Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ANSWER TO CHESTERFIELD'S 'REBUS', by JOHN BYROM



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AN ANSWER TO CHESTERFIELD'S 'REBUS', by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Paucis, friend aphanus, abhinc diebus
Last Line: Did it, believe me, to oblige your honour.
Subject(s): Art & Artists; Riddles


PAUCIS, friend Aphanus, abhinc diebus,
With no small pleasure I receiv'd a Rebus.
'Twas old acquaintance Benjamin's own hand
That gave the pleasure, you must understand;
For, all the blesings show'r'd on mortal men,
Rebus in omnibus, I wish to Ben.

At his request I sought for ancient city,
That lay conceal'd in cabalistic ditty;—
So did we all: for, when his letter came,
Some friends were chair'd around the focal flame;
Not one 'mongst all, the Rebus out could make;
Diaphanus himself was quite opaque.

Tho' pleas'd with pleasing when he can do so,
His ingenuity he loves to shew;
He is as free to own when it does not,
If such a thing falls out to be his lot,
He had none here, nor any succedaneum,
Which could discover this same HERCULANEUM.

Altho' it seem'd to ask, when it appear'd,
No great Herculean labour to be clear'd;
So many diff'rent wits at work, no doubt
The city's name would quickly be found out!
But notwithstanding Variorum lecture,
The name lay snug without the least detecture.

You stand entitled hereupon to laugh
At hapless genius in your friend Diaph.
But, in excuse for what he must confess,
Nor men, nor even Ladies, here could guess;
No more of ancient city than Old Sarum
To Variorum seen, or Variarum.

One good, however, rose on this occasion,—
It put an end to fears of French Invasion;
And wits, quite frighten'd out of Dames and Men,
When Rebus came, came into them again;
Tho' little skill'd to judge of either matter,
Yet the more pleasing puzzle was the latter.

It will occur to you, on second thought,
That, though we miss'd the city that was sought,
We might have told you somewhat of the guesses
Of luckless neighbours and neighbouresses;
So let us try to give you just an Item,—
For it would take a volume to recite 'em.

'I can't divine,' said Chloe, 'for my part,
'What the man means by—noblest work of art:
'From clock to temple, pyramid, and ship,
'And twenty diff'rent handiworks you skip.
'Now I dare say, when all your votes are past,
'City or work,—'tis Dresden at the last.'

'Nor I,' said Phyllis, 'what the man can mean
'By his next hint of Nature's brightest scene.
'Among so many of her scenes so bright
'Who can devise which of them is the right?
'I'll name a word where brightest scene must lie:
'To speak my own opinion, Sirs,—'tis Eye.'

'Peace,' said a third of I forget what sex,
'Has well-known signal that may well perplex;
'It should be Olive branch, to be well known;
'But Rebus, unconfin'd to that alone,
'May mean abundance, plenty, riches, trade;—
'Who knows the signal that is here display'd?'

Thus they went on:—but, though I stir its embers,
It is not much that memory remembers.
Two Ladies had a long disputing match
Whether charm-adding spot was Mole or patch;
While none would venture to decide the Vole,—
One had a patch and t' other had a Mole.

So Wife's Ambition made a parted school;
Some said, "to please her husband," some, "to rule;"
On this moot point, too, Rebus would create,
As you may guess, a pretty smart debate,
Till one propos'd to end it thus with ease,
"The only way to rule him is TO PLEASE."

Hold! I forgot:—One said, a Parson's dues
Was the same thing with shining badge of Jews,
And it was Tithe, of corn, or pig, or goose;
What earth, or animals of earth produce,
From calf and lamb to turnip and potatoe,
Might be the word,—which he had nought to say to.

For an excuse is made, upon the whole,
The two great number of the words, that poll
For correspondency to ev'ry line,
And make the meant one tedious to divine;
But we suspect that other points ambiguous,
And eke unfair, contribute to fatigue us.

For, first, with due submission to our betters,
What ancient city could have eighteen letters?
Or more? for, in the latter lines, the clue
May have one correspondent word or two.
Clue should have said, if only one occurr'd,
Not "correspondent words" to each, but "word."

From some suspicions of a bite, we guess
The number of the letters to be less;
And from expression of a certain cast,
Some joke unequal to the pains at last.
Could you have said that all was right and clever,
Ours would have been more fortunate endeavour.

"There should be always in a JEU DE MOTS
"Clear-pointed turn, short, fair, and a propos;
"Wit without straining; neatness without starch,
"Hinted tho' hidden; decent, tho' 'tis arch;
"No vile idea should disgrace a Rebus,"—
SIC DICUNT MUSÆ, SIC EDICIT PHŒEBUS.

This, Aphanus, tho' short of satisfaction,
Is what account occurs of the transaction,—
Impertinent enough:—but you'll excuse
What your own Postscript half enjoin'd the Muse:
She, when she took the sudden task upon her,
Did it, believe me, to oblige your honour.





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