The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIV. George Meredith, Samuel Butler, George Gissing

§ 7. Butler

Samuel Butler was born on 4 December, 1835, at Langar rectory, Nottingham; he was the son of Thomas Butler and grandson of Samuel Butler, headmaster of Shrewsbury school and bishop of Lichfield. Samuel Butler was bracketed twelfth in the first class of the classical tripos at Cambridge in 1858. In the following year, abandoning his intention of taking orders, he went to New Zealand and successfully managed a sheep-run. Some of his leisure was spent in writing for The Press, Christ-church, New Zealand, the articles Darwin on the Origin of Species (1862) and Darwin among the Machines (1863) which were afterwards expanded into Erewhon and Life and Habit. A volume published in 1863, A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, is composed of his letters from the colony. Returning to England in 1864, he settled for the remainder of his life in Clifford’s inn. He studied painting and exhibited at the Royal Academy between the years 1868 and 1876. Erewhon was published in 1872; The Fair Haven (1873) provides an ironical setting for the matter of his pamphlet The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, written in 1865. Meantime, he had begun, about 1872, The Way of all Flesh; it was laid aside in 1885, and not published till 1903. A Psalm of Montreal was written in Canada in 1875. His books of scientific controversy include Life and Habit (1877), Evolution Old and New and God the Known and God the Unknown in 1879, Unconscious Memory (1880), Luck or Cunning (1887), and the essays The Deadlock in Darwinism (1890). His Italian journeys led to the publication, in 1881, of Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino. His close interest in the art of the Sacro Monte at Varallo-Sesia, especially in that of the artist Tabachetti, is reflected in Ex Voto (1888). A number of essays appeared in The Universal Review, between the years 1888 and 1890; in 1896 was published The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler. Butler’s admiration for Handel’s music, an admiration dating from his boyhood and constantly increasing, led to his attempt to compose in the Handelian manner, collaborating with Henry Festing Jones. One of the subjects chosen as libretto for an oratorio was Ulysses, and, hence, arose an independent study of the Homeric poems, from which resulted Butler’s theories of the feminine authorship and Trapanese origin of the Odyssey. The substance of many pamphlets and lectures on the subject is contained in The Authoress of the Odyssey, published in 1897. He also made prose translations, in a vigorous homely idiom which he called Tottenham Court road English, of the Iliad (in 1898) and of the Odyssey (in 1900). In 1899 appeared Shakespeare’s Sonnets, reconsidered and in part re-arranged, in which he combated the view that the poems were academic exercises, and contended that Mr. W. H. was a plebeian of low character. These literary controversies illustrate Butler’s antipathy to professional critics, and his view that the function of criticism is to disengage the personality of an artist from his medium of expression. Erewhon Revisited was published in 1901. Butler died on 18 June, 1902. A selection from his manuscript note-books appeared in 1912, under the title The Note-Books of Samuel Butler.