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der the word Gossips. Mrs. Fiddle Faddle is perfectly accomplished in this sort of eloquence; she launches out into descriptions of christenings, runs divisions upon an headdress, knows every dish of meat that is served up in her neighbourhood, and entertains her company a whole afternoon together with the wit of her little boy, before he is able to speak.
The coquette may be looked upon as a fourth kind of female orator. To give herself the larger field for discourse, she hates and loves in the same breath, talks to her lap-dog or parrot, is uneasy in all kinds of weather, and in every part of the room: she has false quarrels and feigned obligations to all the men of her acquaintance; sighs when she is not sad, and laughs when she is not merry. The coquette is in particular a great mistress of that part of oratory which is called action, and indeed seems to speak for no other purpose, but as it gives her an opportunity of stirring a limb, or varying a feature, of glancing her eyes, or playing with her fan.
As for news-mongers, politicians, mimics, story-tellers, with other characters of that nature, which give birth to loquacity, they are as commonly found among the men as the women; for which reason I shall pass them over in silence.
I have been often puzzled to assign a cause why women should have this talent of a ready utterance in so much greater perfection than men. I have sometimes fancied that they have not a retentive power, the faculty of suppressing their thoughts, as men have, but that they are necessitated to speak everything they think; and if so, it would perhaps furnish a very strong argument to the Cartesians, for the supporting of their doctrine, that the soul always thinks. But as several are of opinion that the fair sex are not altogether strangers to the arts of dissembling, and concealing their thoughts, I have been forced to relinquish that opinion, and have, therefore, endeavoured to seek after some better reason. In order to it, a friend of mine, who is an excellent anatomist, has promised me by the first opportunity to dissect a woman's tongue, and to examine whether there may not be in it certain juices which render it so wonderfully voluble or flippant, or whether the fibres of it may not be made up of a finer or more pliant thread, or whether there are not in it some particular muscles, which dart it up and
down by such sudden glances and vibrations; or whether, in the last place, there may not be certain undiscovered channels running from the head and the heart, to this little instrument of loquacity, and conveying into it a perpetual affluence of animal spirits. Nor must I omit the reason which Hudibras has given, why those who can talk on trifles speak with the greatest fluency; namely, that the tongue is like a race-horse, which runs the faster the lesser weight it carries.
Which of these reasons soever may be looked upon as the most probable, I think the Irishman's thought was very natural, who, after some hours' conversation with a female orator, told her, that he believed her tongue was very glad when she was asleep, for that it had not a moment's rest all the while she was awake.
That excellent old ballad of the "Wanton Wife of Bath" has the following remarkable lines:
I think, quoth Thomas, women's tongues
And Ovid, though in the description of a very barbarous circumstance, tells us, that when the tongue of a beautiful female was cut out, and thrown upon the ground, it could not forbear muttering even in that posture:
-Comprehensam forcipe linguam
Abstulit ense fero. Radix micat ultima linguæ.
Ipsa jacet, terræque tremens immurmurat atræ ;
If a tongue would be talking without a mouth, what could it have done when it had all its organs of speech, and accomplices of sound, about it? I might here mention the story of the pippin-woman, had not I some reason to look upon it as fabulous.
I must confess I am so wonderfully charmed with the music of this little instrument, that I would by no means discourage it. All that I aim at by this dissertation is, to cure it of several disagreeable notes, and in particular of those little jarrings and dissonances which arise from anger, censoriousness, gossiping, and coquetry. In short, I would have it always tuned by good-nature, truth, discretion, and sincerity.
No. 249. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15.
Γέλως ἄκαιρος ἐν βροτοῖς δεινὸν κακὸν. FRAG. VET. Po.
WHEN I make choice of a subject that has not been treated on by others, I throw together my reflections on it without any order or method, so that they may appear rather in the looseness and freedom of an essay, than in the regularity of a set discourse. It is after this manner that I shall consider laughter and ridicule in my present paper.
Man is the merriest species of the creation, all above and below him are serious. He sees things in a different light from other beings, and finds his mirth rising from objects that perhaps cause something like pity or displeasure in higher natures. Laughter is, indeed, a very good counterpoise to the spleen; and it seems but reasonable that we should be capable of receiving joy from what is no real good to us, since we can receive grief from what is no real evil.
I have in my forty-seventh paper raised a speculation on the notion of a modern philosopher, who describes the first motive of laughter to be a secret comparison which we make between ourselves and the persons we laugh at; or, in other words, that satisfaction which we receive from the opinion of some pre-eminence in ourselves, when we see the absurdities of another, or when we reflect on any past absurdities of our own. This seems to hold in most cases, and we may observe that the vainest part of mankind are the most addicted to this passion.
I have read a sermon of a conventual in the church of Rome, on those words of the wise man ; "I said of Laughter, it is mad; and of Mirth, what does it? Upon which he laid it down as a point of doctrine, that laughter was the effect of original sin, and that Adam could not laugh before the fall.
Laughter, while it lasts, slackens and unbraces the mind, weakens the faculties, and causes a kind of remissness and dissolution in all the powers of the soul: and thus far it may be looked upon as a weakness in the composition of human nature. But if we consider the frequent reliefs we receive from it, and how often it breaks the gloom which. is apt to depress the mind and damp our spirits with transient
and unexpected gleams of joy, one would take care not to grow too wise for so great a pleasure of life.
The talent of turning men into ridicule, and exposing to laughter those one converses with, is the qualification of little, ungenerous tempers. A young man with this cast of mind cuts himself off from all manner of improvement. Every one has his flaws and weaknesses; nay, the greatest blemishes are often found in the most shining characters; but what an absurd thing is it to pass over all the valuable parts of a man, and fix our attention on his infirmities! to observe his imperfections more than his virtues! and to make use of him for the sport of others, rather than our own improvement!
We therefore very often find, that persons the most accomplished in ridicule, are those who are very shrewd at hitting a blot, without exerting anything masterly in themselves. As there are many eminent critics who never writ a good line, there are many admirable buffoons that animadvert every single defect in another, without ever discovering the least beauty of their own. By this means, these unlucky little wits often gain reputation in the esteem of vulgar minds, and raise themselves above persons of much more laudable characters.
If the talent of ridicule were employed to laugh men out of vice and folly, it might be of some use to the world; but instead of this, we find that it is generally made use of to laugh men out of virtue and good sense, by attacking everything that is solemn and serious, decent and praise-worthy, in human life.
We may observe, that in the first ages of the world, when the great souls and master-pieces of human nature were produced, men shined by a noble simplicity of behaviour, and were strangers to those little embellishments which are so fashionable in our present conversation. And it is very remarkable, that notwithstanding we fall short at present of the ancients in poetry, painting, oratory, history, architecture, and all the noble arts and sciences which depend more upon genius than experience, we exceed them as much in doggerel, humour, burlesque, and all the trivial arts of ridicule. We meet with more raillery among the moderns, but more good sense among the ancients.
The two great branches of ridicule in writing are comedy and burlesque. The first ridicules persons by drawing them
in their proper characters; the other, by drawing them quite unlike themselves. Burlesque is therefore of two kinds; the first represents mean persons in accoutrements of heroes, the other describes great persons acting and speaking like the basest among the people. Don Quixote is an instance of the first, and Lucian's gods of the second. It is a dispute among the critics, whether burlesque poetry runs best in heroic verse, like that of the Dispensary; or in doggerel, like that of Hudibras. I think where the low character is to be raised, the heroic is the proper measure; but when an hero is to be pulled down and degraded, it is done best in doggerel.
If Hudibras had been set out with as much wit and humour in heroic verse as he is in doggerel, he would have made a much more agreeable figure than he does; though the generality of his readers are so wonderfully pleased with the double rhymes, that I do not expect many will be of my opinion in this particular.
I shall conclude this essay upon laughter, with observing, that the metaphor of laughing, applied to fields and meadows when they are in flower, or to trees when they are in blossom, runs through all languages; which I have not observed of any other metaphor, excepting that of fire and burning when they are applied to love. This shows that we naturally regard laughter, as what is in itself both amiable and beautiful. For this reason, likewise, Venus has gained the title of piloμɛions, the laughter-loving dame, as Waller has translated it, and is represented by Horace as the goddess who delights in laughter. Milton, in a joyous assembly of imaginary persons, has given a very poetical figure of laughter. His whole band of mirth is so finely described, that I shall set the passage down at length.
But come, thou goddess, fair and free,
And by men, Heart-easing Mirth,
With two sister Graces more
To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore:
Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
Jest and youthful Jollity,
Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles,
Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles,
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;