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Of Anagrams And Echo Verses
by [?]

The “true” modern critics on our elder writers are apt to thunder their anathemas on innocent heads: little versed in the eras of our literature, and the fashions of our wit, popular criticism must submit to be guided by the literary historian.

Kippis condemns Sir Symonds D’Ewes for his admiration of two anagrams, expressive of the feelings of the times. It required the valour of Falstaff to attack extinct anagrams; and our pretended English Bayle thought himself secure in pronouncing all anagrammatists to be wanting in judgment and taste: yet, if this mechanical critic did not know something of the state and nature of anagrams in Sir Symonds’ day, he was more deficient in that curiosity of literature which his work required, than plain honest Sir Symonds in the taste and judgment of which he is so contemptuously deprived. The author who thus decides on the tastes of another age by those of his own day, and whose knowledge of the national literature does not extend beyond his own century, is neither historian nor critic. The truth is, that ANAGRAMS were then the fashionable amusements of the wittiest and the most learned.

Kippis says, and others have repeated, “That Sir Symonds D’Ewes’s judgment and taste, with regard to wit, were as contemptible as can well be imagined, will be evident from the following passage taken from his account of Carr Earl of Somerset, and his wife: ‘This discontent gave many satirical wits occasion to vent themselves into stingie [stinging] libels, in which they spared neither the persons nor families of that unfortunate pair. There came also two anagrams to my hands, not unworthy to be owned by the rarest wits of this age.’ These were, one very descriptive of the lady, and the other, of an incident in which this infamous woman was so deeply criminated.

Car finds a Whore. O! O! base Murther."

This sort of wit is not falser at least than the criticism which infers that D’Ewes’ “judgment and taste were as contemptible as can well be;” for he might have admired these anagrams, which, however, are not of the nicest construction, and yet not have been so destitute of those qualities of which he is so authoritatively divested.

Camden has a chapter in his “Remains” on ANAGRAMS, which he defines to be a dissolution of a (person’s) name into its letters, as its elements; and a new connexion into words is formed by their transposition, if possible, without addition, subtraction, or change of the letters: and the words must make a sentence applicable to the person named. The Anagram is complimentary or satirical; it may contain some allusion to an event, or describe some personal characteristic.[1]

Such difficult trifles it may be convenient at all times to discard; but, if ingenious minds can convert an ANAGRAM into a means of exercising their ingenuity, the things themselves will necessarily become ingenious. No ingenuity can make an ACROSTIC ingenious; for this is nothing but a mechanical arrangement of the letters of a name, and yet this literary folly long prevailed in Europe.

As for ANAGRAMS, if antiquity can consecrate some follies, they are of very ancient date. They were classed, among the Hebrews, among the cabalistic sciences; they pretended to discover occult qualities in proper names; it was an oriental practice; and was caught by the Greeks. Plato had strange notions of the influence of Anagrams when drawn out of persons’ names; and the later Platonists are full of the mysteries of the anagrammatic virtues of names. The chimerical associations of the character and qualities of a man with his name anagrammatised may often have instigated to the choice of a vocation, or otherwise affected his imagination.