« PreviousContinue »
bability is, that he was only an occasional partaker of the Duke's bounty. His most generous friend was Charles, Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, who, being an excellent poet himself, knew how to set a just value on the genius and talents of others, and often privately relieved those necessities of our poet which his modesty would have led him to conceal.
That he had other generous friends, to whom the integrity of his life, the acuteness of his wit, and the easiness of his conversation, endeared him, may readily be conceived ; yet no fact comes to us more strongly established than that Butler, if he did not absolutely perish of want, terminated his day in the utmost indigence and misery, and was indebted for a decent interment to the charity of a friend *. This melancholy circumstance in the history of this great man, comes to us so well authenticated by contemporaries who must have known the truth of what they related, that not a
* Butler died in the year 1680, and was buried at the charge of his friend, Mr. Longueville, of the Temple, in the yard belonging to the church of St. Paul, Covent Garden, at the west end of the said yard, on the north side, under the wall which parts the yard froin the common highway. The Editors of the “ General Historical Dictionary,” say, that Mr. Longueville would fain have buried Butler in Westininster Abbey; and spoke in that view to some of those wealthy persons who had admired him so much in his lifetime, offering to pay his part; but none of them would contribute ; upon which Mr. Longueville buried him with the greatest privacy (but at the same time very decently) in Covent Garden Churchyard, at his own expense, himself and seven or eight persons more following the corpse to the grave.” Dr. Grey adds, “ That the burial service was read over him by the learned and pious Dr. Patrick, afterwards Lord Bishop of Ely, then minister of the
doubt can be entertained on the subject. Oldham, in his “ Satire against Poetry,” introduces the ghost of Spenser dissuading him from it, upon experience and example, that poverty and contempt were its inseparable attendants. After Spenser has gone over his own lamentable case, and mentioned Homer and Cowley in the same view, he thus movingly bewails the great and unhappy Butler :
« On Butler who can think without just rage,
Otway, who, if tradition speaks truly of him, perished as miserably as our poet himself, has the following lines on the same subject, in bis prologue to Constantine the Great:
“ All you who have male issue, born
With hands behind him, see the offender ty’d,
And get the knack of dulness how to thrive."
Vir doctus imprimis, acer, integer ;
Ne, cui vivo deerant fere omnia,
Sacred to the Memory of
And died at London, 1680.
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 monument, 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 improved 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
any language than that poem ; and Voltaire, a critic not much disposed to speak favourably 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,
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 have added, that the ludicrous connexions of ideas, which Butler so highly 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 Angloise, 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.”