1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Butler, Samuel (author)

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BUTLER, SAMUEL (1835-1902), English author, son of the Rev. Thomas Butler, and grandson of the foregoing, was born at Langar, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire, on the 4th of December 1835. He was educated at Shrewsbury school, and at St John's College, Cambridge. He took a high place in the classical tripos of 1858, and was intended for the Church. His opinions, however, prevented his carrying out this intention, and he sailed to New Zealand in the autumn of 1859. He owned a sheep run in the Upper Rangitata district of the province of Canterbury, and in less than five years was able to return home with a moderate competence, most of which was afterwards lost in unlucky investments. The Rangitata district supplied the setting for his romance of Erewhon, or Over the Range (1872), satirizing the Darwinian theory and conventional religion. Erewhon had a sequel thirty years later (1901) in Erewhon Revisited, in which the narrator of the earlier romance, who had escaped from Erewhon in a balloon, finds himself, on revisiting the country after a considerable interval, the object of a topsy-turvy cult, to which he gave the name of "Sunchildism." In 1873 he had published a book of similar tendency, The Fair Haven, which purported to be a "work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord's ministry upon earth" by a fictitious J.P. Owen, of whom he wrote a memoir. Butler was a man of great versatility, who pursued his investigations in classical scholarship, in Shakespearian criticism, biology and art with equal independence and originality. On his return from New Zealand he had established himself at Clifford's Inn, and studied painting, exhibiting regularly in the Academy between 1868 and 1876. But with the publication of Life and Habit (1877) he began to recognize literature as his life work. The book was followed by three others, attacking Darwinism—Evolution Old and New, or the Theories of Buffon, Dr Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck as compared with that of Mr C. Darwin (1879); Unconscious Memory (1880), a comparison between the theory of Dr E. Hering and the Philosophy of the Unconscious of Dr E. von Hartmann; and Luck or Cunning (1886). He had a thorough knowledge of northern Italy and its art. In Ex Voto (1888) he introduced many English readers to the art of Tabachetti and Gaudenzio Ferrari at Varallo. He learnt nearly the whole of the Iliad and the Odyssey by heart, and translated both poems (1898 and 1900) into colloquial English prose. In his Authoress of the Odyssey (1897) he propounded two theories: that the poem was the work of a woman, who drew her own portrait in Nausicaa; and that it was written at Trapani, in Sicily, a proposition which he supported by elaborate investigations on the spot. In another book on the Shakespeare Sonnets (1899) he aimed at destroying the explanations of the orthodox commentators.

Butler was also a musician, or, as he called himself, a Handelian, and in imitation of the style of Handel he wrote in collaboration with H. Festing Jones a secular oratorio, Narcissus (1888), and had completed his share of another, Ulysses, at the time of his death on the 18th of June 1902. His other works include: Life and Letters (1896) of Dr Samuel Butler, his grandfather, headmaster of Shrewsbury school and afterwards bishop of Lichfield; Alps and Sanctuaries (1881); and two posthumous works edited by R.A. Streatfeild, The Way of All Flesh (1903), a novel; and Essays on Life, Art and Science (1904).

See Samuel Butler, Records and Memorials (1903), by R.A. Streatfeild, a collection printed for private circulation, the most important article included being one by H. Festing Jones originally published in The Eagle (Cambridge, December 1902).