Skip to main content

Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

See other formats

Material for Erewhon Revisited     295

may exist, and the convention adopted is that whenever a
man finds occasion to speak strongly he should express himself
by dwelling as forcibly as he can on the views most opposed
to his own; even this, however, is tolerated rather than ap-
proved, for it is counted the perfection of scholarship and good
breeding not to express, and much more not even to have a
definite opinion upon any subject whatsoever.

Thus their " yea " is " nay " and their " nay," " yea," but
it comes to the same thing in the end, for it does not matter
whether " yea " is called " yea " or " nay " so long as it is
understood as " yea." They go a long way round only to find
themselves at the point from which they started, but there is
no accounting for tastes. With us such tactics are incon-
ceivable, but so far do the Erewhonians carry them that it is
common for them to write whole reviews and articles between
the lines of which a practised reader will detect a sense exactly
contrary to that ostensibly put forward; nor is a man held
to be more than a tyro in the arts of polite society unless he
instinctively suspects a hidden sense in every proposition
that meets him. I was more than once misled by these
plover-like tactics, and on one occasion was near getting into
a serious scrape. It happened thus :—

A man of venerable aspect was maintaining that pain was a
sad thing and should not be permitted under any circum-
stances. People ought not even to be allowed to suffer for the
consequences of their own folly, and should be punished for it
severely if they did. If they could only be kept from making
fools of themselves by the loss of freedom or, if necessary, by
some polite and painless method of extinction—which meant
hanging—then they ought to be extinguished. If permanent
improvement can only be won through ages of mistake and
suffering, which must be all begun de now for every fresh im-
provement, let us be content to forego improvement, and let
those who suffer their lawless thoughts to stray in this direc-
tion be improved from off the face of the earth as fast as
possible. No remedy can be too drastic for such a disease as
the pain felt by another person. We find we can generally
bear the pain ourselves when we have to do so, but it is in-
tolerable that we should know it is being borne by any one
else. The mere sight of pain unfits people for ordinary life,
the wear and tear of which would be very much reduced if we