The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 13. The Methods in the Composition of the Work
It may be well here, in retrospect, to examine Butler’s methods in the composition of his poem. The date of publication, three years after the restoration, is sufficient to suggest that it must have found an appreciative audience, at a time when the events to which it referred were fresh in men’s minds, and when, as we know, a violent reaction against puritanism had set in. The learning and scientific knowledge displayed, the turns of wit, racy metaphors and quaint rimes have secured its continuance as an English classic; but, much of the legal knowledge having become obsolete, or being too technical for ordinary readers, and many of the minor historical allusions being forgotten, a continuous perusal of the book requires unusual perseverance. Moreover, the length of some of the descriptions of persons or events is trying to the patience, although the illustrations or parallels in themselves are pertinent and acute. The sparkling wit and humour displayed enlightens and relieves the discussions which make up much of the book. Humorous as are the arguments, the witty and whimsical comparisons serve as flashlights to bring into relief what might otherwise become dull by reason of its length.
Thus, the peculiarities of religious tenets are illustrated by the presbyterians, who
The sects are ever squabbling for change of doctrine,
The philosophical virtuoso, Sir Kenelm Digby, is gibed at in the description of the pouch worn by Orsin, the pugnacious bear-ward,
Homeric and classical similes and allusions are frequent in the first two parts. We have the intervention of “Pallas,” who came in shape of Rust,” to prevent a pistol going off, and “Mars, who still protects the stout”; a stone that strikes Ralpho is compared to that hurled by Diomed. Hudibras, in assisting Ralpho to his feet, boasts that
Perhaps the comparisons from common life are more amusing; for instance, the celebrated simile: