British author , (1835 - 1902)
Samuel Butler was born on Dec. 4, 1835, in Langar, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire, the son of the local vicar. In a time of common paternal absolutism, his childhood seems to have been bleak and graceless. After taking a degree at Cambridge, he came into open conflict with his father over the question of his future profession, and at last he emigrated to New Zealand to become a sheep farmer. But though free of his father, he was not free of revolt, and the spirit of resentful rebelliousness marked much of his later life. In New Zealand he read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and wrote a series of newspaper articles setting forth Darwin's ideas and ingeniously applying the evolutionary hypothesis to machines. Having made a modest fortune, he returned to England in 1864. Erewhon (1872), Butler's first book, is a mixture of satire, utopian theories, and serious speculation masked as whimsy. Set in the frame of a trip to an unknown land (Erewhon is an anagram of "no-where"), it has no real plot but is rather a description and discussion of the customs and institutions of Erewhon. In this land moral failings are treated as mental illness and cured by a "straightener," but physical illness and misfortune are considered crimes and severely punished. Children sign certificates absolving their parents of responsibility for their birth, and education is carried on in the College of Unreason. Butler's reflections on orthodox religion, begun in New Zealand, issued in The Fair Haven (1873), an ironic attempt to reconcile the New Testament with rationalistic criticism. In Life and Habit he returned to the question of evolution. In Evolution Old and New (1879), Unconscious Memory (1880), and Luck, or Cunning? (1887), he developed his ideas with an increasingly self-righteous resentment of what he conceived to be the Darwinians' deliberate concealment of the truth. Butler hoped to be able to restore will, intelligence, and design to a universe apparently made meaningless by the blind process of natural selection. The novel The Way of All Flesh, Butler's most famous work, was written between 1872 and 1885. It is the supposed biography of Ernest Pontifex, narrated by an older friend with an unrelenting candor deliberately affronting conventional pieties.