1670 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Benlowes

Samuel Butler, in A Small Poet, 1670 ca.; Genuine Remains (1759) 2:115-20.



When he writes he never proposes any Scope or Purpose to himself, but gives his Genius all Freedom: For as he, that rides abroad for his Pleasure, can hardly be out of his Way; so he that writes for his Pleasure, can seldom be beside his Subject. It is an ungrateful Thing to a noble Wit to be confined to any Thing — To what Purpose did the Antients feign Pegasus to have Wings, if he must be confined to the Road and Stages like a Pack-Horse, or be forced to be obedient to Hedges and Ditches? Therefore he has no Respect to Decorum and Propriety of Circumstance; for the Regard of Persons, Times, and Places is a Restraint too servile to be imposed upon poetical Licence; like him that made Plato confess Juvenal to be a Philosopher, or Persius, that calls the Athenians Quirites.

For Metaphors, he uses to chuse the hardest, and most far-fet that he can light upon — These are the jewels of Eloquence, and therefore the harder they are, the more precious they must be.

He'll take a scant Piece of coarse Sense, and stretch it on the Tenterhooks of half a score Rhimes, until it crack that you may see through it, and it rattle like a Drum-Head. When you see his Verses hanged up in Tobacco-Shops, you may say, in defiance of the Proverb, "that the weakest does not always go to the Wall;" for 'tis well known the Lines are strong enough, and in that Sense may justly take the Wall of any, that have been written in our Language. He seldom makes a Conscience of his Rhimes; but will often take the Liberty to make "preach" rhime with "Cheat," "Vote" with "Rogue," and "Committee-Man" with "Hang."

He'll make one Word of as many Joints, as the Tin-Pudding, that a Jugler pulls out of his Throat, and chops in again — What think you of "glud-fum-flam-hasta-minantes"? Some of the old Latin poets bragged, that their Verses were tougher than Brass, and harder than Marble; what would they have done, if they had seen these? Verily they would have had more reason to wish themselves an hundred Throats, than they then had, to pronounce them.

There are some, that drive a Trade in writing in praise of other Writers, (like Rooks, that bet on Gamesters Hands) not at all to celebrate the learned Author's Merits, as they would shew, but their own Wits, of which he is but the Subject. The Letchery of this Vanity has spawned more Writers than the civil Law: For those, whose Modesty must not endure to hear their own praises spoken, may yet publish of themselves the most notorious Vapours imaginable. For if the Privilege of Love be allowed — "Dicere quae puduit, scribere jussit Amor," why should it not be so in Self-Love too? For if it be Wisdom to conceal our Imperfections, what is it to discover our Virtues? It is not like, that Nature gave Men great Parts upon such Terms, as the Fairies use to give Money, to pinch and leave them if they speak of it. They say — Praise is but the Shadow of Virtue; and sure that Virtue is very foolish, that is afraid of its own Shadow.

When he writes Anagrams, he uses to lay the Outsides of his Verses even (like a Bricklayer) by a Line of Rhime and Acrostic, and fill the Middle with Rubbish — In this he imitates Ben. Johnson, but in nothing else.

There was one, that lined a Hat-Case with a Paper of Benlowse's poetry — Prynne bought it by Chance, and put a new Demi-Castor into it. The first Time he wore it he felt only a singing in his Head, which within two Days turned to a Vertigo — He was let Blood in the Ear by one of the State-Physicians, and recovered; but before he went abroad he writ a Poem of Rocks and Seas, in a Stile so proper and natural, that it was hard to determine, which was ruggeder.

There is no Feat of Activity, nor Gambol of Wit, that ever was performed by Man, from him that vaults on Pegasus, to him that tumbles through the Hoop of an Anagram, but Benlows has got the Mastery in it, whether it be high-rope Wit, or low-rope Wit. He has all Sorts of Echoes, Rebus's, Chronograms, &c. besides Carwitchets, Clenches, and Quibbles — As for Altars and Pyramids in Poetry, he has out-done all Men that Way; for he has made a Gridiron, and a Frying-Pan in Verse, that, beside the Likeness in Shape, the very Tone and Sound of the Words did perfectly represent the Noise, that is made by those Utensils, such as the old Poet called "sartago loquendi." When he was a Captain, he made all the Furniture of his Horse, from the Bit to the Crupper, in beaten Poetry, every Verse being fitted to the Proportion of the Thing, with a moral Allusion of the Sense to the Thing; as the Bridle of Moderation, the Saddle of Content, and the Crupper of Constancy; so that the same Thing was both Epigram and Emblem, even as a Mule is both Horse and Ass....