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Portrait of Samuel Butler by Pieter Borsseler
Strensham, Worcestershire, England
|Died||25 September 1680 (aged 67)
|Notable work||Hudibras (1663–1678)|
Samuel Butler was born in Strensham, Worcestershire, and was the son of a farmer and churchwarden, also named Samuel. His date of birth is unknown, but there is documentary evidence for the date of his baptism of 14 February. The date of Butler's baptism is given as 8 February by Treadway Russell Nash in his 1793 edition of Hudibras. Nash had already mentioned Butler in his Collections for a History of Worcestershire (1781), and perhaps because the latter date seemed to be a revised account, it has been repeated by many writers and editors. However, The parish register of Strensham records under the year 1612: "Item was christened Samuell Butler the sonne of Samuell Butler the xiiijth of February anno ut supra". Lady Day, 25 March, was New Year's Day in England at the time, so the year of his baptism was 1613 according to the modern Gregorian calendar. Nash also claims in his 1793 edition of Hudibras that Butler's father entered his son's baptism into the register, an error that was also repeated in later publications; however, the entry was clearly written by a different hand.
He was educated at the King's School, Worcester, under Henry Bright whose teaching is recorded favourably by Thomas Fuller, a contemporary writer, in his Worthies of England. In early youth he was a servant to the Countess of Kent. Through Lady Kent he met her steward, the jurist John Selden who influenced his later writings. He also tried his hand at painting but was reportedly not very good at it; one of his editors reporting that "his pictures served to stop windows and save the tax" (on window glass).
After the Restoration he became secretary, or steward, to Richard Vaughan, 2nd Earl of Carbery, Lord President of Wales, which entailed living at least a year in Ludlow, Shropshire, until January 1662 while he was paying craftsmen working on repairing the castle there. In late 1662 the first part of Hudibras, which he began writing when lodging at Holborn, London, in 1658 and continued to work on while in Ludlow, was published, and the other two in 1664 and 1678 respectively. One early purchaser of the first two parts was Samuel Pepys. While the diarist acknowledged that the book was the "greatest fashion" he could not see why it was found to be so witty.
Despite the popularity of Hudibras, Butler was not offered a place at Court. However, Butler is thought to have been in the employment of the Duke of Buckingham in the summer of 1670, and accompanied him on a diplomatic mission to France. Butler also received financial support in the form of a grant from King Charles II.
Butler was buried at St. Paul's, Covent Garden at the expense of a Mr. Longueville, although he was not in debt when he died. Aubrey in Brief Lives describes his grave as "being in the north part next to the church at the east end.. 2 yards distant from the pillaster of the dore". Also, a monument to him was placed in Westminster Abbey in 1732 by a printer with the surname Barber, and the Lord Mayor of London. There is also a memorial plaque to him in the small village church of Strensham, Worcestershire, near the town of Upton upon Severn, his birthplace.
Hudibras is directed against religious sectarianism. The poem was very popular in its time, and several of its phrases have passed into the dictionary. It was sufficiently popular to spawn imitators. Hudibras takes some of its characterization from Don Quixote but unlike that work, it has many more references to personalities and events of the day. Butler was also influenced by satirists such as John Skelton and Paul Scarron's Virgile travesti; a satire on classical literature, particularly Virgil.  Hudibras was reprinted many times in the centuries following Butler's death. Two of the more noteworthy editions are those edited by Zachery Grey (1752) and Treadway Russell Nash (1793). The standard edition of the work was edited by John Wilders (1967).
Most of his other writings never saw print until they were collected and published by Robert Thyer in 1759. Butler wrote many short biographies, epigrams and verses the earliest surviving from 1644. Of his verses, the best known is "The Elephant on the Moon", about a mouse trapped in a telescope, a satire on Sir Paul Neale of the Royal Society. Butler's taste for the mock heroic is shown by another early poem Cynarctomachy, or Battle between Bear and Dogs, which is both a homage to and a parody of a Greek poem ascribed to Homer, Batrachomyomachia. He wrote the poem Upon Philip Nye's Thanksgiving Beard about the Puritan Philip Nye and later also mentioned him in Hudibras.
His supposed lack of money later in life is strange as he had numerous unpublished works which could have offered him income including a set of Theophrastan character sketches which were not printed until 1759. Many other works are dubiously attributed to him.
- A News-monger is a Retailer of Rumour, that takes up upon Trust, and sells as cheap as he buys. He deals in a perishable Commodity, that will not keep: for if it be not fresh it lies upon his Hands, and will yield nothing. True or false is all one to him; for Novelty being the Grace of bothe, a Truth grows stale as soon as a Lye...
— Samuel Butler, Characters
- Wilding, R.M. (May 1966). "The Date of Samuel Butler's Baptism". Review of English Studies. 17 (66): 175. JSTOR 512478.
- Dickins, Gordon (1987). An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire. Shropshire Libraries. pp. 12, 101. ISBN 0-903802-37-6.
- Samuel Pepys. Diary, 10 December 1663. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- Norma E. Bentley. "'Hudibras' Butler Abroad", Modern Language Notes, Vol. 60, No. 4, April 1945, pp.254–9
- Norma E. Bentley. "A Grant to 'Hudibras' Butler", Modern Language Notes,Vol. 59, No.4, April 1944, pp.281.
- Timbs, John (1855). Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in the Metropolis. D. Bogue. p. 535.
- John Aubrey. Brief Lives, chiefly of Contemporaries, ed. Andrew Clark, (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1898) vol. 1, p.136.
- Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey. Fourth ed. (London, John Murray, 1868), p. 280.
- Butler, Samuel, Hudibras: The Second Part, London 1663. Facsimile ed., 1994, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 978-0-8201-1469-9.
- Samuel Butler, The Genuine Poetical Remains, page 175
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). "Butler, Samuel (satirist)". A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Media related to Samuel Butler (poet) at Wikimedia Commons
- Quotations related to Samuel Butler (poet) at Wikiquote
- Works written by or about Samuel Butler at Wikisource
- "Butler, Samuel (poet)". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
- Works by Samuel Butler at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Samuel Butler at Internet Archive
- Works by Samuel Butler at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Hudibras etext
BUTLER (Samuel), a poet who possessed much wit and eccentricity, and who was the inimitable author of Hudibras, drew his first breath at Strensham, in Worcestershire, in 1612. From the free-school of Worcester he went to Cambridge, where he remained some years, and afterwards became clerk to a justice of the peace, in which situation he made a considerable progress in general literature. He was then retained in the service of the countess of Kent, where he had the good fortune to be noticed by the great Seldon, who engaged him as an amanuensis. From thence he entered into the service of Sir Samuel Luke, a gentleman of an ancient family in Bedfordshire, and a famous commander under Oliver Cromwell. While he remained in Sir Samuel's service, it is supposed that he planned, if he did not write, the celebrated Hudibras, as he seems to have made sir Samuel the hero of his poem. After the restoration, he became secretary to the earl of Carbury, by whom he was appointed steward of Ludlow castle. About this time he became allied by marriage to a family of respectability and fortune. In 1663 appeared the first part of the work which has almost given him immortality, and the other two parts successively followed. But though the work was generally admired, the author was shamefully neglected. The king quoted it, the courtiers studied it, and the whole party of the loyalists applauded it. A golden shower was daily expected to fall upon Mr. Butler; but praise appears to have been his principal reward. It has been reported, indeed, that the king once gave him 300 guineas; but of this temporary bounty we find no evidence. Certain it is, that this ingenious exposer of disloyally and fanaticism died in extreme indigence on the 25th of September, 1680. His remains were interred in the churchyard of Covent-garden. About 60 years after his death, a monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey, by Mr. Barber, a printer, mayor of London, and a friend to Butler's principles. Three volumes of his posthumous works were published by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester. In the depth of obscurity passed the life of this extraordinary genius—a man whose name can only perish with his language. The mode of his education is imperfectly known, and the events of his life are variously related: all that we certainly know is, that he died very poor.
---Eccentric biography, 1801
Butler stands without a rival in burlesque poetry. His "Hudibras" is in its kind, almost as great an effort of genius as the "Paradise Lost" itself. It abounds with uncommon learning, new rhymes, and original thoughts. Its images are truly and naturally ridiculous: we are never shocked with excessive distortion or grimace, nor is human nature degraded to that of monkies and yahoos. There are in it many strokes of temporary satire, and some characters and allusions which cannot be discovered at this distance of time. The character of Hudibras is, with good reason, believed to have been intended for sir Samuel Luke; and that of Whachum, but with much less probability, for captain George Wharton. Ob. Sept. 1680.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.
"The Hogarth of poetry," says Mr. Walpole, "was a painter too." He did but few things; yet there is no question but the genius of painting was greatly assisting to the comic muse. It is observable, that Hogarth's first public specimen of his talent for humourous pieces, was a set of prints which he designed for a new edition of "Hudibras." This was his best method of studying that admirable burlesque poem.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.