Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

IV.

THE RESTORATION.

Butler; Dryden; Wzcherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, Sheridan;

Otway, Lee, Rowe; Barrow, Tillotson, Stirlingflect, Sherlock, South ;
Gilbert Burnet; Locke; Newlon.

WEVER was a monarch welcomed with more general

and heartfelt joy than was manifested when, in May, 1660, Charles II. landed at Dover. Not only those

staunch cavaliers who through evil report and through good report had remained steadfast in their allegiance to the "good old cause," but the nation at large felt as glad to be relieved from the iron sway of Puritanism as a schoolboy, wearied of tasks and punishments, is when the longwished-for holiday-time comes at last. All the numerous class of nien who make a point of adhering to the winning side, whatever it may happen to be, hastened to abjure Puritanism, and added their voices to the general shout of delight which hailed the arrival of King Charles. “ It is my own fault,”

“that I had not come back sooner; for I find nobody who does not tell me that he has always longed for my return." Immediately the fierce reaction against the enforced moralities and decencies of the Commonwealth set in. The stern moroseness of the Puritans had made their very virtues so odious, that it was considered that a loyal gentleman could not better show his detestation of the Comnionwealth and his joy at the Restoration than by indulging in vice openly and unashamed. The king himself, dissolute, cool, clever, ready to sacrifice anything to the pursuit of pleasure, and

said the King,

1

never making even the faintest attempt to cover his excesses with a cloak of outward decency, was a fair specimen of the courtiers who surrounded him; not so heartless and brutal as some, but as sensual, and as destitute of honour and conscience as the worst of them could be. The new literature was a fair reflex of the prevalent social morality. The shame. less indecency of some of the noble versifiers of the period was more than surpassed by the deliberate obscenity, the gross pandering to vicious tastes, the heartiess immorality of the comic drama, which aspired to be, and no doubt was, a faithful representation of the fashionable society of the time. In a moral atmosphere so fetid and unhealthy, literature of the highest kind could not be expected to flourish, yet even during this age we find not a few writers whose works the world would not willingly let die.

About the close of 1662 appeared a poem which in striking and witty fashion gave forcible expression to the long-accumulated hatred of the Puritans which thousands had nourished in their breasts during the time of the Commonwealth. The work was admirably adapted to suit the prevailing taste, and its success was instantaneous. The King read it and was much amused by it; in all the coffee-houses its merits were discussed by the wits; everywhere it was applauded as the most successful of the many assaults made on the fallen party. This poem was the first part of the “Hudibras” of Samuel Butler, who, though a man of fifty, had not, till the time of its publication, given any evidence of his talents as a writer. Of the story of his life not very much is known. He was born in 1612, the son of a farmer in Worcestershire, and received a good education at the cathedral school of that town. It is not known for certain whether he was ever sent to either of the universities. In his youth he acted as secretary to Thomas Jefferies, a justice of peace in Worcestershire, and he afterwards held a similar office in the household of the Countess of Kent in Bedfordshire. In the latter situation he had the advantage of an excellent library, when, doubtless, he amassed a large store of that curious erudition which we find in “Hudibras." There

a

;

Samuel Butler.

131

also be enjoyed the conversation of the learned Selden, then steward of the Countess's estates. About 1651 (the precise date is uncertain) he became secretary to Sir Samuel Luke of Cople Hoo, also in Bedfordshire, which seems a strange situation for a man of Butler's Royalist opinions to have occupied, as Sir Samuel was one of the leading Presbyterians in the county, and had been a colonel in the Parliamentary army during the Civil Wars. After the Restoration Butler was, perhaps on account of his known loyalty, promoted to the office of secretary to the Earl of Carbery, Lord President of the principality of Wales. This situation he held for about a year, quitting it some months before the publication of the first part of “Hudibras," which, though bearing on its title-page the date 1663, was really issued in November 1662.

A good indication of the avidity with which the satire was received is afforded by an entry in the amusing diary of Samuel Pepus, that delightful book of gossip, which constitutes our most valuable memorial of the social life of the period over which it extends (1660-69). “To the wardrobe," we find Samuel writing on the 26th of December 1662, “and hither came Mr. Battersby; and we falling into discourse of a new book of drollery in use called 'Hudibras,' I would needs go find it out, and met with it at the Temple: cost me 2s. 6d. But when I come to read it, it is so silly an abuse of the presbyter knight going to the wars, that I am ashamed of it; and by and by meeting at Mr. Townsend's at dinner, I sold it to him for 18d.” Finding that as time went on “Hudibras” was as much talked of as ever, Pepys soon repented that he had disposed of the book so hastily. “To Lincoln's Inn Fields,” he writes on February 6, 1663, “and it being too soon to go home to dinner, I walked up and down, and looked upon the outside of the new theatre building in Covent Garden, which will be very fine; and so to a bookseller's in the Strand, and there bought 'Hudibras' again, it being certainly some illhumour to be so against that which all the world cries up to be an example of wit; for which I am resolved once more to read him, to see whether I can find it or no.” The great success of the first part of “Hudibras” evoked a crowd of imitations and spurious continuations, but these were all put in the shade when, late in 1663, the genuine “Second Part” appeared. The desire to see the Puritans satirised was still as strong as ever, and since, in point of wit and drollery, the new part was in no way inferior to its predecessor, it was received with equal enthusiasm. Fourteen years after, in 1678, the poem was completed. By this time the nation was beginning to realise that the rigour and gloom of Puritanism were, after all, preferable to debauchery and prodigality, and probably the conclusion of “ Hudibras” was not so universally applauded as the two preceding parts. Butler died in 1680, a povertystricken, neglected, disappointed man.

“On Butler who can think without just rage,

The glory and the scandal of the age ?
Fair were his hopes when first he came to town,
Met everywhere with welcome of renown.

But what reward had he for all at last,
After a life in dull expectance past ?
The wretch, at summing up his misspent days,
Found nothing lest but poverty and praise :
Of all his gains by verse he could not save
Enough to purchase flannel and a grave.
Reduced to want, he in due time fell sick,
Was sain to die, and be interred on tick;
And well might bless the fever that was sent

To rid him hence, and his worse fate prevent.” These vigorous lines are by John Oldham (1653-83), a contemporary satirist. They do not exaggerate the facts of the case. Charles and his courtiers praised Butler and left him in indigence. Perhaps this was partly owing to Butler's peculiar temperament: he was a shy, eccentric, unpliable man, not likely to put himself about to gain the favour of any one. But none the less was it disgraceful of the victorious party to leave unrewarded the author of the most telling and pungent satire on their opponents. The inexhaustible wit of " Hudibras," its exuberant wealth of fancy, its frequent happy expressions and flashes of sound sense amid all its conic extravaButler's Hudibras."

133

[ocr errors]

gances, have saved it from the common fate of political satires. The idea of the poem is borrowed from “Don Quixote," but otherwise the work is entirely original; there is nothing in English literature which has any close resemblance to it. Of course it is exceedingly unjust to the Puritan party, violating facts so grossly as to represent them as cowards; but in such productions we do not look for impartiality. The jolting octo-syllabic verse in which it is written lends itself admirably to the odd turns and queer rhymes in which Butler delights. Like Mr. Browning in our own day, Butler had a sort of genius for finding out rhymes the most unexpected and out of the way. The great fault of “Hudibras” is that it is too long; there are few even of those who enter most thoroughly into the spirit of the poem whose attention does not begin to flag before they reach the end. In 1659, many years after his death, Butler's "Genuine Prose Remains” were published. They possess much of the coarse vigour of his poetry. We append a few specimens, which have a decidedly Hudibrastic flavour. “Hudibras” itself, it may be mentioned, was to some extent composed from prose hints which the author had jotted down as they occurred to him.

“One that is proud of his birth is like a turnip—there is nothing good of him but that which is underground."

“His (the courtly fop's) tailor is his creator, and makes him of nothing; and though he lives by faith in him, he is perpetually committing iniquities against him.”

“A proud man is a fool in fermentation.”

“When he (a versifier) writes, he commonly steers the sense of his lines by the rhyme that is at the end of them, as butchers do calves by the tail.”

“He (the amateur of science) is like an elephant, that though he cannot swim, yet of all creatures most delights to walk by the riverside."

“Hudibras” could not be adequately described or criticised unless large extracts from it were given. Except his hatred of the Puritans and the clearness of his style, Butler had not many features in common with his contemporaries; in his

« ForrigeFortsæt »