« VorigeDoorgaan »
after another, that he could do his business without priore them.
It must have been very pleasant to have seen 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 pressed with it in any particular syllable. For the most apt and elegant word in the whole language was rejected, like a diamond with a flaw in it, if it appealed blemished with a wrong letter. I shall only cbserve upon this head, that if the work I have here inentioned had been now extant, the Odyssey of Tryphiodorus, in all probability, would have been ostener quoted by our learned pedants than the Odyssey of Homer. What a perpetual fund would it have been of obsolete words and phrases, unusual barbarisms and rusticities, absurd spellings, and complicated dialects! I make no question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable treasuries of the Greek tongue.
I find likewise among the ancients that ingenious kiod of conceit, which the moderns distinguish by the name of a Rebus, that does not sink a letter but a whole word b; substituting a pieture in its place. When Cæsar was one of the masters of the Roman mint, he placed the figure of an elephant upon the reverse of the public money; the word Cæsar signifying an elephant in the Punic language. This was artificially contrived by Cæsar, because it was not lawful for a private man to stamp his own figure upon the coin of the commonwealth. Cicero, who was so called from the founder of his family, that was marked on the nose with a little wen 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 public monument. This was done probably to shew 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 probability, was an Athenian. This kind of wit was very much in vogue among our own countrymen about an age or two ago, who did not practise it for any oblique reason, as the ancients above-mentioned, 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 findit mentioned by our learned Camden in his remains. Mr. Newberry, to represent his name by a picture, hungupathis door the sign of a yewtree that had several berries upon it, andin the midst of them a great golden N hung upon a bough of the tree, which by the help of a little false spelling made up the word N-ew-berry.
I shall conclude this topic with a rebus, which has been lately hewn out of free-stone, and erected over two of the portals of Blenheim 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 or the same word that signifies a Frenchman, as a lion is an emblem of the English nation. Such a device in so noble a pile of building looks like a pun in an heroic 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 Erasmus, though a man of wit and genius, has composed a dialogue upon this silly kind of device, and made use of an echo who seems to have been a very extraordinary linguist; for she answers the person she talks with in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, according as she found the syllables which she was to repeat in any of those learned languages. Hu. dibras, in ridicule of this false kind of wit, has describe od Orsin bewailing the loss of his bear to a solitary echo, who is of great use to the poet in several distichs, as she does not only repeat after him, but helps out his verse, and furnishes him with rhymes.
Ile rag'd, and kept as heavy a coil as
"Tis wrested to the lover's fancy.
I thought th’hadst scorn’d to budge a step
No. LX. WEDNESDAY, MAY 9.
Is it for this you gain those meagre looks,
SEVERAL kinds of false wit that vanished in the refined ages of the world, discovered themselves again in the time of monkish ignorance.
As'the monks were the masters of all that little learning which was then extant, and had their whole lives disengaged from business, it is no wonder that several of them, who wanted genius for higher performances, employed many hours in the composition, of such tricks in writing as required much time and
little capacity. I have seen half the Æneid turned into Latin rhymes by one of the beaux-esprits of that dark age; who says in his preface to it, that the Æneid wanted nothing but the sweets of rhyme to make it the most perfect work in its kind. I have likewise seen an hymn in hexameters to the Virgin Mary, which filled a whole book, though it consisted but of the eight following words:
Tot, tibi, sunt, Virgo, dotes, quot, sidera, Cælo.
Thou hast as many virtues, O Virgin, as there are stars in
The poet rung the changes upon these eight several words, and by that means made his verses almost as numerous as the virtues and the stars which they celebrated. It is no wonder that men who had so much time upon their hands, did not only restore all the antiquated pieces of false wit, but enriched the world with inventions of their own. It was to this age that we owe the production of anagrams, which is nothing else but a transinutation of one word into another, or the turning of the same set of letters into different words.; which may change night into day, or black into white, if Chance, who is the goddess that presides over these sorts of composition, shall so direct. I remember a witty author, in allusion to this kind of writing, calls his rival, who, it seems was distorted, and had his limbs set in places that did not properly belong to them, The Anagram of a Man.
When the anagrammatist takes a name to work upon, he considers it at first as a mine not broken up, which will not show the treasure it contains till he shall have spent many hours in the search of it; for it is his business to find out one word that conceals itself in another, and to examine the letters in all the variety of