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2085.—[Samuel] Butler’s House, Pershore, in Strensham, Worcestershire, England more
The picture shows the house where Samuel Butler (1613 – 1680), the English poet, was born. It is a farmhouse like many others from the period in England, with a thatched roof and brick chimneys. it has an unevenness that adds a quality of romantic age very suitable for the house of a young poet.
Our engraving of Butler’s house (Fig. 2085), or, as the country people call it, Butler’s Cot, exhibits the building in which the poet was born. It is a very humble-looking place, situated in the village of Strensham, near Pershore. It appears from Mr. Thorne’s ‘Rambles by Rivers—the Avon.’ that a tradition yet floats about the neighbourhood, that the bear-baiting scenes of Hudibras were derived from Butler’s own personal history; that it was he who was first put in the stocks—then released, and the “Knight” of the village put in his room; and that, in consequence, the poet was obliged to leave Strensham in a somewhat hasty manner. Possibly here, as elsewhere, it is the poem that has given birth to the tradition, and not the tradition that originated the poem. (p. 222)
The book also describes Samuel Butler’s most famous poem, Hudibras. It should be noted that the writer of this book itself, Charles Knight, who complains about Butler’s bias, was clearly biased himsef in his assessment of Hudibras!
If the wittiest writer in the English—perhaps, indeed, in any— language had but been also an unprejudiced observer of the men and things he described, ‘Hudibras’ would to this hour have stood unrivalled since the days of Chaucer, as a glowing, life-like view of the state of English society, and as a piece of most wholesome satire of all that was absurd, or vicious, or criminal in it. Unhappily Butler’s partiality is as notorious as his wit; and it is indispensable that we get rid of the faintest notion of any real likeness between the “Presbyterians” and “Independents” of his verse, and the men who overthrew Charles and Laud, before we can properly estimate and enjoy the amazing amount of literary wealth that has been expended upon the work in question. True courage and dignity, for instance, are among the last qualities the writer of ‘Hudibras’ would appear to be willing to ascribe to the “rebels,” yet if he forgets that they overthrew his strong and gallant party, with a king at their head, we cannot; neither is it easy to find aught calculated to arouse contempt (whatever deeper emotions may be called into existence) when we read of the conduct of the Puritans in their prosperity during the trial of Charles, or in their adversity, when they sealed with their blood, at the Restoration, the cause they thought so just and holy. But perhaps the most striking of all evidences of Butler’s unfitness to judge of those to whom he was politically opposed, is his mention of a contemporary writer, Withers, one of the truest poets that ever adorened a country, but who being a Puritan must also be a fool—in ‘Hudibras.’ Butler, appealing to the Muse, says—
Thou that with ale, or vile liquors,
Didst inspre Withers, Prynne, and Vickers,
And force them, though it was in spite
Of Nature, and their stars, to write:—&c.
The fact appears to be that Butler did not draw the materials for his great satire from any one party or sect alone, but that he did endeavour to fasten the odium and ridicule excited by his exposure solely upon those particular bodies to whom he had been politically opposed. The consequences are just what Butler ought to have expected,—we reject his cherished and extravagant bigotries, and admire him less, to say the least of it, for having imposed upon us such a task. But when all is done, we find ourselves in possession of a work that must ever be looked upon with interest, and admi- ration, and wonder, for the broad and unctuous humour, the brilliant and sparkling wit, and the depth and universality of satirical observation that overflows in every page. There are few better evidences of literary greatness than may be found in the frequency with which an author’s phrases and sentences, or peculiar thoughts, are perceived to be mingling in the common business and conversations of life. Now we are all constantly quoting Butler, from the statesman—who, when he propounds a new measure, reminds us that
Doubtless the pleasure is as great
Of being cheated, as to cheat—
down to to the cynical humourist of the fireside, who tells his good dame
There are no bargains driven
Nor marriages clapp’d up in heaven,
And that’s the reason, as some guess,
There is no heaven in marriages.