« ForrigeFortsett »
beroic poets, who endeavour rather to fill the mind with great conceptions, than to divert it with such as are new and surprising, haye seldom any thing in them that can be called wit. Mr. Locke's account of wit, with this short explanation, comprehends most of the species of wit, as metaphors, similitudes, allegories, enigmas, mottos, parables, fables, dreams, visions, dra. matic writings, burlesque, and all the methods of alla. sion. There are many other pieces of wit (how remote soever they may appear at first sight from the foregoing description) which upon examination will be found to agree with it.
As true wit generally consists iv this resemblance and congruity of ideas, false wit chiefly consists in the resemblance and congruity sometimes of single letters, as in anagrams, chronograms, lipograms, and acrostics : sometimes of syllables, as in echoes and doggerel rhymes : sometimes of words, as in puns and quib. bles : and sometimes of whole sentences or poems, cast into the figures of eggs, axes, or altars : nay, some carry the notion of wit so far, as to ascribe it even to external mimickry; and to look upon a man as an in. genious person, that can resemble the tone, poeture, or face of another.
As true wit consists in the resemblance of ideas, and false wit in the resemblance of words, according to the foregoing instances; there is another kind of wit, which consists partly in the resemblance of ideas, and partly in the resen,blance of words, which for distinction sake I shall call mixt wit. This kind of wit is that which abounds in Cowley, more than in any author that ever wrote. Mr. Waller has likewise a great deal of it. Mr. Dryden is very sparing in it. - Milton had a genius much above it. Spenser is in the same class with Milton. The Italians, even in their epic poetry, are fall of it. Monsieur Boilean, who formed himself upon the ancient poets, has every where re. jected it with scorn. If we look after mixt wit among the Greek writers, we shall find it no where but in the
epigrammatists. There are indeed some strokes of it in the little poem ascribed to Masæus, wbich by that as well as many other marks, betrays itself to be a modern composition. If we look into the Latin wri. ters, we find none of this mixt wit in Virgil, Lucre. tius, or Catullus; very little in Horace, but a great deal of it in Ovid, and scarce any thing else in Mar
Mixt wit is a composition of pun and true wit, and is more or less perfect, as the resemblance lies in the ideas or in the words. Its foundations are laid partly in falsehood and partly in truth; reason puts in her claim for one half of it, and extravagance for the other. The only province therefore for this kind of wit is epigram, or those little occasional poems, that in their own nature are nothing else but a tissue of epigrams. I cannot conclude this head of mixt wit, without owning that the admirable poet, ont of whoin I bave taken the examples of it, had as much trae wit as any author that ever writ; and indeed all other talents of an extraordinary genius.
It may be expected, since I am upon this subject, ferman that I should take notice of Mr. Dryden's definition of wit; which, with all the deference that is due to the judgment of so great a man, is not so properly a definition of wit, as of good writing in general. Wit
, as he defines it, is “ a propriety of words and thoughts adapted to the subject.” If this be a true definition of wit, I am apt to think that Euclid was the greatest wit that ever set pen to paper. It is certain there never was a greater propriety of words and thoughts adapted to the subject, than what that author has made use of in his Elements. I shall only appeal to my reader
, if this definition agrees with any notion be bas of wit. If it be a true one, I am sure Mr. Dryden was not only a better poet, but a greater wit than Mr. Cowley; and Virgil a much more facetious man than either Ovid or Martial.
Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the most pene
trating of all the French critics, has taken pains to show, that it is impossible for any thought to be beau
tiful which is not just, and has not its foundation in 3 the nature of things; that the basis of all wit is truth;
and that no thought can be valuable, of which good-
man so much superior in force to him on the same | subject. I think I may be judge of this, because I
have translated both. The famons author of the Art Of Love has nothing of his own; he borrows all from a greater master in his own profession, and, which is
worse, improves nothing which he finds. Nature fails 3 him, and being forced to his old shift, he has recourse
to witticism. This passes indeed with his soft ad.
real bare be
mirers, and gives him the preference to Virgil in their esteem."
I must not dismiss this snbject without observiug, that as Mr. Locke, in the passage above-mentioned, has discovered the most fruitful source of wit, so there are Cami is another of a quiie contrary nature to it, which does trish natio likewise branch itself out into several kinds. For not only the resemblance, but the opposition of ideas, does very often produce wit; as I could show in several little points, turns, and antitheses.
AS I would fain contribute to make womankind,
which is the most beautiful part of the creation, entirely amiable, and wear out all those little spots and blemishes, that are apt to rise among the charms which nature has poured out upon them, I shall dedicate this paper to their service. The spot which I would here endeavour to clear them of, is that party.rage which of
very much crept into their conversation. This is, iv its nature, a male vice, and made up of many angry and cruel passions that are altogether replignant to the softness, the modesty, and those other endearing qualities which are natural to the fair sex. Women were formed to temper mankind, and soothe them into tenderness and compassion; not to set as edge upon their minds, and blow up in them those passions which are too apt to rise of their own accord.
When I have seen a pretty mouth uttering calumnies and invectives, what would I not have given to bave stopt it? How I have been troubled to see some of the finest features in the world grow pale, and tremble with party-rage. Camilla is one of the greatest beauties in the British nation, and yet values herself more upon being the virago of one party, than upon being the toast of both. The dear creature, about a week ago, encountered the fierce and beautiful Penthesilea across a tea-table; but in the height of her anger, as her hand chanced to shake with the earnestness of the dispute, she scalded her fingers, and spilt a dish of tea upon her petticoat. Had not this accident broke off the debate, nobody knows where it would have ended.
There is one consideration which I would earnestly recomniend to all my female readers, and which I hope will have some weight with them. In short, it is this, that there is nothing so bad for the face as party zeal. It gives an ill-natured cast to the eye, and a disagreeable sourness to the look; besides that it makes the lines too strong, and fushes them worse than brandy. I have seen a woman's face break out in beats, as she has been talking against a great lord whom she had never seen in her life; and indeed I never knew a party-woman that kept her beauty for a twelvemonth. I would therefore advise all my female
readers, as they value their complexions, to let alone Ball dispates of this nature; though, at the same time, I
would give free liberty to all superannuated motherly partisans to be as violent as they please, since there will be no danger either of their spoiling their faces, or of their gaining converts.
For my own part, I think a man makes an odious and despicable figure that is violent in a party; but a woman is too sincere to mitigate the fury of ber principles with temper and discretion, and to act with that temper and reservedness which are requisite in our
ses. When this unnatural zeal gets into them, it throws - them into ten thousand heats and extravagancies; their