Samuel Butler (schoolmaster)

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Samuel Butler FRS (30 January 1774 – 4 December 1839) was an English classical scholar and schoolmaster of Shrewsbury, and Bishop of Lichfield. His grandson was Samuel Butler (1835–1902), noted author of the novel Erewhon.

He was born at Kenilworth. He was educated at Rugby School, and in 1791 was admitted to St John's College, Cambridge.[1] Butler's classical career was meritorious. He obtained three of Sir William Browne's medals, for the Latin (1792) and Greek (1793, 1794) odes, the medal for the Greek ode in 1792 being won by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1793 Butler was elected to the Craven scholarship, amongst the competitors being John Keate, afterwards headmaster of Eton, and Coleridge. In 1796 he was fourth senior optime and senior chancellors classical medallist. In 1797 and 1798 he obtained the members prize for Latin essay. He acquired the degree of BA in 1796, MA in 1799, and DD in 1811. In 1797 he was elected a fellow of St John's, and in 1798 became headmaster of Shrewsbury school.

In 1802 he was appointed as clergyman of Kenilworth, in 1807 to a prebendal stall in Lichfield Cathedral, and in 1822 to the archdeaconry of Derby; all these appointments he had at the same time as his headmastership, but in 1836 he was promoted to the bishopric of Lichfield (and Coventry, which was separated from his diocese during the same year).

It is in association with Shrewsbury school that Butler is chiefly remembered. During his headmastership its reputation increased greatly, and in the standard of its scholarship was the equal of any other public school in England. His edition of Aeschylus, with the text and notes of Stanley, was published during 1809–1816, and was somewhat severely criticized by the Edinburgh Review, but Butler was prevented by his appointment to the episcopate from revising it. He also wrote a Sketch of Modern and Ancient Geography (1813, reprinted frequently) for use by schools, and published atlases of ancient and modern geography. His large library included a fine collection of Aldine editions and Greek and Latin manuscripts. After his death the Aldines were sold by auction, the manuscripts purchased by the British Museum. Bishop Butler is buried in the church yard of the Collegiate Church of St Mary the Virgin Shrewsbury – the former parish church of Shrewsbury School.

Butler's life has been written by his grandson Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon (Life and Letters of Dr Samuel Butler, 1896); see also Baker's History of St John's College, Cambridge (ed. JEB Mayor, 1869); Sandys, Hist. Class. Schol. (ed. 1908), vol. iii. p. 398.

Butler collected some Greek manuscripts (e.g. Minuscule 202).


  1. ^ "Butler, Samuel (BTLR791S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 

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Church of England titles
Preceded by
The Honourable
Henry Ryder
Bishop of Lichfield
Succeeded by
James Bowstead