SAMUEL BUTLER takes his place among the major British novelists by virtue of a single book--The Way of All Flesh. Besides that masterpiece, he wrote but two story-books, Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited; and these are hardly more novels than Gulliver's Travels. They are satires, first and foremost; whereas The Way of All Flesh, for all its satirical quality, is primarily a story, and therewith a novel in the traditional English manner--discursive, episodic, moralistic, and written in open defiance of all the niceties. I hold it to be one of the great novels, in this mode; but its greatness is no reason for regretting that the author never attempted another. He had, pure satire apart, just this one novel in him, and no more; and though he felt dissatisfied with it in the form in which he left it, still unpublished, at his death, it is almost certainly fortunate that he never revised it a second time. Revision, nearly thirty years after, in the softer light of more tranquil rejudgments, would unavoidably have left it less perfect as a "period piece"; and, for the readers of to-day, a "period piece" it is, both in what it says and in what it leaves unsaid and, quite manifestly, even unthought-of.
A man who revolts against the values of his time and place does not cease to belong to his time and place; and, as we have seen, Butler, in revolt against so many of the mid-Victorian values, remained eminently a Victorian himself. The things that interested him, the things that