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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

II. Samuel Butler

§ 10. Course of Part I.

As the pair ride forth, the true romantic method is followed, beginning with a comic invocation of the muse, who

  • With ale and viler liquors
  • Didst inspire Withers, Pryn and Vickars,
  • certain presbyterian poetasters, the last of whom is said in Butler’s “Annotations” to have “translated Virgils Æneids into as horrible a Travesty in earnest as the French Scarron did in Burlesque.” This introduces the action, which is brought about by the discovery of a rabble intent on bear-baiting. The knight looks upon this as “lewd and anti-Christian,” and it may be intended to represent the “insolency of the late tumults” described in Eikon Basilike, which was accepted by the royalists as the composition of Charles I. The leaders of the rebellion are there styled boute-feus, or known incendiaries, a term here used by Butler probably in allusion to its occurrence in the tract, and explained in his “Annotations” as a French word and, therefore, necessarily understood by persons of quality. Bear-baiting is quaintly derived from the constellation Ursa Major, which circles round the pole. The knight finds in this Cynarctomachy a plot to set brother against brother, so as to prevent them from offering a united front on behalf of a thorough reformation.

    As, in Rabelais and Don Quixote, it is the conversations that bring into relief the convictions and prejudices of the interlocutors, so, in Hudibras, the altercations between the knight and squire, which often degenerate into recriminations, are intended to unmask the hypocritical contentions of both parties. In the very first canto, the suspicion that was rife between the presbyterian knight and the independent squire is brought out, and the warmth of religious partisanship is heightened on every subsequent occasion.

    The description of the warriors on the other side, that is, the bear-baiters, is humorous in the extreme. They consist of a one-legged fiddler, Crowdero (from crowd, an old word for a fiddle), a bear-ward, a butcher, a tinker, Magnano (the Italian equivalent for locksmith), a virago named Trulla, a cobbler and an ostler. These have been identified by Sir Roger l’Estrange, who was a contemporary, with men who obtained posts in Cromwell’s army and gained subsequent distinction. The wit and humour lavished on the description of these worthies is extraordinary, and may be exemplified in one or two cases. Talgol, the butcher, had made many orphans and widows, and, like Guy of Warwick, had slain many a dun cow; he had fought more flocks of sheep than Ajax or Don Quixote, and slain many serpents in the shape of wasps.

    Cerdon, the cobbler, is compared to Hercules in the repair of wrong (in shoes):

  • He raised the low and fortifi’d
  • The weak against the strongest Side.
  • Colon, the ostler, is compared to a centaur for his riding, and

  • Sturdy he was and no less able
  • Than Hercules to cleanse a Stable;
  • As great a Drover and as great
  • A Critic too in Hog and Neat.
  • It was

  • A question as to whether He
  • Or’s Horse were of a family
  • More worshipful;
  • but antiquaries gave their decision,
  • And prov’d not onely Horse, but Cows,
  • Nay Pigs were of the elder House:
  • For Beasts, when Man was but a piece
  • Of earth himself, did th’ Earth possess.
  • Butler’s peculiar trick of giving the characteristics of each person by parallels of similar accomplishments in some noted hero, but in ludicrous travesty, is, doubtless, imitated from Scarron. Rabelais delights in finding in ancient history and literature parallels to his modern instances, but does not go further, except where the general tone of the speaker dramatically requires it; but, with Butler’s mocking humour, the method is reversed, and it is only for the purpose of debasing it in the application that a striking instance is found.

    In order to bring Hudibras into contempt from the first, he is represented as anxious to put down bear-baiting, one of the most popular amusements of the time, and substituting for it the cult of the solemn league and covenant, which was thrust upon the English by the Scottish presbyterians. The knight feels bound, “in conscience and commission too,” “to keep the peace twixt dog and bear,” and dubs the whole proceeding “pagan and idolatrous.” The squire consents to this, but, from his point of view as an independent, insists that, if there is no scriptural warrant for bear-baiting, neither is there warrant for

  • Provincial, classic, national,
  • Mere human creature cobwebs all.
  • These three words, specially applied by the presbyterians to their various synods, make Hudibras suspicious of his squire; but he puts off the argument, because it is now time for action.

    The description of the battle is rendered more absurd by the high-flown epic vein in which it is set forth. The metrical devices of pauses in particular places are duly observed, as well as the repetitions of emphatic words, such as

  • He Trulla loved, Trulla more bright, etc.
  • And gave the Champion’s Steed a thump
  • That stagger’d him. The knight did stoop, etc.
  • The bear having been badly mauled in the battle, the retreat is saved by the cobbler Cerdon aad by Trulla, who leads

  • The Warrior to a grassy Bed,
  • As Authors write, in a cool Shade,
  • Which Eglantine and Roses made,
  • Close by a softly murm’ring Stream,
  • Where lovers us’d to loll and dream.
  • This is a ludicrous imitation of the first book of the Aeneid, where Venus puts Ascanius to rest in similar surroundings.

    Hudibras had been victorious in the first battle and, with the help of the squire, had put Crowdero in the stocks; but, in a second encounter, after the combatants have rallied their forces, he is worsted, and, with Ralpho, takes the place of Crowdero. Even here, while Hudibras

  • Cheer’d up himself with ends of Verse
  • And Sayings of Philosophers,
  • Ralpho the independent resumes his attack on the presbyterians, and we are treated to the catch-words “gifts,” “illumination,” “light,” “synodical,” “orders,” “constitutions,” “church-censures” and so forth. Challenged by the knight, he repeats his argument that synods are mystical bear-gardens, in which saints are represented by the bear and presbyters and scribes by the dogs that are set upon them. “Synods are whelps of the inquisition,” and they have their “triers” (or testers), whose business it is
  • To cast a figure for men’s Light;
  • To find in lines of Beard and Face
  • The Physiognomy of Grace,
  • And by the sound and twang of Nose
  • If all be sound within disclose.