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verses in the forms of hearts, wings, altars, and true-love, knots; or as Ben Jonson describes their grotesque shapes,
A pair of scissars and a comb in verse."
Tom Nash, who loved to push the ludicrous to its extreme, in his amusing invective against the classical Gabriel Harvey, tells us that “he had writ verses in all kinds; in form of a pair of gloves, a pair of spectacles, and a pair of pothooks, &c.” They are not less absurd, who expose to public ridicule the name of their mistress by employing it to form their acrostics, I have seen some of the latter, where both sides and cross-ways, the name of the mistress or the patron has been sent down to posterity with eternal torture. The great difficulty where one name is made out four times in the some acrostic, must have been to have found words by which the letters forming the name should be forced to stand in their particular places. It might be incredible that so great a genius as Boccaccio could have lent himself to these literary fashions; yet one of the most gigantic of acrostics may be seen in his works ; it is a poem of fifty cantos! of which Guinguené has preserved a specimen in his Literary History of Italy, vol. iii. p. 54. Puttenham, in that very scarce book, “ The Art of Poesie," p. 75, gives several odd specimens of poems in the forms of lozenges, rhomboids, pil
lars, &c.: some of them from Oriental poems communicated by a traveller. Puttenham is a very lively writer, and has contrived to form a defence for describing and making such trifling devices. He has done more: he has erected two pillars himself to the honour of Queen Elizabeth; every pillar consists of a base of eight syllables, the shaft or middle of four, and the capital is equal with the base. The only difference between the two pillars consists in this; in the
ye must read upwards,” and in the other the reverse. These pillars, notwithstanding this fortunate device and variation, may be fixed as two columns in the porch of the vast temple of literary folly.
It was at this period when words or verse were tortured into such fantastic forms, that the trees in gardens were twisted and sheared into obelisks and giants, peacocks, or flower-pots.' In a copy of verses, “To a hair of my mistress's eye-lash,” the merit, next to the choice of the subject, must have been the arrangement or the disarrangement of the whole poem into the form of a heart. With a pair of wings many a sonnet fluttered, and a sacred hymn was expressed by the mystical triangle. Acrostics are formed from the initial letters of every verse; but a different conceit regulated chronograms, which were used to describe dates--the numeral letters in whatever part of the word they stood were distinguished from other letters by being written in capitals. In the following chronogram from Horace,
-feriam sidera vertice,
by a strange elevation of CAPITALS the chronogrammatist compels even Horace to give the year of our Lord thus,
feriam siDera VertIce. MDVI.
TI Acrostic and the Chronogram are both ingeniously described in the mock Epic of the Scribleriad. The initial letters of the acrostics are thus alluded to in the literary wars :
Firm and compact, in three fair columns wove,
But the looser character of the chronogram, and the disorder in which they are found, are ingeniously sung thus :
Not thus the looser chronograms prepare,
He afterwards adds others of the illegitimate races of wit:
To join these squadrons, o'er the champain came
Riddle and Rebus, Riddle's dearest son,
I find the origin of Bouts-rimés, or “Rhyming Ends,” in Goujet's Bib. fr. xvi. p. 181. One Dulot, a foolish poet, when sonnets were in demand, had a singular custom of preparing the rhymes of these poems to be filled up at his leisure. Having been robbed of his papers, he was regretting most the loss of three hundred sonnets : his friends were astonished that he had written so many which they had never heard,
They were blank sonnets,” he replied; and explained the mystery by describing his Boutsrimés. The idea appeared ridiculously amusing; and it soon became fashionable to collect the most difficult rhymes, and fill up the lines.
The Charade is of such recent birth, that it has not yet opened its mystical conceits; nor can I discover the origin of this species of logogriphes; it was not known in France so late as in 1771, in the last edition of the great Dictionnaire de Trevoux, where the term appears as the name of an Indian sect of a military character, and has no connexion with our charades.
Anagrams were another whimsical invention; with the letters of any name they contrived to
make out some entire word, descriptive of the character of the person who bore the name. These anagrams, therefore, were either injurious or complimentary. When in fashion, lovers made use of them continually: I have read of one, whose mistress's name was Magdalen, for whom he composed, not only an Epic under that name, but as a proof of his passion, one day he sent her three dozen of anagrams only on her lovely name. Scioppius imagined himself fortunate that his adversary Scaliger was perfectly Sacrilege in all the oblique cases of the Latin language; on this principle Sir John Wiat was made out, to his own satisfaction-a wit. They were not always correct when a great compliment was required; the poet John Cleveland was strained hard to make Heliconian dew. This literary trifle has, however, in our own times, been brought to singular perfection; and several, equally ingenious and caustie, will readily occur to the reader.
Verses of grotesque shapes have sometimes been contrived to convey ingenious thoughts. Pannard, a modern French poet, has tortured his agreeable vein of poetry into such forms. He has made some of his Bacchanalian songs take the figures of bottles, and others of glasses. These objects are perfectly drawn by the various measures of the verses which form the songs. He has also introduced an echo in his verses which