Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Of course it cannot be that Butler was aright, was young Butler, and not the positively idle with his pen all this time. kind of infant for any Muse to dandle. He was not heard of as a writer prior to “When but a boy," says Aubrey, “he 1662; but the man who then came forth would make observations and reflections with such a poem as the first part of Hudi- on everything one said or did, and cen bras must have had a good deal of quiet sure it to be either well or ill;" and, wherpractice beforehand in the art of putting ever Aubrey got his information, it has a his thoughts on paper. It becomes of singular smack of truth about it. Not a some importance, therefore, to find out, if flowing-haired poetic child of the Cowley possible, at what point in that obscure pe- stamp at all, mildly stealing away from riod in Butler's life which elapsed before the his companions into the fields to read, but Restoration the literary impulse first seized a decidedly hard-headed if not stubbyhim, what was the precise nature of that haired boy, keeping uncomfortably near impulse, and what were the circumstances to people when they were talking, and which retarded so long the public exhibi- “ censuring things to be either well or ill;"! tion of his talent. For this purpose let us such, even without Aubrey's hint, but glance at the little that is known of this merely on the principle of the boy being portion of his life.

father to the man, should we have conButler was the son of a substantial far- ceived young Butler to have been in his mer in Worcestershire. He received a school-days. If he did go to college he very good school education at the Cathe- doubtless made the most of his time there, dral school of Worcester, under a master and read books and acquired knowledge who had a considerable reputation in his assiduously, as would become a sensible day for turning out pupils who afterwards farmer's son, receiving education at some became distinguished. It is not certainly expense to his family ; but to Spenser's known whether he was sent to either of “ Faery Queen,” and all that class of inthe Universities. There is a vague ac- fluences, we suspect he would have precount of his having been at Cambridge, sented a cuticle of greater resistance than and there is a still more vague account of either Milton or Cowley did. In short, his having been at Oxford; but Mr. Bell if he was at the University, we can well is disposed, and we think justly, to believe believe that he left it without ever having that neither account is correct, and that perpetrated verse at all, or at least anyButler never received any university edu- thing more than a few lines of such hard cation. If he was at either of the Univer- downright doggrel as would not matter sities, however, we can well suppose that much one way or another. He may, howit was not then or there that he began to ever, have written good sound prose, of a write verses. It is easy to see from the quality quite sufficient for his purposes as nature of his writings, after he did become a scholar. a writer, that he never could have had According to the very scanty notices anything about him of that overflowing that remain, that period of Butler's life productive disposition, that rich imitative which extends from his carly youth till afinstinct, which belongs to the young sons ter the Restoration, is to be considered as of Apollo, and which made his contempo- dividing itself into three parts. First of raries, Milton and Cowley, poets even in all, from his early youth onwards, for an their teens. Milton, a fond disciple at col- uncertain number of years, but probably lege of all that was best in classical as well till about 1639, when he would be twenmodern poetry, was already himself a wri- ty-seven years of age, we find him acting ter of sweet verse; and Cowley was but a as clerk in the service of Thomas Jeffries, flowing-haired child when, meeting with of Earl's Croombe, a flourishing Justice Spenser's “ Faery Queene," the imitative of Peace in his native county of Worimpulse seized him, and he began to lisp cestershire. While in this service, he is in numbers:

said to have had some thoughts of turning

painter; and, as late as the middle of last “ The Muses did young Cowley raise ; century, there were some portraits and

They stole him from his nurse's arms, other pictures at Earl's Croombe which Fed him with sacred love of praise,

were said to have been painted by Butler And taught him all their charms." during his residence there. They do not

seem to have been worth much; and, A much tougher subject, if we guess though Butler kept up his taste for the art in after-life so as to become acquainted this; and in other respects it accords with with Samuel Cooper, the English portrait- the facts. If Butler did enter this service painter of his day, his own practice in it in 1639, when he was in his twenty-eighth was probably never more than that of an year, he may have remained in it till 1651, amateur. There was more feasibility in the in which year the Countess died, leaving plan which he is said also to have enter- Selden her executor and part-heir ; and tained about this time of becoming a law- still there would be ample time left for a yer, or at least a country attorney; and, third and different service which Butler is as evidence of some such intention, there said to have discharged before the Restois not only a tradition of his having en- ration-namely, that of secretary, or gentered himself at Gray's Inn, but also the eral man of business to Sir Samuel Luke fact of his having left behind him among of Cople Hoo, in the same county of Bedhis papers a syllabus of Coke upon Little- fordshire. Sir Samuel was one of the ton, drawn up in law French in his own leading Presbyterians of the county, and handwriting. Not even to the dignity of a Justice of Peace. He had been a Colan independent country attorney, however, onel in the Parliamentary army during was Butler to be promoted. From be- the Civil Wars, and Member in the Long ing law-clerk to the Worcestershire Jus- Parliament for Bedfordshire; and though tice of Peace, we find him--through what with others of the Presbyterian leaders, intermediate stages of amateur portrait- he had shrunk back from the extreme propainting, and law-studentship, is unknown ceedings of the Parliament about the time

-transferred to a superior situation, as of the King's death, and had, in consesecretary, or the like, in the household of quence, been one of those members whom the Countess of Kent, at Wrest, in Bed- the army leaders and Independents “sefordshire. Here, besides leisure to amuse cluded” about this time from farther attenhimself with painting and music, he had dance in the House, he yet appears to the advantage of an excellent library, and of have retained his zeal in the general cause the conversation of the learned Selden, then of the Revolution, and to have been an steward of the Countess's estates, and, ac- active magistrate in Bedfordshire under cording to Aubrey's account, privately mar- Cromwell's government. The precise naried to her. It is this circumstance of Sel- ture of Butler's duties in his service canden's being domesticated at Wrest at the not be known; but if he entered it after time of Butler's service there that enables 1651, when the Civil Wars in England us to form a guess as to dates. Mr. Bell, find- were over, and the Commonwealth was ing that Selden spent the Parliamentary an established fact, they may very well recess of the year 1628 at the Earl of have been such as a secretary, though of Kent's seat in Wrest, employing himself Royalist connections and sentiments himin the preparation of his work on the selt

, might consistently enough discharge Arundel marbles, assigns that year as the for a Presbyterian master. As to the duprobable date of Butler's admission into ration of this service, however, we are tothe Countess's service. This supposition tally uninformed. We have assumed it to seems quite untenable. Butler would have begun in 1651, and it may have then have been only sixteen years of age, continued till 1660 or thereabouts—i. l., and there would be no room at all for his through the period of the first Rump, and prior service at Earl’s Croombe, not to the Protectorships of Cromwell and his speak of his painting and other occupa- son Richard, down to the confusions of tions attributed to him while there. "It the second Rump and Monk's intrigues seems more natural to suppose, as we have immediately antecedent to the King's redone, that he did not leave Earl's Croombe call. When the King had returned, it for Wrest till about the year 1639; in would be natural, amid the general change which year, as Mr. Bell himself informs us, of system, for Presbyterian knights and Selden, by the death of the Earl of Kent, county magistrates to sink into combecame permanently domesticated in the parative idleness and obscurity, and for household of the Countess at Wrest, and their secretaries, especially if of Royalist that on a more intimate footing than when connections, to look about for other situathe Earl had been alive. The fact that tions. Butler is always represented by his bio- Such is the meagre outline, with which graphers as having entered the service of we must be content, of the first forty-eight the Countess of Kent, seems to confirm years of Butler's life. It is possible, in

deed, that farther research might disclose “Now this with admiration
additional facts, or at least verify or dis-

Does all beholders strike,
prove the conjectures we have ventured

That a beard should grow to make as to the dates of such facts as

Upon a thing's broware known. Meanwhile, what concerns

Did ye ever see the like? us is to ascertain, if possible, at what point

“ He has no skull, 'tis well known in the life, as thus laid out, Butler first felt

To thousands of beholders ; his vocation to literature, and first secret

Nothing but a skin ly practised the talent which was after

Does keep his brains in wards to make him famous. Now, if our

From running about his shoulders.” chronology is correct, we have little hesitation in saying that it was somewhere in And so on, through a score or so of stanwhat we have represented as the middle zas more, the last of which, containing an portion of his adult life prior to the Res- allusion to the King and Parliament as toration—that is, during his service with both still extant, and to the civil wars as the Countess of Kent at Wrest, in Bed- still raging, enables one to assign the year fordshire, from 1639 to 1651.

1648, or thereby, as the probable date of We found this opinion on the evidence the composition. Such as it is, it is the afforded by what remains of his writings, first authentic piece from Butler's pen that in addition to Hudibras. Of all these remains to us; and that which comes nearwritings--whether those included in the est to it in point of time is a short prose “Genuine Remains,” published from the tract, entitled “The Case of King Charles actual manuscripts by Mr. Thyer of Man- I. truly stated,” originally published from chester in 1759, and which are indubita- the manuscript in 1691, by an anonymous bly authentic, or such other casual pieces editor, after Butler's death, and reprinted in prose or verse, not included among by Thyer. This tract is in the form of a these, as there is any probable ground for reply to a pamphlet, entitled “King believing to have been really his—there Charles's Case, or an Appeal to all Råis not one which we can ascertain to have tional Men concerning his Trial,” prepared been published prior to 1660, or, at all by John Cook, Master of Gray's Inn, soevents, to 1659, if indeed any one of them licitor to the Parliament in the proceedings was published prior to Hudibras itself in against the King, and afterwards executed 1663. But, though none of them was as one of the chief regicides. The pamcertainly published before this period, there phlet was put in circulation with others, are one or two of them which were cer- after the King's death, in defence of the tainly written before it. Among these, policy of the Commonwealth leaders; and the earliest to which we can assign a pro

Butler appears to have tried his hand at bable date, is a piece of rude doggrel, call writing an answer, with the intention of ing itself' a "Ballad,” and seemingly publishing some time or other. He never meant as a squib against Cromwell

, about did so, however, and it was found among the time of his military successes and

his

par- papers. It may be assumed to have amount influence in the kingdom, just be- been written some time between 1649 and fore the King's death. It occurs among 1654, the anonymous editor of 1691 speakThyer's “Genuine Remains,” where it is ing of it as having been “penned about printed from the manuscript. Here is a forty years since.” Next, in point of cerspecimen, part of a portrait, which must tain date, among Butler's remains, is a be supposed to be that of Cromwell : piece of doggrel similar in style to that

above quoted, entitled, “A Ballad about

the Parliament which deliberated about “ His face is round and decent,

making Oliver King.” It begins:
As is your dish or platter,
On which there grows

“ As close as a goose
A thing like a nose,

Sat the Parliament House,
But, indeed, it is no such matter.

To hatch the royal gull ;

After much fiddle-faddle,
« On both sides of th' aforesaid

The egg proved addle,
Are eyes, but th' are not matches,

And Oliver came forth Noll."
On which there are
To be seen two fair

The topic of this piece of doggrel fixes
And large well-grown mustaches. its date about 1656-1657, when the pro-

[ocr errors]

priety of Oliver's exchanging the title of prose satire against the Puritans, till about Protector for that of King was a matter the eve of the Restoration, when, being of general discussion. Butler, among oth- then in Sir Samuel Luke's service in the ers, had his notions on the subject, of which same county of Bedfordshire, or just about he relieved himself, for his own satisfaction, to quit that service, he found himself a sufor probably for the amusement of those ficiently expert writer to wish to appear as about him, as above. After the death of such, and capable not only of throwing off Cromwell, and amid the confusions of political pamphlets suited for the time, but Richard's brief Protectorate and the se- also of planning and preparing a burlesque cond Rump, there was less reason for re- poem of some length. serve in such expressions of opinion; and, This account, probable on external accordingly, during the year immediately grounds, corresponds with the impression preceding the Restoration, Butler's pen we have of Butler's character. Always a seems to have been somewhat busy. Be- shrewd, industrious, and reading man, with sides other scraps, there is one prose piece a quantity of grim crabbed satire in him, of some length, the composition of which which may have come out in his talk, he may be certainly attributed to the year was evidently, as we have already said, 1659-1660, though it remained unpub- not one of that class of writers who, liké lished till afterwards. This piece consists Milton and Cowley, take naturally from of “Two Speeches made in the Rump-Par- their childhood to literary effort, as duckliament when it was restored by the Offi- lings do to the water. He could always, cers of the Army in the year 1659,” the we have no doubt, write excellent busisaid speeches being mock-harangues, in- ness-prose; but he may have been comparvented by Butler, and put, the one into atively advanced in life before the idea octhe mouth of an old Presbyterian member curred to him of breaking up this businessof the House, who is indignant at all that prose, and enriching it, and fining it, and has been done by the army during the putting all his wit, and force, and power last ten years; and the other into the of learned allusion into it, so as to fit it for mouth of an Independent, or Army-man, the purposes of literature. Much more who hates the Presbyterians. The com- may it have required a distinct stimulus position is one of some vigor; and the from without to put the idea into his head writer makes the two debaters abuse each of rising above his prose altogether and other, very much as Hudibras and Ralph becoming a poet. Such a stimulus he found do in the poem, only in sober earnest, and at last in the unusual social and political so as to produce an impression unfavora- incidents of his time acting on his long conble both to a continuance of military rule stitutional and acquired antipathy to the or Independency, and to a revival of mere Puritans. It was antipathy to the PuriParliamentary government without a royal tans that caused Butler in middle life, at a head. Had the pamphlet been published, time when he was probably known by his it would really have done some service in Bedfordshire neighbors only as a hardthe cause of the Restoration, while that headed and somewhat crusty and eccenquestion was being debated, and Monk's tric man of business, to become an author intentions were uncertain. It is evident, and a poet. He was not the only man in short, that Butler took a great interest who was so affected. Denham, in a mockin that question; and it is possible that, address, in the name of the poets of Engthough the composition just mentioned land, to the Long Parliament, declares was not printed, he may about this time that one effect of their proceedings had have contributed other pieces of a political been to make the whole nation, including tenor which did find their way into circu- King Charles himself, poets. The drift of lation.

this lame conceit is, that the Parliament The result of this brief investigation is, had made at least one of the incentives to that it was not till about the thirty-seventh poetry, namely poverty, general enough year of Butler's age, and when, according throughout the kingdom. In a somewhat to our chronology, he was in the service different sense, Denham's conceit may be of the Countess of Kent, at her seat in taken as true. If there was less of poetry Bedfordshire, that he began to use his pen proper in England in that age of social for anything like a literary purpose, and convulsion, there was more of that kind that from that time he used it only spar- of poetry which consists in social and poingly, in occasional pieces of verse and of litical allusion put into verse.

any more effective way of giving vent to Puritans in all their branches and denomitheir hatred of the Puritans, the Royalists nations, from the most moderate Presbytook their revenge in abundance of satiri- terian to the most fanatical sectary and cal squibs and ballads. Just as now we Fifth-monarchy man, was no assumed feelsometimes see a shrewd middle-aged citi- ing; it was an honest inborn aversion, an zen, or country-squire, who never suspect- absolute incapacity of finding anything in ed himself of any literary tendency, sud- that order of ideas or things with which denly moved by his interest in some con- he could sympathize; a crabbed constitutroversy to write to the newspapers, or tional disgust with it all as cant, humbug, perhaps to pen a pamphlet, and by that hypocrisy, and delusion. A man whose one fatal act parting with his liberty for habit it was to “censure things to be either ever after, and selling himself, body and well or ill,” there were probably very few soul, to the printer's devil

, so it was then. things that he would in any circumstances Rough old cavaliers, rather shaky in their have censured to be well ; but there could syntax, furbished it up for the occasion, not by possibility have been an ensemble that they might have a slap at the Round of things more calculated to provoke his heads one way if they could not have it in perpetual ill-censure than that in the midst another; and fellows who had never found of which he found himself. Like Swift, an the legitimate source of poetical inspira- obstinately descendental man, or bigot for tion at twenty in their mistress's eyebrow, the hard terrestrial sense of things, and were inspired at last, at forty, by Oliver yet living in an age when transcendentalCromwell's nose. If a sample is wanted, ism had broken loose, and seemed to be take the following, two scraps from a whirling heaven and earth together, he mountain of similar stuff:

must have plodded about Bedfordshire

with a kind of sneering conviction on his “ Cromwell wants neither wardrobe nor armor ; face that very few besides himself still his face is natural buff, and his skin may furnish knew it to be only Bedfordshire, and not him with a rusty coat-of-mail. You would think a county in some celestial kingdom. The he had been christened in a lime-pit, and tanned more he saw of the Puritans in his own alive; but his countenance still continues mangy. We cry out against superstition, and yet we wor: neighborhood, and the farther that party ship a piece of wainscot, and idolize an unblanch- advanced, throughout the nation at large, ed almond. Certainly 'tis no human visage, but from their first beginnings of zeal to their the emblem of a mandrake, one scarce handsome last exhibitions of religious and political enough to have been the progeny of Hecuba, had enthusiasm, the more they became to him she whelped him.”—Pamphlet of the year 1649. an object of satire; and if, at Sir Samuel

Luke's or anywhere else, he was thrown “ Of all professions in the town,

much The brewer's trade hath gained renown;

their chief men, so as to have

among His liquor reaches up to the crown,

opportunities of observing them, he must Which nobody can deny.

have “taken notes” rarely. Nor was it

strange that a man of his extraordinary “He scorneth all laws and martial stops, natural wit, and extensive familiarity as a But whips an army as round as tops,

reader with all sorts of books—a painter, And cuts off his foes as thick as hops,- too, and therefore akin to an author al

Which nobody can deny. ready-should think of doing as others “He dives for riches down to the bottom,

were doing around him, and putting down And cries, ' My masters,' when he has got 'em, some of his observations in black and Let every tub stand upon his own bottom,'

white. Beginning, therefore, perhaps, Which nobody can deny.' with some such doggrel ballad against Song of 1651-1658. Cromwell as that which we have quoted

as the first known production of his pen, It was certainly no arrogance in Butler, he went on, as we suppose, inditing scraps even if he had never written anything be- of prose and verse for his own private gratfore, to think that he could do better than ification, some of which, however, not this. The main qualification—that of pos- now to be traced, may have had a conitive irreconcilable dislike to the Puritans, traband circulation among the Royalists and their whole mode of thought, speech, during the period of Cromwell's governand action-he had in perfection. No one ment. can understand Butler who fails distinctly In prose, Butler, once he had begun, to conceive this. His antipathy to the could never have had any peculiar diffi

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »