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Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

Ned Softly, Sonneteer

The Tatler, No. 163, 25.4.1710

  Idem inficeto est inficetior rure,
Simul poemata attigit; neque idem unquam
Æque est beatus, ac poema cum scribit:
Tam gaudet in se, tamque se ipse miratur.
Nimirum idem omnes fallimur; neque est quisquam
Quem non in aliqua re videre Suffenum
Possis *
Catul. de Suffeno* xx. 14.

I yesterday came hither about two hours before the company generally make their appearance, with a design to read over all the newspapers; but, upon my sitting down, I "was accosted by Ned Softly, who saw me from a corner in the other end of the room, where I found he had been writing something. "Mr. Bickerstaff," says he, "I observe by a late Paper of yours, that you and I are just of a humor ; for you must know, of all impertinences, there is nothing which I so much hate as news. I never read a Gazette in my life; and never trouble my head about our armies, whether they win or lose, or in what part of the world they lie encamped." Without giving me time to reply, he drew a paper of verses out of his pocket, telling me, "that he had something which would entertain me more agreeably; and that he would desire my judgment upon every line, for that we had time enough before us until the company came in."
Ned Softly is a very pretty poet, and a great admirer of easy lines. Waller is his favorite: and as that admirable writer has the best and worst verses of any among our great English poets, Ned Softly, has got all the bad ones without book; which he repeats upon occasion, to show his reading, andgarnish his conversation. Ned is indeed a true English reader, incapable of relishing the great and masterly strokes of this art; but wonderfully pleased with the little Gothic ornaments of epigrammatical conceits, turns, points, and quibbles, which are so frequent in the most admired of our English poets, and practised by those who want genius and strength to represent, after the manner of the ancients, simplicity in its natural beauty and perfection.
Finding myself unavoidably engaged in such a conversation, I was resolved to turn my pain into a pleasure, and to divert myseK as well as I could with so very odd a fellow. "You must understand," says Ned, "that the sonnet I am going to read to you was written upon a lady, who showed me some verses of her own making, and is, perhaps, the best poet of our age. But you shall hear it."
Upon which he began to read as follows :


When dress'd in laurel wreaths you shine,
And tune your soft melodious notes,

You seem a sister of the Nine,
Or Phoebus' self in petticoats.

I fancy, when your song you sing,
(Your song you sing with so much art)
Your pen was plucked from Cupid's wing;
For, ah! it wounds me like his dart.

'Why," says I, "this is a little nosegay of conceits, a very lump of salt: every verse has something in it that piques; and then the dart in the last line is certainly as pretty a sting in the tail of an epigram, for so I think you critics call it, as ever entered into the thought of a poet.'' "Dear Mr. Bickerstaff,'' says he, shaking me by the hand, "everybody knows you to be a judge of these things; and to tell you truly, I read over Roscommon's
translation of 'Horace's Art of Poetry' three several times, before I sat down to write the sonnet which I have shown you. But you shall hear it again, and pray observe every line of it; for not one of them shall pass without your approbation.

When dress'd in laurel wreaths, you shine,

 "That is," says he, "when you have your garland on; when you are writing verses." To which I replied, "I know your meaning : a metaphor !" "The same," said he, and went on.

And tune your soft melodious notes.

Pray observe the gliding of that verse; there is scarce a consonant in it : I took care to make it run upon liquids. Give me your opinion of it/' "Truly," said I, "I think it as good as the former." "I am very glad to hear you say so," says he; 'T^ut mind the next."

You seem a sister of the Nine,

"That is," says he, "you seem a sister of the Muses; for, if you look into ancient authors, you will find it was their opinion that there were nine of them." "I remember it very well," said I; "but pray proceed."

Or Phoebus' self in petticoats.

"Phoebus," says he, "was the god of poetry. These little instances, Mr. Bickerstaff, show a gentleman's reading. Then, to take off from the air of learning, which Phoebus and the Muses had given to this first stanza, you may observe, how it falls all of a sudden into the familiar ;
'in Petticoats' !"

Or Phoebus' self in petticoats.

"Let us now," says I, "enter upon the second stanza; I find the first line is still a continuation of the metaphor,

I fancy, when your song you sing.

"It is very right," says he, but pray observe the turn of words in those two lines. I was a whole hour in adjusting of them, and have still a doubt upon me, Whether in the second line it should be 'Your song you sing; or, You sing your song?' You shall hear them both:

I fancy, when your song you sing,
(Your song you sing with so much art)


I fancy, when your song you sing,

(You sing your song with so much art.)"

"Truly," said I, "the turn is so natural either way, that you have made me almost giddy with it." "Dear sir," said he, grasping me by the hand, "you have a great deal of patience; but pray what do you think of the next verse?

Your pen was pluck'd from Cupid's wing.

"Think!'' says I; "I think you have made Cupid look like a little goose." "That was my meaning," says he: "I think the ridicule is well enough hit off. But we come now to the last, which sums up the whole matter.

For, ah! it wounds me like his dart.

"Pray how do you like that Ah! doth it not make a pretty figure in that place? Ah! it looks as if I felt the dart, and cried out as being pricked with it.

For, ah! it wounds me like his dart.

"My friend Dick Easy," continued he, "assured me, he would rather have written that Ah! than to have been the author of the Aeneid. He indeed objected, that I made Mira's pen like a quill in one of the lines, and like a dart in the other. But as to that " "Oh ! as to that," says I, "it is but supposing Cupid to be like a porcupine, and his quills and darts will be the same thing." He was going to embrace me for the hint ; but half a dozen critics coming into the room, whose faces he did not like, he conveyed the sonnet into his pocket, and whispered me in the ear, "he would show it me again as soon as his man had written it over fair."

* Suffenus has no more wit than a mere clown when he at-tempts to write verses, and yet he is never happier than when he is scribbling ; bo much does he admire himself and his com-positions. And, indeed, this is the foible of every one of us, for there is no man living who is not a Suflfenus in one thing or other.

(Quelle: http://www23.us.archive.org/stream/selectionsfromad01addi/selectionsfromad01addi_djvu.txt, Hervorhebung nach: Gigante (2008), vgl. Thorn 2012, S.44-46)

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