Alban Butler  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Alban Butler (13 October 1710 – 15 May 1773), English Roman Catholic priest and hagiographer, was born at Appletree, Northamptonshire.

He was educated at the English College, Douai, where on his ordination to the priesthood in 1735 he held successively the chairs of philosophy and divinity. He laboured for some time as a missionary priest in Staffordshire, held several positions as tutor to young Roman Catholic noblemen, and was finally appointed president of the English seminary at Saint Omer in France (see Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège), where he remained till his death.

Butler's great work, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints ("Butler's Lives"), the result of thirty years study (first published in four volumes, London, 1756–1759), has passed through many editions and translations (best edition, including valuable notes, Dublin, 12 vols. 1779-1780). It is a popular and compendious reproduction of the Acta Sanctorum, exhibiting great industry and research, and is in all respects the best compendium of Acta in English.

In 1745 Butler was commissioned to act as tutor and guide to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his two brothers, James and Thomas Talbot, both afterwards Catholic bishops, on the Grand Tour. On his return he acted as Catholic mission priest in his native Midlands. He acted as chaplain to the Duke of Norfolk, whose nephew and heir, the Hon. Edward Howard, Butler accompanied to Paris as tutor. While he was in Paris, Butler completed his Lives.

See An Account of the Life of A. B. by C. B., i.e. by his nephew Charles Butler (London, 1799); and Joseph Gillow's Bibliographical Dictionary of English Catholics, vol. i.

Notes on the first edition of 1756-1759: This edition was printed initially in 4 octavo volumes, with no stated publisher or author's name. However they were so thick that they were usually bound in more volumes than that. There were actually 6 title pages since Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 both have a "part II" issued thus: vol. I, vol. II, vol. III, vol. III part II, vol. IV, and vol. IV part II. Each "volume" contained three months of the liturgical calendar's Saints' lives. Vol. I also had a copperplate engraving with figures of the Roman devices of torture used, and a 2 page explanation of their use. (only found in the first edition.) Charles Butler's assertion that "all the notes" were left out of the first edition at the suggestion of Bishop Challoner is exaggerated. There are many useful, and even extended notes in the first edition, but not to the extent that they appear in the second, and succeeding editions. Lowndes suggests that there was a 1745 quarto first edition, but this is incorrect, and we suspect that he was thinking of Challoner's Britannia Sancta which was printed that year in two Quarto volumes, and deals with all of the Saint's lives from the British Isles.

One modern abridged Concise Edition is: ISBN 0-06-069299-5

A modern complete edition (1995–2000) is also available in 12 volumes, organized by month and feast day:

Since Fr. Butler published his original edition of his Lives, there have been many revisions of it by others. A "Revised Edition," in 12 volumes, was published by Father Herbert Thurston, SJ, between 1926 and 1938. This was a significant rewrite of Butler's original. The "Second Edition" was published in 1956 by Donald Attwater, an English layman. This edition made further significant changes. Recently, several one-volume books have been published under the title "Butler's Lives of the Saints," even though they really have little or nothing in common with Fr. Butler's original work.

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