TO THE READER.
Poeta nascitur non fit, [poets are born, not made] is a sentence of as great truth as antiquity; it being most certain, that all the acquired learning imaginable is insufficient to compleat a poet, without a natural genius and propensity to so noble and sublime an art. And we may, without offence, observe, that many very learned men, who have been ambitious to be thought poets, have only rendered themselves obnoxious to that satyrical inspiration our Author wittily invokes:
Which made them, though it were in spight
Of nature and their stars, to write.
On the one side some who have had very little human learning, but were endued with a large share of natural wit and parts, have become the most celebrated (Shakespear, D'Avenant, &c.) poets of the age they lived in. But, as these last are, "Rarae aves in terris," so, when the muses have not disdained the assistances of other arts and sciences, we are then blessed with those lasting monuments of wit and learning, which may justly claim a kind of eternity upon earth. And our author, had his modesty permitted him, might, with Horace, have said,
Exegi monumentum aere perennius:
[I have raised a memorial more lasting than bronze]
Or, with Ovid,
Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,
Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetustas.
[For I have raised a work which neither the rage of Jupiter,
Nor fire, nor iron, nor consuming age can destroy.]
The Author of this celebrated Poem was of this last composition: for although he had not the happiness of an academical education, as some affirm, if may be perceived, throughout his whole Poem, that he had read much, and was very well accomplished in the most useful parts of human learning.
Rapin (in his reflections) speaking of the necessary qualities belonging to a poet, tells us, he must have a genius extraordinary; great natural gifts; a wit just, fruitful, piercing, solid, and universal; an understanding clear and distinct; an imagination neat and pleasant; an elevation of soul, that depends not only on art or study, but is purely the gift of heaven, which must be sustained by a lively sense and vivacity; judgment to consider wisely of things, and vivacity for the beautiful expression of them, &c.
Now, how justly this character is due to our Author, we leave to the impartial reader, and those of nicer judgment, who had the happiness to be more intimately acquainted with him.
The reputation of this incomparable Poem is so thoroughly established in the world, that it would be superfluous, if not impertinent, to endeavour any panegyric upon it. King Charles II. whom the judicious part of mankind will readily acknowledge to be a sovereign judge of wit, was so great an admirer of it, that he would often pleasantly quote it in his conversation. However, since most men have a curiosity to have some account of such anonymous authors, whose compositions have been eminent for wit or learning, we have, for their information, subjoined a short Life of the Author.
THE AUTHOR'S LIFE.
Samuel Butler, the Author of this excellent Poem, was born in the Parish of Strensham, in the county of Worcester, and baptized there the 13th of Feb. 1612. His father, who was of the same name, was an honest country farmer, who had some small estate of his own, but rented a much greater of the Lord of the Manor where he lived. However, perceiving in this son an early inclination to learning, he made a shift to have him educated in the free-school at Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright; where having passed the usual time, and being become an excellent school-scholar, he went for some little time to Cambridge, but was never matriculated into that University, his father's abilities not being sufficient to be at the charge of an academical education; so that our Author returned soon into his native county, and became clerk to one Mr. Jefferys, of Earl's-Croom, an eminent Justice of the Peace for that County, with whom he lived some years, in an easy and no contemptible service. Here by the indulgence of a kind master, he had sufficient leisure to apply himself to whatever learning his inclinations led him, which were chiefly history and poetry; to which, for his diversion, he joined music and painting; and I have seen some pictures, said to be of his drawing, which remained in that family; which I mention not for the excellency of them, but to satisfy the reader of his early inclinations to that noble art; for which also he was afterwards entirely beloved by Mr. Samuel Cooper, one of the most eminent painters of his time.
He was after this recommended to that great encourager of learning, Elizabeth Countess of Kent, where he had not only the opportunity to consult all manner of learned books, but to converse also with that living library of learning, the great Mr Selden.
Our Author lived some time also with Sir Samuel Luke, who was of an ancient family in Bedfordshire but, to his dishonour, an eminent commander under the usurper Oliver Cromwell: and then it was, as I am informed, he composed this loyal Poem. For, though fate, more than choice, seems to have placed him in the service of a Knight so notorious, both in his person and politics, yet, by the rule of contraries, one may observe throughout his whole Poem, that he was most orthodox, both in his religion and loyalty. And I am the more induced to believe he wrote it about that time, because he had then the opportunity to converse with those living characters of rebellion, nonsense, and hypocrisy, which he so livelily and pathetically exposes throughout the whole work.
After the restoration of King Charles II. those who were at the helm, minding money more than merit, our Author found that verse in Juvenal to be exactly verified in himself:
Haud facile emergunt, quorum virtutibus obstat
Res angusta domi:
[They do not easily rise whose virtues are held back by the straitened circumstances of their home]And being endued with that innate modesty, which rarely finds promotion in princes' courts. He became Secretary to Richard Earl of Carbury, Lord President of the Principality of Wales, who made him Steward of Ludlow-Castle, when the Court there was revived. About this time he married one Mrs. Herbert, a gentlewoman of a very good family, but no widow, as the Oxford Antiquary has reported; she had a competent fortune, but it was most of it unfortunately lost, by being put out on ill securities, so that it was of little advantage to him. He is reported by the Antiquary to have been Secretary to his Grace George Duke of Buckingham, when he was Chancellor to the University of Cambridge; but whether that be true or no, it is certain, the Duke had a great kindness for him, and was often a benefactor to him. But no man was a more generous friend to him, than that Mecaenas of all learned and witty men, Charles Lord Buckhurst, the late Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, who, being himself an excellent poet, knew how to set a just value upon the ingenious performances of others, and has often taken care privately to relieve and supply the necessities of those, whose modesty would endeavour to conceal them; of which our author was a signal instance, as several others have been, who are now living. In fine the integrity of his life, the acuteness of his wit, and easiness of his conversation, had rendered him most acceptable to all men; yet he prudently avoided a multiplicity of acquaintance, and wisely chose such only whom his discerning judgment could distinguish (as Mr. Cowley expresseth it)
From the great vulgar or the small.
And having thus lived to a good old age, admired by all, though personally known to few, he departed this life in the year 1680, and was buried at the charge of his good friend Mr. Longuevil, of the Temple, in the yard belonging to the church of St. Paul's Covent-garden, at the west-end of the said yard, on the north side, under the wall of the said church, and under that wall which parts the yard from the common highway. And since he has no monument yet set up for him, give me leave to borrow his epitaph from that of Michael Drayton, the poet, as the author of Mr. Cowley's has partly done before me:And though no monument can claim