give; it must not be too troublesome to carry backwards and
forwards; and it must live on shelf C, D, or E, so that there need
be no stooping or reaching too high. These are the conditions which
a really good book must fulfil; simple, however, as they are, it is
surprising how few volumes comply with them satisfactorily;
moreover, being perhaps too sensitively conscientious, I allowed
another consideration to influence me, and was sincerely anxious not
to take a book which would be in constant use for reference by
readers, more especially as, if I did this, I might find myself
disturbed by the officials.

For weeks I made experiments upon sundry poetical and philosophical
works, whose names I have forgotten, but could not succeed in
finding my ideal desk, until at length, more by luck than cunning, I
happened to light upon Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians," which
I had no sooner tried than I discovered it to be the very perfection
and ne plus ultra of everything that a book should be. It lived in
Case No. 2008, and I accordingly took at once to sitting in Row B,
where for the last dozen years or so I have sat ever since.

The first thing I have done whenever I went to the Museum has been
to take down Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" and carry it to
my seat. It is not the custom of modern writers to refer to the
works to which they are most deeply indebted, and I have never, that
I remember, mentioned it by name before; but it is to this book
alone that I have looked for support during many years of literary
labour, and it is round this to me invaluable volume that all my own
have page by page grown up. There is none in the Museum to which I
have been under anything like such constant obligation, none which I
can so ill spare, and none which I would choose so readily if I were
allowed to select one single volume and keep it for my own.

On finding myself asked for a contribution to the Universal Review,
I went, as I have explained, to the Museum, and presently repaired
to bookcase No. 2008 to get my favourite volume. Alas! it was in
the room no longer. It was not in use, for its place was filled up
already; besides, no one ever used it but myself. Whether the ghost
of the late Mr. Frost has been so eminently unchristian as to
interfere, or whether the authorities have removed the book in
ignorance of the steady demand which there has been for it on the
part of at least one reader, are points I cannot determine. All I
know is that the book is gone, and I feel as Wordsworth is generally
supposed to have felt when he became aware that Lucy was in her
grave, and exclaimed so emphatically that this would make a
considerable difference to him, or words to that effect.

Now I think of it, Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" was very
like Lucy. The one resided at Dovedale in Derbyshire, the other in
Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. I admit that I do not see the
resemblance here at this moment, but if I try to develop my
perception I shall doubtless ere long find a marvellously striking
one. In other respects, however, than mere local habitat the
likeness is obvious. Lucy was not particularly attractive either
inside or out--no more was Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians";
there were few to praise her, and of those few still fewer could
bring themselves to like her; indeed, Wordsworth himself seems to
have been the only person who thought much about her one way or the
other. In like manner, I believe I was the only reader who thought
much one way or the other about Frost's "Lives of Eminent
Christians," but this in itself was one of the attractions of the
book; and as for the grief we respectively felt and feel, I believe
my own to be as deep as Wordsworth's, if not more so.

I said above, "as Wordsworth is generally supposed to have felt";
for any one imbued with the spirit of modern science will read
Wordsworth's poem with different eyes from those of a mere literary
critic. He will note that Wordsworth is most careful not to explain
the nature of the difference which the death of Lucy will occasion
to him. He tells us that there will be a difference; but there the
matter ends. The superficial reader takes it that he was very sorry
she was dead; it is, of course, possible that he may have actually
been so, but he has not said this. On the contrary, he has hinted
plainly that she was ugly, and generally disliked; she was only like
a violet when she was half-hidden from the view, and only fair as a
star when there were so few stars out that it was practically
impossible to make an invidious comparison. If there were as many
as even two stars the likeness was felt to be at an end. If
Wordsworth had imprudently promised to marry this young person
during a time when he had been unusually long in keeping to good
resolutions, and had afterwards seen some one whom he liked better,
then Lucy's death would undoubtedly have made a considerable
difference to him, and this is all that he has ever said that it
would do. What right have we to put glosses upon the masterly
reticence of a poet, and credit him with feelings possibly the very
reverse of those he actually entertained?

Sometimes, indeed, I have been inclined to think that a mystery is
being hinted at more dark than any critic has suspected. I do not
happen to possess a copy of the poem, but the writer, if I am not
mistaken, says that "few could know when Lucy ceased to be."
"Ceased to be" is a suspiciously euphemistic expression, and the
words "few could know" are not applicable to the ordinary peaceful
death of a domestic servant such as Lucy appears to have been. No
matter how obscure the deceased, any number of people commonly can
know the day and hour of his or her demise, whereas in this case we
are expressly told it would be impossible for them to do so.
Wordsworth was nothing if not accurate, and would not have said that
few could know, but that few actually did know, unless he was aware
of circumstances that precluded all but those implicated in the
crime of her death from knowing the precise moment of its
occurrence. If Lucy was the kind of person not obscurely pourtrayed
in the poem; if Wordsworth had murdered her, either by cutting her
throat or smothering her, in concert, perhaps, with his friends
Southey and Coleridge; and if he had thus found himself released
from an engagement which had become irksome to him, or possibly from
the threat of an action for breach of promise, then there is not a
syllable in the poem with which he crowns his crime that is not
alive with meaning. On any other supposition to the general reader
it is unintelligible.

We cannot be too guarded in the interpretations we put upon the
words of great poets. Take the young lady who never loved the dear
gazelle--and I don't believe she did; we are apt to think that Moore
intended us to see in this creation of his fancy a sweet, amiable,
but most unfortunate young woman, whereas all he has told us about
her points to an exactly opposite conclusion. In reality, he wished
us to see a young lady who had been an habitual complainer from her
earliest childhood; whose plants had always died as soon as she
bought them, while those belonging to her neighbours had flourished.
The inference is obvious, nor can we reasonably doubt that Moore
intended us to draw it; if her plants were the very first to fade
away, she was evidently the very first to neglect or otherwise
maltreat them. She did not give them enough water, or left the door
of her fern-ease open when she was cooking her dinner at the gas
stove, or kept them too near the paraffin oil, or other like folly;
and as for her temper, see what the gazelles did; as long as they
did not know her "well," they could just manage to exist, but when
they got to understand her real character, one after another felt
that death was the only course open to it, and accordingly died
rather than live with such a mistress. True, the young lady herself
said the gazelles loved her; but disagreeable people are apt to
think themselves amiable, and in view of the course invariably taken
by the gazelles themselves any one accustomed to weigh evidence will
hold that she was probably mistaken.

I must, however, return to Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians." I
will leave none of the ambiguity about my words in which Moore and
Wordsworth seem to have delighted. I am very sorry the book is
gone, and know not where to turn for its successor. Till I have
found a substitute I can write no more, and I do not know how to
find even a tolerable one. I should try a volume of Migne's
"Complete Course of Patrology," but I do not like books in more than
one volume, for the volumes vary in thickness, and one never can
remember which one took; the four volumes, however, of Bede in
Giles's "Anglican Fathers" are not open to this objection, and I
have reserved them for favourable consideration. Mather's
"Magnalia" might do, but the binding does not please me; Cureton's
"Corpus Ignatianum" might also do if it were not too thin. I do not
like taking Norton's "Genuineness of the Gospels," as it is just
possible some one may be wanting to know whether the Gospels are
genuine or not, and be unable to find out because I have got Mr.
Norton's book. Baxter's "Church History of England," Lingard's
"Anglo-Saxon Church," and Cardwell's "Documentary Annals," though
none of them as good as Frost, are works of considerable merit; but
on the whole I think Arvine's "Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious
Anecdote" is perhaps the one book in the room which comes within
measurable distance of Frost. I should probably try this book
first, but it has a fatal objection in its too seductive title. "I
am not curious," as Miss Lottie Venne says in one of her parts, "but
I like to know," and I might be tempted to pervert the book from its
natural uses and open it, so as to find out what kind of a thing a
moral and religious anecdote is. I know, of course, that there are
a great many anecdotes in the Bible, but no one thinks of calling
them either moral or religious, though some of them certainly seem
as if they might fairly find a place in Mr. Arvine's work. There
are some things, however, which it is better not to know, and take
it all round I do not think I should be wise in putting myself in
the way of temptation, and adopting Arvine as the successor to my
beloved and lamented Frost.

Some successor I must find, or I must give up writing altogether,
and this I should be sorry to do. I have only as yet written about
a third, or from that--counting works written but not published--to
a half, of the books which I have set myself to write. It would not
so much matter if old age was not staring me in the face. Dr. Parr
said it was "a beastly shame for an old man not to have laid down a
good cellar of port in his youth"; I, like the greater number, I
suppose, of those who write books at all, write in order that I may
have something to read in my old age when I can write no longer. I
know what I shall like better than any one can tell me, and write
accordingly; if my career is nipped in the bud, as seems only too
likely, I really do not know where else I can turn for present
agreeable occupation, nor yet how to make suitable provision for my
later years. Other writers can, of course, make excellent provision
for their own old ages, but they cannot do so for mine, any more
than I should succeed if I were to try to cater for theirs. It is
one of those cases in which no man can make agreement for his

I have no heart for continuing this article, and if I had, I have
nothing of interest to say. No one's literary career can have been
smoother or more unchequered than mine. I have published all my
books at my own expense, and paid for them in due course. What can
be conceivably more unromantic? For some years I had a little
literary grievance against the authorities of the British Museum
because they would insist on saying in their catalogue that I had
published three sermons on Infidelity in the year 1820. I thought I
had not, and got them out to see. They were rather funny, but they
were not mine. Now, however, this grievance has been removed. I
had another little quarrel with them because they would describe me
as "of St. John's College, Cambridge," an establishment for which I
have the most profound veneration, but with which I have not had the
honour to be connected for some quarter of a century. At last they
said they would change this description if I would only tell them
what I was, for, though they had done their best to find out, they
had themselves failed. I replied with modest pride that I was a
Bachelor of Arts. I keep all my other letters inside my name, not
outside. They mused and said it was unfortunate that I was not a
Master of Arts. Could I not get myself made a Master? I said I
understood that a Mastership was an article the University could not
do under about five pounds, and that I was not disposed to go
sixpence higher than three ten. They again said it was a pity, for
it would be very inconvenient to them if I did not keep to something
between a bishop and a poet. I might be anything I liked in reason,
provided I showed proper respect for the alphabet; but they had got
me between "Samuel Butler, bishop," and "Samuel Butler, poet." It
would be very troublesome to shift me, and bachelor came before
bishop. This was reasonable, so I replied that, under those
circumstances, if they pleased, I thought I would like to be a
philosophical writer. They embraced the solution, and, no matter
what I write now, I must remain a philosophical writer as long as I
live, for the alphabet will hardly be altered in my time, and I must
be something between "Bis" and "Poe." If I could get a volume of my
excellent namesake's "Hudibras" out of the list of my works, I
should be robbed of my last shred of literary grievance, so I say
nothing about this, but keep it secret, lest some worse thing should
happen to me. Besides, I have a great respect for my namesake, and
always say that if "Erewhon" had been a racehorse it would have been
got by "Hudibras" out of "Analogy." Some one said this to me many
years ago, and I felt so much flattered that I have been repeating
the remark as my own ever since.

But how small are these grievances as compared with those endured
without a murmur by hundreds of writers far more deserving than
myself. When I see the scores and hundreds of workers in the
reading-room who have done so much more than I have, but whose work
is absolutely fruitless to themselves, and when I think of the
prompt recognition obtained by my own work, I ask myself what I have
done to be thus rewarded. On the other hand, the feeling that I
have succeeded far beyond my deserts hitherto, makes it all the
harder for me to acquiesce without complaint in the extinction of a
career which I honestly believe to be a promising one; and once more
I repeat that, unless the Museum authorities give me back my Frost,
or put a locked clasp on Arvine, my career must be extinguished.
Give me back Frost, and, if life and health are spared, I will write
another dozen of volumes yet before I hang up my fiddle--if so
serious a confusion of metaphors may be pardoned. I know from long
experience how kind and considerate both the late and present
superintendents of the reading-room were and are, but I doubt how
far either of them would be disposed to help me on this occasion;
continue, however, to rob me of my Frost, and, whatever else I may
do, I will write no more books.

Note by Dr. Garnett, British Museum.--The frost has broken up. Mr.
Butler is restored to literature. Mr. Mudie may make himself easy.
England will still boast a humourist; and the late Mr. Darwin (to
whose posthumous machinations the removal of the book was owing)
will continue to be confounded.--R. GANNETT.


Walking the other day in Cheapside I saw some turtles in Mr.
Sweeting's window, and was tempted to stay and look at them. As I
did so I was struck not more by the defences with which they were
hedged about, than by the fatuousness of trying to hedge that in at
all which, if hedged thoroughly, must die of its own defencefulness.
The holes for the head and feet through which the turtle leaks out,
as it were, on to the exterior world, and through which it again
absorbs the exterior world into itself--"catching on" through them
to things that are thus both turtle and not turtle at one and the
same time--these holes stultify the armour, and show it to have been
designed by a creature with more of faithfulness to a fixed idea,
and hence one-sidedness, than of that quick sense of relative
importances and their changes, which is the main factor of good

The turtle obviously had no sense of proportion; it differed so
widely from myself that I could not comprehend it; and as this word
occurred to me, it occurred also that until my body comprehended its
body in a physical material sense, neither would my mind be able to
comprehend its mind with any thoroughness. For unity of mind can
only be consummated by unity of body; everything, therefore, must be
in some respects both knave and fool to all that which has not eaten
it, or by which it has not been eaten. As long as the turtle was in
the window and I in the street outside, there was no chance of our
comprehending one another.

Nevertheless I knew that I could get it to agree with me if I could
so effectually button-hole and fasten on to it as to eat it. Most
men have an easy method with turtle soup, and I had no misgiving but
that if I could bring my first premise to bear I should prove the
better reasoner. My difficulty lay in this initial process, for I
had not with me the argument that would alone compel Mr. Sweeting
think that I ought to be allowed to convert the turtles--I mean I
had no money in my pocket. No missionary enterprise can be carried
on without any money at all, but even so small a sum as half-a-crown
would, I suppose, have enabled me to bring the turtle partly round,
and with many half-crowns I could in time no doubt convert the lot,
for the turtle needs must go where the money drives. If, as is
alleged, the world stands on a turtle, the turtle stands on money.
No money no turtle. As for money, that stands on opinion, credit,
trust, faith--things that, though highly material in connection with
money, are still of immaterial essence.

The steps are perfectly plain. The men who caught the turtles
brought a fairly strong and definite opinion to bear upon them, that
passed into action, and later on into money. They thought the
turtles would come that way, and verified their opinion; on this,
will and action were generated, with the result that the men turned
the turtles on their backs and carried them off. Mr. Sweeting
touched these men with money, which is the outward and visible sign
of verified opinion. The customer touches Mr. Sweeting with money,
Mr. Sweeting touches the waiter and the cook with money. They touch
the turtle with skill and verified opinion. Finally, the customer
applies the clinching argument that brushes all sophisms aside, and
bids the turtle stand protoplasm to protoplasm with himself, to know
even as it is known.

But it must be all touch, touch, touch; skill, opinion, power, and
money, passing in and out with one another in any order we like, but
still link to link and touch to touch. If there is failure anywhere
in respect of opinion, skill, power, or money, either as regards
quantity or quality, the chain can be no stronger than its weakest
link, and the turtle and the clinching argument will fly asunder.
Of course, if there is an initial failure in connection, through
defect in any member of the chain, or of connection between the
links, it will no more be attempted to bring the turtle and the
clinching argument together, than it will to chain up a dog with two
pieces of broken chain that are disconnected. The contact
throughout must be conceived as absolute; and yet perfect contact is
inconceivable by us, for on becoming perfect it ceases to be
contact, and becomes essential, once for all inseverable, identity.
The most absolute contact short of this is still contact by courtesy
only. So here, as everywhere else, Eurydice glides off as we are
about to grasp her. We can see nothing face to face; our utmost
seeing is but a fumbling of blind finger-ends in an overcrowded

Presently my own blind finger-ends fished up the conclusion, that as
I had neither time nor money to spend on perfecting the chain that
would put me in full spiritual contact with Mr. Sweeting's turtles,
I had better leave them to complete their education at some one
else's expense rather than mine, so I walked on towards the Bank.
As I did so it struck me how continually we are met by this melting
of one existence into another. The limits of the body seem well
defined enough as definitions go, but definitions seldom go far.
What, for example, can seem more distinct from a man than his banker
or his solicitor? Yet these are commonly so much parts of him that
he can no more cut them off and grow new ones, than he can grow new
legs or arms; neither must he wound his solicitor; a wound in the
solicitor is a very serious thing. As for his bank--failure of his
bank's action may be as fatal to a man as failure of his heart. I
have said nothing about the medical or spiritual adviser, but most
men grow into the society that surrounds them by the help of these
four main tap-roots, and not only into the world of humanity, but
into the universe at large. We can, indeed, grow butchers, bakers,
and greengrocers, almost ad libitum, but these are low developments,
and correspond to skin, hair, or finger-nails. Those of us again
who are not highly enough organised to have grown a solicitor or
banker can generally repair the loss of whatever social organisation
they may possess as freely as lizards are said to grow new tails;
but this with the higher social, as well as organic, developments is
only possible to a very limited extent.

The doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls--a
doctrine to which the foregoing considerations are for the most part
easy corollaries--crops up no matter in what direction we allow our
thoughts to wander. And we meet instances of transmigration of body
as well as of soul. I do not mean that both body and soul have
transmigrated together, far from it; but that, as we can often
recognise a transmigrated mind in an alien body, so we not less
often see a body that is clearly only a transmigration, linked on to
some one else's new and alien soul. We meet people every day whose
bodies are evidently those of men and women long dead, but whose
appearance we know through their portraits. We see them going about
in omnibuses, railway carriages, and in all public places. The
cards have been shuffled, and they have drawn fresh lots in life and
nationalities, but any one fairly well up in mediaeval and last
century portraiture knows them at a glance.

Going down once towards Italy I saw a young man in the train whom I
recognised, only he seemed to have got younger. He was with a
friend, and his face was in continual play, but for some little time
I puzzled in vain to recollect where it was that I had seen him
before. All of a sudden I remembered he was King Francis I. of
France. I had hitherto thought the face of this king impossible,
but when I saw it in play I understood it. His great contemporary
Henry VIII. keeps a restaurant in Oxford Street. Falstaff drove one
of the St. Gothard diligences for many years, and only retired when
the railway was opened. Titian once made me a pair of boots at
Vicenza, and not very good ones. At Modena I had my hair cut by a
young man whom I perceived to be Raffaelle. The model who sat to
him for his celebrated Madonnas is first lady in a confectionery
establishment at Montreal. She has a little motherly pimple on the
left side of her nose that is misleading at first, but on
examination she is readily recognised; probably Raffaelle's model
had the pimple too, but Raffaelle left it out--as he would.

Handel, of course, is Madame Patey. Give Madame Patey Handel's wig
and clothes, and there would be no telling her from Handel. It is
not only that the features and the shape of the head are the same,
but there is a certain imperiousness of expression and attitude
about Handel which he hardly attempts to conceal in Madame Patey.
It is a curious coincidence that he should continue to be such an
incomparable renderer of his own music. Pope Julius II. was the
late Mr. Darwin. Rameses II. is a blind woman now, and stands in
Holborn, holding a tin mug. I never could understand why I always
found myself humming "They oppressed them with burthens" when I
passed her, till one day I was looking in Mr. Spooner's window in
the Strand, and saw a photograph of Rameses II. Mary Queen of Scots
wears surgical boots and is subject to fits, near the Horse Shoe in
Tottenham Court Road.

Michael Angelo is a commissionaire; I saw him on board the Glen
Rosa, which used to run every day from London to Clacton-on-Sea and
back. It gave me quite a turn when I saw him coming down the stairs
from the upper deck, with his bronzed face, flattened nose, and with
the familiar bar upon his forehead. I never liked Michael Angelo,
and never shall, but I am afraid of him, and was near trying to hide
when I saw him coming towards me. He had not got his
commissionaire's uniform on, and I did not know he was one till I
met him a month or so later in the Strand. When we got to Blackwall
the music struck up and people began to dance. I never saw a man
dance so much in my life. He did not miss a dance all the way to
Clacton, nor all the way back again, and when not dancing he was
flirting and cracking jokes. I could hardly believe my eyes when I
reflected that this man had painted the famous "Last Judgment," and
had made all those statues.

Dante is, or was a year or two ago, a waiter at Brissago on the Lago
Maggiore, only he is better-tempered-looking, and has a more
intellectual expression. He gave me his ideas upon beauty: "Tutto
ch' e vero e bello," he exclaimed, with all his old self-confidence.
I am not afraid of Dante. I know people by their friends, and he
went about with Virgil, so I said with some severity, "No, Dante, il
naso della Signora Robinson e vero, ma non e bello"; and he admitted
I was right. Beatrice's name is Towler; she is waitress at a small
inn in German Switzerland. I used to sit at my window and hear
people call "Towler, Towler, Towler," fifty times in a forenoon.
She was the exact antithesis to Abra; Abra, if I remember, used to
come before they called her name, but no matter how often they
called Towler, every one came before she did. I suppose they spelt
her name Taula, but to me it sounded Towler; I never, however, met
any one else with this name. She was a sweet, artless little hussy,
who made me play the piano to her, and she said it was lovely. Of
course I only played my own compositions; so I believed her, and it
all went off very nicely. I thought it might save trouble if I did
not tell her who she really was, so I said nothing about it.

I met Socrates once. He was my muleteer on an excursion which I
will not name, for fear it should identify the man. The moment I
saw my guide I knew he was somebody, but for the life of me I could
not remember who. All of a sudden it flashed across me that he was
Socrates. He talked enough for six, but it was all in dialetto, so
I could not understand him, nor, when I had discovered who he was,
did I much try to do so. He was a good creature, a trifle given to
stealing fruit and vegetables, but an amiable man enough. He had
had a long day with his mule and me, and he only asked me five
francs. I gave him ten, for I pitied his poor old patched boots,
and there was a meekness about him that touched me. "And now,
Socrates," said I at parting, "we go on our several ways, you to
steal tomatoes, I to filch ideas from other people; for the rest--
which of these two roads will be the better going, our father which
is in heaven knows, but we know not."

I have never seen Mendelssohn, but there is a fresco of him on the
terrace, or open-air dining-room, of an inn at Chiavenna. He is not
called Mendelssohn, but I knew him by his legs. He is in the
costume of a dandy of some five-and-forty years ago, is smoking a
cigar, and appears to be making an offer of marriage to his cook.
Beethoven both my friend Mr. H. Festing Jones and I have had the
good fortune to meet; he is an engineer now, and does not know one
note from another; he has quite lost his deafness, is married, and
is, of course, a little squat man with the same refractory hair that
he always had. It was very interesting to watch him, and Jones
remarked that before the end of dinner he had become positively
posthumous. One morning I was told the Beethovens were going away,
and before long I met their two heavy boxes being carried down the
stairs. The boxes were so squab and like their owners, that I half
thought for a moment that they were inside, and should hardly have
been surprised to see them spring up like a couple of Jacks-in-the-
box. "Sono indentro?" said I, with a frown of wonder, pointing to
the boxes. The porters knew what I meant, and laughed. But there
is no end to the list of people whom I have been able to recognise,
and before I had got through it myself, I found I had walked some
distance, and had involuntarily paused in front of a second-hand

I do not like books. I believe I have the smallest library of any
literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it. I keep
my books at the British Museum and at Mudie's, and it makes me very
angry if any one gives me one for my private library. I once heard
two ladies disputing in a railway carriage as to whether one of them
had or had not been wasting money. "I spent it in books," said the
accused, "and it's not wasting money to buy books." "Indeed, my
dear, I think it is," was the rejoinder, and in practice I agree
with it. Webster's Dictionary, Whitaker's Almanack, and Bradshaw's
Railway Guide should be sufficient for any ordinary library; it will
be time enough to go beyond these when the mass of useful and
entertaining matter which they provide has been mastered.
Nevertheless, I admit that sometimes, if not particularly busy, I
stop at a second-hand bookstall and turn over a book or two from
mere force of habit.

I know not what made me pick up a copy of AEschylus--of course in an
English version--or rather I know not what made AEschylus take up
with me, for he took me rather than I him; but no sooner had he got
me than he began puzzling me, as he has done any time this forty
years, to know wherein his transcendent merit can be supposed to
lie. To me he is, like the greater number of classics in all ages
and countries, a literary Struldbrug, rather than a true ambrosia-
fed immortal. There are true immortals, but they are few and far
between; most classics are as great impostors dead as they were when
living, and while posing as gods are, five-sevenths of them, only
Struldbrugs. It comforts me to remember that Aristophanes liked
AEschylus no better than I do. True, he praises him by comparison
with Sophocles and Euripides, but he only does so that he may run
down these last more effectively. Aristophanes is a safe man to
follow, nor do I see why it should not be as correct to laugh with
him as to pull a long face with the Greek Professors; but this is
neither here nor there, for no one really cares about AEschylus; the
more interesting question is how he contrived to make so many people
for so many years pretend to care about him.

Perhaps he married somebody's daughter. If a man would get hold of
the public ear, he must pay, marry, or fight. I have never
understood that AEschylus was a man of means, and the fighters do
not write poetry, so I suppose he must have married a theatrical
manager's daughter, and got his plays brought out that way. The ear
of any age or country is like its land, air, and water; it seems
limitless but is really limited, and is already in the keeping of
those who naturally enough will have no squatting on such valuable
property. It is written and talked up to as closely as the means of
subsistence are bred up to by a teeming population. There is not a
square inch of it but is in private hands, and he who would freehold
any part of it must do so by purchase, marriage, or fighting, in the
usual way--and fighting gives the longest, safest tenure. The
public itself has hardly more voice in the question who shall have
its ear, than the land has in choosing its owners. It is farmed as
those who own it think most profitable to themselves, and small
blame to them; nevertheless, it has a residuum of mulishness which
the land has not, and does sometimes dispossess its tenants. It is
in this residuum that those who fight place their hope and trust.

Or perhaps AEschylus squared the leading critics of his time. When
one comes to think of it, he must have done so, for how is it
conceivable that such plays should have had such runs if he had not?
I met a lady one year in Switzerland who had some parrots that
always travelled with her and were the idols of her life. These
parrots would not let any one read aloud in their presence, unless
they heard their own names introduced from time to time. If these
were freely interpolated into the text they would remain as still as
stones, for they thought the reading was about themselves. If it
was not about them it could not be allowed. The leaders of
literature are like these parrots; they do not look at what a man
writes, nor if they did would they understand it much better than
the parrots do; but they like the sound of their own names, and if
these are freely interpolated in a tone they take as friendly, they
may even give ear to an outsider. Otherwise they will scream him
off if they can.

I should not advise any one with ordinary independence of mind to
attempt the public ear unless he is confident that he can out-lung
and out-last his own generation; for if he has any force, people
will and ought to be on their guard against him, inasmuch as there
is no knowing where he may not take them. Besides, they have staked
their money on the wrong men so often without suspecting it, that
when there comes one whom they do suspect it would be madness not to
bet against him. True, he may die before he has out-screamed his
opponents, but that has nothing to do with it. If his scream was
well pitched it will sound clearer when he is dead. We do not know
what death is. If we know so little about life which we have
experienced, how shall we know about death which we have not--and in
the nature of things never can? Every one, as I said years ago in
"Alps and Sanctuaries," is an immortal to himself, for he cannot
know that he is dead until he is dead, and when dead how can he know
anything about anything? All we know is, that even the humblest
dead may live long after all trace of the body has disappeared; we
see them doing it in the bodies and memories of those that come
after them; and not a few live so much longer and more effectually
than is desirable, that it has been necessary to get rid of them by
Act of Parliament. It is love that alone gives life, and the truest
life is that which we live not in ourselves but vicariously in
others, and with which we have no concern. Our concern is so to
order ourselves that we may be of the number of them that enter into
life--although we know it not.

AEschylus did so order himself; but his life is not of that
inspiriting kind that can be won through fighting the good fight
only--or being believed to have fought it. His voice is the echo of
a drone, drone-begotten and drone-sustained. It is not a tone that
a man must utter or die--nay, even though he die; and likely enough
half the allusions and hard passages in AEschylus of which we can
make neither head nor tail are in reality only puffs of some of the
literary leaders of his time.

The lady above referred to told me more about her parrots. She was
like a Nasmyth's hammer going slow--very gentle, but irresistible.
She always read the newspaper to them. What was the use of having a
newspaper if one did not read it to one's parrots?

"And have you divined," I asked, "to which side they incline in

"They do not like Mr. Gladstone," was the somewhat freezing answer;
"this is the only point on which we disagree, for I adore him.
Don't ask more about this, it is a great grief to me. I tell them
everything," she continued, "and hide no secret from them."

"But can any parrot be trusted to keep a secret?"

"Mine can."

"And on Sundays do you give them the same course of reading as on a
week-day, or do you make a difference?"

"On Sundays I always read them a genealogical chapter from the Old
or New Testament, for I can thus introduce their names without
profanity. I always keep tea by me in case they should ask for it
in the night, and I have an Etna to warm it for them; they take milk
and sugar. The old white-headed clergyman came to see them last
night; it was very painful, for Jocko reminded him so strongly of
his late . . . "

I thought she was going to say "wife," but it proved to have been
only of a parrot that he had once known and loved.

One evening she was in difficulties about the quarantine, which was
enforced that year on the Italian frontier. The local doctor had
gone down that morning to see the Italian doctor and arrange some
details. "Then, perhaps, my dear," she said to her husband, "he is
the quarantine." "No, my love," replied her husband. "The
quarantine is not a person, it is a place where they put people";
but she would not be comforted, and suspected the quarantine as an
enemy that might at any moment pounce out upon her and her parrots.
So a lady told me once that she had been in like trouble about the
anthem. She read in her prayer-book that in choirs and places where
they sing "here followeth the anthem," yet the person with this most
mysteriously sounding name never did follow. They had a choir, and
no one could say the church was not a place where they sang, for
they did sing--both chants and hymns. Why, then, this persistent
slackness on the part of the anthem, who at this juncture should
follow her papa, the rector, into the reading-desk? No doubt he
would come some day, and then what would he be like? Fair or dark?
Tall or short? Would he be bald and wear spectacles like papa, or
would he be young and good-looking? Anyhow, there was something
wrong, for it was announced that he would follow, and he never did
follow; therefore there was no knowing what he might not do next.

I heard of the parrots a year or two later as giving lessons in
Italian to an English maid. I do not know what their terms were.
Alas! since then both they and their mistress have joined the
majority. When the poor lady felt her end was near she desired (and
the responsibility for this must rest with her, not me) that the
birds might be destroyed, as fearing that they might come to be
neglected, and knowing that they could never be loved again as she
had loved them. On being told that all was over, she said, "Thank
you," and immediately expired.

Reflecting in such random fashion, and strolling with no greater
method, I worked my way back through Cheapside and found myself once
more in front of Sweeting's window. Again the turtles attracted me.
They were alive, and so far at any rate they agreed with me. Nay,
they had eyes, mouths, legs, if not arms, and feet, so there was
much in which we were both of a mind, but surely they must be
mistaken in arming themselves so very heavily. Any creature on
getting what the turtle aimed at would overreach itself and be
landed not in safety but annihilation. It should have no communion
with the outside world at all, for death could creep in wherever the
creature could creep out; and it must creep out somewhere if it was
to hook on to outside things. What death can be more absolute than
such absolute isolation? Perfect death, indeed, if it were
attainable (which it is not), is as near perfect security as we can
reach, but it is not the kind of security aimed at by any animal
that is at the pains of defending itself. For such want to have
things both ways, desiring the livingness of life without its
perils, and the safety of death without its deadness, and some of us
do actually get this for a considerable time, but we do not get it
by plating ourselves with armour as the turtle does. We tried this
in the Middle Ages, and no longer mock ourselves with the weight of
armour that our forefathers carried in battle. Indeed the more
deadly the weapons of attack become the more we go into the fight

Slugs have ridden their contempt for defensive armour as much to
death as the turtles their pursuit of it. They have hardly more
than skin enough to hold themselves together; they court death every
time they cross the road. Yet death comes not to them more than to
the turtle, whose defences are so great that there is little left
inside to be defended. Moreover, the slugs fare best in the long
run, for turtles are dying out, while slugs are not, and there must
be millions of slugs all the world over for every single turtle. Of
the two vanities, therefore, that of the slug seems most

In either case the creature thinks itself safe, but is sure to be
found out sooner or later; nor is it easy to explain this mockery
save by reflecting that everything must have its meat in due season,
and that meat can only be found for such a multitude of mouths by
giving everything as meat in due season to something else. This is
like the Kilkenny cats, or robbing Peter to pay Paul; but it is the
way of the world, and as every animal must contribute in kind to the
picnic of the universe, one does not see what better arrangement
could be made than the providing each race with a hereditary
fallacy, which shall in the end get it into a scrape, but which
shall generally stand the wear and tear of life for some time. "Do
ut des" is the writing on all flesh to him that eats it; and no
creature is dearer to itself than it is to some other that would
devour it.

Nor is there any statement or proposition more invulnerable than
living forms are. Propositions prey upon and are grounded upon one
another just like living forms. They support one another as plants
and animals do; they are based ultimately on credit, or faith,
rather than the cash of irrefragable conviction. The whole universe
is carried on on the credit system, and if the mutual confidence on
which it is based were to collapse, it must itself collapse
immediately. Just or unjust, it lives by faith; it is based on
vague and impalpable opinion that by some inscrutable process passes
into will and action, and is made manifest in matter and in flesh:
it is meteoric--suspended in midair; it is the baseless fabric of a
vision so vast, so vivid, and so gorgeous that no base can seem more
broad than such stupendous baselessness, and yet any man can bring
it about his ears by being over-curious; when faith fails a system
based on faith fails also.

Whether the universe is really a paying concern, or whether it is an
inflated bubble that must burst sooner or later, this is another
matter. If people were to demand cash payment in irrefragable
certainty for everything that they have taken hitherto as paper
money on the credit of the bank of public opinion, is there money
enough behind it all to stand so great a drain even on so great a
reserve? Probably there is not, but happily there can be no such
panic, for even though the cultured classes may do so, the
uncultured are too dull to have brains enough to commit such
stupendous folly. It takes a long course of academic training to
educate a man up to the standard which he must reach before he can
entertain such questions seriously, and by a merciful dispensation
of Providence, university training is almost as costly as it is
unprofitable. The majority will thus be always unable to afford it,
and will base their opinions on mother wit and current opinion
rather than on demonstration.

So I turned my steps homewards; I saw a good many more things on my
way home, but I was told that I was not to see more this time than I
could get into twelve pages of the Universal Review; I must
therefore reserve any remark which I think might perhaps entertain
the reader for another occasion.


When a thing is old, broken, and useless we throw it on the dust-
heap, but when it is sufficiently old, sufficiently broken, and
sufficiently useless we give money for it, put it into a museum, and
read papers over it which people come long distances to hear. By-
and-by, when the whirligig of time has brought on another revenge,
the museum itself becomes a dust-heap, and remains so till after
long ages it is re-discovered, and valued as belonging to a neo-
rubbish age--containing, perhaps, traces of a still older paleo-
rubbish civilisation. So when people are old, indigent, and in all
respects incapable, we hold them in greater and greater contempt as
their poverty and impotence increase, till they reach the pitch when
they are actually at the point to die, whereon they become sublime.
Then we place every resource our hospitals can command at their
disposal, and show no stint in our consideration for them.

It is the same with all our interests. We care most about extremes
of importance and of unimportance; but extremes of importance are
tainted with fear, and a very imperfect fear casteth out love.
Extremes of unimportance cannot hurt us, therefore we are well
disposed towards them; the means may come to do so, therefore we do
not love them. Hence we pick a fly out of a milk-jug and watch with
pleasure over its recovery, for we are confident that under no
conceivable circumstances will it want to borrow money from us; but
we feel less sure about a mouse, so we show it no quarter. The
compilers of our almanacs well know this tendency of our natures, so
they tell us, not when Noah went into the ark, nor when the temple
of Jerusalem was dedicated, but that Lindley Murray, grammarian,
died January 16, 1826. This is not because they could not find so
many as three hundred and sixty-five events of considerable interest
since the creation of the world, but because they well know we would
rather hear of something less interesting. We care most about what
concerns us either very closely, or so little that practically we
have nothing whatever to do with it.

I once asked a young Italian, who professed to have a considerable
knowledge of English literature, which of all our poems pleased him
best. He replied without a moment's hesitation:-

"Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon."

He said this was better than anything in Italian. They had Dante
and Tasso, and ever so many more great poets, but they had nothing
comparable to "Hey diddle diddle," nor had he been able to conceive
how any one could have written it. Did I know the author's name,
and had we given him a statue? On this I told him of the young lady
of Harrow who would go to church in a barrow, and plied him with
whatever rhyming nonsense I could call to mind, but it was no use;
all of these things had an element of reality that robbed them of
half their charm, whereas "Hey diddle diddle" had nothing in it that
could conceivably concern him.

So again it is with the things that gall us most. What is it that
rises up against us at odd times and smites us in the face again and
again for years after it has happened? That we spent all the best
years of our life in learning what we have found to be a swindle,
and to have been known to be a swindle by those who took money for
misleading us? That those on whom we most leaned most betrayed us?
That we have only come to feel our strength when there is little
strength left of any kind to feel? These things will hardly much
disturb a man of ordinary good temper. But that he should have said
this or that little unkind and wanton saying; that he should have
gone away from this or that hotel and given a shilling too little to
the waiter; that his clothes were shabby at such or such a garden-
party--these things gall us as a corn will sometimes do, though the
loss of a limb way not be seriously felt.

I have been reminded lately of these considerations with more than
common force by reading the very voluminous correspondence left by
my grandfather, Dr. Butler, of Shrewsbury, whose memoirs I am
engaged in writing. I have found a large number of interesting
letters on subjects of serious import, but must confess that it is
to the hardly less numerous lighter letters that I have been most
attracted, nor do I feel sure that my eminent namesake did not share
my predilection. Among other letters in my possession I have one
bundle that has been kept apart, and has evidently no connection
with Dr. Butler's own life. I cannot use these letters, therefore,
for my book, but over and above the charm of their inspired
spelling, I find them of such an extremely trivial nature that I
incline to hope the reader may derive as much amusement from them as
I have done myself, and venture to give them the publicity here
which I must refuse them in my book. The dates and signatures have,
with the exception of Mrs. Newton's, been carefully erased, but I
have collected that they were written by the two servants of a
single lady who resided at no great distance from London, to two
nieces of the said lady who lived in London itself. The aunt never
writes, but always gets one of the servants to do so for her. She
appears either as "your aunt" or as "She"; her name is not given,
but she is evidently looked upon with a good deal of awe by all who
had to do with her.

The letters almost all of them relate to visits either of the aunt
to London, or of the nieces to the aunt's home, which, from
occasional allusions to hopping, I gather to have been in Kent,
Sussex, or Surrey. I have arranged them to the best of my power,
and take the following to be the earliest. It has no signature, but
is not in the handwriting of the servant who styles herself
Elizabeth, or Mrs. Newton. It runs:-

"MADAM,--Your Aunt Wishes me to inform you she will be glad if you
will let hir know if you think of coming To hir House thiss month or
Next as she cannot have you in September on a kount of the Hoping If
you ar coming she thinkes she had batter Go to London on the Day you
com to hir House the says you shall have everry Thing raddy for you
at hir House and Mrs. Newton to meet you and stay with you till She
returnes a gann.

"if you arnot Coming thiss Summer She will be in London before thiss
Month is out and will Sleep on the Sofy As She willnot be in London
more thann two nits. and She Says she willnot truble you on anny a
kount as She Will returne the Same Day before She will plage you
anny more. but She thanks you for asking hir to London. but She says
She cannot leve the house at prassant She sayhir Survants ar to do
for you as she cannot lodge yours nor she willnot have thim in at
the house anny more to brake and destroy hir thinks and beslive hir
and make up Lies by hir and Skandel as your too did She says she
mens to pay fore 2 Nits and one day, She says the Pepelwill let hir
have it if you ask thim to let hir: you Will be so good as to let
hir know sun: wish She is to do, as She says She dos not care anny
thing a bout it. which way tiss she is batter than She was and
desirs hir Love to bouth bouth.

"Your aunt wises to know how the silk Clocks ar madup [how the silk
cloaks are made up] with a Cape or a wood as she is a goin to have
one madeup to rideout in in hir littel shas [chaise].

"Charles is a butty and so good.

"Mr & Mrs Newton ar quite wall & desires to be remembered to you."

I can throw no light on the meaning of the verb to "beslive." Each
letter in the MS. is so admirably formed that there can be no
question about the word being as I have given it. Nor have I been
able to discover what is referred to by the words "Charles is a
butty and so good." We shall presently meet with a Charles who
"flies in the Fier," but that Charles appears to have been in
London, whereas this one is evidently in Kent, or wherever the aunt

The next letter is from Mrs. Newton

"DER Miss --, I Receve your Letter your Aunt is vary Ill and
Lowspireted I Donte think your Aunt wood Git up all Day if My Sister
Wasnot to Persage her We all Think hir lif is two monopolous. you
Wish to know Who Was Liveing With your Aunt. that is My Sister and
Willian--and Cariline--as Cock and Old Poll Pepper is Come to Stay
With her a Littel Wile and I hoped [hopped] for Your Aunt, and Harry
has Worked for your Aunt all the Summer. Your Aunt and Harry Whent
to the Wells Races and Spent a very Pleasant Day your Aunt has Lost
Old Fanney Sow She Died about a Week a Go Harry he Wanted your Aunt
to have her killed and send her to London and Shee Wold Fech her 11
pounds the Farmers have Lost a Greet Deal of Cattel such as Hogs and
Cows What theay call the Plage I Whent to your Aunt as you Wish Mee
to Do But She Told Mee She Did not wont aney Boddy She Told Mee She
Should Like to Come up to see you But She Cant Come know for she is
Boddyley ill and Harry Donte Work there know But he Go up there Once
in Two or Three Day Harry Offered is self to Go up to Live With your
Aunt But She Made him know Ancer. I hay Been up to your Aunt at
Work for 5 Weeks Hopping and Ragluting Your Aunt Donte Eat nor Drink
But vary Littel indeed.

"I am Happy to Say We are Both Quite Well and I am Glad no hear you
are Both Quite Well


This seems to have made the nieces propose to pay a visit to their
aunt, perhaps to try and relieve the monopoly of her existence and
cheer her up a little. In their letter, doubtless, the dog motive
is introduced that is so finely developed presently by Mrs. Newton.
I should like to have been able to give the theme as enounced by the
nieces themselves, but their letters are not before me. Mrs. Newton

"MY DEAR GIRLS,--Your Aunt receiv your Letter your Aunt will Be vary
glad to see you as it quite a greeable if it tis to you and Shee is
Quite Willing to Eair the beds and the Rooms if you Like to Trust to
hir and the Servantes; if not I may Go up there as you Wish. My
Sister Sleeps in the Best Room as she allways Did and the Coock in
the garret and you Can have the Rooms the same as you allways Did as
your Aunt Donte set in the Parlour She Continlery Sets in the
Ciching. your Aunt says she Cannot Part from the dog know hows and
She Says he will not hurt you for he is Like a Child and I can
safeley say My Self he wonte hurt you as She Cannot Sleep in the
Room With out him as he allWay Sleep in the Same Room as She Dose.
your Aunt is agreeable to Git in What Coles and Wood you Wish for I
am know happy to say your Aunt is in as Good health as ever She Was
and She is happy to hear you are Both Well your Aunt Wishes for
Ancer By Return of Post."

The nieces replied that their aunt must choose between the dog and
them, and Mrs. Newton sends a second letter which brings her
development to a climax. It runs:-

"DEAR MISS --, I have Receve your Letter and i Whent up to your Aunt
as you Wish me and i Try to Perveal With her about the Dog But she
Wold not Put the Dog away nor it alow him to Be Tied up But She
Still Wishes you to Come as Shee says the Dog Shall not interrup you
for She Donte alow the Dog nor it the Cats to Go in the Parlour
never sence She has had it Donup ferfere of Spoiling the Paint your
Aunt think it vary Strange you Should Be so vary Much afraid of a
Dog and She says you Cant Go out in London But What you are up a
gance one and She says She Wonte Trust the Dog in know one hands But
her Owne for She is afraid theay Will not fill is Belley as he Lives
upon Rost Beeff and Rost and Boil Moutten Wich he Eats More then the
Servantes in the House there is not aney One Wold Beable to Give
Sattefacktion upon that account Harry offerd to Take the Dog But She
Wood not Trust him in our hands so I Cold not Do aney thing With her
your Aunt youse to Tell Me When we was at your House in London She
Did not know how to make you amens and i Told her know it was the
Time to Do it But i Considder She sets the Dog Before you your Aunt
keep know Beer know Sprits know Wines in the House of aney Sort
Oneley a Little Barl of Wine I made her in the Summer the Workmen
and servantes are a Blige to Drink wauter Morning Noon and Night
your Aunt the Same She Donte Low her Self aney Tee nor Coffee But is
Loocking Wonderful Well

"I Still Remane your Humble Servant Mrs Newton

"I am vary sorry to think the Dog Perventes your Comeing

"I am Glad to hear you are Both Well and we are the same."

The nieces remained firm, and from the following letter it is plain
the aunt gave way. The dog motive is repeated pianissimo, and is
not returned to--not at least by Mrs. Newton.

"DEAR Miss --, I Receve your Letter on Thursday i Whent to your Aunt
and i see her and She is a Greable to everry thing i asked her and
seme so vary Much Please to see you Both Next Tuseday and she has
sent for the Faggots to Day and she Will Send for the Coles to
Morrow and i will Go up there to Morrow Morning and Make the Fiers
and Tend to the Beds and sleep in it Till you Come Down your Aunt
sends her Love to you Both and she is Quite well your Aunt Wishes
you wold Write againe Before you Come as she ma Expeckye and the Dog
is not to Gointo the Parlor a Tall

"your Aunt kind Love to you Both & hopes you Wonte Fail in Coming
according to Prommis


From a later letter it appears that the nieces did not pay their
visit after all, and what is worse a letter had miscarried, and the
aunt sat up expecting them from seven till twelve at night, and
Harry had paid for "Faggots and Coles quarter of Hund. Faggots Half
tun of Coles 1l. 1s. 3d." Shortly afterwards, however, "She" again
talks of coming up to London herself and writes through her servant

"My Dear girls i Receve your kind letter & I am happy to hear you ar
both Well and I Was in hopes of seeing of you Both Down at My House
this spring to stay a Wile I am Quite well my self in Helth But vary
Low Spireted I am vary sorry to hear the Misforting of Poor charles
& how he cum to flie in the Fier I cannot think. I should like to
know if he is dead or a Live, and I shall come to London in August &
stay three or four daies if it is agreable to you. Mrs. Newton has
lost her mother in Law 4 day March & I hope you send me word Wather
charles is Dead or a Live as soon as possible, and will you send me
word what Little Betty is for I cannot make her out."

The next letter is a new handwriting, and tells the nieces of their
aunt's death in the the following terms: -

"DEAR Miss --, It is my most painful duty to inform you that your
dear aunt expired this morning comparatively easy as Hannah informs
me and in so doing restored her soul to the custody of him whom she
considered to be alone worthy of its care.

"The doctor had visited her about five minutes previously and had
applied a blister.

"You and your sister will I am sure excuse further details at
present and believe me with kindest remembrances to remain

"Yours truly, &c."

After a few days a lawyer's letter informs the nieces that their
aunt had left them the bulk of her not very considerable property,
but had charged them with an annuity of 1 pound a week to be paid to
Harry and Mrs. Newton so long as the dog lived.

The only other letters by Mrs. Newton are written on paper of a
different and more modern size; they leave an impression of having
been written a good many years later. I take them as they come.
The first is very short:-

"DEAR Miss --, i write to say i cannot possiblely come on Wednesday
as we have killed a pig. your's truely,


The second runs:-

"DEAR Miss --, i hope you are both quite well in health & your Leg
much better i am happy to say i am getting quite well again i hope
Amandy has reached you safe by this time i sent a small parcle by
Amandy, there was half a dozen Pats of butter & the Cakes was very
homely and not so light as i could wish i hope by this time Sarah
Ann has promised she will stay untill next monday as i think a few
daies longer will not make much diferance and as her young man has
been very considerate to wait so long as he has i think he would for
a few days Longer dear Miss -- I wash for William and i have not got
his clothes yet as it has been delayed by the carrier & i cannot
possiblely get it done before Sunday and i do not Like traviling on
a Sunday but to oblige you i would come but to come sooner i cannot
possiblely but i hope Sarah Ann will be prevailed on once more as
She has so many times i feel sure if she tells her young man he will
have patient for he is a very kind young man

"i remain your sincerely


The last letter in my collection seems written almost within
measurable distance of the Christmas-card era. The sheet is headed
by a beautifully embossed device of some holly in red and green,
wishing the recipient of the letter a merry Xmas and a happy new
year, while the border is crimped and edged with blue. I know not
what it is, but there is something in the writer's highly finished
style that reminds me of Mendelssohn. It would almost do for the
words of one of his celebrated "Lieder ohne Worte":

"DEAR MISS MARIA,--I hasten to acknowledge the receipt of your kind
note with the inclosure for which I return my best thanks. I need
scarcely say how glad I was to know that the volumes secured your
approval, and that the announcement of the improvement in the
condition of your Sister's legs afforded me infinite pleasure. The
gratifying news encouraged me in the hope that now the nature of the
disorder is comprehended her legs will--notwithstanding the process
may be gradual--ultimately get quite well. The pretty Robin
Redbreast which lay ensconced in your epistle, conveyed to me, in
terms more eloquent than words, how much you desired me those
Compliments which the little missive he bore in his bill expressed;
the emblem is sweetly pretty, and now that we are again allowed to
felicitate each other on another recurrence of the season of the
Christian's rejoicing, permit me to tender to yourself, and by you
to your Sister, mine and my Wife's heartfelt congratulations and
warmest wishes with respect to the coming year. It is a common
belief that if we take a retrospective view of each departing year,
as it behoves us annually to do, we shall find the blessings which
we have received to immeasurably outnumber our causes of sorrow.
Speaking for myself I can fully subscribe to that sentiment, and
doubtless neither Miss -- nor yourself are exceptions. Miss --'s
illness and consequent confinement to the house has been a severe
trial, but in that trouble an opportunity was afforded you to prove
a Sister's devotion and she has been enabled to realise a larger (if
possible) display of sisterly affection.

"A happy Christmas to you both, and may the new year prove a
Cornucopia from which still greater blessings than even those we
have hitherto received, shall issue, to benefit us all by
contributing to our temporal happiness and, what is of higher
importance, conducing to our felicity hereafter.

"I was sorry to hear that you were so annoyed with mice and rats,
and if I should have an opportunity to obtain a nice cat I will do
so and send my boy to your house with it.

"I remain,
"Yours truly."

How little what is commonly called education can do after all
towards the formation of a good style, and what a delightful volume
might not be entitled "Half Hours with the Worst Authors." Why, the
finest word I know of in the English language was coined, not by my
poor old grandfather, whose education had left little to desire, nor
by any of the admirable scholars whom he in his turn educated, but
by an old matron who presided over one of the halls, or houses of
his school.

This good lady, whose name by the way was Bromfield, had a fine high
temper of her own, or thought it politic to affect one. One night
when the boys were particularly noisy she burst like a hurricane
into the hall, collared a youngster, and told him he was "the ramp-
ingest-scampingest-rackety-tackety-tow-row-roaringest boy in the
whole school." Would Mrs. Newton have been able to set the aunt and
the dog before us so vividly if she had been more highly educated?
Would Mrs. Bromfield have been able to forge and hurl her
thunderbolt of a word if she had been taught how to do so, or indeed
been at much pains to create it at all? It came. It was her [Greek
text]. She did not probably know that she had done what the
greatest scholar would have had to rack his brains over for many an
hour before he could even approach. Tradition says that having
brought down her boy she looked round the hall in triumph, and then
after a moment's lull said, "Young gentlemen, prayers are excused,"
and left them.

I have sometimes thought that, after all, the main use of a
classical education consists in the check it gives to originality,
and the way in which it prevents an inconvenient number of people
from using their own eyes. That we will not be at the trouble of
looking at things for ourselves if we can get any one to tell us
what we ought to see goes without saying, and it is the business of
schools and universities to assist us in this respect. The theory
of evolution teaches that any power not worked at pretty high
pressure will deteriorate: originality and freedom from affectation
are all very well in their way, but we can easily have too much of
them, and it is better that none should be either original or free
from cant but those who insist on being so, no matter what
hindrances obstruct, nor what incentives are offered them to see
things through the regulation medium.

To insist on seeing things for oneself is to be in [Greek text], or
in plain English, an idiot; nor do I see any safer check against
general vigour and clearness of thought, with consequent terseness
of expression, than that provided by the curricula of our
universities and schools of public instruction. If a young man, in
spite of every effort to fit him with blinkers, will insist on
getting rid of them, he must do so at his own risk. He will not be
long in finding out his mistake. Our public schools and
universities play the beneficent part in our social scheme that
cattle do in forests: they browse the seedlings down and prevent
the growth of all but the luckiest and sturdiest. Of course, if
there are too many either cattle or schools, they browse so
effectually that they find no more food, and starve till equilibrium
is restored; but it seems to be a provision of nature that there
should always be these alternate periods, during which either the
cattle or the trees are getting the best of it; and, indeed, without
such provision we should have neither the one nor the other. At
this moment the cattle, doubtless, are in the ascendant, and if
university extension proceeds much farther, we shall assuredly have
no more Mrs. Newtons and Mrs. Bromfields; but whatever is is best,
and, on the whole, I should propose to let things find pretty much
their own level.

However this may be, who can question that the treasures hidden in
many a country house contain sleeping beauties even fairer than
those that I have endeavoured to waken from long sleep in the
foregoing article? How many Mrs. Quicklys are there not living in
London at this present moment? For that Mrs. Quickly was an
invention of Shakespeare's I will not believe. The old woman from
whom he drew said every word that he put into Mrs. Quickly's mouth,
and a great deal more which he did not and perhaps could not make
use of. This question, however, would again lead me far from my
subject, which I should mar were I to dwell upon it longer, and
therefore leave with the hope that it may give my readers absolutely
no food whatever for reflection.


I have been asked to speak on the question how to make the best of
life, but may as well confess at once that I know nothing about it.
I cannot think that I have made the best of my own life, nor is it
likely that I shall make much better of what may or may not remain
to me. I do not even know how to make the best of the twenty
minutes that your committee has placed at my disposal, and as for
life as a whole, who ever yet made the best of such a colossal
opportunity by conscious effort and deliberation? In little things
no doubt deliberate and conscious effort will help us, but we are
speaking of large issues, and such kingdoms of heaven as the making
the best of these come not by observation.

The question, therefore, on which I have undertaken to address you
is, as you must all know, fatuous, if it be faced seriously. Life
is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument
as one goes on. One cannot make the best of such impossibilities,
and the question is doubly fatuous until we are told which of our
two lives--the conscious or the unconscious--is held by the asker to
be the truer life. Which does the question contemplate--the life we
know, or the life which others may know, but which we know not?

Death gives a life to some men and women compared with which their
so-called existence here is as nothing. Which is the truer life of
Shakespeare, Handel, that divine woman who wrote the "Odyssey," and
of Jane Austen--the life which palpitated with sensible warm motion
within their own bodies, or that in virtue of which they are still
palpitating in ours? In whose consciousness does their truest life
consist--their own, or ours? Can Shakespeare be said to have begun
his true life till a hundred years or so after he was dead and
buried? His physical life was but as an embryonic stage, a coming
up out of darkness, a twilight and dawn before the sunrise of that
life of the world to come which he was to enjoy hereafter. We all
live for a while after we are gone hence, but we are for the most
part stillborn, or at any rate die in infancy, as regards that life
which every age and country has recognised as higher and truer than
the one of which we are now sentient. As the life of the race is
larger, longer, and in all respects more to be considered than that
of the individual, so is the life we live in others larger and more
important than the one we live in ourselves. This appears nowhere
perhaps more plainly than in the case of great teachers, who often
in the lives of their pupils produce an effect that reaches far
beyond anything produced while their single lives were yet
unsupplemented by those other lives into which they infused their

Death to such people is the ending of a short life, but it does not
touch the life they are already living in those whom they have
taught; and happily, as none can know when he shall die, so none can
make sure that he too shall not live long beyond the grave; for the
life after death is like money before it--no one can be sure that it
may not fall to him or her even at the eleventh hour. Money and
immortality come in such odd unaccountable ways that no one is cut
off from hope. We may not have made either of them for ourselves,
but yet another may give them to us in virtue of his or her love,
which shall illumine us for ever, and establish us in some heavenly
mansion whereof we neither dreamed nor shall ever dream. Look at
the Doge Loredano Loredani, the old man's smile upon whose face has
been reproduced so faithfully in so many lands that it can never
henceforth be forgotten--would he have had one hundredth part of the
life he now lives had he not been linked awhile with one of those
heaven-sent men who know che cosa e amor? Look at Rembrandt's old
woman in our National Gallery; had she died before she was eighty-
three years old she would not have been living now. Then, when she
was eighty-three, immortality perched upon her as a bird on a
withered bough.

I seem to hear some one say that this is a mockery, a piece of
special pleading, a giving of stones to those that ask for bread.
Life is not life unless we can feel it, and a life limited to a
knowledge of such fraction of our work as may happen to survive us
is no true life in other people; salve it as we may, death is not
life any more than black is white.

The objection is not so true as it sounds. I do not deny that we
had rather not die, nor do I pretend that much even in the case of
the most favoured few can survive them beyond the grave. It is only
because this is so that our own life is possible; others have made
room for us, and we should make room for others in our turn without
undue repining. What I maintain is that a not inconsiderable number
of people do actually attain to a life beyond the grave which we can
all feel forcibly enough, whether they can do so or not--that this
life tends with increasing civilisation to become more and more
potent, and that it is better worth considering, in spite of its
being unfelt by ourselves, than any which we have felt or can ever
feel in our own persons.

Take an extreme case. A group of people are photographed by
Edison's new process--say Titiens, Trebelli, and Jenny Lind, with
any two of the finest men singers the age has known--let them be
photographed incessantly for half an hour while they perform a scene
in "Lohengrin"; let all be done stereoscopically. Let them be
phonographed at the same time so that their minutest shades of
intonation are preserved, let the slides be coloured by a competent
artist, and then let the scene be called suddenly into sight and
sound, say a hundred years hence. Are those people dead or alive?
Dead to themselves they are, but while they live so powerfully and
so livingly in us, which is the greater paradox--to say that they
are alive or that they are dead? To myself it seems that their life
in others would be more truly life than their death to themselves is
death. Granted that they do not present all the phenomena of life--
who ever does so even when he is held to be alive? We are held to
be alive because we present a sufficient number of living phenomena
to let the others go without saying; those who see us take the part
for the whole here as in everything else, and surely, in the case
supposed above, the phenomena of life predominate so powerfully over
those of death, that the people themselves must be held to be more
alive than dead. Our living personality is, as the word implies,
only our mask, and those who still own such a mask as I have
supposed have a living personality. Granted again that the case
just put is an extreme one; still many a man and many a woman has so
stamped him or herself on his work that, though we would gladly have
the aid of such accessories as we doubtless presently shall have to
the livingness of our great dead, we can see them very sufficiently
through the master pieces they have left us.

As for their own unconsciousness I do not deny it. The life of the
embryo was unconscious before birth, and so is the life--I am
speaking only of the life revealed to us by natural religion--after
death. But as the embryonic and infant life of which we were
unconscious was the most potent factor in our after life of
consciousness, so the effect which we may unconsciously produce in
others after death, and it may be even before it on those who have
never seen us, is in all sober seriousness our truer and more
abiding life, and the one which those who would make the best of
their sojourn here will take most into their consideration.

Unconsciousness is no bar to livingness. Our conscious actions are
a drop in the sea as compared with our unconscious ones. Could we
know all the life that is in us by way of circulation, nutrition,
breathing, waste and repair, we should learn what an infinitesimally
small part consciousness plays in our present existence; yet our
unconscious life is as truly life as our conscious life, and though
it is unconscious to itself it emerges into an indirect and
vicarious consciousness in our other and conscious self, which
exists but in virtue of our unconscious self. So we have also a
vicarious consciousness in others. The unconscious life of those
that have gone before us has in great part moulded us into such men
and women as we are, and our own unconscious lives will in like
manner have a vicarious consciousness in others, though we be dead
enough to it in ourselves.

If it is again urged that it matters not to us how much we may be
alive in others, if we are to know nothing about it, I reply that
the common instinct of all who are worth considering gives the lie
to such cynicism. I see here present some who have achieved, and
others who no doubt will achieve, success in literature. Will one
of them hesitate to admit that it is a lively pleasure to her to
feel that on the other side of the world some one may be smiling
happily over her work, and that she is thus living in that person
though she knows nothing about it? Here it seems to me that true
faith comes in. Faith does not consist, as the Sunday School pupil
said, "in the power of believing that which we know to be untrue."
It consists in holding fast that which the healthiest and most
kindly instincts of the best and most sensible men and women are
intuitively possessed of, without caring to require much evidence
further than the fact that such people are so convinced; and for my
own part I find the best men and women I know unanimous in feeling
that life in others, even though we know nothing about it, is
nevertheless a thing to be desired and gratefully accepted if we can
get it either before death or after. I observe also that a large
number of men and women do actually attain to such life, and in some
cases continue so to live, if not for ever, yet to what is
practically much the same thing. Our life then in this world is, to
natural religion as much as to revealed, a period of probation. The
use we make of it is to settle how far we are to enter into another,
and whether that other is to be a heaven of just affection or a hell
of righteous condemnation.

Who, then, are the most likely so to run that they may obtain this
veritable prize of our high calling? Setting aside such lucky
numbers drawn as it were in the lottery of immortality, which I have
referred to casually above, and setting aside also the chances and
changes from which even immortality is not exempt, who on the whole
are most likely to live anew in the affectionate thoughts of those
who never so much as saw them in the flesh, and know not even their
names? There is a nisus, a straining in the dull dumb economy of
things, in virtue of which some, whether they will it and know it or
no, are more likely to live after death than others, and who are
these? Those who aimed at it as by some great thing that they would
do to make them famous? Those who have lived most in themselves and
for themselves, or those who have been most ensouled consciously,
but perhaps better unconsciously, directly but more often
indirectly, by the most living souls past and present that have
flitted near them? Can we think of a man or woman who grips us
firmly, at the thought of whom we kindle when we are alone in our
honest daw's plumes, with none to admire or shrug his shoulders, can
we think of one such, the secret of whose power does not lie in the
charm of his or her personality--that is to say, in the wideness of
his or her sympathy with, and therefore life in and communion with
other people? In the wreckage that comes ashore from the sea of
time there is much tinsel stuff that we must preserve and study if
we would know our own times and people; granted that many a dead
charlatan lives long and enters largely and necessarily into our own
lives; we use them and throw them away when we have done with them.
I do not speak of these, I do not speak of the Virgils and Alexander
Popes, and who can say how many more whose names I dare not mention
for fear of offending. They are as stuffed birds or beasts in a
Museum, serviceable no doubt from a scientific standpoint, but with
no vivid or vivifying hold upon us. They seem to be alive, but are
not. I am speaking of those who do actually live in us, and move us
to higher achievements though they be long dead, whose life thrusts
out our own and overrides it. I speak of those who draw us ever
more towards them from youth to age, and to think of whom is to feel
at once that we are in the hands of those we love, and whom we would
most wish to resemble. What is the secret of the hold that these
people have upon us? Is it not that while, conventionally speaking,
alive, they most merged their lives in, and were in fullest
communion with those among whom they lived? They found their lives
in losing them. We never love the memory of any one unless we feel
that he or she was himself or herself a lover.

I have seen it urged, again, in querulous accents, that the so-
called immortality even of the most immortal is not for ever. I see
a passage to this effect in a book that is making a stir as I write.
I will quote it. The writer says:-

"So, it seems to me, is the immortality we so glibly predicate of
departed artists. If they survive at all, it is but a shadowy life
they live, moving on through the gradations of slow decay to distant
but inevitable death. They can no longer, as heretofore, speak
directly to the hearts of their fellow-men, evoking their tears or
laughter, and all the pleasures, be they sad or merry, of which
imagination holds the secret. Driven from the marketplace they
become first the companions of the student, then the victims of the
specialist. He who would still hold familiar intercourse with them
must train himself to penetrate the veil which in ever-thickening
folds conceals them from the ordinary gaze; he must catch the tone
of a vanished society, he must move in a circle of alien
associations, he must think in a language not his own." {5}

This is crying for the moon, or rather pretending to cry for it, for
the writer is obviously insincere. I see the Saturday Review says
the passage I have just quoted "reaches almost to poetry," and
indeed I find many blank verses in it, some of them very aggressive.
No prose is free from an occasional blank verse, and a good writer
will not go hunting over his work to rout them out, but nine or ten
in little more than as many lines is indeed reaching too near to
poetry for good prose. This, however, is a trifle, and might pass
if the tone of the writer was not so obviously that of cheap
pessimism. I know not which is cheapest, pessimism or optimism.
One forces lights, the other darks; both are equally untrue to good
art, and equally sure of their effect with the groundlings. The one
extenuates, the other sets down in malice. The first is the more
amiable lie, but both are lies, and are known to be so by those who
utter them. Talk about catching the tone of a vanished society to
understand Rembrandt or Giovanni Bellini! It's nonsense--the folds
do not thicken in front of these men; we understand them as well as
those among whom they went about in the flesh, and perhaps better.
Homer and Shakespeare speak to us probably far more effectually than
they did to the men of their own time, and most likely we have them
at their best. I cannot think that Shakespeare talked better than
we hear him now in "Hamlet" or "Henry the Fourth"; like enough he
would have been found a very disappointing person in a drawing-room.
People stamp themselves on their work; if they have not done so they
are naught; if they have we have them; and for the most part they
stamp themselves deeper in their work than on their talk. No doubt
Shakespeare and Handel will be one day clean forgotten, as though
they had never been born. The world will in the end die; mortality
therefore itself is not immortal, and when death dies the life of
these men will die with it--but not sooner. It is enough that they
should live within us and move us for many ages as they have and
will. Such immortality, therefore, as some men and women are born
to, achieve, or have thrust upon them, is a practical if not a
technical immortality, and he who would have more let him have

I see I have drifted into speaking rather of how to make the best of
death than of life, but who can speak of life without his thoughts
turning instantly to that which is beyond it? He or she who has
made the best of the life after death has made the best of the life
before it; who cares one straw for any such chances and changes as
will commonly befall him here if he is upheld by the full and
certain hope of everlasting life in the affections of those that
shall come after? If the life after death is happy in the hearts of
others, it matters little how unhappy was the life before it.

And now I leave my subject, not without misgiving that I shall have
disappointed you. But for the great attention which is being paid
to the work from which I have quoted above, I should not have
thought it well to insist on points with which you are, I doubt not,
as fully impressed as I am: but that book weakens the sanctions of
natural religion, and minimises the comfort which it affords us,
while it does more to undermine than to support the foundations of
what is commonly called belief. Therefore I was glad to embrace
this opportunity of protesting. Otherwise I should not have been so
serious on a matter that transcends all seriousness. Lord
Beaconsfield cut it shorter with more effect. When asked to give a
rule of life for the son of a friend he said, "Do not let him try
and find out who wrote the letters of Junius." Pressed for further
counsel he added, "Nor yet who was the man in the iron mask"--and he
would say no more. Don't bore people. And yet I am by no means
sure that a good many people do not think themselves ill-used unless
he who addresses them has thoroughly well bored them--especially if
they have paid any money for hearing him. My great namesake said,
"Surely the pleasure is as great of being cheated as to cheat," and
great as the pleasure both of cheating and boring undoubtedly is, I
believe he was right. So I remember a poem which came out some
thirty years ago in Punch, about a young lady who went forth in
quest to "Some burden make or burden bear, but which she did not
greatly care, oh Miserie." So, again, all the holy men and women
who in the Middle Ages professed to have discovered how to make the
best of life took care that being bored, if not cheated, should have
a large place in their programme. Still there are limits, and I
close not without fear that I may have exceeded them.


The only place in the Valsesia, except Varallo, where I at present
suspect the presence of Tabachetti {7} is at Montrigone, a little-
known sanctuary dedicated to St. Anne, about three-quarters of a
mile south of Borgo-Sesia station. The situation is, of course,
lovely, but the sanctuary does not offer any features of
architectural interest. The sacristan told me it was founded in
1631; and in 1644 Giovanni d'Enrico, while engaged in superintending
and completing the work undertaken here by himself and Giacomo
Ferro, fell ill and died. I do not know whether or no there was an
earlier sanctuary on the same site, but was told it was built on the
demolition of a stronghold belonging to the Counts of Biandrate.

The incidents which it illustrates are treated with even more than
the homeliness usual in works of this description when not dealing
with such solemn events as the death and passion of Christ. Except
when these subjects were being represented, something of the
latitude, and even humour, allowed in the old mystery plays was
permitted, doubtless from a desire to render the work more
attractive to the peasants, who were the most numerous and most
important pilgrims. It is not until faith begins to be weak that it
fears an occasionally lighter treatment of semi-sacred subjects, and
it is impossible to convey an accurate idea of the spirit prevailing
at this hamlet of sanctuary without attuning oneself somewhat to the
more pagan character of the place. Of irreverence, in the sense of
a desire to laugh at things that are of high and serious import,
there is not a trace, but at the same time there is a certain
unbending of the bow at Montrigone which is not perceivable at

The first chapel to the left on entering the church is that of the
Birth of the Virgin. St. Anne is sitting up in bed. She is not at
all ill--in fact, considering that the Virgin has only been born
about five minutes, she is wonderful; still the doctors think it may
be perhaps better that she should keep her room for half an hour
longer, so the bed has been festooned with red and white paper
roses, and the counterpane is covered with bouquets in baskets and
in vases of glass and china. These cannot have been there during
the actual birth of the Virgin, so I suppose they had been in
readiness, and were brought in from an adjoining room as soon as the
baby had been born. A lady on her left is bringing in some more
flowers, which St. Anne is receiving with a smile and most gracious
gesture of the hands. The first thing she asked for, when the birth
was over, was for her three silver hearts. These were immediately
brought to her, and she has got them all on, tied round her neck
with a piece of blue silk ribbon.

Dear mamma has come. We felt sure she would, and that any little
misunderstandings between her and Joachim would ere long be
forgotten and forgiven. They are both so good and sensible if they
would only understand one another. At any rate, here she is, in
high state at the right hand of the bed. She is dressed in black,
for she has lost her husband some few years previously, but I do not
believe a smarter, sprier old lady for her years could be found in
Palestine, nor yet that either Giovanni d'Enrico or Giacomo Ferro
could have conceived or executed such a character. The sacristan
wanted to have it that she was not a woman at all, but was a
portrait of St. Joachim, the Virgin's father. "Sembra una donna,"
he pleaded more than once, "ma non e donna." Surely, however, in
works of art even more than in other things, there is no "is" but
seeming, and if a figure seems female it must be taken as such.
Besides, I asked one of the leading doctors at Varallo whether the
figure was man or woman. He said it was evident I was not married,
for that if I had been I should have seen at once that she was not
only a woman but a mother-in-law of the first magnitude, or, as he
called it, "una suocera tremenda," and this without knowing that I
wanted her to be a mother-in-law myself. Unfortunately she had no
real drapery, so I could not settle the question as my friend Mr. H.
F. Jones and I had been able to do at Varallo with the figure of Eve
that had been turned into a Roman soldier assisting at the capture
of Christ. I am not, however, disposed to waste more time upon
anything so obvious, and will content myself with saying that we
have here the Virgin's grandmother. I had never had the pleasure,
so far as I remembered, of meeting this lady before, and was glad to
have an opportunity of making her acquaintance.

Tradition says that it was she who chose the Virgin's name, and if
so, what a debt of gratitude do we not owe her for her judicious
selection! It makes one shudder to think what might have happened
if she had named the child Keren-Happuch, as poor Job's daughter was
called. How could we have said, "Ave Keren-Happuch!" What would
the musicians have done? I forget whether Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was
a man or a woman, but there were plenty of names quite as
unmanageable at the Virgin's grandmother's option, and we cannot
sufficiently thank her for having chosen one that is so euphonious
in every language which we need take into account. For this reason
alone we should not grudge her her portrait, but we should try to
draw the line here. I do not think we ought to give the Virgin's
great-grandmother a statue. Where is it to end? It is like Mr.
Crookes's ultimissimate atoms; we used to draw the line at ultimate
atoms, and now it seems we are to go a step farther back and have
ultimissimate atoms. How long, I wonder, will it be before we feel
that it will be a material help to us to have ultimissimissimate
atoms? Quavers stopped at demi-semi-demi, but there is no reason to
suppose that either atoms or ancestresses of the Virgin will be so

I have said that on St. Anne's left hand there is a lady who is
bringing in some flowers. St. Anne was always passionately fond of
flowers. There is a pretty story told about her in one of the
Fathers, I forget which, to the effect that when a child she was
asked which she liked best--cakes or flowers? She could not yet
speak plainly and lisped out, "Oh fowses, pretty fowses"; she added,
however, with a sigh and as a kind of wistful corollary, "but cakes
are very nice." She is not to have any cakes, just now, but as soon
as she has done thanking the lady for her beautiful nosegay, she is
to have a couple of nice new-laid eggs, that are being brought her
by another lady. Valsesian women immediately after their
confinement always have eggs beaten up with wine and sugar, and one
can tell a Valsesian Birth of the Virgin from a Venetian or a
Florentine by the presence of the eggs. I learned this from an
eminent Valsesian professor of medicine, who told me that, though
not according to received rules, the eggs never seemed to do any
harm. Here they are evidently to be beaten up, for there is neither
spoon nor egg-cup, and we cannot suppose that they were hard-boiled.
On the other hand, in the Middle Ages Italians never used egg-cups
and spoons for boiled eggs. The mediaeval boiled egg was always
eaten by dipping bread into the yolk.

Behind the lady who is bringing in the eggs is the under-under-nurse
who is at the fire warming a towel. In the foreground we have the
regulation midwife holding the regulation baby (who, by the way, was
an astonishingly fine child for only five minutes old). Then comes
the under-nurse--a good buxom creature, who, as usual, is feeling
the water in the bath to see that it is of the right temperature.
Next to her is the head-nurse, who is arranging the cradle. Behind
the head-nurse is the under-under-nurse's drudge, who is just going
out upon some errands. Lastly--for by this time we have got all
round the chapel--we arrive at the Virgin's grandmother's-body-
guard, a stately, responsible-looking lady, standing in waiting upon
her mistress. I put it to the reader--is it conceivable that St.
Joachim should have been allowed in such a room at such a time, or
that he should have had the courage to avail himself of the
permission, even though it had been extended to him? At any rate,
is it conceivable that he should have been allowed to sit on St.
Anne's right hand, laying down the law with a "Marry, come up here,"
and a "Marry, go-down there," and a couple of such unabashed collars
as the old lady has put on for the occasion?

Moreover (for I may as well demolish this mischievous confusion
between St. Joachim and his mother-in-law once and for all), the
merest tyro in hagiology knows that St. Joachim was not at home when
the Virgin was born. He had been hustled out of the temple for
having no children, and had fled desolate and dismayed into the
wilderness. It shows how silly people are, for all the time he was
going, if they had only waited a little, to be the father of the
most remarkable person of purely human origin who had ever been
born, and such a parent as this should surely not be hurried. The
story is told in the frescoes of the chapel of Loreto, only a
quarter of an hour's walk from Varallo, and no one can have known it
better than D'Enrico. The frescoes are explained by written
passages that tell us how, when Joachim was in the desert, an angel
came to him in the guise of a fair, civil young gentleman, and told
him the Virgin was to be born. Then, later on, the same young
gentleman appeared to him again, and bade him "in God's name be
comforted, and turn again to his content," for the Virgin had been
actually born. On which St. Joachim, who seems to have been of
opinion that marriage after all WAS rather a failure, said that, as
things were going on so nicely without him, he would stay in the
desert just a little longer, and offered up a lamb as a pretext to
gain time. Perhaps he guessed about his mother-in-law, or he may
have asked the angel. Of course, even in spite of such evidence as
this I may be mistaken about the Virgin's grandmother's sex, and the
sacristan may be right; but I can only say that if the lady sitting
by St. Anne's bedside at Montrigone is the Virgin's father--well, in
that case I must reconsider a good deal that I have been accustomed
to believe was beyond question.

Taken singly, I suppose that none of the figures in the chapel,
except the Virgin's grandmother, should be rated very highly. The
under-nurse is the next best figure, and might very well be
Tabachetti's, for neither Giovanni d'Enrico nor Giacomo Ferro was
successful with his female characters. There is not a single really
comfortable woman in any chapel by either of them on the Sacro Monte
at Varallo. Tabachetti, on the other hand, delighted in women; if
they were young he made them comely and engaging, if they were old
he gave them dignity and individual character, and the under-nurse
is much more in accordance with Tabachetti's habitual mental
attitude than with D'Enrico's or Giacomo Ferro's. Still there are
only four figures out of the eleven that are mere otiose supers, and
taking the work as a whole it leaves a pleasant impression as being
throughout naive and homely, and sometimes, which is of less
importance, technically excellent.

Allowance must, of course, be made for tawdry accessories and
repeated coats of shiny oleaginous paint--very disagreeable where it
has peeled off and almost more so where it has not. What work could
stand against such treatment as the Valsesian terra-cotta figures
have had to put up with? Take the Venus of Milo; let her be done in
terra-cotta, and have run, not much, but still something, in the
baking; paint her pink, two oils, all over, and then varnish her--it
will help to preserve the paint; glue a lot of horsehair on to her
pate, half of which shall have come off, leaving the glue still
showing; scrape her, not too thoroughly, get the village drawing-
master to paint her again, and the drawing-master in the next
provincial town to put a forest background behind her with the
brightest emerald-green leaves that he can do for the money; let
this painting and scraping and repainting be repeated several times
over; festoon her with pink and white flowers made of tissue paper;
surround her with the cheapest German imitations of the cheapest
decorations that Birmingham can produce; let the night air and
winter fogs get at her for three hundred years, and how easy, I
wonder, will it be to see the goddess who will be still in great
part there? True, in the case of the Birth of the Virgin chapel at
Montrigone, there is no real hair and no fresco background, but time
has had abundant opportunities without these. I will conclude my
notice of this chapel by saying that on the left, above the door
through which the under-under-nurse's drudge is about to pass, there
is a good painted terra-cotta bust, said--but I believe on no
authority--to be a portrait of Giovanni d'Enrico. Others say that
the Virgin's grandmother is Giovanni d'Enrico, but this is even more
absurd than supposing her to be St. Joachim.

The next chapel to the Birth of the Virgin is that of the
Sposalizio. There is no figure here which suggests Tabachetti, but
still there are some very good ones. The best have no taint of
barocco; the man who did them, whoever he may have been, had
evidently a good deal of life and go, was taking reasonable pains,
and did not know too much. Where this is the case no work can fail
to please. Some of the figures have real hair and some terra cotta.
There is no fresco background worth mentioning. A man sitting on
the steps of the altar with a book on his lap, and holding up his
hand to another, who is leaning over him and talking to him, is
among the best figures; some of the disappointed suitors who are
breaking their wands are also very good.

The angel in the Annunciation chapel, which comes next in order, is
a fine, burly, ship's-figurehead, commercial-hotel sort of being
enough, but the Virgin is very ordinary. There is no real hair and
no fresco background, only three dingy old blistered pictures of no
interest whatever.

In the visit of Mary to Elizabeth there are three pleasing
subordinate lady attendants, two to the left and one to the right of
the principal figures; but these figures themselves are not
satisfactory. There is no fresco background. Some of the figures
have real hair and some terra cotta.

In the Circumcision and Purification chapel--for both these events
seem contemplated in the one that follows--there are doves, but
there is neither dog nor knife. Still Simeon, who has the infant
Saviour in his arms, is looking at him in a way which can only mean
that, knife or no knife, the matter is not going to end here. At
Varallo they have now got a dreadful knife for the Circumcision
chapel. They had none last winter. What they have now got would do
very well to kill a bullock with, but could not be used
professionally with safety for any animal smaller than a rhinoceros.
I imagine that some one was sent to Novara to buy a knife, and that,
thinking it was for the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, he got the
biggest he could see. Then when he brought it back people said
"chow" several times, and put it upon the table and went away.

Returning to Montrigone, the Simeon is an excellent figure, and the
Virgin is fairly good, but the prophetess Anna, who stands just
behind her, is by far the most interesting in the group, and is
alone enough to make me feel sure that Tabachetti gave more or less
help here, as he had done years before at Orta. She, too, like the
Virgin's grandmother, is a widow lady, and wears collars of a cut
that seems to have prevailed ever since the Virgin was born some
twenty years previously. There is a largeness and simplicity of
treatment about the figure to which none but an artist of the
highest rank can reach, and D'Enrico was not more than a second or
third-rate man. The hood is like Handel's Truth sailing upon the
broad wings of Time, a prophetic strain that nothing but the old
experience of a great poet can reach. The lips of the prophetess
are for the moment closed, but she has been prophesying all the
morning, and the people round the wall in the background are in
ecstasies at the lucidity with which she has explained all sorts of
difficulties that they had never been able to understand till now.
They are putting their forefingers on their thumbs and their thumbs
on their forefingers, and saying how clearly they see it all and
what a wonderful woman Anna is. A prophet indeed is not generally
without honour save in his own country, but then a country is
generally not without honour save with its own prophet, and Anna has
been glorifying her country rather than reviling it. Besides, the
rule may not have applied to prophetesses.

The Death of the Virgin is the last of the six chapels inside the
church itself. The Apostles, who of course are present, have all of
them real hair, but, if I may say so, they want a wash and a brush-
up so very badly that I cannot feel any confidence in writing about
them. I should say that, take them all round, they are a good
average sample of apostle as apostles generally go. Two or three of
them are nervously anxious to find appropriate quotations in books
that lie open before them, which they are searching with eager

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