« PreviousContinue »
TO THE READER.
POETA nafcitur, non fit, is a sentence of as great truth as antiquity; it being most certain that all the acquired learning imaginable is infufficient to complete a poet, without a natural genius and propenfity to fo noble and fublime an art. And we may, without offence, obferve, that many very learned men, who have been ambitious to be thought poets, have only rendered themselves obnoxious to that satirical inspiration our Author wittily invokes ;
Which made them, tho' it were in spite
Of Nature, and their stars, to write.
On the other fide, fome who have had very little human learning, but were endued with a large share of natural wit and parts, have become the most celebrated poets of the age they lived in. But as these last are rare aves in terris, fo when the Mufes have not difdained the affiftances of other arts and fciences, we are then bleffed with those lasting 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 said,
Exegi monumentum ære perennius;
or, with Ovid,
Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira nec ignis,
Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax aboire vetufias.
The Author of this celebrated Poem was of this laft compofition; for although he had not the happi
nefs of an academical education, as fome affirm, it may be perceived, throughout his whole Poem, that he had read much, and was very well accomplished in the most useful parts of human learning.
Rapin, in his Reflections, fpeaking of the neceffary qualities belonging to a poet, tells us, He must have a genius extraordinary; great natural gifts; a wit just, fruitful, piercing, folid, and univerfal; an underftanding clear and distinct; an imagination neat and pleasant; an elevation of foul that depends not only on art or ftudy, but is purely a gift of Heaven, which must be sustained by a lively sense, and vivacity; judgwent to confider wifely of things, and vivacity for the beautiful expreffion of them, &c.
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 panegyrick upon it-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 thofe who had the happinefs to be acquainted with him, and alfo to rectify the miftakes of the Oxford Antiquary, in his Athena Oxonienfes, concerning him.
LIFE OF SAMUEL BUTLER.
Of the great author of Hudibras there is a Life prefixed to the latter editions of his poem, by an unknown writer, and therefore of difputable authority; and fome account is incidentally given by Wood, who confeffes 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 Worcestershire, according to his biographer, 1612. This ace count Dr. Nash finds confirmed by the regifter. He was chriftened Feb. 14.
His father's condition is variously reprefented. Wood mentions him as competently wealthy; but Mr. Longueville, the fon of Butler's principal friend, fays he was an honeft farmer with fome small eftate, who made a fhift to educate his fon at the grammar school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright*, from whofe care he removed for a fhort 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 past fix or seven years at Cambridge, without knowing in what hall or college: yet it can hardly be imagined that he lived fo long in either university, but as belonging to one house or another; and it
*These are the words of the author of the fhort 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 paffage, wherein the author laments that he had neither such an acquaintance nor intereft with Mr. Longueville, as to procure from him the golden Remains of Butler there mentioned. He was probably led into this miftake by a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, fignifying, 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. cquainted with him, to this effect, viz. that he was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the Inner Temple, and had railed himself from a low beginning to very great eminence in that profeffion; that e was cloquent, 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, muft literally have ftarved, and received from him as a recompence the papers called his Remains. Life of the Lord-keeper Guildford, p. 289. These have fince been given to the public by Mr. Thyer of Manchefter; and the criginals are now in the hands of the Rev. Dr. Farmer, màfter ef Emanuel College, Cambridge.
is ftill lefs likely that he could have so long inhabited a place of learning with fo little diftinction as to leave his refidence uncertain. Dr. Nafh has difcovered that his father was owner of a house and a little land, worth about eight pounds a year, ftill called Butler's tenement.
Wood has his information from his brother, whose narrative placed him at Cambridge, in oppofition to that of his neighbours, which fent him to Oxford. The brother's feems the best authority, till, by confeffing his inability to tell his hall or college, he gives reafon to fufpect that he was refolved to bestow on him an academical education; but durft not name a college, for fear of detection.
He was for fome time, according to the author of his Life, clerk to Mr. Jefferys of Earl's Croomb in Worcestershire, an eminent juftice of the peace. In his fervice he had not only leifure for study, but for recreation: his amusements were mufick and painting; and the reward of his pencil was the friendship of the celebrated Cooper. Some pictures, faid to be his, were fhewn to Dr. Nafh, at Earl's Croomb; but when he enquired for them fome years afterwards, he found them deftroyed, to ftop windows, and owns that they hardly deferved a better fate.
He was afterwards admitted into the family of the Countess of Kent, where he had the ufe of a library; and fo much recommended himself to Selden, that he was often employed by him in literary bufinefs. Selden, as is well known, was fteward to the Countefs, and is fuppofed to have gained much of his wealth by managing her estate.
In what character Butler was admitted into that Lady's fervice, how long he continued in it, and why he left it, is, like the other incidents of his life, utterly unknown.
The viciffitudes of his condition placed him afterwards in the family of Sir Samuel Luke, one of Cromwell's officers. Here he obferved fo much of the character of the fectaries, that he is faid 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 he faw the principles and practices of the rebels, audacious and undifguifed in the confidence of fuccefs.
At length the King returned, and the time came in which loyalty hoped for its reward. Butler, however, was only made fecretary to the Earl of Carbury, prefident of the principality of Wales; who conferred on him the stewardship