« PreviousContinue »
his own ambition and tastes. But on this, as on all other parts of Butler's life, there rests great obscurity. He approached the world, as a person steals in through the dark to tickle a child, and himself, all unknown, threw it into convulsions of laughter. We find him next seated, not on a poetic tripod, but on a clerk's stool, in the office of Mr Jeffreys, of Earl's Croomb, in Worcestershire, a flourishing justice of the peace. This situation was not the most respectable or most congenial, but it gave him opportunities of studying human nature in many of its most singular and raciest attitudes. Fielding, too, was a justice of peace, and this, doubtless, contributed to make him, as Byron calls him, "the prose Homer of human nature." There can be little doubt that Trulla and Talgol are copied from characters with whom Butler had come into professional contact. He enjoyed, too, it seems, ample leisure for study, and he diligently improved his time. Besides reading very extensively and miscellaneously, he cultivated the arts of music and painting. "It is singular," says Walpole, "that the Hogarth of poetry was also a painter." Some of his pictures were long preserved by his friends, although their merit is understood not to have been very great. He attempted, it is said, a portrait of Old Noll, and would, no doubt, do ample justice to his red nose! His love of the pencil introduced him to the acquaintance of the once celebrated painter, Samuel Cooper. After this, he obtained a recommendation to the Countess of Kent, and became, for a time, domesticated in her establishment at Wrest, Bedfordshire. Here he had the benefit of an excellent library, as well as of intercourse with that living library, Selden, who employed him sometimes as his amanuensis. From this monster of erudition, Butler probably derived much of that recondite learning with which he has stuffed "Hudibras " to superfluity. In what capacity he served the Countess we are not informed, and are equally in the dark as to why and when he left her household. He is next found under the roof of Sir Samuel Luke, at Cople, or Woodend, in Bedfordshire-a gentleman of an ancient family, a rigid Roundhead, one of Cromwell's officers, and destined to become for ever famous
under the sobriquet of "Hudibras." It is curious to notice how each of these three situations contributed to qualify Butler better and better for his great work. In the office of Jeffreys, he saw those aspects of low life which he has so admirably represented in the adventures of the Bear and Fiddle. In the library and society of Wrest, he collected those multifarious stores of learning which come bursting out at every pore of his poem. And, in the halls of Woodend, he met with those specimens of Puritanic character which it was his calling and destiny to distort into the immortal oddities of the Knight and the Squire. Far better for him this irregular but progressive education, than had he remained for years at Cambridge, and left it with the honours of senior wrangler. Some of his biographers suppose that he must have been very miserable at Woodend, and that he imbibed, while there, a bitter grudge at Sir Samuel Luke personally, as well as at the party to which he belonged. These statements require, we think, some qualification. Butler, while under the Puritan's roof, might undoubtedly feel himself under restraint, but he must have felt, too, no little satirical delight in watching the peculiarities of his host, and in silently inscribing them on the tablets of his mind for after use. He knew he was in the midst of his natural game, and resembled a painter detained among the banditti of the Apennines, who makes the best of his detention in sketching the strange figures and savage scenery around him. That Butler hated the Puritans as a party is clear, but we can see no evidence of any deeprooted aversion to Sir Samuel Luke as an individual. On the contrary (in spite of Dr Johnson), he has a lurking fondness for "Hudibras," amid all the contempt and ridicule which he showers around him; beginning, perhaps, with a little spite at him, not on his own account, but as the representative of his class, he has, ere the end, fairly laughed himself into good humour with his hero. Indeed, there is very little of the spiteful or malignant in Butler's composition. His wit is dry, but seldom devilish. He can hate and he can despise ; but he cannot, like Swift, loathe and cover the objects of his malignant fury with the foam of a demoniac.
At last came the Restoration, and it was welcomed by thousands besides Butler with rapturous hopes, which speedily sunk into indignant disappointment. Although not yet known as a poet, he was known to many as a scholar, a loyalist, and a man of worth, and had thus some right to expect a share in the golden shower. But scarcely a drop of it descended on him. He was fain, relinquishing hopes of higher preferment, to accept of the secretaryship to Richard Earl of Carbury, Lord President of the Principality of Wales, who made him steward of Ludlow Castle-a place famous as that where the Comus of Milton was first enacted. To it the Court of the Marches had been removed. Butler by this time was fifty years of age, and in order to put a spoke in the wheel of fortune, and secure independence for life, he determined to marry a wealthy widow. Her name was Mrs Herbert. She was a gentlewoman of good family, but shortly after marriage, she lost the larger portion of her fortune, which had been laid out on bad securities. A little, however, was saved from the wreck, and on this, and on the proceeds of his stewardship, Butler lived for some time quietly and comfortably enough. He began now to indite his immortal burlesque poem. How long he was occupied in composing it we are not told-he had spent all his life in collecting its materials. The first part of it appeared in 1663, and became instantly popular. The humble student-steward of the Welch Marches awoke one morning and found himself famous. All London applauded and laughed at the poem. The Earl of Dorset, then a man of much literary influence, recommended it at court-and the merry monarch laughed louder than any one else, and often quoted its more pointed and poignant couplets. Butler's fortune seemed at length made. But he was again doomed to a disappointment-the more bitter to be borne, because preceded by such a sudden sunburst of success-and had soon occasion to quote with emphasis the text, "Put not thy trust in princes." Charles laughed, quoted, agreed that "Butler was a good cavalier and a clever fellow"-and "Odds fish, so he was," but he did nothing for him at all. Dorset, having first set his book afloat, seemed to think that his duty to it and its author was
ended. The Duke of Buckingham, according to Wycherley, appointed a meeting with him one day at the Roebuck, with the intention of being of service, and, along with Wycherley, they met accordingly; when, lo! the door of the chamber being left accidentally open, two ladies of a certain character crossed in company with a creature of his own, and the volatile Duke leapt up, followed, and, in the disgraceful pursuit, entirely forgot the poet. Clarendon was constantly flattering him with the hope of places and employments of value, but it was never fulfilled. It is said, indeed, that the king once ordered him a present of 300 guineas (some say 3000), but there is no proper foundation for the story. He published the second part of Hudibras in 1664, and the third part fourteen years later, in 1678, and this still leaves the work unfinished. His manner of life, his circumstances, and habitudes during these years, are almost wholly unknown. We know nothing, except that he had left the country, and was resident entirely in London; that he had become very poor; that bitterness was beginning to gather on his spirit ; and that, while his book was increasing the gaiety of the three kingdoms, he was himself struggling with mean miseries which were never even to receive the poor compensation of being particularly recorded for the instruction and the indignation of posterity. Had a fourth part of Hudibras been written, its satire, its increased severity, and concentrated spirit of gall, would have testified to the souring process through which his mind had passed. It was possible, even, that he would have loosened his satirical vengeance upon the rotten-hearted faction which had so neglected their Laureate, and proclaimed their levity to be heartlessness, their ridicule to be itself ridiculous, their laughter to be folly, and their loyalty a farce. But the opportunity was not afforded him. Two years after the appearance of the third part, its neglected author breathed his last; of what disease we know not, as accounts vary; probably of a complication of minor maladies, ranging around the central complaint-a broken heart. It was on the 25th of September 1680, when he had reached the age of sixty-eight. He died in Rose Street, a mean street in Covent Garden, where he had
resided for several years. He died poor; but, like Burns, with no debt. His friend, a Mr Longueville of the Temple, who proved the truth of the proverb, "There is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother," and whose name shall long be cherished for the sake of his disinterested attachment to Butler, solicited for him a public funeral in Westminster Abbey. It was refused, as afterwards in Byron's case, but for a different reason. Byron's dust was rejected on account of his profanity-Butler's, on account of his poverty. Could any good thing come out of Rose Street? Could a man who had left scarcely enough money to buy a shroud, be permitted to lie down with the kings and the nobles of the land-aye, even in Poet's corner? He found a grave, however, in the churchyard of St Paul, Covent Garden. A very few persons followed him to his last resting-place, and made a procession, the shivering smallness of which might almost have provoked a shout of laughter from within the coffin of the great comic writer they were committing to the dust. His grave he had desired to be deep, as if wishing a quantum sufficit of earth, since no other landed property was, or ever had been his; and there, six feet deep, at the west end of the churchyard, Dr Patrick, afterwards Bishop of Ely, reading the funeral service, Butler was buried. It was forty years afterwards ere Mr Barber, Mayor of London, erected the monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey, and carved an inscription which proves that he was actuated to the deed as much by admiration of Butler's principles as of his poetry. The parishioners of the Church of St Paul, too, testified their respect for his memory, by erecting him a monument on the south side of that church in 1786.
He is reported to have been in private, a worthy, honest, and modest man. Like Addison, it required the key of the grape to unlock the treasures of his wit and wisdom; although he never, like Addison, became intoxicated. One who dined with him at a tavern, found him during the first bottle, very flat and heavy; during the second, extremely lively, witty, and altogether delightful; and after the third, although not drunk, so heavy and stupid, that it