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down, from the agitation of her mind, and the impulse of a demon, is compared to a top whipped about by boys, has been called fustian by some criticks, and burlesque by others. In my
* Demetrius Phalereus observes, that “Elegance of "language, by exciting admiration, makes the ridicu“lous disappear;" and adds, “that to express a ludicrous “sentiment in fine language is like dressing an are in “ fine clothes. The words of Sappho, (continues he), “ when beauty is her theme, are sweet and beautiful;
as in her poems on Love, on Air, and on the Halcyon. “Indeed all the beauties of language, and some of them “of her own invention, are interwoven with Sappho's poetry. But the Rustick Bridegroom, and the Porter at the Wedding, she has ridiculed in a different style; using very mean expressions, and a choice of words “less suitable to poetry than to prose.” Demet. Phal. $ 166, 167, 168 An ape dressed in fine clothes does not cease to be ludicrous: and in the mock heroick poem, where the subject is contemptible or mean, great elegance, or even magnificence, of diction, may heighten the ridicule; of which, the Lutrin, the Dunciad, the Rape of the Lock, and the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, abound in examples. But it is probable, that Demetrius is here speaking of burlesque, and that Sappho's poem on the wedding was of that character; something perhaps resembling the ballad, said to be written by James I. king of Scotland, and commonly known by the name of Christ's Kirk on the Green. And it is true, that in burlesque writing, as distinguished from the mock heroick, vul. garity of expression is almost indispensable. See above, chap. 2. sect. iv. 9. 10. 11.
opinion it is neither. The propriety in point of likeness is 'undeniable. The object alluded to, though in itself void of dignity, is however pleasing; and receives elevation from the poetry, which is finished in Virgil's best manner, and is indeed highly picturesque and very beautiful.*
What has been said on the subject of similitudes, when applied to the present purpose, amounts to this: “Incongruity does not appear “ludicrous, when it is so qualified, or circum(stanced, as to raise in the mind some emotion “more powerful than that of laughter."
V. If then, it be asked, what is that quality in things, which makes them provoke that pleasing emotion or sentiment whereof laughter is the external sign? I answer, it is an uncommon mixture of relation and contrariety, exhibited, or supposed to be united, in the same assemblage. If, again it be asked, whether such a mixture will always provoke laughter? my answer is, it will always, or for the most part, excite the risible emotion, unless' when the perception of it is attended with some other emotion of greater authority.
* Ceu quondam torto volitans sub verbere turbo, Quem pueri magno in gyro vacua atria circum, Intenti ludo exercent; ille actus habena Curvatis fertur spatiis: stupet inscia supra Impubesque manus, mirata volubile buxum. Dant animos plagæ, &c.
Æneid, vii. 378.
It cannot be expected, that I should give a complete list of those emotions that do commonly, in a sound mind, bear down this ludicrous emotion. Several of them have been specified in the course of this inquiry. We have seen, from the examples given, that moral disapprobation, pity, fear, disgust, admiration, are among the number; to which every person, who attends to what passes in his own mind, may perhaps be able to add several others.
I am well aware, that the comparative strength of our several emotions is not the same in each individual. In some the more serious affections are so prevalent, that the risible disposition operates but seldom, and with a feeble impulse: in some, the latter predominates so much that the others are scarce able to counteract its energy. It is hardly possible to arrive at principles so comprehensive as to include the peculiarities of every individual. These are sometimes so inconsistent with the general law of the species, that they may be considered as deviations from the ordinary course of nature. In tracing Sentimental Laughter to its first principles, I have examined it, only as it is found to operate, for the most part, in the generality of mankind.
An Attempt to account for the Superiority of the
Moderns in Ludicrous Writing. IT seems to be generally acknowledged, that the moderns are superiour to the ancient Greeks and Romans, in every sort of ludicrous writing. If this be indeed the case, it is a fact that deserves the attention of those authors who make wit, or humour, the subject of their inquiry; since the same reasonings that account for this fact must throw light on the philosophy of laughter. But by those people who argue for argument's sake, probable reasons might be urged, to show, that we are not competent judges of the ancient humour, and therefore cannot be certain of the superiority of the modern. Were I to defend this side of the question, the following should be my arguments.
Every thing that gives variety to the thoughts, the manners, and employments of men, must also tend to diversify their conversations and compositions in general, and their wit and humour in particular. Accordingly we find, that almost every profession in life has a turn of humour, as well as of thinking and acting, peculiar in some degree to itself. The soldier, the seaman, the mechanick, the husbandman, is more amused by the conversation of people of his own trade, than by that of others: and a species of wit shall be highly relished in one club or society, which in another would be but little attended to. We need not wonder, then, that in the humour of each country there should be some peculiar character, to the forming of which, not only the language and manners, but even the climate and soil, must contribute, by giving a peculiar direction to the pursuits and thoughts of the inhabitants. Nor need we wonder, that each nation should be affected most agreeably with its own wit and humour. For, not to mention the prejúdice that one naturally entertains in favour of what is one's own, a native must always understand better than foreigners can, the relations, contrarieties, and allusions, implied in what is ludicrous in the speech and writings of his countrymen.