Billeder på siden

What stranger creature yet is he,
That has four legs, then two, then three;
Then loses one, then gets two more,
And runs away at last on four?

This riddle, as the poet tells us, was proposed by #dipus to the Sphinx, after he had given his solution to that which the Sphinx had proposed to him. This Edipus, you must understand, though the people did not believe it, was son to a king of Thebes, and bore a particular grudge to the Trer of that kingdom, which made him so bitter upon H. L. in this enigma.

What stranger creature yet is he,

That has four legs, then two, then three? By which he intimates, that this great man, at Thebes, being 'weak by nature,' as he admirably expresses it, could not walk as soon as he was born, but, like other children, fell upon all four when he attempted it; that he afterwards went upon two legs, like other men; and that, in his more advanced age, he got a white staff in Queen Jocasta's court, which the author calls his third leg. Now it so happened that the treasurer fell, and by that means broke his third leg, which is intimated by the next words, “Then loses one---Thus far I think we have travelled through the riddle with good suc, cess.

What stranger creature yet is he,
That has four legs, then two, then three?

Then loses oneBut now comes the difficulty that has puzzled the whole town, and which I must confess has kept me awake for these three nights;

-Then gets two more, And runs away at last on four. I at last thought the treasurer of Thebes might have walked upon crutches, and so ran away on four legs, viz. two natural and two artificial. But this I have no authority for; and therefore upon mature considera

tion do find the words (Then gets two more) are only Greek expletives, introduced to make up the verse and to signify nothing; and that runs, in the next line, should be rides. I shall therefore restore the true ancient reading of this riddle, after which it will be able to explain itself.

dipus speaks:
Now, in your turn, 'tis just methinks,
You should resolve me, Madam Sphinx,
What stranger creature yet is he,
Who has four legs, then two, then three;
Then loses one, then gains two more,'

And rides away at last on four? I must now inform the reader, that Thebes was on the continent, so that it was easy for a man to ride out of his dominions on horseback, an advantage that a British statesman would be deprived of. If he would run away, he must do it in an open boat; for to say of an Englishman, in this sense, that he runs away on all four, would be as absurd as to say, he clapped spurs to his horse at St. James's gate, and galloped away to the Hague.

Before I take my farewell of this subject, I shall advise the author for the future to speak his meaning more plainly. I allow he has a happy talent at doggrel, when he writes upon a known subject: where he tells us in plain, intelligible language, how Syrisca's ladle was lost in one hole, and Hans Carvel's finger in another, he is very jocular and diverting; but, when he wraps a lampoon in a riddle, he must consider that his jest is lost to every one, but the few merry wags that are in the secret. This is making darker satires than ever Persius did. After this cursory view of the Examiner's performance, let us consider his remarks upon the doctor's.

That general piece of raillery which he passes upon the doctor's considering the treasurer in several different views, is that which might fall upon any poem in Waller, or any other writer who has diversity of thoughts and allusions: and though it may appear a pleasant ridicule to an ignorant reader, is wholly groundless and unjust. I do likewise dissent with the Examiner, upon the phrases of 'passions being poised,' and of the 'retrieving merit from dependence, which are very beautiful and poetical. It is the same caviling spirit that finds fault with that expression of the pomp of peace among the woes of war,' as well as of 'offering unasked.' As for the Nile, how Icarus and Phäeton came to be joined with it, I cannot conceive, I must confess they have been formerly used to represent the fate of rash, ambitious men; and I cannot imagine why the author should deprive us of those particular similes for the future. The next criticism upon the stars, seems introduced for no other reason but to mention Mr. Bickerstaffe, whom the author every where endeavours to imitate and abuse. But I shall refer the Examiner to the frog's advice to her little one, that was blowing itself up to the size of

an ox:

-Non si te ruperis, inquit,

Par eris

The allusion to the victim may be a Gallimatia in French politics, but is an apt and noble allusion to a true English spirit. And as for the Examiner's remarks on the word bleed (though a man would laugh to see impotent malice so little able to contain itself) one cannot but observe in them the temper of the banditti whom he mentions in the same paper, who always murder where they rob. The last observation is upon this line, 'Ingratitude 's a weed of every clime.' Here he is very much out of humour with the doctor, for having called that the weed, which Dryden only terms the growth, of every clime. But, for God's sake, why so much tenderness for ingratitude ? But I shall say no more.

We are now in an age wherein impudent assertions must pass for arguments: and I do not question but the same, who has endeavoured here to prove that he who wrote the Dispensary was no poet, will very suddenly undertake to show, that he who gained the battle of Blenheim is no general.


-Arcades ambo, Et cartare purcsa I never yet knew an author that had not his admirers. Bunyan and Quarles have passed through several editions, and please as many readers as Dryden and Tillotson: the Examiner had not written two half sheets of paper, before he met with one that was astonished at the force he was master of,' and

approaches him with awe, when he mentions state subjects, as "encroaching on the province that belonged to him, and treating of things that deserved to pass under his pen.' The same humble author tells us, that the Examiner can furnish mankind with an 'antidote to the poison that is scattered through the nation.' This crying up of the Examiner's antidote, puts me in mind of the first appearance that a celebrated French quack made in the streets of Paris. A little boy walked before him, publishing, with a shrill voice, Mon pere guerit toutes sortes de maladies, ‘My father cures all sorts of distempers:' to which the doctor, who walked behind him, added in a grave, and composed manner, L'enfant dit vrai, The child says true.'

That the reader may see what party the author of this letter is of, I shall show how he speaks of the French king and the duke of Anjou, and how of our greatest allies, the emperor of Germany and the states general. In the mean while the French king has withdrawn his troops from Spain, and has put it out of his power to restore that monarchy to us, was he reduced low enough really to desire to do it. The duke of Anjou has had leisure to take off those whom he suspected, to confirm his friends, to regulate his revenues; to increase and form his troops, and above all, to rouse that spirit in the Spanish nation, which a succession of lazy and indolent princes had lulled asleep. From hence it appears probable enough, that if the war continue much longer on the present foot, instead of regaining Spain, we shall find the duke of Anjou in a condition to pay the debtof gratitude, and support the grandfather in his declining years; by whose arms, in the days of his infancy, he was upheld.? What expressions of tenderness, duty, and submission! the panegyric on the duke of Anjou, is by much the best written part of this whole letter; the apology for the French king is indeed the same which the Post-boy has often made, but worded with greater deference and respect to that great prince. There are many strokes of the author's good-will to our confederates, the Dutch and the emperor, in several parts of this notable epistle; I shall only quote one of them, alluding to the concern which the Bank, the states-general, and the emperor expressed for the ministry, by their humble applications to her majesty, in these words.

Not daunted yet, they resolve to try a new expedient, and the interest of Europe is to be represented as inseparable from that of the ministers.

Haud dubitant equidem implorure quod usquam est ;

Flectere si nequeunt Superos, Acheronta movebunt. * The members of the Bank, the Dutch, and the court of Vienna, are called in as confederates to the ministry.' This, in the mildest English it will bear, runs thus. They are resolved to look for help wherever they can find it; if they cannot have it from heaven, they will go to hell for it;' that is, to the members of the Bank, the Dutch, and the court of Vienna. The French king, the pope, and the devil, have been often joined together by a well-meaning Englishman; but I am very much surprised to see the Bank, the Dutch, and the court of Vienna, in such company. We may

« ForrigeFortsæt »