Erewhon by Samuel Butler


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Page 2

In 1865 I rewrote and enlarged "Darwin among the Machines" for the
Reasoner, a paper published in London by Mr. G. J. Holyoake. It appeared
July 1, 1865, under the heading, "The Mechanical Creation," and can be
seen in the British Museum. I again rewrote and enlarged it, till it
assumed the form in which it appeared in the first edition of "Erewhon."

The next part of "Erewhon" that I wrote was the "World of the Unborn," a
preliminary form of which was sent to Mr. Holyoake's paper, but as I
cannot find it among those copies of the Reasoner that are in the British
Museum, I conclude that it was not accepted. I have, however, rather a
strong fancy that it appeared in some London paper of the same character
as the Reasoner, not very long after July 1, 1865, but I have no copy.

I also wrote about this time the substance of what ultimately became the
Musical Banks, and the trial of a man for being in a consumption. These
four detached papers were, I believe, all that was written of "Erewhon"
before 1870. Between 1865 and 1870 I wrote hardly anything, being
hopeful of attaining that success as a painter which it has not been
vouchsafed me to attain, but in the autumn of 1870, just as I was
beginning to get occasionally hung at Royal Academy exhibitions, my
friend, the late Sir F. N. (then Mr.) Broome, suggested to me that I
should add somewhat to the articles I had already written, and string
them together into a book. I was rather fired by the idea, but as I only
worked at the MS. on Sundays it was some months before I had completed
it.

I see from my second Preface that I took the book to Messrs. Chapman &
Hall May 1, 1871, and on their rejection of it, under the advice of one
who has attained the highest rank among living writers, I let it sleep,
till I took it to Mr. Trubner early in 1872. As regards its rejection by
Messrs. Chapman & Hall, I believe their reader advised them quite wisely.
They told me he reported that it was a philosophical work, little likely
to be popular with a large circle of readers. I hope that if I had been
their reader, and the book had been submitted to myself, I should have
advised them to the same effect.

"Erewhon" appeared with the last day or two of March 1872. I attribute
its unlooked-for success mainly to two early favourable reviews--the
first in the Pall Mall Gazette of April 12, and the second in the
Spectator of April 20. There was also another cause. I was complaining
once to a friend that though "Erewhon" had met with such a warm
reception, my subsequent books had been all of them practically still-
born. He said, "You forget one charm that 'Erewhon' had, but which none
of your other books can have." I asked what? and was answered, "The
sound of a new voice, and of an unknown voice."

The first edition of "Erewhon" sold in about three weeks; I had not taken
moulds, and as the demand was strong, it was set up again immediately. I
made a few unimportant alterations and additions, and added a Preface, of
which I cannot say that I am particularly proud, but an inexperienced
writer with a head somewhat turned by unexpected success is not to be
trusted with a preface. I made a few further very trifling alterations
before moulds were taken, but since the summer of 1872, as new editions
were from time to time wanted, they have been printed from stereos then
made.

Having now, I fear, at too great length done what I was asked to do, I
should like to add a few words on my own account. I am still fairly well
satisfied with those parts of "Erewhon" that were repeatedly rewritten,
but from those that had only a single writing I would gladly cut out some
forty or fifty pages if I could.

This, however, may not be, for the copyright will probably expire in a
little over twelve years. It was necessary, therefore, to revise the
book throughout for literary inelegancies--of which I found many more
than I had expected--and also to make such substantial additions as
should secure a new lease of life--at any rate for the copyright. If,
then, instead of cutting out, say fifty pages, I have been compelled to
add about sixty invita Minerva--the blame rests neither with my publisher
nor with me, but with the copyright laws. Nevertheless I can assure the
reader that, though I have found it an irksome task to take up work which
I thought I had got rid of thirty years ago, and much of which I am
ashamed of, I have done my best to make the new matter savour so much of
the better portions of the old, that none but the best critics shall
perceive at what places the gaps of between thirty and forty years occur.

Lastly, if my readers note a considerable difference between the literary
technique of "Erewhon" and that of "Erewhon Revisited," I would remind
them that, as I have just shown, "Erewhon" look something like ten years
in writing, and even so was written with great difficulty, while "Erewhon
Revisited" was written easily between November 1900 and the end of April
1901. There is no central idea underlying "Erewhon," whereas the attempt
to realise the effect of a single supposed great miracle dominates the
whole of its successor. In "Erewhon" there was hardly any story, and
little attempt to give life and individuality to the characters; I hope
that in "Erewhon Revisited" both these defects have been in great measure
avoided. "Erewhon" was not an organic whole, "Erewhon Revisited" may
fairly claim to be one. Nevertheless, though in literary workmanship I
do not doubt that this last-named book is an improvement on the first, I
shall be agreeably surprised if I am not told that "Erewhon," with all
its faults, is the better reading of the two.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Dec 2019, 20:56