CHAPTER XX. COWLEY, BUTLER, AND WALTON.
Cowley and Milton. Cowley's Life and Works. His Fame. Butler's Career.
Hudibras. His Poverty and Death. Izaak Walton. The Angler; and Lives.
COWLEY AND MILTON.
In contrast with Milton, in his own age, both in political tenets and in the character of his poetry, stood Cowley, the poetical champion of the party of king and cavaliers during the civil war. Historically he belongs to two periods—antecedent and consequent—that of the rebellion itself, and that of the Restoration: the latter was a reaction from the former, in which the masses changed their opinions, in which the Puritan leaders were silenced, and in which the constant and consistent Cavaliers had their day of triumph. Both parties, however, modified their views somewhat after the whirlwind of excitement had swept by, and both deprecated the extreme violence of their former actions. This is cleverly set forth in a charming paper of Lord Macaulay, entitled Cowley and Milton. It purports to be the report of a pleasant colloquy between the two in the spring of 1665, “set down by a gentleman of the Middle Temple.” Their principles are courteously expressed, in a retrospective view of the great rebellion.
COWLEY'S LIFE AND WORKS.—Abraham Cowley, the posthumous son of a grocer, was born in London, in the year 1618. He is said to have been so precocious that he read Spenser with pleasure when he was twelve years old; and he published a volume of poems, entitled “Poetical Blossoms,” before he was fifteen. After a preliminary education at Westminster school, he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1636, and while there he published, in 1638, two comedies, one in English, entitled Love's Riddle, and one in Latin, Naufragium Joculare, or, The Merry Shipwreck.
When the troubles which culminated in the civil war began to convulse England, Cowley, who was a strong adherent of the king, was compelled to leave Cambridge; and we find him, when the war had fairly opened, at Oxford, where he was well received by the Royal party, in 1643. He vindicated the justice of this reception by publishing in that year a satire called Puritan and Papist. Upon the retirement of the queen to Paris, he was one of her suite, and as secretary to Viscount St. Albans he conducted the correspondence in cipher between the queen and her unfortunate husband.
He remained abroad during the civil war and the protectorate, returning with Charles II. in 1660. “The Blessed Restoration” he celebrated in an ode with that title, and would seem to have thus established a claim to the king's gratitude and bounty. But he was mistaken. Perhaps this led him to write a comedy, entitled The Cutter of Coleman Street, in which he severely censured the license and debaucheries of the court: this made the arch-debauchee, the king himself, cold toward the poet, who at once issued A Complaint; but neither satire nor complaint helped him to the desired preferment. He quitted London a disappointed man, and retired to the country, where he died on the 28th of July, 1667.
His poems bear the impress of the age in a remarkable degree. His Mistress, or, Love Verses, and his other Anacreontics or paraphrases of Anacreon's odes, were eminently to the taste of the luxurious and immoral court of Charles II. His Davideis is an heroic poem on the troubles of King David.
His Poem on the Late Civil War, which was not published until 1679, twelve years after his death, is written in the interests of the monarchy.
His varied learning gave a wide range to his pen. In 1661 appeared his Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, which was followed in the next year by Two Books of Plants, which he increased to six books afterward—devoting two to herbs, two to flowers, and two to trees. If he does not appear in them to be profound in botanical researches, it was justly said by Dr. Johnson that in his mind “botany turned into poetry.”
His prose pen was as ready, versatile, and charming as his poetic pencil. He produced discourses or essays on commonplace topics of general interest, such as myself; the shortness of life; the uncertainty of riches; the danger of procrastination, etc. These are well written, in easy-flowing language, evincing his poetic nature, and many of them are more truly poetic than his metrical pieces.
HIS FAME.—Cowley had all his good things in his lifetime; he was the most popular poet in England, and is the best illustration of the literary taste of his age. His poetry is like water rippling in the sunlight, brilliant but dazzling and painful: it bewilders with far-fetched and witty conceits: varied but full of art, there is little of nature or real passion to be found even in his amatory verses. He suited the taste of a court which preferred an epigram to a proverb, and a repartee to an apothegm; and, as a consequence, with the growth of a better culture and a better taste, he has steadily declined in favor, so that at the present day he is scarcely read at all. Two authoritative opinions mark the history of this decline: Milton, in his own day, placed him with Spenser and Shakspeare as one of the three greatest English poets; while Pope, not much more than half a century later, asks:
Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit.
Still later, Dr. Johnson gives him the credit of having been the first to master the Pindaric ode in English; while Cowper expresses, in his Task, regret that his “splendid wit” should have been
Entangled in the cobwebs of the schools.
But if he is neglected in the present day as a household poet, he stands prominently forth to the literary student as an historic personage of no mean rank, a type and representative of his age, country, and social conditions.
BUTLER'S CAREER.—The author of Hudibras, a satirical poem which may as justly be called a comic history of England as any of those written in prose in more modern times, was born in Worcestershire, on the 8th of February, 1612. The son of poor parents, he received his education at a grammar school. Some, who have desired to magnify his learning, have said that he was for a time a student at Cambridge; but the chronicler Aubrey, who knew him well, denies this. He was learned, but this was due to the ardor with which he pursued his studies, when he was clerk to Mr. Jeffreys, an eminent justice of the peace, and as an inmate of the mansion of the Countess of Kent, in whose fine library he was associated with the accomplished Selden.
We next find him domiciled with Sir Samuel Luke, a Presbyterian and a parliamentary soldier, in whose household he saw and noted those characteristics of the Puritans which he afterward ridiculed so severely in his great poem, a poem which he was quietly engaged in writing during the protectorate of Cromwell, in hope of the coming of a day when it could be issued to the world.
This hope was fulfilled by the Restoration. In the new order he was appointed secretary to the Earl of Carbery, and steward of Ludlow Castle; and he also increased his frugal fortunes by marrying a widow, Mrs. Herbert, whose means, however, were soon lost by bad investments.
HUDIBRAS.—The only work of merit which Butler produced was Hudibras. This was published in three parts: the first appeared in 1663, the second in 1664, and the third not until 1678. Even then it was left unfinished; but as the interest in the third part seems to flag, it is probable that the author did not intend to complete it. His death, two years later, however, settled the question.
The general idea of the poem is taken from Don Quixote. As in that immortal work, there are two heroes. Sir Hudibras, corresponding to the Don, is a Presbyterian justice of the peace, whose features are said to have been copied from those of the poet's former employer, Sir Samuel Luke. For this, Butler has been accused of ingratitude, but the nature of their connection does not seem to have been such as to warrant the charge. Ralph the squire, the humble Sancho of the poem, is a cross-grained dogmatic Independent.
These two the poet sends forth, as a knight-errant with a squire, to correct existing abuses of all kinds—political, religious, and scientific. The plot is rambling and disconnected, but the author contrives to go over the whole ground of English history in his inimitable burlesque. Unlike Cervantes, who makes his reader always sympathize with his foolish heroes, Butler brings his knight and squire into supreme contempt; he lashes the two hundred religious sects of the day, and attacks with matchless ridicule all the Puritan positions. The poem is directly historical in its statement of events, tenets, and factions, and in its protracted religious discussions: it is indirectly historical in that it shows how this ridicule of the Puritans, only four years after the death of Cromwell, delighted the merry monarch and his vicious court, and was greatly acceptable to the large majority of the English people. This fact marks the suddenness of the historic change from the influence of Puritanism to that of the restored Stuarts.
Hudibras is written in octosyllabic verse, frequently not rising above doggerel: it is full of verbal “quips and cranks and wanton wiles:” in parts it is eminently epigrammatic, and many of its happiest couplets seem to have been dashed off without effort. Walpole calls Butler “the Hogarth of poetry;” and we know that Hogarth illustrated Hudibras. The comparison is not inapt, but the pictorial element in Hudibras is not its best claim to our praise. This is found in its string of proverbs and maxims elucidating human nature, and set forth in such terse language that we are inclined to use them thus in preference to any other form of expression.
Hudibras is the very prince of burlesques; it stands alone of its kind, and still retains its popularity. Although there is much that belongs to the age, and much that is of only local interest, it is still read to find apt quotations, of which not a few have become hackneyed by constant use. With these, pages might be filled; all readers will recognize the following:
He speaks of the knight thus:
On either side he would dispute,
Confute, change hands, and still confute:
* * * * *
For rhetoric, he could not ope
His mouth but out there flew a trope.
Again: he refers, in speaking of religious characters, to
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun,
And prove their doctrine orthodox,
By apostolic blows and knocks;
Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to.
Few persons of the present generation have patience to read Hudibras through. Allibone says “it is a work to be studied once and gleaned occasionally.” Most are content to glean frequently, and not to study at all.
HIS POVERTY AND DEATH.—Butler lived in great poverty, being neglected by a monarch and a court for whose amusement he had done so much. They laughed at the jester, and let him starve. Indeed, he seems to have had few friends; and this is accounted for quaintly by Aubrey, who says: “Satirical wits disoblige whom they converse with, and consequently make to themselves many enemies, and few friends; and this was his manner and case.”
The best known of his works, after Hudibras, is the Elephant in the Moon, a satire on the Royal Society.
It is significant of the popularity of Hudibras, that numerous imitations of it have been written from his day to ours.
Butler died on the 25th of September, 1680. Sixty years after, the hand of private friendship erected a monument to him in Westminster Abbey. The friend was John Barber, Lord Mayor of London, whose object is thus stated: “That he who was destitute of all things when alive, might not want a monument when he was dead.” Upon the occasion of erecting this, Samuel Wesley wrote:
While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive,
No generous patron would a dinner give;
See him, when starved to death and turned to dust,
Presented with a monumental bust.
The poet's fate is here in emblem shown,
He asked for bread, and he received a stone.
To his own age he was the prince of jesters; to English literature he has given its best illustration of the burlesque in rhetoric. To the reader of the present day he presents rare historical pictures of his day, of far greater value than his wit or his burlesque.
If men are to be measured by their permanent popularity, Walton deserves an enthusiastic mention in literary annals, not for the greatness of his achievements, but for his having touched a chord in the human heart which still vibrates without hint of cessation wherever English is spoken.
Izaak Walton was born at Stafford, on the 9th of August, 1593. In his earlier life he was a linen-draper, but he had made enough for his frugal wants by his shop to enable him to retire from business in 1643, and then he quietly assumed a position as pontifex piscatorum. His fishing-rod was a sceptre which he swayed unrivalled for forty years. He gathered about him in his house and on the borders of fishing streams an admiring and congenial circle, principally of the clergy, who felt it a privilege to honor the retired linen-draper. There must have been a peculiar charm, a personal magnetism about him, which has also imbued his works. His first wife was Rachel Floud, a descendant of the ill-fated Cranmer; and his second was Anne Ken, the half-sister of the saintly Bishop Ken. Whatever may have been his deficiencies of early education, he was so constant and varied a reader that he made amends for these.
THE COMPLETE ANGLER.—His first and most popular work was The Complete Angler, or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation. It has been the delight of all sorts of people since, and has gone through more than forty respectable editions in England, besides many in America. Many of these editions are splendidly illustrated and sumptuous. The dialogues are pleasant and natural, and his enthusiasm for the art of angling is quite contagious.
HIS LIVES.—Nor is Walton less esteemed by a smaller but more appreciative circle for his beautiful and finished biographies or Lives of Dr. Donne, Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, and Bishop Robert Sanderson.
Here Walton has bestowed and received fame: the simple but exquisite portraitures of these holy and worthy men have made them familiar to posterity; and they, in turn, by the virtues which Walton's pen has made manifest, have given distinction to the hand which portrayed them. Walton's good life was lengthened out to fourscore and ten. He died at the residence of his son-in-law, the Reverend William Hawkins, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral, in 1683. Bishop Jebb has judiciously said of his Lives: “They not only do ample justice to individual piety and learning, but throw a mild and cheerful light upon the manners of an interesting age, as well as upon the venerable features of our mother Church.” Less, however, than any of his contemporaries can Walton be appreciated by a sketch of the man: his works must be read, and their spirit imbibed, in order to know his worth.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE AGE.
George Wither, born in Hampshire, June 11, 1588, died May 2, 1667: he was a voluminous and versatile writer. His chief work is The Shepherd's Hunting, which, with beautiful descriptions of rural life, abounds in those strained efforts at wit and curious conceits, which were acceptable to the age, but which have lost their charm in a more sensible and philosophic age. Wither was a Parliament man, and was imprisoned and ill-treated after the Restoration. He, and most of those who follow, were classed by Dr. Johnson as metaphysical poets.
Francis Quarles, 1592-1644: he was a Royalist, but belongs to the literary school of Withers. He is best known by his collection of moral and religious poems, called Divine Emblems, which were accompanied with quaint engraved illustrations. These allegories are full of unnatural conceits, and are many of them borrowed from an older source. He was immensely popular as a poet in his own day, and there was truth in the statement of Horace Walpole, that “Milton was forced to wait till the world had done admiring Quarles.”
George Herbert, 1593-1632: a man of birth and station, Herbert entered the Church, and as the incumbent of the living at Bemerton, he illustrated in his own piety and devotion “the beauty of holiness.” Conscientious and self-denying in his parish work, he found time to give forth those devout breathings which in harmony of expression, fervor of piety, and simplicity of thought, have been a goodly heritage to the Church ever since, while they still retain some of those “poetical surprises” which mark the literary taste of the age. His principal work is The Temple, or, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. The short lyrics which form the stones of this temple are upon the rites and ceremonies of the Church and other sacred subjects: many of them are still in great favor, and will always be. In his portraiture of theGood Parson, he paints himself. He magnifies the office, and he fulfilled all the requirements he has laid down.
Robert Herrick, 1591-1674: like Herbert, Herrick was a clergyman, but, unlike Herbert, he was not a holy man. He wrote Anacreontic poems, full of wine and love, and appears to us like a reveller masking in a surplice. Being a cavalier in sentiment, he was ejected from his vicarage in 1648, and went to London, where he assumed the lay habit. In 1647 he published Hesperides, a collection of small poems of great lyric beauty, Anacreontic, pastoral, and amatory, but containing much that is coarse and indelicate. In 1648 he in part atoned for these by publishing his Noble Numbers, a collection of pious pieces, in the beginning of which he asks God's forgiveness for his “unbaptized rhymes,” “writ in my wild, unhallowed times.” The best comment upon his works may be found in the words of a reviewer: “Herrick trifled in this way solely in compliment to the age; whenever he wrote to please himself, he wrote from the heart to the heart.” His Litanie is a noble and beautiful penitential petition.
Sir John Suckling, 1609-1641: a writer of love songs. That by which he is most favorably known is his exquisite Ballad upon a Wedding. He was a man of versatile talents; an officer in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, and a captain of horse in the army of Charles I. He wrote several plays, of which the best are Aglaura and The Discontented Colonel. While evidently tinctured by the spirit of the age, he exceeded his contemporaries in the purity of his style and manliness of his expression. His wit is not so forced as theirs.
Edmund Waller, 1605-1687: he was a cousin of John Hampden. By great care and adroitness he seems to have trimmed between the two parties in the civil war, but was suspected by both. His poetry was like himself, artificial and designed to please, but has little depth of sentiment. Like other poets, he praised Cromwell in 1654 in A Panegyric, and welcomed Charles II. in 1660, upon His Majesty's Happy Return. His greatest benefaction to English poetry was in refining its language and harmonizing its versification. He has all the conceits and strained wit of the metaphysical school.
Sir William Davenant, 1605-1668: he was the son of a vintner, but sometimes claimed to be the natural son of Shakspeare, who was intimate with his father and mother. An ardent Loyalist, he was imprisoned at the beginning of the civil war, but escaped to France. He is best known by his heroic poem Gondibert, founded upon the reign of King Aribert of Lombardy, in the seventh century. The French taste which he brought back from his exile, is shown in his own dramas, and in his efforts to restore the theatre at the Restoration. His best plays are the Cruel Brother and The Law against Lovers. He was knighted by Charles I., and succeeded Ben Jonson as poet laureate. On his monument in Westminster Abbey are these words: “O rare Sir William Davenant.”
Charles Cotton, 1630-1687: he was a wit and a poet, and is best known as the friend of Izaak Walton. He made an addition to Walton's Complete Angler, which is found in all the later editions. The companion of Walton in his fishing excursions on the river Dove, Cotton addressed many of his poems to his “Adopted Father.” He made travesties upon Virgil and Lucian, which are characterized by great licentiousness; and wrote a gossiping and humorous Voyage to Ireland.
Henry Vaughan, 1614-1695: he was called the Silurist, from his residence in Wales, the country of the Silures. He is favorably known by the Silex Scintillans, or, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. With a rigid religious tone, he has all the attempt at rhetorical effect which mark the metaphysical school, but his language is harsher and more rugged. He has more heart than most of his colleagues, and extracts of great terseness and beauty are still made from his poems. He reproves the corruptions of the age, and while acknowledging an indebtedness, he gives us a clue to his inspiration: “The first, that with any effectual success attempted a diversion of this foul and overflowing stream, was that blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least.”
The Earl of Clarendon, 1608-1674: Edward Hyde, afterward the Earl of Clarendon, played a conspicuous part in the history of England during his life, and also wrote a history of that period, which, although in the interests of the king's party, is an invaluable key to a knowledge of English life during the rebellion and just after the Restoration. A member of parliament in 1640, he rose rapidly in favor with the king, and was knighted in 1643. He left England in charge of the Prince of Wales in 1646, and at once began his History of the Great Rebellion, which was to occupy him for many years before its completion. After the death of Charles I., he was the companion of his son's exile, and often without means for himself and his royal master, he was chancellor of the exchequer. At the Restoration in 1660, Sir Edward Hyde was created Earl of Clarendon, and entered upon the real duties of his office. He retained his place for seven years, but became disagreeable to Charles as a troublesome monitor, and at the same time incurred the hatred of the people. In 1667 he was accused of high treason, and made his escape to France. Neglected by his master, ignored by the French monarch, he wandered about in France, from time to time petitioning his king to permit him to return and die in England, but without success. Seven years of exile, which he reminded the king “was a time prescribed and limited by God himself for the expiation of some of his greatest judgments,” passed by, and the ex-chancellor died at Rouen. He had begun his history in exile as the faithful servant of a dethroned prince; he ended it in exile, as the cast-off servant of an ungrateful monarch. As a writer of contemporary history, Clarendon has given us the form and color of the time. The book is in title and handling a Royalist history. Its faults are manifest: first those of partisanship; and secondly, those which spring from his absence, so that much of the work was written without an observant knowledge. His delineation of character is wonderful: the men of the times are more pictorially displayed than in the portraits of Van Dyk. The style is somewhat too pompous, being more that of the orator than of the historian, and containing long and parenthetic periods. Sir Walter Scott says: “His characters may match those of the ancient historians, and one thinks he would know the very men if he were to meet them in society.” Macaulay concedes to him a strong sense of moral and religious obligation, a sincere reverence for the laws of his country, and a conscientious regard for the honor and interests of the crown; but adds that “his temper was sour, arrogant, and impatient of opposition.” No one can rightly understand the great rebellion without reading Clarendon's history of it.