In this mist of obscurity passed the life of  Butler,  a man whose
name can only perish with his language. The mode and place of
his education are unknown;  the events of  his life are variously
related; and all that can be told with certainty is, that he was poor.
—Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Butler (1612-1680)

Samuel Butler was born the son of a farmer at Strensham in Worcestershire, where he was christened on February 14, 1612. He was schooled at King's School, Worcester under Henry Bright, noted for his passionate teaching. After finishing school, he worked as justice's clerk to a Mr. Thomas Jeffereys of Earl's Croome, Worcestershire.
     At age seventeen, he obtained a post in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Kent, at Wrest in Bedfordshire. The exact capacity of his service is unknown. There, Butler had access to the family's fine library and also met John Selden, for whom he worked intermittently as secretary.
     Butler served as secretary to various gentlemen, including a post at the household of Sir Samuel Luke, at Cople Hoo, Bedfordshire. Luke was a fervent Presbyterian colonel in the Parliamentary army, as well scoutmaster general for Bedfordshire. It has been proposed that Luke was the model for the title character in Hudibras.
     In 1661, right after the Restoration, Butler became steward to Richard Vaughan, Earl of Carbery, Lord President of Wales, at Ludlow Castle. Around this time, Butler married a woman of some wealth; wealth which was soon lost in bad investments. No certainty exists to the identity of the lady whom Johnson called "Mrs. Herbert". Butler had begun Hudibras around 1658, and continued work on it while at Ludlow, giving up the his stewardship in January, 1662.
     Butler published the first part of Hudibras in 1663. This long, burlesque poem satirizing the Puritans immediately met with great success and popularity. King Charles II liked it so much that he granted Butler an annual pension of £100. The promised annuity, however, seems never to have been paid. Butler published a second part to Hudibras in 1664 and a third in 1678, but died in abject poverty on September 25, 1680. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul's Covent Garden.
     In 1721, some forty years after Butler's death, Mr. Barber, a printer and the Mayor of London, bestowed on him a monument in Westminster Abbey, the inscription of which reads in Latin:

While Butler, needy Wretch, was yet alive
No Generous Patron would a Dinner give.
See him when starv’d to death and turn’d to Dust
Presented with a monumental Bust.
The Poet’s Fate is here an Emblem show’n;
He asked for Bread and he receiv’d a Stone.1

     Butler's other writings include prose 'characters', epigrams and verses, most notable of which is the poem "The Elephant in the Moon", a satire on Sir Paul Neale of the Royal Society. Much of these writings were printed as the collection The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler by Robert Thyer in 1759.

1 Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.

  • Castrop, Helmut. Die varronische Satire in England 1660-1690 : Studien
              zu Butler, Marvell und Dryden.  Heidelberg : C. Winter, 1983.
  • Veldkamp, Jan. Samuel Butler: The Author of Hudibras.
              Hilversum : Electr. Drukkerij "De Atlas", 1923.
  • Wasserman, George Russell. Samuel Butler and the Earl of Rochester :
              A Reference Guide.  Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986.
  • Wasserman, George Russell. Samuel "Hudibras" Butler.
              Boston: Twayne, 1989. (1976 1st ed.)

Butler | Works | Resources | Essays | 18th C. English Literature


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