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The wisest of men has observed, that “ sorrow is better “ than laughter.” Tears arise from an affection, not necessarily painful, of the sentiments, particularly Benevolence, Veneration, Hope, Wonder, and Ideality; and this affection, if not too severe or too long continued, is accompanied with pleasure of its kind, and, by exercising these sentiments, is even advantageous. Hence it is added, By the sadness of 66 the countenance the heart is made better." We are not told this of laughter, but the contrary. Fools are more addicted to laughter than wise men. Those in whom the higher sentiments predominate greatly over the propensities seldom laugh.
Conscientiousness, when very active, seems to be a considerable represser of laughter. There are some worthy persons in whom this sentiment is strong, and the feeling of incongruity proportionally weak, who are not only extremely slow in perceiving the point of a joke, but, even when this has been completely explained to them, cannot be prevailed upon to laugh, until they are satisfied that all the particulars are strictly true. They annoy you with their doubts, that the story is “ too good to be true," that it is “ beholden to “ the maker,” and many other saws of a similar kind. This turn of mind, though sufficiently provoking to the retailers of jokes, is more worthy of respect, and more indicative of valuable qualities, than that of those who pass their lives in a perpetual giggle, and who are eternally teasing you with stale and unprofitable jesting.
Although I certainly consider that the propensities are most gratified in laughter, it is an essential part of the theory that the sentiments are concerned in it also, and that the slight opposition which they offer is a necessary ingredient in the play of feelings from which laughter arises. We do not laugh when the propensities are gratified to the full, unopposed or unmarked by the sentiments. The brutes are incapable of laughter; and I conceive the reason to be, that they are destitute of the higher sentiments, and that, there
fore, with them the alternate play of feeling alluded to can have no existence.
If the above theory be correct, laughter should be most common at that period of life when the propensities are in their pristine vigour, and before the sentiments are come to the maturity of serious and energetic action. It should also be most frequent with those in whom the organs of both propensities and sentiments are in a free and unconstrained state, prompt to answer at every call, and maintaining that nice balance which I may call a trembling equilibrium. It is in youth chiefly where we find these conditions coexisting; and, accordingly, it is in the young in whom the faculties are fresh and vigorous, unbroken by care, and unfatigued by long or toilsome exertion, and in whom the
propensities in particular are most generally active, that we find the tendency to laughter most conspicuous. It is repressed in
age, when the fibres get rigid or languid, and when, consequently, there must be less of that light play of feeling we have spoken of. It is equally repressed in those whose faculties are fatigued with labour or study, or weighed down by any enduring painful affection, that of grief for instance, or of depression arising from misfortune,--the sickness of heart arising from hope deferred, or the self-condemnation consequent upon crime. If any of the sentiments are thus strongly excited in any one direction, it prevents any lighter feeling from being attended to.
Some combinations of original development may, no doubt, give a greater tendency to laughter than others. gan 32, being large, is undoubtedly favourable to it; but if Secretiveness be large also, the individual may probably be more gratified by making others laugh, than by laughing openly himself. This is the development, as I have elsewhere stated, which gives rise to what is called Humour and the individuals who possess it, though enjoying the ludicrous with the most intense relish, have the power of refraining from its open manifestation. In other respects, that
combination is probably most favourable to the feeling of the ludicrous which is equally balanced between the lower propensities and higher sentiments. If the sentiments predominate very much, the individual will probably be more apt to imitate Heraclitus than Democritus, and will oftener feel inclined to weep for the crimes and miseries of mankind, than to laugh at their follies.
But there are other kinds of laughter besides that of innocent mirth. There is the laugh of brutality and insolence, approaching what we might conceive of the laughter of fiends.-(I may here mention, what is, indeed, no argument, but which shows that the ordinary sense of mankind is in favour of the theory, that, though we speak of the laughter of demons, we never imagined the possibility that angels or glorified spirits should laugh. Does not this amount to a tacit acknowledgment, that laughter arises primarily from the lower propensities ?)—Destructiveness and Self-esteem, all the harsh and selfish and anti-social feelings, are expressed by this laugh, unmingled with Benevolence, unmodified by Conscientiousness. The higher sentiments being feeble, are overpowered by the strength and activity of the propensities, and only excite a jar of the feelings alike horrid and disgusting. Such is the laugh of the ruffian, when beauty and innocence are exposed defenceless to his brutality. Such is the laugh of the infuriated mob, when the objects of their hatred, their fear, or their envy, fall within their power ; when, loosened from every restraint of authority, they are rejoicing and glorying in the work of destruction; when palaces are in flames, and when collections of literature and the arts, of whose value they are utterly ignorant, are consigned to spoliation and ruin. There is the laugh of despair, the most awful and heart-rending expression of anguish, wrung from the wretch in the last sad extremity of unendurable calamity. There is that most fearful symptom of a mind entirely overthrown,
Moody madness laughing wild - Amid severest woe.
These are the alternations of laughter and tears that succeed each other so rapidly in hysterical affections. All these kinds of laughter seem, even more obviously than the more moderate and agreeable exhibitions of the affections, to arise from the alternate opposing and irregular action of the propensities and sentiments. It seems quite obvious, that the laughter in these extreme cases does not proceed from any one feeling or faculty, but from a jarring or discordant state of several faculties actively opposed to each other; and this affords a farther confirmation of the theory of its production in the ordinary case ; for it is certainly an affection sui generis, and the conditions of its existence must be in all cases
We now come to apply this to the subject we have been considering; and here I beg to return to what I stated when treating of the nature of Wit. I then mentioned, that in those witty comparisons which excited laughter, the ideas compared were always of such a nature as to excite different and even opposite trains of ideas and emotions. Now it is the existence of opposite emotions, or, to speak phrenologically, the activity of opposite sets of faculties at the same time, that we have since, by a different train of investigation, come to consider to be the cause of laughter. It is obvious that these results entirely coincide, and therefore each forms a strong argument in support of the other. Now if laughter, or the feeling of the ludicrous, arises from the play of opposing or contrasted feelings, then a faculty which presents the mind with contrasts, or which places before us two objects or ideas which are calculated to excite opposite feelings, is just the description of faculty which we would conceive to be best calculated for the production of ludicrous combinations. But this is just what by a different process we have concluded to be the peculiar and original function of the organ 32. The proof, therefore, that we have arrived at the true original function of this organ, and that we have also found the true theory of laughter, seems to be exceedVOL. IV
ingly strong, seeing that we have arrived at both conclusions by two separate and independent trains of observation and reasoning.
Our belief in the correctness of these conclusions is strengthened by a consideration of their extreme simplicity, and of the ease with which, in the assumption of their truth, we can explain the most complicated phenomena respecting wit and humour, and respecting laughter and the ludicrous in general. If we have in this instance succeeded in developing the true principles of these phenomena, we have to thank Drs Gall and Spurzheim for having shown us the way. We have merely pursued the path which they have indicated, and we take no farther merit to ourselves than that of having faithfully followed the guidance of such able instructors.
SECOND LETTER BY GEORGE COMBE TO FRANCIS JEFF.
REY, ESQ. IN ANSWER TO HIS NOTE ON PHRENOLOGY, IN NO 89 OF THE EDINBURGH REVIEW,
SIR, In a note to the 89th Number of the Edinburgh Review, you have honoured me by replying to my letter to you on the subject of Phrenology. You are pleased to say, that “ the Phrenologists have taken their physic, on the whole,
very quietly.” They have less merit in this than you perhaps are aware of. The greater number of the objections urged by you lie on the surface, and no reflecting man, moderately acquainted with metaphysics and anatomy, could possibly become a Phrenologist without solving them for himself. The correctness of this observation is established by the fact, that the most formidable of your positions have