« AnteriorContinuar »
propensity to plagiarism is the more to be regretted, as he possessed wherewithal'to subsist respectably without it. The Knight of the Kirk was probably intended as the commencement of a work of some length : the part which Meston completed, has no action in it, and consists of a somewhat wearisome detail of the mental and bodily endowments of Sir John Presbyter, the personification of the Scottish Kirk, his dress, arms, opinions, and accomplishments.
“Now since you have our hero's name,
When peace comes in and war goes out;
The following definition of truth is neatly written.
- Truth is an atom or a point
Or to dissect it, or dispose it,
Meston's Mob contra Mob, and some of his Mother Grim's Tales, are close imitations of Butler ; but we have already devoted a sufficient space to his productions.
Whatever quantum of merit these imitations may possess, they have one distinguishing characteristic unlike their great original: whether written for purposes of mirth or malice, they never rise above their subject. Butler's path was equally narrow, but it could not narrow his mind. He crowds into his confined circle all the treasures of wit and the accumulations of learning. He gives full measure to his readers, heaped up, and running over. Thought crowds upon thought and witticism upon witticism, in rapid and dazzling succession. Every topic and every incident is made the most of: his bye-play always tells. Many of his happiest sallies appear to escape him as if by accident; many of his hardest hits appear to be merely chance-blows. A description of a bear-ward brings in a sneer at Sir Kenelm Digby and his powder of sympathy, and an account of a tinker's doxey introduces a pleasantry on Sir William Davenant's Gondibert. There is always an under current of satiric allusion beneath the main stream of his satire. The juggling of astrology, the besotting folly of alchemy, the transfusion of blood, the sympathetic medicines, the learned trifling of experimental philosophers, the knavery of fortune-tellers and the folly of their dupes, the marvellous relations of travellers, the subtleties of the school-divines, the freaks of fashion, the fantastic extravagancies of lovers, the affectations of poetry, and the absurdities of romance, are interwoven with his subject, and soften down and relieve his dark delineation of fanatical violence and perfidy. Of this continuity of satire, Butler's imitators had no conception, or were too poor in spirit and invention to attempt to follow in his steps. They seem to have taken it into their heads that they had only to bid defiance to grammar and decency, to be vulgar in thought and coarse in
expression, to clip and torture the English language without remorse, to split occasionally an unfortunate word in two, and to attach the dislocated syllables to different lines, adding a due proportion of double and treble rhymes, to be perfectly Hudibrastic. Indeed, much of their versification is so rugged and uneven as to vie with the jolting of the road known by the name of the Devil's back-bone. They display occasionally some share of humour, but in wit they are poor indeed. Butler was by no means deficient in humour, but it was cast into a dim eclipse by the predominance of his wit. His characters do not show themselves off unconsciously as fools or coxcombs—they are set up as marks at which the author levels all the shafts of his ridicule and sarcasm. These imitations in general are much too long : a burlesque in a dozen cantos is too serious a joke.
To conclude: we consider the manner of Butler as peculiarly easy of imitation, (which may account for the number of works at the head of this article); his matter as inimitable, except by an equal or a greater genius. We do not look upon successful imitators as little better than the mocking-bird, who copies the melody of other songsters without possessing any note of its own. To catch not only the style and turn of thought of another writer, but to express the same thoughts, clothed in the same language, which that writer would, in all probability, have thought and written on a given subject, requires a considerable portion of the genius of the original, as well as a thorough insight into the mechanism of his mind. The author of the most successful series of imitations which perhaps has ever appeared (the Rejected Addresses) has shown himself an original poet of no ordinary powers. Sir Walter Scott's imitations of Crabbe and Moore are eminently happy, and Hogg's half-serious, halfludicrous imitations, in the Poetic Mirror, almost strike us as fac-similes. We have no doubt Lord Byron could write an excellent imitation either of Milton or Butler, though, we confess, we have no wish to see him attempt either. We shall conclude with an extract from some scholastic pleasantries by Mr. Moore, which, as they are not very likely to be familiar to our Hudibrastic readers, we shall make no apology for introducing. If they have not the terseness and pregnant brevity of Butler, they have much of his point and ingenious subtlety.
“But, to begin my subject rhyme
Is a dispute that vastly better is
Like that great little man Albertus,