A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Fifteen
COWLEY TO DRYDEN

THE change which was coming over the spirit of poetry, even while Milton was composing the great poem on which his mind had dwelt for so long, is clearly reflected in the work of Dryden's immediate predecessors. In Butler Hudibras ( 1662, '63, '78) one can recapture the feeling of anger and relief which Pepys has described so vividly as breaking out when Monk declared for a free Parliament, inaugurating the end of the rule of saints and majorgenerals: "Indeed it was past imagination both the greatness and the suddenness of it. . . . All along burning and roasting of rumps. Bowbells and all the bells in all the churches were ringing." Anyone who was in New York when, with the advent of twoper-cent beer, the passing of prohibition was heralded, had something of the same experience, the general sense of relief, for just so will the human spirit react from any too prolonged endeavour to hold it above its capacity for restraint and well-doing by compulsion. Hudibras is a strange poem, a burlesque satire on the fanaticism and knavery of Presbyterian and Independent, interwoven with satire on other frauds and follies of the period, and with disquisitions on themes of more general import such as marriage. Dryden was critical of Butler's choice of the octosyllabic metre, but for Butler's purpose, the degradation and ridicule of the godly, it was entirely suitable. Butler had no thought of drawing any of the Commonwealth worthies, not even Cromwell, as Dryden would later draw Shaftesbury, doing justice to his nobler qualities, as a "great, bad man." Sir Hudibras, the Presbyterian knight, and his

Squire whose name was Ralph
That in the adventure went his half,
Though writers, for more stately tone,
Do call him Ralpho, 'tis all one:
And when we can with metre safe,
We'll call him so; if not plain Ralph;

-187-

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