Erewhon Revisited

Author: Samuel Butler

Chapter XV: the Temple Is Dedicated to My Father, and Certain Extracts Are Read from His Supposed Sayings

"It is enough to break one’s heart," said Mr. Balmy when he had outstripped the procession, and my father was again beside him. "’As well as,’ indeed! We know what that means. Wherever there is a factory there is a hot-bed of unbelief. ’As well as’! Why it is a defiance."

"What, I wonder," said my father innocently, "must the Sunchild’s feelings be, as he looks down on this procession. For there can be little doubt that he is doing so."

"There can be no doubt at all," replied Mr. Balmy, "that he is taking note of it, and of all else that is happening this day in Erewhon. Heaven grant that he be not so angered as to chastise the innocent as well as the guilty."

"I doubt," said my father, "his being so angry even with this procession, as you think he is."

Here, fearing an outburst of indignation, he found an excuse for rapidly changing the conversation. Moreover he was angry with himself for playing upon this poor good creature. He had not done so of malice prepense; he had begun to deceive him, because he believed himself to be in danger if he spoke the truth; and though he knew the part to be an unworthy one, he could not escape from continuing to play it, if he was to discover things that he was not likely to discover otherwise.

Often, however, he had checked himself. It had been on the tip of his tongue to be illuminated with the words,

Sukoh and Sukop were two pretty men, They lay in bed till the clock struck ten,

and to follow it up with,

Now with the drops of this most Yknarc time My love looks fresh,

in order to see how Mr. Balmy would interpret the assertion here made about the Professors, and what statement he would connect with his own Erewhonian name; but he had restrained himself.

The more he saw, and the more he heard, the more shocked he was at the mischief he had done. See how he had unsettled the little mind this poor, dear, good gentleman had ever had, till he was now a mere slave to preconception. And how many more had he not in like manner brought to the verge of idiocy? How many again had he not made more corrupt than they were before, even though he had not deceived them—as for example, Hanky and Panky. And the young? how could such a lie as that a chariot and four horses came down out of the clouds enter seriously into the life of any one, without distorting his mental vision, if not ruining it?

And yet, the more he reflected, the more he also saw that he could do no good by saying who he was. Matters had gone so far that though he spoke with the tongues of men and angels he would not be listened to; and even if he were, it might easily prove that he had added harm to that which he had done already. No. As soon as he had heard Hanky’s sermon, he would begin to work his way back, and if the Professors had not yet removed their purchase, he would recover it; but he would pin a bag containing about five pounds worth of nuggets on to the tree in which they had hidden it, and, if possible, he would find some way of sending the rest to George.

He let Mr. Balmy continue talking, glad that this gentleman required little more than monosyllabic answers, and still more glad, in spite of some agitation, to see that they were now nearing Sunch’ston, towards which a great concourse of people was hurrying from Clearwater, and more distant towns on the main road. Many whole families were coming,—the fathers and mothers carrying the smaller children, and also their own shoes and stockings, which they would put on when nearing the town. Most of the pilgrims brought provisions with them. All wore European costumes, but only a few of them wore it reversed, and these were almost invariably of higher social status than the great body of the people, who were mainly peasants.

When they reached the town, my father was relieved at finding that Mr. Balmy had friends on whom he wished to call before going to the temple. He asked my father to come with him, but my father said that he too had friends, and would leave him for the present, while hoping to meet him again later in the day. The two, therefore, shook hands with great effusion, and went their several ways. My father’s way took him first into a confectioner’s shop, where he bought a couple of Sunchild buns, which he put into his pocket, and refreshed himself with a bottle of Sunchild cordial and water. All shops except those dealing in refreshments were closed, and the town was gaily decorated with flags and flowers, often festooned into words or emblems proper for the occasion.

My father, it being now a quarter to eleven, made his way towards the temple, and his heart was clouded with care as he walked along. Not only was his heart clouded, but his brain also was oppressed, and he reeled so much on leaving the confectioner’s shop, that he had to catch hold of some railings till the faintness and giddiness left him. He knew the feeling to be the same as what he had felt on the Friday evening, but he had no idea of the cause, and as soon as the giddiness left him he thought there was nothing the matter with him.

Turning down a side street that led into the main square of the town, he found himself opposite the south end of the temple, with its two lofty towers that flanked the richly decorated main entrance. I will not attempt to describe the architecture, for my father could give me little information on this point. He only saw the south front for two or three minutes, and was not impressed by it, save in so far as it was richly ornamented—evidently at great expense—and very large. Even if he had had a longer look, I doubt whether I should have got more out of him, for he knew nothing of architecture, and I fear his test whether a building was good or bad, was whether it looked old and weather-beaten or no. No matter what a building was, if it was three or four hundred years old he liked it, whereas, if it was new, he would look to nothing but whether it kept the rain out. Indeed I have heard him say that the mediaeval sculpture on some of our great cathedrals often only pleases us because time and weather have set their seals upon it, and that if we could see it as it was when it left the mason’s hands, we should find it no better than much that is now turned out in the Euston Road.

The ground plan here given will help the reader to understand the few following pages more easily.

[drawing not included]

a. Table with cashier’s seat on either side, and alms-box in front. The picture is exhibited on a scaffolding behind it.

b. The reliquary.

c. The President’s chair.

d. Pulpit and lectern.

e. } f. } Side doors. g. } h. }

i. Yram’s seat.

k. Seats of George and the Sunchild.

o’ Pillars.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, blocks of seats.

I. Steps leading from the apse to the nave.

K and L. Towers.

M. Steps and main entrance.

N. Robing-room.

The building was led up to by a flight of steps (M), and on entering it my father found it to consist of a spacious nave, with two aisles and an apse which was raised some three feet above the nave and aisles. There were no transepts. In the apse there was the table (a), with the two bowls of Musical Bank money mentioned on an earlier page, as also the alms-box in front of it.

At some little distance in front of the table stood the President’s chair (c), or I might almost call it throne. It was so placed that his back would be turned towards the table, which fact again shews that the table was not regarded as having any greater sanctity than the rest of the temple.

Behind the table, the picture already spoken of was raised aloft. There was no balloon; some clouds that hung about the lower part of the chariot served to conceal the fact that the painter was uncertain whether it ought to have wheels or no. The horses were without driver, and my father thought that some one ought to have had them in hand, for they were in far too excited a state to be left safely to themselves. They had hardly any harness, but what little there was was enriched with gold bosses. My mother was in Erewhonian costume, my father in European, but he wore his clothes reversed. Both he and my mother seemed to be bowing graciously to an unseen crowd beneath them, and in the distance, near the bottom of the picture, was a fairly accurate representation of the Sunch’ston new temple. High up, on the right hand, was a disc, raised and gilt, to represent the sun; on it, in low relief, there was an indication of a gorgeous palace, in which, no doubt, the sun was supposed to live; though how they made it all out my father could not conceive.

On the right of the table there was a reliquary (b) of glass, much adorned with gold, or more probably gilding, for gold was so scarce in Erewhon that gilding would be as expensive as a thin plate of gold would be in Europe: but there is no knowing. The reliquary was attached to a portable stand some five feet high, and inside it was the relic already referred to. The crowd was so great that my father could not get near enough to see what it contained, but I may say here, that when, two days later, circumstances compelled him to have a close look at it, he saw that it consisted of about a dozen fine coprolites, deposited by some antediluvian creature or creatures, which, whatever else they may have been, were certainly not horses.

In the apse there were a few cross benches (G and H) on either side, with an open space between them, which was partly occupied by the President’s seat already mentioned. Those on the right, as one looked towards the apse, were for the Managers and Cashiers of the Bank, while those on the left were for their wives and daughters.

In the centre of the nave, only a few feet in front of the steps leading to the apse, was a handsome pulpit and lectern (d). The pulpit was raised some feet above the ground, and was so roomy that the preacher could walk about in it. On either side of it there were cross benches with backs (E and F); those on the right were reserved for the Mayor, civic functionaries, and distinguished visitors, while those on the left were for their wives and daughters.

Benches with backs (A, B, C, D) were placed about half-way down both nave and aisles—those in the nave being divided so as to allow a free passage between them. The rest of the temple was open space, about which people might walk at their will. There were side doors (e, j, and f, h) at the upper and lower end of each aisle. Over the main entrance was a gallery in which singers were placed.

As my father was worming his way among the crowd, which was now very dense, he was startled at finding himself tapped lightly on the shoulder, and turning round in alarm was confronted by the beaming face of George.

"How do you do, Professor Panky?" said the youth—who had decided thus to address him. "What are you doing here among the common people? Why have you not taken your place in one of the seats reserved for our distinguished visitors? I am afraid they must be all full by this time, but I will see what I can do for you. Come with me."

"Thank you," said my father. His heart beat so fast that this was all he could say, and he followed meek as a lamb.

With some difficulty the two made their way to the right-hand corner seats of block C, for every seat in the reserved block was taken. The places which George wanted for my father and for himself were already occupied by two young men of about eighteen and nineteen, both of them well-grown, and of prepossessing appearance. My father saw by the truncheons they carried that they were special constables, but he took no notice of this, for there were many others scattered about the crowd. George whispered a few words to one of them, and to my father’s surprise they both gave up their seats, which appear on the plan as (k).

It afterwards transpired that these two young men were George’s brothers, who by his desire had taken the seats some hours ago, for it was here that George had determined to place himself and my father if he could find him. He chose these places because they would be near enough to let his mother (who was at i, in the middle of the front row of block E, to the left of the pulpit) see my father without being so near as to embarrass him; he could also see and be seen by Hanky, and hear every word of his sermon; but perhaps his chief reason had been the fact that they were not far from the side-door at the upper end of the right-hand aisle, while there was no barrier to interrupt rapid egress should this prove necessary.

It was now high time that they should sit down, which they accordingly did. George sat at the end of the bench, and thus had my father on his left. My father was rather uncomfortable at seeing the young men whom they had turned out, standing against a column close by, but George said that this was how it was to be, and there was nothing to be done but to submit. The young men seemed quite happy, which puzzled my father, who of course had no idea that their action was preconcerted.

Panky was in the first row of block F, so that my father could not see his face except sometimes when he turned round. He was sitting on the Mayor’s right hand, while Dr. Downie was on his left; he looked at my father once or twice in a puzzled way, as though he ought to have known him, but my father did not think he recognised him. Hanky was still with President Gurgoyle and others in the robing-room, N; Yram had already taken her seat: my father knew her in a moment, though he pretended not to do so when George pointed her out to him. Their eyes met for a second; Yram turned hers quickly away, and my father could not see a trace of recognition in her face. At no time during the whole ceremony did he catch her looking at him again.

"Why, you stupid man," she said to him later on in the day with a quick, kindly smile, "I was looking at you all the time. As soon as the President or Hanky began to talk about you I knew you would stare at him, and then I could look. As soon as they left off talking about you I knew you would be looking at me, unless you went to sleep—and as I did not know which you might be doing, I waited till they began to talk about you again."

My father had hardly taken note of his surroundings when the choir began singing, accompanied by a few feeble flutes and lutes, or whatever the name of the instrument should be, but with no violins, for he knew nothing of the violin, and had not been able to teach the Erewhonians anything about it. The voices were all in unison, and the tune they sang was one which my father had taught Yram to sing; but he could not catch the words.

As soon as the singing began, a procession, headed by the venerable Dr. Gurgoyle, President of the Musical Banks of the province, began to issue from the robing-room, and move towards the middle of the apse. The President was sumptuously dressed, but he wore no mitre, nor anything to suggest an English or European Bishop. The Vice- President, Head Manager, Vice-Manager, and some Cashiers of the Bank, now ranged themselves on either side of him, and formed an impressive group as they stood, gorgeously arrayed, at the top of the steps leading from the apse to the nave. Here they waited till the singers left off singing.

When the litany, or hymn, or whatever it should be called, was over, the Head Manager left the President’s side and came down to the lectern in the nave, where he announced himself as about to read some passages from the Sunchild’s Sayings. Perhaps because it was the first day of the year according to their new calendar, the reading began with the first chapter, the whole of which was read. My father told me that he quite well remembered having said the last verse, which he still held as true; hardly a word of the rest was ever spoken by him, though he recognised his own influence in almost all of it. The reader paused, with good effect, for about five seconds between each paragraph, and read slowly and very clearly. The chapter was as follows:-

These are the words of the Sunchild about God and man. He said -

1. God is the baseless basis of all thoughts, things, and deeds.

2. So that those who say that there is a God, lie, unless they also mean that there is no God; and those who say that there is no God, lie, unless they also mean that there is a God.

3. It is very true to say that man is made after the likeness of God; and yet it is very untrue to say this.

4. God lives and moves in every atom throughout the universe. Therefore it is wrong to think of Him as ’Him’ and ’He,’ save as by the clutching of a drowning man at a straw.

5. God is God to us only so long as we cannot see Him. When we are near to seeing Him He vanishes, and we behold Nature in His stead.

6. We approach Him most nearly when we think of Him as our expression for Man’s highest conception, of goodness, wisdom, and power. But we cannot rise to Him above the level of our own highest selves.

7. We remove ourselves most far from Him when we invest Him with human form and attributes.

8. My father the sun, the earth, the moon, and all planets that roll round my father, are to God but as a single cell in our bodies to ourselves.

9. He is as much above my father, as my father is above men and women.

10. The universe is instinct with the mind of God. The mind of God is in all that has mind throughout all worlds. There is no God but the Universe, and man, in this world is His prophet.

11. God’s conscious life, nascent, so far as this world is concerned, in the infusoria, adolescent in the higher mammals, approaches maturity on this earth in man. All these living beings are members one of another, and of God.

12. Therefore, as man cannot live without God in the world, so neither can God live in this world without mankind.

13. If we speak ill of God in our ignorance it may be forgiven us; but if we speak ill of His Holy Spirit indwelling in good men and women it may not be forgiven us."

The Head Manager now resumed his place by President Gurgoyle’s side, and the President in the name of his Majesty the King declared the temple to be hereby dedicated to the contemplation of the Sunchild and the better exposition of his teaching. This was all that was said. The reliquary was then brought forward and placed at the top of the steps leading from the apse to the nave; but the original intention of carrying it round the temple was abandoned for fear of accidents through the pressure round it of the enormous multitudes who were assembled. More singing followed of a simple but impressive kind; during this I am afraid I must own that my father, tired with his walk, dropped off into a refreshing slumber, from which he did not wake till George nudged him and told him not to snore, just as the Vice-Manager was going towards the lectern to read another chapter of the Sunchild’s Sayings—which was as follows:-

The Sunchild also spoke to us a parable about the unwisdom of the children yet unborn, who though they know so much, yet do not know as much as they think they do.

He said:-

"The unborn have knowledge of one another so long as they are unborn, and this without impediment from walls or material obstacles. The unborn children in any city form a population apart, who talk with one another and tell each other about their developmental progress.

"They have no knowledge, and cannot even conceive the existence of anything that is not such as they are themselves. Those who have been born are to them what the dead are to us. They can see no life in them, and know no more about them than they do of any stage in their own past development other than the one through which they are passing at the moment. They do not even know that their mothers are alive—much less that their mothers were once as they now are. To an embryo, its mother is simply the environment, and is looked upon much as our inorganic surroundings are by ourselves.

"The great terror of their lives is the fear of birth,—that they shall have to leave the only thing that they can think of as life, and enter upon a dark unknown which is to them tantamount to annihilation.

"Some, indeed, among them have maintained that birth is not the death which they commonly deem it, but that there is a life beyond the womb of which they as yet know nothing, and which is a million fold more truly life than anything they have yet been able even to imagine. But the greater number shake their yet unfashioned heads and say they have no evidence for this that will stand a moment’s examination.

"’Nay,’ answer the others, ’so much work, so elaborate, so wondrous as that whereon we are now so busily engaged must have a purpose, though the purpose is beyond our grasp.’

"’Never,’ reply the first speakers; ’our pleasure in the work is sufficient justification for it. Who has ever partaken of this life you speak of, and re-entered into the womb to tell us of it? Granted that some few have pretended to have done this, but how completely have their stories broken down when subjected to the tests of sober criticism. No. When we are born we are born, and there is an end of us.’

"But in the hour of birth, when they can no longer re-enter the womb and tell the others, Behold! they find that it is not so."

Here the reader again closed his book and resumed his place in the apse.


Related Resources

Samuel Butler

Download Options

Title: Erewhon Revisited

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Erewhon Revisited

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Samuel Butler, "Chapter XV: The Temple Is Dedicated to My Father, and Certain Extracts Are Read from His Supposed Sayings," Erewhon Revisited in Erewhon Revisited Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2023,

MLA: Butler, Samuel. "Chapter XV: The Temple Is Dedicated to My Father, and Certain Extracts Are Read from His Supposed Sayings." Erewhon Revisited, in Erewhon Revisited, Original Sources. 30 May. 2023.

Harvard: Butler, S, 'Chapter XV: The Temple Is Dedicated to My Father, and Certain Extracts Are Read from His Supposed Sayings' in Erewhon Revisited. cited in , Erewhon Revisited. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2023, from