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Short poem

Samuel Butler (1613-1680)

Hudibras: Part I



     Sir Hudibras his passing worth,
     The manner how he sallied forth;
     His arms and equipage are shown;
     His horse's virtues, and his own.
     Th' adventure of the bear and fiddle
     Is sung, but breaks off in the middle.

              1When civil fury first grew high,
              2And men fell out, they knew not why;
              3When hard words, jealousies, and fears,
              4Set folks together by the ears,
              5And made them fight, like mad or drunk,
              6For Dame Religion, as for punk;
              7Whose honesty they all durst swear for,
              8Though not a man of them knew wherefore:
              9When Gospel-Trumpeter, surrounded
            10With long-ear'd rout, to battle sounded,
            11And pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
            12Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;
            13Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,
            14And out he rode a colonelling.

            15     A wight he was, whose very sight would
            16Entitle him Mirror of Knighthood;
            17That never bent his stubborn knee
            18To any thing but Chivalry;
            19Nor put up blow, but that which laid
            20Right worshipful on shoulder-blade;
            21Chief of domestic knights and errant,
            22Either for cartel or for warrant;
            23Great on the bench, great in the saddle,
            24That could as well bind o'er, as swaddle;
            25Mighty he was at both of these,
            26And styl'd of war, as well as peace.
            27(So some rats, of amphibious nature,
            28Are either for the land or water).
            29But here our authors make a doubt
            30Whether he were more wise, or stout:
            31Some hold the one, and some the other;
            32But howsoe'er they make a pother,
            33The diff'rence was so small, his brain
            34Outweigh'd his rage but half a grain;
            35Which made some take him for a tool
            36That knaves do work with, call'd a fool,
            37And offer to lay wagers that
            38As Montaigne, playing with his cat,
            39Complains she thought him but an ass,
            40Much more she would Sir Hudibras;
            41(For that's the name our valiant knight
            42To all his challenges did write).
            43But they're mistaken very much,
            44'Tis plain enough he was no such;
            45We grant, although he had much wit,
            46H' was very shy of using it;
            47As being loth to wear it out,
            48And therefore bore it not about,
            49Unless on holy-days, or so,
            50As men their best apparel do.
            51Beside, 'tis known he could speak Greek
            52As naturally as pigs squeak;
            53That Latin was no more difficile,
            54Than to a blackbird 'tis to whistle:
            55Being rich in both, he never scanted
            56His bounty unto such as wanted;
            57But much of either would afford
            58To many, that had not one word.
            59For Hebrew roots, although th'are found
            60To flourish most in barren ground,
            61He had such plenty, as suffic'd
            62To make some think him circumcis'd;
            63And truly so, perhaps, he was,
            64'Tis many a pious Christian's case.

            65     He was in logic a great critic,
            66Profoundly skill'd in analytic;
            67He could distinguish, and divide
            68A hair 'twixt south, and south-west side:
            69On either which he would dispute,
            70Confute, change hands, and still confute,
            71He'd undertake to prove, by force
            72Of argument, a man's no horse;
            73He'd prove a buzzard is no fowl,
            74And that a lord may be an owl,
            75A calf an alderman, a goose a justice,
            76And rooks Committee-men and Trustees.
            77He'd run in debt by disputation,
            78And pay with ratiocination.
            79All this by syllogism, true
            80In mood and figure, he would do.

            81     For rhetoric, he could not ope
            82His mouth, but out there flew a trope;
            83And when he happen'd to break off
            84I' th' middle of his speech, or cough,
            85H' had hard words, ready to show why,
            86And tell what rules he did it by;
            87Else, when with greatest art he spoke,
            88You'd think he talk'd like other folk,
            89For all a rhetorician's rules
            90Teach nothing but to name his tools.
            91His ordinary rate of speech
            92In loftiness of sound was rich;
            93A Babylonish dialect,
            94Which learned pedants much affect.
            95It was a parti-colour'd dress
            96Of patch'd and pie-bald languages;
            97'Twas English cut on Greek and Latin,
            98Like fustian heretofore on satin;
            99It had an odd promiscuous tone,
          100As if h' had talk'd three parts in one;
          101Which made some think, when he did gabble,
          102Th' had heard three labourers of Babel;
          103Or Cerberus himself pronounce
          104A leash of languages at once.
          105This he as volubly would vent
          106As if his stock would ne'er be spent:
          107And truly, to support that charge,
          108He had supplies as vast and large;
          109For he would coin, or counterfeit
          110New words, with little or no wit:
          111Words so debas'd and hard, no stone
          112Was hard enough to touch them on;
          113And when with hasty noise he spoke 'em,
          114The ignorant for current took 'em;
          115That had the orator, who once
          116Did fill his mouth with pebble stones
          117When he harangu'd, but known his phrase
          118He would have us'd no other ways.

          119     In mathematics he was greater
          120Than Tycho Brahe, or Erra Pater:
          121For he, by geometric scale,
          122Could take the size of pots of ale;
          123Resolve, by sines and tangents straight,
          124If bread or butter wanted weight,
          125And wisely tell what hour o' th' day
          126The clock does strike by algebra.

          127     Beside, he was a shrewd philosopher,
          128And had read ev'ry text and gloss over;
          129Whate'er the crabbed'st author hath,
          130He understood b' implicit faith:
          131Whatever sceptic could inquire for,
          132For ev'ry why he had a wherefore;
          133Knew more than forty of them do,
          134As far as words and terms could go.

          135     All which he understood by rote,
          136And, as occasion serv'd, would quote;
          137No matter whether right or wrong,
          138They might be either said or sung.
          139His notions fitted things so well,
          140That which was which he could not tell;
          141But oftentimes mistook th' one
          142For th' other, as great clerks have done.
          143He could reduce all things to acts,
          144And knew their natures by abstracts;
          145Where entity and quiddity,
          146The ghosts of defunct bodies fly;
          147Where truth in person does appear,
          148Like words congeal'd in northern air.
          149He knew what's what, and that's as high
          150As metaphysic wit can fly;
          151In school-divinity as able
          152As he that hight Irrefragable;
          153Profound in all the Nominal
          154And Real ways, beyond them all:
          155And with as delicate a hand,
          156Could twist as tough a rope of sand;
          157And weave fine cobwebs, fit for skull
          158That's empty when the moon is full;
          159Such as take lodgings in a head
          160That's to be let unfurnished.
          161He could raise scruples dark and nice,
          162And after solve 'em in a trice;
          163As if Divinity had catch'd
          164The itch, on purpose to be scratch'd;
          165Or, like a mountebank, did wound
          166And stab herself with doubts profound,
          167Only to show with how small pain
          168The sores of Faith are cur'd again;
          169Although by woful proof we find,
          170They always leave a scar behind.
          171He knew the seat of Paradise,
          172Could tell in what degree it lies;
          173And, as he was dispos'd, could prove it,
          174Below the moon, or else above it.
          175What Adam dreamt of, when his bride
          176Came from her closet in his side:
          177Whether the devil tempted her
          178By an High Dutch interpreter;
          179If either of them had a navel:
          180Who first made music malleable:
          181Whether the serpent, at the fall,
          182Had cloven feet, or none at all.
          183All this, without a gloss, or comment,
          184He could unriddle in a moment,
          185In proper terms, such as men smatter
          186When they throw out, and miss the matter.

          187     For his Religion, it was fit
          188To match his learning and his wit;
          189'Twas Presbyterian true blue;
          190For he was of that stubborn crew
          191Of errant saints, whom all men grant
          192To be the true Church Militant;
          193Such as do build their faith upon
          194The holy text of pike and gun;
          195Decide all controversies by
          196Infallible artillery;
          197And prove their doctrine orthodox
          198By apostolic blows and knocks;
          199Call fire and sword and desolation,
          200A godly-thorough-reformation,
          201Which always must be carried on,
          202And still be doing, never done;
          203As if religion were intended
          204For nothing else but to be mended.
          205A sect, whose chief devotion lies
          206In odd perverse antipathies;
          207In falling out with that or this,
          208And finding somewhat still amiss;
          209More peevish, cross, and splenetic,
          210Than dog distract, or monkey sick.
          211That with more care keep holy-day
          212The wrong, than others the right way;
          213Compound for sins they are inclin'd to,
          214By damning those they have no mind to:
          215Still so perverse and opposite,
          216As if they worshipp'd God for spite.
          217The self-same thing they will abhor
          218One way, and long another for.
          219Free-will they one way disavow,
          220Another, nothing else allow:
          221All piety consists therein
          222In them, in other men all sin:
          223Rather than fail, they will defy
          224That which they love most tenderly;
          225Quarrel with minc'd-pies, and disparage
          226Their best and dearest friend, plum-porridge;
          227Fat pig and goose itself oppose,
          228And blaspheme custard through the nose.
          229Th' apostles of this fierce religion,
          230Like Mahomet's, were ass and widgeon,
          231To whom our knight, by fast instinct
          232Of wit and temper, was so linkt,
          233As if hypocrisy and nonsense
          234Had got th' advowson of his conscience.


1] A poem of about 10,000 lines, satirizing the Puritans under the guise of a mock-romance of chivalry. Parts I and II appeared in 1663, and Part III in 1678. The idea of a knight and a squire setting off on a series of ludicrous adventures was suggested to Butler by Cervantes' Don Quixote; but the characters and exploits of Sir Hudibras and Ralpho are entirely original. Hudibras is a caricature of the Presbyterians; Ralpho represents the Independents.
fury: the first edition reads "dudgeon." Butler altered it to "fury" in 1674.

6] punk: prostitute.

10] long-ear'd: as the Puritans wore their hair cut short their ears appeared prominent.

14] a colonelling: playing the colonel, soldiering.

19] put up with.
that which laid ...: That by which the king dubb'd him knight.

22] cartel: challenge.

24] bind o'er: bind over to keep the peace.
swaddle: beat, cudget.

30] stout: valiant.

34] rage: ardour, bravery.

38] Montaigne: cf. Essays, II, xii: "When I am playing with my Cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her? We entertain one another with mutuall apish trickes" (tr. John Florio, 1603).

49] holy-days: holidays.

66] analytic: that division of logic which treats of the criteria for distinguishing good arguments from bad.

76] rooks: sharpers, but with a play on the ordinary meaning.
Committee men and trustees: delegates of the Long Parliament who were empowered to dispossess royalist clergymen and landowners.

80] mood: the arrangement of the propositions in the syllogism.
figure: the character of the syllogism with regard to the position of the term.

82] trope: figure of speech.

93] Babylonish: as confused as the speech of Babel. Babylon was supposed to have been built on the site of Babyl.

97] cut on: slashed and placed on. The metaphor is from slashed fustian sleeves showing a satin lining beneath the openings.

98] fustian: coarse cloth.

103] Cerberus: a three-headed dog, the guardian of Hades.

104] leash: set of three [dogs]; a sporting term.

112] touch: test. The touchstone is stained yellow by gold owing to that metal's softness.

115] the orator: Demosthenes.

120] Tycho Brahe: the great Danish astronomer (1546-1601).
Erra Pater: the name of an old astrologer.

141] According to Plato, general notions or conceptions (which he calls "ideas") are the only realities and sensible phenomena are mere reflections of them. This was also the view of the Realists in opposition to the Nominalists among the mediaeval scholastic philosophers.

143] reduce all things to acts: St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between matter, "esse in potentia" (potential being) and form, "esse in actu" (actual being).

144] There seems to be a reference here to the dispute between the Nominalists and the Realists as to the comparative reality of particular things and abstract ideas.

145] entity: abstract being.
quiddity: the real nature of a thing.

147] An allusion to a passage in the Pantagruel of Rabelias, IV, lv-lvi. Pantagruel and his companions, while on a voyage in northern waters, hear a multitude of words and outcries which have been frozen during a great battle and are now thawed out and falling from the sky.

149] what's what: Quid est wuid? What is the nature of the ultimate reality? a question of the schoolmen.

151] school-divinity: scholastic theology.

152] hight: was called.
irrefragable: Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), "the irrefragable doctor," professor of theology at Paris and commentator on Aristotle. In the first edition two lines follow here:

A second Thomas, or, at once,
To name them all, a second Duns.
Thomas is St. Thomas Aquinas, author of the Summa Theologiæ, the greatest work of scholastic philosophy. Duns is Duns Scotus, the most important critic of Aquinas, whose disciples used the name Duns as a term of opprobrium (later written "dunce").

153] Nominal: pertaining to the nominalistic philosophy (taught by Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and others). According to their views general conceptions are mere names and have no real existence apart from the particular things from which they are drawn.

154] Real: pertaining to the realistic philosophy maintained by Scotus Erigena and Thomas Aquinas. See note on ll. 141-142.

171] Paradise: an undifferentiated name for the Garden of Eden, or the later and legendary Earthly Paradise, or Heaven, or the intermediate abode of blessed spirits between death and the Last Judgment. The locality of all these regions has been disputed by poets and theologians.

175-76] Cf. Milton, Paradise Lost, VIII, 460-77. A related question of equal difficulty is suggested by Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medici (1642): "That Eve was edified out of the rib of Adam I believe, yet raise no question who shall arise with that rib at the Resurrection."

178] High Dutch: German, Hoch-deutsch, the literary speech of Germany. A German scholar had made the claim that his language was the first spoken (Goropius Becanus in Hermathena).

180] made music malleable: Pythagoras was said to have invented music through hearing the noise of hammers on anvils. (Latin mallei).

189] true blue: blue was traditionally a symbol for faithfulness; it was also much worn by the Puritans and came to be a badge of their party.

192] Church militant: the earthly Church.

209] splenetic: sullen.

219-20] "The Puritans, who will allow no Free Will at all, but God does all, yet will allow the subject his liberty to do or not to do, notwithstanding the King, the God upon earth." (John Selden's Table Talk, 1689).

225-26] The Puritans objected to the celebration of Christmas on the ground that it was a pagan festival.

230] ass: in Mohammedan legend a white ass, Alborach, bargained with the prophet for an entry into Paradise.
widgeon: in Christian tradition a pigeon, trained to pick peas from Mahomet's ear and pass for an angel dictating to him.

234] advowson: literally patronage, right of appointment, hence, control.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar, 1970). PR 3338 A7 1663A Robarts Library
First publication date: 1663
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.446; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/9

Form: couplets

Other poems by Samuel Butler