English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

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.

Project Gutenberg
English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.