Sidor som bilder

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 Purn 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 folemn manner at the Council-table. The greatest Authors, in their moft serious works, made frequent use of Punns. The Sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the Tragedies of Shakespear, 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 Heroe 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 the writers of Rhetorick 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 school-master of my acquaintance told me once, that he had been in company with a Gentleman whom he looked upon to be the greatest Parágrammatist among the moderns. Upon enquiry, I found my learned friend had dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous Punnster; 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.

I must not here omit, that a famous University of this land was former- . ly very much infested with Punns ; but whether or no this might not a-rise from the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skiltul Naturalists.

After this short history of Punning, one would wonder how it should be so intirely 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 : 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 correctness. The 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 preceded them. It was one of the employments 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 Ifocrates, Plato, and Cicero, should have such little blemishes as are not to be met with in Authors of a much inferior character, who have written since those several blemishes were discovered. I do not find that there was a proper separation made between punns 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 foon 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 rose in another, it will again recover it self in some distant period of time, as pedantry 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 Acrosticks handed about the Town with great secresie 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 Satyr; 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 the hoof of an Ass. I do not speak this out of any spirit of party. There is a most crying dulness on both sides. I have seen Tory Acrosticks and Whig Anagrams, and do not quarrel with either of them, because they are Whigs or Tories, but because they are Anagrams and Acrosticks.

But to return to Punning. Having pursued the history of a Punn, from its original to its downfal, I Thall 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 language: if it bears the telt, you may pronounce it true ; but if it. vanishes in the experiment, you may conclude it to have been a Punn. In short, one may lay of a Punn as the country-man de


scribed his Nightingale, that is, vox et præterea nihil, a found, and nothing but a sound. On the contrary, one may represent true Wit by the description which Aristinetus makes of a fine woman, when she is dref sed she is beautiful, when she is undresed she is beautiful: Or, as Mercerus has translated it more emphatically, Induitur, formofa eft: Exuitur, ipsa forma eft.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]


R. Lock has an admirable reflection upon the difference of Wit and Judgment, whereby he endeavours to shew 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, there. by to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; Judgment on the contrary, lies quite on the other side, in separating careful ly one from another, Ideas wherein can be found

the least difference, thereby to avoid being mis-led by similitude, and by affinity, to take one thing for another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to Metaphor and Allufion; wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and pleasantry of Wit which strikes fo lively on the fancy, and is therefore so acceptable to all people.

This is, 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, That every resemblance of Ideas is not that which we calf Wit, unless it be such an one that gives Delight and Surprize to the Reader: These two properties seem effential 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 likenefs is obvious, it gives no furprize. To compare one man's singing to that of another, or co 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 fome surprize. Thus when a Poet tells us, the bosom of his Mistress is as white as snow, there is no Wit in the comparison; but when he adds, with a sigh, that 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 heroick Poets, who endeavour rather to fill the mind with

great conceptions, than to divert it with fuch as are new and furprizing, have seldom any thing in them that can be called Wit. Mr. Lock's account of Wit, with this short explanation, comprehends most of the species of Wit, as Metaphors, Similitudes, Allegories, Ænigmas, Mottos, Parables, Fables, Dreams, Visions, Dramatick writings, Burlesque, and all the methods of Allusion: as there are many other pieces of Wit, (how remote foever they may appear at first light from the foregoing description) which upon examination will be found to agree with it.

As true Wit generally consists in this resemblance and congruity of Ideas, false Wit chiefly consists in the resemblance and congruity fome, times of single Letters, as in Anagrams, Chronograms, Lipograms, and Acrosticks: sometimes of Syllables, as in Echos and Doggerel Rhymes : sometimes of Words, as in Punns and Quibbles; and sometimes 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 person, 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 instances; there is another kind of Wit which consists partly in the resemblance of Ideas, and partly in the resemblance of Words; which, for distinction fake, 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. Spencer 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. If 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 Mufæus, which by that, as well as many other marks, betrays it self 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.


Out of the innumerable branches of mixt Wit, I shall chuse one instance which may be met with in all the writers of this Clafs. The paffion of Love in its nature has been thought to resemble fire; for which reason the words Fire and Flame are made use of to signifie Love. The witty Poets therefore have taken an advantage from the doubtful meaning of the word Fire, to make an infinite number of Witticisms. Cowley observing the cold regard of his Mistress's eyes, and at the same time their power of producing love in him, considers them as Burning-glasses made of ice; and finding himself able to live in the greatest extremities of Love, concludes the torrid Zone to be habitable. When his Mistress has read his letter written in juice of Lemmon by holding it to the fire, he desires her to read it over a second time by Love's flames. When she weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops from the Limbeck. When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, that is, thirty degrees nearer the Pole than when the is with him. His ambitious Love is a fire that naturally mounts upwards ; his happy Love is the beams of Heaven, and 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 wind's blowing upon it. Upon the dying of a tree in which he had cut his loves, he observes 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 an Ætna, that instead of Vulcan's shop incloses 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) fhould 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 tire in the middle of the sea. Vol. II.



« FöregåendeFortsätt »