Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

OT

taken general surveys, but to have examined particulars with minute inspection. . If the French boast the learning of Rabelais, we need not be afraid of confronting them with Butler.

But the most valuable parts of his performance are those 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 fuffered 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 paflion. From such remarks proceeded that great number of sententious diftichs 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 hafty effufion; it was not produced by a sudden tumult of imagination, or a short paroxysın of violent labour. To accumulate such a mass of sentiments at the call of accidental defire, or of sudden necessity, is beyond the reach and power of the most active and comprehensive mind. I am informed by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester, that excellent editor of this author's reliqués, 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, fimilitudes, allusions, assemblages, or inferences, as occafion prompted, or ineditation produced, those • 0 2

thoughts

WS

thoughts that were generated in his own mind, and might be usefully applied to foine future purpose, Such is the labour of those who write for immor. tality.

But human works are not easily found without a perishable part. Of the antient poers every reader feels the mythology tedious and oppressive. Of Hudibras, the manners, being founded on opinions, are temporary and local, and therefore beconie every day less intelligible, and less striking. What Cicero says of philosophy is true likewise of wit and humour, that "time effaces the fictions of opinions, and con“ firms the determinations of Nature.” Such manners as depend upon standing relations and general passions are co-extended with the race of man; but those modifications of life and peculiarities of practice, which are the progeny of error and perverseness, or at best of some accidental influence or transient persuasion, must perish with their parents.

Much therefore of that humour which transported the last century with merriment is lost to us, who do not know the four folemnity, the fullen superstition, the gloomy moroseness, and the stubborn fcruples, of the antient Puritans; or, if we knew them, derive our information only from hooks, or from tradition, have never had them before our eyes, and cannot but by recollection and study understand the lines in which they are satirised. Our grandfathers knew the picture from the life; we judge of the life by contemplating the picture,

It is scarcely possible, in the regularity and compofure of the present tiine, to image the tumult af absurdity, and çlamoup of contradiction, which per

plesed

plexed doctrine, disordered practice, and disturbed both public and private quiet, in that age when lubordination was broken, and awe was bissed away ; when any unsettled innovator, who could hatch a half-formed notion, produced it to the publick; when every man might become a preacher, and almost every preacher could collect a congregation.

The wisdom of the nation is very reasonably sup. posed to reside in the parliament. What can be concluded of the lower classes of the people, when in one of the parliaments suinmoned by Cromwell it was seriously proposed, that all the records in the Tower should be burnt, that all memory of things past should be effaced, and that the whole system of life should commence anew ?

We have never been witnesses of animosities excited by the use of mince-pies and pluinb-porridge; nor seen with what abhorrence those, who could eat them at all other times of the year, would shrink from them in December. An old Puritan who was alive in my childhood, being at one of the feasts of the church invited by a neighbour to partake his cheer, told him, that if he would treat him at an alehouse with beer brewed for all times and seasons, he should accept his kindness, but would have none of his superstitious meats or drinks.

One of the puritanical tenets was the illegality of all games of chance; and he that reads Gataker upon Lots may see how much learning and reason one of the first scholars of his age thought necessary, to prove that it was no crime to throw a die, or play at cards, or to hide a Thilling for the reckoning.

03

Astrology,

one

Astrology, however, against which so inuch of the satire is directed, was not more the folly of the Puritans than of others. It had in that time a very extensive dominion. Its predictious raised hopes and fears in minds which ought to have rejected it with contempt. In hazardous undertakings care was taken to begin under the influence of a propitious planet; and, when the king was prisoner in Carilbrook Castle, an astrologer was consulted what hour would be found most favourable to an escape.

What effect this poem had upon the publick, whether it shamed imposture, or reclaimed credulity, is not easily determined. Cheats can seldom stand long against laughter. It is certain that the credit of planetary intelligence wore faft away; though fome men of knowledge, and Dryden among them, continued to believe that conjunctions and oppofitions had a great part in the distribution of good or evil, and in the government of sublunary things.

Poetical Action ought to be probable upon certain fuppofitions, and such probability as burlesque requires is here violated only by one incident. Nothing can fhew more plainly the neceflity of doing something, and the difficulty of finding something to do, than that Butler was reduced to transfer to his hero the flagellation of Sancho, not the most agree able fiction of Cervantes ; very suitable indeed to the manners of that age and nation, which afcribed wonderful efficacy to voluntary penances; but 1 remote from the practice and opinions of the Hudibrastick time, that judgement and imagination are alike offended.

The

[ocr errors]

me

The diction of this poem is grossly familiar, and the numbers purposely neglected, except in a few places where the thoughts by their native excellence secure theinfelves from violation, being such as mean language cannot express. The mode of versification has been blamed by Dryden, who regrets that the heroick measure was not rather chosen. To the critical sentence of Dryden the highest reverence would be due, were not his decisions often precipitate, and his opinions immature. When he wished to change the measure he probably would have been willing to change more. If he intended that, when the numbers were heroick, the diction should still remain vulgar, he planned a very heterogeneous and unnatural composition. If he preferred a general stateliness both of sound and words, he can be only understood to wish Butler had undertaken a different work.

The measure is quick, spritely, and colloquial, suitable to the vulgarity of the words and the levity of the sentiments. But such numbers and such diction can gain regard only when they are used by a writer whose vigour of fancy and copiousness of knowJedge entiile him to contempt of ornaments, and who, in confidence of the novelty and justness of his conceptions, can afford to throw metaphors and epithets away. To another that conveys common thoughts in careless versification, it will only be said, “ Pau“ per videri Cinna vult, & eft pauper.” The meaning and diction will be worthy of each other, and criticism may justly doom them to perith to

gether.

« AnteriorContinuar »