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Samuel Butler and the Simeonites

The following article, which originally appeared in the CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE, 1 March, 1913, is by Mr. A. T. Bartholomew, of the University Library, Cambridge, who has most kindly allowed me to include it in the present volume. Mr. Bartholomew's discovery of Samuel Butler's parody of the Simeonite tract throws a most interesting light upon a curious passage in The Way of All Flesh, and it is a great pleasure to me to be able to give Butlerians the story of Mr. Bartholomew's "find" in his own words.

Readers of Samuel Butler's remarkable story The Way of All Flesh will probably recall his description of the Simeonites (chap. xlvii), who still flourished at Cambridge when Ernest Pontifex was up at Emmanuel. Ernest went down in 1858; so did Butler. Throughout the book the spiritual and intellectual life and development of Ernest are drawn from Butler's own experience.

"The one phase of spiritual activity which had any life in it during the time Ernest was at Cambridge was connected with the name of Simeon. There were still a good many Simeonites, or as they were more briefly called 'Sims,' in Ernest's time. Every college contained some of them, but their head-quarters were at Caius, whither they were attracted by Mr. Clayton, who was at that time senior tutor, and among the sizars of St. John's. Behind the then chapel of this last-named college was a 'labyrinth' (this was the name it bore) of dingy, tumble-down rooms," and here dwelt many Simeonites, "unprepossessing in feature, gait, and manners, unkempt and ill-dressed beyond what can be easily described. Destined most of them for the Church, the Simeonites held themselves to have received a very loud call to the ministry . . . They would be instant in season and out of season in imparting spiritual instruction to all whom they could persuade to listen to them. But the soil of the more prosperous undergraduates was not suitable for the seed they tried to sow. When they distributed tracts, dropping them at night into good men's letter boxes while they were asleep, their tracts got burnt, or met with even worse contumely." For Ernest Pontifex "they had a repellent attraction; he disliked them, but he could not bring himself to leave them alone. On one occasion he had gone so far as to parody one of the tracts they had sent round in the night, and to get a copy dropped into each of the leading Simeonites' boxes. The subject he had taken was 'Personal Cleanliness.'"

Some years ago I found among the Cambridge papers in the late Mr. J. W. Clark's collection three printed pieces bearing on the subject. The first is a genuine Simeonite tract; the other two are parodies. All three are anonymous. At the top of the second parody is written "By S. Butler. March 31." It will be necessary to give a few quotations from the Simeonite utterance in order to bring out the full flavour of Butler's parody, which is given entire. Butler went up to St. John's in October, 1854; so at the time of writing this squib he was in his second term, and 18 years of age.


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I.--Extracts from the sheet dated "St. John's College, March 13th, 1855." In a manuscript note this is stated to be by Ynyr Lamb, of St. John's (B.A., 1862).

1. When a celebrated French king once showed the infidel philosopher Hume into his carriage, the latter at once leaped in, on which his majesty remarked: "That's the most accomplished man living."

It is impossible to presume enough on Divine grace; this kind of presumption is the characteristic of Heaven. . .

2. Religion is not an obedience to external forms or observances, but "a bold leap in the dark into the arms of an affectionate Father."

4. However Church Music may raise the devotional feelings, these bring a man not one iota nearer to Christ, neither is it acceptable in His sight.

13. The ONE thing needful is Faith: Faith = 0.25 (historical faith) + 0.75 (heart-belief, or assurance, or justification) 1.25 peace; and peace=Ln Trust--care+joy^(n-r+1)

18. The Lord's church has been always peculiarly tried at different stages of history, and each era will have its peculiar glory in eternity. . . . At the present time the trial for the church is peculiar; never before, perhaps, were the insinuations of the adversary so plausible and artful--his ingenuity so subtle--himself so much an angel of light--experience has sharpened his wit--"WHILE MEN SLEPT the enemy sowed tares"--he is now the base hypocrite--he suits his blandishments to all--the Church is lulled in the arms of the monster, rolling the sweet morsel under her tongue . . .

II.--Samuel Butler's Parody

1. Beware! Beware! Beware! The enemy sowed tracts in the night, and the righteous men tremble.

2. There are only 10 good men in John's; I am one; reader, calculate your chance of salvation.

3. The genuine recipe for the leaven of the Pharisees is still extant, and runs as follows: --Self-deceit 0.33 + want of charity 0.5 + outward show 0.33, humbug infinity, insert Sim or not as required. Reader, let each one who would seem to be righteous take unto himself this leaven.

4. "The University Church is a place too much neglected by the young men up here." Thus said the learned Selwyn, {5} and he said well. How far better would it be if each man's own heart was a little University Church, the pericardium a little University churchyard, wherein are buried the lust of the flesh, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world; the veins and arteries, little clergymen and bishops ministering therein; and the blood a stream of soberness, temperance and chastity perpetually flowing into it.

5. The deluge went before, misery followed after, in the middle came a Puseyite playing upon an organ. Reader, flee from him, for he playeth his own soul to damnation.

6. Church music is as the whore of Babylon, or the ramping lion who sought whom he might devour; music in a church cannot be good, when St. Paul bade those who were merry to sing psalms. Music is but tinkling brass, and sounding cymbals, which is what St. Paul says he should himself be, were he without charity; he evidently then did not consider music desirable.

7. The most truly religious and only thoroughly good man in Cambridge is Clayton, {6} of Cams.

8. "Charity is but the compassion that we feel for our own vices when we perceive their hatefulness in other people." Charity, then, is but another name for selfishness, and must be eschewed accordingly.

9. A great French king was walking one day with the late Mr. B., when the king dropped his umbrella. Mr. B. instantly stooped down and picked it up. The king said in a very sweet tone, "Thank you."

10. The Cam is the river Jordan. An unthinking mind may consider this a startling announcement. Let such an one pray for grace to read the mystery aright.

11. When I've lost a button off my trousers I go to the tailors' and get a new one sewn on.

12. Faith and Works were walking one day on the road to Zion, when Works turned into a public-house, and said he would not go any further, at the same time telling Faith to go on by himself, and saying that "he should be only a drag upon him." Faith accordingly left Works in the ale-house, and went on. He had not gone far before he began to feel faint, and thought he had better turn back and wait for Works. He suited the action to the word, and finding Works in an advanced state of beer, fell to, and even surpassed that worthy in his potations. They then set to work and fought lustily, and would have done each other a mortal injury had not a Policeman providentially arrived, and walked them off to the station-house. As it was they were fined Five Shillings each, and it was a long time before they fully recovered.

13. What can 10 fools do among 300 sinners? They can do much harm, and had far better let the sinners seek peace their own way in the wilderness than ram it down their throats during the night.

14. Barnwell is a place near Cambridge. It is one of the descents into the infernal regions; nay, the infernal regions have there ascended to the upper earth, and are rampant. He that goeth by it shall be scorched, but he that seeketh it knowingly shall be devoured in the twinkling of an eye, and become withered as the grass at noonday.

15. Young men do not seem to consider that houses were made to pray in, as well as to eat and to drink in. Spiritual food is much more easily procured and far cheaper than bodily nutriment; that, perhaps, is the reason why many overlook it.

16. When we were children our nurses used to say, "Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top, when the bough bends the cradle will rock." Do the nurses intend the wind to represent temptation and the storm of life, the tree-top ambition, and the cradle the body of the child in which the soul traverses life's ocean? I cannot doubt all this passes through the nurses' minds. Again, when they say, "Little Bo- peep has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them; let them alone and they'll come home with their tails all right behind them," is Little Bo-peep intended for mother Church? Are the sheep our erring selves, and our subsequent return to the fold? No doubt of it.

17. A child will often eat of itself what no compulsion can induce it to touch. Men are disgusted with religion if it is placed before them at unseasonable times, in unseasonable places, and clothed in a most unseemly dress. Let them alone, and many will perhaps seek it for themselves, whom the world suspects not. A whited sepulchre is a very picturesque object, and I like it immensely, and I like a Sim too. But the whited sepulchre is an acknowledged humbug and most of the Sims are not, in my opinion, very far different.

{5} William Selwyn D.D., Fellow of St. John's Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, died 1875.--A. T. B.

{6} Charles Clayton, M.A., of Gonville and Caius, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, 1851-65. Died 1883.--A. T. B.


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Samuel Butler