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tion 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 puns 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 writing, , 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 privycounsellors that had not some time or other signalized 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 counciltable. The greatest authors, in their most serious works, made frequent use of puns. The sermons of bishop Andrews, and the tragedies of Shakespear, are full of them. The sinner was punned into repentance by the former, as in the latter nothing is more usual than to see a 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 punning 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 schoolmaster 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 dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous punster; and desiring him to give me some account of Mr. Swan's conversation, he told me that he generally talked in the paronomasia, that he sometimes gave into the ploce, but that in his humble opinion he shined most in the antanaclasis.
I must not here omit, that a famous university of this land was formerly very much infested with puns ; but whether or no this might not arise from the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skilful naturalists.
After this short history of punning, one would wonder how it should be so entirely banished out of the learned world as it is at present, especially since it had found a place in the writings of the most antient polite authors. To account for this, we must consider that the first race of authors, who were the great heroes in writing, were destitute of all the rules and arts of criticism ; and for that reason, though they excel later writers in greatness of genius, they fall short of them in accuracy and correctness. The moderns cannot reach their beauties, but can avoid their imperfections. When the world was furnished with these authors of the first eminence, there grew up another set of writers, who gained themselves a reputation by the remarks which they made on the works of those who preceded them. It was one of the employments of these secondary authors, to distinguish the several kinds of wit by terms of art, and to consider them as more or less perfect, according as they were founded in truth. It is no wonder, therefore, that even such authors as Isocrates, Plato, and Cicero, should have such little blemishes as are not to be met with in authors of a much inferior character, who have written since those several blemishes were discovered. I do not find that there was a proper separation made between puns and true wit by any of the antient authors, except Quintilian and Longinus. But when this distinction was once settled, it was very natural for all men of sense to agree in it. As for the revival of this false wit, it happened about the time of the revival of letters; but as soon as it was once detected, it immediately vanished and disappeared. At the same time there is no question, but as it has sunk in one age and rose in another, it will again recover itself in some distant period of time, as pedantry and ignorance shall prevail upon wit and sense. And, 'to speak the truth, I do very much apprehend, by some of the last winter's productions, which had their sets of admirers, that our posterity will in a few years degenerate into a race of punsters : at least, a man may be
very excuseable for any apprehensions of this kind, that has seen acrostics handed about the town with great secrecy and applause; to which I must also add a little epigram called The IVitches Prayer, that fell into verse when it was read cither backward or forward, excepting only that it cursed one way, and blessed the other. When one sees there are actually such pains-takers among our British wits, who' can tell what it may end in ? If we must lash one another, let it be with the manly strokcs of wit and satire; for I am of the old philosopher's 'opinioni, that if I must suffer from one or the other, I
would rather it should be from the paw of a lion than the hoof of an ass. I do not speak this out of any spirit of party. There is a most crying dulness on both sides. I have seen tory acrostics and whig anagrams, and do not quarrel with either of them because they are w higs or tories, but because they are anagrams and acrostics.
But to return to punning. Having pursued the history of a pun from its original to its downfall, I shall here define it to be a conceit arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound, but differ in the
The only way therefore to try a piece of wit, is to translate it into a different language. If it bears the test, you may pronounce it true; but if it vanishes in the experiment, you may conclude it to have been a pun. In short, one may say
a pun, man described his nightingale, that it is vox & preterea nibil, a sound, and nothing but a sound. On 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.
as the country
ON MIXT WIT. No. 62.
MR. Locke has an admirable reflection upon the difference of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavours to show the reason why they are not always the talents of the same person. His words are as follow: ' And hence, perhaps, may be given some reason of VOL. I,
that common observation, That men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt memories, have not always the clearest judgment, or deepest reason. For wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; judgment, on the contrary, lies quite on the other side, in separating carefully one from another ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to metaphor and allusion; wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and pleasantry of wit, which strikes so lively on the fancy, and is therefore so acceptable to all people.'
This is, I think, the best and most philosophical account that I have ever met with of wit, which generally, though not always, consists in such a resemblance and congruity of ideas as this author mentions. I shall only add to it, by way of explanation, that every resemblance of ideas is not that which we call wit, unless it be such an one that gives delight and surprise to the reader. These two properties seem essential to wit, more particularly the last of them. In order therefore that the resemblance in the ideas be wit, it is necessary that the ideas should not lie too near one another in the nature of things ; for where the likeness is obvious it gives no surprise. To compare one man's singing to that of another, or to represent the whiteness of any object by that of milk and snow, or the variety of its colours by those of the rainbow, cannot be called wit, unless besides this obvious resemblance there be some further congrnity disco