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Pia Desideria, viz.
Authore Hermanno Hugone a Societate Jesu. Editio postrema recognita et emendata. Lond. 1677. A Collection of Emblemes ancient and moderne, Quickened with Metrical Illustrations, both moral and divine, and disposed into Lotteries, that instruction, and good counsell may be furthered by an honest and pleasing recreation. By George Wither. London: printed by A. M. for Robert Allot; and are to be sold at the Blacke Beare, in Paul's Church-yard. 1635. Emblems; by Francis Quarles. London: printed by G. M. and sold at John Marriot's shope in St. Dunston's Church-yard, Fleet-street, 1635. 8vo.
The word Emblem, derived from the Greek, was originally used to express ornaments placed on gold and silver vases, balls, pillars, &c., such as seals, or the images of flowers, and which could be affixed or removed at pleasure. Hence those ingenious pictures which, like the Egyptian hieroglyphics, teach morality or wisdom by symbols, were denominated emblems; but, for the sake of illustration, and to increase the pleasure to be derived from such representations, the assistance of poetry, and sometimes of prose, was called in. Although the name is thus derived, the origin of emblems themselves may be traced back to the remote time, when the unskilful artist was obliged, in order to explain his picture, to write underneath each image, "this is a horse, this is a tree." We cannot indeed suppose, that any great delight was caused in the spectator by portraitures of figures, which required a finger-post to teach the way to their meaning; yet, as soon as they had assumed something like freedom, something like correctness, those quick interpreters, the eyes, would explain to the mind the mysterious wisdom infolded in them, perhaps more readily than words could do. Such as had suffered shipwreck, knowing the impression made by pictorial representation, were formerly accustomed, for the purpose of exciting compassion, to carry about a picture of their misfortunes; supposing, that the spectators would be much more easily moved by the very image of their miseries than by any verbal relation of them. Such an emblem would probably produce a greater impression on uncultivated minds than poetry or eloquence; as it is much more easy to comprehend a sensible image, than a metaphorical one. The effect or meaning of an event is more quickly conveyed by the pencil; and therefore, whenever a child or child-like man takes up a book with prints in it, he immediately has recourse to them, both for delight and profit-they make music to the eye more subtilly
than instruments do to the ear. Emblems are the delight of the nurse and the nurseling; the former pointing out with her finger the different figures, and explaining their meaning, and the little scholar marvelling at the knowledge of his teacher, and drinking in wisdom through his eyes. The child thus receives practical lessons of piety and morality with a pleasure which dwells upon his mind through years of sorrow and trouble. We have known those whose boyish days have been made more agreeable by the emblems of Whitney-who could recollect the different prints, their situation, the details, the whole, to their then delighted minds, beautiful pictures, which adorn that most ancient preceptor by emblematic art. But the emblems of Whitney and of Quarles have given place to meaner efforts of art, both of the pen and pencil; gaudy, silly prints, and sillier illustrative verses now occupy the juvenile library.-Alas! emblems have faded, and their poetry decayed; and as we have no hopes to resuscitate them, all we can do is to embalm their memory, and adorn them with a wreath of their own flowers.
Though uniting the graphic and poetic arts, these speaking pictures have seldom been raised above the humbler walks of each department. In general they possess neither great dignity nor deep feeling; their charm is in their simplicity-they do not command directly, but invite with a gentle inference to goodness. But their unpretending modesty, their humble teachings, ought not to make them despised. If they do not afford instruction to the learned, they may remind them of a duty to be performed, or warn them of a danger to be avoided. " For," says Wither, in the preface to his Emblems," when levity or a childish delight in trifling objects. hath allured them to look on the pictures, curiosity may urge them to peep further, that they might seek out their meanings in our annexed illustrations, in which may lurk some sentence or expression, so evidently pertinent to their estates, persons, or affections, as will, at that instant or afterwards, make way for those considerations, which will at last wholly change them, or much better them in their conversation."
We mean not in this paper to give a regular history of Emblems; and our observations and extracts will chiefly be confined to the Emblems of our own country.
The earliest writer of Emblems with whom we are acquainted, is Andreas Alciatus, descended from the noble family of Alciati, in the principality of Milan, and born in 1501. As soon as he was capable of receiving instruction he was furnished with the best masters; and at an early age, applied to the study of the law with such ardour, that he soon became eminent in that profession, and proceeded doctor of laws. He was universally admired for his vast legal attainments, and his renown having spread abroad, he was called by the citizens of
Avignon to fill the chair of professor of laws in that city, which he did with great reputation. He was subsequently invited to Bourges by Francis the first, and after presiding in the academy there for five years, was recalled to his native country by Francis Sforza, Duke of Milan, who tempted him, by the offer of the rank of senator. He lectured at Paris for some time, and then proceeded to Bologna, where he taught the civil law with such success for four years, that no one was considered well educated, unless he had been the pupil of Alciatus. After having travelled about a considerable time, he at length died at Pavia, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. He introduced a more polished and refined style in the interpretation of the civil law, but many teachers still adhering to the ancient practice, he said 'that they were content to eat acorns with heir ancestors, rather than corn with their contemporaries.' Alciatus, in his leisure hours, composed his book of Emblems, the first edition of which was published 1535, and to him many subsequent writers of Emblems have been indebted, particularly Wither, who has adopted a great many of his designs. On this account, as well as on that of his being the earliest author of this species of composition, we shall extract one or two of the Illustrations of his Emblems, which are in general very brief; but as the prints are generally described with sufficient accuracy in the Illustrations we shall extract in the course of this article, we do not consider it necessary to give any other description of them.
Dextra tenet lapidem, manus altera sustinet alas :
Thus amplified by Wither, in his forty-second emblem of the third Book, which gives an accurate description of the print.
You little think what plague it is to be,
In plight like him whom pictured here you see.
Declare that he hath wit and will to rise:
The stone which clogs his other hand may show,
The hundred and seventy-seventh Emblem is a helmet,
surrounded with bees, intitled Ex bello pax.
En galea, intrepidus quam miles gesserat et qua
Wither has an emblem with the same design, with the addition of certain instruments of war. The commencement of it will serve as a translation of that of Alciatus, though the point is lost.
When you have heeded by your eyes of sense
The following elegant illustrative verses were written by Alciatus, on occasion of a violent plague in Italy, which swept off all the young men, and left the old untouched.
Errabat socio Mors juncta Cupidine: secum
Mors pharetras, parvus tela gerebat Amor.
Cæcus Amor, Mors hoc tempore cæca fuit.
Ast ego mutato quia Amor me perculit arcu,
Parce puer, Mors signa tenens victricia parce :
Geoffry Whitney, the earliest of our English emblematic writers, lived many years abroad, and published his Collection at Leyden, in 1586. The prints are distinguished by peculiar grace, and the poetry by its extreme simplicity. He has imitated the last emblem we have quoted from Alciatus, and has, at the conclusion, given it a turn at once simple and beautiful.
De morte et amore: Jocosum.
While furious Mors from place to place did fly,
Within one inn they both together stay'd,
The morrow next, they both away do haste,
Whereby ensued such alteration strange,
Thus nature's laws this chance infringed so,
These darts are bone, take thou the darts of gold.
Who miscontent, did change again perforce.
Then, when we see untimely death appear;
We shall extract a few emblems from this rare book, not, however, on account of its rarity, but the intrinsic merit of the compositions. There is a freshness about the early writers of our country, not so much, however, in the thought itself, as in the simple manner in which it is conveyed; an almost child-like simplicity of expression, as appropriate as it is artless, which has an irresistible charm for us. Their's seems the language in which nature herself would unfold her beauties and her verities. It gives even the appearance of novelty, as well as strength and propriety to the thought, and never bears the marks of effort or constraint. Our next extract is entitled
Murus æreus sana conscientia.
Both fresh, and green, the laurel standeth sound,