Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 16. Butler’s Gifts and Powers

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

II. Samuel Butler

§ 16. Butler’s Gifts and Powers

Some precursors of the form and style of Hudibras have been mentioned; but the strange rimes which it contains, and which have helped considerably to keep it in remembrance, must not be passed by. The curious jingles of “ecclesiastic” and “a stick,” “duty” and “shoe-tie,” “discourse” and “whiskers,” and many more, have recalled the poem (in name at least) to many readers to whom much of the historical detail has become obsolete. In this exercise, Butler had a late rival in Calverley, whose metrical skill and delicately sensitive ear would, however, not permit him to employ any uncouth rime that his nimble fancy might suggest—every line must ring true; whereas, in Butler’s jog-trot lines, a monstrous rime has the effect of relieving the monotony of the verse without being out of harmony with it.

Samuel Butler, in fine, may be looked upon as a rare but erratic genius with an extraordinary gift of satirical expression, and as a man of great learning, who might have produced a serious poem of merit, had the bent of his mind lain in that direction. Dryden expressed a belief that Butler would have excelled in any other kind of metre; and his powers in serious verse are sufficiently attested by the following extract from Hudibras:

  • The Moon pull’d off her veil of Light,
  • That hides her face by day from sight,
  • (Mysterious Veil, of brightness made,
  • That ’s both her lustre, and her shade)
  • And in the Night as freely shon,
  • As if her Rays had been her own:
  • For Darkness is the proper Sphere,
  • Where all false Glories use t’ appear.
  • The twinkling Stars began to muster,
  • And glitter with their borrow’d luster,
  • While Sleep the weary’d World reliev’d,
  • By counterfeiting Death reviv’d.