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modern cutlers inscribe upon their knives; and that therefore the poesy still remains in its ancient shape, though the Ax itself is lost.
The Shepherd's Pipe may be said to be full of music, for it is composed of nine different kinds of verse, 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 works.
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 out-line 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 Procrustus 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 them. VOL. I.
Mr. Dryden hints at this obsolete kind of wit in one of the following verses in his Mac Flecno; 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.
" --Chuse for thy command “ Some peaceful province in Acrostic land ; “ There may'st thou Wings display, and Altars
“ And torture one poor word a thousand ways.”
This fashion of false wit was revived by several poets of the last
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 fellowtravellers, who all of them pressed to see such a piece of curiosity. I have since heard, that there is now an eminent writing-inaster in town, who has transcribed all the Old Testament in a Fullbottomed 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 Thape 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 poesy in the fathion 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 Thall therefore conclude with a word of advice to those admirable Englith authors who call theinfulves Pindaric writers, that they would apriy themselves to this kind of wit without loss of time, as being pro
vided better than any other poets with verses of all sizes and dimensions.
N° 59. Tuesday, May 8, 1711.
THERE is nothing more certain than that
every man would be a Wit if he could; and notwithstanding pedants of a pretended depth and folidity are apt to decry the writings of a polite author, as flash and froth, they all of them Thew, 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-llave 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 lait Paper I mentioned
fome of these Falfe 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
* By Addison, dated it seems from Chelsea. See final Note to N° 7 ; N° 221, and Note on LETTERS, &c.
Lipogrammatists or Letter-droppers of antiquity, that would take an exception, without any reas son, 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 Aipka (as lucus à 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 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