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BUTLER (Samuel), a poet who possessed much wit and eccentricity, and who was the inimitable author of Hudibras, drew his first breath at Strensham, in Worcestershire, in 1612. From the free-school of Worcester he went to Cambridge, where he remained some years, and afterwards became clerk to a justice of the peace, in which situation he made a considerable progress in general literature. He was then retained in the service of the countess of Kent, where he had the good fortune to be noticed by the great Seldon, who engaged him as an amanuensis. From thence he entered into the service of Sir Samuel Luke, a gentleman of an ancient family in Bedfordshire, and a famous commander under Oliver Cromwell. While he remained in Sir Samuel's service, it is supposed that he planned, if he did not write, the celebrated Hudibras, as he seems to have made sir Samuel the hero of his poem. After the restoration, he became secretary to the earl of Carbury, by whom he was appointed steward of Ludlow castle. About this time he became allied by marriage to a family of respectability and fortune. In 1663 appeared the first part of the work which has almost given him immortality, and the other two parts successively followed. But though the work was generally admired, the author was shamefully neglected. The king quoted it, the courtiers studied it, and the whole party of the loyalists applauded it. A golden shower was daily expected to fall upon Mr. Butler; but praise appears to have been his principal reward. It has been reported, indeed, that the king once gave him 300 guineas; but of this temporary bounty we find no evidence. Certain it is, that this ingenious exposer of disloyally and fanaticism died in extreme indigence on the 25th of September, 1680. His remains were interred in the churchyard of Covent-garden. About 60 years after his death, a monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey, by Mr. Barber, a printer, mayor of London, and a friend to Butler's principles. Three volumes of his posthumous works were published by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester. In the depth of obscurity passed the life of this extraordinary genius—a man whose name can only perish with his language. The mode of his education is imperfectly known, and the events of his life are variously related: all that we certainly know is, that he died very poor.

---Eccentric biography, 1801

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Butler stands without a rival in burlesque poetry. His "Hudibras" is in its kind, almost as great an effort of genius as the "Paradise Lost" itself. It abounds with uncommon learning, new rhymes, and original thoughts. Its images are truly and naturally ridiculous: we are never shocked with excessive distortion or grimace, nor is human nature degraded to that of monkies and yahoos. There are in it many strokes of temporary satire, and some characters and allusions which cannot be discovered at this distance of time. The character of Hudibras is, with good reason, believed to have been intended for sir Samuel Luke; and that of Whachum, but with much less probability, for captain George Wharton. Ob. Sept. 1680.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

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"The Hogarth of poetry," says Mr. Walpole, "was a painter too." He did but few things; yet there is no question but the genius of painting was greatly assisting to the comic muse. It is observable, that Hogarth's first public specimen of his talent for humourous pieces, was a set of prints which he designed for a new edition of "Hudibras." This was his best method of studying that admirable burlesque poem.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

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References

  • 1668