1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lampoon

LAMPOON, a virulent satire either in prose or verse; the idea of injustice and unscrupulousness seems to be essential to its definition. Although in its use the word is properly and almost exclusively English, the derivation appears to be French. Littré derives it from a term of Parisian argot, lamper, to drink greedily, in great mouthfuls. This word appears to have begun to be prevalent in the middle of the 17th century, and Furetière has preserved a fragment from a popular song, which says:—

Jacques fuyant de Dublin
Dit à Lauzun, son cousin,
“Prenez soin de ma couronne,
J’aurai soin de ma personne,
Lampons! lampons!”

—that is to say, let us drink heavily, and begone dull care. Scarron speaks of a wild troop, singing leridas and lampons. There is, also, a rare French verb, lamponner, to attack with ridicule, used earlier in the 17th century by Brantôme. In its English form, lampoon, the word is used by Evelyn in 1645, “Here they still paste up their drolling lampoons and scurrilous papers,” and soon after it is a verb,—“suppose we lampooned all the pretty women in Town.” Both of these forms, the noun and the verb, have been preserved ever since in English, without modification, for violent and reckless literary censure. Tom Brown (1663–1704) was a past master in the art of lampooning, and some of his attacks on the celebrities of his age have a certain vigour. When Dryden became a Roman Catholic, Brown wrote:—

Traitor to God and rebel to thy pen,
Priest-ridden Poet, perjured son of Ben,
If ever thou prove honest, then the nation
May modestly believe in transubstantiation.

Several of the heroes of the Dunciad, and in particular John Oldmixon (1673–1742), were charged without unfairness with being professional lampooners. The coarse diatribes which were published by Richard Savage (1697–1743), mainly against Lady Macclesfield, were nothing more nor less than lampoons, and the word may with almost equal justice be employed to describe the coarser and more personal portions of the satires of Churchill. As a rule, however, the lampoon possessed no poetical graces, and in its very nature was usually anonymous. The notorious Essay on Woman (1764) of John Wilkes was a lampoon, and was successfully proceeded against as an obscene libel. The progress of civilization and the discipline of the law made it more and more impossible for private malice to take the form of baseless and scurrilous attack, and the lampoon, in its open shape, died of public decency in the 18th century. Malice, especially in an anonymous form, and passing in manuscript from hand to hand, has continued, however, to make use of this very unlovely form of literature. It has constantly reappeared at times of political disturbance, and the French have seldom failed to exercise their wicked wit upon their unpopular rulers. See also Pasquinade.  (E. G.)