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- Essays on Life, Art and Science - 1/33 -


ESSAYS ON LIFE, ART AND SCIENCE

by Samuel Butler

Contents:

Introduction Quis Desiderio? Ramblings in Cheapside The Aunt, The Nieces, and the Dog How to make the best of life The Sanctuary of Montrigone A Medieval Girl School Art in the Valley of Saas Thought and Language The Deadlock in Darwinism

INTRODUCTION

It is hardly necessary to apologise for the miscellaneous character of the following collection of essays. Samuel Butler was a man of such unusual versatility, and his interests were so many and so various that his literary remains were bound to cover a wide field. Nevertheless it will be found that several of the subjects to which he devoted much time and labour are not represented in these pages. I have not thought it necessary to reprint any of the numerous pamphlets and articles which he wrote upon the Iliad and Odyssey, since these were all merged in "The Authoress of the Odyssey," which gives his matured views upon everything relating to the Homeric poems. For a similar reason I have not included an essay on the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which he printed in 1865 for private circulation, since he subsequently made extensive use of it in "The Fair Haven."

Two of the essays in this collection were originally delivered as lectures; the remainder were published in The Universal Review during 1888, 1889, and 1890.

I should perhaps explain why two other essays of his, which also appeared in The Universal Review, have been omitted.

The first of these, entitled "L'Affaire Holbein-Rippel," relates to a drawing of Holbein's "Danse des Paysans," in the Basle Museum, which is usually described as a copy, but which Butler believed to be the work of Holbein himself. This essay requires to be illustrated in so elaborate a manner that it was impossible to include it in a book of this size.

The second essay, which is a sketch of the career of the sculptor Tabachetti, was published as the first section of an article entitled "A Sculptor and a Shrine," of which the second section is here given under the title, "The Sanctuary of Montrigone." The section devoted to the sculptor represents all that Butler then knew about Tabachetti, but since it was written various documents have come to light, principally owing to the investigations of Cavaliere Francesco Negri, of Casale Monferrato, which negative some of Butler's most cherished conclusions. Had Butler lived he would either have rewritten his essay in accordance with Cavaliere Negri's discoveries, of which he fully recognised the value, or incorporated them into the revised edition of "Ex Voto," which he intended to publish. As it stands, the essay requires so much revision that I have decided to omit it altogether, and to postpone giving English readers a full account of Tabachetti's career until a second edition of "Ex Voto" is required. Meanwhile I have given a brief summary of the main facts of Tabachetti's life in a note (page 154) to the essay on "Art in the Valley of Saas." Any one who wishes for further details of the sculptor and his work will find them in Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet, "Il Santuario di Crea" (Alessandria, 1902).

The three essays grouped together under the title of "The Deadlock in Darwinism" may be regarded as a postscript to Butler's four books on evolution, viz., "Life and Habit," "Evolution, Old and New," "Unconscious Memory" and "Luck or Cunning." An occasion for the publication of these essays seemed to be afforded by the appearance in 1889 of Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace's "Darwinism"; and although nearly fourteen years have elapsed since they were published in the Universal Review, I have no fear that they will be found to be out of date. How far, indeed, the problem embodied in the deadlock of which Butler speaks is from solution was conclusively shown by the correspondence which appeared in the Times in May 1903, occasioned by some remarks made at University College by Lord Kelvin in moving a vote of thanks to Professor Henslow after his lecture on "Present Day Rationalism." Lord Kelvin's claim for a recognition of the fact that in organic nature scientific thought is compelled to accept the idea of some kind of directive power, and his statement that biologists are coming once more to a firm acceptance of a vital principle, drew from several distinguished men of science retorts heated enough to prove beyond a doubt that the gulf between the two main divisions of evolutionists is as wide to-day as it was when Butler wrote. It will be well, perhaps, for the benefit of readers who have not followed the history of the theory of evolution during its later developments, to state in a few words what these two main divisions are. All evolutionists agree that the differences between species are caused by the accumulation and transmission of variations, but they do not agree as to the causes to which the variations are due. The view held by the older evolutionists, Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, who have been followed by many modern thinkers, including Herbert Spencer and Butler, is that the variations occur mainly as the result of effort and design; the opposite view, which is that advocated by Mr. Wallace in "Darwinism," is that the variations occur merely as the result of chance. The former is sometimes called the theological view, because it recognises the presence in organic nature of design, whether it be called creative power, directive force, directivity, or vital principle; the latter view, in which the existence of design is absolutely negatived, is now usually described as Weismannism, from the name of the writer who has been its principal advocate in recent years.

In conclusion, I must thank my friend Mr. Henry Festing Jones most warmly for the invaluable assistance which he has given me in preparing these essays for publication, in correcting the proofs, and in compiling the introduction and notes.

R. A. STREATFEILD.

QUIS DESIDERIO . . . ? {1}

Like Mr. Wilkie Collins, I, too, have been asked to lay some of my literary experiences before the readers of the Universal Review. It occurred to me that the Review must be indeed universal before it could open its pages to one so obscure as myself; but, nothing daunted by the distinguished company among which I was for the first time asked to move, I resolved to do as I was told, and went to the British Museum to see what books I had written. Having refreshed my memory by a glance at the catalogue, I was about to try and diminish the large and ever-increasing circle of my non-readers when I became aware of a calamity that brought me to a standstill, and indeed bids fair, so far as I can see at present, to put an end to my literary existence altogether.

I should explain that I cannot write unless I have a sloping desk, and the reading-room of the British Museum, where alone I can compose freely, is unprovided with sloping desks. Like every other organism, if I cannot get exactly what I want I make shift with the next thing to it; true, there are no desks in the reading-room, but, as I once heard a visitor from the country say, "it contains a large number of very interesting works." I know it was not right, and hope the Museum authorities will not be severe upon me if any of them reads this confession; but I wanted a desk, and set myself to consider which of the many very interesting works which a grateful nation places at the disposal of its would-be authors was best suited for my purpose.

For mere reading I suppose one book is pretty much as good as another; but the choice of a desk-book is a more serious matter. It must be neither too thick nor too thin; it must be large enough to make a substantial support; it must be strongly bound so as not to yield or give; it must not be too troublesome to carry backwards and forwards; and it must live on shelf C, D, or E, so that there need be no stooping or reaching too high. These are the conditions which a really good book must fulfil; simple, however, as they are, it is surprising how few volumes comply with them satisfactorily; moreover, being perhaps too sensitively conscientious, I allowed another consideration to influence me, and was sincerely anxious not to take a book which would be in constant use for reference by readers, more especially as, if I did this, I might find myself disturbed by the officials.

For weeks I made experiments upon sundry poetical and philosophical works, whose names I have forgotten, but could not succeed in finding my ideal desk, until at length, more by luck than cunning, I happened to light upon Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians," which I had no sooner tried than I discovered it to be the very perfection and ne plus ultra of everything that a book should be. It lived in Case No. 2008, and I accordingly took at once to sitting in Row B, where for the last dozen years or so I have sat ever since.

The first thing I have done whenever I went to the Museum has been to take down Frost's "Lives of Eminent Christians" and carry it to my seat. It is not the custom of modern writers to refer to the works to which they are most deeply indebted, and I have never, that I remember, mentioned it by name before; but it is to this book alone that I have looked for support during many years of literary labour, and it is round this to me invaluable volume that all my own have page by page grown up. There is none in the Museum to which I have been under anything like such constant obligation, none which I can so ill spare, and none which I would choose so readily if I were allowed to select one single volume and keep it for my own.

On finding myself asked for a contribution to the Universal Review, I went, as I have explained, to the Museum, and presently repaired to bookcase No. 2008 to get my favourite volume. Alas! it was in the room no longer. It was not in use, for its place was filled up already; besides, no one ever used it but myself. Whether the ghost of the late Mr. Frost has been so eminently unchristian as to


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