The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 7. Imitations of his Prose and Verse: The Posthumous Works
The popularity of Hudibras caused the growth of a fungus crop of spurious imitations of Butler’s prose and poetry, which were published under the title The Posthumous Works of Mr. Samuel Butler, Author of Hudibras, being a collection of Satires, Speeches and Reflections of those times. Four or five of these productions were published afterwards in The Genuine Remains; but, for the most part, the collection consists of ballads, long poems and essays on various subjects relating to the times of the rebellion. A cursory examination will show them to be of distinctly inferior merit; and they are of little service in illustrating the great satire. This worthless publication reached a sixth edition in 1754; and it may have been this circumstance that induced John Clark, to whom The Genuine Remains came from Charles Longueville, the son of Butler’s friend William Longueville, to entrust them for publication to Robert Thyer, keeper of the public library at Manchester, in November, 1759. The pieces making up the collection had been written out fair in Butler’s own handwriting when left to William Longueville, but had probably been composed in the rough some years earlier, many of them before Hudibras, seeing that they have some of the same matter in common. They consist of a volume of prose containing Characters and a few speeches, put in the mouths of certain politicians on stated occasions, with letters pro and con, similarly conceived; to these are added some Occasional thoughts. The second volume is mainly in verse, beginning with The Elephant in the Moon, directed against Sir Paul Neale, a member of the Royal Society. The elephant in the moon turns out to be a fly in the telescope which had been directed to the moon for observations. Curiously enough, this subject is treated metrically twice over—in octosyllabic verse, Butler’s special metre, and then in the rimed decasyllables aptly employed by Dryden and Pope. It seems as though Butler had experimented to find the most suitable vehicle for his satire. This poem is followed by nine satires, one or two of which are written in the longer metre.
The subjects of these are the absurdity of human actions and speculations; the licentious times of Charles II (long verse); gaming; the troubles of verse and rime; the foolish changes of fashion; the abuse of wine; promiscuous marriages (long verse); plagiaries; the abuse of human learning. The style and method of these satires are naturally suggestive of the influence of the Roman satirists, which may often be traced in Hudibras. Inserted among these are other satirical poems, mainly on political subjects, the most notable being “on Philip Nye’s Thanksgiving Beard.” (Nye was an independent and a member of the assembly of divines, who had made himself notorious by a peculiar beard.) The collection concludes with a large number of Miscellaneous Thoughts in epigrammatic form, many of them containing bitter reflections on the poet’s ill fortune in life and the undeserved success achieved by impudent self-assertion; some are on the faults of government and the rules of the state—a medley of melancholy pessimistic thoughts.