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No. 058 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

The Ax methinks would have been a good Figure for a Lampoon, had the Edge of it consisted of the most satyrical Parts of the Work; but as it is in the Original, I take it to have been nothing else but the Posy of an Ax which was consecrated to Minerva, and was thought to have been the same that Epeus made use of in the building of the Trojan Horse; which is a Hint I shall leave to the Consideration of the Criticks. I am apt to think that the Posy was written originally upon the Ax, like those which our modern Cutlers inscribe upon their Knives; and that therefore the Posy still remains in its ancient Shape, tho’ the Ax it self is lost.

The Shepherd’s Pipe may be said to be full of Musick, for it is composed of nine different Kinds of Verses, which by their several Lengths resemble the nine Stops of the old musical Instrument, [that [2]] is likewise the Subject of the Poem. [3]

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 perswaded, 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 Procrustes 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.

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 abovementioned in the Shape of Wings and Altars.

… Chuse for thy Command
Some peaceful Province in Acrostick Land;
There may’st thou Wings display, and Altars raise,
And torture one poor Word a thousand Ways.

This Fashion of false Wit was revived by several Poets of the last Age, and in particular may be met with among Mr. Herbert’s Poems; and, if I am not mistaken, in the Translation of Du Bartas. [4]–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 Fellow-Travellers, who all of them pressed to see such a Piece of Curiosity. I have since heard, that there is now an eminent Writing-Master in Town, who has transcribed all the Old Testament in a full-bottomed 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 shall 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.