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With hands behind him, see th' offender ty'd,
And get the knack of dulness how to thrive.” In 1721, a handsome monument was erected to the memory of Butler, in Westminster Abbey, at the expense of Alderman Barber, a printer of great eminence, who was much distinguished by Dean Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, · Pope, and the other wits of the Tory party in Queen
Anne's reign. The following inscription, which sums up the character of Butler, both justly and eloquently, was probably the composition of Dr. Arbuthnot, with some touches from the pen of Swift.
. Lond. 1680.
Sacred to the Memory of
And died at London, 1680. A man of extraordinary learning, wit, and integrity;
Perfectly happy in his writings,
Not so in the encouragement of them, The inventor of a curious kind of satire among us, By which he plucked the mask from pious hypocrisy,
And plentifully exposed the villany of rebels,
The first and last of writers in his way. Lest he, who (when alive,) was destitute of all things,
should (when dead) want likewise a monumeut, John Barber, Citizen of London, hath taken care, by placing this stone. 1721.*
Of the character of Butler, as an author, it is not easy to speak in terms adequate to his merits. Possessed of a copious original fund of wit and invention, he had im-. proved his talents by the most assiduous cultivation, and was equally skilled in books and in the knowledge of human life. Hume observes of his Hudibras, that there is not'a more learned book to be found in the compass of any language than that poem ; and Voltaire, a critic not much disposed to speak favorably of English literature, says, “ There is one English poem, the title whereof is Hudi.
* The following epigram, by the celebrated Samuel Wesley, on the setting up of Butler's monument in Westminster Abbey, has been much admired for the neatness and ingenious turn of its point;
While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive,
The poet's fate is here in emblem shown,
bras ; it is Don Quixote, it is our Satyre Menisse blended together. I never met with so much wit in one single book as in this; which at the same time is the most difficult to be translated. Who could believe that a work which paints in such lively colours the several foibles and follies of mankind, and where we meet with more sentiments than words, should baffle the endeavours of the ablest translator? But the reason is this; almost every part of it alludes to particular incidents;" and Voltaire might bave added, that the ludicrous connections of ideas, which Butler so bighly delights in, and which render him so acceptable to his countrymen, are, like puns, rarely transfusible into a foreign tongue, or much of their spirit is lost in the attempt.*
* Another French critic, Dissertation sur la Poesie Anglois, speaking of Butler, says, “ The English have a poet whose reputation is equal to that of Scarron in French, I mean the author of Hudibras, a comical history in verse, written in the time of Oliver Cromwell : it is said to be a delicate satire on that kind of interregnum; and that it is particularly levelled at the conduct of the Presbyterians, whom our author represents as a senseless set of people, promoters of anarchy, and complete hypocrites. Hudibras, the hero of this poem, is a holy Don Quixote of that sect, and the redresser of the imaginary wrongs that are done to his Dulcinea. The Knight has his Rosinante, his burlesque adventures, and his Sancho : but the Squire of the English poet is of an opposite character to that of the Spanish Sancho; for whereas the latter is a plain, unaffected peasant, the English Squire is a tailor by trade, a Tartuff, or finished hypocrite by birth, and so deep a dogmatic divine, that
“He could deep mysteries unriddle,
As easily as thread a needle,' as is said in the poem. The author of Hudibras is preferrable to Scarron, because he has one fixed mark or object; and that by a surprising effort of imagination, he has found the art of leading his readers to it by diverting them."
Addison objects to Butler for the use of burlesque verse. “ If Hudibras (says he, Spectator, No. 249,) had been set out with as much wit and humour in heroic verse as he is in doggerel, he would have made a much more agreeable figure than he does ; though the generality of his readers are so much pleased with his double rhymes, that I dont expect many will be of my opinion in this particular.” Dryden's opinion may fairly be set in opposition to that of Addison. That great man, in his Dedication to Juvenal, speaking of Butler's Hudibras, says, “ The worth of his poem is too well known to need my commendation; and he is above my censure: the choice of his numbers is suitable enough to his design; as he has managed it; but in any other hand, the shortness of his verse, and the quick returns of rhyme, had debased the dignity of style. His good sense is perpetually shining through all he writes; it affords us not the time of finding faults; we pass through the levity of his rhyme, and one is immediately carried into some admirable useful thought. After all, he has chosen this kind of verse, and has written the best in it.”
“ To this let me add,” says Dr. Grey, “ that the shortness of verse, and quick returns of rhyme, have been some of the principal means of raising and perpetuating the fame wbich this poem has acquired; for the turns of wit and satirical sayings being short and pithy, are therefore more tenable by the memory, and this is the reason why Hudibras is more frequently quoted in conversation than the finest pieces of wit in heroic poetry.”
As to the double rhymes, we have Dryden's authority that they are necessary companions to burlesque writing. Besides, were they really faults, they are neither so many as to cast a blemish upon the known excellencies of this poem; nor yet solely to captivate the affections of the generality of its readers. Their admiration is moved by a higher pleasure than the mere jingle of words; the sublimity of wit and pungency of satire claim our regard, and merit our bighest applause. In short, the poct has surprisingly displayed the noblest thoughts in a dress so humorous and ludicrous, that it was no wonder it soon became the chief amusement of the King and Court after its publication, was highly esteemed by all the great wits in that reign, and still continues to be an entertainment to all who have a taste for the most refined ridicule and satire.
Another merit which may with confidence be ascribed to Butler, is that of originality. Hudibras is an indisputable original; for the poet trod in a path wherein he had no guide, nor has he had many followers. Without any pattern to copy, he had the art to erect bimself into a standard elegant and lofty, to which no one yet, in the same walk of poetry, bas been able to make more than a distant approach.
The seeming easiness of Butler's method and verse have tempted some to imitate his style, but “ such wretched iinitations,” says Dr. Grey, “ have augmented the fame of the original, and evidenced the chiefest excellency in writing to be in Butler, which is the being easy and natural, yet inimitable.” . This has been long the distinguishing characteristic of Hudibras, grounded upon an undeniable truth, that all imitations have hitberto proved unsuccessful; and when we consider the subject matter of the poem, the remarkable era that produced it, and the extraordinary endowments of the author, we may safely venture to pronounce it one of the most wonderful compositions of the human mind.