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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

§ 11. Course of Part II.

The second part, which was published a year after the first, proceeds uninterruptedly with the story, taking up the case of the widow whom, in the third canto of the first part, Hudibras had after his victory wished to gain, meeting, however, with discomfiture. The widow, informed of this by Fame (parodied from the fourth book of the Aeneid), determines to visit him in the stocks, and there entices him to declare himself. Thus, we have another argument between them, in which the knight’s shameless self-seeking is exposed and the superiority of the female sex is maintained. In proof of his good faith, Hudibras has to promise to submit to flagellation. The notion of whipping and the mode of carrying it out is borrowed from Don Quixote, where Sancho Panza is called upon to endure three thousand lashes in order to obtain the disenchantment of Dulcinea del Toboso. Hudibras solemnly swears that he will carry out this behest.

The next (the second) canto is introduced by the poet as especially full of contention, and it is here that the hypocritical casuistry of the two sects who were principally concerned in the civil war is most clearly exposed. Hudibras, after a night’s reflection, does not relish the idea of a flogging and turns to the squire for his judgment on the subject. Ralpho readily proceeds to “enlarge upon the point.” First, it is heathenish to offer the sacrifice of whipping to idols, and it is sinful to do so in saints who are sufficiently bruised and kicked by the wicked. Moreover,

  • The Saints may claim a Dispensation
  • To swear and forswear on occasion.…
  • and,
  • Although your Church be opposite
  • To ours as Black Friers are to White
  • In Rule and Order; yet I grant
  • You are a Reformado Saint.
  • He then, with pungent raillery, particularises breaches of faith on the part of the “saints.” They broke the allegiance and supremacy oath, and compelled the nation to take and break the protestation in favour of the reformed religion, to swear and forswear the solemn league and covenant, to enter into and then disclaim the engagement to be true to the government without king or peers. They swore to fight for and against the king, insisting that it was in his defence, and also for and against their own general Essex. They swore to maintain law, religion and privilege in parliament, not one of which is left; having sworn to maintain the House of Lords, they turned them out as dangerous and useless.

    If this be so in public life, a saint in private life can be no more bound by an oath.

  • A Saint’s of th’ heavenly Realm a Peer:
  • And as no Peer is bound to swear,
  • But on the Gospel of his Honor,
  • Of which he may dispose as Owner;
  • It follows, though the thing be forgery
  • And false th’ affirm, it is no perjury.
  • This suggests a gibe at the despised quakers, who, nevertheless, are scrupulous in this matter:

  • These, thinking th’ are obliged to Troth,
  • In swearing will not take an Oath.
  • Hudibras agrees and insists that, like a law, an oath is of no use till it is broken. Ralpho, continuing, points out that a man may be whipped by proxy, and

  • That Sinners may supply the place
  • Of suffering Saints is a plain Case.
  • Hudibras jumps at this, and at once bids Ralpho be his substitute. He refuses, and, when Hudibras becomes abusive, reminds him of the superiority of the independent party.
  • Remember how in Arms and Politicks
  • We still have worsted all your holy Tricks;
  • Trapann’d your party with Intregue
  • And took your Grandees down a peg;
  • New-modell’d th’ Army and Cashier’d
  • All that to Legion Smec adher’d.
  • (Legion Smec is intended for the presbyterians generally, under the well known composite name “Smectymnuus.”) Hudibras retorts furiously, upbraiding his squire as an upstart sectary and a mongrel,
  • Such as breed out of peccant Humors
  • Of our own Church, like Wens and Tumours,
  • And, like a Maggot in a Sore,
  • Would that which gave it Life devour.
  • This, of course, refers to the numberless sects that sprang up at this time, holding often the strangest of views.

    The champions are proceeding to blows when they are interrupted by a frightful noise caused by a woman being escorted in triumph by a rabble, for having beaten her husband. Hudibras must needs interfere, being particularly scandalised by the dishonour done to the sex that furnished the “saints” with their first “apostles.” He enlarges on the help women have given to the “cause,” in language that might be a parody of Hooker, but the rabble sets upon them with eggs and similar projectiles, so they are glad to escape with the loss of their swords. Hudibras consoles himself, seeing a good omen in his having been pelted with dirt:

  • Vespasian being dawb’d with durt
  • Was destin’d to the Empire for ’t.
  • The third canto introduces a new element. By Ralpho’s advice, Hudibras entertains the notion of consulting an astrologer, Sidrophel, as to his prospects in the pursuit of the widow. The question as to the permissibility of consulting a person who is scripturally banned is decided in his favour—“saints may employ a conjurer.” The description of Sidrophel and his zany Whachum, “an underwitch, his Caliban,” is but little inferior to the account of Hudibras and the squire at the beginning of the poem. Much of it is derived from Rabelais, who has collected a great number of methods of divination. Butler, however, makes considerable additions from his own store, derived from the superstitions of common life. At first, Hudibras is impressed by the extraordinary knowledge displayed by the astrologer; but, afterwards, in matching his own store of learning with it, finds himself disabused, especially when Sidrophel quotes as a recent event a fictitious adventure of his own, which had appeared in a spurious continuation of the first part of Hudibras. This leads to the usual scuffle, in which the astrologer and Whachum are worsted, and Ralpho is despatched for a constable; while Hudibras, under the false impression that Sidrophel is dead, makes off, intending the squire to bear the charge of murder and robbery, though he himself has rummaged the astrologer’s pockets.