So very Human

In the decline and fall of a nation, are there not appropriate ministers born naturally to the occasion, as heroes and statesmen are born to rough-hew and cement her greatness? As the epochs in the history of an empire, so are the men. And one thing is certain as it is remarkable, viz., that the false politicians, the false poets, philosophers, and orators infinitely exceed in their transient glory and fame the contemporaneous meed awarded to the real children of genius and the true representatives of patriotism and grandeur of soul.


If modern life is so great and complex a lie, what must future history be! We do not say that there is no good in the world—far from it—perhaps there is as much as ever; but it is wonderfully mixed up and confused, and is generally on the losing side in the battle of life.


The best education for a swindler is a legal one.


Thus the world deceives and is deceived, ever mistaking self-assertion for merit, and unscrupulousness for power.


The gay fellow, your unscrupulous Lothario, who promises marriage, maintenance, or uses any other deceit to a confiding girl, would steal his friend's bank-notes or diamond breast-pin, if he were not afraid of the consequences.

Whew! It's finally published. This is the longest novel I've transcribed to date, and although I took a number of lengthy breaks, it was no picnic. Nonetheless, I think the result is quite worth the effort.

Alfred Bate Richards is better known for his plays (Crœsus, Cromwell) and poetry (Medea) than for his only novel, So very Human [1871]. I could find very little written about it, but the fact that a libel action prevented full publication until 1873 piqued my interest (see Appendix below). Given that the work was written over twenty years after the deaths of William North and George Lippard, I see nothing truly ground-breaking in its social and political commentary. It starts out a bit smug, and ends a bit hokey, but it gets quite good, almost prophetic at times, and as a whole I genuinely enjoyed it.

The text is from these scans (Volumes I, II, and III) and these scans (Volumes I, II, and III) of the 1873 edition, backed up by these scans. I corrected any obvious typographical errors, and standardized some inconsistencies in spelling, such as "villany" vs. "villainy." In transcribing the numerous Greek passages, I tried my best to emulate the original typography.

So here it is: the master HTML version, the home-brew Kindle version, and the actual Amazon publication.

March 11, 2024



[Here is a favorable review in The London and China Telegraph Vol. 18 (1871) p. 788:]

So Very Human; a Tale of the Present Day. By Alfred Bate Richards. London: Chapman and Hall.

It is nothing less than a great achievement, and a great public benefit to boot, to strike out a new path in fiction—not only to think independently, but to express original thought in a new style—and all this we think has undoubtedly been accomplished by the author of the novel before us. Its pages are alternately pathetic, playful, earnest, sarcastic, and amusing. They are never dull, and they always command the sympathy of the reader. Freshness, vigour, and originality—a distrust of the wise saws, and modern instances of the high priests of modern politics, social science, and philosophy—and a confidence arising from the consciousness of power, are the main characteristics of the book. The chief object which the author appears to have proposed to himself is to move our laughter, our scorn, or our indignation, as the case requires, against quacks and pretenders of every description, and by holding these up to contempt and stripping them of the sham respect which obtains so much of the blind adulation of the world, to excite our sympathy for the ignorant, the destitute, and, the unfortunate, and to show how "very human" these despised creatures are after all.

This is a noble design and it is thoroughly carried out. Colonel Richards's reflections on men and things, as the scenes he has imagined pass before him, will commend his book to those who admire short terse essay writing of the best kind; and ordinary novel readers will find their attention riveted by a very interesting story, and their sympathies engaged by some perfectly original characters—some of the most prominent of which they will have little difficulty in identifying among public men. The perusal of So Very Human will, in fact, be something like a waking dream of a visit "home" to our friends absent in the Far East, and, as such, we recommend them to put it on their library list.


[Here is an article in Justice of the Peace Vol. 36 (1872), p. 88, describing the libel case against the author. Let this be a lesson on how not to name characters in a novel:]

January 30.
Criminal information—Libel—Novel—Imputation of felony.

In this case a rule nisi had been obtained for a criminal information to issue against Alfred Bate Richards, the defendant, for a libel against Anthony Wellington Irwin. The libel complained of was contained in a book called So very Human, which has been lately published, and of which the defendant is the author. Mr. Irwin, who is a solicitor, was some years ago in partnership with a Mr. Taylor, who is now dead, under the style of Irwin and Taylor. In the book So very Human, there is a firm of solicitors called Messrs. Girwin and Naylor, who play a prominent part in the story. They are represented as being guilty of various malpractices, comprising, among others, perjury, compounding felonies, and embezzlement, and are described as of "Virulence Buildings, Bays Inn." Mr. Irwin, when in partnership with Mr. Taylor, carried on business as Irwin and Taylor at Verulam Buildings, Gray's Inn. Mr. Irwin considered that the names "Girwin and Naylor," and the address, "Virulence Buildings, Bays Inn," were intended to apply to him, and that all the wrongful acts described in the book were in fact alleged to have been committed by him. He denied in his affidavit ever having committed any one of the acts charged in the book, and gave the most complete contradiction to all the imputations contained in it. The defendant is the author of a great many books and several plays, and is now the editor of the Morning Advertiser. In his affidavit he swore that the whole of the book in question was a work of fiction, and that he did not intend to depict real persons in any part of it, the names of "Girwin and Naylor" being merely names which had occurred to him as appropriate, and not being meant to point to anyone.

Parry, Serjt., and A. L. Smith, for the defendant, said that the defendant had consented to give up all copies of the work, to pay Mr. Irwin's costs, and give the sum of 50l. to a charity, and also to make the following apology:—

"I, Alfred Bate Richards, author of the novel So very Human, do hereby most solemnly declare that I never had the slightest intention of imputing to Mr. Irwin the base and dishonourable conduct attributed to Mr. Girwin in the said book. I desire to express my deep regret at having so described Mr. Girwin as that he should be identified in any way, contrary to my wishes, with Mr. Irwin, and I sincerely trust that Mr. Irwin has not been injured or lowered in public or private estimation by what I have written; and I unqualifiedly say that as regards Mr. Irwin there is not and would not be any foundation for any such aspersions as would appear in the said novel to be made either on the professional or private character of the person described as Mr. Girwin. I trust also that this explanation and apology will entirely remove any imputation which may by any possibility have become fixed upon him in consequence of my having written the said novel; and I tender to Mr. Irwin the fullest and most complete apology for having carelessly written in the manner I have done that one man can make to another."

The learned Serjeant then asked the court if they would sanction the above arrangements being carried out, and, if they would do so, that the rule might be discharged.

COCKBURN, C. J., in discharging the rule, said,—Persons who publish libels, and thereby render themselves subject to the powers of this court, must not think that by afterwards relenting and making an apology they can protect themselves from punishment and withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. In this case Mr. Richards swears he did not intend to libel the prosecutor, Mr. Irwin. An arrangement has been come to, and an apology has been tendered. Mr. Irwin declares himself satisfied, Mr. Richards having paid a fine—not, indeed, to the Queen, but for a charitable purpose. Therefore, although we are not desirous of establishing the precedent that a person, having published a libel, may escape by tendering an apology, we consent, in this case, to discharge the rule upon the terms agreed upon.

Rule discharged.

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