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She immediately adjusted it, and looking a reason, I shall enter upon my present un little seriously, 'Well,' says she, I will dertaking with greater cheerfulness. be hanged if you and your silent friend In this, and one or two following papers, there are not against the doctor in your I shall trace out the history of false wit, and hearts, I suspected as much by his saying distinguish the several kinds of it as they nothing. Upon this she took her fan in her have prevailed in different ages of the hand, and upon the opening of it, again dis- world. This I think the more necessary at played to us the figure of the doctor, who present, because I observed there were was placed with great gravity among the attempts on foot last winter to revive some sticks of it. In a word, I found that the of those antiquated modes of wit that have doctor had taken possession of her thoughts, been long exploded out of the commonher discourse, and most of her furniture; wealth of letters. There were several but finding myself pressed too close by her satires and panegyrics handed about in question, I winked upon my friend to take acrostic, by which means some of the most his leave, which he did accordingly. 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.
Ut pictura poesis erit
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 the minor Greek poets, which resemble the figure of an egg, a pair
As for the first, it is a little oval poem,
Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 361. Poems like pictures are. NOTHING 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 of wings, an axe, a shepherd's pipe, and declamatory flourishes, without entering an altar. into the bottom of the matter. I hope therefore I shall perform an acceptable and may not improperly be called a scho work to my countrymen, if I treat at large lar's egg. I would endeavour to hatch it, or upon this subject; which I shall endeavour in more intelligible language, to translate it to do in a manner suitable to it, that I may into English, did not I find the interpretanot incur the censure which a famous critic* tion of it very difficult; for the author seems bestows upon one who had written a trea- to have been more intent upon the figure tise on the sublime' in a low grovelling of his poem than upon the sense of it. style. I intend to lay aside a whole week The pair of wings consist of twelve for this undertaking, that the scheme of verses, or rather feathers, every verse demy thoughts may not be broken and in-creasing gradually in its measure according terrupted; and I dare promise myself, if to its situation in the wing. The subject of my readers will give me a week's attention, it (as in the rest of the poems which follow) that this great city will be very much bears some remote affinity with the figure, changed for the better by next Saturday for it describes a god of love, who is always night. I shall endeavour to make what I painted with wings. 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.
The axe methinks would have been a good 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 posy 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.
Monday, May 7, 1711.
As the great and only end of these my speculations is to banish 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 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
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 son of Hecuba; which, by | ture. I would humbly propose, for the
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 after-a wards 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 prepared 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-men- No. 59.] Tuesday, May 8, 1711. tioned 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,
Operose nihil agunt.
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 wri tings of a polite 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
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 which 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 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 im-genius. patience of my friends and fellow-travellers, 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.
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 first book, which was called Alpha (as lucus a non lucendo) because there was
But to return to our ancient poems in pic-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.
Among innumerable instances that may be given of this nature, I shall produce the device of one Mr. Newberry, as I find it mentioned by our learned Camden in his Remains. Mr. Newberry, to represent his name by a picture, hung up at his door the sign of a yew-tree, that had several berries upon it, and in the midst of them a great golden N hung upon a bough of a tree, which by the help of a little false spelling made up the word N-ew-berry.
I shall conclude this topic with a rebus, which has been lately hewn out in freestone, and erected over two of the portals of Blenheim House, being the figure of a monstrous lion tearing to pieces a little cock. For the better understanding of which device, I must acquaint my English reader, that a cock has the misfortune to be called in Latin by the same word that signifies a Frenchman, as a lion is an emblem of the English nation. Such a device in so noble a pile of building, looks like a pun in an heroic poem; and I am very sorry the truly ingenious architect would suffer the statuary to blemish his excellent plan with so poor a conceit. But I hope what I have said will gain quarter for the cock, and deliver him out of the lion's paw.
I find likewise in ancient times the conceit of making an echo talk sensibly, 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 languages. 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.
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 pedants, 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? 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 moderns distinguish by the name of a rebus, that does not sink a letter, but a whole word, by substituting a picture in its place. When Čæsar 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 Cæsar signifying an elephant in the Punic language. This was artificially contrived by Cæsar, 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 by 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 probability, 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. |
'He rag'd, and kept as heavy a coil as
I thought th' hadst scorn'd to budge a step
Then what has quell'd thy stuburn heart?
Have these bones rattled, and this head
Nor did I ever winch or grudge it,
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 lover not 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,
No. 60.] Wednesday, May 9 1711.
Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, Hoc est. with indefatigable industry produced an
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.
anagram. Upon the presenting it to his
The lover was thunder-struck with his
The 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 appears very often on many modern medals, 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, CHRISTVS DUX ERGO TRIVMPHVS. If you take the pains to pick the figures out of the several words, and range them in their proper order, you will find they amount to MDCXXVII, 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
Or if thou hast no thought of me,
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 Eneid turned into Latin rhymes by one of the beaux esprits of that dark age: who says in his preface to it, that the Eneid 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, cœlo.'
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 of a man.'
When the anagrammatist takes a name to work upon, he considers it at first as a
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 I must subjoin to this last kind of wit the of the decay of wit and learning among the double rhymes, which are used in doggerel French (which generally follows the de- poetry, and generally applauded by ignoclension of empire) than the endeavouring rant readers. If the thought of the couplet to restore this foolish kind of wit. If the in such compositions is good, the rhyme reader will be at the trouble to see exam- adds little to it; and if bad, it will not be ples of it, let him look into the new Mer- in the power of the rhyme to recommend cure Gallant; where the author every month it. I am afraid that great numbers of those gives a list of rhymes to be filled up by the who admire the incomparable Hudibras, ingenious, in order to be communicated to do it more on account of these doggerel the public in the Mercure for the succeed-rhymes, than of the parts that really deing month. That for the month of Novem-serve admiration. I am sure I have heard ber last, which now lies before me, is as the follows:
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 add, that this piece of false wit has been finely ridiculed by Monsieur Sarasin, in a poem entitled, La Defaite des Bouts-Rimez, The Rout of the BoutsRimez.
Pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
There was an ancient sage philosopher,
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
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 Dryden. write when he took his pen into his hand; THERE is no kind of false wit which has but that one sentence always produced been so recommended by the practice of all another. For my own part I never knew ages, as that which consists in a jingle of what I should write next when I was mak-words, and is comprehended under the geing verses. In the first place, I got all my neral name of punning. It is indeed imposrhymes together, and was afterwards per-sible to kill a weed which the soil has a haps three or four months in filling them natural disposition to produce. The seeds up. I one day showed Monsieur Gombaud of punning are in the minds of all men; and a composition of this nature, in which, though they may be subdued by reason, among others, I had made use of the four fol- reflection, and good sense, they will be very lowing rhymes, Amaryllis, Phyllis, Marne, apt to shoot up in the greatest genius that Arne; desiring him to give me his opinion of is not broken and cultivated by the rules of it. He told me immediately, that my verses art. Imitation is natural to us, and when were good for nothing. And upon my ask- it does not raise the mind to poetry, painting his reason, he said, because the rhymes ing, music, or other more noble arts, it often are too common; and for that reason easy breaks out in puns, and quibbles. 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 good." Vid. Menagiana.*-Thus far the learned Menage, whom I have translated word for word.
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
Tom. i. p. 174. &c. ed. Amst. 1713.
"Tis not indeed my talent to engage