chapter  2
20 Pages

Butler's Hudibras: Heroic Impertinence

Samuel Butler's Hudibras, though its title-page carries the date 1663, was published in late 1662, the earliest record of its purchase being an entry by Samuel Pepys on December 26, 1662. Pepys evidently found the work bemusing for, within a few hours, he was relieved to off-load it, at a knockdown price, to his friend Mr Townsend.1 His sensitivity, however, to its immediate vogue induced him to purchase another copy on February 6, 1663. Yet December 10 of the same year found him unenthused by the experience of having waded through 'both parts' of what he calls 'the book now in greatest Fashion for drollery', and confessing grumpily that 'I cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit lies'.2 Pepys's doubtfulness over the merit of Hudibras was an earnest of the quizzical and volatile reception from which it has never entirely escaped. The poem now resides among other literary dinosaurs, such as Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas's Divine Weeks (from 1592) and Edward Young's Night Thoughts (from 1742), poems so little read today that the size of their original impact and influence is hard to comprehend.