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A Lady of bas bleu celebrity (the term is getting odious, particularly to our scavantes) had two friends, whom she equally admired–an elegant poet and his parodist. She had contrived to prevent their meeting as long as her stratagems lasted, till at length she apologised to the serious bard for inviting him when his mock umbra was to be present. Astonished, she perceived that both men of genius felt a mutual esteem for each other’s opposite talent; the ridiculed had perceived no malignity in the playfulness of the parody, and even seemed to consider it as a compliment, aware that parodists do not waste their talent on obscure productions; while the ridiculer himself was very sensible that he was the inferior poet. The lady-critic had imagined that PARODY must necessarily be malicious; and in some cases it is said those on whom the parody has been performed have been of the same opinion.

Parody strongly resembles mimicry, a principle in human nature not so artificial as it appears: Man may be well defined a mimetic animal. The African boy, who amused the whole kafle he journeyed with, by mimicking the gestures and the voice of the auctioneer who had sold him at the slave-market a few days before, could have had no sense of scorn, of superiority, or of malignity; the boy experienced merely the pleasure of repeating attitudes and intonations which had so forcibly excited his interest. The numerous parodies of Hamlet’s soliloquy were never made in derision of that solemn monologue, any more than the travesties of Virgil by Scarron and Cotton; their authors were never so gaily mad as that. We have parodies on the Psalms by Luther; Dodsley parodied the book of Chronicles, and the scripture style was parodied by Franklin in his beautiful story of Abraham; a story he found in Jeremy Taylor, and which Taylor borrowed from the East, for it is preserved in the Persian Sadi. Not one of these writers, however, proposed to ridicule their originals; some ingenuity in the application was all they intended. The lady-critic alluded to had suffered by a panic, in imagining that a parody was necessarily a corrosive satire. Had she indeed proceeded one step farther, and asserted that parodies might be classed among the most malicious inventions in literature, when they are such as Colman and Lloyd made on Gray, in their odes to “Oblivion and Obscurity,” her reading possibly might have supplied the materials of the present research.

Parodies were frequently practised by the ancients, and with them, like ourselves, consisted of a work grafted on another work, but which turned on a different subject by a slight change of the expressions. It might be a sport of fancy, the innocent child of mirth; or a satirical arrow drawn from the quiver of caustic criticism; or it was that malignant art which only studies to make the original of the parody, however beautiful, contemptible and ridiculous. Human nature thus enters into the composition of parodies, and their variable character originates in the purpose of their application.

There is in “the million” a natural taste for farce after tragedy, and they gladly relieve themselves by mitigating the solemn seriousness of the tragic drama; for they find, that it is but “a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” The taste for parody will, I fear, always prevail: for whatever tends to ridicule a work of genius, is usually very agreeable to a great number of contemporaries. In the history of parodies, some of the learned have noticed a supposititious circumstance, which, however, may have happened, for it is a very natural one. When the rhapsodists, who strolled from town to town to chant different fragments of the poems of Homer, had recited, they were immediately followed by another set of strollers–buffoons, who made the same audience merry by the burlesque turn which they gave to the solemn strains which had just so deeply engaged their attention. It is supposed that we have one of these travestiers of the Iliad in one Sotades, who succeeded by only changing the measure of the verses without altering the words, which entirely disguised the Homeric character; fragments of which, scattered in Dionysius Halicarnassensis, I leave to the curiosity of the learned Grecian.[1] Homer’s Battle of the Frogs and Mice, a learned critic, the elder Heinsius, asserts, was not written by the poet, but is a parody on the poem. It is evidently as good-humoured an one as any in the “Rejected Addresses.” And it was because Homer was the most popular poet that he was most susceptible of the playful honours of the parodist; unless the prototype is familiar to us a parody is nothing! Of these parodists of Homer we may regret the loss of one, Timon of Philius, whose parodies were termed Silli, from Silenus being their chief personage; he levelled them at the sophistical philosophers of his age; his invocation is grafted on the opening of the Iliad, to recount the evil-doings of those babblers, whom he compares to the bags in which AEolus deposited all his winds; balloons inflated with empty ideas! We should like to have appropriated some of these silli, or parodies of Timon the Sillograph, which, however, seem to have been at times calumnious.[2] Shenstone’s “School Mistress,” and some few other ludicrous poems, derive much of their merit from parody.