Hudibras, by Samuel Butler

To the Reader.

Poeta nascitur non fit, [poets are born, not made] is a sentence of as great truth as antiquity; it being most certain, that all the acquired learning imaginable is insufficient to compleat a poet, without a natural genius and propensity to so noble and sublime an art. And we may, without offence, observe, that many very learned men, who have been ambitious to be thought poets, have only rendered themselves obnoxious to that satyrical inspiration our Author wittily invokes:

Which made them, though it were in spight

Of nature and their stars, to write.

On the one side some who have had very little human learning, but were endued with a large share of natural wit and parts, have become the most celebrated (Shakespear, D’Avenant, &c.) poets of the age they lived in. But, as these last are, “Rarae aves in terris,” so, when the muses have not disdained the assistances of other arts and sciences, we are then blessed with those lasting monuments of wit and learning, which may justly claim a kind of eternity upon earth. And our author, had his modesty permitted him, might, with Horace, have said,

Exegi monumentum aere perennius:

[I have raised a memorial more lasting than bronze]

Or, with Ovid,

Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,

Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetustas.

[For I have raised a work which neither the rage of Jupiter,

Nor fire, nor iron, nor consuming age can destroy.]

The Author of this celebrated Poem was of this his last composition: for although he had not the happiness of an academical education, as some affirm, if may be perceived, throughout his whole Poem, that he had read much, and was very well accomplished in the most useful parts of human learning.

Rapin (in his reflections) speaking of the necessary qualities belonging to a poet, tells us, he must have a genius extraordinary; great natural gifts; a wit just, fruitful, piercing, solid, and universal; an understanding clear and distinct; an imagination neat and pleasant; an elevation of soul, that depends not only on art or study, but is purely the gift of heaven, which must be sustained by a lively sense and vivacity; judgment to consider wisely of things, and vivacity for the beautiful expression of them, &c.

Now, how justly this character is due to our Author, we leave to the impartial reader, and those of nicer judgment, who had the happiness to be more intimately acquainted with him.

The reputation of this incomparable Poem is so thoroughly established in the world, that it would be superfluous, if not impertinent, to endeavour any panegyric upon it. King Charles II. whom the judicious part of mankind will readily acknowledge to be a sovereign judge of wit, was so great an admirer of it, that he would often pleasantly quote it in his conversation. However, since most men have a curiosity to have some account of such anonymous authors, whose compositions have been eminent for wit or learning, we have, for their information, subjoined a short Life of the Author.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/butler/samuel_1612-1680/hudibras/preface.html

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