Satire Upon the Licentious Age of Charles II, by Samuel Butl

Satire Upon the Licentious Age of Charles II, by Samuel Butl

Postby admin » Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:33 am

Satire* Upon the Licentious Age of Charles II
by Samuel Butler
The Poetical Works of Samuel Butler, Volume II
1835

Tis a strange age we 'ave liv'd in, and a lewd,
As e'er the sun in all his travels view'd ;
An age as vile as ever Justice urg'd,
Like a fantastic letcher, to be scourg'd ;
Nor has it 'scap'd, and yet has only learn'd,
The more 'tis plagued, to be the less concern'd.
Twice have we seen two dreadful judgments rage,
Enough to fright the stubborn'st-hearted age ;
The one to mow vast crowds of people down,
The other (as then needless) half the Town ;
And two as mighty miracles restore
What both had ruin'd and destroy'd before ;
In all as unconcern'd as if they 'ad been
But pastimes for diversion to be seen,
Or, like the plagues of Egypt, meant a curse,
Not to reclaim us, but to make us worse.
Twice have men turn'd the World (that silly
blockhead)
The wrong side outward, like a juggler's pocket,
Shook out hypocrisy as fast and loose
And on the other side at once put in
As impotent iniquity and sin.
As sculls that have been crack'd are often found
Upon the wrong side to receive the wound ;
And, like tobacco-pipes, at one end hit,
To break at th' other still that 's opposite ;
So men, who one extravagance would shun,
Into the contrary extreme have run ;
And all the difference is, that as the first
Provokes the other freak to prove the worst,
So, in return, that strives to render less
The last delusion, with its own excess,
And, like two unskill'd gamesters, use one way,
With bungling t' help out one another's play.
For those who heretofore sought private holes,
Securely in the dark to damn their souls,
Wore vizards of hypocrisy, to steal
And slink away in masquerade to hell,
Now bring their crimes into the open sun,
For all mankind to gaze their worst upon,
As eagles try their young against his rays,
To prove if they're of gen'rous breed or base;
Call heav'n and earth to witness how they've aim'd,
With all their utmost vigour, to be damn'd,
And by their own examples, in the view
Of all the world, striv'd to damn others too;

On all occasions sought to be as civil
As possible they could t' his grace the Devil,
To give him no unnecessary trouble,
Nor in small matters use a friend so noble,
But with their constant practice done their best
T' improve and propagate his interest:
For men have now made vice so great an art,
The matter of fact's become the slightest part;
And the debauched'st actions they can do,
Mere trifles to the circumstance and show.

For 'tis not what they do that 's now the sin,
But what they lewdly' affect and glory in,
As if prepost'rously they would profess
A forc'd hypocrisy of wickedness,
And affectation, that makes good things bad,
Must make affected shame accurs'd and mad;
For vices for themselves may find excuse,
But never for their complement and shews;
That if there ever were a mystery
Of moral secular iniquity,
And that the churches may not lose their due
By being encroach'd upon, 'tis now, and new:
For men are now as scrupulous and nice,
And tender-conscienc'd of low paltry vice;
Disdain as proudly to be thought to have
To do in any mischief but the brave,
As the most scrup'lous zealot of late times
T' appear in any but the horrid'st crimes;
Have as precise and strict punctilioes
Now to appear, as then to make no shows,
And steer the world by disagreeing force
Of diff'rent customs 'gainst her nat'ral course:
So pow'rful 's ill example to encroach,
And Nature, spite of all her laws, debauch;
Example, that imperious dictator
Of all that 's good or bad to human nature,
By which the world 's corrupted and reclaim'd,
Hopes to be sav'd, and studies to be damn'd;
That reconciles all contrarieties,
Makes wisdom foolishness, and folly wise,
Imposes on divinity, and sets
Her seal alike on truths and counterfeits;
Alters all characters of virtue' and vice,
And passes one for th' other in disguise;
Makes all things, as it pleases, understood,
The good receiv'd for bad, and bad for good;
That slyly counter-changes wrong and right,
Like white in fields of black, and black in white;
As if the laws of Nature had been made
Of purpose only to be disobey 'd;
Or man had lost his mighty interest,
By having been distinguished from a beast;
And had no other way but sin and vice,
To be restor'd again to Paradise.

How copious is our language lately grown,
To make blaspheming wit, and a jargon!
And yet how expressive and significant,
In damme at once to curse, and swear, and rant?
As if no way express'd men's souls so well,
As damning of them to the pit of hell;
Nor any asseveration were so civil,
As mortgaging salvation to the devil;
Or that his name did add a charming grace,
And blasphemy a purity to our phrase.
For what can any language more enrich,
Than to pay souls for vitiating speech;
When the great'st tyrant in the world made those
But lick their words out that abus'd his prose?
What trivial punishments did then protect
To public censure a profound respect,
When the most shameful penance, and severe,
That could be inflicted on a Cavalier
For infamous debauchery, was no worse
Than but to be degraded from his horse,
And have his livery of oats and hay,
Instead of cutting spurs off, tak'n away?
They held no torture then so great as shame,
And that to slay was less than to defame;
For just so much regard as men express
To th' cnsure of the public, more or less,
The same will be return'd to them again,
In shame or reputation, to a grain;
And, how perverse soe'er the world appears,
Tis just to all the bad it sees and hears;
And for that virtue strives to be allow'd
For all the injuries it does the good.
How silly were their sages heretofore,
To fright their heroes with a syren whore!
Make them believe a water-witch, with charms,
Could sink their men-of-war as easy' as storms;
And turn their mariners, that heard them sing,
Into land porpoises, and cod, and ling;
To terrify those mighty champions,
As we do children now with Bloodybones;
Until the subtlest of their conjurers
Seal'd up the labels to his soul, his ears,
And ty'd his deafen'd sailors (while he pass'd
The dreadful lady's lodgings) to the mast,
And rather venture drowning than to wrong
The sea-pugs' chaste ears with a bawdy song:
To b' out of countenance, and, like an ass,
Not pledge the Lady Circe one beer-glass;
Unmannerly refuse her treat and wine,
For fear of being turn'd into a swine,
When one of our heroic adventurers now
Would drink her down, and turn her int' a sow.
So simple were those times, when a grave sage
Could with an old wife's tale instruct the age;
Teach virtue more fantastic ways and nice,
Than ours will now endure t' improve in vice;

Made a dull sentence, and a moral fable,
Do more than all our holdings-forth are able *
A forc'd obscure mythology convince,
Beyond our worst inflictions upon sins;
When an old proverb, or an end of verse,
Could more than all our penal laws coerce,
And keep men honester than all our furies
Of jailors, judges, constables, and juries;
Who were converted then with an old saying-,
Better than all our preaching now, and praying.
What fops had these been, had they liv'd with us,
Where the best reason 's made ridiculous,
And all the plain and sober things we say,
By raillery are put beside their play?
For men are grown above all knowledge now,
And what they're ignorant of disdain to know;
Engross truth (like Fanatics) underhand,
And boldly judge before they understand;
The self-same courses equally advance
In spiritual and carnal ignorance,
And, by the same degrees of confidence,
Become impregnable against all sense;
For, as they outgrew ordinances then,
So would they now morality agen.

Though Drudgery and Knowledge are of kin, '
And both descended from one parent, Sin,
And therefore seldom have been known to part,
In tracing out the ways of Truth and Art,
Yet they have north-west passages to steer
A short way to it, without pains or care;
For, as implicit faith is far more stiff
Than that which understands its own belief,
So those that think, and do but think they know.
Are far more obstinate than those that do,
And more averse than if they 'ad ne'er been taught
A wrong way, to a right one to be brought;
Take boldness upon credit beforehand,
And grow too positive to understand;
Believe themselves as knowing and as famous,
As if their gifts had gotten a mandamus,
A bill of store to take up a degree,
With all the learning to it, custom-free,
And look as big for what they bought at Court,
As if they 'ad done their exercises for 't.


_______________

Notes:

*As e'er the dev'l could teach, or sinners use,

* As the preceding satire was upon mankind in general, with some allusion to that age in which it was wrote, this is particularly levelled at the licentious and debauched times of Charles II. humorously contrasted with the Puritanical ones which went before, and is a fresh proof of the Author's impartiality, and that he was not, as is generally, but falsely, imagined, a bigot to the Cavalier party.
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