Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

Et Perluellium scelera liberrime exagitavit;
Scriptorum in suo genere, Primus & Postremus,

Ne, cui vivo deerant ferè omnia,
Deesset etiam mortuo Tumulus,

Hoc tandem posito marmore, curavit

JOHANNIS BARBER, Civis Londinensis, 1721. After his death were published' three small volumes of his posthumous Į works: I know not by whom collected, or by what authority ascertained * ;

and la:ely two volumes more have been printed by Mr. Thyer of Manchester, indubitably genuine. From none of these pieces can his life be traced, or his character discovered. Some verses, in the last collection, shew him to have heen among those who ridiculed the institution of the Royal Society, of which the enemies were for some time very numerous and very acrimonious, for what reason it is hard to conceive, since the philosophers professed not to advance doctrines, but to produce facts; and the most zealous enemy of innovation must admit the gradual progress of experience, however he may oppose hypothetical temerity.

la this mist of obscurity passed the life of Butler, a man whose name can only perish with his language. The mode and place of his education are unknown; the events of his life are variously related; and all that can be told with certainty is, that he was poor.

THE poem of Hudibras is one of those compositions of which a nation may justly boast; as the images which it exhibits are domestick, the sentimente unborrowed and unexpected, and the strain of diction original and peculiar. We must not, however, suffer the pride, which we assume as the countrymen of Butler, to make any encroachment upon justice, nor appropriate those hohours which others have a right to share. The poem of Hudibras is not wholly English; the original idea is to be found in the history of Don Quixote; a book to which a mind of the greatest powers may be indebted without disgrace.

Cervantes shews a man, who having, by the incessant perusal of incredible tales, subjected his understanding to his imagination, and familiarised his mind by pertinacious rieditation to trains of incredible events and scenes of impossible existence, goes out in the pride of knighthood to redress wrongs, and defend virgins, to rescue captive princesses, and tumble usurpers from thcir thrones; attended by a squire, whose cunning, too low for the suspicion of a generous mind, enables him often to cheat his master.

The hero of Butler is a Presbyterian Justice, who, in the confidence of legal authority, and the rage of zealous ignorance; ranges the country to repress superstition and correct abuses, accompanied by an Independent Clerk, disa putatious and obstinate, with whom he often debates, but never conquers him.

Cervantes had so much kindness for Don Quixote, that however he embarrasses him with absurd distresses, he gives him so much sense and virtue as may preserve our esteein: wherever he is, or whatever he does, he is made by matchless dexterity commonly ridiculous, but never conteinptible.

But for poor Hudibras, his poet had no tenderness; he chooses not that any pity should be slicwn or respect paid him: he gives him up at once to laughter and contempt, without any quality that can dignify or protect him, . They were collected into one, and published in 1732, H.


In forming the character of Hudibras, and describing his person and haljili ments, the author seems to labour with a tumultuous confusion of dissimilar ideas. He had read the history of the mock knights-errant; he knew the notions and manners of a Presbyterian magistrate, and tried to unite the absurdities of both, however distant, in one personage. Thus he gives him that pedantic ostentation of knowledge which has no relation to chivalry, and loads him with martial encumbrances that can add nothing to his civil dignity. He sends him out a colonelling, and yet never brings him within sight of war.

If Hudibras be considered as the representative of the Presbyterians, it is not easy to say why his weapons should be represented as ridiculous or useless; for, whatever judgement might be passed upon their knowledge or their arguments, experience had sufficiently shown that their swords were not to be despised.

The hero, thus compounded of swaggerer and pedant, of knight and justice, is led forth to action, with his squire Ralpho, an Independent enthusiast,

Of the contexture of events planned by the author, which is called the action of the poem, since it is left imperfect, no judgement can be made. It is probable, that the hero was to be led through many luckless adventures, which would give occasion, like his attack upon the bear and fiddie, to expose the ridiculous rigour of the sectaries; like his encounter with Sidrophel and Whacum, to make superstition and credulity contemptible; or, like his recourse to the low retailer of the law, discover the fraudulent practices of different professions.

What series of events he would bave formed, or in what manner he would have rewarded or punished his hero, it is now vain to conjecture. His work must have had, as it seems, the defect which Dryden imputes to Spenser; the action could not have been one ; those could only have been a succession of incidents, each of which might have happened without the rest, and which could not all co-operate to any single conclusion.

The discontinuity of the action might however have been easily forgiven, if there had been action enough : but I believe every reader regrets the paucity of events, and complains that in the poem of Hudibras, as in the history of Thucydides, there is more said than done. The scenes are too seldom changed, and the attention is tired with long conversation.

It is indeed much more easy to form dialogues than to contrive adventures. Every position makes way for an argument, and every objection dictates an answer. When two disputants are engaged upon a complicated and extensive question, the difficulty is not to continue, but to end the controversy. But whether it be that we comprehend but few of the possibilities of life, or that life itself affords little variety, every man who has tried knows how much labour it will cost to form such a combination of circumstances, as shall have at once the grace of novelty and credibility, and delight fancy without violence to reason.

Perhaps the Dialogue of this poem is not perfect. Some power of engaging the attention might have been added to it, by quicker reciprocation, by seasonable interruptions, by sudden questions, and by a nearer approach to dramatick spriteliness; without which fictitious speeches will always tire, how. ever sparkling with sentences, and however variegated with allusions,


The great source of pleasure is variety. Uniformity must tire at last, though it be uniformity of excellence. We love to expect; and, when expectation is disapp-inted or gratified, we want to be again expecting. For this impatience of the present, whoever would please must make provision. The skilful writer ritat, mulcet, makes a due distribution of the still and animated parts. It is

for want of this artful intertexture, and those necessary changes, that the | whole of a book may be tedious, though all the parts are praised.

If inexhaustible wit could give perpetual pleasure, no eye would ever leave half-read the work of Butler; for what poet has ever brought so many remote images so happily together? It is scarcely possible to peruse a page without finding some association of images that was never found before. By the firse paragraph the reader is amused, by the next he is delighted, and by a few. more strained to astonishment; but astonishment is a toilsome pleasure ; he is soon wary of wondering, and longs to be diverted.

Omnia vult belle Macho dicere, dic aliquando

Et bene, dic neutrum, dic aliquando male. Imagination is useless without knowledge: nature gives in vain the power; of combination, unless study and observation supply materials to be combined. Butler's treasures of knowledge appear proportioned to his expence: what ever topic employs his mind, he shews himself qualified to expand and illuss trate it with all the accessaries that books can furnish: he is found not only to have travelled the beaten road, but the bye-paths of literature; not only to have taken general surveys, but to have examined particulars with minute inspection.

If the French boast the learning of Rabelais, we need not be afraid of confronting them with Butler.

But the most valuable parts of his performance are those which retired study and native wit cannot supply. He that merely makes a book from books may be useful, but can scarcely be great. Butler had not suffered life to glide beside him unseen or unobserved. He had watched with great diligence the opera- . tions of human nature, and traced the effects of opinion, humour, interest, and passion. From such remarks proceeded that great number of sententious distichs which have passed into conversation, and are added as proverbial axioms to the general stock of practical knowledge.

any work has been viewed and admired, the first question of intelligent curiosity is, how was it performed? Hudibras was not a hasty. effusion; it was not produced by a sudden tumult of imagination, or a short paroxysm of violent labour. To accumulate such a mass of sentiments at the call of accidental desire, or of sudden necessity, is beyond the reach and power of the most active and comprehensive mind. I am informed by Mr. Thver of Manchester, the excellent editor of this author's reliques, that he could shew. something like Hudibras in prose. He has in his possession the common-place book, in which Butler reposited, not such events or precepts as are gathered by reading, but such remarks, similitudes, allusions, assemblages, or inferences, 2 occasion prompted, or meditation produced, those tlioughts that were generated in his own mind, and might be usefully applied to some future purpose. Such is the labour of those who write for immortality.




But human works are not easily found without a perishabie part. Of the an, eicrit poets every reader feels the mythology tedious and oppressive. Of Hudia bras, the manners, being founded on opinions, are tempurary and local, and therefore become every day less intelligible, and less striking. What Cicero says of philosophy is true likewise of wit and humour, that “time effaces the "fictions of opinion, and confirms the determinations of Nature." Such manners as depend upon standing relations and general passions are co-extended with the race of man; but those modifications of life, and peculiarities of practice, which are the progeny of error and perverseness, or at best of some aecidental influence or transient persuasion, must perish with their parents.

• Much therefore of that humour which transported the century with merriment is lost to us, who do not know the sour solemnity, the sullen superstition, the gloomy moroseness, and the stubborn scruples of the ancient Puritans; or, if we knew them, derive our information only from books, or from tradition, have never had them before our eyes, and cannot but by recollection and study understand the lines in which they are satyrised. Our grandfathers kneir the picture from the life ; we judge of the life by contemplating the picture.

It is scarcely possible, in the regularity and composure of the present time, to inage the tumult of absurdity, and clamour of contradiction, which perplexed doctrine, disordered practice, and disturbed both public and private quiet, in that age when subordination was broken, and he was hissed away; when any unsettled innovator who could hatch a balf-formed notion produced it to the public; when every man might become a preacher, and almost every preacher could collect a congregation.

The wisdom of the nation is very reasonably supposed to reside in the parliament. What can be concluded of the lower classes of the people, when in one of the parlianients summoned by Cromwell it was seriously proposed, that all the records in the Tower should be burrit, that all memory of things past should be effaced, and that the whole system of lite should commence anew?

We have never been witnesses of animosities excited hy the use of mince pies and plumb porridge ; nor seen with what abhorrence those who could eat them at all other times of the year would shrink from them in December. An old Puritan, who was alive in my childhood, being at one of the feasts of the church invited by a neighbour to partake his cheer, told him, that if he would treat him at an ale-house with beer, brewed for all times and seasons, he should accept his kindness, but would have none of his superstitious meats and drinks.

One of the puritanical tenets was the illegality of all games of chance ; and Tie that reads Gataker upon Lois may see how inuch learning and reason one of the first scholars of his age thought necessary, to prove that it was no crime to throw a dye, or play at cards, or to hide a shilling for the reckoning.

Astrology, however, against which so much of the satire is directed, was not more the folly of the Puritans, than of others. It had in that time a very ex. tensive dominion. Its predictions raised hopes and fears in minds which ought to have rejected it with contempt. In hazardous undertakings care was taken to begin under the influence of a propitious planet; and when the king

was prisoner in Carisbrook Castle, an astrologer was consulted what hour would be found most favourable to an escape.

What effect this poem had upon the public, whether it shamed imposture ar reclaimed credulity, is not easily determined. Cheats can seldom stand long gainst laughter. It is certain that the credit of planetary intelligence wore fat away; though some men of knowledge, and Dryden among them, conI tined to believe that conjunctions and oppositions had a great part in the litribation of good or evil, and in the government of sublunary things. Poetical action ought to be probable upon certain suppositions, and such proWbility as burlesque requires is here violated only by one incident. Nothing can shew more plainly the necessity of doing something, and the difficulty of finding something to do, than that Butler was reduced to transfer to his hero the flagellation of Sancho, not the most agreeable ficțion of Cervantes; very suitable indeed to the manners of that age and nation, which ascribed wonder-ful efficacy to voluntary penances; but so remote from the practice and opinions of the Hudibrastick time, that judgement and imagination are alike offended.

The diction of this poçın is grossly familiar, and the numbers purposely neglected, except in a few places, where the thoughts by their native excellence secure themselves from violation, being such as mean language cannot express. The mode of versification has been blamed by Dryden, who regrets that the heroick measure was not rather chosen. To the critical sentence of Dryden the highest reverence would be due, were not his decisions often

precapitate, and his opinions immature. When he wished to change the measure, be probably would have been willing to change more. If he intended that, when the numbers were heroick, the diction should still reinain vulgar, he planned a verv heterogeneous and unnatural composition. If he preferred a general stateliness both of sound and words, he can be only understood to wish Butler had undertaken a different work.

The measure is quick, spritely and colloquial, suitable to the vulgarity of the words and the levity of the sentiments. But such numbers and such diction can gain regard only when they are used by a writer whose vigour of fancy and copiousness of knowledge entitle him to contempt of ornaments, and who, in confidence of the novelty and justness of his conceptions, can afford to throw metaphors and epithets away. To another that conveys common thoughts in careless versification, it will only be said, “ Pauper ** videri Cinna yult, & est pauper.” The meaning and diction will be worthy of each other, and criticism may justly doom them to perish together.

Nor even though another Butler should arise, would another Hudibras obtain the saine regard, Burlesque consists in a disproportion between the style and the sentiments, or between the adventitious sentiments and the fundamental subject. It therefore, like all bodies compounded of heterogeneous parts, contains in it a principle of corruption. All disproportion is unnatural; and from what is unnatural we can derive only the pleasure which novelty produces. We admire it awhile as a strange thing; but when it is no longer Strange, we perceive its deformity. It is a kind of artifice, which by frequent


« PreviousContinue »