The Times/1910/Obituary/Arthur John Butler
Mr. Arthur John Butler
We regret to announce the death on Saturday, at Wood End, Weybridge, of Mr Arthur John Butler, the well-known Dante scholar and Professor of the Italian Language and Literature at University College, London. He was in his 66th year.
Mr. Butler was the son of the late Dean of Lincoln, William John Butler, a clergyman of Tractarian sympathies and founder of the Sisterhood of St. Mary Wantage, who died in 1894, His mother was Emma, daughter of George Henry Barnett, of the banking firm of Barnett, Hoare, and Co. He was educated at Bradfield and at Eton, whence he went to Trinity, Cambridge, his father's old college, and was elected to a Fellowship after winning the Bell Scholarship in 1864 and coming out 8th Classic and among the Junior Optimes in 1867. From 1870 to 1887 Mr. Butler was in the Education Department, and from 1887 to 1894 he was engaged in the publishing business. He was Assistant Commissioner to the Commission on Secondary Education, 1894.
Mr. Butler had long been known in England as an Italian scholar, and his edition of the three part of the "Divina Commedia," consisting of text, translation, and commentary, has been used with much profit by many English readers. Without showing any great originality, these volumes were the work of a devoted and careful student of Dante and of a man with a sense for literature and of real faculty for translation. But, sincere and ardent scholar as he was, his work was not without serious limitations. His noted, indeed, to his three translations are in many ways admirable, and explain the connexion with Aristotle, il maestro di color che sanno, of many passages in Dante better than those of many other commentators; but he was frequent in controversy with fellow students of his author on matters of interpretation, and it must be confessed that he was not equipped with a sufficient knowledge of the Tuscan language. He held Italian to be too easy, and as a translater he adopted a rather exasperating practice of rendering time-honoured names of buildings and places by their literal English equivalents: Santa Maria Novella, for instance, became "New St. Mary's."
Mr. Butler was at one time a frequent attendant at the meetings of the Oxford Dante Society, and his works on Dante include a readable volume for beginners, "Dante: His Times and His Work," and a most useful translation of Scartazinni's "Companion to Dante." He also published memoirs of General Marbot and of General Thiébault, and edited the Calendars of Foreign State Papers from 1577; and he assisted his sister, Mrs. Knight, in bringing out the "Life and Letters" of his father. We believe that at the time of his death, he was engaged on a selection of early Italian poetry, which it is to be hoped he has left ready for publication.