Samuel Butler (December 04, 1835 - June 18, 1902)
Born: 4th December, 1835
Died: 18th June, 1902
Nationality: British
Profession/Occupation: Poet
Region: England, London
Notable works: "Erewhon", "The Way of All Flesh", "The Fair Haven"

Samuel Butler Facts

Biography

Samuel Butler, (born Dec. 4, 1835, Langar Rectory, Nottinghamshire, Eng.--died June 18, 1902, London), English novelist, essayist, and critic whose satire Erewhon (1872) foreshadowed the collapse of the Victorian illusion of eternal progress. The Way of All Flesh (1903), his autobiographical novel, is generally considered his masterpiece.

Butler was the son of the Reverend Thomas Butler and grandson of Samuel Butler, headmaster of Shrewsbury School and later bishop of Lichfield. After six years at Shrewsbury, the young Samuel went to St. John's College, Cambridge, and was graduated in 1858. His father wished him to be a clergyman, and young Butler actually went as far as to do a little "slumming" in a London parish by way of preparation for holy orders. But the whole current of his highly independent and heretical nature was carrying him away from everything his father stood for: home, church, and Christianity itself--or what Christianity had appeared to mean at Langar Rectory. Butler returned to Cambridge and continued his musical studies and drawing, but after an unpleasant altercation with his father he left Cambridge, the church, and home and emigrated to New Zealand, where (with funds advanced by his father) he set up a sheep run in the Canterbury settlement.

When Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) came into his hands soon after his arrival in New Zealand, it took him by storm; he became "one of Mr. Darwin's many enthusiastic admirers," and a year or two later he told a friend that he had renounced Christianity altogether. Yet, as it proved, Christianity had by no means finished with him. For the next 25 years it was upon religion and evolution that Butler's attention was mainly fixed. At first he welcomed Darwinism because it enabled him to do without God (or rather, without his father's God). Later, having found a God of his own, he rejected Darwinism itself because it left God out. Thus, he antagonized both the church and the orthodox Darwinians and spent his life as a lonely outsider, or as Butler called himself after the biblical outcast, "an Ishmael." To the New Zealand Press he contributed several articles on Darwinian topics, of which two--"Darwin Among the Machines" (1863) and "Lucubratio Ebria" (1865)--were later worked up in Erewhon. Both show him already grappling with the central problem of his later thought: the relationship between mechanism and life. In the former he tries out the consequences of regarding machines as living organisms competing with man in the struggle for existence. In the "Lucubratio" he takes the opposite view that machines are extracorporeal limbs and that the more of these a man can tack on to himself the more highly evolved an organism he will be.

Having doubled his capital in New Zealand, Butler returned to England (1864) and took the apartment in Clifford's Inn, London, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. In 1865 his Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . Critically Examined appeared anonymously. For a few years he studied painting at Heatherley's art school and tried to convince himself that this was his vocation. Until 1876 he exhibited occasionally at the Royal Academy. One of his oil paintings, "Mr. Heatherley's Holiday" (1874), is in the Tate Gallery, London, and his "Family Prayers," in which the ethos of Langar Rectory is satirically conveyed, is at St. John's College, Cambridge. Later he tried his hand at musical composition, publishing Gavottes, Minuets, Fugues and Other Short Pieces for the Piano (1885), and Narcissus, a comic cantata in the style of Handel--whom he rated high above all other composers--in 1888; Ulysses: An Oratorio appeared in 1904. It was typical of Butler to use his native gifts and mother wit in such exploits, and even in literature, his rightful territory, much of his work is that of the shrewd amateur who sets out to sling pebbles at the Goliaths of the establishment. "I have never," he said, "written on any subject unless I believed that the authorities on it were hopelessly wrong"; hence his assault on the citadels of orthodox Darwinism and orthodox Christianity; hence, later, his attempt to prove that the Odyssey was written in Sicily by a woman (The Authoress of the Odyssey, 1897); and hence his new interpretation of Shakespeare's sonnets (Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered, and in Part Rearranged, 1899).

Erewhon (1872) made whatever reputation as a writer Butler enjoyed in his lifetime; it was the only one of his many books on which he made any profit worth mentioning, and he made only GBP69 3s. 10d. on that. Yet Erewhon ("nowhere" rearranged) was received by many as the best thing of its kind since Gulliver's Travels--that is to say, as a satire on contemporary life and thought conveyed by the time-honoured convention of travel in an imaginary country. The opening chapters, based upon Butler's recollections of the upper Rangitoto Mountains in New Zealand, are in an excellent narrative style; and a description of the hollow statues at the top of the pass, vibrating in the wind with unearthly chords, makes a highly effective transition to the strange land beyond. The landscape and people of Erewhon are idealized from northern Italy; its institutions are partly utopian and partly satiric inversions of our own world. Butler's two main themes, religion and evolution, appear respectively in "The Musical Banks" (churches) and in chapters called "Some Erewhonian Trials" and "The Book of the Machines." The Erewhonians have long ago abolished machines as dangerous competitors in the struggle for existence, and by punishing disease as a crime they have produced a race of great physical beauty and strength.

The Fair Haven (1873) is an ironical defense of Christianity, which under the guise of orthodox zeal undermines its miraculous foundations. Butler was dogged all through life by the sense of having been bamboozled by those who should have been his betters; he had been taken in by his parents and their religion; he was taken in again by friends, who returned neither the money nor the friendship they accepted from Butler for years; life itself, and the world, sometimes seemed to him a hollow sham. Was Darwin himself, his saviour from the world of Langar Rectory, now to prove a fraud as well? This was the suspicion that dawned upon him while writing Life and Habit (1878) and envenomed the series of evolutionary books that followed: Evolution, Old and New (1879), Unconscious Memory (1880), and Luck or Cunning (1887). Darwin had not really explained evolution at all, Butler reasoned, because he had not accounted for the variations on which natural selection worked. Where Darwin saw only chance, Butler saw the effort on the part of creatures to respond to felt needs. He conceived creatures as acquiring necessary habits (and organs to perform them) and transmitting these to their offspring as unconscious memories. He thus restored teleology to a world from which purpose had been excluded by Darwin, but instead of attributing the purpose to God he placed it within the creatures themselves as the life force.

Many regard The Way of All Flesh, published in 1903, the year after Butler's death, as his masterpiece. It certainly contains much of the quintessence of Butlerism. This largely autobiographical novel tells, with ruthless wit, realism, and lack of sentiment, the story of Butler's escape from the suffocating moral atmosphere of his home circle. In it, the character Ernest Pontifex stands for Butler's early self and Overton for his mature self; Theobald and Christina are his parents; Towneley and Alethea represent "nice" people who "love God" in Butler's special sense of having "good health, good looks, good sense, experience, and a fair balance of cash in hand." The book was influential at the beginning of the anti-Victorian reaction and helped turn the tide against excessive parental dominance and religious rigidity.

Top 164 Samuel Butler quotes

Oaths are but words, and words are but wind.
Wind
Words
To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.
Dead
Die
Everyone
Going
He
Himself
Immortal
Know
May
Never
The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.
Dog
Fool
Great
Great pleasure
He
Him
Himself
Make
May
Only
Pleasure
Scold
Too
Will
Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
Goes
Instrument
Learning
Life
Like
Playing
Public
Solo
Violin
Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself.
Fear
Hearing
Me
Myself
Prevents
Static
God cannot alter the past, though historians can.
Alter
Cannot
God
Historians
Past
Though
Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.
Appearance
Be grateful
Grateful
Let us
Mirror
Only
Our
Revealing
Us
The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.
Ancient
Been
Had
Old
Sailor
Taken
Well
Would
A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.
Another
Egg
Hen
Making
Only
Way
I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.
Hate
Lying
Mind
Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
Animal
Eat
Eats
Friendly
He
Man
Only
Remain
Terms
Them
Until
Victims
When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence.
About
Ask
Doubt
Guide
He
Hence
Him
Himself
His
How
Hundred
Hundred years
Man
Often
The man who lets himself be bored is even more contemptible than the bore.
Bore
Bored
Contemptible
Even
Himself
Lets
Man
More
Than
Who
Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.
Analogy
Least
Misleading
Often
Thing
Though
To give pain is the tyranny; to make happy, the true empire of beauty.
Beauty
Empire
Give
Happy
Make
Pain
True
Tyranny
Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.
Any
Fool
How
Know
Lie
Man
Requires
Sense
Some
Tell
Truth
Well
All truth is not to be told at all times.
Times
Truth
Truth is
Human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning.
Dew
Flash
Human
Human life
Life
Lightning
Morning
Neither irony or sarcasm is argument.
Argument
Irony
Neither
Sarcasm
Nobody shoots at Santa Claus.
Nobody
Santa
Santa claus
Shoots
The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them.
Books
Just
Oldest
Only
Out
Read
Them
Those
Who
Friendship is like money, easier made than kept.
Easier
Friendship
Kept
Like
Made
Money
Than
All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.
Animals
Business
Enjoy
Except
Know
Life
Man
Principal
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
Art
Conclusions
Drawing
Insufficient
Life
Sufficient
Self-preservation is the first law of nature.
First
First law
Law
Nature
The Bible may be the truth, but it is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Bible
May
Nothing
Truth
Whole
An apology for the devil: it must be remembered that we have heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.
Apology
Books
Case
Devil
God
Heard
Must
Remembered
Side
Written
When you've told someone that you've left them a legacy the only decent thing to do is to die at once.
Decent
Die
Left
Legacy
Once
Only
Someone
Them
Thing
You
Most people have never learned that one of the main aims in life is to enjoy it.
Aims
Enjoy
Learned
Life
Main
Most
Never
People
All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.
Based
Beyond
Desire
Every
Income
Innate
Live
Organism
Part
Progress
Universal
If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death.
Death
Life
Must
Neither
Seriously
Taken
Then
Too
Life is not an exact science, it is an art.
Art
Exact
Life
Science
Look before you leap for as you sow, ye are like to reap.
Before
Leap
Like
Look
Reap
Sow
You
Marriage is distinctly and repeatedly excluded from heaven. Is this because it is thought likely to mar the general felicity?
Because
Excluded
Felicity
General
Heaven
Likely
Mar
Marriage
Repeatedly
Thought
Some men love truth so much that they seem to be in continual fear lest she should catch a cold on overexposure.
Catch
Cold
Fear
Lest
Love
Men
Much
Seem
She
Should
Some
Some men
Truth
God was satisfied with his own work, and that is fatal.
Fatal
God
His
Own
Satisfied
Work
Don't learn to do, but learn in doing. Let your falls not be on a prepared ground, but let them be bona fide falls in the rough and tumble of the world.
Bona
Bona fide
Doing
Falls
Ground
Learn
Prepared
Rough
Them
World
Your
We all like to forgive, and love best not those who offend us least, nor who have done most for us, but those who make it most easy for us to forgive them.
Best
Done
Easy
Forgive
Least
Like
Love
Make
Most
Nor
Offend
Them
Those
Us
Logic is like the sword - those who appeal to it, shall perish by it.
Appeal
Like
Logic
Perish
Shall
Sword
Those
Who
Half the vices which the world condemns most loudly have seeds of good in them and require moderate use rather than total abstinence.
Abstinence
Condemns
Good
Half
Loudly
Moderate
Most
Rather
Require
Seeds
Than
Them
Total
Use
No mistake is more common and more fatuous than appealing to logic in cases which are beyond her jurisdiction.
Appealing
Beyond
Cases
Common
Her
Logic
Mistake
More
Than
Which
The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously.
Conviction
Man
Nothing
Serious
Seriously
Should
Taken
Too
A skilful leech is better far, than half a hundred men of war.
Better
Far
Half
Hundred
Men
Than
War
Evil is like water, it abounds, is cheap, soon fouls, but runs itself clear of taint.
Abound
Cheap
Clear
Evil
Itself
Like
Runs
Soon
Water
People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.
Always
Company
Doing
Enjoy
Good
Good company
People
Really
People in general are equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted, and at seeing it practiced.
Christian
Christian religion
Doubted
Equally
General
Hearing
Horrified
People
Practiced
Religion
Seeing
The voice of the Lord is the voice of common sense, which is shared by all that is.
Common
Lord
Sense
Shared
Voice
Which
A man should be just cultured enough to be able to look with suspicion upon culture at first, not second hand.
Able
Culture
Enough
First
Hand
Just
Look
Man
Second
Second-hand
Should
Suspicion
The healthy stomach is nothing if it is not conservative. Few radicals have good digestions.
Conservative
Few
Good
Healthy
Nothing
Radicals
Stomach
There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.
Else
Enough
Fools
Knave
Live
More
Than
World
Would

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