Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

ceded them. It was one of the employ ments of these secondary authors, to distinguish the several kinds of wit by terms of art, and to consider them as more or less perfect, according as they were founded in truth. It is no wonder therefore, that even such authors as Isocrates, Plato, and Cicero, should have such little blemishes as are not to be met with in authors of much inferior character, who have written since those several blemishes were discovered. I do not find that there was a proper separation made between puns and true wit by any of the ancient authors, except Quintilian and Longinus. But when this distinction was once settled, it was very natural for all men of sense to agree in it. As for the revival of this false wit, it happened about the time of the revival of letters; but as soon as it was once detected, it immediately vanished and disappeared. At the same time there is no 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 writers of rhetoric have treated of punning with very great respect, and divided the several kinds of it into hard names, 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 panagrammatist 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 shined most in the Antanaclasis.

examination prove arrant puns. But the age in which the pun chiefly flourished, was in 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 sometime 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 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 the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skilful naturalists.

After this short history of punning, one would wonder how it should be so entirely banished out of the learned world as it is at present, especially since it had found a place in the writings of the most ancient polite authors. To account for this we must consider, that the first race of authors who were the great heroes in writing, were destitute of all the rules and arts of criticism; and for that reason, though they excel later writers in greatness of genius, they fall short of them in accuracy and correctThe moderns cannot reach their beauties, but can avoid their imperfections. When the world was furnished with these authors of the first eminence, there grew up another set of writers, who gained themselves a reputation by the remarks which they made on the works of those who pre

[graphic]

ness..

and ignorance shall prevail upon wit and sense. And, to speak the truth, I do very much apprehend, by some of the last winter's productions, which had their sets of admirers, that our posterity will in a few years degenerate into a race of punsters: at least, a man may be very excusable for any apprehensions of this kind, that has seen acrostics handed about the town with great secrecy and applause; to which I must also add a little epigram called the Witches' Prayer, that fell into verse when it was read either backward or forward, excepting only that it cursed one way, and blessed the other. When one sees there are actually such pains-takers among our British wits, who can tell what it may end in? If we must lash one another, let it be with the manly strokes of wit and satire; for I am of the old philosopher's opinion, that if I must suffer from one or the other, I would rather it should be from the paw of a lion, than from the hoof of an ass. I do not speak this out of any spirit of party. There is a most crying dullness on both sides. I have seen tory acrostics, and whig anagrams, and do not quarrel with either 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 downfall, 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 lan guage. 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. In short, one may say of a pun, as the countryman described his nightingale, that it is vox et præterea ni hil, a sound, and nothing but a sound. On the contrary, one may represent true

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

wit by the description which Aristenetus the bosom of his mistress is as white as
makes of a fine woman: when she is dress-
ed she is beautiful; when she is undressed
she is beautiful; or as Mercerus has trans-
lated it more emphatically, Induitur, for-
mosa est: exuiter, ipsa, forma cst.'* C.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

MR. LOCKE has an admirable reflection upon the difference of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavours 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, 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, 1 that every resemblance of ideas is not that which we call wit, unless it be such an 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 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

* Dressed she is beautiful, undressed she is Beauty's

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 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 (however 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 re-
semblance and congruity of ideas, false wit
chiefly consists in the resemblance and con-
gruity 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 some-
times 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 mimickry;
and to look upon a man as an ingenious per-
son, 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 in-
stances; 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 mixt
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 Boileau,
who formed himself upon the ancient poets,
has every where rejected it with scorn.
we look after mixt wit among the Greek
writers, we shall find it no where 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 mixt 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.

If

Out of the innumerable branches of mixt 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

author that ever writ; and indeed all other talents of an extraordinary genius.

[ocr errors]

thought to resemble fire; for which reason the words fire and flame are made use of to 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 judg serving 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 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 for ever dreads the fire. His heart is in Etna, that instead of Vulcan's shop, encloses 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.

Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the most penetrating of all the French critics,. has taken pains to show, that it is impossi ble 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 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 no body 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 majes tic 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 kind soever escape them. I look upon these 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 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

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

- he finds. Nature fails him, and being forced to his old shift, he has recourse to witticism. This passes indeed with his soft admirers, and gives him the preference to Virgil in their esteem.'

Were not I supported by so great an authority as that of Mr. Dryden, I should not venture to observe, that the taste of most of our English poets, as well as readers, is extremely Gothic. He quotes Monsieur Segrais for a threefold distinction of the readers of poetry; in the first of which he comprehends the rabble of readers, whom he does not treat as such with regard to their quality, but to their numbers and the coarseness of their taste. His words are as follow: 'Segrais has distinguished the readers of poetry, according to their capacity of judging, into three classes. [He might have said the same of writers, too, if he had pleased.] In the lowest form he places those whom he calls Les Petits Esprits, such things as are our upper-gallery audience in a playhouse; who like nothing but the husk and rind of wit, and prefer a quibble, a conceit, an epigram, before solid sense and elegant expression. These are mob readers. If Virgil and Martial stood for parliament-men, we know already who would carry it. But though they make the greatest appearance in the field, and cry the loudest, the best on it is, they are but a sort of French hugonots, or Dutch boors, brought over in herds, but not naturalized; who have not lands of two pounds per annum in Parnassus, and therefore are not privileged to poll. Their authors are of the same level, fit to represent them on a mountebank's stage, or to be masters of the ceremonies in a bear-garden: yet these are they who have the most admirers. But it often happens, to their mortification, that as their readers improve their stock of sense (as they may by reading better books, and by conversation with men of judgment) they soon forsake them. I must not dismiss this subject without observing, that as Mr. Locke in the passage above mentioned has discovered the most fruitful source of wit, so there is another of a quite contrary nature to it, which does likewise branch itself out into several kinds. For not only the resemblance, but the opposition of ideas does very often produce wit; as I could show in several little points, turns, and antitheses, that I may possibly enlarge upon in some future speculation. C.

[blocks in formation]

If in a picture, Piso, you should see
A handsome woman with a fish's tail,
Or a man's head upon a horse's neck,
Or limbs of beast, of the most diffrent kinds,
Cover'd with feathers of all sorts of birds;
Would you not laugh, and think the painter mad?
Trust me that book is as ridiculous.
Whose incoherent style, like sick men's dreams,
Varies all shapes, and mixes all extremes,

Roscommon.

It is very hard for the mind to disengage itself from a subject on which it has been long employed. The thoughts will be rising of themselves from time to time, though we give them no encouragement; as the tossings and fluctuations of the sea continue several hours after the winds are laid.

It is to this that I impute my last night's dream or vision, which formed into one continued allegory the several schemes of wit, whether false, mixed, or true, that have been the subject of my late papers.

Methought I was transported into a country that was filled with prodigies and enchantments, governed by the goddess of Falsehood, and entitled the region of False Wit. There was nothing in the fields, the woods, and the rivers, that appeared natural. Several of the trees blossomed in leafgold, some of them produced bone-lace, and some of them precious stones. The fountains bubbled in an opera tune, and were filled with stags, wild boars, and mermaids that lived among the waters; at the same time that dolphins and several kinds of fish played upon the banks, or took their pastime in the meadows. The birds had many of them golden beaks, and human voices. The flowers perfumed the air with smells of incense, ambergris, and pulvillios*; and were so interwoven with one another, that they grew up in pieces of embroidery. The winds were filled with sighs and messages of distant lovers. As I was walking to and fro in this enchanted wilderness, I could not forbear breaking out into soliloquies upon the several wonders which lay before me, when to my great surprise, I found there were artificial echoes in every walk, that by repetitions of certain words which I spoke, agreed with me, or contradicted me, in every thing I said. In the midst of my conversation with these invisible companions, I discovered in the centre of a very dark grove a monstrous fabric built after the Gothic manner, and covered with innumerable devices in that barbarous kind of sculpture. I immediately went up to it, and found it to be a kind of heathen temple 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 in one hand and a rattle in the other. Upon his right hand was Industry, with a lamp burning before her; and on his left Caprice, with a monkey sitting on her shoulder. Before his feet there stood an altar of a very odd make, which, as I afterwards found, was shaped in that manner to comply with

* Pulvillios sweet-scented powders.

[graphic]

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 apsons. 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 grasp. spaces 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 scythe 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 enemy was very slow, it gave time to the several inhabitants who bordered upon the regions of Falsehood to draw their forces into a body, with a design to stand upon their guard as neuters, and attend the issue of the combat.

In the body of the temple, and before the very face of the deity, methought I saw the phantom of Tryphiodorus, the lipogrammatist, engaged in a ball with four-andtwenty persons, who pursued him by turns through all the intricacies and labyrinths of a country-dance, without being able to overtake him.

Observing several to be very busy at the western end of the temple, I inquired into what they were doing, and found there was in that quarter the great magazine of rebusses. These were several things of the most different natures tied up in bundles, and thrown upon one another in heaps like faggots. You might behold an anchor, a night-rail, and a hobby-horse bound up together. One of the workmen seeing me very much surprised, told me, there was an infinite deal of wit in several of those bundles, and that he would explain them to me if I pleased; I thanked him for his civility, but told him I was in very great haste at that time. As I was going out of the temple, I observed in or e corner of it a cluster of men and women laughing very heartily, and diverting themselves at a game of crambo. I heard several double rhymes as I passed by them, which raised a great deal of mirth.

I must here inform my reader, that the frontiers of the enchanted region, which I have before described, were inhabited by the species of Mixt Wit, who made a very odd appearance when they were mustered together in an army. There were men whose bodies were stuck full of darts, and women whose eyes were burning-glasses: men that had hearts of fire, and women that had breasts of snow. It would be endless to describe several monsters of the like nature, that composed this great army which immediately fell asunder, and divided itself into two parts, the one half throwing themselves behind the banners of Truth, and the other behind those of Falsehood.

The goddess of Falsehood was of a gi gantic stature, and advanced some paces before the front of her army: but as the dazzling light which flowed from Truth began to shine upon her, she faded insensi bly; insomuch that in a little space, she looked rather like a huge phantom than a real substance. At length, as the goddess of Truth approached still nearer to her she fell away entirely, and vanished amidst the brightness of her presence; so that there did not remain the least trace or impression of her figure in the place where she had

Not far from these was another set of merry people engaged at a diversion in which the whole jest was to mistake one person for another. To give occasion for these ludicrous mistakes, they were divided 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

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »