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Requirements of Definition.
by means of attributes observed in the objects or circumstances which awaken them. We cannot trace any common elements in sugar and scent, or in leaves and emeralds, by which to define sweetness and viridity; but we think we can discern some in the ludicrous. The mere grouping of certain things under one head seems to show that mankind notices some similarity between them. But definition requires more than this; attributes must be observed, and such as are common to all the instances, and where it has been attempted there has been a conviction that such would be found, for without them it would be impossible. When this belief is entertained, a definition is practicable, regarding it not as a perfect or final, but as a possible and approximate limitation. To define accurately, we should summon before us every real circumstance which does, or imaginary one which could, awaken the feeling, and every real and imaginary circumstance which, though very similar, has not this effect. The greater the variety of these instances which have the power, the fewer are the qualities which appear to possess it; and the greater the variety of instances which have it not, the greater the number of the qualities we attribute to it.
It follows that the more numerous are the particulars to be considered, the more difficult
it is to form a definition, and this may have led some to say that the ludicrous, which covers such a vast and varied field, lies entirely beyond it. We might think that we could add and subtract attributes until words and faculties failed us, until, in the one direction, we were reduced to a single point, in fact, to the ludicrous itself-while in the other we are lost in a boundless expanse. To be satisfied with our definition, we must form a narrower estimate of the number of instances, and a higher one of our powers of discrimination.
But there is an alternative—although amusing objects and circumstances are almost innumerable, as we may have gathered from the last chapter, we may claim a license, frequently allowed in other cases, of drawing conclusions from a considerable number of promiscuous examples, and regarding them as a fair sample of the whole. Such a view has no doubt been taken by many able men, who have attempted to define the ludicrous. An eminent German philosopher even said that he did not despair of discovering its real essence.
It must be admitted that we have no actual proof that the provocatives of the ludicrous are innumerable or utterly heterogeneous, nor any greater presumption that they are so than in many cases of physical phenomena which we
are accustomed to define. The difficulty is at : the most only that of degree, but we are unusually conscious of it owing to the nature of the subject. Every day, if not every hour, brings ludicrous objects of different kinds before us, whereas the number and variety of plants, animals, and minerals are only known to botanists and zoologists and other scientific men.
As the members of a class are infinitely less numerous than the somewhat similar things which lie outside it, the course commonly adopted has been to examine a few members of it and try to find some of the properties a class possesses, without aspiring to ascertain them all. Our conclusions will thus be coextensive with our knowledge, rather than with our wishes, incomplete and overwide rather than illogical. How far easier is it, with regard to our present subject, to decide that the circumstances which awaken the ludicrous possess certain elements, than that it requires nothing more! the chemist may analyse the bright water of a natural spring which he can never manufacture. We can sometimes form what is humorous by imitation, but not by following any rules or directions; we even seem to be led more to it by accident than by design.
Our safest plan, therefore, will be to search for some possible elements, and to endeavour to establish some probabilities on a subject which must always be somewhat surrounded with uncertainty. The constant tillage of the soil, the investigations made, and definitions attempted, have not been unproductive of fruit, and we may feel a tolerable degree of assurance on some points in question, while admitting that, however assiduously we labour, there will always be something beyond our reach. We will proceed then to examine and compare the stores of our predecessors, and if possible add a grain to the heap. Knowledge is progressive, and although it is not the lot of man to be assured of absolute truth, still the acquisition of what is relative or approximate is not valueless.
This consideration, which has cheered many on the road of physical philosophy, may afford some encouragement to those who follow the equally obscure indications of our mental phenomena.
Charm of Mystery—Complication-Poetry and Humour
A LL who are accustomed to novel reading A or writing, are aware of the fascinating power of mystery. They even consider it a principal test of a good story that the plot should be impenetrable, and the final result concealed up to the last page. Tension and excitement are agreeable, even when the subject itself is somewhat painful. We observe this in a tragedy, and it is a common saying some people are never happy except when they are miserable. Such is the constitution of the mind; and the fact that enjoyment can be obtained when we should expect the reverse, is noteworthy with reference to the ludicrous. All mystery causes a certain disquietude, but if the problem seems to us capable of being solved, it begets an agreeable curiosity. On its resolution the excitement ceases, and we only feel a kind of satisfaction, which, though more unalloyed, gives less enjoyment than mystery, inasmuch as it