« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
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 conceived young Butler to have been in his school-days. If he did go to college he doubtless made the most of his time there, and read books and acquired knowledge assiduously, as would become a sensible farmer's son, receiving education at some expense to his family; but to Spenser's "Faery Queen," and all that class of influences, we suspect he would have presented a cuticle of greater resistance than either Milton or Cowley did. In short, if he was at the University, we can well believe that he left it without ever having perpetrated verse at all, or at least any thing more than a few lines of such hard downright doggrel as would not matter much one way or another. He may, however, have written good sound prose, of a quality quite sufficient for his purposes as a scholar.
Butler was the son of a substantial farmer in Worcestershire. He received a very good school education at the Cathedral school of Worcester, under a master who had a considerable reputation in his day for turning out pupils who afterwards became distinguished. It is not certainly known whether he was sent to either of the Universities. There is a vague account of his having been at Cambridge, and there is a still more vague account of his having been at Oxford; but Mr. Bell is disposed, and we think justly, to believe that neither account is correct, and that Butler never received any university education. If he was at either of the Universities, however, we can well suppose that it was not then or there that he began to write verses. It is easy to see from the nature of his writings, after he did become a writer, that he never could have had anything about him of that overflowing productive disposition, that rich imitative instinct, which belongs to the young sons of Apollo, and which made his contemporaries, Milton and Cowley, poets even in their teens. Milton, a fond disciple at college of all that was best in classical as well modern poetry, was already himself a writer of sweet verse; and Cowley was but a flowing-haired child when, meeting with Spenser's "Faery Queene," the imitative impulse seized him, and he began to lisp in numbers:
"The Muses did young Cowley raise;
According to the very scanty notices that remain, that period of Butler's life which extends from his carly youth till after the Restoration, is to be considered as dividing itself into three parts. First of all, from his early youth onwards, for an uncertain number of years, but probably till about 1639, when he would be twenty-seven years of age, we find him acting as clerk in the service of Thomas Jeffries, of Earl's Croombe, a flourishing Justice of Peace in his native county of Worcestershire. While in this service, he is said to have had some thoughts of turning painter; and, as late as the middle of last century, there were some portraits and other pictures at Earl's Croombe which were said to have been painted by Butler 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 with Samuel Cooper, the English portraitpainter of his day, his own practice in it was probably never more than that of an amateur. There was more feasibility in the plan which he is said also to have entertained about this time of becoming a lawyer, or at least a country attorney; and, as evidence of some such intention, there is not only a tradition of his having entered himself at Gray's Inn, but also the fact of his having left behind him among his papers a syllabus of Coke upon Littleton, drawn up in law French in his own handwriting. Not even to the dignity of an independent country attorney, however, was Butler to be promoted. From being law-clerk to the Worcestershire Justice of Peace, we find him--through what intermediate stages of amateur portraitpainting, and law-studentship, is unknown -transferred to a superior situation, as secretary, or the like, in the household of the Countess of Kent, at Wrest, in Bedfordshire. Here, besides leisure to amuse himself with painting and music, he had the advantage of an excellent library, and of the conversation of the learned Selden,then steward of the Countess's estates, and, according to Aubrey's account, privately married to her. It is this circumstance of Selden's being domesticated at Wrest at the time of Butler's service there that enables us to form a guess as to dates. Mr. Bell, finding that Selden spent the Parliamentary recess of the year 1628 at the Earl of Kent's seat in Wrest, employing himself in the preparation of his work on the Arundel marbles, assigns that year as the probable date of Butler's admission into the Countess's service. This supposition seems quite untenable. Butler would then have been only sixteen years of age, and there would be no room at all for his prior service at Earl's Croombe, not to speak of his painting and other occupations attributed to him while there. It seems more natural to suppose, as we have done, that he did not leave Earl's Croombe for Wrest till about the year 1639; in which year, as Mr. Bell himself informs us, Selden, by the death of the Earl of Kent, became permanently domesticated in the household of the Countess at Wrest, and that on a more intimate footing than when the Earl had been alive. The fact that Butler is always represented by his biographers as having entered the service of the Countess of Kent, seems to confirm
this; and in other respects it accords with the facts. If Butler did enter this service in 1639, when he was in his twenty-eighth year, he may have remained in it till 1651, in which year the Countess died, leaving Selden her executor and part-heir; and still there would be ample time left for a third and different service which Butler is said to have discharged before the Restoration-namely, that of secretary, or general man of business to Sir Samuel Luke of Cople Hoo, in the same county of Bedfordshire. Sir Samuel was one of the leading Presbyterians of the county, and a Justice of Peace. He had been a Colonel in the Parliamentary army during the Civil Wars, and Member in the Long Parliament for Bedfordshire; and though with others of the Presbyterian leaders, he had shrunk back from the extreme proceedings of the Parliament about the time of the King's death, and had, in consequence, been one of those members whom the army leaders and Independents "secluded" about this time from farther attendance in the House, he yet appears to have retained his zeal in the general cause of the Revolution, and to have been an active magistrate in Bedfordshire under Cromwell's government. The precise nature of Butler's duties in his service cannot be known; but if he entered it after 1651, when the Civil Wars in England were over, and the Commonwealth was an established fact, they may very well have been such as a secretary, though of Royalist connections and sentiments himself, might consistently enough discharge for a Presbyterian master. As to the duration of this service, however, we are totally uninformed. We have assumed it to have begun in 1651, and it may have continued till 1660 or thereabouts—i. e., through the period of the first Rump, and the Protectorships of Cromwell and his son Richard, down to the confusions of the second Rump and Monk's intrigues immediately antecedent to the King's recall. When the King had returned, it would be natural, amid the general change of system, for Presbyterian knights and county magistrates to sink into comparative idleness and obscurity, and for their secretaries, especially if of Royalist connections, to look about for other situations.
Such is the meagre outline, with which we must be content, of the first forty-eight years of Butler's life. It is possible, in
deed, that farther research might disclose additional facts, or at least verify or disprove the conjectures we have ventured to make as to the dates of such facts as are known. Meanwhile, what concerns us is to ascertain, if possible, at what point in the life, as thus laid out, Butler first felt his vocation to literature, and first secretly practised the talent which was afterwards to make him famous. Now, if our chronology is correct, we have little hesitation in saying that it was somewhere in what we have represented as the middle portion of his adult life prior to the Restoration-that is, during his service with the Countess of Kent at Wrest, in Bedfordshire, from 1639 to 1651.
We found this opinion on the evidence afforded by what remains of his writings, in addition to Hudibras. Of all these writings-whether those included in the "Genuine Remains," published from the actual manuscripts by Mr. Thyer of Manchester in 1759, and which are indubitably authentic, or such other casual pieces in prose or verse, not included among these, as there is any probable ground for believing to have been really his-there is not one which we can ascertain to have been published prior to 1660, or, at all events, to 1659, if indeed any one of them was published prior to Hudibras itself in 1663. But, though none of them was certainly published before this period, there are one or two of them which were certainly written before it. Among these, the earliest to which we can assign a probable date, is a piece of rude doggrel, calling itself a "Ballad," and seemingly meant as a squib against Cromwell, about the time of his military successes and paramount influence in the kingdom, just before the King's death. It occurs among Thyer's "Genuine Remains," where it is printed from the manuscript. Here is a specimen, part of a portrait, which must be supposed to be that of Cromwell:
"Now this with admiration Does all beholders strike, That a beard should grow Upon a thing's browDid ye ever see the like?
"He has no skull, 'tis well known To thousands of beholders; Nothing but a skin
Does keep his brains in From running about his shoulders.”
And so on, through a score or so of stanzas more, the last of which, containing an allusion to the King and Parliament as both still extant, and to the civil wars as still raging, enables one to assign the year 1648, or thereby, as the probable date of the composition. Such as it is, it is the first authentic piece from Butler's pen that remains to us; and that which comes nearest to it in point of time is a short prose tract, entitled "The Case of King Charles I. truly stated," originally published from the manuscript in 1691, by an anonymous editor, after Butler's death, and reprinted by Thyer. This tract is in the form of a reply to a pamphlet, entitled "King Charles's Case, or an Appeal to all Rational Men concerning his Trial," prepared by John Cook, Master of Gray's Inn, solicitor to the Parliament in the proceedings against the King, and afterwards executed as one of the chief regicides. The pamphlet was put in circulation with others, after the King's death, in defence of the policy of the Commonwealth leaders; and Butler appears to have tried his hand at writing an answer, with the intention of publishing some time or other. He never did so, however, and it was found among his papers. It may be assumed to have been written some time between 1649 and 1654, the anonymous editor of 1691 speaking of it as having been "penned about forty years since." Next, in point of certain date, among Butler's remains, is a piece of doggrel similar in style to that above quoted, entitled, "A Ballad about the Parliament which deliberated about making Oliver King." It begins:
priety of Oliver's exchanging the title of Protector for that of King was a matter of general discussion. Butler, among others, had his notions on the subject, of which he relieved himself, for his own satisfaction, or probably for the amusement of those about him, as above. After the death of Cromwell, and amid the confusions of Richard's brief Protectorate and the second Rump, there was less reason for reserve in such expressions of opinion; and, accordingly, during the year immediately preceding the Restoration, Butler's pen seems to have been somewhat busy. Besides other scraps, there is one prose piece of some length, the composition of which may be certainly attributed to the year 1659-1660, though it remained unpublished till afterwards. This piece consists of "Two Speeches made in the Rump-Parliament when it was restored by the Officers of the Army in the year 1659," the said speeches being mock-harangues, invented by Butler, and put, the one into the mouth of an old Presbyterian member of the House, who is indignant at all that has been done by the army during the last ten years; and the other into the mouth of an Independent, or Army-man, who hates the Presbyterians. The composition is one of some vigor; and the writer makes the two debaters abuse each other, very much as Hudibras and Ralph do in the poem, only in sober earnest, and so as to produce an impression unfavorable both to a continuance of military rule or Independency, and to a revival of mere Parliamentary government without a royal head. Had the pamphlet been published, it would really have done some service in the cause of the Restoration, while that question was being debated, and Monk's intentions were uncertain. It is evident, in short, that Butler took a great interest in that question; and it is possible that, though the composition just mentioned was not printed, he may about this time have contributed other pieces of a political tenor which did find their way into circulation.
prose satire against the Puritans, till about the eve of the Restoration, when, being then in Sir Samuel Luke's service in the same county of Bedfordshire, or just about to quit that service, he found himself a sufficiently expert writer to wish to appear as such, and capable not only of throwing off political pamphlets suited for the time, but also of planning and preparing a burlesque poem of some length.
The result of this brief investigation is, that it was not till about the thirty-seventh year of Butler's age, and when, according to our chronology, he was in the service of the Countess of Kent, at her seat in Bedfordshire, that he began to use his pen for anything like a literary purpose, and that from that time he used it only sparingly, in occasional pieces of verse and of
This account, probable on external grounds, corresponds with the impression we have of Butler's character. Always a shrewd, industrious, and reading man, with a quantity of grim crabbed satire in him, which may have come out in his talk, he was evidently, as we have already said, not one of that class of writers who, like Milton and Cowley, take naturally from their childhood to literary effort, as ducklings do to the water. He could always, we have no doubt, write excellent business-prose; but he may have been comparatively advanced in life before the idea occurred to him of breaking up this businessprose, and enriching it, and fining it, and putting all his wit, and force, and power of learned allusion into it, so as to fit it for the purposes of literature. Much more may it have required a distinct stimulus from without to put the idea into his head of rising above his prose altogether and becoming a poet. Such a stimulus he found at last in the unusual social and political incidents of his time acting on his long constitutional and acquired antipathy to the Puritans. It was antipathy to the Puritans that caused Butler in middle life, at a time when he was probably known by his Bedfordshire neighbors only as a hardheaded and somewhat crusty and eccentric man of business, to become an author and a poet. He was not the only man who was so affected. Denham, in a mockaddress, in the name of the poets of England, to the Long Parliament, declares that one effect of their proceedings had been to make the whole nation, including King Charles himself, poets. The drift of this lame conceit is, that the Parliament had made at least one of the incentives to poetry, namely poverty, general enough throughout the kingdom. In a somewhat different sense, Denham's conceit may be taken as true. If there was less of poetry proper in England in that age of social convulsion, there was more of that kind of poetry which consists in social and political allusion put into verse. Balked of
their hatred of the Puritans, the Royalists took their revenge in abundance of satirical squibs and ballads. Just as now we sometimes see a shrewd middle-aged citizen, or country-squire, who never suspected himself of any literary tendency, suddenly moved by his interest in some controversy to write to the newspapers, or perhaps to pen a pamphlet, and by that one fatal act parting with his liberty for ever after, and selling himself, body and soul, to the printer's devil, so it was then. Rough old cavaliers, rather shaky in their syntax, furbished it up for the occasion, that they might have a slap at the Roundheads one way if they could not have it in another; and fellows who had never found the legitimate source of poetical inspiration at twenty in their mistress's eyebrow, were inspired at last, at forty, by Oliver Cromwell's nose. If a sample is wanted, take the following, two scraps from a mountain of similar stuff:
any more effective way of giving vent to | Puritans in all their branches and denominations, from the most moderate Presbyterian to the most fanatical sectary and Fifth-monarchy man, was no assumed feeling; it was an honest inborn aversion, an absolute incapacity of finding anything in that order of ideas or things with which he could sympathize; a crabbed constitutional disgust with it all as cant, humbug, hypocrisy, and delusion. A man whose habit it was to "censure things to be either well or ill," there were probably very few things that he would in any circumstances have censured to be well; but there could not by possibility have been an ensemble of things more calculated to provoke his perpetual ill-censure than that in the midst of which he found himself. Like Swift, an obstinately descendental man, or bigot for the hard terrestrial sense of things, and yet living in an age when transcendentalism had broken loose, and seemed to be whirling heaven and earth together, he must have plodded about Bedfordshire with a kind of sneering conviction on his face that very few besides himself still knew it to be only Bedfordshire, and not a county in some celestial kingdom. The more he saw of the Puritans in his own neighborhood, and the farther that party advanced, throughout the nation at large, from their first beginnings of zeal to their last exhibitions of religious and political enthusiasm, the more they became to him an object of satire; and if, at Sir Samuel Luke's or anywhere else, he was thrown much among their chief men, so as to have opportunities of observing them, he must have "taken notes" rarely. Nor was it strange that a man of his extraordinary natural wit, and extensive familiarity as a reader with all sorts of books-a painter, too, and therefore akin to an author already-should think of doing as others were doing around him, and putting down some of his observations in black and white. Beginning, therefore, perhaps, with some such doggrel ballad against Cromwell as that which we have quoted as the first known production of his pen, he went on, as we suppose, inditing scraps of prose and verse for his own private gratification, some of which, however, not now to be traced, may have had a contraband circulation among the Royalists during the period of Cromwell's government.
In prose, Butler, once he had begun, could never have had any peculiar diffi
"Cromwell wants neither wardrobe nor armor; his face is natural buff, and his skin may furnish him with a rusty coat-of-mail. You would think he had been christened in a lime-pit, and tanned alive; but his countenance still continues mangy We cry out against superstition, and yet we worship a piece of wainscot, and idolize an unblanched almond. Certainly 'tis no human visage, but the emblem of a mandrake, one scarce handsome enough to have been the progeny of Hecuba, had she whelped him."-Pamphlet of the year 1649.
"Of all professions in the town,
The brewer's trade hath gained renown;
"He scorneth all laws and martial stops,
"He dives for riches down to the bottom,
And cries, My masters,' when he has got 'em,
It was certainly no arrogance in Butler, even if he had never written anything before, to think that he could do better than this. The main qualification-that of positive irreconcilable dislike to the Puritans, and their whole mode of thought, speech, and action-he had in perfection. No one can understand Butler who fails distinctly to conceive this. His antipathy to the