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To the English reader Hudibras will always afford more pleasure than it possibly can to a foreigner, because it touches upon national babits and manners at one of the most interesting and extraordinary periods in our annals; and no one can perfectly relish its beauties who is not possessed of some acquaintance with the times and transactions to which it refers. No opinion can be more erroneous than that, because Butler describes a state of society and manners which now no longer exist, and ridicules follies and absurdities which now are happily exploded, that he ought to be regarded as an obsolete writer, unworthy of perusal. The truth is, that there are very few writers from whom more benefit may be derived than Butler. The soundness of his political principles, his attachment to the church of England, and his abhorrence of every species of fanaticism and bigotry, have deservedly endeared his memory to all who are attached to the British constitution in church and state ; and the picture he draws of the agitation, calamities, and disorder of revolutionary times, cannot fail to attach every one who reads him more closely to the mild, beneficent, and liberal, yet firm and energetic, system of government which we now, and, it is to be hoped, we may long enjoy.
CIVIL WAR AND USURPATION.
THERE is no portion of British History which has so often exercised the pens of our most eminent writers, as that period which is comprehended between the accession of James I. to the throne of England, on the death of the glorious Elizabeth, in 1603, and the expulsion of his grandson James II. in 1983. It was an era fruitful in great men and great events; and to the noble exertions of our ancestors in those times, particularly at the revolution, we are indebted for that well-poised constitution which we enjoy at the present day, and which may safely be pronounced, if not the best system of government, at least the most entire system of liberty that was ever known amongst mankind.
The object of this preliminary discourse is, to present the reader with such a picture of the civil war and usurpation, as will enable him to judge more accurately of the value of the poem which follows. “Human works,” Dr. Jolinson observes, in his critique on Butler, “ 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 opinion, 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 opinion, and confirms the determinations of Nature. Such manners as depend upon standing regulations and general passions are co-extended with the race of man; but those modifications of life, and peculi
arities 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 last century with merriment is lost to us, who do not know the sour solemnity, the sullen superstition, the gloomy móroseness, 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 satirised. It is scarcely possible, in the regularity and composure of the present time, to image the tumult of absurdity, and clamour of contradiction, that perplexed 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.”
To furnish the reader with an image of those times, and to enable him to enter with a truer relish into those scenes of extravagance of fanaticism, which Butler so inimitably describes, it is necessary for us to take a cursory view of the state of England at the period when the first prince of the house of Stuart mounted its throne. Elizabeth, during the long course of her reign, had carried the glory of the English name to the highest pitch of renown. Firm, politic, and sagacious, reigning in the hearts of her people, and comnianding them rather through the influence of their affections than the dread of her authority, she was equally the delight of her subjects and the terror of her enemies. Of a very different character was her successor. Ungracious, reserved, and prodigal, full of high notions of the kingly power, and impatient of the least restraint on his prerogative, he soon became odious to his subjects at home, and the timidity of his disposition ren
dered him contemptible to his enemies abroad. James, at his very first meeting with Parliament, disgusted his new subjects. He made a long harangue, expatiating upon the happiness of the nation in his accession to the throne; explaining his sentiments of religion, and enforcing his maxims of government. “ It was a cold, tedious, diffuse oration, (says Smollett,) stuffed with pedantic conceits, culled and studied for the occasion; and formed a natural picture of his own disposition and character, the strongest features of which were his sublime notion of the prerogative, his aversion to the Puritans, his tenderness towards the Roman Catholics, and his vanity and self-importance. Instead of that admiration with which he hoped to inspire his audience, he met with little else than disapprobation and contempt. The members were of fended at the expressions he used in favour of the Roman Catholics, whom he promised to meet half way in the road of reformation; the Puritans were incensed to find themselves represented by the King as a sect of republicans, that ought not to be tolerated in a monarchical government; and the nation in general were disgusted at his comparing Scotland with England, as one equal half of the island, which he wished to see united under the same religion, laws, and government.”
Mrs. Hutchinson, an accurate observer, and faithful recorder of the civil war, in her excellent Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, speaking of the government of James, says, “ The honor, wealth, and glory of the nation, wherein Queen Elizabeth left it, were soon prodigally wasted by this thrift- ; less heir ;- the nobility of the land uttely debased by setting honors to public sale,* and conferring them on persons that
* Sir Anthony Weldon, in his Court and Character of King James, gives us the following instance of the baseness of the courtiers at the accession of James. “Sir Roger Aston (the King's barber) presenting himself before the council, being but a plain untutored man, being asked how he did, and courted by all the Lords, lighted upon this happy reply: “ Even my Lords, like a poor man, wandering above