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“ Law, flocks, kings, hopes, riches, right, incense, salt, sun good
torch, praise to you ! Mars, death, destiny, fraud, impurity, Styx, night, the cross, bad
humours and evil power, may you be condemned !"
Another class of literary triflers may be named here—those who chose to display a kind of microscopic skill by writing so small that their work appeared to the naked eye only as a mere wavy line. Laborious ingenuity of these various kinds, so far from being discouraged, was rather pleasurably indulged in by some of our ancient writers, of whom might have been expected other and better things.
In relation to those who have chosen to exert themselves in the way of microscopic writing, apart from authorship, as feats of this kind hold no place in the following parts of this work, it may not be out of place to say a little here. The fact, as Pliny relates, that the “Iliad” of Homer, containing 15,000 verses, had been written in so small a compass as to be wholly enclosed in a nutshell, has often been referred to as one of those things which require to be seen to be believed; and yet, however doubtful such a feat may appear, it is certain that one Huet, who at first thought it impossible, demonstrated by experiment that it could be done. A piece of vellum 10 inches in length and 8 wide would hold 250 lines, each line containing 30 verses, and thus, filling both sides of the vellum, 15,000, the whole number of verses in the “Iliad," could be written upon it; and this piece of vellum, folded compactly, would go easily into the shell of a walnut. Another ancient trifler of this kind is said to have written a distich in golden letters, which he enclosed in the rind of a grain of corn.
Of these microscopic writers, Peter Bales, an eminent writing-master of his day, who kept a school near the Old Bailey during the time of Elizabeth, may be said to have been facile princeps. We are told in the Harleian MS. 530, of "a rare piece of work brought to pass” by him, this being the “whole Bible contained in a large English walnut no bigger than a hen's egg; the nut holdeth the book; there are as many leaves in his book as the great Bible, and he hath written as much in one of his little leaves as a great leaf of the Bible.” This book, which certainly would be almost unreadable, and of which the paper or other material on which it was written must have been very thin, “ was seen by many thousands.” Another feat performed by Peter Bales was the writing of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, two short Latin prayers, and his own name, motto, day of month and
year of our Lord and reign of Queen Elizabeth, all within the circle of a penny, encased in a ring of gold, the whole so clearly done as to be perfectly readable. This work he presented to the Queen at Hampton Court, and she very graciously accepted the offering. It is nothing unusual nowadays to find writing of almost if not quite as minute character as this, seeing that the Ten Commandments have been written in a compass small enough to be covered by a fourpenny piece!
An account is preserved in an old “Monthly Magazine” of a beautiful specimen of penmanship executed by a Mr. Beedell of Ottery St. Mary's. This piece of workmanship was surrounded by an elegant border,-itself the labour of six weeks, -containing tastefully arranged within it the following figures :-“Common hare, varying hare of the northern countries of Europe, pine martin, otter, wild cat; harrier (hunting piece); three foreign birds on a tree; a correct representation of Ottery St. Mary's Church, surrounded by a beautiful border; ruins of a castle, encompassed by a very neat and pretty border.” At the bottom of all
this Mr. Beedell also wrote, as another specimen of minute penmanship, the Lord's Prayer, Belief, and two verses of the third Psalm, in the circumference of a common-sized pea.
There is said to be a portrait of Queen Anne among the treasures of the British Museum on which appear a number of minute lines and scratches, which, when examined through a microscope, are discovered to be the entire contents of a small folio book in the library. A similar effort in the way of microscopic caligraphy was discovered some years ago by a gentleman who had bought at a sale a pen-and-ink portrait of Alexander Pope, surrounded by a design in scroll-work. Examining this through a glass, in order, if possible, to discover the artist's name, he was astonished to find that the fine lines in the surrounding scroll were nothing less that a Life of the poet, so minutely transcribed as only to be legible by the aid of a magnifier. This was believed to be an imitation of a similar effort in the way of portraiture which was at one time in the library of St. John's College at Oxford, where a head of Charles I. was drawn in minute characters, so fine as to resemble the lines of an engraving, but which, when closely examined, was
found to be the Book of Psalms, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. One other instance of this kind of work has been recorded, that of a portrait of Richelieu, which appears on the title of a French book: the Cardinal's head is surrounded by a glory of forty rays, each ray containing the name of a French Academician. Of one person who was an adept at this kind of writing, the almost incredible feat is recorded of placing the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, seven of the Commandments, the 103d, 133d, and 144th Psalms, with name and date, within the circumference of a sixpence! while another is said to have written the whole Book of Malachi in a pyramid the size of a little finger.
Without here noticing further any of the various kinds of Literary Frivolities contained in the following pages,—and of which, in many cases, the examples have been greatly limited, -we cannot conclude this Introduction without adverting to one which, it is hoped, is quite unique, for nothing approaching it in absurdity or inutility has come under our notice, or that of any one else we trust, as it might fairly be taken as an indication that something was decidedly wrong with the mental condition of the person who could throw away his time and labour upon so frivolous a pursuit: it is given