nay, some carry the notion of wit so far, as to ascribe it even to external mimicry, 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 sake 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. Spenser 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 Musæus, which by that, as well as many other marks, betrays itself 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 choose one instance which may be met with in all the writers of this class. The passion of love in its nature has been thought to resemble fire ; for which reason the words fire and flame are made use of to signify Love. The witty poets therefore have taken an advantage from the doubtful meaning of the word fire, to make an infinite number of witticisms. Cowa ley, 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 l'orrid Zone to be habitable. When his mistress had read his letter written in juice of lemon by holding it to the fire, he desires her to read it over a second time by love's flames. When she weeps, lie wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops from the limbec. When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, that is, thirty degrees nearer the pole than when she 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 winds blowing upon it. Upon the dying of a tree in which he had cut his lovės, 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, should 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 fire in the middle of the sea.

The reader may observe, in every one of these instances, that the poet mixes the qualities of fire with those of love; and in the same sentence, speaking of it both as a passion and as real fire, surprises the reader with those seeming resemblances or contradictions that will make up all the wit in this kind of writing. Mixt wit therefore is a composition of pun and true wit, and is more or less perfect as the resemblance lies in the ideas or in the words: its founda. tions are laid partly in falsehood, and partly in truth : reason puts in her claim for one half of it, and extravagance for the other.' The only province therefore for this kind of wit, is epigram, or those little occasional poems that in their own nature are nothing else but a tissue of epigrams. I cannot conclude this head of mixt wit, without owning that the admirable poet, out of whom I have taken the examples of it, had as much true wit as any author that ever writ; and indeed all other talents of an extraordinary genius.

It may be expected, since I am upon this subject, that I should take notice of Mr. Dryden's definition of wit; which, with all the deference that is due to the judgment of so great a man, is not so properly a definition of wit, as of good writing in general. Wit, as he defines it, is a propriety of words and thoughts

adapted to the subject. If this be a true definition of wit, I am apt to think that Euclid was the greatest wit that ever set pen to paper: it is certain there never was a greater propriety of words and thoughts adapte. ed to the subject, than what that author has made use of in his elements. I shall only appeal to my reader, if this definition agrees with any notion he has of wit: if it be a true one, I am sure Mr. Dryden was not only a better poet, but a greater wit, than Mr. Cowley, and Virgil a much more facetious man than either Ovid or Martial.

Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the most pene. trating of all the French critics, has taken pains to shew, that it is impossible for any thought to be beautiful which is not just, and has not its foundation in the nature of things; that the basis of all wit is truth; and that no thought can be valuable, of which good sense is not the ground-work. Boileau has endea


voured to inculcate the same notion in various parts
of his writings, both in prose and verse. This is that
natural way of writing, that beautiful simplicity, which
we so often admire in the compositions of the ancients:
and which no body deviates from, but those who want
strength of genius to make a thought shine in its own
natural beauties. Poets who want this strength of
genius to give that majestic simplicity to nature,
which we so much admire in the works of the an-
cients, are forced to hunt after foreign ornaments, and
not to let any piece of wit, of what kind soever, es-
cape them. I look upon these writers as Goihs in
poetry, who, like those in architecture, not being able
to come up to the beautiful simplicity of the old
Greeks and Romans, hare endeavoured to supply its
place with all the extravagancies of an irregular fancy.
Mr. Dryden makes a very handsome observation, on
Ovid's writing a letter from Dido to Eneas, in the
following words. Ovid,' says be, speaking of Virgil's
fiction of Dido and Æneas, takes it up after him,
6 even in the same age, and makes an ancient heroine
I of Virgil's new.createci Dido; dictates a letter for
o her just before her death to the ungrateful fugitive;"
I and, very unluckily for himself, is for measuring al

sword with a man so much superior in force to him
on the same subject. I think I may be judge of

this, because I have transiated both. The famous I author of the Art of Love las nothing of his own :

he borrows all from a greater inaster in his own o profession, and, which is worse, improves nothing ( which he finds: nature fails him, and being forced to his old shift, he has recourse to witticism. This

passes indeed with his soft admirers, and gives him " the preference to Virgil in their esteem.'

Were not I supported by so great an authority as that of Mr. Dryden, I should not venture to observe, that the taste of most of our English poets, as well as

readers, is extremely Gothic. He quotes Monsieur Segrais for a threefold distinction of the readers of poetry: in the first of which he comprehends the rabble of readers, whom he does not treat as such with regard to their quality, but to their numbers and the coarseness of their taste. His words are as follow: • Segrais has distinguished the readers of poet. O ry, according to their capacity of judging, into three

classes. [He might have said the same of writers I too, if he had pleased.] In the lowest form he places Itbose whom he calls Les Petits Esprits, such thing's

as our upper-gallery audience in a play-house; who

like nothing but the husk and rhind of wit, prefer a ( quibhle, a conceit, an epigram, before solid sense, + and elegant expression: these are inob-leaders. If

Virgil and Martial stood for Farliament-men, we i know already who would carry it. But though they I make the greatest appearance in the field, and cry " the loudest, the best of it is they are but a sort of (French huguenots, or Dutch boors, brought over in " herds, but not naturalized; who have not lands of I two pounds per annum in Parnassus, and therefore 6 are not privileged to poll. Their authors are of the ( same level, fit to represent them on a mountebank's 6 stage, or to be master of the ceremonies in a bear. • garden: yet these are they who have the most ad

mirers. But it often happens, to their mortification, " that as their readers improve their stock of serse, ļ as they may by reading better books, and by colle ( versation with men of judgment, they soon forsake


I must not dismiss this subject without observing, that as Mr. Locke in the passage abovementioned has discovered the most fruitful source of wit, so there is another of a quite contrary nature to it, which does likewise branch itself out into several kinds. For not only the resemblance, but the opposition of ideas, does

« VorigeDoorgaan »