Samuel Butler and Italy (“My Second Country”)

Besides being a distinguished writer and critic, Samuel Butler was also a painter. From the late 1880s onwards, photography became his primary passion and his “snapshots” show his keen talent for finding extraordinary qualities in scenes of ordinary life.

After deciding life as an Anglican minister (the occupation for which he was trained) was not for him, he emigrated from England to New Zealand. Some years later he came back to England in 1864 and settled in London, where he took a series of courses in painting.
He studied at the South Kensington Museum and Cary’s Art School in Bloomsbury, then from 1867 onwards he joined Heatherley’s School of Art to become a painter.
Despite his formal training, Butler always privileged the primitive, untutored style of the provincial artists found in Italy before Raphael. His own naïve pictorial style, considered somewhat naïve, never sat well with the art establishment at the Royal Academy, and as a result his public success was limited even though he had several paintings hung in the Royal Academy hung on the walls of the Royal Academy.
The money he got from his New Zealand venture did not last as long as he had hoped, due to a series of bad investments, so he began to write his first novel.
Nevertheless, he continued to draw and paint throughout his life, and also published works of art criticism, in which he championed the Italian painters and sculptors studied during his frequent vacations in Italy.

He visited Italy for the first time when he was only eight years old. Fifty-five years later he recorded in his notebook his ‘vivid recollection’ of being taken to the top of St Peter’s in Rome.
Between 1865 and 1902 Butler made at least 25 trips to Italy, each time making new acquaintances and collecting anecdotes and memories.
He loved Italy, its art and culture, and its landscape from the Alpine ranges in the north, to Trapani, on the west coast of Sicily.
In the Introduction to his book “Alps and Sanctuaries” (1882) , for which he also produced the illustrations, he explained his obsession with his ‘second country’:

“…also Shakespeare turned to Italy more than to any other country for his subjects. Roughly, he wrote nineteen Italian, or what to him were virtually Italian plays, to twelve English, one Scotch, one Danish, three French, and two early British. But who does not turn to Italy who has the chance of doing so ?
Who does not turn to Italy who has the chance of doing so? What, indeed, do we not owe to that most lovely and lovable country? … Our laws are Roman in their origin. Our music… and our painting comes from Italy. Our very religion till a few hundred years ago found its headquarters, not in London nor in Canterbury, but in Rome. What, in fact, is there which has not filtered through Italy, even though it arose elsewhere ?”

He concluded that chapter with these words:
“I have chosen Italy as my second country, and would dedicate this book to her as a thank-offering for the happiness she has afforded me.”

Oltre ad essere un illustre scrittore e critico, Samuel Butler era anche pittore. Dalla fine degli anni 1880 in poi, la fotografia divenne la sua passione principale e di le sue “istantanee” mostrano il suo acuto talento nel trovare qualità straordinarie nelle scene della vita ordinaria.

Dopo aver deciso che la vita religiosa (l’occupazione per la quale si era formato) non faceva per lui, emigrò in Nuova Zelanda da cui fece rientro in Inghilterra dopo alcuni anni per stabilirsi a Londra, dove seguì una serie di corsi di pittura.
Studiò al South Kensington Museum e alla Cary’s Art School di Bloomsbury, poi dal 1867 in poi frequentò la Heatherley’s School of Art per diventare un pittore.
Nonostante la sua formazione formale, Butler privilegiò lo stile primitivo e incolto degli artisti italiani precedenti Raffaello. Il suo stile pittorico, considerato un po’ naïf, non andò mai d’accordo con l’establishment artistico della Royal Academy, e di conseguenza il suo successo pubblico fu limitato anche se diversi suoi dipinti erano appesi alle pareti della Royal Academy.
Il denaro ottenuto dalla sua impresa neozelandese non durò a lungo come aveva sperato, a causa di una serie di cattivi investimenti, così iniziò a scrivere il suo primo romanzo.
Ciononostante, continuò a disegnare e dipingere per tutta la vita, pubblicando anche opere di critica d’arte, in cui difendeva i pittori e gli scultori italiani studiati durante le sue frequenti vacanze al nostro paese.

Visitò l’Italia per la prima volta a soli otto anni. Cinquantacinque anni dopo registrò nel suo taccuino il suo “vivido ricordo” di essere stato portato in cima a San Pietro a Roma.
Tra il 1865 e il 1902 Butler effettuò almeno 25 viaggi in Italia, facendo ogni volta nuove conoscenze e raccogliendo aneddoti e ricordi.
Amava l’Italia, la sua arte e cultura, e il suo paesaggio dalle Alpi a nord fino a Trapani, sulla costa occidentale della Sicilia.

Nell’Introduzione al suo libro “Alpi e santuari” (1882), per il quale realizzò anche le illustrazioni, spiegò la sua ossessione per questo suo “secondo paese”:
“…anche Shakespeare si rivolgeva all’Italia più che a qualsiasi altro Paese per i suoi argomenti. Scrisse circa diciannove opere teatrali italiane, o quello che per lui era virtualmente di carattere italiano, contro dodici inglesi, una scozzese, una danese, tre francesi e due britanniche. Ma chi non si rivolge all’Italia se ha la possibilità di farlo? Che cosa, infatti, non dobbiamo a quel paese così bello e adorabile? … Le nostre leggi sono di origine romana. La nostra musica… e la nostra pittura vengono dall’Italia. La nostra stessa religione fino a poche centinaia di anni fa trovava la sua sede, non a Londra né a Canterbury, ma a Roma. Che cosa, infatti, c’è che non è stato filtrato attraverso l’Italia, anche se sorto altrove?

Concluse quel capitolo con queste parole:
“Ho scelto l’Italia come mio secondo Paese e le vorrei dedicare questo libro come ringraziamento per la felicità che mi ha regalato”.

Image: Samuel Butler: “S. Michele” (Piemonte)

46 thoughts on “Samuel Butler and Italy (“My Second Country”)

      1. I would love to visit, Italy one day. Yesterday went to a marvelous wine lunch at Barboursville, which is owned by the Italian Zonin family. Featured Octagon, their premier Bordeaux blend. Their Italian wine maker, Luca is as charming as he is knowledgeable.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Che bellissima persona che dev’essere stato in più amava l’Italia è le ha dedicato addirittura un libro con tanto di citazione, davvero straordinario❣❣❣ Ancora tante grazie Luisa per tutte queste belle tue traduzioni e condivisioni 🥀🥀🥀😘

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sono felice che il nostro Paese abbia dato delle emozioni così forti e belle a questo eclettico artista, Samuel Butler, a tal punto da dedicare all’Italia parole così belle e sentite. Una gran bella scoperta, grazie Luisa!!!! 🙂

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  3. Samuel Butler was a Novelist-cum-Painter . When a Novelist becomes a Painter he writes stories through his Paintings . He liked Italy as his second home , simply means , that he liked Painting . In my opinion , Italy and Painting once was quite synonyms words to a considerable extent . Leonardo da Vinci , the creator of MONALISA , was from Italy . Thanks !

    Liked by 2 people

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