He would an elegy compose / On maggots squeez’d out of his nose

Samuel Butler on a writer of doggerel.

In Part 2, Canto 3 of Hudibras we discover more about Sidrophel the astrologer, and about Whachum, his fool & apprentice. Ctrl+F “poetaster” to cut to the crap:

A paultry wretch he had, half-starv’d,
That him in place of Zany serv’d.
Hight WHACHUM, bred to dash and draw, 325
Not wine, but more unwholesome law
To make ‘twixt words and lines huge gaps,
Wide as meridians in maps;
To squander paper, and spare ink,
And cheat men of their words, some think. 330
From this, by merited degrees,
He’d to more high advancement rise;
To be an under-conjurer,
A journeyman astrologer.
His business was to pump and wheedle, 335
And men with their own keys unriddle;
And make them to themselves give answers,
For which they pay the necromancers;
To fetch and carry intelligence,
Of whom, and what, and where, and whence, 340
And all discoveries disperse
Among th’ whole pack of conjurers
What cut-purses have left with them
For the right owners to redeem;
And what they dare not vent find out, 345
To gain themselves and th’ art repute;
Draw figures, schemes, and horoscopes,
Of Newgate, Bridewell, brokers’ shops,
Of thieves ascendant in the cart;
And find out all by rules of art; 350
Which way a serving-man, that’s run
With cloaths or money away, is gone:
Who pick’d a fob at holding forth;
And where a watch, for half the worth,
May be redeem’d; or stolen plate 355
Restor’d at conscionable rate.
Beside all this, he serv’d his master
In quality of poetaster;
And rhimes appropriate could make
To ev’ry month i’ th almanack 360
What terms begin and end could tell,
With their returns, in doggerel;
When the exchequer opes and shuts,
And sowgelder with safety cuts
When men may eat and drink their fill, 365
And when be temp’rate, if they will;
When use and when abstain from vice,
Figs, grapes, phlebotomy, and spice.
And as in prison mean rogues beat
Hemp for the service of the great, 370
So WHACHUM beats his dirty brains,
T’ advance his master’s fame and gains
And, like the Devil’s oracles,
Put into doggrel rhimes his spells,
Which, over ev’ry month’s blank page 375
I’ th’ almanack, strange bilks presage.
He would an elegy compose
On maggots squeez’d out of his nose;
In lyrick numbers write an ode on
His mistress, eating a black-pudden: 380
And when imprison’d air escap’d her,
It puft him with poetic rapture.
His sonnets charm’d th’ attentive crowd,
By wide-mouth’d mortal troll’d aloud,
That ‘circl’d with his long-ear’d guests, 385
Like ORPHEUS look’d among the beasts.
A carman’s horse could not pass by,
But stood ty’d up to poetry:
No porter’s burthen pass’d along,
But serv’d for burthen to his song: 390
Each window like a pill’ry appears,
With heads thrust through, nail’d by the ears
All trades run in as to the sight
Of monsters, or their dear delight
The gallow tree, when cutting purse 395
Breeds bus’ness for heroic verse,
Which none does hear, but would have hung
T’ have been the theme of such a song.

Twenty years ago some of Hudibras might have seemed a bit wearisome for those of us who missed the English Civil War and the Protectorate, but now iconoclasm, fancy dress and threadbare flags are back in fashion there’s surely little as relevant and nothing as well written.

Butler also covered what we optimists believe to be the driving force behind fake news:

A News-monger is a Retailer of Rumour, that takes up upon Trust, and sells as cheap as he buys. He deals in a perishable Commodity, that will not keep: for if it be not fresh it lies upon his Hands, and will yield nothing. True or false is all one to him; for Novelty being the Grace of bothe, a Truth grows stale as soon as a Lye…