No. 396. Wednesday, June 4, 1712. Henley.

Barbara, Celarent, Darii, Ferio, Baralipton.'


From St. John's College Cambridge, Feb. 3, 1712.


The Monopoly of Punns in this University has been an immemorial Privilege of the Johnians; and we can't help resenting the late Invasion of our ancient Right as to that Particular, by a little Pretender to Clenching in a neighbouring College, who in an Application to you by way of Letter, a while ago, styled himself Philobrune. Dear Sir, as you are by Character a profest Well-wisher to Speculation, you will excuse a Remark which this Gentleman's Passion for the Brunette has suggested to a Brother Theorist; 'tis an Offer towards a mechanical Account of his Lapse to Punning, for he belongs to a Set of Mortals who value themselves upon an uncommon Mastery in the more humane and polite Part of Letters. A Conquest by one of this Species of Females gives a very odd Turn to the Intellectuals of the captivated Person, and very different from that way of thinking which a Triumph from the Eyes of another more emphatically of the fair Sex, does generally occasion. It fills the Imagination with an Assemblage of such Ideas and Pictures as are hardly any thing but Shade, such as Night, the Devil, &c. These Portraitures very near over-power the Light of the Understanding, almost benight the Faculties, and give that melancholy Tincture to the most sanguine Complexion, which this Gentleman calls an Inclination to be in a Brown-study, and is usually attended with worse Consequences in case of a Repulse. During this Twilight of Intellects, the Patient is extremely apt, as Love is the most witty Passion in Nature, to offer at some pert Sallies now and then, by way of Flourish, upon the amiable Enchantress, and unfortunately stumbles upon that Mongrel miscreated (to speak in Miltonic) kind of Wit, vulgarly termed, the Punn. It would not be much amiss to consult Dr. T--W--[2] (who is certainly a very able Projector, and whose system of Divinity and spiritual Mechanicks obtains very much among the better Part of our Under-Graduates) whether a general Intermarriage, enjoyned by Parliament, between this Sisterhood of the Olive Beauties, and the Fraternity of the People call'd Quakers, would not be a very serviceable Expedient, and abate that Overflow of Light which shines within them so powerfully, that it dazzles their Eyes, and dances them into a thousand Vagaries of Error and Enthusiasm. These Reflections may impart some Light towards a Discovery of the Origin of Punning among us, and the Foundation of its prevailing so long in this famous Body. Tis notorious from the Instance under Consideration, that it must be owing chiefly to the use of brown Juggs, muddy Belch, and the Fumes of a certain memorable Place of Rendezvous with us at Meals, known by the Name of Staincoat Hole: For the Atmosphere of the Kitchen, like the Tail of a Comet, predominates least about the Fire, but resides behind and fills the fragrant Receptacle above-mentioned. Besides, 'tis farther observable that the delicate Spirits among us, who declare against these nauseous proceedings, sip Tea, and put up for Critic and Amour, profess likewise an equal Abhorrency for Punning, the ancient innocent Diversion of this Society. After all, Sir, tho' it may appear something absurd, that I seem to approach you with the Air of an Advocate for Punning, (you who have justified your Censures of the Practice in a set Dissertation upon that Subject;) yet, I'm confident, you'll think it abundantly atoned for by observing, that this humbler Exercise may be as instrumental in diverting us from any innovating Schemes and Hypothesis in Wit. as dwelling upon honest Orthodox Logic would be in securing us from Heresie in Religion. Had Mr. W--n's [3] Researches been confined within the Bounds of Ramus or Crackanthorp, that learned News-monger might have acquiesced in what the holy Oracles pronounce upon the Deluge, like other Christians; and had the surprising Mr. L--y[4] been content with the Employment of refining upon Shakespear's Points and Quibbles, (for which he must be allowed to have a superlative Genius) and now and then penning a Catch or a Ditty, instead of inditing Odes, and Sonnets, the Gentlemen of the Bon Goust in the Pit would never have been put to all that Grimace in damning the Frippery of State, the Poverty and Languor of Thought, the unnatural Wit, and inartificial Structure of his Dramas. I am, SIR, Your very humble Servant, Peter de Quir.

[Footnote 1: This letter was by John Henley, commonly called Orator Henley. The paper is without signature in first issue or reprint, but the few introductory lines, doubtless, are by Steele. John Henley was at this time but 20 years old. He was born at Melton Mowbray in 1692, and entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1709. After obtaining his degree he was invited to take charge of the Grammar School in his native place, and raised it from decay. He published Esther, a poem; went to London; introduced action into pulpit oratory; missing preferment, gave lectures and orations, religious on Sundays, and political on Wednesdays; was described by Pope in the Dunciad as the Zany of his age, and represented by Hogarth upon a scaffold with a monkey by his side saying Amen. He edited a paper of nonsense called the Hip Doctor, and once attracted to his oratory an audience of shoemakers by announcing that he would teach a new and short way of making shoes; his way being to cut off the tops of boots. He died in 1756.]

[Footnote 2: Percy suggests very doubtfully that this may mean Thomas Woolston, who was bom in 1669, educated at Sidney College, Cambridge, published, in 1705, The Old Apology for the Truth against the Jews and Gentiles revived, and afterwards was imprisoned and fined for levity in discussing sacred subjects. The text points to a medical theory of intermarriage. There was a Thomas Winston, of Clare Hall, Cambridge, who travelled over the continent, took degrees at Basle and Padua, returned to take his M.D. at Cambridge, and settled in London in 1607.]

[Footnote 3: William Whiston, born 1667, educated at Tamworth School and Clare Hall, Cambridge, became a Fellow in 1693, and then Chaplain to Bishop Moore. In 1696 he published his New Theory of the Earth, which divided attention with Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth already mentioned. In 1700 Whiston was invited to Cambridge, to act as deputy to Sir Isaac Newton, whom he succeeded in 1703 as Lucasian Professor. For holding some unorthodox opinions as to the doctrines of the early Christians, he was, in 1710, deprived of his Professorship, and banished from the University. He was a pious and learned man, who, although he was denied the Sacrament, did not suffer himself to be driven out of the Church of England till 1747. At last he established a small congregation in his own house in accordance with his own notion of primitive Christianity. He lived till 1752.]

[Footnote 4: No L--y of that time has written plays that are remembered. The John Lacy whom Charles II. admired so much that he had his picture painted in three of his characters, died in 1681, leaving four comedies and an alteration of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. He was a handsome man: first dancing-master, then quarter-master, then an admired comedian. Henley would hardly have used a blank in referring to a well-known writer who died thirty years before. There was another John Lacy advertising in the Post Boy, Aug. 3, 1714, The Steeleids, or the Trial of Wits, a Poem in three cantos, with a motto:

Then will I say, swelled with poetic rage, That I, John Lacy, have reformed the age.]

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