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Human Actions the Aim.
or absurdity in reasonable creatures.” It may be questioned whether we always go so far as to institute this comparison. Ludicrous events and circumstances seem often such as the individuals concerned have no control over whatever, and betray no infirmity. When we see a failure in a work of art, do we always think of the artist ? A lady told me last autumn that when she was walking in a country town with her Italian greyhound, which was dressed in a red coat to protect it from cold, the tradespeople and most others passed it without notice, or merely with a passing word of commendation ; but, on meeting a country bumpkin, he pointed to it, burst out laughing, and said, “Look at that daug, why, it's all the world like a littl oss.” Beattie thinks that the derision is not necessarily aimed at human beings, and probably it is not directly, but indirectly there seems to be some reference to man. Léon Dumont tells us that he once laughed on hearing a clap of thunder ; it was in winter, and it seemed out of place that it should occur in cold weather. There can be nothing legitimately ludicrous in such occurrences. But, perhaps, lusus naturæ are not regarded as truly natural. Of course, they are really so, but not to us, for we have an ideal variously obtained of how Nature ought to act, and thus a man is able for the moment to imagine that something produced by Nature is not natural-just as we sometimes speak of unnatural weather.” But we seldom or ever laugh at such phenomena.
We all have a certain resemblance to the old Athenians in wishing to hear something new. It generally pleases, and always impresses us. Novelty is in proportion to our ignorance, and can scarcely be said to exist at all absolutely, for although there is some change always in progress, it advances too slowly and certainly to produce anything startling or exciting. Novelty especially affects us with regard to the ludicrous, and some have, therefore, hastily concluded that it is sufficient to awaken this feeling.
The strength and vividness of new emotions and impressions are especially traceable in their outward demonstratious. A very slight change occurring suddenly will often cause an ejaculation of alarm or admiration, especially among those of nervous temperament; but upon a repetition the excitement is less, and the nerves are scarcely affected. This peculiar law of the nervous system will account for the absence of laughter on the relation of any old or wellknown story. Both pleasure and facial action are absent; but when we no longer feel
the emotion of humour, we still have some notion that certain ideas awakened it, and would still do so under favourable circumstances,—that is when persons first conceived them. Here then we can recognise humour apart from novelty ; but it is dead, its magic is no more. On the same principle, to laugh before telling a good story lessens its force, just as to break gradually melancholy tidings enables the recipient to bear them better. But nothing so effectually damps mirth as to premise that we are going to say something very laughable. Bacon observes, “Ipsa titillatio si præmoneas non magnopere in risum valet.” Novelty is necessary to produce what Akenside felicitously calls “the gay surprise,” but they are wrong who maintain that this is the essence of the ludicrous. An ingenious suggestion has been made that the reason why we cannot endure the repetition of a humorous story is that on a second relation the element of falsehood becomes too strong in proportion to that of truth. Such an explanation can scarcely be correct, for in many instances people would not be able to show what was the falsity contained. A man may often form a correct judgment as to the general failure of an attempt, without being able to show how it could be corrected. Probably after having heard a humorous story once we are prepared for something whimsical, and are therefore less affected on its repetition.
We have already observed that certain emotions and states of mind are adverse to the ludicrous, and we now pass on to those which, like novelty, are favourable to it and have been at times considered elements of the ludicrous, but are really only concomitant and accessory. As we have observed, indelicacy, profanity, or a hostile joy at the downfall or folly of others is not in itself humorous. Pleasantry without pungent seasoning may be seen in those “ facetious” verbal conceits which our American cousins, and especially “yours trooly,” Artemus Ward, have been fond of framing. But accessory emotions are necessary to render humour demonstrative. They are generally unamiable, censorious, or otherwise offensive, perhaps in keeping with the disapproval excited by falsity. In some cases the two feelings of wrong are almost inextricably connected, but in others we can separate them without much difficulty.
In the following instances the presence of an accessory emotion can easily be traced :
«« What have you brought me there?' asks a French publisher of a young author, who advances with a long roll under his arm. Is
Disappointment and Loss.
it a manuscript?” “No, Sir,' replies the man of letters, pompously, 'a fortune ! 'Oh, a fortune! Take it to the publisher opposite, he is poorer than I am.'”
(The disappointment of the author here adds considerably to our amusement at the ingenious answer of the publisher.)
Two men, attired as a bishop and chaplain, entered one of the great jewellery establishments in Bond Street and asked to be shown some diamond rings. The bishop selected one worth a hundred pounds, but said he had only a fifty-pound note with him, and that he wished to take the ring away. The foreman took the note, and the bishop gave his address; but he had scarcely left when a policeman rushed in and asked where the two swindlers had gone. The foreman stood aghast, but said he had at least secured a fifty-pound note. The policeman asked to see it, and saying it was a flash note and that he would have it tested, left the shop and never returned.
The amusement afforded hy practical jokes is also largely dependent upon the discomfort of the victims. This kind of humour, happily now little known in this country, has been much in favour with Italian bandits, who occasionally unite whimsical fancy with great personal daring. A Piedmontese gentleman