« PreviousContinue »
examination prove arrant puns. But the ceded them. It was one of the employage in which the pun chiefly flourished, was ments of these secondary authors, to disin the reign of King James the First. That tinguish the several kinds of wit by terms learned monarch was himself a tolerable of art, and to consider them as more or less punster, and made very few bishops or perfect, according as they were founded in privy-counsellors that had not sometime truth. It is no wonder therefore, that even or other signalized themselves by a clinch, such authors as Isocrates, Plato, and Cicero, or a conundrum. It was therefore in this should have such little blemishes as are not age that the pun appeared with pomp and to be met with in authors of much inferior dignity. It had been before admitted into character, who have written since those merry speeches and ludicrous compositions, several blemishes were discovered. I do but was now delivered with great gravity not find that there was a proper separation from the pulpit, or pronounced in the most made between puns and true wit by any of solemn manner at the council-table. The the ancient authors, except Quintilian and greatest authors, in their most serious Longinus. But when this distinction was works, made frequent use of puns. The once settled, it was very natural for all men sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the trage- of sense to agree in it. As for the revival dies of Shakspeare are full of them. The of this false wit, it happened about the time sinner was punned into repentance by the of the revival of letters; but as soon as it was former, as in the latter nothing is more once detected, it immediately vanished and usual than to see a hero weeping and quib- disappeared. At the same time there is no bling for a dozen lines together.
question, but as it has sunk in one age and I must add to these great authorities, rose in another, it will again recover itself which seem to have given a kind of sanc- in some distant period of time, as pedantry tion to this piece of false wit
, that all the and ignorance shall prevail upon wit and writers of rhetoric have treated of punning sense. And, to speak the truth, I do very with very great respect, and divided the much apprehend, by some of the last winseveral kinds of it into hard names, that ter's productions, which had their sets of are reckoned among the figures of speech, admirers, that our posterity will in a few and recommended as ornaments in dis- years degenerate into a race of punsters: course. I remember a country schoolmas- at least, a man may be very excusable for ter of my acquaintance told me once, that any apprehensions of this kind, that has he had been in company with a gentleman seen acrostics handed about the town with whom he looked upon to be the greatest great secrecy and applause; to which I panagrammatist among the moderns. Upon must also add a little epigram called the inquiry, I found my learned friend had Witches' Prayer, that fell into verse when dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous it was read either backward or forward, punster; and desiring him to give me some excepting only that it cursed one way, and account of Mr. Swan's conversation, he blessed the other. When one sees there told me that he generally talked in the are actually such pains-takers among our Paranomasia, that he sometimes gave into British wits, who can tell what it may end the Ploce, but that in his humble opinion in? If we must lash one another, let it be he shined most in the Antanaclasis.
with the manly strokes of wit and satire; for I must not here omit that a famous uni- I am of the old philosopher's opinion, that versity of this land was formerly very much if I must suffer from one or the other, I infested with puns; but whether or no this would rather it should be from the paw of might not arise from the fens and marshes a lion, than from the hoof of an ass. I do in which it was situated, and which are not speak this out of any spirit of party, now drained, I must leave to the determi- | There is a most crying dullness on both nation of more skilful naturalists.
sides. I have seen tory acrostics, and After this short history of punning, one whig anagrams, and do not quarrel with would wonder how it should be so entirely either of them because they are whigs or banished out of the learned world as it is at tories, but because they are anagrams and present, especially since it had found a acrostics. place in the writings of the most ancient But to return to punning. Having pursued polite authors. To account for this we must the history of a pun, from its original to its consider, that the first race of authors who downfall, I shall here define it to be a conwere the great heroes in writing, were ceit arising from the use of two words that destitute of all the rules and arts of criti- agree in the sound, but differ in the sense. cism; and for that reason, though they ex- | The only way therefore to try a piece of cel later writers in greatness of genius, they wit, is to translate it into a different lanfall short of them in accuracy and correct- guage. If it bears the test, you may proness. The moderns cannot reach their nounce it true; but if it vanishes in the exbeauties, but can avoid their imperfections. periment, you may conclude it to have When the world was furnished with these been a pun. In short, one may say of a authors of the first eminence, there grew pun, as the countryman described his up another set of writers, who gained them- nightingale, that it is vox et præterea ni. selves a reputation by the remarks which hil,'---' a sound, and nothing but a scund.' they made on the works of those who pre- ! On the contrary, one may represent true
Hors. Ars Poet. ver. 309.
wit by the description which Aristenetus / the bosom of his mistress is as white as makes of a fine woman: when she is dress snow, there is no wit in the comparison; ed she is beautiful; when she is undressed but when he adds with a sigh, it is as cold, she is beautiful; or as Mercerus has trans- too, it then grows into wit. Every reader's lated it more emphatically, ' Induitur, for- memory may supply him with innumeramosa est : exuiter, ipsa, forma est.'* C. ble instances of the same nature. For this
reason, the similitudes in heroic poets, who
endeavour rather to fill the mind with No. 62.] Friday, May 11, 1711.
great conceptions, than to divert it with
such as are new and surprising, have selSeribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.
dom any thing in them that can be called
wit. Mr. Locke's account of wit, with this Sound judgment is the ground of writing well. short explanation, comprehends most of
Roscommon. the species of wit, as metaphors, similiMR. LOCKE has an admirable reflection tudes, allegories, enigmas, mottos, paraupon the difference of wit and judgment, bles, fables, dreams, visions, dramatic whereby he endeavours to show the reason writings, burlesque, and all the methods why they are not always the talents of the of allusion. There are many other pieces same person. His words are as follow: of wit (however remote soever they may ' And hence, perhaps, may be given some appear at first sight from the foregoing dereason of that common observation, “That scription) which upon examination will be men who have a great deal of wit, and found to agree with it. prompt memories, have not always the As true wit generally consists in this reclearest judgment or deepest reason. For semblance and congruity of ideas, false wit Wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, chiefly consists in the resemblance and conand putting those together with quickness gruity sometimes of single letters, as in and variety, wherein can be found any re- anagrams, chronograms, lipograms, and semblance or congruity, thereby to make acrostics; sometimes of syllables, as in up pleasant pictures, and agreeable visions echoes and doggerel rhymes; sometimes of in the fancy; judgment, on the contrary, words, as in puns and quibbles; and somelies quite on the other side, in separating times of whole sentences or poems, cast carefully one from another, ideas wherein into the figures of eggs, axes, or altars: can be found the least difference, thereby nay, some carry the notion of wit so far, as to avoid being misled by similitude, and to ascribe it even to external mimickry; by affinity to take one thing for another. and to look upon a man as an ingenious perThis is a way of proceeding quite contrary son, that can resemble the tone, posture, or to metaphor and allusion; wherein, for the face of another. most part, lies that entertainment and As true wit consists in the resemblance pleasantry of wit, which strikes so lively of ideas, and false wit in the resemblance on the fancy, and is therefore so accepta- of words, according to the foregoing inble to all people.'
stances; there is another kind of wit which This, I think, the best and most philo consists partly in the resemblance of ideas, sophical account that I have ever met with and partly in the resemblance of words, of wit, which generally, though not always, which for distinction sake I shall call mixt consists in such a resemblance and con- wit. This kind of wit is that which abounds gruity of ideas as this author mentions. I in Cowley, more than in any author that shall only add to it, by way of explanation, ever wrote. Mr. Waller has likewise a that every resemblance of ideas is not that great deal of it. Mr. Dryden is very which we call wit, unless it be such an one sparing in it. Milton had a genius much that gives delight and surprise to the above it. Spenser is in the same class with reader. These two properties seem essen- Milton. The Italians, even in their epic tial to wit, more particularly the last of poetry, are full of it." Monsieur Boileau, them. In order therefore that the resem- who formed himself upon the ancient poets, blance in the ideas be wit, it is necessary has every where rejected it with scorn. If that the ideas should not lie too near one we look after mixt wit among the Greek another in the nature of things; for where writers, we shall find it no where but in the likeness is obvious it gives no surprise. the epigrammatists. There are indeed some To compare one man's singing to that of strokes of it in the little poem ascribed to another, or to represent the whiteness of Musæus, which by that, as well as many any object by that of milk and snow, or the other marks, betrays itself to be a modern variety of its colours by those of the rain- composition. If we look into the Latin bow, cannot be called wit, unless besides writers, we find none of this mixt wit in this obvious resemblance, there be some Virgil, Lucretius, or Catullus; very little further congruity discovered in the two in Horace, but a great deal of it in Ovid, ideas, that is capable of giving the reader and scarce any thing else in Martial. some surprise. Thus when a poet tells us Out of the innumerable branches of mixt
wit, I shall choose one instance which may Dressed she is beautiful, undressed she is Beauty's 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 | author that ever writ; and indeed all other the words fire and fame are made use of to talents of an extraordinary genius. signify love. The witty poets therefore It may be expected, since I am upon this have taken an advantage from the double subject, that I should take notice of Mr. meaning of the word fire, to make an in- Dryden's definition of wit: which, with all finite number of witticisms. Cowley ob- the deference that is due to the judgserving the cold regard of his mistress's ment of so great a man, is not so properly eyes, and at the same time their power of a definition of wit as of good writing in producing love in him, considers them as general. Wit, as he defines it, is 'a proburning-glasses made of ice; and finding priety of words and thoughts adapted to himself able to live in the greatest extremi- the subject.' If this be a true definition of ties of love, concludes the torrid zone to be wit, I am apt to think that Euclid was the habitable. When his mistress had read his greatest wit that ever put pen to paper, letter written in juice of lemon, by holding It is certain there never was a greater proit to the fire, he desires her to read it over priety of words and thoughts adapted to a second time by love's flame. When she the subject, than what that author has weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that made use of in his Elements. I shall only distilled those drops from the limbec. appeal to my reader, if this definition When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, agrees with any notion he has of wit. If it that is, thirty degrees nearer the pole than be a true one, I am sure Mr. Dryden was when she is with him. His ambitious love not only a better poet, but a greater wit is a fire that naturally mounts upwards; than Mr. Cowley; and Virgil a much more his happy love is the beams of heaven, and facetious man than either Ovid or Martial, his unhappy love flames of hell. When it Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the does not let him sleep, it is a flame that most penetrating of all the French critics, sends up no smoke; when it is opposed by has taken pains to show, that it is impossicounsel and advice, it is a fire that rages ble for any thought to be beautiful which the more by the winds blowing upon it is not just, and has not its foundation in the Upon the dying of a tree, in which he had nature of things, that the basis of all wit is cut his loves, he observed that his written truth, and that no thought can be valuable flames had burnt up and withered the tree. of which good sense is not the groundWhen he resolves to give over his passion, work. Boileau has endeavoured to inculhe tells us, that one burnt like him for ever cate the same notion in several parts of his dreads the fire. His heart is in Ætna, that writings, both in prose and verse. This is instead of Vulcan's shop, encloses Cupid's that natural way of writing, that beautiful forge in it. His endeavouring to drown his simplicity, which we so much admire in love in wine, is throwing oil upon the fire. the compositions of the ancients; and which He would insinuate to his mistress, that no body deviates from, but those who want the fire of love, like that of the sun (which strength of genius to make a thought shine produces so many living creatures,) should in its own natural beauties. Poets who want not only warm, but beget. Love in an- this strength of genius to give that majesother place cooks pleasure at his fire. tic simplicity to nature, which we so much Sometimes the poet's heart is frozen in admire in the works of the ancients, are every breast, and sometimes scorched in forced to hunt after foreign ornaments, and every eye. Sometimes he is drowned in not to let any piece of wit of what kind tears, and burnt in love, like a ship set on soever escape them. I look upon these fire in the middle of the sea.
writers as Goths in poetry, who, like those The reader may observe in every one of in architecture, not being able to come these instances, that the poet mixes the up to the beautiful simplicity of the old qualities of fire with those of love; and in Greeks and Romans, have endeavoured to the same sentence, speaking of it both as supply its place with all the extravagances a passion and as real fire, surprises the of an irregular fancy: Mr. Dryden makes reader with those seeming resemblances a very handsome observation' on Ovid's or contradictions, that make up all the wit writing a letter from Dido to Æneas, in in this kind of writing.. Mixt wit, there the following, words: Ovid,' says he, fore, is a composition of pun and true wit, speaking of Virgil's fiction of Dido and and is more or less perfect, as the resem- Æneas, takes it up after him even in the blance lies in the ideas or in the words. same age, and makes an ancient heroine of Its foundations are laid partly in falsehood Virgil's new created Dido; dictates a letand partly in truth; reason puts in her ter for her just before her death, to the unclaim for one half of it, and extravagance grateful fugitive, and very unluckily for for the other. The only province there- himself, is for measuring a sword with a fore for this kind of wit, is epigram, or man so much superior in force to him on those little occasional poems, that in their the same subject. I think I may be judge own nature are nothing else but a tissue of of this, because I have translated both, epigrams. I cannot conclude this head of The famous author of the Art of Love has mixt wit, without owning that the admira- nothing of his own; he borrows all from a ble poet, out of whom I have taken the ex- greater master in his own profession, and amples of it. had as much true wit as any which is worse, improves nothing which
he finds. Nature fails him, and being If in a picture, Piso, you should see forced to his old shift, he has recourse to
A handsome woman with a fish's tail,
Or a man's head upon a horse's neck, witticism. This passes indeed with his Or limbs of beast, of the most diff'rent kinds, soft admirers, and gives him the prefer- Cover'd with feathers of all sorts of birds; ence to Virgil in their esteem.'
Would you not laugh, and think the painter mad?
Trust me that book is as ridiculous, Were not I supported by so great an Whose incoherent style, like sick men's dreams, authority as that of Mr. Dryden, I should Varies all shapes, and mixes all extremes. not venture to observe, that the taste of most of our English poets, as well as read- It is very hard for the mind to disengage ers, is extremely Gothic. He quotes Mon- itself from a subject on which it has been sieur Segrais for a threefold distinction of long employed. The thoughts will be rising the readers of poetry; in the first of which of themselves from time to time, though he comprehends the rabble of readers, we give them no encouragement; as the whom he does not treat as such with re- tossings and fluctuations of the sea continue gard to their quality, but to their numbers several hours after the winds are laid. and the coarseness of their taste. His It is to this that I impute my last night's words are as follow: 'Segrais has distin- dream or vision, which formed into one conguished the readers of poetry, according to tinued allegory the several schemes of wit, their capacity of judging, into three classes. whether false, mixed, or true, that have [He might have said the same of writers, been the subject of my late papers. too, if he had pleased.] In the lowest form Methought I was transported into a counhe places those whom he calls Les Petits try that was filled with prodigies and enEsprits, such things as are our upper-gal- chantments, governed by the goddess of lery audience in a playhouse; who like no- Falsehood, and entitled the region of False thing but the husk and rind of wit, and Wit. There was nothing in the fields, the prefer a quibble, a conceit, an epigram, be- woods, and the rivers, that appeared natufore solid sense and elegant expression. ral. Several of the trees blossomed in leafThese are mob readers. If Virgil and Mar- gold, some of them produced bone-lace, tial stood for parliament-men, we know and some of them precious stones. The already who would carry it. But though fountains bubbled in an opera tune, and were they niake the greatest appearance in the filled with stags, wild boars, and mermaids
field, and cry the loudest, the best on it is, that lived among the waters; at the same • they are but a sort of French hugonots, or time that dolphins and several kinds of fish
Dutch boors, brought over in herds, but played upon the banks, or took their pasnot naturalized; who have not lands of two time in the meadows. The birds had many pounds per annum in Parnassus, and there- of them golden beaks, and human voices. fore are not privileged to poll. Their au- The flowers perfumed the air with smells thors are of the same level, fit to represent of incense, ambergris, and pulvillios*; and them on a mountebank's stage, or to be were so interwoven with one another, that masters of the ceremonies in a bear-garden: they grew up in pieces of embroidery. The şet these are they who have the most ad- winds were filled with sighs and messages mirers. But it often happens, to their mor- of distant lovers. As I was walking to and tification, that as their readers improve fro in this enchanted wilderness, I could not their stock of sense (as they may by read-forbear breaking out into soliloquies upon ing better books, and by conversation with the several wonders which lay before me, men of judgment) they soon forsake them. when to my great surprise, I' found there
I must not dismiss this subject without were artificial echoes in every walk, that observing, that as Mr. Locke in the pas- by repetitions of certain words which I sage above mentioned has discovered the spoke, agreed with me, or contradicted me, most fruitful source of wit, so there is an- in every thing I said. In the midst of my other of a quite contrary nature to it, which conversation with these invisible compadoes likewise branch itself out into several nions, I discovered in the centre of a very kinds. For not only the resemblance, but dark grove a monstrous fabric built after the opposition of ideas does very often pro- the Gothic manner, and covered with induce wit; as I could show in several little numerable devices in that barbarous kind points, turns, and antitheses, that I may of sculpture. I immediately went up to it, possibly enlarge upon in some future specu- and found it to be a kind of heathen temple lation.
C. consecrated to the god of dulness. Upon
my entrance I saw the deity of the place
dressed in the habit of a monk, with a book No. 63.] Saturday, May 12, 1711.
in one hand and a rattle in the other. Upon
his right hand was Industry, with a lamp Humano capiti cervicem pictor equinam
burning before her; and on his left Caprice, Jangere si velit, et Farias inducere plumas
with a monkey sitting on her shoulder. Undique collatis membris, ut turpiter atrum Desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne:
Before his feet there stood an altar of a very Spectatum admissi risum teneatis, amici?
odd make, which, as I afterwards found, Credite, Pisones, isti tabulæ fore librum Persimilem, cujus, velut ægri somnia, vane
was shaped in that manner to comply with Fipgentur speciesHar. Ars Poet. yer. l.
* Pulvillios sweet-scented powders.
the inscription that surrounded it. Upon though perhaps there was not the least rethe altar there lay several offerings of axes, semblance in their faces. By this means an wings, and eggs, cut in paper, and inscribed old man was sometimes mistaken for a boy, with verses.
The temple was filled with a woman for a man, and a black-a-moor for votaries, who applied themselves to dif- an European, which, very often produced ferent diversions, as their fancies directed great peals of laughter. These I guessed them. In one part of it I saw a regiment to be a party of puns. But being very deof anagrams, who were continually in mo- sirous to get out of this world of magic, tion, turning to the right or to the left, which had almost turned my brain, I left facing about, doubling their ranks, shifting the temple, and crossed over the fields that their stations, and throwing themselves into lay about it with all the speed I could make. all the figures and counter-marches of the I was not gone far before I heard the sound most changeable and perplexed exercises. of trumpets and alarms, which seemed to
Not far from these was the body of acros- proclaim the march of an enemy; and, as I tics, made up of very disproportioned per- afterwards found, was in reality what I ap
It was disposed into three columns, prehended it. There appeared at a great the officers planting themselves in a line on distance a very shining light, and in the the left hand of each column. The officers midst of it, a person of a most beautiful were all of them at least six feet high, and aspect; her name was Truth. On her right made three rows of very proper men; but hand there marched a male deity, who bore the common soldiers, who filled up the several quivers on his shoulders, and graspspaces between the officers, were such ed several arrows in his hand. His name dwarfs, cripples, and scare-crows, that one was Wit. The approach of these two enecould hardly look upon them without laugh- mies filled all the territories of False Wit ing. There were behind the acrostics two with an unspeakable consternation, insoor three files of chronograms, which dif- much that the goddess of those regions apfered only from the former, as their officers peared in person upon her frontiers, with were equipped (like the figure of Time) the several inferior deities, and the different with an hour-glass in one hand, and a scythé bodies of forces which I had before seen in in the other; and took their posts pro- the temple, who were now drawn up in miscuously among the private men whom array, and prepared to give their foes a they commanded.
warm reception. As the march of the In the body of the temple, and before the enemy was very slow, it gave time to the very face of the deity, methought I saw the several inhabitants who bordered upon the phantom of Tryphiodorus, the lipogram- regions of Falsehood to draw their forces matist, engaged in a ball with four-and- into a body, with a design to stand upon twenty persons, who pursued him by turns their guard as neuters, and attend the issue through all the intricacies and labyrinths of the combat. of a country-dance, without being able to I must here inform my reader, that the overtake him.
frontiers of the enchanted region, which I Observing several to be very bụsy at the have before described, were inhabited by western end of the temple, I inquired into the species of Mixt Wit, who made a very what they were doing, and found there was odd appearance when they were mustered in that quarter the great magazine of re- together in an army. There were men busses. "These were several things of the whose bodies were stuck full of darts, and most different natures tied up in bundles, women whose eyes were burning-glasses: and thrown upon one another in heaps like men that had hearts of fire, and women faggots. You might behold an anchor, a that had breasts of snow. It would be endnight-rail, and a hobby-horse bound up to- less to describe several monsters of the like gether. One of the workmen seeing me nature, that composed this great army; very much surprised, told me, there was which immediately fell asunder, and divided an infinite deal of wit in several of those itself into two parts, the one half throwing bundles, and that he would explain them themselves behind the banners of Truth, to me if I pleased; I thanked him for his and the other behind those of Falsehood. civility, but told him I was in very great The goddess of Falsehood was of a gihaste at that time. As I was going out of gantic stature, and advanced some paces the temple, I observed in one corner of it a before the front of her army: but as the cluster of men and women laughing very dazzling light which flowed from Truth heartily, and diverting themselves at a began to shine upon her, she faded insensigame of crambo. I heard several double bly; insomuch that in a little space, she rhymes as I passed by them, which raised looked rather like a huge phantom than a a great deal of mirth.
real substance. At length, as the goddess Not far from these was another set of of Truth approached still nearer to her she merry people engaged at a diversion in fell away entirely, and vanished amidst the which the whole jest was to mistake one brightness of her presence; so that there person for another. To give occasion for did not remain the least trace or impression these ludicrous mistakes, they were divided of her figure in the place where she had into pairs, every pair being covered from been seen. head to foot with the same kind of dress, As at the rising of the sun the constella