"To the north of the Old Library in Trinity College [Dublin] sits a bay of over 1,000 books and pamphlets donated to the library in the late 18th century.
The main contributor was a Dublin politician, Theophilus Butler.
He was born in 1669 in County Cavan.
He had two brothers, James and Brinsley.
On 27 September 1686 Theophilus and Brinsley entered Trinity College as undergraduates.
Later, in March 1718, both were awarded LLDs by the university.
Butler’s first year in Trinity coincided with the accession of the Catholic monarch, JAMES II, who increased concessions to Catholics and Protestant dissenters.
After 1689, and with the outbreak of full-scale war, many Protestants, including Brinsley and Theophilus, chose to move to England for their own safety.
Jonathan Swift forged a friendship with both Brinsley and Theophilus during their time at Trinity.
Swift attended Trinity as an MA candidate at the same time as the Butlers.
Theophilus’s future wife, Emily Stopford, was also known to Swift.
In his later correspondence he refers to Theophilus as ‘Ophy’ and to Emily as ‘my mistress’, suggesting closeness between Swift and the Butler couple.
In the years following the Williamite victory, Protestant ascendancy reached its zenith in Ireland.
Theophilus was now back in Dublin and he benefited from being a member of such a privileged group.
In 1703, he was elected MP for County Cavan, a position he held until 1713.
During this time it was common for prominent gentlemen to establish private book collections in their homes.
It appears that Butler became a serious book-collector in the early 1690s.
Many of his books are marked with either his bookplate or his stamp, something that many collectors did to signify that the owner considered himself to be a collector of books and not purely someone who bought books for pleasure.
This period also coincides with a series of trips made by Butler to London.
After a time spent living in England after 1689, Butler regularly returned.
In 1697, he was elected steward to London’s Musical Society.
Butler surely used his time in London to further his book collection.
In 1715, George I was crowned ... was unwilling to return a Tory ministry that failed to acknowledge his legitimacy ... eleven new peerages were created in the House of Lords.
Butler was undoubtedly pro-Whig in his sympathies.
Archbishop William King noted in a letter to the Lord Sunderland that Butler had opposed the Tory ministry ‘in every vote both in parliament and in council’.
Butler was rewarded for his political leanings and on 21 October 1715 was made Lord Newtown-Butler.
Butler’s political preferences may have led to a deterioration of relations between him and Jonathan Swift.
Though Swift’s loyalties shifted according to who was in power, his support mainly lay with the Tories.
Brinsley, Theophilus’s brother, was notoriously pro-Tory, a fact that almost certainly resulted in Swift’s switch of affection from the older brother to the younger.
Indeed, in much of Swift’s correspondence he refers to Brinsley as ‘my Prince Butler’.
On 11th March, 1723, Theophilus Butler died in his house in St Stephen’s Green [Dublin].
His will achieved some notoriety through his request that £13 worth of bread per year be distributed to the poor of St Ann’s parish.
The shelves constructed to hold the loaves of bread can still be seen in the church today, along with a plaque explaining their origin.
He chose books that reflected his gentlemanly status, making purchases likely to increase in value, and marking many of them with his Butler coat-of-arms.
And he wanted it to be used after his death, only expressing concern in his will that, after studying them, persons should place ‘such books againe Regularly’.
Yet he also stipulates that the collection be kept within his family, ‘neither to be sold or lent to any P[er]son Whatsoever’.
It would appear, then, that the very basis of Butler’s (admittedly limited) fame entirely contradicts his own wishes."
First published in June, 2013.