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Samuel Butler

Butler, Samuel, 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature, 19th cent.: Biographies


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