History Lesson

Henry Butler Clarke 1863-1904

The following appraisal of Butler Clarke was written byWilliam Holden Huttonin theDictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement

Henry Butler Clarke was born at Marchington, Staffordshire, on November 9, 1863. He was educated at Whorlton near Rokeby and at Richmond, Yorkshire, and finally at San Juan de Luz. His father was an Anglican priest, the chaplain of San Juan de Luz. While Butler Clarke lived there, he absorbed the Spanish culture from learned friends such as Wentworth Webster, and Mrs. Lilburn, who helped him later with the editing of his books. Here he also met the novelist George Gissing. He frequently travelled as far as Madrid.

He studied Greek at Oxford University, but had to stop due to his frequent attacks of neurasthenia. So because of his knowledge of the language, he decided to study Spanish instead. In 1890, Henry Butler Clarke was appointed to lecture on Spanish language and literature in the Taylorian Institute of Oxford University. As well as teaching he studied and researched Spanish culture and history. Butler Clarke travelled much in Spain and became a great expert of Spanish literature, culture and society. He became known in the literary and cultural circles of Madrid, and was made a member of the Royal Academy of History and of the Royal Economic Society of Madrid.

As well as books for teaching Spanish, he wrote on themes from Spanish history such as The Cid Campeador in 1897, the collection of Heroes of the nations, and The Catholic Kings of Spain. He emphasised the use of primary sources. He gained most recognition for Modern Spain 1815-1898, published posthumously in 1906. He always stressed the importance of history, saying that the roots of the present are embedded in the deepest parts of the past, and the true significance of contemporary events cannot be understood without knowing the historical causes that have led to them.

Butler Clarke left the post of Professor of Spanish in the Taylorian Institute in 1894, because of his health, but continued to study Spanish literature and culture. He planned an extensive study of Spanish civilisation from the fall of the Roman Empire to the colonisation of America. However his mental health failed again, and, while recuperating at Torquay he broke down and shot himself on September 10th. He was buried in the local cemetery.


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