Hudibras "Discords Make The Sweetest Airs"

Samuel Butler

"Discords Make The Sweetest Airs"

Context: The first six cantos of Hudibras had been published by 1664. They contained a sarcastic attack upon the enemies of Charles II, ridiculing the Puritans who had beheaded his father. Surely out of gratitude, the Merry Monarch would show the author some sort of favor. Rumor had it that he carried a copy of the poem in his pocket and frequently quoted from it. But the story that Charles settled an annual pension of £100 on the poet must not be true. Butler scribbled in his Common-place Book: "To think how Spenser died, how Crowley mourn'd,/ How Butler's faith and service were return'd." That remark probably explains the lapse of fourteen years between the publication of the Second and Third Parts, and the lack of interest that can be detected in the final section. Two years after it appeared in print, the poet died. If he had had future plans for Hudibras, still incomplete, they were never carried out. The poem contains a minimum of action. Actually there are only four episodes: Hudibras' victory over Crowdero; Trulla's victory over Hudibras; Hudibras' victory over Sidrophel, an astrologer; and the Widow's unmasking of Hudibras and his escape through the window. Then the poem drops into religious exposition and attack on the Presbyterians and Independents, whose rivalry had opened the way for the restoration of the throne to Charles II. To parallel the magic scenes in Don Quixote, Butler provides one in the first canto of Part III. At the end of the previous canto the angry bickering of the knight and his squire is interrupted by a traveling antique show and violence over a henpecked husband. Hudibras once more tries to attack the sinful crowd until a well-thrown egg discourages him. To discover their future, Ralpho suggests a visit to Sidrophel–under whose name a famous astrologer, William Lilly, is satirized. The episode brings up talk of famous dealers in Black Arts of the past. Hudibras is soon convinced that the conjurer is a fake and sends his servant for a constable while he holds the man and his servant. Afraid that the police will arrest his master for Black Art, Ralpho goes instead to the Widow, confessing his master's trickery. Hudibras, when his prisoners get away, also heads for his lady love. She will not marry him. There are no marriages in Heaven, and she adds: "That's the reason, as some guess,/ There is no heav'n in marriages." But he does not object to quarrels. "The bad in marriages only improves the good."

And hearts have been as oft with sullen
As charming looks surpris'd and stolen;
Then why should more bewitching clamor
Some lovers not so much enamour?
For discords make the sweetest airs,
And curses are a kind of prayers;
Two slight alloys for all those grand
Felicities by marriage gain'd; . . .