« السابقةمتابعة »
Art. IV. Posthumous Works, in Prose and Verse, written in the
time of the Civil Wars, and Reign of K. Charles II. by MR. Samuel BUTLER, Author of Hudibras ; from original MSS. and scarce and valuable pieces formerly printed
: with a Key to Hudibras, by Sir Roger L'Estrange. In three Volumes. The
sixth Edition ; with Cuts. London, 1720. The Genuine Remains, in Prose and Verse, of MR. SAMUEL
BUTLER, Author of Hudibras. Published from the original MSS. formerly in the possession of W. Longueville, Esq. ; with Notes by R. Thyer, Keeper of the Public Library at Manchester. In two Volumes. London, 1759.
The Hudibras of Butler, like the fabled Arabian bird, is in itself a species : it had no precursor, and its imitators are forgotten. With all the disadvantages of a temporary subject, obsolete characters, and "a conclusion in which nothing is concluded,” it continues to be the delight of the few, and the text-book of the many: its couplets have passed into proverbs—the names of its heroes are “ faipiliar in our mouths as household words." With the exception of Shakspeare, there is, perhaps, no author whose expressions are so inextricably intertwined with our every day discourse, and whose writings afford such an inexhaustible variety of apothegms of universal and apposite application; yet there is no author, enjoying any considerable share of popularity, who is so imperfectly understood and appreciated. How many of the readers of Hudibras take it up with the same feelings with which they peruse the Scarronides, and the Homer Burlesqued? They find, it is true, the adventures ludicrous and the characters grotesque-but' then the speeches are long-winded, and, what is worse, they'require some attention to comprehend them. When, by dint of reconnoitring and skipping, they have reached the political canto, where the story gives them the slip, they lay down the book, and forget to take it up again. Of those who look more deeply into the work, and whose attention is not confined to the quaintness of the style, and the eccentricity of the rhymes, how many are contented to contemplate the brilliancy of Butler's wit, through the dusky medium of notes, or to found their admiration of it on “ men's opinion and the world's report.” The reader of Hudibras should not only be familiar with the history, the politics, and the religion, of the eventful period in which its author lived, but with its fashions, its feelings, its science, its follies, its literature, its superstitions. To enjoy it with a true and perfect relish, he should have sung catches in a tavern with a knot of jovial cavaliers-been compressed and stifled in a crowd of Vol II.
sturdy puritans, in a conventicle-deafened by the extempore eloquence of Dr. Burgess and Hugh Peters-been bewildered in the mazes of scholastic divinity with Aquinas and Duns Scotus -had his fortune told by Booker or Lilly—tried experiments with Sir Paul Neale--cross-examined the moon with the Royal Society—“ seen countries far and near” with “ Le Blanc the Traveller”-sympathized with Sir Kenelm Digby-yawned over the romantic tomes of Calprenede and Scuderi—been witty upon Gondibert—and deep in Cervantes and Coke upon Littleton.a
It is a common error among “the great vulgar and the small” to look upon Hudibras as extremely low-in fact, as a mere burlesque. It is as much above “the common cry” of burlesque, as the novels of Fielding and the author of Waverley are above the ephemeral trash of the Minerva Press. It is a mighty and comprehensive satire—as powerful in argument--as just in sentiment—as rich in illustration, as any that united wit and learning have ever produced. All the weapons of controversial warfare-invective, irony, sarcasm, and ridicule--are alternately and successfully wielded. The most opposite and conflicting absurdities—the excrescences of learning and the bigotry of ignorance
-“time-honoured” prejudices and follies of recent growth or importation--are laid prostrate “at one fell swoop.” Butler makes none but “ palpable bits.” His sentences have the pitby brevity of a proverb, with the sting of an epigram. His subject was local and transitory-bis satire boundless and eternal. His greatest fault is profusion-he revels and runs riot in the prodigality of his imaginings-he bewilders himselt and his readers amidst “thick-coming fancies"—his poem is o'er-informed with wit, and dazzles and overpowers by an upremitting succession of brilliant corruscations. "His narrative is, to its embellishments, but as “one poor half-pennyworth of bread to all this intolerable quantity of sack." The adventures are meagre and unsatisfactory: we might
“ Make suture times shake hands with latter,
And that which was before come after," without impairing or confusing the story. Like Bayes, in The Rehearsal, our author probably thought a plot was good for nothing but to bring in good things, and consequently troubled himself very little about its consistency or probability. His hero is the personification of contradictions-he is not the representative of a class, a sect, a party-but of all classes, sects, and para The difficulty of translating such a work as Hudibras, without letting
wit and spirit evaporate, is sufficiently obvious. This arduous task bas been achieved, with extraordinary success, by Colonel Towneley, whose French version of Hudibras displays a singular union of spirit and fidelity, The German version of Soltau is also deserving of high praise.
ties. It has been said of Dryden's bouncing Almanzor, that all the rays of romantic heat, whether amorous or warlike, glow in him by a kind of concentration : the follies, and vices, and deformities of human na re, seem concentrated in Sir Hudibras. The litigious justice and the crazy knight-errant,
" In soul and body too, unite
To make up one hermaphrodite." The Geneva cap and band peep from beneath the rusty helm and buckler of chivalry. Aquinas's Sum of all Theology and Ovid's Ars Amandi--the Assembly's Annotations and the Mirrour of Knighthood, jostle on the shelves of his library. With wit and learning enough, if “ sawed into quantities,” to fit out all the heroes of all the octosyllabic epics that have ever been written, he is turned out to make us sport as a coxcomb and a driveller. -With more cunning than “Nick Machiavel,” he is the butt and dupe of the knavery of duller spirits--and is abused, gulled, and buffeted, through eight long cantos, without measure or mercy.
It is, perhaps, idle to criticise a work, written in defiance of criticism, and unjust to try genius by laws to which it owns no allegiance; but Butler can afford to be found fault with. After making every possible deduction in the estimate of his merits, he will still remain one of the most original and powerful writers which this or any country has produced. That he had all the capabilities of more elevated composition than that in which he has been contented to excel, is sufficiently obvious in the pages of his Hudibras. We find scattered through the work a profision of images and sentiments essentially poetical, the beauty of which, though obscured, cannot be entirely hidden by the homeliness of their dress.
The Remains of Butler partake of all the characteristic excellencies of his greater work. The brilliant and inexhaustible wit—the liveliness of fancy, combined with the soundest sense
the manly and independent spirit—the superabundant erudition, and the vigour and originality of thinking, which distinguish bis Hudibras, pervade equally his less elaborate effusions, His controversial weapons may not be always polished to the same brilliancy, or displayed in the same imposing order, but they belong to the same formidable armoury, and partake of the same ætherial temper.
Had these Remains been as well known and as much read as they deserved to be, we should not have deemed them a proper subject for our critical examination; for, should we extend our article far beyond its fair and natural limits, we could not pretend to compress into it “ the twentieth part the tithe” of the beauties contained in Mr. Thyer's publication. But these volumes are little known, and less read; and, in introducing them
to the notice of our readers, we are doing an act of service to them, and of justice to Butler.
The comparative neglect which the minor pieces of our author have experienced, is chiefly attributable to the currency obtained by a wretched compilation of contemporary ribaldry, which the ignorance or cupidity of the publisher had dignified with the title of Butler's' Posthumous Works. Out of fifty pieces which this publication contains, there are only three which have any claim to be considered as the genuine productions of Butler :a the remainder are mere “ shadows to fill up the musterbook”-stragglers that have been pressed into the service-as oddly assorted and as inefficient, as Sir John Falstaff's army of substitutes.b The metrical part of this collection is infinitely below mediocrity, and consists principally of bad imitations of, or direct plagiarisms from Hudibras. Of the prose pieces, some of which possess a considerable share of low humour, the best are the property of Sir John Birkenhead, a very industrious party scribbler, whose scurrility was rewarded with a lucrative place, by the court, which left the author of Hudibras to starve in obscurity. For upwards of fifty years, this collection continued to circulate unquestioned under “ the shadow of a mighty name,” and, during that time, went through a variety of editions. Dr. Grey, whose taste and discernment bore no proportion to his industry, entertained no doubt of their genuineness, and, in his notes on Hudibras, frequently alludes to and quotes from them, as the productions of Butler. Tardy justice was, however, done to our author's reputation, by Mr. Thyer's publication of bis Genuine Remains from the origina Imanuscripts, previously in the possession of Mr. Longueville, the friend and patron of Butler.
Of the poems, which form about a third part of this collection, we shall give no specimens, as they have been reprinted in more than one edition of the English poets. The principal one, in length and merit, is The Elephant in the Moon, a very
a 'These are, the Ode on Du Vall, Case of Charles I. and Letters of Audland and Prynne; they are included in Thyer's publication.
b The following instances, among many, will sufficiently show the clumsiness, as well as impudence, of this imposture. Shirley's fine moral stanzas on death, ending with the otten quoted lines,
“ Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust," are inserted under the title of A thought upon death after hearing of the Murder of Charles I. There are, also, The Assembly Man, notoriously written by Sir John Birkenhead; Lines commendatory ?) to Felton in the Tower, dated 1628, when Butler was only sixteen ; and Hudibras at Court, a continuation of Butler's Poem, dated 1659, four years before the first part of that poem was published.
witty and severe satire on the proceedings of the Royal Society. Among the smaller pieces, is an admirable parody on the unnatural fustian of the heroic drama, which, supported by the perverted genius of Dryden, succeeded, for a while, in banishing nature and common sense from the stage. It is equal to any thing in The Rehearsal, and exactly imitates (it could not caricature) the manner in which sentiments and metaphors were bandied backwards and forwards, and the dialogue kept up, like a game at shuttlecock, between puling ruffians and their metaphysical mistresses. Butler is equally just and happy in his animadversions on the ridiculous pedantry which regarded a servile adherence to the rules of the Ancients as essential to dramatic excellence.
Of the prose pieces, which form the most interesting and least known portion of this publication, the most important in number and talent are the Characters, which occupy the whole of the second volume. The writing of Characters was a species of composition much in vogue in the earlier part of the seventeenth century. The most successful writers of this description were Sir Thomas Overbury and Bishop Earle : the Characters of the former went through fourteen editions previous to 1632, and the bishop's Microcosmographie through six between 1628 and 1633. Butler is one of the latest authors who have succeeded in this style of writing: in instinctive perception of character-in practical koowledge of the world—as well as in the richness and variety of his imagination, and the boldness and originality of his thoughts - he has far excelled most of his predecessors.
We shall commence our extracts with two characters, that can never be obsolete, and who“ are of imagination all compact”The Small Poet and The Romance-writer.
A Small Poet • Is one, that would fain make himself that which nature never meant him ; like a fanatic, that inspires himself with his owo whimsies. He sets up baberdasher of small poetry, with a very small stock, and no credit. He believes it is invention enough to find out other men’s wit; and whatsoever be lights upon, • either in books, or company, he makes bold with as his own.... • He appears so over concerned in all men's wits, as if they were . but disparagements of his own; and crys down all they do, as “if they were encroachments upon him....As for epithets, he always avoids those that are near akin to the sense. Such matches are unlawful, and not fit to be made by a Christian 'poet; and therefore all his care is to chuse out such as will • serve, like a wooden leg, to piece out a maim'd verse that wants a foot or two; and if they will but rhyme now and then into the bargain, or run upon a letter, it is a work of supererogation,