Friday, March 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 57 (Samuel Butler)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Butler, Samuel

In graduate school all of the teaching assistants had mailboxes. The mailboxes were in the hallway on the third floor of Clemens Hall in front of the door to the stairwell. When you came up the stairs and went through the door, the boxes were directly in front of you, the hallway carried on around the corner to the left and to the right was a floor-to-ceiling window that looked out across a small patch of green space toward the music library, the center for the arts and the athletic center. The door was always covered in posters and flyers for the many readings, lectures, performances, screenings, etc. that go on on college campuses.

There was a hideous cylindrical concrete hunk of brutalist art -- it may have had some function, but who would know the difference? -- that could be seen from the window, if I remember correctly. It might have been visible only from another window down the hall and not this one, or it might have been visible from both.

In front of the window there stood a table of some sort. I don't remember the table -- it may have been a folding table, or it may have been a piece of discarded office furniture. Regardless, whenever professors or grad students decided to purge their office shelves, or their home shelves for all I know, they would leave piles of books on this little table in front of the window next to the student mailboxes. I often grabbed them indiscriminately, which was the case with Erewhon, which I have not read.

It begins:

If the reader will excuse me, I will say nothing of my antecedents, nor of the circumstances which led me to leave my native country; the narrative would be tedious to him and painful to myself. Suffice it, that when I left home it was with the intention of going to some new colony, and either finding, or even perhaps purchasing, waste crown land suitable for cattle or sheep farming, by which means I thought that I could better my fortunes more rapidly than in England.

It will be seen that I did not succeed in my design, and that however much I may have met with that was new and strange, I have been unable to reap any pecuniary advantage.

It is true, I imagine myself to have made a discovery which, if I can be the first to profit by it, will bring me a recompense beyond all money computation, and secure me a position such as has not been attained by more than some fifteen or sixteen persons, since the creation of the universe. But to this end I must possess myself of a considerable sum of money: neither do I know how to get it, except by interesting the public in my story, and inducing the charitable to come forward and assist me. With this hope I now publish my adventures; but I do so with great reluctance, for I fear that my story will be doubted unless I tell the whole of it; and yet I dare not do so, lest others with more means than mine should get the start of me. I prefer the risk of being doubted to that of being anticipated, and have therefore concealed my destination on leaving England, as also the point from which I began my more serious and difficult journey.

My chief consolation lies in the fact that truth bears its own impress, and that my story will carry conviction by reason of the internal evidences for its accuracy. No one who is himself honest will doubt my being so.

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