« AnteriorContinuar »
LIFE OF BUTLER,
BY DR. JOHNSON.
Of the great author of Hudibras there is a life prefixed to the latter editions of his poem, by an unknown writer, and therefore of disputable authority; and some account is incidentally given by Wood, who confesses the uncertainty of his own narrative: more however than they knew cannot now be learned, and nothing remains but to compare and copy them.
SAMUEL BUTLER was born in the parish of Strensham in Worcestershire, according to his biographer, in 1612. This account Dr. Nashr finds confirmed by the register. He was christened Feb. 14.
His father's condition is variously represented. Wood mentions him as competently wealthy; but Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, says he was an honest farmer with some small estate, who made a shift to educate his son at the
grammar-school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright', from whose care he removed for a
These are the words of the author of the short account of Butler prefixed to Hudibras, which Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding what he says above, seems to have supposed was written by Mr. Longueville, the father ; but the contrary is to be inferred from a subsequent passage, wherein the author laments, that he had neither such an acquaintance nor interest with Mr. Longueville, as to procure from him the golden remains of Butler there mentioned. He was probably led into the mistake by a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, signifying, that the son of this gentleman was living in 1736.
Of this friend and generous patron of Butler, Mr. William Longueville, I find an account, written by a person who was well acquainted with him, to this effect; viz. that he was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the Inner Temple, and had raised himself from a low beginning to very great eminence in that profession; that he was eloquent and learned, of spotless integrity; that he supported an aged father, who had ruined his fortunes by extravagance, and by his industry and application re-edified a ruined family; that he supported Butler, who, but for him, must literally have starved; and received from him, as a recompense, the papers called his Remains. (Life of the Lord-keeper Guilford, p. 289.) These have since been given to the public by Mr. Thyer of Manchester ; and the originals are now in the hands of the rev. Dr. Farmer, master of Emanuel College, Cambridge. H.
short time to Cambridge ; but, for want of money, was never made a member of any college. Wood leaves us rather doubtful whether he went to Cambridge or Oxford ; but at last makes him pass six or seven years at Cambridge, without knowing in what hall or college; yet it can hardly be imagined, that he lived so long in either university but as belonging to one house or another; and it is still less likely, that he could have so long inliabited a place of learning with so little distinction as to leave bis residence uncertain. Dr. Nash has discovered, that his father was owner of a house and a little land, worth about eight pounds a year, still called Butler's tenement.
Wood has his information from his brother, whose narrative placed him at Cambridge, in opposition to that of his neighbours, which sent him to Oxford. The brother seems the best authority, till, by confessing his inability to tell his hall or college, he gives reason to suspect, that he was resolved to bestow on him an academical education, but durst not name a college, for fear of detection.
He was for some time, according to the author of his Life, clerk to Mr. Jefferys of Earl's Croomb in Worcestershire, an emineut justice of the peace. In his service he had not only leisure for study, but for recreation; his amusements were music and painting ; and the reward of his pencil was the friendship of the celebrated Cooper. Some pictures, said to be his, were shown to Dr. Naslı, at Earl's Croomb; but, when he inquired for them some years afterwards, he found them destroyed, to stop windows, and owns, that they hardly deserved a better fate.
He was afterward admitted into the family of the countess of Kent, where he had the use of a library ; and so much recommended himself to Selden, that he was often employed by him in literary business. Selden, as is well known, was steward to the countess, and is supposed to have gained much of his wealth by managing her estate.
In what character Butler was admitted into that lady's service, how long he continued in it, and why he left it, is, like the other incidents of his life, utterly unknown.
The vicissitudes of his condition placed him afterward in the family of sir Samuel Luke, one of Cromwell's officers. Here he observed so much of the character of the sectaries, that he is said to have written or begun his poem at this time; and it is likely, that such a design would be formed in a place, where he saw the principles and practices of the rebels, audacious and undisguised in the confidence of success.
At length the king returned, and the time came in which loyalty hoped for its reward. Butler, bowever, was only made secretary to the earl of Carbury, president of the principality of Wales; who conferred on him the stewardship of Ludlow Castle, when the Court of the Marches was revived.
In this part of his life, he married Mrs. Herbert, a gentlewoman of a good family; and lived, says Wood, upon her fortune, having studied the common law, but never practised it. A fortune she had, says his biographer, but it was lost by bad securities.
In 1663 was published the first part, containing three cantos, of the poem of Hudibras, which, as Prior relates, was made known at court by the taste and influence of the earl of Dorset. When it was known, it was necessarily admired : the king quoted, the courtiers studied, and the whole party of the royalists applauded it. Every eye watched for the golden shower which was to fall upon the author, who certainly was not without his part in the general expectation.
In 1664 the second part appeared; the curiosity of the nation was rekindled, and the writer was again praised and elated. But praise was his whole reward. Clarendon,
says Wood, gave him reason to hope for “ places and employments of value and credit;" but no such advantages did he ever obtain. It is reported, that the king once gave him three hundred guineas ; but of this temporary bounty I and no proof.
Wood relates, that he was secretary to Villiers duke of Buckingham, when he was chancellor of Cambridge : this is doubted by the other writer, who yet allows the duke to have been his frequent benefactor. That both these accounts are false, there is reason to suspect, from a story told by Packe, in his account of the Life of Wycherley; and from some verses which Mr. Thyer has published in the author's Remains.
“ Mr. Wycherley," says Packe,“ had always laid hold of an opportunity which offered of representing to the duke of Buckingham how well Mr. Butler bad 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 always seemed to hearken to him with attention enough; and after some time undertook to recommend his pretensions to his majesty. Mr. Wycherley, in hopes to keep him steady to his word, obtained of his grace to name a day, when he might introduce that modest and unfortunate poet to his new patron. At last an appointment was made, and the place of meeting was agreed to be the Roebuck. Mr. Butler and his friend attended accordingly; the duke joined them; but, as the D-1 would have it, the door of the room where they sat was open, and his grace, who had seated himself near it, observing a pimp of his acquaintance (the creature too was a knight) trip by with a brace of ladies, immediately quitted his engagement to follow another kind of business, at which he was more ready than in doing good offices to men of desert, though no one was better qualified than he, both in regard to his fortune and understanding, to protect them; and, from that time to the day of his death, poor Butler never found the least effect of his promise !”
Such is the story. The verses are written with a degree of acrimony, such as neglect and disappointment might naturally excite, and such as it would be hard to imagine Butler capable of expressing against a man, who had any claim to his gratitude.
Notwithstanding this discouragement and neglect, he still prosecuted his design, and, in 1678, published the third part, which still leaves the poem imperfect and abrupt. How much more he originally intended, or with what events the action was to be concluded, it is vain to conjecture. Nor can it be thought strange, that he should stop here, however unexpectedly. To write without reward is sufficiently unpleasing. He had now arrived at an age, when he might think it proper to be in jest no longer, and perhaps his health might now begin to fail.
He died in 1680; and Mr. Longueville, having unsuccessfully solicited a subscription for his interment in Westminster Abbey, buried him, at his own cost, in the church-yard of Covent Garden?. Dr. Simon Patrick read the service.
Granger was informed by Dr. Pearce, who named for his authority Mr. Lowndes of the treasury, that Butler had a yearly pension of an hundred pounds. This is contradicted by all tradition, by the complaints of Oldham, and by the reproaches of Dryden; and I am afraid will never be confirmed.
About sixty years afterward, Mr. Barber, a printer, mayor of London, and a friend
• In a note in the Biographia Britannica, p. 1075, he is said, on the authority of the younger Mr. Longueville, to have lived for some years in Rose Street, Covent Garden, and also that he died there; the latter of these particulars is rendered highly probable, by his being interred in the cemetery of that parish. H.
to Butler's principles, bestowed on him a monument in Westminster Abbey, thus inscribed :
obiit Lond. 1680.
Quo simulatæ Religionis Larvam detraxit,
Ne, cui vivo deerant ferè omnia,
Deesset etiam mortuo Tumulus,
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 be traced, or his character discovered. Some verses, in the last collection, show 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 encroachment upon justice, nor appropriate those honours 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 shows 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 his master.
The hero of Butler is a presbyterian justice, who, in the confidence of legal authority
• They were collected into one, and published in 12mo. 1732 H.