« VorigeDoorgaan »
of them because they are Whigs or Tories, but because they are Anagrams and Acrostics.
But to return to punning: having pursued the history of a pun, from its original to its downfal, I shall here define it to be a conceit arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound, but differ in the sense. The
only way therefore to try a piece of wit, is to translate it into a different language: if it bears the test, you may pronounce it true; but if it vanishes in the experiment, you may conclude it to have been a pun. short, one may say of a pun, as the country man descri bed his nightingale, that it is vox, et præterea nihil; a sound, and nothing but a sound. On the contrary, one may represent true wit by the description which ARISTINETUS makes of a fine woman; when she is dressed, she is beautiful; when she is undressed, she is beautiful: or, as MERCERUS has translated it more emphatically, Induitur, formosa est; exuitur, ipsa forma est.
NO. 62.-FRIDAY, MAY II. 3711.
Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.
HOR. ARS POET. 309.
Sound judgment is the ground of writing well.
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WIT AND JUDGMENT, MIXED WIT AND TRUE WIT.
MR LOCKE has an admirable reflection upon the diffe rence of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavours to shew the reason why they are not always the talents of the same person. His words are as follow: "And hence, perhaps, may be given some reason of that common observation, that men who have a great deal of wit and prompt memories, have not always the clearest judgment, or deepest reason. For wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resem
blance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; judgment, on the contrary, lies quite on the other side, in separating carefully one from another, ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to metaphor and illusion; wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and pleasantry of wit which strikes so lively on the fancy, and is therefore so acceptable to all people"
This is, I think, the best and most philosophical account that I have ever met with of wit, which generally, though not always, consists in such a resemblance and congruity of ideas as this author mentions. I shall only add to it, by way of explanation, that every resem blance of ideas is not that which we call wit, unless it be such an one as gives delight and furprise to the reader: these two properties seem essential to wit, more particu larly the last of them. In order, therefore, that the resemblance in the ideas be wit, it is necessary that the ideas should not lie too near one another in the nature of things; for where the likeness is obvious, it gives no surprise. To compare one man's singing to that of another, or to represent the whiteness of any object by that of milk and snow, or the variety of its colours by those of the rainbow,, cannot be called wit, unless, besides this obvious resemblance, there be some further congruity discovered in the two ideas that is capable of giving the reader some surprise. Thus when a poet tells us, the bosom of his mistress is as white as snow, there is no wit in the comparison; but when he adds, with a sigh, that it is as cold too, it then grows into wit. Every reader's memory may supply him with innumerable instances of the same nature. For this reason, the similitudes in heroic poets, who endeavour rather to fill the mind with great conceptions, than to divert it with such as are new and surprising, have seldom any thing in them that can be called wit. Mr Locke's account of wit, with this short explanation, comprehends most of the species of wit, as metaphors, similitudes, allegories, enigmas, mottos, parables, fables, dreams, visions, dramatic writings, burlesque, and all the methods of allusion. There are many other pieces of wit (how remote soever they may
appear at first sight from the foregoing description) which upon examination will be found to agree with it.
As true wit generally consists in this resemblance and congruity of ideas, false wit chiefly consists in the resem. blance and congruity sometimes of single letters, as in anagrams, chronograms, lipograms, and acrostics: sometimes of syllables, as in echoes and doggerel rhymes : sometimes of words, as in puns and quibbles; and sometimes of whole sentences or poems, cast into the figures of eggs, axes, or altars; nay, some carry the notion of wit so far as to ascribe it even to external mimicry ; and to look upon a man as an ingenious person, that can resemble the tone, posture, or face of another.
As true wit consists in the resemblance of ideas, and false wit in the resemblance of words, according to the foregoing instances; there is another kind of wit which consists partly in the resemblance of ideas and partly in the resemblance of words; which, for distinction sake, I shall call mixed wit. This kind of wit is that which abounds in COWLEY, more than in any author that ever wrote. Mr WALLER has likewise a great deal of it. Mr DRYDEN is very sparing in it. MILTON had a genius much above it. SPENSER is in the same class with MILTON. The Italians, even in their epic poetry, are full of it. Monsieur BorLEAU, who formed himself upon the ancient poets, has everywhere rejected it with scorn. If we look after mixed wit among the Greek writers, we shall find it nowhere but in the epigrammatists. There are indeed some strokes of it in the little poem ascribed to Musus, which, by that, as well as many other marks, betrays itself to be a modern composition. . If we look into the Latin writers, we find none of this mixed wit in VIRGIL, LUCRETIUS, or CATULLUS; very little in HORACE, but a great deal of it in OVID, and scarce any thing else in MARTIAL. Out of the innumerable branches of mixed wit, I shall choose one instance which may be met with in all the writers of this class, The passion of love in its nature has been thought to resemble fire; for which reason the words fire and flame are made use of to signify love. The witty poets therefore have taken an advantage from the double meaning of the word fire, to make an infinite number of witticisms. CowLEY observing the cold regard of his mistress's eyes, and at the same time their power of produ
cing love in him, considers them as burning-glasses made of ice; and finding himself able to live in the greatest extremities of love, concludes the torrid zone to be habit. able. When his mistress has, read his letter written in juice of lemon by holding it to the fire, he desires her to read it over a second time by love's flames. When she weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops from the alembic. When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, that is, thirty degrees nearer the pole than when she is with him. His ambitious love is a fire that natu rally mounts upwards; his happy love is the beams of heaven, and his unhappy love flames of hell. When it does not let him sleep, it is a flame that sends up no smoke when it is opposed by counsel and advice, it is a fire that rages the more by the wind's blowing upon it. Upon the dying of a tree in which he had cut his. loves, he observed that his written flames had burnt up and withered the tree. When he resolves to give over his passion, he tells us, that one burnt like him for ever dreads the fire. His heart is an Etna, that, instead of VULCAN's shop, incloses CUPID's forge in it. His endeavouring to drown his love in wine, is throwing oil upon the fire. He would insinuate to his mistress, that the fire of love, like that of the sun (which produces so many living creatures), should not only warm, but beget. Love in another place cooks pleasure at his fire. Sometimes the poet's heart is frozen in every breast, and sometimes scorched in every eye. Sometimes he is drowned in tears, and burnt in love, like a ship set on fire in the middle of the sea.
The reader may observe, in every one of these instances, that the poet mixes the qualities of fire with those of love; and, in the same sentence, speaking of it both as a passion and as real fire, surprises the reader with those seeming resemblances or contradictions that make up all the wit in this kind of writing. Mixed wit therefore is a composition of pun and true wit, and is more or less perfect as the resemblance lies in the ideas or in the words its foundations are laid partly in falsehood and partly in truth: Reason puts in her claim for one half of it, and Extravagance for the other. The only province therefore for this kind of wit is epigram, or those little
Occasional poems that in their own nature are nothing else but a tissue of epigrams. I cannot conclude this head of mixed wit, without owning that the admirable poet, out of whom I have taken the examples of it, had as amuch true wit as any author that ever writ; and indeed all other talents of an extraordinary genius.
It may be expected, since I am upon this subject, that I should take notice of Mr DRYDEN's definition of wit; which, with all the deference that is due to the judgement of so great a man, is not so properly a definition of wit, as of good writing in general. “ Wit, as he defines it, is a propriety of words and thoughts adapted to the subject.' If this be a true definition of wit, I am apt to think that EUCLID was the greatest wit that ever set pen to paper it is certain there never was a greater propriety of words and thoughts adapted to the subject, than what that author has made use of in his Elements. I shall only appeal to my reader, if this definition agrees with any notion he has of wit. If it be a true one, I am sure Mr DRYDEN was not only a better poet, but a greater wit, than Mr CowLEY; and VIRGIL a much more facetious man than either OviD or MARTIAL
BOUHOURS, whom I look upon to be the most penetrating of all the French critics, has taken pains to shew that it is impossible for any thought to be beautiful which is not just, and has not its foundation in the nature of things that the basis of all wit is truth, and that no thought can be valuable of which good sense is not the ground work. BOILEAU has endeavoured to inculcate the same notion in several parts of his writings, both in prose and verse. This is that natural way of writing, that beautiful simplicity, which we so much admire in the compositions of the ancients; and which nobody deviates from but those who want strength of genius to make a thought shine in its own natural beauties. Poets who want this strength of genius to give that majestic simplicity to nature, which we so much admire in the works of the ancients, are forced to hunt after foreign ornaments, and not to let any piece of wit of what kindsoever escape them. I look upon these writers as Goths in poetry, who, like those in architecture, not being able to come up to the beautiful simplicity of the old Greeks