RECORD: Jones, H. F. 1912. Samuel Butler's lost dialogue: On the origin of species. The Press [Christchurch, New Zealand] (1 June), p. 9.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 3.2020. RN1.

NOTE: Letters between Butler and Darwin that were published in Butler's memoir (Jones, 1919) are included here.

[page] 9







TO THE EDITOR OF "THE PRESS." Christchurch, New Zealand.

Sir, - We have already had some private correspondence about a philosophic dialogue on the "Origin of Species," written by Samuel Butler, which I should like to find, if possible, for the memoir of Butler, which I am preparing. I had given it up for lost, but I have recently become possessed of an autograph letter by Charles Darwin, referred to later on, and this has revived my desire to find the Dialogue. If you can find space for the following statement, some of your readers may be able to help, and I hope that the interest of the subject will be thought sufficient to atone for the length of this letter.

1859. "The Origin of Species" was published in the autumn, and Butler arrived in New Zealand about the same time.

1860 or 1861. Butler received a copy of "The Origin of Species," read it and wrote a philosophic dialogue upon it.

1861. "The Press" newspaper was started at Christchurch, New Zealand, 25th May.

1861 or 1862. According to a passage in "Unconscious Memory" (see post) Butler's philosophic dialogue upon the "Origin of Species" appeared in "The Press."

1863. "Darwin among the Machines," an article in the form of a letter, signed "Cellarius." written by Butler, appeared in "The Press," 13th June.

1864. Butler returned to England in the autumn.

1865. Butler sent from London an article, entitled "Lucubratio Ebria," to the editor of "The Press," with a letter quoted by Mr O. T. J. Alpers in his obituary notice of Butler in "The Press," 25th July, 1902. "Lucubratio Ebria" appeared in "The Press." 29th July, 1865.

1865.—Butler published in London a pamphlet: "The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as given by the Four Evangelists critically examined." He had written this pamphlet partly or wholly in New Zealand, and afterwards incorporated the substance of it in "The Fair Haven" (1873), the MS. of which you have at Christchurch. He sent a copy of the pamphlet to Charles Darwin, who acknowledged it in a letter dated only "September 30th." Butler replied with, a letter dated "October 1st, 1865," and Darwin replied with another letter dated only "October 6th."

These three letters are now given:-

(Darwin to Butler.)

Down, Bromley, Kent,

September 30.

My dear Sir, —I am much obliged to you for so kindly sending me your Evidence, etc. We have read it with much interest. It seems to me written with much force, vigour and clearness; and the main argument to me is quite new. I particularly agree with all you say in your preface. I do not know whether you intend to return to New Zealand, and if you are inclined to write, I should much like to know what your future plans are.

My health has been so bad during the last five months that I have been to my bedroom. Had it been otherwise I would have asked you if you could have spared the time to have paid us a visit; but this at present is impossible, and I fear will be so for some time.

With my best thanks for your present, I remain,

My dear Sir, Your very faithfully,



[Jones, 'Samuel Butler: A Memoir,' 1919, p. 123]


(Butler to Darwin.)

15 Clifford's Inn. E.C

October 1st, 1865.

Dear Sir, —I knew you were ill and I never meant to give you the fatigue of writing to me. Please do not trouble yourself to do so again. As you kindly ask my plans I may say that, though I very probably may return to New Zealand in three or four years, I have no intention of doing so before that time. My study is art, and anything else I may indulge in is only byplay: it may cause you some little wonder that at my age I should have started as an art student, and I may perhaps be permitted to explain that this was always my wish for years, that I had begun six years ago, as soon as ever I found that I could not consciously take orders; my father so strongly disapproved of the idea that I gave it up and went out to New Zealand, stayed there for five years, worked like a common servant, though on a run of my own, and sold out little more than a year ago, thinking that prices were going to fall— which they have since done. Being then rather at a loss what to do, and my capital being all locked up. I took the opportunity to return to my old plan and have been studying for the last twelve months unremittingly. I hope that in three or four years more I shall be able to go on very well by myself and then I may go back to New Zealand, or no, as circumstances shall seem to render advisable.

I must apologise for so much detail, but hardly knew how to explain myself without it.

I always delighted in your "Origin of Species" as soon, as I saw it out in New Zealand—not as knowing anything whatsoever of natural history, but it enters into so many deeply interesting questions, or, rather, it suggests so many, that it thoroughly fascinated me. I therefore, feel all the greater pleasure that my pamphlet should please you however full of errors.

The first dialogue on the Origin which I wrote in "The Press" called forth a contemptuous rejoinder from (I believe) the Bishop of Wellington— (please do not mention the name, though I think that at this distance of space and time I might mention it to yourself) I answered it with the enclosed, which may amuse you. I assumed another character because my dialogue was in my hearing very severely criticised by two or three whose opinion I thought worth having and I deferred to their judgment in my next. I do not think I should do so now. I fear you will be shocked at an appeal to the periodicals mentioned in my letter, but they form a very staple article of bush diet, and we used to get a good deal of superficial knowledge out of them. I feared to go in too heavy on the side of the Origin, because I thought that having said my say as well as I could I had better now take a less impassioned tone; but I was really exceedingly angry.

Please do not trouble yourself to answer this, and believe me,

Yours most sincerely,



[Jones, 'Samuel Butler: A Memoir,' 1919, p. 123-4]


(Darwin to Butler.)

Down, Bromley, Kent, S.E.,


October 6.

My Dear Sir.—l thank you sincerely for your kind and frank letter, which has interested me greatly. What a singular and varied career you have already run. Did you keep any journal or notes in New Zealand? For it strikes me that with your rare powers of writing you might make a very interesting work descriptive of a colonist's life in New Zealand.

I return your printed letter which you might like to keep. It has amused me especially the part in which you criticise yourself. To appreciate the letter fully I ought to have read the bishop's letter which seems to have been very rich.

You tell me not to answer your note but I could not resist the wish to thank you for your letter.

With every good wish believe me, my dear Sir.—Yours sincerely,



[Jones, 'Samuel Butler: A Memoir,' 1919, p. 125]


Butler gave the originals of both Darwin's letters to the British Museum and kept copies. On the copy of the second letter (October 6), when "editing his remains." in 1901, he made two notes, one at the beginning and one at the end.

(Note at the beginning.)

I cannot make out whether the following letter should be dated 1863 or 1864. It seems to have been written after I had left N. Z. in which case the date should be 1864, but it refers to a controversy that was going on in "The Press" newspaper between myself and Bishop Abram (sic) then Bishop of Wellington N.Z. On the whole, I should think the date ought to be Oct. 6th, 1864 (Oct. 19th, 1901. S.B.)

(Note at the end.)

I forgot what my "printed letter" was about and have no copy, but I remember answering an attack (in "The Press," New Zealand) on me by Bishop Abram (sic) (of Wellington) as though I were someone else and, to keep up the deception, attacking myself also. But it was all very young and silly (1901. S.B.)

When Butler made his copy of Darwin's letter and added these two notes he had forgotten his letter of October 1st, 1865 of which he kept no copy. I only know of its existence because Mr Francis Darwin found it among his father's papers and kindly lent it to me in 1910. It evidently forms part of the correspondence and makes it certain that Charles Darwin's first letter of September 30th was written in 1865, on receipt of the Pamphlet on the Resurrection, and that his second letter of October 6th was written also in 1885, on receipt of Butler's letter of October 1st, 1865. When Butler says in his note that "on the whole" he thinks "the date ought to be October 6th, 1864" he is contemplating only 1863 and 1864 as possible years and chooses 1864 rather than 1863, because the letter seemed to have been written after he had left the colony. If he had kept a copy of his letter of October 1st he would have seen not only that both Darwin's letters were written after he had left New Zealand but that they were written in 1865.


1880. —In Chapter 1 of "Unconscious Memory" (1880) Butler says that being on his way to New Zealand when the "Origin of Species" appeared, he did not see it till 1860 or 1861. The end of the concluding paragraph of the chapter runs thus: —

As a member of the general public, at that time residing eighteen miles from the nearest human habitation and three days' journey on horseback from a bookseller's shop, I became one of Mr Darwin's many enthusiastic admirers, and wrote a philosophic dialogue (the most offensive form, except poetry and books of travel into supposed unknown countries that even literature can assume) upon the "Origin of Species." This production appeared in "The Press," Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1861 or 1862. but I have long lost the only copy I had.



1912. March 4th.—Mr R. A. Streatfeild, Butler's literary executor, called my attention to an entry in the catalogue of autograph letters, medieval manuscripts, historical papers, etc., which Mr Tregaskis had for sale at 232 High Holborn, London, W.C.

The entry ran thus:

184. Darwin (Charles Robert. Naturalist, 1809-1882) A.L. 2 pp. 8vo. in third person, to an editor, enclosing a Dialogue on Species from a New Zealand newspaper "for the very improbable chances of the editor having some time spare space to reprint" it. Accompanied by a detached autograph signature, 30s.


Down, Bromley, Kent.


The article was "remarkable for its spirit and from giving so clear and accurate a view of Mr D.'s theory." It was also "remarkable from being published in a colony exactly twelve years old, in which, it might be thought, only material interests would have been regarded."

"A.L." signifies "Autograph Letter" and "Donn" is of course a misprint for "Down."

Neither Mr Streatfeild nor I could read this without thinking we might have found something throwing light on Butler's "Philosophic Dialogue" of 1861 or 1862. I called at Mr Tregaskis' shop, saw the MS., and was disappointed to find that it was dated only "March 24th" —no year. It is difficult to say when the colony of New Zealand was exactly twelve years old, but if it may be said that the Settlement of Canterbury was founded in 1850, which, I suppose, would not be far wrong, then in 1862 Canterbury would be exactly twelve years old and Mr Darwin may have sent a copy of a Canterbury newspaper of 1862, whether "The Press" or some other, containing Butler's Philosophic Dialogue to the editor of an English newspaper. I wrote to Mr Francis Darwin, hoping that he might be able to help in dating his father's letter or in identifying the New Zealand newspaper or the English newspaper or the dialogue upon the Origin. This is his reply:


March 3. 1912.

10 Madingley road, Cambridge,

Dear Jones, —I am afraid I can throw no light on the thing. Cannot you date the letter by my father's saying N.Z. is just 12 years old? But there cannot be more than one dialogue on the Origin in a N.Z. paper. I am now just starting on a business journey, so no more at present. Home again tomorrow.

Yours sincerely, F. DARWIN.


It seemed to me that Mr F. Darwin was right in thinking that there was not likely to be more than one dialogue upon the "Origin of Species" in a New Zealand paper. In any case, I thought it better to buy Charles Darwin's letter. I went to Mr Tregaskis, and he let me have it and the detached autograph for 27s 6d. The letter runs thus:

Down, Bromley, Kent, S.E.,

March. 24. [1863]


Mr Darwin takes the liberty to send by this post to the Editor a New Zealand newspaper for the very, improbable chance of the Editor having some time spare space to reprint a Dialogue on Species. This Dialogue, written by some (sic) quite unknown to Mr Darwin, is remarkable from its spirit and from giving so clear and accurate a view of Mr D. (sic) theory. It is, also, remarkable from being published in a Colony exactly 12 years old in which, it might have (sic) thought, only material interests would have been regarded.

[Jones, 'Samuel Butler: A Memoir,' 1919, p. 148]


Being possessor of the letter I became entitled to all the information concerning it which Mr Tregaskis could give me; accordingly he told me that it had formerly been among the papers of Mr John Malcolm Ludlow, who died last October at the age of 90. He was connected with the co-operative movement and had an extensive acquaintance among well-known men, such as Charles Kingsley, F. Denison Maurice, Thomas Hughes. Unfortunately Mr Tregaskis could not tell me whether Darwin's letter was addressed to Mr Ludlow himself, it may have been addressed to one of the eminent men, his friends, or to someone else who gave it away as an autograph. These are my reasons for thinking that Butler's Philosophic Dialogue cannot be identified with "Lucubratio Ebria": —


If the Dialogue is "Lucubratio Ebria," which appeared July 29th, 1865, we have only two months for the Bishop's Rejoinder and Butler's Reply to appear and for "The Press" containing the Reply to arrive in London and be enclosed by Butler in his letter to Darwin of October 1st, 1865. I do not think this is sufficient time.


Again: Butler, in his letter of October 1st, 1865, says that his dialogue in "The Press" "called forth a contemptuous rejoinder from (I believe) the Bishop of Wellington. (Please do not mention the name, though I think that at this distance of space and time I might mention it to yourself) I answered it with the enclosed, which may amuse you. I assumed another character because my dialogue was in my hearing very severely criticised by two or three whose opinion I thought worth having, and I deferred to their judgment in my next. I do not think I should do so now."

This cannot refer to "Lucubratio Ebria" or to anything that had appeared only two months before and after he had returned to England. It must refer to something that had appeared while he was in New Zealand, and, in his note at the beginning of his copy of Darwin's letter of October 6th. he refers to his controversy with the Bishop as though it had taken place while he was still in the colony. Nor do I think that the "Philosophic Dialogue" can be identified with "Darwin among the Machines,", which appeared in "The Press" of June 13th, 1863. There would in this case be too much time for the Bishop to rejoin contemptuously, and for "Lucubratio Ebria" to appear on July 29th, 1865. "Lucubratio Ebria" might then put in a claim to be Butler's reply to the Bishop, of which he sent a copy to Darwin. I do not know whether it would be possible for "The Press'' of July 29th, 1865, to reach London, and to be sent by Butler to Darwin on October 1st following. But time or no time, I think it impossible that Butler should speak of "Darwin among the Machines," which is in the form of a letter, or of "Lucubratio Ebria," which is in the form of an essay or imaginative sketch as a "Dialogue" or as a Reply to the Bishop of Wellington's contemptuous Rejoinder.


In his letter to Darwin, Butler speaks of an appeal to periodicals. There is no such appeal in "Darwin among the Machines" or in "Lucubratio Ebria."


Darwin in his letter of October 6th, writing, of Butler's reply to the bishop, refers to the "bishop's letter which to have been very rich." Neither "Darwin among the Machines" nor "Lucubratio Ebria" contains anything showing that any bishop's letter was rich.


Butler distinctly says that his "Philosophic Dialogue" appeared in "The Press" in 1861 or 1862, but he was writing in 1880, and may have forgotten, and, as your search was fruitless, it may still be found in some other paper, perhaps a paper published in the diocese of the Bishop of Wellington and this paper may be the one referred to in Darwin's autograph letter of March 24th. We must remember, however, that Wellington was founded in 1833 and 12 years from that date would give 1845, whereas the "Origin of Species" did not appear till 1859. By 1862 there may have been some other paper in Canterbury besides "The Press."

Since writing the above I have seen Professor Sale, who is now in England, and who, as you know, edited "The Press" for the first six months of its existence —that is, from May to November, 1881. He remembers that Butler wrote a dialogue on the "Origin of Species," and that it appeared in "The Press" either late in 1861 or early in 1862, while Mr Colborne Veel was editor. He remembers further that Butler knew that Darwin had seen this dialogue, and that he had expressed his approval of it, but he cannot now be sure how or when he came to know this, he was either told it by Butler himself or by his friend, the late Edward Wingfield Humphries. It may be that Butler, or someone on "The Press," sent the dialogue to Darwin, and that Darwin, when he sent the dialogue to the English editor, also wrote to New Zealand expressing approval; but the name of the writer was not disclosed to Darwin, for he says the dialogue is by someone unknown to him.

I think you will agree with me that in "Unconscious Memory" Butler was not referring to "Lucubratio Ebria," and that it would be interesting to discover his "philosophic dialogue" upon the "Origin of Species," Bishop Abraham's "contemptuous rejoinder," and the "Reply" thereto. It would be especially interesting if we could discover something to show that Butler's Philosophic Dialogue is the same as the Dialogue on Species mentioned by Darwin with approval, and sent by him to the editor of a (presumably) English newspaper. But whether they are the same or not it is clear that the "Dialogue" mentioned by Darwin was a product of the colony, and the most appropriate resting place for Darwin's autograph letter would appear to be New Zealand. I have much pleasure, therefore, in sending it herewith, together with the detached autograph, and I beg you will present them with my compliments to the Museum or the Library in Christchurch, or to whatever other repository there you think would be most suitable. Apologising for taking up so much of your space, I am, sir,

Yours faithfully, HENRY FESTING JONES.

19th April, 1912, 120 Maida Vale, London W.


[Letters from Jones, 'Samuel Butler: A memoir,' 1919]


[page] 156

Butler to Charles Darwin.


May 11,1872.

DEAR SIR, - I venture upon the liberty of writing to you about a portion of the little book Erewhon which I have lately published, and which I am afraid has been a good deal misunderstood. I refer to the chapter upon Machines in which I have developed and worked out the previously absurd theory that they are about to supplant the human race and be developed into a higher kind of life. When I first got hold of the idea, I developed it for mere fun and because it amused me and I thought would amuse others, but without a particle of serious meaning; but I developed it and introduced it into Erewhon with the intention of implying: "See how easy it is to be plausible, and what absurd propositions can be defended by a little ingenuity and distortion and departure from strictly scientific methods," and I had Butler's Analogy in my head as the book at which it should be aimed, but preferred to conceal my aim for many reason. Firstly, the book was already as heavily weighted with heterodoxy as it would bear, and I dared not give another half ounce lest it should break the camel's back; secondly, it would have interfered with the plausibility of the argument, and I looked


[page] 157

to this plausibility as a valuable aid to the general acceptation of the book; thirdly, it is more amusing without any sort of explanation, and I thought the drier part that had gone before wanted a little relieving; and also the more enigmatic a thing of this sort is, the more people think for themselves about it on the principle that advertisers ask "Where's Eliza?" and "Who's Griffiths?" I therefore thought it unnecessary to give any disclaimer of an intention of being disrespectful to The Origin of Species, a book for which I can never be sufficiently grateful, though I am well aware how utterly incapable I am of forming any opinion on a scientific subject which is worth a moment's consideration.

However, you have a position which nothing can shake; and I knew very well that any appearance of ridicule would do your theories no harm whatever, and that they could afford a far more serious satire than anything in Erewhon – the only question was how far I could afford to be misrepresented as disbelieving in things which I believe most firmly. On thinking it over, I determined to say nothing in the preface, but to wait for a second edition before explaining- that is, if a second edition was called for. On the whole, I think I did wisely, though I am sincerely sorry that some of the critics should have thought that I was laughing at your theory, a thing which I never meant to do, and should be shocked at having done. – I am, Sir, Yours respectfully,


P.S. _ Let me beg of you not to trouble to answer this letter.



[Butler accepted an invitation to visit Down and he arrived 19 May 1872. Butler had procured some drawings of dogs made by Arthur May and gave them to Darwin. Darwin used them in "Expressions" Here is an extract of a letter from Butler to Darwin on 30 May 1872]


I shall be proud to send the second edition of Erewhon, which is now in preparation. I should have sent the first, but I felt very uncertain how far you might approve the book; and in your


[page] 158

answer to my letter you told me that you had sent for it. I have set myself quite straight in the preface about having intended no villainy by the machines, and I have added a bit or two here and there.

With kind regards, and many thanks to Mrs. Darwin and yourself for a visit of which I shall always retain a most agreeable recollection. – I am, Yours very truly,



[page] 186

Charles Darwin to Butler.


April 1st (1873)


MY DEAR MR BUTLER - I have delayed thanking you for your present (A copy of The Fair Haven) until I had read it through, which I have now done. It has interested me greatly & is extremely curious. If I had not known that you had written it, I should not even have suspected that the author was not orthodox within the wide stated limits. I should have thought that he was a conscientious man like Blanco White whose autobiography you no doubt know


[page] 187

It will be a curious problem whether the orthodox will have so good a scent as to detect your heresy. I have just seen G. R. Greg [sic, William Rathbone Greg]. and told him of the book (but not of course who wrote it), and he will read it. He remarked that the orthodox will read almost anything if not purposely made offensive to them; and no one can say that you have done this. But you will soon be universally known. Leslie Stephen, a regular reviewer, who was lunching here, knew you were the author. What has struck me much in your book, is your dramatic power, - that is to (say) the way in which you earnestly & thoroughly assume the character and think the thoughts of the man you pretend to be. Hence I conclude that you could write a really good novel.

I have been surprised at the strength of the case which you make for Jesus not having died upon the cross; but I do not know whether to be convinced. In the way of small criticisms there seems too much reiteration about the middle of the book. It would, I think, be well, when long and many passages are in inverted commas to repeat who is speaking, I got sometimes confused. Your book must have cost you much labour; and I heartily hope it will be widely distributed; but it is not light reading.

I have been very sorry to hear of your strain: - if you could have come here, we should have been very glad to have seen you at luncheon or dinner.

Yours very sincerely | CHARLES DARWIN.

[In 1880, Butler in referring to this letter, made a note "Very nice and kind. He told me he thought I should do well to turn my attention to novel-writing…"]



[page] 189

Butler to Charles Darwin.


DEAR MR. DARWIN - Your very kind letter concerning the Fair Haven was forwarded to me at Mentone from which place I returned on Sunday morning early. You will doubtless have seen the cause of my journey in the Times obituary list.

Had I known how ill my poor mother was I could not have brought out or even written my book at such a time, but her recovery was confidently expected till within a fortnight of her death, and it was not until I actually arrived at Mentone that I knew how long she must have been ill and suffering. I must own that I feel that there is something peculiarly unsuitable in the time of my book's appearing; but it was actually published before I was aware of the circumstances. I am thankful that she can never know.

Of course, it remains to be seen what the verdict of the public will be but I am greatly encouraged by the letters received from yourself & Mr (Leslie) Stephen. There is also a very good review in last week's National Reformer. The writer is evidently puzzled. Of course, all I really want is to force on the fight and help towards compelling an attitude of fixed attention in the place of cowardly shrinking from examination.

I shall try a novel pure and simple with little "purpose" next; but it remains to be seen whether I can do it. I would say that I would have no "purpose" in my novel at all; but I am still in the flesh, and, however much the spirit may be willing, I fear that the cloven hoof will shew itself ever and anon. My strain is better. Again thanking you very sincerely for all the kindness you have shewn me, believe me, with kind regards to Mrs Darwin, Yours very truly, S. BUTLER.


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