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This article is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Vestiges 1: Samuel Butler Adam Crothers
On 14 February 1895, Samuel Butler and his biographer Henry Festing Jones bade farewell to their friend Hans Rudolf Faesch, who was leaving England for a position in Singapore. Butler was (wrongly) convinced that Faesch's poor health would make this their last meeting, and so it was that he swiftly composed a somewhat premature 'In Memoriam' poem, shown here in a framed manuscript once owned by Cambridge librarian A.T. Bartholomew and now part of the extensive Samuel Butler Collection at St John's College.

Fittingly, it is a poem of emotional and rhetorical excess. Indeed, Butler was wary of publication in the light of that year's Oscar Wilde trial, the poem's expression of (to quote a letter from the same month) 'every loving and affectionate thought which one man can think about another' at risk of attracting unwanted attention. Yet it is not only in his affections that Butler might appear to go, by some standards, too far. The repetition involved in 'Out, out, out, into the night' borrows, consciously or not, from Macbeth's 'Out, out, brief candle!' The third 'out' in Butler's poem exaggerates its source, apparently seeking to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare, whose influence Butler equated to Faesch's: 'Look at Handel and Shakespeare - what was their conscious life in themselves as compared with their unconscious life in us ? [...] And so you are living, and very dearly loved, in us.'

The poem addresses and defies another boundary. Faesch questioned the poem's similarity to a prayer, and ...

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