Butler, Samuel


Butler, Samuel
I
born Dec. 4, 1835, Langar Rectory, Nottinghamshire, Eng.
died June 18, 1902, London

British novelist, essayist, and critic.

Descended from distinguished clergymen, he grappled for many years with Christianity and evolution, first embracing, then rejecting, Charles Darwin's theories in his writings. He is best known for The Way of All Flesh (1903), his autobiographical novel that tells, with ruthless wit and lack of sentiment, the story of his escape from the suffocating moral atmosphere of his home circle. In his lifetime his reputation rested on the utopian satire Erewhon (1872), which foreshadowed the end of the Victorian illusion of eternal progress.

Samuel Butler, detail of an oil painting by Charles Gogin, 1896; in the National Portrait Gallery, ...

By courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
II
born Feb. 8, 1612, Strensham, Worcestershire, Eng.
died Sept. 25, 1680, London

British poet and satirist.

He held several clerical positions, where he could observe cranks and scoundrels like those whose antics he targeted. He is famous for Hudibras (1663–78), a mock-heroic poem skewering the fanaticism, pretentiousness, pedantry, and hypocrisy he saw in militant Puritanism. It is the most memorable burlesque poem in English and the first English satire that successfully attacked ideas rather than personalities.

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▪ English author [1612-80]
baptized February 8, 1612, Strensham, Worcestershire, England
died September 25, 1680, London
 poet and satirist, famous as the author of Hudibras, the most memorable burlesque poem in the English language and the first English satire to make a notable and successful attack on ideas rather than on personalities. It is directed against the fanaticism, pretentiousness, pedantry, and hypocrisy that Butler saw in militant Puritanism, extremes which he attacked wherever he saw them.

      Butler, the son of a farmer, was educated at the King's school, Worcester. He afterward obtained employment in the household of the Countess of Kent, at Wrest, Bedfordshire, where he had access to a fine library. He then passed into the service of Sir Samuel Luke, a rigid Presbyterian, a colonel in the Parliamentary army, and scoutmaster general for Bedfordshire. In his service Butler undoubtedly had firsthand opportunity to study some of the fanatics who attached themselves to the Puritan army and whose antics were to form the subject of his famous poem. At the restoration of the monarchy he obtained a post as secretary to Richard Vaughan, Earl of Carbery, lord president of Wales, who made him steward of Ludlow castle, an office he held throughout 1661. About this time he is said to have married a woman with a “competent fortune” that was, however, squandered through “being put out on ill securities.”

      The first part of Hudibras was apparently on sale by the end of 1662, but the first edition, published anonymously, is dated 1663. Its immediate success resulted in a spurious second part appearing within the year; the authentic second part, licensed in 1663, was published in 1664. The two parts, plus “The Heroical Epistle of Hudibras to Sidrophel,” were reprinted together in 1674. In 1677 Charles II, who delighted in the poem, issued an injunction to protect Butler's rights against piratical printers and awarded him an annual pension. In 1678 a third (and last) part was published.

      The hero of Hudibras is a Presbyterian knight who goes “a-coloneling” with his squire, Ralpho, an Independent. They constantly squabble over religious questions and, in a series of grotesque adventures, are shown to be ignorant, wrongheaded, cowardly, and dishonest. Butler had derived his outline from Cervantes (Cervantes, Miguel de)'s Don Quixote, and his burlesque method (making everything “low” and undignified) from Paul Scarron. However, his brilliant handling of the octosyllabic metre, his witty, clattering rhymes, his delight in strange words and esoteric learning, and his enormous zest and vigour create effects that are entirely original. Its pictures of low life are perhaps the most notable things of their kind in English poetry between John Skelton and George Crabbe, with both of whom Butler has a certain affinity.

      According to John Aubrey, the antiquary, after the appearance of Hudibras King Charles and the lord chancellor, Clarendon, promised Butler considerable emoluments that never seem to have materialized. In the latter part of his life he was attached to the suite of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham; but there seems little doubt that Butler died a poor and disappointed man who, at the end of an apparently successful literary career, in the words of a contemporary, “found nothing left but poverty and praise.”

      Butler's other works include “The Elephant in the Moon” (1676), mocking the solemnities of the newly founded Royal Society; and “Repartees between Puss and Cat at a Caterwalling,” laughing at the absurdities of contemporary rhymed heroic tragedy. Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler, in two volumes (1759), was edited by Robert Thyer from Butler's papers and includes more than 100 brilliant prose “Characters” in the manner of Theophrastus, as well as a satiric analysis of the duke of Buckingham, “Duke of Bucks,” that bears comparison with the “Zimri” characterization in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel.

▪ English author [1835-1902]
Introduction
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 only made £69 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.

Basil Willey

Major Works

Topographical.
A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, 1863 (ed. by R.A. Streatfield, with other early essays, 1914); Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino, 1882; Ex Voto: An Account of the Sacro Monte or New Jerusalem at Varallo-Sesia, 1888.

Satirical and theological.
The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Given by the Four Evangelists, Critically Examined, 1865 (anon.); Erewhon; or, Over the Range, 1872 (anon.); The Fair Haven, 1873; Erewhon Revisited, 1901; God the Known and God the Unknown, 1909.

Scientific. Life and Habit: An Essay After a Completer View of Evolution
1878; Evolution, Old and New, 1879; Unconscious Memory, 1880; Luck or Cunning as the Main Means of Organic Modification?, 1887.

Novel.
The Way of All Flesh, 1903.

Miscellaneous.
A Lecture on the Humour of Homer, 1892; The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, 2 vol., 1896; The Authoress of the Odyssey, 1897; The Iliad of Homer, Rendered into English Prose, 1898; Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered, and in Part Rearranged, 1899; The Odyssey, Rendered into English Prose, 1900; Essays on Life, Art and Science, 1904; The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (ed. Henry Festing Jones), 1912.

Musical compositions. Gavottes, Minuets, Fugues and Other Short Pieces for the Piano,
1885 (in collaboration with Henry Festing Jones); Narcissus, 1888 (a comic cantata in the style of Handel); Ulysses: An Oratorio, 1904.

Additional Reading
The standard biography is Henry Festing Jones, Samuel Butler, Author of Erewhon (1835–1902): A Memoir, 2 vol. (1919, reprinted 1968). Other biographical studies are Malcolm Muggeridge, The Earnest Atheist: A Study of Samuel Butler (1936, reprinted 1971; also published as A Study of Samuel Butler, 1937), an attempt to debunk Butler's character and works; Philip Henderson, Samuel Butler, the Incarnate Bachelor (1953, reissued 1968), utilizing previously unpublished material; and Peter Raby, Samuel Butler (1991). Studies on different aspects of Butler as man and writer include P.N. Furbank, Samuel Butler, 1835–1902, 2nd ed. (1971); Elinor Shaffer, Erewhons of the Eye: Samuel Butler as Painter, Photographer, and Art Critic (1988), setting his interests in their context; and two brief introductions, Thomas L. Jeffers, Samuel Butler Revalued (1981); and Lee E. Holt, Samuel Butler, rev. ed. (1989). See also Hans-Peter Breuer and Roger Parsell (compilers and eds.), Samuel Butler: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him (1990).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Butler, Samuel —    1. (1612 1680)    Butler, the son of a farmer, was born at Strensham in Worcestershire and educated at the King s School, Worcester. He was secretary to the Countess of Kent and steward to Richard Vaughan, Earl of Carberry at Ludlow Castle.… …   British and Irish poets

  • Butler, Samuel — ► (1835 1902) Escritor británico del linaje de los Swift y los Sterne. Se dedicó a la pintura y atacó las costumbres y los prejuicios de la época victoriana. Escribió El camino de la carne (1903), en la que satiriza la educación tradicional. * *… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Butler,Samuel — I. Butler1, Samuel. 1612 1680. English poet remembered primarily for his three part work Hudibras (1663 1678), a venomous mock heroic satire on the Puritans.   II. Butler2, Samuel. 1835 1902. British writer best known for The Way of All Flesh… …   Universalium

  • Butler, Samuel — (1835–1902) English writer and critic. An unsystematic thinker who spent much time discussing and attacking Darwin s view of evolution, Butler is remembered philosophically mainly for Erewhon (1901), a satire of ethics in which the hero visits a… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Butler, Samuel — 1) (1612 1680)    Satirist, was the s. of a Worcestershire farmer. In early youth he was page to the Countess of Kent, and thereafter clerk to various Puritan justices, some of whom are believed to have suggested characters in Hudibras. After the …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • BUTLER, SAMUEL —    a master of burlesque, born at Strensham, in Worcestershire, the son of a small farmer; the author of Hudibras, a poem of about 10,000 octosyllabic lines, in which he subjects to ridicule the ideas and manners of the English Puritans of the… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Butler — Butler, Samuel …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Samuel butler (1835-1902) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Samuel Butler. Samuel Butler (1835 1902) Samuel Butler (1835 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Samuel butler (1774-1839) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Butler. Samuel Butler (1774 1839) était un homme d Église et érudit britannique. Il fut évêque de Lichfield en 1836, puis évêque de Coventry. Bibliophile, il réunit une importante bibliothèque, dont un nombre… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Samuel butler (1612-1680) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Samuel Butler. Samuel Butler Samuel Butler (né le 4 décembre …   Wikipédia en Français


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