Abbildungen der Seite

tory or impracticable. This method seems to have been first introduced into moral subjects, and employed with success, by the father of ancient wisdom, Socrates. As the attack of ridicule, whatever form it adopts, is always indirect, that of irony may be said to be reverted. It resembles the manner of fighting ascribed to the ancient Parthians, who were ever more formidable in flight than in onset; who looked towards one quarter, and fought towards the opposite; whose bodies moved in one direction, and their arrows in the contrary.*

It remains now to confirm and illustrate this branch of the theory by suitable examples. And, not to encumber the reader with a needless multiplicity of excerptions, I shall first recur to those already produced. The first, second, and fifth passages from Butler, the first from Pope, the first from Young, and the quotation from the Dispensary, though witty, have no ridicule in them. Their whole aim is to divert by the oddness of the imagery. This merits a careful and particular attention, as on the accuracy of our conceptions here depends, in a great measure, our forming a just notion of the relation which ridicule bears to wit, and of the distinction that subsists between them. Let this, therefore, be carefully remembered, that where nothing reprehensible, or supposed to be reprehensible, either in conduct or in sentiment, is struck at, there is properly no satire (or, as it is sometimes termed emphatically enough, pointed wit), and, consequently, no ridicule.

The example that first claims a particular notice here is one from Young's Satires :

"Health chiefly keeps an Atheist in the dark,” &c. The witnesses of this passage was already illustrated; I shall now endeavour to show the argument couched under it, both which together constitute the ridicule. " Atheism is unreasonable." Why? “The Atheist neither founds his unbelief on reason, nor will attend to it. - Was ever an infidel in health convinced by reasoning ? or did he ever in sickness need to be reasoned with on this subject? The truth, then, is, that the daring principles of the libertine are solely supported by the vigour and healthiness of his constitution, which incline him to pleasure, thoughtlessness, and presumption ; accordingly, you find, that when this foundation is subverted, the whole fabric of infidelity falls to pieces.” There is rarely, however, so much of argument in ridicule as may be discovered in this passage. Generally, as was observed already, it is but hinted in a single word or phrase, or appears to be

* Miles sagittas et celerem fugam

Fidentemque fuga Parthum versisque sagittis.-VIRG.


glanced at occasionally, without any direct intention. Thus, in the third quotation from Butler, there is an oblique thrust at Homer for his manner of recurring so often, in poems of so great dignity, to such mean and trifling epithets. The fourth and the sixth satirize the particular fanatical practice, and fanatical opinion, to which they refer. To assign a preposterous motive to an action, or to produce an absurd argument for an opinion, is an innuendo that no good motive or argument can be given.* The citations from the Rape of the Lock are no otherwise to be considered as ridicule, than as a lively exhibition of some follies, either in disposition or in behaviour, is the strongest dissuasive from imitating them. In this way humour rarely fails to have some raillery in it, in like manner as the pathetic often persuades without argument, which, when obvious, is supplied by the judgment of the hearer.t The second example seems intended to disgrace the petty quaintness of a fop's manner, and the emptiness of his conversation, as being a huddle of oaths and non

The third finely satirizes the value which the ladies too often put upon the merest trifles. To these I shall add one instance more from Hudibras, where it is said of priests and exorcists,

Supplied with spiritual provision,
And magazines of ammunition,
With crosses, relics, crucifixes,
Beads, pictures, rosaries, and pixes,
The tools of working out salvation,

By mere mechanic operation.”I The reasoning here is sufficiently insinuated by the happy application of a few words, such as mechanic tools to the work of salvation; crosses, relics, beads, pictures, and other such trumpery, to spiritual provision. The justness of the representation of their practice, together with the manifest incongruity of the things, supply us at once with the wit and the argument. There is in this poem a great deal of ridicule; but the author's quarry is the frantic excesses of enthusiasm and the base artifices of hypocrisy; he very rarely, as in the above passage, points to the idiot gewgaws of superstition. I shall only add one instance from Pope, which has something peculiar in it:

“Then sighing thus, And am I now threescore?

Ah! why, ye gods! should two and two make four?!" * We have an excellent specimen of this sort of ridicule in Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws, b. xv., C. v., where the practice of Europeans in enslaving the negroes is ironically justified, in a manner which does honour to the author's humanity and love of justice, at the same time that it displays a happy talent in ridicule.

† Ridicule, resulting from a simple but humorous narration, is finely illustrated in the first ten or twelve Provincial Letters. I Part iii., canto 1.

Ø Dunciad.

This, though not in the narrative, but in the dramatic style, is more witty than humorous. The absurdity of the exclamation in the second line is too gross to be natural to any but a madman, and, therefore, hath not humour. Nevertheless, its resemblance to the common complaint of old age, contained in the first, of which it may be called the analysis, renders it at once both an ingenious exhibition of such complaint in its real import, and an argument of its folly. But, notwithstanding this example, it holds in general, that when anything nonsensical in principle is to be assailed by ridicule, the natural ally of reason is wit ; when any extravagance or impropriety in conduct, humour seldom fails to be of the confederacy. It may be farther observed, that the words banter and raillery are also used to signify ridicule of a certain form, applied, indeed, more commonly to practices than to opinions, and oftener to the little peculiarities of individuals than to the distinguishing customs or usages of sects and parties. The only difference in meaning, as far as I have remarked, between the two terms, is, that the first generally denotes a coarser, the second a finer sort of ridicule; the former prevails most among the lower classes of the people, the latter only among persons of breeding.

I shall conclude this chapter with observing, that though the gayer and more familiar eloquence, now explained, may often properly, as was remarked before, be admitted into public orations on subjects of consequence, such, for instance, as are delivered in the senate or at the bar, and even sometimes, though more sparingly, on the bench, it is seldom or never of service in those which come from the pulpit. . It is true that an air of ridicule in disproving or dissuading, by rendering opinions or practices contemptible, hath occasionally been attempted, with approbation, by preachers of great name. I can only say, that when this airy manner is employed, it requires to be managed with the greatest care and delicacy, that it may not degenerate into a strain but ill adapted to so serious an occupation: for the reverence of the place, the gravity of the function, the solemnity of worship, the severily of the precepts, and the importance of the motives of religion; above all, the awful presence of God, with a sense of which the mind, when occupied in religious exercises, ought eminently to be impressed—all these seem utterly incompatible with the levity of ridicule. They render jesting imperti. nence, and laughter madness. Therefore, anything in preaching which might provoke this emotion, would justly be deemed an unpardonable offence against both piety and decorum.

In the two preceding chapters I have considered the nature of oratory in general, its various forms, whether arising from difference in the object, understanding, imagination, passion, will; or in the subject, eminent and severe, light and frivo

lous, with their respective ends and characters. Under these are included all the primary and characteristical qualities of whatever can pertinently find a place either in writing or in discourse, or can truly be térmed fine in the one, or eloquent in the other.


THE DOCTRINE OF THE PRECEDING CHAPTER DEFENDED. BEFORE I proceed to another topic, it will perhaps be thought proper to inquire how far the theory now laid down and explained coincides with the doctrines on this article to be found in the writings of philosophers and critics. Not that I think sạch inquiries and discussions always necessary ; on the contrary, I imagine they often tend but to embarrass the reader, by distracting his attention to a multiplicity of objects, and so to darken and perplex a plain question. This is particularly the case on those points on which there hath been a variety of jarring sentiments. The simplest way and the most perspicuous, and generally that which best promotes the discovery of truth, is to give as distinct and methodical a delineation as possible of one's own ideas, together with the grounds on which they are founded, and to leave it to the doubtful reader (who thinks it worth the trouble) to compare the theory with the systems of other writers, and then to judge for himself. I am not, however, so tenacious of this method as not to allow that it may sometimes, with advantage, be departed from. This holds especially when the sentiments of an author are opposed by inveterate prejudices in the reader, arising from contrary opinions early imbibed, or from an excessive deference to venerable names and ancient authorities.

SECTION I. ARISTOTLE'S ACCOUNT or The Ridiculous EXPLAINED Some, on a superficial view, may imagine that the doctrine above expounded is opposed by no less authority than that of Aristotle. If it were, I should not think that equivalent to a demonstration of its falsity. But let us hear: Aristotle hath observed, that “the ridiculous implies something deformed, and consists in those smaller faults which are neither painful nor pernicious, but unbeseeming: thus, a face excites laughter wherein there is deformity and distortion without pain.” For my part, nothing can appear more coincident than this, as far as it goes, with the principles which I have endeavour



ed to establish. The Stagyrite here speaks of ridicule, not of laughter in general; and not of every sort of ridicule, but solely of the ridiculous in manners, of which he hath in few words given a very apposite description. To take notice of any other laughable object would have been foreign to his purpose. Laughter is not his theme, but comedy, and laughter only so far as comedy is concerned with it. Now the concern of comedy reaches no farther than that kind of ridicule which, as I said, relates to manners. The very words with which the above quotation is introduced evince the truth of this : “ Comedy," says he, “is, as we remarked, an imitation of things that are amiss; yet it does not level at every

He had remarked in the preceding chapter, that its means of correction are “not reproach, but ridicule.”+ Nor does the clause in the end of the sentence, concerning a coun. tenance which raises laughter, in the least invalidate what I have now affirmed; for it is plain that this is suggested in a way of similitude, to illustrate what he had advanced, and not as a particular instance of the position he had laid down. For we can never suppose that he would have called distorted features a certain fault or slip,"I and still less that he would have specified this, as what might be corrected by the art of the comedian. As an instance, therefore, it would have confuted his definition, and shown that his account of the object of laughter must be erroneous, since this emotion may be excited, as appears from the example produced by himself, where there is nothing faulty or vicious in any kind or degree. As an illustration it was extremely pertinent. It showed that the ridieulous in manners (which was all that his definition regarded) was, as far as the different nature of the things would permit, analogous to the laughable in other subjects, and that it supposed an incongruous combination, where there is nothing either calamitous or destructive. But that in other objects unconnected with either character or conduct, with either the body or the soul, there might not be images or exhibitions presented to the mind which would naturally provoke laughter, the philosopher hath nowhere, as far as I know, so much as insinuated.

SECTION II. HOBBES'S ACCOUNT OF Laughter EXAMINED. From the founder of the peripatetic school, let us descend to the philosopher of Malmesbury, who hath defined laugh

* The whole passage runs thus: 'H de xwpodia &OTIV, WOTEP ELTOJEV, hele μησις φαυλοτερων μεν, ου μεντοι κατα πασαν κακιαν αλλα του αισχρου εστι το γελοιον μοριον' το γαρ γελοιον εστιν αμαρτημα τι και αισχος ανωδυνον και ου φθαρτικον διον ευθυς το γελοιον προσωπον αισχρον τι και διεστραμμενον ανευ οδυνης.-Poet 5. + Ου ψογον αλλα το γελοιον δραματο ποιησας.

+ Αμαρτημα τι

« ZurückWeiter »