Hudibras/The Life of Samuel Butler

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Hudibras, 1859 - Plate - Butler's Tenement.png

I. Ross delint.—G.P. Wainwright sculptt.


Near Strensham, Worcestershire




The life of a retired scholar can furnish but little matter to the biographer: such was the character of Mr Samuel Butler, author of Hudibras. His father, whose name was likewise Samuel, had an estate of his own of about ten pounds yearly, which still goes by the name of Butler's tenement; he likewise rented lands at three hundred pounds a year under Sir William Eussel, lord of the manor of Strensham, in Worcestershire. He was a respectable farmer, wrote a clerk-like hand, kept the register, and managed all the business of the parish. From his landlord, near whose house he lived, the poet imbibed principles of loyalty, as Sir William was a most zealous royalist, and spent great part of his fortune in the cause, being the only person exempted from the benefit of the treaty, when Worcester surrendered to the parliament in the year 1646. Our poet's father was elected churchwarden of the parish the year before his son Samuel was born, and has entered his baptism, dated February 8th, 1612, with his own hand, in the parish register. He had four sons and three daughters, born at Strensham; the three daughters and one son older than our poet, and two sons younger: none of his descendants, however, remain in the parish, though some are said to be in the neighbouring villages.

Our author received his first rudiments of learning at home; but was afterwards sent to the college school at Worcester, then taught by Mr Henry Bright,[1] prebendary of that cathedral, a celebrated scholar, and many years master of the King's school there; one who made his profession his delight, and, though in very easy circumstances, continued to teach for the sake of doing good. How long Mr Butler continued under his care is not known, but, probably, till he was fourteen years old. There can be little doubt that his progress was rapid, for Aubrey tells us that "when but a boy he would make observations and reflections on everything one said or did, and censure it to be either well or ill;" and we are also informed in the Biography of 1710 (the basis of all information about him), that he "became an excellent scholar." Amongst his schoolfellows was Thomas Hall, well known as a controversial writer on the Puritan side, and master of the free-school at King's Norton, where he died; John Toy, afterwards an author, and master of the school at Worcester; William Rowland, who turned Romanist, and, having some talent for rhyming satire, wrote lampoons at Paris, under the title of Rolandus Palingenius; and Warmestry, afterwards Dean of Worcester.

Whether he was ever entered at any university is uncertain. His early biographer says he went to Cambridge, but was never matriculated: Wood, on the authority of Butler's brother, says, the poet spent six or seven years there; but there is great reason to doubt the truth of this. Some expressions in his works look as if he were acquainted with the customs of Oxford, and among them coursing, which was a term peculiar to that university (see Part iii. c. ii. v. 1244); but this kind of knowledge might have been easily acquired without going to Oxford; and as the speculation is entirely unsupported by circumstantial proofs, it may be safely rejected. Upon the whole, the probability is that Butler never went to either of the Universities. His father was not rich enough to defray the expenses of a collegiate course, and could not have effected it by any other means, there being at that time no exhibitions at the Worcester School.

Some time after Butler had completed his education, he obtained, through the interest of the Russels, the situation of clerk to Thomas Jefferies, of Earl's Croombe, Esq., an active justice of the peace, and a leading man in the business of the province. This was no mean office, but one that required a knowledge of law and the British constitution, and a proper deportment to men of every rank and occupation; besides, in those times, when large mansions were generally in retired situations, every large family was a community within itself: the upper servants, or retainers, being often the younger sons of gentlemen, were treated as friends, and the whole household dined in one common hall, and had a lecturer or clerk, who, during meal-times, read to them some useful or entertaining book.

Mr Jefferies' family was of this sort, situated in a retired part of the country, surrounded by bad roads, the master of it residing constantly in Worcestershire. Here Mr Butler, having leisure to indulge his inclination for learning, probably improved himself very much, not only in the abstruser branches of it, but in the polite arts: and here he studied painting. "Our Hogarth of Poetry," says Walpole, "was a painter too;" and, according to Aubrey, his love of the pencil introduced him to the friendship of that prince of painters, Samuel Cooper. But his proficiency seems to have Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/24 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/25 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/26 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/27 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/29 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/30 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/31 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/32 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/33 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/34 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/35 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/36 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/37 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/39 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/40 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/41 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/42 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/43 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/44 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/45 Page:Hudibras - Volume 1 (Butler, Nash, Bohn; 1859).djvu/46

  1. Mr Bright is buried in the cathedral church of Worcester, near the north pillar, at the foot of the steps which lead to the choir. He was born 1562, appointed schoolmaster 1586, made prebendary 1619, died 1626. The inscription in capitals, on a mural stone, now placed in what is called the Bishop's Chapel, is as follows:

    Mane hospes et lege,
    Celeberrimus gymnasiarcha,
    Qui scholse regiæ, istic fundatæ per totos 40 annos
    summa cum laude præfuit,
    Quo non alter magis sedulus fuit, scitusve, ae dexter,
    in Latin Græcis Hebraicis litteris,
    feliciter edoceudis:
    Teste utraque academia quam instruxit affatim
    numcrosa plebe literaria:
    Sed et totidem annis eoque amplius theologiam professus,
    Et hujus ecclesiæ per septennium canonicus major,
    Sæpissime hic et alibi sacrum Dei præconem
    magno cum zelo et fructu egit.
    Vir pius, doctus, integer, frugi, de republica
    deque ecclesia optime meritus.
    A laboribus per diu noctuque
    ad 1626 strenue usque exantlatis
    4° Martii suaviter requievit
    in Domino.

    See this epitaph, written by Dr Joseph Hall, dean of Worcester, in Fuller's Worthies, p. 177.