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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Samuel Butler (1612–1680)

Dialogue with an Infernal Elf

From “Hudibras”

QUOTH he, “I am resolved to be

Thy scholar in this mystery,

And therefore first desire to know

Some principles on which you go.

What makes a knave a child of God,

And one of us?” “A livelihood.”

“What renders beating out of brains,

And murder, godliness?” “Great gains.”

“What’s tender conscience?” “’Tis a botch

That will not bear the gentlest touch;

But, breaking out, despatches more

Than th’ epidemical’st plague-sore.”

“What makes y’ incroach upon our trade,

And damn all others?” “To be paid.”

“What’s orthodox and true believing

Against a conscience?” “A good living.”

“What makes rebelling against kings

A good old cause?” “Administ’rings.”

“What makes all doctrines plain and clear?”

“About two hundred pounds a-year.”

“And that which was proved true before,

Prove false again?” “Two hundred more.”

“What makes the breaking of all oaths

A holy duty?” “Food and clothes.”

“What laws and freedom, persecution?”

“Being out of power, and contribution.”

“What makes a church a den of thieves?”

“A dean and chapter, and white sleeves.”

“And what would serve, if those were gone,

To make it orthodox?” “Our own.”

“What makes morality a crime,

The most notorious of the time—

Morality, which both the saints

And wicked too cry out against?”

“’Cause grace and virtue are within

Prohibited degrees of kin;

And therefore no true saint allows

They shall be suffered to espouse;

For saints can need no conscience,

That with morality dispense;

As virtue’s impious, when ’tis rooted

In nature only, and not imputed;

But why the wicked should do so,

We neither know, nor care to do.”

“What’s liberty of conscience,

I’ th’ natural and genuine sense?”

“’Tis to restore, with more security,

Rebellion to its ancient purity,

And Christian liberty reduce

To th’ elder practice of the Jews;

For a large conscience is all one,

And signifies the same with none.”

“It is enough,” quoth he, “for once,

And has reprieved thy forfeit bones:

Nick Machiavel had ne’er a trick,

Though he gave’s name to our Old Nick,

But was below the least of these,

That pass i’ th’ world for holiness.”