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Samuel Butler Biography

(1835–1902), A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, Erewhon, The Fair Haven, Life and Habit

British novelist, satirist, and speculative writer, born at Langar, Nottinghamshire, educated at St John's College, Cambridge. Renouncing the ecclesiastical traditions of his family, he went to New Zealand in 1859. His letters to his parents, which provide a vivid record of life on a sheep-station, were published by his father in 1863 as A First Year in Canterbury Settlement. His articles for the New Zealand press included ‘Darwin among the Machines’, out of which Erewhon (1872) later developed. Having returned to Britain in 1864, he settled in London and devoted himself to painting; however, discouraged by lack of success, he renewed his activity as a writer. The Fair Haven (1873), a drily ironic review of rationalist objections to the miraculous elements in Christianity, was announced as the work of ‘the late John Pickard Owen’. Life and Habit (1878), Luck or Cunning? (1886), and other works sustain his critique of Darwin's theory of natural selection, which, he argued, failed to account for the functions of memory and volition in the processes of evolution. Among his other publications are The Authoress of The Odyssey (1897), purporting to prove that a young woman wrote the work, and Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered (1899), which claims that the poems relate to a liaison with a young man of low character. Frequent travels in northern Italy gave rise to his writings on topography and art in Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino (1881) and Ex Voto (1888). Erewhon Revisited was published in 1901 with the assistance of George Bernard Shaw, on whom Butler's ideas made a deep impression. His hostility towards Victorian religious, social, and familial conventions found its strongest expression in The Way of All Flesh (1903). His close friend Henry Festing Jones arranged the publication of Seven Sonnets and a Psalm of Montreal (1904) and, with A. T. Bartholomew, edited the twenty volumes of Butler's Works (19236). Butler may be accounted the principal progenitor of the widespread reaction against Victorian values among British authors in the first decades of the twentieth century. The first volume of Hans Peter Breur's complete edition of the Note-Books, which reveal the extraordinary scope of his interests, appeared in 1984. Peter Raby's Samuel Butler appeared in 1991.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography