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An Heroic Epistle of Hudibras To His Lady

Samuel Butler 1613 (Strensham) – 1680 (London)



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 e 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 f 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
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Samuel Butler

Samuel Evan Butler was an English cricketer. more…

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