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No. 60. WEDNESDAY, MAY.9.
Hoc est quod palles ? cur quis non prandeat, hoc est ? Per. Sat. 3.
SEVERAL kinds of false wit, that vanished in the refined ages of the world, discovered themselves again in the times of monkish ignorance.
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 Æneid turned into Latin rhymes by one of the Beaux Esprits of that dark age; who says in his preface to it, that the Æneid wanted nothing but the sweets of rhyme to make it the most perfect work in its kind. I have likewise seen an 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, cælo. “Thou hast as many virtues, 0 virgin, as there are 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 hands, 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 production 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 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 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 ħeart to see herself degraded into Moll Boon, she told him, to his infinite surprise, that he had mistaken her surname, for that it was not Boon, but Bohun.
Effusus laborThe lover was thunder-struck 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 anagram.
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 TRIUMPHVs. 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 over-top 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 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 of the decay of wit and learning among the French (which generally follows the declension of empire) than the endeavouring 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:
Folette 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 never knew what I should write next when I was making verses. In the first place, I got all my rhymes
Ι together, and was afterwards, perhaps, three or four months in filling them up. I one day showed Monsieur Goinbaud a composition of this nature, in which, among others, I had made use of the four following rhymes, Amaryllis, Phyllis, Marne, Arne, desiring him io 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.” Vid. MENAGIANA. Thus far the learned Menage, whom I have translated word for word.
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 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 entituled, La Defaite des Bouts-Rimez, “ The Rout of the Bouts-Rimez.”
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 compositions 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 these 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; and
There was an ancient sage philosopher,
Who had read Alexander Ross over; more frequently quoted, than the finest pieces of wit in the
No. 61. THURSDAY, MAY 10.
Non equidem studeo, bullatis ut mihi nugis
Pagina turgescat, dare pondus idonea fumo. Pers. THEI 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 punning. 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 cultivated 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.
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 examination prove arrant puns. But the age in which the pun chiefly flourished, was the reign of King James the First. That learned monarch was himself a tolerable punster, and made very few bishops or privy-counsellors 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 before been 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