Butler, William Archer (1812?–1848), clergyman and professor of moral philosophy, was second son of Pierce Archer Butler and Anna Maria Butler (née Gallwey); their seven children were brought up as Roman Catholics by their mother, though the father, who had several times been high sheriff of Tipperary, was a member of the Church of Ireland. William Butler attended the endowed school in Clonmel, and converted to protestantism when he was about 14. In 1828 he entered TCD, and gained a scholarship in 1832. Throughout his college career he was noted for intellectual power, for prize-winning poems and essays, and for addresses to the College Historical Society, one of which was published (1834). In 1834 also, the newly instituted moderatorship in mental and moral science was awarded to Butler. Though unenthusiastic about a legal career, he entered King's Inns (1837). In the summer of 1837 he was ordained a clergyman and appointed to the new chair of moral philosophy in TCD initiated by Provost Humphrey Lloyd (qv). He was granted the college living of Clondehorka; four years later, the college promoted him to the rectory of Raymoghy, both in Co. Donegal. He resided there except when college duties called him to Dublin, where he was in demand also as a preacher. He made careful notes about all the families in his parish; unfortunately, the whereabouts of this material is unknown. After his death his sermons were collected in two volumes in at least three editions; his lectures on ancient philosophy were also collected and published (2 vols, 1856). Butler's best-known work, published as a series of letters in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette from December 1845, was a rebuttal of an aspect of the work of J. H. Newman (qv). These letters, regarded by contemporaries as a valuable contribution to the controversy between protestantism and Roman Catholicism, were collected as Letters on the development of Christian doctrine (1850). His poetry, somewhat resembling that of William Wordsworth, was highly rated in his own day; some was published, though no collected edition ever appeared. Butler and Cecil Frances Humphreys (C. F. Alexander (qv)), were friends, and might well have married but for his untimely death. During the famine Butler abandoned academic pursuits to work tirelessly for the relief of his poor neighbours; he was beginning in 1848 to turn again towards theology, planning a major work on faith, when he caught ‘famine fever’ and died 5/6 July 1848. He was buried in his own churchyard, deeply lamented by his parishioners and by those who had loved and admired him and seen in him promise of still greater intellectual achievements.
‘Our portrait gallery, 30: Reverend William A. Butler’, Dublin University Magazine, xix (May 1842), 588–92 (etching); C. Knight, The English encyclopædia, division 3: biography (1856?); DNB; ‘William Archer Butler’, Church Quarterly Review (July 1907); J. Leslie, Raphoe clergy and parishes (1940), 115; Trinity College record volume (1951), 68; King's Inns admissions, 68; Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander: a life of the hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander 1818–1895 (1995), 59–72