Burton, William (1575-1645) (DNB00)

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BURTON, WILLIAM (1575–1645), author of ‘Description of Leicestershire,’ son of Ralph Burton, and elder brother of Robert Burton (‘Democritus Junior’) [q. v.] , was born at Lindley in Leicestershire on 24 Aug. 1575. At the age of nine he went to school at Nuneaton, and on 29 Sept. 1591 entered Brasenose College, Oxford (B.A. 22 June 1594). He was admitted, on 20 May 1593, to the Inner Temple. In his manuscript ‘Antiquitates de Lindley’ (an epitome is in Nichols's ‘Leicestershire,’ iv. 651–6), he states that he combined the study of law with literature, and wrote in 1596 an unpublished Latin comedy, ‘De Amoribus Perinthii et Tyanthes.’ In 1597 he published with Thomas Creede a translation of ‘The History of Cleitophon and Leucippe’ from the Greek of Achilles Tatius, with a dedication to the Earl of Southampton. The only copy known was described in ‘The Times’ literary supplement 10 Feb. 1905 (cf. Arber's Stationers' Reg. iii. 82). Burton knew Spanish and Italian, and studied the emblem-writers, but his interest lay chiefly in heraldry and topography. In 1602 he issued a corrected copy, printed at Antwerp, of Saxton's map of the county of Leicester. On 20 May 1603 he was called to the bar, but soon afterwards, owing to weak health, he retired to the village of Falde in Staffordshire, where he owned an estate. He now began to devote himself seriously to his ‘Description of Leicestershire.’ From a manuscript ‘Valediction to the Reader’ (dated from Lindley in 1641), in an interleaved copy which he had revised and enlarged for a second edition, we learn that the book was begun so far back as 1597, ‘not with an intendment that it should ever come to the public view, but for my own private use, which after it had slept a long time was on a sudden raised out of the dust, and by force of an higher power drawn to the press, having scarce an allowance of time for the furbishing and putting on a mantle’ (Nichols, Leicestershire, iii. xvi). The ‘higher power’ was his patron, George, marquis of Buckingham, to whom the work was dedicated on its publication (in folio) in 1622. Nichols (ibid. p. lxv) prints a manuscript preface to the ‘Description’ dated 7 April 1604, and hence it may be assumed that the publication was delayed for many years. Burton was one of the earliest of our topographical writers, and his work must be compared, not with the elaborate performances of a later age, but with such books as Lambarde's ‘Kent,’ Carew's ‘Cornwall,’ and Norden's ‘Surveys.’ Dugdale, in the ‘Address to the Gentrie of Warwickshire’ prefixed to his ‘Warwickshire,’ says that Burton, as well as Lambarde and Carew, ‘performed but briefly;’ and Nichols observes that ‘the printed volume, though a folio of above 300 pages, if the unnecessary digressions were struck out and the pedigrees reduced into less compass, would shrink into a small work.’ The author was well aware of the imperfections of his work, and spent many years in making large additions and corrections towards a new edition. In the summer of 1638 he had advanced so far in the revision that the copy of the intended second edition was sent to London for press, as appears from two letters to Sir Simonds d'Ewes (Nichols, Leicestershire, ii. 843). Gascoigne says that Sir Thomas Cave, in the year 1640, ‘had in his custody a copy of Burton's that should have been reprinted, but the war breaking out prevented it’ (ibid. p. 844); and he adds, from personal inspection, that the work had been augmented to three times the original size. After Burton's death his son Cassibelan presented, with several of his father's manuscripts, to Walter Chetwynd, of Ingestree, Staffordshire, a copy of the ‘Description’ containing large manuscript additions by the author. In 1798 Shaw discovered this copy at Ingestree (Gent. Mag. lxviii. 921), and it was utilised by Nichols in the third and fourth volumes of his ‘Leicestershire.’ Doubtless this was the copy which Gascoigne saw in 1640. Several copies of Burton's work, with manuscript annotations by various antiquaries, are preserved in private libraries (see the long list in Nichols's Leicestershire, ii. 843–5). In 1777 there was published by subscription a folio edition which claimed to be ‘enlarged and corrected,’ but the editorial work was performed in a very slovenly manner. All the information contained in the ‘Description’ was incorporated in Nichols's ‘Leicestershire.’

In 1607 Burton married Jane, daughter of Humfrey Adderley of Weddington in Warwickshire, by whom he had a son Cassibelan [q. v.] Among his particular friends were Sir Robert Cotton and William Somner. In his account of Fenny-Drayton he speaks with affection and respect of his ‘old acquaintance’ Michael Drayton. Dugdale in his ‘Autobiography’ acknowledges the assistance which he had received from Burton. In 1612 Thomas Purefoy of Barwell in Warwickshire bequeathed at his death to Burton the original manuscript of Leland's ‘Collectanea.’ Wood (Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 200) charges Burton with introducing ‘needless additions and illustrations’ into this work; but Hearne, in the preface to his edition of the ‘Collectanea,’ denies the truth of the charge. In 1631 Burton caused part of Leland's ‘Itinerary’ to be transcribed, and in the following year he gave five quarto volumes of Leland's autograph manuscripts to the Bodleian. When the civil wars broke out, Burton sided with the royalists, and endured persecution. He died at Falde on 6 April 1645, and was buried in the parish church at Hanbury. Among the manuscripts that he left were:

  1. ‘Antiquitates de Lindley,’ which was afterwards in the possession of Samuel Lysons, who lent it to Nichols (Leicestershire, iv. 651).
  2. ‘Antiquitates de Dadlington Manerio, com. Leic.,’ which in Nichols's time belonged to Nicholas Hurst of Hinckley.
  3. Collections towards a history of Thedingworth, as appears from a letter to Sir Robert Cotton, in which Burton asks that antiquary's assistance (ibid. ii. 842).

He also left some collections of arms, genealogies, &c. About 1735 Francis Peck announced his intention of writing Burton's life, but the project does not seem to have been carried out.

[Nichols's Leicestershire, ii. 843–5, iii. xvi, lxv, iv. 651–6; Wood's Athenæ (ed. Bliss), i. 200, iii. 153–6; Oldys's British Librarian (1737), pp. 287–99; Gent. Mag. lxviii. 921; Dugdale's Autobiography, appended to Dallaway's Heraldry, 1793.]

A. H. B.