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35. Letter on Punning.
When you have leisure from teaching the world to think and to feel in matters of vital importance to the community, I beg leave to recommend to your notice an evil, which, by poisoning the springs of taste and knowledge, by bringing forward the flippant, and throwing back the reflective speaker, tends to imbitter and destroy all the profit and pleasure of conversation. I allude to the vice of punning.
It is my fate to mix with a knot of individuals, each of them capable of sustaining a part in rational discourse, and of bringing to the intellectual conflict minds armed with vigor and stored with learning; who, nevertheless, meet together to fritter away time, patience, and attention, with a series of uncennected quibbles and conceits.
Their talk is not narrative, for nothing is related; not demonstrative, for nothing is maintained ; not dictative, for nothing can be learned; not argumentative, for nothing can be proved; not confidential, for nothing can be believed. Instead of the rich web of fancy, glowing with the vivid creations of lively and intelligent minds, the hearers are presented with a motley intermixture of shreds of wit and patches of conceit, a checker-work of incongruous images, the very orts and leavings of the “ feast of reason,” the dregs and scum of science and literature. If I relate to this group of punsters the most affecting circumstance, I am heard with impatience and inattention, till I chance, unwittingly, to utter a word susceptible of a double or triple interpretation. The mischievous spark of folly is applied; the moral interest of my tale is undermined, and a loud report of laughter announces the explosion of folly.
The Genius of Orthography frowns in vain; puns are, by the laws of custom, entitled to claim entrance into the sensorium, either by the eye or the ear; but then a pseudo-pun -"for indeed there are counterfeits abroad, and it behoves men to be carefu'” is perceptible to neither sense, — when
read, it cannot be seen, and when heard, it cannot be under: stood, and to avoid the horror of an explanation, I find I am obliged to perjure myself, by laughing in ignorance and very sadness, and thus sanction the practice I would fain abolish.
The evil, in fact, is subversive of the first principle of society. Is it little to hunger for the bread of wisdom, and to be fed with the husks of folly? Is it little to thirst for the Castalian fount, and see its waters idly wasted in sport or malice ? Is it little to seek for the interchange of souls, and find only the reciprocation of nonsense?
36. Byron, the Poet, and the Mar.
ADMIRE the goodness of Almighty God!
Take one example, to our purpose quite:
Who riches had, and fame, beyor d desire, A i heir of flattery, to titles born, And reputation, and luxurious life; Yet, not content with ancestorial name, Or to be known because his fathers were, He on this height hereditary stood, And, gazing higher, purposed in his heart To take another step. Above him seemed, Alone, the mount of song, the lofty seat Of canonizéd bards; and thitherward, By nature taught, and inward melody, In prime of youth, he bent his eagle eye. No cost was spared. What books he wished, he read; What sage to hear, he heard; what scenes to see, He saw. And first in rambling school-boy days, Britannia's mountain-walks, and heath-girt lakes, And story-telling glens, and founts, and brooks, And maids, as dew-drops pure and fair, his soul With grandeur filled, and melody, and love. Then travel came, and took him where he wished. He cities saw, and courts, and princely pomp'; And mused alone on ancient mountain-brows; And mused on battle-fields, where valor fought In other days; and mused on ruins gray With years; and drank from old and fabulous wella, And plucked the vine that first-born prophets pluckesko And mused on famous tombs, and on the wave Of ocean mused, and on the desert waste; The heavens and earth of every country saw. Where'er the old inspiring Genii dwelt, Aught that could rouse, expand, refine the soul, Thither he went, and meditated there.
He touched his harp, and nations heard, entranced.
Where Fancy halted, weary in her flight,
" the Ocean's mane,"
So Ocean, from the plains, his waves had late
As some fierce comet, of tremendous size,
The nations gazed, and wondered much, and praised;
Great man! the nations gazed, and wondered much,