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How We Encourage Research

The serene and beneficent goddess Truth, like other deities whose
disposition has been too hastily inferred from that of the men who have
invoked them, can hardly be well pleased with much of the worship paid
to her even in this milder age, when the stake and the rack have ceased
to form part of her ritual. Some cruelties still pass for service done
in her honour: no thumb-screw is used, no iron boot, no scorching of
flesh; but plenty of controversial bruising, laceration, and even
lifelong maiming. Less than formerly; but so long as this sort of
truth-worship has the sanction of a public that can often understand
nothing in a controversy except personal sarcasm or slanderous ridicule,
it is likely to continue. The sufferings of its victims are often as
little regarded as those of the sacrificial pig offered in old time,
with what we now regard as a sad miscalculation of effects.

One such victim is my old acquaintance Merman.

Twenty years ago Merman was a young man of promise, a conveyancer with a
practice which had certainly budded, but, like Aaron's rod, seemed not
destined to proceed further in that marvellous activity. Meanwhile he
occupied himself in miscellaneous periodical writing and in a
multifarious study of moral and physical science. What chiefly attracted
him in all subjects were the vexed questions which have the advantage of
not admitting the decisive proof or disproof that renders many ingenious
arguments superannuated. Not that Merman had a wrangling disposition: he
put all his doubts, queries, and paradoxes deferentially, contended
without unpleasant heat and only with a sonorous eagerness against the
personality of Homer, expressed himself civilly though firmly on the
origin of language, and had tact enough to drop at the right moment such
subjects as the ultimate reduction of all the so-called elementary
substances, his own total scepticism concerning Manetho's chronology, or
even the relation between the magnetic condition of the earth and the
outbreak of revolutionary tendencies. Such flexibility was naturally
much helped by his amiable feeling towards woman, whose nervous system,

he was convinced, would not bear the continuous strain of difficult
topics; and also by his willingness to contribute a song whenever the
same desultory charmer proposed music. Indeed his tastes were domestic
enough to beguile him into marriage when his resources were still very
moderate and partly uncertain. His friends wished that so ingenious and
agreeable a fellow might have more prosperity than they ventured to hope
for him, their chief regret on his account being that he did not
concentrate his talent and leave off forming opinions on at least
half-a-dozen of the subjects over which he scattered his attention,
especially now that he had married a "nice little woman" (the generic
name for acquaintances' wives when they are not markedly disagreeable).
He could not, they observed, want all his various knowledge and Laputan
ideas for his periodical writing which brought him most of his bread,
and he would do well to use his talents in getting a speciality that
would fit him for a post. Perhaps these well-disposed persons were a
little rash in presuming that fitness for a post would be the surest
ground for getting it; and on the whole, in now looking back on their
wishes for Merman, their chief satisfaction must be that those wishes
did not contribute to the actual result.

For in an evil hour Merman did concentrate himself. He had for many
years taken into his interest the comparative history of the ancient
civilisations, but it had not preoccupied him so as to narrow his
generous attention to everything else. One sleepless night, however (his
wife has more than once narrated to me the details of an event memorable
to her as the beginning of sorrows), after spending some hours over the
epoch-making work of Grampus, a new idea seized him with regard to the
possible connection of certain symbolic monuments common to widely
scattered races. Merman started up in bed. The night was cold, and the
sudden withdrawal of warmth made his wife first dream of a snowball,
and then cry--

"What is the matter, Proteus?"

"A great matter, Julia. That fellow Grampus, whose book is cried up as a
revelation, is all wrong about the Magicodumbras and the Zuzumotzis, and
I have got hold of the right clue."

"Good gracious! does it matter so much? Don't drag the clothes, dear."

"It signifies this, Julia, that if I am right I shall set the world
right; I shall regenerate history; I shall win the mind of Europe to a
new view of social origins; I shall bruise the head of many

"Oh no, dear, don't go too far into things. Lie down again. You have
been dreaming. What are the Madicojumbras and Zuzitotzums? I never heard
you talk of them before. What use can it be troubling yourself about
such things?"

"That is the way, Julia--that is the way wives alienate their husbands,
and make any hearth pleasanter to him than his own!"

"What _do_ you mean, Proteus?"

"Why, if a woman will not try to understand her husband's ideas, or at
least to believe that they are of more value than she can understand--if
she is to join anybody who happens to be against him, and suppose he is
a fool because others contradict him--there is an end of our happiness.
That is all I have to say."

"Oh no, Proteus, dear. I do believe what you say is right That is my
only guide. I am sure I never have any opinions in any other way: I mean
about subjects. Of course there are many little things that would tease
you, that you like me to judge of for myself. I know I said once that I
did not want you to sing 'Oh ruddier than the cherry,' because it was
not in your voice. But I cannot remember ever differing from you about
_subjects_. I never in my life thought any one cleverer than you."

Julia Merman was really a "nice little woman," not one of the stately
Dians sometimes spoken of in those terms. Her black _silhouette_ had a
very infantine aspect, but she had discernment and wisdom enough to act
on the strong hint of that memorable conversation, never again giving
her husband the slightest ground for suspecting that she thought
treasonably of his ideas in relation to the Magicodumbras and
Zuzumotzis, or in the least relaxed her faith in his infallibility
because Europe was not also convinced of it. It was well for her that
she did not increase her troubles in this way; but to do her justice,
what she was chiefly anxious about was to avoid increasing her husband's

Not that these were great in the beginning. In the first development and
writing out of his scheme, Merman had a more intense kind of
intellectual pleasure than he had ever known before. His face became
more radiant, his general view of human prospects more cheerful.
Foreseeing that truth as presented by himself would win the recognition
of his contemporaries, he excused with much liberality their rather
rough treatment of other theorists whose basis was less perfect. His own
periodical criticisms had never before been so amiable: he was sorry for
that unlucky majority whom the spirit of the age, or some other
prompting more definite and local, compelled to write without any
particular ideas. The possession of an original theory which has not yet
been assailed must certainly sweeten the temper of a man who is not
beforehand ill-natured. And Merman was the reverse of ill-natured.

But the hour of publication came; and to half-a-dozen persons, described
as the learned world of two hemispheres, it became known that Grampus
was attacked. This might have been a small matter; for who or what on
earth that is good for anything is not assailed by ignorance, stupidity,
or malice--and sometimes even by just objection? But on examination it
appeared that the attack might possibly be held damaging, unless the
ignorance of the author were well exposed and his pretended facts shown
to be chimeras of that remarkably hideous kind begotten by imperfect
learning on the more feminine element of original incapacity. Grampus
himself did not immediately cut open the volume which Merman had been
careful to send him, not without a very lively and shifting conception
of the possible effects which the explosive gift might produce on the
too eminent scholar--effects that must certainly have set in on the
third day from the despatch of the parcel. But in point of fact Grampus
knew nothing of the book until his friend Lord Narwhal sent him an
American newspaper containing a spirited article by the well-known
Professor Sperm N. Whale which was rather equivocal in its bearing, the
passages quoted from Merman being of rather a telling sort, and the
paragraphs which seemed to blow defiance being unaccountably feeble,
coming from so distinguished a Cetacean. Then, by another post, arrived
letters from Butzkopf and Dugong, both men whose signatures were
familiar to the Teutonic world in the _Selten-erscheinende
Monat-schrift_ or Hayrick for the insertion of Split Hairs, asking their
Master whether he meant to take up the combat, because, in the contrary
case, both were ready.

Thus America and Germany were roused, though England was still drowsy,
and it seemed time now for Grampus to find Merman's book under the heap
and cut it open. For his own part he was perfectly at ease about his
system; but this is a world in which the truth requires defence, and
specious falsehood must be met with exposure. Grampus having once looked
through the book, no longer wanted any urging to write the most crushing
of replies. This, and nothing less than this, was due from him to the
cause of sound inquiry; and the punishment would cost him little pains.
In three weeks from that time the palpitating Merman saw his book
announced in the programme of the leading Review. No need for Grampus to
put his signature. Who else had his vast yet microscopic knowledge, who
else his power of epithet? This article in which Merman was pilloried
and as good as mutilated--for he was shown to have neither ear nor nose
for the subtleties of philological and archaeological study--was much
read and more talked of, not because of any interest in the system of
Grampus, or any precise conception of the danger attending lax views of
the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis, but because the sharp epigrams with
which the victim was lacerated, and the soaring fountains of acrid mud
which were shot upward and poured over the fresh wounds, were found
amusing in recital. A favourite passage was one in which a certain kind
of sciolist was described as a creature of the Walrus kind, having a
phantasmal resemblance to higher animals when seen by ignorant minds in
the twilight, dabbling or hobbling in first one element and then the
other, without parts or organs suited to either, in fact one of Nature's
impostors who could not be said to have any artful pretences, since a
congenital incompetence to all precision of aim and movement made their
every action a pretence--just as a being born in doeskin gloves would
necessarily pass a judgment on surfaces, but we all know what his
judgment would be worth. In drawing-room circles, and for the immediate
hour, this ingenious comparison was as damaging as the showing up of
Merman's mistakes and the mere smattering of linguistic and historical
knowledge which he had presumed to be a sufficient basis for theorising;
but the more learned cited his blunders aside to each other and laughed
the laugh of the initiated. In fact, Merman's was a remarkable case of
sudden notoriety. In London drums and clubs he was spoken of abundantly
as one who had written ridiculously about the Magicodumbras and
Zuzumotzis: the leaders of conversation, whether Christians, Jews,
infidels, or of any other confession except the confession of ignorance,
pronouncing him shallow and indiscreet if not presumptuous and absurd.
He was heard of at Warsaw, and even Paris took knowledge of him. M.
Cachalot had not read either Grampus or Merman, but he heard of their
dispute in time to insert a paragraph upon it in his brilliant work,
_L'orient au point de vue actuel_, in which he was dispassionate enough
to speak of Grampus as possessing a _coup d'oeil presque français_ in
matters of historical interpretation, and of Merman as nevertheless an
objector _qui mérite d'être connu_. M. Porpesse, also, availing himself
of M. Cachalot's knowledge, reproduced it in an article with certain
additions, which it is only fair to distinguish as his own, implying
that the vigorous English of Grampus was not always as correct as a
Frenchman could desire, while Merman's objections were more sophistical
than solid. Presently, indeed, there appeared an able _extrait_ of
Grampus's article in the valuable _Rapporteur scientifique et
historique_, and Merman's mistakes were thus brought under the notice of
certain Frenchmen who are among the masters of those who know on
oriental subjects. In a word, Merman, though not extensively read, was
extensively read about.

Meanwhile, how did he like it? Perhaps nobody, except his wife, for a
moment reflected on that. An amused society considered that he was
severely punished, but did not take the trouble to imagine his
sensations; indeed this would have been a difficulty for persons less
sensitive and excitable than Merman himself. Perhaps that popular
comparison of the Walrus had truth enough to bite and blister on
thorough application, even if exultant ignorance had not applauded it.
But it is well known that the walrus, though not in the least a
malignant animal, if allowed to display its remarkably plain person and
blundering performances at ease in any element it chooses, becomes
desperately savage and musters alarming auxiliaries when attacked or
hurt. In this characteristic, at least, Merman resembled the walrus. And
now he concentrated himself with a vengeance. That his counter-theory
was fundamentally the right one he had a genuine conviction, whatever
collateral mistakes he might have committed; and his bread would not
cease to be bitter to him until he had convinced his contemporaries that
Grampus had used his minute learning as a dust-cloud to hide
sophistical evasions--that, in fact, minute learning was an obstacle to
clear-sighted judgment, more especially with regard to the Magicodumbras
and Zuzumotzis, and that the best preparation in this matter was a wide
survey of history and a diversified observation of men. Still, Merman
was resolved to muster all the learning within his reach, and he
wandered day and night through many wildernesses of German print, he
tried compendious methods of learning oriental tongues, and, so to
speak, getting at the marrow of languages independently of the bones,
for the chance of finding details to corroborate his own views, or
possibly even to detect Grampus in some oversight or textual tampering.
All other work was neglected: rare clients were sent away and amazed
editors found this maniac indifferent to his chance of getting
book-parcels from them. It was many months before Merman had satisfied
himself that he was strong enough to face round upon his adversary. But
at last he had prepared sixty condensed pages of eager argument which
seemed to him worthy to rank with the best models of controversial
writing. He had acknowledged his mistakes, but had restated his theory
so as to show that it was left intact in spite of them; and he had even
found cases in which Ziphius, Microps, Scrag Whale the explorer, and
other Cetaceans of unanswerable authority, were decidedly at issue with
Grampus. Especially a passage cited by this last from that greatest of
fossils Megalosaurus was demonstrated by Merman to be capable of three
different interpretations, all preferable to that chosen by Grampus, who
took the words in their most literal sense; for, 1°, the incomparable
Saurian, alike unequalled in close observation and far-glancing
comprehensiveness, might have meant those words ironically; 2°, _motzis_
was probably a false reading for _potzis_, in which case its bearing was
reversed; and 3°, it is known that in the age of the Saurians there
were conceptions about the _motzis_ which entirely remove it from the
category of things comprehensible in an age when Saurians run
ridiculously small: all which views were godfathered by names quite fit
to be ranked with that of Grampus. In fine, Merman wound up his
rejoinder by sincerely thanking the eminent adversary without whose
fierce assault he might not have undertaken a revision in the course of
which he had met with unexpected and striking confirmations of his own
fundamental views. Evidently Merman's anger was at white heat.

The rejoinder being complete, all that remained was to find a suitable
medium for its publication. This was not so easy. Distinguished mediums
would not lend themselves to contradictions of Grampus, or if they
would, Merman's article was too long and too abstruse, while he would
not consent to leave anything out of an article which had no
superfluities; for all this happened years ago when the world was at a
different stage. At last, however, he got his rejoinder printed, and not
on hard terms, since the medium, in every sense modest, did not ask him
to pay for its insertion.

But if Merman expected to call out Grampus again, he was mistaken.
Everybody felt it too absurd that Merman should undertake to correct
Grampus in matters of erudition, and an eminent man has something else
to do than to refute a petty objector twice over. What was essential had
been done: the public had been enabled to form a true judgment of
Merman's incapacity, the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis were but
subsidiary elements in Grampus's system, and Merman might now be dealt
with by younger members of the master's school. But he had at least the
satisfaction of finding that he had raised a discussion which would not
be let die. The followers of Grampus took it up with an ardour and
industry of research worthy of their exemplar. Butzkopf made it the
subject of an elaborate _Einleitung_ to his important work, _Die
Bedeutung des Aegyptischen Labyrinthes_; and Dugong, in a remarkable
address which he delivered to a learned society in Central Europe,
introduced Merman's theory with so much power of sarcasm that it became
a theme of more or less derisive allusion to men of many tongues. Merman
with his Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis was on the way to become a
proverb, being used illustratively by many able journalists who took
those names of questionable things to be Merman's own invention, "than
which," said one of the graver guides, "we can recall few more
melancholy examples of speculative aberration." Naturally the subject
passed into popular literature, and figured very commonly in advertised
programmes. The fluent Loligo, the formidable Shark, and a younger
member of his remarkable family known as S. Catulus, made a special
reputation by their numerous articles, eloquent, lively, or abusive, all
on the same theme, under titles ingeniously varied, alliterative,
sonorous, or boldly fanciful; such as, "Moments with Mr Merman," "Mr
Merman and the Magicodumbras," "Greenland Grampus and Proteus Merman,"
"Grampian Heights and their Climbers, or the New Excelsior." They tossed
him on short sentences; they swathed him in paragraphs of winding
imagery; they found him at once a mere plagiarist and a theoriser of
unexampled perversity, ridiculously wrong about _potzis_ and ignorant of
Pali; they hinted, indeed, at certain things which to their knowledge he
had silently brooded over in his boyhood, and seemed tolerably well
assured that this preposterous attempt to gainsay an incomparable
Cetacean of world-wide fame had its origin in a peculiar mixture of
bitterness and eccentricity which, rightly estimated and seen in its
definite proportions, would furnish the best key to his argumentation.
All alike were sorry for Merman's lack of sound learning, but how could
their readers be sorry? Sound learning would not have been amusing; and
as it was, Merman was made to furnish these readers with amusement at no
expense of trouble on their part. Even burlesque writers looked into his
book to see where it could be made use of, and those who did not know
him were desirous of meeting him at dinner as one likely to feed their
comic vein.

On the other hand, he made a serious figure in sermons under the name of
"Some" or "Others" who had attempted presumptuously to scale eminences
too high and arduous for human ability, and had given an example of
ignominious failure edifying to the humble Christian.

All this might be very advantageous for able persons whose superfluous
fund of expression needed a paying investment, but the effect on Merman
himself was unhappily not so transient as the busy writing and speaking
of which he had become the occasion. His certainty that he was right
naturally got stronger in proportion as the spirit of resistance was
stimulated. The scorn and unfairness with which he felt himself to have
been treated by those really competent to appreciate his ideas had
galled him and made a chronic sore; and the exultant chorus of the
incompetent seemed a pouring of vinegar on his wound. His brain became a
registry of the foolish and ignorant objections made against him, and of
continually amplified answers to these objections. Unable to get his
answers printed, he had recourse to that more primitive mode of
publication, oral transmission or button-holding, now generally regarded
as a troublesome survival, and the once pleasant, flexible Merman was on
the way to be shunned as a bore. His interest in new acquaintances
turned chiefly on the possibility that they would care about the
Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis; that they would listen to his complaints
and exposures of unfairness, and not only accept copies of what he had
written on the subject, but send him appreciative letters in
acknowledgment. Repeated disappointment of such hopes tended to embitter
him, and not the less because after a while the fashion of mentioning
him died out, allusions to his theory were less understood, and people
could only pretend to remember it. And all the while Merman was
perfectly sure that his very opponents who had knowledge enough to be
capable judges were aware that his book, whatever errors of statement
they might detect in it, had served as a sort of divining rod, pointing
out hidden sources of historical interpretation; nay, his jealous
examination discerned in a new work by Grampus himself a certain
shifting of ground which--so poor Merman declared--was the sign of an
intention gradually to appropriate the views of the man he had attempted
to brand as an ignorant impostor.

And Julia? And the housekeeping?--the rent, food, and clothing, which
controversy can hardly supply unless it be of the kind that serves as a
recommendation to certain posts. Controversial pamphlets have been known
to earn large plums; but nothing of the sort could be expected from
unpractical heresies about the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis. Painfully
the contrary. Merman's reputation as a sober thinker, a safe writer, a
sound lawyer, was irretrievably injured: the distractions of controversy
had caused him to neglect useful editorial connections, and indeed his
dwindling care for miscellaneous subjects made his contributions too
dull to be desirable. Even if he could now have given a new turn to his
concentration, and applied his talents so as to be ready to show himself
an exceptionally qualified lawyer, he would only have been like an
architect in competition, too late with his superior plans; he would not
have had an opportunity of showing his qualification. He was thrown out
of the course. The small capital which had filled up deficiencies of
income was almost exhausted, and Julia, in the effort to make supplies
equal to wants, had to use much ingenuity in diminishing the wants. The
brave and affectionate woman whose small outline, so unimpressive
against an illuminated background, held within it a good share of
feminine heroism, did her best to keep up the charm of home and soothe
her husband's excitement; parting with the best jewel among her wedding
presents in order to pay rent, without ever hinting to her husband that
this sad result had come of his undertaking to convince people who only
laughed at him. She was a resigned little creature, and reflected that
some husbands took to drinking and others to forgery: hers had only
taken to the Magicodumbras and Zuzumotzis, and was not unkind--only a
little more indifferent to her and the two children than she had ever
expected he would be, his mind being eaten up with "subjects," and
constantly a little angry, not with her, but with everybody else,
especially those who were celebrated.

This was the sad truth. Merman felt himself ill-used by the world, and
thought very much worse of the world in consequence. The gall of his
adversaries' ink had been sucked into his system and ran in his blood.
He was still in the prime of life, but his mind was aged by that eager
monotonous construction which comes of feverish excitement on a single
topic and uses up the intellectual strength.

Merman had never been a rich man, but he was now conspicuously poor, and
in need of the friends who had power or interest which he believed they
could exert on his behalf. Their omitting or declining to give this help
could not seem to him so clearly as to them an inevitable consequence of
his having become impracticable, or at least of his passing for a man
whose views were not likely to be safe and sober. Each friend in turn
offended him, though unwillingly, and was suspected of wishing to shake
him off. It was not altogether so; but poor Merman's society had
undeniably ceased to be attractive, and it was difficult to help him. At
last the pressure of want urged him to try for a post far beneath his
earlier prospects, and he gained it. He holds it still, for he has no
vices, and his domestic life has kept up a sweetening current of motive
around and within him. Nevertheless, the bitter flavour mingling itself
with all topics, the premature weariness and withering, are irrevocably
there. It is as if he had gone through a disease which alters what we
call the constitution. He has long ceased to talk eagerly of the ideas
which possess him, or to attempt making proselytes. The dial has moved
onward, and he himself sees many of his former guesses in a new light.
On the other hand, he has seen what he foreboded, that the main idea
which was at the root of his too rash theorising has been adopted by
Grampus and received with general respect, no reference being heard to
the ridiculous figure this important conception made when ushered in by
the incompetent "Others."

Now and then, on rare occasions, when a sympathetic _tête-à-tête_ has
restored some of his old expansiveness, he will tell a companion in a
railway carriage, or other place of meeting favourable to
autobiographical confidences, what has been the course of things in his
particular case, as an example of the justice to be expected of the
world. The companion usually allows for the bitterness of a disappointed
man, and is secretly disinclined to believe that Grampus was to blame.

George Eliot