Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

quibbles, of sy.lables, as in echoes and rhymes, or of letters, as in anagrams and acrostics. But every resemblance of ideas is not what we call wit, and it must be such an one that gives delight and surprise to the reader. Where the likeness is obvious it creates no surprise and is not wit. Thus, when a poet tells us that the bosom of his mistress is as white as snow, there is no wit in the comparison ; but, when he adds with a sigh, it is as cold too, it then grows into wit.”

I," said BUCKINGHAM, “would not so coldly speak of this vivifier of human intellect :

''True wit is everlasting like the sun,
Which, though sometimes behind a cloud retir'd,
Breaks out again, and is by all admir'd:
A flame that glows amidst conceptions fit,
E'en something of divine, and more than wit.
Itself unseen, yet all things by it shown,

Describing all men, but describ’d by none.'” “Pshaw," exclaimed Dennis, with the utmost impatience, “what rhapsody is here! His Grace, when he wrote the Rehearsal, obtained reputation as an, exemplifier of wit, which he has destroyed, and thus done justice to the world, by attempting to define it. No intelligible characteristic of that quality has he favoured us with, if we except the very amusing paradox, that true wit is something more than wit. But, so it is. Trose writers have seldom been capable of conceiving, illustrating, or defining wit ; and for the poets, they have generally lost their wits, in attempting to do the last. For instance, the crooked little gentleman, who has 60 gravely amused us with his sententious plagiarism from Dryden, when he entered the lists, proprio marte, and soared on his own feeble wings, indulged us with the following delectable apophthegm :

• There are whom Heaven has bless'd with store of wit,

Yet want as much again to manage it.' which would have stood alone in palpable absurdity, but for the kind example afforded it by his Grace of Buckingham.'

A general murmur of disapprobation, which arose from the writers both of prose and verse, at this attack of Dennis's two-edged sword, compelled the Zoilus to silence ; when Sir WilliaJ TEMPLE claimed the attention of the assembly, and thus delivered himself:

“Wit is a Saxon word that is used to express what the Spaniards and Italians call mgenio, and the French Esprit, both from the Lauin; but I think Wit more peculiarly is the characteristic of poetry than of prose, and is displayed in those writings or discourses which are the most pleasing and entertaining to all that read or hear them."

I must acknowledge," said Jounson, who followed him,

" That I do not perceive the imperative necessity of ascertaining the etymology of a term in general use for the purpose of arriving at its ordinary acceptation ; and thougł the labours of the philologist may be usefully and successfully employed in collating the several terms employed in different languages, to convey the same idea, such research must be deemed futile and superfluous in investigating the precise import of a word vernacular in our ovn tongue, and regarded as sufficiently intelligible to general capacities. I cannot see wlay the properties atuibuted to wit by Sir William Temple, should characterise verse more than prose compositions. Mr. Pope's definition of wit would exclude that originality which is one of its peculiar ornaments. Buckingham's fight, non usitaiú nec tenui pernâ, I shall not pretend to follow. The attempt to oppose wit to judgment is obviously sophistical, and I consider Sterne's observation on this head extremely happy ; bui a simile is not a definition. When a philosopher of antiquity was required to define motion, he simply rose and walked round the room. In my opinion the case is much the same with regard to wit. He who cannot conceive its nature, unless it be detined to him, will rarely reap advantage fiom any definition with which he can be presented."

It was the voice of thunder, and a reproof on the Editors which reached their organs of hearing, like the great clock of St. Paul's. However, in a moment they were relieved by the suavity of Locke, who suddenly presented himself, leaning against one of the eternal stones of the circle.

" If a definition strictly logical," said he, “be intended by the Doctor, his opinion is perhaps correct. But this does not seem to be a reason why we should decline inquiring into the nature and distinguishing properties of Wit. Wit appears to me to consist in the assemblage of ideas, and in putting them together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any semblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy. It is a junction of things by distant and fanciful relations, which surprise because they are unex: pected."

“ With all my veneration for the illustrious philosopher," replied Covoreve, " I cannot join in his view nf the subject. Wit, I consider, as a singular and unavoidable manner of doing or saying any thing peculiar and natural to one man only, by which his speech and actions are distinguished from those of other mon.''

[blocks in formation]

GOLDSMITH now spoke, and maintained, with his usual pleasantry, that As almost every character which has excited either attention or pity, has owed part of its success to merit, and part to a happy concurrence of circumstances in its favour, had Cæsar or Cromwell exchanged countries, the one might have been a sergeant and the other an exciseman. So it is with Wit, which generally succeeds more from being happily addressed, than from its native poignancy."

“ I admire the laconic inference drawn by the last speaker," said the author of Hudibras," and thus far coincide in his idea of the qualities of wit :

*All wit and fancy, like a diamond,
The more exact and curious 'tis ground,
Is forc'd for every caract to abate

As much in value, as it wants in weight.'" For my part," said the venerable author of the Night Thoughts, I have always regarded wit as chiefly characterised by a happy union of courtesy and severity:

*As in smooth oil, the razor best is whet,
So wit is keenest by politeness set.
Their want of edye from their offence is seen,

Both pain us least when exquisitely keen.'” " I object," said Seldon, “to the observations of the four gentlemen who have last spoken. Those of the first are very loose and general, and all have been loo epigrammatic in their remarks; and though I would not place wit and judgment in antithesis, 1 by no means agree with those persons who entertain an idea that wit necessarily implies wisdom. Wit and wisdom differ : wit is upon the sudden turn; wisdom is bringing about ends. Nature must be the groundwork of wit and art, Wil must grow like fingers ; if it be taken from others, it is like plums stuck upon blackthorns, there they are awhile, but they come to nothing. He that lets fly all he knows or thinks, may by chance be satirically witty."

“What wit is,” said lume gravely, “it may not be easy to define ; but it is sufficient to our purpose that it affects taste and sentiment, and bestows inmediate enjoyment. The most profound metaphysics might nevertheless be employed in explaining the various kinds and species of wit, and many classes of It might perhaps be resolved into more general principles.”

On Hume's silence, Lord KAIMES thus addressed the audience,

“ After all the ingenious, and, in many instances, profound observations, which have been elicited from the preceding speakers, some of the most striking and decided properties of wit seem to have been left unnoticed. Wit," as Mr, Locke has justly remarked, “consists chiefly in joining things by distant and fanciful relations, which surprise because they are unexpected. Wit is of all the most elegant recreation : the image enters the mind with gaiety, and gives a sudden flush, which is extremely pleasant. Wit therefore gently elevates without straining, raises mirth without dissoluteness, and relaxes while'it euteriains. The term Wil is applied to such thoughts and expressions as are ludicrous, and occasion some degree of surprise by their singularity. In its proper sense it is of two kinds : wit in the thought, and wit in the words or expression."

KAxt, who had hitherto stood in a corner, now darted in the inidst of the assembly and proceedled thus

“In every thing capable of exciting hearty laughter, there must be absurdity. Laughter is an affection from the sudden change of a strained imagination into nothing. This nge, which certainly is by no means grateful to the understanding, indirectly, and for a moment, produces very lively gratification. The cause must therefore consist in an influence, exerted upon the body, and in the reaction of this upon the mind. The idea presented is not, in itself, an object of pleasure, as it is in the case of a person who receives tidings of a successful stroke in trade. How, in fact, can mere balked expectations be pleasing ? But a play of ideas takes place, and this excites a play of the powers of life.

" An Indian, at table with an Englishman, at Surat, expressed his surprise by loud exclamations, on seeing a vast quantity of froth ooze out of a bottle of porter, as soon as the cork was drawn. Being asked, What surprised him so ? Vay, said he, don't suppose I wonder it comes out ; but how did you erer contrive to squeeze it in ? We do not laugh at this story, because we find ourselves wiser than the poor Indian, or because the understanding finds in it any thing satisfactory, but our expectation was strained, and suddenly vanishes. A rich man's heir is desirous to celebrate his funeral with all solennity, but he complains that he cannot aceomplish his purpose : for, says he, the more I give my mourners to look sorrowful, the more cheerful do these fellows appear. The reason why we laugh aloud at this, is the sudden vanishing of expectation. Let a persou of humour, by way of reply, seriously and circumstantially relate how a merchant, on his return home with all his whole fortune in goods, was obliged to throw them all overboard during a violent storm, and that the loss affected him so, that the very same night his periwig turned grey; and we shall laugh aloud. For we feel pleasure in striking to and fro the idea we are catching at, as if it were a ball.

"Assuming that, with all our thought, corporeal movements are harmonically connected, we can pretty well conceive how the sudden removal of the mind, from station to station, in order to consider its objeci, is answered by a reciprocating contraction and dilatation of the elastic parts of our viscera. These are communicated to the diaphragm, which (as froin tickling) throws the air out by sudden jerks, and occasions a healthy concussion. This alone, and not what passes in the mind, is the true cause of the pleasure derived from a thought, which in reality contains nothing. Voltaire says, that Providence has given us hope and sleep, as a compensation for the many cares of life. He might have added laughter, if the wit and originality of humour, necessary to excite it among rational people, -were vot so rare.'

At the conclusion of Kant's discourse, several of the assembly sought at once to deliver their opinions, but before the point of precedency could be adjusted, the time limited for their absence from the Shades expired. The sunbeams now touched the tastern horizon, and the shadowy congregation disappeared in an instant,

Thus, gentle reader, have we, the Editors of this volume, enabled thee to benefit at thine ease by the discourses uttered by these luminaries of wit at the solemn hour of night, in obedience to preternatural power. Who shall decide when such doctors disagree? Thou wilt doubtless remark the discrepancies of opinion existing among the hallowed dead, and wilt hesitate, ere presumption shall make thee arbiter among them, by rashly deciding where wit is and is not. Our self-love induces us to believe, that there is no part of our collection which may not take shelter under one or other of the great authorities composing this illustrious convocation. We have endeavoured “to be all things to all men, that we might by any means win sonie.". Judge not, therefore, of the contents of our volume by the extent of thy reading, nor by thy own bright conceptions, for that which is familiar to thee may be new to others; and thou shouldst moreover remember that wit, like music, seldom becomes old, unless it be really good.

Neither let the refinement of thy taste be in all cases a criterion of the merit of our labours ; for in works of humour, as in those of theology, there must be “milk for babes.” Every reader is not endued with a microscopic perception of wit ; and the rough jest of a sailor, or the blunder of a rude Irishman, will afford unequivocal delight to many, who would derive little pleasure from the sallies of Congreve or Addison. Yet if thine own disposition incline thee to seek the higher regions of intellectual amusement, thou canst here indulge it. Our book is not a mere collection of jests and stories, or a revived Joe Miller. We have not aimed wholly at exciting the yerws ãoßeotos, and cracking the sides of the reader. Thou wilt find treasures of humour drawn from the richest veins of classic ore, in which the voluptuary of wit may revel in perfect enjoyment. And let not thy judgment, if that judgment should happily incline in our favour, be biassed against us, albeit some splenetic railer, obtuse in his perceptions, should say of our book in thy hearing, “ There is nothing in it ;" but remember the just observation of Sterne, that “ it is not in the power of erery one to taste humour, however he may wish it; it is the

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »