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No. 059 (from The Spectator) Post by :Ian_Traynor Category :Essays Author :Joseph Addison Date :August 2011 Read :2520

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No. 059 (from The Spectator)

No. 59
Tuesday, May 8, 1711.

'Operose Nihil agunt.'

Seneca.


There is nothing more certain than that every Man would be a Wit if he could, and notwithstanding Pedants of a pretended Depth and Solidity are apt to decry the Writings of a polite Author, as _Flash_ and _Froth_, they all of them shew 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 Gally-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 _Lipogrammiatists_ (1) 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 Epick 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 shewed 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 oftner quoted by our learned Pedants, than the _Odyssey_ of _Homer_. What a perpetual Fund would it have been of obsolete Words and Phrases, unusual Barbarisms and Rusticities, absurd Spellings and complicated Dialects? I make no question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable Treasuries of the _Greek_ Tongue.

I find likewise among the Ancients that ingenious kind of Conceit, which the Moderns distinguish by the Name of a _Rebus_, (2) 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 Publick Mony; the Word _Caesar_ signifying an Elephant in the _Punick_ 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_, order'd the Words _Marcus Tullius_ with the Figure of a Vetch at the End of them to be inscribed on a publick Monument. (3) This was done probably to shew that he was neither ashamed of his Name or Family, notwithstanding the Envy of his Competitors had often reproached him with both. In the same manner we read of a famous Building that was marked in several Parts of it with the Figures of a Frog and a Lizard: Those Words in _Greek_ having been the Names of the Architects, who by the Laws of their Country were never permitted to inscribe their own Names upon their Works. For the same Reason it is thought, that the Forelock of the Horse in the Antique Equestrian Statue of _Marcus Aurelius_, represents at a Distance the Shape of an Owl, to intimate the Country of the Statuary, who, in all probability, was an _Athenian_. This kind of Wit was very much in Vogue among our own Countrymen about an Age or two ago, who did not practise it for any oblique Reason, as the Ancients abovementioned, but purely for the sake of being Witty. Among innumerable Instances that may be given of this Nature, I shall produce the Device of one Mr _Newberry_, as I find it mentioned by our learned _Cambden_ in his Remains. Mr _Newberry_, to represent his Name by a Picture, hung up at his Door the Sign of a Yew-Tree, that had several Berries upon it, and in the midst of them a great golden _N_ hung upon a Bough of the Tree, which by the Help of a little false Spelling made up the Word _N-ew-berry_.

I shall conclude this Topick with a _Rebus_, which has been lately hewn out in Free-stone, and erected over two of the Portals of _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 Punn in an Heroick Poem; and I am very sorry the truly ingenious Architect would suffer the Statuary to blemish his excellent Plan with so poor a Conceit: But I hope what I have said will gain Quarter for the Cock, and deliver him out of the Lion's Paw.

I find likewise in ancient Times the Conceit of making an Eccho talk sensibly, and give rational Answers. If this could be excusable in any Writer, it would be in _Ovid_, where he introduces the Eccho as a Nymph, before she was worn away into nothing but a Voice. The learned _Erasmus_, tho' a Man of Wit and Genius, has composed a Dialogue (4) upon this silly kind of Device, and made use of an Eccho 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 one of those learned Languages. _Hudibras_, in Ridicule of this false kind of Wit, has described _Bruin_ bewailing the Loss of his Bear to a solitary Eccho, who is of great used to the Poet in several Disticks, as she does not only repeat after him, but helps out his Verse, and furnishes him with _Rhymes_.


_He rag'd, 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 Eccho from the hollow Ground
His Doleful Wailings did resound
More wistfully, bu many times,
Then in small Poets Splay-foot Rhymes,
That make her, in her rueful Stories
To answer to Introgatories,
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-----Eccho_, Ruin?
_I thought th' hadst scorn'd to budge a Step
for Fear. (Quoth Eccho)_ Marry guep.
_Am not I 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 Eccho_, Pish.
To run from those th' hadst overcome
Thus cowardly? Quoth Eccho_, Mum.
_But what a-vengeance makes thee fly
From me too, as thine Enemy?
Or if thou hadst not Thought of me,
Nor what I have endur'd for Thee,
Yet Shame and Honour might prevail
To keep thee thus for turning tail;
For who will grudge to spend his Blood in
His Honour's Cause? Quoth she_, A Pudding.


(Footnote 1: From (Greek: leip_o), I omit, (Greek: gramma), a letter. In modern literature there is a Pugna Porcorum (pig-fight) of which every word begins with a p, and there are Spanish odes from which all vowels but one are omitted. The earliest writer of Lipogrammatic verse is said to have been the Greek poet Lasus, born in Achaia 538 B.C. Lope de Vega wrote five novels, each with one of the five vowels excluded from it.)

(Footnote 2: This French name for an enigmatical device is said to be derived from the custom of the priests of Picardy at carnival time to set up ingenious jests upon current affairs, 'de _rebus_ quae geruntur.')

(Footnote 3: Addison takes these illustrations from the chapter on 'Rebus or Name devises,' in that pleasant old book, Camden's Remains, which he presently cites. The next chapter in the 'Remains' is upon Anagrams.)

(Footnote 4: _Colloquia Familiaria_, under the title Echo. The dialogue is ingeniously contrived between a youth and Echo.)


(The end)
Joseph Addison's essay: No. 59 (from The Spectator)

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