"Trouts Are Tickled Best In Muddy Water"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

Context: Samuel Butler was best known as the author of a spirited burlesque in verse, Hudibras, full of quotable lines, about Oliver Cromwell and his followers. It was circulated in manuscript until after the Restoration in 1660. Then Charles II was so delighted with it that there are stories of an annual pension for the poet. Butler went on to write many poems and character studies but, with no royal backers, he could find no publisher. Not until 1759 did The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Samuel Butler get into print. Then a Mr. Thyer, obtaining the manuscript from the estate of Mr. Longueville who had paid for burying the poet, issued it in a subscription edition. It did not reach the artistic level of Hudibras. One of the poems is entitled "On a Hypocritical Nonconformist (A Pindaric Ode)." Pindar was a Theban poet of the fifth century B.C. who wrote a long series of odes to celebrate great victories in the Grecian national games. However, as employed by Butler, the expression "Pindaric Ode" was originated by Abraham Cowley (1618–1667) through a volume of poems characterized by looseness, irregularity, metrical license, and grandiose diction. The form was later taken up by John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Butler, who also penned a Pindaric Ode on "Modern Critics." In twelve stanzas, Butler attacks his victim. A Turk, says the poet, about to commit some crime against religion, can send his soul on a pilgrimage so that it will be absent from his body. He holds that the end justifies the means when the end is the advance of religion. His brother Christian is no less hypocritical, the reason that holy wars are so cruel and evil. "For when Religion does recede/ From her own Nature, nothing but a breed/ Of prodigies and hideous Monsters can succeed." In lesser crimes, anyone with a pretense to piety and godliness can get off unpunished. Of course, the poet was talking about "Pagans," but Christians can also manage to make "their Godly interests" produce great gains. The best way to "get by" is to use dull nonsense and proceed against stupid people. Fishermen can sometimes capture a fish by sliding their hand under its body, and tickling it until the hand is in a position to heave the fish out of water onto dry land. But the trick works best when the water is too muddy to let the fish see its pursuer. Concerning the significance of a spider spinning its "gin" or snare, folklore provides a difference of opinion. Some hold it as the sign of a sunny day.

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The subtle spider never spins,
But on dark days, his slimy gins;
Nor does our engineer, much care to plant
His spiritual machines
Unless among the weak and ignorant,
Th' inconstant, credulous, and light,
The vain, the factious, and the slight,
That in their zeal are most extravagant;
For trouts are tickled best in muddy water;
And still, the muddier he finds their brains,
The more he's sought and followed after,
And greater ministrations gains; . . .

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