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resemble the nine stops of the old musical instrument, that is likewise the subject of the Poem.
The Altar is inscribed 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; at least I will never be perswaded, that so fine a writer as Theocritus could have been the Author of any such simple 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 subject. 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 Fleckno; which an English reader cannot understand, who does not know that there are those little Poems abovementioned in the fhape of Wings and Altars.
-Chuse for thy command
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 any other kind of work among the moderns which more resembles the performances I have mentioned, than that famous picture of King Charles the First, 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 my 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-master in town, who has transcribed all the Old Testament in a full-bottomed perriwig; X X X 2
and if the fashion should introduce the thick kind of Whigs which were in vogue fome few years ago, he promises to add two or three fupernu. merary locks that Thall 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 picture, I would bumbly propose, for the benefit of our modern smatterers in Poetry, that they would imitate their brethren among the antients in those 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 verfes 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 promifed me to get the measure of his Mistress's marriage-finger, with a design to make a poesie in the fashion of a ring which fhallexadly fit it. It is so very easie to enlage upon a good hint, that I do not question but my ingenious Readers will apply what I have said to many other particulars; and that we shall fee 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 any other Poets with verses of all fizes and dimensions.
Tuesday, May 8.
Operosè nihil agunt.
HERE is nothing more certain than that every man would be a
and folidity are apt to decry the writings of a polite Author, as Flash and Froth, they all of them Thew upon occafion that they would fpare no pains to arrive at the character of those whom they seem to
despise. For this reafon we often find them endeavouring at works of fancy, which cost them infinite pangs in the production. The truth of it is, a man had better be a gally-flave than a wit, were one to gain that title by those elaborate trifles which have been the inventions of such 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 fame early ages of the world. The first I shall pro-, duce 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 Try phiodorus was a great master in this kind of writing. He composed an Odyssey or epick Poem on the adventures of Vlyses, consisting 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 fecond book was inscribed Beta, for the fame 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 feen this Poet avoiding the reprobate letter, as much as another would a false quantity, and making his escape from it through the several Greek dialects, when he was prelsed with it in any particular fyllable. 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 Odyssey of Tryphiodorus, in all probability, would have been oftner quoted by our learned Pedants, than the Odysley of Homer. What a perpetual fund would it have been of obsolete words and phrases, unusual barbarisms and rufticities, absurd spellings and complicated dialects? I make no question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable treafuries of the Greek tongue.
I find likewise among the ancients that ingenious kind of conceit, which the moderns distinguish by the name of a Rebus, that does not fink a letter but a whole word, by subftituting a pidure in its place. When Cæfar was one of the masters of the Roman mint, he placed the figure of an Elephant upon the reverse of the publick mony; the word Cæfar signifying an Elephant in the Punick language. This was artifici. ally contrived by Cæfar, because it was not lawful for a private man to
Stamp his own figure upon the coin of the Common-wealth. Cicero, who was so called from the founder of his family, that was marked on the nose with a little wenn like a vetch (which is cicer in Latin) instead of Marcus Tullius Cicero, ordered the words Marcus Tullius with the figure of a vetch at the end of them to be inscribed on a publick monument. This was done probably to fhew that he was neither ashamed of his name or family, notwithstanding the envy of his competitors had often reproached him with both. In the same manner we read of a famous building that was marked in several parts of it with the figures of a Frog and a Lizard: those words in Greek having been the names of the architects, who by the laws of their country were never permitted to inscribe their own names upon their works. For the same reason it is thought, that the forelock of the horse in the antique-equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, represents at a distance the shape of an Owl, to intimate the country of the statuary, who, in all probabiliay, was an Athenian. This kind of wit was very much in vogue among our own country-men about an age or two ago, who did not practise it for any oblique reason, as the ancients abovementioned, but purely for the sake of being witty. Among innumerable instances that may be given of this nature, I shall produce the device of one Mr. Newberry, as I find it mentioned by our learned Camden in his Remains. Mr. Newberry, to represent his name by a picture, hung up at his door the sign of a Yew-tree, that had several berries upon it, and in the midst of them a great golden N hung upon a hough of the tree, which by the help of a little false spelling made up
the word N-ew-berry.
I shall conclude this topick with a Rebus, which has been lately hewn out in free-stone, and erected over two of the portals of Blenbeim house, being the figure of a monstrous Lion tearing to pieces a little Cock. For the better understanding of which device, I must acquaint my English reader that a Cock has the misfortune to be called in Latin by the fame word that signifies a French-man, as a Lion is the emblem of the English nation. Such a device in so noble a pile of building looks like a Punn in an heroick Poem ; and I am very sorry the truly ingenious architect would suffer the statuary to blemish his excellent plan with so poor a conceit: But I hope what I have said will gain quarter for the Cock, and deliver him out of the Lion's
paw. I find likewise in ancient times the conceit of making an Echo talk sensibly, and give rational answers. If this could be excusable in any writer, it would be in Ovid, where he introduces the Echo as a Nymph, before she was worn away into nothing but a voice. The learned Erafmus, though a man of wit and genius, has composed a Dialogue upon this filly kind of device, and made use of an Eccho who seems to have been a very extraordinary linguist, for the answers the person the talks with in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, according as she found the syllables which she was to repeat in any of those learned languages. Hudibras, in ridicule, of this false kind of wit, has described Bruin bewailing the loss of his Bear to a folitary Echo, who is of great use to the Poet in several disticks, as she does not only repeat after him, but helps out his verse, and furnishes him with Rhymes.
He raged, and kept as heavy a coil as
And when she has said all Me can say,