Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Butt, George

BUTT, GEORGE (1741–1795), divine and poet, was the son of Dr. Carey Butt, physician, of Lichfield, at whose house it is said that Dr. Johnson when a boy was a constant visitor (Hawkins, Life of Johnson, p. 6), though this must have been before Butt was born, 26 Dec. 1741. The Butts were of the same family as Henry VIII's physician, Butts, though they had dropped the final s. After receiving his early education at the grammar school at Stafford, Butt was admitted, through the influence of his father's friend Thomas Newton (afterwards bishop of Bristol), on the foundation at Westminster in 1766, and was thence elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1761, where he graduated B.A. in 1766, M.A. in 1768, taking the degrees of B.D. and D.D. on 29 Oct. 1793. Having received deacon's orders in 1765, he was appointed to the curacy of Leigh, Staffordshire, which he shortly afterwards resigned for the post of private tutor to the son of Sir E. Winnington of Stanford Court, Worcestershire, and in October 1767 accompanied his pupil to Christ Church. While acting as young Winnington's tutor, Butt, his daughter Mrs. Sherwood says, 'kept company with the noblemen and gentlemen, commoners of Christ Church, to whom the vivacity of his genius rendered his society acceptable,' though he was careful not to forget what was due to his profession. In 1771 he was presented by Sir E. Winnington to the rectory of Stanford and the vicarage of Clifton, and in 1773 married Martha Sherwood, the daughter of a London silk merchant. Expensive habits and especially his love of company had by this time involved him in debt. He was rescued from his difficulties by the good management of his wife, who, among other economical schemes, persuaded him to take private pupils. With these pupils, mostly young men of good family, he was popular, though his desultory mode of imparting instruction could not have been of much benefit to them. In 1778 he was presented by Newton, now bishop of Bristol, to the vicarage of Newchurch, in the Isle of Wight, which he held along with Stanford, where he continued to reside. About this time he occasionally joined the coterie of Lady Miller at Batheaston, and dropped verses into her vase. He exchanged the living of Newchurch for the rectory of Notgrove, Gloucestershire, in 1788, and the same year was appointed chaplain in ordinary to the king, and gave up taking pupils. In 1787, on application from Dr. Markham, his old master at Westminster, he was presented by Lord Foley to the rich vicarage of Kidderminster, which he held along with his other cures. He changed his residence to Kidderminster the next year, and lived there on good terms with the many dissenters of the town. In 1794 he returned to Stanford, and used to ride into Kidderminster to do duty. On 30 June 1795 he was struck with palsy, and died on 30 September following at Stanford, where he was buried. He left a son, John Martin Butt, who took orders and became the author of some theological works, and two daughters, afterwards the well-known authoresses, Mrs. Cameron and Mrs. Sherwood. Butt published 'Isaiah versified,' 1784, with a dedication to the king; several sermons on special occasions, and in 1791 Sermons' in 2 vols, dedicated to Dr. Markham, archbishop of York; ‘Poems’ in 2 vols. 1793, dedicated to the Hon. George Annesley, afterwards Lord Valentia, one of his former pupils. Some of these poems had been already printed. They are devoid of beauty, power, and originality. One of them, written on the death of Dr. Johnson, is a dialogue between Lord Chesterfield and Garrick in the Elysian fields, and represents Garrick conversing with ‘Avon's bard on those superior minds that since his day were gifted to produce their thoughts abroad.’ In 1777 Butt submitted a play entitled ‘Timoleon’ to Garrick, with whom he was on terms of friendship. Garrick told him that the play could not be acted as it stood, but professed himself unable to point out any faults in it, a declaration that has been taken by Butt's biographers as a high compliment. ‘Timoleon’ does not appear to have been acted or published. He published either in or after 1784 a tract entitled ‘The Practice of Liberal Piety Vindicated,’ which he wrote in defence of his friend Richard Valpy of Reading, when a sermon of Valpy's was attacked by certain Calvinists. At the time of his death he was engaged in correcting a religious novel which he seems to have called ‘Felicia.’ This book was edited and published by his daughter, Mrs. Sherwood, in 2 vols. 1824, under the title of ‘The Spanish Daughter;’ it is a dreary production.

[Mrs. Sherwood's Biographical Preface to the Spanish Daughter; Mrs. Sherwood's Autobiography; Life of Mrs. Cameron; some account of the Rev. G. Butt in Valpy's Poems spoken at Reading, 225–264; Nash's Worcestershire, i. 250, ii. 371; Welch's Alumni Westmon. 376, where the Spanish Daughter is incorrectly described as a play; Gent. Mag. 1795, vol. lxv. pt. ii. p. 969; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 736.]

W. H.