Imágenes de página

Through all his greater works there prevails an uniform peculiarity of Diction a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer, and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearne reader when tie first opens his bock, finds himself surprised by a new language

I his novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of hi ideas. Our language, says Addison, sunk uneler him. But the truth is, that both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedan:ick principle He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all hi prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgement operates freely neither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; be such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, tlı reader feels himself in. captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticisi sinks in admiration.

Milton's style was not modified by his subject : what is shown with greate extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarit was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongue Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that he wrote 2 language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish Dialect, in itself hars! and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning, the vehid of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we fin grace in its deformity.

Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copious ness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and ha selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.

After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, la says, is the English heroick verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many ex amples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The Earl of Surry is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, beside our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one, tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino's Italia Liberata; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.

Rhyme, he says, and says truly, is no necessary adjunct of true poetry. But perhaps, of poetry as a mental operation, metre or musick is no necessary adjunct : it is however by the musick of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary. The musick of the English heroick line strikes the ear so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every linc co-operate together :

[ocr errors]

this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unpangled with another as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English pret to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few happy readers of

Mion, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. i Bruk verse, said an ingenious critick, seems to be verse only to the eye.

l'oetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often Islase; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to

support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the tapidary style ; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular, what reason could urge in its defence, has been confuted by the ear.

But, whatever be the advantage of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse ; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme.

The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said 19 have contrived the structure of an epick poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interposition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: he did not refuse admission to the thougıts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solicitation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness, but • dithculties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroick poems, only because it is not the first.

[blocks in formation]


F the great author of Hudibras there is a life prefixed to the latter edi.

tions 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 Worcestét: shire, according to his biographer, in 1612. This account Dr. Nash finu's confirmed by the register. He was christened Feb. 14.

His father's condition is variously represented. Wcod mentions him as coinpelently wealthy; hut Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, says he was an honest farmer with some smail estate, who made a shift to cducate his son at the grammar school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright*, from whose care he removed for a short time to Cambridge; lut, for want cf 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: vet 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 inhabited a place of learning with so little distinction as to leave his 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 tenenunt.

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's 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 eminent justice of the peace. In his service he had not only leisure for study, but for recreation; his amusements were musick 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. Nash, at Earl's Croomb; but when he enquired for them some years afterwards, he found them destroyed, to stop windows, and owns that they hardly deserved a better fate. He was afterwards admitted into the family of the Countess of Kent, where

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 this mistake by a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, signifying, that the sou 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 recompence the papers called his Remains. Life of the Lord-keeper Guildford, p. 289. These have since been given to the public by Mr. Thyer of Manchester; and the originals are now in the hands of she Rev. Dr. Farmer, master of Emanuel College, Cambridge. H,


[ocr errors]

te had the use of a library; and so much recommended himself to Selden, 'di he was often employed by him in literary business. Selden, as is well knowil, was steward to the Countess, and is supposed to have gained much of 1 wealth by managing ber estate.

In what character Butler was admitted into that Lady's service, how long is continued in it, and why he left it, is, like the other incidents of his life, terly unknown.

The vicissitudes of his condition placed him afterwards in the family of Sir Gmuel Luke. one of Cromwell's officers. Here he observed so much of the karacter of the sectaries, that lie is said to liave written or begun his poem at në 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 tlie time came in which loyalty hoped for is reward. Butler, however, was only made secretary to the Earl of Carbury, president of the principality of Wales; who conferred on him the stewardship Icf 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 Ivw, but never practised it. A fortune she had, says his biographer, but it was by bad securities.

la 1663 was published the first part, containing three cantos, of the poem of Hedibras, which, as Prior relates, was made known at Court by the taste and isfuence of the Earl af Dorset. When it was kuown, it was necessarily adzired: 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, wha certainly was not without liis 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. Carendon, says Wood, gave him reason to hope for “ places and employ"ments of value and credit;” but no such advantages did he ever obtain. It i reported that the King once gave him three hundred guineas ; but of this temporary bounty I find 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 et allows the Duke to have been his frequent benefaetor. 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 las 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 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 always seemed to hearken to him with attention cnough ; and after some time, un

“ dertook

[ocr errors]

“ dertook to recommend his pretensions to his Majesty. Mr. W'ycherley, i

hopes to keep him steady to his word, obtained of his grace to name a day “ when he might introduce that modest and unfortunate pact to his ne

patron. At last an appointment was made, and the place of meeting w “ agreed to be the Roebuck. M:. Butler and his friend attended accordingly “ the Duke joined them; but, as the I would have it, the door of th '" room where they sat was open, and his Grace, who had seated binself nez

it, observing a pimp of his acquaintance (the creature too was a knight) tii

by with a brace of Ladies, immediately quitted his engagement, to follo “ another kind of business, at which he was more ready than in doing goo “ offices to men of desert; though no one was better qualified than he, both i “ regard to his fortune and understanding, to protect them; and, from that tim “ 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, su as neglect and disappointment might naturally excite; and such as it would b hard to imagine Butler capable of expressing against a man who had any clai to his gratitude.

Notwithstanding this discouragement and neglect, he still prosecuted his de sign; and in 1678 published the third part, which still leaves the poem imperfec and abrupt. How much more he originally intended, or with what events the action was to be concluded, it is vain to conjecture. Norcan it be thought strang that he should stop here, however unexpectedly. To write without reward is sul ficiently unpleasing. He had now arrived at an age when he might think it pro per 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 sul scription for his interment in Westminster Abbey, buried him at his own cost i the church-yard of Covent Garden *. Dr. Simon Patrick read the service.

Granger was informed by Dr. Pearce, who named for his authority Mi Lowndes of the treasury, that Butler had a yearly pension of an hundre 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 afterwards, Mr. Barber, a printer, Mayor of London, an a friend to Butler's principles, bestowed on him a monument in Westminste Abbey, thus inscribed :

M. S.
Qui Strenshamia in agro Vigorn. nat. 1612,

obiit Lond. 1680.
Vir doctus imprimis, acer, integer;
Operibus Ingenii, non item premiis, foelix :
Satyrici apud nos Carminis Artifex egregius;

Quo simulatæ Religionis Larvam detraxit, In a riote 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 tliese particulars is rendered liglily probable by huis being interred in the cemetery of tha: parish.

« AnteriorContinuar »