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“which frets another's spleen to cure our own,” and which makes even the angelic part of the creation laugh themselves mortal. For who can forbear to laugh at the bare idea of an Irish bull ?
Nor let any one apprehend that this subject can ever become trite and vulgar. Custom cannot stale its infinite variety. It is in the main obvious, and palpable enough for every common understanding; yet it leads to disquisitions of exquisite subtlety, it branches into innumerable ramifications, and involves consequences of surprising importance; it may exercise the ingenuity of the subtlest wit, the fancy of the oddest humorist, the imagination of the finest poet, and the judgment of the most profound metaphysician. Moreover, this happy subject is enveloped in all that doubt and confusion which are so favourable to the reputation of disputants, and which secures the glorious possibility of talking incessantly, without being stopped short by a definition or a demonstration. For much as we have all heard and talked of Irish bulls, it has never yet been decided what it is that constitutes a bull. Incongruity of ideas, says one. But this supposition touches too closely upon the definition of wit, which, according to the best authorities, Locke, Burke, and Stewart, consists in an unexpected assemblage of ideas, apparently discordant, but in which some point of resemblance or aptitude is suddenly discovered.
Then, perhaps, says another, the essence of a bull lies in confusion of ideas. This sounds plausible in theory, but it will not apply in practice; for confusion of ideas is common to both countries: for instance, was there not some slight confusion of ideas in the mind of that English student who, when he was asked what progress he had made in the study of medicine, replied, “I hope I shall soon be qualified to be a physician, for I think I am now able to cure a child ?"
To amend our bill, suppose we insert the word laughable, and say that a laughable confusion of ideas constitutes a bull. But have we not a laughable confusion of ideas in our English poet Blackmore's famous lines in Prince Arthur?
“A painted vest Prince Vortigern had on,
We are sensible that to many people the most vulgar Irish bull would appear more laughable merely from its
being Irish; therefore we cannot make the propensity to laughter in one man the criterion of what is ridiculous in another; though we have a precedent for this mode of judging in the laws of England, which are allowed to be the perfection of human reason. If a man swear that his neighbour has put him in bodily fear, he may have the cause of his terror sent to jail; thus the feelings of the plaintiff become the measure of the defendant's guilt. As we cannot extend this convenient principle to all matters of taste, and all subjects of risibility, we are still compelled to acknowledge that no accurate definition of a bull has yet been given. The essence of an Irish bull must be of the most ethereal nature; for notwithstanding the most indefatigable research, it has hitherto escaped from analysis. The crucible always breaks in the longexpected moment of projection: we have nevertheless the courage to recommence the process in a new mode. Perhaps by ascertaining what it is not, we may at last discover what it is. we must distinguish the genuine from the spurious, the original from all imitations, the indi. genous from the exotic; in short, it must be determined in what an Irish bull essentially differs from a blunder, or in what Irish blunders specifically differ from English blunders, and from those of all other nations. To elucidate these points, or to prove to the satisfaction of all competent judges that they are beyond the reach of the human understanding, is the object of the following Essay concerning the Nature of Bulls and Blunders.
ORIGINALITY OF IRISH BULLS EXAMINED.
T'he difficulty of selecting from the vulgar herd of Irish bulls one that shall be entitled to the prize, from the united merits of pre-eminent absurdity and indisputable originality, is greater than hasty judges may imagine. Many bulls, reputed to be bred and born in Ireland, are of foreign extraction; and many more, supposed to be unrivalled in their kind, may be matched in all their capital points: for instance, there is not a more celebrated bull than Paddy Blake's. When Paddy heard an English gentleman speaking of the fine echo at the lake of Killar.
which repeats the sound forty times, he very promptly observed, "Faith, that's nothing at all to the echo in my father's garden, in the county of Galway: if you say to it,
How do you do, Paddy Blake?' it will answer, •Pretty well, I thank you, sir.'
Now this echo of Paddy Blake's, which has long been the admiration of the world, is not a prodigy unique in its kind; it can be matched by one recorded in the immortal works of the great Lord Verulam.*
“I remember well,” says this father of philosophy, " that when I went to the echo at port Charenton, there was an old Parisian that took it to be the work of spirits, and of good spirits; 'for,' said he, call Satan, and the echo will not deliver back the devil's name, but will say, Va-t-en.''
The Parisian echo is surely superior to the Hibernian! Paddy Blake's simply understood and practised the common rules of good breeding; but the port Charenton echo is “instinct with spirit," and endowed with a nice moral sense.
Among the famous bulls recorded by the illustrious Joe Miller, there is one which has been continually quoted as an example of original Irish genius. An English gentle. man was writing a letter in a coffee-house, and perceiving
* Natural History, century m., p. 191.-Bacon produoes it to show that echoes will not readily return the letter S.
that an Irishman stationed behind him was taking that liberty which Hephæstion used with his friend Alexander, instead of putting his seal upon the lips of the curious impertinent, the English gentleman thought proper to reprove the Hibernian, if not with delicacy, at least with poetical justice: he concluded writing his letter in these words :-“I would say more, but a d-d tall Irishman is reading over my shoulder every word I write."
“ You lie, you scoundrel !” said the self-convicted Hibernian.
This blunder is unquestionably excellent; but it is not originally Irish: it comes, with other riches, from the East, as the reader may find by looking into a book by M. Galland, entitled, “The Remarkable Sayings of the Eastern Nations.”
“A learned man was writing to a friend; a troublesome fellow was beside him, who was looking over his shoulder at what he was writing. The learned man, who perceived this, continued writing in these words, *If an impertinent chap, who stands beside me, were not looking at what I write, I would write many other things to you which should be known only to you and to me.'
“ The troublesome fellow, who was reading on, now thought it incumbent upon him to speak, and said, “I swear to you that I have not read or looked at what you are writing.'
“ The learned man replied, “Blockhead, as you are, why then do you say to me what you are now saying?" "*
Making allowance for the difference of manners m eastern and northern nations, there is, certainly, such a similarity between this oriental anecdote and Joe Mil. ler's story, that we may conclude the latter is stolen from the former. Now, an Irish bull must be a species of blunder peculiar to Ireland; those that we have hith
"Un savant écrivoit à un anii, et un importun étoit à côté de lui, qui regardoit par dessus l'épaule ce qu'ii cerivoit. Le savant, qui s'en apperçut, écrivit ceci à la place : Si un impertinent qui est à mon côté ne regardoit pas ce que j'écris, je vous écrirois encore plusieurs choses qui ne doivent être sues que de vous et de moi.' L'importun, qui lisoit toujours, prit la parole et dit, . Je vous jure que je n'ai regardé ni la ce que vous ecrivois.' Le savant repartil, .Ignorant, que vous êtes, pourquoi me dites-vous donc ce que sous diies !" -Les Paroles remarquables des Orientaux ; traduction de leurs ouvrages en Arabe, en Persan, el en Turc (suvant la copie imprimée à Paris), a la Haye, chez lnuis et Henry Vandole, marchands libraires, dans le Poolen, a l'enseigne du Port Royal, MDCXCIV