Page images
[ocr errors]

then bleffed with thofe lafting monuments of wit and learning, which may justly claim a kind of eternity upon earth. And our author, had his modefty permitted him, might, with HORACE, have faid,

Exegi monumentum aere perennius;

Or, with OVID,

Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,
Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetuftas.

The author of this celebrated poem was of this laft compofition; for, although he had not the happinefs of an academical education, as fome affirm, it may be perceived, throughout his whole poem, that he had read much, and was very well plished in the most useful parts of human learning.


RAPIN, in his reflections, Speaking of the neceffary qualities belonging to a poet, tells us, he must have a genius extraordinary; great natural gifts; a wit, just, fruitfu!, piercing, folid, and univerfal; an understanding, clear and diftinet; an imagination, neat and pleasant; an elevation of foul, that depends not only on art or Study, but is purely a gift of heaven, which must be fuftained by a lively fenfe and vivacity; judgment to confider wifely of things, and vivacity for the beautiful expreffion of them, etc.

Now how justly this character is due to our author, I leave to the impartial reader, and thofe

of nicer judgments, who had the happiness to be more intimately acquainted with him.

The reputation of this incomparable poem is fo thoroughly established in the world, that it would be fuperfluous, if not impertinent, to endeavour any panegyric upon it. King CHARLES II. whom the judicious part of mankind will readily acknowlege to be a fovereign judge of wit, was so great an admirer of it, that he would often pleasantly quote it in his converfation: however, fince most men have a curiofity to have fome account of fuch anonymous authors, whofe compofitions have been eminent for wit or learning; I have been defired to oblige them with fuch informations, as I could receive from those who had the happiness to be acquainted with him, and also to rectify the mistakes of the Oxford antiquary, in his Athenae Oxonienfes, concerning him.



AMUEL BUTLER, the author of this excellent poem, was born in the parish of Strenfham, in the county of Worcester, and baptized there the 13th of February 1612. His father, who was of the fame name, was an honest country farmer, who had some small eftate of his own, but rented a much greater of the lord of the manor where he lived. However, perceiving in this fon an early inclination to learning, he made a fshift to have him educated in the free-fchool at Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright;. where, having past the usual time, and being become an excellent school-scholar, he went for fome little time to Cambridge, but was never matriculated into that university, his father's abilities not being fufficient to be at the charge of an academical education; fo that our author returned foon into his native country, and became clerk to one Mr. Jefferys of Earls-Croom, an eminent juftice of the peace for that county, with whom he lived fome years, in an easy and no contemptible service. Here, by the indulgence of a kind master, he had fufficient leifure to apply himself to whatever learning his inclinations led him, which were chiefly hiftory and poetry; to which, for his diverfion he joined mufic and painting; and I have feen fome pictures, faid to be of his drawing, which remained in that

family; which I mention, not for the excellency of them, but to fatisfy the reader of his early inclinations to that noble art; for which alfo he was afterwards entirely beloved by Mr. Samuel Cooper, one of the most eminent painters of his time.

He was, after this, recommended to that great encourager of learning, Elizabeth countess of Kent, where he had not only the opportunity to confult all manner of learned books, but to converse also with that living library of learning, the great Mr. Selden.

Our author lived fome time alfo with Sir Samuel Luke, who was of an ancient family in Bedfordfhire; but, to his dishonour, an eminent commander under the ufurper Oliver Cromwell; and then it was, as I am informed, he compofed this loyal poem. For though fate, more than choice, feems to have placed him in the fervice of a knight fo notorious, both in his perfon and politics, yet, by the rule of contraries, one may obferve throughout his whole poem, that he was most orthodox, both in his religion and loyalty. And I am the more induced to believe he wrote it about that time, because he had then the opportunity to converse with those living characters of rebellion, nonfenfe, and hypocrify, which he fo lively and pathetically expofes throughout the whole work.

After the restoration of king Charles II. thofe who were at the helin, minding money more than merit, our author found thofe verfes of Juvenal to be exactly verified in himself:

« PreviousContinue »