The art of making riddles is so antique, that it bears date almost with our earliest accounts of time, and is a diversion with which Sampson, the strongest of all mankind, amused himself. Nor has it been confined to common people, as a certain author supposes; for Kings, and even some of the wisest of them, are said to have been adepts in the science; for such was the ever-to-be-remembered King Solomon, and such was his friend Hiram the King of Tyre.
Riddling, if I am not mistaken, is the art of both dissembling and undissembling, and, if what a great Politician has asserted to be true, that he who knows not how to dissemble knows not how to reign, this art must be eminently useful to Princes, and their Ministers, and not to them only, but to all those who are any ways connected with courts, or concerned in political transactions; for as people in high life do not always speak as they mean, nor promise what they intend to perform; or, in other words, as dissembling is held in such high estimation among the Great, and practised with applause every day, the art of undissembling, should, I think, be called in to the aid of those whose heads may render them subject to imposition.—A squeeze by the hand is a dumb riddle, which may induce any one unskilled in this art to dance attendance for years; while an adept takes the unmeaning sign to pieces, and, like a Free-mason, returns the compliment by another squeeze, to let the Ænigmatist know that he is in the secret. All Cyphers used by Politicians are Riddles; and were Ambassadors, and those to whom Cyphers are sent, but skilled in this science, few blunders would be made from that mystical manner of conveyance; for the meaning, without a key, would be as obvious to them, as to the most profound decypherer of them all.
Not that I would have this science confined to political affairs;—No, its utility is unbounded, and may be extended with propriety and benefit to every part of life, and every branch of learning. It is a kind of natural Logic, which I should be glad to see adopted by our Universities in the room of that jargon they at present make us of; for as it consists in discovering truth under borrowed appearances, it may prove of wonderful advantage to the Scholar in the pursuit of his studies, by habituating the mind to separate all foreign ideas, and consequently preserving it from that grand source of error, the being deceived by false connections. And in common life how necessary is it for a man to carry this sort of knowledge about him?—Every knave is an Ænigma that you must unriddle before you can safely deal with him, and every fool may be fathomed. What is making love but making riddles? And what else are some of our treaties, and indeed some of our laws? Even our gravestones can't tell the naked truth: tombs you see are sort of riddles! a Politician is a walking Riddle; and so is a Physician and his prescription a professed Ænigma, intended only to be solved by the Apothecary.———This being the truth, then will any man tell me, that the art of riddling is not of the utmost consequence to society?
I shall conclude this preface in the words of a great author: As this science contains the sum of all human policy, and as there is no passage thro' the world without sometimes mixing with fools and knaves; who would not chuse to be master of the ænigmatical art, in order, on proper occasions, to be able to lead aside craft and impertinence from their aim, by the convenient artifice of a prudent disguise?