Page images

What may not then our isle presume,
While victory his crest does plume?
What may not others fear,

If thus he crowns each year?
As Cæsar, he, ere long, to Gaul,

To Italy a Hannibal,

And to all states not free

Shall climacteric be.

The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his party-coloured mind,
But, from this valour sad,
Shrink underneath the plaid;

Happy, if in the tufted brake
The English hunter him mistake,
Nor lay his hounds in near

The Caledonian deer.

But thou, the war's and fortune's son,
March indefatigably on,

And for the last effect,

Still keep the sword erect;
Beside the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,

The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain.


When I beheld the poet blind yet bold
In slender book his vast design unfold,
Messiah crown'd, God's reconcil'd decree,
Rebelling angels, the forbidden tree,
Heaven, hell, earth, chaos, all; the argument
Held me awhile misdoubting his intent,
That he would ruin (for I saw him strong)
The sacred truths to fable and old song ;
So Sampson groped the temple's posts in spite,
The world o'erwhelming to revenge his sight.

Yet as I read, soon growing less severe,

I liked his project, the success did fear;

Through that wide field how he his way should find,
O'er which lame faith leads understanding blind;
Lest he'd perplex the things he would explain,
And what was easy he should render vain.

Or if a work so infinite he spanned,
Jealous I was that some less skilful hand
(Such as disquiet always what is well,
And by ill imitating would excel)

Might hence presume the whole creation's day
To change in scenes, and show it in a play.

Pardon me, mighty poet, nor despise
My causeless yet not impious surmise.
But I am now convinced, and none will dare
Within thy labours to pretend a share.

Thou hast not missed one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit ;

So that no room is here for writers left,
But to detect their ignorance or theft.

That majesty which through thy work doth reign
Draws the devout, deterring the profane;

And things divine thou treat'st of in such state
As them preserves, and thee, inviolate.
At once delight and horror on us seize,
Thou sing'st with so much gravity and ease,
And above human flight dost soar aloft,
With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft:
The bird named from that paradise you sing
So never flags, but always keeps on wing.
Where couldst thou words of such a compass find?
Whence furnish such a vast expanse of mind?
Just heaven thee, like Tiresias, to requite,

Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.

Well might thou scorn thy readers to allure
With tinkling rhyme, of thy own sense secure,

While the Town-Bayes writes all the while and spells,
And like a pack-horse tires without his bells.
Their fancies like our bushy points appear:

The poets tag them, we for fashion wear.

I too, transported by the mode, offend,

And while I meant to praise thee, must commend;
Thy verse created like thy theme sublime,

In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme.


[SAMUEL BUTLER was born at Strensham in Worcestershire in 1612, and died in London in 1680.]

Samuel Butler, grievously miscalled 'the Hogarth of Poetry,' seems to have been mainly a self-taught man. After leaving Worcester Cathedral School he started in life as justice's clerk to a Mr. Jefferies, at Earl's Croome. He was next at Wrest in Bedfordshire, in the service of the Countess of Kent, and here he met and worked for John Selden. Finally he formed part of the household of Sir Samuel Luke, a Presbyterian Colonel, 'scoutmaster for Bedfordshire and governor of Newport Pagnell.' At the Restoration he was made secretary to the President of Wales and steward of Ludlow Castle, and in 1662, at full fifty years old, he published the first part of the immense lampoon whose authorship has given him his place in English letters. The second part of Hudibras was issued in 1663; the third in 1678. Two years afterwards Butler died. The circumstances of his life during this final period are wholly dubious. He is said to have been rich, and he is said to have been poor; to have married a widow of means, and to have had no fortune with his wife but a parcel of bad securities; to have had a royal gift of £300 and been Buckingham's secretary, and to have had neither reward nor preferment of any sort; to have been in a position to refuse as insufficient such places as were offered him, and to have lived and died a disappointed starveling. Aubrey, who was of his friends, describes him as a 'good fellow' but 'cholerique' and 'of a severe and sound judgement'; and adds in this connection, 'satyrical wits disoblige whom they converse with, and consequently make themselves many enemies and few friends, and this was his case.' So that the 'mist of obscurity' in which his latter years were past may after all have been a mist of his own raising.

During his lifetime Butler published but the three parts of Hudibras, a couple of pamphlets, and an ode on the exploits and renown of the illustrious Claude Duval, which last, in its grave extravagance of irony, is, by anticipation, not unsuggestive of Fielding's 'Jonathan Wild.' Three volumes of ‘Remains,' mostly spurious, were published in 1715; but in 1759 Thyer of Manchester put forth a couple of volumes of prose and verse selected from Butler's manuscripts, and these, with some scraps printed later on, are all that is known to exist of him. His chief work, that one on which his fame is wholly founded and of which he was himself most careful and diligent, is Hudibras. As a whole it is now-adays hard reading. It is long, antiquated, exasperatingly discursive. The greater part of it has fallen naturally into disuse and disregard. The most popular of its innumerable dicta have got degraded into mere colloquialisms, and remind us of coins effaced and smoothed by centuries of currency. But Hudibras is none the less as notable in these days as it was at the epoch of its birth. It has been more largely read and quoted than almost any book in the language. It contains the best and brightest of Butler, and is a perfect reflex of his mind and temper. To give an idea of it by means of extracts is almost impossible. The poet's fecundity of illustration and argument is astonishing; his volubility is bewildering; his intelligence of things is indefatigable. He treats of much, and that at such length that he takes many thousand verses to pass his heroes through some two or three adventures. To know him as he was, his work must be read as a whole, and diligently.

His literary origins in Hudibras are not far to seek. His matter he must have acquired during his stay with Sir Samuel Luke, when he had such opportunity of study from the life as has fallen to the lot of but few. It was in the work of Canon Le Roy and the band of brave wits responsible for the Satyre Menippée that he learned to make a proper use of the material he had gathered, and acquired in perfection the art of placing his butts and victims in an absolutely odious light. His genius, it is true, had little or nothing dramatic in it; and the harangues of Hudibras and the Lady and the Squire have not the personal and human ring in them that is to be discerned in those of Mayenne and the Sieur de Pierrefont. But they proceed on the same principle with these; like these, they extenuate nothing and set down everything in malice; of these they are in some sort

« PreviousContinue »