Monday, March 02, 2009


An Antiquary

Samuel Butler, "An Antiquary," from Characters and Passages from Note-Books, ed. A.R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), pp. 42-43:
An Antiquary is one that has his Being in this Age, but his Life and Conversation is in the Days of old. He despises the present Age as an Innovation, and slights the future; but has a great Value for that, which is past and gone, like the Madman, that fell in Love with Cleopatra. He is an old frippery-Philosopher, that has so strange a natural Affection to worm-eaten Speculation, that it is apparent he has a Worm in his Skull. He honours his Forefathers and Fore-mothers, but condemns his Parents as too modern, and no better than Upstarts. He neglects himself, because he was born in his own Time, and so far off Antiquity, which he so much admires; and repines, like a younger Brother, because he came so late into the World. He spends the one half of his Time in collecting old insignificant Trifles, and the other in shewing them, which he takes singular Delight in; because the oftener he does it, the further they are from being new to him. All his Curiosities take place of one another according to their Seniority, and he values them not by their Abilities, but their Standing. He has a great Veneration for Words that are stricken in Years, and are grown so aged, that they have out-lived their Employments—These he uses with a Respect agreeable to their Antiquity, and the good Services they have done. He throws away his Time in enquiring after that which is past and gone so many Ages since, like one that shoots away an Arrow, to find out another that was lost before. He fetches things out of Dust and Ruins, like the Fable of the chymical Plant raised out of its own Ashes. He values one old Invention, that is lost and never to be recovered, before all the new ones in the World, tho' never so useful. The whole Business of his Life is the same with his, that shows the Tombs at Westminster, only the one does it for his Pleasure, and the other for Money. As every Man has but one Father, but two Grand-Fathers and a World of Ancestors; so he has a proportional Value for Things that are antient, and the further off the greater.

He is a great Time-server, but it is of Time out of Mind, to which he conforms exactly, but is wholly retired from the present. His Days were spent and gone long before he came into the World, and since his only Business is to collect what he can out of the Ruins of them. He has so strong a natural Affection to any Thing that is old, that he may truly say to Dust and Worms you are my Father, and to Rottenness thou art my Mother. He has no Providence nor Fore-sight; for all his Contemplations look backward upon the Days of old, and his Brains are turned with them, as if he walked backwards. He had rather interpret one obscure Word in any old senseless Discourse, than be Author of the most ingenious new one; and with Scaliger would sell the Empire of Germany (if it were in his Power) for an old Song. He devours an old Manuscript with greater Relish than Worms and Moths do, and, though there be nothing in it, values it above any Thing printed, which he accounts but a Novelty. When he happens to cure a small Botch in an old Author, he is as proud of it, as if he had got the Philosophers Stone, and could cure all the Diseases of Mankind. He values things wrongfully upon their Antiquity, forgetting that the most modern are really the most ancient of all Things in the World, like those that reckon their Pounds before their Shillings and Pence, of which they are made up. He esteems no Customs but such as have outlived themselves, and are long since out of Use; as the Catholics allow of no Saints, but such as are dead, and the Fanatics, in Opposition, of none but the Living.

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