Rites of Passage

The influence of Samuel Butler (1835-1902) has been observed in the writing of George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, Lytton Strachey, the Woolfs, E M Forster, Ivy Compton Burnett, Robert Graves, and James Joyce.

On the last day of September 1859, having quarrelled with his father, the Rev Thomas Butler, over issues of faith and ordination, he embarked for New Zealand, where he would remain until 1864.

Butler’s biographer (1991), Peter Raby, concludes Chapter 5:

“When he finally went to bed, for the first time in his life he did not say his prayers. The rites of passage had begun, and the ties with Langar were loosened further. “The night before I had said my prayers,” he recorded, “and doubted not that I was always going on to say them, as I had always done hitherto. That night, I suppose, the sense of change was so great that it shook them quietly off.”.

In William Golding’s “Rites of Passage” (1980), he describes being aboard a ship motionless at sea:

“Now and then some sea creature will shatter the surface and the silence by leaping through it. Yet even when nothing leaps there is a constant shuddering, random twitches and vibrations of the surface, as if the water were not only the home and haunt of all sea creatures but the skin of a living thing, a creature vaster than Leviathan.”.

Dr Raby continues in Chapter 6:

“New Zealand held out to young men the promise of freedom: “They were all so delighted with the prospect of the untrammelled life before them that they felt it necessary to make some gesture of contempt for the conventions they had left behind, so the first evening ashore they built a huge bonfire, piled on it their top hats and tail coats, and danced in a ring round the blazing fire.”.”…

…Washing his hands before dinner at the Mitre, he was disconcerted to overhear through the scrim partition a snatch of conversation:

“Have you washed yet?”


“Don’t you mean to wash this year?”


When his neighbours turned out to be clean and respectably dressed, he realised they were sheep farmers talking shop.”.

On his first expedition, in April 1860, Butler commented:

“….”If a person says he thinks he has seen Mount Cook, you may be quite sure that he has not seen it. The moment it comes into sight the exclamation is, “That is Mount Cook!” – not “That must be Mount Cook!” There is no possibility of mistake.”.”.

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