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BUTLER, SAMUEL (1613-1680) Samuel Butler was born near Worcester and enhanced a spotty formal education at the King's School until age 15 with self-education through reading and study. After school he took a position as a justice's clerk at Earl's Croome in service to a Mr. Jeffries and remained in service in various clerical, secretarial, and household positions for the following three decades. He worked for the countess of Kent in Wrest, Bedfordshire, where he met John Selden, the legal scholar. He next took employment with the Presbyterian Sir Samuel Luke, a position that would become critical later in Butler's life. Luke had served Cromwell as a colonel in the Puritan revolution and was the governor of Newport Pagnell when Butler, a strong supporter of the Crown, worked for him.
Butler later expressed his Royalist sympathies through pamphlets in the 1650s and composed satiric ballads. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, Butler served the president of Wales as secretary and became steward of Ludlow Castle. Finally in 1662 at age 50, he published the first part of a serious work that guaranteed his fame, the mock-epic Hudibras. For some time, critics knew of few additional works by Butler, but in later centuries, at least six anonymous prose pieces were attributed to him, including The Case of King Charles I Truly Stated, which refuted each point in a prior pamphlet that supported regicide. However, it did not see print until 1691, when, as the publisher wrote in its preface, "A new Race of the Old Republican Stamp . . . reviv'd the Quarrel," a quarrel of Butler's era, then 40 years old. Two other of those publications were printed during Butler's lifetime. One, titled Mola Asinaria, bears the name William Prynne as its author. Prynne existed, in fact, and was used savagely by Butler as a character within the satire. Another, titled Answer (1659-60), supposedly John Manners' ghostwritten reply to his father-in-law, Henry Pierpoint, featured a marital situation that later became a sensational scandal, commented upon by the duke of Buckingham and John Milton. None of Butler's early publications are of value, other than to prove that his writing of Hudibras was not an isolated act.
The lengthy poem would be completed with two more issues in 1663 and 1678. Hudibras proved extremely popular, as evidenced by its multiple printings within its first year of publication. It spared no one considered a pedant or a hypocritical Puritan, causing it to become favored reading by the king. Butler especially targeted his former employer, Sir Samuel Luke, believed to be the model for the character Hudibras.
By 1670 Butler had returned to service, this time in the employ of George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham and one of the five members of the king's cabinet. During the summer of 1670 Butler accompanied Villiers and other notables upon the death of Charles Il's sister, wife of the French duke of Orléans, to St-Germain. Traveling with the group was Thomas Sprat, historian for the Royal Society. The one notebook that survived the trip Butler used to compile an English-French dictionary, as well as a sketch book of the people he observed along the way. He may also have traveled to the Hague on a diplomatic mission in 1672 with the duke, the earl of Arlington, and the duke of Monmouth. He remained with Buckingham while the duke served in 1673-74 as chancellor of Cambridge University. The antiquarian Anthony Wood wrote that Butler helped compose Buckingham's satire The Rehearsal, as early as 1663, although that cannot be proved; if he had a hand in the work, it was more probably the revision, written in 1671. Two other works written after Hudibras are most certainly Butler's, each bearing the phrase "Written by the author of Hudibras" and each executed in his style. To the Memory of the Most Renowned Du-Vall (1671) offered a biting ode on the famed highwayman Claude Duval, which later critics noted as a precursor to Henry Fielding's novel Jonathan Wild (1743). It ridiculed the English fascination with French behavior and dress, attacked certain literary styles, and savaged lawyers for their dishonesty; Du Vall allowed them to practice in "his own allow'd High-way." Butler also wrote a final satire four years after the death of William Prynne titled Two Letters, one from John Audland a Quaker, to William Prynne. The Other, William Prynne's Answer, another instance of his assumption of a false identity.
Various reports exist of Butler's life in his final two years. Some pronounce him impoverished, others wealthy; some report him without a means of support or a home, while others declare that he felt sufficiently stable to decline offers of aid. Surprisingly he would receive a marker in Westminster Abbey, but not until the 18th century. The fact that he received no royal pension as a reward from the king who so enjoyed his work remains puzzling. Apparently Butler did receive a one-time payment of £200, recorded on November 30, 1674, in the Calendar of Treasury Books. Wood and others have suggested that Butler's share of profits from the sales of Hudibras must have been great. A letter to his sister revealed that he did marry and spent some leisure time in writing notebooks and miscellanies, the manuscripts of which entered into the possession of one Robert Thyer.
Three volumes of Butler's writings appeared in 1715, declared mostly unimportant by later scholars, with another collection titled Genuine Remains published in 1759 by Thyer. Samuel Johnson included a biographical comment about Butler in The Works of English Poets (1779). Without doubt Hudibras best represents Butler, and it remains important to English poetry studies, with excerpts easily located in print and electronic form. Although challenging in its language and 17th-century references, Hudibras remains required reading for anyone desiring to understand the era and the development of satire, a subgenre that would become increasingly popular. Also available in anthologies is his "Upon the Weakness and Misery of Man."
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