Samuel Butler

Poet and satirist (1612-1680), born at Strensham in Worcestershire and educated at the King's School, Worcester. He then went to work as a secretary to Thomas Jefferey at Earl's Croom, near to Upton-upon-Severn. He took up painting and there are two portraits attributed to him in the nearby rectory.

Charles II is known to have had a high opinion of Butler's great religious satire Hudibras (1663-1678) and awarded him an annual pension of £100, although the writer still died in poverty. Butler began Hudibras while lodging in Holborn around 1658. In 1661 he is recorded as being at Ludlow Castle as steward to Richard Vaughan, Earl of Carberry. During the Civil War the castle had been captured by Parliamentarians and the contents sold, but during the Restoration, when the Court of the Marches was revived, Carberry (the President) undertook to make the castle inhabitable again. Part of Samuel Butler's work at the castle was towards this end, with account books apparently showing him making payments to craftsmen working on the repairs. He is supposed to have married around this time and was certainly still working on Hudibras, a satire ridiculing religious hypocrisy, while at Ludlow. He gave up his stewardship in January 1662 and the first part of Hudibras was published in December of the same year.

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. 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 travesty 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 Russel Nash (1793). The standard edition of the work was edited by John Wilders (1967).

Other writings
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. 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.