Samuel Butler – “Hudibras” (the end)

This post is written in haste, as I wanted to complete Hudibras before I’d leave for holidays. Hudibras is a master of philosophy and theology, and we get a long list of jokes on his useless knowledge and ability to argue. But then comes the main point of Butler’s satire – Hudibras is a Presbyterian, “true blue” and is a fine representative of this sect whose members like to beat others into submission through their military force, their religion consists mostly of disliking all other religions and are so perverse that they’d rather “keep the holiday/the wrong than others the right way” (some extreme Puritans fasted on Christmas). As you can see, Butler doesn’t like Presbyterians at all. And now, time to bed, as I have to catch an early plane. Adieu!

Samuel Butler – “Hudibras” (ctd.)

But Hudibras, contrary to what people might say, is not a fool, the proof of which is that he can speak Latin and Greek and even some Hebrew. The thing is, he does not want to use his wisdom too often not to wear it out, just like some people save their best clothes for Sundays. But he is never afraid to show off his linguistic knowledge. He is also an able logician and rhetorician, because he never speaks but by using some metaphors and colourful language.His English is “cut on Greek and Latin”, like some articles of dress which were in fashion at the time and had coarser, cheaper cloth on the outside, but were slashed to show off the more expensive satin lining. So is Sir Hudibras’ speech a mixture of three languages, and like many Dissenters, he also loves to use some English neologisms. These new words are so hard Demosthenes could have used them instead of the pebbles he allegedly put in in his mouth to cure his stammer. And he is also an able mathematician because he can always tell whether a grocer tries to cheat him on bread or butter or when the clock is going to strike.

Samuel Butler -“Hudibras” (fragments)

This is a satirical poem against Puritans, published after the Restoration to much official acclaim (Charles II loved it). Of course nowadays we want our satirists to speak truth to the power and punch up, but it’s not so easy in the 17th century. Hudibras is a Puritan justice of peace who goes off on a mission (“a-coloneling”) a little bit like a knight errant. This happens during the Civil War, when men fight over Dame Religion like drunks over a prostitute, although they really don’t know why.  People are whipped into frenzy by preachers banging their pulpits, “drum ecclesiastic”. The authorities still quarrel whether Hudibras was wiser or braver, but it’s difficult to decide, because his brain is only slightly bigger than his rage, which makes some people call him a fool. Montaigne’s cat (Montaigne famously wondered in his Essays whether he was playing with his cat, or his cat with him) might consider him a fool too. All that is written in a vigorous, rather irregular tetrameter, which came to be known as hudibrastic verse.

John Locke – “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (the end)

Locke apologizes for his text, which some readers may find too long or too short. If it’s too short, he says, I hope it inspires the reader to do some thinking on their own. If it’s too long, it’s because it was composed in fits and starts, so whenever he put pen to paper, he had some new observations to write down, and what he initially thought could be fit on one sheet of paper grew into this long text. He says also modestly that he does not intend to compete with some giants of thought – he name-checks Newton and Boyle, among others – but just to clear the field for them so that science can develop unimpeded by obscure and and out-of-date language. In the last fragment, added to the fourth edition, he explains why he chose to use the word “determined” or “determinate” ideas instead of “clear and distinct”. First of all, everybody uses “clear and distinct” while not knowing really what they mean. Locke chooses to use the word “determinate”/”determined” (he seems to use them interchangeably) to illustrate better what he means: the simple ideas perceived by human minds and connected with the words corresponding to them. As for complex ideas, he defines them as a collection of simple ideas combined together. He is really keen on the thought that language of academic discourse should be clear and I guess he would not take kindly to much of the jargon which plagues postmodern critical theory and philosophy.

John Locke – “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (fragments)

Today I’ve got some serious philosophy, although the editors of the NAEL picked probably the most literary part of Locke’s Essay, that is “The Epistle to the Readers”. In this introduction Locke notices courteously that he hopes his readers are going to have at least half as much fun in reading it as he had in writing it. It’s not because he is so puffed up about its value, but because he really thinks the hunt for truth is a lot of fun, much more than the real hunting or hawking and much more profitable. He addresses his book to those who like to think for themselves and not to rely on the thoughts of others, but he also notices modestly that this book is not addressed  to those who already mastered the subject. He explains the origins of this project, which was apparently started by a discussion with a few friends on an unrelated subject and which was brought to a standstill. Locke and his nameless friends decide that before they discuss the subject, they have to “examine [their] own abilities, and see what objects [their[ understandings were or were not fitted to deal with.” He noted down some hasty thoughts before their next meeting and worked on them on and off for many years before creating the final version of this test.

John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” – “The River of Death and the Celestial City”

Before the start of the passage, Christian picked up two other pilgrim buddies, Hopeful and Ignorance, but Ignorance is lame (literally) and is left behind. Now their journey is near the end and the pilgrims are nearing the Celestial City, but it shines so much in the sun, its walls being made of pure gold, that they can’t look at it directly. They are approached by two men whose faces and clothes shine like the sun and the men ask them who they are and where they are coming from. After hearing the answers, they tell them two more obstacles on their way before they get to the Celestial City, but they have to overcome them on their own. They lead them to a deep river and tell them they have to cross it by themselves, as nobody except for Enoch and Elijah was spared crossing it and nobody ever will until the end of the world. The river is also of varied depth, depending on your faith you may find it deep or shallow. And indeed, when they step into it, Hopeful can hold his head above the water, while Christian is sinking. This is the allegory of the moment of death, where even pious Christians (as plenty of historical testimonies show) were oppressed not only by physical pain, but also psychological torment of doubting their own salvation, especially Calvinists, who could never be certain whether they were among “the elect”. Christian is not only sinking, but also sees the visions of hobgoblins and evil spirits, and in general he is sure he won’t make it to the other bank. Hopeful keeps his head above the water and tries to comfort him. When he reminds Christian about the promise of salvation made by Jesus, Christian finally regains his hope and immediately finds the ground under his feet. When they are on the firm ground, they are greeted by angels and taken to the city where they are asked to produce their certificates. The King reads the certificates and tells them to open the gates for them. Then they are given harps, crowns, general rejoicing etc. Then comes the real gloomy punchline: Ignorance comes hobbling late, and he gets through the river without any problems because he finds a ferryman called Vain Hope. But when he gets on the shore and the angels ask him to produce his certificate, he can’t find any, and he is thrown bound into a hole that leads to hell. “So I awoke”, ends Bunyan’s narrator blithely, completely accepting that somebody who is aware of Christian doctrine (because Ignorance says “I have eat and drank in the presence of the King”) and went through the journey can be still damned if he doesn’t know the right sort of Christianity and is not among the elect.

John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” – “Vanity Fair”

Probably the most famous episode of The Pilgrim’s Progress, if only because it gave the name to a certain magazine. The pilgrims on their way to the Celestial City have to go through a town called Vanity, where an all-year-round fair is held (as opposed to the usual fairs, which were an annual occasion). At this point obviously Bunyan has to quote Ecclesiasticus (sorry, the authors of the New International Version, but “meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless” just does not sound as well). At the fair you can buy everything people care about in their lives: riches, job promotions, mistresses, spouses, children etc. Just like in regular fairs (and you can sometimes see the traces of it in the names of the streets in some historical towns) each nation has its own street, so there is the German Row, the French Row, but the most popular is the one dealing with the ware of Rome (meaning the Roman Catholic Church). The fair was established by devils when they realized all pilgrims had to pass through the town, all the better to tempt them. Also Jesus went through this town during his temptation in the desert. When the pilgrims come to town, they make a sensation because they dress and speak differently, so a lot of people mock them (just like Puritans were often mocked for their dress and what others perceived as affectation in speech). They also refuse to buy any of the goods on display. They are led to the governor of the town and although they tell him they mean no offense to the town, they just don’t want to buy anything, they are put in a cage where they can be taunted publicly.