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Much therefore of that humour which transported the last century with merriment is lost to us, who do not know the four folemnity, 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 knew the pic. ture 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 image the tumult of abfurdity, and clamour of contradiction, which perplexed doctrine, disordered practice, and disturbed both publick and private quiet, in that age when subordination was broken, and awe was hissed away ; when any unsettled innovator who could hatch a half-formed notion produced it to the publick; when every man might become a preacher, and almost every preacher could collect a congregation.
The wisdom of the nation is very reasonably sup posed to relide in the parliament. What can be concluded of the lower classes of the people, when in one of the parliaments summoned by Cromwell it was feriously proposed, that all the records in the Tower Thould be burnt, that all memory of things past should be effaced, and that the whole system of life should commence anew?
We have never been witnesses of animofities excited by 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 thrink from them in De
cember. An old Puritan, who was alive in my child.
One of the puritanical tenets was the illegality of 46
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 extensive 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 publick, whether it shamed imposture or reclaimed credulity, is not easily determined. Cheats can seldom fand long against laughter. It is certain that the credit of planetary intelligence wore fast away; though some men of knowledge, and Dryden among them, continued to believe that conjunctions and oppofirions had a great
* I have heard of a clergyman ejected from his living by the par. Jiament visiters for being a fcandalous eater of custard. Not that it was a superstitious mcat, but becaufe it was a delicacy..
part in the distribution of good or evil, and in the government of fublunary things.
Poetical Action ought to be probable upon certain suppositions, and such probability as burlesque requires is here violated only by one incident. Nothing can fhew 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, nor the most agreeable fi&tion of Cervantes; very suitable indeed to the manners of that
age and nation, which ascribed wonderful efficacy to voluntary penances; but fo remote from the practice and opinions of the Hudibrastick time, that judgement and imagination are alike offended.
The diction of this poem is grofily familiar, and the numbers purposely neglected, except in a few places where the thoughts by their native excellence fecure themselves from violation, being such as mean language cannot express *. The mode of versification has been blamed by Dryden, who regrets that the heroick
* Of such there are many in Hudibras, as also many passages abounding with the beauties of poetry that are seldom noticed : thefa for instance :
Where'er you tread, your feet shall set
The moon pulld off her veil of light
measure was not rather chosen. To the critical sentence of Dryden the highest reverence would be due, were not his decisions often precipitate, and his opinions immature. When he wished to change the measure, he probably would have been willing to change more. If he intended that, when the numbers were heroick, the dićtion thould still remain vulgar, he planned a very heterogeneous and unnatural compofition. If he preferred a general stateliness both of sound and words, he can be only understood to wish that Butler had undertaken a different work.
The measure is quick, spritely, and colloquial, 5 i 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 vult, & eft 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 same 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 dispida portion 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 VOL. II.
no longer strange, we perceive its deformity. It is a kind of artifice, which by frequent repetition detects itfelf; and the reader, learning in time what he is to expect, lays down his book, as the spectator turns away from a second exhibition of those tricks, of which the only use is to shew that they can be played *.
* Netwithstanding this severe cenfure of Hudibras, it is the opinion of many that the various learning, the wit and humour, and that fine painting and discrimination of characters which the poem exhibits, have given it a permanent existence, and of this the many editions it has gone through are a sort of proof. It were to be withed that an cdition with fewer trilling notes and impertinent citations than that of Dr. Grey were given to the public, and that by an editor more sufceptible of its beauties than he scems to have been; of which defect in him I cannot but note the following as an egregious instance. Butler, meaning to sew that the usurpers availed themselves of thofe laws which were made to secure the freedom of the people, illufrates his argument by this fine fimile:
As when the sea breaks o'er its bounds,
To keep it out, are made defend it. Upon which pallage Dr. Grey adverts to the old story, as he calls it, of Godwin-lands, which are the effect of a supposed irruption of the sea through banks that ever fince the accident, as being defroyed, could neither keep it in nos out.
With equal inattention or incapacity to discern the humour of the poein, he compares with the following lines,
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
With that he feiz'd upon his blade ;