The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler (1896)

First edition title page (BII LAL 1896.3)

Dr Samuel Butler (1774-1839) was grandfather to the Victorian Samuel Butler (on his father’s side). Renowned as a Classicist and long-serving Headmaster of Shrewsbury School (1798-1836), Dr Butler authored the frequently reprinted school books Modern and Ancient Geography and An Atlas of Ancient Geography. He was Bishop of Lichfield from 1836 until his death.

In 1889, the younger Samuel Butler’s sisters gave him the bulk of their grandfather’s papers, which he set about sorting and editing. Until that time, Butler noted, ‘I knew nothing about my grandfather except that he had been a great schoolmaster – and I did not like schoolmasters; and then a bishop – and I did not like bishops; and that he was supposed to be like my father. Of course when I got hold of his papers, I saw what he was and fell head over ears in love with him.’

Portrait of Dr Samuel Butler

Frontispiece to first edition - 'Dr. Samuel Butler, from a picture painted by Thomas Kirkby about 1822'

It took Butler five years to complete the work, which extends to two large volumes (even after the substantial cuts Butler made in response to advice from potential publishers). Despite having eventually to publish it at his own expense, the book was well received; Queen Victoria and Gladstone conveyed their thanks, as did the Master and Fellows of St John’s, Cambridge, where Dr Butler and his grandson both studied.

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