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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Samuel Butler (1612–1680)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
A PRETTY picture of the time is the glimpse of young Mr. Pepys at the bookseller’s in London Strand on a February morning in 1663, making haste to buy a new copy of ‘Hudibras,’ and carefully explaining that it was “ill humor of him to be so against that which all the world cries up to be an example of wit.” The Clerk of the Admiralty had connections at court; and between that February morning and a December day when Mr. Battersby was at the Wardrobe using the King’s time in gossip about the new book of drollery, the merry Stuart had found out Sam Butler’s poem and had given it the help of his royal approval. Erstwhile, Samuel the courtier had thought the work of Samuel the poet silly, and had given warranty of his opinion by suffering loss of one shilling eightpence on his purchase of the book. A view not to be wondered at in one who sets down “Midsummer Night’s Dream” as “insipid and ridiculous,” and “Othello” as a “mean thing”! Perhaps it was because Butler had a keen knowledge of Shakespeare, and unconsciously used much of the actor’s quick-witted method, that his delicately feathered barbs made no dent on the hard head of Pepys. Like his neighbor of the Avon, the author of “Hudibras” was a merciless scourge to the vainglorious follies of the time in which he poorly and obscurely lived; and like the truths which he told in his inimitable satires, the virtue and decency of his life was obscured by the disorder of the Commonwealth and the unfaith of the restored monarchy.  1
  Samuel Butler was born near Strensham, Worcestershire, in 1612, the fifth child and second son of a farmer of that parish, whose homestead was known to within the present century as “Butler’s tenement.” The elder Butler was not well-to-do, but had enough to educate his son at the Worcester Grammar School, and to send him to a university. Whether or what time he was at Oxford or Cambridge remains doubtful. A Samuel Butler went up from Westminster to Christ Church, Oxford, 1623, too soon for the Worcester lad of eleven years. Another doubtful tradition places him at Cambridge in 1620. There is evidence that he was employed as a clerk by Mr. Jeffreys, a justice of the peace at Earl’s Croombe in Worcestershire, and that while in this position he studied painting under Samuel Cooper. A portrait of Oliver Cromwell attributed to his hand was once in existence, and a number of paintings, said to have been by him, hung on the walls at Earl’s Croombe until they were used to patch broken windows there in the eighteenth century. Butler went into the service of Elizabeth, Countess of Kent, at Wrest in Bedfordshire, where he had the use of a good library and the friendship of John Selden, then steward of the Countess’s estate. It was there and in association with Selden that he began his literary work. Some time afterward he held a servitor’s position in the family of an officer of Cromwell’s army, Sir Samuel Luke, of Woodend, Bedfordshire. A manuscript note in an old edition of ‘Hudibras,’ 1710, “from the books of Phil. Lomax by gift of his father, G. Lomax,” confirms the tradition that this Cromwellian colonel was the original of Hudibras. The elder Lomax is said to have been an intimate friend of Butler. Another name on the list of candidates for this humorous honor—the honor of contributing with Don Quixote to the increase of language—is that of Sir Henry Rosewell of Ford Abbey, Devonshire. But it is unnecessary to limit to an individual sample the satirist and poet of the whole breadth of human nature. A presumption that Butler was in France and Holland for a time arises from certain references in his writings. It was about 1659, when the decline of the Cromwells became assured, that Butler ventured, but anonymously, into print with a tract warmly advocating the recall of the King. At the Restoration, and probably in reward for this evidence of loyalty, he was made secretary to the Earl of Carbury, President of Wales, by whom he was appointed steward of Ludlow Castle. About this time he married a gentlewoman of small fortune, and is said to have lived comfortably upon her money until it was lost by bad investments. The King having come to his own again, Butler obtained permission in November 1662 to print the first part of ‘Hudibras.’ The quaint title of this poem has attracted much curious cavil. The name is used by Milton, Spenser, and Robert of Gloucester for an early king of Britain, the grandfather of King Lear; and by Ben Jonson—from whom Butler evidently adopted it—for a swaggering fellow in the ‘Magnetic Lady’:—
  “Rut—Where is your captain
        Rudhudibrass de Ironside?”
Act iii., Scene 3.
Charles II. was so delighted with the satire that he not only read and reread it, but gave many copies to his intimates. The royal generosity, lavish in promises, never exerted itself further than to give Butler—or Boteler, as he is writ in the warrant—a monopoly of printing his own poem.
  2
  The second part of ‘Hudibras’ appeared in 1664, and the third and last in 1678.  3
  The Duke of Buckingham was, we are told by Aubrey, well disposed towards Butler, and Wycherley was a constant suitor in his behalf; but the fickle favorite forgot his promises as easily as did the King. Lord Clarendon, who had the witty poet’s portrait painted for his library, was no better at promise-keeping. It is natural that such neglect should have provoked the sharp but just satires which Butler wrote against the manners of Charles’s dissolute court.  4
  ‘Hudibras’ was never finished; for Butler, who had been confined by his infirmities to his room in Rose Court, Covent Garden, since 1676, died on September 25th, 1680. William Longueville, a devoted friend but for whose kindness the poet might have starved, buried the remains at his own expense in the churchyard of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. In 1721 John Barber, Lord Mayor of London, set up in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey an inscription to Butler’s memory, which caused later satirists to suggest that this was giving a stone to him who had asked for bread.  5
  Butler was a plain man of middle stature, strong-set, high-colored, with a head of sorrel hair. He possessed a severe and sound judgment, but was “a good fellow,” according to his friend Aubrey.  6
  Many of Butler’s writings were not published in his lifetime, during which only the three parts of ‘Hudibras’ and some trifles appeared. Longueville, who received his papers, left them, unpublished, to his son Charles; from whom they came to John Clarke of Cheshire, by whose permission the ‘Genuine Remains’ in two volumes were published in 1759. The title of this book is due to the fact that poor Butler, as is usual with his kind, became very popular immediately after his death, and the ghouls of literature supplied the book-shops with forgeries. Butler’s manuscripts, many of which have never been published, were placed in the British Museum in 1885.  7
 
 
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