Let us gather into a lifeless catalogue some minor figures who gave life and literature to this epoch, but with whom we cannot stay long enough to see them live.
The greatest poem of the pagan Restoration was a Puritan epic, but the most famous poem was an anti-Puritan mock epic, Hudibras (1663–78). Samuel Butler, as a lusty youth, spent uncomfortable years in the service of Sir Samuel Luke, an ardent Presbyterian colonel in Cromwell’s army, stationed at Cople Hoo, a citadel of Puritan politics and prayer. When the Restoration came Butler revenged himself by publishing a rollicking satire in which Sir Hudibras, the chivalric knight, leads his squire, Ralpho, on a crusade against sin. From the beginning you may judge the whole:
When civil dudgeon 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; . . .
When Gospel-trumpeter, surrounded
With long-eared rout, to battle sounded,
And pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
Was beat with fist instead of stick:
Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,
And out he rode a-colonelling. . . .
For ’t has been held by many that
As Montaigne, playing with his cat,
Complains she thought him but an ass,
Much more she would Sir Hudibras . . .
We grant, although he had much wit,
H’was very shy of using it,
As being loath to wear it out,
And therefore bore it not about
Unless on holidays or so,
As men their best apparel do. . . .
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
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By Apostolic blows and knocks; . . .
A sect whose chief devotion lies
In odd perverse antipathies; . . .
That with more care keep holiday
The wrong than others the right way;
Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to. 43
And so on, to the pain of the Puritans and the delight of the King. Charles rewarded the author with three hundred pounds. Every royalist praised it except Pepys, who could not “see where the wit lies,” though “the book [is] now in the greatest fashion for drollery.”44 Butler hurried to bring out continuations (1664, 1678), but he had no further arrows in his quiver, and had run out of rhymes. The strife of Protestant and Catholic replaced that of royalist and Puritan; Butler was forgotten, and died in obscure poverty (1680). Forty years later a monument was erected to him in Westminster Abbey. “He asked for bread,” said an epigram, “and he received a stone.” 45
Better than such rhyme-chasing doggerel was the stately prose of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, which appeared in 1702–4, though written in 1646–74. Men could see, in Queen Anne’s reign, how careful had been the composition of those eight volumes, how splendid their style, how penetrating those sketches of character, how magnanimous had been the spirit of the old beaten Chancellor. Gilbert Burnet, likewise, had played no small part in The History of His Own Time, which by his order was published (1724) only after his death. His History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679, 1681, 1715) was a more substantial work, a labor of long research; it came at a time when Protestant England feared a Catholic revival; both houses of Parliament thanked him for it. Enemies and editors have found a thousand errors in it; it is still warm with partisanship, and occasionally sullied with invective; but it remains the greatest book on its theme. Burnet strove to widen religious toleration, and earned the hostility of the mob.
Three other men sought to enlarge the present with the past. Thomas Fuller, passing through his loved land county by county, collected his History of the Worthies of England (1662), enlivening his dead heros with anecdotes, epigrams, and wit. Anthony Wood told the history of Oxford, and compiled a biographical dictionary of its graduates—careful works from which many an author has nibbled stealthily. John Aubrey gathered juicy fragments about 426 English notables, hoping to co-ordinate the material into a history, but laziness and death prevented him, and his Minutes of Lives saw print only in 1813; 46 his relics have cheered us on our way. Colonel John Hutchinson, a Puritan gentleman, voted for the execution of Charles I, was imprisoned by Charles II, was released, died soon afterward, and was enshrined by his widow, Lucy, in a loving and illuminating Life of Colonel Hutchinson; but Lucy suffered from delayed periods, her sentences sometimes running through a page. John Arbuthnot, able physician and loyal friend of Swift, Pope, Queen Anne, and many others, joined in the Tory campaign to stop the war with France, by issuing (1712) a series of pamphlets satirizing the Whigs, and describing an imaginary character, John Bull, who became thenceforth a symbol of England. John, wrote John, was
an honest, plain-dealing fellow, choleric, bold, and of a very inconstant temper. . . . If you flattered him you might lead him like a child. John’s temper depended very much upon the air; his spirits rose and fell with the weather-glass. John was quick and understood his business very well; but no man alive was more careless in looking into his accounts, or more cheated by partners, apprentices, or servants. This was occasioned by his being a boon companion, loving his bottle and his diversion; for to say truth, no man kept a better house than John, nor spent his money more generously. 47
What would Sir William Temple say if he could find himself reduced to a paragraph in a chapter culminating in his secretary? Perhaps he would say, if his fine manners would permit, that historians neglected him because he had not kept two women dangling on the edge of matrimony till the death of one and the exhaustion of the other; that he had not sold his pen to Tory ministers out of pique at Whigs, nor dipped it in acid against mankind; but had served his country quietly in successful diplomacy, and, in an age of corruption and licentiousness, had given England an unostentatious example of decent family life. For seven years he courted Dorothy Osborne, whose lively letters to him became a part of English literature; 48 she accepted him despite the opposition of both their families; and he married her after an attack of smallpox had destroyed her beauty. He entered politics, but preferred tasks that took him far away from the fever of London; and he avoided “that laborious, that invidious, that closely watched slavery which is mocked with the name of power.” 49 He was among the first to warn against the territorial ambitions of Louis XIV, and he was the chief architect of the Triple Alliance that checked the French King in 1668. In 1674 and 1677 he was offered the secretaryship of state, but he preferred his diplomatic post at The Hague. His farseeing negotiations brought about the marriage of Mary, daughter of James II, to the future William III, which made possible the “Glorious Revolution.” In 1681 he retired from politics to a life of studying and writing at Moor Park, his estate in Surrey. Swift thought him cold and reserved, but Sir William’s wife and sister alike worshiped him as the heart of kindness and courtesy. The most famous of his essays, Of Ancient and Modern Learning (1690), lauded the ancients, and belittled modern science and philosophy in the very teeth of Newton, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Locke. Bentley caught him in a famous error. Sir William retreated into his garden, and comforted himself with Epicurus. We shall meet him again.