Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Butler, William John
BUTLER, WILLIAM JOHN (1818–1894), dean of Lincoln, eldest son of John Laforey Butler, a member of the firm of H. and I. Johnstone, merchants and bankers, was born in Bryanston Street, Marylebone, London, on 10 Feb. 1818. His mother, Henrietta, daughter of Captain Robert Patrick, was of Irish, as his father was of Pembrokeshire, descent. After schooling at Enfield, he became a queen's scholar at Westminster in 1832, and was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1836. He won the Trinity essay in 1839, but, though a fair classical scholar, was unable to give sufficient time to the tripos, and took a pass degree in 1840. He commenced M.A. in 1844, and on 1 July 1847 was admitted ad eundem at Oxford, where he was made an honorary canon of Christ Church in 1872 (Foster). He was ordained by Bishop Sumner in Farnham chapel in 1841 to the curacy of Dogmersfield, under Charles Dyson [q. v.]. Subsequently for one year he held the curacy of Puttenham in Surrey, and inl844he accepted the perpetual curacy of Wareside, a poor outlying hamlet of Ware. Here he preached the discourses included in his 'Sermons for Working Men' (1847). Meanwhile, in June 1846, he was appointed by the dean and chapter of Windsor to the vicarage of Wantage, with which place, as a model parish priest, and as the founder and warden of the penitentiary sisterhood of St. Mary's, in 1850, his name is inseparably associated. He retained the wardenship until his death. While at Wantage he trained as his curates the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie, the Rev. G. Cosby White, the Rev. M. H. Noel, the Rev. V. S. S. Coles, Canon Newbolt, and Dr. Liddon. 'I owe all the best I know to Butler' was a saying attributed to Liddon, but felt equally by many of the other churchmen who came under Butler's stimulating influence. Upon the deposition of Bishop Colenso in 1864 by the Capetown Metropolitan synod, Butler was elected to replace him at a synod of the diocese of Natal; but the election was disapproved by Archbishop Ijongley, to whose views Butler loyally subordinated his own wishes. He was a great believer in obedience, and 'a still greater in submission.'
In 1874 he was elected to convocation as proctor for the clergy of Oxford, and often brightened the debates by the short speeches in which he excelled. In politics he was rather conserv^ative than otherwise. In 1880, however, he was nominated by Gladstone to a residentiary canonry at Worcester, and while there did much good work in connection with the internal government of the cathedral, the establishment of a separate school for the choristers, and the formation of a girls' high school in the city. In 1885 Gladstone advanced him to the deanery of Lincoln in the room of Blakesley. To him the cathedral at Lincoln owes the evening service in the nave and numerous other improvements in the services.
He rose early and was unsparing of himself, his time, his trouble, and his purse. 'Prayer, grind, and love' was his description of the requisites of the pastor of a large parish, and the same were the principles of his cathedral work. Though a staunch high churchman, he was averse from all extremes. Loyalty to the Prayer Book was his watchword, and he regretted the way in which 'some of the clergy were transforming the church of England into a congregational body.' His affinities were with the tractarian school of thought, though he combined a good deal of Cambridge practicality with it. A man of an austere exterior, Butler had a very kind heart, and felt sorry for people even when he wounded them by speaking the truth. His outspokenness extended to the pulpit; but he was never unmerciful except to self-indulgence. He hated a clergyman to smoke, and in answer to arguments would simply say 'Mr. Keble never did.' 'What are you going to do?' he once asked a devout lady who was saying how much she had been moved by some sermon of his. His vigorous health suddenly broke in January 1894, and he died at the deanery on 14 Jan., and was buried on the 18th in the Cloister Garth, Lincoln. His death was followed on 21 Jan. by that of his wife, Emma, daughter of George Henry Barnett, head of the banking firm of Barnett, Hoare, & Co., whom he had married at Putney on 29 July 1843, and by whom he had issue. She was buried beside her husband in the Cloister Garth.
An alabaster effigy of Dean Butler was erected in Lincoln Cathedral and unveiled on 25 April 1896. Two portraits, dated 1843 and 1888, are given in the 'Life and Letters of William John Butler, late Dean of Lincoln and sometime Vicar of Wantage,' brought out by his daughter, Mrs. Knight, in conjunction with his eldest son, Mr. Arthur John Butler, in 1897. The south chapel in Wantage church was restored in 1895, 'in thankful memory of W. J. Butler, 34 years vicar,' Though he published little, Dean Butler will probably enjoy a high reputation both as a preacher and a letter writer among the worthies of the church of England. His letters from the seat of the Franco-Prussian war in September 1870, when he rendered voluntary assistance to the Red Cross Society at Sedan and Saarbrücken, are of great interest and considerable documentary value. As a writer his name is most familiar upon the title-page of two devotional manuals, 'School Prayers' (1848, &c.) and 'Plain Thoughts on Holy Communion' (1880, numerous editions).
[Life and Letters of William John Eutler, 1897; Times, 15, 19, and 22 Jan. 1894; Guardian, February 1894; Church Times, 19 and 26 Jan. 1894; Illustrated London News, 20 Jan. 1894 (portrait); Brit. Mus. Cat.]