Samuel Butler (poet)

Samuel Butler (poet)

Samuel Butler (8 February, 1612 – 25 September, 1680) was a poet and satirist. Born in Strensham, Worcestershire and baptised 14 February, 1613,he is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical burlesque poem on Puritanism entitled "Hudibras".


Samuel Butler was the son of a farmer and 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 page to the Countess of Kent, and thereafter clerk to various Puritan justices, some of whom are believed to have suggested characters in "Hudibras". Through Lady Kent he met 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 to the Lord President of Wales, and about the same time married a Mrs. Herbert, a widow with a jointure, which, however, was lost. In 1663 the first part of "Hudibras" was published, and the other two in 1664 and 1678 respectively. One fan was Charles II, who granted him a pension.

Notwithstanding the popularity of "Hudibras", Butler was neglected by the Court and died in 1680, although whether in a state of poverty as often claimed and how much this may have been a self imposed exile either by choice or because of his sharp satirical wit is uncertain. John Aubrey in his notebook jottings called "Brief Lives" records that Charles II gave him a gift of £300 and that he had been secretary to George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, when the latter was chancellor of the University of Cambridge; Butler was close enough to Buckingham to collaborate with him in "The Rehearsal", a satirical play mocking the heroic drama of the time.

Butler is buried in Westminster Abbey. There is 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 the Puritans, and while it holds up to ridicule the extravagancies into which many of the party ran, it entirely fails to do justice to their virtues and their services to liberty, civil and religious. Many of its brilliant couplets have passed into the proverbial commonplaces of the language, and few who use them have any idea of their source. The work was widely popular and spawned many imitators.

"Hudibras" is to a certain extent modelled on "Don Quixote" but unlike that work, Hudibras 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.

Other writings

Most of his other writings never saw print until they were collected and published, 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 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. 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 (17th c.), "Characters"

External links


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