Abbildungen der Seite


“Health chiefly keeps an Atheist in the dark;
A fever argues better than a Clarke ;
Let but the logic in his pulse decay,

Then Grecian he'll renounce, and learn to pray." Here, by implication, health is compared to a sophister, or darkener of the understanding, a fever to a metaphysical disputant, a regular pulse to falşe logic, for the word logic in the third line is used ironically. In other words, we have here modes and substances, the affections of the body, and the exercise of reason strangely, but not insignificantly, linked together; strangely, else the sentiment, however just, could not be denominated witty ; significantly, because an unmeaning jumble of things incongruous would not be wit, but non

A third variety in this species springs from confounding artfully the proper and the metaphorical sense of an expression. In this way, one will assign as a motive what is discovered to be perfectly absurd when but ever so little attended to; and yet, from the ordinary meaning of the words, hath a specious appearance on a single glance. Of this kind you have an instance in the subsequent lines :

“ While thus they talk'd, the knight
Turn'd th' outside of his eyes to white,
As men of inward light are wont

To turn their optics in upon't.”+ For whither can they turn their eyes more properly than to the light?

A fourth variety, much resembling the former, is when the argument of comparison (for all argument is a kind of com. parison) is founded on the supposal of corporeal or personal attributes in what is strictly not susceptible of them, as in this :

“ But Hudibras gave him a twitch
As quick as lightning in the breech,
Just in the place where honour's lodged,
As wise philosophers have judg'd;
Because a kick in that place more

Hurts honour than deep wounds before." I Is demonstration itself more satisfactory? Can anything be hurt but where it is? However, the mention of this as the sage deduction of philosophers is no inconsiderable addition to the wit. Indeed, this particular circumstance belongs properly to the first species mentioned, in which high and low, great and little, are coupled. Another example, not unlike the preceding, you have in these words :

“ What makes morality a crime
The most notorious of the time;
Morality, which both the saints

And wicked too cry out against ? * Universal Passion.

† Hudibras, part iii., canto 1. # Ibid, part ii., cantu 3.

'Cause grace and virtue are within
Prohibited degrees of kin:
And therefore no true saint allows

They shall be suffer'd to espouse.”* When the two foregoing instances are compared together, we should say of the first, that it has more of simplicity and nature, and is, therefore, more pleasing; of the second, that it has more of ingenuity and conceit, and is, consequently, more surprising.

The fifth, and only other variety I shall observe, is that which ariseth from a relation, not in the things signified, but in the signs of all relations, no doubt the slightest. Identity here gives rise to puns and clinches. Resemblance to quibbles, cranks, and rhymes: of these, I imagine, it is quite unnecessary to exhibit specimens. The wit here is so dependant on the sound, that it is commonly incapable of being transfused into another language, and as, among persons of taste and discernment, it is in less request than the other sorts above enumerated, those who abound in this, and never rise to anything superior, are distinguished by the diminutive appellation of witlings.

Let it be remarked in general, that from one or more of the three last-mentioned varieties, those plebeian tribes of witticism, the conundrums, the rebuses, the riddles, and some others, are lineally, though, perhaps, not all legitimately descended. I shall only add, that I have not produced the forenamed varieties as an exact enumeration of all the subdivisions of which the third species of wit is susceptible. It is capable, I acknowledge, of being almost infinitely diversified ; and it is principally to its various exhibitions that we apply the epithets sportive, sprightly, ingenious, according as they recede more or less from those of the declaimer.



As wit is the painting, humour is the pathetic, in this inferior sphere of eloquence. The nature and efficacy of humour may be thus unravelled. A just exhibition of any ardent or durable passion, excited by some adequate cause, instantly attacheth sympathy, the common tie of human souls, and thereby communicates the passion to the breast of the hearer. But when the emotion is either not violent or not durable, and the motive not anything real, but imaginary, or, at least, quite disproportionate to the effect; or when the passion displays itself preposterously, so as rather to obstruct than to promote its aim in these cases a natural representa

* Hudibras, part iii., canto. 1.


tion, instead of fellow-feeling, creates amusement, and universally awakens contempt. The portrait, in the former case, we call pathetic; in the latter, humorous.* It was said that the emotion must be either not violent, or not durable. This limitation is necessary, because a passion, extreme in its degree, as well as lasting, cannot yield diversion to a well-disposed mind, but generally affects it with pity, not seldom with a mixture of horror and indignation. The sense of the ridiculous, though invariably the same, is, in this case, totally surmounted by a principle of our nature much more powerful.

The passion which humour addresseth as its objects is, as hath been signified above, contempt. But it ought carefully io be noted, that every address, even every pertinent address io contempt, is not humorous. This passion is not less capable of being excited by the severe and tragic than by the merry and comic manner. The subject of humour is always character, but not everything in character; its foibles, generally, such as caprices, little extravagances, weak anxieties, jealousies, childish fondness, pertness, vanity, and self-conceit. One finds the greatest scope for exercising this talent in telling familiar stories, or in acting any whimsical part in an assumed character. Such a one, we say, has the talent of humouring a tale, or any queer manner which he chooseth to exhibit. Thus, we speak of the passions in tragedy, but of the humours in comedy; and even to express passion as appearing in the more trivial occurrences of life, we commonly use this term, as when we talk of good-humour, ill-humour, peevish or pleasant humour; hence it is that a capricious temper. we call humorsome, the person possessed of it a hu

# It ought to be observed, that this term is also used to express any lively strictures of such specialities in temper and conduct as to have neither moment enough to interest sympathy, nor incongruity enough to excite contempt. In this case, humour not being addressed to passion, but to fan. cy, must be considered as a kind of moral painting, and differs from wit only in these two things : first, in that character alone is the subject of the former, whereas all things whatever fall within the province of the latter; secondly, humour paints more simply by direct imitation, wit more variously by illustration and imagery. Of this kind of humour, merely graphical, Addison hath given us numberless examples in many of the characters he hath so finely drawn, and little incidents he hath so pleasantly related in his Tattlers and Spectators. I might remark of the word humour, as I did of the term wit, that we scarcely find in other languages a word exactly corresponding. The Latin facetiæ seems to come the nearest. Thus Cicero, “Huic generi orationis aspergentur etiam sales, qui in dicendo mirum quantum valent: quorum duo genera sunt, unum facetiarum, alterum dicacitatis ; utetur utroque, sed altero in narrando aliquid venusté altero in jaciendo mittendoque ridiculo: cujus genera plura sunt.”-Orator, 48. Here one would think that the philosopher must have had in his eye the different provinces of wit and humour, calling the former dicacitas, the latter facetiæ. It is plain, however, that both by him and other Latin authors, these two words are often confounded. There appears, indeed, to be more uniformity in the use that is made of the second term than in the applica. tion of the first.


morist, and such facts or events as afford subject for the humorous, we denominate comical.

Indeed, comedy is the proper province of humour. Wit is called in solely as an auxiliary; humour predominates. The comic poet bears the same analogy to the author of the mockheroic that the tragic poet bears to the author of the epic. The epos recites, and advancing with a step majestic and sedate, engageth all the nobler powers of imagination, a sense of grandeur, of beauty, and of order; tragedy personates, and thus employing a more rapid and animated diction, seizeth directly upon the heart. The little epic, a narrative intended for amusement, and addressed to all the lighter powers of fancy, delights in the excursions of wit: the production of the comic muse, being a representation, is circumscribed by narrower bounds, and is all life and activity throughout, Thus Buckingham says, with the greatest justness, of comedy,

Humour is all. Wit should be only brought

To turn agreeably some proper thought.” The pathetic and the facetious differ not only in subject and effect, as will appear upon the most superficial review of what hath been said, but also in the mamer of imitation. In this the man of humour descends to a minuteness which the orator disdains. The former will often successfully run into downright mimicry, and exhibit peculiarities in voice, gesture, and pronunciation, which in the other would be intolerable. The reason of the difference is this : That we may divert, by exciting scorn and contempt, the individual must be exposed; that we may move, by interesting the more generous principles of humanity, the language and sentiments, not so much of the individual as of human nature, must be displayed. So very different, or, rather, opposite, are these two in this respect, that there could not be a more effectual expedient for undoing the charm of the most affecting representation, than an attempt in the speaker to mimic the personal singularities of the inan for whom he desires to interest us. On the other hand, in the humorous, where the end is diversion, even over-acting, if moderate, is not improper,

It was observed already, that though contempt be the only passion addressed by humour, yet this passion may with propriety and success be assailed by the severer eloquence, where there is not the smallest tincture of humour. This it will not be beside our purpose to specify, in order the more effectually to show the difference. Lord Bolingbroke, speaking of the state of these kingdoms from the time of the Restoration, has these words : “ The two brothers, Charles and James, when in exile, became infected with popery to such degrees as their different characters admitted of. Charles

* Essay on Poetry.

had parts, and his good understanding served as an antidote to repel the poison. James, the simplest man of his time, drank off the whole chalice. The poison met, in his composition, with all the fear, all the credulity, and all the obstinacy of temper proper to increase its virulence, and to strengthen its effect. Drunk with superstitious, and even enthusiastic zeal, he ran headlong into his own ruin, while he endeavoured to precipitate ours. His Parliament and his people did all they could to save themselves by winning him. But all was vain. He had no principle on which they could take hold. Even his good qualities worked against them; and his love of his country went halves with his bigotry. How he succeeded we have heard from our fathers. The Revolution of one thousand six hundred and eighty-eight saved the nation and ruined the king."* Nothing can be more contemptuous, and, at the same time, less derisive, than this representation. We should readily say of it that it is strongly animated, and happily expressed; but no man who understands English would say it is humorous. I shall add one example from Dr. Swift: "I should be exceedingly sorry to find the Legislature make any new laws against the practice of duelling, because the methods are easy and many for a wise man to avoid a quarrel with honour, or engage in it with innocence. And I can discover no political evil in suffering bullies, sharpers, and rakes to rid the world of each other by a method of their own, where the law hath not been able to find an expedient.”+

For a specimen of the humorous, take, as a contrast to the last two examples, the following delineation of a fop:

“ Sir Plume (of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded cane),
With earnest eyes, and round, unthinking face,
He first the snuff-box open'd, then the case,
And thus broke out : My lord! why, what the devil ?
Z-ds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil !
Plague on't ! 'tis past a jest; nay, prithee-pox!
Give her the hair.' He spoke and rapped his box.

It grieves me much,' replied the peer again,
• Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain :

But"I This, both in the descriptive and the dramatic part, particu · larly in the draught it contains of the baronet's mind, aspect, manner, and eloquence (if we except the sarcastic term justly, the double sense of the word open'd, and the fine irony couched in the reply), is purely facetious. An instance of wit and humour combined, where they reciprocally set off and enliven each other, Pope hath also furnished us with in another part of the same exquisite performance.

* A Letter to Sir William Windham. + Swift on Good Manners. | Rape of the Lock, canto 4.

« ZurückWeiter »