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shows himself qualified to expand and illustrate it with all the accessories that books can furnish; he is found not only to have travelled the beaten road, but the by-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 operations 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.
When 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. Thyer, of Manchester, that excellent editor of this author's reliques, that he could show something like Hudibras in prose. He has in his possession the commonplace-book in which Butler reposited not such events and precepts as are gathered by reading, but such remarks, similitudes, allusions, assemblages, or inferences as occasion prompted or meditation produced,—those thoughts 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 perishable part. Of the ancient poets every reader feels the mythology tedious and oppressive. Of Hudibras, the manners, being founded on opinions, are temporary 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 opinions, 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 accidental influence or transient persuasion, must perish with their parents.
Much, therefore, of that humour which transported the seventeenth 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 know 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 satirised. Our grandfathers knew 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 image 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 awe was hissed away ; when any unsettled innovator, who could hatch a half-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 parliaments summoned by Cromwell it was seriously proposed, that all the records in the Tower should 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 animosities excited by the use of mince-pies and plum-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 alehouse with beer brewed for all times and seasons, he should accept his kindness, but would have none of his superstitious meats or drinks.
One of the puritanical tenets was the illegality of all games of chance; and he that reads Gataker upon Lots may see how much learning and reason one of the first scholars of his age thought necessary to prove that it was no crime to throw a die 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 at 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 public, whether it shamed imposture or reclaimed credulity, is not easily determined. Cheats can seldom stand 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 oppositions had a great part in the distribution of good or evil, and in the government of sublunary 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 show 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 fiction of Cervantes : very suitable, indeed, to the manners of that age and nation, which ascribed wonderful efficacy. to voluntary penances; but so remote from the practice and opinions of the Hudibrastic time, that judgment and imagination are alike offended.
The diction of this poem 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 heroic 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 heroic, the diction should still remain vulgar, he planned a very 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, sprightly, 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 vult, et 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 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 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 repetition detects itself; 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 show that they can be played.
DR. HENRY MORE.
(1614-1687.) Dr. Henry More was the son of a respectable gentleman at Grantham, in Lincolnshire. He spent the better part of a long and intensely studious life at Cambridge, refusing even the mastership of bis college and several offers of preferment in the church, for the sake of unbroken leisure and retirement. In 1640 he composed his Psychozoia, or Life of the Soul, which he afterwards republished with other pieces in a volume entitled Philosophical Poems. Before the appearance of the former work, he had studed the platonic writers and mystic divines till his frame had become emaciated, and his
faculties had been strained to such enthusiasm, that he began to talk of holding supernatural communication, and imagined that his body exhaled the perfume of violets. With the exception of these innocent reveries, his life and literary character were highly respectable. He corresponded with Des Cartes, was the friend of Cudworth, and, as a divine and moralist, was not only popular in his own time, but has been mentioned with admiration by Addison and Blair. In the heat of rebellion he was spared even by the fanatics, who, though he refused to take the covenant, left him to dream with Plato in his academic bower. As a poet, he has woven together a singular texture of Gothic fancy and Greek philosophy, and made the Christiano-Platonic system of metaphysics a groundwork for the fables of the nursery. His versification, though he tells us that he was won to the Muses in his childhood by the melody of Spenser, is but a faint echo of the Spenserian tune. In fancy he is dark and lethargic. Yet his Psychozoia is not a commonplace production : a certain solemnity and earnestness in his tone leaves an impression that he “ believed the magic wonders which he sung." His poetry is not, indeed, like a beautiful landscape on which the eye can repose, but may be compared to some curious grottos, whose gloomy labyrinths one might be curious to explore for the strange and mystic associations they excite.
(Circa 1614-1699.) This gentleman, born at Fawsley, Northamptonshire, 1614, successively scholar, fellow, and dean of Wadham, and one of the first fellows of the Royal Society, wrote, among other things, 1. The Old Man's Wish, 1693, a ballad in twenty stanzas; one of those, writes Mr. Southey, which are never likely to lose their estimation and popularity : and 2. Moral and Political Fables, done into measured Prose (i. e. blank verse), intermixed with Rhyme.
SIR JOHN DENHAM.*
(1615-1668.) Of Sir John Denham very little is known but what is related by Wood or by himself.
He was born at Dublin, in 1615 ; the only son of Sir John Denham, of Little Horsely in Essex, then Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland, and of Eleanor, daughter of Sir Garret More, Baron of Mellefont.
Two years afterwards, his father, being made one of the Barons of the Exchequer in England, brought him away from his native country, and educated him in London.
In 1631 he was sent to Oxford, where he was considered “as a dreaming young man, given more to dice and cards than study;" and therefore gave no prognostics of his future eminence; nor was suspected to conceal under sluggishness and laxity a genius born to improve the literature of his country.
When he was, three years afterwards, removed to Lincoln's Inn, he prosecuted the common law with sufficient appearance of application, yet did not lose his propensity to cards and dice, but was very often plundered by gamesters.
Being severely reproved for this folly, he professed, and perhaps believed, himself reclaimed ; and to testify the sincerity of his repentance, wrote and published An Essay upon Gaming.
He seems to have divided his studies between law and poetry; for, in 1636, he translated the second book of the Æneid.
Two years after, his father died; and then, notwithstanding his resolutions and professions, he returned again to the vice of gaming, and lost several thousand pounds that had been left him.
In 1642 he published The Sophy. This seems to have given him his first hold of the public attention ; for Waller remarked, “that he broke out like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong, when nobody was aware, or in the least suspected it ;” an observation which could have had no propriety, had his poetical abilities been known before.