Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 2. Influence of Le Roman de la Rose, The Ship of Fools, Erasmus and Rabelais

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

II. Samuel Butler

§ 2. Influence of Le Roman de la Rose, The Ship of Fools, Erasmus and Rabelais

All these tirades were conveyed in Latin hexameters, which, in Lucilius, were often of a hybrid, “linsey-woolsey” composition i.e. interlarded with Greek words. This slipshod verse became the conventional metre for satire in Latin down the ages, whether in the Anti-Claudianus of Alain de l’Isle or in the macaronic Baldus of Merlin Cocai (Teofilo Folengo). In the same way, “splayfoot” octosyllabic rimes became the medium of English satire, derived, probably, through the French, from Le Roman de la Rose. Satirical writing found a congenial soil in France, where the interminable chansons de geste required a relief. Thus were produced Le Roman de Renart and the fables bestiaires, often attributed to Ysopet, the French counterpart of Aesop. But Le Roman de la Rose stands out as the most important production of the kind and as exercising a wide-reaching influence on the literature of Europe.

From this source flowed numberless compositions, on two subjects especially, one being the querelle des femmes, which was taken up vigorously on both sides. Christine de Pisan leads the attack against Le Roman de la Rose, followed by Jean Gerson, chancellor of the university of Paris, Alain Chartier and Martin de France, author of Le Champion des Dames (1440–2). On the other side may be mentioned Les XV joyes de mariage, Les arrêts d’amour, the Silva nuptialis of Johannes Nevizanus and Rabelais in the third book of his Pantagruel: but the catalogue is a very long one. The other subject is an attack on the religious orders, especially the mendicants, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, who had been recognised by the popes in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and, from the very first, had shown extraordinary activity and influence, proving very obnoxious to the regular clergy. These two subjects can be traced in Hudibras, but in another and curious form: the nonconforming sects taking the place of the mendicants as butts for satire, and Hudibras and the widow respectively leading the attack and defence in the querelle des femmes.

Butler had also probably read Barclay’s Ship of Fools, translated from Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff. Moriae Encomium might well supply him with a model for his satire, while the Adagia of Erasmus undoubtedly furnished him with a stock of learning and literary illustration. Rabelais was thoroughly versed in all these writings, and employed them in his Gargantua and Pantagruel. Butler was a good French scholar and did not need Urquhart’s translation, but read the French at firsthand. Zachary Grey points out in his notes several passages in Hudibras derived from the French satirist; but many more correspondences can be detected by a closer comparison.