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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

§ 14. Metre of Hudibras

Dryden, in the dedication of his translation of Juvenal and Persius (1692), while expressing admiration of Butler for being able to put “thought” into his verses, strongly disapproves of his choice of octosyllabic metre.

  • Besides, the double Rhyme (a necessary companion of Burlesque writing) is not so proper for manly Satir, for it turns Earnest too much into Jest, and gives us a boyish kind of Pleasure. It tickles awkwardly with a kind of Pain to the best sort of Readers; and we are pleased ungratefully, and if I may say so, against our liking.
  • But Butler knew that ridicule was his strongest weapon, and that it would please Charles II and his courtiers better than stately rhythm or fiery denunciation. Rimed decasyllabic suited Dryden’s form of satire, as we see in his Absalom and Achitophel, and was well adapted to Pope’s polished antitheses; but, for gibes and quick sallies of wit, octosyllabic metre, in competent hands, is the most fitting instrument.

    As Butler died in 1680, it is impossible to say whether he contemplated a further instalment of his poem, so as to bring up the tale of his cantos to twelve, after the example of the Aeneid; the sixth canto, that is, the third of the second book, finishes, evidently, with a view to a continuation which is provided by the third part. But there is an incompleteness apparent in this part, suggested first by the interpolation of the second canto, which has nothing to do with the action of the poem, and which might fittingly have been introduced in a subsequent continuation, while the letter of Hudibras and the Lady’s answer ought to have been incorporated in the main story rather than be left isolated. The third part is longer than the first by 590 lines and, if the two letters are added, by nearly 1340. It seems not an unfair inference that, had the satirist’s life and strength permitted, an additional part of three cantos would have been added, to complete the normal number of twelve, and that the third part would not have run to so disproportionate a length.