Графични страници
PDF файл

Variety of Talent.


witt of Lord Dudley, Lord Alvanley, and Rogers was poignant, personal sarcasm; in Luttrell it was perpetual fun of lighter and more various kind, and whimsically expressed in his features, as well as in his words.* 'Natio comæda est' was the maxim of his mind and denoted the wide field of his humour. The wit of Mr. Canning was of rarer and more refined workmanship, and drew large ornament from classical sources. The 'Anti-Jacobin' shows Mr. Canning's power in his youthful exuberance. When I knew him it had been sobered, perhaps saddened, by the political contrarities and otber incidents of more advanced life, but had lost none of its refinement of irony. Less obvious than the common wit of the world, it excited thought and refined it—one of the highest characteristics of this faculty.

"Lady Morley bore off the palm among the 'witty women of the day. She was never willing to wound.' Her printed pieces, though short and scattered, attest the rare merits of her humour. The ‘Petition of the Hens of Great Britain to the House of Commons against the Importation of French eggs,' is an excellent specimen of them.”

In corroboration of this view of the different complexion of men's humour I may mention that in the course of this work I have often had the sayings of various wits intermixed and have always been able easily to assign each to its author.

Considering the great diversity in the appreciation of the ludicrous, the question arises is it merely a name for many different emotions, or has it always some invariable character. To

* It may be observed that as men's perceptions of humour are different, so in the expression of them there is a character about laughter in accordance with its subject, and with the person from whom it comes.

decide this we may ask the question, Is one kind of humour better than another? Practically the answer is given every day, one saying being pronounced “good” if not “capital,” and another “very poor,” or a “mild” joke; and when we see humour varying with education, and with the ages of men and nations, we cannot but suppose that there are gradations of excellence in it.

Now, if we allow generally this ascending scale in the ludicrous, we admit a basis of comparison, and consequently a link between the various circumstances in which it is found. It may be objected that in the somewhat similar case of Beauty, there is no connection between the different kinds. But the ludicrous stands alone among the emotions, and is especially in contrast with that of Beauty in this- that it is peculiarly dependent on the judgment, as beauty is on the senses. That we understand more about the ludicrous than about beauty is evident from its being far easier to make what is beautiful appear ludicrous than what is ludicrous appear beautiful.

There is something unique in the perception of the ludicrous. It seems to strike and pass away too quickly for an emotion. The lightness of the impression produced by laughter

Lightness of the Feeling.


is the reason why, although we often remember to have felt alarmed or pleased in dreams, we never remember to have been amused. The imperfect circulation of the blood in the head during sleep causes the reason to be partially dormant, and leads to strange fantasies being brought before us. But that our judgment is not entirely inactive is evident from the emotions we feel, and among them is the ludicrous, for many people laugh in their sleep, and when they are awakened think over the strange visions. They then laugh, but never remember having done so before. Memory is much affected by sleep, the greater number of our dreams are entirely forgotten, and the emotions and circumstances of the ludicrous easily pass from our remembrance.

Bacon considered the ludicrous too intellectual to be called a “passio” or emotion. It has commonly been regarded as almost an intuitive faculty. We speak of “seeing” humour, and of having a “sense” of the ludicrous. We think that we have a sense in other matters, where reflection is not immediately perceptible, as when in music or painting we at once observe that a certain style produces a certain effect, and that a certain means conduces to a certain end. This recognition seems to be made intuitively, and from long habit and


constant observation we come to acquire what appears like a sense, by which without going through any reasoning process we give opinions upon works of Art. The judgment acts from habit so imperceptibly that it is altogether overlooked, and we seem almost to have a natural instinct. We are often as unconscious of its exercise as of the changes going on in our bodily constitution. The compositor sets his types without looking at them; the mathematician solves problems “by inspection,” and a well-known physiologist told me he had seen a man read a book while he kept three balls in the air. At times we seem to be more correct when acting involuntarily than when from design. We have heard it said that, if you think of the spelling of a word, you will make a mistake in it, and many can form a good judgment on a subject who utterly fail when they begin to specify the grounds on which it is founded. In many such cases we seem almost to acquire a sense, and, perhaps, for a similar reason we speak of a sense of the ludicrous. We are also, perhaps, influenced by a logical error—the ludicrous seems to us a simple feeling, and as every sense is so, we conclude that all simple feelings are senses.

The ludicrous is not analogous to our bodily senses, in that it is not affected in so constant


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

and uniform a manner. The sky appears blue to every man, unless he have some visual defect, but an absurd situation is not “ taken" by all. In the senses no ratiocination is required, whereas the ludicrous does not come to us directly, but through judgment—a moment, though brief and unnoticed, always elapses in which we grasp the nature of the circumstances before us. If it be asserted that our decision is in this case pronounced automatically, without any exercise of reason, we must still admit that it comes from practice and experience, and not naturally and immediately, like a sense. The arguments taken from profit and expediency, which have led to a belief in moral sense, would, of course, have no weight in the case of the ludicrous.

« ПредишнаНапред »