Authors: Samuel Butler (1612-1680)

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English satirist

Author Works


Hudibras, parts 1-3, 1663, 1664, 1678


The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Samuel Butler, 1759 (Robert Thyer, editor)

Characters, Observations, and Reflexions from the Notebooks, 1908 (A. R. Waller, editor)

Samuel Butler, 1612-1680: Characters, 1970 (Charles W. Daves, editor)


Samuel Butler is remembered chiefly as the author of one of the outstanding satires of the seventeenth century. Hudibras, a rollicking burlesque on the followers of Oliver Cromwell, was written as a mock-heroic poem to ridicule the Puritans who had controlled England for two decades. Part of the poem’s charm lies in its comic rhyming of couplets. The central figure of the work, which is thematically similar to Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605), is Hudibras, a “presbyterian true blue” knight, and the poem describes the attempt of this knight and his odd squire Ralpho to put an end to amusements in England. The topical reference is to the closing of the theaters in 1642. In the poem Butler castigates Puritanism for its tendencies toward political tyranny and personal hypocrisy.{$I[AN]9810000371}{$I[A]Butler, Samuel (1612-1680)}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Butler, Samuel (1612-1680)}{$I[tim]1612;Butler, Samuel (1612-1680)}

Butler, the royalist son of a prosperous Worcestershire farmer, was educated at King’s School, Worcester. During his youth he tried unsuccessfully to pursue a career as a painter. Later he served as secretary of the countess of Kent, 1626-1628, became amanuensis to the antiquarian John Selden, and was associated with the household of Sir Samuel Luke, a fanatical officer of Cromwell’s army and possibly the original of the knight Hudibras. After this he was appointed as secretary to Lord Carbery, the steward of Ludbow Castle.

Hudibras, part of which had circulated in manuscript before the Restoration in 1660, was published in three parts between 1663 and 1678. King Charles II was so pleased with the work that in 1677 he awarded Butler an annual pension of one hundred pounds. Between 1667 and 1669 Butler also wrote a series of character sketches, but these were not published until 1759. Between 1671 and 1674 he was secretary to George Villiers, duke of Buckingham. He died of tuberculosis in London in 1680.

BibliographyHenderson, Philip. Samuel Butler: The Incarnate Bachelor. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1954. One of the best biographies of Butler and the first to deal with Butler’s private life. Focuses on Butler’s personality rather than his work. Readable and illuminating. Argues against such mistaken prevailing views that Butler hated his father. Contains a detailed chronology.Holt, Lee. Samuel Butler. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. In his critical evaluation, Holt summarizes and quotes extensively from a wide range of Butler’s work, much of it no longer available. Extends the reader’s knowledge of Butler’s varied accomplishments. Includes biographical information, a chronology, notes, references, a lengthy selected bibliography, and an index with brief annotations.Parker, Blanford. The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Written for an audience familiar with seventeenth and eighteenth century history and thought yet accessible to the nonspecialist. Parker’s study includes a chapter on Samuel Butler and his part in a vigorous, tumultuous, and original period in English culture. Includes bibliographic references.Raby, Peter. Samuel Butler: A Biography. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. This biography makes much of the suffering in Butler’s youth, which was occasioned by repeated whippings by his father for the slightest infractions and his grandfather’s long headmastership of a school at which Butler was enrolled. Includes a bibliography.Richards, Edward Ames. Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1972. Explores the burlesque elements in Butler’s Hudibras. Bibliography.Snider, Alvin Martin. Origin and Authority in Seventeenth Century England: Bacon, Milton, Butler. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1994. Explores the way in which Francis Bacon, John Milton, and Butler shared thematic interest and discourse in the genesis of ideas by focusing on their signature works: Novum Organum, Paradise Lost, and Hudibras.Swartchild, William G. The Character of a Roundhead: Theme and Rhetoric in Anti-Puritan Verse Satire, From 1639 Through “Hudibras.” New York: Russell and Russell, 1966. Provides history and criticism of English satire and the influence of Puritan mores within the genre, using Butler’s work as a focal point for the discussion.Veldkamp, Jan. Samuel Butler: The Author of “Hudibras.” Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1977. Offers analysis of the religious aspects of Butler’s seminal work, Hudibras.Wasserman, George W. Samuel “Hudibras” Butler. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1976. Provides criticism and interpretation of Butler’s most noted work.
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