Графични страници
PDF файл

gether, before the court sat, stand at the bar, with an audience of students over against him, putting of cases, and debating so as suited their capacities, and encouraged their industry. And so in the Temple, he seldom moved without a parcel of youths hanging about him, and he merry and jesting with them.

It will be readily conceived that this man was never cut out to be a presbyter, or any thing that is severe and crabbed. In no time did he lean to faction, but did his business without offence to any. He put off officious talk of government or politics, with jests, and so made his wit a catholicon, or shield, to cover all his weak places and infirmities. When the court fell into a steady course of using the law against all kinds of offenders, this man was taken into the king's business; and had the part of drawing and perusal of almost all indictments and informations that were then to be prosecuted, with the pleadings thereon if any were special; and he had the settling of the large pleadings in the quo warranto against London. His lordship had no sort of conversation with him, but in the way of business, and at the bar; but once after he was in the king's business, he dined with his lordship, and no more. And there he shewed another qualification he had acquired, and that was to play jigs upon an harpsichord; having taught himself with the opportunity of an old virginal of his landlady's; but in such a manner, not fordefect but figure, as to see him were a jest. The king, observing him to be of a free disposition, loyal, friendly, and without greediness or guile, thought of him to be the chief justice of the King's Bench at that nice time. And the ministry could not but approve of it. So great a weight was then at stake, as could not be trusted to men of doubtful principles, or such as any thing might tempt to desert them. While he sat in the court of King's Bench, he gave the rule to the general satisfaction of the lawyers. But his course of life was so different from what it had been, his business incessant, and, withal, crabbed; and his diet and exercise changed, that the constitution of his body, or head rather, could not sustain it, and he fell into an apoplexy and palsy, which numbed his parts; and he never recovered the strength of them. He out-lived the judgment in the quo warranto; but was not present otherwise than by sending his opinion, by one of the judges, to be for the king, who, at the pronouncing of the judgment, declared it to the court accordingly, which is frequently done in like cases."

Although we have been able to give but a few of the choice peculiarities of these volumes, our readers will be able to gather, from our extracts, that the profession of the law was a very different thing in the reign of Charles the second, from what it is in the present eera. There was something in it more robust and hearty than there is now. Lawyers treated on the dryest subjects, in a " full and heightened style," which now would receive merited ridicule, because it is natural no longer. When Lord Coke " wanders in the wilderness of the laws of the forest,"— or steps to "recreate Himself with a view of Dido's deer,"—or looks on his own fourth institute, as " the high and honorable building of the jurisdiction of the courts,"—we feel that he uses the language of metaphor, merely because he thinks in it. Modern improvement has introduced a division of labour among the faculties. The regions of imagination and of reality are separated by stricter and more definite limits, than in the days of old. Our poems and 'orations are more wild and extravagant, and our ordinary duties more dry and laborious. Men have learned to refine on their own feelings—to analyse all their sensations—to class all their powers, feelings, and fantasies, as in a museum; and to mark and label them so that they may never be applied, except to appropriate uses. The imagination is only cultivated as a kind of exotic luxury. No one unconsciously writes in a picturesque style, or suffers the colour of his thoughts to suffuse itself over his disquisitions, without caring for the effect on the reader. The rich conceit is either suppressed, or carefully reserved to adorn some cold oration where it may be duly applauded. Our ancestors permitted the wall-flower, when it would, to spread out its sweets from the massive battlement, without thinking there was any thing extraordinary in its growth, or desiring to transplant it to a garden, where its gentle influences would be little needed.

The study of the law has sunk greatly of late years. Formerly the path of those by whom it was chosen, though steep and rugged, was clear and open before them. Destitute of adventitious aids, they were compelled to salutary and hopeful toils. They were forced to trace back every doctrine to the principle which was its germ, and to search for their precedents amidst the remotest grandeur of our history. Patient labour was required of them, but their reward was certain. In the most barren and difficult parts of their ascent, they found at least in the masses which they surmounted the stains and colourings of a humanizing antiquity to soften and to dignify their labours. But abridgments, commentaries, and digests without number, have precluded the necessity of these liberal researches, while the vast accumulation of statutes and decisions have rendered them almost hopeless. Instead of a difficult mountain to ascend, there is a briery labyrinth to penetrate. Wearied out with vain attempts, the student accents such temporary helps as he can procure, and despairs of reducing the ever-increasing multitude of decisions to any fixed and intelligible principles. Thus his labours are not directed to a visible goal—nor cheared by the venerableness of old time—nor crowned with that certainty of conclusion, which is the best reward of scientific researches. The lot of a superficial student of a dry science, is of all conditions the most harassing and fruitless. The evil must increase until it shall work its own cure—until accumulated reports shall lose their authority—or the legislature shall be compelled, by the vastness of the mischief, to undertake the tremendous task of revising and condensing the whole statute law, and fixing the construction of the unwritten maxims within some tolerable boundaries.

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 fsiotes 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 textbook of the many: its couplets have passed into proverbs—the names of its heroes are " familiar 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 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"—sympathised 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*

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 Waverleu 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 hits." His sentences have the pithy brevity of a proverb, with the sting of an epigram. His subject was local and transitory—his satire boundless and eternal. His greatest fault is profusion—he revels and runs riot in the prodigality of his imaginings—he bewilders himself and his readers amidst " thick-coming fancies"—his poem is o'er-informed with wit, and dazzles and overpowers by an unremitting succession of brilliant corruscations. His nar

* The difficulty of translating; such a work as Hudibras, without letting the wit and spirit evaporate, is sufficiently obvious. This arduous task has 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.


rative 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 future 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 parties. 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 nature 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. Aqumas'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 profusion 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 excellences of his greater work. The brilliant and inexhaustible wit—the liveliness of fancy, combined with the soundest sense

« ПредишнаНапред »