Essay upon Wit

Joseph Addison
Essay upon Wit

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Title: Essay upon Wit
Author: Sir Richard Blackmore
Release Date: September 17, 2004 [eBook #13484] [Date last updated:
February 15, 2005]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by S. R. Ellison, David Starner, and the Project
Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sir Richard Blackmore
With Commentary by Joseph Addison (Freeholder, No. 45, 1716) and
an Introduction by Richard C. Boys

_Series One: Essays on Wit_ No. 1
Sir Richard Blackmore's _Essay upon Wit (1716)_
Joseph Addison's _Freeholder, No. 45 (1716)_
With an Introduction by Richard C. Boys

The Augustan Reprint Society May 1946 Price: 60c

Membership in the Augustan Reprint Society entitles the subscriber to
six publications issued each year. The annual membership fee is $2.50.
Address subscriptions and communications to the Augustan Reprint
Society in care of the General Editors: Richard C. Boys, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; or Edward N. Hooker or H.T.
Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles 24, California.

The battle between the puritans and the sophisticates is never ending.
At certain stages of cultural development the worldly wise are in the
ascendent in the literary world, as they were in the Restoration and after
the first World War. Yet those with a more sober view of life are never
submerged, even when they are overshadowed. The court of the
restored Charles gave full play to the indelicacy of Rochester, Dryden,
and their circles, but most of their contemporaries were probably more
content to read George Herbert, Queries, Baxter, and Bunyan. Though
the fashionable and urbane remained dominant in letters through the
age of Dryden, the forces of morality were rallying, and after 1688 the
court (with which Blackmore was connected) threw its weight on the
side of virtue. Jeremy Collier was but the most important voice of a
great movement, destined to have its effect on literature.
Sir Richard Blackmore contributed his share to the growing wave of
bourgeois morality, which in the 18th century was reflected in the
middle-class appeal of Addison and Steel, Lillo's London Merchant,
and Richardson's almost feminine plea for virtue rewarded. A physician,
Blackmore had turned to poetry for relaxation and composed his
soporific epics, by his own admission, in the coffee-houses and in his
coach while visiting patients. In the preface, to Prince Arthur (1695)
the City Bard took occasion to flay the Wits of the day for their
immorality, an attack which he followed up in 1697 with the Preface to
King Arthur, whose thinly disguised political allegory won him a
knighthood. Up to this point the Wits had treated him with amused
scorn, but when he called his big guns into action in the Satyr against
Wit (dated 1700 but issued late in 1699) the Wits set out to crush him
for once and all. Commendatory Verses on the Author of the Two

Arthurs and the Satyr against Wit (1700), the reply, was far from
commendatory. Edited by Tom Brown and sponsored by Christopher
Codrington, this miscellany attempted in scurrilous and often bad verse
to laugh the Knight out of literary existence. Its main distinction lies in
the list of contributors, among whom were Sir Charles Sedley, Richard
Steele, Tom Brown, and probably John Dennis. Blackmore's supporters
answered Commendatory Verses with Discommendatory _Verses on
Those Which are Truly Commendatory, on the Author of the Two
Arthurs, and the Satyr against Wit_. (1700). It is not at all certain that
Blackmore emerged second best in this exchange of blows in the
miscellanies. At any rate, unabashed he went on to write more epics on
Elizabeth, Alfred, Job, and to win himself a doubtful immortality by
being pilloried in Pope's Dunciad.
Throughout his writings Blackmore has a good deal to say about Wit,
and much about the abuse of it. While Swift in the Tale of a Tub scolds
the Wits for their addiction to nonsense and irreligion, Blackmore goes
still further in the Satyr, seeing Wit as something which, in common
practice, is evil and vicious, to be eradicated as quickly as possible. It is
the enemy of virtue and religion (in the Preface to Creation, 1712, he
links it with atheism), a form of insanity, in opposition to 'Right
Reason', and the seducer of young men. Combatting its iniquities,
Blackmore proposes to set up a Bank and Mint of Wit to assure that
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