Novelist and satirist; born in Nottinghamshire, the son of a vicar. His father was a cruel man who beat his son daily and was duly hated for this. Samuel Butler was to recreate the pain and despair of his childhood years in his final novel The Way of All Flesh (1903).
In January, 1846, he went to school at Allesley, near Coventry and in 1848, at the age of twelve, he was sent to Shrewsbury School, then under the headship of Dr. Kennedy (Dr. Skinner in the novel). At Shrewsbury he was able to visit his aunt and uncle, the Bathers, at their Meole Brace home. Samuel did not enjoy the hard life at Shrewsbury School under the fearsome Dr. Kennedy but he did at least escape his father's merciless beatings. Again, he recalled his Shrewsbury schooldays in The Way of All Flesh, disguised as Roughborough, although his portrayal of the school is generally considered to be somewhat less than objective.
He left in 1854 for Cambridge after which he travelled to New Zealand where he succeeded as a sheep breeder (described in his A First Year in Canterbury Settlement (1863). He returned to England and wrote one of his best known novels Erewhon (1872), set in a fictitious land, a pointed satire of many of the customs, institutions and attitudes of the time, with which he was incensed. This was followed by The Fair Raven (1873) and a series of books on controversial scientific subjects. In 1896 he completed his Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, his grandfather, and earlier head of Shrewsbury School. He translated The Illiad and The Odyssey in 1898 and 1900 respectively and concluded that the author was a woman and wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered (1899). Erewhon Revisited (1901) was his last novel published in his lifetime, The Way of All Flesh being published posthumously.
Adapted from An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire by Gordon Dickins, published by Shropshire Libraries, 1987. © Gordon Dickins, 1987.
The following works are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Ernest Pontifex, or way of all flesh (1903)
Letters between Samuel Butler and Miss E M A Savage (1935)
A sample selection and the complete text of the following are available on this website.
There is also an extract from The way of all flesh , describing the schooldays of Ernest Pontifex at Roughborough, which can be read online here. It contains a reference to Charles Darwin.
The following work is available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Samuel Butler: A Sketch (1919) by Henry Festing Jones
Page created 2 September 2001 and last
updated 10 January 2003
For your literary enquiries and comments please see the Who to contact page.
Please read the general terms and conditions and about accessibility on this site, including the use of the UK government accesskeys system.