Imatges de pÓgina

very pleasant. Samuel Butler was indeed prone to prejudices and his sometimes almost vindictive prejudices rouse prejudice in the reader. Let such a reader turn to Mr. Cuthbert Creighton's recollections, or to the anecdote about the night watchman at Staple Inn. The friend from whom this was gleaned is a whole-hearted Butlerian. He plays Butler's gavottes and broods upon his philosophy. But if you talk with him of Butler he is reticent about all that and tells you some fresh instance of kindly simplicity, some help to a lame dog, help which never cost the helper nothing and was always amusing. And then let such a reader read the book through from beginning to end. This omnium gatherum (as Mr. Jones claims) is life. All is told that signifies; all, foul with fair; and the whole effect is the truth. And it is sensible to suspend judgement as much as pre-judgement. If passing judgement is the zest of biography-and this may be doubted-at least there is no hurry. It would be decent to read the memoir through more than once, to supplement by reading through Butler's published works, and then to make allowance for never having talked with him, before decision. And meanwhile why not enjoy a big book which has the attractiveness of real life? Why not observe this life, enter into it, try to be the sort of person for a while whom Butler would have wished to read his life?

Samuel Butler was born at Langar Rectory in 1835. He was at Shrewsbury School under his grandfather's successor, Dr. Kennedy. Thence he went to St. John's, Cambridge, intending to enter holy orders. Perplexed faith compelled him to give that up, and from 1859 to 1864 he was a farmer in New Zealand. In September 1864 he returned (with that curious sham lame dog Charles Pauli who treated him so badly) and took chambers in Clifford's Inn. There he lived the rest of his days busy with painting music and writing. That seems dingy, but there is charm in Clifford's Inn, in recessu divinius aliquid. He made long walks too in the country, and he was often in Italy. At the age of eight he had fallen in love with Italy at first sight,' says Mr. Jones and (a few pages on), speaking of the second great event in Butler's life,' he says 'thenceforward Italy and Handel were always present to him as a double pedal to every thought, word, and deed.' He spoke and wrote Italian as readily as English. He had his prejudices in Italian as in other literature and art. But the Italians who knew him were the most devoted of his friends: 'It is something to take "an hug "' he said, pleased with a lively phrase in a

[ocr errors]


letter from one of these, 'from one who was embraced by Garibaldi.' To appreciate Butler one ought to consider him half Italian in temper, sharp and subtile, with an inheritance in the beautiful not in the romantic, never quite at home with English conventions.

So the years passed from 1864 to 1902 when he returned very ill from his last visit to Italy and died on June 18. Mr. Festing Jones finds plenty to tell and we gladly read it all. Yet, the end reached, the doubt creeps in is Mr. Jones a very clever and innocent Boswell to a no very wonderful hero? What after all has Butler done? A good catholic in men and letters said soon after this memoir was published that it was the most gigantic bluff of modern times and read it greedily. His music certainly, his painting partly, perhaps even his literature was amateurish. And yet that epithet must be reconsidered. He went through the mill to learn painting; the portrait of himself in the hall at St. John's is honest work. He went through a good deal of the mill for the technical mastery of musical composition, and he could probably give plainer reason for not liking Beethoven than many of the orthodox can for their devotion: Beethoven 'knew that he knew' too much for Butler. The Authoress of the Odyssey has all the faults of amateur work, especially intolerance. Yet hard out-door labour in archaeology went to the preparation for it. The preamble about the authoress is futile, but the delightful idea that Ulysses' weary voyage was just a sail round Sicily is fortified by argument and brightens a dull book. His scientific books are certainly not dull, and men of science treat them with respect. A brilliant amateur is what they do consider him, but Mr. Russell gave him a chapter to himself in Form and Function, and says that his attitude to the central problems of biology, just because it is that of a cultivated layman, is singularly illuminating.' He had a just fore-consciousness of the reaction against crude Darwinism and he stood for spiritual philosophy against the machines'; and so he helped his generation in truth that mattered, and this has been, vaguely perhaps yet somehow, understood. Yes, he has done something: people feel it; and they eagerly listen to his Boswell to-day.

[ocr errors]

However, Butler might smell pomposity here. Anyone who likes a bit of fun can read Life and Habit. His dose of earnest ness never lacks its jam. Therefore Erewhon is Butler to the general. You will not forget the pretty roundness of my literary career! a Erewhon, w Erewhon Revisited.' So he

[ocr errors]

wrote to the Fuller Maitlands telling them of the illness which was to be his last. The two titles would indeed mean his whole to half the world. What was the charm of these books? The style no doubt to begin with; that style which was attained by rewriting everything he published 'none of it less than three times, much of it four, five, six, and even seven times,' and by the coaxing' right words into right places' after much thought and because he wanted to make his meaning clear and interesting.' He has his reward: half the world never thinks about style yet unconsciously enjoys it. Then there is the freshness of the New Zealand scenery, drawn with the eye upon the object and 'lifted' from another place into the book. But the main point is that in Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited people found a criticism and at last almost a synthesis which answered to the restlessness of their time. Erewhon and a fortiori Erewhon Revisited are not cynical: far more are they compassionate. Certain slips of taste about religion were not deliberate. They were taken in bad part, but Butler's letters now prove that he had never thought of the construction that would be put upon them. And again in The Way of All Flesh not style alone but story too was clear and strong and interesting. But here too a problem was attacked of vital importance to far more persons than comfortable families imagine, the problem of fathers begetting children they do not want and children suffering horribly thereby. A lady burned this novel because it disgusted and shocked and horrified her. Many would say, very natural. Mr. Festing Jones dealt with her in Boswell's vein:

'I was never quick, as Butler was, to recognize and appropriate appropriate passages; but next time I met this lady, having had time to think over her words, I said: “Would you mind my introducing your burning The Way of All Flesh into the Life of Butler I am writing?

[ocr errors]

That appropriating' of Butler's marks all his books. He made notes of what his sisters said, or someone else did, or of what happened to himself at some time or place, and 'coaxed' these exact words or episodes into his tale or his controversy. It was rude and crude, a patchwork realism; but it made the thing go. The Way of All Flesh is not only an autobiography, it is all ablow and aglow.

And it brings us at last to his greatest book. Butler unfortunately disliked his father. Hence he suspected all fathers. His grandfather had been his father's father. Therefore he pilloried his grandfather as well as his father in All Flesh, knowing nothing whatever about him.

The Way of Then, having

to prepare a brief memoir for the Shrewsbury Archaeological Society, he read his letters, was charmed, and set to work on the two volumes which Mr. Murray published in 1896 with title The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, Head-master of Shrewsbury School 1798-1836 and afterwards Bishop of Lichfield, in so far as they illustrate the scholastic, religious, and social life of England, 1790-1840.' The work fulfils this large promise. The latter chapters, xxx-xxxviii, are not so delightful as the rest; the background of the school and universities is more lively than the bishopric. That is in part because Dr. Butler was the greatest schoolmaster of the age. He took over Shrewsbury as an effete Grammar School and made it the mother of classical scholarship to England. And his teaching was equalled by his fatherly care for all the boys, his patience good sense and firmness with their parents. This is how one of his old boys writes to him from Southey's house:

'In all probability I shall remain under this good man's roof till something turns up, as I reap daily a rich harvest from his conversation and library. His cheerfulness and merry heart remind me, my ever-valued friend, of yours, with all the labours of your school thick upon you. I used to wonder at it, but it convinced me that the merry heart was a continual feast.'

A very perfect gentleman he was, equable and self-forgetting rather than merry in his letters, yet happy and causing happiness. A good churchman too, large-minded and acute as Thirlwall, but with a robust and simple piety quite his own. Some one wanted him to condemn Whately as a Sabellian. He answered that he had not read Whately, but for himself—

'I am content to say, not "Credo quia impossibile est," but "Credo quia revelatum est," and, without attempting to understand the divine mystery, to pursue the duties resulting from it.'

But a review of the Life of the grandson must not run out into a second review of the grandfather's. Only let attention be specially drawn to the concluding chapter in which the grandson sums up. It is as good a piece of writing as any he ever did. And to it, not to The Fair Haven etc., we should go if we would understand his mature thought on faith. It will not satisfy all the curiosity of some inquirers. But it tells as much as we need know. And, generally, if anyone is uneasy at the rich feast provided by Mr. Festing Jones, let him remember what Cicero wrote to Atticus about Caesar at the Puteolan dinner-party, and partake of sweet and bitter without scruple, resolving to finish with the Life of Dr. Samuel.



2 B



The Language of Palestine and Adjacent Regions. By J. COURTENAY JAMES, M.A., B.D.; with a Foreword by Sir ERNEST A. WALLIS BUDGE. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark.)


THIS interesting work embodies a praiseworthy attempt to survey the main factors and affinities of the language or rather languages of Palestine within the Biblical period. In this survey the author does not include Greek (though he refers to Greek influence on the vernacular Semitic dialects), but confines himself to the Oriental (mainly Semitic) languages.

The book is divided into ten sections. The first of these is introductory, and deals with such topics as 'conquest and language,' early writing, etc. (all within 23 pages). The next section, entitled Empire and Language,' surveys briefly the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek periods (pp. 24-75). The third section-Linguistic Genealogy'-has for its main themes the different branches of Semitic (North and South), Eastern and Western Aramaic, and the dialects of Palestine (pp. 76–116). Section IV (pp. 117-139) is devoted to a sketch of Semitic constructions (an outline of the main elements of Semitic grammar and syntax). The following sections deal respectively with 'Aramaeans and Hebrews' (an historical sketch of the relations of the respective peoples and languages, pp. 140-168); 'Inscriptions and the Old Testament' (pp. 169-186); 'Semitic Script: Evolution and Transition' (pp. 187-205); 'Aramaic (a discussion of alphabet, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc., pp. 206-229); Nabataean' (pp. 230-248); and Targums

(pp. 249-264).

It will be seen at once that the plan of the book is attractive, and as a popular and suggestive survey of a wide field, not hitherto treated as a whole in this way, it has a certain definite value. But the treatment of details is often exceedingly sketchy, and sometimes rather amateurish, occasionally even slipshod and inaccurate. Thus on p. 74 we are told that in the case of the Book Ecclesiasticus'a few fragments of the Hebrew original have been

« AnteriorContinua »