Samuel Butler’s Lilly

Recently I purchased a lovely  2 volume set of Samuel Butler’s poem Hudibras. It tells the story of the adventures of  Sir Hudibras at the time of the Civil War. Some of the readers of this web log may remember Butler’s verses about Sidrophel the astrologer from Derek Parker’s book about William Lilly,  Familiar To All.

For those who have not heard of  it before, here is a taster from Hudibras part II, canto III, where Ralph tells Hudibras about Sidrophel the astrologer:

[…] Not far from hence doth dwell

A cunning man, hight Sidrophel,

That deals in destiny’s dark counsels,

And sage opinions of the moon sells,

To whom all people far and near,

On deep importances repair:

When brass and pewter hap to stray,

And linen slinks out of the way;

When geese and pullen are seduc’d,

And sows of sucking pigs are chows’d;

When cattle feel indisposition,

And need the opinion of physician;

When murrain reigns in hogs or sheep,

And chickens languish of the pip;

When yeast and outward means do fail,

And have no pow’r to work on ale;

When butter does refuse to come,

And love proves cross and humoursome;

To him with questions, and with urine,

They for discov’ry flock, or curing.


Now Parker, amongst others, is of the opinion that nobody knows who Samuel Butler had in mind when he created the figure of the astrologer Sidrophel. It is believed that he, Butler, was thinking of either sir Paul Neal or William Lilly. My recently purchased edition of Hudibras is a reprint published in 1867 with extensive notes by the reverend Treadway Russel Nash. He uses some of the annotations of Dr. Grey and adds his own material. 

In his footnote about Sidrophel he states: “Some have thought that the character of Sidrophel was intended for sir Paul Neal; but the author, probably, here meant it for William Lilly, the famous astrologer and almanack maker, who at the times sided with the parliament. He was consulted by the royalists, with the king’s privity, whether the king should escape from Hampton court, whether he should sign the propositions of the parliament, &c. and had twenty pounds for his opinion.”

This edition of Hudibras is richly illustrated with portraits of the people who are mentioned in the poem. Amongst these are well known personalities of the time, like Paracelsus, John Dee,  Cornelius Agrippa and Jerome Cardan. And we can find a portrait of William Lilly, which I show below. 




And here another quote from Hudibras canto II, part III:

[…] Some calculate the hidden fates

Of monkeys, puppy-dogs, and cats;

Some running nags, and fighting-cocks,

Some love, trade, law-suits, and the pox:

Some take a measure of the lives

Of  fathers, mothers, husbands, wives,

Make opposition, trine and quartile,

Tell who is barren, and who fertile;

As if the Planet’s first aspect

The tender infant did infect

In soul and body, and instill

All future good, and future ill;

Which in their dark fatalities lurking,

At destin’d periods fall a working,

And break out, like the hidden seeds

Of long diseases, into deeds,

In friendships, enmities, and strife,

And all th’ emergencies of life


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