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Mary Church Terrell Main Library
148 W College St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1545

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About the Collection

Portrait of Samuel Butler, sepia tone, with Butler's signature on the lower border.

Special Collections holds over 80 items by and about Samuel Butler, including signed first editions, and later editions of the author's most famous works. Many of the later editions were made famous by the use of celebrated illustrators such as Rockwell Kent, some of whom have also signed the copies present in our collection.

This collection belonged to Stanley Bates Harkness (1880-1961), OC Class of 1904, who donated it to Oberlin College Libraries in 1958. Harkness compiled a bibliography on Butler published in 1955.

Samuel Butler was born in Nottinghamshire, England in 1835, the son of a reverend. He graduated from St. John's College, Cambridge in 1858. He briefly pursued a career as a clergyman, at the urging of his father, however, Samuel's heretical ideals and nonconformist nature won out. He renounced Christianity and became a staunch supporter of Darwinism.

Butler went on to write such works as his utopian satire Erewhon; Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ... Critically Examined; The Fair Haven; and his most famous work, The Way of All Flesh, a loosely autobiographical book which was a pioneer of the use of psychoanalysis in fiction. Aldous Huxley admitted that the novel Erewhon influenced his own writing of Brave New World.

Many of Butler's works are satires, criticizing both Christianity and Darwinism, in effect making him something of an outcast in Victorian society. However, Butler was able to live off of his inheritance, and spent the rest of his life as an intellectual and bachelor. He never married, and the close friendships with men throughout his life have caused some Butler scholars to raise questions about his sexual orientation.

A lover of Italian art, Butler also studied painting and tried to pursue art as his vocation for a time (one of his works hangs in the Tate Gallery in London), and also tried his hand at composing music. He died in London in 1902.

Written by Laura Daugherty and Ed Vermue