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Gallery of Benefactors - Edinburgh University Library

James Butter

(fl. 1672-1690)
Clerk of Perthshire

Between 1672 and 1690 the College Library received a remarkable series of gifts from James Butter, Clerk of Perthshire. The first was of three titles: one of the earliest books on the Caribbean, "The History of Barbados, St Christophers, Mevis, St Vincents, Antego, Martinico, Monserrat, and the rest of the the Caribby-Islands" (1666), a translation by J. Davies (of Kidwelly) of an earlier work by de Poincy ; a volume recorded as "A Description of the English Plantations in America"; and Bishop John Gauden's "Eikon Basilike" (1649). The following year he presented "Mysterium Magnum; or, Exposition of the Genesis" (1654 ), the first of what was to become an impressive collection of the works of the German mystic philosopher Jakob Behmen or Boehme (1575-1624), and other recently published theological works.

Little is known of James Butter, other than that he was always described in the Donations Book as "Clerk of Perthshire". Another James Butter, Sheriff Clerk of Perthshire (and possibly his father), had in 1660 bequeathed land in Perthshire to maintain four poor persons in the Burgh of Perth, and the younger James may have succeeded his father in the post. He appears to have studied at the College of Edinburgh from 1669 to 1672, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Between 1672 and 1678 he, or another James Butter, of Gormack, was granted a coat of arms (argent a cross sable between four men's hearts proper). His gifts to the Library spanned 18 years, sometimes on an annual, but more often on an occasional, basis. The Library and the College clearly appreciated his gifts, since the Donations Book records Butter's last three gifts as being "in accordance with his wonted liberality ..." (1686), "according to his yearly custom [he] liberally gave for the compleating of Behmen's works several's of which he had given before ..." (1689), and "according to his accustomed care of the Library ..." (1690).

The Library is grateful to Mr Grant Buttars for information about the Butter family of Perthshire.

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