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Any remarkable disproportion in the limbs or features of the face, if unaccompanied with pain or distress, (according to Aristotle), is laughable. No two faces or figures are exactly alike; but there are certain limits within which the varieties are generally confined. When these are transgressed, we come into the region of the ludicrous, and, in general, we may take it as a rule, that the greater the departure from the just proportion the tendency to laugh is the greater. Thus, a nose remarkably large or remarkably little, a mouth or a chin unusually distended, are apt to excite a smile. The laughable effect would be increased by an assemblage of such oddities, either of the same or of opposite kinds. If we saw two people together, one of whom had an enormously long nose, and the other with scarcely any, we could hardly forbear laughing at the contrast. We are told in the Spectator of a wag at Bath who invited a number of people with long chins to dine with him together, and that their meeting was the occasion of much mirth. On the same principle that we laugh at any personal defect or oddity of appearance, we are affected in the same way by old fashions in manners, dress, and furniture; by any thing totally different from what we are accustomed to see used by persons in tolerable condition around us. In either case, we compare what we see with a certain familiar standard, and the laughable effect seems, ceteris paribus, to be in proportion to the greatness of the contrast between the standard in our minds and the object before
In the cases last mentioned only one side of the contrast is present to the senses, the other is present to the mind; but in those cases where both are bodily present, juxta-position is hardly a proper term to express the sort of connexion that is required to give the incongruous assemblage its full ludicrous effect. The contrast between high and low buildings in a city, or between the short, tall, fat, and lean people in a public street, is not ludicrous. To produce this effect there must be some such bond of union among them as to lead us
to consider them as parts of a group; and I would prefer the word “ grouping" to that of mere “ juxta-position,” to express this. Provided this grouping is effected, it seems to be quite immaterial by what means, or whether it is by accident or design.
The variety and contrast of occupations and of goods, which we see sometimes united in a country village, appear laughable to a townsman, who has been accustomed to see the different departments in labour, or in trade, more accurately divided. We have seen combinations of this kind as incongruous as that united in the person of Caleb Quotem, who was schoolmaster, parish-clerk and sexton, painter, fiddler, auctioneer and apothecary. The multifarious duties of Davy, Justice Shallow's man, or of Scrub, in the Beaux Stratagem, appear laughable from a similar principle. We are told of the dagger of Hudibras, that
“ It was a serviceable dudgeon
Set leeks and onions, and so forth.” In the account of a lady's library, in the 37th number of the Spectator, the laughable effect seems to depend on the contrast between the books brought together ; some of which the author supposes the lady had really purchased for her own use, the rest because she had heard them praised, or seen the authors of them. A few of them are as follows:
Sir Isaac Newton's Works.
Another instance occurs in the same work, where a lady and her daughters are represented as employing themselves in household affairs, while one read aloud to them Fontenelle's Plurality of Worlds. “ It was pretty,” says the author, “ to “ see them dividing their attention between jellies and stars ; now
engaged in following the course of a planet, and now in deep con“sultation about the composition of a pudding.” A more laboured picture of the same kind is given in some verses of Sheridan's on a blue stocking lady, famous alike for literature and notability :
What motley cares Corilla's mind perplex,
It seems partly on this principle that we laugh at these practical jokes called hoaxes, where all the different trades and professions in a large town, with the emblems and specimens of their respective arts and commodities, are brought to besiege the doors of some unfortunate and unsuspecting wight of whom they are made the innocent persecutors. The joke, in each particular case, is doubtless in proportion to the incongruity or contrast between the object and subject of the hoax ; as in the case where all the medical faculty have been summoned to attend a person who entertains the greatest abhorrence of the whole medical tribe. In Hogarth's print of the Enraged Musician, we might be amused at the union of so many discordant noises, whether we supposed them brought together on purpose or not; but one of the principal causes of our mirth is doubtless the consideration, that all the discords alluded to, the bawling of the ballad-singer, the squalling of children, the screaming of the milk-woman, the hooting of the chimney-sweep, the horn of the fish-seller, the braying of the dustman, the caterwauling of cats, the rumbling of waggons, the creaking and rasping of the knife-grinder's wheel, are all brought into collision with the refined organs of one of the first musical composers of the age, in one of his finest moments of inspiration. It is here that the essence of the contrast consists, and it is this that seems to render the whole group so laughable.
In all the cases which have been mentioned of this species of the ludicrous, arising from the juxta-position, or grouping together incongruous particulars, it seems to be a general remark, applicable to the whole, that the greater the contrast between the particulars so joined, the laughable effect is, ceteris paribus, the greater.
OF Wit.— I shall now take notice of the case where the contrasted or incongruous ideas are brought together by a comparison founded in some point of similitude. This, I may observe, when done by design, constitutes what is commonly called Wit. Dr Beattie observes, that he agrees with Locke, that “ wit consists chiefly in the assemblage of ideas, and putting them
together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any “ resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures “ and agreeable visions in the fancy.” And he also agrees with Pope, that an easy delivery as well as perfect conception,”—and with Dryden, that “ propriety of words, as well as of thought," are necessary to the formation of true wit. I entirely accede to all those writers have observed respecting Wit, and think it obvious that this quality, as the word is generally understood in the English language, does not result from one special faculty, but from the nice union and co-operation of a variety of faculties.
The unexpected discovery of a resemblance between two things, in other respects quite unlike, delivered neatly, and in the most appropriate words, constitutes what is called Wit. Now, in order to produce this, we require a faculty to perceive resemblances, and this we conceive to be that which Phrenologists call Comparison. But there is no Wit in a mere resemblance, unless the difference or contrast be perceived at the same time. Hence we require another faculty to perceive this contrast. We have already seen some reasons, and may perhaps soon light upon more, for thinking that this is the faculty connected with the organ No 32. If we are right in this account of its function, it is no doubt necessary to Wit, both in its production and enjoyment; but it is not Wit itself, which, as well as wisdom, depends on no single faculty. To complete the list of faculties necessary to Wit, we farther require a faculty to concentrate the operation of the former two, by bringing the resemblances and the contrast under our view at once, and within the narrowest possible point, and a faculty of Language to suggest the fittest vehicle for its conveyance ; Secretiveness is essential to keep the feathered arrow in its quiver until it can be let fly with effect; and Individuality is that quiver which retains it until the golden opportunity occurs. It will be remembered in the account we gave of the Life of Sheridan, that this was precisely the combination of powers possessed by that celebrated man,—and to them, and not to the extraordinary endowment of any one faculty, was his reputation as a man of wit undoubtedly to be attributed.
When we talk of Wit, then, it behoves us well to distinguish whether we use the term in the popular or the phrenological sense. The one is something which is the joint pro