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- Samuel Butler: A Sketch - 5/7 -
sketches made on the spot, in oil, water-colour, and pencil. There were also many illustrations of another kind--extracts from Handel's music, each chosen because Butler thought it suitable to the spirit of the scene he wished to bring before the reader. The introduction concludes with these words: "I have chosen Italy as my second country, and would dedicate this book to her as a thank-offering for the happiness she has afforded me."
In the spring of 1883 he began to compose music, and in 1885 we published together an album of minuets, gavottes, and fugues. This led to our writing 'Narcissus', which is an Oratorio Buffo in the Handelian manner--that is as nearly so as we could make it. It is a mistake to suppose that all Handel's oratorios are upon sacred subjects; some of them are secular. And not only so, but, whatever the subject, Handel was never at a loss in treating anything that came into his words by way of allusion or illustration. As Butler puts it in one of his sonnets:
He who gave eyes to ears and showed in sound All thoughts and things in earth or heaven above - From fire and hailstones running along the ground To Galatea grieving for her love - He who could show to all unseeing eyes Glad shepherds watching o'er their flocks by night, Or Iphis angel-wafted to the skies, Or Jordan standing as an heap upright -
And so on. But there is one subject which Handel never treated--I mean the Money Market. Perhaps he avoided it intentionally; he was twice bankrupt, and Mr. R. A. Streatfeild tells me that the British Museum possesses a MS. letter from him giving instructions as to the payment of the dividends on 500 pounds South Sea Stock. Let us hope he sold out before the bubble burst; if so, he was more fortunate than Butler, who was at this time of his life in great anxiety about his own financial affairs. It seemed a pity that Dr. Morell had never offered Handel some such words as these:
The steadfast funds maintain their wonted state While all the other markets fluctuate.
Butler wondered whether Handel would have sent the steadfast funds up above par and maintained them on an inverted pedal with all the other markets fluctuating iniquitously round them like the sheep that turn every one to his own way in the 'Messiah'. He thought something of the kind ought to have been done, and in the absence of Handel and Dr. Morell we determined to write an oratorio that should attempt to supply the want. In order to make our libretto as plausible as possible, we adopted the dictum of Monsieur Jourdain's Maitre a danser: "Lorsqu'on a des personnes a faire parler en musique, il faut bien que, pour la vraisemblance, on donne dans la bergerie." Narcissus is accordingly a shepherd in love with Amaryllis; they come to London with other shepherds and lose their money in imprudent speculations on the Stock Exchange. In the second part the aunt and godmother of Narcissus, having died at an advanced age worth one hundred thousand pounds, all of which she has bequeathed to her nephew and godson, the obstacle to his union with Amaryllis is removed. The money is invested in consols and all ends happily.
In December, 1886, Butler's father died, and his financial difficulties ceased. He engaged Alfred Emery Cathie as clerk, but made no other change, except that he bought a pair of new hair brushes and a larger wash-hand basin. Any change in his mode of life was an event. When in London he got up at 6.30 in the summer and 7.30 in the winter, went into his sitting-room, lighted the fire, put the kettle on and returned to bed. In half an hour he got up again, fetched the kettle of hot water, emptied it into the cold water that was already in his bath, refilled the kettle and put it back on the fire. After dressing, he came into his sitting-room, made tea and cooked, in his Dutch oven, something he had bought the day before. His laundress was an elderly woman, and he could not trouble her to come to his rooms so early in the morning; on the other hand, he could not stay in bed until he thought it right for her to go out; so it ended in his doing a great deal for himself. He then got his breakfast and read the Times. At 9.30 Alfred came, with whom he discussed anything requiring attention, and soon afterwards his laundress arrived. Then he started to walk to the British Museum, where he arrived about 10.30, every alternate morning calling at the butcher's in Fetter Lane to order his meat. In the Reading Room at the Museum he sat at Block B ("B for Butler") and spent an hour "posting his notes"--that is reconsidering, rewriting, amplifying, shortening, and indexing the contents of the little note-book he always carried in his pocket. After the notes he went on till 1.30 with whatever book he happened to be writing.
On three days of the week he dined in a restaurant on his way home, and on the other days he dined in his chambers where his laundress had cooked his dinner. At two o'clock Alfred returned (having been home to dinner with his wife and children) and got tea ready for him. He then wrote letters and attended to his accounts till 3.45, when he smoked his first cigarette. He used to smoke a great deal, but, believing it to be bad for him, took to cigarettes instead of pipes, and gradually smoked less and less, making it a rule not to begin till some particular hour, and pushing this hour later and later in the day, till it settled itself at 3.45. There was no water laid on in his rooms, and every day he fetched one can full from the tap in the court, Alfred fetching the rest. When anyone expostulated with him about cooking his own breakfast and fetching his own water, he replied that it was good for him to have a change of occupation. This was partly the fact, but the real reason, which he could not tell everyone, was that he shrank from inconveniencing anybody; he always paid more than was necessary when anything was done for him, and was not happy then unless he did some of the work himself.
At 5.30 he got his evening meal, he called it his tea, and it was little more than a facsimile of breakfast. Alfred left in time to post the letters before six. Butler then wrote music till about 8, when he came to see me in Staple Inn, returning to Clifford's Inn by about 10. After a light supper, latterly not more than a piece of toast and a glass of milk, he played one game of his own particular kind of Patience, prepared his breakfast things and fire ready for the next morning, smoked his seventh and last cigarette, and went to bed at eleven o'clock.
He was fond of the theatre, but avoided serious pieces. He preferred to take his Shakespeare from the book, finding that the spirit of the plays rather evaporated under modern theatrical treatment. In one of his books he brightens up the old illustration of 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark by putting it thus: "If the character of Hamlet be entirely omitted, the play must suffer, even though Henry Irving himself be cast for the title-role." Anyone going to the theatre in this spirit would be likely to be less disappointed by performances that were comic or even frankly farcical. Latterly, when he grew slightly deaf, listening to any kind of piece became too much of an effort; nevertheless, he continued to the last the habit of going to one pantomime every winter.
There were about twenty houses where he visited, but he seldom accepted an invitation to dinner--it upset the regularity of his life; besides, he belonged to no club and had no means of returning hospitality. When two colonial friends called unexpectedly about noon one day, soon after he settled in London, he went to the nearest cook-shop in Fetter Lane and returned carrying a dish of hot roast pork and greens. This was all very well once in a way, but not the sort of thing to be repeated indefinitely.
On Thursdays, instead of going to the Museum, he often took a day off, going into the country sketching or walking, and on Sundays, whatever the weather, he nearly always went into the country walking; his map of the district for thirty miles round London is covered all over with red lines showing where he had been. He sometimes went out of town from Saturday to Monday, and for over twenty years spent Christmas at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
There is a Sacro Monte at Varallo-Sesia with many chapels, each containing life-sized statues and frescoes illustrating the life of Christ. Butler had visited this sanctuary repeatedly, and was a great favourite with the townspeople, who knew that he was studying the statues and frescoes in the chapels, and who remembered that in the preface to 'Alps and Sanctuaries' he had declared his intention of writing about them. In August, 1887, the Varallesi brought matters to a head by giving him a civic dinner on the Mountain. Everyone was present, there were several speeches and, when we were coming down the slippery mountain path after it was all over, he said to me:
"You know, there's nothing for it now but to write that book about the Sacro Monte at once. It must be the next thing I do."
Accordingly, on returning home, he took up photography and, immediately after Christmas, went back to Varallo to photograph the statues and collect material. Much research was necessary and many visits to out-of-the-way sanctuaries which might have contained work by the sculptor Tabachetti, whom he was rescuing from oblivion and identifying with the Flemish Jean de Wespin. One of these visits, made after his book was published, forms the subject of "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." 'Ex Voto', the book about Varallo, appeared in 1888, and an Italian translation by Cavaliere Angelo Rizzetti was published at Novara in 1894.
"Quis Desiderio . . . ?" ('The Humour of Homer and Other Essays') was developed in 1888 from something in a letter from Miss Savage nearly ten years earlier. On the 15th of December, 1878, in acknowledging this letter, Butler wrote:
I am sure that any tree or flower nursed by Miss Cobbe would be the VERY first to fade away and that her gazelles would die long before they ever came to know her WELL. The sight of the brass buttons on her pea-jacket would settle them out of hand.
There was an enclosure in Miss Savage's letter, but it is unfortunately lost; I suppose it must have been a newspaper cutting with an allusion to Moore's poem and perhaps a portrait of Miss Frances Power Cobbe--pea-jacket, brass buttons, and all.
On the 10th November, 1879, Miss Savage, having been ill, wrote to Butler:
I have been dipping into the books of Moses, being sometimes at a loss for something to read while shut up in my apartment. You know that I have never read the Bible much, consequently there is generally something of a novelty that I hit on. As you do know your Bible well, perhaps you can tell me what became of Aaron. The account given of his end in Numbers xx. is extremely ambiguous and
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