« PředchozíPokračovat »
this great city will be very much changed for the better by next Saturday night. I shall endeavour to make what I say intelligible to ordinary capacities; but if my readers meet with any paper that in 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 fpeculations is to banith vice and ignorance out of the territories of Great Britain, I shall endeavour as much as possible to establish among us a taste of polite writing. It is with this view that I have endeavourved to set my readers right in several points relating to Operas and Tragedies ; and shall, from time to time, impart my notions of Come:ly, as I think they may tend to its refinement and perfection. I find by my bookseller, that these papers of criticisin, with that upon humour, have met with a more kind reception than indeed I could have hoped for from such fubjects ; for which reason I thai enter upon my prefent undertaking with greater cheerfulness.
In this, and one or two following papers, I shall trace out the history of false wit, and distinguith the several kinds of it as they have prevaled in different ages of the world. This I think the more necellary at present, becaule 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 abour in acroit c, by which ineans fome of the most arrant undifputed blockheads about the town began to entertain ainbitious thoughts, and to set up for polite, authors. I thall therefore describe at lengi h those inany, arts of false wit, in which a writer does not thew him elf 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 a' tiquity, and has produced several pieces which have lived very near as long as the Iliad itfelf: Im an those foort poems printed among the minor Greek poets, which relemble the figure of an egs, a pair of wings, an ax, a thepherd's pipe, and an altar.
As for the first, it is a little oval poem, and may not improperly be called a icholar's egg. I would endeavour to hatch it, or, in more intelligible language, to translate it into English, did not I înd 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 verfe decrezing gradually in its measure according to its situation in the wing. The subject of it, as in the rest of the poems which follow, bears fome remote affinity with the figure, for it describes a god of love, who is always painted with wings.
The ax, methinks, would have been a good figure for a lampoon, had the edge of it consisted of the inoft fatirical parts of the work; but as it is in the original, I take it to have been nothing else but the poesy of an ax 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 poefy was written originally upon the ax, like those which our modern cutlers inscribe upon their knives ; and that therefore the poesy still remains in its ancient shape, though the ax itself is loft.
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.
The altar is inscribed with the epitaph of Troilus, the fon 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 generally afcribed; at least I will never be persuaded, that so fine a writer as Thescricus 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
fubje&t which ne 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 perfons whoin the tyrant Procrustes used to lodge in his iron bed: if they were too fhort, he stretched them on a rack, and if they were too long, chopped oft a part of their legs, tiil they fitted the couch which he had prepared for thera.
Mr. Drvuen hints at this obfolete kind of wit in one of the following vertes in his Mac Flecno; which an English reader calibini underland, who does not know that there are those little poems above inentioned in the shape of wings and altars:
. Choose for thy command
This fashion of false wit was revived by several poets of the last age, and in particular it may be met vith 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 which more relembles the performances I have mentioned, than that fainous picture of King Charles the First, which has the whole book of Pralnis written in the lines of the face and the hair of the head. When I was last at Oxford, I perused 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 impatience of my friends and fellow-travellers, who all of them pressed to see fuch a piece of curiosity. I have since heard, that there is now an eminent writing. matter in town, who has transcribed all the Old Testament in a full-bottomed perriwig; and if the fathion should introduce the thick kind of wigs which were in pugue foine years ago, he promises to add two or three
supernumerary locks, that shall contain all the Apocrypha. He designed this wig originally for King Williairl, having disposed of the two books of Kings in the tivo 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 purchate it.
But to return to our ancient poems in picture; I would humbly propose, for the benefit of our modern fmatterers in poetry, that they would imitate their brethren among the ancients in those ingeni us devices. I have communicated this thought to a young poetical lover of my acquaintance, who intends to prelent his mistress with a copy of verses in the shape of her fan; and, if he tells me true, he 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 defiga to make a poesy in the fashionable ring, which shall ex. actly fit it. It is so very easy to enlarge upon a good hint, that I do not question but my ingenious reader will apply what I have said to many other particulars ; and that we shall see the town filled in a very little time with poetical tippers, handkerchiefs, snuff-boxes, and the like 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 veries of all sizes and dilnensions.
No. LIX. TUESDAY, MAY 8.
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 polite author, as Flash and Froth, they all of them thew upon occasion, that they would
fpare no pains to arrive at the character of those whom they feem to despite. 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 thote elaborate trifles which have been the inventions of such authors as were often masters of great learn. ing, but no genius.
In my laft 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, againft some particular letter in the alphabet, so as not to admit it once joto 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, confifting of four-and-twenty books, having entirely banished the letter A from his first book, which was called Alpha, as Lucus a non Lucendo, because there was not an Alpha in it. His second book was inscribed Beta, for the same reason. In short, the poet excluded the whole four-andtwenty letters in their turns, and shewed 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 taking 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 i appeared blemished with a wrong letter. I fhall only obferve upon this head, that if the work I have here inentioned had been now extant, the Odyffey of Tryphiodorus, in all probability, would have been oftener quoted by our learned pedants than the Odyssey of Homer. What a perpetual fund would it have been of obsolete words and phrases, unusual barbarisms and rufticities, absurd spellings, and complicated dialects ! I make no question but it would have been looked upon