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AN ESSAY

ON

LAUGHTER

AND

LUDICROUS COMPOSITION.

CHAPTER I.

Introduction. The Subject proposed. Opinions of

Philosophers, I. Aristotle. II. Hobbes. III. Hutcheson. IV. Akenside.

OF

man, it is observed by Homer, that he is the most wretched, and, by Addison and others, that he is the merriest animal in the whole creation: and both opinions are plausible, and both perhaps may be true. If, from the acuteness and delicacy of his perceptive powers, from his remembrance of the past, and his anticipation of what is to come, from his restless and creative fancy, and from the various sensibilities of his moral nature, man be ex

posed to many evils, both imaginary and real, from which the brutes are exempted, he does also from the same sources derive innumerable delights, that are far beyond the reach of every other animal. That our preeminence in pleasure should thus in some degree, be counterbalanced by our preeminence in pain, was necessary to exercise our virtue, and wean our hearts from sublunary enjoyment; and that beings thus beset with a multitude of sorrows should be supplied from so many quarters with the means of comfort, is suitable to that benign economy which characterises every operation of nature.

When a brute has gratified those few appetites that minister to the support of the species, and of the individual, he may be said to have attained the summit of happiness, above which a thousand years of prosperity could not raise him a single step. But for man, her favourite child, nature has made a more liberal provision. He, if he have only guarded against the necessities of life, and indulged the animal part of his constitution, has experienced but little of that felicity whereof he is capable. To say nothing at present of his moral and religious gratifications, is he not furnished with faculties that fit him for receiving pleasure from almost every part of the visible universe? Even to those persons, whose powers of observation are confined within a narrow circle, the exercise of the necessary arts. may open

inexhaustible sources of amusement, to alleviate the cares of a solitary and laborious life. Men of more enlarged understanding, and more cultivated taste, are still more plentifully supplied with the means of innocent delight. For such, either from acquired habit, or from innate propensity, is the soul of man, that there is hardly any thing in art or nature from which we may not derive gratification. What is great overpowers with pleasing astonishment; what is little may charm by its nicety of proportion, or beauty of colour; what is diversified, pleases by supplying a series of novelties; what is uniform, by leading us to reflect on the skill displayed in the arrangement of its parts; order and connection gratify our sense of propriety; and certain forms of irregularity and unsuitableness raise within us that agreeable emotion whereof LAUGHTER is the outward sign.

Risibility, considered as one of the characters that distinguish man from the inferiour animals, and as an instrument of harmless, and even of profitable recreation, to every age, condition, and capacity of human creatures, must

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be allowed to be not unworthy of the philosopher's notice. Whatever is peculiar to rational nature, must be an object of some importance to a rational being; and Milton has observed, that

Smiles from reason flow,
To brutes denied:

Whatever may be employed as a means of discountenancing vice, folly, or falsehood, is an object of importance to a moral being, and Horace has remarked,

Ridiculum acri Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res.* Let this apology suffice at present for my choice of a subject. Even this apology might have been spared: for nothing is below the attention of philosophy, which the Author of nature has been pleased to establish.

In tracing out the cause of laughter, I mean rather to illustrate than to censure the opinions of those who have already written on the same subject. The investigation has been several times attempted; nor is the cause altogether

Ridicule shall frequently prevail,
And cut the knot when graver reasons fail.

FRANCIS.

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