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She immediately adjusted it, and looking a little seriously, “Well,” says she, “I will be hanged if you and your silent friend there are not against the doctor in your hearts, I suspected as much by his saying nothing.” Upon this she took her fan in her hand, and upon the opening of it, again displayed to us the figure of the doctor, who was placed with great vity among the sticks of it. In a .*. . the doctor had taken possession of her thoughts, her discourse, and most of her furniture; but finding myself pressed too close by her question, I winked upon my friend to take his leave, which he did accordingly.
No. 58.] Monday, May 7, 1711.
Ut pictura poesis erit
Poems like pictures are.
Not HING is so much admired, and so little understood, as wit. No author that I know of has written professedly upon it; and as for those who make any mention of it, they only treat on the subject as it has accidentally fallen in their way, and that too in little short reflections, or in general declamatory flourishes, without entering into the bottom of the matter. I hope therefore I shall perform an acceptable work to my countrymen, if I treat at large upon this subject; which I shall endeavour to do in a manner suitable to it, that I may not incur the censure which a famous critic” bestows upon one who had written a treatise on “the sublime’ in a low grovelling style. I intend to lay aside a whole week for this undertaking, that the scheme of my thoughts may not be broken and interrupted; and I dare promise myself, if my readers will give me a week's attention, that this great city will be very much changed for the better by next Saturday night. I shall endeavour to make what say intelligible to ordinary capacities, but if my readers meet with an some parts of it may be a little out of their reach, I would not have them discouraged, for they may assure themselves the next shall be much clearer.
As the great and only end of these my speculations is to banish vice and ignorance out of the territories of Great #. I shall endeavour as much as possible to establish among us a taste of polite writing. It is with this view that I have endeavoured to set my readers right in several points relating to operas and tragedies; and shall from time to time impart my notions of comedy, as I think they may tend to its refinement and perfection. I find by my bookseller, that these papers of criticism, with that upon humour, have met with a more kind reception than indeed I could have hoped for from such subjects; for this
paper that in &
reason, I shall enter upon my present un dertaking with greater cheerfulness. In this, and one or two following papers, I shall trace out the history of false wit, and distinguish the several kinds of it as they have prevailed in different ages of the world. This I think the more necessary at present, because I observed there were attempts on foot last winter to revive some of those antiquated modes of wit that have been long exploded out of the commonwealth of letters. There were several satires and panegyrics handed about in acrostic, by which means some of the most arrant undisputed blockheads about the town began to entertain ambitious thoughts, and to set up for polite authors. I shall therefore describe at length those many arts of false wit, in which a writer does not show himself a man of a beautiful genius, but of great industry. The first species of false wit which I have met with is very venerable for its antiquity, and has produced several pieces which have lived very near as long as the Iliad itself: I mean those short poems printed among thc minor Greek poets, which resemble the figure of an egg, a pair of wings, an axe, a shepherd's pipe, and an altar. As for the first, it is a little oval poem, and may not improperly be called a scholar's egg. I would endeavour to hatch it, or in more intelligible language, to translate it into English, did not I find the interpretation of it very difficult; for the author seems to have been more intent upon the figure of his poem than upon the sense of it. The pair of wings consist of twelve verses, or rather feathers, every verse decreasing gradually in its measure accordin to its situation in the wing. The subject o it (as in the rest of the poems which follow) bears some remote affinity with the figure, for it describes a god of love, who is always
I painted with wings.
The axe methinks would have been a ood figure for a lampoon, had the edge of it consisted of the most satirical parts of the work; but as it is in the original, I take it to have been nothing else but the of an axe which was consecrated to Minerva, and was thought to have been the same that Epeus made use of in the building of the Trojan horse; which is a hint I shall leave to the consideration of the critics. I am apt to think that the posy was written originally upon the axe, like those which our modern cutlers inscribe upon their knives; and that therefore the posy still remains in its ancient shape, though the axe itself is lost. The shepherd's pipe may be said to be full of music, for it is composed of nine different kinds of verses, which by their several lengths resemble the nine stops of the old musical instrument, that is likewise the subject of the poem. #. altar is inscribed with the epitaph
of Troilus the son of Hecuba; which, by the way, makes me believe, that these false pieces of wit are much more ancient than the authors to whom they are generall ascribed; at least I will never be persuaded, that so fine a writer as Theocritus could have been the author of any such simple works. It was impossible for a man to succeed in these performances who was not a kind of painter, or at least a designer. He was first of all to draw the outline of the subject which he intended to write upon, and afterwards conform the description to the figure of his subject. The poetry was to contract or dilate itself according to the mould in which it was cast. In a word, the verses were to be cramped or extended to the dimensions of the frame that was prepared for them; and to undergo the fate of those persons whom the tyrant Procustes used to lodge in his iron bed; if they were too short, he stretched them on a rack; and if they were too long, chopped off a part of their legs, till they fitted the couch which he had o for them. Mr. Dryden hints at this obsolete kind of wit in one of the following verses in his Mac Flecno; which an English reader cannot understand, who does not know that there are those little poems above-mentioned in the shape of wings and altars:
Choose for thy command Some peaceful province in acrostic land; There may’st thou wings display, and altars raise, And torture one poor word a thousand ways.'
This fashion of false wit was revived by several poets of the last age, and in particular may be met with among Mr. Herbert's poems; and, if I am not mistaken, in the translation of Du Bartas. I do not remember any other kind of work among the moderns ". more resembles the performances I have mentioned, than that famous picture of king Charles the First, which has the whole book of Psalms written in the lines of the face, and the hair of the head. When I was last at Oxford, I erused one of the whiskers, and was reading the other, but could not go so far in it as I would have done, by reason of the imatience of my friends and fellow-travelers, who all of them pressed to see such a piece of curiosity. I have since heard, that there is now an eminent writing-master in town, who has transcribed all the Old Testament in a full-bottomed periwig; and if the fashion should introduce the thick kind of wigs, which were in vogue some years ago, he promises to add two or three supernumerary locks that shall contain all the Apocrypha. He designed this wig originally for king William, having disposed of the two books of Kings in the two forks of the foretop; but that glorious monarch dying before the wig was finished, there is a space left in it for the face of any one that has a mind to purchase it. But to return to our ancient poems in pic
ture. I would humbly propose, for the benefit of our modern smatterers in poetry, that they would imitate their brethren among the ancients in those ingenious devices. I have communicated this thought to a young poetical lover of my acquaintance, who intends to present his mistress with a copy of verses made in the shape of her fan; and if he tells me true, has already finished the three first sticks of it. He has likewise promised me to get the measure of his mistress's marriage finger, with a design to make a posy in the fashion of a ring, which shall exactly fit it. It is so .# easy to enlarge upon a good hint, that do not question but my ingenious readers will o y what I have said to many other particulars: and that we shall see the town filled in a very little time with poetical ti ets, handkerchiefs, snuff-boxes, and the ike female ornaments. I shall therefore conclude with a word of advice to those admirable English authors who call themselves Pindaric writers, that they would apply themselves to this kind of wit without loss of time, as being provided better than any other poets with verses of all sizes and dimensions. 2.
Operose nihil agunt. Seneca. Busy about nothing. THERE is nothing more certain than that every man would be a wit if he could; and notwithstanding pedants of a pretended depth and solidity are apt to decry the writings of a P. author, as flash and froth, they all of them show upon occasion, that they would spare no pains to arrive at the character of those whom they seem to despise. For this reason we often find them endeavouring at works of fancy, which cost them infinite pangs in the production. The truth of it is, a man had better be a galley slave than a wit, were one to gain that title by those elaborate trifles which have been the inventions of such authors as were often masters of great learning, but no genius. In my last paper I mentioned some of those false wits among the ancients, and in this shall give the reader two or three other species of them, that flourished in the same early ages of the world. The first I shall produce are the lipogrammatists or letter-droppers of antiquity, that would take an exception, without any reason, against some particular letter in the alphabet, so as not to admit it once into a whole poem. One Tryphiodorus was a great master in this kind of writing. He composed an Odyssey or epic poem on the adventures of Ulysses, consisting of four and twenty books, having entirely banished the letter A from his j. which was called Alpha (as lucus a non lucendo) because there was not an Alpha in it. His second book was in
scribed Beta for the same reason. In short, the poet excluded the whole four and twenty letters in their turns, and showed them, one after another, that he could do his business without them. It must have been very pleasant to have seen this poet avoiding the reprobate letter, as much as another would a false quantity, and making his escape from it through the several Greek dialects, when he was pressed with it in any particular syllable. For the most apt and elegant word in the whole language was rejected, like a diamond with a flaw in it, if it appeared blemished with a wrong letter. I shall only observe upon this head, that if the work I have here mentioned had now been extant, the Odyssey of . Typhiodorus, in all probability, would have been, oftener quoted by our learned ts, than the Odyssey of Homer. . What a perpetual fund would it have been of obsolete words and phrases, unusual barbarisms and rusticities, absurd spellings, and complicated dialects 2 I make no question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable treasures of the Greek tongue. I find likewise among the ancients that ingenious kind of conceit, which the moderms distinguish by the name of a rebus, that does not sink a letter, but a whole word, by substituting a F. in its place. When Caesar was one of the masters of the Roman mint, he placed the figure of an elephant upon the reverse of the public money; the word Caesar signifying an elephant in the Punic language. This was artificially contrived by Caesar, because it was not lawful for a private man to stamp his own figure upon the coin of the commonwealth. Cicero, who was so called from the founder of his family, that was marked on the nose with a little wen like a vetch (which is Cicer in Latin,) instead of Marcus Tullius Cicero, ordered the words Marcus Tullius, with a figure of a vetch at the end of them, to be inscribed on a public monument. This was done probably to show that he was neither ashamed of his name or family, notwithstanding the envy of his competitors had often reproached him with both. In the same manner we read of a famous building that was marked in several parts of it with the figures of a frog and a lizard; those words in Greek having been the names of the architects, who Éy the laws of their country were never permitted to inscribe their own names upon their works. For the same reason it is thought, that the forelock of the horse in the antique equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, represents at a distance the shape of an owl, to intimate the country of the statuary, who, in all P. was an Athenian. This kind of wit was very much in vogue among our own countrymen about an age or two ago, who did not practise it for any oblique reason, as the ancients above-mentioned,
but purely for the sake of being witty.
Among innumerable instances that may be
aW. I find likewise in ancient times the conceit of making an echo talk o: and give rational answers. . If this could be excusable in any writer, it would be in Ovid, where he introduces the echo as a nymph, before she was worn away into nothing but a voice. The learned Erasmus, though a man of wit and genius, has composed a dialogue upon this silly kind of device, and made use of an echo who seems to have been a very extraordinary linguist, for she answers, the persons she talks with in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, according as she found the syllables which she was to repeat in any of those learned o es. Hudibras, in ridicule of this false kind of wit, has described Bruin bewailing the loss of his bear to a solitary echo, who is of great use to the poet in several distichs, as she does not only repeat after him, but helps out his verse, and furnishes him with rhymes. “He rag"d, and kept as heavy a coil as Stout Hercules for loss of Hylas; Forcing the valleys to repeat The accents of his sad regret; He beat his breast, and tore his hair, For loss of his dear crony bear, That Echo from the hollow ground His doleful wailings did resound More wistfully by many times, Than in small poet's splay-foot rhymes, That make her, in their rueful stories, To answer to introgatories, And most unconscionably depose Things of which she nothing knows; And when she has said all she can say "Tis wrested to the lover's fancy. Quoth he, O whither, wicked Bruin. Art thou fled to my Echo, Ruin? I thought th' hadst scorn'd to budge a step For fear. (Quoth Echo). Marry guep. Am I not here to take thy part 1 Then what has quell'd thy stubborn heart?
No. 60.] Wednesday, May 9 1711. Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, Hoc est. Pers. Sat. iii. 85. Is it for this you gain those meagre looks, And sacrifice your dinner to your books? SEveRAL kinds of false wit that vanished in the refined ages of the world, discovered themselves again in the time of monkish ignorance. As the monks were the masters of all that little learning which was then extant, and had their whole lives entirely disengaged from business, it is no wonder that several of them, who wanted genius for higher performances, employed , many hours in the composition of such tricks in writing, as required much time and little capacity. I have seen half the AEneid turned into Latin rhymes by one of the beaux esprits of that dark age: who says in his preface to it, that the AEneid wanted nothing but the sweets of rhyme to make it the most perfect work in its kind. I have likewise seen a hymn in hexameters to the Virgin Mary, which filled a whole book, though it consisted but of the eight following words: “Tot, tibi, sunt, Virgo, dotes, quot, sidera, coelo." “Thou hast as many virtues, O Virgin, as there are stars in heaven.” The poet rung the changes upon these eight several words, and by that means made his verses almost as numerous as the virtues and the stars which they celebrated. It is no wonder that men who had so much time upon their hand did not only restore all the antiquated pieces of false wit, but enriched the world with inventions of their own. It was to this age that we owe the productions of anagrams, which is nothing else but a transmutation of one word into another, or the turning of the same set of letters into different words; which may change night into day, or black into white, if Chance, who is the goddess that presides over these sorts of composition, shall so direct. I remember a witty author, in allusion to this kind of writing, calls his rival, who (it seems) was distorted, and had his limbs set in places that did not properly belong to them, “the anagram a man.” When the anagrammatist takes a name to work upon, he considers it at first as a
mine not broken up, which will not show the treasure it contains, till he shall have spent many hours in the search of it; for it is his business to find out one word that conceals itself in another, and to examine the letters in all the variety of stations in which they can possibly be ranged. I have heard of a gentleman who, when this kind of wit was in fashion, endeavoured, to gain his mistress's heart by it. She was one of the finest women of her age, and known by the name of the Lady Mary Boon. The lovernot being able to make any thing of Mary, by certain liberties indulged to this kind of writing, converted it into Moll; and after having shut himself up for a half year, with indefatigable industry produced an anagram. Upon the Ho: it to his mistress, who was a little vexed in her heart to see herself degraded into Moll Boon, she told him, to his infinite surprise, that he had mistaken her surname, for that it was not Boon, but Bohun. * — Ibi omnis Effusus labor — The lover was thunder-struck with his misfortune, insomuch that in a little time after he lost his senses, which indeed had been very much impaired by that continual oppo he had given to his anagram. he acrostic was probably invented about the same time with the anagram, though it is impossible to decide whether the inventor of the one or the other were the greater blockhead. The simple acrostic is nothing but the name or title of a person, or thing, made out of the initial letters of several verses, and by that means written, after the manner of the Chinese, in a perpendicular line. But besides these there are compound acrostics, when the principal letters stand two or three deep. I have seen some of them where the verses have not only been edged by a name at each extremity, but have had the same name running down like a seam through the middle of the poem. There is another near relation of the anagrams and acrostics, which is commonly called a chronogram. This kind of wit a pears very often on many modern mo, especially those of Germany, when they represent in the inscription the year in which they were coined. Thus we see on a medal of Gustavus Adolphus the following words, CHRISTV's DUX ERGo TRIVMPHVs. If you take the pains to o: the figures out of the several words, and range them in their proper order, you will find they amount to MDcxxv.11, or 1627, the year in which the medal was stamped: for as some of the letters distinguish themselves from the rest, and overtop their fellows, they are to be considered in a double capacity, both as letters and as figures. Your laborious German wits will turn over a whole dictionary for one of these ingenious devices. A man would think they were searching after an apt classical term, but instead of that they are looking out a word that has an L. an M, or a D in it. When therefore we meet with any of these inscriptions, we are not so much to look in them for the thought, as for the year of the Lord.
The bouts-rimez were the favourites of the French nation for a whole age together, and that at a time when it abounded in wit and learning. They were a list of words that rhyme to one another, drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who was to make a poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were placed upon the list: the more uncommon the rhymes were, the more extraordinary was the genius of the poet that could accommodate his verses to them. I do not know any greater instance of the decay of wit and learning among the French (which generally follows the declension of empire) than the endeavouring to restore this foolish kind of wit. If the reader will be at the trouble to see examples of it, let him look into the new Mercure Gallant; where the authorevery month gives a list of rhymes to be filled up by the ingenious, in order to be communicated to the public in the Mercure for the succeeding month. That for the month of November last, which now lies before me, is as follows:
Lauriers Guerriers Musette Lisette
Caesars JEtendars Houlette Aolette
One would be amazed to see so learned a man as Menage talking seriously on this kind of trifle in the following passage: * Monsieur de la Chambre has told me, that he never knew what he was going to write when he took his pen into his hand; but that one sentence always produced another. For my own part }.}. knew what I should write next when I was making verses. In the first place, I got all my rhymes together, and was afterwards perhaps three or four months in filling them up. I one day showed Monsieur Gombaud a composition of this nature, in which, among others, I had made use of the fourfollowing rhymes, Amaryllis, Phyllis, Marne, Arne; desiring him to give me his opinion of it. He told me immediately, that my verses were good for nothing. . And upon my asking his reason, he said, because the rhymes are too common; and for that reason easy to be put into verse. “Marry,” says I, “if it be so, I am very well rewarded for all the pains I have been at.” But by Monsieur Gombaud’s leave, notwithstanding the severity of the criticism, the verses were £. Vid. Menagiana.”—Thus far the earned Menage, whom I have translated word for word.
* Tom. i. p. 174. &c. ed. Amst. 1713.
The first occasion of these bouts-rimez made them in some manner excusable, as they were tasks which the French ladies used to impose on their lovers. But when a grave author, like him above-mentioned, tasked himself, could there be any thing more ridiculous? Or would not one be apt to believe that the author played booty, and did not make his list of rhymes till he had finished his poem?
I shall only *... this piece of false wit has been finely ridiculed by Monsieur Sarasin, in a poem entitled, La Defaite des Bouts-Riméz, The Rout of the BoutsRimez.
I must subjoin to this last kind of wit the double rhymes, which are used in doggerel poetry, and generally applauded by ignorant readers. If the thought of the couplet in such compositions is good, the rhyme adds little to it; and if bad, it will not be in the power of the rhyme to recommend it. I am afraid that great numbers of those who admire the incomparable Hudibras, do it more on account of these doggerel rhymes, than of the parts that really deserve admiration. I am sure I have heard the
“Pulpit, drum ecclesiastic, Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;’ and “There was an ancient sage philosopher, Who had read Alexander Ross over;" more frequently quoted than the finest pieces of wit in the whole poem. C.
No. 61.] Thursday, May 10, 1711.
Non equidem hoc studeo, bullatis ut mihi nugis
"Tis not indeed my talent to engage In lofty trifles, or to swell my page With wind and noise. Dryden. THERE is no kind of false wit which has been so recommended by the practice of all ages, as that which consists in a jingle of words, and is comprehended under the general name of punning. It is indeed impossible to kill a weed which the soil has a natural disposition to produce. The seeds of punning are in the minds of all men; and though they may be subdued by reason, reflection, and good sense, they will be very apt to shoot up in the greatest genius that is not broken and cultivated by the rules of art. Imitation is natural to us, and when it does not raise the mind to poetry, painting, music, or other more noble arts, it often breaks out in puns, and quibbles. Aristotle, in the eleventh chapter of his book of rhetoric, describes two or three kinds of puns, which he calls paragrams; among the beauties of good writing, and produces instances of them out of some of the greatest authors in the Greek tongue. Cicero has sprinkled several of his works with puns, and in his book where he lays down the rules of oratory, quotes abundance of sayings as pieces of wit, which also upon