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should be made as uneasy by a handkerchief as ever Othello was, • I am afraid, (said she,) Mr. Honeycomb, you are a tory: teli me truly, are you a friend to the doctor or not?' Will, instead of making her a reply, smiled in her face (for indeed she was very pretty) and told her, that one of her patches was dropping off. She immediately adjusted it, and looking a little seriously, 'Well, (says she) I'll be hanged if you and your silent friend there are not against the doctor in your hearts; I suspected as much by his saying nothing.' Upon this she took her fan into her hand, and upon the opening of it again displayed to us the figure of the doctor, who was placed with great gravity among the sticks of it. In a word, I found that the doctor had taken possession of her thoughts, her discourse, and most of her furniture; but finding myself pressed too close by her question, I winked upon my friend to take his leave, which he did accordingly,
No. 58. MONDAY, MAY 7.
Ut pictura poosis erit
HOR, Ars, Poet. v. 861.
Poems like pictures are
NOTHING is so much admired, and so little understood, as wit. No author that I know of has written professedly upon it; as for those who make any mention of it, they only treat on the subject as it has accidentally fallen in their way, and that too in little short reflections, or in general declamatory flourishes, without entering into the bottom of the matter. I hope, therefore, I shall perform an acceptable work to my countrymen, if I treat at large
apon this subject;* which I shall endeavour to do in a manner suitable to it, that I may not incur the censure which a famous critic bestows 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 myself, 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 üf these 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 operas and tragedies; and shall from time to time impart my notions of comedy, as I think they may tend to its refinement and perfection. I find by my bookseller that these papers of criticism, with that upon humour, have met with a more kind reception than, indeed, I could have hoped for from such subjects; for which reason I
• What the author calls “ treating at large upon this subject," is only giving the history of false wit, in the four first of these papers; a general idea of the true, in the fifth, and a recapitulation of the whole, by way of vision, in the sixth. An accurate treatise on this nice subject, is among the des iderata of literature. However, this essay upon it, so far as it goes, is elegant and useful; and such, in point of composition, as might be expected from Mr. Addison, when he took time and fins to methodize and cor. rect what he wrote (which Mr. Tickell tells us was the case with these papers) and did not apply himself in haste to print an occasional entertain ment for the day.-H.
shall enter upon my present undertaking with greater cheerful
In this, and one or two following papers, I shall trace out the history of false wit, and distinguish the several kinds of it as they have prevailed in different ages of the world. This I think the more necessary at present, because I observed there were attempts on foot last winter to revive some of those antiquated modes of wit that have been long exploded out of the commonwealth of letters. There were several satires and panegyrics handed about in acrostic, by which means some of the most arrant undisputed blockheads about the town began to entertain ambitious thoughts, and to set up for polite authors. I shall, therefore, describe at length those many arts of false in which a writer does nut show himself 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 several pieces which have lived very near as long as the Iliad itself: 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
upou the sense of it.
The pair of wings consists of twelve verses, or rather feathers, every verse decreasing gradually in its measure according to its 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. The ax,
methinks, would have been a good figure for a lam
poon, had the edge of it consisted of the most satirical parts of the work; but as it is in the original, I take it to have been nothing else but the poesy 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 critics. I am apt to think that the poesy was written originally upon the ax, like those which our modern cutlers inscribe upon their knives; and that, therefore, the poesy still remains in its ancient shape, though the ax itself is lost.
The shepherd's pipe may be said to be full of music, 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 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 ancient than the authors to whom they are generally ascribed; at least I will never be persuaded, 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 outline 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 itself 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 canuot understand, who does not know that there are those little poems above-mentioned in the shape of wings and altars.
-Choose for thy command
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 Bar. tas. I do not remember any other kind of work among the mod. erns 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; 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 picture, I would hum. bly propose, for the benefit of our modern smatterers in poetry, that they would imitate their brethren among the ancients in those