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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Hudibras Described

By Samuel Butler (1612–1680)

WHEN civil fury first grew high,

And men fell out, they knew not why;

When hard words, jealousies, and fears

Set folks together by the ears,

And made them fight, like mad or drunk,

For dame Religion as for Punk,

Whose honesty they all durst swear for,

Tho’ not a man of them knew wherefore;

When Gospel-Trumpeter, surrounded

With long-ear’d rout, to battle sounded,

And pulpit, drum ecclesiastick,

Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;

Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,

And out he rode a-colonelling.

A Wight he was, whose very sight would

Entitle him Mirror of Knighthood,

That never bent his stubborn knee

To anything but chivalry;

Nor put up blow, but that which laid

Right worshipful on shoulder-blade;

Chief of domestic knights, and errant,

Either for chartel or for warrant;

Great on the bench, great in the saddle,

That could as well bind o’er, as swaddle:

Mighty he was at both of these,

And styl’d of War as well as Peace.

So some rats of amphibious nature

Are either for the land or water.

But here our authors make a doubt,

Whether he were more wise, or stout.

Some hold the one, and some the other;

But howsoe’er they make a pother,

The diff’rence was so small, his brain

Outweigh’d his rage but half a grain;

Which made some take him for a tool

That knaves do work with, call’d a Fool;

And offer’d to lay wagers that

As Montaigne, playing with his cat,

Complains she thought him but an ass,

Much more she wou’d Sir Hudibras:

For that’s the name our valiant knight

To all his challenges did write.

But they’re mistaken very much;

’Tis plain enough he was no such:

We grant, although he had much wit,

H’ was very shy of using it,

As being loth to wear it out;

And therefore bore it not about,

Unless on holy-days, or so,

As men their best apparel do.

He was in Logic a great critic,

Profoundly skill’d in Analytic;

He could distinguish and divide

A hair ’twixt south and south-west side;

On either side he would dispute,

Confute, change hands, and still confute;

He’d undertake to prove by force

Of argument, a man’s no horse;

He’d prove a buzzard is no fowl,

And that a Lord may be an owl;

A calf an Alderman, a goose a Justice,

And rooks Committee-Men or Trustees.

He’d run in debt by disputation,

And pay with ratiocination,

All this by syllogism true,

In mood and figure, he would do.

For Rhetoric, he could not ope

His mouth, but out there flew a trope:

And when he happen’d to break off

I’ th’ middle of his speech, or cough,

H’ had hard words, ready to shew why

And tell what rules he did it by.

Else, when with greatest art he spoke,

You’d think he talk’d like other folk.

For all a Rhetorician’s rules

Teach nothing but to name his tools.

His ordinary rate of speech

In loftiness of sound was rich;

A Babylonish dialect,

Which learned pedants much affect;

It was a parti-color’d dress

Of patch’d and piebald languages:

’Twas English cut on Greek and Latin,

Like fustian heretofore on satin.

It had an odd promiscuous tone,

As if h’ had talk’d three parts in one;

Which made some think, when he did gabble,

Th’ had heard three laborers of Babel,

Or Cerberus himself pronounce

A leash of languages at once.

This he as volubly would vent

As if his stock would ne’er be spent:

And truly, to support that charge,

He had supplies as vast and large,

For he could coin or counterfeit

New words with little or no wit:

Words so debas’d and hard, no stone

Was hard enough to touch them on;

And when with hasty noise he spoke ’em,

The ignorant for current took ’em—

That had the orator who once

Did fill his mouth with pebble-stones

When he harangu’d, but known his phrase,

He would have us’d no other ways.

In Mathematics he was greater

Than Tycho Brahe, or Erra Pater:

For he, by geometric scale,

Could take the size of pots of ale;

Resolve, by sines and tangents straight,

If bread or butter wanted weight;

And wisely tell what hour o’ th’ day

The clock does strike, by Algebra.


Beside, he was a shrewd Philosopher,

And had read every text and gloss over:

Whate’er the crabbed’st author hath,

He understood b’ implicit faith:

Whatever Skeptic could inquire for;

For every WHY he had a WHEREFORE:

Knew more than forty of them do,

As far as words and terms could go.

All which he understood by rote,

And, as occasion serv’d, would quote;

No matter whether right or wrong,

They might be either said or sung.

His notions fitted things so well,

That which was which he could not tell,

But oftentimes mistook the one

For th’ other, as great clerks have done.

He could reduce all things to acts,

And knew their natures by abstracts;

Where entity and quiddity,

The ghost of defunct bodies, fly;

Where Truth in person does appear,

Like words congealed in northern air.

He knew what’s what, and that’s as high

As metaphysic wit can fly.


For his religion, it was fit

To match his learning and his wit:

’Twas Presbyterian, true blue;

For he was of that stubborn crew

Of errant saints, whom all men grant

To be the true church militant:

Such as do build their faith upon

The holy text of pike and gun;

Decide all controversy by

Infallible artillery;

And prove their doctrine orthodox

By apostolic blows and knocks;

Call fire and sword and desolation

A godly-thorough-Reformation,

Which always must be carry’d on,

And still be doing, never done,

As if Religion were intended

For nothing else but to be mended.

A sect whose chief devotion lies

In odd perverse antipathies:

In falling out with that or this,

And finding somewhat still amiss:

More peevish, cross, and splenetic,

Than dog distract, or monkey sick.

That with more care keep holy-day

The wrong, than others the right way:

Compound for sins they are inclin’d to,

By damning those they have no mind to:

Still so perverse and opposite,

As if they worship’d God for spite.

The self-same thing they will abhor

One way, and long another for.

Free-will they one way disavow,

Another, nothing else allow.

All piety consists therein

In them, in other men all sin.

Rather than fail, they will defy

That which they love most tenderly:

Quarrel with minc’d pies, and disparage

Their best and dearest friend—plum-porridge;

Fat pig and goose itself oppose,

And blaspheme custard through the nose.


His puissant sword unto his side,

Near his undaunted heart, was ty’d,

With basket-hilt, that would hold broth,

And serve for fight and dinner both.

In it he melted lead for bullets,

To shoot at foes, and sometimes pullets;

To whom he bore so fell a grutch,

He ne’er gave quarter t’any such.

The trenchant blade, Toledo trusty,

For want of fighting was grown rusty,

And ate into itself, for lack

Of somebody to hew and hack.

The peaceful scabbard where it dwelt

The rancor of its edge had felt….

This sword a dagger had, his page,

That was but little for his age:

And therefore waited on him so,

As dwarfs upon knights-errant do.

It was a serviceable dudgeon,

Either for fighting or for drudging:

When it had stabb’d, or broke a head,

It would scrape trenchers or chip bread,

Toast cheese or bacon, though it were

To bait a mouse-trap, ’twould not care:

’Twould make clean shoes, and in the earth

Set leeks and onions, and so forth:

It had been ’prentice to a brewer,

Where this, and more, it did endure;

But left the trade, as many more

Have lately done, on the same score.