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No. 060 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 60
Wednesday, May 9, 1711.

‘Hoc est quod palles? Cur quis non prandeat, Hoc est?’

Per. ‘Sat. 3.’

Several kinds of false Wit that vanished in the refined Ages of the World, discovered themselves again in the Times of Monkish Ignorance.

As the Monks were the Masters of all that little Learning which was then extant, and had their whole Lives entirely disengaged from Business, it is no wonder that several of them, who wanted Genius for higher Performances, employed many Hours in the Composition of such Tricks in Writing as required much Time and little Capacity. I have seen half the AEneid turned into Latin Rhymes by one of the Beaux Esprits of that dark Age; who says in his Preface to it, that the AEneid wanted nothing but the Sweets of Rhyme to make it the most perfect Work in its Kind. I have likewise seen an Hymn in Hexameters to the Virgin Mary, which filled a whole Book, tho’ it consisted but of the eight following Words.

Tot, tibi, sunt, Virgo, dotes, quot, sidera, Caelo.

Thou hast as many Virtues, O Virgin, as there are Stars in Heaven.

The Poet rung the [changes [1]] upon these eight several Words, and by that Means made his Verses almost as numerous as the Virtues and the Stars which they celebrated. It is no wonder that Men who had so much Time upon their Hands did not only restore all the antiquated Pieces of false Wit, but enriched the World with Inventions of their own. It was to this Age that we owe the Production of Anagrams,[2] which is nothing else but a Transmutation of one Word into another, or the turning of the same Set of Letters into different Words; which may change Night into Day, or Black into White, if Chance, who is the Goddess that presides over these Sorts of Composition, shall so direct. I remember a witty Author, in Allusion to this kind of Writing, calls his Rival, who (it seems) was distorted, and had his Limbs set in Places that did not properly belong to them, The Anagram of a Man.

When the Anagrammatist takes a Name to work upon, he considers it at first as a Mine not broken up, which will not shew the treasure it contains till he shall have spent many Hours in the Search of it: For it is his Business to find out one Word that conceals it self in another, and to examine the Letters in all the Variety of Stations in which they can possibly be ranged. I have heard of a Gentleman who, when this Kind of Wit was in fashion, endeavoured to gain his Mistress’s Heart by it. She was one of the finest Women of her Age, and [known [3]] by the Name of the Lady Mary Boon. The Lover not being able to make any thing of Mary, by certain Liberties indulged to this kind of Writing, converted it into Moll; and after having shut himself up for half a Year, with indefatigable Industry produced an Anagram. Upon the presenting it to his Mistress, who was a little vexed in her Heart to see herself degraded into Moll Boon, she told him, to his infinite Surprise, that he had mistaken her Sirname, for that it was not Boon but Bohun.

… Ibi omnis
Effusus labor …

The lover was thunder-struck with his Misfortune, insomuch that in a little time after he lost his Senses, which indeed had been very much impaired by that continual Application he had given to his Anagram.

The Acrostick [4] was probably invented about the same time with the Anagram, tho’ it is impossible to decide whether the Inventor of the one of the other [were [5]] the greater Blockhead. The Simple Acrostick is nothing but the Name or Title of a Person or Thing made out of the initial Letters of several Verses, and by that Means written, after the Manner of the Chinese, in a perpendicular Line. But besides these there are Compound Acrosticks, where the principal Letters stand two or three deep. I have seen some of them where the Verses have not only been edged by a Name at each Extremity, but have had the same Name running down like a Seam through the Middle of the Poem.