« VorigeDoorgaan »
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 nor his 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 practice it for any oblique reason, as the ancients above-mentioned, but purely for the sake of being witty. 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 yewtree, that had several berries upon it, and in the midst of them a great golden N hung upon the bough of the 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 the emblem of the English nation. Such a device, in so noble a pile of building, looks like a pun in a 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
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 person she talks with in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, according as she found the syllables which she was to repeat in any of these fearned 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:
He rag'd, and kept as heavy a coil as
Forcing the valleys to repeat
Nor did I ever wince or grudge it,
For thy dear sake (Quoth she), "Mum budge
No. 60.] WEDNESDAY, MAY 9, 17 Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, hoc PERS., Sat.
Is it for this you gain those meager looks, And sacrifice your dinner to your books? SEVERAL kinds of false wit that vanished refined ages of the world, discovered then again in the times of monkish ignorance.
As the monks were the masters of all tha learning which was then extant, and had thei lives entirely disengaged from business, it wonder that several of them, who wanted for higher performances, employed many h the composition of such tricks in writing quired much time and little capacity. I ha half the Eneid turned into Latin rhymes of the beaux esprits of that dark age; wh in his preface to it, that the Eneid want thing but the sweets of rhyme to make it th perfect work in its kind. I have likewise hymn in hexameters to the Virgin Mary, filled a whole book, though it consisted bu eight following words:
Tot, tibi, sunt, Virgo, dotes, quot, sidera, cœlo.
Thou hast as many virtues, O Virgin, as there are heaven.
The poet rang the changes upon these eigh ral words, and by that means made his ve most as numerous as the virtues and th which they celebrated. It is no wonder tl who had so much time upon their hands only restore all the antiquated pieces of fa but enrich the world with inventions of the It was to this age that we owe the produc anagrams, which is nothing else but a tra tion of one word into another, or the tur the same set of letters into different words may change night into day, or black int if Chance, who is the goddess that presid these sorts of composition, shall so direct member a witty author, in allusion to this writing, calls his rival, who (it seems) w torted, and had his limbs set in places t not properly belong to them," the anagr
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, endeavored 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 anything of Mary, by certain liberties indulged to this kind of writing converted it into Moll; and after having shut himself up for half a year, with indefatigable industry produced an anagram. Upon the presenting 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 sirname, for that it was not Boon, but Bohun.
The lover was thunderstruck with his misfortune, insomuch that in a little time after he lost his senses, which indeed had been very much impaired by that continual application he had given to his
know any greater instance of the decay of wit and learning among the French (which generally follows the declension of empire) than the endeavoring 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 author every 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:
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, I
The acrostic was probably invented about the same time with the anagram, though it is impossi-never knew what I should write next when I was ble 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 beside 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 MDCXVVVII, 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 bouts-rimes were the favorites 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
making verses. In the first place I got all my rhymes together, and was afterward 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 four following 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 good."" Vide Menagiana. Thus far the learned Menage, whom I have translated word for word.
The first occasion of these bout-rimés 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 anything 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 Défaite des Bouts-Rimés, The Rout of the Bouts-Rimés.
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 composition 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 those 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;
*Tom. i, p. 174, etc., ed. Amst., 1713.
There was an ancient sage philosopher
more frequently quoted, than the finest pieces of
No. 61.] THURSDAY, MAY 10, 1711.
Non equidem studeo bullatis ut mihi nugis
"Tis not indeed my talent to engage
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 puuning. 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 cuftivated 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.
the fens and marshes in which it was situate which are now drained, I must leave to t termination of more skillful naturalists.
After this short history of punning, one wonder how it should be so entirely banish of the learned world as it is at present, esp since it had found a place in the writings most ancient polite authors. To account fc we must consider that the first race of at who were the great heroes in writing, were tute of all rules and arts of criticism; and f reason, though they excel later writers in ness of genius, they fell short of them in ac and correctness. The moderns cannot reac beauties, but can avoid their imperfections. the world was furnished with these authors first eminence, there grew up another writers, who gained themselves a reputati the remarks which they made on the wor those who preceded them. It was one of th ployments of these secondary authors t tinguish the several kinds of wit by terms and to consider them as more or less perf cording as they were founded in truth. It wonder, therefore, that even such authors crates, Plato, and Cicero, should have such blemishes as are not to be met with in auth a much inferior character, who have written Aristotle, in the eleventh chapter of his book those several blemishes were discovered. I of rhetoric, describes two or three kinds of puns, find that there was a proper separation ma which he calls paragrams, among the beauties of tween puns and true wit by any of the a good writing, and produces instances of them out authors, except Quinctilian and Longinus of some of the greatest authors in the Greek when this distinction was once settled, it wa tongue. Cicero has sprinkled several of his natural for all men of sense to agree in it. works with puns, and in his book where he lays the revival of this false wit, it happened abo down the rules of oratory, quotes abundance of time of the revival of letters; but as soon as sayings as pieces of wit, which also upon examina- once detected, it immediately vanished and tion prove arrant puns. But the age in which the peared. At the same time there is no questi chiefly flourished was in the reign of King as it has sunk in one age and risen in ano James the First. That learned monarch was him- will again recover itself in some distant per self a tolerable punster, and made very few bish-time, as pedantry and ignorance shall prevai ops or privy-counselors that had not some time or other signalized themselves by a clinch or a conundrum. It was therefore in this age that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity. It had been before admitted into merry speeches and ludicrous compositions but was now delivered with great gravity from the pulpit, or pronounced in the most solemn manner at the council-table. The greatest authors, in their most serious works, made frequent use of puns. The sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the tragedies of Shakspeare are full of them. The sinner was punned into repentance by the former, as in the latter nothing is more usual than to see a hero weeping and quibbling for a dozen lines together.
I must add to these great authorities, which seem to have given a kind of sanction to this piece of false wit, that all the writers of rhetoric have treated of punning with very great respect, and divided the several kinds of it into hard that are reckoned among the figures of speech, and recommended as ornaments in discourse. I remember a country schoolmaster of my acquaintance told me once, that he had been in company with a gentleman whom he looked upon to be the greatest paragrammatist among the moderns. Upon inquiry, I found my learned friend had dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous punster; and desiring him to give me some account of Mr. Swan's conversation, he told me that he generally talked in the Paranomasia, that he sometimes gave into the Ploce, but that in his humble opinion he shone most in the Antanaclasis. I must not here omit, that a famous university of this land was formerly very much infested with puns; but whether or no this might not arise from
wit and sense. And, to speak the truth, I d
But to return to punning. Having pursu history of a pun, from its original to its do I shall here define it to be a conceit arisin the use of two words that agree in the sour differ in the sense. The only way, theref try a piece of wit, is to translate it into a di language. If it bears the test, you may pro it true; but if it vanishes in the experime may conclude it to have been a pun. In one may say of a pun as the countryman des his nightingale, that it is "vox et præterea
ME. LOCKE has an admirable reflection upon the difference of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavors to show 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 resemblance 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 allusion; 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 resemblance of ideas is not that which we call wit, unless it be such a one that gives delight and surprise to the reader. These two properties seem essential to wit, more particularly 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 colors by those of the rainbow, cannot be called wit, unless, beside this obvious resemblance, there be some farther 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, 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 endeavor rather to fill the mind with great conceptions than to divert it with such as are new and surprising, have seldom anything 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, mottoes, parables, fables, dreams, visions, dramatic writings, burlesque, and all the methods of allusion. There are many other species of wit (how
* Dressed she is beautiful, undressed she is beauty's self.
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 resemblance 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 other 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 Boileau, 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 Musæus, 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 anything 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 producing 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 habitable. 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 flame. When she weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops from the limbeck. 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 naturally mounts upward; 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 winds 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 forever dreads the fire. His heart is an Etna, that instead of Vulcan's shop, incloses Cupid's forge in it. His endeavoring 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 much true wit as any author that ever wrote; and indeed, all other talents of an extraordinary genius.
ancient heroine of Virgil's new-creat dictates a letter for her just before he the ungrateful fugitive, and very unlu himself, is for measuring a sword with much superior in force to him on the san I think I may be judge of this, becau translated both. The famous author of of Love has nothing of his own; he b from a greater master in his own profes which is worse, improves nothing which Nature fails him, and, being forced t shift, he has recourse to witticism. Th indeed with his soft admirers, and give preference to Virgil in their esteem.'
Were I not supported by so great an as that of Mr. Dryden, I should not v observe, that the taste of most of our poets, as well as readers, is extremely Go quotes Monsieur Segrais, for a threefold tion of the readers of poetry; in the first he comprehends the rabble of readers, does not treat as such with regard to thei but to their numbers and the coarsenes taste. His words are as follow: Se distinguished the readers of poetry, acc their capacity of judging, into three [He might have said the same of write he had pleased.] "In the lowest form those whom he calls Les Petits Esp things as our upper-gallery audience i house; who like nothing but the husk of wit, and prefer a quibble, a conceit gram, before solid sense and elegant e These are mob readers. If Virgil an stood for parliament-men, we know alr "would carry it. But though they made est appearance in the field, and cried th the best of it is, they are but a sort Huguenots, or Dutch boors, brought over but not naturalized; who have not land pounds per annum in Parnassus, and are not privileged to poll. The au of the same level, fit to represent th mountebank's stage, or to be masters of monies in a bear-garden; yet these are have the most admirers. But it often to their mortification, that as their re prove their stock of sense (as they ma ing better books, and by conversation of judgment), they soon forsake them."
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 judgment 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.
must not dismiss this subject witho ing, that as Mr. Locke in the passage a tioned has discovered the most fruitful wit, so there is another of a quite contr to it, which does likewise branch itsel several kinds. For not only the resemb the opposition of ideas, does very ofte wit; as I could show in several little poi and antitheses, that I may possibly enl in some future speculation.—C.
Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the most penetrating of all French critics has taken pains to show, 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 groundwork. Boileau has endeavored 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 sim*To poll is used here as signifying to vote; bu plicity to nature, which we so much admire in the ty of speech, the poll only ascertains the majorit
works of the ancients, are forced to hunt after foreign ornaments, and not to let any piece of wit of what kind soever 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 and Romans, have endeavored to supply its place with all the extravagances of an irregular fancy. Mr. Dryden makes a very handsome observation on Ovid's writing a letter from Dido to Eneas, in the following words: "Ovid," says he, speaking of Virgil's fiction of Dido and Eneas, "takes it up after him, even in the same age, and makes an