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- Samuel Butler: A Sketch - 2/7 -


From this it appears that, when only just over twenty-two, Butler had already discovered and adopted those principles of writing from which he never departed.

In the fifth number of the 'Eagle' is an article, "Our Tour," also signed "Cellarius"; it is an account of a tour made in June, 1857, with a friend whose name he Italianized into Giuseppe Verdi, through France into North Italy, and was written, so he says, to show how they got so much into three weeks and spent only 25 pounds; they did not, however, spend quite so much, for the article goes on, after bringing them back to England, "Next day came safely home to dear old St. John's, cash in hand 7d." {1}

Butler worked hard with Shilleto, an old pupil of his grandfather, and was bracketed 12th in the Classical Tripos of 1858. Canon M'Cormick told me that he would no doubt have been higher but for the fact that he at first intended to go out in mathematics; it was only during the last year of his time that he returned to the classics, and his being so high as he was spoke well for the classical education of Shrewsbury.

It had always been an understood thing that he was to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and become a clergyman; accordingly, after taking his degree, he went to London and began to prepare for ordination, living and working among the poor as lay assistant under the Rev. Philip Perring, Curate of St. James's, Piccadilly, an old pupil of Dr. Butler at Shrewsbury. {2} Placed among such surroundings, he felt bound to think out for himself many theological questions which at this time were first presented to him, and, the conclusion being forced upon him that he could not believe in the efficacy of infant baptism, he declined to be ordained.

It was now his desire to become an artist; this, however, did not meet with the approval of his family, and he returned to Cambridge to try for pupils and, if possible, to get a fellowship. He liked being at Cambridge, but there were few pupils and, as there seemed to be little chance of a fellowship, his father wished him to come down and adopt some profession. A long correspondence took place in the course of which many alternatives were considered. There are letters about his becoming a farmer in England, a tutor, a homoepathic doctor, an artist, or a publisher, and the possibilities of the army, the bar, and diplomacy. Finally it was decided that he should emigrate to New Zealand. His passage was paid, and he was to sail in the 'Burmah', but a cousin of his received information about this vessel which caused him, much against his will, to get back his passage money and take a berth in the 'Roman Emperor', which sailed from Gravesend on one of the last days of September, 1859. On that night, for the first time in his life, he did not say his prayers. "I suppose the sense of change was so great that it shook them quietly off. I was not then a sceptic; I had got as far as disbelief in infant baptism, but no further. I felt no compunction of conscience, however, about leaving off my morning and evening prayers--simply I could no longer say them."

The 'Roman Emperor', after a voyage every incident of which interested him deeply, arrived outside Port Lyttelton. The captain shouted to the pilot who came to take them in:

"Has the 'Robert Small' arrived?"

"No," replied the pilot, "nor yet the 'Burmah'."

And Butler, writing home to his people, adds the comment: "You may imagine what I felt."

The 'Burmah' was never heard of again.

He spent some time looking round, considering what to do and how to employ the money with which his father was ready to supply him, and determined upon sheep-farming. He made several excursions looking for country, and ultimately took up a run which is still called Mesopotamia, the name he gave it because it is situated among the head-waters of the Rangitata.

It was necessary to have a horse, and he bought one for 55 pounds, which was not considered dear. He wrote home that the horse's name was "Doctor": "I hope he is a Homoeopathist." From this, and from the fact that he had already contemplated becoming a homoeopathic doctor himself, I conclude that he had made the acquaintance of Dr. Robert Ellis Dudgeon, the eminent homoeopathist, while he was doing parish work in London. After his return to England Dr. Dudgeon was his medical adviser, and remained one of his most intimate friends until the end of his life. Doctor, the horse, is introduced into 'Erewhon Revisited'; the shepherd in Chapter XXVI tells John Hicks that Doctor "would pick fords better than that gentleman could, I know, and if the gentleman fell off him he would just stay stock still."

Butler carried on his run for about four and a half years, and the open-air life agreed with him; he ascribed to this the good health he afterwards enjoyed. The following, taken from a notebook he kept in the colony and destroyed, gives a glimpse of one side of his life there; he preserved the note because it recalled New Zealand so vividly.

April, 1861. It is Sunday. We rose later than usual. There are five of us sleeping in the hut. I sleep in a bunk on one side of the fire; Mr. Haast, {3} a German who is making a geological survey of the province, sleeps upon the opposite one; my bullock-driver and hut-keeper have two bunks at the far end of the hut, along the wall, while my shepherd lies in the loft among the tea and sugar and flour. It was a fine morning, and we turned out about seven o'clock.

The usual mutton and bread for breakfast with a pudding made of flour and water baked in the camp oven after a joint of meat--Yorkshire pudding, but without eggs. While we were at breakfast a robin perched on the table and sat there a good while pecking at the sugar. We went on breakfasting with little heed to the robin, and the robin went on pecking with little heed to us. After breakfast Pey, my bullock-driver, went to fetch the horses up from a spot about two miles down the river, where they often run; we wanted to go pig- hunting.

I go into the garden and gather a few peascods for seed till the horses should come up. Then Cook, the shepherd, says that a fire has sprung up on the other side of the river. Who could have lit it? Probably someone who had intended coming to my place on the preceding evening and has missed his way, for there is no track of any sort between here and Phillips's. In a quarter of an hour he lit another fire lower down, and by that time, the horses having come up, Haast and myself--remembering how Dr. Sinclair had just been drowned so near the same spot--think it safer to ride over to him and put him across the river. The river was very low and so clear that we could see every stone. On getting to the river-bed we lit a fire and did the same on leaving it; our tracks would guide anyone over the intervening ground.

Besides his occupation with the sheep, he found time to play the piano, to read and to write. In the library of St. John's College, Cambridge, are two copies of the Greek Testament, very fully annotated by him at the University and in the colony. He also read the 'Origin of Species', which, as everyone knows, was published in 1859. He became "one of Mr. Darwin's many enthusiastic admirers, and wrote a philosophic dialogue (the most offensive form, except poetry and books of travel into supposed unknown countries, that even literature can assume) upon the 'Origin of Species'" ('Unconscious Memory', close of Chapter I). This dialogue, unsigned, was printed in the 'Press', Canterbury, New Zealand, on 20th December, 1862. A copy of the paper was sent to Charles Darwin, who forwarded it to a, presumably, English editor with a letter, now in the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, speaking of the dialogue as "remarkable from its spirit and from giving so clear and accurate an account of Mr. D's theory." It is possible that Butler himself sent the newspaper containing his dialogue to Mr. Darwin; if so he did not disclose his name, for Darwin says in his letter that he does not know who the author was. Butler was closely connected with the 'Press', which was founded by James Edward FitzGerald, the first Superintendent of the Province, in May, 1861; he frequently contributed to its pages, and once, during FitzGerald's absence, had charge of it for a short time, though he was never its actual editor. The 'Press' reprinted the dialogue and the correspondence which followed its original appearance on 8th June, 1912.

On 13th June, 1863, the 'Press' printed a letter by Butler signed "Cellarius" and headed "Darwin among the Machines," reprinted in 'The Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912). The letter begins:

"Sir: There are few things of which the present generation is more justly proud than of the wonderful improvements which are daily taking place in all sorts of mechanical appliances"; and goes on to say that, as the vegetable kingdom was developed from the mineral, and as the animal kingdom supervened upon the vegetable, "so now, in the last few ages, an entirely new kingdom has sprung up of which we as yet have only seen what will one day be considered the antediluvian types of the race." He then speaks of the minute members which compose the beautiful and intelligent little animal which we call the watch, and of how it has gradually been evolved from the clumsy brass clocks of the thirteenth century. Then comes the question: Who will be man's successor? To which the answer is: We are ourselves creating our own successors. Man will become to the machine what the horse and the dog are to man; the conclusion being that machines are, or are becoming, animate.

In 1863 Butler's family published in his name 'A First Year in Canterbury Settlement', which, as the preface states, was compiled from his letters home, his journal and extracts from two papers contributed to the 'Eagle'. These two papers had appeared in the 'Eagle' as three articles entitled "Our Emigrant" and signed "Cellarius." The proof-sheets of the book went out to New Zealand for correction and were sent back in the Colombo, which was as unfortunate as the 'Burmah', for she was wrecked. The proofs, however, were fished up, though so nearly washed out as to be almost undecipherable. Butler would have been just as well pleased if they had remained at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, for he never liked the book and always spoke of it as being full of youthful priggishness; but I think he was a little hard upon it. Years afterwards, in one of his later books, after quoting two passages from Mr. Grant Allen and pointing out why he considered the second to be a recantation of the first, he wrote: "When Mr. Allen does make stepping-stones of his dead selves he jumps upon them to some tune." And he was perhaps a little inclined to treat his own dead self too much in the same spirit.

Butler did very well with the sheep, sold out in 1864, and returned via Callao to England. He travelled with three friends whose acquaintance he had made in the colony; one was Charles Paine Pauli, to whom he dedicated 'Life and Habit'. He arrived in August, 1864, in London, where he took chambers consisting of a sitting-room, a


Samuel Butler: A Sketch - 2/7

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