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Friday, December 4, 2015

Taking the book 'off the shelf'

Books are like imprisoned souls till someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them.” – Samuel Butler

Maybe best remembered for his saying “It is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all,” Butler was born on this date in 1835.  Both controversial and prophetic in his writing, he often was “in the news” for his sarcastic comments on the works of other leading writers and for his derision of various religious practices, which he found abhorrent.  He also said he thought mankind was on a path toward becoming “an inferior race” that would be surpassed by and ultimately replaced by machines.

His satirical book Erewhon focused on his interest in Darwin’s theories of evolution and also prophesied how machines would gain supremacy.  He even spoke of computers taking a dominant position in our lives – and he did this in the 1860s and 1870s, long before computers were even being developed.

Aldous Huxley said he was influenced by Erewhon in writing his masterpiece, Brave New World.

In addition to his own writing, which ranged from novels to essays to poetry, Butler also was a renowned translator and penned prose versions of both The Iliad and The Odyssey, which are still in use today.  And while his writings were sometimes gloomy, he said he enjoyed life and everything that every day had to offer.

“Most people have never learned that one of the main aims in life is to enjoy it, “ he said.  “Life is not an exact science, it is an art.   Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.”

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