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Or voiez ce qu'a fait l'air natal qu'il a pris!
Damon est mort à la campagne.
Having discussed wit in the thought, we proceed to what is verbal only, commonly called a play of words. This sort of wit depends, for the most part, upon choosing a word that hath different significations by that artifice hocus-pocus tricks are played in language, and thoughts plain and simple take on a very different appearance. Play is necessary for man, in order to refresh him after labour; and accordingly man loves play, even so much as to relish a play of words: and it is happy for us, that words can be employed, not only for useful purposes, but also for our amusement. This amusement, though humble and low, unbends the mind; and is relished by some at all times, and by all at some times.
It is remarkable, that this low species of wit, has among all nations been a favourite entertainment, in a certain stage of their progress toward refinement of taste and manners, and has gradually gone into disrepute. As soon as a language is formed into a system, and the meaning of words is ascertained with tolerable accuracy, opportunity is afforded for expressions that, by the double meaning of some words, give a familiar thought the appearance of being new; and the penetration of the reader or hearer is gratified in detecting the true sense disguised under the double meaning. That this sort of wit was in England deemed a reputable amusement, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. is vouched by the works of Shakspeare, and even by the writings of grave divines. But it cannot have any long endurance: for as language ripens, and the meaning of words is more and
more ascertained, words held to be synonymous diminish daily; and when those that remain have been more than once employed, the pleasure vanisheth with the novelty,
I proceed to examples, which, as in the former case, shall be distributed into different classes. A seeming resemblance from the double meaning of a word:
Beneath this stone my wife doth lie ;
A seeming contrast from the same cause, termed a verbal antithesis, which hath no despicable effect in ludicrous subjects:
Whilst Iris his cosmetic wash would try
Dispensary, Canto ii.
And how frail nymphs, oft by abortion, aim
Ibid. Canto iii.
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give.
Rape of the Lock.
Other seeming connexions from the same cause:
Will you employ your conquʼring sword,
To break a fiddle, and your word?
Hudibras, Canto ii.
To whom the knight with comely grace
Ibid. part III. Canto iii,.
Here Britain's statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
O'er their quietus where fat judges dose,
Speaking of Prince Eugene :
Dispensary, Canto i.
This general is a great taker of snuff as well as of towns.
Pope, Key to the Lock.
Exul mentisque domusque.
Metamorphoses, l. ix. 409.
A seeming opposition from the same cause:
Hic quiescit qui nunquam quievit.
Quel âge a cette Iris, dont on fait tant de bruit?
Il faut, dis-je, vous satisfaire,
Elle a vingt ans le jeur, et cinquante ans la nuit.
So like the chances are of love and war,
What new found witchcraft was in thee,
Strange art; like him that should devise
To make a burning-glass of ice.
Wit of this kind is unsuitable in a serious poem; witness the following line in Pope's Elegy to the memory of an unfortunate lady: S s
Cold is that breast which warm'd the world before.
This sort of writing is finely burlesqued by Swift:
Her hands the softest ever felt,
Though cold would burn, though dry would melt.
Strephon and Chloe.
Taking a word in a different sense from what is meant, comes under wit, because it occasions some slight degree of surprise :
Beatrice. I may sit in a corner, and cry Heigh ho! for a husband.
Pedro. Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
Beatrice. I would rather have one of your father's getting. Hath your grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.
Much ado about Nothing, Act II. Sc. 5.
Falstaff. My honest lads, I will tell you what I am about. Pistol. Two yards and more.
Falstaff. No quips, now, Pistol: indeed I am in the waist two yards about; but I am now about no waste; I am about thrift.
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I. Sc. 7.
Lord Sands.- By your leave, sweet ladies, If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me :
I had it from my father.
Anne Bullen. Was he mad, Sir!
Sands. O, very mad, exceeding mad, in love too; But he would bite none
K. Henry VIII.
An assertion that bears a double meaning, one right, one wrong, but so introduced as to direct us to the wrong meaning, is a species of bastard wit, which is distinguished from all others by the name pun. For example,
-Sweet Helen, I must woo you,
To help unarm our Hector: his stubborn buckles,
Troilus and Cressida, Act III. Sc. 2.
The pun is in the close. The word disarm has a double meaning: it signifies to take off a man's armour, and also to subdue him in fight. We are directed to the latter sense by the context; but, with regard to Helen, the word holds only true in the former sense. I go on with other examples:
Esse nihil dicis quicquid petis, improbe Cinna :
Martial, l. iii. epigr. 61.
Jocondus geminum imposuit tibi, Sequana, pontem ;
N. B. Jocondus was a monk.
Chief Justice. Well! the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy.
Falstaff. He that buckles him in my belt cannot live in less.
Chief Justice. Your means are very slender, and your waste is great.
Falstaff. I would it were otherwise: I would my means were greater, and my waist slenderer.
Second Part, Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 1.
Celia. I pray you bear with me, I can go no further. Clown. For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear you yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you; for I think you have no money in your purse.
As you like it, Act II. Sc. 4.
He that imposes an oath makes it,
Hudibras, Part II. Canto ii.