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Erewhon (Revised Edition) by Samuel Butler

Part 2 out of 5

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impossible it was to help being sulky at times, only she thought I
ought to see some one if it became more serious--a piece of advice
which I then failed to understand, though I pretended to take it
quite as a matter of course.

Once only did Yram treat me in a way that was unkind and
unreasonable,--at least so I thought it at the time. It happened
thus. I had been playing fives in the garden and got much heated.
Although the day was cold, for autumn was now advancing, and Cold
Harbour (as the name of the town in which my prison was should be
translated) stood fully 3000 feet above the sea, I had played
without my coat and waistcoat, and took a sharp chill on resting
myself too long in the open air without protection. The next day I
had a severe cold and felt really poorly. Being little used even
to the lightest ailments, and thinking that it would be rather nice
to be petted and cossetted by Yram, I certainly did not make myself
out to be any better than I was; in fact, I remember that I made
the worst of things, and took it into my head to consider myself
upon the sick list. When Yram brought me my breakfast I complained
somewhat dolefully of my indisposition, expecting the sympathy and
humouring which I should have received from my mother and sisters
at home. Not a bit of it. She fired up in an instant, and asked
me what I meant by it, and how I dared to presume to mention such a
thing, especially when I considered in what place I was. She had
the best mind to tell her father, only that she was afraid the
consequences would be so very serious for me. Her manner was so
injured and decided, and her anger so evidently unfeigned, that I
forgot my cold upon the spot, begging her by all means to tell her
father if she wished to do so, and telling her that I had no idea
of being shielded by her from anything whatever; presently
mollifying, after having said as many biting things as I could, I
asked her what it was that I had done amiss, and promised amendment
as soon as ever I became aware of it. She saw that I was really
ignorant, and had had no intention of being rude to her; whereon it
came out that illness of any sort was considered in Erewhon to be
highly criminal and immoral; and that I was liable, even for
catching cold, to be had up before the magistrates and imprisoned
for a considerable period--an announcement which struck me dumb
with astonishment.

I followed up the conversation as well as my imperfect knowledge of
the language would allow, and caught a glimmering of her position
with regard to ill-health; but I did not even then fully comprehend
it, nor had I as yet any idea of the other extraordinary
perversions of thought which existed among the Erewhonians, but
with which I was soon to become familiar. I propose, therefore, to
make no mention of what passed between us on this occasion, save
that we were reconciled, and that she brought me surreptitiously a
hot glass of spirits and water before I went to bed, as also a pile
of extra blankets, and that next morning I was quite well. I never
remember to have lost a cold so rapidly.

This little affair explained much which had hitherto puzzled me.
It seemed that the two men who were examined before the magistrates
on the day of my arrival in the country, had been given in charge
on account of ill health, and were both condemned to a long term of
imprisonment with hard labour; they were now expiating their
offence in this very prison, and their exercise ground was a yard
separated by my fives wall from the garden in which I walked. This
accounted for the sounds of coughing and groaning which I had often
noticed as coming from the other side of the wall: it was high,
and I had not dared to climb it for fear the jailor should see me
and think that I was trying to escape; but I had often wondered
what sort of people they could be on the other side, and had
resolved on asking the jailor; but I seldom saw him, and Yram and I
generally found other things to talk about.

Another month flew by, during which I made such progress in the
language that I could understand all that was said to me, and
express myself with tolerable fluency. My instructor professed to
be astonished with the progress I had made; I was careful to
attribute it to the pains he had taken with me and to his admirable
method of explaining my difficulties, so we became excellent

My visitors became more and more frequent. Among them there were
some, both men and women, who delighted me entirely by their
simplicity, unconsciousness of self, kindly genial manners, and
last, but not least, by their exquisite beauty; there came others
less well-bred, but still comely and agreeable people, while some
were snobs pure and simple.

At the end of the third month the jailor and my instructor came
together to visit me and told me that communications had been
received from the Government to the effect that if I had behaved
well and seemed generally reasonable, and if there could be no
suspicion at all about my bodily health and vigour, and if my hair
was really light, and my eyes blue and complexion fresh, I was to
be sent up at once to the metropolis in order that the King and
Queen might see me and converse with me; but that when I arrived
there I should be set at liberty, and a suitable allowance would be
made me. My teacher also told me that one of the leading merchants
had sent me an invitation to repair to his house and to consider
myself his guest for as long a time as I chose. "He is a
delightful man," continued the interpreter, "but has suffered
terribly from" (here there came a long word which I could not quite
catch, only it was much longer than kleptomania), "and has but
lately recovered from embezzling a large sum of money under
singularly distressing circumstances; but he has quite got over it,
and the straighteners say that he has made a really wonderful
recovery; you are sure to like him."


With the above words the good man left the room before I had time
to express my astonishment at hearing such extraordinary language
from the lips of one who seemed to be a reputable member of
society. "Embezzle a large sum of money under singularly
distressing circumstances!" I exclaimed to myself, "and ask ME to
go and stay with him! I shall do nothing of the sort--compromise
myself at the very outset in the eyes of all decent people, and
give the death-blow to my chances of either converting them if they
are the lost tribes of Israel, or making money out of them if they
are not! No. I will do anything rather than that." And when I
next saw my teacher I told him that I did not at all like the sound
of what had been proposed for me, and that I would have nothing to
do with it. For by my education and the example of my own parents,
and I trust also in some degree from inborn instinct, I have a very
genuine dislike for all unhandsome dealings in money matters,
though none can have a greater regard for money than I have, if it
be got fairly.

The interpreter was much surprised by my answer, and said that I
should be very foolish if I persisted in my refusal.

Mr. Nosnibor, he continued, "is a man of at least 500,000 horse-
power" (for their way of reckoning and classifying men is by the
number of foot pounds which they have money enough to raise, or
more roughly by their horse-power), "and keeps a capital table;
besides, his two daughters are among the most beautiful women in

When I heard all this, I confess that I was much shaken, and
inquired whether he was favourably considered in the best society.

"Certainly," was the answer; "no man in the country stands higher."

He then went on to say that one would have thought from my manner
that my proposed host had had jaundice or pleurisy or been
generally unfortunate, and that I was in fear of infection.

"I am not much afraid of infection," said I, impatiently, "but I
have some regard for my character; and if I know a man to be an
embezzler of other people's money, be sure of it, I will give him
as wide a berth as I can. If he were ill or poor--"

"Ill or poor!" interrupted the interpreter, with a face of great
alarm. "So that's your notion of propriety! You would consort
with the basest criminals, and yet deem simple embezzlement a bar
to friendly intercourse. I cannot understand you."

"But I am poor myself," cried I.

"You were," said he; "and you were liable to be severely punished
for it,--indeed, at the council which was held concerning you, this
fact was very nearly consigning you to what I should myself
consider a well-deserved chastisement" (for he was getting angry,
and so was I); "but the Queen was so inquisitive, and wanted so
much to see you, that she petitioned the King and made him give you
his pardon, and assign you a pension in consideration of your
meritorious complexion. It is lucky for you that he has not heard
what you have been saying now, or he would be sure to cancel it."

As I heard these words my heart sank within me. I felt the extreme
difficulty of my position, and how wicked I should be in running
counter to established usage. I remained silent for several
minutes, and then said that I should be happy to accept the
embezzler's invitation,--on which my instructor brightened and said
I was a sensible fellow. But I felt very uncomfortable. When he
had left the room, I mused over the conversation which had just
taken place between us, but I could make nothing out of it, except
that it argued an even greater perversity of mental vision than I
had been yet prepared for. And this made me wretched; for I cannot
bear having much to do with people who think differently from
myself. All sorts of wandering thoughts kept coming into my head.
I thought of my master's hut, and my seat upon the mountain side,
where I had first conceived the insane idea of exploring. What
years and years seemed to have passed since I had begun my journey!

I thought of my adventures in the gorge, and on the journey hither,
and of Chowbok. I wondered what Chowbok told them about me when he
got back,--he had done well in going back, Chowbok had. He was not
handsome--nay, he was hideous; and it would have gone hardly with
him. Twilight drew on, and rain pattered against the windows.
Never yet had I felt so unhappy, except during three days of sea-
sickness at the beginning of my voyage from England. I sat musing
and in great melancholy, until Yram made her appearance with light
and supper. She too, poor girl, was miserable; for she had heard
that I was to leave them. She had made up her mind that I was to
remain always in the town, even after my imprisonment was over; and
I fancy had resolved to marry me though I had never so much as
hinted at her doing so. So what with the distressingly strange
conversation with my teacher, my own friendless condition, and
Yram's melancholy, I felt more unhappy than I can describe, and
remained so till I got to bed, and sleep sealed my eyelids.

On awaking next morning I was much better. It was settled that I
was to make my start in a conveyance which was to be in waiting for
me at about eleven o'clock; and the anticipation of change put me
in good spirits, which even the tearful face of Yram could hardly
altogether derange. I kissed her again and again, assured her that
we should meet hereafter, and that in the meanwhile I should be
ever mindful of her kindness. I gave her two of the buttons off my
coat and a lock of my hair as a keepsake, taking a goodly curl from
her own beautiful head in return: and so, having said good-bye a
hundred times, till I was fairly overcome with her great sweetness
and her sorrow, I tore myself away from her and got down-stairs to
the caleche which was in waiting. How thankful I was when it was
all over, and I was driven away and out of sight. Would that I
could have felt that it was out of mind also! Pray heaven that it
is so now, and that she is married happily among her own people,
and has forgotten me!

And now began a long and tedious journey with which I should hardly
trouble the reader if I could. He is safe, however, for the simple
reason that I was blindfolded during the greater part of the time.
A bandage was put upon my eyes every morning, and was only removed
at night when I reached the inn at which we were to pass the night.
We travelled slowly, although the roads were good. We drove but
one horse, which took us our day's journey from morning till
evening, about six hours, exclusive of two hours' rest in the
middle of the day. I do not suppose we made above thirty or
thirty-five miles on an average. Each day we had a fresh horse.
As I have said already, I could see nothing of the country. I only
know that it was level, and that several times we had to cross
large rivers in ferry-boats. The inns were clean and comfortable.
In one or two of the larger towns they were quite sumptuous, and
the food was good and well cooked. The same wonderful health and
grace and beauty prevailed everywhere.

I found myself an object of great interest; so much so, that the
driver told me he had to keep our route secret, and at times to go
to places that were not directly on our road, in order to avoid the
press that would otherwise have awaited us. Every evening I had a
reception, and grew heartily tired of having to say the same things
over and over again in answer to the same questions, but it was
impossible to be angry with people whose manners were so
delightful. They never once asked after my health, or even whether
I was fatigued with my journey; but their first question was almost
invariably an inquiry after my temper, the naivete of which
astonished me till I became used to it. One day, being tired and
cold, and weary of saying the same thing over and over again, I
turned a little brusquely on my questioner and said that I was
exceedingly cross, and that I could hardly feel in a worse humour
with myself and every one else than at that moment. To my
surprise, I was met with the kindest expressions of condolence, and
heard it buzzed about the room that I was in an ill temper; whereon
people began to give me nice things to smell and to eat, which
really did seem to have some temper-mending quality about them, for
I soon felt pleased and was at once congratulated upon being
better. The next morning two or three people sent their servants
to the hotel with sweetmeats, and inquiries whether I had quite
recovered from my ill humour. On receiving the good things I felt
in half a mind to be ill-tempered every evening; but I disliked the
condolences and the inquiries, and found it most comfortable to
keep my natural temper, which is smooth enough generally.

Among those who came to visit me were some who had received a
liberal education at the Colleges of Unreason, and taken the
highest degrees in hypothetics, which are their principal study.
These gentlemen had now settled down to various employments in the
country, as straighteners, managers and cashiers of the Musical
Banks, priests of religion, or what not, and carrying their
education with them they diffused a leaven of culture throughout
the country. I naturally questioned them about many of the things
which had puzzled me since my arrival. I inquired what was the
object and meaning of the statues which I had seen upon the plateau
of the pass. I was told that they dated from a very remote period,
and that there were several other such groups in the country, but
none so remarkable as the one which I had seen. They had a
religious origin, having been designed to propitiate the gods of
deformity and disease. In former times it had been the custom to
make expeditions over the ranges, and capture the ugliest of
Chowbok's ancestors whom they could find, in order to sacrifice
them in the presence of these deities, and thus avert ugliness and
disease from the Erewhonians themselves. It had been whispered
(but my informant assured me untruly) that centuries ago they had
even offered up some of their own people who were ugly or out of
health, in order to make examples of them; these detestable
customs, however, had been long discontinued; neither was there any
present observance of the statues.

I had the curiosity to inquire what would be done to any of
Chowbok's tribe if they crossed over into Erewhon. I was told that
nobody knew, inasmuch as such a thing had not happened for ages.
They would be too ugly to be allowed to go at large, but not so
much so as to be criminally liable. Their offence in having come
would be a moral one; but they would be beyond the straightener's
art. Possibly they would be consigned to the Hospital for
Incurable Bores, and made to work at being bored for so many hours
a day by the Erewhonian inhabitants of the hospital, who are
extremely impatient of one another's boredom, but would soon die if
they had no one whom they might bore--in fact, that they would be
kept as professional borees. When I heard this, it occurred to me
that some rumours of its substance might perhaps have become
current among Chowbok's people; for the agony of his fear had been
too great to have been inspired by the mere dread of being burnt
alive before the statues.

I also questioned them about the museum of old machines, and the
cause of the apparent retrogression in all arts, sciences, and
inventions. I learnt that about four hundred years previously, the
state of mechanical knowledge was far beyond our own, and was
advancing with prodigious rapidity, until one of the most learned
professors of hypothetics wrote an extraordinary book (from which I
propose to give extracts later on), proving that the machines were
ultimately destined to supplant the race of man, and to become
instinct with a vitality as different from, and superior to, that
of animals, as animal to vegetable life. So convincing was his
reasoning, or unreasoning, to this effect, that he carried the
country with him; and they made a clean sweep of all machinery that
had not been in use for more than two hundred and seventy-one years
(which period was arrived at after a series of compromises), and
strictly forbade all further improvements and inventions under pain
of being considered in the eye of the law to be labouring under
typhus fever, which they regard as one of the worst of all crimes.

This is the only case in which they have confounded mental and
physical diseases, and they do it even here as by an avowed legal
fiction. I became uneasy when I remembered about my watch; but
they comforted me with the assurance that transgression in this
matter was now so unheard of, that the law could afford to be
lenient towards an utter stranger, especially towards one who had
such a good character (they meant physique), and such beautiful
light hair. Moreover the watch was a real curiosity, and would be
a welcome addition to the metropolitan collection; so they did not
think I need let it trouble me seriously.

I will write, however, more fully upon this subject when I deal
with the Colleges of Unreason, and the Book of the Machines.

In about a month from the time of our starting I was told that our
journey was nearly over. The bandage was now dispensed with, for
it seemed impossible that I should ever be able to find my way back
without being captured. Then we rolled merrily along through the
streets of a handsome town, and got on to a long, broad, and level
road, with poplar trees on either side. The road was raised
slightly above the surrounding country, and had formerly been a
railway; the fields on either side were in the highest conceivable
cultivation, but the harvest and also the vintage had been already
gathered. The weather had got cooler more rapidly than could be
quite accounted for by the progress of the season; so I rather
thought that we must have been making away from the sun, and were
some degrees farther from the equator than when we started. Even
here the vegetation showed that the climate was a hot one, yet
there was no lack of vigour among the people; on the contrary, they
were a very hardy race, and capable of great endurance. For the
hundredth time I thought that, take them all round, I had never
seen their equals in respect of physique, and they looked as good-
natured as they were robust. The flowers were for the most part
over, but their absence was in some measure compensated for by a
profusion of delicious fruit, closely resembling the figs, peaches,
and pears of Italy and France. I saw no wild animals, but birds
were plentiful and much as in Europe, but not tame as they had been
on the other side the ranges. They were shot at with the cross-bow
and with arrows, gunpowder being unknown, or at any rate not in

We were now nearing the metropolis and I could see great towers and
fortifications, and lofty buildings that looked like palaces. I
began to be nervous as to my reception; but I had got on very well
so far, and resolved to continue upon the same plan as hitherto--
namely, to behave just as though I were in England until I saw that
I was making a blunder, and then to say nothing till I could gather
how the land lay. We drew nearer and nearer. The news of my
approach had got abroad, and there was a great crowd collected on
either side the road, who greeted me with marks of most respectful
curiosity, keeping me bowing constantly in acknowledgement from
side to side.

When we were about a mile off, we were met by the Mayor and several
Councillors, among whom was a venerable old man, who was introduced
to me by the Mayor (for so I suppose I should call him) as the
gentleman who had invited me to his house. I bowed deeply and told
him how grateful I felt to him, and how gladly I would accept his
hospitality. He forbade me to say more, and pointing to his
carriage, which was close at hand, he motioned me to a seat
therein. I again bowed profoundly to the Mayor and Councillors,
and drove off with my entertainer, whose name was Senoj Nosnibor.
After about half a mile the carriage turned off the main road, and
we drove under the walls of the town till we reached a palazzo on a
slight eminence, and just on the outskirts of the city. This was
Senoj Nosnibor's house, and nothing can be imagined finer. It was
situated near the magnificent and venerable ruins of the old
railway station, which formed an imposing feature from the gardens
of the house. The grounds, some ten or a dozen acres in extent,
were laid out in terraced gardens, one above the other, with
flights of broad steps ascending and descending the declivity of
the garden. On these steps there were statues of most exquisite
workmanship. Besides the statues there were vases filled with
various shrubs that were new to me; and on either side the flights
of steps there were rows of old cypresses and cedars, with grassy
alleys between them. Then came choice vineyards and orchards of
fruit-trees in full bearing.

The house itself was approached by a court-yard, and round it was a
corridor on to which rooms opened, as at Pompeii. In the middle of
the court there was a bath and a fountain. Having passed the court
we came to the main body of the house, which was two stories in
height. The rooms were large and lofty; perhaps at first they
looked rather bare of furniture, but in hot climates people
generally keep their rooms more bare than they do in colder ones.
I missed also the sight of a grand piano or some similar
instrument, there being no means of producing music in any of the
rooms save the larger drawing-room, where there were half a dozen
large bronze gongs, which the ladies used occasionally to beat
about at random. It was not pleasant to hear them, but I have
heard quite as unpleasant music both before and since.

Mr. Nosnibor took me through several spacious rooms till we reached
a boudoir where were his wife and daughters, of whom I had heard
from the interpreter. Mrs. Nosnibor was about forty years old, and
still handsome, but she had grown very stout: her daughters were
in the prime of youth and exquisitely beautiful. I gave the
preference almost at once to the younger, whose name was Arowhena;
for the elder sister was haughty, while the younger had a very
winning manner. Mrs. Nosnibor received me with the perfection of
courtesy, so that I must have indeed been shy and nervous if I had
not at once felt welcome. Scarcely was the ceremony of my
introduction well completed before a servant announced that dinner
was ready in the next room. I was exceedingly hungry, and the
dinner was beyond all praise. Can the reader wonder that I began
to consider myself in excellent quarters? "That man embezzle
money?" thought I to myself; "impossible."

But I noticed that my host was uneasy during the whole meal, and
that he ate nothing but a little bread and milk; towards the end of
dinner there came a tall lean man with a black beard, to whom Mr.
Nosnibor and the whole family paid great attention: he was the
family straightener. With this gentleman Mr. Nosnibor retired into
another room, from which there presently proceeded a sound of
weeping and wailing. I could hardly believe my ears, but in a few
minutes I got to know for a certainty that they came from Mr.
Nosnibor himself.

"Poor papa," said Arowhena, as she helped herself composedly to the
salt, "how terribly he has suffered."

"Yes," answered her mother; "but I think he is quite out of danger

Then they went on to explain to me the circumstances of the case,
and the treatment which the straightener had prescribed, and how
successful he had been--all which I will reserve for another
chapter, and put rather in the form of a general summary of the
opinions current upon these subjects than in the exact words in
which the facts were delivered to me; the reader, however, is
earnestly requested to believe that both in this next chapter and
in those that follow it I have endeavoured to adhere most
conscientiously to the strictest accuracy, and that I have never
willingly misrepresented, though I may have sometimes failed to
understand all the bearings of an opinion or custom.


This is what I gathered. That in that country if a man falls into
ill health, or catches any disorder, or fails bodily in any way
before he is seventy years old, he is tried before a jury of his
countrymen, and if convicted is held up to public scorn and
sentenced more or less severely as the case may be. There are
subdivisions of illnesses into crimes and misdemeanours as with
offences amongst ourselves--a man being punished very heavily for
serious illness, while failure of eyes or hearing in one over
sixty-five, who has had good health hitherto, is dealt with by fine
only, or imprisonment in default of payment. But if a man forges a
cheque, or sets his house on fire, or robs with violence from the
person, or does any other such things as are criminal in our own
country, he is either taken to a hospital and most carefully tended
at the public expense, or if he is in good circumstances, he lets
it be known to all his friends that he is suffering from a severe
fit of immorality, just as we do when we are ill, and they come and
visit him with great solicitude, and inquire with interest how it
all came about, what symptoms first showed themselves, and so
forth,--questions which he will answer with perfect unreserve; for
bad conduct, though considered no less deplorable than illness with
ourselves, and as unquestionably indicating something seriously
wrong with the individual who misbehaves, is nevertheless held to
be the result of either pre-natal or post-natal misfortune.

The strange part of the story, however, is that though they ascribe
moral defects to the effect of misfortune either in character or
surroundings, they will not listen to the plea of misfortune in
cases that in England meet with sympathy and commiseration only.
Ill luck of any kind, or even ill treatment at the hands of others,
is considered an offence against society, inasmuch as it makes
people uncomfortable to hear of it. Loss of fortune, therefore, or
loss of some dear friend on whom another was much dependent, is
punished hardly less severely than physical delinquency.

Foreign, indeed, as such ideas are to our own, traces of somewhat
similar opinions can be found even in nineteenth-century England.
If a person has an abscess, the medical man will say that it
contains "peccant" matter, and people say that they have a "bad"
arm or finger, or that they are very "bad" all over, when they only
mean "diseased." Among foreign nations Erewhonian opinions may be
still more clearly noted. The Mahommedans, for example, to this
day, send their female prisoners to hospitals, and the New Zealand
Maories visit any misfortune with forcible entry into the house of
the offender, and the breaking up and burning of all his goods.
The Italians, again, use the same word for "disgrace" and
"misfortune." I once heard an Italian lady speak of a young friend
whom she described as endowed with every virtue under heaven, "ma,"
she exclaimed, "povero disgraziato, ha ammazzato suo zio." ("Poor
unfortunate fellow, he has murdered his uncle.")

On mentioning this, which I heard when taken to Italy as a boy by
my father, the person to whom I told it showed no surprise. He
said that he had been driven for two or three years in a certain
city by a young Sicilian cabdriver of prepossessing manners and
appearance, but then lost sight of him. On asking what had become
of him, he was told that he was in prison for having shot at his
father with intent to kill him--happily without serious result.
Some years later my informant again found himself warmly accosted
by the prepossessing young cabdriver. "Ah, caro signore," he
exclaimed, "sono cinque anni che non lo vedo--tre anni di militare,
e due anni di disgrazia," &c. ("My dear sir, it is five years
since I saw you--three years of military service, and two of
misfortune")--during which last the poor fellow had been in prison.
Of moral sense he showed not so much as a trace. He and his father
were now on excellent terms, and were likely to remain so unless
either of them should again have the misfortune mortally to offend
the other.

In the following chapter I will give a few examples of the way in
which what we should call misfortune, hardship, or disease are
dealt with by the Erewhonians, but for the moment will return to
their treatment of cases that with us are criminal. As I have
already said, these, though not judicially punishable, are
recognised as requiring correction. Accordingly, there exists a
class of men trained in soul-craft, whom they call straighteners,
as nearly as I can translate a word which literally means "one who
bends back the crooked." These men practise much as medical men in
England, and receive a quasi-surreptitious fee on every visit.
They are treated with the same unreserve, and obeyed as readily, as
our own doctors--that is to say, on the whole sufficiently--because
people know that it is their interest to get well as soon as they
can, and that they will not be scouted as they would be if their
bodies were out of order, even though they may have to undergo a
very painful course of treatment.

When I say that they will not be scouted, I do not mean that an
Erewhonian will suffer no social inconvenience in consequence, we
will say, of having committed fraud. Friends will fall away from
him because of his being less pleasant company, just as we
ourselves are disinclined to make companions of those who are
either poor or poorly. No one with any sense of self-respect will
place himself on an equality in the matter of affection with those
who are less lucky than himself in birth, health, money, good
looks, capacity, or anything else. Indeed, that dislike and even
disgust should be felt by the fortunate for the unfortunate, or at
any rate for those who have been discovered to have met with any of
the more serious and less familiar misfortunes, is not only
natural, but desirable for any society, whether of man or brute.

The fact, therefore, that the Erewhonians attach none of that guilt
to crime which they do to physical ailments, does not prevent the
more selfish among them from neglecting a friend who has robbed a
bank, for instance, till he has fully recovered; but it does
prevent them from even thinking of treating criminals with that
contemptuous tone which would seem to say, "I, if I were you,
should be a better man than you are," a tone which is held quite
reasonable in regard to physical ailment. Hence, though they
conceal ill health by every cunning and hypocrisy and artifice
which they can devise, they are quite open about the most flagrant
mental diseases, should they happen to exist, which to do the
people justice is not often. Indeed, there are some who are, so to
speak, spiritual valetudinarians, and who make themselves
exceedingly ridiculous by their nervous supposition that they are
wicked, while they are very tolerable people all the time. This
however is exceptional; and on the whole they use much the same
reserve or unreserve about the state of their moral welfare as we
do about our health.

Hence all the ordinary greetings among ourselves, such as, How do
you do? and the like, are considered signs of gross ill-breeding;
nor do the politer classes tolerate even such a common
complimentary remark as telling a man that he is looking well.
They salute each other with, "I hope you are good this morning;" or
"I hope you have recovered from the snappishness from which you
were suffering when I last saw you;" and if the person saluted has
not been good, or is still snappish, he says so at once and is
condoled with accordingly. Indeed, the straighteners have gone so
far as to give names from the hypothetical language (as taught at
the Colleges of Unreason), to all known forms of mental
indisposition, and to classify them according to a system of their
own, which, though I could not understand it, seemed to work well
in practice; for they are always able to tell a man what is the
matter with him as soon as they have heard his story, and their
familiarity with the long names assures him that they thoroughly
understand his case.

The reader will have no difficulty in believing that the laws
regarding ill health were frequently evaded by the help of
recognised fictions, which every one understood, but which it would
be considered gross ill-breeding to even seem to understand. Thus,
a day or two after my arrival at the Nosnibors', one of the many
ladies who called on me made excuses for her husband's only sending
his card, on the ground that when going through the public market-
place that morning he had stolen a pair of socks. I had already
been warned that I should never show surprise, so I merely
expressed my sympathy, and said that though I had only been in the
capital so short a time, I had already had a very narrow escape
from stealing a clothes-brush, and that though I had resisted
temptation so far, I was sadly afraid that if I saw any object of
special interest that was neither too hot nor too heavy, I should
have to put myself in the straightener's hands.

Mrs. Nosnibor, who had been keeping an ear on all that I had been
saying, praised me when the lady had gone. Nothing, she said,
could have been more polite according to Erewhonian etiquette. She
then explained that to have stolen a pair of socks, or "to have the
socks" (in more colloquial language), was a recognised way of
saying that the person in question was slightly indisposed.

In spite of all this they have a keen sense of the enjoyment
consequent upon what they call being "well." They admire mental
health and love it in other people, and take all the pains they can
(consistently with their other duties) to secure it for themselves.
They have an extreme dislike to marrying into what they consider
unhealthy families. They send for the straightener at once
whenever they have been guilty of anything seriously flagitious--
often even if they think that they are on the point of committing
it; and though his remedies are sometimes exceedingly painful,
involving close confinement for weeks, and in some cases the most
cruel physical tortures, I never heard of a reasonable Erewhonian
refusing to do what his straightener told him, any more than of a
reasonable Englishman refusing to undergo even the most frightful
operation, if his doctors told him it was necessary.

We in England never shrink from telling our doctor what is the
matter with us merely through the fear that he will hurt us. We
let him do his worst upon us, and stand it without a murmur,
because we are not scouted for being ill, and because we know that
the doctor is doing his best to cure us, and that he can judge of
our case better than we can; but we should conceal all illness if
we were treated as the Erewhonians are when they have anything the
matter with them; we should do the same as with moral and
intellectual diseases,--we should feign health with the most
consummate art, till we were found out, and should hate a single
flogging given in the way of mere punishment more than the
amputation of a limb, if it were kindly and courteously performed
from a wish to help us out of our difficulty, and with the full
consciousness on the part of the doctor that it was only by an
accident of constitution that he was not in the like plight
himself. So the Erewhonians take a flogging once a week, and a
diet of bread and water for two or three months together, whenever
their straightener recommends it.

I do not suppose that even my host, on having swindled a confiding
widow out of the whole of her property, was put to more actual
suffering than a man will readily undergo at the hands of an
English doctor. And yet he must have had a very bad time of it.
The sounds I heard were sufficient to show that his pain was
exquisite, but he never shrank from undergoing it. He was quite
sure that it did him good; and I think he was right. I cannot
believe that that man will ever embezzle money again. He may--but
it will be a long time before he does so.

During my confinement in prison, and on my journey, I had already
discovered a great deal of the above; but it still seemed
surpassingly strange, and I was in constant fear of committing some
piece of rudeness, through my inability to look at things from the
same stand-point as my neighbours; but after a few weeks' stay with
the Nosnibors, I got to understand things better, especially on
having heard all about my host's illness, of which he told me fully
and repeatedly.

It seemed that he had been on the Stock Exchange of the city for
many years and had amassed enormous wealth, without exceeding the
limits of what was generally considered justifiable, or at any
rate, permissible dealing; but at length on several occasions he
had become aware of a desire to make money by fraudulent
representations, and had actually dealt with two or three sums in a
way which had made him rather uncomfortable. He had unfortunately
made light of it and pooh-poohed the ailment, until circumstances
eventually presented themselves which enabled him to cheat upon a
very considerable scale;--he told me what they were, and they were
about as bad as anything could be, but I need not detail them;--he
seized the opportunity, and became aware, when it was too late,
that he must be seriously out of order. He had neglected himself
too long.

He drove home at once, broke the news to his wife and daughters as
gently as he could, and sent off for one of the most celebrated
straighteners of the kingdom to a consultation with the family
practitioner, for the case was plainly serious. On the arrival of
the straightener he told his story, and expressed his fear that his
morals must be permanently impaired.

The eminent man reassured him with a few cheering words, and then
proceeded to make a more careful diagnosis of the case. He
inquired concerning Mr. Nosnibor's parents--had their moral health
been good? He was answered that there had not been anything
seriously amiss with them, but that his maternal grandfather, whom
he was supposed to resemble somewhat in person, had been a
consummate scoundrel and had ended his days in a hospital,--while a
brother of his father's, after having led a most flagitious life
for many years, had been at last cured by a philosopher of a new
school, which as far as I could understand it bore much the same
relation to the old as homoeopathy to allopathy. The straightener
shook his head at this, and laughingly replied that the cure must
have been due to nature. After a few more questions he wrote a
prescription and departed.

I saw the prescription. It ordered a fine to the State of double
the money embezzled; no food but bread and milk for six months, and
a severe flogging once a month for twelve. I was surprised to see
that no part of the fine was to be paid to the poor woman whose
money had been embezzled, but on inquiry I learned that she would
have been prosecuted in the Misplaced Confidence Court, if she had
not escaped its clutches by dying shortly after she had discovered
her loss.

As for Mr. Nosnibor, he had received his eleventh flogging on the
day of my arrival. I saw him later on the same afternoon, and he
was still twinged; but there had been no escape from following out
the straightener's prescription, for the so-called sanitary laws of
Erewhon are very rigorous, and unless the straightener was
satisfied that his orders had been obeyed, the patient would have
been taken to a hospital (as the poor are), and would have been
much worse off. Such at least is the law, but it is never
necessary to enforce it.

On a subsequent occasion I was present at an interview between Mr.
Nosnibor and the family straightener, who was considered competent
to watch the completion of the cure. I was struck with the
delicacy with which he avoided even the remotest semblance of
inquiry after the physical well-being of his patient, though there
was a certain yellowness about my host's eyes which argued a
bilious habit of body. To have taken notice of this would have
been a gross breach of professional etiquette. I was told,
however, that a straightener sometimes thinks it right to glance at
the possibility of some slight physical disorder if he finds it
important in order to assist him in his diagnosis; but the answers
which he gets are generally untrue or evasive, and he forms his own
conclusions upon the matter as well as he can. Sensible men have
been known to say that the straightener should in strict confidence
be told of every physical ailment that is likely to bear upon the
case; but people are naturally shy of doing this, for they do not
like lowering themselves in the opinion of the straightener, and
his ignorance of medical science is supreme. I heard of one lady,
indeed, who had the hardihood to confess that a furious outbreak of
ill-humour and extravagant fancies for which she was seeking advice
was possibly the result of indisposition. "You should resist
that," said the straightener, in a kind, but grave voice; "we can
do nothing for the bodies of our patients; such matters are beyond
our province, and I desire that I may hear no further particulars."
The lady burst into tears, and promised faithfully that she would
never be unwell again.

But to return to Mr. Nosnibor. As the afternoon wore on many
carriages drove up with callers to inquire how he had stood his
flogging. It had been very severe, but the kind inquiries upon
every side gave him great pleasure, and he assured me that he felt
almost tempted to do wrong again by the solicitude with which his
friends had treated him during his recovery: in this I need hardly
say that he was not serious.

During the remainder of my stay in the country Mr. Nosnibor was
constantly attentive to his business, and largely increased his
already great possessions; but I never heard a whisper to the
effect of his having been indisposed a second time, or made money
by other than the most strictly honourable means. I did hear
afterwards in confidence that there had been reason to believe that
his health had been not a little affected by the straightener's
treatment, but his friends did not choose to be over-curious upon
the subject, and on his return to his affairs it was by common
consent passed over as hardly criminal in one who was otherwise so
much afflicted. For they regard bodily ailments as the more venial
in proportion as they have been produced by causes independent of
the constitution. Thus if a person ruin his health by excessive
indulgence at the table or by drinking, they count it to be almost
a part of the mental disease which brought it about, and so it goes
for little, but they have no mercy on such illnesses as fevers or
catarrhs or lung diseases, which to us appear to be beyond the
control of the individual. They are only more lenient towards the
diseases of the young--such as measles, which they think to be like
sowing one's wild oats--and look over them as pardonable
indiscretions if they have not been too serious, and if they are
atoned for by complete subsequent recovery.

It is hardly necessary to say that the office of straightener is
one which requires long and special training. It stands to reason
that he who would cure a moral ailment must be practically
acquainted with it in all its bearings. The student for the
profession of straightener is required to set apart certain seasons
for the practice of each vice in turn, as a religious duty. These
seasons are called "fasts," and are continued by the student until
he finds that he really can subdue all the more usual vices in his
own person, and hence can advise his patients from the results of
his own experience.

Those who intend to be specialists, rather than general
practitioners, devote themselves more particularly to the branch in
which their practice will mainly lie. Some students have been
obliged to continue their exercises during their whole lives, and
some devoted men have actually died as martyrs to the drink, or
gluttony, or whatever branch of vice they may have chosen for their
especial study. The greater number, however, take no harm by the
excursions into the various departments of vice which it is
incumbent upon them to study.

For the Erewhonians hold that unalloyed virtue is not a thing to be
immoderately indulged in. I was shown more than one case in which
the real or supposed virtues of parents were visited upon the
children to the third and fourth generation. The straighteners say
that the most that can be truly said for virtue is that there is a
considerable balance in its favour, and that it is on the whole a
good deal better to be on its side than against it; but they urge
that there is much pseudo-virtue going about, which is apt to let
people in very badly before they find it out. Those men, they say,
are best who are not remarkable either for vice or virtue. I told
them about Hogarth's idle and industrious apprentices, but they did
not seem to think that the industrious apprentice was a very nice


In Erewhon as in other countries there are some courts of justice
that deal with special subjects. Misfortune generally, as I have
above explained, is considered more or less criminal, but it admits
of classification, and a court is assigned to each of the main
heads under which it can be supposed to fall. Not very long after
I had reached the capital I strolled into the Personal Bereavement
Court, and was much both interested and pained by listening to the
trial of a man who was accused of having just lost a wife to whom
he had been tenderly attached, and who had left him with three
little children, of whom the eldest was only three years old.

The defence which the prisoner's counsel endeavoured to establish
was, that the prisoner had never really loved his wife; but it
broke down completely, for the public prosecutor called witness
after witness who deposed to the fact that the couple had been
devoted to one another, and the prisoner repeatedly wept as
incidents were put in evidence that reminded him of the irreparable
nature of the loss he had sustained. The jury returned a verdict
of guilty after very little deliberation, but recommended the
prisoner to mercy on the ground that he had but recently insured
his wife's life for a considerable sum, and might be deemed lucky
inasmuch as he had received the money without demur from the
insurance company, though he had only paid two premiums.

I have just said that the jury found the prisoner guilty. When the
judge passed sentence, I was struck with the way in which the
prisoner's counsel was rebuked for having referred to a work in
which the guilt of such misfortunes as the prisoner's was
extenuated to a degree that roused the indignation of the court.

"We shall have," said the judge, "these crude and subversionary
books from time to time until it is recognised as an axiom of
morality that luck is the only fit object of human veneration. How
far a man has any right to be more lucky and hence more venerable
than his neighbours, is a point that always has been, and always
will be, settled proximately by a kind of higgling and haggling of
the market, and ultimately by brute force; but however this may be,
it stands to reason that no man should be allowed to be unlucky to
more than a very moderate extent."

Then, turning to the prisoner, the judge continued:- "You have
suffered a great loss. Nature attaches a severe penalty to such
offences, and human law must emphasise the decrees of nature. But
for the recommendation of the jury I should have given you six
months' hard labour. I will, however, commute your sentence to one
of three months, with the option of a fine of twenty-five per cent.
of the money you have received from the insurance company."

The prisoner thanked the judge, and said that as he had no one to
look after his children if he was sent to prison, he would embrace
the option mercifully permitted him by his lordship, and pay the
sum he had named. He was then removed from the dock.

The next case was that of a youth barely arrived at man's estate,
who was charged with having been swindled out of large property
during his minority by his guardian, who was also one of his
nearest relations. His father had been long dead, and it was for
this reason that his offence came on for trial in the Personal
Bereavement Court. The lad, who was undefended, pleaded that he
was young, inexperienced, greatly in awe of his guardian, and
without independent professional advice. "Young man," said the
judge sternly, "do not talk nonsense. People have no right to be
young, inexperienced, greatly in awe of their guardians, and
without independent professional advice. If by such indiscretions
they outrage the moral sense of their friends, they must expect to
suffer accordingly." He then ordered the prisoner to apologise to
his guardian, and to receive twelve strokes with a cat-of-nine-

But I shall perhaps best convey to the reader an idea of the entire
perversion of thought which exists among this extraordinary people,
by describing the public trial of a man who was accused of
pulmonary consumption--an offence which was punished with death
until quite recently. It did not occur till I had been some months
in the country, and I am deviating from chronological order in
giving it here; but I had perhaps better do so in order that I may
exhaust this subject before proceeding to others. Moreover I
should never come to an end were I to keep to a strictly narrative
form, and detail the infinite absurdities with which I daily came
in contact.

The prisoner was placed in the dock, and the jury were sworn much
as in Europe; almost all our own modes of procedure were
reproduced, even to the requiring the prisoner to plead guilty or
not guilty. He pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded. The
evidence for the prosecution was very strong; but I must do the
court the justice to observe that the trial was absolutely
impartial. Counsel for the prisoner was allowed to urge everything
that could be said in his defence: the line taken was that the
prisoner was simulating consumption in order to defraud an
insurance company, from which he was about to buy an annuity, and
that he hoped thus to obtain it on more advantageous terms. If
this could have been shown to be the case he would have escaped a
criminal prosecution, and been sent to a hospital as for a moral
ailment. The view, however, was one which could not be reasonably
sustained, in spite of all the ingenuity and eloquence of one of
the most celebrated advocates of the country. The case was only
too clear, for the prisoner was almost at the point of death, and
it was astonishing that he had not been tried and convicted long
previously. His coughing was incessant during the whole trial, and
it was all that the two jailors in charge of him could do to keep
him on his legs until it was over.

The summing up of the judge was admirable. He dwelt upon every
point that could be construed in favour of the prisoner, but as he
proceeded it became clear that the evidence was too convincing to
admit of doubt, and there was but one opinion in the court as to
the impending verdict when the jury retired from the box. They
were absent for about ten minutes, and on their return the foreman
pronounced the prisoner guilty. There was a faint murmur of
applause, but it was instantly repressed. The judge then proceeded
to pronounce sentence in words which I can never forget, and which
I copied out into a note-book next day from the report that was
published in the leading newspaper. I must condense it somewhat,
and nothing which I could say would give more than a faint idea of
the solemn, not to say majestic, severity with which it was
delivered. The sentence was as follows:-

"Prisoner at the bar, you have been accused of the great crime of
labouring under pulmonary consumption, and after an impartial trial
before a jury of your countrymen, you have been found guilty.
Against the justice of the verdict I can say nothing: the evidence
against you was conclusive, and it only remains for me to pass such
a sentence upon you, as shall satisfy the ends of the law. That
sentence must be a very severe one. It pains me much to see one
who is yet so young, and whose prospects in life were otherwise so
excellent, brought to this distressing condition by a constitution
which I can only regard as radically vicious; but yours is no case
for compassion: this is not your first offence: you have led a
career of crime, and have only profited by the leniency shown you
upon past occasions, to offend yet more seriously against the laws
and institutions of your country. You were convicted of aggravated
bronchitis last year: and I find that though you are now only
twenty-three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less than
fourteen occasions for illnesses of a more or less hateful
character; in fact, it is not too much to say that you have spent
the greater part of your life in a jail.

"It is all very well for you to say that you came of unhealthy
parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood which
permanently undermined your constitution; excuses such as these are
the ordinary refuge of the criminal; but they cannot for one moment
be listened to by the ear of justice. I am not here to enter upon
curious metaphysical questions as to the origin of this or that--
questions to which there would be no end were their introduction
once tolerated, and which would result in throwing the only guilt
on the tissues of the primordial cell, or on the elementary gases.
There is no question of how you came to be wicked, but only this--
namely, are you wicked or not? This has been decided in the
affirmative, neither can I hesitate for a single moment to say that
it has been decided justly. You are a bad and dangerous person,
and stand branded in the eyes of your fellow-countrymen with one of
the most heinous known offences.

"It is not my business to justify the law: the law may in some
cases have its inevitable hardships, and I may feel regret at times
that I have not the option of passing a less severe sentence than I
am compelled to do. But yours is no such case; on the contrary,
had not the capital punishment for consumption been abolished, I
should certainly inflict it now.

"It is intolerable that an example of such terrible enormity should
be allowed to go at large unpunished. Your presence in the society
of respectable people would lead the less able-bodied to think more
lightly of all forms of illness; neither can it be permitted that
you should have the chance of corrupting unborn beings who might
hereafter pester you. The unborn must not be allowed to come near
you: and this not so much for their protection (for they are our
natural enemies), as for our own; for since they will not be
utterly gainsaid, it must be seen to that they shall be quartered
upon those who are least likely to corrupt them.

"But independently of this consideration, and independently of the
physical guilt which attaches itself to a crime so great as yours,
there is yet another reason why we should be unable to show you
mercy, even if we were inclined to do so. I refer to the existence
of a class of men who lie hidden among us, and who are called
physicians. Were the severity of the law or the current feeling of
the country to be relaxed never so slightly, these abandoned
persons, who are now compelled to practise secretly and who can be
consulted only at the greatest risk, would become frequent visitors
in every household; their organisation and their intimate
acquaintance with all family secrets would give them a power, both
social and political, which nothing could resist. The head of the
household would become subordinate to the family doctor, who would
interfere between man and wife, between master and servant, until
the doctors should be the only depositaries of power in the nation,
and have all that we hold precious at their mercy. A time of
universal dephysicalisation would ensue; medicine-vendors of all
kinds would abound in our streets and advertise in all our
newspapers. There is one remedy for this, and one only. It is
that which the laws of this country have long received and acted
upon, and consists in the sternest repression of all diseases
whatsoever, as soon as their existence is made manifest to the eye
of the law. Would that that eye were far more piercing than it is.

"But I will enlarge no further upon things that are themselves so
obvious. You may say that it is not your fault. The answer is
ready enough at hand, and it amounts to this--that if you had been
born of healthy and well-to-do parents, and been well taken care of
when you were a child, you would never have offended against the
laws of your country, nor found yourself in your present
disgraceful position. If you tell me that you had no hand in your
parentage and education, and that it is therefore unjust to lay
these things to your charge, I answer that whether your being in a
consumption is your fault or no, it is a fault in you, and it is my
duty to see that against such faults as this the commonwealth shall
be protected. You may say that it is your misfortune to be
criminal; I answer that it is your crime to be unfortunate.

"Lastly, I should point out that even though the jury had acquitted
you--a supposition that I cannot seriously entertain--I should have
felt it my duty to inflict a sentence hardly less severe than that
which I must pass at present; for the more you had been found
guiltless of the crime imputed to you, the more you would have been
found guilty of one hardly less heinous--I mean the crime of having
been maligned unjustly.

"I do not hesitate therefore to sentence you to imprisonment, with
hard labour, for the rest of your miserable existence. During that
period I would earnestly entreat you to repent of the wrongs you
have done already, and to entirely reform the constitution of your
whole body. I entertain but little hope that you will pay
attention to my advice; you are already far too abandoned. Did it
rest with myself, I should add nothing in mitigation of the
sentence which I have passed, but it is the merciful provision of
the law that even the most hardened criminal shall be allowed some
one of the three official remedies, which is to be prescribed at
the time of his conviction. I shall therefore order that you
receive two tablespoonfuls of castor oil daily, until the pleasure
of the court be further known."

When the sentence was concluded the prisoner acknowledged in a few
scarcely audible words that he was justly punished, and that he had
had a fair trial. He was then removed to the prison from which he
was never to return. There was a second attempt at applause when
the judge had finished speaking, but as before it was at once
repressed; and though the feeling of the court was strongly against
the prisoner, there was no show of any violence against him, if one
may except a little hooting from the bystanders when he was being
removed in the prisoners' van. Indeed, nothing struck me more
during my whole sojourn in the country, than the general respect
for law and order.


I confess that I felt rather unhappy when I got home, and thought
more closely over the trial that I had just witnessed. For the
time I was carried away by the opinion of those among whom I was.
They had no misgivings about what they were doing. There did not
seem to be a person in the whole court who had the smallest doubt
but that all was exactly as it should be. This universal
unsuspecting confidence was imparted by sympathy to myself, in
spite of all my training in opinions so widely different. So it is
with most of us: that which we observe to be taken as a matter of
course by those around us, we take as a matter of course ourselves.
And after all, it is our duty to do this, save upon grave occasion.

But when I was alone, and began to think the trial over, it
certainly did strike me as betraying a strange and untenable
position. Had the judge said that he acknowledged the probable
truth, namely, that the prisoner was born of unhealthy parents, or
had been starved in infancy, or had met with some accidents which
had developed consumption; and had he then gone on to say that
though he knew all this, and bitterly regretted that the protection
of society obliged him to inflict additional pain on one who had
suffered so much already, yet that there was no help for it, I
could have understood the position, however mistaken I might have
thought it. The judge was fully persuaded that the infliction of
pain upon the weak and sickly was the only means of preventing
weakness and sickliness from spreading, and that ten times the
suffering now inflicted upon the accused was eventually warded off
from others by the present apparent severity. I could therefore
perfectly understand his inflicting whatever pain he might consider
necessary in order to prevent so bad an example from spreading
further and lowering the Erewhonian standard; but it seemed almost
childish to tell the prisoner that he could have been in good
health, if he had been more fortunate in his constitution, and been
exposed to less hardships when he was a boy.

I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no
unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding
them for their sheer good luck: it is the normal condition of
human life that this should be done, and no right-minded person
will complain of being subjected to the common treatment. There is
no alternative open to us. It is idle to say that men are not
responsible for their misfortunes. What is responsibility? Surely
to be responsible means to be liable to have to give an answer
should it be demanded, and all things which live are responsible
for their lives and actions should society see fit to question them
through the mouth of its authorised agent.

What is the offence of a lamb that we should rear it, and tend it,
and lull it into security, for the express purpose of killing it?
Its offence is the misfortune of being something which society
wants to eat, and which cannot defend itself. This is ample. Who
shall limit the right of society except society itself? And what
consideration for the individual is tolerable unless society be the
gainer thereby? Wherefore should a man be so richly rewarded for
having been son to a millionaire, were it not clearly provable that
the common welfare is thus better furthered? We cannot seriously
detract from a man's merit in having been the son of a rich father
without imperilling our own tenure of things which we do not wish
to jeopardise; if this were otherwise we should not let him keep
his money for a single hour; we would have it ourselves at once.
For property is robbery, but then, we are all robbers or would-be
robbers together, and have found it essential to organise our
thieving, as we have found it necessary to organise our lust and
our revenge. Property, marriage, the law; as the bed to the river,
so rule and convention to the instinct; and woe to him who tampers
with the banks while the flood is flowing.

But to return. Even in England a man on board a ship with yellow
fever is held responsible for his mischance, no matter what his
being kept in quarantine may cost him. He may catch the fever and
die; we cannot help it; he must take his chance as other people do;
but surely it would be desperate unkindness to add contumely to our
self-protection, unless, indeed, we believe that contumely is one
of our best means of self-protection. Again, take the case of
maniacs. We say that they are irresponsible for their actions, but
we take good care, or ought to take good care, that they shall
answer to us for their insanity, and we imprison them in what we
call an asylum (that modern sanctuary!) if we do not like their
answers. This is a strange kind of irresponsibility. What we
ought to say is that we can afford to be satisfied with a less
satisfactory answer from a lunatic than from one who is not mad,
because lunacy is less infectious than crime.

We kill a serpent if we go in danger by it, simply for being such
and such a serpent in such and such a place; but we never say that
the serpent has only itself to blame for not having been a harmless
creature. Its crime is that of being the thing which it is: but
this is a capital offence, and we are right in killing it out of
the way, unless we think it more danger to do so than to let it
escape; nevertheless we pity the creature, even though we kill it.

But in the case of him whose trial I have described above, it was
impossible that any one in the court should not have known that it
was but by an accident of birth and circumstances that he was not
himself also in a consumption; and yet none thought that it
disgraced them to hear the judge give vent to the most cruel
truisms about him. The judge himself was a kind and thoughtful
person. He was a man of magnificent and benign presence. He was
evidently of an iron constitution, and his face wore an expression
of the maturest wisdom and experience; yet for all this, old and
learned as he was, he could not see things which one would have
thought would have been apparent even to a child. He could not
emancipate himself from, nay, it did not even occur to him to feel,
the bondage of the ideas in which he had been born and bred.

So was it also with the jury and bystanders; and--most wonderful of
all--so was it even with the prisoner. Throughout he seemed fully
impressed with the notion that he was being dealt with justly: he
saw nothing wanton in his being told by the judge that he was to be
punished, not so much as a necessary protection to society
(although this was not entirely lost sight of), as because he had
not been better born and bred than he was. But this led me to hope
that he suffered less than he would have done if he had seen the
matter in the same light that I did. And, after all, justice is

I may here mention that only a few years before my arrival in the
country, the treatment of all convicted invalids had been much more
barbarous than now, for no physical remedy was provided, and
prisoners were put to the severest labour in all sorts of weather,
so that most of them soon succumbed to the extreme hardships which
they suffered; this was supposed to be beneficial in some ways,
inasmuch as it put the country to less expense for the maintenance
of its criminal class; but the growth of luxury had induced a
relaxation of the old severity, and a sensitive age would no longer
tolerate what appeared to be an excess of rigour, even towards the
most guilty; moreover, it was found that juries were less willing
to convict, and justice was often cheated because there was no
alternative between virtually condemning a man to death and letting
him go free; it was also held that the country paid in recommittals
for its over-severity; for those who had been imprisoned even for
trifling ailments were often permanently disabled by their
imprisonment; and when a man had been once convicted, it was
probable that he would seldom afterwards be off the hands of the

These evils had long been apparent and recognised; yet people were
too indolent, and too indifferent to suffering not their own, to
bestir themselves about putting an end to them, until at last a
benevolent reformer devoted his whole life to effecting the
necessary changes. He divided all illnesses into three classes--
those affecting the head, the trunk, and the lower limbs--and
obtained an enactment that all diseases of the head, whether
internal or external, should be treated with laudanum, those of the
body with castor-oil, and those of the lower limbs with an
embrocation of strong sulphuric acid and water.

It may be said that the classification was not sufficiently
careful, and that the remedies were ill chosen; but it is a hard
thing to initiate any reform, and it was necessary to familiarise
the public mind with the principle, by inserting the thin end of
the wedge first: it is not, therefore, to be wondered at that
among so practical a people there should still be some room for
improvement. The mass of the nation are well pleased with existing
arrangements, and believe that their treatment of criminals leaves
little or nothing to be desired; but there is an energetic minority
who hold what are considered to be extreme opinions, and who are
not at all disposed to rest contented until the principle lately
admitted has been carried further.

I was at some pains to discover the opinions of these men, and
their reasons for entertaining them. They are held in great odium
by the generality of the public, and are considered as subverters
of all morality whatever. The malcontents, on the other hand,
assert that illness is the inevitable result of certain antecedent
causes, which, in the great majority of cases, were beyond the
control of the individual, and that therefore a man is only guilty
for being in a consumption in the same way as rotten fruit is
guilty for having gone rotten. True, the fruit must be thrown on
one side as unfit for man's use, and the man in a consumption must
be put in prison for the protection of his fellow-citizens; but
these radicals would not punish him further than by loss of liberty
and a strict surveillance. So long as he was prevented from
injuring society, they would allow him to make himself useful by
supplying whatever of society's wants he could supply. If he
succeeded in thus earning money, they would have him made as
comfortable in prison as possible, and would in no way interfere
with his liberty more than was necessary to prevent him from
escaping, or from becoming more severely indisposed within the
prison walls; but they would deduct from his earnings the expenses
of his board, lodging, surveillance, and half those of his
conviction. If he was too ill to do anything for his support in
prison, they would allow him nothing but bread and water, and very
little of that.

They say that society is foolish in refusing to allow itself to be
benefited by a man merely because he has done it harm hitherto, and
that objection to the labour of the diseased classes is only
protection in another form. It is an attempt to raise the natural
price of a commodity by saying that such and such persons, who are
able and willing to produce it, shall not do so, whereby every one
has to pay more for it.

Besides, so long as a man has not been actually killed he is our
fellow-creature, though perhaps a very unpleasant one. It is in a
great degree the doing of others that he is what he is, or in other
words, the society which now condemns him is partly answerable
concerning him. They say that there is no fear of any increase of
disease under these circumstances; for the loss of liberty, the
surveillance, the considerable and compulsory deduction from the
prisoner's earnings, the very sparing use of stimulants (of which
they would allow but little to any, and none to those who did not
earn them), the enforced celibacy, and above all, the loss of
reputation among friends, are in their opinion as ample safeguards
to society against a general neglect of health as those now
resorted to. A man, therefore, (so they say) should carry his
profession or trade into prison with him if possible; if not, he
must earn his living by the nearest thing to it that he can; but if
he be a gentleman born and bred to no profession, he must pick
oakum, or write art criticisms for a newspaper.

These people say further, that the greater part of the illness
which exists in their country is brought about by the insane manner
in which it is treated.

They believe that illness is in many cases just as curable as the
moral diseases which they see daily cured around them, but that a
great reform is impossible till men learn to take a juster view of
what physical obliquity proceeds from. Men will hide their
illnesses as long as they are scouted on its becoming known that
they are ill; it is the scouting, not the physic, which produces
the concealment; and if a man felt that the news of his being in
ill-health would be received by his neighbours as a deplorable
fact, but one as much the result of necessary antecedent causes as
though he had broken into a jeweller's shop and stolen a valuable
diamond necklace--as a fact which might just as easily have
happened to themselves, only that they had the luck to be better
born or reared; and if they also felt that they would not be made
more uncomfortable in the prison than the protection of society
against infection and the proper treatment of their own disease
actually demanded, men would give themselves up to the police as
readily on perceiving that they had taken small-pox, as they go now
to the straightener when they feel that they are on the point of
forging a will, or running away with somebody else's wife.

But the main argument on which they rely is that of economy: for
they know that they will sooner gain their end by appealing to
men's pockets, in which they have generally something of their own,
than to their heads, which contain for the most part little but
borrowed or stolen property; and also, they believe it to be the
readiest test and the one which has most to show for itself. If a
course of conduct can be shown to cost a country less, and this by
no dishonourable saving and with no indirectly increased
expenditure in other ways, they hold that it requires a good deal
to upset the arguments in favour of its being adopted, and whether
rightly or wrongly I cannot pretend to say, they think that the
more medicinal and humane treatment of the diseased of which they
are the advocates would in the long run be much cheaper to the
country: but I did not gather that these reformers were opposed to
meeting some of the more violent forms of illness with the cat-of-
nine-tails, or with death; for they saw no so effectual way of
checking them; they would therefore both flog and hang, but they
would do so pitifully.

I have perhaps dwelt too long upon opinions which can have no
possible bearing upon our own, but I have not said the tenth part
of what these would-be reformers urged upon me. I feel, however,
that I have sufficiently trespassed upon the attention of the


The Erewhonians regard death with less abhorrence than disease. If
it is an offence at all, it is one beyond the reach of the law,
which is therefore silent on the subject; but they insist that the
greater number of those who are commonly said to die, have never
yet been born--not, at least, into that unseen world which is alone
worthy of consideration. As regards this unseen world I understand
them to say that some miscarry in respect to it before they have
even reached the seen, and some after, while few are ever truly
born into it at all--the greater part of all the men and women over
the whole country miscarrying before they reach it. And they say
that this does not matter so much as we think it does.

As for what we call death, they argue that too much has been made
of it. The mere knowledge that we shall one day die does not make
us very unhappy; no one thinks that he or she will escape, so that
none are disappointed. We do not care greatly even though we know
that we have not long to live; the only thing that would seriously
affect us would be the knowing--or rather thinking that we know--
the precise moment at which the blow will fall. Happily no one can
ever certainly know this, though many try to make themselves
miserable by endeavouring to find it out. It seems as though there
were some power somewhere which mercifully stays us from putting
that sting into the tail of death, which we would put there if we
could, and which ensures that though death must always be a
bugbear, it shall never under any conceivable circumstances be more
than a bugbear.

For even though a man is condemned to die in a week's time and is
shut up in a prison from which it is certain that he cannot escape,
he will always hope that a reprieve may come before the week is
over. Besides, the prison may catch fire, and he may be suffocated
not with a rope, but with common ordinary smoke; or he may be
struck dead by lightning while exercising in the prison yards.
When the morning is come on which the poor wretch is to be hanged,
he may choke at his breakfast, or die from failure of the heart's
action before the drop has fallen; and even though it has fallen,
he cannot be quite certain that he is going to die, for he cannot
know this till his death has actually taken place, and it will be
too late then for him to discover that he was going to die at the
appointed hour after all. The Erewhonians, therefore, hold that
death, like life, is an affair of being more frightened than hurt.

They burn their dead, and the ashes are presently scattered over
any piece of ground which the deceased may himself have chosen. No
one is permitted to refuse this hospitality to the dead: people,
therefore, generally choose some garden or orchard which they may
have known and been fond of when they were young. The
superstitious hold that those whose ashes are scattered over any
land become its jealous guardians from that time forward; and the
living like to think that they shall become identified with this or
that locality where they have once been happy.

They do not put up monuments, nor write epitaphs, for their dead,
though in former ages their practice was much as ours, but they
have a custom which comes to much the same thing, for the instinct
of preserving the name alive after the death of the body seems to
be common to all mankind. They have statues of themselves made
while they are still alive (those, that is, who can afford it), and
write inscriptions under them, which are often quite as untruthful
as are our own epitaphs--only in another way. For they do not
hesitate to describe themselves as victims to ill temper, jealousy,
covetousness, and the like, but almost always lay claim to personal
beauty, whether they have it or not, and, often, to the possession
of a large sum in the funded debt of the country. If a person is
ugly he does not sit as a model for his own statue, although it
bears his name. He gets the handsomest of his friends to sit for
him, and one of the ways of paying a compliment to another is to
ask him to sit for such a statue. Women generally sit for their
own statues, from a natural disinclination to admit the superior
beauty of a friend, but they expect to be idealised. I understood
that the multitude of these statues was beginning to be felt as an
encumbrance in almost every family, and that the custom would
probably before long fall into desuetude.

Indeed, this has already come about to the satisfaction of every
one, as regards the statues of public men--not more than three of
which can be found in the whole capital. I expressed my surprise
at this, and was told that some five hundred years before my visit,
the city had been so overrun with these pests, that there was no
getting about, and people were worried beyond endurance by having
their attention called at every touch and turn to something, which,
when they had attended to it, they found not to concern them. Most
of these statues were mere attempts to do for some man or woman
what an animal-stuffer does more successfully for a dog, or bird,
or pike. They were generally foisted on the public by some coterie
that was trying to exalt itself in exalting some one else, and not
unfrequently they had no other inception than desire on the part of
some member of the coterie to find a job for a young sculptor to
whom his daughter was engaged. Statues so begotten could never be
anything but deformities, and this is the way in which they are
sure to be begotten, as soon as the art of making them at all has
become widely practised.

I know not why, but all the noblest arts hold in perfection but for
a very little moment. They soon reach a height from which they
begin to decline, and when they have begun to decline it is a pity
that they cannot be knocked on the head; for an art is like a
living organism--better dead than dying. There is no way of making
an aged art young again; it must be born anew and grow up from
infancy as a new thing, working out its own salvation from effort
to effort in all fear and trembling.

The Erewhonians five hundred years ago understood nothing of all
this--I doubt whether they even do so now. They wanted to get the
nearest thing they could to a stuffed man whose stuffing should not
grow mouldy. They should have had some such an establishment as
our Madame Tussaud's, where the figures wear real clothes, and are
painted up to nature. Such an institution might have been made
self-supporting, for people might have been made to pay before
going in. As it was, they had let their poor cold grimy colourless
heroes and heroines loaf about in squares and in corners of streets
in all weathers, without any attempt at artistic sanitation--for
there was no provision for burying their dead works of art out of
their sight--no drainage, so to speak, whereby statues that had
been sufficiently assimilated, so as to form part of the residuary
impression of the country, might be carried away out of the system.
Hence they put them up with a light heart on the cackling of their
coteries, and they and their children had to live, often enough,
with some wordy windbag whose cowardice had cost the country untold
loss in blood and money.

At last the evil reached such a pitch that the people rose, and
with indiscriminate fury destroyed good and bad alike. Most of
what was destroyed was bad, but some few works were good, and the
sculptors of to-day wring their hands over some of the fragments
that have been preserved in museums up and down the country. For a
couple of hundred years or so, not a statue was made from one end
of the kingdom to the other, but the instinct for having stuffed
men and women was so strong, that people at length again began to
try to make them. Not knowing how to make them, and having no
academics to mislead them, the earliest sculptors of this period
thought things out for themselves, and again produced works that
were full of interest, so that in three or four generations they
reached a perfection hardly if at all inferior to that of several
hundred years earlier.

On this the same evils recurred. Sculptors obtained high prices--
the art became a trade--schools arose which professed to sell the
holy spirit of art for money; pupils flocked from far and near to
buy it, in the hopes of selling it later on, and were struck
purblind as a punishment for the sin of those who sent them.
Before long a second iconoclastic fury would infallibly have
followed, but for the prescience of a statesman who succeeded in
passing an Act to the effect that no statue of any public man or
woman should be allowed to remain unbroken for more than fifty
years, unless at the end of that time a jury of twenty-four men
taken at random from the street pronounced in favour of its being
allowed a second fifty years of life. Every fifty years this
reconsideration was to be repeated, and unless there was a majority
of eighteen in favour of the retention of the statue, it was to be

Perhaps a simpler plan would have been to forbid the erection of a
statue to any public man or woman till he or she had been dead at
least one hundred years, and even then to insist on reconsideration
of the claims of the deceased and the merit of the statue every
fifty years--but the working of the Act brought about results that
on the whole were satisfactory. For in the first place, many
public statues that would have been voted under the old system,
were not ordered, when it was known that they would be almost
certainly broken up after fifty years, and in the second, public
sculptors knowing their work to be so ephemeral, scamped it to an
extent that made it offensive even to the most uncultured eye.
Hence before long subscribers took to paying the sculptor for the
statue of their dead statesmen, on condition that he did not make
it. The tribute of respect was thus paid to the deceased, the
public sculptors were not mulcted, and the rest of the public
suffered no inconvenience.

I was told, however, that an abuse of this custom is growing up,
inasmuch as the competition for the commission not to make a statue
is so keen, that sculptors have been known to return a considerable
part of the purchase money to the subscribers, by an arrangement
made with them beforehand. Such transactions, however, are always
clandestine. A small inscription is let into the pavement, where
the public statue would have stood, which informs the reader that
such a statue has been ordered for the person, whoever he or she
may be, but that as yet the sculptor has not been able to complete
it. There has been no Act to repress statues that are intended for
private consumption, but as I have said, the custom is falling into

Returning to Erewhonian customs in connection with death, there is
one which I can hardly pass over. When any one dies, the friends
of the family write no letters of condolence, neither do they
attend the scattering, nor wear mourning, but they send little
boxes filled with artificial tears, and with the name of the sender
painted neatly upon the outside of the lid. The tears vary in
number from two to fifteen or sixteen, according to degree of
intimacy or relationship; and people sometimes find it a nice point
of etiquette to know the exact number which they ought to send.
Strange as it may appear, this attention is highly valued, and its
omission by those from whom it might be expected is keenly felt.
These tears were formerly stuck with adhesive plaster to the cheeks
of the bereaved, and were worn in public for a few months after the
death of a relative; they were then banished to the hat or bonnet,
and are now no longer worn.

The birth of a child is looked upon as a painful subject on which
it is kinder not to touch: the illness of the mother is carefully
concealed until the necessity for signing the birth-formula (of
which hereafter) renders further secrecy impossible, and for some
months before the event the family live in retirement, seeing very
little company. When the offence is over and done with, it is
condoned by the common want of logic; for this merciful provision
of nature, this buffer against collisions, this friction which
upsets our calculations but without which existence would be
intolerable, this crowning glory of human invention whereby we can
be blind and see at one and the same moment, this blessed
inconsistency, exists here as elsewhere; and though the strictest
writers on morality have maintained that it is wicked for a woman
to have children at all, inasmuch as it is wrong to be out of
health that good may come, yet the necessity of the case has caused
a general feeling in favour of passing over such events in silence,
and of assuming their non-existence except in such flagrant cases
as force themselves on the public notice. Against these the
condemnation of society is inexorable, and if it is believed that
the illness has been dangerous and protracted, it is almost
impossible for a woman to recover her former position in society.

The above conventions struck me as arbitrary and cruel, but they
put a stop to many fancied ailments; for the situation, so far from
being considered interesting, is looked upon as savouring more or
less distinctly of a very reprehensible condition of things, and
the ladies take care to conceal it as long as they can even from
their own husbands, in anticipation of a severe scolding as soon as
the misdemeanour is discovered. Also the baby is kept out of
sight, except on the day of signing the birth-formula, until it can
walk and talk. Should the child unhappily die, a coroner's inquest
is inevitable, but in order to avoid disgracing a family which may
have been hitherto respected, it is almost invariably found that
the child was over seventy-five years old, and died from the decay
of nature.


I continued my sojourn with the Nosnibors. In a few days Mr.
Nosnibor had recovered from his flogging, and was looking forward
with glee to the fact that the next would be the last. I did not
think that there seemed any occasion even for this; but he said it
was better to be on the safe side, and he would make up the dozen.
He now went to his business as usual; and I understood that he was
never more prosperous, in spite of his heavy fine. He was unable
to give me much of his time during the day; for he was one of those
valuable men who are paid, not by the year, month, week, or day,
but by the minute. His wife and daughters, however, made much of
me, and introduced me to their friends, who came in shoals to call
upon me.

One of these persons was a lady called Mahaina. Zulora (the elder
of my host's daughters) ran up to her and embraced her as soon as
she entered the room, at the same time inquiring tenderly after her
"poor dipsomania." Mahaina answered that it was just as bad as
ever; she was a perfect martyr to it, and her excellent health was
the only thing which consoled her under her affliction.

Then the other ladies joined in with condolences and the never-
failing suggestions which they had ready for every mental malady.
They recommended their own straightener and disparaged Mahaina's.
Mrs. Nosnibor had a favourite nostrum, but I could catch little of
its nature. I heard the words "full confidence that the desire to
drink will cease when the formula has been repeated * * * this
confidence is EVERYTHING * * * far from undervaluing a thorough
determination never to touch spirits again * * * fail too often * *
* formula a CERTAIN CURE (with great emphasis) * * * prescribed
form * * * full conviction." The conversation then became more
audible, and was carried on at considerable length. I should
perplex myself and the reader by endeavouring to follow the
ingenious perversity of all they said; enough, that in the course
of time the visit came to an end, and Mahaina took her leave
receiving affectionate embraces from all the ladies. I had
remained in the background after the first ceremony of
introduction, for I did not like the looks of Mahaina, and the
conversation displeased me. When she left the room I had some
consolation in the remarks called forth by her departure.

At first they fell to praising her very demurely. She was all this
that and the other, till I disliked her more and more at every
word, and inquired how it was that the straighteners had not been
able to cure her as they had cured Mr. Nosnibor.

There was a shade of significance on Mrs. Nosnibor's face as I said
this, which seemed to imply that she did not consider Mahaina's
case to be quite one for a straightener. It flashed across me that
perhaps the poor woman did not drink at all. I knew that I ought
not to have inquired, but I could not help it, and asked point
blank whether she did or not.

"We can none of us judge of the condition of other people," said
Mrs. Nosnibor in a gravely charitable tone and with a look towards

"Oh, mamma," answered Zulora, pretending to be half angry but
rejoiced at being able to say out what she was already longing to
insinuate; "I don't believe a word of it. It's all indigestion. I
remember staying in the house with her for a whole month last
summer, and I am sure she never once touched a drop of wine or
spirits. The fact is, Mahaina is a very weakly girl, and she
pretends to get tipsy in order to win a forbearance from her
friends to which she is not entitled. She is not strong enough for
her calisthenic exercises, and she knows she would be made to do
them unless her inability was referred to moral causes."

Here the younger sister, who was ever sweet and kind, remarked that
she thought Mahaina did tipple occasionally. "I also think," she
added, "that she sometimes takes poppy juice."

"Well, then, perhaps she does drink sometimes," said Zulora; "but
she would make us all think that she does it much oftener in order
to hide her weakness."

And so they went on for half an hour and more, bandying about the
question as to how far their late visitor's intemperance was real
or no. Every now and then they would join in some charitable
commonplace, and would pretend to be all of one mind that Mahaina
was a person whose bodily health would be excellent if it were not
for her unfortunate inability to refrain from excessive drinking;
but as soon as this appeared to be fairly settled they began to be
uncomfortable until they had undone their work and left some
serious imputation upon her constitution. At last, seeing that the
debate had assumed the character of a cyclone or circular storm,
going round and round and round and round till one could never say
where it began nor where it ended, I made some apology for an
abrupt departure and retired to my own room.

Here at least I was alone, but I was very unhappy. I had fallen
upon a set of people who, in spite of their high civilisation and
many excellences, had been so warped by the mistaken views
presented to them during childhood from generation to generation,
that it was impossible to see how they could ever clear themselves.
Was there nothing which I could say to make them feel that the
constitution of a person's body was a thing over which he or she
had had at any rate no initial control whatever, while the mind was
a perfectly different thing, and capable of being created anew and
directed according to the pleasure of its possessor? Could I never
bring them to see that while habits of mind and character were
entirely independent of initial mental force and early education,
the body was so much a creature of parentage and circumstances,
that no punishment for ill-health should be ever tolerated save as
a protection from contagion, and that even where punishment was
inevitable it should be attended with compassion? Surely, if the
unfortunate Mahaina were to feel that she could avow her bodily
weakness without fear of being despised for her infirmities, and if
there were medical men to whom she could fairly state her case, she
would not hesitate about doing so through the fear of taking nasty
medicine. It was possible that her malady was incurable (for I had
heard enough to convince me that her dipsomania was only a pretence
and that she was temperate in all her habits); in that case she
might perhaps be justly subject to annoyances or even to restraint;
but who could say whether she was curable or not, until she was
able to make a clean breast of her symptoms instead of concealing
them? In their eagerness to stamp out disease, these people
overshot their mark; for people had become so clever at
dissembling--they painted their faces with such consummate skill--
they repaired the decay of time and the effects of mischance with
such profound dissimulation--that it was really impossible to say
whether any one was well or ill till after an intimate acquaintance
of months or years. Even then the shrewdest were constantly
mistaken in their judgements, and marriages were often contracted
with most deplorable results, owing to the art with which infirmity
had been concealed.

It appeared to me that the first step towards the cure of disease
should be the announcement of the fact to a person's near relations
and friends. If any one had a headache, he ought to be permitted
within reasonable limits to say so at once, and to retire to his
own bedroom and take a pill, without every one's looking grave and
tears being shed and all the rest of it. As it was, even upon
hearing it whispered that somebody else was subject to headaches, a
whole company must look as though they had never had a headache in
their lives. It is true they were not very prevalent, for the
people were the healthiest and most comely imaginable, owing to the
severity with which ill health was treated; still, even the best
were liable to be out of sorts sometimes, and there were few
families that had not a medicine-chest in a cupboard somewhere.


On my return to the drawing-room, I found that the Mahaina current
had expended itself. The ladies were just putting away their work
and preparing to go out. I asked them where they were going. They
answered with a certain air of reserve that they were going to the
bank to get some money.

Now I had already collected that the mercantile affairs of the
Erewhonians were conducted on a totally different system from our
own; I had, however, gathered little hitherto, except that they had
two distinct commercial systems, of which the one appealed more
strongly to the imagination than anything to which we are
accustomed in Europe, inasmuch as the banks that were conducted
upon this system were decorated in the most profuse fashion, and
all mercantile transactions were accompanied with music, so that
they were called Musical Banks, though the music was hideous to a
European ear.

As for the system itself I never understood it, neither can I do so
now: they have a code in connection with it, which I have not the
slightest doubt that they understand, but no foreigner can hope to
do so. One rule runs into, and against, another as in a most
complicated grammar, or as in Chinese pronunciation, wherein I am
told that the slightest change in accentuation or tone of voice
alters the meaning of a whole sentence. Whatever is incoherent in
my description must be referred to the fact of my never having
attained to a full comprehension of the subject.

So far, however, as I could collect anything certain, I gathered
that they have two distinct currencies, each under the control of
its own banks and mercantile codes. One of these (the one with the
Musical Banks) was supposed to be THE system, and to give out the
currency in which all monetary transactions should be carried on;
and as far as I could see, all who wished to be considered
respectable, kept a larger or smaller balance at these banks. On
the other hand, if there is one thing of which I am more sure than
another, it is that the amount so kept had no direct commercial
value in the outside world; I am sure that the managers and
cashiers of the Musical Banks were not paid in their own currency.
Mr. Nosnibor used to go to these banks, or rather to the great
mother bank of the city, sometimes but not very often. He was a
pillar of one of the other kind of banks, though he appeared to
hold some minor office also in the musical ones. The ladies
generally went alone; as indeed was the case in most families,
except on state occasions.

I had long wanted to know more of this strange system, and had the
greatest desire to accompany my hostess and her daughters. I had
seen them go out almost every morning since my arrival and had
noticed that they carried their purses in their hands, not exactly
ostentatiously, yet just so as that those who met them should see
whither they were going. I had never, however, yet been asked to
go with them myself.

It is not easy to convey a person's manner by words, and I can
hardly give any idea of the peculiar feeling that came upon me when
I saw the ladies on the point of starting for the bank. There was
a something of regret, a something as though they would wish to
take me with them, but did not like to ask me, and yet as though I
were hardly to ask to be taken. I was determined, however, to
bring matters to an issue with my hostess about my going with them,
and after a little parleying, and many inquiries as to whether I
was perfectly sure that I myself wished to go, it was decided that
I might do so.

We passed through several streets of more or less considerable
houses, and at last turning round a corner we came upon a large
piazza, at the end of which was a magnificent building, of a
strange but noble architecture and of great antiquity. It did not
open directly on to the piazza, there being a screen, through which
was an archway, between the piazza and the actual precincts of the
bank. On passing under the archway we entered upon a green sward,
round which there ran an arcade or cloister, while in front of us
uprose the majestic towers of the bank and its venerable front,
which was divided into three deep recesses and adorned with all
sorts of marbles and many sculptures. On either side there were
beautiful old trees wherein the birds were busy by the hundred, and
a number of quaint but substantial houses of singularly comfortable
appearance; they were situated in the midst of orchards and
gardens, and gave me an impression of great peace and plenty.

Indeed it had been no error to say that this building was one that
appealed to the imagination; it did more--it carried both
imagination and judgement by storm. It was an epic in stone and
marble, and so powerful was the effect it produced on me, that as I
beheld it I was charmed and melted. I felt more conscious of the
existence of a remote past. One knows of this always, but the
knowledge is never so living as in the actual presence of some
witness to the life of bygone ages. I felt how short a space of
human life was the period of our own existence. I was more
impressed with my own littleness, and much more inclinable to
believe that the people whose sense of the fitness of things was
equal to the upraising of so serene a handiwork, were hardly likely
to be wrong in the conclusions they might come to upon any subject.
My feeling certainly was that the currency of this bank must be the
right one.

We crossed the sward and entered the building. If the outside had
been impressive the inside was even more so. It was very lofty and
divided into several parts by walls which rested upon massive
pillars; the windows were filled with stained glass descriptive of
the principal commercial incidents of the bank for many ages. In a
remote part of the building there were men and boys singing; this
was the only disturbing feature, for as the gamut was still
unknown, there was no music in the country which could be agreeable
to a European ear. The singers seemed to have derived their
inspirations from the songs of birds and the wailing of the wind,
which last they tried to imitate in melancholy cadences that at
times degenerated into a howl. To my thinking the noise was
hideous, but it produced a great effect upon my companions, who
professed themselves much moved. As soon as the singing was over,
the ladies requested me to stay where I was while they went inside
the place from which it had seemed to come.

During their absence certain reflections forced themselves upon me.

In the first place, it struck me as strange that the building
should be so nearly empty; I was almost alone, and the few besides
myself had been led by curiosity, and had no intention of doing
business with the bank. But there might be more inside. I stole
up to the curtain, and ventured to draw the extreme edge of it on
one side. No, there was hardly any one there. I saw a large
number of cashiers, all at their desks ready to pay cheques, and
one or two who seemed to be the managing partners. I also saw my
hostess and her daughters and two or three other ladies; also three
or four old women and the boys from one of the neighbouring
Colleges of Unreason; but there was no one else. This did not look
as though the bank was doing a very large business; and yet I had
always been told that every one in the city dealt with this

I cannot describe all that took place in these inner precincts, for
a sinister-looking person in a black gown came and made unpleasant
gestures at me for peeping. I happened to have in my pocket one of
the Musical Bank pieces, which had been given me by Mrs. Nosnibor,
so I tried to tip him with it; but having seen what it was, he
became so angry that I had to give him a piece of the other kind of
money to pacify him. When I had done this he became civil
directly. As soon as he was gone I ventured to take a second look,
and saw Zulora in the very act of giving a piece of paper which
looked like a cheque to one of the cashiers. He did not examine
it, but putting his hand into an antique coffer hard by, he pulled
out a quantity of metal pieces apparently at random, and handed
them over without counting them; neither did Zulora count them, but
put them into her purse and went back to her seat after dropping a
few pieces of the other coinage into an alms box that stood by the
cashier's side. Mrs. Nosnibor and Arowhena then did likewise, but
a little later they gave all (so far as I could see) that they had
received from the cashier back to a verger, who I have no doubt put
it back into the coffer from which it had been taken. They then
began making towards the curtain; whereon I let it drop and
retreated to a reasonable distance.

They soon joined me. For some few minutes we all kept silence, but
at last I ventured to remark that the bank was not so busy to-day
as it probably often was. On this Mrs. Nosnibor said that it was
indeed melancholy to see what little heed people paid to the most
precious of all institutions. I could say nothing in reply, but I
have ever been of opinion that the greater part of mankind do
approximately know where they get that which does them good.

Mrs. Nosnibor went on to say that I must not think there was any
want of confidence in the bank because I had seen so few people
there; the heart of the country was thoroughly devoted to these
establishments, and any sign of their being in danger would bring
in support from the most unexpected quarters. It was only because
people knew them to be so very safe, that in some cases (as she
lamented to say in Mr. Nosnibor's) they felt that their support was
unnecessary. Moreover these institutions never departed from the
safest and most approved banking principles. Thus they never
allowed interest on deposit, a thing now frequently done by certain
bubble companies, which by doing an illegitimate trade had drawn
many customers away; and even the shareholders were fewer than
formerly, owing to the innovations of these unscrupulous persons,
for the Musical Banks paid little or no dividend, but divided their
profits by way of bonus on the original shares once in every thirty
thousand years; and as it was now only two thousand years since
there had been one of these distributions, people felt that they
could not hope for another in their own time and preferred
investments whereby they got some more tangible return; all which,
she said, was very melancholy to think of.

Having made these last admissions, she returned to her original
statement, namely, that every one in the country really supported
these banks. As to the fewness of the people, and the absence of
the able-bodied, she pointed out to me with some justice that this
was exactly what we ought to expect. The men who were most
conversant about the stability of human institutions, such as the
lawyers, men of science, doctors, statesmen, painters, and the
like, were just those who were most likely to be misled by their
own fancied accomplishments, and to be made unduly suspicious by
their licentious desire for greater present return, which was at
the root of nine-tenths of the opposition; by their vanity, which
would prompt them to affect superiority to the prejudices of the
vulgar; and by the stings of their own conscience, which was
constantly upbraiding them in the most cruel manner on account of
their bodies, which were generally diseased.

Let a person's intellect (she continued) be never so sound, unless
his body is in absolute health, he can form no judgement worth
having on matters of this kind. The body is everything: it need
not perhaps be such a strong body (she said this because she saw
that I was thinking of the old and infirm-looking folks whom I had
seen in the bank), but it must be in perfect health; in this case,
the less active strength it had the more free would be the working
of the intellect, and therefore the sounder the conclusion. The
people, then, whom I had seen at the bank were in reality the very
ones whose opinions were most worth having; they declared its
advantages to be incalculable, and even professed to consider the
immediate return to be far larger than they were entitled to; and
so she ran on, nor did she leave off till we had got back to the

She might say what she pleased, but her manner carried no
conviction, and later on I saw signs of general indifference to
these banks that were not to be mistaken. Their supporters often
denied it, but the denial was generally so couched as to add
another proof of its existence. In commercial panics, and in times
of general distress, the people as a mass did not so much as even
think of turning to these banks. A few might do so, some from
habit and early training, some from the instinct that prompts us to
catch at any straw when we think ourselves drowning, but few from a
genuine belief that the Musical Banks could save them from
financial ruin, if they were unable to meet their engagements in
the other kind of currency.

In conversation with one of the Musical Bank managers I ventured to
hint this as plainly as politeness would allow. He said that it
had been more or less true till lately; but that now they had put
fresh stained glass windows into all the banks in the country, and
repaired the buildings, and enlarged the organs; the presidents,
moreover, had taken to riding in omnibuses and talking nicely to
people in the streets, and to remembering the ages of their
children, and giving them things when they were naughty, so that
all would henceforth go smoothly.

"But haven't you done anything to the money itself?" said I,

"It is not necessary," he rejoined; "not in the least necessary, I
assure you."

And yet any one could see that the money given out at these banks
was not that with which people bought their bread, meat, and
clothing. It was like it at a first glance, and was stamped with
designs that were often of great beauty; it was not, again, a
spurious coinage, made with the intention that it should be
mistaken for the money in actual use; it was more like a toy money,
or the counters used for certain games at cards; for,
notwithstanding the beauty of the designs, the material on which
they were stamped was as nearly valueless as possible. Some were
covered with tin foil, but the greater part were frankly of a cheap
base metal the exact nature of which I was not able to determine.
Indeed they were made of a great variety of metals, or, perhaps
more accurately, alloys, some of which were hard, while others
would bend easily and assume almost any form which their possessor
might desire at the moment.

Of course every one knew that their commercial value was nil, but
all those who wished to be considered respectable thought it
incumbent upon them to retain a few coins in their possession, and
to let them be seen from time to time in their hands and purses.
Not only this, but they would stick to it that the current coin of
the realm was dross in comparison with the Musical Bank coinage.
Perhaps, however, the strangest thing of all was that these very
people would at times make fun in small ways of the whole system;
indeed, there was hardly any insinuation against it which they
would not tolerate and even applaud in their daily newspapers if
written anonymously, while if the same thing were said without
ambiguity to their faces--nominative case verb and accusative being

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