« ElőzőTovább »
AMONG THE PURITANS.
were shown as the productions of the poet's pencil. If these were his, they only afforded another proof, in addition to the myriads we already have, that there are few men who can excel in more than one branch of art or study.
It was a happy day for Butler, which transferred him to the mansion of the Countess of Kent. We do not know in what capacity he served this rich and noble lady; but there he foundwhat, no doubt, deeply gladdened the heart of the rustic scholarthe free use of a fine library, and the conversation of a learned man, Selden, who then managed the affairs of that household. Here he lived—how long we cannot say—revelling in books of all kinds, and often repaying by literary help the kindness of the scholarly steward. Butler's life, as it has come down to us, is full of gaps.
Knocked about from one employment to another, he acquired by his very misfortunes that rare and varied knowledge of human life which he displays so admirably in “Hudibras.” The next scene in which he appears is the grave household of Sir Samuel Luke, a strict Puritan of Bedfordshire, who held a county office—that of scout-master-under Cromwell. The atmosphere which Butler here breathed must have been somewhat uncongenial; yet it was his residence
among the Puritans that prepared him for his famous work, supplied material for his fine word-pictures, and sharpened his stinging pen. Little did the Roundhead knight and his quiet household think that the poor tutor, whose bubbling, irrepressible wit, no doubt often scandalized the circumspect decorum of the dining-hall, was, like a traitor in the camp, taking silent notes, soon to be printed with a vengeance.
Another gap, and Butler re-appears as secretary to the Earl of Carbery, the President of Wales, who conferred on him the stewardship of Ludlow Castle. It was then after the Restoration, and brighter days seemed to be dawning for the Royalist wit. So good were his prospects, that, although there must have been
grey hairs under the huge bush of false curls whirh it was then the fashion to wear, he ventured to marry, as he thought, a fortune. But ill-luck still pursued him; his wife's money vanished
A QUEER AND CLEVER BOOK.
through the failure of the securities, and Butler found himself as poor as ever.
Then it was that he first came before the public as an author. The first part of “Hudibras” was 1663 published, and sprang at once into fame. The moment A.D. was most propitious, for the degraded Puritans afforded a favourite mark for the shafts of courtly ridicule. The loud insulting laugh of the Cavalier party rang everywhere, as they read verses which chimed in with every feeling they had. The Merry Monarch was so tickled with the debates between the Presbyterian justice and the Independent clerk, that he often quoted witty couplets from the book. Yet fame did not mend the fortunes of poor Butler. He got promises from his noble friends, but he got little more; and in 1680 he died obscurely in Rose Street, Covent Garden, having suffered deeply from the bitter pangs of that hope deferred, which maketh the heart sick.
“ Hudibras” is justly considered the best burlesque poem in the English language. For drollery and wit it cannot be surpassed. Written in the short tetrameter liné, to which Scott has given so martial a ring, its queer couplets are at once understood and easily remembered-none the less for the extraordinary rhymes, which now and then startle us into a laugh. What can we expect but broad satiric fun in a poem in which we find a canto beginning thus :
“There was an ancient sage philosopher,
That had read Alexander Ross over." The adventures of Don Quixote, no doubt, suggested the idea of this work. Sir Hudibras, a Presbyterian knight, and his clerk, Squire Ralpho, sally forth to seek adventures and redress grievances, much as did the chivalrous knight of La Mancha and his trusty Sancho Panza. Nine cantos are filled with the squabbles, loves, and woes of master and man, whose Puritan manners and opinions are represented in a most ludicrous light.
THE LEARNING OF HUDIBRAS.
He was in logic a great critic,
On either which he would dispute,
A BOOK which little children love to read, may safely be pronounced a good book. In our English literature there are two works that have been tried for many score of years by this unfailing test, and have never been found wanting. These are the Pilgrim's Progress of Bunyan and the Robinson Crusoe of Defoe. For many generations golden heads and rosy cheeks have been bent over the never-tiring pages; nor can we imagine a time when children shall cease to care about the perilous travels of Christian, or shall not grow half-afraid, yet filled with a strange delight, when they read of Friday's footstep in the sand.
That famous Puritan tinker, who wrote the "Pilgrim's Progress," was born in the village of Elstow, a mile from Bedford, in the year. 1628. He was emphatically a man of the people. Few have passed through so fierce an ordeal of mental struggle and religious horror. He tells us in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, a sort of religious autobiography, that even at the age of nine or ten, fearful dreams, and thoughts of the burning lake and the devils chained down to wait for the great Judgment, haunted him at intervals. Then, when the pain lulled, he plunged into sin, running riot in many vices at an early age. While yet a boy, he enlisted in the army of the Parliament, and saw some service in the war. He tells us of a narrow escape he had. At a certain siege—the siege of Leicester, it is said—he was selected as sentinel for a certain post, and was on the point of going out to mount guard, when another soldier asked leave to go instead of him,
A WICKED MAN IMPRESSED.
Bunyan agreed; and the poor fellow, who took his place, was shot dead with a bullet through the brain. Yet in spite of this, and two escapes from drowning, he grew more careless still.
At the age of nineteen he married a young woman of his own rank in life. They had, he tells us, " neither dish nor spoon betwixt them;" but she brought to his humble home two religious books, and she herself had found the Pearl of great price. Faithfully and lovingly this tender wife dealt with the wayward boy, until she led him to read these good books, the legacy of her dying father, and brought him with her to church. There one Sunday he heard a sermon on the duties of that day, and the sin of breaking in on its holy calm, which flashed a new light into his soul. With a heavy heart he went home; and when, as usual, he went out in the afternoon on the village green to play cat with his roistering associates, and in the full flush of the game had struck the piece of wood one blow away from the hole—suddenly as in old times a hand wrote on the wall of the Chaldean palace these words darted into his mind, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell ?” Although he got a momentary shock, yet Bunyan still remained unimpressed, until, about a month later, he was cursing at the shop window of a neighbour so horribly as to draw a severe rebuke from the woman of the house, who was herself of the worst character. Such a check from such lips silenced the blasphemer, who, standing with down-hung head, wished, as he touchingly says, “that he was a little child again, that his father might learn him to speak without this wicked way of swearing." He then began to read the Bible and to amend his life-repenting, among other things, of his dancing, his ale-quaffing, and his bell-ringing. The first two might, certainly, lead to sin, but we cannot class the third among great offences. Yet we must not smile at Bunyan's fears lest the bells might fall and kill him, for earnestness like his is too rare and too sublime for ridicule. However, the incident which made the deepest impression on Bunyan's soul, and which must certainly be looked on as the turning-point in his life, was his happening to overhear a conversation about the new birth