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No. 060 (from The Spectator) Post by :Valanar42 Category :Essays Author :Joseph Addison Date :August 2011 Read :788

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No. 060 (from The Spectator)

No. 60
Wednesday, May 9, 1711.

'Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, Hoc est?'

Per. 'Sat. 3.'


Several kinds of false Wit that vanished in the refined Ages of the World, discovered themselves again in the Times of Monkish Ignorance.

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 an Hymn in Hexameters to the Virgin _Mary,_ which filled a whole Book, tho' it consisted but of the eight following Words.


Tot, tibi, sunt, Virgo, dotes, quot, sidera, Caelo.

Thou hast as many Virtues, O Virgin, as there are Stars in Heaven.


The Poet rung the (changes (1)) upon these eight several Words, and by that Means made his Verses almost as numerous as the Virtues and the Stars which they celebrated. It is no wonder that Men who had so much Time upon their Hands did not only restore all the antiquated Pieces of false Wit, but enriched the World with Inventions of their own. It was to this Age that we owe the Production of Anagrams,(2) 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 shew 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 it self 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 (3)) by the Name of the Lady _Mary Boon_. The Lover not being able to make any thing 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 Sirname, 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 Anagram.

The Acrostick (4) was probably invented about the same time with the Anagram, tho' it is impossible to decide whether the Inventor of the one of the other (were (5)) the greater Blockhead. The _Simple_ Acrostick 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_ Acrosticks, where 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 Acrosticks, which is commonly (called (6)) a Chronogram. This kind of Wit appears very often on many modern Medals, especially those of _Germany_, (7) when they represent in the Inscription the Year in which they were coined. Thus we see on a Medal of _Gustavus Adolphus_ the 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, and M, or a D in it. When therefore we meet with any of these Inscriptions, we are not so much to look in 'em for the Thought, as for the Year of the Lord.

The _Boutz Rimez_ (8) 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 the trouble to see Examples of it, let him look into the new _Mercure Galant_; where the Author every Month gives a List of Rhymes to be filled up by the Ingenious, in order to be communicated to the Publick in the _Mercure_ for the succeeding Month. That for the Month of _November_ (last), which now lies before me, is as follows.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - Lauriers
- - - - - - - - - - - - Guerriers
- - - - - - - - - - - - - Musette
- - - - - - - - - - - - - Lisette
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Cesars
- - - - - - - - - - - - - Etendars
- - - - - - - - - - - - - Houlette
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -Folette


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 shewed Monsieur_ Gombaud _a Composition of this Nature, in which among others I had made use of the four following Rhymes,_ Amaryllis, Phillis, Marne, 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.


Vid. MENAGIANA. Thus far the learned _Menage,_ whom I have translated Word for Word. (9)

The first Occasion of these _Bouts Rimez_ 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 (10)), 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 intituled, _La Defaite des Bouts-Rimez, The Rout of the Bouts-Rimez._ (11)

I must subjoin to this last kind of Wit the double Rhymes, which are used in Doggerel Poetry, and generally applauded by ignorant Readers. If the Thought of the Couplet in such Compositions is good, the Rhyme adds (little (12)) 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 Doggerel Rhymes than of the Parts that really deserve admiration. I am sure I have heard the


Pulpit, Drum Ecclesiastick,
Was beat with fist instead of a Stick,

and

There was an ancient sage Philosopher
Who had read Alexander Ross over,


more frequently quoted, than the finest Pieces of Wit in the whole Poem.

C.

(Footnote 1: chymes)

(Footnote 2: This is an error. (Greek: Anagramma) meant in old Greek what it now means. Lycophron, who lived B.C. 280, and wrote a Greek poem on Cassandra, was famous for his Anagrams, of which two survive. The Cabalists had a branch of their study called Themuru, changing, which made mystical anagrams of sacred names.)

(Footnote 3: was called)

(Footnote 4: The invention of Acrostics is attributed to Porphyrius Optatianus, a writer of the 4th century. But the arguments of the Comedies of Plautus are in form of acrostics, and acrostics occur in the original Hebrew of the 'Book of Psalms'.)

(Footnote 5: was)

(Footnote 6: known by the name of)

(Footnote 7: The Chronogram was popular also, especially among the Germans, for inscriptions upon marble or in books. More than once, also, in Germany and Belgium a poem was written in a hundred hexameters, each yielding a chronogram of the date it was to celebrate.)

(Footnote 8: Bouts rimes are said to have been suggested to the wits of Paris by the complaint of a verse turner named Dulot, who grieved one day over the loss of three hundred sonnets; and when surprise was expressed at the large number, said they were the 'rhymed ends,' that only wanted filling up.)

(Footnote 9: Menagiana, vol. I. p. 174, ed. Amst. 1713. The Menagiana were published in 4 volumes, in 1695 and 1696. Gilles Menage died at Paris in 1692, aged 79. He was a scholar and man of the world, who had a retentive memory, and, says Bayle,

'could say a thousand good things in a thousand pleasing ways.'

The repertory here quoted from is the best of the numerous collections of 'ana.')

(Footnote 10: double)

(Footnote 11: Jean Francois Sarasin, whose works were first collected by Menage, and published in 1656, two years after his death. His defeat of the Bouts-Rimes, has for first title 'Dulot Vaincu' is in four cantos, and was written in four or five days.)

(Footnote 12: nothing)


(The end)
Joseph Addison's essay: No. 60 (from The Spectator)

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