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Transcribed from the 1910 Jonathan Cape edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

LIFE AND HABIT

PREFACE

Since Samuel Butler published "Life and Habit" thirty-three {1} years have elapsed--years fruitful in change and discovery, during which many of the mighty have been put down from their seat and many of the humble have been exalted. I do not know that Butler can truthfully be called humble, indeed, I think he had very few misgivings as to his ultimate triumph, but he has certainly been exalted with a rapidity that he himself can scarcely have foreseen. During his lifetime he was a literary pariah, the victim of an organized conspiracy of silence. He is now, I think it may be said without exaggeration, universally accepted as one of the most remarkable English writers of the latter part of the nineteenth century. I will not weary my readers by quoting the numerous tributes paid by distinguished contemporary writers to Butler's originality and force of mind, but I cannot refrain from illustrating the changed attitude of the scientific world to Butler and his theories by a reference to "Darwin and Modern Science," the collection of essays published in 1909 by the University of Cambridge, in commemoration of the Darwin centenary. In that work Professor Bateson, while referring repeatedly to Butler's biological works, speaks of him as "the most brilliant and by far the most interesting of Darwin's opponents, whose works are at length emerging from oblivion." With the growth of Butler's reputation "Life and Habit" has had much to do. It was the first and is undoubtedly the most important of his writings on evolution. From its loins, as it were, sprang his three later books, "Evolution Old and New," "Unconscious Memory," and "Luck or Cunning", which carried its arguments further afield. It will perhaps interest Butler's readers if I here quote a passage from his note-books, lately published in the "New Quarterly Review" (Vol. III. No. 9), in which he summarizes his work in biology:

"To me it seems that my contributions to the theory of evolution have been mainly these

"1. The identification of heredity and memory, and the corollaries relating to sports, the reversion to remote ancestors, the phenomena of old age, the causes of the sterility of hybrids, and the principles underlying longevity--all of which follow as a matter of course. This was 'Life and Habit' [1877].

"2. The re-introduction of teleology into organic life, which to me seems hardly, if at all, less important than the 'Life and Habit' theory. This was 'Evolution Old and New' [1879].

"3. An attempt to suggest an explanation of the physics of memory. This was Unconscious Memory' [1880]. I was alarmed by the suggestion and fathered it upon Professor Hering, who never, that I can see, meant to say anything of the kind, but I forced my view upon him, as it were, by taking hold of a sentence or two in his lecture, 'On Memory as a Universal Function of Organised Matter,' and thus connected memory with vibrations.

"What I want to do now (1885) is to connect vibrations not only with memory but with the physical constitution of that body in which the memory resides, thus adopting Newland's law (sometimes called Mendelejeff's law) that there is only one substance, and that the characteristics of the vibrations going on within it at any given time will determine whether it will appear to us as, we will say, hydrogen, or sodium, or chicken doing this, or chicken doing the other." [This is touched upon in the concluding chapter of "Luck or Cunning?" 1887].

The present edition of "Life and Habit" is practically a re-issue of that of 1878. I find that about the year 1890, although the original edition was far from being exhausted, Butler began to make corrections of the text of "Life and Habit," presumably with the intention of publishing a revised edition. The copy of the book so corrected is now in my possession. In the first five chapters there are numerous emendations, very few of which, however, affect the meaning to any appreciable extent, being mainly concerned with the excision of redundancies and the simplification of style. I imagine that by the time he had reached the end of the fifth chapter Butler realised that the corrections he had made were not of sufficient importance to warrant a new edition, and determined to let the book stand as it was. I believe, therefore, that I am carrying out his wishes in reprinting the present edition from the original plates. I have found, however, among his papers three entirely new passages, which he probably wrote during the period of correction and no doubt intended to incorporate into the revised edition. Mr. Henry Festing Jones has also given me a copy of a passage which Butler wrote and gummed into Mr. Jones's copy of "Life and Habit." These four passages I have printed as an appendix at the end of the present volume.

One more point deserves notice. Butler often refers in "Life and Habit" to Darwin's "Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication." When he does so it is always under the name "Plants and Animals." More often still he refers to Darwin's "Origin of Species by means Natural Selection," terming it at one time "Origin of Species" and at another "Natural Selection," sometimes, as on p. 278, using both names within a few lines of each other. Butler was as a rule scrupulously careful about quotations, and I can offer no explanation of this curious confusion of titles.

R. A. STREATFEILD. November, 1910.

AUTHOR'S PREFACE

The Italics in the passages quoted in this book are generally mine, but I found it almost impossible to call the reader's attention to this upon every occasion. I have done so once or twice, as thinking it necessary in these cases that there should be no mistake; on the whole, however, I thought it better to content myself with calling attention in a preface to the fact that the author quoted is not, as a general rule, responsible for the Italics.

S. BUTLER. November 13, 1877.

CHAPTER I--ON CERTAIN ACQUIRED HABITS

It will be our business in the following chapters to consider whether the unconsciousness, or quasi-unconsciousness, with which we perform certain acquired actions, would seem to throw any light upon Embryology and inherited instincts, and otherwise to follow the train of thought which the class of actions above-mentioned would suggest; more especially in so far as they appear to bear upon the origin of species and the continuation of life by successive generations, whether in the animal or vegetable kingdoms.

In the outset, however, I would wish most distinctly to disclaim for these pages the smallest pretension to scientific value, originality, or even to accuracy of more than a very rough and ready kind--for unless a matter be true enough to stand a good deal of misrepresentation, its truth is not of a very robust order, and the blame will rather lie with its own delicacy if it be crushed, than with the carelessness of the crusher. I have no wish to instruct, and not much to be instructed; my aim is simply to entertain and interest the numerous class of people who, like myself, know nothing of science, but who enjoy speculating and reflecting (not too deeply) upon the phenomena around them. I have therefore allowed myself a loose rein, to run on with whatever came uppermost, without regard to whether it was new or old; feeling sure that if true, it must be very old or it never could have occurred to one so little versed in science as myself; and knowing that it is sometimes pleasanter to meet the old under slightly changed conditions, than to go through the formalities and uncertainties of making new acquaintance. At the same time, I should say that whatever I have knowingly taken from any one else, I have always acknowledged.

It is plain, therefore, that my book cannot be intended for the perusal of scientific people; it is intended for the general public only, with whom I believe myself to be in harmony, as knowing neither much more nor much less than they do.

Taking then, the art of playing the piano as an example of the kind of action we are in search of, we observe that a practised player will perform very difficult pieces apparently without effort, often, indeed, while thinking and talking of something quite other than his music; yet he will play accurately and, possibly, with much expression. If he has been playing a fugue, say in four parts, he will have kept each part well distinct, in such a manner as to prove that his mind was not prevented, by its other occupations, from consciously or unconsciously following four distinct trains of musical thought at the same time, nor from making his fingers act in exactly the required manner as regards each note of each part.

It commonly happens that in the course of four or five minutes a player may have struck four or five thousand notes. If we take into consideration the rests, dotted notes, accidentals, variations of time, &c., we shall find his attention must have been exercised on many more occasions than when he was actually striking notes: so that it may not be too much to say that the attention of a first-rate player may have been exercised--to an infinitesimally small extent-- but still truly exercised--on as many as ten thousand occasions within the space of five minutes, for no note can be struck nor point attended to without a certain amount of attention, no matter how rapidly or unconsciously given.

Moreover, each act of attention has been followed by an act of volition, and each act of volition by a muscular action, which is composed of many minor actions; some so small that we can no more follow them than the player himself can perceive them; nevertheless,


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