The Fair Haven

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
The Fair Haven, by Samuel

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Title: The Fair Haven
Author: Samuel Butler

Release Date: July, 2004 [EBook #6092] [Yes, we are more than one
year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on November 4,
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Transcribed from the 1913 A. C. Fifield edition by David Price, email
[email protected]

THE FAIR HAVEN A Work in Defence of the Miraculous Element in
our Lord's Ministry upon Earth, both as against Rationalistic Impugners
and certain Orthodox Defenders, by the late John Pickard Owen, with a
Memoir of the Author by William Bickersteth Owen.


The demand for a new edition of The Fair Haven gives me an
opportunity of saying a few words about the genesis of what, though
not one of the most popular of Samuel Butler's books, is certainly one
of the most characteristic. Few of his works, indeed, show more
strikingly his brilliant powers as a controversialist and his implacable
determination to get at the truth of whatever engaged his attention.
To find the germ of The Fair Haven we should probably have to go
back to the year 1858, when Butler, after taking his degree at
Cambridge, was preparing himself for holy orders by acting as a kind

of lay curate in a London parish. Butler never took things for granted,
and he felt it to be his duty to examine independently a good many
points of Christian dogma which most candidates for ordination accept
as matters of course. The result of his investigations was that he
eventually declined to take orders at all. One of the stones upon which
he then stumbled was the efficacy of infant baptism, and I have no
doubt that another was the miraculous element of Christianity, which, it
will be remembered, was the cause of grievous searchings of heart to
Ernest Pontifex in Butler's semi-autobiographical novel, The Way of
All Flesh. While Butler was in New Zealand (1859-64) he had leisure
for prosecuting his Biblical studies, the result of which he published in
1865, after his return to England, in an anonymous pamphlet entitled
"The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as given by the Four
Evangelists critically examined." This pamphlet passed unnoticed;
probably only a few copies were printed and it is now extremely rare.
After the publication of Erewhon in 1872, Butler returned once more to
theology, and made his anonymous pamphlet the basis of the far more
elaborate Fair Haven, which was originally published as the
posthumous work of a certain John Pickard Owen, preceded by a
memoir of the deceased author by his supposed brother, William
Bickersteth Owen. It is possible that the memoir was the fruit of a
suggestion made by Miss Savage, an able and witty woman with whom
Butler corresponded at the time. Miss Savage was so much impressed
by the narrative power displayed in Erewhon that she urged Butler to
write a novel, and we shall probably not be far wrong in regarding the
biography of John Pickard Owen as Butler's trial trip in the art of
fiction--a prelude to The Way of All Flesh, which he began in 1873.
It has often been supposed that the elaborate paraphernalia of
mystification which Butler used in The Fair Haven was deliberately
designed in order to hoax the public. I do not believe that this was the
case. Butler, I feel convinced, provided an ironical framework for his
arguments merely that he might render them more effective than they
had been when plainly stated in the pamphlet of 1865. He fully
expected his readers to comprehend his irony, and he anticipated that
some at any rate of them would keenly resent it. Writing to Miss
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