Samuel Butler Quotes

Samuel Butler, 1835 – 1902

Born: 4 December 1835, Langar, Nottinghamshire, England, UK
Died: 18 June 1902, London, England, UK

Butler’s father and grandfather had been Anglican clergy, the grandfather had risen to be Bishop of Lichfield while his father was never more than a parish priest. Butler considered his parents “brutal and stupid by nature” and their relationship was adversarial and involved frequent beatings. He was sent to Shrewsbury and then St John’s College, Cambridge, where he earned a First in Classics in 1858. The next year was spent as an intern in a low-income London parish, preparing for ordination. While there he realized that baptism made no difference in the morals or behavior of those around him, which caused him to doubt this faith. Putting as much distance between himself and his father he moved to New Zealand in 1859, acquired a farm called Mesopotamia Station, began working on Erewhon, sold the farm for a handsome profit, and returned to London in 1864. He took rooms at Clifford’s Inn near Fleet Street where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1872 his utopian satire Erewhon was published anonymously, when it was well received he took credit for it and became well known. Most of his additional writings were neither important nor really successful but he continued to examine and write about Christian orthodoxy, Italian art, and evolution. He translated The Iliad and The Odyssey, he was of the opinion that The Odyssey was the work of a young Sicilian woman rather than Homer, and he wrote a scathing semi-biographical attack on Victorian hypocrisy called The Way of All Flesh between 1870 and 1885 but withheld it until after his death out of concern for the impact on his family. There were no women but several men in his life, but he managed to avoid publicity. He died following an extended period with consumption.

Samuel Butler (novelist) quotes:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have lost at all.
    Samuel Butler – The Way of All Flesh (1903)

A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted.
    Samuel Butler – “Portraits” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
    Samuel Butler – Life and Habit (1877)

A man’s friendships are, like his will, invalidated by marriage—but they are also no less invalidated by the marriage of his friends.
    Samuel Butler – The Way of All Flesh (1903)

A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities, as well as those of other people, will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing.
    Samuel Butler

A virtue to be serviceable must, like gold, be alloyed with some commoner, but more durable alloy.
    Samuel Butler

Adversity, if a man is set down to it by degrees, is more supportable with equanimity by most people than any great prosperity arrived at in a single lifetime.
    Samuel Butler – The Way of All Flesh (1903)

All animals except man know that the ultimate of life is to enjoy it.
    Samuel Butler – The Way of All Flesh (1903)

All men can do great things, if they know what great things are.
    Samuel Butler – “Great Things” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.
    Samuel Butler – .”Life” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

All thinking is of disturbance, dynamical, a state of unrest tending towards equilibrium. It is all a mode of classifying and of criticising with a view of knowing whether it gives us, or is likely to give us, pleasure or no.
    Samuel Butler – “Thinking” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed.
    Samuel Butler – The Way of All Flesh (1903)

An idea must not be condemned for being a little shy and incoherent; all new ideas are shy when introduced first among our old ones. We should have patience and see whether the incoherency is likely to wear off or to wear on, in which latter case the sooner we get rid of them the better.
    Samuel Butler – “Incoherency of New Ideas” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

Animals and plants cannot understand our business, so we have denied that they can understand their own. What we call inorganic matter cannot understand the animals’ and plants’ business, we have therefore denied that it can understand anything whatever.
    Samuel Butler – “Organic and Inorganic” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.
    Samuel Butler – “Falsehood” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

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