I am myself singularly moved, with Coventry Patmore, to love the lovely who are not beloved—but not the unlovely. Those little jokes, and many others, are by no means lovely, and if Butler repeated them as often as Mr. Jones does, it is not surprising that he was avoided by many who missed or dreaded the point. His lecture on the Humour of Homer made Mr. Garnett unhappy and Miss Jane Harrison cross, Mr. Jones says. I don’t doubt it. It is very cheap humour indeed, and no more Homer’s than mine is. It is entirely Butler’s humour about Homer, a very different thing. Its impudence did not mitigate the aggravation, but made it more acute. If he had picked out a fairy-tale, rather than two glorious poems—Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, Rumpelstiltskin, for example—he could have been as facetious as he pleased. But that would not suit him. There would have been no darts to fling. Butler was a banderillero. All right; but then don’t complain that the Miss Harrisons, Darwins, and others shake off your darts and go about their business, which, oddly enough, is not to gore and trample the banderillero; don’t be huffed because you are held for a gamin. Butler wanted it both ways.
The conclusion is irresistible that Butler’s controversial books were not primarily written to discover truth, but because he was vain and wished at once to be sensational and annoying. He resented the greatness of the great, or the celebrity of the celebrated; his vanity was wounded. He sought, then, for “most aggravating and impudent matter” to wound them in turn who had vicariously wounded him. He “learned” them to be toads, or celebrities, or tried to. But his love of little jokes betrayed him. He, a sort of minnow, thought to trouble the pool where the great fish were oaring at ease by flirting the surface with his tail. It seemed to him that he was throwing up a fine volume of water; but the great fish held their way unconscious in the deep. Chiefly, therefore, he failed with all his cleverness. Brain he had, logic he had; the heart was a-wanting and the intention faltered. Gnosis again and agape!
Brain he had, logic he had; but brain must follow upon emotional intention if it is to create; and logic must follow upon sound premisses if it is to convince. Now if his prime intention was to annoy, or, if you granted him his premisses, Butler would never miss the mark. But is that intention worthy of more than it earned? I don’t think so. And can you grant him his premisses? I don’t think that you can. He argued a priori, apparently always. I am not a biologist, nor was he, but if I know enough of scientific method to be sure that biologists cannot argue that way, so undoubtedly did he. What should Darwin, who had spent years in patient accumulation of fact, have to say to him? In Homeric criticism—a priori again. He had an instinct—he