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We grant although he had much wit,
Hudibras, Canto 1.
Wit is of all the most elegant recreation: the image enters the ind with gayety, and gives a sudden flash, which is extremely pleasant. Wit thereby gently elevates without 'straining, raises mirth without dissoluteness, and relaxes while it entertains.
Wit in the expression, commonly called a play of words, being a bastard sort of wit, is reserved for the last place. I proceed to examples of wit in the thought; and first of ludicrous images.
Falstaff, speaking of his taking Sir John Coleville of the Dale:
Here he is, and here I yield him; and I beseech your Grace, let it be book'd with the rest of this day's deeds; or, by the Lord, I will have it in a particular ballad else, with mine own picture on the top of it, Coleville kissing my foot: to the which course if I be enforc'd, if you do not all show like gilt twopences to me; and I, in the clear sky of fame, o'ershine you as much as the full moon doth the cinders of the element, which show like pins' heads to her; believe not the word of the Noble. Therefore let me have right, and let desert mount.
Second Part Henry IV. Act IV. Se. 3.
I knew, when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an if; as, if you said so, then I said so; and they shook hands, and swore brothers; Your if is the only peacemaker; much virtue is in if. Shakspeare. For there is not through all Nature, another so callous, and insensible a member, as the world's posteriors, whether you apply to it the toe or the birch. Preface to a Tale of a Tub.
The war hath introduced abundance of polysyllables, which will never be able to live many more campaigns. Speculations, operations, preliminaries, ambassadors, palisadoes, communication, circumvallation, battalions, as numerous as they are, if they attack us too frequently in our coffeehouses, we shall certainly put them to flight, and cut off the rear. Taller, No. 230.
Speaking of Discord,
She never went abroad, but she brought home such a bundle of monstrous lies, as would have amazed any mortal, but such as knew her; of a whale that had swallowed a fleet of ships; of the lions being let out of the Tower to destroy the Protestant religion; of the Pope's being seen in a brandy-shop at Wapping, &c. History of John Bull, Part I. Ch. 16.
The other branch of wit in the thought, namely, ludicrous combinations and oppositions, may be traced through various ramifications. And, first, fanciful causes assigned that have no natural relation to the effects produced:
Lancaster, Fare you well, Falstaff; I. in my condition,
Falstaff. I would you had but the wit; 'twere better than your dukedom. Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me; nor a man cannot make him laugh; but that's no marvel, he drinks no wine. There's never any of these demure boys come to any proof; for thin drink doth so overcool their blood, and making many fish-meals, that they fall into a kind of male greensickness; and then, when they marry, they get wenches. They are generally fools and cowards; which some of us should be too, but for inflammation. A good sherris-sack hath a twofold operation in it: it ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish, dull, and crudy vapors which environ it; makes it appre hensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes; which delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The
second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood, which before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale; which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice: but the sherris warms it, and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme; it illuminateth the face, which, as a beacon, gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great, and puff'd up with his retinue, doth any deed of courage: and thus valor comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it, and sets it in act and use. Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, steril, and bare land, manured, husbanded, and till'd, with excellent endeavor of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them, should be to forswear thin potations, and to addict themselves to sack.
Second Part of Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. 7.
Of some body to hew and hack.
Hudibras, Canto 1.
Speaking of physicians,
Le bon de cette profession est, qu'il y a parmi les morts une honnêteté, une discrétion la plus grande du monde; jamais on n'en voit se plaindre du médecin qui l'a tué. Le Médicin malgré lui.
Admirez les bontes, admirez les tendresses,
Ils ne sont jamais las d'acquérir des richesses,
Benda. Lard, he has so pester'd me with flames and stuff-I think I shan't endure the sight of a fire this twelvemonth. Old Bachelor, Act II. Sc. 8.
To account for effects by such fantastical causes, being highly ludicrous, is quite improper in any serious composition. Therefore the following passage from Cowley, in his poem on the death of Sir Henry Wooton, is in a bad taste.
He did the utmost bounds of knowledge find,
Falstaff. Imbowell'd!- -if thou imbowel me to-day, I'll give you leave to powder me, and eat me to-morrow! 'Sblood, 'twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too. Counterfeit! I lie, I am no counterfeit; to die is to be a counterfeit; for he is but the counterfeit of a man, who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed.
First Part, Henry IV. Act V. Sc. 4. Clown. And the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves, more than their even-christian.
Hamlet, Act V. Sc. 1.
Pedro Will you have me, Lady? Beatrice. No, my Lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day.
Much Ado about Nothing, Act II. Sc. 1. Jessica. I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian. Launcelot. Truly the more to blame he; we were Christians enough before, e'en as many as could well live by one another: this making of Christians will raise the price of hogs; if we grow all to be pork-eaters, we shall not have a rasher on the coals for money. Merchant of Venice, Act III. Sc. 5.
In western clime there is a town,
For brevity is very good
When w' are, or are not understood. But Hudibras gave him a twitch, As quick as lightning, in the breech, Just in the place where honor's lodg'd, As wise philosophers have judg'd; Because a kick in that part, more Hurts honor, than deep wounds before. Ludicrous junction of small things with great, as of equal impor
Ibid. Canto III.
Hudibras, Canto I.
This day black omens threat the brightest fair
But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night:
Or whether Heav'n has doom'd that Shock must fall.
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
Ibid. Canto III. 13.
Then flash'd the living lightning from her eyes,
Ibid. Canto III. 155.
Not youthful kings in battle seiz'd alive, Not scornful virgins who their charms survive, Not ardent lovers robb'd of all their bliss, Nor ancient ladies when refus'd a kiss, Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die, Not Cynthia when her manteau's pinn'd awry, E'er felt such rage, resentment, and despair, As thou, sad virgin, for thy ravish'd hair. Joining things that in appearance are opposite. As for example, where Sir Roger de Coverley, in the Spectator, speaking of his widow,
Ibid. Canto IV. 3.
That he would have given her a coal-pit to have kept her in clean linen; and that her finger should have sparkled with one hundred of his richest acres.
Premises that promise much and perform nothing. Cicero upon that article says,
Sed scitis esse notissimum ridiculi genus, cum aliud expectamus, aliud dicitur: hic nobismet ipsis noster error risum movet. De Oratore, l. ii. cap. 63. With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if he could get her good-will. Much Ado about Nothing, Act II. Sc. 1. Beatrice. I have a good eye, uncle, I can see a church by day-light. Ibid.
Le médecin que l'on m'indique
Vingt fois le jour le bon Grégoire
L'athsmatique Damon a cru que l'air des champs
Il s'est fait, à grands frais, transporter en Bretagr.e.
Damon est mort à la campagne.
Having discussed wit in the thought, we proceed to what is verbal only, commonly called a play of words. This sort of wit depends, for the most part, upon choosing a word that has different significations by that artifice hocus-pocus tricks are played in language, and thoughts plain and simple take on a very different appearance. Play is necessary for man, in order to refresh him after labor; and accordingly man loves play, even so much as to relish a play of words: and it is happy for us, that words can be employed, not only for useful purposes, but also for our amusement. This amusemenɩ, though humble and low, unbends the mind; and is relished by some at all times, and by all at some times.
It is remarkable, that this low species of wit, has among all nations been a favorite entertainment, in a certain stage of their progress toward refinement of taste and manners, and has gradually gone into disrepute. As soon as a language is formed into a system, and the meaning of words is ascertained with tolerable accuracy, opportunity is afforded for expressions that, by the double meaning of some words, give a familiar thought the appearance of being new; and the penetration of the reader or hearer is gratified in detecting the true sense disguised under the double meaning. That this sort of wit was in England deemed a reputable amusement, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., is vouched by the works of Shak speare, and even by the writings of grave divines. But it cannot have
But you know that it is the masked kind of the ludicrous when we expect one thing and another is said—here we laugh at our own mistake. De Oratore, l. ii. cap. 63
any long endurance: for as language ripens, and the meaning of words is more and more ascertained, words held to be synonymous diminish daily; and when those that remain have been more than once employed, the pleasure vanishes with the novelty.
I proceed to examples, which, as in the former case, shall be distributed into different classes.
A seeming resemblance from the double meaning of a word:
A seeming contrast from the same cause, termed a verbal anıthesis, which has no despicable effect in ludicrous subjects:
Beneath this stone my wife doth lie;
While Iris his cosmetic wash would try
Some ask for charms, and others philters choose,
To gai. Corinna, and their quartans lose. Dispensary, Canto 2
Ibid. Canto 3.
Other seeming connections from the same cause:
And how frail nymphs, oft by abortion, aim
To whom the knight with comely grace
Hudibras, Canto 2.
Ibid. Part 3. Canto 3
Here Britain's statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Rape of the Lock, Canto 3. 1. 5.
Speaking of Prince Eugene:
This general is a great taker of snuff as well as of towns.
O'er their quietus where fat judges dose,
A sceming opposition from the same cause:
Exul mentisque domusque.
The exile from his mind and his home.
Rape of the Lock.
Dispensary, Canto 1.
Pope, Key to the Lock. Metamorphoses, 1. ix. 409.