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Samuel Butler (1835–1902), English writer, artist and satirist wrote The Way of All Flesh (1903) and earned the praise of George Bernard Shaw who deemed him "the greatest English writer of the latter half of the nineteenth century"
Samuel Butler was born on 4 December 1835 at the rectory at Langar, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire, England. His mother Fanny Worsley (1808–1873), and his father, Thomas Butler (1806–1886), was rector of Langar and canon of Lincoln. Samuel was the eldest and had three siblings, Thomas, Henrietta and May. Butler would soon reject his strict and sometimes harsh Anglican upbringing, when the texts of Charles Darwin were causing so much controversy and caused the two to quarrel.
Young Samuel attended his grandfather's school, Shrewsbury, then went on to the family's college, St John's in Cambridge in 1854. He had shown a great aptitude of painting and planned to become an artist against his father's wishes. A compromise was made and Butler set off for New Zealand in 1859 in hopes of making his fortune in the colonies. He claimed land which he called "Mesopotamia" at the head of the Rangitata river to become a sheep farmer on Canterbury Island, writing home often with descriptions of the various differences in cultures, the letters being published later as A First Year in Canterbury Settlement (1863). He also published articles and essays in the local newspapers. He explored the areas around the four major Canterbury rivers and is considered by many to be one of the eminent explorers of New Zealand.
In 1864 Butler, now his own man, was back in London living on Fleet Street after a successful five years of farming of which his father could be proud. But his dream to become an artist was not forgotten and he enrolled in Heatherley's School of Art and then the Royal Academy School where he exhibited between 1869 and 1876. Influenced by Italian primitivism, he painted many landscapes, but is more known for his portraits, Family Prayers (1864) one such work of note that he produced during this time, as well as the portrait of one of his instructors, Mr Heatherley's Holiday (1873), which now hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. Butler met one of his few female friends, Eliza Savage while at school and they maintained correspondence for a time, sharing invective and wit, and Butler seeking her opinion and critique of his writings. Another friend, Johnston Forbes-Robertson would become the eminent Shakespearean actor. Friend Charles Gogin would capture his intense gaze when he painted the bearded portrait of Butler in 1896 that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
His satirical Erewhon, or, Over the Range (1872), `Erewhon' being an anagram of `nowhere', was published anonymously in 1870. With sick or sad people sent to jail, thievery rewarded, and no machines allowed in this contradictory fictitious country, Butler makes his unconventional comments about bourgeois society and institutions of the time. Erewhon Revisited was published in 1901. He examines the implications of Darwinism in Life and Habit (1877). He also ventured into translations and writing of art history and his travel book, Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino was published in 1881. In 1896 he wrote Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, in admiration and memory of his grandfather. His intellectual departure from the patriarchal pillars of Victorian hypocrisy is satirised in his autobiographical The Way of All Flesh.
Samuel Butler died of consumption in London on 18 June 18 1902. He is buried at St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden, London, England.
The Way of All Flesh was published posthumously.
"All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income." from Notebooks (1912).
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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