Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
Dialogue with an Infernal Elf
By Samuel Butler (1612–1680)
From “Hudibras”

QUOTH he, “I am resolved to be
Thy scholar in this mystery,
And therefore first desire to know
Some principles on which you go.
What makes a knave a child of God,        5
And one of us?” “A livelihood.”
“What renders beating out of brains,
And murder, godliness?” “Great gains.”
“What’s tender conscience?” “’Tis a botch
That will not bear the gentlest touch;        10
But, breaking out, despatches more
Than th’ epidemical’st plague-sore.”
“What makes y’ incroach upon our trade,
And damn all others?” “To be paid.”
“What’s orthodox and true believing        15
Against a conscience?” “A good living.”
“What makes rebelling against kings
A good old cause?” “Administ’rings.”
“What makes all doctrines plain and clear?”
“About two hundred pounds a-year.”        20
“And that which was proved true before,
Prove false again?” “Two hundred more.”
“What makes the breaking of all oaths
A holy duty?” “Food and clothes.”
“What laws and freedom, persecution?”        25
“Being out of power, and contribution.”
“What makes a church a den of thieves?”
“A dean and chapter, and white sleeves.”
“And what would serve, if those were gone,
To make it orthodox?” “Our own.”        30
“What makes morality a crime,
The most notorious of the time—
Morality, which both the saints
And wicked too cry out against?”
“’Cause grace and virtue are within        35
Prohibited degrees of kin;
And therefore no true saint allows
They shall be suffered to espouse;
For saints can need no conscience,
That with morality dispense;        40
As virtue’s impious, when ’tis rooted
In nature only, and not imputed;
But why the wicked should do so,
We neither know, nor care to do.”
“What’s liberty of conscience,        45
I’ th’ natural and genuine sense?”
“’Tis to restore, with more security,
Rebellion to its ancient purity,
And Christian liberty reduce
To th’ elder practice of the Jews;        50
For a large conscience is all one,
And signifies the same with none.”
“It is enough,” quoth he, “for once,
And has reprieved thy forfeit bones:
Nick Machiavel had ne’er a trick,        55
Though he gave’s name to our Old Nick,
But was below the least of these,
That pass i’ th’ world for holiness.”

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