Samuel Butler wrote the mock heroic poem Hudibras, a satire on Puritanisn, in octosyllabic couple, inspired by the 17th century spanish novel Don Quijote, the first part of Hudibras was apparently on sale by the end of 1662, but the first edition, published anonymously, is dated 1663. Its immediate succes resulted in a spurious second part appearing within the year, the authentic secon part, licensed in 1663, was published in 1664. The two parts, plus “ The Heroical Epistele of Hudibras to Sidrophel”, were reprinted together in 1674. in 1677 Charles II, who delighted in the poem, issued an injuction to protect Butler’s rights against piratical printers. In 1678 a third part was published.
The hero of Hudibras is a Presbyterian knight who goes “a-coloneling” with his squire, Ralphl, an independent. They constanly squabble over religious questions and, in a series of grotesquest adventures, are shown to be ignorant, wrongheaded, cowarly, and dishonest. The story and characters in Hudibras are of little importance. It strengh lies in the fact that it is the first English satire to make a notable and succesful attack not on personalities but on ideas. Butler’s real enemies are not so much the Puritans as fanaticism, pretentiosness, pedantry and hypocrisy. His famous description of the millitant Presbyterians is an unforgettable deflation of the spirit of religious intolerance. According to John aubrey, the antiquary, after the appearance of Hudibras king Charles and the lord chancellos, Clarendon, promised Butler considerable emoluments that never seem to have materealized. In the latter part of his life he was attached to the suite of George Villers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, but there seems little doubt that Butler died a poor and disappointed man who, at the end of an apparently successful literary career.
Dryden, in the dedication of his translation of Juvenal and Persius (1692), while expressing admiration of Butler for being able to put “thought” into his verses, strongly disapproves of his choice of octosyllabic metre.
Besides, the double Rhyme (a necessary companion of Burlesque writing) is not so proper for manly Satir, for it turns Earnest too much into Jest, and gives us a boyish kind of Pleasure. It tickles awkwardly with a kind of Pain to the best sort of Readers; and we are pleased ungratefully, and if I may say so, against our liking. But Butler knew that ridicule was his strongest weapon, and that it would please Charles II and his courtiers better than stately rhythm or fiery denunciation. Rimed decasyllabic suited Dryden’s form of satire, as we see in his Absalom and Achitophel, and was well adapted to Pope’s polished antitheses; but, for gibes and quick sallies of wit, octosyllabic metre, in competent hands, is the most fitting instrument. As Butler died in 1680, it is impossible to say whether he contemplated a further instalment of his poem, so as to bring up the tale of his cantos to twelve, after the example of the Aeneid; the sixth canto, that is, the third of the second book, finishes, evidently, with a view to a continuation which is provided by the third part. But there is an incompleteness apparent in this part, suggested first by the interpolation of the second canto, which has nothing to do with the action of the poem, and which might fittingly have been introduced in a subsequent continuation, while the letter of Hudibras and the Lady’s answer ought to have been incorporated in the main story rather than be left isolated. The third part is longer than the first by 590 lines and, if the two letters are added, by nearly 1340. It seems not an unfair inference that, had the satirist’s life and strength permitted, an additional part of three cantos would have been added, to complete the normal number of twelve, and that the third part would not have run to so disproportionate a length.
Butler had derived his outline from Miguel de Cervante, and his burlesque method, his brillant handling of the octosillabic metre, his witty, clattering rymes, his delight in strange words and esoteric learning, and his enormous zest and vigour create effects that are entirely original. Its pictures of low life are perhaps the most notable things of their kind English poetry between jonh Skelton and George Crabbe, with both of whom Butler has a certain affinity.
According to John aubrey, the antiquary, after the appearance of Hudibras king Charles and the lord chancellos, Clarendon, promised Butler considerable emoluments that never seem to have materealized. In the latter part of his life he was attached to the suite of George Villers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, but there seems little doubt that Butler died a poor and disappointed man who, at the end of an apparently successful literary career.
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