Selections from Previous Works - and Remarks on Romanes' Mental Evolution in Animals
by Samuel Butler
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Transcribed from the 1884 Trubner & Co. edition by David Price, email




"The course of true science, like that of true love, never did run smooth." PROFESSOR TYNDALL, Pall Mall Gazette, Oct 30, 1883.

(OP. 7)

LONDON TRUBNER & CO., LUDGATE HILL 1884 [All rights reserved]



I delayed these pages some weeks in order to give Mr. Romanes an opportunity of explaining his statement that Canon Kingsley wrote about instinct and inherited memory in Nature, Jan. 18, 1867. {iii} I wrote to the Athenaeum (Jan. 26, 1884) and pointed out that Nature did not begin to appear till nearly three years after the date given by Mr. Romanes, and that there was nothing from Canon Kingsley on the subject of instinct and inherited memory in any number of Nature up to the date of Canon Kingsley's death. I also asked for the correct reference.

This Mr. Romanes has not thought it incumbent upon him to give. I am told I ought not to have expected him to give it, inasmuch as it is no longer usual for men of any but the lowest scientific standing to correct their misstatements when they are brought to book. Science is made for Fellows of the Royal Society, and for no one else, not Fellows of the Royal Society for science; and if the having achieved a certain position should still involve being obliged to be as scrupulous and accurate as other people, what is the good of the position? This view of the matter is practical, but I regret that Mr. Romanes should have taken it, for his having done so has prevented my being able to tell the reader what Canon Kingsley said about memory and instinct, and this he might have been glad to know.

I suspect, however, that what Canon Kingsley said was after all not very important. If it had been, Mr. Romanes would have probably told us what it was in his own book. I should think it possible that Mr. Romanes—not finding Canon Kingsley's words important enough to be quoted, or even referred to correctly, or never having seen them himself and not knowing exactly what they were, yet being anxious to give every one, and more particularly Canon Kingsley, his due—felt that this was an occasion on which he might fairly take advantage of his position and say at large whatever he was in the humour for saying at the moment.

I should not have thought this possible if I had not ere now had reason to set Mr. Romanes down as one who was not likely to be squeamish about trifles. Nevertheless, on this present occasion I certainly did think that he had only made a slip such as we all make sometimes, and such as he would gladly take the earliest opportunity to correct. As it is, I do not know what to think, except that D.C.L.'s and F.R.S.'s seem to be made of much the same frail materials as we ordinary mortals are.

As regards the extracts from my previous books given in this volume, I should say that I have revised and corrected the original text throughout, and introduced a sentence or two here and there, but have nowhere made any important alteration. I regret greatly that want of space has prevented me from being able to give the chapters from Life and Habit on "The Abeyance of Memory," and "What we should expect to find if Differentiations of Structure and Instinct are mainly due to Memory;" it is in these chapters that an explanation of many phenomena is given, of which, so far as I know, no explanation of any kind had been previously attempted, and in which phenomena having apparently so little connection as the sterility of hybrids, the principle underlying longevity, the resumption of feral characteristics, the sterility of many animals under confinement, are not only made intelligible but are shown to be all part and parcel of the same story—all being explicable as soon as Memory is made the main factor of heredity.

Feb. 16, 1884.



This is what I gathered. That in that country if a man falls into ill health, or catches any disorder, or fails bodily in any way before he is seventy years old, he is tried before a jury of his countrymen, and if convicted is held up to public scorn and sentenced more or less severely as the case may be. There are subdivisions of illnesses into crimes and misdemeanours as with offences amongst ourselves—a man being punished very heavily for serious illness, while failure of eyes or hearing in one over sixty-five who has had good health hitherto is dealt with by fine only, or imprisonment in default of payment.

But if a man forges a cheque, sets his house on fire, robs with violence from the person, or does any other such things as are criminal in our own country, he is either taken to a hospital and most carefully tended at the public expense, or if he is in good circumstances, he lets it be known to all his friends that he is suffering from a severe fit of immorality, just as we do when we are ill, and they come and visit him with great solicitude, and inquire with interest how it all came about, what symptoms first showed themselves, and so forth,—questions which he will answer with perfect unreserve; for bad conduct, though considered no less deplorable than illness with ourselves, and as unquestionably indicating something wrong with the individual who misbehaves, is nevertheless held to be the result of either pre-natal or post-natal misfortune. I should add that under certain circumstances poverty and ill luck are also considered criminal.

Accordingly, there exists a class of men trained in soul-craft, whom they call straighteners, as nearly as I can translate a word which literally means "one who bendeth back the crooked." These men practise much as medical men in England, and receive a quasi-surreptitious fee on every visit. They are treated with the same unreserve and obeyed just as readily as our own doctors—that is to say, on the whole sufficiently—because people know that it is their interest to get well as soon as they can, and that they will not be scouted as they would be if their bodies were out of order, even though they may have to undergo a very painful course of treatment.

When I say that they will not be scouted, I do not mean that an Erewhonian offender will suffer no social inconvenience. Friends will fall away from him because of his being less pleasant company, just as we ourselves are disclined to make companions of those who are either poor or poorly. No one with a due sense of self-respect will place himself on an equality in the matter of affection with those who are less lucky than himself in birth, health, money, good looks, capacity, or anything else. Indeed, that dislike and even disgust should be felt by the fortunate for the unfortunate, or at any rate for those who have been discovered to have met with any of the more serious and less familiar misfortunes, is not only natural, but desirable for any society, whether of man or brute; what progress either of body or soul had been otherwise possible? The fact therefore that the Erewhonians attach none of that guilt to crime which they do to physical ailments, does not prevent the more selfish among them from neglecting a friend who has robbed a bank, for instance, till he has fully recovered; but it does prevent them from even thinking of treating criminals with that contemptuous tone which would seem to say, "I, if I were you, should be a better man than you are," a tone which is held quite reasonable in regard to physical ailment.

Hence, though they conceal ill health by every kind of cunning, they are quite open about even the most flagrant mental diseases, should they happen to exist, which to do the people justice is not often. Indeed, there are some who, so to speak, are spiritual valetudinarians, and who make themselves exceedingly ridiculous by their nervous supposition that they are wicked, while they are very tolerable people all the time. This however is exceptional; and on the whole they use much the same reserve or unreserve about the state of their moral welfare as we do about our health.

It has followed that all the ordinary greetings among ourselves, such as, How do you do? and the like, are considered signs of gross ill-breeding; nor do the politer classes tolerate even such a common complimentary remark as telling a man that he was looking well. They salute each other with, "I hope you are good this morning;" or "I hope you have recovered from the snappishness from which you were suffering when I last saw you;" and if the person saluted has not been good, or is still snappish, he says so, and is condoled with accordingly. Nay, the straighteners have gone so far as to give names from the hypothetical language (as taught at the Colleges of Unreason) to all known forms of mental indisposition, and have classified them according to a system of their own, which, though I could not understand it, seemed to work well in practice, for they are always able to tell a man what is the matter with him as soon as they have heard his story, and their familiarity with the long names assures him that they thoroughly understand his case.

* * * * *

We in England rarely shrink from telling our doctor what is the matter with us merely through the fear that he will hurt us. We let him do his worst upon us, and stand it without a murmur, because we are not scouted for being ill, and because we know the doctor is doing his best to cure us, and can judge of our case better than we can; but we should conceal all illness if we were treated as the Erewhonians are when they have anything the matter with them; we should do as we do with our moral and intellectual diseases,—we should feign health with the most consummate art, till we were found out, and should hate a single flogging given by way of mere punishment more than the amputation of a limb, if it were kindly and courteously performed from a wish to help us out of our difficulty, and with the full consciousness on the part of the doctor that it was only by an accident of constitution that he was not in the like plight himself. So the Erewhonians take a flogging once a week, and a diet of bread and water for two or three months together, whenever their straightener recommends it.

I do not suppose that even my host, on having swindled a confiding widow out of the whole of her property, was put to more actual suffering than a man will readily undergo at the hands of an English doctor. And yet he must have had a very bad time of it. The sounds I heard were sufficient to show that his pain was exquisite, but he never shrank from undergoing it. He was quite sure that it did him good; and I think he was right. I cannot believe that that man will ever embezzle money again. He may—but it will be a long time before he does so.

During my confinement in prison, and on my journey, I had discovered much of the above; but it still seemed new and strange, and I was in constant fear of committing some rudeness from my inability to look at things from the same stand-point as my neighbours; but after a few weeks' stay with the Nosnibors I got to understand things better, especially on having heard all about my host's illness, of which he told me fully and repeatedly.

It seemed he had been on the Stock Exchange of the city for many years and had amassed enormous wealth, without exceeding the limits of what was generally considered justifiable or at any rate permissible dealing; but at length on several occasions he had become aware of a desire to make money by fraudulent representations, and had actually dealt with two or three sums in a way which had made him rather uncomfortable. He had unfortunately made light of it and pooh-poohed the ailment, until circumstances eventually presented themselves which enabled him to cheat upon a very considerable scale;—he told me what they were, and they were about as bad as anything could be, but I need not detail them;—he seized the opportunity, and became aware when it was too late that he must be seriously out of order. He had neglected himself too long.

He drove home at once, broke the news to his wife and daughters as gently as he could, and sent off for one of the most celebrated straighteners of the kingdom to a consultation with the family practitioner, for the case was plainly serious. On the arrival of the straightener he told his story, and expressed his fear that his morals must be permanently impaired.

The eminent man reassured him with a few cheering words, and then proceeded to make a more careful diagnosis of the case. He inquired concerning Mr. Nosnibor's parents—had their moral health been good? He was answered that there had not been anything seriously amiss with them, but that his maternal grandfather, whom he was supposed to resemble somewhat in person, had been a consummate scoundrel and had ended his days in a hospital,—while a brother of his father's, after having led a most flagitious life for many years, had been at last cured by a philosopher of a new school, which as far as I could understand it bore much the same relation to the old as homoeopathy to allopathy. The straightener shook his head at this, and laughingly replied that the cure must have been due to nature. After a few more questions he wrote a prescription and departed.

I saw the prescription. It ordered a fine to the State of double the money embezzled; no food but bread and milk for six months, and a severe flogging once a month for twelve. He had received his eleventh flogging on the day of my arrival. I saw him later on the same afternoon, and he was still twinged; but even though he had been minded to do so (which he showed no sign of being), there would have been no escape from following out the straightener's prescription, for the so-called sanitary laws of Erewhon are very rigorous, and unless the straightener was satisfied that his orders had been obeyed, the patient would have been taken to a hospital (as the poor are), and would have been much worse off. Such at least is the law, but it is never necessary to enforce it.

On a subsequent occasion I was present at an interview between Mr. Nosnibor and the family straightener, who was considered competent to watch the completion of the cure. I was struck with the delicacy with which he avoided even the remotest semblance of inquiry after the physical well-being of his patient, though there was a certain yellowness about my host's eyes which argued a bilious habit of body. To have taken notice of this would have been a gross breach of professional etiquette. I am told that a straightener sometimes thinks it right to glance at the possibility of some slight physical disorder if he finds it important in order to assist him in his diagnosis; but the answers which he gets are generally untrue or evasive, and he forms his own conclusions upon the matter as well as he can.

Sensible men have been known to say that the straightener should in strict confidence be told of every physical ailment that is likely to bear upon the case; but people are naturally shy of doing this, for they do not like lowering themselves in the opinion of the straightener, and his ignorance of medical science is supreme. I heard of one lady however who had the hardihood to confess that a furious outbreak of ill-humour and extravagant fancies for which she was seeking advice was possibly the result of indisposition. "You should resist that," said the straightener, in a kind, but grave voice; "we can do nothing for the bodies of our patients; such matters are beyond our province, and I desire that I may hear no further particulars." The lady burst into tears, promised faithfully that she would never be unwell again, and kept her word.

To return however to Mr. Nosnibor. As the afternoon wore on many carriages drove up with callers to inquire how he had stood his flogging. It had been very severe, but the kind inquiries upon every side gave him great pleasure, and he assured me that he felt almost tempted to do wrong again by the solicitude with which his friends had treated him during his recovery: in this I need hardly say that he was not serious.

During the remainder of my stay in the country Mr. Nosnibor was constantly attentive to his business, and largely increased his already great possessions; but I never heard a whisper to the effect of his having been indisposed a second time, or made money by other than the most strictly honourable means. I did hear afterwards in confidence that there had been reason to believe that his health had been not a little affected by the straightener's treatment, but his friends did not choose to be over curious upon the subject, and on his return to his affairs it was by common consent passed over as hardly criminal in one who was otherwise so much afflicted. For they regard bodily ailments as the more venial in proportion as they have been produced by causes independent of the constitution. Thus if a person ruin his health by excessive indulgence at the table, or by drinking, they count it to be almost a part of the mental disease which brought it about and so it goes for little, but they have no mercy on such illnesses as fevers or catarrhs or lung diseases, which to us appear to be beyond the control of the individual. They are only more lenient towards the diseases of the young—such as measles, which they think to be like sowing one's wild oats—and look over them as pardonable indiscretions if they have not been too serious, and if they are atoned for by complete subsequent recovery.


I shall best convey to the reader an idea of the entire perversion of thought which exists among this extraordinary people, by describing the public trial of a man who was accused of pulmonary consumption—an offence which was punished with death until quite recently. The trial did not take place till I had been some months in the country, and I am deviating from chronological order in giving an account of it here; but I had perhaps better do so in order to exhaust this subject before proceeding with others.

The prisoner was placed in the dock, and the jury were sworn much as in Europe; almost all our own modes of procedure were reproduced, even to the requiring the prisoner to plead guilty or not guilty. He pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded. The evidence for the prosecution was very strong, but I must do the court the justice to observe that the trial was absolutely impartial. Counsel for the prisoner was allowed to urge everything that could be said in his defence.

The line taken was that the prisoner was simulating consumption in order to defraud an insurance company, from which he was about to buy an annuity, and that he hoped thus to obtain it on more advantageous terms. If this could have been shown to be the case he would have escaped criminal prosecution, and been sent to a hospital as for moral ailment. The view however was one which could not be reasonably sustained, in spite of all the ingenuity and eloquence of one of the most celebrated advocates of the country. The case was only too clear, for the prisoner was almost at the point of death, and it was astonishing that he had not been tried and convicted long previously. His coughing was incessant during the whole trial, and it was all that the two jailers in charge of him could do to keep him on his legs until it was over.

The summing up of the judge was admirable. He dwelt upon every point that could be construed in favour of the prisoner, but as he proceeded it became clear that the evidence was too convincing to admit of doubt, and there was but one opinion in the court as to the impending verdict when the jury retired from the box. They were absent for about ten minutes, and on their return the foreman pronounced the prisoner guilty. There was a faint murmur of applause but it was instantly repressed. The judge then proceeded to pronounce sentence in words which I can never forget, and which I copied out into a note-book next day from the report that was published in the leading newspaper. I must condense it somewhat, and nothing which I could say would give more than a faint idea of the solemn, not to say majestic, severity with which it was delivered. The sentence was as follows:—

"Prisoner at the bar, you have been accused of the great crime of labouring under pulmonary consumption, and after an impartial trial before a jury of your countrymen, you have been found guilty. Against the justice of the verdict I can say nothing: the evidence against you was conclusive, and it only remains for me to pass such a sentence upon you, as shall satisfy the ends of the law. That sentence must be a very severe one. It pains me much to see one who is yet so young, and whose prospects in life were otherwise so excellent, brought to this distressing condition by a constitution which I can only regard as radically vicious; but yours is no case for compassion: this is not your first offence: you have led a career of crime, and have only profited by the leniency shown you upon past occasions, to offend yet more seriously against the laws and institutions of your country. You were convicted of aggravated bronchitis last year: and I find that though you are now only twenty-three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less than fourteen occasions for illnesses of a more or less hateful character; in fact, it is not too much to say that you have spent the greater part of your life in a jail.

"It is all very well for you to say that you came of unhealthy parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood which permanently undermined your constitution; excuses such as these are the ordinary refuge of the criminal; but they cannot for one moment be listened to by the ear of justice. I am not here to enter upon curious metaphysical questions as to the origin of this or that—questions to which there would be no end were their introduction once tolerated, and which would result in throwing the only guilt on the primordial cell, or perhaps even on the elementary gases. There is no question of how you came to be wicked, but only this—namely, are you wicked or not? This has been decided in the affirmative, neither can I hesitate for a single moment to say that it has been decided justly. You are a bad and dangerous person, and stand branded in the eyes of your fellow-countrymen with one of the most heinous known offences.

"It is not my business to justify the law: the law may in some cases have its inevitable hardships, and I may feel regret at times that I have not the option of passing a less severe sentence than I am compelled to do. But yours is no such case; on the contrary, had not the capital punishment for consumption been abolished, I should certainly inflict it now.

"It is intolerable that an example of such terrible enormity should be allowed to go at large unpunished. Your presence in the society of respectable people would lead the less able-bodied to think more lightly of all forms of illness; neither can it be permitted that you should have the chance of corrupting unborn beings who might hereafter pester you. The unborn must not be allowed to come near you: and this not so much for their protection (for they are our natural enemies), as for our own; for since they will not be utterly gainsaid, it must be seen to that they shall be quartered upon those who are least likely to corrupt them.

"But independently of this consideration, and independently of the physical guilt which attaches itself to a crime so great as yours, there is yet another reason why we should be unable to show you mercy, even if we are inclined to do so. I refer to the existence of a class of men who lie hidden among us, and who are called physicians. Were the severity of the law or the current feeling of the country to be relaxed never so slightly, these abandoned persons, who are now compelled to practise secretly, and who can be consulted only at the greatest risk, would become frequent visitors in every household; their organisation and their intimate acquaintance with all family secrets would give them a power, both social and political, which nothing could resist. The head of the household would become subordinate to the family doctor, who would interfere between man and wife, between master and servant, until the doctors should be the only depositaries of power in the nation, and have all that we hold precious at their mercy. A time of universal dephysicalisation would ensue; medicine-vendors of all kinds would abound in our streets and advertise in all our newspapers. There is one remedy for this, and one only. It is that which the laws of this country have long received and acted upon, and consists in the sternest repression of all diseases whatsoever, as soon as their existence is made manifest to the eye of the law. Would that that eye were far more piercing than it is.

"But I will enlarge no further upon things that are themselves so obvious. You may say that it is not your fault. The answer is ready enough at hand, and it amounts to this—that if you had been born of healthy and well-to-do parents, and been well taken care of when you were a child, you would never have offended against the laws of your country, nor found yourself in your present disgraceful position. If you tell me that you had no hand in your parentage and education, and that it is therefore unjust to lay these things to your charge, I answer that whether your being in a consumption is your fault or no, it is a fault in you, and it is my duty to see that against such faults as this the commonwealth shall be protected. You may say that it is your misfortune to be criminal; I answer that it is your crime to be unfortunate.

"I do not hesitate therefore to sentence you to imprisonment, with hard labour, for the rest of your miserable existence. During that period I would earnestly entreat you to repent of these wrongs you have done already, and to entirely reform the constitution of your whole body. I entertain but little hope that you will pay attention to my advice; you are already far too abandoned. Did it rest with myself, I should add nothing in mitigation of the sentence which I have passed, but it is the merciful provision of the law that even the most hardened criminal shall be allowed some one of the three official remedies, which is to be prescribed at the time of his conviction. I shall therefore order that you receive two tablespoonfuls of castor-oil daily, until the pleasure of the court be further known."

When the sentence was concluded, the prisoner acknowledged in a few scarcely audible words that he was justly punished, and that he had had a fair trial. He was then removed to the prison from which he was never to return. There was a second attempt at applause when the judge had finished speaking, but as before it was at once repressed; and though the feeling of the court was strongly against the prisoner, there was no show of any violence against him, if one may except a little hooting from the bystanders when he was being removed in the prisoners' van. Indeed, nothing struck me more during my whole sojourn in the country, than the general respect for law and order.


I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck: it is the normal condition of human life that this should be done, and no right-minded person will complain at being subjected to the common treatment. There is no alternative open to us. It is idle to say that men are not responsible for their misfortunes. What is responsibility? Surely to be responsible means to be liable to have to give an answer should it be demanded, and all things which live are responsible for their lives and actions should society see fit to question them through the mouth of its authorised agent.

What is the offence of a lamb that we should rear it, and tend it, and lull it into security, for the express purpose of killing it? Its offence is the misfortune of being something which society wants to eat, and which cannot defend itself. This is ample. Who shall limit the right of society except society itself? And what consideration for the individual is tolerable unless society be the gainer thereby? Wherefore should a man be so richly rewarded for having been son to a millionaire, were it not clearly provable that the common welfare is thus better furthered? We cannot seriously detract from a man's merit in having been the son of a rich father without imperilling our own tenure of things which we do not wish to jeopardise; if this were otherwise we should not let him keep his money for a single hour; we would have it ourselves at once. For property is robbery, but then we are all robbers or would-be robbers together, and have found it expedient to organise our thieving, as we have found it to organise our lust and our revenge. Property, marriage, the law; as the bed to the river, so rule and convention to the instinct.

But to return. Even in England a man on board a ship with yellow fever is held responsible for his mischance, no matter what his being kept in quarantine may cost him. He may catch the fever and die; we cannot help it; he must take his chance as other people do; but surely it would be desperate unkindness to add contumely to our self-protection, unless, indeed, we believe that contumely is one of our best means of self-protection. Again, take the case of maniacs. We say that they are irresponsible for their actions, but we take good care, or ought to take good care, that they shall answer to us for their insanity, and we imprison them in what we call an asylum (that modern sanctuary!) if we do not like their answers. This is a strange kind of irresponsibility. What we ought to say is that we can afford to be satisfied with a less satisfactory answer from a lunatic than from one who is not mad, because lunacy is less infectious than crime.

We kill a serpent if we go in danger by it, simply for being such and such a serpent in such and such a place; but we never say that the serpent has only itself to blame for not having been a harmless creature. Its crime is that of being the thing which it is: but this is a capital offence, and we are right in killing it out of the way, unless we think it more dangerous to do so than to let it escape; nevertheless we pity the creature, even though we kill it.

But in the case of him whose trial I have described above, it was impossible that any one in the court should not have known that it was but by an accident of birth and circumstances that he was not himself also in a consumption; and yet none thought that it disgraced them to hear the judge give vent to the most cruel truisms about him. The judge himself was a kind and thoughtful person. He was a man of magnificent and benign presence. He was evidently of an iron constitution, and his face wore an expression of the maturest wisdom and experience; yet for all this, old and learned as he was, he could not see things which one would have thought would have been apparent even to a child. He could not emancipate himself from, nay, it did not even occur to him to feel, the bondage of the ideas in which he had been born and bred. So was it with the jury and bystanders; and—most wonderful of all—so was it even with the prisoner. Throughout he seemed fully impressed with the notion that he was being dealt with justly: he saw nothing wanton in his being told by the judge that he was to be punished, not so much as a necessary protection to society (although this was not entirely lost sight of), as because he had not been better born and bred than he was. But this led me to hope that he suffered less than he would have done if he had seen the matter in the same light that I did. And, after all, justice is relative.

I may here mention that only a few years before my arrival in the country, the treatment of all convicted invalids had been much more barbarous than now; for no physical remedy was provided, and prisoners were put to the severest labour in all sorts of weather, so that most of them soon succumbed to the extreme hardships which they suffered; this was supposed to be beneficial in some ways, inasmuch as it put the country to less expense for the maintenance of its criminal class; but the growth of luxury had induced a relaxation of the old severity, and a sensitive age would no longer tolerate what appeared to be an excess of rigour, even towards the most guilty; moreover, it was found that juries were less willing to convict, and justice was often cheated because there was no alternative between virtually condemning a man to death and letting him go free; it was also held that the country paid in recommittals for its overseverity; for those who had been imprisoned even for trifling ailments were often permanently disabled by their imprisonment; and when a man has been once convicted, it was probable he would never afterwards be long off the hands of the country.

These evils had long been apparent and recognised; yet people were too indolent, and too indifferent to suffering not their own, to bestir themselves about putting an end to them, until at last a benevolent reformer devoted his whole life to effecting the necessary changes. He divided illnesses into three classes—those affecting the head, the trunk, and the lower limbs—and obtained an enactment that all diseases of the head, whether internal or external, should be treated with laudanum, those of the body with castor-oil, and those of the lower limbs with an embrocation of strong sulphuric acid and water. It may be said that the classification was not sufficiently careful, and that the remedies were ill chosen; but it is a hard thing to initiate any reform, and it was necessary to familiarise the public mind with the principle, by inserting the thin end of the wedge first: it is not therefore to be wondered at that among so practical a people there should still be some room for improvement. The mass of the nation are well pleased with existing arrangements, and believe that their treatment of criminals leaves little or nothing to be desired; but there is an energetic minority who hold what are considered to be extreme opinions, and who are not at all disposed to rest contented until the principle lately admitted has been carried further.


On my return to the drawing-room, I found the ladies were just putting away their work and preparing to go out. I asked them where they were going. They answered with a certain air of reserve that they were going to the bank to get some money.

Now I had already collected that the mercantile affairs of the Erewhonians were conducted on a totally different system from our own; I had however gathered little hitherto, except that they had two distinct commercial systems, of which the one appealed more strongly to the imagination than anything to which we are accustomed in Europe, inasmuch as the banks conducted upon this system were decorated in the most profuse fashion, and all mercantile transactions were accompanied with music, so that they were called musical banks though the music was hideous to a European ear.

As for the system itself I never understood it, neither can I do so now: they have a code in connection with it, which I have no doubt they themselves understand, but no foreigner can hope to do so. One rule runs into and against another as in a most complicated grammar, or as in Chinese pronunciation, wherein I am told the slightest change in accentuation or tone of voice alters the meaning of a whole sentence. Whatever is incoherent in my description must be referred to the fact of my never having attained to a full comprehension of the subject.

So far however as I could collect anything certain, they appeared to have two entirely distinct currencies, each under the control of its own banks and mercantile codes. The one of them (the one with the musical banks) was supposed to be the system, and to give out the currency in which all monetary transactions should be carried on. As far as I could see, all who wished to be considered respectable, did keep a certain amount of this currency at these banks; nevertheless, if there is one thing of which I am more sure than another it is that the amount so kept was but a very small part of their possessions. I think they took the money, put it into the bank, and then drew it out again, repeating the process day by day, and keeping a certain amount of currency for this purpose and no other, while they paid the expenses of the bank with the other coinage. I am sure the managers and cashiers of the musical banks were not paid in their own currency. Mr. Nosnibor used to go to these musical banks, or rather to the great mother bank of the city, sometimes but not very often. He was a pillar of one of the other kind of banks, though he held some minor office also in these. The ladies generally went alone; as indeed was the case in most families, except on some few great annual occasions.

I had long wanted to know more of this strange system, and had the greatest desire to accompany my hostess and her daughters. I had seen them go out almost every morning since my arrival, and had noticed that they carried their purses in their hands, not exactly ostentatiously, yet just so as that those who met them should see whither they were going. I had never yet been asked to go with them myself.

It is not easy to convey a person's manner by words, and I can hardly give any idea of the peculiar feeling which came upon me whenever I saw the ladies in the hall, with their purses in their hands, and on the point of starting for the bank. There was a something of regret, a something as though they would wish to take me with them, but did not like to ask me, and yet as though I were hardly to ask to be taken. I was determined however to bring matters to an issue with my hostess about my going with them, and after a little parleying and many inquiries as to whether I was perfectly sure that I myself wished to go, it was decided that I might do so.

We passed through several streets of more or less considerable houses, and at last turning round a corner we came upon a large piazza, at the end of which was a magnificent building, of a strange but noble architecture and of great antiquity. It did not open directly on to the piazza, there being a screen, through which was an archway, between the piazza and the actual precincts of the bank. On passing under the archway we found ourselves upon a green sward, round which there ran an arcade or cloister, while in front of us uprose the majestic towers of the bank and its venerable front, which was divided into three deep recesses and adorned with all sorts of marbles and many sculptures. On either side there were beautiful old trees wherein the birds were busy by the hundred, and a number of quaint but substantial houses of singularly comfortable appearance; they were situated in the midst of orchards and gardens, and gave me an impression of great peace and plenty.

Indeed it had been no error to say that this building was one which appealed to the imagination; it did more—it carried both imagination and judgment by storm. It was an epic in stone and marble; neither had I ever seen anything in the least comparable to it. I was completely charmed and melted. I felt more conscious of the existence of a remote past. One knows of this always, but the knowledge is never so living as in the actual presence of some witness to the life of bygone ages. I felt how short a space of human life was the period of our own existence. I was more impressed with my own littleness, and much more inclinable to believe that the people whose sense of the fitness of things was equal to the upraising of so serene a handiwork, were hardly likely to be wrong in the conclusions they might come to upon any subject. My feeling certainly was that the currency of this bank must be the right one.

We crossed the sward and entered the building. If the outside had been impressive the inside was even more so. It was very lofty and divided into several parts by walls which rested upon massive pillars; the windows were filled with glass, on which had been painted the principal commercial incidents of the bank for many ages. In a remote part of the building there were men and boys singing; this was the only disturbing feature, for as the gamut was still unknown, there was no music in the country which could be agreeable to a European ear. The singers seemed to have derived their inspirations from the songs of birds and the wailing of the wind, which last they tried to imitate in melancholy cadences which at times degenerated into a howl. To my thinking the noise was hideous, but it produced a great effect upon my companions, who professed themselves much moved. As soon as the singing was over the ladies requested me to stay where I was, while they went inside the place from which it had seemed to come.

During their absence certain reflections forced themselves upon me.

In the first place, it struck me as strange that the building should be so nearly empty; I was almost alone, and the few besides myself had been led by curiosity, and had no intention of doing business with the bank. But there might be more inside. I stole up to the curtain, and ventured to draw the extreme edge of it on one side. No, there was hardly any one there. I saw a large number of cashiers, all at their desks ready to pay cheques, and one or two who seemed to be the managing partners. I also saw my hostess and her daughters and two or three other ladies; also three or four old women and the boys from one of the neighbouring Colleges of Unreason; but there was no one else. This did not look as though the bank was doing a very large business; and yet I had always been told that every one in the city dealt with this establishment.

I cannot describe all that took place in these inner precincts, for a sinister-looking person in a black gown came and made unpleasant gestures at me for peeping. I happened to have in my pocket one of the musical bank pieces, which had been given me by Mrs. Nosnibor, so I tried to tip him with it; but having seen what it was, he became so angry that it was all I could do to pacify him. When he was gone I ventured to take a second look, and saw Zulora in the very act of giving a piece of paper which looked like a cheque to one of the cashiers. He did not examine it, but putting his hand into an antique coffer hard by, he pulled out a quantity of dull-looking metal pieces apparently at random, and handed them over without counting them; neither did Zulora count them, but put them into her purse and departed. It seemed a very singular proceeding, but I supposed that they knew their own business best, at any rate Zulora seemed quite satisfied, thanked him for the money, and began making towards the curtain: on this I let it drop and retreated to a reasonable distance.

Mrs. Nosnibor and her daughters soon joined me. For some few minutes we all kept silence, but at last I ventured to remark that the bank was not so busy to-day as it probably often was. On this Mrs. Nosnibor said that it was indeed melancholy to see what little heed people paid to the most precious of all institutions. I could say nothing in reply, but I have ever been of opinion that the greater part of mankind do approximately know where they get that which does them good. Mrs. Nosnibor went on to say that I must not imagine there was any want of confidence in the bank because I had seen so few people there; the heart of the country was thoroughly devoted to these establishments, and any sign of their being in danger would bring in support from the most unexpected quarters. It was only because people knew them to be so very safe, that in some cases (as she lamented to say in Mr. Nosnibor's) they felt that their support was unnecessary. Moreover these institutions never departed from the safest and most approved banking principles. Thus they never allowed interest on deposit, a thing now frequently done by certain bubble companies, which by doing an illegitimate trade had drawn many customers away; and even the shareholders were fewer than formerly, owing to the innovations of these unscrupulous persons.

It came out by and by that the musical banks paid little or no dividend, but divided their profits by way of bonus on the original shares once in every three hundred and fifty years; and as it was now only two hundred years since there had been one of these distributions, people felt that they could not hope for another in their own time and preferred investments whereby they got some more tangible return; all which, she said, was very melancholy to think of.

Having made these last admissions, she returned to her original statement, namely, that every one in the country really supported the bank. As to the fewness of the people, and the absence of the able-bodied, she pointed out to me with some justice that this was exactly what we ought to expect. The men who were most conversant about the stability of human institutions, such as the lawyers, men of science, doctors, statesmen, painters, and the like, were just those who were most likely to be misled by their own fancied accomplishments, and to be made unduly suspicious by their licentious desire for greater present return, which was at the root of nine-tenths of the opposition, by their vanity, which would prompt them to affect superiority to the prejudices of the vulgar, and by the stings of their own conscience, which was constantly upbraiding them in the most cruel manner on account of their bodies, which were generally diseased; let a person's intellect be never so sound, unless his body were in absolute health, he could form no judgment worth having on matters of this kind. The body was everything: it need not perhaps be such a strong body (she said this because she saw I was thinking of the old and infirm-looking folks whom I had seen in the bank), but it must be in perfect health; in this case, the less active strength it had the more free would be the working of the intellect, and therefore the sounder the conclusion. The people, then, whom I had seen at the bank were in reality the very ones whose opinions were most worth having; they declared its advantages to be incalculable, and even professed to consider the immediate return to be far larger than they were entitled to; and so she ran on, nor did she leave off till we had got back to the house.

She might say what she pleased, but her manner was not one that carried much conviction; and later on I saw signs of general indifference to these banks that were not to be mistaken. Their supporters often denied it, but the denial was generally so couched as to add another proof of its existence. In commercial panics, and in times of general distress, the people as a mass did not so much as even think of turning to these banks. A few individuals might do so, some from habit and early training, some from hope of gain, but few from a genuine belief that the money was good; the masses turned instinctively to the other currency. In a conversation with one of the musical bank managers I ventured to hint this as plainly as politeness would allow. He said that it had been more or less true till lately; but that now they had put fresh stained glass windows into all the banks in the country, and repaired the buildings, and enlarged the organs, and taken to talking nicely to the people in the streets, and to remembering the ages of their children and giving them things when they were ill, so that all would henceforth go smoothly.

"But haven't you done anything to the money itself?" said I timidly.

To this day I do not know exactly what the bank-manager said, but it came to this in the end—that I had better not meddle with things that I did not understand.

On reviewing the whole matter, I can be certain of this much only, that the money given out at the musical banks is not the current coin of the realm. It is not the money with which the people do as a general rule buy their bread, meat, and clothing. It is like it; some coins very like it; and it is not counterfeit. It is not, take it all round, a spurious article made of base metal in imitation of the money which is in daily use; but it is a distinct coinage which, though I do not suppose it ever actually superseded the ordinary gold, silver, and copper, was probably issued by authority, and was intended to supplant those metals. Some of the pieces were really of exquisite beauty; and some were, I do verily believe, nothing but the ordinary currency, only that there was another head and name in place of that of the commonwealth. And here was one of the great marvels; for those who were most strongly in favour of this coinage maintained, and even grew more excited if they were opposed here than on any other matter, that the very self-same coin with the head of the commonwealth upon it was of little if any value, while it became exceedingly precious it stamped with the other image.

Some of the coins were plainly bad; of these last there were not many; still there were enough for them to be not uncommon. These were entirely composed of alloy; they would bend easily, would melt away to nothing with a little heat, and were quite unsuited for a currency. Yet there were few of the wealthier classes who did not maintain that even these coins were genuine good money, though they were chary of taking them. Every one knew this, so they were seldom offered; but all thought it incumbent upon them to retain a good many in their possession, and to let them be seen from time to time in their hands and purses. Of course people knew their real value exceedingly well; but few, if any, dared to say what that value was; or if they did, it would be only in certain companies or in writing in the newspapers anonymously. Strange! there was hardly any insinuation against this coinage which they would not tolerate and even applaud in their daily papers; and yet, if the same thing were said without ambiguity to their faces—nominative case verb and accusative being all in their right places, and doubt impossible—they would consider themselves very seriously and justly outraged, and accuse the speaker of being unwell.

I never could understand, neither can I do so now, why a single currency should not suffice them; it would seem to me as though all their dealings would have been thus greatly simplified; but I was met with a look of horror if ever I dared to hint at it. Even those who to my certain knowledge kept only just enough money at the musical banks to swear by, would call the other banks (where their securities really lay) cold, deadening, paralysing, and the like. I noticed another thing moreover which struck me greatly. I was taken to the opening of one of these banks in a neighbouring town, and saw a large assemblage of cashiers and managers. I sat opposite them and scanned their faces attentively. They did not please me; they lacked, with a few exceptions, the true Erewhonian frankness; and an equal number from any other class would have looked happier and better men. When I met them in the streets they did not seem like other people, but had, as a general rule, a cramped expression upon their faces which pained and depressed me.

Those who came from the country were better; they seemed to have lived less as a separate class, and to be freer and healthier; but in spite of my seeing not a few whose looks were benign and noble, I could not help asking myself concerning the greater number of those whom I met, whether Erewhon would be a better country if their expression were to be transferred to the people in general. I answered myself emphatically, no. A man's expression is his sacrament; it is the outward and visible sign of his inward and spiritual grace, or, want of grace; and as I looked at the majority of these men, I could not help feeling that there must be a something in their lives which had stunted their natural development, and that they would have been more healthily-minded in any other profession.

I was always sorry for them, for in nine cases out of ten they were well- meaning persons; they were in the main very poorly paid; their constitutions were as a rule above suspicion; and there were recorded numberless instances of their self-sacrifice and generosity; but they had had the misfortune to have been betrayed into a false position at an age for the most part when their judgment was not matured, and after having been kept in studied ignorance of the real difficulties of the system. But this did not make their position the less a false one, and its bad effects upon themselves were unmistakable.

Few people would speak quite openly and freely before them, which struck me as a very bad sign. When they were in the room every one would talk as though all currency save that of the musical banks should be abolished; and yet they knew perfectly well that even the cashiers themselves hardly used the musical bank money more than other people. It was expected of them that they should appear to do so, but this was all. The less thoughtful of them did not seem particularly unhappy, but many were plainly sick at heart, though perhaps they hardly knew it, and would not have owned to being so. Some few were opponents of the whole system; but these were liable to be dismissed from their employment at any moment, and this rendered them very careful, for a man who had once been cashier at a musical bank was out of the field for other employment, and was generally unfitted for it by reason of that course of treatment which was commonly called his education. In fact it was a career from which retreat was virtually impossible, and into which young men were generally induced to enter before they could be reasonably expected, considering their training, to have formed any opinions of their own. Few indeed were those who had the courage to insist on seeing both sides of the question before they committed themselves to either. One would have thought that this was an elementary principle,—one of the first things that an honourable man would teach his boy to do; but in practice it was not so.

I even saw cases in which parents bought the right of presenting to the office of cashier at one of these banks, with the fixed determination that some one of their sons (perhaps a mere child) should fill it. There was the lad himself—growing up with every promise of becoming a good and honourable man—but utterly without warning concerning the iron shoe which his natural protector was providing for him. Who could say that the whole thing would not end in a life-long lie, and vain chafing to escape?

I confess that there were few things in Erewhon which shocked me more than this.


I heard what follows not from Arowhena, but from Mr. Nosnibor and some of the gentlemen who occasionally dined at the house: they told me that the Erewhonians believe in pre-existence; and not only this (of which I will write more fully in the next chapter), but they believe that it is of their own free act and deed in a previous state that people come to be born into this world at all.

They hold that the unborn are perpetually plaguing and tormenting the married (and sometimes even the unmarried) of both sexes, fluttering about them incessantly, and giving them no peace either of mind or body until they have consented to take them under their protection. If this were not so—this is at least what they urge—it would be a monstrous freedom for one man to take with another, to say that he should undergo the chances and changes of this mortal life without any option in the matter. No man would have any right to get married at all, inasmuch as he can never tell what misery his doing so may entail forcibly upon his children who cannot be unhappy as long as they remain unborn. They feel this so strongly that they are resolved to shift the blame on to other shoulders; they have therefore invented a long mythology as to the world in which the unborn people live, what they do, and the arts and machinations to which they have recourse in order to get themselves into our own world.

I cannot think they seriously believe in this mythology concerning pre- existence; they do and they do not; they do not know themselves what they believe; all they know is that it is a disease not to believe as they do. The only thing of which they are quite sure is that it is the pestering of the unborn, which causes them to be brought into this world, and that they would not be here if they would only let peaceable people alone.

It would be hard to disprove this position, and they might have a good case if they would only leave it as it stands. But this they will not do; they must have assurance doubly sure; they must have the written word of the child itself as soon as it is born, giving the parents indemnity from all responsibility on the score of its birth, and asserting its own pre-existence. They have therefore devised something which they call a birth formula—a document which varies in words according to the caution of parents, but is much the same practically in all cases; for it has been the business of the Erewhonian lawyers during many ages to exercise their skill in perfecting it and providing for every contingency.

These formulae are printed on common paper at a moderate cost for the poor; but the rich have them written on parchment and handsomely bound, so that the getting up of a person's birth formula is a test of his social position. They commence by setting forth, That whereas A. B. was a member of the kingdom of the unborn, where he was well provided for in every way, and had no cause of discontent, &c. &c., he did of his own wanton restlessness conceive a desire to enter into this present world; that thereon having taken the necessary steps as set forth in laws of the unborn kingdom, he set himself with malice aforethought to plague and pester two unfortunate people who had never wronged him, and who were quite contented until he conceived this base design against their peace; for which wrong he now humbly entreats their pardon. He acknowledges that he is responsible for all physical blemishes and deficiencies which may render him answerable to the laws of his country; that his parents have nothing whatever to do with any of these things; and that they have a right to kill him at once if they be so minded, though he entreats them to show their marvellous goodness and clemency towards him by sparing his life. If they will do this he promises to be their most abject creature during his earlier years, and indeed unto his life's end, unless they should see fit in their abundant generosity to remit some portion of his service hereafter. And so the formula continues, going sometimes into very minute details, according to the fancies of family lawyers, who will not make it any shorter than they can help.

The deed being thus prepared, on the third or fourth day after the birth of the child, or as they call it, the "final importunity," the friends gather together, and there is a feast held, where they are all very melancholy—as a general rule, I believe quite truly so—and make presents to the father and mother of the child in order to console them for the injury which has just been done them by the unborn. By and by the child himself is brought down by his nurse, and the company begin to rail upon him, upbraiding him for his impertinence and asking him what amends he proposes to make for the wrong that he has committed, and how he can look for care and nourishment from those who have perhaps already been injured by the unborn on some ten or twelve occasions; for they say of people with large families, that they have suffered terrible injuries from the unborn; till at last, when this has been carried far enough, some one suggests the formula, which is brought forth and solemnly read to the child by the family straightener. This gentleman is always invited on these occasions, for the very fact of intrusion into a peaceful family shows a depravity on the part of the child which requires his professional services.

On being teased by the reading and tweaked by the nurse, the child will commonly fall a-crying, which is reckoned a good sign as showing a consciousness of guilt. He is thereon asked, Does he assent to the formula? on which, as he still continues crying and can obviously make no answer, some one of the friends comes forward and undertakes to sign the document on his behalf, feeling sure (so he says) that the child would do it if he only knew how, and that he will release the present signer from his engagement on arriving at maturity. The friend then inscribes the signature of the child at the foot of the parchment, which is held to bind the child as much as though he had signed it himself. Even this, however, does not fully content them, for they feel a little uneasy until they have got the child's own signature after all. So when he is about fourteen these good people partly bribe him by promises of greater liberty and good things, and partly intimidate him through their great power of making themselves passively unpleasant to him, so that though there is a show of freedom made, there is really none, and partly they use the offices of the teachers in the Colleges of Unreason, till at last, in one way or another, they take very good care that he shall sign the paper by which he professes to have been a free agent in coming into the world, and to take all the responsibility of having done so on to his own shoulders. And yet, though this document is in theory the most important which any one can sign in his whole life, they will have him commit himself to it at an age when neither they nor the law will for many a year allow any one else to bind him to the smallest obligation, no matter how righteously he may owe it, because they hold him too young to know what he is about.

I thought this seemed rather hard, and not of a piece with the many admirable institutions existing among them. I once ventured to say a part of what I thought about it to one of the Professors of Unreason. I asked him whether he did not think it would do serious harm to a lad's principles, and weaken his sense of the sanctity of his word, and of truth generally, that he should be led into entering upon an engagement which it was so plainly impossible he should keep even for a single day with tolerable integrity—whether, in fact, the teachers who so led him, or who taught anything as a certainty of which they were themselves uncertain, were not earning their living by impairing the truth-sense of their pupils. The professor, who was a delightful person, seemed surprised at the view I took, and gave me to understand, perhaps justly enough, that I ought not to make so much fuss about a trifle. No one, he said, expected that the boy either would or could do all that he undertook; but the world was full of compromises; and there was hardly any engagement which would bear being interpreted literally. Human language was too gross a vehicle of thought—thought being incapable of absolute translation. He added, that as there can be no translation from one language into another which shall not scant the meaning somewhat, or enlarge upon it, so there is no language which can render thought without a jarring and a harshness somewhere—and so forth; all of which seemed to come to this in the end, that it was the custom of the country, and that the Erewhonians were a conservative people; that the boy would have to begin compromising sooner or later, and this was part of his education in the art. It was perhaps to be regretted that compromise should be as necessary as it was; still it was necessary, and the sooner the boy got to understand it the better for himself. But they never tell this to the boy.

From the book of their mythology about the unborn I made the extracts which will form the following chapter.


The Erewhonians say it was by chance only that the earth and stars and all the heavenly worlds began to roll from east to west, and not from west to east, and in like manner they say it is by chance that man is drawn through life with his face to the past instead of to the future. For the future is there as much as the past, only that we may not see it. Is it not in the loins of the past, and must not the past alter before the future can do so?

They have a fable that there was a race of men tried upon the earth once, who knew the future better than the past, but that they died in a twelvemonth from the misery which their knowledge caused them. They say that if any were to be born too prescient now, he would die miserably, before he had time to transmit so peace-destroying a faculty to descendants.

Strange fate for man! He must perish if he get that, which he must perish if he strive not after. If he strive not after it he is no better than the brutes, if he get it he is more miserable than the devils.

Having waded through many chapters like the above, I came at last to the unborn themselves, and found that they were held to be souls pure and simple, having no actual bodies, but living in a sort of gaseous yet more or less anthropomorphic existence, like that of a ghost; they have thus neither flesh nor blood nor warmth. Nevertheless they are supposed to have local habitations and cities wherein they dwell, though these are as unsubstantial as their inhabitants; they are even thought to eat and drink some thin ambrosial sustenance, and generally to be capable of doing whatever mankind can do, only after a visionary ghostly fashion, as in a dream. On the other hand, as long as they remain where they are they never die—the only form of death in the unborn world being the leaving it for our own. They are believed to be extremely numerous, far more so than mankind. They arrive from unknown planets, full grown, in large batches at a time; but they can only leave the unborn world by taking the steps necessary for their arrival here—which is, in fact, by suicide.

They ought to be a happy people, for they have no extremes of good or ill fortune; never marrying, but living in a state much like that fabled by the poets as the primitive condition of mankind. In spite of this, however, they are incessantly complaining; they know that we in this world have bodies, and indeed they know everything else about us, for they move among us whithersoever they will, and can read our thoughts, as well as survey our actions at pleasure. One would think that this should be enough for them; and indeed most of them are alive to the desperate risk which they will run by indulging themselves in that body with "sensible warm motion" which they so much desire; nevertheless, there are some to whom the ennui of a disembodied existence is so intolerable that they will venture anything for a change; so they resolve to quit. The conditions which they must accept are so uncertain, that none but the most foolish of the unborn will consent to take them; and it is from these and these only that our own ranks are recruited.

When they have finally made up their minds to leave, they must go before the magistrate of the nearest town and sign an affidavit of their desire to quit their then existence. On their having done this, the magistrate reads them the conditions which they must accept, and which are so long that I can only extract some of the principal points, which are mainly the following:—

First, they must take a potion which will destroy their memory and sense of identity; they must go into the world helpless, and without a will of their own; they must draw lots for their dispositions before they go, and take it, such as it is, for better or worse—neither are they to be allowed any choice in the matter of the body which they so much desire; they are simply allotted by chance, and without appeal, to two people whom it is their business to find and pester until they adopt them. Who these are to be, whether rich or poor, kind or unkind, healthy or diseased, there is no knowing; they have, in fact, to entrust themselves for many years to the care of those for whose good constitution and good sense they have no sort of guarantee.

It is curious to read the lectures which the wiser heads give to those who are meditating a change. They talk with them as we talk with a spendthrift, and with about as much success.

"To be born," they say, "is a felony—it is a capital crime, for which sentence may be executed at any moment after the commission of the offence. You may perhaps happen to live for some seventy or eighty years, but what is that, in comparison with the eternity which you now enjoy? And even though the sentence were commuted, and you were allowed to live for ever, you would in time become so terribly weary of life that execution would be the greatest mercy to you. Consider the infinite risk; to be born of wicked parents and trained in vice! to be born of silly parents, and trained to unrealities! of parents who regard you as a sort of chattel or property, belonging more to them than to yourself! Again, you may draw utterly unsympathetic parents, who will never be able to understand you, and who will thwart you as long as they can to the utmost of their power (as a hen when she has hatched a duckling), and then call you ungrateful because you do not love them, or parents who may look upon you as a thing to be cowed while it is still young, lest it should give them trouble hereafter by having wishes and feelings of its own.

"In later life, when you have been finally allowed to pass muster as a full member of the world, you will yourself become liable to the pesterings of the unborn—and a very happy life you may be led in consequence! For we solicit so strongly that a few only—nor these the best—can refuse us; and yet not to refuse is much the same as going into partnership with half a dozen different people about whom one can know absolutely nothing beforehand—not even whether one is going into partnership with men or women, nor with how many of either. Delude not yourself with thinking that you will be wiser than your parents. You may be an age in advance of them, but unless you are one of the great ones (and if you are one of the great ones, woe betide you), you will still be an age behind your children.

"Imagine what it must be to have an unborn quartered upon you, who is of a different temperament to your own; nay, half a dozen such, who will not love you though you may tell them that you have stinted yourself in a thousand ways to provide for their well-being,—who will forget all that self-sacrifice of which you are yourself so conscious, and of whom you may never be sure that they are not bearing a grudge against you for errors of judgment into which you may have fallen, but which you had hoped had been long since atoned for. Ingratitude such as this is not uncommon, yet fancy what it must be to bear! It is hard upon the duckling to have been hatched by a hen, but is it not also hard upon the hen to have hatched the duckling?

"Consider it again, we pray you, not for our sake but for your own. Your initial character you must draw by lot; but whatever it is, it can only come to a tolerably successful development after long training; remember that over that training you will have no control. It is possible, and even probable, that whatever you may get in after life which is of real pleasure and service to you, will have to be won in spite of, rather than by the help of, those whom you are now about to pester, and that you will only win your freedom after years of a painful struggle, in which it will be hard to say whether you have suffered most injury, or inflicted it.

"Remember also, that if you go into the world you will have free will; that you will be obliged to have it, that there is no escaping it, that you will be fettered to it during your whole life, and must on every occasion do that which on the whole seems best to you at any given time, no matter whether you are right or wrong in choosing it. Your mind will be a balance for considerations, and your action will go with the heavier scale. How it shall fall will depend upon the kind of scales which you may have drawn at birth, the bias which they will have obtained by use, and the weight of the immediate considerations. If the scales were good to start with, and if they have not been outrageously tampered with in childhood, and if the combinations into which you enter are average ones, you may come off well; but there are too many "ifs" in this, and with the failure of any one of them your misery is assured. Reflect on this, and remember that should the ill come upon you, you will have yourself to thank, for it is your own choice to be born, and there is no compulsion in the matter.

"Not that we deny the existence of pleasures among mankind; there is a certain show of sundry phases of contentment which may even amount to very considerable happiness; but mark how they are distributed over a man's life, belonging, all the keenest of them, to the fore part, and few indeed to the after. Can there be any pleasure worth purchasing with the miseries of a decrepit age? If you are good, strong, and handsome, you have a fine fortune indeed at twenty, but how much of it will be left at sixty? For you must live on your capital; there is no investing your powers so that you may get a small annuity of life for ever: you must eat up your principal bit by bit and be tortured by seeing it grow continually smaller and smaller, even though you happen to escape being rudely robbed of it by crime or casualty. Remember, too, that there never yet was a man of forty who would not come back into the world of the unborn if he could do so with decency and honour. Being in the world, he will as a general rule stay till he is forced to go; but do you think that he would consent to be born again, and re-live his life, if he had the offer of doing so? Do not think it. If he could so alter the past as that he should never have come into being at all, do you not think that he would do it very gladly? What was it that one of their own poets meant, if it was not this, when he cried out upon the day in which he was born, and the night in which it was said there is a man child conceived? 'For now,' he says, 'I should have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept; then had I been at rest with kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver; or as an hidden untimely birth, I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.' Be very sure that the guilt of being born carries this punishment at times to all men; but how can they ask for pity, or complain of any mischief that may befall them, having entered open-eyed into the snare?

"One word more and we have done. If any faint remembrance, as of a dream, flit in some puzzled moment across your brain, and you shall feel that the potion which is to be given you shall not have done its work, and the memory of this existence which you are leaving endeavours vainly to return; we say in such a moment, when you clutch at the dream but it eludes your grasp, and you watch it, as Orpheus watched Eurydice, gliding back again into the twilight kingdom, fly—fly—if you can remember the advice—to the haven of your present and immediate duty, taking shelter incessantly in the work which you have in hand. This much you may perhaps recall; and this, if you will imprint it deeply upon your every faculty, will be most likely to bring you safely and honourably home through the trials that are before you." {47}

This is the fashion in which they reason with those who would be for leaving them, but it is seldom that they do much good, for none but the unquiet and unreasonable ever think of being born, and those who are foolish enough to think of it are generally foolish enough to do it. Finding therefore that they can do no more, the friends follow weeping to the courthouse of the chief magistrate, where the one who wishes to be born declares solemnly and openly that he accepts the conditions attached to his decision. On this he is presented with the potion, which immediately destroys his memory and sense of identity, and dissipates the thin gaseous tenement which he has inhabited: he becomes a bare vital principle, not to be perceived by human senses, nor appreciated by any chemical test. He has but one instinct, which is that he is to go to such and such a place, where he will find two persons whom he is to importune till they consent to undertake him; but whether he is to find these persons among the race of Chowbok or the Erewhonians themselves is not for him to choose.



The subject of this memoir, and author of the work which follows it, was born in Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, on the 5th of February 1832. He was my elder brother by about eighteen months. Our father and mother had once been rich, but through a succession of unavoidable misfortunes they were left with but a slender income when my brother and myself were about three and four years old. My father died some five or six years afterwards, and we only recollected him as a singularly gentle and humorous playmate who doted upon us both and never spoke unkindly.

The charm of such a recollection can never be dispelled; both my brother and myself returned his love with interest, and cherished his memory with the most affectionate regret, from the day on which he left us till the time came that the one of us was again to see him face to face. So sweet and winning was his nature that his slightest wish was our law—and whenever we pleased him, no matter how little, he never failed to thank us as though we had done him a service which we should have had a perfect right to withhold. How proud were we upon any of these occasions, and how we courted the opportunity of being thanked! He did indeed well know the art of becoming idolised by his children, and dearly did he prize the results of his own proficiency; yet truly there was no art about it; all arose spontaneously from the well-spring of a sympathetic nature which was quick to feel as others felt, whether old or young, rich or poor, wise or foolish. On one point alone did he neglect us—I refer to our religious education. On all other matters he was the kindest and most careful teacher in the world. Love and gratitude be to his memory!

My mother loved us no less ardently than my father, but she was of a quicker temper, and less adept at conciliating affection. She must have been exceedingly handsome when she was young, and was still comely when we first remembered her; she was also highly accomplished, but she felt my father's loss of fortune more keenly than my father himself, and it preyed upon her mind, though rather for our sake than for her own. Had we not known my father we should have loved her better than any one in the world, but affection goes by comparison, and my father spoiled us for any one but himself; indeed, in after life, I remember my mother's telling me, with many tears, how jealous she had often been of the love we bore him, and how mean she had thought it of him to entrust all scolding or repression to her, so that he might have more than his due share of our affection. Not that I believe my father did this consciously; still, he so greatly hated scolding that I dare say we might often have got off scot-free when we really deserved reproof had not my mother undertaken the onus of scolding us herself. We therefore naturally feared her more than my father, and fearing more we loved less. For as love casteth out fear, so fear love.

This must have been hard to bear, and my mother scarcely knew the way to bear it. She tried to upbraid us, in little ways, into loving her as much as my father; the more she tried this, the less we could succeed in doing it; and so on and so on in a fashion which need not be detailed. Not but what we really loved her deeply, while her affection for us was insurpassable; still we loved her less than we loved my father, and this was the grievance.

My father entrusted our religious education entirely to my mother. He was himself, I am assured, of a deeply religious turn of mind, and a thoroughly consistent member of the Church of England; but he conceived, and perhaps rightly, that it is the mother who should first teach her children to lift their hands in prayer, and impart to them a knowledge of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. My mother accepted the task gladly, for in spite of a certain narrowness of view—the natural but deplorable result of her earlier surroundings—she was one of the most truly pious women whom I have ever known; unfortunately for herself and us she had been trained in the lowest school of Evangelical literalism—a school which in after life both my brother and myself came to regard as the main obstacle to the complete overthrow of unbelief; we therefore looked upon it with something stronger than aversion, and for my own part I still deem it perhaps the most insidious enemy which the cause of Christ has ever encountered. But of this more hereafter.

My mother, as I said, threw her whole soul into the work of our religious education. Whatever she believed she believed literally, and, if I may say so, with a harshness of realisation which left little scope for imagination or mystery. Her ideas concerning heaven and her solutions of life's enigmas were clear and simple, but they could only be reconciled with certain obvious facts—such as the omnipotence and all-goodness of God—by leaving many things absolutely out of sight. And this my mother succeeded effectually in doing. She never doubted that her opinions comprised the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; she therefore made haste to sow the good seed in our tender minds, and so far succeeded that when my brother was four years old he could repeat the Apostles' Creed, the general confession, and the Lord's Prayer without a blunder. My mother made herself believe that he delighted in them; but, alas! it was far otherwise; for strange as it may appear concerning one whose later life was a continual prayer, in childhood he detested nothing so much as being made to pray, and to learn his catechism. In this I am sorry to say we were both heartily of a mind. As for Sunday the less said the better.

I have already hinted (but as a warning to other parents had better, perhaps, express myself more plainly) that this aversion was probably the result of my mother's undue eagerness to reap an artificial fruit of lip- service, which could have little meaning to the heart of one so young. I believe that the severe check which the natural growth of faith experienced in my brother's case was due almost entirely to this cause, and to the school of literalism in which he had been trained; but, however this may be, we both of us hated being made to say our prayers. Morning and evening it was our one bugbear, and we would avoid it, as indeed children generally will, by every artifice which we could employ.

Thus we were in the habit of feigning to be asleep shortly before prayer time, and would gratefully hear my father tell my mother that it was a shame to wake us; whereon he would carry us up to bed in a state apparently of the profoundest slumber when we were really wide awake and in great fear of detection. For we knew how to pretend to be asleep, but we did not know how we ought to wake again; there was nothing for it therefore when we were once committed, but to go on sleeping till we were fairly undressed and put to bed, and could wake up safely in the dark. But deceit is never long successful, and we were at last ignominiously exposed.

It happened one evening that my mother suspected my brother John, and tried to open his little hands which were lying clasped in front of him. Now my brother was as yet very crude and inconsistent in his theories concerning sleep, and had no conception what a real sleeper would do under these circumstances. Fear deprived him of his powers of reflection, and he thus unfortunately concluded that because sleepers, so far as he had observed them, were always motionless, therefore they must be rigid and incapable of motion; and indeed that any movement, under any circumstances (for from his earliest childhood he liked to carry his theories to their legitimate conclusion), would be physically impossible for one who was really sleeping; forgetful, oh! unhappy one, of the flexibility of his own body on being carried up stairs, and, more unhappy still, ignorant of the art of waking. He therefore clenched his fingers harder and harder as he felt my mother trying to unfold them, while his head hung listless, and his eyes were closed as though he were sleeping sweetly. It is needless to detail the agony of shame that followed. My mother begged my father to box his ears, which my father flatly refused to do. Then she boxed them herself, and there followed a scene, and a day or two of disgrace for both of us.

Shortly after this there happened another misadventure. A lady came to stay with my mother, and was to sleep in a bed that had been brought into our nursery, for my father's fortunes had already failed, and we were living in a humble way. We were still but four and five years old, so the arrangement was not unnatural, and it was assumed that we should be asleep before the lady went to bed, and be down stairs before she would get up in the morning. But the arrival of this lady and her being put to sleep in the nursery were great events to us in those days, and being particularly wanted to go to sleep, we of course sat up in bed talking and keeping ourselves awake till she should come up stairs. Perhaps we had fancied that she would give us something, but if so we were disappointed. However, whether this was the case or not, we were wide awake when our visitor came to bed, and having no particular object to gain, we made no pretence of sleeping. The lady kissed us both, told us to lie still and go to sleep like good children, and then began doing her hair.

I remember this was the occasion on which my brother discovered a good many things in connection with the fair sex which had hitherto been beyond his ken; more especially that the mass of petticoats and clothes which envelop the female form were not, as he expressed it to me, "all solid woman," but that women were not in reality more substantially built than men, and had legs as much as he had—a fact which he had never yet realised. On this he for a long time considered them as impostors, who had wronged him by leading him to suppose that they had far more "body in them" (so he said) than he now found they had.

This was a sort of thing which he regarded with stern moral reprobation. If he had been old enough to have a solicitor I believe he would have put the matter into his hands, as well as certain other things which had lately troubled him. For but recently my mother had bought a fowl, and he had seen it plucked, and the inside taken out; his irritation had been extreme on discovering that fowls were not all solid flesh, but that their insides—and these formed, as it appeared to him, an enormous percentage of the bird—were perfectly useless. He was now beginning to understand that sheep and cows were also hollow as far as good meat was concerned; the flesh they had was only a mouthful in comparison with what they ought to have considering their apparent bulk: insignificant, mere skin and bone covering a cavern. What right had they, or anything else, to assert themselves as so big, and prove so empty? And now this discovery of woman's falsehood was quite too much for him. The world itself was hollow, made up of shams and delusions, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Truly a prosaic young gentleman enough. Everything with him was to be exactly in all its parts what it appeared on the face of it, and everything was to go on doing exactly what it had been doing hitherto. If a thing looked solid, it was to be very solid; if hollow, very hollow; nothing was to be half and half, and nothing was to change unless he had himself already become accustomed to its times and manners of changing; there were to be no exceptions and no contradictions; all things were to be perfectly consistent, and all premisses to be carried with extremest rigour to their legitimate conclusions. Heaven was to be very neat (for he was always tidy himself), and free from sudden shocks to the nervous system, such as those caused by dogs barking at him, or cows driven in the streets. God was to resemble my father, and the Holy Spirit to bear some sort of indistinct analogy to my mother.

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