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HE Epigram is a little poem, or compofition in verfe, cha
racters are Brevity, Beauty, and Point.
The word Epigram fignifies Inscription; for epigrams derive their origin from thofe infcriptions placed by the antients on their ftatues, temples, pillars, triumphal arches,. and the like; which, at firft, were very fhort, being fome-times no more than a fingle word, but afterwards, increas ing their length, they made them in verfe, to be the better retained by the memory. This fhort way of writing came. at laft to be used upon any occafion or fubject; and hence the name of Epigram has been given to any little copy of veries, without regard to the original application of fuch
Its ufual limits are from two to twenty verfes, though fometimes it extends to fifty; but the shorter the better it. is, and the more perfect, as it partakes more of the nature and character of this kind of poem: Befides, the epigram, being only a fingle thought, ought to be expressed in a little compass, or elfe it lofes its force and strength.
The Beauty required in an Epigram is an harmony and apt agreement of all its parts, a fweet fimplicity, and polite language.
The Point is a fharp, lively, unexpected turn of wit, with which an epigram ought to be concluded. There are fome critics, indeed, who will not admit the Point in an Epigram, but require the thought to be equally diffufed through the whole poem, which is ufually the practice of Catullus, as the former is that of Martial. It is allow'd there is more delicacy in the manner of Catullus, but the Point is more agreeable to the general tafte, and feems to be the chief characteristic of the Epigram.
This fort of poem admits of all manner of subjects, provided that Brevity, Beauty, and Point are preferved; but it is generally employed either in Praife or Satire.
Tho' the best Epigrams are faid to be fuch as are comprized in two or four verses, we are not to understand it as if none can be perfect which exceed those limits. Neither the antients nor moderns have been fo fcrupulous with refpect to the length of their Epigrams; but however, Brevity in general is always to be ftudied in these compofi
For examples of good Epigrams in the English language, we shall make choice of feveral in the different taftes we have mention'd; some remarkable for their delicate turn and fimplicity of expreffion, and others for their falt and sharpnefs, their equivocating pun, or pleasant allufion. In the first place, take that of Mr. Pope, faid to be written on a glafs with the earl of Chesterfield's diamond pencil :
Accept a miracle, inftead of wit;
The Beauty of this Epigram is more easily seen than defcribed. For my part I am at a lofs to determine whether it does more honour to the poet who wrote it, or to the nobleman for whom the compliment is defigned.-The following Epigram of Mr. Prior is written in the fame tafte, being a fine encomium on the performance of an excellent painter.
On a Flower, painted by VARELST.
When fam'd Varelft this little wonder drew,
Another compliment of this delicate kind he has made Mr. Howard in the following Epigram.
When CHLOE's picture was to VENUS shown
"Tis CHLOE's eye, and cheek, and lip, and breast: Friend HOWARD's genius fancy'd all the rest.
Moft of Mr. Prior's Epigrams are of this delicate caff, and have the thought, like thofe of Catullus, diffused thro" the whole. Of this kind is his address
To CHLOE weeping.
See, whilft thou weep'ft, fair Chloe, fee
The Epigram written on the leaves of a Fan by Dr. Atterbury, late bishop of Rochester, contains a pretty thought, exprefs'd with eafe and concifenefs, and clofed in a beautiful manner.
On a FA N.
Flavia the leaft and flighteft toy
We fhall now felect fome Epigrams of the biting and fa tirical kind, and fuch as turn upon the Pan or Equivoque, as the French call it in which fort the Point is more confpicuous than in thofe of the former character.
The following diftich, in my opinion, is an admirable Epigram, having all the neceffary qualities of one, especially Point and Brevity.
On a company of bad DANCERS to good Mufick.
How ill the motion with the mufic fuits!
This puts me in mind of another Epigram upon a bad fiddler, which I fhall venture to infert merely for the humour of it, and not for any real excellence it contains.
To a bad FI
Old Orpheus play'd fo well, he mov'd Old Nick ;
One of Martial's Epigrams, wherein he agreeably rallies the foolish vanity of a man who hired people to make verfes for him, and published them as his own, has been thus tranflated into English.
Paul fo fond of the name of a poet is grown,
Another Epigram of the fame Latin poet is very prettily imitated in the following Tetraflic.
On an ugly WOMAN.
Whilst in the dark on thy foft hand I hung,
We have a good Epigram by Mr. Cowley, on Prometheus ill painted; to underfland which, we muft remember his ftory. Prometheus is feign'd by the ancient poets to have formed men of clay, and to have put life into them by fire ftolen from heaven, for which crime Jupiter caus'd him to. be chain'd to a rock, where a vulture was fet to gnaw his liver, which grew again as faft as it was devoured. On this fiction the Epigram is founded.
PROMETHEUS drawn by a bad Painter.
How wretched does Prometheus' state appear,
If once again his liver thus fhould grow.
Some bad writer having taken the liberty to cenfure Mr: Prior, the poet very wittily lafh'd his impertinence in this. Epigram.
While fafter than his coftive brain indites,
But perhaps there are none of Mr. Prior's little pieces that have more humour and pleasantry than the following.
A reasonable AFFLICTION,
Her eye-brows on the toilet lay :
As fees belonging to her prey.
Affure yourself, was loudly rated;
With her own hand the mouse-trap baited.
Mr. Weftley has given us a pretty Epigram alluding to a well-known text of fcripture, on the fetting up a monu-, ment in Westminster Abbey, to the memory of the ingenious Mr. Eutler, author of Hudibras.