« PreviousContinue »
of life, or death itself. If you would not rather be commended than be praiseworthy, contemn little merits; and allow no man to be so free with you, as to praise you to your face. Your vanity by these means will want its food. At the same time your passion for esteem will be more fully gratified; men will praise you in their actions; where you now receive any compliment, you will then receive twenty civilities: till then you will never have of either.'
Non equidem studeo, bullatis ut mihi nugis
""Tis not indeed my talent to engage
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 pans 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 writ ing, 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-counsellors that had not some time or other sig nalized themselves by a clinch or a conundrum. It was therefore in this age that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity. It had before been 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 Shakspeare are full of them. The sinner was punned into repentance by the former, as in the latter nothing is more usual than to see an 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 panning 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 school. master 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 1. dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous punster;
and desiring him to give me some account of Mr.
the contrary, one may represent true wit by the description which Aristenetus makes of a fine woman; when she is dressed, she is beautiful; when she is undressed, she is beautiful; or as Mercerus has translated it more emphatically, induitur, formosa est: exuitur, ipsa forma est*.
THE PARENT OF INDECENCY.
Torquet ab obscenis jam nunc sermonibus aurem. HOR. "He from the taste obscene reclaims our youth." 'Mr. Spectator,
Y fortune, quality, and person, are such as render me as conspicuous as any young woman in town. It is in my power to enjoy it in all its vanities; but I have, from a very careful education, contracted a great aversion to the forward air and fashion which is practised in all public places and assemblies. I attribute this very much to the style and manner of our plays. I was last night at the Funeral, where a confident lover in the play, speaking of bis mistress, cries out-" Oh that Harriot! to fold these arms about the waist of that beauteous, struggling, and at last yielding fair!" Such an image as this ought, by no means, to be presented to a chaste and regular audience. I expect your opinion of this sentence, and recommend to your consideration, as a Spectator, the conduct of the stage at present with relation to chastity and modesty.
I am, Sir,
'Your constant reader and well-wisher.'
"Dressed she is beautiful, undressed she is Beauty's self."
The complaint of this young lady is so just, that the offence is gross enough to have displeased persons who cannot pretend to that delicacy and modesty, of which she is mistress. But there is a great deal to be + said in behalf of an author. If the audience would but consider the difficulty of keeping up a sprightly dialogue for five acts together, they would allow a writer, when he wants wit, and cannot please any otherwise, to help it out with a little smuttiness. I will answer for the poets, that no one ever writ bawdry for any other reason but dearth of invention. When the author cannot strike out of himself any more of that which he has superior to those who make up the bulk of his audience, his natural recourse is to that which he bas in common with them; and a description which gratifies a sensual appetite will please, when the author has nothing about him to delight a refined imagination. It is to such a poverty, we must impute this and all other sentences in plays, which are of this kind, and which are commonly termed luscious expressions*.
This expedient to supply the deficiencies of wit, has been used more or less by most of the authors who have succeeded on the stage; though I know but one who has professedly writ a play upon the basis of the desire of multiplying our species, and that is the polite Sir George Etheridge; if I understand what the lady would be at, in the play called She would if She
*To the honour of the author of this paper, he practised the lessons which he taught, and did not reject good advice from whatever quarter it came. He pub lished this lady's letter, and approved of her indignation. He submitted to her censure, condemned himself publicly, and corrected the obnoxious passage of his play, in a subsequent edition which was published in 1712.-Yet such an expression as the above is delicacy itself when compared with some of the impassioned apostrophes of Otway and Rowe, or even with many of the feebler attempts of modern dramatists.
could. Other poets have, here and there, given an intimation that there is this design under all the diš guises and affectations which a lady may put on: but no author, except this, has made sure work of it, and put the imaginations of the audience upon this one purpose, from the beginning to the end of the comedy. It has always fared accordingly; for whether it be that all who go to this piece would if they could, or that the innocents go to it, to guess only what she would if she could, the play has always been well received.
It lifts an heavy empty sentence, when there is added to it a lascivious gesture of body; and when it is too low to be raised even by that, a flat meaning is enliv ened by making it a double one. Writers who want genius, never fail of keeping this secret in reserve, to create a laugh or raise a clap. I, who know nothing of women but from seeing plays, can give great guesses at the whole structure of the fair sex, by being innocently placed in the pit, and insulted by the petticoats of their dancers; the advantages of whose pretty persons are a great help to a dull play. When a poet flags in writing lusciously, a pretty girl can move lasciviously, and have the same good consequence for the author. Dull poets in this case use their audiences, as dull parasites do their patrons; when they cannot longer divert them with their wit or humour, they bait their ears with something which is agreeable to their temper, though below their understanding. Apicius cannot resist being pleased, if you give him an account of a delicious meal; or Clodius, if you de scribe a wanton beauty: though at the same time, if you do not awake those inclinations in them, no men are better judges of what is just and delicate in. conversation, But as I have before observed, it is easier to talk to the man, than to the man of sense.
It is remarkable that the writers of least learning are best skilled in the luscious way. The poetesses of the age have done wonders in this kind; and we are