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Translation from an Unpublished Work of Herodotus

This piece and the ten that follow it date from Butler's undergraduate days. They were preserved by the late Canon Joseph McCormick, who was Butler's contemporary at Cambridge and knew him well.


In a letter to THE TIMES, published 27 June, 1902, shortly after Butler's death, Canon McCormick gave some interesting details of Butler's Cambridge days. "I have in my possession," he wrote, "some of the skits with which he amused himself and some of his personal friends. Perhaps the skit professed to be a translation from Thucydides, inimitable in its way, applied to Johnians in their successes or defeats on the river, or it was the 'Prospectus of the Great Split Society,' attacking those who wished to form narrow or domineering parties in the College, or it was a very striking poem on Napoleon in St. Helena, or it was a play dealing with a visit to the Paris Exhibition, which he sent to PUNCH, and which, strange to say, the editor never inserted, or it was an examination paper set to a gyp of a most amusing and clever character." One at least of the pieces mentioned by Canon McCormick has unfortunately disappeared. Those that have survived are here published for what they are worth. There is no necessity to apologise for their faults and deficiencies, which do not, I think, obscure their value as documents illustrating the development of that gift of irony which Butler was afterwards to wield with such brilliant mastery. 'Napoleon at St. Helena' and 'The Shield of Achilles' have already appeared in THE EAGLE, December, 1902; the "Translation from Herodotus," "The Shield of Achilles," "The Two Deans II," and "On the Italian Priesthood," in THE NOTE-BOOKS OF SAMUEL BUTLER; the "Prospectus of the Great Split Society" and "A Skit on Examinations" in THE EAGLE, June, 1913.


And the Johnians practise their tub in the following manner: They select eight of the most serviceable freshmen and put these into a boat, and to each one of them they give an oar; and having told them to look at the backs of the men before them they make them bend forward as far as they can and at the same moment, and having put the end of the oar into the water pull it back again in to them about the bottom of the ribs; and if any of them does not do this or looks about him away from the back of the man before him they curse him in the most terrible manner, but if he does what he is bidden they immediately cry out:

"Well pulled, number so-and-so."

For they do not call them by their names but by certain numbers, each man of them having a number allotted to him in accordance with his place in the boat, and the first man they call stroke, but the last man bow; and when they have done this for about fifty miles they come home again, and the rate they travel at is about twenty- five miles an hour; and let no one think that this is too great a rate, for I could say many other wonderful things in addition concerning the rowing of the Johnians, but if a man wishes to know these things he must go and examine them himself. But when they have done they contrive some such a device as this, for they make them run many miles along the side of the river in order that they may accustom them to great fatigue, and many of them being distressed in this way fall down and die, but those who survive become very strong, and receive gifts of cups from the others; and after the revolution of a year they have great races with their boats against those of the surrounding islanders, but the Johnians, both owing to the carefulness of the training and a natural disposition for rowing, are always victorious. In this way then the Johnians, I say, practise their tub.


Samuel Butler