Bishop Butler. An acquired taste. Certainly. A minority taste. No doubt. But the proof of a writer is in the reading, and readers who want to grow and become edified as a result of their efforts will begin to read without presuppositions and will continue to read all the primary and all the secondary texts, take a good look at the surviving artifacts, linger with whatever associated topics seem relevant, and even then advance most gingerly.
For any given person there is, somewhere, a book for which that person would be the ideal reader, or at any rate one of the most excellent readers. Schooling, education, and librarianship used to make the meeting of mind-mates probable or, given the limited number of surviving texts, even inevitable. No more.
Butler is dead. He has been dead since this day (June 16) in 1752. He is buried in Bristol Cathedral. He is buried in old books, many of which are disintegrating. He is buried with the Hanoverian, the time in which he lived, and with the Victorian, the time in which his influence flourished. This is a shame.
It is a shame because even if much of Butler’s message was bound up in his time and his business, so much more in Butler is perennial. Butler’s was the great pastoral philosophy. He is the consultant to those who attend to the business of living and who are determined to tend to their business in the here and now. “Words fail,” he tells us. “The first thought is often the best,” he goes on.
Attend less to the administration of the universe, which is none of our concern, and more to that which, in the present that surrounds us, is our proper business and concern.