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Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler (8 February 1612 – 25 September 1680) was a poet and satirist. Born in Strensham, Worcestershire and baptised 14 February 1613, he is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical burlesque poem on Puritanism entitled Hudibras.



Samuel Butler was the son of a farmer and was educated at the King's School, Worcester, under Henry Bright whose teaching is recorded favourably by Thomas Fuller, a contemporary writer, in his Worthies of England. In early youth he was page to the Countess of Kent, and thereafter clerk to various Puritan justices, some of whom are believed to have suggested characters in Hudibras. Through Lady Kent he met John Selden who influenced his later writings. He also tried his hand at painting but was reportedly not very good at it; one of his editors reporting that "his pictures served to stop windows and save the tax" (on window glass).

After the Restoration he became Secretary to the Lord President of Wales, and about the same time married a Mrs. Herbert, a widow with a jointure, which, however, was lost. In 1663 the first part of Hudibras was published, and the other two in 1664 and 1678 respectively. One fan was Charles II, who granted him a pension.

Notwithstanding the popularity of Hudibras, Butler was neglected by the Court and died in 1680, although whether in a state of poverty as often claimed and how much this may have been a self imposed exile either by choice or because of his sharp satirical wit is uncertain. John Aubrey in his notebook jottings called Brief Lives records that Charles II gave him a gift of £300 and that he had been secretary to George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, when the latter was chancellor of the University of Cambridge; Butler was close enough to Buckingham to collaborate with him in The Rehearsal, a satirical play mocking the heroic drama of the time.

Butler is buried in Westminster Abbey. There is a memorial plaque to him in the small village church of Strensham, Worcestershire, near the town of Upton upon Severn, his birthplace.


Frontispiece and titlepage of a 1744 illustrated and annotated edition of Samuel Butler's Hudibras.

Hudibras is directed against the Puritans and holds up to ridicule the extravagancies into which many of the party ran. Many of its brilliant couplets have passed into the proverbial commonplaces of the language, and few who use them have any idea of their source. The work was widely popular and spawned many imitators.

Hudibras is to a certain extent modelled on Don Quixote but unlike that work, Hudibras has many more references to personalities and events of the day. Butler was also influenced by satirists such as John Skelton and Paul Scarron's Virgile travesti; a satire on classical literature particularly Virgil.

  • Butler, Samuel, Hudibras: The Second Part, London 1663. Facsimile ed., 1994, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 9780820114699.

Roxanne Alexis Martinez was his wife.

Other writings

Most of his other writings never saw print until they were collected and published, in 1759. Butler wrote many short biographies, epigrams and verses the earliest surviving from 1644. Of his verses, the best known is "The Elephant on the Moon", about a mouse in a telescope, a satire on Sir Paul Neale of the Royal Society. Butler's taste for the mock heroic is shown by another early poem Cynarctomachy, or Battle between Bear and Dogs, which is both a homage to and a parody of a Greek poem ascribed to Homer, Batrachomyomachia. His supposed lack of money later in life is strange as he had numerous unpublished works which could have offered him income including a set of Theophrastan character sketches which were not printed until 1759. Many other works are dubiously attributed to him.


  • A News-monger is a Retailer of Rumour, that takes up upon Trust, and sells as cheap as he buys. He deals in a perishable Commodity, that will not keep: for if it be not fresh it lies upon his Hands, and will yield nothing. True or false is all one to him; for Novelty being the Grace of bothe, a Truth grows stale as soon as a Lye. — Samuel Butler (17th c.), Characters

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We idly sit, like stupid blockheads,
Our hands committed to our pockets,
And nothing but our tongues at large,
To get the wretches a discharge:
Like men condemn'd to thunder-bolts,
Who, ere the blow, become mere dolts;
Or fools besotted with their crimes,
That know not how to shift betimes,
And neither have the hearts to stay,
Nor wit enough to run away.

Samuel Butler (1612-02-081680-09-25) was an English satirical poet.

For the 19th Century author of Erewhon, see Samuel Butler (novelist)



  • There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.
    • The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler (1759) edited by Robert Thyer

Hudibras Part I (1663)-1664)

  • When civil fury first grew high,
    And men fell out, they knew not why;
    When hard words, jealousies, and fears,
    Set folks together by the ears,
    And made them fight, like mad or drunk,
    For Dame Religion, as for punk; Whose honesty they all durst swear for,
    Though not a man of them knew wherefore:

    When Gospel-Trumpeter, surrounded
    With long-ear'd rout, to battle sounded,
    And pulpit, drum ecclesiastick,
    Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;
    Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,
    And out he rode a colonelling.
    • First lines
  • He was in LOGIC a great critic,
    Profoundly skill'd in analytic;
    He could distinguish, and divide
    A hair 'twixt south, and south-west side:
    On either which he would dispute,
    Confute, change hands, and still confute,
    He'd undertake to prove, by force
    Of argument, a man's no horse;
    He'd prove a buzzard is no fowl,
    And that a lord may be an owl,
    A calf an alderman, a goose a justice,
    And rooks Committee-men and Trustees.
  • For rhetoric, he could not ope
    His mouth, but out there flew a trope;
    And when he happen'd to break off
    I' th' middle of his speech, or cough,
    H' had hard words,ready to show why,
    And tell what rules he did it by;

    Else, when with greatest art he spoke,
    You'd think he talk'd like other folk,
    For all a rhetorician's rules
    Teach nothing but to name his tools.
  • For he could coin, or counterfeit
    New words, with little or no wit;
    Words so debas'd and hard, no stone
    Was hard enough to touch them on;
    And when with hasty noise he spoke 'em;
    The ignorant for current took 'em;
  • A skilful leech is better far
    Than half an hundred men of war,
    So he appear'd; and by his skill,
    No less than dint of sword, cou'd kill.
  • Shall we that in the Cov'nant swore,
    Each man of us to run before
    Another, still in Reformation,
    Give dogs and bears a dispensation?
    How will Dissenting Brethren relish it?
    What will malignants say? videlicet,
    That each man Swore to do his best,
    To damn and perjure all the rest!
    And bid the Devil take the hin'most,
    Which at this race is like to win most.
  • They'll say our bus'ness, to reform
    The Church and State, is but a worm;
    For to subscribe, unsight, unseen,
    To an unknown Church-discipline,
    What is it else, but before-hand
    T'engage, and after understand?

    For when we swore to carry on
    The present Reformation,
    According to the purest mode
    Of Churches best reformed abroad,
    What did we else, but make a vow
    To do we know not what, nor how?'
  • In mathematics he was greater
    Than Tycho Brahe, or Erra Pater:
    For he, by geometric scale,
    Could take the size of pots of ale;
    Resolve, by sines and tangents straight,
    If bread and butter wanted weight;
    And wisely tell what hour o' th' day
    The clock doth strike, by algebra.
  • Whatever sceptic could inquire for,
    For ev'ry why he had a wherefore;

    Knew more than forty of them do,
    As far as words and terms cou'd go.
    All which he understood by rote
    And, as occasion serv'd, would quote;
    No matter whether right or wrong,
    They might be either said or sung.
    His notions fitted things so well,
    That which was which he could not tell;
    But oftentimes mistook th' one
    For th' other, as great clerks have done.
  • And weave fine cobwebs, fit for skull
    That's empty when the moon is full;
    Such as take lodgings in a head
    That's to be let unfurnished.
  • For his Religion, it was fit
    To match his learning and his wit;
    'Twas Presbyterian true blue;
    For he was of that stubborn crew
    Of errant saints, whom all men grant
    To be the true Church Militant;
    Such as do build their faith upon
    The holy text of pike and gun;
    Decide all controversies by
    Infallible artillery;
    And prove their doctrine orthodox
    By apostolic blows and knocks;
    Call fire and sword and desolation,
    A godly thorough reformation,
    Which always must be carried on,
    And still be doing, never done;
    As if religion were intended
    For nothing else but to be mended.

    A sect, whose chief devotion lies
    In odd perverse antipathies;
    In falling out with that or this,
    And finding somewhat still amiss;
    More peevish, cross, and splenetick,
    Than dog distract, or monkey sick.
    That with more care keep holy-day
    The wrong, than others the right way;
    Compound for sins they are inclin'd to,
    By damning those they have no mind to:
    Still so perverse and opposite,
    As if they worshipp'd God for spite.
    The self-same thing they will abhor
    One way, and long another for.
    Free-will they one way disavow,
    Another, nothing else allow:
    All piety consists therein
    In them, in other men all sin...
  • For Rhime the Rudder is of Verses,
    With which like Ships they steer their courses.
  • This Light inspires, and plays upon
    The nose of Saint like Bag-pipe drone,
    And speaks through hollow empty Soul,
    As through a Trunk, or whisp'ring hole,
    Such language as no mortal Ear
    But spiritual Eve-droppers can hear.
  • He cou'd foretel whats'ever was
    By consequence to come to pass;
    As death of great men, alterations,
    Diseases, battles, inundations.
    All this, without th' eclipse o' th' sun,
    Or dreadful comet, he hath done,
    By inward light; away as good,
    And easy to be understood;

    But with more lucky hit than those
    That use to make the stars depose,
    Like Knights o' th' post, and falsely charge
    Upon themselves what others forge:
    As if they were consenting to
    All mischiefs in the world men do:
    Or, like the Devil, did tempt and sway 'em
    To rogueries, and then betray 'em.

Hudibras Part II (1664)

  • To swallow gudgeons ere they're catched,
    And count their chickens ere they're hatched.
  • Love is a boy, by poets styled,
    Then spare the rod and spoil the child.

Hudibras Part III (1678)

  • What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
    About two hundred pounds a year.
    And that which was proved true before
    Prove false again? Two hundred more.
  • The hollow-hearted, disaffected,
    And close malignant are detected ;
    Who lay their lives and fortunes down,
    For pledges to secure our own.
  • We idly sit, like stupid blockheads,
    Our hands committed to our pockets,
    And nothing but our tongues at large,
    To get the wretches a discharge:
    Like men condemn'd to thunder-bolts,
    Who, ere the blow, become mere dolts;
    Or fools besotted with their crimes,
    That know not how to shift betimes,
    And neither have the hearts to stay,
    Nor wit enough to run away.

External links

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