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of a laugh, it acts on them like thunder, and they also ' turn sour. Nay, strange as it may seem, there have been such incarnate paradoxes as would rather see their fellow-creatures cry than smile: vil
But is not this in exact accordance with the spirit which pronounces a blessing on the weeper, and a woe on the laugher?
Not in the persons I have in view. That blessing and woe are pronounced in the knowledge how apt the course of this world is to run counter to the kingdom of God.: They who
weep a are declared to be blessed, not because they weep, but because they shall laugh : and the woe threatened to the laughers is in like manner, that they shall mourn and weep. Therefore, they who have this spirit in them, will endeavour to forward the blessing and to avert the woe. They will try to comfort the mourner, so as to lead him to rejoice: and they will warn the laugher, that he may be preserved from the mourning and weeping, and may exchange his passing for lasting joy. But there are many who merely indulge in the antipathy, without opening their hearts to the sympathy. Such is the spirit found in those who have cast off the bonds of the lower earthly affections, without having risen as yet into the freedom of heavenly love-in those who have stopped short in the state of transition between the two lives, like so many skeletons stripped of their earthly, and not yet clothed with a heavenly, body. It is the spirit of Stoicism, for instance, in philosophy, and of vulgar Calvinism, which in so many things answers to Stoicism, in religion. They who feel the harm they have received from worldly pleasures are prone at first to quarrel with pleasure of every kind altogether: and it is one of the strange perversities of our self-will to entertain anger, instead of pity, towards those whom we fancy to judge or act less wisely than ourselves. This, however, 'is only while the scaffolding is still standing around the edifice of their Christian life, so that they cannot see clearly out of the windows, and their view is broken up into disjointed parts. When the scaffolding is removed and they look abroad without hindrance, they are readier than
any to delight in all the beauty and true pleasure around them. They feel that it is their blessed calling not only to rejoice always themselves, but likewise to rejoice with all who do rejoice in innocence of heart. They feel that this must be well-pleasing to Him who has filled His universe with ever-bubbling springs of gladness; so that whithersoever we turn our eyes, through earth and sky as well as sea, we behold the άνήριθμον γέλασμα * of nature. On the other hand, it is the harshness of an irreligious temper clothing itself in religious zeal, and not seldom exhibiting symptoms of mental disorganization, that looks scowlingly on every indication of happiness and mirth.
Moreover, there is a large class of people who deem the business of life far too weighty and momentous to be made light of; who would leave merriment to children, and laughter to idiots; and who hold that a joke would be as much out of place on their lips as on a gravestone or in a ledger. Wit and wisdom being sisters, not only are they afraid of being indicted for bigamy were they to wed them both, but they shudder at such a union as incestuous. So, to keep clear of temptation and to preserve their faith where they have plighted it, they turn the younger out of doors ; and if they see or hear of any body taking her in, they are positive he can know nothing of the elder. They would not be witty for the world. Now, to escape being so, is not very difficult for those whom nature has so favoured that wit with them is always at zero, or below it. Or, as to their wisdom, since they are careful never to over-feed her, she jogs leisurely along the turnpike-road, with lank and meagre carcass, displaying all her bones, and never getting out of her own dust. She feels no inclination to be frisky, but, if a coach or a waggon passes her, is glad, like her rider, to run behind a thing so big. Now, all these people take grievous offence if any one comes near them better mounted, and they are in a tremor lest the neighing and snorting and prancing should be contagious.
Surely, however, ridicule implies contempt: and so the feeling must be condemnable, subversive of gentleness, incompatible with kindness ?
Not necessarily so, or universally; far from it. The word ridicule, it is true, has a narrow, one-sided meaning. From our proneness to mix up personal feelings with those which are more purely objective and intellectual, we have in great measure restricted the meaning of ridicule, which would properly extend over the whole region of the ridiculous, the laughable, where we may disport ourselves innocently, without
evil emotion; and we have narrowed it, so that in common usage it mostly corresponds to derision, which does indeed involve personal and offensive feelings." As the great business of wisdom in her speculative office is to detect and reveal the hidden harmonies of things, those harmonies which are the sources and the ever-flowing emanations of Law, the dealings of Wit, on the other hand, are with incongruities. And it is the perception of incongruity, flashing upon us, when unaccompanied, as Aristotle observes (Poet. 0. V.), by pain, or by any predominant moral disgust, that provokes laughter, and excites the feeling of the ridiculous. But it no more follows that the perception of such an incongruity must breed or foster haughtiness or disdain, than that the perception of any thing else that may be erroneous or wrong should do so. You might as well argue, that a man must be proud and scornful because he sees that there is such a thing as sin, or such a thing as folly in the world. Yet, unless we blind our eyes, and gag our ears, and hood-wink our minds, we shall seldom pass through a day without having some form of evil brought in one way or other before us. Besides, the perception of incongruity may exist, and may awaken laughter, without the slightest reprobation of the object laughed at. We laugh at a pun, surely without a shade of contempt either for the words punned upon or for the punster; and if a very
* Boundless laughter.
pun be the next best thing to a very good one, this is not from its flattering any feeling of superiority in us, but because the incongruity is broader and more glaring. Nor, when we laugh at a droll combination of imagery, do we feel any contempt, but often admiration at the ingenuity shown in it, and an almost affectionate thankfulness toward the person by whom we have been amused, such as is rarely excited by any other display of intellectual power, as those who have ever enjoyed the delight of Professor Sedgwick's society will bear witness.
It is true, an exclusive attention to the ridiculous side of things is hurtful to the character, and destructive of earnestness and gravity. But no less mischievous is it to fix our attention exclusively, or even mainly, on the vices and other follies of mankind. Such contemplations, unless counteracted by wholesomer thoughts, harden or rot the heart, deaden the moral principle, and make us hopeless and reckless. The objects toward which we should turn our minds habitually are those which are great, and good, and pure; the throne of virtue, and she who sits upon it; the majesty of truth, the beauty of holiness. This is the spiritual sky through which we should strive to mount, "springing from crystal step to crystal step," and bathing our souls in its living, life-giving ether. These are the thoughts by which we
should whet and polish our swords for the warfare against evil, that the vapours of the earth may not rust them. But in a warfare against evil, under one or other of its forms, we are all of us called to engage: and it is a childish dream to fancy that we can walk about among mankind without perpetual necessity of remarking that the world is full of many worse incongruities besides those which make us laugh.
Nor do I deny that a laugher may often be a scoffer and a scorner. Some jesters are fools of a worse breed than those who used to wear the cap. Sneering is commonly found along with a bitter splenētie misanthropy; or it may be a man's mockery at his own hollow heart, venting itself in mockery at others. Cruelty will try to season or to palliate its atrocities by derision. The hyæna grins in its den; most wild beasts over their prey. But though a certain kind of wit, like other intellectual gifts, may coexist with moral depravity, there has often been a playfulness in the best and greatest men-in Phocion, in Socrates, in Luther, in Sir Thomas More—which, as it were, adds 'å bloom to the severer graces of their character, shining forth with amaranthine brightness when storms assail them, and springing up in fresh blossoms under the axe of the executioner. How much is our affection for Hector increased by his tossing his boy in his arms, and laughing at his childish fears ! Smiles are the language of love: they betoken the complacency and delight of the heart in the object of its contemplation. Why are we to assume that there must needs be bitterness or contempt in them, when they enforce a truth or reprove an error ? On the contrary, some of those who have been richest in wit and humour have been among the simplest and kindest-hearted of men. I will only instance Fuller, Bishop Earle, Lafontaine, Matthes Claudius, Charles Lamb. " Le méchant n'est jamais comique," is wisely remarked by De Maistre, when canvassing the pretensions of Voltaire (Soirées, i. 273); and the converse is equally true : le comique, le vrai comique, n'est jamais méchant. A laugh, to be joyous, must flow from a joyous heart; but without kindness there can be no true joy. And what a dull, plodding, tramping clanking would the ordinary intercourse of society be, without wit to enliven and brighten it! When two men meet, they seem to be kept at bay through the estranging effects of absence, until some sportive sally opens their hearts to each other. Nor does any thing spread cheerfulness .so rapidly over a whole party, or an assembly of people, however large:
Reason expands the soul of the philosopher; imagination glorifies the poet, and breathes a breath of spring through the young and genial ; but if we take into account the numberless glances and gleams, whereby wit lightens our every-day life, I hardly know what power ministers so bountifully to the innocent pleasures of mankind.
Surely, too, it cannot be requisite, to a man's being in earnest, that he should wear a perpetual frown. Or is there less of sincerity in Nature during her gambols in spring, than during the stiffness and harshness of her wintry gloom? Does not the bird's blythe caroling come from the heart quite as much as the quadruped's monotonous cry? And is it then altogether impossible to take up one's abode with Truth, and to let all sweet homely feelings grow about it and cluster around it, and to smile upon it as on a kind father or mother, and to sport with it, and hold light and merry talk with it, as with a loved brother or sister; and to fondle it, and play with it, as with a child? No otherwise did Socrates and Plato commune with Truth; no otherwise Cervantes and Shakspere. This playfulness of Truth is beauti: fully represented by Landor, in the conversation between Marcus Cicero and his brother, in an allegory which has the voice and the spirit of Plato. On the other hand, the outcries of those who exclaim against every sound more lively than a bray or a bleat, as derogatory to truth, are often prompted, not so much by their deep feeling of the dignity of the truth in question, as of the dignity of the person by whom that truth is maintained. It is our vanity, our self-conceit, that makes us 80 sore and irritable. To a grave argument we may reply gravely, and fancy that we have the best of it; but he who is too dull or too angry to smile, cannot answer a smile, except by fretting and fuming. Olivia lets us into the secret of Malvolio's distaste for the Clown.
For the full expansion of the intellect, moreover, to preserve it from that narrowness and partial warp which our proneness to give ourselves up to the sway of the moment is apt to produce, its various faculties, however opposite, should grow and be trained up side by side-should twine their arms together, and strengthen each other by love-wrestles. Thus will it be best fitted for discerning and acting upon the multipli. city of things which the world sets before it. Thus, too, will something like a balance and order be upheld, and our minds be preserved from that exaggeration on the one side, and depreciation on the other side, which are the sure results of exclusiveness. A poet, for instance, should