Saturday, 18 January 2014

EREWHON*

 First Notice.
The reader in search of a new sensation is recommended to the little book with the above mysterious title. "Erewhon" is, of course, "Nowhere" spelt backwards, and is a country of peculiar interest to Australians, as it is evidently somewhere about their own little continent "Over the Range" is perhaps, rather a vague address, and it would be scarcely worth while to send an exploring party to look for the new country, although we have seen expeditions despatched in quest of objects equally desperate. Erewhon may be readied by steering straight for Nephelococagia, after you have passed the island of New Atlantis. A knowledge of the navigation of Laputan seas will be useful to the voyage, and if the shade of Lemuel Gulliver, mariner, were to steer the barque it might be more likely to arrive at its destination. Not to speak in parables, "Erewhon" is a satire after the Swiftian pattern, which loses a little of its interest, perhaps, in coming after " The Coming Race," but is still quite original, and in no respect resembles that other book, except that here, also, the author claims to have discovered a new people, of strange customs. The author is careful to hide the whereabouts of the Erewhonians, but from some hints which he drops, and certain peculiarities of style, we discover that it is in the Southern hemisphere, and probably in Northern Australia. If we might hazard a guess, we should say that he who wrote these pages was not altogether unconnected with squatting in Queensland. He uses phrases which none but an Australian ac quainted with bush would use—such as "swag" for his equipment, and a "mob" of cattle or other animals. In the manner of his start, and his preliminary adventures, also, he betrays a striking familiarity with bush ideas and habits.
The opening chapters, written with much graphic force and realistic power, tell us of the circumstances of the discovery of Erewhon. Our author had heard of a country beyond the range, and had longed to penetrate into " fresh fields and pastures new." He interrogates a blackfellow named "Chowbuk," who is supposed to know more than anyone else of the new region, but is met with a strange reticence, which at first defies the influence of "nobblers." At last, however, Chowbuk, being caught in a facile humour, is induced to reply to his master's thirst for information. That reply is given pantomimically, without a word—
"On a sudden he rolled two bales of wool (his strength was great) into the middle of the floor; and on the top of these he placed crosswise; he snatched up an empty woolsack, threw it like a mantle over his shoulders, jumped upon the uppermost bale, and sat upon it In a moment his whole form was changed. His high shoulders dropped ; he set his feet close together, heel to heel, and toe to toe; he laid his arms and hands close alongside of his body, the palms following his thighs ; be held his head high, but quite and his eyes stared right in front of him; but be frowned horribly, and assumed an expression of face that was positively fiendish. At the best of times Chowbuk was very ugly, but he now exceeded all conceivable limits of the hideous His mouth extended almost from ear to ear, his teeth grinning horribly; his eyes glazed, though they remained quite fixed ; and his forehead was contracted with a most malevolent scowl . .
I tried to be amused, but I felt a sort of creeping at the roots of my hair and over my whole body as I looked and wondered what be could be possibly intending to signify. He continued thus for about a minute, sitting bolt upright as stiff as a stone, and making this fearful face. Then there came from his lips a low moaning, like the wind rising, and falling, by infinitely small gradations, till it became almost a shriek, from which it descended, and died away; after that he jumped down from the bale, and held up the extended fingers of both his hands, as one who say ' ten,' though I did not then understand him . . . For myself, I was open-mouthed with astonishment. Chowbuk rolled the bales rapidly into their place; and stood before me shuddering, as in great fear ; horror was written upon his face—this time quite involuntarily—as though the natural panic of one who had committed an awful crime against unknown and superhuman agencies. He nodded his head, and gibbered, and pointed repeatedly to the mountains."
No more could be got out of Chowbuk, who, however, was induced to accompany our author in a trip to prospect the new country. After many hardships, and a toilsome journey, they arrive in view of a pass over a sunny range, on the other side of which were visible in the distance a great river, and plains beyond. Chowbuk runs away at this point, and our author makes the rest of the journey alone. Crossing the river by a great effort, he lands on the other side, and climbs up on some glaciers. On descending these, he is suddenly aware of some huge forms looming through the mist, and faints away. Coming to himself be perceives that the figures are not human beings, but statues many times larger than life.
"I had come upon a sort of Stonehenge of rude and barbaric figures, seated as Chowbuk had sit when I questioned him in the woolshed, and with the same superhumanly malevolent expression upon their faces. They had been all seated, but two had fallen. They were barbarous—neither Egyptian, nor Assyrian, nor Japanese—different from any of these; and yet akin to all They were six or seven times larger than life; of great antiquity, worn and lichen-grown. They were ten in number. There was snow upon their heads and wherever snow could lodge. Each statue had been built of four or five enormous blocks, but bow these had been raised and put together is known to those only who raised them. Each was terrible after a different kind. One was raging furiously as in pain and great despair; another was lean and cadaverous with famine ; another cruel and idiotic, but with the silliest simper that can be conceived. This one bed fallen, and looked exquisitely ludicrous in his fall. The mouths of all were more or less open, and as I looked, at them I saw that their heads had been hollowed. . . Then came a gust of howling wind, accompanied with a moan from one of the statues above me. I clasped my hands in fear. I felt like a rat caught in a trap, as though I would have turned and bitten at whatever thing was nearest to me. The wildness of the wind increased, the moans grew shriller, coming from several statues and swelling with a chorus. I almost immediately knew what it was, but the sound was so unearthly that this was but little consolation. The inhuman beings into whose hearts the Evil One had put it to concave these statues, had made their heads into a sort of organ pipe, so that their mouths should catch the wind and sound with its bellowing. It was horrible."
Passing these word sculptured warders our author enters in to the country of the Erewhonians. They are are a people of strange ways and wonderful appearance, as dark as Spaniards, but of a magnificent form and beautiful features, and manners mild and gentle. They are, to speak the truth, a peculiar people. They have gone beyond civilisation as it were, and come out on the other side. About five hundred years before the date of this record, they had abolished the use of machinery, and now they have machines only in their museums, regarding the possession of any mechanical instrument as a crime. In fact, the first trouble oar traveller gets into is through his carrying a watch in his pocket. The people who first examined him were "concerned and uneasy" when he exhibited his watch. He was thinking with a little pride of how he would astonish them with the novelty, and was anticipating that they would question him about its designer, as Archdeacon Paley had taught him to believe. But the magistrate before whom he was brought " spoke to him sternly and solemnly for two or three minutes," and then reflecting that he could not understand Erewhonian, had him conducted through the museum of the town, the greater part of which was occupied by broken machinery of all kinds. After a little the magistrate is induced to overlook the watch, in consideration of the prisoner having light hair and complexion, and being six feet high. He is, however, consigned to the prison of the town until he could learn the language After a time he is able to make himself under stood and understand, and he then discovers some strange perverse customs among his hosts. Their chief peculiarity is to regard all physical ailment as a kind of disease, and crime on the other hand as a malady, which is not punished, but treated professionally, and is the object of sympathy. This is the most diverting invention in the book, and is carried out with great ingenuity and with perfect gravity. When a man falls ill in Erewhon he is an object of the attentions of the police. Society frowns at him for a cold in the head, and dyspepsia is treated more severely than wife-murder in England. On the other hand, they treat moral delinquencies as disorders of the body. A man who is given to embezzlement is an object of sympathy, and it is a case not for law, but for medicine. A girl who has dyspepsia carries it off under the name of dipsomania. To give the author's own account of this strange custom of the Erewhonians
"This is what I gathered. That in that country if a man falls into ill-health, or catches any disorder, or fails bodily in any way before he is 70 years old, he is tried before a jury of his countrymen, and, if convicted, is held up to public scorn and sentenced more or less severely as the case may be. There are sub-divisions of illnesses into crimes and misdemeanours as with offences amongst ourselves —a man being punished very heavily for serious illness, while failure of eyes or hearing in one over 65, who has had good health hitherto, is dealt with by fine only, or imprisonment in default of payment. But if a man forges a cheque, or sets his house on fire, or robs with violence from the person, or does any other such things as are criminal in our own country, he is either taken to a hospital and most carefully tended at the public expense, or, if he is in good circumstances, he lets it be known to all his friends that he is indisposed, just as we do when we are ill, and they come and visit him with great solicitude, what symptoms first showed themselves, and so forth—questions which to will answer with perfect unreserve; for bad conduct, though considered no less deplorable than illness with ourselves, and as unquestionably indicating something seriously wrong with the individual who misbehaves, is, nevertheless, held to be the result of either pre-natal or post-natal misfortune.
" When I say that they will not be scouted, I do not mean that an Erewhonian offender will suffer no manner of social inconvenience. Friends will fall away from him because of his being less pleasant company, just as we ourselves are disinclined to make companions of those who are either poor or poorly, having a right to choose (and being right in choosing) that company which most please us, and in avoiding that which,we dislike.
No one with any sense of self-respect will place himself on an equality in the matter of affection with those who are less lucky than himself in birth, health, money, good looks, capacity, or anything else. Indeed, that dislike and even disgust should be felt by the fortunate for the unfortunate, or at any rate for those who have been discovered to have met with any of the more serious and less familiar misfortunes, is not only natural, but desirable for any society, whether of man or brute. The fact therefore that the Erewhonisns attach none of that guilt to crime which they do to physical ailments, does not prevent the more selfish among them from neglecting a friend who has robbed a bank, for instance, till he has fully recovered; but it does prevent them from even thinking of treating criminals with that contemptuous tone which would seem to say, 'I, if I were you, should be a better man than you are,' a tone which is held quite seasonable in regard to physical ailment. Hence, though they conceal in health by every winning and hypocrisy and artifice which they can devise, they are quite open about the most flagrant mental diseases, should they happen to exist, which to do the people justice, its not often."
Our author himself experiences the effect of his curious custom. He gives mortal offence to a young lady of the house where he is staying, by complaining of a bad cold, and she is with difficulty prevented from telling her parents. On the other hand, being one day out of humour at being pestered with questions, he gave a sharp answer, and was immediately condoled with, and had kind things said to him.
" People began to give me nice things to smell and to eat, which really did seem to have some temper-mending quality about them, for I soon felt pleased, and was at once congratulated upon being better. The next morning two or three people sent their servants to the hotel with sweetmeats, and inquiries whether I had quite recovered from my ill-humour."

*"Erewhon; or Over the Range." London; Trubner. 1872.

"Erewhon" is said to be the production of Mr. Butler, formerly of New Zealand.

 Second Notice.
Our author is lodged in the house of Mr. Nosnibor (Robinson), who is himself the object of general pity on account of an affliction with which he is visited. He had "but lately recovered from embezzling a large sum of money under peculiar distressing circumstances." This is how his story is told with immense gravity:—
" It seemed that he had been on the Stock Exchange of the City for many years and had amassed enormous wealth, without exceeding the limits of what was generally considered justifiable, or at any rate permissible dealing ; but that at length on several occasions he had become aware of a desire to make money by fraudulent representations, and had actually dealt with two or three sums in a way which had made him rather uncomfortable. He had unfortunately made light of it, and pooh-poohed the ailment, until circumstances eventually presented themselves which enabled him to cheat upon a very considerable scale; —he told me what they were, and they were about as bad as anything could be, but I need not detail them; he seized the opportunity, and became aware when it was too late that he must be seriously out of order. He had neglected himself too long. He drove home at once, broke the news to his wife and daughters as gently as he could, and sent on for one of the most celebrated straighteners of the kingdom to a consultation with the family practitioner, for the case was plainly serious. On the arrival of the straightener he told his story, and expressed his fear that his morals must be permanently impaired. The eminent man reassured him with a few cheering words, and then proceeded to make a more careful diagnosis of the case.
This unhappy man is prescribed a heavy fine to the state, a bread-and-milk diet, and a severe flogging once a month.
The trial of the man for pulmonary consumption is one of the happiest pieces of grave humour in any language. The modes of procedure in Erewhon are, it seems, similar to those in England. The prisoner was placed in the dock, and his counsel was allowed to urge everything he could in his defence—the line taken being that the accused was "simulating consumption in order to defraud an insurance company." If this plea had held, the prisoner would have escaped a criminal prosecution and been sent to a hospital. The case, however, was only too clear, for " the prisoner was almost at the point of death, and it was astonishing that he had not been tried and convicted long previously. His coughing was incessant during the whole trial, and it was all that the two surgeons in charge of him could do to keep him on his legs until it was over." The summing-up of the judge, we are told, was admirably impartial, but the case was too clear, and the jury at once pronounced the prisoner guilty, upon which the judge proceeds to pass sentence with great solemnity. It pains him much, he says, to see one who is yet young, and whose prospects in life were so good, brought to this distressing condition "by a constitution which I can only regard as radically vicious." The prisoner is reminded, however, that this is not his first offence. He was "convicted of aggravated bronchitis" last year, and though so young, has been imprisoned for "no less than 14 illnesses of a more or less hateful character." "It is all very well," continues the judge, "for you to say that you came of unhealthy parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood, which permanently undermined your constitution." These are excuses which the judge refuses to consider, inasmuch as they would raise questions without end as to the origin of disease, resulting in throwing the only guilt "on the tissues of the primordial cell, or on the elementary gases." The prisoner is a "bad and dangerous fellow, who would have been punished even more severely had not the law in its mercy abolished hanging for such offences. As it is, the severest penalty which can be inflicted is due to a crime so abominable as pulmonary consumption." The close of the judge's speech as an admirable sample of ironic humour:—
"I will enlarge no further upon things that are themselves so obvious. You may say that at is not your fault. The answer is ready enough at hand, and it amounts to this, that if you had been born of healthy and well-to do parents, and been well taken care of when you were a child, you would never have offended against the laws of your country, nor found yourself in your present disgraceful position. If you tell me that you had no hand in your parentage and education, and that it is therefore unjust to lay these things to your charge, I answer that whether your being in a consumption is your fault or no, it is a fault in you, and it is my duty to see that against such faults as this the commonwealth shall be protected. You may say that it is your misfortune to have been criminal. I answer that it is your crime to have been unfortunate.
" I do not hesitate, therefore, to sentence you to imprisonment with hard labour for the; rest of your miserable existence. During that period I would earnestly entreat you to repent of the wrongs you have done already, and to entirely reform the constitution of your whole body. I entertain but little hope that you will pay attention to this advice ; you are already far too abandoned. Did it rest with myself I should add nothing in mitigation of the sentence which I have passed, but it is the merciful provision of the law that even the most hardened criminals shall be allowed some one of the three official remedies, which is to be prescribed at the time of his conviction. I shall therefore order you to receive two table-spoons of castor oil daily, until the pleasure of the court be farther known."
The prisoner was led away amidst the hooting of the crowd, muttering that he was justly punished, and had had a fair trial.
Other curious manners and customs prevail in Erewhon. Death they regard as an offence 'beyond the reach of the law," and are therefore silent about it. The dead are buried in quick-lime, and no epitaphs or mourning rites are permitted. When any one dies his friends send little boxes full of artificial tears which vary in number according to the degree of intimacy or relationship of the sender to be stuck with plaster to the cheeks of the bereaved, and worn in public—they were then banished to the hat or bonnet, and got at length out of fashion. The principal learning in the country is confined to the teaching of hypothetics. The young are taught the hypothetical language, not because it is any use to them, but because it was "originally composed when the country was in a very different state of civilisation." The satire here is obvious enough. There is a "College of Unreason," where the principles of irrationality are formally expounded.
"Life, they urge, would be intolerable if men were to be guided in all they did by reason, and reason only. Reason betrays men into the drawing of hard and fast lines, and to the defining by language—language being like the sun, which reareth, and then scorcheth. Extremes are alone logical, but they are almost invariably absurd; the mean is illogical or unreasonable, but it is better than the purely reasonable; in fact, there are no follies and no unreasonablenesses so great as those which can apparently be irrefragably defended by reason itself. There is hardly an error into which men might not easily be led, if they based their conduct upon reason only. Reason might very possibly abolish the double currency; it might even attack the personality of Hope and Justice. Besides, people have such a strong natural bias towards it, that they will seek it for themselves and act upon it quite as much as, or more than, is good for them: there is no need of encouraging reason. With unreason the case is different She is the natural complement of reason, without whose existence reason itself were non-existent. If, then, reason would be non-existent were there no such thing as unreason, surely it follows that the more unreason there is the more reason there must be also ? Hence the necessity for the development of unreason, even in the interests of reason herself. Far be it from them to undervalue reason: none can be more deeply impressed than they are, that if double currency cannot be most rigorously deduced as a necessary consequence of human reason, the double currency should cease forthwith; but they say that it must be deduced from no narrow and exclusive view of reason, which should deprive that admirable faculty of the one-half of its own existence. Unreason is a part of reason; it must therefore be allowed its full share in stating the initial conditions."
Other strange customs of the country are their scheme of " musical banks,"—i.e., churches—and their birth "formulae," where the satire is carried to very subtle lengths. They also worship the goddess of respectability, or Ydgrun (Grundy). They do not believe in the immortality of the soul, but in the con verse, that is to say, in a previous state of existence, where the beings are eternal. Some of these are tormented with the desire of being born again into the lower world, even though by their laws it is a felony punishable by death. The allegory here is carried to very thin degrees, and sometimes is too subtle for apprehension. There is a chapter full of humour and exquisite irony on machinery, the use of which had been abolished 500 years before our traveller's visit, owing to the fear that machines were getting too clever, and would eventually supersede men and women, turning them into machines. There takes place a general destruction of machinery, caused chiefly through the influence of a lecture delivered by an eminent savant, the substance of which is here given. The reasoning is very ingenious, and in its caricature of some modern philosophies, exceedingly happy. Here is a specimen of the argument, in which the lecturer deals with the objection that machines are not at present conscious:—
"Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for twenty millions of years; see what strides machines have made in the last thousand. May not the world last twenty million years longer? If so, what will they not in the end become? Is it not safer to nip the mischief in the bud and to forbid them farther progress? But who can say that the vapour engine has not a kind of consciousness ? Where does consciousness begin, and where end? Who can draw the line? Who can draw any line? Is not everything interwoven with every-
thing? Is not machinery linked with animal life in an infinite variety of ways? The shell of a hen's egg is a machine as much as an egg-cup is. The shell is a plan  for holding the egg as much as the egg-cup for holding the shell ; both are phases of the same function; the hen makes the shell in her inside, but it is pure pottery."
As to consciousness, the lecturer shows that it may exist in the lowest vegetable forms, and why not in the highest developed machines. We are bid to observe the "low cunning of the potato," in a dark cellar, which "knows perfectly well what it wants, and how to get it," which sends its shoots crawling towards the little holes of light, and which makes use of any earth which it may find in its prison. The argument goes at length into the phenomena of reproduction, and contends that there is no reason why machines may not ultimately develop the reproductive faculty, although they have it not now. We need not follow our author, however, any farther into the Erewhonian philosophy. Suffice it to say, that the whole scheme of the idea is wrought out with great skill, and sustained with a grave humour which is highly effective.
In the sequel, our traveller, who has fallen in love with an Erewhonian maiden, has a balloon made, and on the pretence of gratifying the curiosity of the Queen with its flight, smuggles his lady-love into it, and ascends, amidst the rage and clamour of all Erewhon, out of sight, dropping at last in mid-ocean, where he is picked up when at the point of drowning, and carried to England, where he marries Arewhona, and is happy ever after.

 The Australasian 13 July 1872,

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