Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
From Literary Anecdotes About 19th Century Authors Born After 1829

MANY years after the novel was written we were in Palermo and went to the Palazzo Reale to see the mosaics in the Cappella Palatina. Butler paid at the door and the custode gave him a bad lira among his change; he noticed it at once and they had words about it, but it was of no use. The custode was a lordly old gentleman, voluble in his speech and overwhelming in his gestures and manners; he carried too many guns and deafened us with his protestations first, that it was a good lira; secondly, that it was not the one he had given us, and so on, and so on. We could not have felt more ashamed of ourselves if we had been foiled in an attempt to convict the Cardinal Archbishop himself of uttering counterfeit coin. So we gave it up and passed in defeated. When we came out we had recovered a little, and the custode, who had forgotten all about so usual an occurrence, returned our umbrellas to us with an obsequiousness capable of but one interpretation.

`I shall not give him anything', said Butler severely to me. `Oh yes, I will though', he added, and his eyes twinkled as he fumbled in his pocket. Then, with a very fair approach to Sicilian politeness, he handed the bad lira back to the old gentleman.

The custode's face changed and changed again like a field of corn on a breezy morning. In spite of his archiepiscopal appearance he would have been contented with a few soldi; seeing a whole lira he beamed with delight; then, detecting its badness, his countenance fell and he began to object; almost immediately he identified it as his own coin and was on the point of bursting with rage, but suddenly realizing that he could have nothing to say, he laughed heartily, shook hands with both of us, and apologized for not being able to leave his post as he would so much have liked to drink a glass of wine with us.

`There, now we have made another friend for life,' said Butler as he drove away. `This comes of doing the right thing. We must really be more careful. It is another illustration of what I am so constantly telling you; this is the sort of thing that must have been in the Apostle's mind when he said about all things working together for good to them that love God.'

H. Festing Jones, Samuel Butler: A Memoir (1920), ii. 15-16.

The wit of Lady Ritchie was so lightly lambent that often people missed her points. Samuel Butler went to call upon her one day soon after his Authoress of the Odyssey (which insists that book was written by a woman) had been published. He told her he was at work on a book on Shakespeare's sonnets. He was, however, only bewildered at her saying,

`Oh, Mr. Butler, do you know my theory about the sonnets? They were written by Anne Hathaway!'

It was not she who repeated this story, but the author of Erewhon. He never saw that she was laughing at him, and used to tell it, shaking his head sadly and saying,

`Poor lady, that was a silly thing to say.'

Mary MacCarthy, A Nineteenth-Century Childhood (1924), pp. 88-89.

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