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Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler

The English novelist and essayist Samuel Butler (1835-1902) was a critic of established religious, social, and scientific ideas.

Samuel Butler was born on Dec. 4, 1835, in Langar, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire, the son of the local vicar. In a time of common paternal absolutism, his childhood seems to have been bleak and graceless. After taking a degree at Cambridge, he came into open conflict with his father over the question of his future profession, and at last he emigrated to New Zealand to become a sheep farmer. But though free of his father, he was not free of revolt, and the spirit of resentful rebelliousness marked much of his later life. In New Zealand he read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and wrote a series of newspaper articles setting forth Darwin's ideas and ingeniously applying the evolutionary hypothesis to machines. Having made a modest fortune, he returned to England in 1864.

Erewhon (1872), Butler's first book, is a mixture of satire, utopian theories, and serious speculation masked as whimsy. Set in the frame of a trip to an unknown land (Erewhon is an anagram of "no-where"), it has no real plot but is rather a description and discussion of the customs and institutions of Erewhon. In this land moral failings are treated as mental illness and cured by a "straightener," but physical illness and misfortune are considered crimes and severely punished. Children sign certificates absolving their parents of responsibility for their birth, and education is carried on in the College of Unreason.

Butler's reflections on orthodox religion, begun in New Zealand, issued in The Fair Haven (1873), an ironic attempt to reconcile the New Testament with rationalistic criticism. In Life and Habit he returned to the question of evolution. In Evolution Old and New (1879), Unconscious Memory (1880), and Luck, or Cunning? (1887), he developed his ideas with an increasingly self-righteous resentment of what he conceived to be the Darwinians' deliberate concealment of the truth. Butler hoped to be able to restore will, intelligence, and design to a universe apparently made meaningless by the blind process of natural selection.

The novel The Way of All Flesh, Butler's most famous work, was written between 1872 and 1885. It is the supposed biography of Ernest Pontifex, narrated by an older friend with an unrelenting candor deliberately affronting conventional pieties. The account of a grimly repressive childhood is based on Butler's own youth. As a young man, Ernest swings from naive religious zeal to despairing disillusionment, is imprisoned for propositioning an innocent girl, and upon his release makes a disastrous marriage. Finally free, he turns to a career as writer and intellectual gadfly, exposing the evils and hypocrisies of the established institutions and values that had twisted his own life.

Erewhon Revisited (1901) returns to the problem of religion and examines the relationship between rational truth and religious faith.

Further Reading

The primary biographical source is Henry Festing Jones, Samuel Butler: A Memoir (2 vols., 1919). A shorter, more critical biography is Clara G. Stillman, Samuel Butler: A Mid-Victorian Modern (1932). Two good studies of Butler's ideas are P. N. Furbank, Samuel Butler (1948), and Basil Willey, Darwin and Butler: Two Versions of Evolution (1960).

Additional Sources

Butler, Samuel, Butleriana, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1976.

Jones, Henry Festing, Samuel Butler: a sketch, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1977.

Raby, Peter, Samuel Butler: a biography, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. □

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Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler

The English poet Samuel Butler (ca. 1613-1680) is best known as the author of "Hudibras," a long comic poem that satirizes the Puritans.

The exact date of Samuel Butler's birth is unknown. He was baptized Feb. 14, 1613, in Strensham, Worcestershire. The son of a yeoman farmer, he attended the King's School in Worcester. Shortly after leaving school, about 1628, he entered the service of Elizabeth, Countess of Kent, at her home at Wrest, Bedfordshire. At Wrest he enjoyed the use of the countess's magnificent library and met some of the most learned men of his time.

During the period of the Commonwealth, Butler served as clerk to a number of country magistrates, several of whom were dedicated Puritans. While in the households of these men, he seems to have suppressed his own religious and political convictions and to have busied himself with the writing of Hudibras. It seems probable that Butler modeled his character of the ridiculous Sir Hudibras on the characters of at least two of his Puritan employers.

It was not until after the death of Cromwell that Butler published his first essay, Mola asinaria (1659), pleading for the restoration of the Stuarts. In 1662 Butler began publishing Hudibras in installments. The first part, written in rhyming octosyllabic couplets, appeared late in 1662, the second in 1663, and the third in 1677. It was an immediate success, particularly with the King and his court. Many of the surviving copies of the first edition are inscribed as gifts of Charles II to members of the court, and the number of pirated versions and spurious sequels of the poem testify to its popularity with the general public.

Although Hudibras brought Butler fame, he seems to have lived in relative obscurity after 1663. Little is known of his character and occupation during the years in which he produced the bulk of his writings. Of moderate height and strong build, he is said to have been "a good fellow" possessing "severe and sound judgment." Records show that he was employed as secretary to secretary to George Villiers, 2d Duke of Buckingham, for some time in the early 1670s. It is believed that he remained in London after 1677, occupying a room in Rose Alley, Covent Garden. He died Sept. 25, 1680.

Butler's contemporaries seem to have held Charles II responsible for the poverty in which the poet spent his last years. But in 1677 Charles granted Butler an annual pension of £100. He was buried at the expense of William Longueville, who later collected his unpublished manuscripts. These were kept intact by Longueville's heirs and published in 1759. The volumes contained much occasional poetry, a satire on the Royal Society entitled "The Elephant on the Moon," and a series of prose character sketches.

Further Reading

The most interesting discussion of Butler and his work is by John Wilders in his edition of Hudibras (1967). An earlier biographical account is Jan Veldkamp, Samuel Butler: The Author of Hudibras (1923). Critical discussions of Hudibras and its place in English literary tradition include Edward Ames Richards, Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition (1937), and Ian Jack, Augustan Satire: Intention and Idiom in English Poetry, 1660-1750 (1952).

Additional Sources

Veldkamp, Jan, Samuel Butler, the author of Hudibras, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1978. □

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Butler, Samuel (1835–1902, English author)

Samuel Butler, 1835–1902, English author. He was the son and grandson of eminent clergymen. In 1859, refusing to be ordained, he went to New Zealand, where he established a sheep farm and in a few years made a modest fortune. He returned to England in 1864 and devoted himself to a variety of interests, including art, music, biology, and literature. Besides exhibiting some of his paintings (1868–76) at the Royal Academy, he composed several works in collaboration with Henry Festings Jones, among them the Handelian Narcissus: A Dramatic Cantata (1888). His Erewhon, in which he satirized English social and economic injustices by describing a country in which manners and laws were the reverse of those in England, appeared in 1872. It brought Butler immediate literary fame. Erewhon Revisited was published in 1901. Butler opposed Darwin's explanation of evolution, finding it too mechanistic, and he expounded his own theories in Evolution Old and New (1879), Unconscious Memory (1880), and Luck or Cunning as the Main Means of Organic Modification? (1887). In his single novel, the autobiographical The Way of All Flesh (1903), he attacked the Victorian pattern of life, in particular the ecclesiastical environment in which he was reared. Brilliantly ironic and witty, The Way of All Flesh is ranked among the great English novels. Butler's notebooks were published in 1912.

See selections from the notebooks ed. by G. Keynes and B. Hill (1951). See also A. Sliver, ed., The Family Letters of Samuel Butler, 1841–1886 (1962); biographies by H. F. Jones (1921, repr. 1973), L. E. Holt (1964), and P. Henderson (1953, repr. 1967); study by W. G. Becker (1925, repr. 1964).

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Butler, Samuel

Butler, Samuel (1835–1902). Butler's grandfather was a bishop and his father a canon of Lincoln and he would have followed them into the church had he not developed religious doubts after graduating with a first from St John's College, Cambridge. He then spent five years sheep-farming in New Zealand, partly to escape from his father. Butler had many talents, was a very competent painter and photographer, and wrote music. As a man of letters, he turned to many forms, including scientific exposition, poetry, theological disputation, Greek translation, art, and travel. His first success was a satirical novel Erewhon (‘Nowhere’), published in 1872, and depicting a country in which illness was a crime and the use of machinery forbidden. His posthumous novel The Way of all Flesh (1903) was written over many years and is partly autobiographical. It contained thinly disguised and brutal portraits of his father and grandfather—‘could any decrepitude be so awful as childhood in a happy, united god-fearing family?’. That Butler was ‘in an odd way dependent on the disapproval of his father’ is a perceptive comment.

J. A. Cannon

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"Butler, Samuel." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Butler, Samuel

Butler, Samuel (1612–80). Poet and satirist. Few records of Butler's life survive, but after education at Worcester he served as clerk or secretary to a succession of noble families, gaining easy access to libraries. His commonplace books, however, say much about his ideas and opinions: in many respects a Baconian, with a practical and realistic outlook though temperamentally gloomy unless stimulated by claret, he was deeply conscious of the self-deception, hypocrisy, and folly of mankind. His scepticism found outlet in satire, where even the newly founded Royal Society was mocked. Publication of the burlesque Hudibras (1662) brought a brief period of fame before he relapsed into comparative obscurity again. Although the legend of his poverty and neglect was probably exaggerated, it was not until 1677 that a royal pension was forthcoming, and he died poor and disappointed.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Butler, Samuel (1612–80, English poet and satirist)

Samuel Butler, 1612–80, English poet and satirist. During the Puritan Revolution he served Sir Samuel Luke, a noted officer of Cromwell. After the restoration of Charles II, he wrote his famous mock-heroic poem Hudibras (pub. in 3 parts, 1663, 1664, 1678), an envenomed satire against the Puritans in which Luke was the model for the butt Sir Hudibras. He was also the author of other verse satires, some of them not published until the 20th cent.

See J. Wilders' edition of Hudibras (1967); biography by T. Penelhum (1985); studies by H. DeQuehen, ed. (1979) and T. L. Jeffers (1981).

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"Butler, Samuel (1612–80, English poet and satirist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/butler-samuel-1612-80-english-poet-and-satirist

Butler, Samuel

Butler, Samuel (1835–1902) British satirical writer. His famous novel Erewhon (1872) is a classic utopian criticism of contemporary social and economic injustice. He produced a sequel to his early masterpiece, Erewhon Revisited (1901), and the autobiographical The Way of All Flesh (1903), a biting attack on Victorian life and the values of his own upbringing.

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/butler.html

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