Essays and Tales
Joseph Addison

Part 1 out of 3

This etext was prepared by David Price, email,
from the 1888 Cassell & Company edition.


by Joseph Addison


Public Credit
Household Superstitions
Opera Lions
Women and Wives
The Italian Opera
True and False Humour
Sa Ga Yean Qua Rash Tow's Impressions of London
The Vision of Marraton
Six Papers on Wit
Chevy-Chase (Two Papers)
A Dream of the Painters
Spare Time (Two Papers)
The English Language
The Vision of Mirza
Theodosius and Constantia
Good Nature
A Grinning Match
Trust in God


The sixty-fourth volume of this Library contains those papers from
the Tatler which were especially associated with the imagined
character of ISAAC BICKERSTAFF, who was the central figure in that
series; and in the twenty-ninth volume there is a similar collection
of papers relating to the Spectator Club and SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY,
who was the central figure in Steele and Addison's Spectator. Those
volumes contained, no doubt, some of the best Essays of Addison and
Steele. But in the Tatler and Spectator are full armouries of the
wit and wisdom of these two writers, who summoned into life the army
of the Essayists, and led it on to kindly war against the forces of
Ill-temper and Ignorance. Envy, Hatred, Malice, and all their first
cousins of the family of Uncharitableness, are captains under those
two commanders-in-chief, and we can little afford to dismiss from
the field two of the stoutest combatants against them. In this
volume it is only Addison who speaks; and in another volume,
presently to follow, there will be the voice of Steele.

The two friends differed in temperament and in many of the outward
signs of character; but these two little books will very distinctly
show how wholly they agreed as to essentials. For Addison,
Literature had a charm of its own; he delighted in distinguishing
the finer graces of good style, and he drew from the truths of life
the principles of taste in writing. For Steele, Literature was the
life itself; he loved a true book for the soul he found in it. So
he agreed with Addison in judgment. But the six papers on "Wit,"
the two papers on "Chevy Chase," contained in this volume; the
eleven papers on "Imagination," and the papers on "Paradise Lost,"
which may be given in some future volume; were in a form of study
for which Addison was far more apt than Steele. Thus as fellow-
workers they gave a breadth to the character of Tatler and Spectator
that could have been produced by neither of them, singly.

The reader of this volume will never suppose that the artist's
pleasure in good art and in analysis of its constituents removes him
from direct enjoyment of the life about him; that he misses a real
contact with all the world gives that is worth his touch. Good art
is but nature, studied with love trained to the most delicate
perception; and the good criticism in which the spirit of an artist
speaks is, like Addison's, calm, simple, and benign. Pope yearned
to attack John Dennis, a rough critic of the day, who had attacked
his "Essay on Criticism." Addison had discouraged a very small
assault of words. When Dennis attacked Addison's "Cato," Pope
thought himself free to strike; but Addison took occasion to
express, through Steele, a serious regret that he had done so. True
criticism may be affected, as Addison's was, by some bias in the
canons of taste prevalent in the writer's time, but, as Addison's
did in the Chevy-Chase papers, it will dissent from prevalent
misapplications of them, and it can never associate perception of
the purest truth and beauty with petty arrogance, nor will it so
speak as to give pain. When Wordsworth was remembering with love
his mother's guidance of his childhood, and wished to suggest that
there were mothers less wise in their ways, he was checked, he said,
by the unwillingness to join thought of her "with any thought that
looks at others' blame." So Addison felt towards his mother Nature,
in literature and in life. He attacked nobody. With a light,
kindly humour, that was never personal and never could give pain, he
sought to soften the harsh lines of life, abate its follies, and
inspire the temper that alone can overcome its wrongs.

Politics, in which few then knew how to think calmly and recognise
the worth of various opinion, Steele and Addison excluded from the
pages of the Spectator. But the first paper in this volume is upon
"Public Credit," and it did touch on the position of the country at
a time when the shock of change caused by the Revolution of 1688-89,
and also the strain of foreign war, were being severely felt.

H. M.


- Quoi quisque fere studio devinctus adhaeret
Aut quibus i rebus multum sumus ante morati
Atque in quo ratione fuit contenta magis mens,
In somnis cadem plerumque videmur obire.
LUCR., iv. 959.

- What studies please, what most delight,
And fill men's thoughts, they dream them o'er at night.


In one of my rambles, or rather speculations, I looked into the
great hall where the bank is kept, and was not a little pleased to
see the directors, secretaries, and clerks, with all the other
members of that wealthy corporation, ranged in their several
stations, according to the parts they act in that just and regular
economy. This revived in my memory the many discourses which I had
both read and heard concerning the decay of public credit, with the
methods of restoring it; and which, in my opinion, have always been
defective, because they have always been made with an eye to
separate interests and party principles.

The thoughts of the day gave my mind employment for the whole night;
so that I fell insensibly into a kind of methodical dream, which
disposed all my contemplations into a vision, or allegory, or what
else the reader shall please to call it.

Methoughts I returned to the great hall, where I had been the
morning before; but to my surprise, instead of the company that I
left there, I saw, towards the upper end of the hall, a beautiful
virgin, seated on a throne of gold. Her name, as they told me, was
Public Credit. The walls, instead of being adorned with pictures
and maps, were hung with many Acts of Parliament written in golden
letters. At the upper end of the hall was the Magna Charta, with
the Act of Uniformity on the right hand, and the Act of Toleration
on the left. At the lower end of the hall was the Act of
Settlement, which was placed full in the eye of the virgin that sat
upon the throne. Both the sides of the hall were covered with such
Acts of Parliament as had been made for the establishment of public
funds. The lady seemed to set an unspeakable value upon these
several pieces of furniture, insomuch that she often refreshed her
eye with them, and often smiled with a secret pleasure as she looked
upon them; but, at the same time, showed a very particular
uneasiness if she saw anything approaching that might hurt them.
She appeared, indeed, infinitely timorous in all her behaviour: and
whether it was from the delicacy of her constitution, or that she
was troubled with vapours, as I was afterwards told by one who I
found was none of her well-wishers, she changed colour and startled
at everything she heard. She was likewise, as I afterwards found, a
greater valetudinarian than any I had ever met with, even in her own
sex, and subject to such momentary consumptions, that in the
twinkling of an eye, she would fall away from the most florid
complexion and the most healthful state of body, and wither into a
skeleton. Her recoveries were often as sudden as her decays,
insomuch that she would revive in a moment out of a wasting
distemper, into a habit of the highest health and vigour.

I had very soon an opportunity of observing these quick turns and
changes in her constitution. There sat at her feet a couple of
secretaries, who received every hour letters from all parts of the
world, which the one or the other of them was perpetually reading to
her; and according to the news she heard, to which she was
exceedingly attentive, she changed colour, and discovered many
symptoms of health or sickness.

Behind the throne was a prodigious heap of bags of money, which were
piled upon one another so high that they touched the ceiling. The
floor on her right hand and on her left was covered with vast sums
of gold that rose up in pyramids on either side of her. But this I
did not so much wonder at, when I heard, upon inquiry, that she had
the same virtue in her touch, which the poets tell us a Lydian king
was formerly possessed of; and that she could convert whatever she
pleased into that precious metal.

After a little dizziness, and confused hurry of thought, which a man
often meets with in a dream, methoughts the hall was alarmed, the
doors flew open, and there entered half a dozen of the most hideous
phantoms that I had ever seen, even in a dream, before that time.
They came in two by two, though matched in the most dissociable
manner, and mingled together in a kind of dance. It would be
tedious to describe their habits and persons; for which reason I
shall only inform my reader, that the first couple were Tyranny and
Anarchy; the second were Bigotry and Atheism; the third, the Genius
of a commonwealth and a young man of about twenty-two years of age,
whose name I could not learn. He had a sword in his right hand,
which in the dance he often brandished at the Act of Settlement; and
a citizen, who stood by me, whispered in my ear, that he saw a
sponge in his left hand. The dance of so many jarring natures put
me in mind of the sun, moon, and earth, in the Rehearsal, that
danced together for no other end but to eclipse one another.

The reader will easily suppose, by what has been before said, that
the lady on the throne would have been almost frighted to
distraction, had she seen but any one of the spectres: what then
must have been her condition when she saw them all in a body? She
fainted, and died away at the sight.

Et neque jam color est misto candore rubori;
Nec vigor, et vires, et quae modo rise placebant;
Nec corpus remanet--.

OVID, Met. iii. 491.

- Her spirits faint,
Her blooming cheeks assume a pallid teint,
And scarce her form remains.

There was as great a change in the hill of money-bags and the heaps
of money, the former shrinking and falling into so many empty bags,
that I now found not above a tenth part of them had been filled with

The rest, that took up the same space and made the same figure as
the bags that were really filled with money, had been blown up with
air, and called into my memory the bags full of wind, which Homer
tells us his hero received as a present from AEolus. The great
heaps of gold on either side the throne now appeared to be only
heaps of paper, or little piles of notched sticks, bound up together
in bundles, like Bath faggots.

Whilst I was lamenting this sudden desolation that had been made
before me, the whole scene vanished. In the room of the frightful
spectres, there now entered a second dance of apparitions, very
agreeably matched together, and made up of very amiable phantoms:
the first pair was Liberty with Monarchy at her right hand; the
second was Moderation leading in Religion; and the third, a person
whom I had never seen, with the Genius of Great Britain. At the
first entrance, the lady revived; the bags swelled to their former
bulk; the piles of faggots and heaps of paper changed into pyramids
of guineas: and, for my own part, I was so transported with joy
that I awaked, though I must confess I would fain have fallen asleep
again to have closed my vision, if I could have done it.


Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
Nocturnos lemures, portentaque Thessala rides?
HOR., Ep. ii. 2, 208.

Visions and magic spells, can you despise,
And laugh at witches, ghosts, and prodigies?

Going yesterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the
misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking
him the occasion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamt a very
strange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended
some misfortune to themselves or to their children. At her coming
into the room, I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance,
which I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from whence
it proceeded. We were no sooner sat down, but, after having looked
upon me a little while, "My dear," says she, turning to her husband,
"you may now see the stranger that was in the candle last night."
Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little
boy at the lower end of the table told her that he was to go into
join-hand on Thursday. "Thursday!" says she. "No, child; if it
please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas-day; tell your
writing-master that Friday will be soon enough." I was reflecting
with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that anybody
would establish it as a rule, to lose a day in every week. In the
midst of these my musings, she desired me to reach her a little salt
upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and
hurry of obedience that I let it drop by the way; at which she
immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I
looked very blank; and observing the concern of the whole table,
began to consider myself, with some confusion, as a person that had
brought a disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering
herself after a little space, said to her husband with a sigh, "My
dear, misfortunes never come single." My friend, I found, acted but
an under part at his table; and, being a man of more good-nature
than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the
passions and humours of his yoke-fellow. "Do not you remember,
child," says she, "that the pigeon-house fell the very afternoon
that our careless wench spilt the salt upon the table?"--"Yes," says
he, "my dear; and the next post brought us an account of the battle
of Almanza." The reader may guess at the figure I made, after
having done all this mischief. I despatched my dinner as soon as I
could, with my usual taciturnity; when, to my utter confusion, the
lady seeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them across
one another upon my plate, desired me that I would humour her so far
as to take them out of that figure and place them side by side.
What the absurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I
suppose there was some traditionary superstition in it; and
therefore, in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my
knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall
always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any reason
for it.

It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived an
aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's
looks, that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an
unfortunate aspect: for which reason I took my leave immediately
after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home,
I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend these
superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary
afflictions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly come
within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not
sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into
misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling accidents as from real
evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest;
and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon
the plucking of a merry-thought. A screech-owl at midnight has
alarmed a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a
cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There
is nothing so inconsiderable which may not appear dreadful to an
imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics: a rusty nail
or a crooked pin shoot up into prodigies.

I remember I was once in a mixed assembly that was full of noise and
mirth, when on a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were
thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into
several who were present, insomuch that one or two of the ladies
were going to leave the room; but a friend of mine taking notice
that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed there
were fourteen in the room, and that, instead of portending one of
the company should die, it plainly foretold one of them should be
born. Had not my friend found this expedient to break the omen, I
question not but half the women in the company would have fallen
sick that very night.

An old maid that is troubled with the vapours produces infinite
disturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I know
a maiden aunt of a great family, who is one of these antiquated
Sibyls, that forebodes and prophesies from one end of the year to
the other. She is always seeing apparitions and hearing death-
watches; and was the other day almost frighted out of her wits by
the great house-dog that howled in the stable, at a time when she
lay ill of the toothache. Such an extravagant cast of mind engages
multitudes of people not only in impertinent terrors, but in
supernumerary duties of life, and arises from that fear and
ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. The horror with
which we entertain the thoughts of death, or indeed of any future
evil, and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind
with innumerable apprehensions and suspicions, and consequently
dispose it to the observation of such groundless prodigies and
predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench
the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy, it is the
employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of

For my own part, I should be very much troubled were I endowed with
this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of
everything that can befall me. I would not anticipate the relish of
any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually

I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy
presages and terrors of mind; and that is, by securing to myself the
friendship and protection of that Being who disposes of events and
governs futurity. He sees, at one view, the whole thread of my
existence, not only that part of it which I have already passed
through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of
eternity. When I lay me down to sleep, I recommend myself to His
care; when I awake, I give myself up to His direction. Amidst all
the evils that threaten me, I will look up to Him for help, and
question not but He will either avert them, or turn them to my
advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the
death I am to die, I am not at all solicitous about it; because I am
sure that he knows them both, and that He will not fail to comfort
and support me under them.


Dic mihi, si fias tu leo, qualis eris?
MART., xii. 93.

Were you a lion, how would you behave?

There is nothing that of late years has afforded matter of greater
amusement to the town than Signior Nicolini's combat with a lion in
the Haymarket, which has been very often exhibited to the general
satisfaction of most of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom of
Great Britain. Upon the first rumour of this intended combat, it
was confidently affirmed, and is still believed, by many in both
galleries, that there would be a tame lion sent from the tower every
opera night in order to be killed by Hydaspes. This report, though
altogether groundless, so universally prevailed in the upper regions
of the playhouse, that some of the most refined politicians in those
parts of the audience gave it out in whisper that the lion was a
cousin-german of the tiger who made his appearance in King William's
days, and that the stage would be supplied with lions at the public
expense during the whole session. Many likewise were the
conjectures of the treatment which this lion was to meet with from
the hands of Signior Nicolini: some supposed that he was to subdue
him in recitativo, as Orpheus used to serve the wild beasts in his
time, and afterwards to knock him on the head; some fancied that the
lion would not pretend to lay his paws upon the hero, by reason of
the received opinion that a lion will not hurt a virgin: several
who pretended to have seen the opera in Italy, had informed their
friends that the lion was to act a part in High Dutch, and roar
twice or thrice to a thorough bass before he fell at the feet of
Hydaspes. To clear up a matter that was so variously reported, I
have made it my business to examine whether this pretended lion is
really the savage he appears to be, or only a counterfeit.

But before I communicate my discoveries, I must acquaint the reader
that upon my walking behind the scenes last winter, as I was
thinking on something else, I accidentally jostled against a
monstrous animal that extremely startled me, and, upon my nearer
survey of it, appeared to be a lion rampant. The lion, seeing me
very much surprised, told me, in a gentle voice, that I might come
by him if I pleased; "for," says he, "I do not intend to hurt
anybody." I thanked him very kindly and passed by him, and in a
little time after saw him leap upon the stage and act his part with
very great applause. It has been observed by several that the lion
has changed his manner of acting twice or thrice since his first
appearance, which will not seem strange when I acquaint my reader
that the lion has been changed upon the audience three several
times. The first lion was a candle-snuffer, who, being a fellow of
a testy, choleric temper, overdid his part, and would not suffer
himself to be killed so easily as he ought to have done: besides,
it was observed of him, that he grew more surly every time he came
out of the lion, and having dropped some words in ordinary
conversation, as if he had not fought his best, and that he suffered
himself to be thrown upon his back in the scuffle, and that he would
wrestle with Mr. Nicolini for what he pleased, out of his lion's
skin, it was thought proper to discard him: and it is verily
believed to this day, that, had he been brought upon the stage
another time, he would certainly have done mischief. Besides, it
was objected against the first lion, that he reared himself so high
upon his hinder paws, and walked in so erect a posture, that he
looked more like an old man than a lion.

The second lion was a tailor by trade, who belonged to the
playhouse, and had the character of a mild and peaceable man in his
profession. If the former was too furious, this was too sheepish
for his part; inasmuch that, after a short modest walk upon the
stage, he would fall at the first touch of Hydaspes, without
grappling with him, and giving him an opportunity of showing his
variety of Italian trips. It is said, indeed, that he once gave him
a rip in his flesh-colour doublet: but this was only to make work
for himself in his private character of a tailor. I must not omit
that it was this second lion who treated me with so much humanity
behind the scenes.

The acting lion at present is, as I am informed, a country
gentleman, who does it for his diversion, but desires his name may
be concealed. He says very handsomely, in his own excuse, that he
does not act for gain; that he indulges an innocent pleasure in it,
and that it is better to pass away an evening in this manner than in
gaming and drinking: but at the same time says, with a very
agreeable raillery upon himself, that if his name should be known,
the ill-natured world might call him "the ass in the lion's skin."
This gentleman's temper is made out of such a happy mixture of the
mild and the choleric, that he outdoes both his predecessors, and
has drawn together greater audiences than have been known in the
memory of man.

I must not conclude my narrative without taking notice of a
groundless report that has been raised to a gentleman's
disadvantage, of whom I must declare myself an admirer; namely, that
Signior Nicolini and the lion have been seen sitting peaceably by
one another, and smoking a pipe together behind the scenes; by which
their common enemies would insinuate that it is but a sham combat
which they represent upon the stage: but upon inquiry I find, that
if any such correspondence has passed between them, it was not till
the combat was over, when the lion was to be looked upon as dead
according to the received rules of the drama. Besides, this is what
is practised every day in Westminster Hall, where nothing is more
usual than to see a couple of lawyers, who have been tearing each
other to pieces in the court, embracing one another as soon as they
are out of it.

I would not be thought in any part of this relation to reflect upon
Signior Nicolini, who, in acting this part, only complies with the
wretched taste of his audience: he knows very well that the lion
has many more admirers than himself; as they say of the famous
equestrian statue on the Pont-Neuf at Paris, that more people go to
see the horse than the king who sits upon it. On the contrary, it
gives me a just indignation to see a person whose action gives new
majesty to kings, resolution to heroes, and softness to lovers, thus
sinking from the greatness of his behaviour, and degraded into the
character of the London Prentice. I have often wished that our
tragedians would copy after this great master in action. Could they
make the same use of their arms and legs, and inform their faces
with as significant looks and passions, how glorious would an
English tragedy appear with that action which is capable of giving a
dignity to the forced thoughts, cold conceits, and unnatural
expressions of an Italian opera! In the meantime, I have related
this combat of the lion to show what are at present the reigning
entertainments of the politer part of Great Britain.

Audiences have often been reproached by writers for the coarseness
of their taste; but our present grievance does not seem to be the
want of a good taste, but of common sense.


Parva leves capiunt animos. -
OVID, Ars Am., i. 159.

Light minds are pleased with trifles.

When I was in France, I used to gaze with great astonishment at the
splendid equipages, and party-coloured habits of that fantastic
nation. I was one day in particular contemplating a lady that sat
in a coach adorned with gilded Cupids, and finely painted with the
Loves of Venus and Adonis. The coach was drawn by six milk-white
horses, and loaden behind with the same number of powdered footmen.
Just before the lady were a couple of beautiful pages, that were
stuck among the harness, and, by their gay dresses and smiling
features, looked like the elder brothers of the little boys that
were carved and painted in every corner of the coach.

The lady was the unfortunate Cleanthe, who afterwards gave an
occasion to a pretty melancholy novel. She had for several years
received the addresses of a gentleman, whom, after a long and
intimate acquaintance, she forsook upon the account of this shining
equipage, which had been offered to her by one of great riches but a
crazy constitution. The circumstances in which I saw her were, it
seems, the disguises only of a broken heart, and a kind of pageantry
to cover distress, for in two months after, she was carried to her
grave with the same pomp and magnificence, being sent thither partly
by the loss of one lover and partly by the possession of another.

I have often reflected with myself on this unaccountable humour in
womankind, of being smitten with everything that is showy and
superficial; and on the numberless evils that befall the sex from
this light fantastical disposition. I myself remember a young lady
that was very warmly solicited by a couple of importunate rivals,
who, for several months together, did all they could to recommend
themselves, by complacency of behaviour and agreeableness of
conversation. At length, when the competition was doubtful, and the
lady undetermined in her choice, one of the young lovers very
luckily bethought himself of adding a supernumerary lace to his
liveries, which had so good an effect that he married her the very
week after.

The usual conversation of ordinary women very much cherishes this
natural weakness of being taken with outside and appearance. Talk
of a new-married couple, and you immediately hear whether they keep
their coach and six, or eat in plate. Mention the name of an absent
lady, and it is ten to one but you learn something of her gown and
petticoat. A ball is a great help to discourse, and a birthday
furnishes conversation for a twelvemonth after. A furbelow of
precious stones, a hat buttoned with a diamond, a brocade waistcoat
or petticoat, are standing topics. In short, they consider only the
drapery of the species, and never cast away a thought on those
ornaments of the mind that make persons illustrious in themselves
and useful to others. When women are thus perpetually dazzling one
another's imaginations, and filling their heads with nothing but
colours, it is no wonder that they are more attentive to the
superficial parts of life than the solid and substantial blessings
of it. A girl who has been trained up in this kind of conversation
is in danger of every embroidered coat that comes in her way. A
pair of fringed gloves may be her ruin. In a word, lace and
ribands, silver and gold galloons, with the like glittering gewgaws,
are so many lures to women of weak minds or low educations, and,
when artificially displayed, are able to fetch down the most airy
coquette from the wildest of her flights and rambles.

True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and
noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's
self, and, in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a
few select companions; it loves shade and solitude, and naturally
haunts groves and fountains, fields and meadows; in short, it feels
everything it wants within itself, and receives no addition from
multitudes of witnesses and spectators. On the contrary, false
happiness loves to be in a crowd, and to draw the eyes of the world
upon her. She does not receive any satisfaction from the applauses
which she gives herself, but from the admiration she raises in
others. She flourishes in courts and palaces, theatres and
assemblies, and has no existence but when she is looked upon.

Aurelia, though a woman of great quality, delights in the privacy of
a country life, and passes away a great part of her time in her own
walks and gardens. Her husband, who is her bosom friend and
companion in her solitudes, has been in love with her ever since he
knew her. They both abound with good sense, consummate virtue, and
a mutual esteem; and are a perpetual entertainment to one another.
Their family is under so regular an economy, in its hours of
devotion and repast, employment and diversion, that it looks like a
little commonwealth within itself. They often go into company, that
they may return with the greater delight to one another; and
sometimes live in town, not to enjoy it so properly as to grow weary
of it, that they may renew in themselves the relish of a country
life. By this means they are happy in each other, beloved by their
children, adored by their servants, and are become the envy, or
rather the delight, of all that know them.

How different to this is the life of Fulvia! She considers her
husband as her steward, and looks upon discretion and good
housewifery as little domestic virtues unbecoming a woman of
quality. She thinks life lost in her own family, and fancies
herself out of the world when she is not in the ring, the playhouse,
or the drawing-room. She lives in a perpetual motion of body and
restlessness of thought, and is never easy in any one place when she
thinks there is more company in another. The missing of an opera
the first night would be more afflicting to her than the death of a
child. She pities all the valuable part of her own sex, and calls
every woman of a prudent, modest, retired life, a poor-spirited,
unpolished creature. What a mortification would it be to Fulvia, if
she knew that her setting herself to view is but exposing herself,
and that she grows contemptible by being conspicuous!

I cannot conclude my paper without observing that Virgil has very
finely touched upon this female passion for dress and show, in the
character of Camilla, who, though she seems to have shaken off all
the other weaknesses of her sex, is still described as a woman in
this particular. The poet tells us, that after having made a great
slaughter of the enemy, she unfortunately cast her eye on a Trojan,
who wore an embroidered tunic, a beautiful coat of mail, with a
mantle of the finest purple. "A golden bow," says he, "hung upon
his shoulder; his garment was buckled with a golden clasp, and his
head covered with a helmet of the same shining metal." The Amazon
immediately singled out this well-dressed warrior, being seized with
a woman's longing for the pretty trappings that he was adorned with:

- Totumque incauta per agmen,
Faemineo praedae et spoliorum ardebat amore.
AEn., xi. 781.

- So greedy was she bent
On golden spoils, and on her prey intent.


This heedless pursuit after these glittering trifles, the poet, by a
nice concealed moral, represents to have been the destruction of his
female hero.


- Equitis quoque jam migravit ab aure voluptas
Omnis ad incertos oculos, et gaudia vana.
HOR., Ep. ii. 1, 187.

But now our nobles too are fops and vain,
Neglect the sense, but love the painted scene.

It is my design in this paper to deliver down to posterity a
faithful account of the Italian opera, and of the gradual progress
which it has made upon the English stage; for there is no question
but our great-grandchildren will be very curious to know the reason
why their forefathers used to sit together like an audience of
foreigners in their own country, and to hear whole plays acted
before them in a tongue which they did not understand.

Arsinoe was the first opera that gave us a taste of Italian music.
The great success this opera met with produced some attempts of
forming pieces upon Italian plans, which should give a more natural
and reasonable entertainment than what can be met with in the
elaborate trifles of that nation. This alarmed the poetasters and
fiddlers of the town, who were used to deal in a more ordinary kind
of ware; and therefore laid down an established rule, which is
received as such to this day, "That nothing is capable of being well
set to music that is not nonsense."

This maxim was no sooner received, but we immediately fell to
translating the Italian operas; and as there was no great danger of
hurting the sense of those extraordinary pieces, our authors would
often make words of their own which were entirely foreign to the
meaning of the passages they pretended to translate; their chief
care being to make the numbers of the English verse answer to those
of the Italian, that both of them might go to the same tune. Thus
the famous swig in Camilla:

"Barbara sit' intendo," &c.
"Barbarous woman, yes, I know your meaning,"

which expresses the resentments of an angry lover, was translated
into that English lamentation,

"Frail are a lover's hopes," &c.

And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the
British nation dying away and languishing to notes that were filled
with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very
frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary
transposition of words, which were drawn out of the phrase of one
tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in
one tongue that was very natural in the other. I remember an
Italian verse that ran thus, word for word:

"And turned my rage into pity;"

which the English for rhyme's sake translated:

"And into pity turned my rage."

By this means the soft notes that were adapted to pity in the
Italian fell upon the word rage in the English; and the angry sounds
that were turned to rage in the original, were made to express pity
in the translation. It oftentimes happened, likewise, that the
finest notes in the air fell upon the most insignificant words in
the sentence. I have known the word "and" pursued through the whole
gamut; have been entertained with many a melodious "the;" and have
heard the most beautiful graces, quavers, and divisions bestowed
upon "then," "for," and "from," to the eternal honour of our English

The next step to our refinement was the introducing of Italian
actors into our opera; who sang their parts in their own language,
at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native
tongue. The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian,
and his slaves answered him in English. The lover frequently made
his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which
she did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to
have carried on dialogues after this manner without an interpreter
between the persons that conversed together; but this was the state
of the English stage for about three years.

At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera;
and therefore, to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of
thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera is
performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand the
language of our own stage; insomuch that I have often been afraid,
when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence
of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us
among themselves; but I hope, since we put such an entire confidence
in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they
may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In
the meantime, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian
who writes two or three hundred years hence, and does not know the
taste of his wise forefathers, will make the following reflection:
"In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Italian tongue was
so well understood in England, that operas were acted on the public
stage in that language."

One scarce knows how to be serious in the confutation of an
absurdity that shows itself at the first sight. It does not want
any great measure of sense to see the ridicule of this monstrous
practice; but what makes it the more astonishing, it is not the
taste of the rabble, but of persons of the greatest politeness,
which has established it.

If the Italians have a genius for music above the English, the
English have a genius for other performances of a much higher
nature, and capable of giving the mind a much nobler entertainment.
Would one think it was possible, at a time when an author lived that
was able to write the Phaedra and Hippolitus, for a people to be so
stupidly fond of the Italian opera, as scarce to give a third day's
hearing to that admirable tragedy? Music is certainly a very
agreeable entertainment: but if it would take the entire possession
of our ears; if it would make us incapable of hearing sense; if it
would exclude arts that have a much greater tendency to the
refinement of human nature; I must confess I would allow it no
better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his

At present our notions of music are so very uncertain, that we do
not know what it is we like; only, in general, we are transported
with anything that is not English: so it be of a foreign growth,
let it be Italian, French, or High Dutch, it is the same thing. In
short, our English music is quite rooted out, and nothing yet
planted in its stead.

When a royal palace is burnt to the ground, every man is at liberty
to present his plan for a new one; and, though it be but
indifferently put together, it may furnish several hints that may be
of use to a good architect. I shall take the same liberty in a
following paper of giving my opinion upon the subject of music;
which I shall lay down only in a problematical manner, to be
considered by those who are masters in the art.


Saevit atrox Volscens, nec teli conspicit usquam
Auctorem, nec quo se ardens immittere possit.
VIRG., AEn. ix. 420.

Fierce Volscens foams with rage, and, gazing round,
Descry'd not him who gave the fatal wound;
Nor knew to fix revenge. DRYDEN.

There is nothing that more betrays a base, ungenerous spirit than
the giving of secret stabs to a man's reputation. Lampoons and
satires, that are written with wit and spirit, are like poisoned
darts, which not only inflict a wound, but make it incurable. For
this reason I am very much troubled when I see the talents' of
humour and ridicule in the possession of an ill-natured man. There
cannot be a greater gratification to a barbarous and inhuman wit,
than to stir up sorrow in the heart of a private person, to raise
uneasiness among near relations, and to expose whole families to
derision, at the same time that he remains unseen and undiscovered.
If, besides the accomplishments of being witty and ill-natured, a
man is vicious into the bargain, he is one of the most mischievous
creatures that can enter into a civil society. His satire will then
chiefly fall upon those who ought to be the most exempt from it.
Virtue, merit, and everything that is praiseworthy, will be made the
subject of ridicule and buffoonery. It is impossible to enumerate
the evils which arise from these arrows that fly in the dark; and I
know no other excuse that is or can be made for them, than that the
wounds they give are only imaginary, and produce nothing more than a
secret shame or sorrow in the mind of the suffering person. It must
indeed be confessed that a lampoon or a satire do not carry in them
robbery or murder; but at the same time, how many are there that
would not rather lose a considerable sum of money, or even life
itself, than be set up as a mark of infamy and derision? And in
this case a man should consider that an injury is not to be measured
by the notions of him that gives, but of him that receives it.

Those who can put the best countenance upon the outrages of this
nature which are offered them, are not without their secret anguish.
I have often observed a passage in Socrates's behaviour at his death
in a light wherein none of the critics have considered it. That
excellent man entertaining his friends a little before he drank the
bowl of poison, with a discourse on the immortality of the soul, at
his entering upon it says that he does not believe any the most
comic genius can censure him for talking upon such a subject at such
at a time. This passage, I think, evidently glances upon
Aristophanes, who writ a comedy on purpose to ridicule the
discourses of that divine philosopher. It has been observed by many
writers that Socrates was so little moved at this piece of
buffoonery, that he was several times present at its being acted
upon the stage, and never expressed the least resentment of it.
But, with submission, I think the remark I have here made shows us
that this unworthy treatment made an impression upon his mind,
though he had been too wise to discover it.

When Julius Caesar was lampooned by Catullus, he invited him to a
supper, and treated him with such a generous civility, that he made
the poet his friend ever after. Cardinal Mazarine gave the same
kind of treatment to the learned Quillet, who had reflected upon his
eminence in a famous Latin poem. The cardinal sent for him, and,
after some kind expostulations upon what he had written, assured him
of his esteem, and dismissed him with a promise of the next good
abbey that should fall, which he accordingly conferred upon him in a
few months after. This had so good an effect upon the author, that
he dedicated the second edition of his book to the cardinal, after
having expunged the passages which had given him offence.

Sextus Quintus was not of so generous and forgiving a temper. Upon
his being made Pope, the statue of Pasquin was one night dressed in
a very dirty shirt, with an excuse written under it, that he was
forced to wear foul linen because his laundress was made a princess.
This was a reflection upon the Pope's sister, who, before the
promotion of her brother, was in those mean circumstances that
Pasquin represented her. As this pasquinade made a great noise in
Rome, the Pope offered a considerable sum of money to any person
that should discover the author of it. The author, relying upon his
holiness's generosity, as also on some private overtures which he
had received from him, made the discovery himself; upon which the
Pope gave him the reward he had promised, but, at the same time, to
disable the satirist for the future, ordered his tongue to be cut
out, and both his hands to be chopped off. Aretine is too trite an
instance. Every one knows that all the kings of Europe were his
tributaries. Nay, there is a letter of his extant, in which he
makes his boast that he had laid the Sophi of Persia under

Though in the various examples which I have here drawn together,
these several great men behaved themselves very differently towards
the wits of the age who had reproached them, they all of them
plainly showed that they were very sensible of their reproaches, and
consequently that they received them as very great injuries. For my
own part, I would never trust a man that I thought was capable of
giving these secret wounds; and cannot but think that he would hurt
the person, whose reputation he thus assaults, in his body or in his
fortune, could he do it with the same security. There is indeed
something very barbarous and inhuman in the ordinary scribblers of
lampoons. An innocent young lady shall be exposed for an unhappy
feature; a father of a family turned to ridicule for some domestic
calamity; a wife be made uneasy all her life for a misinterpreted
word or action; nay, a good, a temperate, and a just man shall be
put out of countenance by the representation of those qualities that
should do him honour; so pernicious a thing is wit when it is not
tempered with virtue and humanity.

I have indeed heard of heedless, inconsiderate writers that, without
any malice, have sacrificed the reputation of their friends and
acquaintance to a certain levity of temper, and a silly ambition of
distinguishing themselves by a spirit of raillery and satire; as if
it were not infinitely more honourable to be a good-natured man than
a wit. Where there is this little petulant humour in an author, he
is often very mischievous without designing to be so. For which
reason I always lay it down as a rule that an indiscreet man is more
hurtful than an ill-natured one; for as the one will only attack his
enemies, and those he wishes ill to, the other injures indifferently
both friends and foes. I cannot forbear, on this occasion,
transcribing a fable out of Sir Roger L'Estrange, which accidentally
lies before me. A company of waggish boys were watching of frogs at
the side of a pond, and still as any of them put up their heads,
they would be pelting them down again with stones. "Children," says
one of the frogs, "you never consider that though this be play to
you, 'tis death to us."

As this week is in a manner set apart and dedicated to serious
thoughts, I shall indulge myself in such speculations as may not be
altogether unsuitable to the season; and in the meantime, as the
settling in ourselves a charitable frame of mind is a work very
proper for the time, I have in this paper endeavoured to expose that
particular breach of charity which has been generally overlooked by
divines, because they are but few who can be guilty of it.


- Risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
CATULL., Carm. 39 in Egnat.

Nothing so foolish as the laugh of fools.

Among all kinds of writing, there is none in which authors are more
apt to miscarry than in works of humour, as there is none in which
they are more ambitious to excel. It is not an imagination that
teems with monsters, a head that is filled with extravagant
conceptions, which is capable of furnishing the world with
diversions of this nature; and yet, if we look into the productions
of several writers, who set up for men of humour, what wild,
irregular fancies, what unnatural distortions of thought do we meet
with? If they speak nonsense, they believe they are talking humour;
and when they have drawn together a scheme of absurd, inconsistent
ideas, they are not able to read it over to themselves without
laughing. These poor gentlemen endeavour to gain themselves the
reputation of wits and humorists, by such monstrous conceits as
almost qualify them for Bedlam; not considering that humour should
always lie under the check of reason, and that it requires the
direction of the nicest judgment, by so much the more as it indulges
itself in the most boundless freedoms. There is a kind of nature
that is to be observed in this sort of compositions, as well as in
all other; and a certain regularity of thought which must discover
the writer to be a man of sense, at the same time that he appears
altogether given up to caprice. For my part, when I read the
delirious mirth of an unskilful author, I cannot be so barbarous as
to divert myself with it, but am rather apt to pity the man, than to
laugh at anything he writes.

The deceased Mr. Shadwell, who had himself a great deal of the
talent which I am treating of, represents an empty rake, in one of
his plays, as very much surprised to hear one say that breaking of
windows was not humour; and I question not but several English
readers will be as much startled to hear me affirm, that many of
those raving, incoherent pieces, which are often spread among us,
under odd chimerical titles, are rather the offsprings of a
distempered brain than works of humour.

It is, indeed, much easier to describe what is not humour than what
is; and very difficult to define it otherwise than as Cowley has
done wit, by negatives. Were I to give my own notions of it, I
would deliver them after Plato's manner, in a kind of allegory, and,
by supposing Humour to be a person, deduce to him all his
qualifications, according to the following genealogy. Truth was the
founder of the family, and the father of Good Sense. Good Sense was
the father of Wit, who married a lady of a collateral line called
Mirth, by whom he had issue Humour. Humour therefore being the
youngest of this illustrious family, and descended from parents of
such different dispositions, is very various and unequal in his
temper; sometimes you see him putting on grave looks and a solemn
habit, sometimes airy in his behaviour and fantastic in his dress;
insomuch that at different times he appears as serious as a judge,
and as jocular as a merry-andrew. But, as he has a great deal of
the mother in his constitution, whatever mood he is in, he never
fails to make his company laugh.

But since there is an impostor abroad, who takes upon him the name
of this young gentleman, and would willingly pass for him in the
world; to the end that well-meaning persons may not be imposed upon
by cheats, I would desire my readers, when they meet with this
pretender, to look into his parentage, and to examine him strictly,
whether or no he be remotely allied to Truth, and lineally descended
from Good Sense; if not, they may conclude him a counterfeit. They
may likewise distinguish him by a loud and excessive laughter, in
which he seldom gets his company to join with him. For as True
Humour generally looks serious while everybody laughs about him,
False Humour is always laughing whilst everybody about him looks
serious. I shall only add, if he has not in him a mixture of both
parents--that is, if he would pass for the offspring of Wit without
Mirth, or Mirth without Wit, you may conclude him to be altogether
spurious and a cheat.

The impostor of whom I am speaking descends originally from
Falsehood, who was the mother of Nonsense, who was brought to bed of
a son called Phrensy, who married one of the daughters of Folly,
commonly known by the name of Laughter, on whom he begot that
monstrous infant of which I have been here speaking. I shall set
down at length the genealogical table of False Humour, and, at the
same time, place under it the genealogy of True Humour, that the
reader may at one view behold their different pedigrees and

False Humour.

Good Sense.

I might extend the allegory, by mentioning several of the children
of False Humour, who are more in number than the sands of the sea,
and might in particular enumerate the many sons and daughters which
he has begot in this island. But as this would be a very invidious
task, I shall only observe in general that False Humour differs from
the True as a monkey does from a man.

First of all, he is exceedingly given to little apish tricks and

Secondly, he so much delights in mimicry, that it is all one to him
whether he exposes by it vice and folly, luxury and avarice; or, on
the contrary, virtue and wisdom, pain and poverty.

Thirdly, he is wonderfully unlucky, insomuch that he will bite the
hand that feeds him, and endeavour to ridicule both friends and foes
indifferently. For, having but small talents, he must be merry
where he can, not where he should.

Fourthly, Being entirely void of reason, he pursues no point either
of morality or instruction, but is ludicrous only for the sake of
being so.

Fifthly, Being incapable of anything but mock representations, his
ridicule is always personal, and aimed at the vicious man, or the
writer; not at the vice, or at the writing.

I have here only pointed at the whole species of false humorists;
but, as one of my principal designs in this paper is to beat down
that malignant spirit which discovers itself in the writings of the
present age, I shall not scruple, for the future, to single out any
of the small wits that infest the world with such compositions as
are ill-natured, immoral, and absurd. This is the only exception
which I shall make to the general rule I have prescribed myself, of
attacking multitudes; since every honest man ought to look upon
himself as in a natural state of war with the libeller and
lampooner, and to annoy them wherever they fall in his way. This is
but retaliating upon them, and treating them as they treat others.


Nunquam aliud natura, aliud sapientia dicit.
JUV., Sat. xiv. 321.

Good taste and nature always speak the same.

When the four Indian kings were in this country about a twelvemonth
ago, I often mixed with the rabble, and followed them a whole day
together, being wonderfully struck with the sight of everything that
is new or uncommon. I have, since their departure, employed a
friend to make many inquiries of their landlord the upholsterer
relating to their manners and conversation, as also concerning the
remarks which they made in this country; for next to the forming a
right notion of such strangers, I should be desirous of learning
what ideas they have conceived of us.

The upholsterer finding my friend very inquisitive about these his
lodgers, brought him sometime since a little bundle of papers, which
he assured him were written by King Sa Ga Yean Qua Rash Tow, and, as
he supposes, left behind by some mistake. These papers are now
translated, and contain abundance of very odd observations, which I
find this little fraternity of kings made during their stay in the
Isle of Great Britain. I shall present my reader with a short
specimen of them in this paper, and may perhaps communicate more to
him hereafter. In the article of London are the following words,
which without doubt are meant of the church of St. Paul

"On the most rising part of the town there stands a huge house, big
enough to contain the whole nation of which I am the king. Our good
brother E Tow O Koam, King of the Rivers, is of opinion it was made
by the hands of that great God to whom it is consecrated. The Kings
of Granajar and of the Six Nations believe that it was created with
the earth, and produced on the same day with the sun and moon. But
for my own part, by the best information that I could get of this
matter, I am apt to think that this prodigious pile was fashioned
into the shape it now bears by several tools and instruments, of
which they have a wonderful variety in this country. It was
probably at first a huge misshapen rock that grew upon the top of
the hill, which the natives of the country, after having cut into a
kind of regular figure, bored and hollowed with incredible pains and
industry, till they had wrought in it all those beautiful vaults and
caverns into which it is divided at this day. As soon as this rock
was thus curiously scooped to their liking, a prodigious number of
hands must have been employed in chipping the outside of it, which
is now as smooth as the surface of a pebble; and is in several
places hewn out into pillars that stand like the trunks of so many
trees bound about the top with garlands of leaves. It is probable
that when this great work was begun, which must have been many
hundred years ago, there was some religion among this people; for
they give it the name of a temple, and have a tradition that it was
designed for men to pay their devotion in. And indeed, there are
several reasons which make us think that the natives of this country
had formerly among them some sort of worship, for they set apart
every seventh day as sacred; but upon my going into one of these
holy houses on that day, I could not observe any circumstance of
devotion in their behaviour. There was, indeed, a man in black, who
was mounted above the rest, and seemed to utter some thing with a
great deal of vehemence; but as for those underneath him, instead of
paying their worship to the deity of the place, they were most of
them bowing and curtsying to one another, and a considerable number
of them fast asleep.

"The queen of the country appointed two men to attend us, that had
enough of our language to make themselves understood in some few
particulars. But we soon perceived these two were great enemies to
one another, and did not always agree in the same story. We could
make a shift to gather out of one of them that this island was very
much infested with a monstrous kind of animals, in the shape of men,
called Whigs; and he often told us that he hoped we should meet with
none of them in our way, for that, if we did, they would be apt to
knock us down for being kings.

"Our other interpreter used to talk very much of a kind of animal
called a Tory, that was as great a monster as the Whig, and would
treat us as ill for being foreigners. These two creatures, it
seems, are born with a secret antipathy to one another, and engage
when they meet as naturally as the elephant and the rhinoceros. But
as we saw none of either of these species, we are apt to think that
our guides deceived us with misrepresentations and fictions, and
amused us with an account of such monsters as are not really in
their country.

"These particulars we made a shift to pick out from the discourse of
our interpreters, which we put together as well as we could, being
able to understand but here and there a word of what they said, and
afterwards making up the meaning of it among ourselves. The men of
the country are very cunning and ingenious in handicraft works, but
withal so very idle, that we often saw young, lusty, raw-boned
fellows carried up and down the streets in little covered rooms by a
couple of porters, who were hired for that service. Their dress is
likewise very barbarous, for they almost strangle themselves about
the neck, and bind their bodies with many ligatures, that we are apt
to think are the occasion of several distempers among them, which
our country is entirely free from. Instead of those beautiful
feathers with which we adorn our heads, they often buy up a
monstrous bush of hair, which covers their heads, and falls down in
a large fleece below the middle of their backs, with which they walk
up and down the streets, and are as proud of it as if it was of
their own growth.

"We were invited to one of their public diversions, where we hoped
to have seen the great men of their country running down a stag, or
pitching a bar, that we might have discovered who were the persons
of the greatest abilities among them; but instead of that, they
conveyed us into a huge room lighted up with abundance of candles,
where this lazy people sat still above three hours to see several
feats of ingenuity performed by others, who it seems were paid for

"As for the women of the country, not being able to talk with them,
we could only make our remarks upon them at a distance. They let
the hair of their heads grow to a great length; but as the men make
a great show with heads of hair that are none of their own, the
women, who they say have very fine heads of hair, tie it up in a
knot, and cover it from being seen. The women look like angels, and
would be more beautiful than the sun, were it not for little black
spots that are apt to break out in their faces, and sometimes rise
in very odd figures. I have observed that those little blemishes
wear off very soon; but when they disappear in one part of the face,
they are very apt to break out in another, insomuch that I have seen
a spot upon the forehead in the afternoon which was upon the chin in
the morning."

The author then proceeds to show the absurdity of breeches and
petticoats, with many other curious observations, which I shall
reserve for another occasion: I cannot, however, conclude this
paper without taking notice that amidst these wild remarks there now
and then appears something very reasonable. I cannot likewise
forbear observing, that we are all guilty in some measure of the
same narrow way of thinking which we meet with in this abstract of
the Indian journal, when we fancy the customs, dresses, and manners
of other countries are ridiculous and extravagant if they do not
resemble those of our own.


Felices errore suo. -
LUCAN i. 454.

Happy in their mistake.

The Americans believe that all creatures have souls, not only men
and women, but brutes, vegetables, nay, even the most inanimate
things, as stocks and stones. They believe the same of all works of
art, as of knives, boats, looking-glasses; and that, as any of these
things perish, their souls go into another world, which is inhabited
by the ghosts of men and women. For this reason they always place
by the corpse of their dead friend a bow and arrows, that he may
make use of the souls of them in the other world, as he did of their
wooden bodies in this. How absurd soever such an opinion as this
may appear, our European philosophers have maintained several
notions altogether as improbable. Some of Plato's followers, in
particular, when they talk of the world of ideas, entertain us with
substances and beings no less extravagant and chimerical. Many
Aristotelians have likewise spoken as unintelligibly of their
substantial forms. I shall only instance Albertus Magnus, who, in
his dissertation upon the loadstone, observing that fire will
destroy its magnetic virtues, tells us that he took particular
notice of one as it lay glowing amidst a heap of burning coals, and
that he perceived a certain blue vapour to arise from it, which he
believed might be the substantial form that is, in our West Indian
phrase, the soul of the loadstone.

There is a tradition among the Americans that one of their
countrymen descended in a vision to the great repository of souls,
or, as we call it here, to the other world; and that upon his return
he gave his friends a distinct account of everything he saw among
those regions of the dead. A friend of mine, whom I have formerly
mentioned, prevailed upon one of the interpreters of the Indian
kings to inquire of them, if possible, what tradition they have
among them of this matter: which, as well as he could learn by
those many questions which he asked them at several times, was in
substance as follows:

The visionary, whose name was Marraton, after having travelled for a
long space under a hollow mountain, arrived at length on the
confines of this world of spirits, but could not enter it by reason
of a thick forest, made up of bushes, brambles, and pointed thorns,
so perplexed and interwoven with one another that it was impossible
to find a passage through it. Whilst he was looking about for some
track or pathway that might be worn in any part of it, he saw a huge
lion couched under the side of it, who kept his eye upon him in the
same posture as when he watches for his prey. The Indian
immediately started back, whilst the lion rose with a spring, and
leaped towards him. Being wholly destitute of all other weapons, he
stooped down to take up a huge stone in his hand, but, to his
infinite surprise, grasped nothing, and found the supposed stone to
be only the apparition of one. If he was disappointed on this side,
he was as much pleased on the other, when he found the lion, which
had seized on his left shoulder, had no power to hurt him, and was
only the ghost of that ravenous creature which it appeared to be.
He no sooner got rid of his impotent enemy, but he marched up to the
wood, and, after having surveyed it for some time, endeavoured to
press into one part of it that was a little thinner than the rest,
when, again to his great surprise, he found the bushes made no
resistance, but that he walked through briars and brambles with the
same ease as through the open air, and, in short, that the whole
wood was nothing else but a wood of shades. He immediately
concluded that this huge thicket of thorns and brakes was designed
as a kind of fence or quickset hedge to the ghosts it inclosed, and
that probably their soft substances might be torn by these subtile
points and prickles, which were too weak to make any impressions in
flesh and blood. With this thought he resolved to travel through
this intricate wood, when by degrees he felt a gale of perfumes
breathing upon him, that grew stronger and sweeter in proportion as
he advanced. He had not proceeded much further, when he observed
the thorns and briers to end, and give place to a thousand beautiful
green trees, covered with blossoms of the finest scents and colours,
that formed a wilderness of sweets, and were a kind of lining to
those ragged scenes which he had before passed through. As he was
coming out of this delightful part of the wood, and entering upon
the plains it enclosed, he saw several horsemen rushing by him, and
a little while after heard the cry of a pack of dogs. He had not
listened long before he saw the apparition of a milk-white steed,
with a young man on the back of it, advancing upon full stretch
after the souls of about a hundred beagles, that were hunting down
the ghost of a hare, which ran away before them with an unspeakable
swiftness. As the man on the milk-white steed came by him, he
looked upon him very attentively, and found him to be the young
prince Nicharagua, who died about half a year before, and, by reason
of his great virtues, was at that time lamented over all the western
parts of America.

He had no sooner got out of the wood but he was entertained with
such a landscape of flowery plains, green meadows, running streams,
sunny hills, and shady vales as were not to be represented by his
own expressions, nor, as he said, by the conceptions of others.
This happy region was peopled with innumerable swarms of spirits,
who applied themselves to exercises and diversions, according as
their fancies led them. Some of them were tossing the figure of a
quoit; others were pitching the shadow of a bar; others were
breaking the apparition of a horse; and multitudes employing
themselves upon ingenious handicrafts with the souls of departed
utensils, for that is the name which in the Indian language they
give their tools when they are burnt or broken. As he travelled
through this delightful scene he was very often tempted to pluck the
flowers that rose everywhere about him in the greatest variety and
profusion, having never seen several of them in his own country:
but he quickly found, that though they were objects of his sight,
they were not liable to his touch. He at length came to the side of
a great river, and, being a good fisherman himself, stood upon the
banks of it some time to look upon an angler that had taken a great
many shapes of fishes, which lay flouncing up and down by him.

I should have told my reader that this Indian had been formerly
married to one of the greatest beauties of his country, by whom he
had several children. This couple were so famous for their love and
constancy to one another that the Indians to this day, when they
give a married man joy of his wife, wish that they may live together
like Marraton and Yaratilda. Marraton had not stood long by the
fisherman when he saw the shadow of his beloved Yaratilda, who had
for some time fixed her eye upon him before he discovered her. Her
arms were stretched out towards him; floods of tears ran down her
eyes; her looks, her hands, her voice called him over to her, and,
at the same time, seemed to tell him that the river was unpassable.
Who can describe the passion made up of joy, sorrow, love, desire,
astonishment that rose in the Indian upon the sight of his dear
Yaratilda? He could express it by nothing but his tears, which ran
like a river down his cheeks as he looked upon her. He had not
stood in this posture long before he plunged into the stream that
lay before him, and finding it to be nothing but the phantom of a
river, stalked on the bottom of it till he arose on the other side.
At his approach Yaratilda flew into his arms, whilst Marraton wished
himself disencumbered of that body which kept her from his embraces.
After many questions and endearments on both sides, she conducted
him to a bower, which she had dressed with her own hands with all
the ornaments that could be met with in those blooming regions. She
had made it gay beyond imagination, and was every day adding
something new to it. As Marraton stood astonished at the
unspeakable beauty of her habitation, and ravished with the
fragrancy that came from every part of it, Yaratilda told him that
she was preparing this bower for his reception, as well knowing that
his piety to his God, and his faithful dealing towards men, would
certainly bring him to that happy place whenever his life should be
at an end. She then brought two of her children to him, who died
some years before, and resided with her in the same delightful
bower, advising him to breed up those others which were still with
him in such a manner that they might hereafter all of them meet
together in this happy place.

The tradition tells us further that he had afterwards a sight of
those dismal habitations which are the portion of ill men after
death; and mentions several molten seas of gold, in which were
plunged the souls of barbarous Europeans, who put to the sword so
many thousands of poor Indians for the sake of that precious metal.
But having already touched upon the chief points of this tradition,
and exceeded the measure of my paper, I shall not give any further
account of it.


Ut pictura poesis erit -
HOR., Ars Poet. 361.

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 upon 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
grovelling 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 of these my 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 shall enter upon my
present undertaking with greater cheerfulness.

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
an 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 wit, in which a writer does not 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 axe, a shepherd's pipe, and an

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 poem than upon 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 axe, methinks, would have been a good figure for a lampoon, 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 axe which was consecrated to Minerva, and was
thought to be 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 axe, like those which our modern cutlers
inscribe upon their knives; and that, therefore, the poesy still
remains in its ancient shape, though the axe 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

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

Mr. Dryden hints at this obsolete kind of wit in one of the
following verses in his "Mac Flecknoe;" which an English reader
cannot understand, who does not know that there are those little
poems above mentioned in the shape of wings and altars:-

- Choose for thy command
Some peaceful province in acrostic land;

There may'st thou wings display, and altars raise,
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 periwig: 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 should 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 humbly
propose, for the benefit of our modern smatterers in poetry, that
they would imitate their brethren among the ancients 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 verses 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 promised me to get the measure of his mistress's
marriage finger with a design to make a posy in the fashion of a
ring, which shall exactly fit it. It is so very easy to enlarge
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 see 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 Pindaric 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 sizes
and dimensions.


Operose nihil aguat.

Busy about nothing.

There is nothing more certain than that every man would be a wit if
he could; and notwithstanding pedants of pretended depth and
solidity are apt to decry the writings of a polite author, as flash
and froth, they all of them show, upon occasion, that they would
spare no pains to arrive at the character of those whom they seem to
despise. For this reason 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 galley-slave 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 same early ages of the
world. The first I shall produce 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 Tryphiodorus was a great
master in this kind of writing. He composed an "Odyssey" or epic
poem on the adventures of Ulysses, 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 second book was inscribed Beta for the same
reason. In short, the poet excluded the whole four-and-twenty
letters in their turns, and showed them, one after another, that he
could do his business without 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 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 oftener 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 that 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 kind of conceit
which the moderns distinguish by the name of a rebus, that does not
sink a letter, but a whole word, by substituting a picture in its
place. When Caesar 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 Caesar signifying an elephant in the Punic language.
This was artificially contrived by Caesar, 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 a figure of a vetch at the end of
them, to be inscribed on a public monument. This was done probably
to show that he was neither ashamed of his name nor 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 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 has several berries upon
it, and in 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 Newberry.

I shall conclude this topic with a rebus, which has been lately hewn
out in freestone, 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 by the same word that signifies a Frenchman, as a
lion is the 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. Hudibras, in ridicule of this false
kind of wit, has described Bruin bewailing the loss of his bear to
the solitary Echo, who is of great use to the poet in several
distiches, 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
Stout Hercules for loss of Hylas;
Forcing the valleys to repeat
The accents of his sad regret;
He beat his breast, and tore his hair,
For loss of his dear crony bear:
That Echo from the hollow ground
His doleful wailings did resound
More wistfully by many times,
Than in small poets' splay-foot rhymes,
That make her, in their rueful stories,
To answer to int'rogatories,
And most unconscionably depose
Things of which she nothing knows;
And when she has said all she can say,
'Tis wrested to the lover's fancy.
Quoth he, "O whither, wicked Bruin,
Art thou fled to my"--Echo, Ruin?
"I thought th' hadst scorn'd to budge a step
For fear." Quoth Echo, Marry guep.
"Am I not here to take thy part?"
Then what has quell'd thy stubborn heart?
Have these bones rattled, and this head
So often in thy quarrel bled?
Nor did I ever winch or grudge it,
For thy dear sake." Quoth she, Mum budget.
Think'st thou 'twill not be laid i' th' dish,
Thou turn'dst thy back?" Quoth Echo, Pish.
To run from those th' hadst overcome
Thus cowardly?" Quoth Echo, Mum.
"But what a-vengeance makes thee fly
From me too as thine enemy?
Or if thou hadst no thought of me,
Nor what I have endured for thee,
Yet shame and honour might prevail
To keep thee thus from turning tail:
For who would grudge to spend his blood in
His honour's cause?" Quoth she, A pudding.

Part I., Cant. 3, 183.


Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, hoc est?
PERS., Sat. iii. 85.

Is it for this you gain those meagre looks,
And sacrifice your dinner to your books?

Several kinds of false wit that vanished in the refined ages of the
world, discovered themselves again in the times of monkish

As the monks were the masters of all that little learning which was
then extant, and had their whole lives entirely 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 "AEneid" turned into Latin rhymes by one of the
beaux esprits of that dark age: who says, in his preface to it,
that the "AEneid" wanted nothing but the sweets of rhyme to make it
the most perfect work in its kind. I have likewise seen a 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 coelo.
Thou hast as many virtues, O Virgin, as there are stars in heaven.

The poet rang the changes upon these eight several words, and by
that means made his verses almost as numerous as the virtues and
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 is to this age that we owe the production of anagrams,
which is nothing else but a transmutation 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 stations
in which they can possibly be ranged. I have heard of a gentleman
who, when this kind of wit was in fashion, endeavoured to gain his
mistress's heart by it. She was one of the finest women of her age,
and known by the name of the Lady Mary Boon. The lover not being
able to make anything of Mary, by certain liberties indulged to this
kind of writing converted it into Moll; and after having shut
himself up for half a year, with indefatigable industry produced an
anagram. Upon the presenting it to his mistress, who was a little
vexed in her heart to see herself degraded into Moll Boon, she told
him, to his infinite surprise, that he had mistaken her surname, for
that it was not Boon, but Bohun.

- Ibi omnis
Effusus labor.--

The lover was thunder-struck with his misfortune, insomuch that in a
little time after he lost his senses, which, indeed, had been very
much impaired by that continual application he had given to his

The acrostic was probably invented about the same time with the
anagram, though it is impossible to decide whether the inventor of
the one or the other were the greater blockhead. The simple
acrostic is nothing but the name or title of a person, or thing,
made out of the initial letters of several verses, and by that means
written, after the manner of the Chinese, in a perpendicular line.
But besides these there are compound acrostics, when the principal
letters stand two or three deep. I have seen some of them where the
verses have not only been edged by a name at each extremity, but
have had the same name running down like a seam through the middle
of the poem.

There is another near relation of the anagrams and acrostics, which
is commonly called a chronogram. This kind of wit appears very
often on many modern medals, especially those of Germany, when they
represent in the inscription the year in which they were coined.
Thus we see on a medal of Gustavus Adolphus time following words,
CHRISTVS DUX ERGO TRIVMPHVS. If you take the pains to pick the
figures out of the several words, and range them in their proper
order, you will find they amount to MDCXVVVII, or 1627, the year in
which the medal was stamped: for as some of the letters distinguish
themselves from the rest, and overtop their fellows, they are to be
considered in a double capacity, both as letters and as figures.
Your laborious German wits will turn over a whole dictionary for one
of these ingenious devices. A man would think they were searching
after an apt classical term, but instead of that they are looking
out a word that has an L, an M, or a D in it. When, therefore, we
meet with any of these inscriptions, we are not so much to look in
them for the thought, as for the year of the Lord.

The bouts-rimes were the favourites of the French nation for a whole
age together, and that at a time when it abounded in wit and
learning. They were a list of words that rhyme to one another,
drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who was to make a
poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were placed upon the
list: the more uncommon the rhymes were, the more extraordinary was
the genius of the poet that could accommodate his verses to them. I
do not know any greater instance of the decay of wit and learning
among the French, which generally follows the declension of empire,
than the endeavouring to restore this foolish kind of wit. If the
reader will be at trouble to see examples of it, let him look into
the new Mercure Gallant, where the author every month gives a list
of rhymes to be filled up by the ingenious, in order to be
communicated to the public in the Mercure for the succeeding month.
That for the month of November last, which now lies before me, is as


One would be amazed to see so learned a man as Menage talking
seriously on this kind of trifle in the following passage:-

"Monsieur de la Chambre has told me that he never knew what he was
going to write when he took his pen into his hand; but that one
sentence always produced another. For my own part, I never knew
what I should write next when I was making verses. In the first
place I got all my rhymes together, and was afterwards perhaps three
or four months in filling them up. I one day showed Monsieur
Gombaud a composition of this nature, in which, among others, I had
made use of the four following rhymes, Amaryllis, Phyllis, Maine,
Arne; desiring him to give me his opinion of it. He told me
immediately that my verses were good for nothing. And upon my
asking his reason, he said, because the rhymes are too common, and
for that reason easy to be put into verse. 'Marry,' says I, 'if it
be so, I am very well rewarded for all the pains I have been at!'
But by Monsieur Gombaud's leave, notwithstanding the severity of the
criticism, the verses were good." (Vide "Menagiana.") Thus far the
learned Menage, whom I have translated word for word.

The first occasion of these bouts-rimes made them in some manner
excusable, as they were tasks which the French ladies used to impose
on their lovers. But when a grave author, like him above-mentioned,
tasked himself, could there be anything more ridiculous? Or would
not one be apt to believe that the author played booty, and did not
make his list of rhymes till he had finished his poem?

I shall only add that this piece of false wit has been finely
ridiculed by Monsieur Sarasin, in a poem entitled "La Defaite des
Bouts-Rimes." (The Rout of the Bouts-Rimes).

I must subjoin to this last kind of wit the double rhymes, which are
used in doggrel poetry, and generally applauded by ignorant readers.
If the thought of the couplet in such compositions is good, the
rhyme adds little to it; and if bad, it will not be in the power of
the rhyme to recommend it. I am afraid that great numbers of those
who admire the incomparable "Hudibras," do it more on account of
these doggrel rhymes than of the parts that really deserve
admiration. I am sure I have heard the

Pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
Was beat with fist, instead of a stick (Canto I, II),


There was an ancient philosopher
Who had read Alexander Ross over
(Part I., Canto 2, 1),

more frequently quoted than the finest pieces of wit in the whole


Non equidem hoc studeo bullatis ut mihi nugis
Pagina turgescat, dare pondus idonea fumo.
PERS., Sat. v. 19.

'Tis not indeed my talent to engage
In lofty trifles, or to swell my page
With wind and noise.

There is no kind of false wit which has been so recommended by the
practice of all ages as that which consists in a jingle of words,
and is comprehended under the general name of punning. It is indeed
impossible to kill a weed which the soil has a natural disposition
to produce. The seeds of punning are in the minds of all men, and
though they may be subdued by reason, reflection, and good sense,
they will be very apt to shoot up in the greatest genius that is not
broken and cultivated by the rules of art. Imitation is natural to
us, and when it does not raise the mind to poetry, painting, music,
or other more noble arts, it often breaks out in puns and quibbles.

Aristotle, in the eleventh chapter of his book of rhetoric,
describes two or three kinds of puns, which he calls paragrams,
among the beauties of good writing, and produces instances of them
out of some of the greatest authors in the Greek tongue. Cicero has
sprinkled several of his works with puns, and, in his book where he
lays down the rules of oratory, quotes abundance of sayings as
pieces of wit, which also, upon examination, prove arrant puns. But
the age in which the pun chiefly flourished was in the reign of King
James the First. That learned monarch was himself a tolerable
punster, and made very few bishops or Privy Councillors that had not
some time or other signalised themselves by a clinch, or a
conundrum. It was, therefore, in this age that the pun appeared
with pomp and dignity. It had been before admitted into merry
speeches and ludicrous compositions, but was now delivered with
great gravity from the pulpit, or pronounced in the most solemn
manner at the council-table. The greatest authors, in their most
serious works, made frequent use of puns. The sermons of Bishop
Andrews, and the tragedies of Shakespeare, 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 hero 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
rhetoric 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 schoolmaster of my acquaintance
told me once, that he had been in company with a gentleman whom he
looked upon to be the greatest paragrammatist among the moderns.
Upon inquiry, I found my learned friend had dined that day with Mr.
Swan, the famous punster; 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 in to the Ploce, but that in
his humble opinion he shone most in the Antanaclasis.

I must not here omit that a famous university of this land was
formerly very much infested with puns; but whether or not this might
arise from the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which
are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skilful

After this short history of punning, one would wonder how it should
be so entirely 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 Isocrates, 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 puns 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 soon 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 itself 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 acrostics handed about the town with great secresy 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


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