1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Butler

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 19-21.



Author of the Inimitable Hudibras, was born at Strensham in Worcestershire, in the Year 1612. His Father was a Farmer, who had some small Estate of his own, but Rented a much greater of the Lord of the Manor. He Educated his Son at the Free School of Worcester, where he became an excellent Scholar, and afterwards was some little time at the University of Cambridge; but was never Matriculated into that University, his Father's Abilities not being sufficient to bear the charge of an Academical Education; so that our Author returned soon into his Native Country, and became Clerk to one Mr. Jeffreys of Earl's-Croom, an Eminent Justice of the Peace for that Country, with whom he lived some Years in an easy and no contemptible Service. He was after this, Recommended to that great Encourager of Learning, Elizabeth Countess of Kent, where he had not only the opportunity of Consulting the most valuable Books, but Conversing with the great Mr. Selden. But his Loyal Poem, he Composed in the Service of Sir Samuel Luke, of Bedfordshire, a Commander under Oliver Cromwell, where he had an opportunity of knowing those Living Characters of Rebellion, Nonsense and Hypocrisy, which he so lively and pathetically exposes throughout the whole Work. Upon the Restauration of King Charles the Second, tho' his Poem did the greatest Service to the Royal Cause, and Intitled him to the best Preferment, yet he was neglected, and the more so on the Account of his great Modesty: but at length Richard Earl of Carbury, Lord President of the Principality of Wales, made him his Secretary, and also Steward of Ludlow Castle. About this time he Married one Mrs. Herbert, a Gentlewoman of a very good Family, who had a plentiful Fortune, but being put out on ill Securities, most of it was unfortunately lost. He is reported to have been Secretary to the Duke of Buckingham, when he was Chancellor of Cambridge, but whether that be true or no, 'tis certain the Duke had a great kindness for him, and was often a Benefactor. But no Man was a more Generous Friend to him than that Maecenas, the late Earl of Dorset. In fine, the Integrity of his Life, the Acuteness of his Wit, and easiness of his Conversation, had rendered him most acceptable to all Men; yet he prudently avoided Multiplicity of Acquaintance, and wisely chose such only, whom his discerning Judgment could distinguish, (as Mr. Cowley excellently espresseth it) "From the Great Vulgar or the Small."

And having thus lived to a good Old Age, admired by all, tho' Personally known to few, he departed this Life, in the Year 1680. And was Buried at the Charge of his good Friend Mr. Longville, at the West End of the Church-Yard of St. Paul's Covent-Garden, where he lies without any Memorial, and it is a National Scandal upon us that (as Sir Samuel Garth has remarked upon another occasion) "There now wants a poor Square Foot of Stone, to show where the Ashes of one of the greatest Poets that ever was upon Earth, was deposited."

For as Mr. Dennis has judiciously observed, "Mr. Butler was a whole Species of Poets in One, admirable in a Manner which began and ended in him; in which he knew no Guide, and has found no Followers."

In Justice to the Publick, it is thought proper in this Place to declare, that all the Manuscripts Mr. Butler left behind him are now in the Custody of Mr. Longville, (among which, the most Considerable, is one intitled, The History of Learning Written after the Manner of Hudibras) and that not one Line of those Poems lately published under his Name is Genuine.