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Loft, may be found . in: Gwwkj. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Johnson says of Spenser, that he wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylontflj X)iale£l, in itself harsh and barbarous; but made by exalted genius, and extensive learning, the vehicle of ib much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.
After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he fays, is the Englifo heroick verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The earl of Surry is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, besides our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse; particularly one tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trisino's Italia Liberata; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.
Rhyme, he says, and fays truly, is no necessary adjunct os true poetry. But perhaps, of poetry as a mental operation, metre or musick is no necessary adjunct: it is however by the musick of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and in languages melodiously constructed, by a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another: where metre is scanty and imperfect, some h*lp is necessary. 'J he musick of the Englishrheroick'line strikes the ear so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together: this cooperation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another, as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critick, seems to be verse only to the eye.
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary site; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could
urge in its defence, has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be the advantage of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it Is j yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epick poem, and therefore must yield to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the* texture of the fable, the variation of incident, the interposition or dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance; he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither courted nor received support j there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favours gained; no exchange of praise, nor solicitation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness, but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous, and his work is not the greatest of heroick poems, only because it is not the first.
F the great author of Hudibras there is a life prefixed to the later edition of his poem, by an unknown writer, and therefore of disputable authority; and some account is incidentally given by Wood, who confesses the uncertainty of his own narrative; more however than they knew cannot now be learned, and nothing remains but to compare and copy them.
SAMUEL BUTLER was born in the parish of Strensham in Worcestershire, according to his biographer, in 1612 j but Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, informed the author of the " General <l Dictionary" that he was born in 1600.
His father's condition is variously represented. Wood mention him as competently wealthy; but the other fays he was an honest farmer with some small estate, who made a (hift to educate his son at the grammar-school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright, from whose care he removed for a short time to Cambridge; but, for want of money, was never made a member of any college. Wood leaves us rather doubtful whether he went to Cambridge or Oxford; but at last makes him pass six or seven years at Cambridge,
without without knowing in what hall or college: yet it can hardly be imagined that he lived so long in either university, but as belonging to one house or another; and it is still less likely that he could have so long inhabited a place of learning with so little distinction as to leave his residence uncertain.
Wood has his information from his brother, whose narrative placed him at Cambridge, in opposition to that of his neighbours which sent him to Oxford. The brother's seems the best authority, till, by confessing his inability to tell his hall or college, he gives reason to suspect that he was resolved to bestow on him an academical education; but durst not name a college, for fear of detection.
He was for some time, according to the author of his life, clerk to Mr. Jefferys of Earl's-Croom in Worcestershire, an eminent justice of the peace. Jn his service he had not only leisure for study, but for recreation: his amusements were musick and painting j and the reward of his pencil was the friendship of the celebrated Cooper.
He was afterwards admitted into the family of the countess of Kent, where he had the use of a library j and so much recommended himself to Selden, that he was often employed by him in literary business. Selden, as is well known, was steward to the countess, and is supposed to have gained much of his wealth by managing her estate.
In what character Butler was admitted into that lady's service, how long he continued in it, and why he left it, is, like the other incidents of his life, utterly unknown.