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- Samuel Butler: A Sketch - 3/7 -
bedroom, a painting-room and a pantry, at 15, Clifford's Inn, second floor (north). The net financial result of the sheep-farming and the selling out was that he practically doubled his capital, that is to say he had about 8,000 pounds. This he left in New Zealand, invested on mortgage at 10 per cent., the then current rate in the colony; it produced more than enough for him to live upon in the very simple way that suited him best, and life in the Inns of Court resembles life at Cambridge in that it reduces the cares of housekeeping to a minimum; it suited him so well that he never changed his rooms, remaining there thirty-eight years till his death.
He was now his own master and able at last to turn to painting. He studied at the art school in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury, which had formerly been managed by Henry Sass, but, in Butler's time, was being carried on by Francis Stephen Cary, son of the Rev. Henry Francis Cary, who had been a school-fellow of Dr. Butler at Rugby, and is well known as the translator of Dante and the friend of Charles Lamb. Among his fellow-students was Mr. H. R. Robertson, who told me that the young artists got hold of the legend, which is in some of the books about Lamb, that when Francis Stephen Cary was a boy and there was a talk at his father's house as to what profession he should take up, Lamb, who was present, said:
"I should make him an apo-po-pothe-Cary."
They used to repeat this story freely among themselves, being, no doubt, amused by the Lamb-like pun, but also enjoying the malicious pleasure of hinting that it might have been as well for their art education if the advice of the gentle humorist had been followed. Anyone who wants to know what kind of an artist F. S. Cary was can see his picture of Charles and Mary Lamb in the National Portrait Gallery.
In 1865 Butler sent from London to New Zealand an article entitled "Lucubratio Ebria," which was published in the 'Press' of 29th July, 1865. It treated machines from a point of view different from that adopted in "Darwin among the Machines," and was one of the steps that led to 'Erewhon' and ultimately to 'Life and Habit'. The article is reproduced in 'The Note-Books of Samuel Butler' (1912).
Butler also studied art at South Kensington, but by 1867 he had begun to go to Heatherley's School of Art in Newman Street, where he continued going for many years. He made a number of friends at Heatherley's, and among them Miss Eliza Mary Anne Savage. There also he first met Charles Gogin, who, in 1896, painted the portrait of Butler which is now in the National Portrait Gallery. He described himself as an artist in the Post Office Directory, and between 1868 and 1876 exhibited at the Royal Academy about a dozen pictures, of which the most important was "Mr. Heatherley's Holiday," hung on the line in 1874. He left it by his will to his college friend Jason Smith, whose representatives, after his death, in 1910, gave it to the nation, and it is now in the National Gallery of British Art. Mr. Heatherley never went away for a holiday; he once had to go out of town on business and did not return till the next day; one of the students asked him how he had got on, saying no doubt he had enjoyed the change and that he must have found it refreshing to sleep for once out of London.
"No," said Heatherley, "I did not like it. Country air has no body."
The consequence was that, whenever there was a holiday and the school was shut, Heatherley employed the time in mending the skeleton; Butler's picture represents him so engaged in a corner of the studio. In this way he got his model for nothing. Sometimes he hung up a looking-glass near one of his windows and painted his own portrait. Many of these he painted out, but after his death we found a little store of them in his rooms, some of the early ones very curious. Of the best of them one is now at Canterbury, New Zealand, one at St. John's College, Cambridge, and one at the Schools, Shrewsbury.
This is Butler's own account of himself, taken from a letter to Sir Julius von Haast; although written in 1865 it is true of his mode of life for many years:
I have been taking lessons in painting ever since I arrived. I was always very fond of it and mean to stick to it; it suits me and I am not without hopes that I shall do well at it. I live almost the life of a recluse, seeing very few people and going nowhere that I can help--I mean in the way of parties and so forth; if my friends had their way they would fritter away my time without any remorse; but I made a regular stand against it from the beginning and so, having my time pretty much in my own hands, work hard; I find, as I am sure you must find, that it is next to impossible to combine what is commonly called society and work.
But the time saved from society was not all devoted to painting. He modified his letter to the 'Press' about "Darwin among the Machines" and, so modified, it appeared in 1865 as "The Mechanical Creation" in the 'Reasoner', a paper then published in London by Mr. G. J. Holyoake. And his mind returned to the considerations which had determined him to decline to be ordained. In 1865 he printed anonymously a pamphlet which he had begun in New Zealand, the result of his study of the Greek Testament, entitled 'The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as given by the Four Evangelists critically examined'. After weighing this evidence and comparing one account with another, he came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ did not die upon the cross. It is improbable that a man officially executed should escape death, but the alternative, that a man actually dead should return to life, seemed to Butler more improbable still and unsupported by such evidence as he found in the gospels. From this evidence he concluded that Christ swooned and recovered consciousness after his body had passed into the keeping of Joseph of Arimathaea. He did not suppose fraud on the part of the first preachers of Christianity; they sincerely believed that Christ died and rose again. Joseph and Nicodemus probably knew the truth but kept silence. The idea of what might follow from belief in one single supposed miracle was never hereafter absent from Butler's mind.
In 1869, having been working too hard, he went abroad for a long change. On his way back, at the Albergo La Luna, in Venice, he met an elderly Russian lady in whose company he spent most of his time there. She was no doubt impressed by his versatility and charmed, as everyone always was, by his conversation and original views on the many subjects that interested him. We may be sure he told her all about himself and what he had done and was intending to do. At the end of his stay, when he was taking leave of her, she said:
"Et maintenant, Monsieur, vous allez creer," meaning, as he understood her, that he had been looking long enough at the work of others and should now do something of his own.
This sank into him and pained him. He was nearly thirty-five, and hitherto all had been admiration, vague aspiration and despair; he had produced in painting nothing but a few sketches and studies, and in literature only a few ephemeral articles, a collection of youthful letters and a pamphlet on the Resurrection; moreover, to none of his work had anyone paid the slightest attention. This was a poor return for all the money which had been spent upon his education, as Theobald would have said in 'The Way of All Flesh'. He returned home dejected, but resolved that things should be different in the future. While in this frame of mind he received a visit from one of his New Zealand friends, the late Sir F. Napier Broome, afterwards Governor of Western Australia, who incidentally suggested his rewriting his New Zealand articles. The idea pleased him; it might not be creating, but at least it would be doing something. So he set to work on Sundays and in the evenings, as relaxation from his profession of painting, and, taking his New Zealand article, "Darwin among the Machines," and another, "The World of the Unborn," as a starting-point and helping himself with a few sentences from 'A First Year in Canterbury Settlement', he gradually formed 'Erewhon'. He sent the MS. bit by bit, as it was written, to Miss Savage for her criticism and approval. He had the usual difficulty about finding a publisher. Chapman and Hall refused the book on the advice of George Meredith, who was then their reader, and in the end he published it at his own expense through Messrs. Trubner.
Mr. Sydney C. Cockerell told me that in 1912 Mr. Bertram Dobell, second-hand bookseller of Charing Cross Road, offered a copy of 'Erewhon' for 1 pound 10s.; it was thus described in his catalogue: "Unique copy with the following note in the author's handwriting on the half-title: 'To Miss E. M. A. Savage this first copy of 'Erewhon' with the author's best thanks for many invaluable suggestions and corrections.'" When Mr. Cockerell inquired for the book it was sold. After Miss Savage's death in 1885 all Butler's letters to her were returned to him, including the letter he wrote when he sent her this copy of 'Erewhon'. He gave her the first copy issued of all his books that were published in her lifetime, and, no doubt, wrote an inscription in each. If the present possessors of any of them should happen to read this sketch I hope they will communicate with me, as I should like to see these books. I should also like to see some numbers of the 'Drawing-Room Gazette', which about this time belonged to or was edited by a Mrs. Briggs. Miss Savage wrote a review of 'Erewhon', which appeared in the number for 8th June, 1872, and Butler quoted a sentence from her review among the press notices in the second edition. She persuaded him to write for Mrs. Briggs notices of concerts at which Handel's music was performed. In 1901 he made a note on one of his letters that he was thankful there were no copies of the 'Drawing-Room Gazette' in the British Museum, meaning that he did not want people to read his musical criticisms; nevertheless, I hope some day to come across back numbers containing his articles.
The opening of 'Erewhon' is based upon Butler's colonial experiences; some of the descriptions remind one of passages in 'A First Year in Canterbury Settlement', where he speaks of the excursions he made with Doctor when looking for sheep-country. The walk over the range as far as the statues is taken from the Upper Rangitata district, with some alterations; but the walk down from the statues into Erewhon is reminiscent of the Leventina Valley in the Canton Ticino. The great chords, which are like the music moaned by the statues are from the prelude to the first of Handel's 'Trois Lecons'; he used to say:
"One feels them in the diaphragm--they are, as it were, the groaning and labouring of all creation travailing together until now."
There is a place in New Zealand named Erewhon, after the book; it is marked on the large maps, a township about fifty miles west of Napier in the Hawke Bay Province (North Island). I am told that people in New Zealand sometimes call their houses Erewhon and occasionally spell the word Erehwon which Butler did not intend; he treated wh as a single letter, as one would treat th. Among other traces of Erewhon now existing in real life are Butler's Stones on the Hokitika Pass, so called because of a legend that they were in his mind when he described the statues.
The book was translated into Dutch in 1873 and into German in 1897.
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