Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler (4 or 5 December 1835 – 18 June 1902) was an iconoclastic Victorian-era English author who published a variety of works. Two of his most famous pieces are the Utopian satire Erewhon and a semi-autobiographical novel published posthumously, The Way of All Flesh. He is also known for examining Christian orthodoxy, substantive studies of evolutionary thought, studies of Italian art, and works of literary history and criticism. Butler also made prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey which remain in use to this day.

Samuel Butler was a rebellious and innovative writer whose works proved to be far ahead of their time.  Educated at Cambridge to be a clergyman, he ran away to the south island of New Zealand, where he lived the life of a shepherd for five years.  He then returned to England and tried his hand at writing.  His first book, Erewhon, a political fantasy about a country where customs are the opposite of those typical of Western culture, was an immediate success and is widely read today.  The Authoress of the Odyssey presents the gender-bending theory that Homer'sOdyssey was actually written by a woman.  The Way of All Flesh, Butler's final novel, is a stark depiction of middle-class English life.

By the mid-1870s, Butler had a companion, Henry Festing Jones (1851–1928), who gave up his law practice to devote himself to Butler.  The two men traveled the world together, at one point "adopting" a Swiss boy named Hans.  Jones later wrote a biography of Butler, who died in 1902, which includes several discreet references to Butler's homosexuality. 

Butler never married, and although he did for years make regular weekly visits to a female prostitute, Lucie Dumas, he also "had a predilection for intense male friendships, which is reflected in several of his works."

His first significant male friendship was with the handsome young Charles Pauli, son of a German businessman in London, whom Butler met in New Zealand; they returned to England together in 1864 and took neighboring apartments in Clifford's Inn. Butler had made a large profit from the sale of his New Zealand farm, and undertook to finance Pauli's study of law by paying him a regular pension, which Butler continued to do long after the friendship had cooled, until Butler had spent all of his savings. Upon Pauli's death in 1892, Butler was shocked to learn that Pauli had benefited from similar arrangements with other men and had died wealthy, but without leaving Butler anything in his will.

After 1878, Butler became close friends with Henry Festing Jones, whom Butler persuaded to give up his job as a solicitor to be Butler's personal literary assistant and traveling companion, at a salary of 200 pounds a year. Although Jones kept his own lodgings at Barnard's Inn, the two men saw each other daily until Butler's death in 1902, collaborating on music and writing projects in the daytime, and attending concerts and theatres in the evenings; they also frequently toured Italy and other favorite parts of Europe together. After Butler's death, Jones edited Butler's notebooks for publication and published his own biography of Butler in 1919.

Another significant friendship was with Hans Rudolf Faesch, a Swiss student who stayed with them in London for two years, improving his English, before departing for Singapore. Both Butler and Jones wept when they saw him off at the railroad station in early 1895, and Butler subsequently wrote a very emotional poem, "In Memoriam H. R. F.," instructing his literary agent to offer it for publication to several leading English magazines. However, once the Oscar Wilde trial began in the spring of that year, with revelations of homosexual behavior among the literati, Butler feared being associated with the widely-reported scandal and in a panic wrote to all the magazines, withdrawing his poem. Tellingly, in his Memoir Jones describes this as a "Calamus poem"; both men would have been aware of Walt Whitman's homoerotic poems of the same name, as well as the very famous but less directly homoerotic In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, lamenting the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. Jones says that Butler chose that title because "he had persuaded himself that we should never see Hans again."

Beginning with Malcolm Muggeridge in 1937, a number of literary critics have discussed Butler's sublimated or repressed homosexuality, comparing his lifelong pose as an "incarnate bachelor" to the very similar bachelorhoods among his contemporaries of such gay but closeted writers as Walter PaterHenry James, and E. M. Forster. As Herbert Sussman observes:
There can be little doubt as to the intensity of Butler's same-sex desire, and the intensity with which he deployed the bachelor mode to regulate it. Victorian bachelorhood enabled a middle-class man who rejected matrimony to remain distinctly middle-class . . . For Butler, as for Pater and James, the aim of bachelordom was to contain the homoerotic within the respectable. . . . With Pauli, and with Jones and Faesch, Butler most likely kept within the homosocial boundaries of his time. There is no evidence of genital contact with other men, although the temptations of overstepping the line strained his close male relationships.
Regarding the visits to Lucie Dumas (Jones was also a client of hers, and Butler paid for his visits), Sussman says, "Even the scheduled excursions into heterosexual sex functioned less to relieve the sexual tension of bachelorhood than to act out the intense same-sex desire for one's daily companions. . . . In characteristic Victorian fashion, then, these men . . . perform[ed] their sexual bond through the body of a woman."


silvereagle said...

In this posting, as in so many of your earlier ones, you shed light on the truism that "there is nothing new under the sun..." Men have loved men through all of history and men have loved women through all of history....but only the second is the one openly discussed.

Thanks for bringing new light on the fact that amor is not only between members of the opposite sex!

Jason said...

Wonderfully informative post.

Anonymous said...

I love Butler. Thanks for the post!

Coop said...

Thanks for sharing this Joe. I've never hears of Butler before.