Only scanty materials for an account of Samuel Butler's life survive. The son of a farmer, he was born at Strensham in Worcestershire, 8 February 1612, and died in London in the year 1680. He was educated at the cathedral school at Worcester, and, judging by his proficiency in classical literature, must have been exceedingly well grounded. Afterwards, he lived in or near Cambridge, but does not seem to have entered at any one of the colleges or to have been a member of the university. Later, he was engaged as an attendant or secretary to Elizabeth, countess of Kent, at Wrest in Bedfordshire. This was an important period of his life, for John Selden, the accomplished lawyer, passed at least three long vacations (1626-8) under the same roof, and interested himself in Butler. It may, perhaps, be fanciful to find in the lawyer's fondness for illustration and analogy in his Table Talk the suggestion of the similar treatment of his subjects in the droll similes and comparisons that meet us often in Butler's writings.
Some years of his early life were spent in the capacity of clerk to a succession of county magistrates; but the most important of these employments was that under Sir Samuel Luke, of Cople Hoo near Bedford, who was a fanatical puritan, one of Cromwell's colonels in the civil war, and scoutmaster for Bedfordshire and several midland counties. In this gentleman's house were frequent meetings of members of various religious and political sects, and Butler had an opportunity of noting the peculiarities and pretentions of a motley crew, which he afterwards mercilessly ridiculed in his comic epic. Here, no doubt, he composed many of his Characters and notes, which sometimes appear in his Hudibras, though some of the Characters were obviously written, partly, at least, after the restoration. One hundred and twenty of these Characters had appeared (but not till 1759) in The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr Samuel Butler, edited by Robert Thyer, and, recently, sixty-eight more, together with a number of miscellaneous Observations and Reflexions, have been published. In 1650, Butler became secretary to Richard, earl of Carbery, lord president of Wales, who appointed him steward of Ludlow castle, where many Characters and other compositions were written out fair for the press, as they came afterwards into the hands of his friend William Longueville.
After the restoration, Butler published the first part of his Hudibras in 1663, the second part in 1664, but the third part did not see the light till 1678. It was at once received with great enthusiasm, especially by Charles II, to whom it became a kind of vade-mecum, and who rewarded the poet with a gratuityof £300.
His latter days
It is recorded that Butler contracted a marriage with a wealthy widow, but that they lost their property by unfortunate speculations. Another story attributes this loss to the rascality of lawyers and accounts thus for the exceeding bitterness with which the poet assails them. But this is an obscure point; even the lady's name is not known for certain. If the question could be satisfactorily determined, light would possibly be thrown on the relations of Hudibras and the widow in the third part of the poem. It seems, however, tolerably certain that Butler passed the rest of his days in needy circumstances and died in abject penury. This is attested by an epigram full of bitterness on the subject of a monument erected to his memory in Westminster abbey in 1720:
While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive
No generous patron would a dinner give.
See him when starved to death and turned to dust
Presented with a monumental bust.
The poet's fate is here in emblem shown;
He asked for bread and he received a stone.
We have seen that he was well taught in Latin and Greek; but we learn from one of his Contradictions that he gave up his Greek studies after he had left school as 'unnecessary except to Dunces and Schoolmasters,' and, in his Thoughts on Learning and Knowledge, he repeats that Greek is
'of little use in our times unless to serve Pedants and mountebanks to smatter withal';
there is, however, considerable evidence that he kept up his Latin, especially in the satirists Horace, Juvenal and Persius, from whom he derives many thoughts and similes; Lucan, also, he parodies in a notable passage. In his prose writings (Reflections, etc.) he shows that he had read Lucretius carefully; he employs that poet's language in illustrating remarks aimed at the newly formed Royal Society or, as they were styled, the 'Virtuosi of Gresham College.' He freely showers ridicule on Sir Paul Neale, probably the original of the astrologer Sidrophel (perhaps a parody of 'Astrophil') and on Lord Brounker, president of the Society, who, in the poem entitled The Elephant in the Moon, is dubbed 'Virtuoso in chief.'
A knowledge of English law and legal phraseology is conspicuous in his writings, but, as might be expected, it is the technical law appertaining to the office of a justice of the peace rather than that of a constitutional lawyer, though his intercourse with Selden may have procured for him some acquaintance with that department of legal study.
The popularity of Hudibras caused the growth of a fungus crop of spurious imitations of Butler's prose and poetry, which were published under the title The Posthumous Works of Mr Samuel Butler, Author of Hudibras, being a collection of Satires, Speeches and Reflections of those times. Four or five of these productions were published afterwards in The Genuine Remains; but, for the most part, the collection consists of ballads, long poems and essays on various subjects relating to the times of the rebellion. A cursory examination will show them to be of distinctly inferior merit; and they are of little service in illustrating the great satire. This worthless publication reached a sixth edition in 1754; and it may have been this circumstance that induced John Clark, to whom The Genuine Remains came from Charles Longueville, the son of Butler's friend William Longueville, to entrust them for publication to Robert Thyer, keeper of the public library at Manchester, in November 1759. The pieces making up the collection had been written out fair in Butler's own handwriting when left to William Longueville, but had probably been composed in the rough some years earlier, many of them before Hudibras, seeing that they have some of the same matter in common. They consist of a volume of prose containing Characters and a few speeches, put in the mouths of certain politicians on stated occasions, with letters pro and con., similarly conceived; to these are added some Occasional thoughts.
The second volume is mainly in verse, beginning with The Elephant in the Moon, directed against Sir Paul Neale, a member of the Royal Society. The elephant in the moon turns out to be a fly in the telescope which had been directed to the moon for observations. Curiously enough, this subject is treated metrically twice over — in octosyllabic verse, Butler's special metre, and then in the rimed decasyllables aptly employed by Dryden and Pope. It seems as though Butler had experimented to find the most suitable vehicle for his satire. This poem is followed by nine satires, one or two of which are written in the longer metre.
The subjects of these are the absurdity of human actions and speculations; the licentious times of Charles II (long verse); gaming; the troubles of verse and rime; the foolish changes of fashion; the abuse of wine; promiscuous marriages (long verse); plagiaries; the abuse of human learning. The style and method of these satires are naturally suggestive of the influence of the Roman satirists, which may often be traced in Hudibras. Inserted among these are other satirical poems, mainly on political subjects, the most notable being 'on Philip Nye's Thanksgiving Beard.' (Nye was an independent and a member of the assembly of divines, who had made himself notorious by a peculiar beard'.) The collection concludes with a large number of Miscellaneous Thoughts in epigrammatic form, many of them containing bitter reflections on the poet's ill-fortune in life and the undeserved success achieved by impudent self-assertion; some are on the faults of government and the rulers of the state—a medley of melancholy pessimistic thoughts.
The Characters must have been suggested by the fashion brought into vogue by Casaubon's translation of Theophrastus's Characters in 1592, feebly imitated by bishop Hall, and superficially by Sir Thomas Overbury, and exemplified more effectively in Earle's Microcosmographie (1628-33). Earle was a fellow of Merton and a great friend of Lord Falkland; Clarendon, who met Earle at Falkland's country house, Great Tew, near Oxford, and was much taken with the refined scholar, refers to Microcosmographie as some very 'witty and sharp discourses' which brought the author into repute. It might, therefore, be an interesting matter for speculation as to how far Clarendon himself was indebted (for suggestions at least) to the numerous essays of this kind during the first half of the seventeenth century, in composing the wonderful delineations of character which are the chief ornaments of his History of the Rebellion.
Butler's Characters remained in manuscript for about a century and, though brought to light in 1759 in The Genuine Remains, they have by no means received the attention they deserve. While, perhaps, not closely adhering to the model of Theophrastus, they are full of witty sallies and quips which bring into relief the absurdities and hypocrisy displayed by the presbyterian members of Sir Samuel Luke's coterie. Butler had a special genius for noting points of comparison and making similes from small matters in common life, or from extraordinary relations of travellers or observers in fantastic science, such as Sir Kenelm Digby and Cornelius Agrippa; his bent being essentially satirical, he had, while with Sir Samuel Luke, a rare opportunity of observing and recording the revelations made by the 'caterwauling brethren,' the self-styled saints, whose pretensions he unmasks in his Hudibras.
Most of his characters are merely general, but others, especially the longer, such as 'A Modern Politician,' 'An hypocritical Non-conformist,' 'A Republican,' 'A State-Convert,' 'A modern Statesman,' 'A Fifth Monarchy man,' 'A small Poet,' 'A Lawyer,' 'A Virtuoso,' 'A Justice of Peace,' 'A Fanatic,' 'An Hermetic Philosopher, ' are evidently to be referred to actors on the political stage of that time, and must have supplied matter for Hudibras; there are passages that have so close a resemblance to their counterparts in the poem that one must have been derived from the other; though there are some points in the Characterswhich show that they must have been written (at least in part) after 1664.
Of Earle's characters, about ten coincide in their subject with those of Butler, and it is interesting to compare the different style of treatment to be found in these writers. But, in every case, the method is the same. The character is drawn not in outline, but by a number of minor traits that all tell in the same direction till the portrait is fully completed. The besetting sin of the artist in this kind of description is that he often does not know when to take his hand from the picture, and goes on elaborating details till the reader is wearied.
Hudibras may be described as a mock-heroic poem dealing with the pretensions and hypocrisies of the presbyterians, independents and other sects which were subversive of the monarchy at the time of the great rebellion. Though it was not published till after the restoration of Charles II, Butler's sympathies were ardently royalist; but his pen, so far as we know, was engaged only fitfully in support of his convictions. His object in putting together in a considerable poem an account of the events and opinions which he had quietly recorded during the convulsive struggles of the nation must have been to ingratiate himself with the king after his return. The impelling motive may well have been poverty, together with the desire of fame.
The first known attempt at mock-heroic poetry was Batrachomyomachia, or the battle between frogs and mice, a burlesque on the Iliad, at one time absurdly attributed to Homer. Butler, of course, was acquainted with this poem, and wittily parodies title and subject in his Cynarctomachy, or Battle between Bear and Dogs. He was probably influenced, also, by Skelton, who, although a man of learning, attacked cardinal Wolsey and the clergy in short rimes of 'convivial coarseness and boisterous vigour'. But Butler's model in style, to a very great extent, must have been Scarron, almost an exact contemporary, whose Virgile travesty was published in 1648-52; so Butler, who was versed in French literature, could easily adopt the salient features of this poem in Hudibras, which was not published till 1663. On the other side, Scarron shows acquaintance with English affairs, e.g. in the following couplet:
D'un côté vient le grand Ajax
Fier comme le milord Fairfax. Virg. trav., liv. ii.
His method is to modernise the language and actions of the ancient Vergilian heroes, and to put in their mouths the phrases of the (common) people of his own time. In the same mocking spirit, he introduces glaring anachronisms, such as the appearance of Mohammadans at the foundation of Carthage, Dido saying grace before meat, etc.
Hudibras and its models
The name 'Hudibras' is derived from The Faerie Queene (II, 2, 17), and the setting of the poem is obviously imitated from Don Quixote, save that the imitation is a complete reversal of the attitude of the original. Cervantes treats the vanishing chivalry of Spain in a gentle and affectionate spirit, while showing the impossibility of its continuance in the changed conditions of life. In Don Quixote, every element of grandeur and nobility is attributed to the most ordinary and meanest person, building, incident or surrounding; an inn is a castle, an inn-keeper a knight, flocks of sheep are armies; a barber's basin is a golden helmet in the vivid imagination of the knight; a mess of acorns set before him prompts a discourse full of regret at the passing away of the Golden Age, when Nature herself provided simple, wholesome fare for all, without necessity for resorting to force or fraud; and Justice prevails throughout. Notwithstanding the absurdity and impossibility of this revival, the reader's sympathy is ever on the side of the chivalric madman, even in his wildest extravagance. In Hudibras, on the contrary, the 'blasoning' or description of the knight and squire, while following the most accredited forms of chivalric romance, serves only to set forth the odious squalor of the modern surroundings. The knight's mental qualifications are given in great detail and, after that, his bodily accomplishments — all in a vein of satirical exaggeration. Butler's purpose is to show everything in its vilest aspect. Instead of making common affairs noble in appearance, the poem reveals the boastful pretensions of the puritan knight by describing both his equipment and that of his squire squalid and beggarly, while his purpose is, not to excite pity for the poverty and wretchedness of these pitiful champions, but to provoke contempt for the disgusting condition of the wretched pair and to bring down further odium upon it. It is genre painting with a vengeance, and fully realises the account given by Pliny of the art of Piraeicus:
"He painted barbers' shops and cobblers' stalls, asses and dishes of food, and the like, thus getting the name of "painter of low life" and giving the highest pleasure by such representations."
Our own Morland and Hogarth well answer such a description, and we are fortunate in possessing illustrations of Hudibras designed by the latter. The sympathy between the painter and the poet must have been complete.
That Hudibras going forth 'a colonelling' is intended to represent Sir Samuel Luke is made pretty clear by the speech:
'Tis sung there is a valiant Mamaluke
In foreign land yclept ———
To whom we have been oft compared
For person, parts, address and beard.
He is described as a 'true blue' presbyterian, ignorant, conceited, pedantic, crotchety, a pretender to linguistic, mathematical and dialectical learning, bent on a 'thorough-going reformation' by means of 'apostolic blows and knocks.' In external appearance, he was of a most droll rusticity. His beard was orange tawny (perhaps copied from Philip Nye's thanksgiving beard, or from Panurge's beard in Pantagruel), and it was unkempt because he had vowed not to trim it till the monarchy was put down. He was hunchbacked and adorned by a protuberant paunch, stuffed with country fare of milk and butter. His doublet was buff, the colour much affected by his party, and was proof against blows from a cudgel, but not against swordcuts. His trunkhose were full of provisions; even his sword had a basket-hilt to hold broth, and was so little used that it had worn out the scabbard with rust, having been exhibited only in serving warrants. His dagger was serviceable for scraping pots and toasting cheese. His holster contained rusty pistols which proved useful in catching rats in the locks, snapping on them when they foraged amongst his garments for cheese. Don Quixote took no thought as to how he should obtain sustenance, while Hudibras was an itinerant larder.
All this is adapted from Cervantes or Rabelais, who themselves parodied the chivalric romances in the apparelling and blasoning of their heroes: in the same vein, Butler goes on to describe the steed and the squire. The horse was mealy-mouthed, blind of one eye, like the mare of Rabelais's Catchpole, and wall-eyed of the other; there are also reminiscences of Rosinante and of Gargantua's mare. It was of a grave, majestic pace, and is compared with Caesar's horse, which would stoop to take up its rider, while this one stooped to throw Hudibras. The saddle was old and worn through, and the horse's tail so long and bedraggled that it was only serviceable for swishing mire on the rider.
Hudibras and Ralpho
Ralpho the squire is an independent, with a touch of the anabaptist, despising booklore and professing to be learned for salvation by means of 'gifts' or 'new-light,' in the phraseology of those sects. Here comes in a loan from Rabelais in the account of Ralpho's mystic learning. Her Trippa in Pantagruel is based on Henricus Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, author of De Occulta Philosophia; these writers and Pythagorean numbers are employed in the description of the squire's accomplishments in quack astrology and almanac writing. Ralpho is a tailor and, like Aeneas and Dante, has seen 'hell' — a sartorial term of the age, meaning a receptacle for shreds and scraps.
As the pair ride forth, the true romantic method is followed, beginning with a comic invocation of the muse, who
With ale and viler liquors
Didst inspire Withers, Pryn and Vickars,
certain presbyterian poetasters, the last of whom is said in Butler's 'Annotations' to have translated Virgils Aeneids into as horrible a Travesty in earnest as the French Scarron did in Burlesque. This introduces the action, which is brought about by the discovery of a rabble intent on bear-baiting. The knight looks upon this as 'lewd and anti-Christian, ' and it may be intended to represent the 'insolency of the late tumults' described in Eikon Basilike, which was accepted by the royalists as the composition of Charles I. The leaders of the rebellion are there styled boutefeus, or known incendiaries, a term here used by Butler probably in allusion to its occurrence in the tract, and explained in his 'Annotations' as a French word and, therefore, necessarily understood by persons of quality. Bear-baiting is quaintly derived from the constellation Ursa Major, which circles round the pole. The knight finds in this Cynarctomachy a plot to set brother against brother, so as to prevent them from offering a united front on behalf of a thorough reformation.
As, in Rabelais and Don Quixote, it is the conversations that bring into relief the convictions and prejudices of the interlocutors, so, in Hudibras, the altercations between the knight and squire, which often degenerate into recriminations, are intended to unmask the hypocritical contentions of both parties. In the very first canto, the suspicion that was rife between the presbyterian knight and the independent squire is brought out, and the warmth of religious partisanship is heightened on every subsequent occasion.
The description of the warriors on the other side, that is, the bear-baiters, is humorous in the extreme. They consist of a one-legged fiddler, Crowdero (from crowd, an old word for a fiddle), a bear-ward, a butcher, a tinker, Magnano (the Italian equivalent for locksmith), a virago named Trulla, a cobbler and an ostler. These have been identified by Sir Roger l'Estrange, who was a contemporary, with men who obtained posts in Cromwell's army and gained subsequent distinction. The wit and humour lavished on the description of these worthies is extraordinary, and may be exemplified in one or two cases. Talgol, the butcher, had made many orphans and widows, and, like Guy of Warwick, had slain many a dun cow; he had fought more flocks of sheep than Ajax or Don Quixote, and slain many serpents in the shape of wasps.
Cerdon, the cobbler, is compared to Hercules in the repair of wrong (in shoes):
He raised the low and fortified
The weak against the strongest Side.
Colon, the ostler, is compared to a centaur for his riding, and
Sturdy he was and no less able
Than Hercules to cleanse a Stable;
As great a Drover and as great
A Critic too in Hog and Neat.
A question as to whether He
Or's Horse were of a Family
but antiquaries gave their decision,
And proved not onely Horse, but Cows,
Nay Pigs were of the elder House:
For Beasts, when Man was but a piece
Of earth himself, did the Earth possess.
Butler's peculiar trick of giving the characteristics of each person by parallels of similar accomplishments in some noted hero, but in ludicrous travesty, is, doubtless, imitated from Scarron. Rabelais delights in finding in ancient history and literature parallels to his modern instances, but does not go further, except where the general tone of the speaker dramatically requires it; but, with Butler's mocking humour, the method is reversed, and it is only for the purpose of debasing it in the application that a striking instance is found.
In order to bring Hudibras into contempt from the first, he is represented as anxious to put down bear-baiting, one of the most popular amusements of the time, and substituting for it the cult of the solemn league and covenant, which was thrust upon the English by the Scottish presbyterians. The knight feels bound, 'in conscience and commission too,' 'to keep the peace twixt dog and bear,' and dubs the whole proceeding 'pagan and idolatrous.' The squire consents to this, but, from his point of view as an independent, insists that, if there is no scriptural warrant for bear-baiting, neither is there warrant for
Provincial, classic, national,
Mere human creature cobwebs all.
These three words, specially applied by the presbyterians to their various synods, make Hudibras suspicious of his squire; but he puts off the argument, because it is now time for action.
The description of the battle is rendered more absurd by the high-flown epic vein in which it is set forth. The metrical devices of pauses in particular places are duly observed, as well as the repetitions of emphatic words, such as
He Trulla loved, Trulla more bright, etc.
And gave the Champion's Steed a thump
That staggered him. The knight did stoop, etc.
The bear having been badly mauled in the battle, the retreat is saved by the cobbler Cerdon and by Trulla, who leads
The warrior to a grassy bed,
As authors write, in a cool shade,
Which eglantine and roses made,
Close by a softly murmuring stream,
Where lovers used to loll and dream.
This is a ludicrous imitation of the first book of the Aeneid, where Venus puts Ascanius to rest in similar surroundings.
Hudibras had been victorious in the first battle and, with the help of the squire, had put Crowdero in the stocks; but, in a second encounter, after the combatants have rallied their forces, he is worsted, and, with Ralpho, takes the place of Crowdero. Even here, while Hudibras
Cheered up himself with ends of verse
And sayings of philosophers,
Ralpho the independent resumes his attack on the presbyterians, and we are treated to the catch-words 'gifts, 'illumination,' 'light,' 'synodical,' ' orders,' 'constitutions,' 'church-censures' and so forth. Challenged by the knight, he repeats his argument that synods are mystical bear-gardens, in which saints are represented by the bear and presbyters and scribes by the dogs that are set upon them. 'Synods are whelps of the inquisition,' and they have their 'triers' (or testers), whose business it is
To cast a figure for men's Light;
To find in lines of beard and face
The physiognomy of Grace,
And by the sound and twang of nose
If all be sound within disclose.
The second part, which was published a year after the first, proceeds uninterruptedly with the story, taking up the case of the widow whom, in the third canto of the first part, Hudibras had after his victory wished to gain, meeting, however, with discomfiture. The widow, informed of this by Fame(parodied from the fourth book of the Aeneid), determines to visit him in the stocks, and there entices him to declare himself. Thus, we have another argument between them, in which the knight's shameless self-seeking is exposed and the superiority of the female sex is maintained. In proof of his good faith, Hudibras has to promise to submit to flagellation. The notion of whipping and the mode of carrying it out is borrowed from Don Quixote, where Sancho Panza is called upon to endure three thousand lashes in order to obtain the disenchantment of Dulcinea del Toboso. Hudibras solemnly swears that he will carry out this behest.
The next (the second) canto is introduced by the poet as especially full of contention, and it is here that the hypocritical casuistry of the two sects who were principally concerned in the civil war is most clearly exposed. Hudibras, after a night's reflection, does not relish the idea of a flogging and turns to the squire for his judgment on the subject. Ralpho readily proceeds to 'enlarge upon the point.' First, it is heathenish to offer the sacrifice of whipping to idols, and it is sinful to do so in saints who are sufficiently bruised and kicked by the wicked. Moreover,
The Saints may claim a Dispensation
To swear and forswear on occasion....
Although your Church be opposite
To ours as Black Friers are to White
In Rule and Order; yet I grant
You are a Reformado Saint.
Saints in public and in private life
He then, with pungent raillery, particularises breaches of faith on the part of the 'saints.' They broke the allegiance and supremacy oath, and compelled the nation to take and break the protestation in favour of the reformed religion, to swear and forswear the solemn league and covenant, to enter into and then disclaim the engagement to be true to the government without king or peers. They swore to fight for and against the king, insisting that it was in his defence, and also for and against their own general Essex. They swore to maintain law, religion and privilege in parliament, not one of which is left; having sworn to maintain the House of Lords, they turned them out as dangerous and useless.
If this be so in public life, a saint in private life can be no more bound by an oath.
A Saint's of the heavenly Realm a Peer:
And as no Peer is bound to swear,
But on the gospel of his honor,
Of which he may dispose as owner;
It follows, though the thing be forgery
And false the affirm, it is no perjury.
This suggests a gibe at the despised quakers, who, nevertheless, are scrupulous in this matter:
These, thinking th'are obliged to troth,
In swearing will not take an oath.
Hudibras agrees and insists that, like a law, an oath is of no use till it is broken. Ralpho, continuing, points out that a man may be whipped by proxy, and
That Sinners may supply the place
Of suffering Saints is a plain case.
Hudibras jumps at this, and at once bids Ralpho be his substitute. He refuses, and, when Hudibras becomes abusive, reminds him of the superiority of the independent party.
Remember how in Arms and Politicks
We still have worsted all your holy tricks;
Trapanned your party with intrigue
And took your Grandees down a peg;
New-modelled the army and cashiered
All that to Legion Smec adhered.
(Legion Smec is intended for the presbyterians generally, under the well known composite name 'Smectymnuus.') Hudibras retorts furiously, upbraiding his squire as an upstart sectary and a mongrel,
Such as breed out of peccant Humors
Of our own Church, like wens and tumours,
And, like a maggot in a sore,
Would that which gave it life devour.
This, of course, refers to the numberless sects that sprang up at this time, holding often the strangest of views.
The champions are proceeding to blows when they are interrupted by a frightful noise caused by a woman being escorted in triumph by a rabble, for having beaten her husband. Hudibras must needs interfere, being particularly scandalised by the dishonour done to the sex that furnished the 'saints' with their first 'apostles.' He enlarges on the help women have given to the 'cause,' in language that might be a parody of Hooker, but the rabble sets upon them with eggs and similar projectiles, so they are glad to escape with the loss of their swords. Hudibras consoles himself, seeing a good omen in his having been pelted with dirt:
Vespasian being daubed with dirt
Was destined to the Empire for't.
The third canto introduces a new element. By Ralpho's advice, Hudibras entertains the notion of consulting an astrologer, Sidrophel, as to his prospects in the pursuit of the widow. The question as to the permissibility of consulting a person who is scripturally banned is decided in his favour— 'saints may employ a conjurer.' The description of Sidrophel and his zany Whachum, 'an underwitch, his Caliban,' is but little inferior to the account of Hudibras and the squire at the beginning of the poem. Much of it is derived from Rabelais, who has collected a great number of methods of divination. Butler, however, makes considerable additions from his own store, derived from the superstitions of common life. At first, Hudibras is impressed by the extraordinary knowledge displayed by the astrologer; but, afterwards, in matching his own store of learning with it, finds himself disabused, especially when Sidrophel quotes as a recent event a fictitious adventure of his own, which had appeared in a spurious continuation of the first part of Hudibras. This leads to the usual scuffle, in which the astrologer and Whachum are worsted, and Ralpho is despatched for a constable; while Hudibras, under the false impression that Sidrophel is dead, makes off, intending the squire to bear the charge of murder and robbery, though he himself has rummaged the astrologer's pockets.
Hudibras, Part III
This is the conclusion of the first and second parts of the poem, published respectively in 1663 and 1664. The third part, which takes up the story, was not published till 1678, and shows considerable difference in the treatment of the subject.
Unlike the earlier parts, it contains very few classical allusions, and these are of the most obvious kind, such as the Trojan horse and Cerberus; the style, too, is smoother and requires less explanation. This may be the result of experience and of hints received by the writer in the intervening years. But the thread of the story is taken up without interruption. The knight, having determined to abjure Ralpho, makes his way to the widow's house; but, unfortunately for him, the squire had formed the same resolution and forestalled him. When Hudibras appears, the lady is found fully informed on all points, and is able to oppose a true account to all his false claims of suffering on her behalf. The controversy for and against marriage again betrays the knight's unscrupulous selfishness, and a finishing stroke has set forth his contemptible character, when a low knocking is heard at the gate, and, flying in terror into a neighbouring room, he hides under a table. He is ignominiously drawn out and cudgelled by (as he supposes) Sidrophel's diabolical agents. Under the influence of superstitious terrors, he confesses the motives that impelled him in his suit, and answers to a catechism which divulges all his iniquities; and, that nothing may be wanting to complete his humiliation, he mistakes his squire Ralpho, who has been similarly beaten and left in the same dark room, for a more or less friendly spirit; whereupon, the pair make confession of the enormities perpetrated by the rival sects in the civil wars.
The final act of the burlesque follows in the third canto of this part, the second being a satirical account of the death of Cromwell and of the intrigues of the various parties before the restoration. The knight, having been withdrawn from his place of torture on Ralpho's shoulders, is induced by the squire to consult a lawyer. At first, he cries down this scheme, in order to adopt it afterwards as his own. He adopts it ungraciously 'since he has no better course' and consoles himself with the, often misquoted, couplet
He that complies against his will
Is of his own opinion still.
Butler now has an opportunity of exhibiting a lawyer in what he probably considered a true light. The advice this person gives exemplifies the use that was made in the older jurisprudence of cautelae, or methods of getting round legal enactments, and Hudibras is instructed to ply the widow with love-letters and
With Trains t' inveigle and surprise
Her heedless answers and replies.
This counsel is followed, and we have the knight's letter and the lady's answer, in which the latter, undoubtedly, has the best of the argument.
The second canto of the third part stands quite by itself and has nothing to do with the fortunes of Hudibras. It is merely an account, more or less detailed, of the principles and politics of the presbyterians, independents and republicans during the anarchy before the restoration. Rebellion had slackened for want of plunder, and presbyterian and independent were now at loggerheads. The presbyterians were turned out, and were glad to become itinerant preachers; they were served as they had treated the cavaliers, and decried the anabaptists and fanatics as much as they had done the papists and the prelatists before. Now, the independents were prepared to pull down everything that the war had spared and to intrigue among themselves. Meantime, the royalists, true to church and crown, notwithstanding their sufferings, came together again on seeing their foes divided;
For Loyalty is still the same,
Whether it win or lose the game;
True as a dial to the sun,
Although it be not shined upon.
'Cromwell had given up his reign, Tossed in a furious hurricane'; his feeble son had sunk under the burden of state, and now the 'saints' began their rule, but could not agree among themselves. Some were for a king, others wished to set up the fifth monarchy; some were for the Rump parliament, others for a general council of officers; some were for gospel government, others for pulling down presbyterian synods and classes; some, for opposing the papacy, putting down saints' days and demolishing churches; some, for having regular ministers, others, for soldier preachers. Some would abolish surplices and the use of the ring in the marriage service, while re-establishing the Judaic law, and putting an end to the use of the cross in baptism and to giving the names of saints to churches or streets. Others disallowed the idea of limbus partum, where the souls of holy men rest till the judgment.
Meantime, the 'quacks of government,' such as Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper and John Lilburne, who saw the necessity of a restoration, were discussing matters in secret conclave. Butler gives a wonderful description of Cooper (which should be compared with Dryden's Achitophel) and of John Lilburne, who both make long speeches on present events and the way they should be met, but ultimately go off into violent recriminations as representatives of the presbyterians and the independents; till they are suddenly interrupted by a messenger who brings the news of the burning of the members of the Rump in effigy. This gives an opportunity for some rough banter on the explanation of the word rump (especially on its Hebrew equivalent luz), which is to be found in Butler's character entitled 'An Hermetic Philosopher'. But, soon, the mob appear with the purpose of hauling out the members of this assembly and burning them. They beat an ignominious retreat, and this ends the second canto, which has been treated last, because it is disconnected with the main story of Hudibras.
The method of Hudibras
It may be well here, in retrospect, to examine Butler's methods in the composition of his poem. The date of publication, three years after the restoration, is sufficient to suggest that it must have found an appreciative audience, at a time when the events to which it referred were fresh in men's minds, and when, as we know, a violent reaction against puritanism had set in. The learning and scientific knowledge displayed, the turns of wit, racy metaphors and quaint rimes have secured its continuance as an English classic; but, much of the legal knowledge having become obsolete, or being too technical for ordinary readers, and many of the minor historical allusions being forgotten, a continuous perusal of the book requires unusual perseverance. Moreover, the length of some of the descriptions of persons or events is trying to the patience, although the illustrations or parallels in themselves are pertinent and acute. The sparkling wit and humour displayed enlightens and relieves the discussions which make up much of the book. Humorous as are the arguments, the witty and whimsical comparisons serve as flashlights to bring into relief what might otherwise become dull by reason of its length.
Thus, the peculiarities of religious tenets are illustrated by the presbyterians, who
Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to,
and, in their cantankerousness, are
Still so perverse and opposite,
As if they worshipped God for spite;
and by the independents and anabaptists, who are dubbed 'land and water saints'; the latter are said
To dive like wild-fowl for Salvation
And fish to catch Regeneration.
Ralpho, who has a touch of the anabaptist, when rising from his bed, is said to 'adventure Resurrection.' A classical comparison is found in Achilles, who was
anabaptiz'd free of wound
. . . . . .
All over, but the pagan heel.
The sects are ever squabbling for change of doctrine,
As if Religion were intended
For nothing else but to be mended.
The philosophical virtuoso, Sir Kenelm Digby, is gibed at in the description of the pouch worn by Orsin, the pugnacious bear-ward,
Replete with strange hermetick powder
That wounds nine miles point-blank would solder;
and Hudibras is represented as spurring his courser,
Conveying sympathetic speed
From heel of knight to heel of steed.
Homeric and classical similes and allusions are frequent in the first two parts. We have the intervention of 'Pallas, who came in shape of rust,' to prevent a pistol going off, and 'Mars, who still protects the stout'; a stone that strikes Ralpho is compared to that hurled by Diomed. Hudibras, in assisting Ralpho to his feet, boasts that
Caesar himself could never say
He got two victories in a day
As I have done, that can say, twice I
In one day veni, vidi, vici.
Perhaps the comparisons from common life are more amusing; for instance, the celebrated simile:
And like a lobster boiled, the morn
From black to red began to turn;
though this is not quite equal to its original in Rabelais, who says that lobsters are cardinalised by boiling. Very comic is the comparison of a sword that had fallen from its owner's grip to deserting rats.
He snatched his Whiniard up, that fled
When he was falling from his steed,
As rats do from a falling house.
This is Pliny's ruinis imminentibus musculi praemigrant. The whole poem is a storehouse of such borrowings.
Metre of Hudibras
Dryden, in the dedication of his translation of Juvenal and Persius (1692), while expressing admiration of Butler for being able to put 'thought' into his verses, strongly disapproves of his choice of octosyllabic metre.
Besides, the double Rhyme (a necessary companion of Burlesque writing) is not so proper for manly satire, for it turns earnest too much into jest, and gives us a boyish kind of pleasure. It tickles awkwardly with a kind of pain to the best sort of readers; and we are pleased ungratefully, and if I may say so, against our liking.
But Butler knew that ridicule was his strongest weapon, and that it would please Charles II and his courtiers better than stately rhythm or fiery denunciation. Rimed decasyllabic suited Dryden's form of satire, as we see in his Absalom and Achitophel, and was well adapted to Pope's polished antitheses; but, for gibes and quick sallies of wit, octosyllabic metre, in competent hands, is the most fitting instrument.
As Butler died in 1680, it is impossible to say whether he contemplated a further instalment of his poem, so as to bring up the tale of his cantos to twelve, after the example of the Aeneid; the sixth canto, that is, the third of the second book, finishes, evidently, with a view to a continuation which is provided by the third part. But there is an incompleteness apparent in this part, suggested first by the interpolation of the second canto, which has nothing to do with the action of the poem, and which might fittingly have been introduced in a subsequent continuation, while the letter of Hudibras and the Lady's answer ought to have been incorporated in the main story rather than be left isolated. The third part is longer than the first by 590 lines and, if the two letters are added, by nearly 1340. It seems not an unfair inference that, had the satirist's life and strength permitted, an additional part of three cantos would have been added, to complete the normal number of twelve, and that the third part would not have run to so disproportionate a length.
It remains to offer a few considerations on the main purpose of Butler's satire—a frontal attack on puritanism. He probably was unaware that a change was in progress from a personal to a constitutional monarchy, disguised by a religious upheaval which might be regarded as the groundswell after the storm of the reformation. He was a fervent royalist, but kept mainly to the religious side of the question.
The publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611 had set men thinking of the treasure that had fallen into their hands, and very many now read persistently the one book upon which they looked as the guide to salvation. This dwelling on one authority upset the balance of mind of many whose reading was thus limited; and men learned to identify themselves with the conquering, exterminating children of Israel, and to look upon all who opposed them in politics or church doctrine as men of Belial, Moabites, Amalekites and other adversaries of Israel and of God, and as their own personal enemies, to be overthrown at any cost and by any means of force or fraud. But, as Dante says finely of another sect,
Their meditations reach not Nazareth.
Examples may readily be found of similar perversions of Scripture; but an instance which stands out, by reason of the beauty of its language and the terrible nature of its denunciation, occurs in Milton's tract, Of Reformation touching Church-Discipline in England, where the reward assured to his own partisans and the punishment to be meted out to his adversaries are enunciated in startling contrast.
The mental exaltation arrived at by such homines unius libri was extraordinary, and rendered them capable of efforts in their enthusiasm which upset all calculation. So long as they were sincere in their beliefs, their conduct may have been commendable; but it is the fate of human nature, when men have attained success by these means, to become dazzled by the height of the pinnacle they have reached, and, when enthusiasm flags, to become subject to deplorable lapses. And, when the spoils of the vanquished lie at the mercy of the victors, cupidity and the baser feelings of human nature often gain the mastery over former high resolves. This was frequently the case in the period of the civil war and the commonwealth.
As an unswerving royalist, a native of a county that was conspicuous for its loyalty, Butler could admit the divine right of kings and allow that the king could do no wrong; but he could not allow that the opposing party could do right, especially after the confiscations and oppressions of which they had been guilty towards the royalists and the episcopalian clergy. Moreover, the Long parliament, which had included many high-minded patriots, had degenerated and dwindled into the miserable, place-loving Rump, a fit object of scorn and contempt.
Some precursors of the form and style of Hudibras have been mentioned; but the strange rimes which it contains, and which have helped considerably to keep it in remembrance, must not be passed by. The curious jingles of 'ecclesiastic' and 'a stick,' 'duty' and 'shoe-tie,' 'discourse' and 'whiskers,' and many more, have recalled the poem (in name at least) to many readers to whom much of the historical detail has become obsolete. In this exercise, Butler had a late rival in Calverley, whose metrical skill and delicately sensitive ear would, however, not permit him to employ any uncouth rime that his nimble fancy might suggest — every line must ring true; whereas, in Butler's jog-trot lines, a monstrous rime has the effect of relieving the monotony of the verse without being out of harmony with it.
Butler's gift and powers
Samuel Butler, in fine, may be looked upon as a rare but erratic genius with an extraordinary gift of satirical expression, and as a man of great learning, who might have produced a serious poem of merit, had the bent of his mind lain in that direction. Dryden expressed a belief that Butler would have excelled in any other kind of metre; and his powers in serious verse are sufficiently attested by the following extract from Hudibras:
The moon pulled off her veil of light,.
That hides her face by day from sight,
(Mysterious Veil, of brightness made,
That's both her lustre, and her shade)
And in the night as freely shone,
As if her rays had been her own:
For darkness is the proper sphere,
Where all false glories used to appear.
The twinkling stars began to muster,
And glitter with their borrowed luster,
While sleep the wearied world relieved,
By counterfeiting death revived