Butter, Nathaniel (DNB00)

BUTTER, NATHANIEL (d. 1664), printer and journalist, was the son of Thomas Butter, a small London stationer, who died about 1589. His mother carried on the business after his father's death from 1589 to 1594, when she married another stationer named Newbery. On 20 Feb. 1603–4 Nathaniel was admitted a freeman of the Stationers' Company per patrimonium, and on 4 Dec. 1604 he entered on the company's registers his first publication (‘The Life and Death of Cavaliero Dick Boyer’). On 12 Feb. 1604–5 he obtained permission to print ‘“The Interlude of Henry the 8th” … if he get good allowance for it.’ Between 1605 and 1607 Butter published several sermons and tracts of no great value. On 26 Nov. 1607 he, together with John Busby, undertook the publication of Shakespeare's ‘Lear;’ in 1609 he printed Dekker's ‘Belman of London,’ and in 1611 he published a folio edition of Chapman's translation of the ‘Iliad’ But from an early date he turned his attention to the compilation and publication of pamphlets of news, and in this department he subsequently achieved very eminent success. He issued in June 1605 an account of two recent murders, one of them being the famous ‘Yorkshire tragedy;’ on 24 Aug. a report of the trial of the Yorkshire murderer, Walter Calverley [q. v.], which had taken place a day or two previously; on 25 June 1607 ‘a true and tragical discourse’ of the expedition to Guiana in 1605; on 19 May 1608 ‘Newes from Lough ffoyle in Ireland;’ on 16 June 1609 ‘The Originall Ground of the present Warres of Sweden;’ and in 1611 ‘Newes from Spain.’ On 23 May 1622 two publishers, Nicholas Bourne and Thomas Archer, issued the first extant copy of ‘The Weekly Newes from Italy, Germanie, &c.,’ and this was continued at weekly intervals by the same publishers until 25 Sept. of the same year, when Butter and one William Shefford produced a rival quarto sheet entitled ‘Newes from most parts of Christendom.’ This was Butter's first attempt at a newspaper, and its immediate success warranted him in issuing two days later, in conjunction with Thomas Archer, another budget of news from the continent, written (probably by himself) in the form of letters from foreign correspondents. From this date Butter made journalism his chief business, compiling and issuing reports of news at very frequent intervals, none of which exceeded a week, and his enterprise virtually created the London press. On 12 May 1623 an extant copy of a publication of ‘The Newes of the present week,’ printed by Butter, Bourne, and Shefford, bore a number (31) for the first time. The title of the news-sheet varied very much: sometimes it was headed ‘More Newes,’ sometimes ‘Last Newes,’ and at other times ‘The Weekly Newes continued.’ All were mainly compiled from similar sheets published abroad, and gave little information about home affairs, but unfortunately the extant sets are so incomplete that no very positive statement can be made about their contents. Butter soon gained notoriety as an industrious collector of news, and was satirised by the dramatists. Ben Jonson ridiculed him in 1625 in his ‘Staple of News’ under the title of ‘Cymbal;’ Fletcher refers to him in the ‘Fair Maid of the Tun;’ and Shirley in his ‘Love Tricks.’ In 1630 he began a series of half-yearly volumes of collected foreign news, under such titles as ‘The German Intelligencer,’ ‘The Swedish Intelligencer,’ and so forth. On 20 Dec. 1638 Charles I granted to Butter and Nicholas Bourne the right of ‘printing and publishing all matter of history or news of any foreign place or kingdom since the first beginning of the late German wars to the present, and also for translating and publishing in the English tongue all news, novels, gazettes, currantes, and occurrences that concern foreign parts, for the term of twenty-one years, they paying yearly towards the repair of St. Paul's the sum of 10l.’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1638–9, p. 182). At the end of 1639 the licenser of the press prohibited Butter's weekly sheet, and on 11 Jan. 1640 he issued a ‘Continuation of the Forraine Occurrents for 5 weeks last past … examined and licensed by a better and more impartiall hand than heretofore.’ Butter had varied his news sheets in his later years with a few plays. In 1630 he issued the second part of Dekker's ‘Honest Whore;’ but on 21 May 1639 he made over the copyrights of all plays in his possession to a printer named Flessher. By 1641 Butter appears to have retired from business; he was then more than seventy years old, and the competition of journalists during the civil war was intense. In Smith's ‘Obituary’ (Camden Soc. p. 60). Butter's death is recorded thus: ‘Feb. 22 [1663–4] Nath. Butter, an old stationer, died very poor.’

[Arber's Transcript of the Stationers' Registers, ii. 736, iii. 277 et seq.; F. K. Hunt's The Fourth Estate (1850), i. 10–54; Alex. Andrews's Hist. of Brit. Journalism, i. 28–38; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 38–9; Ben Jonson's Works, ed. Gifford; British Museum Collection of Newspapers.]

S. L. L.