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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

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. Misunderstood, however, it
was, not only by reviewers, some of whom greeted it solemnly as a
defence of orthodoxy, but by divines of high standing, such as the
late Canon Ainger, who sent it to a friend whom he wished to convert.
This was more than Butler could resist, and he hastened to issue a
second edition bearing his name and accompanied by a preface in which
the deceived elect were held up to ridicule.

Butler used to maintain that The Fair Haven did his reputation no
harm. Writing in 1901, he said:

"The Fair Haven got me into no social disgrace that I have ever been
able to discover. I might attack Christianity as much as I chose and
nobody cared one straw; but when I attacked Darwin it was a different
matter. For many years Evolution, Old and New, and Unconscious
Memory made a shipwreck of my literary prospects. I am only now
beginning to emerge from the literary and social injury which those
two perfectly righteous books inflicted on me. I dare say they
abound with small faults of taste, but I rejoice in having written
both of them."

Very likely Butler was right as to the social side of the question,
but I am convinced that The Fair Haven did him grave harm in the
literary world. Reviewers fought shy of him for the rest of his
life. They had been taken in once, and they took very good care that
they should not be taken in again. The word went forth that Butler
was not to be taken seriously, whatever he wrote, and the results of
the decree were apparent in the conspiracy of silence that greeted
not only his books on evolution, but his Homeric works, his writings
on art, and his edition of Shakespeare's sonnets. Now that he has
passed beyond controversies and mystifications, and now that his
other works are appreciated at their true value, it is not too much
to hope that tardy justice will be accorded also to The Fair Haven.
It is true that the subject is no longer the burning question that it
was forty years ago. In the early seventies theological polemics
were fashionable. Books like Seeley's Ecce Homo and Matthew Arnold's
Literature and Dogma were eagerly devoured by readers of all classes.
Nowadays we take but a languid interest in the problems that
disturbed our grandfathers, and most of us have settled down into
what Disraeli described as the religion of all sensible men, which no
sensible man ever talks about. There is, however, in The Fair Haven
a good deal more than theological controversy, and our Laodicean age
will appreciate Butler's humour and irony if it cares little for his
polemics. The Fair Haven scandalised a good many people when it
first appeared, but I am not afraid of its scandalising anybody now.
I should be sorry, nevertheless, if it gave any reader a false
impression of Butler's Christianity, and I think I cannot do better
than conclude with a passage from one of his essays which represents
his attitude to religion perhaps more faithfully than anything in The
Fair Haven: "What, after all, is the essence of Christianity? What
is the kernel of the nut? Surely common sense and cheerfulness, with
unflinching opposition to the charlatanisms and Pharisaisms of a
man's own times. The essence of Christianity lies neither in dogma,
nor yet in abnormally holy life, but in faith in an unseen world, in
doing one's duty, in speaking the truth, in finding the true life
rather in others than in oneself, and in the certain hope that he who
loses his life on these behalfs finds more than he has lost. What
can Agnosticism do against such Christianity as this? I should be
shocked if anything I had ever written or shall ever write should
seem to make light of these things."

August, 1913.


The occasion of a Second Edition of The Fair Haven enables me to
thank the public and my critics for the favourable reception which
has been accorded to the First Edition. I had feared that the
freedom with which I had exposed certain untenable positions taken by
Defenders of Christianity might have given offence to some reviewers,
but no complaint has reached me from any quarter on the score of my
not having put the best possible case for the evidence in favour of
the miraculous element in Christ's teaching - nor can I believe that I
should have failed to hear of it, if my book had been open to
exception on this ground.

An apology is perhaps due for the adoption of a pseudonym, and even
more so for the creation of two such characters as JOHN PICKARD OWEN
and his brother. Why could I not, it may be asked, have said all
that I had to say in my own proper person?

Are there not real ills of life enough already? Is there not a "lo
here!" from this school with its gushing "earnestness," it
distinctions without differences, its gnat strainings and camel
swallowings, its pretence of grappling with a question while
resolutely bent upon shirking it, its dust throwing and
mystification, its concealment of its own ineffable insincerity under
an air of ineffable candour? Is there not a "lo there!" from that
other school with its bituminous atmosphere of exclusiveness and
self-laudatory dilettanteism? Is there not enough actual exposition
of boredom come over us from many quarters without drawing for new
bores upon the imagination? It is true I gave a single drop of
comfort. JOHN PICKARD OWEN was dead. But his having ceased to exist
(to use the impious phraseology of the present day) did not cancel
the fact of his having once existed. That he should have ever been
born gave proof of potentialities in Nature which could not be
regarded lightly. What hybrids might not be in store for us next?
Moreover, though JOHN PICKARD was dead, WILLIAM BICKERSTETH was still
living, and might at any moment rekindle his burning and shining lamp
of persistent self-satisfaction. Even though the OWENS had actually
existed, should not their existence have been ignored as a disgrace
to Nature? Who then could be justified in creating them when they
did not exist?

I am afraid I must offer an apology rather than an excuse. The fact
is that I was in a very awkward position. My previous work, Erewhon,
had failed to give satisfaction to certain ultra-orthodox Christians,
who imagined that they could detect an analogy between the English
Church and the Erewhonian Musical Banks. It is inconceivable how
they can have got hold of this idea; but I was given to understand
that I should find it far from easy to dispossess them of the notion
that something in the way of satire had been intended. There were
other parts of the book which had also been excepted to, and
altogether I had reason to believe that if I defended Christianity in
my own name I should not find Erewhon any addition to the weight
which my remarks might otherwise carry. If I had been suspected of
satire once, I might be suspected again with no greater reason.
Instead of calmly reviewing the arguments which I adduced, The Rock
might have raised a cry of non tali auxilio. It must always be
remembered that besides the legitimate investors in Christian stocks,
if so homely a metaphor may be pardoned, there are unscrupulous
persons whose profession it is to be bulls, bears, stags, and I know
not what other creatures of the various Christian markets. It is all
nonsense about hawks not picking out each other's eyes - there is
nothing they like better. I feared The Guardian, The Record, The
John Bull, etc., lest they should suggest that from a bear I now
turned bull with a view to an eventual bishopric. Such insinuations
would have impaired the value of The Fair Haven as an anchorage for
well-meaning people. I therefore resolved to obey the injunction of
the Gentile Apostle and avoid all appearance of evil, by dissociating
myself from the author of Erewhon as completely as possible. At the
moment of my resolution JOHN PICKARD OWEN came to my assistance; I
felt that he was the sort of man I wanted, but that he was hardly
sufficient in himself. I therefore summoned his brother. The pair
have served their purpose; a year nowadays produces great changes in
men's thoughts concerning Christianity, and the little matter of
Erewhon having quite blown over I feel that I may safely appear in my
true colours as the champion of orthodoxy, discard the OWENS as other
than mouthpieces, and relieve the public from uneasiness as to any
further writings from the pen of the surviving brother.

Nevertheless I am bound to own that, in spite of a generally
favourable opinion, my critics have not been unanimous in their
interpretation of The Fair Haven. Thus, The Rock (April 25, 1873,
and May 9, 1873), says that the work is "an extraordinary one,
whether regarded as a biographical record or a theological treatise.
Indeed the importance of the volume compels us to depart from our
custom of reviewing with brevity works entrusted to us, and we shall
in two consecutive numbers of The Rock lay before its readers what
appear to us to be the merits and demerits of this posthumous

* * * * *

"His exhibition of the certain proofs furnished of the Resurrection
of our Lord is certainly masterly and convincing."

* * * * *

"To the sincerely inquiring doubter, the striking way in which the
truth of the Resurrection is exhibited must be most beneficial, but
such a character we are compelled to believe is rare among those of
the schools of neology."

* * * * *

"Mr. OWEN'S exposition and refutation of the hallucination and
mythical theories of Strauss and his followers is most admirable, and
all should read it who desire to know exactly what excuses men make
for their incredulity. The work also contains many beautiful
passages on the discomfort of unbelief, and the holy pleasure of a
settled faith, which cannot fail to benefit the reader."

On the other hand, in spite of all my precautions, the same
misfortune which overtook Erewhon has also come upon The Fair Haven.
It has been suspected of a satirical purpose. The author of a
pamphlet entitled Jesus versus Christianity says:-

"The Fair Haven is an ironical defence of orthodoxy at the expense of
the whole mass of Church tenet and dogma, the character of Christ
only excepted. Such at least is our reading of it, though critics of
the Rock and Record order have accepted the book as a serious defence
of Christianity, and proclaimed it as a most valuable contribution in
aid of the faith. Affecting an orthodox standpoint it most bitterly
reproaches all previous apologists for the lack of candour with which
they have ignored or explained away insuperable difficulties and
attached undue value to coincidences real or imagined. One and all
they have, the author declares, been at best, but zealous 'liars for
God,' or what to them was more than God, their own religious system.
This must go on no longer. We, as Christians having a sound cause,
need not fear to let the truth be known. He proceeds accordingly to
set forth the truth as he finds it in the New Testament; and in a
masterly analysis of the account of the Resurrection, which he
selects as the principal crucial miracle, involving all other
miracles, he shows how slender is the foundation on which the whole
fabric of supernatural theology has been reared."

* * * * *

"As told by our author the whole affords an exquisite example of the
natural growth of a legend."

* * * * *

"If the reader can once fully grasp the intention of the style, and
its affectation of the tone of indignant orthodoxy, and perceive also
how utterly destructive are its 'candid admissions' to the whole
fabric of supernaturalism, he will enjoy a rare treat. It is not
however for the purpose of recommending what we at least regard as a
piece of exquisite humour, that we call attention to The Fair Haven,
but &c. &c."

* * * * *

This is very dreadful; but what can one do?

Again, The Scotsman speaks of the writer as being "throughout in
downright almost pathetic earnestness." While The National Reformer
seems to be in doubt whether the book is a covert attack upon
Christianity or a serious defence of it, but declares that both
orthodox and unorthodox will find matter requiring thought and

I am not responsible for the interpretations of my readers. It is
only natural that the same work should present a very different
aspect according as it is approached from one side or the other.
There is only one way out of it - that the reader should kindly
interpret according to his own fancies. If he will do this the book
is sure to please him. I have done the best I can for all parties,
and feel justified in appealing to the existence of the widely
conflicting opinions which I have quoted, as a proof that the balance
has been evenly held, and that I was justified in calling the book a
defence - both as against impugners and defenders.

Oct. 8, 1873.



The subject of this Memoir, and Author of the work which follows it,
was born in Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, on the 5th
of February, 1832. He was my elder brother by about eighteen months.
Our father and mother had once been rich, but through a succession of
unavoidable misfortunes they were left with but a very moderate
income when my brother and myself were about three and four years
old. My father died some five or six years afterwards, and we only
recollected him as a singularly gentle and humorous playmate who
doted upon us both and never spoke unkindly. The charm of such a
recollection can never be dispelled; both my brother and myself
returned his love with interest, and cherished his memory with the
most affectionate regret, from the day on which he left us till the
time came that the one of us was again to see him face to face. So
sweet and winning was his nature that his slightest wish was our law-
-and whenever we pleased him, no matter how little, he never failed
to thank us as though we had done him a service which we should have
had a perfect right to withhold. How proud were we upon any of these
occasions, and how we courted the opportunity of being thanked! He
did indeed well know the art of becoming idolised by his children,
and dearly did he prize the results of his own proficiency; yet truly
there was no art about it; all arose spontaneously from the
wellspring of a sympathetic nature which knew how to feel as others
felt, whether old or young, rich or poor, wise or foolish. On one
point alone did he neglect us - I refer to our religious education.
On all other matters he was the kindest and most careful teacher in
the world. Love and gratitude be to his memory!

My mother loved us no less ardently than my father, but she was of a
quicker temper, and less adept at conciliating affection. She must
have been exceedingly handsome when she was young, and was still
comely when we first remembered her; she was also highly
accomplished, but she felt my father's loss of fortune more keenly
than my father himself, and it preyed upon her mind, though rather
for our sake than for her own. Had we not known my father we should
have loved her better than any one in the world, but affection goes
by comparison, and my father spoiled us for any one but himself;
indeed, in after life, I remember my mother's telling me, with many
tears, how jealous she had often been of the love we bore him, and
how mean she had thought it of him to entrust all scolding or
repression to her, so that he might have more than his due share of
our affection. Not that I believe my father did this consciously;
still, he so greatly hated scolding that I dare say we might often
have got off scot free when we really deserved reproof had not my
mother undertaken the onus of scolding us herself. We therefore
naturally feared her more than my father, and fearing more we loved
less. For as love casteth out fear, so fear love.

This must have been hard to bear, and my mother scarcely knew the way
to bear it. She tried to upbraid us, in little ways, into loving her
as much as my father; the more she tried this, the less we could
succeed in doing it; and so on and so on in a fashion which need not
be detailed. Not but what we really loved her deeply, while her
affection for us was unsurpassable still, we loved her less than we
loved my father, and this was the grievance.

My father entrusted our religious education entirely to my mother.
He was himself, I am assured, of a deeply religious turn of mind, and
a thoroughly consistent member of the Church of England; but he
conceived, and perhaps rightly, that it is the mother who should
first teach her children to lift their hands in prayer, and impart to
them a knowledge of the One in whom we live and move and have our
being. My mother accepted the task gladly, for in spite of a certain
narrowness of view - the natural but deplorable result of her earlier
surroundings - she was one of the most truly pious women whom I have
ever known; unfortunately for herself and us she had been trained in
the lowest school of Evangelical literalism - a school which in after
life both my brother and myself came to regard as the main obstacle
to the complete overthrow of unbelief; we therefore looked upon it
with something stronger than aversion, and for my own part I still
deem it perhaps the most insidious enemy which the cause of Christ
has ever encountered. But of this more hereafter.

My mother, as I said, threw her whole soul into the work of our
religious education. Whatever she believed she believed literally,
and, if I may say so, with a harshness of realisation which left very
little scope for imagination or mystery. Her plans of Heaven and
solutions of life's enigmas were direct and forcible, but they could
only be reconciled with certain obvious facts - such as the
omnipotence and all-goodness of God - by leaving many things
absolutely out of sight. And this my mother succeeded effectually in
doing. She never doubted that her opinions comprised the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth; she therefore made haste to
sow the good seed in our tender minds, and so far succeeded that when
my brother was four years old he could repeat the Apostles' Creed,
the General Confession, and the Lord's Prayer without a blunder. My
mother made herself believe that he delighted in them; but, alas! it
was far otherwise; for, strange as it may appear concerning one whose
later life was a continual prayer, in childhood he detested nothing
so much as being made to pray and to learn his Catechism. In this I
am sorry to say we were both heartily of a mind. As for Sunday, the
less said the better.

I have already hinted (but as a warning to other parents I had
better, perhaps, express myself more plainly), that this aversion was
probably the result of my mother's undue eagerness to reap an
artificial fruit of lip service, which could have little meaning to
the heart of one so young. I believe that the severe check which the
natural growth of faith experienced in my brother's case was due
almost entirely to this cause, and to the school of literalism in
which he had been trained; but, however this may be, we both of us
hated being made to say our prayers - morning and evening it was our
one bugbear, and we would avoid it, as indeed children generally
will, by every artifice which we could employ. Thus we were in the
habit of feigning to be asleep shortly before prayer time, and would
gratefully hear my father tell my mother that it was a shame to wake
us; whereon he would carry us up to bed in a state apparently of the
profoundest slumber when we were really wide awake and in great fear
of detection. For we knew how to pretend to be asleep, but we did
not know how we ought to wake again; there was nothing for it
therefore when we were once committed, but to go on sleeping till we
were fairly undressed and put to bed, and could wake up safely in the
dark. But deceit is never long successful, and we were at last
ignominiously exposed.

It happened one evening that my mother suspected my brother John, and
tried to open his little hands which were lying clasped in front of
him. Now my brother was as yet very crude and inconsistent in his
theories concerning sleep, and had no conception of what a real
sleeper would do under these circumstances. Fear deprived him of his
powers of reflection, and he thus unfortunately concluded that
because sleepers, so far as he had observed them, were always
motionless, therefore, they must be quite rigid and incapable of

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