12 APRIL 1935, Page 36


By R.. F. Rattray

This is a pedestrian account (Duckworth, 5s.) of the main events of Butler's life, of the books he wrote, and how he came to write them. It contains no new material, but it serves as a useful reminder that Butler wrote books of great interest, other than The Wail of All Flesh, Erewhon, and the Notebooks. For wherever -Dr. Rattray interrupts his bare account .of books- and facts with quotations from Butler's own work, one is astonished by -the freshness and directness of Butler's style ; a style which once seemed shocking, but now seems charming,. friendly; and sometimes almost whim= sical. Dr. Rattray endeavours to make his book as impartial as possible. Ile refuses to side with Butler, either in his quarrel with his family or in- his quarrel with the moralists and philistines of his time. He! disapproves of Butler's own code of sexual morality, and he' sympathizes with the father who knew that money-•given to Samuel would be handed over to Pauli. The weakness and the flatness of the book lie in the fact thaV Butler is a person about whom it is :impossible to remain. completely impartial, without being dull. One either sympathizes with his views or one objects to them : if 'one is impartial, they merely seem eccentric • and uninteresting. For instance, -unless one trier to under- stand the motives that made Butler adopt his sexual code, his sexual behaviour seems trivial. The point about him is, though, that whether one praises or condemns him he was not trivial, and' -his lapses were not lapses, they were assertions. - In the same way, his friendship with Pauli was not, as one might think from this book, a meaningless aberra- tion ; it was profound moral experiment. If examinations are ever set on the works of Butler, no doubt this book will have a certain value for the student. But, until they are, there is no reason why the ordinary reader should turn to it; since libraries contain Festing Jones's remarkable Life of Samuel Bailee,. whiet treats Butler in the only possible light, the light of friendship.