1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Butler

Edward Mangin, in A View of the Pleasures arising from Books: in Letters to a Lady (1814) 195-97.



The works of the author of Hudibras leave on the reader's mind, impressions very different from those referred to in my last. In every point of view, Butler may be styled the literary contrast of Milton. The story of his celebrated poem, is now at least, uninteresting; and must always have been coarse, foul, and indecent: in its severity there is no solemnity; the ridicule with which it abounds is tasteless at the present day; and to the cavalier reader of Charles's time, however full of party zeal, it must have appeared in one grand respect, exceedingly misplaced; because (as Johnson has observed) though the Round-heads might have been inexpert in the use of the scholar's weapons, they were very formidable with their swords, and handled them with deadly adroitness.

The poem is also over-run with learning; of which Butler displays an astonishing share; but it is, in general, too much for his reader, far-fetched and abstruse; and most wastefully expended on obscure and sordid subjects. In the admiration expressed for Hudibras by cotemporaries there might have been some sincerity, as there certainly was a great deal of court adulation: what the monarch relished and quoted was sure of popularity; but at present, it is little else than affectation in those who speak of it with applause. Few ever have read it a second time; and no one ever rose from the perusal with the same consciousness of delight, or the same veneration for the poet's character that he has experienced from reading the productions of Milton's pen.