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favour, has never given general satisfaction upon
I have finished a pretty full enumeration of examples; but am very far from supposing it so complete, as to exhibit every species of ludicrous absurdity. Nor am I certain, that the reader will be pleased with my arrangement, or even admit that all my examples have the ludicrous character. But slight inaccuracies, in an inquiry so little connected with practice, will perhaps be overlooked as not very material; especially when it is considered that the subject, though familiar, is both copious and delicate, and though frequently spoken of by philosophers in general terms, has never before been attempted, so far as I know, in the way of induction. At any rate, it will appear from what has been said, that the theory here adopted is plausible at least; and that the philosophy of laughter is not wholly unsusceptible of method. And they who may think fit to amuse themselves at any time with this speculation, whatever stress they may lay upon my reasoning, will perhaps find their account in my col
ection of examples. And, provided they substitute a more perfect theory of their own in its stead, I shall not be offended, if by means of these very examples they should find out and demonstrate the imperfection of mine.
Limitations of the preceding Doctrine. Incongruity
not Ludicrous, I. When customary and common; nor, II. When it excites any powerful emotion in the beholder, as, 1. Moral Disapprobation, 2. Indignation or Disgust, 3. Pity, or, 4. Fear; III. Influence of Goodbreeding upon Laughter; IV. Of Similitudes, as connected with this subject; V. Recapitulation.
THAT an opposition of relation and contra. riety is often discernible in those things which we call ludicrous, seems now to be sufficiently proved. But does every such opposition or mixture of contrariety and relation, of suitableness and incongruity, of likeness and dissimilitude, provoke laughter? This requires further disquisition.
1. If an old Greek or Roman were to rise from his grave, and see the human head and shoulders overshadowed with a vast periwig; or were he to contemplate the native hairs of a fine gentleman arranged in the present form* part standing erect, as if their owner were beset with hobgoblins, and part by means of grease and meal consolidated into paste, he could hardly fail to be struck with the appearance: and I question, whether the features even of Heraclitus himself, or of the younger Cato, would not relax a little upon the occasion. For in this absurd imitation of nature, we have likeness coupled with dissimilitude, and imaginary grace with real deformity, and inconvenience sought after with eagerness, and at considerable expense. Yet in these fashions they who are accustomed to them do not perceive any thing ridiculous. Nay, were we to see a fine lady dressed according to the mode still extant in some old pictures, with her tresses all hanging about her eyes, in distinct and equal portions like a bunch of candles, and twisted into - a hundred strange curls, we should certainly think her a laughable phenomenon; though the same object two centuries ago would have been gazed at with admiration and delight. There are few incongruities to which custom will not reconcile us.t Nay, so wonderfully ductile is the taste
* In the year 1764.
† In the age of James the first, when fashion had consecrated the pun and paronomasia, the hearers of a quibbling preacher, were, I doubt not, both attentive and serious; as the universal prevalence of witticism, of some people, that, in the various revolutions of fashion, they find the same thing charming while in vogue, which when obsolete is altogether Frightful. Incongruity, therefore, in order to be ludicrous, must be in some measure uncommon.
even on solemn occasions, would almost annihilate its ludicrous effect. But it may be doubted, whether any audience in Great Britain would now maintain their gravity, if they were to be entertained with such a sermon, as Sulton's Caution for the Credulous: from which, for the reader's amusement, I transcribe the following passages:-" Here I have undertaken one who hath over" taken many, a Machiavillian, (or rather a matchless “ villain) one that professeth himself to be a friend, “ when he is indeed a fiend.-His greatest amity is but “ dissembled enmity.- His ave threatens a væ; and " therefore listen not to his treacherous ave, but heark
en unto Solomon's cave; and though he speaketh favourably, believe him not. Though I call him but a ' plain flatterer, (for I mean to deal very plainly with " him) some compare him to a devil. If he be one, these w words of Solomon are a spell to expel this devil.. “Wring not my words, to wrong my meaning; I go not " about to crucifie the sons but the sins of men. Some “flatter a man for their own private benefit:-this man's po heart thou hast in thy pocket; for if thou find in thy
purse to give him presently, he will find in his heart to “ love thee everlastingly.” A Caution for the Credulous. By Edw. Sulton, Preacher. quarto, pp. 44. Aberdeen printed, 1629. Edinburgh reprinted, 1696.
To this it will be objected, that those ludicrous passages in books, that have been many times laughed at by the same person, do not entirely lose their effect by the frequency of their appearance. But many circumstances concur to perpetuate the agreeable effect of those passages. We forget them in the intervals of reading, and thus they often become almost new to us: when we read them a second or third time, the remembrance of the former emotion may serve to heighten the present; when we read them in company, or hcar them read, our emotions are enforced by sympathy; and all this while the wit or humour remains the same, unimpaired and unaffected by accidental associations. Whereas, on the other hand, there are many circumstances that tend in time to obliterate, or at least to soften, what at first might seem ridiculous in modes of conversation or dress. For things are not always agreeable or disagreeable in proportion to their intrinsick beauty or deformity; much will depend on extraneous and accidental connections: and, as men who live in society do daily acquire new companions, by whom their manners are in some degrec tinctured; so whatever is driven about in the tide of human affairs is daily made a part of some new assemblage, and daily contracts new qualities from those things