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obiit Lond. 1680.
Quo simulatæ Religionis Larvam detraxit,
Ne, cui vivo deerant ferè omnia,
Deesset etiam mortuo Tumulus,
JOHANNES BARBER, Civis Londinensis, 1721. After his death, were published three small volumes of his posthumous works ; I know not by whom collected, or by what authority ascertained; and, lately, two volumes more have been printed by mr. Thyer of Manchester, indubitably genuine. From none of these pieces can his life bo traced, or his character discovered. Some verses, in the last collection, shew him to have been among those who ridiculed the institution of the royal society, of which the enemies were for some time very numerous and very acrimonious, for what reason it is hard to conceive, since the philosophers professed not to advance doctrines, but to produce facts; and the most zealous enemy of innovation must admit the gradual progress of experience, however he may oppose hypothetical temerity.
In this mist of obscurity passed the life of Butler, a man whose name can only perish with his language. The mode and place of his education are unknown; the events of his life are variously related; and all that can be told with certainty is, that he was poor.
THE poem of Hudibras is one of those compositions of which a nation may justly boast; as the images which it exhibits are domestic, the sentiments unborrowed and unexpected, and the strain of diction original and peculiar.
We must not, however, suffer the pride, which we assume as the countrymen of Butler, to make any encroachment apon justice, nor appropriate those bonours which others have a right to share. The poem of Hudibras is not wholly English; the original idea is to be found in the history of Don Quixote ; a book to which a mind of the greatest powers may be indebted without disgrace.
Cervantes shews a man, who, having, by the incessant perusal of incredible tales, subjected his understanding to his imagination, and familiarised his mind, by pertinacious meditation, to trains of incredible events, and scenes of impossible existence, goes out, in the pride of knighthood, to redress wrongs and defend virgins, to rescue captive princesses, and tumble usurpers from their thrones ; attended by a squire, whose cunning, too low for the suspicion of a generous mind, enables him often to cheat bis master.
The hero of Butler is a presbyterian justice, who, in the confidence of legal authority and the rage of zealous ignorance, ranges the country to repress superstition and correct abuses, accompanied by an independent clerk, disputatious and obstinate, with whom he often debates, but never conquers bim.
Cervantes had so much kindness for Don Quixote, that however he embarrasses bim with absurd distresses, he gives him so much sense and virtue as may preserve our esteem; wherever he is, or whatever he does, he is made, by matchless dexterity, commonly ridiculous, but never contemptible.
But, for poor Hudibras, his poet had no tenderness; he chooses not that any pity should be shewn, or respect paid him ; he gives him up at once to laughter and contempt, without any quality that can dignify or protect him.
In forming the character of Hudibras, and describing his person and habiliments, the author seems to labour with a tumultuous confusion of dissimilar ideas. He had read the history of the mock knights-errant; he knew the notions and manners of a presbyterian magistrate, and tried to unite the absurdities of both, however distant, in one personage. Thus, he gives him that pedantic ostentation of knowledge which has no relatien to chivalry, and loads him
with martial encumbrances, that can add nothing to his civil dignity. He sends him out a colonelling, and yet never brings him within sight of war.
If Hudibras be considered as the representative of the presbyterians, it is not easy to say why his weapons should be represented as ridiculous or useless; for, whatever judgment might be passed upon their knowledge or their arguments, experience had sulliciently shewn that their swords were not to be despised.
The hero, thus compounded of swaggerer and pedant, of knight and justice, is led forth to action, with his squire Ralpho, an independent enthusiast.
Of the contexture of events planned by the author, which is called the action of the poem, since it is left imperfect, no judgment can be made. It is probable, that the hero was to be led through many luckless adventures, which would give occasion, like his attack upon the bear and fiddle, to expose the ridiculous rigour of the sectaries; like his encounter with Sidrophel and Whacum, to make superstition and credulity contemptible; or, like his recourse to the low retailer of the law, discover the fraudulent practices of different professions.
What series of events he would have formed, or in what manner he would have rewarded or punished his hero, it is Dow vain to conjecture. His work must have had, as it seems, the defect which Dryden imputes to Spenser; the action could not have been one; there could only have been a succession of incidents, each of which might have happened without the rest, and which could not all co-operate to any single conclusion.
The discontinuity of the action might however have been easily forgiven, if there had been action enough: but I believe every reader regrets the paucity of events, and complains, that in the poem of Hudibras, as in the history of Thucydides, there is more said than done. The scenes are too seldom changed, and the attention is tired with long conversation.
It is indeed much more easy to form dialogues than to contrive adventures. Every position makes way for an argument, and every objection dictates an answer. When two disputants are engaged upon a complicated and extensive question, the difficulty is not to continue, but to end, the controversy. But, whether it be that we comprebend but few of the possibilities of life, or that life itself assords lit:le variety, every man, who has tried, knows how much labour it will cost to form such a combination of circumstances as shall have at once the grace of novelty and credibility, and delight fancy without violence to reason.
Perhaps the dialogue of this poem is not perfect. Some power of engaging the attention might have been added to it by quicker reciprocation, by seasonable interruptions, by sudden questions, and by a nearer approach to dramatic sprightliness; without which, fictitious speeches will always tire, however sparkling with sentences, and however variegated with allusions.
The great source of pleasure is variety. Uniformity must tire at last, though it be uniformity of excellence. We love to expect; and, when expectation is disappointed or grati. fied, we want to be again expecting. For this impatience of the present, whoever would please must make provision. The skilful writer, irritat, mulcet, makes a due distribution of the still and animated parts. It is for want of this artful intertexture, and those necessary changes, that the whole of a book may be tedious, though all the parts are praised.
If inexhaustible wit could give perpetual pleasure, no eye would ever leave half-read the work of Butler; for what poet has ever brought so many remote images so happily together? It is scarcely possible to peruse a page, without finding some association of images that was never found before. By the first paragraph, the reader is amused; by the next, he is delighted; and, by a few more, strained to astonishment: but astonishment is a toilsome pleasure; he is soon weary of wondering, and longs to be diverted.
Omnia vult belle Matho dicere, dic aliquando
Et bene, dic neutrum, dic aliquando male. Imagination is useless without knowledge; nature gives in vain the power of combination, unless study and observation supply materials to be combined. Butler's treasures of knowledge appear proportioned to his expence; whatever topic employs his mind, he shews himself qualified to expand and illustrate it with all the accessaries that books can furnish: he is found not only to have travelled the beaten road, but the bye-paths of literature; not only to have taken general surveys, but to have examined particulars with minute inspection.
If the French boast of the learning of Rabelais, we need not be afraid of confronting them with Butler.
But the most valuable parts of his performance are thosc 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. am informed by mr. Thyer, of Manchester, the excellent editor of this author's reliques, that he could shew something like Hudibras in prose. He has in his possession the common-place 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