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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Samuel Butler   15 April 1873

15, Clifford’s Inn | E.C.


Dear Mr Darwin

Your very kind letter concerning the Fair Haven was forwarded to me at Mentone from which place I returned on Sunday morning early.1 You will doubtless have seen the cause of my journey in the Times obituary list.2

Had I known how ill my poor mother was I could not have brought out or even written my book at such a time, but her recovery was confidently expected till within a fortnight of her death, and it was not until I actually arrived at Mentone that I knew how long she must have been ill and suffering. I must own that I feel that there is something peculiarly unsuitable in the time of my book’s appearing, but it was actually published before I was aware of the circumstances. I am thankful that she can never know.3

Of course it remains to be seen what the verdict of the public will be but I am greatly encouraged by the letters received from yourself & Mr Stephen.4 There is also a very good review in last week’s National Reformer. The writer is evidently puzzled. Of course all I really want is to force on the fight and help towards compelling an attitude of fixed attention in the place of cowardly shrinking from examination.5

I shall try a novel pure and simple with little “purpose” next, but it remains to be seen whether I can do it. I would say that I would have no “purpose” in my novel at all, but I am still in the flesh and however much the spirit may be willing I fear that the clever half will show itself ever and anon—

My strain is better— Again thanking you very sincerely for all the kindness you have shown me believe me with kind regards to Mrs Darwin

Your’s very truly | S. Butler.


An announcement of the death of Fanny Butler, Butler’s mother, in Mentone on 9 April 1873 appeared in The Times, 14 April 1873, p. 1.
Butler’s book ([Butler] 1873) was a veiled attack on aspects of the Christian gospels. Butler’s father, Thomas Butler, told him that the publication of his earlier book Erewhon ([Butler] 1872) was directly responsible for his mother’s death (Raby 1990, p. 140).
In his letter of 1 April [1873], CD had mentioned that Leslie Stephen knew Butler was the author of [Butler] 1873.
An unsigned review of [Butler] 1873 appeared in the National Reformer, 13 April 1873, pp. 229–30. The reviewer questioned whether the author’s purpose was to ‘damage or defend’ and concluded that the author was ‘either very earnest or very subtle’ (p. 230).


[Butler, Samuel.] 1872a. Erewhon, or, Over the range. London: Trübner.

[Butler, Samuel.] 1873. 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, edited by William Bickersteth Owen, with a memoir of the author. 2d edition. London: Trübner.

Raby, Peter. 1990. Samuel Butler: a biography. London: Hogarth.


Thanks CD for his kind letter about The fair haven [1873]. Encouraged by its reception. All he wants is to compel "an attitude of fixed attention in the place of cowardly shrinking from examination". Says he will try "a novel pure and simple with little ""purpose"" next".

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel Butler
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Clifford’s Inn, 15
Source of text
DAR 106: A11–12
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8859,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21