Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Butler, Arthur Gray

BUTLER, ARTHUR GRAY (1831–1909), headmaster of Haileybury, born at Gayton Rectory, Northamptonshire, on 19 Aug. 1831, was third son of George Butler [q. v.], dean of Peterborough, by his wife Sarah Maria, eldest daughter of John Gray of Wembley Park, Middlesex. His youngest brother, Henry Montagu, became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1886. Arthur entered Rugby under A. C. Tait in August 1844, and was admitted as a scholar of University College, Oxford, in March 1850. At school and college he was distinguished in both work and games, and 'Butler's Leap' at Rugby still recalls a juvenile athletic feat. At Oxford he was an original member of the Essay Club founded in 1852 by his friend George Joachim (afterwards Lord) Goschen [q. v. Suppl. II], and was president of the Union in 1853. In the same year he won the Ireland scholarship, and graduated B.A. with a first class in the final classical school. He was elected a fellow of Oriel in 1856, proceeding M.A. in the following year. He did not reside on his fellowship. Returning to Rugby in 1858, he served as assistant master under Frederick Temple [q. v. Suppl. II], and was ordained deacon in 1861 and priest in 1862.

On the reconstitution of Haileybury College in 1862 Butler was appointed the first headmaster. In September the school took over the buildings of the East India Company's college near Hertford, which had been founded in 1805 for the training of its civil servants. Butler at once proved his capacity as an organiser despite initial difficulties. Haileybury had no endowment, and from the outset he was hampered by inconvenient buildings and lack of modern appliances. Nevertheless he set himself to infuse into the school something of the strenuous vitality of the Rugby system. He himself served as chaplain. He provided racquet and fives courts. He encouraged the growth of corporate feeling in the dormitories, and maintained the continuity of associations by naming the various houses after prominent Anglo-Indian civilians. Butler's labours bore fruit, and, thanks to his energy, the numbers rose rapidly in a few years from fifty-four to 360. His attractive personality, his contagious enthusiasm, his persuasive eloquence, and downright thoroughness exercised a marked influence over boys and masters. Although never a profound scholar, he was a stimulating classical teacher, and had the faculty of throwing new light on familiar passages. A breakdown in health compelled his resignation in December 1867. He had then raised Haileybury to a recognised place among great English public schools.

On resuming active work in 1874 Butler served as chaplain of the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College, which was established at Coopers Hill near Egham in 1871. Returning to Oxford in 1875, he settled down to the more congenial duties of dean and tutor of Oriel. He was select preacher before the university in 1885 as well as Whitehall preacher. Butler, who was a strong liberal in politics, actively promoted movements for the better housing of the poor and the higher education of women in Oxford. After resigning his official position in 1895 he maintained the closest relations with his college, and it was partly due to his suggestions that both Oriel and Oxford benefited by the will of Cecil Rhodes [q. v. Suppl. II]. He was elected to an honorary fellowship at Oriel in 1907. He died at Torquay on 16 Jan. 1909, and was buried in Holywell cemetery, Oxford. On 4 April 1877 he married Harriet Jessie, daughter of Michael Pakenham Edgeworth and niece of Maria Edgeworth [q. v.], who survived him with one son and three daughters. His son, Harold Edgeworth, became professor of Latin at University College, London, in 1911. At Haileybury his name is commemorated by the Butler prizes for English literature. In 1910 a fund was raised by old pupils to found a Butler scholarship, and a tablet was erected to his memory in the chapel. A portrait by George Richmond, R.A., hangs in the library.

Butler cherished through life strong literary instincts, which found expression mainly in verse. His poetry made no claim to be original, but was marked by sound scholarship and feeling. He published two dramas, 'Charles I' (1874; 2nd edit. 1907) and 'Harold' (1892; 2nd edit. 1906), and two volumes of verse entitled 'The Choice of Achilles' (1900) and 'Hodge and the Land' (1907). In 'The Three Friends: a Story of Rugby in the Forties' (1900), he recorded the effect produced on his contemporaries by the early poems of Tennyson.

[The Times, 17 Jan. 1909; Haileyburian, 16 Feb. 1909; L. S. Milford, Haileybury College, Past and Present, 1909; Oxford Magazine, 21 Jan. 1909; A. D. Elliot, Life of G. J. Goschen 1911; private information.]

G. S. W.