« PreviousContinue »
Some stately tomb he builds, Egyptian wise,
Whereas great Arthur lives in ruder oak,
Sat. ii. lib. iii.
We cannot linger long over these poems. They were, perhaps, the first attempts in English at adapting ancient poetry to modern times; a habit which was forgotten, and revived by Rochester in the time of Charles II. It ran through the last century. Hall by no means invented the notion of this sort of satirical writing, although he was a contemporary of the French manipulators of Juvenal, D'Aubigné (1550-1630) and Régnier (1573– 1613); he had read but Ariosto's satires and " one base French satire," which had inspired him, or helped to
* Vide the postscript to his satires: "Besides the plain experience thereof in the satires of Ariosto (save which and one base French satire) I could never attain the view of any for my direction." He probably refers to one of the satyr-like French poems of the early part of the sixteenth century, such as adorn "Le Parnasse Satyrique."
The satires of Ariosto and of Alamanni were doubtless Wyatt's model; thus:
"This [independence] is the cause that I could never yet
Hang on their sleeves that weigh, as thou may'st see,
A chip of chance more than a pound of wit.
This maketh me at home to hunt and hawk;
And in foul weather at my book to sit;
In frost and snow, then with my bow to stalk;
In lusty leas at liberty I walk;
And of these news I feel nor weal nor woe.". . .
inspire him, with the notion of modernizing Juvenal. Ariosto's satires are certainly not bitter portrayals of the dark side of life in Italy-for he had a field which would have delighted Juvenal; they lack that writer's tremendous earnestness; they are epistles, and are more like Horace's descriptions of what he saw. That there should have been a similarity of methods among the writers of the Renaissance in modern Europe is not strange in view of the fact that light came to them from but one quarter— namely, from antiquity. Italy was the first to study the classics, and the first to try the experiments which all the rest of civilized Europe tried in turn.
About Hall I will only add that Milton, who had a controversy with him, denounced his "hobbling distick," as he called it, in his "Apology for Smectymnuus;"* that Hall sank into obscurity until Pope's time, who wished that he had modernized him, as he did modernize some of Donne's satires, and that he was much admired by Gray. I think, however, that now those who turn back to him feel as if he was more impressed by a desire to conform to Juvenal than to the facts, and that he would not have been so indignant if the Roman poet had not shown him the way. Donne's satires are very different. He wrote them when but twenty, and they seem to be very genuine expressions of real feeling. Here is one passage:
"Fool and wretch, wilt thou let Soul be tied
To men's laws, by which she shall not be tried
*"Neither had I read the hobbling distick which he means. For this good hap I had from a careful education to be inured and seasoned betimes with the, best and elegantest authors of the learned tongues and thereto brought an ear that could measure a just cadence and scan without articulating; rather nice and humorous in what was tolerable then patient to read every drawling versifier."
At the last day? Oh, will it then serve thee
A Harry or a Martin taught thee this?
Is not this excuse for mere contraries,
Equally strong? Cannot both sides say so?
That thou may'st rightly obey Power, her bounds know."
After the Restoration satire naturally had abundance of material. Marvell denounced the vices of the court, and, as I have said, Butler jeered at the Puritans. I think that most of us agree with Pepys, and find "Hudibras" tedious, for, as Dr. Johnson said, "Our grandfathers knew the picture from the life; we judge of the life from the picture," but there are enough clever couplets in Butler to keep his name fresh :
"The greatest saints and sinners have been made
"The subtler all things are
They're but to nothing the more near." "Those that write in rhyme still make
The one verse for the other's sake."
These survive, while "Hudibras" is practically unread. Cleveland (1613-59), too, was never tired of ridiculing the Puritans, whom, for instance, he thus describes:
"With face and fashion to be known
For one of sure election,
With eyes all white and many a groan,
With neck aside to draw in tone,
See a new teacher of the town,
O, the town, the town's new teacher"
and Cleveland's poems doubtless gave hints to Butler. Butler, too, by no means satirized the Puritans alone: bad poets; the Royal Society; critics, of course; the age of Charles II.; marriage; plagiaries—all came in for his clever ridicule in other short poems. But although many
of Butler's lines have become proverbial, and his wit is as epigrammatic as that of Pope, he failed to attain a really high position, because he was unable to see anything but what was contemptible in the Puritans. As Mr. Stopford Brooke says: "Satire should have at least the semblance of truth; yet Butler calls the Puritans cowards." And readers know that perpetual epigrams become in time as wearisome as perpetual punning.
III. Satire, then, was the weapon which, so to speak, ruder craftsmen had been forging, and Dryden was about to polish for the consternation of his foes. In his early days he was a busy writer for the stage, but of the drama, and of his contribution to it, we shall speak at another time. His satirical poems, at least certain parts of them, are what have made him famous and will keep him famous. Had he died at the age of forty, we should have known him as, all things considered, a clever dramatist and an intelligent critic, whose prefaces and brief prose writings were worthy of attention. Davenant had been poetlaureate to Charles I., and was reappointed to the same position by Charles II.; at his death it must have seemed that Butler was the proper man to succeed him, but Dryden was appointed. His first great work was “Absalom and Achitophel," published in November, 1681. And it is with this poem that Dryden first showed how formidable an antagonist he was. Dryden wrote to defend the king. Moreover, he had an opportunity, which he did not neglect, of paying off some of his own personal scores, one, of long standing, being an account with the Duke of Buckingham, who had ridiculed him, with more success than lasting wit, in the "Rehearsal." There were others, too, who came in for incidental notice, yet these debts he paid without any exhibition of the malice that would have taken the sting from his lash.
He describes Shaftesbury thus:
"Of these the false Achitophel was first;
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high
How safe is treason, and how sacred ill,
Where none can sin against the people's will!
Since in another's guilt they find their own!
And fortune's ice prefers, not virtue's land."
Every one will notice the evident truthfulness of this compact description, and the absence of personal feeling; merits which are always rare in controversial writing, and especially rare at this time. And it is equally impossible