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though Pope may compare. Isolated they are effective, and much more so in their proper places. Butler has uses for them all, and exact corners for which they seem severally to have been manufactured. Words, sentiments, rhythm, and rhymes assume for him a consummate Harlequin's apparent unconsciousness of the substantiality of joints and bones. Try to express the idea otherwise, and you find them hard and rigid as iron. I have been refreshing my recollections, dating from boyhood's explorations of a minute copy in my father's library ; and I find the workmanship altogether wonderful. The brilliancy of the repartees ! The discernment of every weak point in an opponent's armour, of the least opening for an instillation of red-hot oil! The delightfulness, even to dispassionate, protesting neutrals, of the insolence of the attack! Who could help being diverted by the Cavalier view of your true blue Presbyterians ?
that stubborn crew
By damning those they have no mind to, i
Still so perverse and opposite,
The self-same thing they will abhor
Apart from the attractive rancour, the characters are portrayed with extraordinary vividness. The minuteness of detail is as striking. Readers are left with a satisfying sense of abundance of matter in the author, as well as in his theme. A feeling less satisfied of curiosity also is aroused; for a story, left alas ! half-told, of knighterrantry is related, as well as a squib exploded. Fragmentary though it all be, it is of inestimable value as history; a monument of Cavalier revenge for the triumph of Puritanism ; an explanation, unintended by Butler, of the second and final quenching of the Cavalier spirit. If it can be read with pleasure now, think of the enthusiasm in its own day, when every allusion was identified, every shot found its deadly billet!
With all that, with the deepest sense of the genius of the man, I have undergone grave searchings of heart, whether I could inscribe him among my poets. I am not pretending to dictate to others. I write for myself, to remind myself of the writers among whom I have to choose when I feel in the mood to read poetry. In the number of high literary qualities which distinguish Hudibras, I listen in vain for a half-note, a subtone, of tenderness,
sympathy. The Knight and Ralph pass from misfortune to misfortune. They are subjected to all kinds of mockery and humiliation. Their chronicler parades his pleasure at their disasters. He extricates them only that he may plunge them deeper in the mire. The Knight displays singular philosophy in his afflictions. He is comparatively patient. He is always ready to improve the occasion. In most doleful dudgeon he finds a reserve in himself of energy enough to ply his obstinate Squire with a storm of syllogisms. A reader is inclined to admire and compassionate. Manifestly the author of Hudibras's existence is insensible to pity. He is incapable of admiration likewise ; or, if ever he feel any, it is for the Billingsgate valour, in arm and tongue, of his heroine Trulla.
Nowhere, unless in irony, will be discovered a word of praise for men or women, for work of art or of nature. Passion, except in the shape of a cold fury of partisan indignation, is non-existent throughout. As there is no charity, neither is there sadness. Cervantes, in prose, while he steeps his masterpiece in mockery of the picturesque phases of mediaevalism, yet cannot resist the temptation to indulge in a climax of sweetest, affectionate melancholy. Our English comic epic tastes wholly of gall, from the beginning to the end of it. No pathos is in it, no sorrow, nor kindness, nor heroism, nor generosity; and how can beauty flower without them? And without beauty where is poetry?
Thus Hudibras is ruled out of Parnassus. Yet, there it stays, doggedly defiant ; one of the world-poems. Many of its qualities are such as no poem ought to have. It wants many which no poem ought to be without. Nevertheless, though it will not conform to canons which must be obeyed if poetry is to be taken to the heart, it is impossible to deny
its title to poetical rank. I suppose the reason is that real feeling is present, if not joy in virtue and beauty ; that there is a whole-soul resentment of intolerance, hypocrisy, covetousness, ugliness, and meanness ; with absorption in a theme, self-abandonment, the rapture of creation. Where these are, it is as difficult to say that verse can fail to be poetry, as it is to say that there can be poetry without beauty or virtue. Thus, poetry I am almost forced to recognize that Hudibras is ; as also that Butler is a poet. A poet; and fashioned by nature given the due circumstances—to have captivated the heart, as he storms the interest. The pity of it! And the more the pity, that any change in the structure which would have supplied the deficiencies without making Hudibras to be no longer Hudibras, is inconceivable !
Hudibras : in three Parts : Written in the Time of the late Wars, by Samuel Butler, Esq. Annotated by Zachary Grey, LL.D. Two vols. London, 1806.
1 Part I, Canto ii, vv. 1261-8.
WALLER is among the great names in the history of literature. He was a fine gentleman as well as wit, an enterprising, if not successful, amateur statesman, a brilliant courtier. Yet, unlike others of the previous, or of his own, generation, resembling him in social distinction, he was not ashamed to be a man of letters. Contemporary writers, even Ben Jonson, whose scholar he was proud to be, 1 acknowledged him as of the craft, a colleague as well as a patron. He is admitted to have preceded Dryden in the effort, for good or evil, to fix the language, to counteract the inconveniences, even the dangers, of continual change ; for
who can hope his line should long
Last in a daily changing tongue ? 2 In effecting the transformation from Elizabethan into modern English his instrument was verse. As an author he has to be judged by that. Of his merit in it, at any rate during his younger days, he himself had no doubt :
0, that I now could write as well as then ! 3 Critics and the reading public shared his candid belief in himself to the full. With scarce a dissenting voice they would have endorsed the description of him in Beaconsfield Churchyard as 'inter poetas sui temporis facilè princeps '.
It is a good working rule to accept contemporary opinion of literary worth as weighty evidence in a positive, if not in a comparative, sense. I will try to explain how far