Hudibras, by Samuel Butler

An Heroical Epistle of Hudibras to His Lady.

I who was once as great as CAESAR,

Am now reduc’d to NEBUCHADNEZZAR;

And from as fam’d a conqueror

As ever took degree in war,

Or did his exercise in battle,

By you turn’d out to grass with cattle:

For since I am deny’d access

To all my earthly happiness

Am fallen from the paradise

Of your good graces, and fair eyes;

Lost to the world, and you, I’m sent

To everlasting banishment;

Where all the hopes I had t’ have won

Your heart, b’ing dash’d, will break my own.

Yet if you were not so severe

To pass your doom before you hear,

You’d find, upon my just defence,

How much y’ have wrong’d my innocence.

That once I made a vow to you,

Which yet is unperformed, ’tis true:

But not because it is unpaid,

’Tis violated, though delay’d;

Or, if it were, it is no fau’t,

So heinous as you’d have it thought;

To undergo the loss of ears,

Like vulgar hackney perjurers

For there’s a diff’rence in the case,

Between the noble and the base,

Who always are observ’d t’ have done’t

Upon as different an account:

The one for great and weighty cause,

To salve in honour ugly flaws;

For none are like to do it sooner

Than those who are nicest of their honour:

The other, for base gain and pay,

Forswear, and perjure by the day;

And make th’ exposing and retailing

Their souls and consciences a calling.

It is no scandal, nor aspersion,

Upon a great and noble person,

To say he nat’rally abhorr’d

Th’ old-fashion’d trick, To keep his word;

Though ’tis perfidiousness and shame

In meaner men to do the same:

For to be able to forget,

Is found more useful to the great,

Than gout, or deafness, or bad eyes,

To make ’em pass for wond’rous wise.

But though the law on perjurers

Inflicts the forfeiture of ears,

It is not just that does exempt

The guilty, and punish th’ innocent;

To make the ears repair the wrong

Committed by th’ ungovern’d tongue;

And when one member is forsworn,

Another to be cropt or torn.

And if you shou’d, as you design,

By course of law, recover mine,

You’re like, if you consider right,

To gain but little honour by’t.

For he that for his lady’s sake

Lays down his life or limbs at stake,

Does not so much deserve her favour,

As he that pawns his soul to have her,

This y’ have acknowledg’d I have done,

Although you now disdain to own;

But sentence what you rather ought

T’ esteem good service than a fau’t.

Besides, oaths are not bound to bear

That literal sense the words infer,

But, by the practice of the age,

Are to be judg’d how far th’ engage;

And, where the sense by custom’s checkt,

Are found void, and of none effect.

For no man takes or keeps a vow

But just as he sees others do;

Nor are th’ oblig’d to be so brittle,

As not to yield and bow a little:

For as best-temper’d blades are found,

Before they break, to bend quite round,

So truest oaths are still most tough,

And though they bow, are breaking proof.

Then wherefore should they not b’ allow’d

In love a greater latitude?

For as the law of arms approves

All ways to conquest, so should love’s;

And not be ty’d to true or false,

But make that justest that prevails

For how can that which is above

All empire, high and mighty love,

Submit its great prerogative

To any other power alive?

Shall love, that to no crown gives place,

Become the subject of a case?

The fundamental law of nature,

Be over-rul’d by those made after?

Commit the censure of its cause

To any but its own great laws?

Love, that’s the world’s preservative,

That keeps all souls of things alive;

Controuls the mighty pow’r of fate,

And gives mankind a longer date;

The life of nature, that restores

As fast as time and death devours;

To whose free-gift the world does owe,

Not only earth, but heaven too;

For love’s the only trade that’s driven,

The interest of state in heav’n,

Which nothing but the soul of man

Is capable to entertain.

For what can earth produce, but love

To represent the joys above?

Or who but lovers can converse,

Like angels, by 1 the eye-discourse?

Address and compliment by vision;

Make love and court by intuition?

And burn in amorous flames as fierce

As those celestial ministers?

Then how can any thing offend,

In order to so great an end?

Or heav’n itself a sin 2 resent,

That for its own supply was meant?

That merits, in a kind mistake,

A pardon for th’ offence’s sake.

Or if it did not, but the cause

Were left to th’ injury at laws,

What tyranny can disapprove

There should be equity in love;

For laws that are inanimate,

And feel no sense of love or hate,

That have no passion of their own,

Nor pity to be wrought upon,

Are only proper to inflict

Revenge on criminals as strict

But to have power to forgive,

Is empire and prerogative;

And ’tis in crowns a nobler gem

To grant a pardon than condemn.

Then since so few do what they ought,

’Tis great t’ indulge a well-meant fau’t.

For why should he who made address,

All humble ways, without success,

And met with nothing, in return,

But insolence, affronts, and scorn,

Not strive by wit to countermine,

And bravely carry his design?

He who was us’d so unlike a soldier,

Blown up with philters of love-powder?

And after letting blood, and purging,

Condemn’d to voluntary scourging;

Alarm’d with many a horrid fright,

And claw’d by goblins in the night;

Insulted on, revil’d, and jeer’d,

With rude invasion of his beard;

And when your sex was foully scandal’d,

As foully by the rabble handled;

Attack’d by despicable foes,

And drub’d with mean and vulgar blows;

And, after all, to be debarr’d

So much as standing on his guard;

When horses, being spurr’d and prick’d,

Have leave to kick for being kick’d?

Or why should you, whose mother-wits

Are furnish’d with all perquisites,

That with your breeding-teeth begin,

And nursing babies, that lie in,

B’ allow’d to put all tricks upon

Our cully sex, and we use none?

We, who have nothing but frail vows

Against your stratagems t’ oppose;

Or oaths more feeble than your own,

By which we are no less put down?

You wound, like 3 Parthians, while you fly,

And kill with a retreating eye:

Retire the more, the more we press

To draw us into ambushes.

As pirates all false colours wear

T’ intrap th’ unwary mariner,

So women, to surprise us, spread

The borrow’d flags of white and red;

Display ’em thicker on their cheeks

Than their old grandmothers, the Picts;

And raise more devils with their looks,

Than conjurer’s less subtle books;

Lay trains of amorous intrigues,

In tow’rs, and curls, and perriwigs,

With greater art and cunning rear’d,

Than 4 PHILIP NYE’s thanksgiving beard,

Prepost’rously t’ entice, and gain

Those to adore ’em they disdain;

And only draw ’em in, to clog

With idle names a catalogue.

A lover is, the more he’s brave,

T’ his mistress but the more a slave;

And whatsoever she commands,

Becomes a favour from her hands;

Which he’s obliged t’ obey, and must,

Whether it be unjust or just.

Then when he is compell’d by her

T’ adventures he would else forbear,

Who with his honour can withstand,

Since force is greater than command?

And when necessity’s obey’d,

Nothing can be unjust or bad

And therefore when the mighty pow’rs

Of love, our great ally and yours,

Join’d forces not to be withstood

By frail enamour’d flesh and blood,

All I have done, unjust or ill,

Was in obedience to your will;

And all the blame that can be due,

Falls to your cruelty and you.

Nor are those scandals I confest,

Against my will and interest,

More than is daily done of course

By all men, when they’re under force;

When some upon the rack confess

What th’ hangman and their prompters please;

But are no sooner out of pain,

Than they deny it all again.

But when the Devil turns confessor,

Truth is a crime he takes no pleasure

To hear, or pardon, like the founder

Of liars, whom they all claim under

And therefore, when I told him none,

I think it was the wiser done.

Nor am I without precedent,

The first that on th’ adventure went

All mankind ever did of course,

And daily dues the same, or worse.

For what romance can show a lover,

That had a lady to recover,

And did not steer a nearer course,

To fall a-board on his amours?

And what at first was held a crime,

Has turn’d to honourable in time.

To what a height did 5 infant ROME,

By ravishing of women, come

When men upon their spouses seiz’d,

And freely marry’d where they pleas’d,

They ne’er forswore themselves, nor ly’d.

Nor, in the mind they were in, dy’d;

Nor took the pains t’ address and sue,

Nor play’d the masquerade to woo;

Disdain’d to stay for friends’ consents;

Nor juggled about settlements:

Did need no license, nor no priest,

Nor friends, nor kindred, to assist;

Nor lawyers, to join land and money

In th’ holy state of matrimony,

Before they settled hands and hearts,

Till 6 alimony or death them parts:

Nor wou’d endure to stay until

Th’ had got the very bride’s good will;

But took a wise and shorter course

To win the ladies, downright force.

And justly made ’em prisoners then,

As they have often since, us men,

With acting plays, and dancing jigs,

The luckiest of all love’s intrigues;

And when they had them at their pleasure,

Then talk’d of love and flames at leisure;

For after matrimony’s over,

He that holds out but half a lover,

Deserves for ev’ry minute more

Than half a year of love before;

For which the dames in contemplation

Of that best way of application,

Prov’d nobler wives than e’er was known,

By suit or treaty to be won;

And such as all posterity

Cou’d never equal nor come nigh.

For women first were made for men,

Not men for them. — It follows, then,

That men have right to ev’ry one,

And they no freedom of their own

And therefore men have pow’r to chuse,

But they no charter to refuse.

Hence ’tis apparent, that what course

Soe’er we take to your amours,

Though by the indirectest way,

’Tis no injustice, nor foul play;

And that you ought to take that course,

As we take you, for better or worse;

And gratefully submit to those

Who you, before another, chose.

For why should ev’ry savage beast

Exceed his great lord’s interest?

Have freer pow’r than he in grace,

And nature, o’er the creature has?

Because the laws he since has made

Have cut off all the pow’r he had;

Retrench’d the absolute dominion

That nature gave him over women;

When all his pow’r will not extend

One law of nature to suspend;

And but to offer to repeal

The smallest clause, is to rebel.

This, if men rightly understood

Their privilege, they wou’d make good;

And not, like sots, permit their wives

T’ encroach on their prerogatives;

For which sin they deserve to be

Kept, as they are, in slavery:

And this some precious Gifted Teachers,

Unrev’rently reputed leachers,

And disobey’d in making love,

Have vow’d to all the world to prove,

And make ye suffer, as you ought,

For that uncharitable fau’t.

But I forget myself, and rove

Beyond th’ instructions of my love.

Forgive me (Fair) and only blame

Th’ extravagancy of my flame,

Since ’tis too much at once to show

Excess of love and temper too.

All I have said that’s bad and true,

Was never meant to aim at you,

Who have so sov’reign a controul

O’er that poor slave of yours, my soul,

That, rather than to forfeit you,

Has ventur’d loss of heaven too:

Both with an equal pow’r possest,

To render all that serve you blest:

But none like him, who’s destin’d either

To have, or lose you, both together.

And if you’ll but this fault release

(For so it must be, since you please)

I’ll pay down all that vow, and more,

Which you commanded, and I swore,

And expiate upon my skin

Th’ arrears in full of all my sin.

For ’tis but just that I should pay

Th’ accruing penance for delay,

Which shall be done, until it move

Your equal pity and your love.

The Knight, perusing this Epistle,

Believ’d h’ had brought her to his whistle;

And read it like a jocund lover,

With great applause t’ himself, twice over;

Subscrib’d his name, but at a fit

And humble distance to his wit;

And dated it with wond’rous art,

Giv’n from the bottom of his heart;

Then seal’d it with his Coat of Love,

A smoaking faggot — and above,

Upon a scroll — I burn, and weep;

And near it — For her Ladyship;

Of all her sex most excellent,

These to her gentle hands present.

Then gave it to his faithful Squire,

With lessons how t’ observe and eye her.

She first consider’d which was better,

To send it back, or burn the letter.

But guessing that it might import,

Though nothing else, at least her sport,

She open’d it, and read it out,

With many a smile and leering flout:

Resolv’d to answer it in kind,

And thus perform’d what she design’d.

1 Or who but Lovers can converse, &c.] Metaphysicians are of opinion, that angels and souls departed, being divested of all gross matter, understand each other’s sentiments by intuition, and consequently maintain a sort of conversation without the organs of speech.

2 Or Heav’n itself a Sin resent, &c.] In regard children are capable of being inhabitants of Heaven, therefore it should not resent it as a crime to supply store of inhabitants for it.

3 You wound like Parthians while you fly, &c.] Parthians are the inhabitants of a province in Persia: They were excellent horsemen, and very exquisite at their bows; and it is reported of them, that they generally slew more on their retreat than they did in the engagement.

4 Than Philip Nye’s Thanksgiving Beard ] One of the Assembly of Divines, very remarkable for the singularity of his beard.

5 To what a Height did Infant Rome, &c.] When Romulus had built Rome, he made it an asylum, or place of refuge, for all malefactors, and others obnoxious to the laws to retire to; by which means it soon came to be very populous; but when he began to consider, that, without propagation, it would soon be destitute of inhabitants, he invented several fine shows, and invited the young Sabine women, then neighbours to them; and when they had them secure, they ravished them; from whence proceeded so numerous an offspring.

6 Till Alimony or Death them parts.] Alimony is an allowance that the law gives the woman for her separate maintenance upon living from her husband. That and death are reckoned the only separations in a married state.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31