Butcher, Samuel Henry (1850–1910), scholar and politician, was born 16 April 1850 in Dublin, the elder son of Samuel Butcher (qv), clergyman, of Danesfort, Co. Kerry, and his wife, Mary (née Leahy), of South Hill, Killarney, Co. Kerry. As a child he lived first in Dublin, and then at Ballymoney, Co. Cork, where his father held a living. From 1866 the family lived in Ardbraccan, Co. Meath, following his father's appointment as bishop of Meath. He was tutored at home until 1864, when he was sent to Marlborough College. He won a senior scholarship the following year, and he was also awarded prizes in Greek and Latin. In 1869 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, on an open scholarship for classics. A brilliant student, he won a variety of prizes and scholarships, including the Bell scholarship (1870), the Waddington scholarship (1871), and the Powis medal (1871 and 1872). The Apostles, a select college society, granted him membership. He graduated senior classic in 1873, having been awarded the chancellor's medal, and became an assistant master at Eton College. In 1874 he returned to Trinity as both fellow and assistant tutor, and graduated MA in 1876.
However, in 1875 he was obliged to forfeit his fellowship, owing to his engagement to Rose Julia Trench (daughter of Richard Chenevix Trench (qv), archbishop of Dublin). Their marriage was celebrated on 8 June 1876; the couple had no children. He did secure the same year an extraordinary fellowship, without examination, at University College, Oxford. Its master, Dr George Granville Bradley, had been headmaster of Marlborough during his time there. Butcher remained at Oxford until 1882, during which time he gained an excellent reputation not only for his scholarship but also for his skills as a lecturer. He promoted the higher education of women and was honorary secretary to the Association for the Higher Education of Women at Oxford (1879–82).
His first publication, a highly acclaimed translation of the Odyssey, written in conjunction with Andrew Lang, appeared in 1879. He also published the same year Demosthenes, as part of the Classical Writers series which discussed the connection between political discourse and oral rhetoric. Then in 1882 he was offered the chair of Greek at the University of Edinburgh. Some aspects of the Greek genius (1891), reprinted with an additional chapter in 1893, was followed in 1895 by his most influential and important work, Aristotle's theory of poetry and fine art (1895). Other academic publications include Greek idealism in the common things in life (1901) and Harvard lectures on Greek subjects (1904), which was published after a lectureship in the US in 1904. An original member of the British Academy (1902), the English Classical Association (1903) and the Irish Classical Association, he was president at various times of all these bodies. He vigorously supported the reform of Latin pronunciation and, while not in favour of the proposed abolition of Greek as a compulsory subject, he agreed to concessions. He was a member of the Irish Literary Society from its inception and of the Hellenic Society. In 1908 he became a trustee of the British Museum and was later appointed to its standing committee.
Butcher played an active role in educational policy-making and politics, and he and his wife became prominent members of Edinburgh society. An energetic and engaging lecturer, he was also a principled man and a lively conversationalist. He represented the professorial body on the Scottish universities commission and was later a member of Lord Robertson's and Sir Edward Fry's royal commissions on university education in Ireland (in 1901–3 and 1906–7 respectively). On the first commission he actively supported catholic demands and the attendance of Maynooth students, while recognising the autonomy of TCD. He was the only member of the second royal commission with experience of the first, and opposed Augustine Birrell's (qv) Irish University Bill in 1908 on the grounds that it granted indefinite powers of affiliation to the university senate. However, he went on to play an active role in the senate of the new university.
An opponent of Gladstone's home rule policy for Ireland, during the 1886 crisis he organised unionists in Edinburgh. In 1892 he supported his friend Lord Wolmer in his election to the West Edinburgh constituency, and in 1906 was himself returned unopposed as unionist MP for the University of Cambridge. In the commons his inaugural speech was devoted to the Irish University Bill, and after that he generally restricted himself to speaking on Ireland and education. His published material on Ireland includes Irish land acts and their operation (1887) and The reign of terror or the rule of law in Ireland (1908). He was a justice of the peace for Co. Kerry.
In 1902 his wife died and he retired the following year, sharing his time between a home in London, at Tavistock Square, and Danesfort, where he eagerly returned each year. He was awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Dublin, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Harvard, and honorary fellowships from Cambridge and Oxford colleges. In 1910 he received the Order of the Redeemer from the king of Greece. His last summer was spent at Danesfort; following an internal haemorrhage, in the autumn, he died 29 December 1910 in London, and is buried in the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh, with his wife, Rose.