Samuel Butler



Samuel Butler, Characters, ed. Charles W. Daves (Cleveland and London, 1970).

De Quehen, Editing

A.H. De Quehen, ‘Editing Butler's Manuscripts’, in Editing Seventeenth Century Prose, ed. D.I.B. Smith (Toronto, 1972), pp. 71-93.

De Quehen, Prose

Samuel Butler, Prose Observations, ed. Hugh De Quehen (Oxford, 1979).


Samuel Butler, Satires and Miscellaneous Prose and Poetry, ed. René Lamar (Cambridge, 1928).


Samuel Butler, Hudibras, ed. Treadway Russell Nash, 3 vols (London, 1793).


The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler, Author of Hudibras. Published from the Original Manuscripts, formerly in the Possession of W. Longueville, Esq, ed. Robert Thyer, 2 vols (London, 1759).


Samuel Butler, Characters and Passages from Note-Books, ed. A.R. Waller (Cambridge, 1908)


Literary Manuscripts

Samuel Butler's literary manuscripts have had a chequered history. Although there is no evidence of the survival of the original or printer's manuscripts of his most celebrated work, Hudibras, Butler is known to have left at his death a collection of unpublished manuscripts in verse and prose — described by Roger North as ‘loose Papers, and indigested’ (Life of Francis North (London, 1742), p. 289). The papers were bequeathed to Butler's old friend and patron, the distinguished lawyer William Longueville (1639-1721), who, according to North, ‘reduced them into Method and Order’. After Longueville's death, the manuscripts passed to his son, Charles (d.1750), who in turn bequeathed them to his natural son, John Clarke (1743/4-89). In the 1750s the youthful Clarke placed them in the hands of Robert Thyer (1709-81), librarian of Chetham's Library in Manchester, and they provided the basis for his edition of The Genuine Remains in 1759. (For his own notes on the manuscripts, see BuS 6). The manuscripts subsequently passed to James Massey (1712/13-96), of Rosthern, near Knutsford, Cheshire, into whose family John Clarke married. In 1793 the editor of Hudibras, T. R. Nash, testified that ‘what remains of them, still unpublished, are either in the hands of the ingenious Doctor Farmer, of Cambridge [i.e. Richard Farmer (1735-91)], or myself’ (Nash, I, xvi). Farmer's ‘large Collection of Materials, by Mr. Samuel Butler, for Hudibras, with many other Poetical Pieces, Original Letters, to and from him, &c’ were sold as lot 8100 in the sale by Thomas King of the library of the Rev. Richard Farmer, FSA (1735-97), Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, literary scholar, 7 May to 6 June 1798. The papers were bought at this auction by John Thane, compiler of British Autography. Shortly after Thane's death (in 1818), the manuscripts appear to have belonged to the editors Charles Baldwyn and Henry Southern (‘a great quantity of [Butler's] unpublished manuscripts are now in our possession’, wrote Southern in the London Magazine for September 1825).

Thereafter the fate of the manuscripts as a collection becomes obscure. What is known for certain is that a collection of Butler's manuscripts resurfaced in November 1885 when it was purchased at the Ellis sale at Sotheby's for the British Museum. From the evidence of earlier editions, it is clear that this collection (*BuS 5) represents about half of the total manuscripts left by Butler to William Longueville. It is quite unknown what happened to the rest of the manuscripts and it is even possible that they still survive. In the meantime, the loss is partly offset — not only by Thyer's edition, but by three surviving partial transcripts. One is William Longueville's own commonplace book (*BuS 7), in which he transcribed a very large selection of verse and prose from Butler's manuscripts, including much from the ‘lost’ manuscripts. This commonplace book (which, in fact, was begun by Butler himself as an English-French dictionary) became generally known in the 1940s following its purchase in 1930 from P. J. and A. E. Dobell by A. S. W. Rosenbach, at which time it was erroneously described as one of Butler's own original compilations throughout.

A second recorded volume of transcripts is that made by Robert Thyer (BuS 6), a major part comprising a selective and re-ordered transcript of *BuS 5, but also including a substantial amount of prose material from the ‘lost’ manuscripts. Thyer's manuscript accompanied *BuS 5 when it was purchased in 1885 by the British Museum.

A third collection of transcripts is a twenty-leaf notebook of verse remains of Butler, with insertions by Longueville, now in the John Rylands Library (BuS 8).

For more detailed accounts of the history of most of these manuscripts, see the editions cited above and, especially, De Quehen, Editing and Prose.

Butler's modus operandi

The most substantial extant autograph writings by Butler are contained in *BuS 5. For the most part they are set out in double columns — the first column generally containing his roughly drafted out ideas as they occurred to him; the second containing ideas revised and reworked selectively into a more formal, if not finished, shape. Butler's general method of composition, as shown in these papers and so far as his verse is concerned, has been described by E.S. de Beer as, ‘roughly, to write long passages or detached themes; to save a few couplets from these for use in alternative treatments of the same theme, or in passages or other themes; and by process of distillation to collect enough material to be linked up into a canto’ (‘The Later Life of Samuel Butler’, Review of English Studies, 4 (1928), 159-66 (p. 163)). Despite the claims to completeness of modern editors, Butler's miscellaneous drafts have still not been published in their entirety.

Literary Remains

The entries below (BuS 5-8) incorporate brief descriptions of Butler's literary remains. The nature of his ‘lost’ manuscripts may be briefly deduced as follows. Besides the miscellaneous verse and prose in *BuS 5, Longueville inherited drafts or fair copies of The Elephant in the Moon and other satires; To The Happy Memory of the most Renown'd Du-Val (described by Thyer as ‘in his owne Hand-writing among his Manuscripts, with some little Addition, and a few verbal Alterations’); prose tracts including The Case of King Charles I truly stated and the Two Letters by John Audland and William Prynne; and over two hundred prose Characters.

It is evident, moreover, that all the early transcripts and editions of the manuscripts represent a substantial selection and re-ordering of them, so that other miscellaneous drafts, not copied by Longueville or Thyer, might well have been among the original manuscripts. Those pieces omitted from publication by Thyer included a further twenty-eight prose Characters and several hundred lines of verse which were edited by Henry Southern in a series of six articles on ‘Butleriana. From Unpublished Manuscripts’, in the London Magazine, NS 3, No. 9 (September 1825), 136-40, and No. 11 (November 1825), 425-30; NS 4, No. 13 (January 1826), 94-8, and No. 15 (March 1826), 401-6; NS 6, No. 22 (October 1826), 225-32, and No. 23 (November 1826), 396-401. For a discussion and partial reprint of five of these articles, see Josephine Bauer, ‘Some Verse Fragments and Prose Characters by Samuel Butler Not Included in the Complete Works’, Modern Philology, 45 (1947), 160-9 (and see also De Quehen's qualifying comments in Editing, pp. 91-2). Some of the verse printed by Southern is actually to be found in *BuS 5, while most of the Characters are transcribed in the manuscripts of Longueville and Thyer (BuS 6 and *BuS 7). However, Southern's articles remain the only known text for eight Characters (reprinted in Daves, pp. 319-28), as well as for many verse fragments, until such time as Butler's ‘lost’ manuscripts come to light. One further glimpse of the lost originals is offered by John Thane in his British Autography, 3 vols (London, 1793 etc.), where (in Vol. III) he reproduces in facsimile from ‘the Originals’ in his possession four autograph lines of verse beginning ‘'tis a Strange Age w' have liv'd in, & a Lewd’ (viz. lines 1-4 of the Satyr printed in Thyer, I, 69).

It may be added that the share of Butler's remains which fell into the hands of T. R. Nash before 1793 is likely to have been largely, if not exclusively, confined to Longueville's commonplace book (*BuS 7). The latter contains Nash's inscription inside the upper cover, and in his edition of Hudibras (I, xxxix) Nash reproduces in facsimile two lines from this manuscript (which, however, are derived from Otway's prologue to Nathaniel Lee's Constantine the Great (1683) and are in Longueville's hand, not in Butler's as Nash supposed). Nash claimed, moreover (I, xvii-xviii), to possess another of Butler's manuscripts acquired from a different source. ‘Purchased of some of our poet's relations, at the Hay, in Brecknockshire’, it is described as ‘a collection of legal cases and principles, regularly related from Lord Coke's Commentary on Littleton's Tenures: the language in Norman, or law French…the second book…is entitled by Butler, Le second livre del primer part del institutes de ley d'Engleterre…The MS is imperfect, no title existing, some leaves being torn, and is continued only to the 193d section…’. This volume, apparently later owned by Henry Buxton Forman (1842-1917), bibliographer and forger, is reported to have been owned in 1991 by James Cummins, New York bookseller. Nash, it has to be said, was scarcely an infallible judge of Butler's hand, for he could not distinguish it from Longueville's. However, in view of its alleged provenance, this legal manuscript may conceivably have been Butler's and may, moreover, be tentatively added to the evidence (supplied by Aubrey and others) that Butler once studied for the law (see Michael Wilding, ‘Butler and Gray's Inn’, N&Q, 216 (August 1971), 293-5).

For some observations on the identification of books from Nash's library, apparently once preserved at Reigate, Surrey, see De Quehen, Prose, p. xx.

The Canon

Both before and after Butler's death, works in verse and prose were spuriously attributed to him, most notably in his so-called Posthumous Works, 3 vols (London, 1715-17). For these, see particularly A. H. De Quehen, ‘An Account of Works Attributed to Samuel Butler’, Review of English Studies, NS 33 (1982), 262-77, and Edward Ames Richards, Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition (New York, 1937), pp. 171-8. Of the eighty or so suppositious works, a few are found in contemporary or near-contemporary manuscript copies. Two of these — Mercurius Menippeus. The Loyal Satyrist, or, Hudibras in Prose and the widely disseminated bawdy verse satire Dildoides — have been given entries below (BuS 37-38 and BuS 19-36). Others, not given entries, and almost certainly not by Butler, some of them widely circulated in manuscript copies, include:

‘A Thought upon the Death of King Charles I’. James Shirley's well-known dirge ‘The glories of our blood and state’ (see ShJ 139-174).

‘The Tub-Preacher’. William Strode's poem ‘The Town's New Teacher’ (see StW 1178-1188).

‘Upon the Late Storm at the Death of the Usurper, Oliver Cromwell’. William Godolphin's parody of a well-known poem by Edmund Waller (see WaE 700-733 and Waller Introduction).

‘A Satyr on the Players’.

‘A Satyr on the Poets’; ‘The Whig's Ghost’.

‘The Quarrel between Frank and Nan’.

In addition, what is alleged to be ‘Butler's earliest doggerel verses’ was ‘inscribed in his copy of Lewis Bayly's The Practice of Piety in 1642’. The claim is made by Paul Bunyan Anderson, in ‘Anonymous Critic of Milton: Richard Leigh? or Samuel Butler?’, Studies in Philology, 44 (1947), 504-18 (p. 505). However, no indication is given of the whereabouts or subsequent provenance of the volume.


Apart from the manuscripts inherited by Longueville, examples of Butler's handwriting are extremely rare. Only two known letters written by him can be recorded below (BuS 9-10).

Books Allegedly Owned or Annotated by Butler

Several printed books have been recorded on occasions as having been owned or inscribed by Butler. Two examples, both currently untraced, are recorded below (BuS 12-13).

In addition, a possible reference to one of Butler's annotated books occurs in Longueville's commonplace book (*BuS 7), f. [ii], in his transcript of Butler's account of his visit to France in 1670. He observes at one point: ‘Vide al fine de Dr Lockey's Geography. beaucop de mr Butlers notes sr France’ (De Quehen, Prose, p. 250). The identity of that volume — presumably owned by Dr Thomas Lockey (1602-79), Librarian of the Bodleian — remains equally obscure.

There is also a tiny slip of paper containing the inscription, in an unidentified hand, ‘Dono Mri Ward transferor in possess. Sam. Butler. Cantabr. an. dom. MDCLXVI Nil pretij dono, gratâ re, gratia Wardo’ (i.e. By the gift of Mr Ward I am transferred into the possession of Samuel Butler of Cambridge, 1666, It cost nothing, it is a gift, thanks to Ward). This document was formerly in the collection of Roger W. Barrett, of Chicago, and, like so much else, is now untraced.

Extracts from Hudibras

There is no evidence that Butler's works enjoyed an extensive circulation in manuscript during his lifetime, although Hudibras — his most popular work, even enjoyed by King Charles II — was evidently not immune to piracy by unauthorized publishers. There are, however, contemporary transcripts of two of his canonical works, including the Second Part of Hudibras, recorded in the entries below (BuS 1, BuS 4). Besides a dramatisation of the poem (BuS 1.3), extracts from the various parts of Hudibras, presumably taken from printed sources, are not uncommon in miscellanies of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and a number of examples of these have been given entries below (BuS 0.1-.3).

For a little-known printed broadside of extracts from Hudibras — published in 1681 as The Priviledge of our Saints in the business of Perjury — see James L. Thorson, ‘A Broadside by Samuel Butler (1612-1680)’, BLR, 9, No. 3 (1974), 178-86.


Various documents of interest relating to Butler, some concerning Hudibras, have not been given separate entries below but may be listed here briefly.

A letter by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, to Secretary Henry Bennett (? 1663), requesting a licence for the printing of all three parts of Hudibras, is in the National Archives, Kew, SP 29/109/8.

A licence to Butler, dated 23 November 1663, for the printing of all three parts of Hudibras is copied in the Signet Book in the National Archives, Kew, SP Dom. Signet Office VI, SO1/6, p. 10.

A licence for the printing of the second part of Hudibras is entered as a minute in Entry Book 15, p. 252:SP 29/84/24.

A draft in the hand of Joseph Williamson of the royal warrant granting Butler sole rights of republishing any part of Hudibras is in the National Archives, Kew, SP 29/398/188.

The royal warrant itself, drawn up by John Berkenhead and signed by Charles II on 10 September 1677, is now in the British Library, Add. MS 4293, f. 7. The text of this is printed in Nash, I, viii.

The original manuscript of John Aubrey's important biographical account of Butler (including his transcript of one of the ‘additional’ passages for Hudibras: BuS 3) is in the Bodleia (MSS Aubrey 6, ff. 114v-15r; 7, f. 5v; and 8, f. 7r): see his Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark, 2 vols (Oxford, 1898), I, 135-8.

For three documents relating to later editorial and copyright matters, see BuS 14-18.

Peter Beal