Samuel Butler and Italy

Street sign in Sicily - 'Via Samuel Butler'
Sicily's homage to Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler first visited Italy in the winter of 1843, aged just eight. Fifty-five years later, in 1898, he recorded in his notebook his ‘vivid recollection’ of being taken to the top of St Peter’s in Rome. The architecture, language and culture of Italy made a great impression on him from an early age. Between 1865 and 1902 Butler made at least 25 trips to Italy, each time making new acquaintances and collecting anecdotes and memories that infused his thought and writing.

In his book Alps and Sanctuaries (1882) Butler explains his obsession with his ‘second country’:

Who does not turn to Italy who has the chance of doing so? What, indeed, do we not owe to that most lovely and lovable country? … Our laws are Roman in their origin. Our music… and our painting comes from Italy. Our very religion till a few hundred years ago found its headquarters, not in London nor in Canterbury, but in Rome. What, in fact, has not filtered through Italy, even though it arose elsewhere?

Today, Butler’s passion for the landscape and culture of Italy – from the Alpine ranges bordering Switzerland in the north to Trapani on the west coast of Sicily – is filtered through the Library’s unique collection of his writings, paintings and photographs.

From 1892 Butler visited Sicily every year but one, and became well-known there, especially in the area surrounding Trapani and Mount Erice on the west coast. Above you can see the plaque on a wall in the old town of Erice, where one of the streets is named after Butler. This photograph was taken in June 2012 by Luigi Giannitrapani, whose grandfather was a friend of Samuel Butler and features in some of the photograph albums in the collection.

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