Samuel Butler, 1835-1901

Biographical note

Author, educated at Shrewsbury and Cambridge, wrote two satirical books, Erewhon (nowhere) [1872], and Erewhon Revisited [1901]. He translated the Iliad and Odyssey in prose, and mooted the theory that the latter was written by a woman. Other works were The Fair Haven, Life and Habit, The Way of all Flesh (a novel) [1903], etc., and some sonnets. He also wrote on the Sonnets of Shakespeare.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

Samuel Butler was an iconoclastic Victorian author who published a variety of works, including the Utopian satire Erewhon and the posthumous novel The Way of All Flesh, his two best-known works, but also extending to examinations of Christian orthodoxy, substantive studies of evolutionary thought, studies of Italian art, and works of literary history and criticism. Butler also made prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey which remain in use to this day.

His influence on literature came through The Way of All Flesh, which Butler completed in the 1880s but left unpublished in order to protect his family. And yet the novel, “begun in 1870 and not touched after 1885, was so modern when it was published in 1903, that it may be said to have started a new school,” particularly in the use of psychoanalytical modes of thought in fiction.

Whether in his satire and fiction, his studies on the evidences of Christianity, his works on evolutionary thought or in his miscellaneous other writings, however, a consistent theme runs through Butler's work, stemming largely from his personal struggle with the stifling of his own nature by his parents, which led him on to seek more general principles of growth, development and purpose: “What concerned him was to establish his nature, his aspirations and their fulfillment upon a philosophic basis, to identify them with the nature, the aspirations, the fulfillment of all humanity — and more than that — with the fulfillment of the universe . . . His struggle became generalized, symbolic, tremendous.” The form that this search took was principally philosophic and — given the interests of the day — biological: “Satirist, novelist, artist and critic that he was, he was primarily a philosopher,” and in particular a philosopher who sought the biological foundations for his work: “His biology was a bridge to a philosophy of life which sought a scientific basis for religion and endowed a naturalistically conceived universe with a soul.” Indeed, “philosophical writer” was ultimately the self-description Butler himself chose as most fitting to his work.

[From Wikipedia]

See also . . .




  • A First Year in Canterbury Settlement. [1863]
  • The Fair Haven. A work in defence of the miraculous element in Our Lord’s Ministry on earth. By the late John Pickard Owen. Edited by W. B. Owen, with a Memoir by the Author. [Entirely written by Butler] [1873]
  • Life and Habit. [1877]
  • Evolution, old and new; or, the theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, as compared with that of Charles Darwin. [1879. 2nd edn., with an appendix and index. 1882. New edn. (third), with author’s revisions, appendix and index 1911]
  • Unconscious Memory: a comparison between the theory of Dr. Ewald Hering … and the Philosophy of the Unconscious of Dr. Edward von Hartmann; with translations from these authors, and preliminary chapters bearing on Life and Habit, Evolution, old and new, and Charles Darwin’s edn. of Dr. Krause’s Erasmus Darwin. [1880]
  • Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton of Ticino. [1881]
  • Luck or Cunning, as the main means of Organic Modification? An attempt to throw additional light upon the late Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. [1886].
  • Ex Voto: an account of the Sacro Monte or New Jerusalem at Varallo-Sesia. With some notice of Tabachetti’s remaining at the Sanctuary of Crea. [1888]
  • The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, 1798–1836 … in so far as they illustrate the scholastic, religious, and social life of England, 1790–1840. [1896]
  • The Authoress of the Odyssey, where and when she wrote, who she was, the use she made of the Iliad, and how the poem grew under her hands [1897]
  • The Iliad of Homer, rendered into English prose. [1898]
  • The Odyssey, rendered into English prose [1900]
  • Essays on Life, Art and Science. [1904]
    Contents: Introduction Quis Desiderio? — Ramblings in Cheapside — The Aunt, The Nieces, and the Dog — How to make the best of life — The Sanctuary of Montrigone — A Medieval Girl School — Art in the Valley of Saas — Thought and Language — The Deadlock in Darwinism
  • The Notebooks of Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon. Selections arranged and ed. by Henry Festing Jones [1912]
  • Canterbury Pieces
    Contents: Darwin on the Origin of Species — A Dialogue — Barrel-Organs — Letter: 21 Feb 1863 — Letter: 14 Mar 1863 — Letter: 18 Mar 1863 — Letter: 11 Apr 1863 — Letter: 22 June 1863 — Darwin Among the Machines — A note on "The Tempest" — The English Cricketers
  • Cambridge Pieces
    Contents: On English Composition and Other Matters — Our Tour — Translation from an Unpublished Work of Herodotus — The shield of Achilles, with variations — Prospectus of the Great Split — Society — Powers — A skit on examinations — An Eminent Person — Napoleon at St. Helena — The Two Deans — The Battle of Alma Mater — On the Italian Priesthood — Samuel Butler and the Simeonites.
  • God the Known and God the Unknown
© 2014 The University of Adelaide
CRICOS Provider Number 00123M