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Through all his greater works there prevails an uniform peculiarity of Diction, à 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 unlearned reader when he first opens his book, 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 his ideas. Our language, says Addison, sunk under him. But the truth is, that both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedancick principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgement operates freely, neither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the teader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject: what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that he wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish Dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find, grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and has 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, he says, is the English heroick verse without rhyme. Of this modę he had many examples 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, besides our tragedies, a few short poems liad 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 niental 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 car so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together :
this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled 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 poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critick, seents to be verse only to the eye.
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; 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 lapidary 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 to 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 thoughts 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 difficulties 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.
o 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 Strensliani in Worcestera shire, according to his biographer, in 1612. This account Dr. Nash finds confirmed by the register. He was christened Feb. 14. '
His father's condition is variously represented. Wcod mentions him as compelently wealthy; but Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, says he was an honest farmer with some small estate, who made a shift to educate his son at the grammar school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright*, from whose care he removed for a short time to Cambridge ; but, for want of 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: yet 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 tonement,
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 tecreation; 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 tờ Hudibras; which Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding what he says abovė, seems to have supposed was written by Mr. Longueville, the father ; but the contrary is to be inferred froin 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 son 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 Batler, 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 the Rev. Dr. Farmer, master of Emanuel College, Cambridge. H
je had the use of a library; and so much recommended himself to Selden, that he was often employed by hiin in literary business. Selden, as is well known, was steward to the Countess, and is supposed to have gained much of his wealth by managing her estate. .
In what character Butler was admitted into that Lady's service, how long he continued in it, and why he left it, is, like the other inicidents of his life, urterly unknown.
The vicissitudes of his condition placed him afterwards in the family of Sir Samuel Luke, one of Cromwell's officers. Here he observed so much of the character of the sectaries, that he is said to have written or begun his poem at this time; and it is likely that such a design would be formed in a place where lie saw the principles and practices of the rebels, audacious and undisguised in the confidence of success..
At length the King returned, and the time came in which loyalty hoped for its reward. Butler, however, was only made secretary to the Earl of Carbury, president of the principality of Wales; who conferred on him the stewardship of 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 law, but never practised it. A fortune she had, says his biographer, but it was lost hy bad securities.
In 1663 was published the first part, containing three cantos, of the poem of Hudibras, which, as Prior relates, was made known at Court by the taste and influence of the Earl of Dorset. When it was known, it was necessarily admired: 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, who certainly was not without his 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. Clarendon, 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 is reported that the King once gave him three hundred guincas; 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 yet allows the Duke to have been his frequent benefactor. 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 has 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 weil 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 attentio. enough ; and after some time, un
“ dertook to reconimend his pretensions to his Majesty. Mr. Wycherley, in “ hopes to keep him steady to his word, obtained of his grace to na.ne a day, “ when he might introduce that modest and unfortunate poet to his new “ patron. At låst an appointinent was made, and the place of meeting was 6 agreed to be the Roebuck. Mr. Butler and his friend attended accordingly: “ the Duke joined them; but, as the d would have it, the door of tire "room where they sat was open, and his Grace, who had seated himself near 6 it, observing a pimp of his acquaintance (the creature too was a knight) trip " by with a brace of Ladies, immediately quitted his engagement, to follow “ another kind of business, at which he was more ready than in doing good « offices to men of desert; though no one was better qualified than he, both in “ regard to his fortune and understanding, to protect them; and, from that time “ 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, such as neglect and disappointment might naturally excite; and such as it would be hard to imagine Butler capable of expressing against a man who had any claiin. to his gratitude.
Notwithstanding this discouragement and neglect, he still prosecuted his design; and in 1678 published the third part, which still leaves the poem imperfect 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 strange that he should stop here, however unexpectedly. To write without reward issusficiently unpleasing. He had now arrived at an age when he might think it proper 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 subscription for his interment in Westminster Abbey, buried him at his own cost in the church-yard of Covent Garden *. Dr. Simon Patrick read the service,
Granger was informed by Dr. Pearce, who named for his authority Mr. Lowndes of the treasury, that Butler had a yearly pension of an hundred 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, and a friend to Butler's principles, bestowed on him a monument in Westininster Abbey, thus inscribed:
obiit Lond. 1680.
Quo simulatæ Religionis Larvam detraxit, * In a note 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 these particulars is rendered highly probable by his being interred in the cemetery of that parish.