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Literary Follies

THE Greeks composed lypogrammatic works; works in which one letter of the alphabet is omitted. A lypogrammatist is a letter-dropper. In this manner Tryphiodorus wrote his Odyssey: he had not α in his first book; nor β in his second; and so on with the subsequent letters one after another. This Odyssey was an imitation of the lypogrammatic Iliad of Nestor. Among other works of this kind, Athanæus mentions an ode by Pindar, in which he had purposely omitted the letter S; so that this inept ingenuity appears to have been one of those literary fashions which are sometimes encouraged even by those who should first oppose such progresses into the realms of nonsense.

There is in Latin a little prose work of Fulgentius, which the author divides into twenty-three chapters, according to the order of the twenty-three letters of the Latin alphabet. From A to O are still remaining. The first chapter is without A; the second without B; the third without C; and so with the rest. Du Chat, in the Ducatiana, says, there are five novels in prose of Lopes de Vega; the first without A, the second without E, the third without I, &c. Who will attempt to examine them?

The Orientalists are not without this literary folly. A Persian poet read to the celebrated Jami a gazel of his own composition, which Jami did not like: but the writer replied it was notwithstanding a very curious sonnet, for the letter Aliff was not to be found in any one of the words! Jami sarcastically replied, “You can do a better thing yet; take away all the letters from every word you have written.”

To these works may be added the Ecloga de Calvis, by Hugbald the Monk. All the words of this silly work begin with a C. It is printed in Dornavis. Pugna Porcorum; all the words beginning with a P, in the Nugæ Venales. Carrara cum cattis certamen; the words beginning with a C: a performance of the same kind in the same work. Gregorio Leti presented a discourse to the Academy of the Humorists at Rome, throughout which he had purposely omitted the letter R, and he entitled it the exiled R. A friend having requested a copy, as a literary curiosity, for so he considered this idle performance, Leti, to show it was not so difficult a matter, replied by a copious answer of seven pages, in which he had observed the same severe ostracism against the letter R! Lord North, one of the finest gentlemen in the court of James I., has written a set of Sonnets, each of which begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. The Earl of Rivers, in the reign of Edward IV, translated the Moral Proverbs of Christiana of Pisa, a poem of about two hundred lines, the greatest part of which he contrived to conclude with the letter E; an instance of his lordship’s hard application, and the bad taste of an age which, Lord Orford observes, had witticisms and whims to struggle with, as well as ignorance.

It has been well observed of these minute triflers that extreme exactness is the sublime of fools, whose labours may be well called, in the language of Dryden,

“Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry.”

And Martial says,

Turpe est difficiles habere nugas,
Et stultus labor est ineptiarum.
’Tis a folly to sweat o’er a difficult trifle,
And for silly devices invention to rifle.

I shall not dwell on the wits who composed verses in the forms of hearts, wings, altars, and true-love knots; or as Ben Jonson describes their grotesque shapes,

“A pair of scissors and a comb in verse.”

Tom Nash, who loved to push the ludicrous to its extreme, in his amusing invective against the classical Gabriel Harvey, tells us that “he had writ verses in all kinds; in form of a pair of gloves, a pair of spectacles, and a pair of pothooks, &c.” They are not less absurd, who expose to public ridicule the name of their mistress by employing it to form their acrostics. I have seen some of the latter, where both sides and cross-ways, the name of the mistress or the patron has been sent down to posterity with eternal torture. The great difficulty where one name is made out four times in the same acrostic, must have been to have found words by which the letters forming the name should be forced to stand in their particular places. It might be incredible that so great a genius as Boccaccio could have lent himself to these literary fashions; yet one of the most gigantic of acrostics may be seen in his works: it is a poem of fifty cantos! of which Guinguené has preserved a specimen in his Literary History of Italy, vol. iii, p. 54. Puttenham, in that very scarce book, “The Art of Poesie,” p. 75, gives several odd specimens of poems in the forms of lozenges, rhomboids, pillars, &c.; some of them from Oriental poems communicated by a traveller. Puttenham is a very lively writer, and has contrived to form a defence for describing and making such trifling devices. He has done more: he has erected two pillars himself to the honour of Queen Elizabeth; every pillar consists of a base of eight syllables, the shaft or middle of four, and the capital is equal with the base. The only difference between the two pillars consists in this; in the one “ye must read upwards,” and in the other the reverse. These pillars, notwithstanding this fortunate device and variation, may be fixed as two columns in the porch of the vast temple of literary folly.

It was at this period when words or verse were tortured into such fantastic forms, that the trees in gardens were twisted and sheared into obelisks and giants, peacocks or flower-pots. In a copy of verses, “To a hair of my mistress’s eyelash,” the merit, next to the choice of the subject, must have been the arrangement or the disarrangement of the whole poem into the form of a heart. With a pair of wings many a sonnet fluttered, and a sacred hymn was expressed by the mystical triangle. Acrostics are formed from the initial letters of every verse; but a dfferent conceit regulated chronograms, which were used to describe dates—the numeral letters in whatever part of the word they stood were distinguished from other letters by being written in capitals. In the following chronogram from Horace,

—feriam sidera vertice,

by a strange elevation of CAPITALS the chronogrammatist compels even Horace to give the year of our Lord thus,

—feriaM siDera VertIce. MDVI.

The Acrostic and the Chronogram are both ingeniously described in the mock Epic of the Scribleriad. The initial letters of the acrostics are thus alluded to in the literary wars:

Firm and compact, in three fair columns wove,
O’er the smooth plain, the bold acrostics move;
High o’er the rest the TOWERING LEADERS rise
With limbs gigantic and superior size.

But the looser character of the chronogram, and the disorder in which they are found, are ingeniously sung thus:

Not thus the looser chronograms prepare,
Careless their troops, undisciplined to war;
With rank irregular, confused they stand,
The CHIEFTAINS MINGLING with the vulgar band.

He afterwards adds others of the illegitimate races of wit:

To join these squadrons, o’er the champain came
A numerous race of no ignoble name;
Riddle and Rebus, Riddle’s dearest son,
And false Conundrum and insidious Pun.
Fustian,
who scarcely deigns to tread the ground,
And Rondeau, wheeling in repeated round.
On their fair standards by the wind display’d
Eggs, altars, wings, pipes, axes were pourtray'd.

I find the origin of Bouts-rimés, or “Rhyming Ends,” in Goujet’s Bib. fr. xvi. p. 181. One Dulot, a foolish poet, when sonnets were in demand, had a singular custom of preparing the rhymes of these poems to be filled up at his leisure. Having been robbed of his papers, he was regretting most the loss of three hundred sonnets: his friends were astonished that he had written so many which they had never heard. “They were blank sonnets,” he replied; and explained the mystery by describing his Bouts-rimés. The idea appeared ridiculously amusing; and it soon became fashionable to collect the most difficult rhymes, and fill up the lines.

The Charade is of such recent birth, that it has not yet opened its mystical conceits; nor can I discover the origin of this species of logogriphes: it was not known in France so late as in 1771, In the last edition of the great Dictionnaire de Trevoux, where the term appears as the name of an Indian sect of a military character, and has no connexion with our charades.

Anagrams were another whimsical invention: with the letters of any name they contrived to make out some entire word, descriptive of the character of the person who bore the name. These anagrams, therefore, were either injurious or complimentary. When in fashion, lovers made use of them continually: I have read of one, whose mistress’s name was Magdalen, for whom he composed, not only an epic under that name, but as a proof of his passion, one day he sent her three dozen of anagrams only on her lovely name. Scioppius imagined himself fortunate that his adversary Scaliger was perfectly Sacrilege in all the oblique cases of the Latin language; on this principle sir John Wiat was made out, to his own satisfaction—a wit. They were not always correct when a great compliment was required; the poet John Cleveland was strained hard to make Heliconian dew. This literary trifle has, however, in our own times been brought to singular perfection; and several, equally ingenious and caustic, will readily occur to the reader.

Verses of grotesque shapes have sometimes been contrived to convey ingenious thoughts. Pannard, a modern French poet, has tortured his agreeable vein of poetry into such forms. He has made some of his Bacchanalian songs take the figures of bottles, and others of glasses. These objects are perfectly drawn by the various measures of the verses which form the songs. He has also introduced an echo in his verses which he contrives so as not to injure their sense. This was practised by the old French bards in the age of Marot, and this poetical whim is ridiculed by Butler in his Hudibras, Part 1. Canto 3, Verse 190. I give an example of these poetical echoes. The following ones are ingenious, lively, and satirical.

Pour nous plaire, un plumet
Met

Tout en usage:
Mais on trouve souvent
Vent

Dans son langage.

On y voit des Commis
Mis

Comme des Princes,
Après être venus
Nuds

De leurs Provinces.

I must notice the poetical whim of Cretin, a great poet in his day: he died in 1525. He brought into fashion punning or equivocal rhymes, such as the following which Marot addressed to him, and which, indulging the same rhyming folly as his own, are superior for a glimpse of sense, though very unworthy of their author:

L’homme, sotart, et non sçavant
Comme un rotisseur, qui lave oye.
La faute d’autrui, nonce avant
Qu’il la cognoisse, ou qu’il la voye, &c.

In the following nonsensical lines of Du Bartas, this poet imagined that he imitated the harmonious notes of the lark:

La gentille aloüette, avec son tirelire,
Tirelire, à lire, et tireliran tire,
Vers la voute du ciel, puis son vol vers ce lieu,
Vire et desire dire adieu Dieu, adieu Dieu.

The French have an ingenious kind of Nonsense Verses called Amphigourie. This word is composed of a Greek adverb signifying about, and of a substantive signifying a circle. The following is a specimen: it is elegant in the selection of words, and what the French called richly rhymed—in fact it is fine poetry, but it has no meaning whatever! Pope’s Stanzas, said to be written by a person of quality, to ridicule the tuneful nonsense of certain Bards, and which Gilbert Wakefield mistook for a serious composition, and wrote two pages of Commentary to prove this song was disjointed, obscure, and absurd, is an excellent specimen of these Amphigouries.

           AMPHIGOURIE.
Qu’il est heureux de se defendre
Quand le cœur ne s’est pas rendu!
Mais qu’il est facheux de se rendre
Quand le bonheur est suspendu!
Par un discours sans suite et tendre,
Egarez un cœur éperdu;
Souvent par tin mal-entendu
L’amant adroit se fait entendre.
           IMITATED.
How happy to defend our heart,
When Love has never thrown a dart!
But ah ! unhappy when it bends,
If pleasure her soft bliss suspends!
Sweet in a wild disordered strain,
A lost and wandering heart to gain!
Oft in mistaken language wooed
The skilful lover’s understood.

These verses have such a resemblance to meaning, that Fontenelle having listened to the song imagined he had a glimpse of sense, and requested to have it repeated. “Don’t you perceive,” said Madame Tencin, “that they are Nonsense Verses?” The malicious wit, never without a retort, replied, “They are so much like the fine verses I have heard here, that it is not surprising I should be for once mistaken.”

In the “Scribleriad” we find a good account of the Cento. A Cento primarily signifies a cloak made of patches. In poetry it denotes a work wholly composed of verses, or passages promiscuously taken from other authors, only disposed in a new form or order, so as to compose a new work and a new meaning. Ausonius has laid down the rules to be observed in composing Centos. The pieces may be taken either from the same poet, or from several; and the verses may be either taken entire, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere; but two verses are never to be taken together. Agreeable to these rules he has made a pleasant nuptial Cento from Virgil.

The Empress Eudoxia wrote the life of Jesus Christ in centos taken from Homer; Proba Falconia from Virgil. Among these grave triflers may be mentioned Alexander Ross, who pubiished “Virgilius Evangelizans, sive historia Domini et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi Virgilianis verbis et versibus descripta.” It was republished in 1769.

A more difficult whim is that of “Reciprocal Verses,” which give the same words whether read backwards or forwards. The following lines by Sidonius Apollinaris were once infinitely admired:

“Signa te signa temere me tangis et angis.”
“Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.”

The reader has only to take the pains of reading the lines backwards; and he will find himself just where he was after all his fatigue.

Capitaine Lasphrise, a French self-taught poet, whose work preceded Malherbe’s, boasts of his inventions; among other singularities, one has at least the merit of la difficulté vaincue, and might in ingenious hands be turned to some account. He asserts that this novelty is entirely his own; it consists in the last word of every verse forming the first word of the following verse:

Falloit-il que le ciel me rendit amoureux,
Amoureux, jouissant d’une beauté craintive,
Craintive à recevoir la douceur excessive,
Excessive au plaisir qui rend l’amant heureux;
Heureux si nous avions quelques paisibles lieux,
Lieux ou plus surement l’ami fidelle arrive,
Arrive sans soupçon de quelque ami attentive,
Attentive à vouloir nous surprendre tous deux.—

Francis Colonna, an Italian Monk, is the author of a singular book entitled “The Dream of Poliphilus,” in which he relates his amours with a lady of the name of Polia. It was considered improper to prefix his name to the work; but being desirous of marking it by some peculiarity, that he might claim it at any distant day, he contrived that the initial letters of every chapter should be formed of those of his name, and of the subject he treats. This odd invention was not discovered till many years afterwards: when the wits employed themselves in deciphering it, unfortunately it became a source of literary altercation, being susceptible of various readings. The correct appears thus: POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCUS COLUMNA PERAMAVIT. “Brother Francis Colonna passionately loved Polia.” This gallant Monk, like another Petrarch, made the name of his mistress the subject of his amatorial meditations; and as the first called his Laura, his Laurel, this called his Polia, his Polita.

A few years aftertvards Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus employed a similar artifice in his ZODIACUS VITÆ, “The Zodiac of Life;” the initial letters of the first twenty-nine verses of the first book of this poem forming his name, which curious particular is not noticed by Warton in his account of this work.—The performance is divided into twelve books, but has no reference to astronomy, which we might naturally expect. He distinguished his twelve books by the twelve names of the celestial signs, and probably extended or confined them purposely to that number, to humour his fancy. Warton however observes, “this strange pedantic title is not totally without a conceit, as the author was born at Stellada or Stellata, a province of Ferrara, and from whence he called himself Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus.” The work itself is a curious satire on the Pope and the Church of Rome. It occasioned Bayle to commit a remarkable literary blunder, which I shall record in its place. Of Italian conceit in those times, of which Petrarch was the father, with his perpetual play on words and on his Laurel, or his mistress Laura, he has himself afforded a remarkable example. Our poet lost his mother, who died in her thirty-eighth year: he has commemorated her death by a sonnet composed of thirty-eight lines. He seems to have conceived that the exactness of the number was equally natural and tender.

Are we not to class among literary follies the strange researches which writers, even of the present day, have made in Antediluvian times? Forgeries of the grossest nature have been alluded to, or quoted as authorities. A book of Enoch once attracted considerable attention; this curious forgery has been recently translated: the Saheans pretend they possess a work written by Adam! and this work has been recently appealed to in favour of a visionary theory! Astle gravely observes, that “with respect to Writings attributed to the Antediluvians, it seems not only decent but rational to say that we know nothing concerning them.” Without alluding to living writers, Dr. Parsons, in his erudite “Remains of Japhet,” tracing the origin of the alphabetical character, supposes that letters were known to Adam! Some too have noticed astronomical libraries in the Ark of Noah! Such historical memorials are the deliriums of learning, or are founded on forgeries.

Hugh Broughton, a writer of controversy in the reign of James the First, shows us in a tedious discussion on Scripture chronology, that Rahab was a harlot at ten years of age; and enters into many grave discussions concerning the colour of Aaron’s Ephod, the language which Eve first spoke, and other classical erudition. This writer is ridiculed in Ben Jonson’s Comedies:—he is not without rivals even in the present day! Covarruvias, after others of his school, discovers that when male children are born they cry out with an A, being the first vowel of the word Adam, while the female infants prefer the letter E, in allusion to Eve; and we may add that, by the pinch of a negligent nurse, they may probably learn all their vowels. Of the pedantic triflings of commentators, a controversy among the Portuguese on the works of Camoens is not the least. Some of these profound critics who affected great delicacy in the laws of Epic poetry, pretended to be doubtful whether the poet had fixed on the right time for a king’s dream; whether, said they, a king should have a propitious dream on his first going to bed or at the dawn of the following morning? No one seemed to be quite certain; they puzzled each other till the controversy closed in this felicitous manner, and satisfied both the night and the dawn critics. Barreto discovered that an accent on one of the words alluded to in the controversy would answer the purpose, and by making king Manuel’s dream to take place at the dawn would restore Camoens to their good opinion, and preserve the dignity of the poet.

Chevreau begins his History of the World in these words: “Several learned men have examined in what season God created the world, though there could hardly be any season then, since there was no sun, no moon, nor stars. But as the world must have been created in one of the four seasons, this question has exercised the talents of the most curious, and opinions are various. Some say it was in the month of Nisan, that is, in the spring: others maintain that it was in the month of Tisri, which begins the civil year of the Jews, and that it was on the sixth day of this month, which answers to our September, that Adam and Eve were created, and that it was on a Friday, a little after four o’clock in the afternoon.” This is according to the Rabbinical notion of the eve of the sabbath.

The Irish antiquaries mention public libraries that were before the flood; and Paul Christian Ilsker, with profounder erudition, has given an exact catalogue of Adam’s. Messieurs O’Flaherty, O’Connor, and O’Halloran, have most gravely recorded as authentic narrations the wildest legendary traditions; and more recently, to make confusion doubly confounded, others have built up what they call theoretical histories on these nursery tales. By which species of black art they contrive to prove that an Irishman is an Indian, and a Peruvian may be a Welshman, from certain emigrations which took place many centuries before Christ, and some about two centuries after the flood! Keating, in his “History of Ireland,” starts a favourite hero in the giant Partholanus, who was descended from Japhet, and landed on the coast of Munster 14th May, in the year of the world 1987. This giant succeeded in his enterprise, but a domestic misfortune attended him among his Irish friends:—his wife exposed him to their laughter by her loose behaviour, and provoked him to such a degree that he killed two favourite greyhounds; and this the learned historian assures us was the first instance of female infidelity ever known in Ireland!

The learned, not contented with Homer’s poetical pre-eminence, make him the most authentic historian and most accurate geographer of antiquity, besides endowing him with all the arts and sciences to be found in our Encyclopædia. Even in surgery, a treatise has been written to show by the variety of the wounds of his heroes, that he was a most scientific anatomist; and a military scholar has lately told us that from him is derived all the science of the modern adjutant and quartermaster-general; all the knowledge of tactics which we now possess; and that Xenophon, Epaminondas, Philip, and Alexander, owed all their warlike reputation to Homer!

To return to pleasanter follies. Des Fontaines, the journalist, who had wit and malice, inserted the fragment of a letter which the poet Rousseau wrote to the younger Racine whilst he was at the Hague. These were the words: “I enjoy the conversation within these few days of my associates in Parnassus. Mr. Piron is an excellent antidote against melancholy; but”—&c. Des Fontaines maliciously stopped at this but. In the letter of Rousseau it was, “but unfortunately he departs soon.” Piron was very sensibly affected at this equivocal but, and resolved to revenge himself by composing one hundred epigrams against the malignant critic. He had written sixty before Des Fontaines died: but of these only two attracted any notice.

Towards the conclusion of the fifteenth century, Antonio Cornezano wrote a hundred different sonnets on one subject, “the eyes of his mistress!” to which possibly Shakespeare may allude, when Jacques describes a lover, with his

                  “Woeful ballad,
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Not inferior to this ingenious trifler is Nicholas Franco, well known in Italian literature, who employed himself in writing two hundred and eighteen satiric sonnets, chiefly on the famous Peter Aretin. This lampooner had the honour of being hanged at Rome for his defamatory publications. In the same class are to be placed two other writers. Brebeuf, who wrote one hundred and fifty epigrams against a painted lady. Another wit, desirous of emulating him, and for a literary bravado, continued the same subject, and pointed at this unfortunate fair three hundred more, without once repeating the thoughts of Brebeuf! There is a collection of poems called “La PUCE des grand jours de Poitiers.” The FLEA of the carnival of Poitiers. These poems were all written by the learned Pasquier upon a FLEA which he found one morning in the bosom of the famous Catherine des Roches!

Not long ago, a Mr. and Mrs. Bilderdik, in Flanders, published poems under the whimsical title of “White and Red.”—His own poems were called white, from the colour of his hair, and those of his lady red, in allusion to the colour of the rose. The idea must be Flemish!

Gildon, in his “Laws of Poetry,” commenting on this line of the Duke of Buckingham’s “Essay on Poetry,”

“Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well:”

very profoundly informs his readers “That what is here said has not the least regard to the penmanship, that is, to the fairness or badness of the handwriting,” &c., and proceeds throughout a whole page, with a panegyric on a fine handwriting! Dull men seem to have at times great claims to originality!

Littleton, the author of the Latin and English Dictionary, seems to have indulged his favourite propensity to punning so far as even to introduce a pun in the grave and elaborate work of a Lexicon. A story has been raised to account for it, and it has been ascribed to the impatient interjection of the lexicographer to his scribe, who, taking no offence at the peevishness of his master, put it down in the Dictionary. The article alluded to is, “CONCURRO, to run with others; to run together; to come together; to fall foul on one another; to CONcur, to CONdog.”

Mr. Todd, in his Dictionary, has laboured to show “the inaccuracy of this pretended narrative.” Yet a similar blunder appears to have happened to Ash. Johnson, while composing his Dictionary, sent a note to the Gentleman’s Magazine to inquire the etymology of the word curmudgeon. Having obtained the information, he records in his work the obligation to an anonymous letter-writer. “Curmudgeon, a vitious way of pronouncing cœur merchant. An unknown correspondent.” Ash copied the word into his Dictionary in this manner: “Curmudgeon: from the French cœur, unknown; and méchant, a correspondent.” This singular negligence ought to be placed in the class of our literary blunders: these form a pair of lexicographical anecdotes.

Two singilar literary follies have been practised on Milton. There is a prose version of his “Paradise Lost,” which was innocently translated from the French version of his Epic! One Green publisllecl a specimen of a new version of the “Paradise Lost” into blank verse! For this purpose he has utterly ruined the harmony of Milton”s cadences, by what he conceived to be “bringing that amazing work somewhat nearer the summit of perfection.”

A French author, when his book had been received by the French Academy, had the portrait of Cardinal Richelieu engraved on his title-page, encircled by a crown of forty rays, in each of which was written the name of the celebrated forty academicians.

The self-exultations of authors, frequently employed by injudicious writers, place them in ridiculous attitudes. A writer of a bad dictionary, which he intended for a Cyclop�dia, formed such an opinion of its extensive sale, that he put on the title-page the words “first edition,” a hint to the gentle reader that it would not he the last. Desmarest was so delighted with his “Clovis,” an Epic Poem, that he solemnly concludes his preface with a thanksgiving to God, to whom he attributes all its glory! This is like that conceited member of a French parliament, who was overheard, after his tedious harangue, muttering most devoutly to himself ”Non nobis Domine.”

Several works have been produced from some odd coincidence with the name of their authors. Thus De Saussay has written a folio volume, consisting of panegyrics of persons of eminence, whose Christian names were Andrew; because Andrew was his own name. Two Jesuits made a similar collection of illustrious men whose Christian names were Theophilus and Philip, being their own. Anthony Sanderus has also composed a treatise of illustrious Anthonies! And we havc one Buchanan, who has written the lives of those persons who were so fortanate as to have been his namesakes.

Several forgotten writers have frequently been intruded on the public eye, merely through such trifling coincidences as being members of some particular society, or natives of some particular country. Cordeliers have stood forward to revive the writings of Duns Scotus, because he had been a Cordelier; and a Jesuit compiled a folio on the antiquities of a country, merely from the circumstance that the founder of his order, Ignatius Loyola, had been born there. Several of the classics are violently extolled above others, merely from the accidental circumstance of their editors having collected a vast number of notes, which they resolved to discharge on the public. County histories have been frequently compiled, and provincial writers have received a temporary existence, from the accident of some obscure individual being an inhabitant of some obscure town.

On such literary follies Malebranche has made this refined observation. The critics, standing in scome way connected with the author, their self-love inspires them, and abundantly furnishes eulogiums which the author never merited, that they may thus obliquely reflect some praise on themselves. This is made so adroitly, so delicately, and so concealed, that it is not perceived.

The following are strange inventions, originating in the wilful bad taste of the authors. OTTO VENIUS, the master of Rubens, is the designer of Le Théâtre moral de la Vie humaine. In this emblematical history of human life, he has taken his subjects from Horace; but certainly his conceptions are not Horatian. He takes every image in a literal sense. If Horace says, “Misce stultitiam CONSILIIS BREVEM,” behold Venius takes brevis personally, and represents folly as a little short child! of not above three or four years old! In the emblem which answers Horace’s “Raro antecedentem scelestum deseruit PEDE PŒNA CLAUDO,” we find Punishment with a wooden leg.—And for “PULVIS ET UMBRA SUMUS,” we have a dark burying vault, with dust sprinkled about the floor, and a shadow walking upright between two ranges of urns. For “Virtus est vitium furgere, et sapientia prima stultitid carruisse,” most flatly he gives seven or eight Vices pursuing Virtue, and Folly just at the heels of Wisdom. I saw in an English Bible printed in Holland an instance of the same taste: the artist, to illustrate “Thou seest the mote in thy neighbour’s eye, but not the beam in thine own,” has actually placed an immense beam which projects from the eye of the caviller to the ground!

As a contrast to the too obvious taste of VENIUS, may be placed Cesare di RIPA, who is the author of an Italian work, translated into most European languages, the Iconologia; the favourite bcok of the age, and the fertile parent of the most absurd offspring which Taste has known. Ripa is as darkly subtile as Venius is obvious; and as farfetched in his conceits as the other is literal. Ripa represents Beauty by a naked lady, with her head in a cloud; because the true idea of beauty is hard to be conceived! Flattery, by a lady with a flute in her hand, and a stag at her feet, because stags are said to love music so much, that they suffer themselves to be taken, if you play to them on a flute. Fraud, with two hearts in one hand, and a mask in the other:—his collection is too numerous to point out more instances. Ripa also describes how the allegorical figures are to be coloured; Hope is to have a sky-blue robe, because she always looks towards heaven. Enough of these Capriccios!


Editor’s Notes

Georges Perec quoted from this article in his essay on ‘History of the Lipogram.’


 § Six footnotes were appended to this article in later editions of the Curiosities. First, regarding the ‘Scribleriad:’

The Scribleriad is a poem now scarcely known. It was a partial imitation of the Dunciad written by Richard Owen Cambridge, a scholar and man of fortune, who, in his residence at Twickenham, surrounded by friends of congenial tastes, enjoyed a life of literary ease. The Scribleriad is an attack on pseudo-science, the hero being a virtuoso of the most Quixotic kind, who travels far to discover rarities, loves a lady with the plica Polonica, waits three years at Naples to see the eruption of Vesuvius; and plays all kinds of fantastic tricks, as if in continual ridicule of The Philosophical Transactions, which are especially aimed at in the notes which accompany the poem. It achieved considerable notoriety in its own day, and is not without merit. It was published by Dodsley, in 1751, in a handsome quarto, with some good engravings by Boitard

Second, further to the lines about acrostics excerpted from the Scribleriad:

Thomas Jordan, a poet of the time of Charles II., has the following specimen of a double acrostic, which must have occupied a large amount of labour. He calls it “a cross acrostick on two crost lovers.” The man’s name running through from top to bottom, and the female’s the contrary way of the poem.

Though crost in our affections, still the flames
Of Honour shall secure our noble Names;
Nor shall Our fate divorce our faith, Or cause
The least Mislike of love’s Diviner lawes.
Crosses sometimes Are cures, Now let us prove,
That no strength Shall Abate the power of love;
Honour, wit, beauty, Riches wise men call
Frail fortune’s Badges, In true love lies all.
Therefore to him we Yield, our Vowes shall be
Paid—Read, and written in Eternity:
That All may know when men grant no Redress,
Much love can sweeten the unhappinesS.

Third, concerning ‘a pleasant nuptial Cento from Virgil:’

The following example, barbarously made up in this way from passages in the Æneid and the Georgics, is by Stephen de Pleurre, and describes the adoration of the Magi. The references to each half line of the originals are given, the central cross marks the length of each quotation.
Tum Reges——
7; Æ · 98. Externi veniunt × quæ cuiq; est copia læti. 5; Æ · 100.
11; Æ · 333. Munera portantes × molles sua tura Sabæi. 1; G · 57.
3; Æ · 464. Dona dehinc auro gravia × Myrrhaque madentes. 12; Æ · 100.
9; Æ · 659. Agnovere Deum Regum × Regumque parentum. 6; Æ · 548.
1; G · 418. Mutavere via perfectis × ordine votia. 10; Æ · 548.

Fourth, regarding ‘reciprocal verses,’ (palindromes):

The old poet, Gascoigne, composed one of the longest English specimens, which he says gave him infinite trouble. It is as follows:—

“Lewd did I live, evil I did dwel.”

Fifth, further to the phrase ‘and this work has been recently appealed to in favour of a visionary theory:’

We need feel little wonder at this when “The Book of Mormon” could be fabricated in our own time, and, with abundant evidence of that fact, yet became the Gospel of a very large number of persons.

And, sixth, upon the penultimate paragraph:

There are several instances of this ludicrous literal representation. Daniel Hopfer, a German engraver of the 16th Century, published a large print of this subject; the scene is laid in the interior of a Gothic church, and the beam is a solid squared piece of timber, reaching from the eye of the man to the walls of the building. This peculiar mode of treating the subject may be traced to the earliest picture-books—thus the Ars Memorandi, a block-book of the early part of the 15th century, represents this figure of speech by a piece of timber transfixing a human eye.

 ¶ This article was revised and substantially expanded from its original in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities. A few snippets from the original version of the piece are not given above. Regarding the lipogrammatic work of Fulgentius, D’Israeli added:

Monnoye observes on the Latin work, that it is very impertinent, whether we examine the style, or the thoughts. It is certain, that when any writer can take pleasure in such puerile fancies, he must be incapable of exerting a sublime or elegant imagination.

Regarding the diminutive ‘Polita,’ used by Francesco Colonna, D’Israeli formerly glossed this with ‘neat or polished.’ There was also a somewhat irrelevant anecdote, omitted in its entirety above:

One Sebastian Castillon changed his name to Castalion, to indicate that he derived his origin from Castalia, the fountain of the Muses.

Regarding Gregorio Leti, D’Israeli formerly remarked that

It was the boast of this author, that he would give to the public, before the conclusion of the century, one hundred volumes, and this he just lived to compleat, by hastily publishing two volumes of letters, to make up the number before his death.

Lastly, the closing paragraph of the earlier piece, not given here, was later re-worked as the opening paragraph of his aticle on Dedications.