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relish in poetry, but are in this one taste less nice than our ancestors.

If the Reverend clergy shewed more concern than others, I charitably impute it to their great charge of souls; and what confirmed me in this opinion was, that the degrees of apprehension and terror could be distinguished to be greater or less, according to their ranks and degrees in the church.*

A parody must be distinguished from every species of ridicule : it enlivens a gay subject by imitating some important incident that is serious : it is ludicrous, and may be risible; but ridicule is not a necessary ingredient. Take the following examples, the first of which refers to an expression of Moses.

The skilful nymph reviews her force with care :
Let spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were.

Rape of the Lock, Canto iii. 45.

The next is in imitation of Achilles's oath in Homer.

But by this lock, this sacred lock, I swear,
(Which never more shall join its parted hair,
Which never more its honours shall renew,
Clipp'd from the lovely head where late it grew),
That while my nostrils draw the vital air,
This hand, which won it, shall for ever wear.
He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread
The long-contended honours of her head.

Ibid. Canto iv. 133.

The following imitates the history of Agamemnon's sceptre in Homer.

* A true and faithful narrative of what passed in London during the general consternation of all ranks and degrees of mankind.

Now meet thy fate, incens'd Belinda cry'd,
And drew a deadly bodkin fron, her side,
(The same, his ancient personage to deck ,
Her great-great-grandsire wore about his neck,
In three seal-rings; which after, melted down,
Form'd a vast buckle for his widow's gown :
Her infant grandame's whistle next it grew,
The bells she jingled, and the whistle blew;
Then in a bodkin grac'd her mother's hairs,
Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.)

Ibid. Canto v. 87.

Though ridicule, as observed above, is no necessary ingredient in a parody, yet there is no opposition between them : ridicule may be successfully employed in a parody: and a parody may be employed to promote ridicule; witness the following example with respect to the latter, in which the goddess of Dulness is addressed upon the subject of modern education :

Thou gav'st that ripeness, which so soon began,
And ceas'd so soon, he re'er was boy nor man;
Through school and college, thy kind cloud o'ercast,
Safe and unseen the young Æneas past ;*
Thence bursting glorious, all at once let down,
Stunn'd with his giddy larum half the town.

Dunciad, b. iv. 287.

The interposition of the gods, in the manner of Homer and Virgil, ought to be confined to ludi. crous subjects, which are much enlivened by such interposition handled in the form of a parody; wit. ness the cave of Spleen, Rape of the Lock, canto iv.; the goddess of Discord, Lutrin, canto i.; and the goddess of Indolence, canto ii.

Those who have a talent for ridicule, which is seldom united with a taste for delicate and refined

* Æn.l. i: At Venus obscuro, &c.


beauties, are quick-sighted in improprieties; and these they eagerly grasp, in order to gratify their favourite propensity. Persons galled are provoked to maintain, that ridicule is improper for grave subjects. Subjects really grave are by no means fit for ridicule : but then it is urged against them, that when it is called in question whether a certain subject be really grave, ridicule is the only means of determining the controversy. Hence a celebrated question, Whether ridicule be or be not a test of truth? I give this question a place here, because it tends to illustrate the nature of ridicule.

The question stated in accurate terms is, Whe. ther the sense of ridicule be the proper test for distinguishing ridiculous objects, from what are not 80. Taking it for granted, that ridicule is not a subject of reasoning, but of sense or taste,* I proceed thos. No person doubts but that our sense of beauty is the true test of what is beautiful; and our sense of grandeur, of what is great or sublime, Is it more doubtful whether our sense of ridicule be the true test of what is ridiculous ? It is not only the true test, but indeed the only test ; for this subject comes not, more than beauty or grandeur, under the province of reason. If any subject, by the influence of fashion or custom, have acquired a degree of veneration to which naturally it is not en. titled, what are the proper means for wiping off the artificial colouring, and displaying the subject in its true light? A man of true taste sees the subject without disguise: but if he hesitate, let bim apply the test of ridicule, which separates it from its ar. tificial connexions, and exposes it naked with all its native improprieties.

* See Chapter X. compared with Chapter VII.

But it is urged, that the gravest and most serious matters may be set in a ridiculous light. Hardly so; for where an object is neither risible nor improper, it lies not open in any quarter to an attack from ridicule. But supposing the fact, I foresee not any harmful consequence. By the same sort of reasoning, a talent for wit ought to be condemned, because it may be employed to burlesque a great or lofty subject. Such irregular use made of a talent for wit or ridicule, cannot long impose upon mankind : it cannot stand the test of correct and delicate taste ; and truth will at last prevail even with the vulgar. To condemn a talent for ridicule because it may be perverted to wrong purposes, is not a little ridiculous : could one forbear to smile, if a talent for reasoning were condemned because it also may be perverted ? and yet the conclusion in the latter case, would be not less just than in the former: perhaps more just; for no talent is more frequently perverted than that of reason.

We had best leave nature to her own operations : the most valuable talents may be abused, and so may that of ridicule : let us bring it under proper culture if we can, without endeavouring to pluck it up by the root.

Were we destitute of this test of truth, I know not what might be the consequences : I see pot what role would be left us to prevent splendid trifles passing for matters of importance, show and form for substance, and superstition or enthusiasm for pure religion.



WIT is a quality of certain thoughts and expressions : the term is never applied to an action nor a passion, and as little to an external object.

However difficult it may be, in many instances, to distinguish a witty thought or expression from one that is not so, yet, in general, it may be laid down, that the term wit is appropriated to such thoughts and expressions as are ludicrous, and also occasion some degree of surprise by their singularity. Wit, also, in a figurative sense, expresses a talent for inventing ludicrous thoughts or expressions : we say commonly a witty man, or a man of wit.

Wit in its proper sense, as explained above, is distinguishable into two kinds; wit in the thought, and wit in the words or expression. Again, wit in the thought is of two kinds : ludicrous images, and ludicrous combinations of things that have little or no natural relation.

Ludicrous images that occasion surprise by their singularity, as having little or no foundation in nature, are fabricated by the imagination : and the imagination is well qualified for the office; being of all our faculties the most active, and the least under restraint. Take the following example:

Shylock. You knew (none so well, none so well as you) of my daughter's flight.

Salino. That's certain ; I for my part knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal.

Merchant of Venice, Act III. Sc. 1.

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