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A First Year in Canterbury Settlement With Other Early Essays


This piece and the ten that follow it date from Butler’s undergraduate days. They were preserved by the late Canon Joseph McCormick, who was Butler’s contemporary at Cambridge and knew him well.

In a letter to The Times , published 27 June, 1902, shortly after Butler’s death, Canon McCormick gave some interesting details of Butler’s Cambridge days. “I have in my possession,” he wrote, “some of the skits with which he amused himself and some of his personal friends. Perhaps the skit professed to be a translation from Thucydides, inimitable in its way, applied to Johnians in their successes or defeats on the river, or it was the ‘Prospectus of the Great Split Society,’ attacking those who wished to form narrow or domineering parties in the College, or it was a very striking poem on Napoleon in St. Helena, or it was a play dealing with a visit to the Paris Exhibition, which he sent to Punch , and which, strange to say, the editor never inserted, or it was an examination paper set to a gyp of a most amusing and clever character.” One at least of the pieces mentioned by Canon McCormick has unfortunately disappeared. Those that have survived are here published for what they are worth. There is no necessity to apologise for their faults and deficiencies, which do not, I think, obscure their value as documents illustrating the develop- page 235 ment of that gift of irony which Butler was afterwards to wield with such brilliant mastery. ‘Napoleon at St. Helena’ and ‘The Shield of Achilles’ have already appeared in The Eagle , December, 1902; the “Translation from Herodotus,” “The Shield of Achilles,” “The Two Deans II,” and “On the Italian Priesthood,” in The Note-books of Samuel Butler ; the “Prospectus of the Great Split Society” and “A Skit on Examinations” in The Eagle , June, 1913.