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The Fair Haven   By: (1835-1902)

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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 Savage in March, 1873 (shortly before the publication of the book), he said: "I should hope that attacks on The Fair Haven will give me an opportunity of excusing myself, and if so I shall endeavour that the excuse may be worse than the fault it is intended to excuse." A few days later he referred to the difficulties that he had encountered in getting the book accepted by a publisher: " were frightened and even considered the scheme of the book unjustifiable. urged me, as politely as he could, not to do it, and evidently thinks I shall get myself into disgrace even among freethinkers. It's all nonsense. I dare say I shall get into a row at least I hope I shall." Evidently there is here no anticipation of The Fair Haven being misunderstood... Continue reading book >>

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