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way of thinking, that I am convinced a man might sit down as systematically and as successfully to the study of wit as he might to the study of mathematics; and I would answer for it, that, by giving up only six hours a day to being witty, he should come on prodigiously before Midsummer, so that his friends should hardly know him again. For what is there to hinder the mind from gradually acquiring a habit of attending to the lighter relations of ideas in which wit consists?"* Now this is obviously the exaggeration of one who, in the triumphant consciousness of his own endowment, pictures the perplexity of a student of wit coming to his task as he would to the differential calculus, giving only six hours a day to it, and astonishing his friends by Midsummer with his progress. But if this is witty exaggeration, so far as creative power is concerned, it covers a truth with respect to the culture of a susceptibility to the productions of wit and humour; and that susceptibility may fairly be considered as a constituent of every vigorous and well-cultivated mind—undoubtedly so, when the full extent of the operations of wit and humour is justly appreciated.
In such culture, whether by literature or otherwise, there will of course be found the same disparity of natural endowment of those as of other faculties. As there are unimaginative intellects to which all poetry is a sealed mystery, so are there others which are impenetrable to all the influences of wit and humour, and this is owing not so much to any exclusive predominance of seriousness as to that of dulness. It was in this respect that Charles Lamb, in his Essay on "Imperfect Sympathies," com
Sketches on Moral Philosophy, Lecture x. p. 125, Am. edition.
plained of his inability to like a certain description of Scotchmen-that dry, literal phase of intellect, which is so alien to all poetic or humorous liberty of language. "I was present," writes Lamb, "not long since, at a party of North Britons, where a son of Burns was expected; and happened to drop a silly expression (in my South British way) that I wished it were the father instead of the son, when four of them started up at once to inform me that 'that was impossible, because he was dead.' An impracticable wish, it seems, was more than they could conceive." This character of mind (so different, I may remark from the genial Scotch humour of Burns, or Walter Scott, or John Wilson) is not peculiar to Scotland, but every one can probably find specimens of it in the range of his own acquaintance.
The most remarkable instance of obtuseness to light letters that I ever met with occurred in another region. Goeller, a German editor of Thucydides, in annotating a passage of the Greek historian, describing the violence of the Athenian factions, gives two modern illustrations: one of the Guelf and Ghibelline parties in Italy; the other-he cites Washington Irving and his book very gravely in Latin-the factions of long pipes and short pipes in New York, under the administration of Peter Stuyvesant. Imagine this erudite and ponderous German poring over Knickerbocker as seriously as over Guicciardini's History of the Italian Republics!*
This instance of simplicity has a most grotesque effect in the original, printed at Leipsic in 1836. It literally reads thus: "Addo locum Washingtonis Irwingii, Hist. Novi Eboraci. lib. vii. cap. v."-"The old factions of Long Pipes and Short Pipes, strangled by the Herculean grasp of P. Stuyvesant." W. B. R.
But the genial mind is accessible, at least, to some one or other of the manifold influences which are very inadequately expressed by these two general names, "Wit” and "Humour." They do but describe an inventive energy of genius, which assumes a vast variety of expression, ranging from the most acute intellectual wit, through the many forms of humour, down to frolic drollery and mere fun and the broadest buffoonery. If it be asked what claim to culture this class of faculties has, the first and simplest answer is, that they are among the talents with which man is gifted—the gift bringing along with it the necessity and the duty of culture: they are powers which will run riot and run to mischief, unless guided and disciplined. They cannot be destroyed by being disowned. It was a wretched delusion when Stoicism strove to stiffen humanity into stone: and so, in later days, there was like wrong when Puritanism looked black upon natural. innocent, healthful cheerfulness, frighting the joyous temper of a people with a frown, which I believe to this day haunts the race both in Britain and in America, to an extent which is irrational, unchristian, and of course injurious, by abandoning what is festive to the world's keeping, instead of retaining them under better and safer influences. It was Wesley, I believe, who said he had no idea of allowing the devil to monopolize all the good tunes; and it is certain that that same personage (I don't mean Wesley) will be ready enough to furnish to the needs of men holydays of his contriving, if no other provision be made for what is a natural and lawful craving of toiling humanity. There will be, too, a literature of wicked wit to fascinate and poison men, unless that of a truthful and healthful kind be cultivated. It is, I believe,
not an uncommon inclination, to disown and to disparage that literature which is an agency of pleasant thoughts; and in opposing to such an opinion a few serious authorities, I hope you will not apprehend an inappropriate relapse into the grave subjects of my last lecture. A great divine, preaching at a time when Puritan rigour was beginning to make itself felt, said, "Fear not thou, that a cheerfulness and alacrity in using God's blessings-fear not thou, that a moderate delight in music, in conversation, in recreations, shall be imputed to thee for a fault, for it is conceived by the Holy Ghost, and is the offspring of a peaceful conscience :"* and another who lived to see and to suffer by the new severity, Jeremy Taylor, said, "It is certain that all that which can innocently make a man cheerful, does also make him charitable, for grief, and age, and sickness, and weariness, these are peevish and troublesome; but mirth and cheerfulness are content, and civil, and compliant, and communicative, and love to do good, and to swell up to felicity only upon the wings of charity. If a facete discourse, and an amicable, friendly mirth can refresh the spirit, and take it off from the vile temptation of peevish, despairing, uncomplying melancholy, it must needs be innocent and commendable. And we may as well be refreshed by a clean and brisk discourse, as by the air of Campanian wines; and our faces and our heads may as well be anointed and look pleasant with wit and friendly intercourse, as with the fat of the balsam-tree." A living divine, speaking not professionally, but in that agreeable work, the "Guesses at Truth," has said: What a dull, plodding, tramping, clanking would
the ordinary intercourse of society be, without wit, to enliven and brighten it! When two men meet, they seem to be, as it were, kept at bay through the estranging effects of absence, until some sportive sally opens their hearts to each other. Nor does any thing spread cheerfulness so rapidly over a whole party, or an assembly of people, however large. Reason expands the soul of the philosopher. Imagination glorifies the poet, and breathes a breath of spring through the young and genial: but if we take into account the numberless glances and gleams whereby wit lightens our every-day life, I hardly know what power ministers so bountifully to the innocent pleasures of mankind."*
Another thoughtful essayist of our day has said, "If ever a people required to be amused, it is we sad-hearted Anglo-Saxons:" (the phrase includes us ever-working Americans.) "Heavy eaters," (rapidity must be substituted for weight for the Anglo-Saxon on this side the ocean,) "hard thinkers, often given up to a peculiar melancholy of our own, with a climate that for months together would frown away mirth if it could, many of us with very gloomy thoughts about our hereafter, if ever there were a people who should avoid increasing their dulness by all work and no play, we are that people. "They took their pleasures sadly,' says Froissart, 'after their fashion.' We need not ask of what nation Froissart
But let me add, that the blood and temperament of race are not safeguards of contentment, for it is with the most vivacious people, Froissart's countrymen, that the perpetration of suicide is most common.
* Archdeacon Hare's Guesses at Truth, first series, p. 316.