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and renders us sensitive of all humorous impressions. But the cares of life have generally the effect of making men grave even where there is no lack of imagination. Some have been so serious in mood that it has been recorded that they were never known to laugh, as it is said of Philip the Third of Spain that he only did so once-on reading Don Quixote.
How little attempt at humour is there in most of our literary works! True, humour is rather the language of conversation, and we may expect it as little in writing, as we do sentiment in society. But even in its own special province it is lacking, there is generally in our festive gatherings more of what is dull than of what is playful and pleasant. Perhaps our cloudy skies may have some influence—it is impossible to doubt that climate affects the mental disposition of nations. The natives of Tahiti in their soft southern isle are gay and laughter-loving; the Arab of the desert is fierce and warlike, and seldom condescends to smile. Sydney Smith said “it would require a surgical operation to get a joke into the understanding of a Scotchman;" but the Irishman in his mild variable climate is ready to be witty under all circumstances. Flögel, writing in Germany, observes that “humour is not a fruit to be gathered from every
bough; you can find a hundred men able to draw tears for every one that can raise a laugh.”
There is also a great difference between individuals in this respect. Some are naturally bright and jocund, and others are misanthropic and manufacture out of very trite materials a sort of snap-dragon wit, which fares up in an instant, is as soon out, and generally burns somebody's fingers. It may be urged on the contrary that many celebrated wits as Mathews, Leech, and others, have been melancholy men. But despondency is often found in an excitable temperament which is not unfavourable to humour, for the man who is unduly depressed at one moment is likely to be immoderately elated at another. Old Hobbes was of opinion that laughter arose from pride, upon which Addison remarked that according to that theory, if we heard a man laugh, instead of saying that he was very merry, we should say that he was very proud. We have already observed that some men are disinclined to laugh because they are of an earnest turn of mind, constantly pondering upon their affairs and the possibility of transforming a shilling into a pound. Such are those to whom Carlyle referred when he said that “ the man who cannot laugh is only fit for
treasons, stratagems and spoils.” But there are a few persons who follow Lord Chesterfield in systematically suppressing this kind of demonstration. They think it derogatory, and in them pride is antagonistic to humour. A man who is free and easy and talkative, gains in one direction what he loses in another. We love him as a frank, genial fellow, but can never regard him with any great reverence. Laughter seems to bespeak a simple docile nature, such as those who assume to rule the world are not willing to have the credit of possessing. It belongs more to the fool than to the rogue, to those who follow than to those who lead. Eminent men do not intentionally avoid laughter ; they are not inclined to it; and there are some, who, from being generally of a profound and calculating turn of mind are not given to any exhibition of emotion. It has been said that Diogenes never laughed, and the same has been asserted of Swift. And although we may safely conclude that these statements were not literally true, there was probably some foundation for them. No doubt they appreciated humour, but their minds were earnest and ambitious. Moreover, great wits are accustomed to the character of their own humour, and are often
merely repeating what they have heard or said frequently.
Nature has endowed few men with two gifts, and emotional joyousness and high intellectual culture form a rare combination, such as was found in Goldsmith with his hearty laughter, and in Macaulay, who tells us that he laughed at Mathews' comic performance “until his sides were sore.” Bishop Warburton said that humorists were generally men of learning, but although those who were so would have been most prominent, we scarcely find the name of one of them in the course of these volumes; many of those mentioned sprang from the humbler paths of life, but all were men of study. Still those who are altogether unable to enjoy a joke are men of imperfect sympathies.
Charles Lamb observes that in a certain way the character, even of a ludicrous man, is attractive—“The more laughable blunders a man shall commit in your company, the more tests he gives you that he will not betray or over-reach you. And take my word for this, reader, and say a fool told it you, if you please, that he who hath not a dram of folly in his mixture, hath pounds of much worse matter in his composition. What are commonly the world's received fools, but such whereof the world is not worthy ?”
We have intimated that our sense of the ludicrous varies in accordance with memory, imagination, observation, and association. The minds of some are so versatile, and so richly endowed with intellectual gifts, that their ideas sparkle and coruscate, they splinter every ray of light into a thousand colours, and produce all kinds of strange juxtapositions and combinations. (This exuberance has probably led to the seemingly contradictory saying that men of sentiment are generally men of humour.) No doubt their sallies would be poor and appreciated by themselves alone were they without a certain foundation, but a vast number of things are capable of affording amusement. Pleasantries often turn upon something much more difficult to define than to feel—upon some nicety of regard, or neatness of proportion. No interchange of ideas can take place without much beyond the letter being understood, and very much depends upon variety of delicate significations. Words are as variable and relative as thought, differing with time and place—a few constantly dropping out of use, some understood in one age, but conveying no distinct idea in another, and not calling up exactly the same associations in different individuals. We cannot, therefore, agree with Addison that translation may be considered a