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Τ THE WHIG-EXAMINER.
No. 1. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1710.
Nescia mens hominum fati sortisque futuræ,
OderitThe design of this work is to censure the writings of others, and to give all persons a rehearing, who have suffered under any unjust sentence of the Examiner. As that author has hitherto proceeded, his paper would have been more properly entitled the Executioner. At least, his examination is like that which is made by the rack and wheel. I have always admired a critic that has discovered the beauties of an author, and never knew one who made it his business to lash the faults of other writers, that was not guilty of greater himself; as the hangman is generally a worse malefactor than the criminal that suffers by his hand. To prove what I say,
there needs no more than to read the annotations which this author has made upon Dr. Garth's poem, with the preface in the front, and a riddle at the end of them. To begin with the first : did ever an advocate for a party open with such an unfortunate assertion ? “The collective body of the Whigs have already engrossed our riches :" that is, in plain English, the Whigs are possessed of all the riches of the nation. Is not this giving up all he has been contending for these six weeks ? Is there anything more reasonable, than that those
1 We are to impute to this provocation, the peculiar keenness of our author's reproof, in these papers. But one is surprised to observe how much of that keenness is directed against the style of his antagonist.—The reason is, that the good taste of that time would not endure a want of correct and just composition, even in a party-writer.
who have all the riches of the nation in their possession, or, if he likes his own phrase better, as, indeed, I think it is stronger, that those who have already engrossed our riches, should have the management of our public treasure, and the direction of our fleets and armies ? But let us proceed: " Their representative, the Kit-cat, have pretended to make a monopoly of our sense. Well, but what does all this end in ? If the author means anything, it is this ; that, to prevent such a monopoly of sense, he is resolved to deal in it himself by retail
, and sell a pennyworth of it every week. In what follows, there is such a shocking familiarity, both in his railleries and civilities, that one cannot long be in doubt who is the author. The remaining part of the preface has so much of the pedant, and so little of the conversation of men in it, that I shall pass it over, and hasten to the riddles, which are as follows.
Edipus was resolved to go,
And runs away at last on four. The first part of this little mystical poem is an old riddle, which we could have told the meaning of, had not the author given himself the trouble of explaining it; but as for the exposition of the second, he leaves us altogether in the dark. The riddle runs thus : “ What creature is it that walks upon four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs at
night?” This he solves, as our forefathers have done for these two thousand years; and not according to Rabelais, who gives another reason why a man is said to be a creature with three legs at night.
Then follows the second riddle: “What creature, (says he,) is it that first uses four legs, then two legs, then three legs; then loses one leg, then gets two legs, and at last runs away upon four legs ?" Were I disposed to be splenetic, I should ask if there was anything in the new garland of riddles so wild, so childish, or so flat: but though I dare not go so far as that, I shall take upon me to say, that the author has stolen his hint out of the garland, from a riddle which I was better acquainted with than the Nile, when I was but twelve years old. It runs thus Riddle
riddle my ree, what is this ? Two legs sat upon three legs, and held one leg in her hand; in came four legs, and snatched away one leg; up started two legs, and flung three legs at four legs, and brought one leg back again. This enigma, joined with the foregoing two, rings all the changes that can be made upon legs. That I may
deal more ingeniously with my reader than the above-mentioned enigmatist has done, I shall present him with a key to my riddle: which, upon application, he will find exactly fitted to all the words of it: one leg is a leg of mutton, two legs is a servant maid, three legs is a joint stool, which in the sphinx's country was called a tripode; as four legs is a dog, who, in all nations and ages, has been reckoned a quadruped. We have now the exposition of our first and third riddles upon legs ; let us here, if you please, endeavour to find out the meaning of our second, which is thus in the author's words:
What stranger creature yet is he,
And runs away at last on four ? This riddle, as the poet tells us, was proposed by Edipus 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, wa
son to a king of Thebes, and bore a particular grudge to the tre -r of that kingdom, which made him so bitter upon H. L. in this enigma.
What stranger creature yet is he,
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
What stranger creature yet is he,
Then loses one,But now comes the difficulty that has puzzled the whole town, and which, 1 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 consideration, do find that 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.
EDIPUS speaks :
“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 doggerel, 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 cavilling spirit,
Dissent with.] They who delight in Latinizing the English tongue, would correct without scruple-dissent from.--But the matter is not quite so clear as they pretend. Dis, in the compound words of our language, is not always a preposition, properly so called, like the Latin de, but an article, expressing very strongly negation, or contrariety; as, disallow, disown, disagree, &c., which mean the same thing as I do not allow, do not own, do not agree, &c. The prepositive article, dis, thus understood, not only may, but frequently must, be followed by the preposition with : as, I dispute with you, I disagree with you, I differ with you, (which is unquestionably good English,) and, agreeably to this analogy, we may say, I dissent with you—the sense being respectively, I do not understand, agree, hold, or think with you.
But dissent with, it will be said, must be wrong, because the word dissent, being of Latin derivation, must follow the idiom of that tongue. Here, again, there is some doubt: for the Latin writers do not only say, dissentire ab aliquo, but cum aliquo, as cum Catone meo sæpe dissensi. (Cic. de Off. lib. iii. c. 22, Ed. Pearce.]
To compromise the matter, however, I would lay down this rule—“that, where the compound verb is purely of Latin original, there the most usual idiom of the Latin tongue is to be followed.” And, because that is evidently the case in the verb dissent, I would choose rather to say, dissent from, than dissent with ; it being, I believe, more customary with the Latin writers to say, dissentire ab,-than-dissentire cum, though the practice be not universal.