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The Humour of Homer and Other Essays by Samuel Butler

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well, if a base designing man took to flattering and misleading
her--what else could be expected? The infatuation of man, with its
corollary, the superior excellence of woman, is the leading theme;
next to this come art, religion, and, I am almost ashamed to add,
money. There is no love-business in the Odyssey except the return
of a bald elderly married man to his elderly wife and grown-up son
after an absence of twenty years, and furious at having been robbed
of so much money in the meantime. But this can hardly be called
love-business; it is at the utmost domesticity. There is a charming
young princess, Nausicaa, but though she affects a passing
tenderness for the elderly hero of her creation as soon as Minerva
has curled his bald old hair for him and tittivated him up all over,
she makes it abundantly plain that she will not look at a single one
of her actual flesh and blood admirers. There is a leading young
gentleman, Telemachus, who is nothing if he is not [Greek], or
canny, well-principled, and discreet; he has an amiable and most
sensible young male friend who says that he does not like crying at
meal times--he will cry in the forenoon on an empty stomach as much
as anyone pleases, but he cannot attend properly to his dinner and
cry at the same time. Well, there is no lady provided either for
this nice young man or for Telemachus. They are left high and dry
as bachelors. Two goddesses indeed, Circe and Calypso, do one after
the other take possession of Ulysses, but the way in which he
accepts a situation which after all was none of his seeking, and
which it is plain he does not care two straws about, is, I believe,
dictated solely by a desire to exhibit the easy infidelity of
Ulysses himself in contrast with the unswerving constancy and
fidelity of his wife Penelope. Throughout the Odyssey the men do
not really care for women, nor the women for men; they have to
pretend to do so now and again, but it is a got-up thing, and the
general attitude of the sexes towards one another is very much that
of Helen, who says that her husband Menelaus is really not deficient
in person or understanding: or again of Penelope herself, who, on
being asked by Ulysses on his return what she thought of him, said
that she did not think very much of him nor very little of him; in
fact, she did not think much about him one way or the other. True,
later on she relents and becomes more effusive; in fact, when she
and Ulysses sat up talking in bed and Ulysses told her the story of
his adventures, she never went to sleep once. Ulysses never had to
nudge her with his elbow and say, "Come, wake up, Penelope, you are
not listening"; but, in spite of the devotion exhibited here, the
love-business in the Odyssey is artificial and described by one who
had never felt it, whereas in the Iliad it is spontaneous and
obviously genuine, as by one who knows all about it perfectly well.
The love-business in fact of the Odyssey is turned on as we turn on
the gas--when we cannot get on without it, but not otherwise.

A fascinating brilliant girl, who naturally adopts for her patroness
the blue-stocking Minerva; a man-hatress, as clever girls so often
are, and determined to pay the author of the Iliad out for his
treatment of her sex by insisting on its superior moral, not to say
intellectual, capacity, and on the self-sufficient imbecility of man
unless he has a woman always at his elbow to keep him tolerably
straight and in his proper place--this, and not the musty fusty old
bust we see in libraries, is the kind of person who I believe wrote
the Odyssey. Of course in reality the work must be written by a
man, because they say so at Oxford and Cambridge, and they know
everything down in Oxford and Cambridge; but I venture to say that
if the Odyssey were to appear anonymously for the first time now,
and to be sent round to the papers for review, there is not even a
professional critic who would not see that it is a woman's writing
and not a man's. But letting this pass, I can hardly doubt, for
reasons which I gave in yesterday's Athenaeum, and for others that I
cannot now insist upon, that the poem was written by a native of
Trapani on the coast of Sicily, near Marsala. Fancy what the
position of a young, ardent, brilliant woman must have been in a
small Sicilian sea-port, say some eight or nine hundred years before
the birth of Christ. It makes one shudder to think of it. Night
after night she hears the dreary blind old bard Demodocus drawl out
his interminable recitals taken from our present Iliad, or from some
other of the many poems now lost that dealt with the adventures of
the Greeks before Troy or on their homeward journey. Man and his
doings! always the same old story, and woman always to be treated
either as a toy or as a beast of burden, or at any rate as an
incubus. Why not sing of woman also as she is when she is
unattached and free from the trammels and persecutions of this
tiresome tyrant, this insufferably self-conceited bore and booby,

"I wish, my dear," exclaims her mother Arete, after one of these
little outbreaks, "that you would do it yourself. I am sure you
could do it beautifully if you would only give your mind to it."

"Very well, mother," she replies, "and I will bring in all about you
and father, and how I go out for a washing-day with the maids,"--and
she kept her word, as I will presently show you.

I should tell you that Ulysses, having got away from the goddess
Calypso, with whom he had been living for some seven or eight years
on a lonely and very distant island in mid-ocean, is shipwrecked on
the coast of Phaeacia, the chief town of which is Scheria. After
swimming some forty-eight hours in the water he effects a landing at
the mouth of a stream, and, not having a rag of clothes on his back,
covers himself up under a heap of dried leaves and goes to sleep. I
will now translate from the Odyssey itself.

"So here Ulysses slept, worn out with labour and sorrow; but Minerva
went off to the chief town of the Phaeacians, a people who used to
live in Hypereia near the wicked Cyclopes. Now the Cyclopes were
stronger than they and plundered them, so Nausithous settled them in
Scheria far from those who would loot them. He ran a wall round
about the city, built houses and temples, and allotted the lands
among his people; but he was gathered to his fathers, and the good
king Alcinous was now reigning. To his palace then Minerva hastened
that she might help Ulysses to get home.

"She went straight to the painted bedroom of Nausicaa, who was
daughter to King Alcinous, and lovely as a goddess. Near her there
slept two maids-in-waiting, both very pretty, one on either side of
the doorway, which was closed with a beautifully made door. She
took the form of the famous Captain Dumas's daughter, who was a
bosom friend of Nausicaa and just her own age; then coming into the
room like a breath of wind she stood near the head of the bed and

"'Nausicaa, what could your mother have been about to have such a
lazy daughter? Here are your clothes all lying in disorder, yet you
are going to be married almost directly, and should not only be
well-dressed yourself, but should see that those about you look
clean and tidy also. This is the way to make people speak well of
you, and it will please your father and mother, so suppose we make
to-morrow a washing day, and begin the first thing in the morning.
I will come and help you, for all the best young men among your own
people are courting you, and you are not going to remain a maid much
longer. Ask your father, then, to have a horse and cart ready for
us at daybreak to take the linen and baskets, and you can ride too,
which will be much pleasanter for you than walking, for the washing
ground is a long way out of the town.'

"When she had thus spoken Minerva went back to Olympus. By and by
morning came, and as soon as Nausicaa woke she began thinking about
her dream. She went to the other end of the house to tell her
father and mother all about it, and found them in their own room.
Her mother was sitting by the fireside spinning with her maids-in-
waiting all around her, and she happened to catch her father just as
he was going out to attend a meeting of the Town Council which the
Phaeacian aldermen had convened. So she stopped him and said,
'Papa, dear, could you manage to let me have a good big waggon? I
want to take all our dirty clothes to the river and wash them. You
are the chief man here, so you ought to have a clean shirt on when
you attend meetings of the Council. Moreover, you have five sons at
home, two of them married and the other three are good-looking young
bachelors; you know they always like to have clean linen when they
go out to a dance, and I have been thinking about all this.'"

You will observe that though Nausicaa dreams that she is going to be
married shortly, and that all the best young men of Scheria are in
love with her, she does not dream that she has fallen in love with
any one of them in particular, and that thus every preparation is
made for her getting married except the selection of the bridegroom.

You will also note that Nausicaa has to keep her father up to
putting a clean shirt on when he ought to have one, whereas her
young brothers appear to keep herself up to having a clean shirt
ready for them when they want one. These little touches are so
lifelike and so feminine that they suggest drawing from life by a
female member of Alcinous's own family who knew his character from
behind the scenes.

I would also say before proceeding further that in some parts of
France and Germany it is still the custom to have but one or at most
two great washing days in the year. Each household is provided with
an enormous quantity of linen, which when dirty is just soaked and
rinsed, and then put aside till the great washing day of the year.
This is why Nausicaa wants a waggon, and has to go so far afield.
If it was only a few collars and a pocket-handkerchief or two she
could no doubt have found water enough near at hand. The big spring
or autumn wash, however, is evidently intended.

Returning now to the Odyssey, when he had heard what Nausicaa wanted
Alcinous said:

"'You shall have the mules, my love, and whatever else you have a
mind for, so be off with you.'

"Then he told the servants, and they got the waggon out and
harnessed the mules, while the princess brought the clothes down
from the linen room and placed them on the waggon. Her mother got
ready a nice basket of provisions with all sorts of good things, and
a goatskin full of wine. The princess now got into the waggon, and
her mother gave her a golden cruse of oil that she and her maids
might anoint themselves.

"Then Nausicaa took the whip and reins and gave the mules a touch
which sent them off at a good pace. They pulled without nagging,
and carried not only Nausicaa and her wash of clothes, but the women
also who were with her.

"When they got to the river they went to the washing pools, through
which even in summer there ran enough pure water to wash any
quantity of linen, no matter how dirty. Here they unharnessed the
mules and turned them out to feed in the sweet juicy grass that grew
by the river-side. They got the clothes out of the waggon, brought
them to the water, and vied with one another in treading upon them
and banging them about to get the dirt out of them. When they had
got them quite clean, they laid them out by the seaside where the
waves had raised a high beach of shingle, and set about washing and
anointing themselves with olive oil. Then they got their dinner by
the side of the river, and waited for the sun to finish drying the
clothes. By and by, after dinner, they took off their head-dresses
and began to play at ball, and Nausicaa sang to them."

I think you will agree with me that there is no haziness--no milking
of ewes that have had a lamb with them all night--here. The writer
is at home and on her own ground.

"When they had done folding the clothes and were putting the mules
to the waggon before starting home again, Minerva thought it was
time Ulysses should wake up and see the handsome girl who was to
take him to the city of the Phaeacians. So the princess threw a
ball at one of the maids, which missed the maid and fell into the
water. On this they all shouted, and the noise they made woke up
Ulysses, who sat up in his bed of leaves and wondered where in the
world he could have got to.

"Then he crept from under the bush beneath which he had slept, broke
off a thick bough so as to cover his nakedness, and advanced towards
Nausicaa and her maids; these last all ran away, but Nausicaa stood
her ground, for Minerva had put courage into her heart, so she kept
quite still, and Ulysses could not make up his mind whether it would
be better to go up to her, throw himself at her feet, and embrace
her knees as a suppliant--[in which case, of course, he would have
to drop the bough] or whether it would be better for him to make an
apology to her at a reasonable distance, and ask her to be good
enough to give him some clothes and show him the way to the town.
On the whole he thought it would be better to keep at arm's length,
in case the princess should take offence at his coming too near

Let me say in passing that this is one of many passages which have
led me to conclude that the Odyssey is written by a woman. A girl,
such as Nausicaa describes herself, young, unmarried, unattached,
and hence, after all, knowing little of what men feel on these
matters, having by a cruel freak of inspiration got her hero into
such an awkward predicament, might conceivably imagine that he would
argue as she represents him, but no man, except such a woman's
tailor as could never have written such a masterpiece as the
Odyssey, would ever get his hero into such an undignified scrape at
all, much less represent him as arguing as Ulysses does. I suppose
Minerva was so busy making Nausicaa brave that she had no time to
put a little sense into Ulysses' head, and remind him that he was
nothing if not full of sagacity and resource. To return--

Ulysses now begins with the most judicious apology that his unaided
imagination can suggest. "I beg your ladyship's pardon," he
exclaims, "but are you goddess or are you a mortal woman? If you
are a goddess and live in heaven, there can be no doubt but you are
Jove's daughter Diana, for your face and figure are exactly like
hers," and so on in a long speech which I need not further quote

"Stranger," replied Nausicaa, as soon as the speech was ended, "you
seem to be a very sensible well-disposed person. There is no
accounting for luck; Jove gives good or ill to every man, just as he
chooses, so you must take your lot, and make the best of it." She
then tells him she will give him clothes and everything else that a
foreigner in distress can reasonably expect. She calls back her
maids, scolds them for running away, and tells them to take Ulysses
and wash him in the river after giving him something to eat and
drink. So the maids give him the little gold cruse of oil and tell
him to go and wash himself, and as they seem to have completely
recovered from their alarm, Ulysses is compelled to say, "Young
ladies, please stand a little on one side, that I may wash the brine
from off my shoulders and anoint myself with oil; for it is long
enough since my skin has had a drop of oil upon it. I cannot wash
as long as you keep standing there. I have no clothes on, and it
makes me very uncomfortable."

So they stood aside and went and told Nausicaa. Meanwhile (I am
translating closely), "Minerva made him look taller and stronger
than before; she gave him some more hair on the top of his head, and
made it flow down in curls most beautifully; in fact she glorified
him about the head and shoulders as a cunning workman who has
studied under Vulcan or Minerva enriches a fine piece of plate by
gilding it."

Again I argue that I am reading a description of as it were a
prehistoric Mr. Knightley by a not less prehistoric Jane Austen--
with this difference that I believe Nausicaa is quietly laughing at
her hero and sees through him, whereas Jane Austen takes Mr.
Knightley seriously.

"Hush, my pretty maids," exclaimed Nausicaa as soon as she saw
Ulysses coming back with his hair curled, "hush, for I want to say
something. I believe the gods in heaven have sent this man here.
There is something very remarkable about him. When I first saw him
I thought him quite plain and commonplace, and now I consider him
one of the handsomest men I ever saw in my life. I should like my
future husband [who, it is plain, then, is not yet decided upon] to
be just such another as he is, if he would only stay here, and not
want to go away. However, give him something to eat and drink."

Nausicaa now says they must be starting homeward; so she tells
Ulysses that she will drive on first herself, but that he is to
follow after her with the maids. She does not want to be seen
coming into the town with him; and then follows another passage
which clearly shows that for all the talk she has made about getting
married she has no present intention of changing her name.

"'I am afraid,' she says, 'of the gossip and scandal which may be
set on foot about me behind my back, for there are some very ill-
natured people in the town, and some low fellow, if he met us, might
say, 'Who is this fine-looking stranger who is going about with
Nausicaa? Where did she pick him up? I suppose she is going to
marry him, or perhaps he is some shipwrecked sailor from foreign
parts; or has some god come down from heaven in answer to her
prayers, and she is going to live with him? It would be a good
thing if she would take herself off and find a husband somewhere
else, for she will not look at one of the many excellent young
Phaeacians who are in love with her'; and I could not complain, for
I should myself think ill of any girl whom I saw going about with
men unknown to her father and mother, and without having been
married to him in the face of all the world.'"

This passage could never have been written by the local bard, who
was in great measure dependent on Nausicaa's family; he would never
speak thus of his patron's daughter; either the passage is
Nausicaa's apology for herself, written by herself, or it is pure
invention, and this last, considering the close adherence to the
actual topography of Trapani on the Sicilian Coast, and a great deal
else that I cannot lay before you here, appears to me improbable.

Nausicaa then gives Ulysses directions by which he can find her
father's house. "When you have got past the courtyard," she says,
"go straight through the main hall, till you come to my mother's
room. You will find her sitting by the fire and spinning her purple
wool by firelight. She will make a lovely picture as she leans back
against a column with her maids ranged behind her. Facing her
stands my father's seat in which he sits and topes like an immortal
god. Never mind him, but go up to my mother and lay your hands upon
her knees, if you would be forwarded on your homeward voyage." From
which I conclude that Arete ruled Alcinous, and Nausicaa ruled

Ulysses follows his instructions aided by Minerva, who makes him
invisible as he passes through the town and through the crowds of
Phaeacian guests who are feasting in the king's palace. When he has
reached the queen, the cloak of thick darkness falls off, and he is
revealed to all present, kneeling at the feet of Queen Arete, to
whom he makes his appeal. It has already been made apparent in a
passage extolling her virtue at some length, but which I have not
been able to quote, that Queen Arete is, in the eyes of the writer,
a much more important person than her husband Alcinous.

Every one, of course, is very much surprised at seeing Ulysses, but
after a little discussion, from which it appears that the writer
considers Alcinous to be a person who requires a good deal of
keeping straight in other matters besides clean linen, it is settled
that Ulysses shall be feted on the following day and then escorted
home. Ulysses now has supper and remains with Alcinous and Arete
after the other guests are gone away for the night. So the three
sit by the fire while the servants take away the things, and Arete
is the first to speak. She has been uneasy for some time about
Ulysses' clothes, which she recognized as her own make, and at last
she says, "Stranger, there is a question or two that I should like
to put to you myself. Who in the world are you? And who gave you
those clothes? Did you not say you had come here from beyond the

Ulysses explains matters, but still withholds his name, nevertheless
Alcinous (who seems to have shared in the general opinion that it
was high time his daughter got married, and that, provided she
married somebody, it did not much matter who the bridegroom might
be) exclaimed, "By Father Jove, Minerva, and Apollo, now that I see
what kind of a person you are and how exactly our opinions coincide
upon every subject, I should so like it if you would stay with us
always, marry Nausicaa, and become my son-in-law." Ulysses turns
the conversation immediately, and meanwhile Queen Arete told her
maids to put a bed in the corridor, and make it with red blankets,
and it was to have at least one counterpane. They were also to put
a woollen nightgown for Ulysses. "The maids took a torch, and made
the bed as fast as they could: when they had done so they came up
to Ulysses and said, 'This way, sir, if you please, your room is
quite ready'; and Ulysses was very glad to hear them say so."

On the following day Alcinous holds a meeting of the Phaeacians and
proposes that Ulysses should have a ship got ready to take him home
at once: this being settled he invites all the leading people, and
the fifty-two sailors who are to man Ulysses' ship, to come up to
his own house, and he will give them a banquet--for which he kills a
dozen sheep, eight pigs, and two oxen. Immediately after gorging
themselves at the banquet they have a series of athletic
competitions, and from this I gather the poem to have been written
by one who saw nothing very odd in letting people compete in sports
requiring very violent exercise immediately after a heavy meal.
Such a course may have been usual in those days, but certainly is
not generally adopted in our own.

At the games Alcinous makes himself as ridiculous as he always does,
and Ulysses behaves much as the hero of the preceding afternoon
might be expected to do--but on his praising the Phaeacians towards
the close of the proceedings Alcinous says he is a person of such
singular judgment that they really must all of them make him a very
handsome present. "Twelve of you," he exclaims, "are magistrates,
and there is myself--that makes thirteen; suppose we give him each
one of us a clean cloak, a tunic, and a talent of gold,"--which in
those days was worth about two hundred and fifty pounds.

This is unanimously agreed to, and in the evening, towards sundown,
the presents began to make their appearance at the palace of King
Alcinous, and the king's sons, perhaps prudently as you will
presently see, place them in the keeping of their mother Arete.

When the presents have all arrived, Alcinous says to Arete, "Wife,
go and fetch the best chest we have, and put a clean cloak and a
tunic in it. In the meantime Ulysses will take a bath."

Arete orders the maids to heat a bath, brings the chest, packs up
the raiment and gold which the Phaeacians have brought, and adds a
cloak and a good tunic as King Alcinous's own contribution.

Yes, but where--and that is what we are never told--is the 250
pounds which he ought to have contributed as well as the cloak and
tunic? And where is the beautiful gold goblet which he had also

"See to the fastening yourself," says Queen Arete to Ulysses, "for
fear anyone should rob you while you are asleep in the ship."

Ulysses, we may be sure, was well aware that Alcinous's 250 pounds
was not in the box, nor yet the goblet, but he took the hint at once
and made the chest fast without the delay of a moment, with a bond
which the cunning goddess Circe had taught him.

He does not seem to have thought his chance of getting the 250
pounds and the goblet, and having to unpack his box again, was so
great as his chance of having his box tampered with before he got it
away, if he neglected to double-lock it at once and put the key in
his pocket. He has always a keen eye to money; indeed the whole
Odyssey turns on what is substantially a money quarrel, so this time
without the prompting of Minerva he does one of the very few
sensible things which he does, on his own account, throughout the
whole poem.

Supper is now served, and when it is over, Ulysses, pressed by
Alcinous, announces his name and begins the story of his adventures.

It is with profound regret that I find myself unable to quote any of
the fascinating episodes with which his narrative abounds, but I
have said I was going to lecture on the humour of Homer--that is to
say of the Iliad and the Odyssey--and must not be diverted from my
subject. I cannot, however, resist the account which Ulysses gives
of his meeting with his mother in Hades, the place of departed
spirits, which he has visited by the advice of Circe. His mother
comes up to him and asks him how he managed to get into Hades, being
still alive. I will translate freely, but quite closely, from
Ulysses' own words, as spoken to the Phaeacians.

"And I said, 'Mother, I had to come here to consult the ghost of the
old Theban prophet Teiresias, I have never yet been near Greece, nor
set foot on my native land, and have had nothing but one long run of
ill luck from the day I set out with Agamemnon to fight at Troy.
But tell me how you came here yourself? Did you have a long and
painful illness or did heaven vouchsafe you a gentle easy passage to
eternity? Tell me also about my father and my son? Is my property
still in their hands, or has someone else got hold of it who thinks
that I shall not return to claim it? How, again, is my wife
conducting herself? Does she live with her son and make a home for
him, or has she married again?'

"My mother answered, 'Your wife is still mistress of your house, but
she is in very great straits and spends the greater part of her time
in tears. No one has actually taken possession of your property,
and Telemachus still holds it. He has to accept a great many
invitations, and gives much the sort of entertainments in return
that may be expected from one in his position. Your father remains
in the old place, and never goes near the town; he is very badly
off, and has neither bed nor bedding, nor a stick of furniture of
any kind. In winter he sleeps on the floor in front of the fire
with the men, and his clothes are in a shocking state, but in
summer, when the warm weather comes on again, he sleeps out in the
vineyard on a bed of vine leaves. He takes on very much about your
not having returned, and suffers more and more as he grows older:
as for me I died of nothing whatever in the world but grief about
yourself. There was not a thing the matter with me, but my
prolonged anxiety on your account was too much for me, and in the
end it just wore me out.'"

In the course of time Ulysses comes to a pause in his narrative and
Queen Arete makes a little speech.

"'What do you think,' she said to the Phaeacians, 'of such a guest
as this? Did you ever see anyone at once so good-looking and so
clever? It is true, indeed, that his visit is paid more
particularly to myself, but you all participate in the honour
conferred upon us by a visitor of such distinction. Do not be in a
hurry to send him off, nor stingy in the presents you make to one in
so great need; for you are all of you very well off.'"

You will note that the queen does not say "_we_ are all of _us_ very
well off."

"Then the hero Echeneus, who was the oldest man among them, added a
few words of his own. 'My friends,' he said, 'there cannot be two
opinions about the graciousness and sagacity of the remarks that
have just fallen from Her Majesty; nevertheless it is with His
Majesty King Alcinous that the decision must ultimately rest.'

"'The thing shall be done,' exclaimed Alcinous, 'if I am still king
over the Phaeacians. As for our guest, I know he is anxious to
resume his journey, still we must persuade him if we can to stay
with us until to-morrow, by which time I shall be able to get
together the balance of the sum which I mean to press on his

So here we have it straight out that the monarch knew he had only
contributed the coat and waistcoat, and did not know exactly how he
was to lay his hands on the 250 pounds. What with piracy--for we
have been told of at least one case in which Alcinous had looted a
town and stolen his housemaid Eurymedusa--what with insufficient
changes of linen, toping like an immortal god, swaggering at large,
and open-handed hospitality, it is plain and by no means surprising
that Alcinous is out at elbows; nor can there be a better example of
the difference between the occasional broad comedy of the Iliad and
the delicate but very bitter satire of the Odyssey than the way in
which the fact that Alcinous is in money difficulties is allowed to
steal upon us, as contrasted with the obvious humour of the quarrels
between Jove and Juno. At any rate we can hardly wonder at Ulysses
having felt that to a monarch of such mixed character the unfastened
box might prove a temptation greater than he could resist. To
return, however, to the story--

"If it please your Majesty," said he, in answer to King Alcinous, "I
should be delighted to stay here for another twelve months, and to
accept from your hands the vast treasures and the escort which you
are go generous as to promise me. I should obviously gain by doing
so, for I should return fuller-handed to my own people and should
thus be both more respected and more loved by my acquaintance.
Still to receive such presents--"

The king perceived his embarrassment, and at once relieved him. "No
one," he exclaimed, "who looks at you can for one moment take you
for a charlatan or a swindler. I know there are many of these
unscrupulous persons going about just now with such plausible
stories that it is very hard to disbelieve them; there is, however,
a finish about your style which convinces me of your good
disposition," and so on for more than I have space to quote; after
which Ulysses again proceeds with his adventures.

When he had finished them Alcinous insists that the leading
Phaeacians should each one of them give Ulysses a still further
present of a large kitchen copper and a three-legged stand to set it
on, "but," he continues, "as the expense of all these presents is
really too heavy for the purse of any private individual, I shall
charge the whole of them on the rates": literally, "We will repay
ourselves by getting it in from among the people, for this is too
heavy a present for the purse of a private individual." And what
this can mean except charging it on the rates I do not know.

Of course everyone else sends up his tripod and his cauldron, but we
hear nothing about any, either tripod or cauldron, from King
Alcinous. He is very fussy next morning stowing them under the
ship's benches, but his time and trouble seem to be the extent of
his contribution. It is hardly necessary to say that Ulysses had to
go away without the 250 pounds, and that we never hear of the
promised goblet being presented. Still he had done pretty well.

I have not quoted anything like all the absurd remarks made by
Alcinous, nor shown you nearly as completely as I could do if I had
more time how obviously the writer is quietly laughing at him in her
sleeve. She understands his little ways as she understands those of
Menelaus, who tells Telemachus and Pisistratus that if they like he
will take them a personally conducted tour round the Peloponnese,
and that they can make a good thing out of it, for everyone will
give them something--fancy Helen or Queen Arete making such a
proposal as this. They are never laughed at, but then they are
women, whereas Alcinous and Menelaus are men, and this makes all the

And now in conclusion let me point out the irony of literature in
connection with this astonishing work. Here is a poem in which the
hero and heroine have already been married many years before it
begins: it is marked by a total absence of love-business in such
sense as we understand it: its interest centres mainly in the fact
of a bald elderly gentleman, whose little remaining hair is red,
being eaten out of house and home during his absence by a number of
young men who are courting the supposed widow--a widow who, if she
be fair and fat, can hardly also be less than forty. Can any
subject seem more hopeless? Moreover, this subject so initially
faulty is treated with a carelessness in respect of consistency,
ignorance of commonly known details, and disregard of ordinary
canons, that can hardly be surpassed, and yet I cannot think that in
the whole range of literature there is a work which can be
decisively placed above it. I am afraid you will hardly accept
this; I do not see how you can be expected to do so, for in the
first place there is no even tolerable prose translation, and in the
second, the Odyssey, like the Iliad, has been a school book for over
two thousand five hundred years, and what more cruel revenge than
this can dullness take on genius? The Iliad and Odyssey have been
used as text-books for education during at least two thousand five
hundred years, and yet it is only during the last forty or fifty
that people have begun to see that they are by different authors.
There was, indeed, so I learn from Colonel Mure's valuable work, a
band of scholars some few hundreds of years before the birth of
Christ, who refused to see the Iliad and Odyssey as by the same
author, but they were snubbed and snuffed out, and for more than two
thousand years were considered to have been finally refuted. Can
there be any more scathing satire upon the value of literary
criticism? It would seem as though Minerva had shed the same thick
darkness over both the poems as she shed over Ulysses, so that they
might go in and out among the dons of Oxford and Cambridge from
generation to generation, and none should see them. If I am right,
as I believe I am, in holding the Odyssey to have been written by a
young woman, was ever sleeping beauty more effectually concealed
behind a more impenetrable hedge of dulness?--and she will have to
sleep a good many years yet before anyone wakes her effectually.
But what else can one expect from people, not one of whom has been
at the very slight exertion of noting a few of the writer's main
topographical indications, and then looking for them in an Admiralty
chart or two? Can any step be more obvious and easy--indeed, it is
so simple that I am ashamed of myself for not having taken it forty
years ago. Students of the Odyssey for the most part are so
engrossed with the force of the zeugma, and of the enclitic particle
[Greek]; they take so much more interest in the digamma and in the
AEolic dialect, than they do in the living spirit that sits behind
all these things and alone gives them their importance, that,
naturally enough, not caring about the personality, it remains and
always must remain invisible to them.

If I have helped to make it any less invisible to yourselves, let me
ask you to pardon the somewhat querulous tone of my concluding

Quis Desiderio . . .? {99}

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 anyone 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 someone 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 portrayed
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 a 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-case 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 anyone 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 someone
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 anyone 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. Someone 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 humorist; and the late Mr. Darwin (to
whose posthumous machinations the removal of the book was owing)
will continue to be confounded.--R. GARNETT.

Ramblings in Cheapside {110}

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 buttonhole 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 to
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 someone
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 organized to have grown a solicitor or
banker can generally repair the loss of whatever social organization
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
recognize a transmigrated mind in an alien body, so we not less
often see a body that is clearly only a transmigration, linked on to
someone 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 anyone fairly well up in medieval and last-
century portraiture knows them at a glance.

Going down once towards Italy I saw a young man in the train whom I
recognized, 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 recognized; 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, everyone came before she did. I suppose they spelt
her name Taula, but to me it sounded Towler; I never, however, met
anyone 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 recognize,
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 anyone 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 anyone 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 anyone 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? Everyone, 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,
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 mid-air; 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.

The Aunt, the Nieces, and the Dog {127}

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 rediscovered, and valued as belonging to a neo-
rubbish age--containing, perhaps, traces of a still older paleo-
rubbish civilization. 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 16th, 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 anyone 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 may 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 she 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

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 Great 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 hav 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

"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 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 "rampingest-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]. 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 anyone 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 an [Greek], 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.

How to Make the Best of Life {142}

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 recognized 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 someone 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 civilization 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 masterpieces 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,

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