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humour in the comic literature of the day. “Many men," writes Addison, “if they speak nonsense believe they are talking humour ; and when they have drawn together a scheme of absurd inconsistant ideas are not able to read it over to themselves without laughing. These poor gentlemen endeavour to gain themselves the reputation of wits and humorists by such monstrous conceits as almost qualify them for Bedlam, not considering that humour should be always under the check of reason.” There is nothing pleasant in nonsense. In both humour and the ludicrous the imperfection must refer to some kind of right or truth, and revolve, as it were, round a fixed axis. “To laugh heartily we must have reality,” writes Marmontel, and it is remarkable that most good comic situations have been taken from the author's own experience. The best kind of humour is the most artistic embellishment of the ludicrous.
The fact that humour is often found in comparisons, probably led Léon Dumont to consider that it arose from the meeting of two opposite ideas in the mind. But often there is no contrast. It does not always strike us that the state of things present before us is different from some other clearly defined condition. We do not necessarily see that a thing is
Standard not readily Specified.
wrong as differing from something else, but as opposing some standard in our minds which it is often difficult to determine. We sometimes laugh at another person's costume, though it does not occur to us that he should be dressed as ourselves, or according to some particular fashion, nor could we point out at what precise point it diverges from the code of propriety. But by reflecting we could probably mark the deviation. The ludicrous often suggests comparisons; when we see something absurd we often try to find a resemblance to something else, but this is after we have been amused, and we sometimes say of a very ridiculous man, that we “ do not know what he is like.”
Humorous complications appear under many forms and disguises. The Americans have lately introduced an indifferent kind of it under the form of an ellipse—an omission of some important matter.' Thus, the editor of a Western newspaper announces that if any more libels are published about him, there will be several first class funerals in his neighbourhood. Again, “An old Maine woman undertook to eat a gallon of oysters for one hundred dollars. She gained fifteen—the funeral costing eighty-five.” Another common form of humorous complication is taking an expression in a different sense from that it usually bears.
“ You cannot eat your cake, and have your cake;" “But how," asks the wilful child, “am I to eat my cake, if I don't have it?” Thackeray speaks of a young man who possessed every qualification for success-except talent and industry.
In many other common forms of speech there are openings for specious amendments, sometimes for real ones, especially in ironical expressions. But as in pronunciation we regard usage rather thạn etymology, so in sense the true meaning is not the literal or grammatical, but the conventional. Much indifferent humour is made of question and answer ; – the reply being given falsely, as if the interrogation were put in a different sense from that intended, an occasion for the quibble being given by some loose or perhaps literal meaning of the words. Thus, “ Have you seen Patti ?” A. “Yes.” Q. “What in?” A. “A brougham.”
Indelicacy or irreverence is unpleasant in itself, and yet when complication is added to it few of us can avoid laughing, and I am afraid that some considerably enjoy objectionable allusions. To tell a man to go to h-, or that he deserves to go there, is merely coarse and profane abuse, but when a labourer is found by an irritable country gentleman piling up a heap of stones in front of his house, and being Conditions of Humour.
rated for causing such an obstruction, asks where else he is to take them, and is told “ to. h, if you like,” we are amused at the answer“Indeed, then, if I was to take them to heaven, they'd be more out of your way.” Thus, also, to call a man an ass would not win a smile from most of us, but we relax a little when the writers in a high church periodical, addicted to attacking Mr. Spurgeon, upon being accused of being actuated by envy, retort that they know the commandment “ Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass.”
If we examine carefully the circumstances which awaken the ludicrous, we shall probably come to conclude that they often contain something which puzzles our understanding. An act which seems ridiculous would not appear so if we could entirely account for it, for instance, if it were done to win a bet. There seems to be in the ludicrous not merely some error in the taste brought before us, but something which we can scarcely believe to be the case. This alone would account for some variation, for what seems unintelligible to the ignorant seems plain to the educated, and what puzzles the well-informed raises no question among the inexperienced. The ludicrous depends upon that kind of intellectual twilight which is the lot of man here below. Were
A gentleman I met on one occasion in a train, speaking of a lady friend, observed—" She's very small, but what there is of her is very, very good. Why, she'd go into that box,” pointing to one for sandwiches. “She's not bigger than that umbrella. ’Pon my honour as a gentleman, she's not.”
Humour, by means of the perplexity it produces, often gains the victory over strong emotions. This fact has been practically recognised by orators, who see that when a man is struck by a humorous allusion, powerful feelings which could not otherwise be swayed give way, and even firm resolutions seem for the moment shaken and changed. We are bribed by our desire for pleasure, and a man thus often seems to sympathise with those he really opposes and can even be made to laugh at himselfstrong antagonistic sensations and emotions being conquered by complexity. To most persons nothing can be more solemn than the thought of death, except its actual presence; but Theramenes was light-hearted when the hemlock bowl was presented to him, and drinking it off could not, as he threw out the dregs, resist exclaiming “To the health of the lovely Critias.”* Sir Thomas More was jocose upon
* Critias was one of the thirty tyrants who condemned him.