Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

told me an instance in which two Counts, who were dining at an albergo, met a strange-looking man whom they took to be a sportsman like themselves. The conversation turned upon bandits, and the Counts expressed a hope that they might meet some, as they were well armed and would teach them a lesson. Their companion left before them, and walking along the road they were to take, ordered a labouring man whom he met to stand in an adjoining vineyard and hold up a vine-stake to his shoulder like a gun. As soon as the Counts' carriage came to the place the bandit rushed out, seized the horses, and called upon the Counts to deliver up their arms or he would order his men, whom they could see in the vineyard, to fire. The Counts not only obeyed the summons, but began to accuse one another of keeping something back. Shortly afterwards, on a doctor boasting in the same way, the bandit went out before him and stuck a bough in the road on which he hung a lantern. The doctor called out who's there and was taking a deadly aim with his gun, when he was seized from behind and pinioned. The bandit said he should teach him a different lesson from that he deserved, and only deprived him of his gun.

CHAPTER XXIII.

Nomenclature—Three Classes of Words-Distinction be

tween Wit and Humour-Wit sometimes dangerous, generally innocuous.

THE subject of which we have been treat

1 ing in these volumes will suggest to us the logical distinctions to be drawn between three classes of words. First, we have those which imply that we are regarding something external, awakening laughter as the ludicrous from ludus, a game, especially pointing to antics and gambols ; the ridiculous from rideo to laugh, referring to that which occasions a demonstrative movement in the muscles of the countenance—implying a strong emotion, often of contempt, and generally applied to persons, as the ludicrous is to circumstances; the grotesque referring to strangeness in form, such as is seen in fantastic grottoes, or in the quaint figures of sylvan deities which the Ancients placed in them, and the absurd, properly referring to acts of people who are defective in faculties.

The ludicrous is often used in philosophical works to signify a feeling, and our second class will contain words which may refer either to something external or to the mind, such as droll, (from the German) comical, amusing, and funny. To say “I do not see any fun in it,” is different from saying “I do not see any fun in him," and a man may be called funny, either in laudation or disparagement.

In the third class we place such words as refer to the mind alone as the source of amusement, and under this head we may place Humour as a general and generic term. Raillery and sarcasm (from a Greek word “to tear flesh ”) refer especially to the expression of the feeling in language, and irony from its covert nature generally requires assistance from the voice and manner. Some words refer especially to literature, and never to any attacks made on present company. Of these, satire aims at making a man odious or ridiculous; lampoon, contemptible. Satire is the rapier ; lampoon the broadsword, or even the cudgelthe former points to the heart and wounds sharply, the latter deals a dull and blundering blow, often falling wide of the mark. In general a different man selects a different weapon; the educated and refined preferring satire; the rude and more vulgar, lampoonone adopting what is keen and precise, the

e

ever

[blocks in formation]

other seeking rough and irrelevant accessories. But clever men, to gain others over to them by amusement, have sometimes taken the clumsier means, and while placing their victim nearer the level of the brutes than of humanity, have not struck so straight; for the improbability they have introduced has in it so much that is fantastic that their attack seems mostly playful, if not bordering on the ludicrous.

Lampoon was the earliest kind of humorous invective; we have an instance of it in Homer's Thersites. Buffoonery differs from lampoon in being carried on in acting, instead of words. The latter is rather based upon some moral delinquency or imperfection; the former aims merely at amusement, and resembles burlesque in being generally optical, and containing little malice. Both come under the category of broad humour, which is excessive in accessory emotion, and in most cases deficient in complication. Caricature resembles them both in being often concerned with deformity. It appeals to the senses rather than to the emotions. The complication in it is never very good when it is confined to pictorial representation, as we may observe that without some explanation we should seldom know what a design was intended to portray; and when the word means description in writing it still retains some of its original

refereuce to sight, and is concerned principally with form and optical similitudes.

Although Wit and Humour are often used as synonymous, the fact of two words being in use, and the attempts which have been made to discriminate between them, prove that there must be a distinction in signification.* It is so fine that many able writers have failed to detect it. Lord Macaulay considered wit to refer to contrasts sought for, humour to those before our eyes—but such an explanation is not altogether sasisfactory. Humour originally meant moisture, or any limpid subtle fluid, and so came to signify the disposition or turn of the mindjust as spirit, originally breath or wind, came to signify the soul of man. In Ben Jonson's time it had this signification, as in one of his plays entitled “Every Man in his Humour.” Dispositions being very different, it came to signify fancy—as where Burton, author of the “Anatomy of Melancholy," is called humorous—and also the whimsical Sir W. Thornhill in the “Vicar of Wakefield”—and finally meant the feeling which appreciates the ludicrous, though we sometimes use the old sense in speaking of a good-humoured man.

* Cicero uses two corresponding words cavillatio and dicacitas, the former signifying continuous, the latter aphoristic humour.

« ПредишнаНапред »