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L I F E
AUTHOR OF HUDIBRAS.
SAMUEL BUTLER was born in the parish of Strensham, in Worcestershire, in the year 1612. His father, a reputable country farmer, perceiving in his son an early inclination to learning, sent him for education to the grammar-school at Worcester, under the care of Mr. Henry Bright, where having laid in a good foundation of scholastic learning, he was sent to the university of Cambridge, but for want of money was never made a member of any college. On quitting the university our author returned to his native county, and became clerk to one Mr. Jeffries, of Earl's-Coom, a justice of the peace, with whom he lived some years in an easy and reputable service. Here he had sufficient leisure to apply himself to the cultivation of his mind; and his inclination led him chiefly to the study of poetry and history, to which, for his amusement, he joined music and painting. “I have seen," says Dr. Grey, “ some pictures, said to be of his drawing, which I mention not for the excellence of them, but to satisfy the reader of his early inclinations to that
noble art ; for which also he was afterwards entirely beloved by Mr. Samuel Cooper, one of the most eminent painters of his time."
From the family of Mr. Jeffries, Butler removed to that of Elizabeth, Countess of Kent, a situation highly favourable for a young man desirous of acquiring knowledge, and where he had not only the use of an excellent library, but the farther advantage of being introduced to the great Mr. Selden, who probably gave him some useful instructions for the prosecution of his less studies.
His next employment was in the service of Sir Samuel Luke, a gentleman of an ancient family in Bedfordshire, and a justice of the peace, and colonel in the Parliamentary army. The period that Butler lived with this Knight formed the most remarkable era in his life. Sir Samuel was in principles a Presbyterian; and distinguished himself by the outrageousness of his zeal against church and kingly government. It has been generally thought that the person and politics of Sir Samuel Luke suggested to Butler the idea of Hudibras, and this indeed is confirmed by what he makes Hudibras say of himself towards the conclusion of the first Canto :
there is a valiant Mamaluke
And in the same cause both have fought.” But though the poem of Hudibras may have been suggested by the hypocrisy and fanaticism of an individual, it appears clear that Butler in writing it had a far more material object in view than merely to expose an individual character to ridicule. His situation in the
family of Sir Samuel Luke must have afforded him many opportunities of gaining a right insight into the true principles of the Presbyterian party, and he probably saw so much of the selfishness, intolerance, and wickedness of that sect, as to cause him to hold them in abhorrence ever afterwards. The design of his poem was to expose the hypocrisy and wickedness of those who began and carried on the rebellion, under a pretence of promoting religion and godliness, at the same time that they acted against all the precepts of religion and morality; and to show how different the real motives of those who acted the principal parts in the civil war were from their ostensible motives.
How well he executed this design, the applause of his contemporaries, and the admiration of posterity, amply prove. Hudibras was no sooner published, than it was in the hands of every one at court.
Charles II. who was no mean judge of wit and humour, was delighted with it, and frequently quoted it in conversation; but, with his usual inattention to his friends, neglected to reward the author. The King's excessive fondness for the poem, and his surprising disregard and neglect of the author, is fully and movingly related by Butler himself, in his poem entitled “ Hudibras at Court,” where he speaks of himself in the following lines :
“ Now you must know, Sir Hudibras
He never eat, nor drank, nor slept,
A poor reward for loyalty." We are, indeed, informed, that Butler was once in a fair way of obtaining a royal gratuity, as the following account will show. “Mr. Wycherly had always laid hold of any opportunity which offered, to represent to his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, how well Mr. Butler had deserved of the royal family, by writing his inimitable Hudibras ; and, that it was a reproach to the court that a person of his loyalty and wit should suffer in obscurity, and under the wants he did. The Duke seemed always to hearken to him with attention enough, and, after some time, undertook to recommend his pretensions to his Majesty. Mr. Wycherly, in hopes to keep
him steady to his word, obtained of his Grace to name a day when he might introduce the modest and unfortunate poet to his new patron : at last an appointment was made, and the place of meeting was appointed to be the Roebuck. Mr. Butler and his friend attended accordingly, and the Duke joined them, but by an unlucky incident this interview was broke off; and it will always be remembered, to the reproach of the age, that this great and inimitable poet was suffered to live and die in want and obscurity.”
It would, however, be unfair not to mention, that Butler at one time received from King Charles II. a gratuity of three hundred pounds; and this honorable circumstance attended the grant, that it passed through all the offices without a fee. Butler, on this occasion, showed himself
, a man of honesty and integrity, as well as of genius, for calling to mind that he owed to different persons more than the amount of the royal donation, he generously directed the whole sum to be paid towards the satisfaction of his creditors.
If Butler was disappointed of royal, he does not appear to have been altogether destitute of private patronage. Soon after the restoration, he became secretary to Richard, Earl of Carbury, Lord President of the Principality of Wales, who made him steward of Ludlow Castle, when the court there was revived. About this time he married one Mrs. Herbert, a gentlewoman of a very good family, and a competent fortune, but the greater part of it unfortunately lost, by being put out on ill securities, so that it was little advantage to him.
Wood, the Oxford antiquary, reports Butler to have been secretary to George, Duke of Buckingham, when he was Chancellor to the University of Cambridge; but this is not confirmed by any other authority and the pro