The Restoration age is known for the great efflorescence of the spirit of satire which was to reign supreme for decades thereafter. In the hands of Dryden satire became for the first time a polished and highly effective weapon of offence, correction, and even self-expression. The spirit of satire did not manifest itself only in the satirical verse of Dryden,
Butler, Oldham, Rochester Cotton, and others, but also in Restoration drama-tragedy as well as comedy. Generally, tragedy does not lend itself to satire; but in Otway’s Venice Preserved we have a very easily recognizable representation of Shaftesbury in the character of Senator Antonio. As regards Restoration comedy, it is nothing if not satirical. Its obvious intention is tc portray and comment upon contemporary manners and to satirise the deviations from the accepted code of gentleness. Thus we have to agree with Cazamian when he maintains: “The Restoration theatre is in a sense and in its most brilliant aspects, one great satire…”The satiric spirit rife in the Restoration period influenced even such a poet as Milton. Epic lends itself to satire even less than tragedy but in Milton’s Paradise Lost there are passages with patently satirical intent, such as, for instance, the one describing the nocturnal activities of “the sons of Belial” who evidently are no other than the voluptuous and riotous courtiers and their train-bearers.
Reasons for the Growth of the Satirical Spirit:
As to why the satirical spirit grew enormously in the Restoration period is a provocative question. Some reasons accounting for this growth can, however, be easily adduced. Let us briefly consider them.
All satire, whether constructive or just destructive, arises from sense of dissatisfaction, anger, or disgust at the departure of the real from the ideal, the falling short of things from their well-accepted standards of excellence. Now with the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, conventional, orthodox, and puritanic morality and religiosity were dismissed as standards of excellence, and their place was given to “fashion and genteel taste.” Once these new standards were fixed, it became very easy to detect any departure from them, which necessitated chastisement. says Cazamian: “Judging and condemning, as a result, grew more simple and more facile operations.” Moreover, with the Restoration came a greater freedom of expression, and even the most scurrilous abuse or salacious condemnation in print came to be tolerated-particularly so if it was directed against the Puritan fanatics or the political enemies of monarchy and the king. Indeed, in the Restoration age appeared numerous satires on Puritans and their creed. Butler’s Hudibras is the most well known of them. Then, the political strife which bedevilled the Restoration age was also responsible for giving rise to numerous satires. It was in this age that there came to be for the first time a clear polarisation of the English political opinion (between the Whigs and Tories). Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel and The Medal are basically political satires. Finally, the neo-classical tendency which was in the ascendant in this period also encouraged the growth of the satiric spirit. An increased interest in the study of classical writers-mostly the Roman writers of antiquity-prompted the Restoration men of letters to take up the genre of satire as a vehicle of personal expression and public improvement. The great Roman satirists-Persius, Juvenal, and Horace-were studied, appreciated, admired, and imitated. However, it was the two first named who exerted a ‘ansible influence on the Restoration satirists. Juvenal with the gift of noble invective was the most favoured. Oldham thought he was assiduously copying Juvenal in his own satires and was called later “the English Juvenal.” Horace came to exert an appreciable influence only in the eighteenth century. His gift of comedy and his subtle indirection of technique had an impress on the masterful satire of Pope and his contemporaries.
But it was not only the study of Roman classics which encouraged satire in the Restoration age. There is also to be reckoned the prevalence of satire in contemporary France. In that age most of the fashions in dress, manners, and literature were imported from France. At that time the spirit of satire was abroad in France. Boileau, the neo-classical French poet, critic, and satirist, was the most brilliant practitioner of this genre. Most of the English satirists of the last years of the seventeenth and the early years of the eighteenth century exhibit in their work a more considerable influence of Boileau than of any Roman satirist.
Samuel Butler (1612-80):
The Restoration period opens with a work very much exhibitive of its spmt—Hudibras of Samuel Butler which appeared in three parts in 1663, 1664 and 1678, each part consisting of three cantos. It was a powerful but “low” satire on the Puritans who had been subdued with the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England in 1660. Butler was not a courtier, nor was he a member of the nobility, and the story goes that he died in poverty. Nevertheless, in his attack on the Puritans he outdid many a courtier. Hudibras enjoyed excessive popularity with the courtiers and the king himself who used to keep a copy of it always in his pocket. The poem is formless, crabbed in versification and gross at numerous places, but none can deny the force of punches Butler levelled against the Puritans.
In its form Hudibras is a burlesque of high romance representing puissant knights out to defend virtue. That way it resembles Cervantes’ Don Quixote which is also a burlesque of the same kind. But it has also elements reminiscent of the French poet Scarron who burlesqued the epic of Virgil.
The name “Hudibras” is taken from Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Butler’s Hudibras is a Presbyterian who is hypocritical, covetous, cowardly, and full of pedantic learning. Ralpho, an Independent, is his squire. The hero rides a rickety horse and is equipped with rusty arms. In the company of his squire, he comes out in search of some righteous adventure. However, his squire and he go all the time quarrelling about minute points of religious doctrine, and their quarrels consume a sizable proportion of the poem. Hudib.ras is described to be
in Logic a great critic,
Profoundly skill ‘d in Analytic;
He could distinguish, and divide
A hair ‘twixt south and south-west side;
On either which he would dispute,
Confute, change hands, and still confute.
Of course, Hudibras’ logic-chopping is satirical of the puritanic casuistry.
The first adventure of Hudibras and Ralpho is their fight with a group of beafbaiters. The Puritans were against all country sports including bear-baiting not because, as Macaulay puts it, bear-baiting gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. In the beginning the two adventures are successful but then they are vanquished and put in stocks as a couple of miscreants. Even when they are rn stocks they continue mutual polemics.
In part II Hudibras is represented as having fallen in love with the property of a widow and incidentally, the widow herself too. The widow asks him to submit to whipping for winning’her favour. Hudibras urges Ralpho to serve as his substitute. A loud quarrel ensues between the twe.They consult an astrologer who is discovered to be a humbug, is beaten up and left by the two adventurers for dead. Hudibras parts company with Ralpho so that the latter maybe apprehended as the murderer.
In part III Hudibras is represented as going alone to the widow for pleading for her favour. On hearing a knock he hides under a bed thinking that it is the ghost of the astrologer who has come to wreak vengeance. His cowardice is discovered and he is soundly belaboured. After escaping ignominiously he consults a lawyer who advise him to write love-letters to his beloved. The rest of this part does not advance the story at all. It is probable that Butler desired to round off the work with a fourth part.
Basically this satire is intended’.against the Puritans, their hypocrisy, pedantry, covetousness, casuistry, fanaticism, and querulousness. Of course, Hudibras and Ralpho are representatives of the Puritans. The satire, however, here and there, becomes broader in purpose and significance. Butler is anti-intellectual, anti-science and even anti-poetry. He was fighting a losing battle with his age and, to quote George Sherburn, “his lot was to go dow n fighting scurrilously.”
The unit of the-poem is the octosyllabic couplet. But Butler’s couplets are most rugged and unmusical. He Is very fond of curious double rhymes which add a touch of the doggerel.
Among the rest of Butler‘s work may be mentioned his Satire on the Royal Society and The Elephant in the’Moon, both of which show his disapproval of the new learning.
John Dryden (1631-1700):
Dryden is the most distinguished of the Restoration satirists. It was he who established classical satire in England, breaking away from the traditions of Donne, Hall, Cleveland, Butler, and others. His contemporary Butler in his form and method falls more in line with the native tradition than the neo-classical tradition initiated by Dryden. Butler’s “ragged and jagged” versification puts one in mind of Langland, Skelton, and Donne rather than the contemporary neoclassical French school represented chiefly by Boileau who influenced a large number of English poets of the Restoration and the early eighteenth century. Before Dryden, satire enjoyed a quite low level among literary genres. But Dryden, especially with his Absalom and Achitophel, brought it near the dignity of the epic. The satirist was a very respectable member of the ancient Roman society, and the satirist in the post-Restoration age became a very reputable, if not a very respectable member of the English society.
Dryden found himself in his proper element when at the age of fifty he came to the writing of his most outstanding satire entitled Absalom and Achitophel. This work is of the nature of a political satire and was most probably written at the suggestion of the king himself to embody the royal and Tory point of view regarding the Exclusion crisis. Charles Il.had no legitimate issue and his throne was to come to his brother, the Duke of York, who was sought by the Whigs to be excluded from succession for his alleged Roman Catholic sympathies. Charles It’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth, was favoured by the Whigs for succession. Monmouth was thought to have been incited by the wily Earl of Shaftesbury to take up arms against the king. Shaftesbury was put in the Tower. A week before the date of his trial came Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel which was obviously meant to secure Shaftesbury’s indictment. Therein Dryden represented Shaftesbury as a wicked seducer of the innocent Duke of Monmouth who was tempted by Shaftesbury as Adam had been seduced by Satan. Dryden also took occasion in the poem to lash at some other Whig leaders. The main interest of the poem lies in the satiric portraits which in their execution show the hand of a master.
There was also a sequence to this poem, composed mainly by Nahum Tate and containing some two hundred lines by Dryden, in which he lashed Elkanah Settle and Thomas Shadwell as Doeg and Og respectively.
The Medal, again was political and topical in nature and genesis. In spite of Absalom and Achitophel and the virulent propaganda by other Tories, Shaftesbury could not be indicted at the trial and was released from the Tower. The Whigs were jubilant and struck a medal bearing the effigy of their hero to commemorate the triumphant occasion. Dryden felt piqued and let out a virulent attack on Shaftesbury and his followers in The Medal.
Mac Flecknoe is the only satire written by Dryden in which he attacks a personal enemy. He is Thomas Shadwell who is satirised by Dryden as the occupant of the throne of dullness in succession to his “father,” Flecknoe, a very dull Irish poet. The poem abounds in passages of brilliant wit and sarcasm and strokes of mock-heroic characterization all masterfully calculated to scarify the allegedly dull poet and playwright.
Among the other satirists of the age may be mentioned Oldham, Rochester, and Cotton. John Oldham (1653-83), the young friend of Dryden, looked for inspiration and guidance wholly to the ancient Roman writers, particularly Juvenal. He has often been called “the English Juvenal” but not for very good reason. He erroneously believed that in his harsh diction and deliberately rugged versification he was following Juvenal. His satire is too generalised and avoids personalities altogether. His most important and ambitious work is his Satire upon the Jesuits. The inspiration of this satire is mostly classical, and as in the satires of Juvenal, there is not much humour “to relieve”, as Cazamian puts it, “the eloquence and irony of the execration.”
Rochester is known for his poem On Nothing which was praised by Dr. Johnson. His Satyr against Mankind (1675) is a cynical but light-hearted denunciatioruof all humanity. Rochester has plenty of wit. but most of his works other than the two named above are full of unprintable grossness.
Charles Cotton is known for Scarronides : or Virgile Travestie (1663) in which he burlesqued Virgil’s heroic poetry after the example of the French poet Scarron. The poem owed some of its popularity to the anti-heroic cult initiated by Butler’s Hudibras.