Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

short Reflections, or in general declamatory Flourishes, without entring into the Bottom of the Matter. I hope therefore I shall perform an acceptable work to my Countrymen, if I treat at large upon this Subject; which I shall endeavour to do in a Manner suitable to it, that I may not incur the Censure which a famous Critick beftows upon one who had written a Treatise upon the Sublime in a low groveling Style. I intend to lay aside a whole Week for this Undertaking, that the scheme of my Thoughts may not be broken

and interrupted; and I dare promise my self, if my Readers will give me a Week's Attention, that this great City will be very much changed for the better by next Saturday Night. I shall endeavour to make what I say intelligible to ordinary Capacities; but if my Readers meet with any Paper that in some Parts of it may be a little out of their Reach, I would not have them discouraged, for they may assure themselves the next shall be much clearer.

AS the great and only End of these my Speculations is to banish Vice and Ignorance out of the Territories of Great Britain, I shall endeavour as much as possible to establish among us a Taste of polite Writing. It is with this View that I have endeavoured to set my Readers right in several Points relating to Opera's and Tragedies; and shall from Time to Time impart my Notions of Comedy, as I think they may tend to its Refinement and Perfedion. I find by my Bookseller that these Papers of Critic cism, with that upon Humour, have met with a more kind Reception than indeed I could have hoped for from such Subje&s; for which Reason I shall enter upon my prefent Undertaking with greater Chearfulness.

I N this, and one or two following Papers, I shall trace out the History of false Wit, and distinguish the several Kinds ofit as they have prevailed in different Ages of the World. This I think the more neceffary at present, because I observed there were Attempts on Foot loft Winter to revive some of thofe antiquated Modes of Wit that have been long exploded out of the Common-wealth of Lets ters. There were several Satyrs and Arnegyricks handed about in Acrostick, by which Means sonie of the most arrant undisputed Blockheads about the Town began to entertain ambitious. Thoughts, and set up for Police

Authors.

K5

[ocr errors]

Authors. I shall therefore describe at length those many Árts of false Wit, in which a Writer does not lhew hin, self a Man of a beautiful Genius, but of great Industry.

THE first Species of false Wit which I have met with is very venerable for its Antiquity, and has produced seyeral Pieces which have lived very near as long as the Įliad it self: I mean those short Poems printed among the minor Greek Poets, which resemble the Figure of an Egg, a Pair of Wings, an Ax, a Shepherd's Pipe, and an Altar.

As for the first, it is a little oval Poem, and may not improperly be called a Scholar's Egg. I would endeavour to hatch it, or, in more intelligible Language, to translate it into English, did not I find the Interpretation of it very difficult; for the Author seems to have been more intent upon the Figure of his Poem, than upon the Sense of it.

THE Pair of Wings consist of twelve Verses, or rather Feathers, every Verfe decreasing gradually in its Measure according to ins Situation in the Wing. The Subject of it (as in the rest of the Poems which follow) bears some remote Affinity with the Figure, for it describes a God of Love, who is always painted with Wings.

THĚ Ax methinks would have been a good Figure for a Lampoon, had the Edge of it consisted of the most Satyrical Parts of the Work; but as it is in the Original, I take it to have been nothing else but the Posie of an Ax which was consecrated to Minerva, and was thought to have been the same that Epeus made use of in the building of the Trojan Horse; which is a Hint I shall leave to the Consideration of the Criticks. I am apt to think that the Posie was written originally upon the Ax, like those which our modern Cutlers inscribe upon their Knives; and that therefore the Posie still remains in its ancient Shape, tho'the Ax it self is loft.

THE Shepherd's Pipe may be said to be full of Mue sick, for it is composed of nine different kinds of Verses, which by their several Lengths resemble the nine Stops of the old musical Instrument, that is likewise che Subject of the Poem.

THE Altar is ønscribed with the Epitaph of Troilus the Son of Hecuba ; which, by the way, makes me believe, that these false Pieces of Wit are much more antient than the Authors to whom they are generally ascribed; a

least

least I will never be perswaded, that so fine a Writer as Theocritus could have been the Author of any such fimple Works.

IT was impossible for a Man to succeed in these Performances who was not a kind of Painter, or at least a Designer: He was first of all to draw the Out-line of the Subject which he intended to write upon, and afterwards conform the Description to the Figure of his Subje&. The Poetry was to contract or dilate it self according to the Mould'in which it was cast. In a Word, the Verses were to be cramped or extended to the Dimensions of the Frame that was prepared for them; and to undergo the Fate of those Persons whom the Tyrant Procrustes used to lodge in his Iron Bed; if they were too short, he stretched them on a Rack, and if they were too long, chopped off a Part of their Legs, till they fitted the Couch which he had prepared for them.

Mr. Dryden hints at this obsolete kind of Wit in one of the following Verses in his Mac Flecno; which an English Reader cannot understand, who does not know that there are those little Poems abovementioned in the Shape of Wings and Altars.

-Chuse for thy Command
Some peaceful Province in Acrostick Land;
There may’f thou Wings display, and Altars raise,

And torture one poor Word a thousand Ways. THIS Fashion of false Wit was revived by several Poets of the last Age, and in particular may be met with among Mr. Herbert's Poems; and, if I am not mistaken, in the Translation of Du Bartas. I do not remember a. ny other kind of Work among the Moderns which more resembles the Performances I have mentioned, than that famous Picture of King Charles the Firft, which has the whole Book of Psalms written in the Lines of the Face and the Hair of the Head. When I was last at Oxford I perused one of the Whiskers; and was reading the other, but could not go so far in it as I would have done, by reason of the Impatience of mv Friends and Fellow-Travellers, who all of them pressed to see such a Piece of Curiosity. I have since heard, that there is now an eminent Writing-Mafter in Town, who has transcribed all

the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the Old Testament in a full-bottomed Perriwig; and if the Fashion should introduce the thick kind of Wigs which were in Vogue some few Years ago, he promises to add two or three supernumerary Locks that shall contain all the Apocrypha. He designed this Wig originally for King William, having disposed of the two Books of Kings in the two Forks of the Foretop; but that glorious Monarch dying before the Wig was finished, there is a Space left in it for the Face of any one that has a Mind to purchase it.

BUT to return to our ancient Poems in Pi&ure, I would humbly propose, for the Benefit of our modern Smatterers in Poetry, that they would imitate their Brethren among the Ancients in thole ingenious Devices. I have communicated this Thought to a young Poetical Lover of my Acquaintance, who intends to present his Mistress with a copy of Verses made in the Shape of her Fan; and, if he tells me true, has already finished the three first Sticks of it. He has likewise promised me to get the Measure of his Mistress's Marriage Finger, with a Design to make a Posie in the Fashion of a Ring, which fhall exa&ly fit it. It is so very easie to enlarge upon a good Hint, that I do not question but my ingenious Readers will apply what I have said to many other ParticuJars; and that we shall see the Town filled in a very little time with Poetical Tippets, Handkerchiefs, Snuff-Boxes; and the like Female Ornaments. I shall therefore conclude with a Word of Advice to those admirable English Authors who call themselves Pindarick Writers, that they would apply themselves to this kind of Wit without Loss of Time, as being provided better than ony other Poets with Verles of all sizes and Dimensions,

[ocr errors]

59.

Tuesday, May 8.
Operosè Nihil agunt.

Sen. RERE is nothing more certain than that Man would be a Wit if he could, and notwithstanding

Pedants of pretended Depth and Solidity are apt to decry the Writings of a polite Author, as Flash and Froth,

they

every

T

they all of them fhew upon Occasion that they would fpare no Pains to arrive at the Character of those whom they seem to despise. For this. Reason we often find them endeavouring at Works of Fancy, which coft them infinite Pangs in the Production. The Truth of it is, a Man had better be a Gally-Slave than a Wit, were one to gain that Title by those Elaborate Trifles which have been the Inventions of fuch Authors as were often Masters of Great Learning but no Genius. IN my

Last Paper I mentioned some of these false Wits among the Ancients, and in this shall give the Reader two or three other species of them, that flourished in the same early Ages of the World. The firft I shall produce are the Lipogrammatists or Letter-droppers of Antiquity, that would take an Exception, without any Reason, against some particular Letter in the Alphabet, so as not to admit it once into a whole Poem, One Tryphiodorus was a great Mafter in this kind of Writing. He composed an Odissey or Epick Poem on the Adventures of Ulyffes, confisting of four and twenty Books, having entirely banished the Letter A from his first Book, which was called Alpha (as Lucus a non lucendo) because there was not an Alpha in it. His second Book was inscribed Beta for the same Reason. In short, the Poet excluded the whole four and twenty Letters in their turns, and shewed them, one after another, that he could do his Business without them.

IT must have been very pleasant to have seen this Poet avoiding the reprobate Letter, as much as another would a falle Quantity, and making his Escape from it through the several Greek Dialects, when he was pressed with it in any particular Syllable. For the most apt and elegant Word in the whole Language was rejected, like a Diamond with a Flaw in it, if it appeared blemished with a wrong Letter. I shall only observe upon this Head, that if the Work I have here mentioned had been now extant, the Odiffey of Tryphiodorus, in all Probability, would have been oftner quoted by our learned Pedants, than the Odissey of Homer. What a perpetual Fund would it have been of obsolete Words and Phrases, unusual Barbarisms and Rufticities, absurd Spellings and complicated Diale&ts? I make no Question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable Treasuries of the Greek Tongue,

I

« НазадПродовжити »