« PreviousContinue »
watched the other for some years. These generations that had suffered together, alike exhausted, agreed to end their days together; but the rising generations, which felt not this lassitude, and harboured no enmity, had no need to enter into such compromises of misfortune; they claimed the fruits of the blood and tears of their fathers: it became necessary to bid farewell to the things of the past.
The above-named writers possessed all the qualifications requisite for shining in the bivouac of a night's halt, between the popular reign of Cromwell and the reign of the Parliaments of William and his successors. The servile House of Commons now existed only to destroy the asserters of liberty, who had formerly constituted its strength; the monarchy, on the other hand, suffered its most devoted servants to perish. The people and the king appeared mutually to abandon each other, to make way for the aristocracy; the scaffold of Charles I. separated them for ever.
BUTLER stands in the first line, as a deposing witness in the trial of ingratitude instituted against the memory of Charles II.: Charles knew by heart the verses of Hudibras, a political Don Quixote. This satire, so replete with sallies against the actors in the revolution, delighted a court distinguished by the licentiousness of Rochester and the graceful manner of Grammont; ridicule was a species of revenge adapted to courtiers.
Those who are placed at a distance from events, who have not lived in the midst of factions and of factious men, are only struck by the serious or the painful side of occurrences; such is not the case with an actor or a spectator compromised in scenes of blood.
Tacitus, whom nature had formed a poet, might have written the satires of Petronius, had he sat in Nero's senate; he portrayed the tyranny of that
prince because he lived after his time; Butler, endowed with a penetrating mind, might have written the history of Charles I., had he been born in Queen Anne's reign; he contented himself with throwing Hudibras into rhyme, because he had seen the actors in Cromwell's revolution; he had seen them, though always talking of independence, holding out their hands to every chain, and, after putting the father to death, submitting to the yoke of the son.
Nevertheless, the subject of Butler's poem, a poem in which the eldest son of the Duke of Buckingham lent his assistance, is less felicitous than that of the satire Menippée. It was allowable to laugh at the League in spite of its horrors; the railleries of which it was the object had a chance of duration, because the League was not a revolution; it was no more than a sedition, from which no advantage accrued to mankind. The men of that protracted sedition, L'Hôpital alone excepted, were only individually great; their course was not marked by any political idea, or principle, or institution, useful to society. The League assassinated Henry III., who exceeded it in devotion, and it combated Henry IV., who conquered and bought it off. It disappeared, without leaving any traces of its passage; its only echo was the Fronde,
a wretched broil, which merged in the absolute power of Louis XIV.
But the commotions in England, in 1649, were of a far more serious nature; the question was not of a duel between ambitious princes; the struggle was between the people and the king, between the commonwealth and the monarchy: the sovereign was tried in solemn form and put to death; the popular chief who brought him to the block and succeeded him, was no less a one than Cromwell there was found a man.
The dictatorship over the people, personified in a tribune, lasted nine years; it bore away absolute monarchy in its retreat, and deposited in the industry of England the germ of her power, the Navigation Act. The rebound of the revolution of 1649 produced the revolution of 1688, a result of prodigious importance.
These are the reasons why we no longer laugh at the railleries of Hudibras, as we do at the jests of the Menippée. The consequences of the troubles in the reign of Charles I. are still felt over the world; the atrocities of St. Bartholomew, the enormities arising from the profligacy of Henry III., and the ambition of the Guises, have only left a horror of the memory of those atrocities and excesses. Could an author, who
should attempt to compose a burlesque poem upon the revolution of 1789 succeed in enlivening the Reign of Terror or in lessening Bonaparte? The parodies which remain are furnished only by events that have passed away; they resemble the masks moulded on the face of a dead man which has since crumbled to dust, or on that of a satyr whose bust is no longer to be found.
A catalogue has been drawn up of the royalists who suffered in the cause of Charles I.; extensive as it is, Charles II. further augmented it. Waller, a cowardly conspirator under the Commonwealth, a fawning poet of the successful usurpation, obtained every favour from restored legitimacy, whilst Butler was dying of hunger. Crowns have their impurities as well as red caps.
A fatal destiny pursues the muses: Valeriano Bolzani composed a treatise, "De Litteratorum infelicitate;" D'Israeli has published "The Calamities of Authors:" they are far from having exhausted the subject.
In the mere list of English poets whom I have named, we find the following:
James, King of Scotland, eighteen years a prisoner, and at last assassinated; Rivers, Surrey, and Thomas More, suffering on the scaffold; Lovelace and Butler, dying of want.