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humour; and by this effect, it relieves domestic cares, revives men of business and studious professions, and softens the asperity of morose dispositions ; it suspends uneasy and anxious thoughts, dispels cloudy and sullen melancholy, and by unbending and exhilirating the mind, gives new life and spirit to resume the labour of our respective employments.
The exercise of wit, and a pleasant genius, excels all other recreations. What is the satisfaction that arises from country sports, or the politer diversions of balls and operas, compared with the delightful conversation of men of parts and facetious talents ? Other amusements, how agreeable soever, only please the body, and gratify the senses; but this strikes the imagination, touches the passions, and recreates the intellectual faculties. And, as the taste of the soul is more delicate and exquisite than that of the body, so much superior are the pleasures of one to those of the other. It is no wonder then, that the assemblies of friends are dull and heavy, that feasts and wine are flat entertainments, une less some ingenious persons are present to improve their taste, and enliven the company, by agreeable discourses.
Another part of the province in which wit is properly exercised, are ingenious writings intended to please and improve; and this is more various and extensive than comic poetry, though of the same kind; for it takes in not only the subjects of prudence and decency, regular behaviour, and virtuous actions, but likewise the justness of human sentiments and opinions in points of controversy; of the last, the Dialogue of Dr. Eachard against Mr. Hobbes, is a famous example, where by great strength and solidity of reason, mixed with agreeable wit and raillery, he entertains and informs the reader, and at once exposes and confutes the conceited philosopher. An instance of the first, is the celebrated History of Don Quixote, a book so well imagined, and written with so much spirit and fine raillery, that it effectually produced the end of the admirable author; for by turning into mirth and ridicule the reigning folly of romantic chivalry, and freeing the minds of the people from that fashionable delusion; he broke the force of as strong an enchantment, and destroyed as great a monster as was ever vanquished by their imaginary heroes.
Many more books on other moral subjects have been composed with much wit and vivacily, in our own and foreign countries, to expose vice and folly, and promote decency and sobriety of manners. But the productions of this nature, which have of late appeared in this nation, whether we regard the just and generous sentiments, the fertile invention, the variety of subjects, the surprising turns of wit and facetious imagination, the genteel satire, the purity and propriety of the words, and the beauty and dignity of the diction, bave surpassed all the productions of this kind that have been published in any age or country. The reader, no doubt, is beforehand with me, and concludes, that I mean the Tatler and Spectator, which bave all the perfection of writing, and all the advantages of wit and humour that are required to instruct and entertain.
This excellent and amiable qualification of the mind, is too apt to be abused and perverted to ill purposes. Instead of being engaged on the side of virtue, and used to promote just notions and regularity of life, it is frequently employed to expose the most sacred things, to turn gravity and reserved behaviour into ridicule, to keep in countenance vice, and irreligion, and with a petulant and unrestrained liberty, to deride the principles and practice of the wisest and best of
This is certainly the greatest abuse of wit imaginable. In all the errors and monstrous productions of nature, can any appear more deformed than a man of parts, who employs his
admirable qualities in bringing piety into contempt, putting virtue to the blush, and making sobriety of manners the common subject of his mirth; while with zeal and industry, he propagates the malignant contagion of vice and irreligion, poisons his friends and admirers, and promotes the destruction of his native country? And if these foolish wits and ingerrious madmen could reflect, they would soon be convinced that while engaged against religion, they hurt themselves; and, that wit and humour thus misapplied, will prove but a wretched compensation for their want of virtue.
Wit is likewise misapplied when exercised to ridicule any unavoidable defects and deformities of body and mind; for, since nothing is a moral blemish, but as it is the effect of our own choice, nothing can be disgraceful but what is voluntary and brought freely upon ourselves; and, since nothing is the proper object of raillery and ridicule but what is shameful, it must be a violence to reason and humanity, to expose and reproach others for any thing that was not in their power to escape. And, therefore, to make a man contemptible, and the jest of the company, by deriding him for his mis-shapen body, ill figured face, stammering speech, and low degree of un
derstanding, is a great abuse of ingenious faculties.
Nor is it a less criminal use of this talent when it is exercised in lascivious discourses. The venom is not less, but more infectious and destructive when conveyed by artful insinuation, and a delicate turn of wit. When impure sentiments are expressed by men of a heavy and gross imagination in direct and open terms, the company are put out of countenance, and nauseate the coarseness of the conversation; but a man of wit gilds the poison, dresses his wanton thoughts in a beautiful babit, and by slanting and side approaches, possesses the imagination of the hearers, before his design is well discovered, by which means, he more effectually gains admission into the mind, and fills the fancy with immodest ideas.
Men of finer spirits, do likewise abuse their parts, as well as misapply their time, when to gain applause and increase their popularity, they run without distinction into company, and by too great condescension and false humanity, mingle in inferior and unworthy assemblies; when delighted with the silly approbation of ignorant laughers, they shine forth in a great effusion of wit and humour, by which they make themselves cheap, if not contemptible in the opi