Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Butler
Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle

On this date in 1795, historian Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries, Scotland, the son of a Calvinist stonemason. He entered Edinburgh University at age 15 and earned his B.A. in 1813. "Intended" for the Church, he prepared to become a Church of Scotland minister for 5 years until rejecting Christianity after reading Edward Gibbon. He taught at schools and tutored, and helped to popularize German philosophy in England, translating one work by Goethe and writing Life of Schiller (1822). His pantheistic, semi-autobiographical Sartor Resartus (1834) was his first successful book. Carlyle married Jane Welsh, the vivacious and well-informed daughter of a physician, who corresponded with many eminents of her era. Carlyle met John Stuart Mill, who introduced him and his wife to Emerson, who became a longtime correspondent. Among the 30 volumes by Carlyle were: French Revolution, Frederick the Great, Life of Sterling and Life of Tennyson. He became Rector of Edinburgh University in 1865 and refused the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Carlyle said of Voltaire: "He gave the death-stab to modern superstition. That horrid incubus, which dwelt in darkness, shunning the light, is passing away. . . . It was a most weighty service" (cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James Haught). D. 1881.

“I have for many years strictly avoided going to church or having anything to do with Mumbo-Jumbo.

We know nothing. All is, and must be, utterly incomprehensible.”

—Thomas Carlyle's remarks to poet William Allingham, Allingham's Diary (p. 217, ii, 410), 1907. Cited by Joseph McCabe, in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler

On this date in 1835, novelist Samuel Butler (not to be confused with 17th century poet Samuel Butler) was born in England, and educated at Cambridge. His father and his grandfather were clergy, and Butler was likewise expected to enter the ministry. While preparing for it, he worked at a school for the poor, where he observed that boys who had been baptized did not differ from those who had not been. He infuriated his father by sharing his growing doubts, and suggesting an alternate career in painting. Butler escaped family ire by emigrating to New Zealand. On the long voyage, he read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which cemented Butler's rejection of Christianity. He went into sheep-breeding, read Darwin's On the Origin of Species and enthusiastically corresponded with him. When Butler returned to London in 1864, he eventually settled down to a literary career, writing Erewhon (1872), The Fair Haven (1873), Life and Habit (1877), Erewhon Revisited (1901), and The Way of All Flesh (posthumously published,1903). Butler happened upon Lamarck's work on inheritance and unaccountably turned on Darwin in the late 1870s. Butler's novels, for the most part not financial successes, were replete with satire of Christianity. The Way of All Flesh salvaged Butler from literary obscurity. D. 1902.

“Prayers are to men as dolls are to children. They are not without use and comfort, but it is not easy to take them very seriously.”

—Samuel Butler, "Unprofessional Sermons," Note-Books, published in 1912

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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